Valid Transhumanist Criticism?

Lately, I’ve been seeing something interesting — valid criticism of the transhumanist project. The concern is decently articulated by the people who are being paid to attack me and other transhumanists, over at The New Atlantis Futurisms blog, funded by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, “dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy”. To quote Charles T. Rubin’s “What is the Good of Transhumanism?”:

While some will use enforcement costs and lack of complete success at enforcing restraint as an argument for removing it altogether, that is an argument that can be judged on its particular merits — even when the risks of enforcement failures are extremely great. The fact that nuclear non-proliferation efforts have not been entirely successful has not yet created a powerful constituency for putting plans for nuclear weapons on the Web, and allowing free sale of the necessary materials. In the event, transhumanists, like “Bioluddites,” want to make distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate uses of “œapplied reason,” even if as we will see they want to minimize the number of such distinctions because, as we will note later, they see diversity as a good. Of course, those who want to restrict some technological developments likewise look to some notion of the good. This disagreement about goods is the important one, untouched by “Bioluddite” name-calling. The mom-and-apple-pie defense of reason, science and technology one finds in transhumanism is rhetorically useful, within the framework of modern societies which have already bought into this way of looking at the world, to lend a sense of familiarity and necessity to arguments that are designed eventually to lead in very unfamiliar directions. But it is secondary to ideas of what these enterprises are good for, to which we now turn, and ultimately to questions about the foundation on which transhumanist ideas of the good are built.

Yes, “diversity” can be good. But transhumanists have a problem. Diversity is so darn huge, and contains far far more of what would broadly be considered “hideous” than anything beautiful.

I approach the idea of “diversity” from an information theory based perspective. In such a perspective, “diversity” can be achieved by randomly rearranging molecules to achieve a new, unique, “diverse” state. In this view, if absolute freedom to self-modify became possible in a society with sophisticated molecular nanotechnology, then eventually a very large and exotic collective of wireheaded and partially wireheaded beings could emerge. It could be ugly, not beautiful. For a “real-world” example, look at how everyone had great expectations for SecondLife, then it “degenerated” into a haven of porn and nightclubs. While it’s debatable whether a world of porn and nightclubs is a bad thing, it’s obviously not what many in society would want, and I think that an optimal transhumanist future should be appealing to all, not just a few.

Simplistic libertarian transhumanism simply argues, “anything is possible, and everything should be”. Pursued to its logical conclusion, that means that I should be allowed to manufacture a trillion cyborg nematodes filled with botulism toxin and just chill with them. After all, it’s my own choice, what right do you have to infringe upon it? The problem is that that cluster of nematodes would become a weapon of mass destruction if launched into stratospheric air currents for worldwide distribution, and programmed to fall in clusters on major cities where they would inject their toxins into targets which they would navigate to via thermal sensing. My unlimited “freedom” could become your unlimited doom, overnight. The same applies to people in space with the ability to anonymously cloak and accelerate asteroids towards ground targets. Any substantial magnification in human capability raises the same “civil rights” issues.

Many transhumanist writings advocate simplistic libertarian transhumanism. I won’t bother to list any by name, but they’re all around.

A regular commenter here, Sulfur, recently articulated his objection to transhumanism, responding to my recent statement “The latter makes sense, the former doesn’t,” with regards to solving the flaws of the Homo sapiens default chassis:

The fundamental problem with that sentence is that transhumanists see human body as a problem to solve and they are quick to judge what is needed and what is not. If that would be for them to decide, we already would have done terrible mistakes in augmenting our bodies (“Hell, we don’t need so many genes! let’s get rid of them!” hype-like attitude). Transhumanism uses imperfect tools to perfect human. That can easily lead to disaster. Besides, the most important issue is not weather small changes correcting some flaws are desirable, needed or wanted, but rather to what extend we can change human and not to commit suicide in ambitious yet funny way thanks to augmentation which would radically change our minds, creating new quality.

It’s true — we do see the human body as a problem to solve. After all, the human body can’t even withstand 5 psi overpressure without our eardrums exploding, or intercept rifle bullets without severe tissue damage, which I consider unacceptable. Moving more in a mainstream direction, many transhumanists (a small group of less than 5,000 people with mainstream intellectual influence far beyond their numbers) agree that solving aging is a major priority. After all, Darwinian evolution did not have our best interests in mind when it designed us. As far as I am concerned, the question of whether the human body is a problem to be solved is obvious: it is. The question is not whether or not we need to solve it, but how.

The “how” question is where things can get sticky. Most of human existence is not so crime-free and kosher as life in the United States or Western Europe. Business as usual in many places in the world, including the country of my grandparents, Russia, is deeply defined by organized crime, physical intimidation, and other primate antics. The many wealthy, comfortable transhumanists living in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Florida, Boston, New York, London, and similar places tend to forget this. The truth is that most of the world is dominated by the radically evil. Increasing our technological capabilities will only magnify that evil many times over.

The answer to this problem lies not in letting every being do whatever they want, which would lead to chaos. There must be regulations and restrictions on enhancement, to coax it along socially beneficial guidelines. This is not the same as advocating socialist politics in the human world. You can be a radical libertarian when it comes to human societies, but advocate “stringent” top-level regulation for a transhumanist world. The reason why is that the space of possibilities opened up by unlimited self-modification of brains and bodies is absolutely huge. Most of these configurations lack value, by any possible definition, even definitions adopted specifically as contrarian positions to try and refute my hypothesis. This space is much larger than we can imagine, and larger than many naive transhumanists choose to imagine. This is especially relevant when it comes to matters of mind, not just the body. Evolution crafted our minds over millions of years to be sane. More than 999,999 out of every 1,000,000 possible modifications to the human mind would be more likely to lead to insanity than improved intelligence or happiness. Transhumanists who don’t understand this need to study the human mind and looming technological possibilities more closely. The human mind is precisely configured, the space of choice is not, and ignorant spontaneous choices will lead to insane outcomes.

The problem with transhumanism is that it has become, in some quarters, merely a proxy for the idea of Progress. Progress is all well and good. The problem is that the idea isn’t indefinitely extensible. The human world is a small floating platform in a sea of darkness — a design space that we haven’t even begun to understand. In most directions lie Monsters, not happiness. Progress within the human regime is one thing, but the posthuman regime is something else entirely. Imagine having First Contact with a quadrillion different alien species simultaneously. That is what we are looking at, with an uncontrolled hard takeoff Singularity. Just one First Contact would be the most significant event in human history, but transhumanists are talking about that times a billion, or a trillion, all at once.

In the comments, Sulfur referenced the “transhumanist mindset which says that upward change is a dogma”. But there is a portion of transhumanists who resist that dogma. Take Nick Bostrom’s “The Future of Human Evolution” paper, very popular among SIAI staff. I believe that Bostrom’s 2004 publication of this paper was a ground-breaking moment for transhumanism, definitive of a schism that has been ongoing since. The schism is between those who see transhumanism as unqualifiedly good and those who see humanity’s self-enhancement as a challenging project that demands close attention and care. Here’s the abstract:

Evolutionary development is sometimes thought of as exhibiting an inexorable trend towards higher, more complex, and normatively worthwhile forms of life. This paper explores some dystopian scenarios where freewheeling evolutionary developments, while continuing to produce complex and intelligent forms of organization, lead to the gradual elimination of all forms of being that we care about. We then consider how such catastrophic outcomes could be avoided and argue that under certain conditions the only possible remedy would be a globally coordinated policy to control human evolution by modifying the fitness function of future intelligent life forms.

I am strongly magnetized to the Singularity Institute, Future of Humanity Institute, and Lifeboat Foundation, because I see these three organizations as the cautious side of transhumanism, exemplified by the concerns aired in the above paper. Many other iterations of transhumanism seem to be awkward fusions between SL2 transhumanism and the boilerplate leftist or rightist politics of the Baby Boomer generation. Though even our new President is attempting to engage in post-Boomer politics, the USA Boomer Politics War is so huge that it sucks in practically everything else. It’s pathetic when transhumanists can’t be intellectually strong enough to transcend that. Really, it is a generational war.

As somewhat of a side note, people misunderstand the SIAI position with respect to this question. SIAI seeks not to impose a superintelligent regime on the world, but rather asks, “given that we believe a hard takeoff is likely, what the heck can we do to preserve Human Value, or structures at least continuous with human value?” The question is not easy, and people often misinterpret the probability assessment of a fast transition as a desire for a fast transition. I would desire nothing more than a slow transition. I just don’t think that the transition from Homo sapiens to recursive self-improvement will be very slow. Still, even if it’s fast, value can probably be retained, if we allocate significant resources and attention to specifically doing so.

I believe that there can be a self-enhancement path that everyone can agree on as beneficial. I think there is enough room in the universe to hold diverse values, but not exponentially diverse in the information theory sense. I doubt that intelligent species throughout the multiverse retain their legacy forms as they spread across the cosmos. Inventing and mastering the technologies of self-modification is not optional for intelligent civilizations — it’s a must. The question is what we use them for, and whether we let society degenerate into a mess of a million of shattered fragments in the process.

Comments

  1. nazgulnarsil

    the vast majority of people have no ideological motivations. thus they have no deep motivation against evil. OTOH they care very much about signaling anti-evil (for whatever value of evil, as defined by their in-group).

  2. themanregan

    “The truth is that most of the world is dominated by the radically evil. Increasing our technological capabilities will only magnify that evil many times over.” You said it. Everyone worries about malevolent robots, but whatever we create will ultimately be a reflection of ourselves.

    This century has the potential to be the nastiest yet. Or the greatest. But every century could have been ‘great’ according to the standards of its time – if it wasn’t for various human failings. The current emphasis on global warming, terrorism and economic doom only makes a bleaker, more ignorant, more selfish scenario more likely. Any serious transhumanist has to address these issues while emphasising the benefits of embracing positive change.

  3. Jay Dugger

    Thank you for posting this thought-provoking material, M.A..

    I think this criticism assumes a single society can only withstand a certain range of diversity. It seems reasonable because individual humans belong only to a single society at a time. Have I missed the point?

    Assuming I haven’t misunderstood, I reject this criticism. With enough dispersal in time and space,
    multiple simultaneous societies might exist, each one exploring the diversity of its “local possibility space,” or if you prefer, each going to hell along its own path. Fifteenth century humans in Europe
    cared little to nothing about institutionalized murder in Central America, for example. Also, a single society can withstand more diversity in small, localized pockets than it would find globally acceptable. What passes for normal in North Beach, San Francisco and what passes for normal in Temple Square, Salt Lake City, most likely prove mutually ridiculous and mutually objectionable. For another example, what passes for acceptable risk in the live-fire range of a
    military base or the floor of a steel mill differ greatly from what passes for acceptable risk in one’s bedroom or kitchen. More broadly, consider the effect of zoning laws on establishing areas where normal
    behavior within a zone can differ greatly from a similar adjacent area.

    In general, I do not think zoning laws require global coordination from the start (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoning_laws#Origins_and_history). We
    have human enhancement rules–“zoning” allowable human performance in particular conditions, such as the Olympics–where individual nations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Anti-Doping_Agency)
    had rules prior to global coordination
    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Anti-Doping_Agency). This sets a precedent for later developments. I do not think Bostrom’s “certain conditions” now hold, and I do not expect them to arrive so fast, if ever, that a ” globally coordinated policy to control human evolution by modifying the fitness function of future intelligent life forms” will ever need to take place from the top-down. Widely separated experiments of widely different kinds can
    happen, subject to ongoing local control, according to local standards and local acceptance.

  4. nazgulnarsil

    if we use a fairly conservative measure of human welfare with factors such as disease, life expectancy, infant mortality, basic sanitation etc, pretty much everyday is the best the world has ever seen from a net welfare standpoint. certainly economically dubious schemes such as GW curbing and the war on terror are dampeners on human progress, but they’re not causing active retrograde yet.

  5. One area where humans currently appear to be deliberately going slowly is biotechnology.

    As with children, uneven development can cause problems. A failure to develop existing biological systems will increase the rate at which they are surpassed by machines.

  6. Sue

    Wow. That’s what I love about this Internet thing – I’m visiting your website out of curiosity and I see I’m in way over my head. I had no idea this topic existed. Interesting. Any comment I make here will sound stupid. But I did notice your grammar is perfect which is very cool (and rare). And I like the fleur-de-lis. Hmmm … wow.

  7. Gus K.

    Sue:

    Michael has one of the best blogs on the internet. Even when you disagree with him, he argues his points well and makes you see things from a different perspective and makes you think.

    I hope you enjoyed it and come again.

  8. There must be regulations and restrictions on enhancement, to coax it along socially beneficial guidelines.

    I basically agree, but with two caveats:

    1) Regulations and restrictions must be seen as a necessary evil. I am willing to tolerate a strict minimum of regulations and restrictions if they are really beneficial to the society, but only a strict minimum. I don’t want any unnecessary interference in personal choice, and I think victimless crimes are not crimes.

    2) Who decides what is socially beneficial? Our positions may differ. I am for a decentralized world where different communities adopt their own definitions of socially beneficial.

  9. Gus K.

    Transhumanism is to bioluddism (The New Atlantis/Leon Kass) what atheism is to religion. We wouldn’t need the former if the latter didn’t exist.

    As Sam Harris has noted, there is no content to atheism, it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Transhumanism is simply the refusal to deny scientifically informed common sense. If there were not people who argued the naturalistic fallacy that certain technologies are “unatural” and simply applied the ordinary values and risk/benefit analyis of everyday life to advanced technology, there would be no bioluddism and therefore no need to name scientifically informed common sense “transhumanism”.

  10. Obviously experiences differ, but life in the United States isn’t necessarily as peaceful as you suggest. One of my comrades had been shot twice before he turned twelve. Another was beaten and tortured so severely by police that he now must regularly take morphine just to deal with the persistent pain. Another still got raped daily by her partner for an extended period. It’s not solely a matter of class; women from even the wealthiest families suffer from that last horror. Coercion and intimidation form the basis of American society. If transhumanism doesn’t address this reality, we can count on bad outcomes.

  11. spacemanBeren

    I think that we miss one of the main issues: the idea of preservation of current ethics vs. the rise of new ‘ethics’ in a world with fewer constraints on the worlds population and individuals.

    IMHO evolution has designed us to be somewhat greedy, philandering, altruistic in certain cases ( possibly only where it benefits us in the longer run) , sadistic when it comes to enforcement of norms and status seeking. In a certain sense morals can be viewed as the degree to which we indulge or check these motivations.

    But imagine a world with no STIs or pregnancy without explicit action. Is the the philandering component still as reprehensible? Or one in which everyone has their basic needs met. Is the pursuit of status over other still offensive?

    Of course the real issue comes when such things as elimination of people from the queue of real time if it caused no pain and they could be perfectly backed up. Or elimination of genetic deviation from the norm. And so on.

    The creation of godlike powers entail the creation of a new set of godlike morals and ethics, and we might not consider those to be so ethical from our current perspective. One of the better real life examples I can think of is the consumption of animal meat vs. veganism if one considers early hunter-gatherers vs. modern man ; necessity for them, optional for us; ethical for them, today unethical for some of us.

    In this discussion we seek to impose current standards of ethics and morals onto the future without relative evolution. It’s like saying spaceships shouldn’t leave the solar system in the future due to current fiscal budgetary constraints and lower tax revenues. The two things are about as connected.

    Some will seek to to preserve the current status. Some will aspire to a new set of morals and ethics relative to the times. The solution, as has been for many billions of years is to allow and institutionalize room for both. Allowing parties to choose is the big stumbling block for societies it seems.

  12. Jordan

    Great piece and superbly uninflammatory.

  13. “Coercion and intimidation form the basis of American society.”

    Have you ever lived for an extended period in a Third World country? However bad it is here, over there it’s MUCH worse. Especially Africa.

  14. Zack M. Davis

    “the people who are being paid to attack me”

    Of course you realize they can just as easily say that you’re being paid to attack them.

  15. Good post, Michael. I agree that a lot of h+ discourse ends up saying silly things about what kind of future we should strive for.

    This has become known as “Beyondist transhumanism” – people who, for some reason, actually endorse technologically mediated human extinction, and the destruction of almost all that we value.

    Disturbingly, some of these Beyondists are Robotics and AI researchers at top labs. For example, have you read Hans Moravec’s book, “Robot”?

    Beyondism might be the ultimate revenge of the nerdy, lonely scientist who couldn’t get a date for the high school prom: if present-human-values treats me this badly, I’ll build a simple fitness-maximizing AGI that wipes it out of existence…

  16. Capitalism and imperialism connect to the violence here and the violence in Africa, Tom. I should clarify my position. I absolutely agree with Michael about the privilege of living in the West and being wealthy. What I take exception to is positioning evil outside of and removed from the United States. To the contrary, oppression spans the globe in an elaborate network. The seemingly benign act of buying a product in Los Angeles can relate directly to unspeakable abuses in Africa. I concur that radical evil dominates the planet; it emanates from Washington, D.C. as much as from anywhere else. The U.S. government has killed hundreds of thousands with bombs and bullets over the last decade. Violence isn’t an aspect of the Other, something that just happens “over there.” Victims and perpetrators alike abound here in the supposedly developed world.

  17. mitchell porter

    Roko: ‘This has become known as “Beyondist transhumanism”’

    Who calls it that? The only Beyondism I ever heard of was Raymond Cattell’s version of social darwinism, and it’s about as historically obscure as Fyodorov’s cosmism.

  18. Martin

    Michael, this is one of the best posts that you’ve written.

  19. Mark Thompson

    “Though even our new President is attempting to engage in post-Boomer politics, the USA Boomer Politics War is so huge that it sucks in practically everything else. It’s pathetic when transhumanists can’t be intellectually strong enough to transcend that.”

    Michael, could you clarify this for me? What do you mean by Boomer Politics?

  20. Mark Thompson

    “For a “real-world” example, look at how everyone had great expectations for SecondLife, then it “degenerated” into a haven of porn and nightclubs.”

    This is low blow, which is incorrect. Most adult content is now located in one virtual continent for people who want that kind of thing (which is a lot).

    Check out this link for all the educational sims in SL:
    http://secondlife.com/whatis/destinationguide/category.php?c=learning&lang=en-US

    My sim is “Kronbelt”, where you can learn about the tragic 1984 gas leak at the Union Carbide pesticide factory that killed thousands of the destitute residents living near the plant in Bhopal, India.

    There are many sims like this, which are better than mine. For examle, you can explore archived materials from the major poets of World War I, such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Manuscripts, letters, and diaries are supplemented with streaming video and audio to provide an incredible insight into life in the trenches during 1914-1918. This can be found at:
    http://secondlife.com/destination/first-world-war-poetry-digital-archive

    If these sims have a lower traffic than porn sims, who is to blame? This actually reflective of the internet generally, as porn sites get the most hits.

  21. Orb

    A transhumanist is a bored person who dreams of a less boring future and sometimes even works to make it so – but arguably there are more people making it so that aren’t transhumanists. Or does working for a better, less limited future (for humans) automatically make one a transhumanist?

  22. Gus K.

    “Broadly speaking, transhumanism is a movement seeking to advance the cause of
    post-humanity. It advocates using science and technology for a reconstruction of the
    human condition sufficiently radical to call into question the appropriateness of
    calling it “human” anymore.”
    –Charles Rubin

    NO, IT DOESN’T

    Transhumanism is nothing more than common sense Humanism applied to modern scientific knowledge. People who understand science know that functionalism is correct and that non-human animals, extraterrestrials and AIs may have the capacity for happiness and suffering. We therefore extrapolate the classical humanist value of universal human rights to universal sentient rights, of which human rights are seen as a special case. People who understand science know that nano, AI and other technologies may be possible, and apply ordinary cost/benefit and risk/reward analysis to them.

    “Post-humanity” is only a small part of it. I personally would like to see FAI and nano bring health, indefinitely long life, and abundance to the entire world, and for our civilization to spread out to the asteroids and beyond. I have no great desire to change my body to become “post-human”; whatever that means.

    Bioluddism is nothing more than the application of the naturalistic fallacy, that “nature” doesn’t want us to do something “unnatural”, to modern scientific knowledge. By letting our opponents define transhumanism, we let them set the terms of the debate, and make us look like kooks who want to stick wires in our heads or grow an extra set of arms to win mixed martial arts contests; or do other silly things. In reality, the bioluddites are kooks. Leon Kass thinks licking ice cream is unnatural. He said in the 70’s that in vitro fertilization, the cloning of it’s time, was unnatural. Now that thousands of normal kids have been born by IVR, Kass is again shown to be a kook.

    Part of this is our fault. “Transhumanism” is an utterly stupid word and a public relations disaster. Are we saying that we no longer want to be human? Of course not, but our choice of a stupid word gives ammo to religiously motivated ideological opponents who are all too happy to intentionally misunderstand. “Extropian” was a great word that has come to mean extreme right wing transhumanism.

    “Metamodern” would be a great word for what we mean. (from Drexler’s new blog) The best of the Enlightenment, Humanism and Modernity, extrapolated into the future.

  23. rog

    What does “God like powers” mean to anyone?
    About all the advances we have ever made have, at one time or another, been thought of as these.

  24. themanregan

    I read a book about Buddhism that said that becoming enlightened wasn’t about achieving some supernatural state but was about achieving a level of understanding and inner peace/capacity to love that makes us truly and fully ‘human’. We could apply the same logic to ‘transhumanism’. Transhumanists are just people who have woken up from their primitive ignorance and are capable of recognising their natural flaws and true, unfulfilled potential – enabling us to become truly and fully ‘human’. Science/logic is natural means by which we achieve that state. We are transcending our ignorance, not our humanity.

  25. Khannea Suntzu

    Nice to see that what I have been repeating non-stop for 3 years is finally “common sense”. Great way to phrase it mike…

    “The problem is that that idea isn’t indefinitely extensible. The human world is a small floating platform in a sea of darkness — a design space that we haven’t even begun to understand. In most directions lie Monsters, not happiness. Progress within the human regime is one thing, but the posthuman regime is something else entirely.”

    Can’t have said it any more cosmicist!

    Next we need to take a cord hard look at the potential of transhuman progress to marginalize, or transhuman progress leading to very small hyperbootstrapped elites – and the potential for superfascism and existential risk unbridled growth poses if a big slice of humanity starts lagging behind.

    But advocating ‘measures’ will be difficult. Even in tranhumanist circles market fundamentalism is regarded with religious reliance, and any that detract from this vile addiction to zero-sum thinking are met with hostility and scorn. That is, until the percentage of those left in ‘the excluded bin’ starts to become an demographic with a serious protest-vote. I can’t wait to see what teabagging the societally marginalized of the future will do.

    I hope they get the memo soon enough that if some are left on the outside by the system, the system might leave nearly all outside only a few years later. Thats the nature of exponential growth. There is spaghettification near any singularity.

  26. Matt Perry

    “The many wealthy, comfortable transhumanists living in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Florida, Boston, New York, London, and similar places tend to forget this. The truth is that most of the world is dominated by the radically evil. Increasing our technological capabilities will only magnify that evil many times over.”

    Not necessarily so. Technological advancement implies wealth creation. At the moment the more technologically advanced societies, ie the western world, are also the most civilisied. Why is this? Because we are not starving, either for food or goods. People who want commit crime. Of course, we don’t live in a crime-free society but certainly if for reasons of disaster, either naturally or economically, you would see what crime we have skyrocket and if enough power vacuums were created we’d see the emergence of more war-torn African-style societies.

  27. Thanks to everyone for commenting! I will put more effort towards posts with original ideas because of the positive response. I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s reactions.

    Hi Khannea,

    You make valid points, but unfortunately it seems that your present-day stance is extremely socialist, which is rightfully alienating to many intellectuals. Part of the point I am making here is that it is conceivably possible to be a libertarian with respect to a human-only world but “restrictive” with respect to a transhuman world, where “restrictive” in a transhuman world still means radically more freedom than the current world.

    There is spaghettification near any singularity.

    Haha, that’s pretty quotable. ;)

  28. sth

    There’s another alternative. Instead of worrying about what will happen to “society”, we might do better moving towards the idea of a “post-society” where no costs can be imposed on others because the reality we inhabit is completely virtualized and /unconnected to other living, sentient beings/. An individually modifiable-Matrix, if you will. We’re all gods in our own world, but are unable to impose on others.

    The only real issue we’d need to solve is protecting the “real” world, which would house our equipment from harm (by using FAI security bots, let’s say).

  29. Brian Boyd

    I was directed here from TNA, and just wanted to say thanks for a thoughtful and interesting post. I especially liked

    “The human world is a small floating platform in a sea of darkness — a design space that we haven’t even begun to understand. In most directions lie Monsters, not happiness.”

    It’s quite an image, and expresses quite well the central concern motivating most of the bioconservatives I know – much more than worries over the proper eating of ice cream, for example :)

    I’m glad to learn that you have a community of likeminded ‘cautious’ people setting out to work on these issues. Bon voyage, and good luck avoiding the Monsters!

  30. Khannea Suntzu

    “You make valid points, but unfortunately it seems that your present-day stance is extremely socialist, which is rightfully alienating to many intellectuals. Part of the point I am making here is that it is conceivably possible to be a libertarian with respect to a human-only world but “restrictive” with respect to a transhuman world, where “restrictive” in a transhuman world still means radically more freedom than the current world.”

    Maybe, maybe not. There is reason to conclude that our current international macro-economic paradigm is becoming as ineffective as stalinism.

    http://sfreporter.com/stories/born_poor/5339/all/

    Bear in mind that ‘socialism’ scepsis (and I am routinely labeled a technocrat by real socialists) is largely an american thing. More than half of all votes passed out here in western europe are far to the left of US democrat values.

    You’ll see that people will change their stripes in equal measure as they find themselves out of the system. I predicted you since 2006 (despite of your optimism) that this will increasingly happen. I am saying the 2008 crisis was not a fluke, but was set to happen – because the markets can’t geneate new (snd paying) jobs anymore. Unemployment and poverty will increase in the current paradigm. If you elect to demonize a fierce resistance against institutional income disparities ‘socialist’ or ‘wrong’ you’ll do so at your own peril. One day even you and most of your reader base might find yourself holding the short end of the stick.

    • Khannea, overall I agree with you. Thanks for making those points.

      Here is a related essay I wrote on the need to rethink our socioeconomics for abundant technology, whether cheap energy, cheap robotics, or cheap education, all of which reduce the value of most paid human labor:
      http://peswiki.com/index.php/OS:Economic_Transformation

      Marshall Brain talks about these themes in “Manna” and “Robotic Nation”, too.

      In general I’d agree that mainstream scarcity-based economic thinking dominates in the transhumanist community, which is very unfortunately ironic, and which may even prove deadly to most of humanity in the long run unless that ideology changes and embraces the very technological abundance most transhumanists advocate. The big issue is that we ideally need to make those socioeconomic changes right now, because otherwise the type of AI and robotics we see will be created by essentially outdated ironic social organizations projecting their scarcity fears into the future and creating self-replicating weapons like Stuxnet and so on.

      That said, I agree with Michael’s main insightful point about the limits of human psychology in an evolutionary context. I wrote something related in 1985, for my senior work in college in a psychology department. Sadly, I wonder if the problem with humans accepting the irony of using technologies of abundance from a scarcity perspective might have some evolutionary aspects from past recent selection for scarcity thinking? So, transhumanists may be caught up in all that, even now, for evolutionary history reasons…

  31. It’s interesting to consider the possibilities after the Singularity, isn’t it sth? In theory, there’s plenty of both real and virtual space for everyone. The universe is vast. If you don’t like what’s happening in this solar system, whip up an interstellar craft and head out on your own. Once each individual has the means for indefinite self-sufficiency, mainly through advanced nanotechnology, this vision should become possible. Unfortunately, folks who blast off to Alpha Centauri could conceivably return with a fleet of warships after a century or two. Would intelligent beings be able to accept and navigate that risk? I hope so, but I’m an anarchist. As Ursula Le Guin has Shevek say in The Dispossessed, “Freedom is never very safe.”

    Michael, as you might expect, I suggest you listen to Khannea on income inequality. While I recognize the merit of coercive measures to prevent horrible outcomes as much as I oppose the notion philosophically, there’s no good reason for want in an environment of abundance. Perhaps we’re too stupid to manage a rational system for general welfare, but the AIs won’t be.

  32. Welfarian

    Anyone know the figure for food etc. necessities for Everyone? It’s only a question of wealth distribution, right? I mean, if you got trillions of dollars just laying around (like a top % of people do) and just gave them to the needy, everything would be alright, almost overnight, wouldn’t it?

  33. As we approach the Singularity, will Robert Wright’s notion of a non-zero sum society make much more sense to more and more people? Will we stop thinking in terms of “redistribution of wealth?” when so many can “grow their own”? Will our notions of what “society” is change radically? Will the Singularity make current libertarian utopian dreams seem very pedestrian by comparison? Will protective systems emerge and stabilize us as we gain more experience with technologies that are accelerating…faster faster faster? Are we Singulatarians and Transhumanists wild-eyed romantics or aren’t we wild-eyed enough?

    Just some questions for everyone to gnaw on.

  34. Isaac Juarez

    If an FAI is more intelligent than a group of elected officials, and is not motivated by greed, desire for votes, and lust for power, and is also motivated with a desire to protect all humans why on Earth would it not ascend to become a world wide regime? I have no intention of harming the SIAI’s mission by this argument but it seems obvious that an intelligence lacking the corrupting desire for power over other beings, but instead wanting to protect every human regardless of gender or parentage would see the benefit of being the sole potentate. Personally, I’d rather trust my life in the hands of an intelligent being that lacked the negatives of the human mind with all of our volatile emotions.

  35. Stephen J.

    I always thought the basic flaw of transhumanism could be summed up by asking, “If you travelled back in time and gave ‘transpithecine’ technology to the Australopithecines, how many of them do you think would have chosen to become Homo Sapiens?”

    If generals are constantly fighting the previous war, transhumanists, I suspect, are constantly adapting to the previous environment.

    Any serious transhumanist should also read THE ABOLITION OF MAN, by C.S. Lewis. It’s a sobering perspective on what it means for humans to be able to redefine human nature.

  36. Josh

    I think some people are misunderstanding Transhumanism; They see it as a movement based on eugenics, that seeks to throw away the human body and live inside machine bodies, or an elitist movement that seeks to preserve the elite so they can forever rule over humanity etc. etc. etc.
    All bullshit. Even a simple google search will quickly prove most of this alarmism false. Transhumanism merely seeks to research all emerging technologies ethically, in order to improve quality of life for everyone. Most critics focus on one aspect of this, like immortality, or uploading, and try to debunk the entire movement as science fiction bullshit, clearly not taking into account technologies emerging right now, or the speed at which they are emerging. Sorry if I sound a little obsessed with the critic part, but I really rhink they could put transhumanism to a stop before it even really starts.

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