Accelerating Future Transhumanism, AI, nanotech, the Singularity, and extinction risk.


Shiny Robot Bodies, Sentient Devices, “Immortality Pills”, Immersive Holodecks, Desktop Nanofactories, Etc.

My recent post on how the popular zeitgeist has already embraced transhumanism provoked responses from transhumanist Giulio Prisco and anti-transhumanist Dale Carrico, a lecturer at UC Berkeley. Carrico writes:

In something of a surprise move, Singularitarian Transhumanist Robot Cultist Michael Anissimov has declared victory. Apparently, the superlative futurologists have "won." The Robot Cult, it would seem, has prevailed over the ends of the earth.

Usually, when palpable losers declare victory in this manner, the declaration is followed by an exit, either graceful or grumbling, from the stage. But I suspect we will not be so lucky when it comes to Anissimov and his fellow victorious would-be techno-transcendentalizers.

Neither can we expect them "to take their toys and go home," as is usual in such scenes. After all, none of their toys -- none of their shiny robot bodies, none of their sentient devices, none of their immortality pills, none of their immersive holodecks, none of their desktop nanofactories, none of their utility fogs, none of their comic book body or brain enhancement packages, none of their kindly or vengeful superintelligent postbiological Robot Gods -- none of them exist now for them to go home with any more than they ever did, they exist only as they always have done, as wish-fulfillment fancies in their own minds.

Breaking it down, all these "toys" sound great. Desktop nanofactories, especially, in the right hands, could totally decentralize manufacturing and make it much easier for the world's poorest people to gain some measure of material wealth and security.

I'd like to address some of the technologies Dale mentions, because I believe they are worthy goals and that intermediate steps to these goals are incredibly beneficial themselves.

To start with "robot bodies", there are no robot bodies suitable for human occupation today, but there are exoskeletons. For instance, Japan is developing a "Power Assist Suit", which will retail at $10,000 USD, to help elderly farmers in rural regions. If you want to ask how transhumanist-flavored thinking can distinguish a society, look no further than Japan. Japan is also working on developing brain-computer interfaces with cooperation from corporate giants like Toyota, Honda and Hitachi. There's a reason why these initiatives are happening in Japan. Japan's culture is extremely future-friendly and open-minded to transhumanistic visions, which include robotic exoskeletons and brain-computer interfaces.

As for "sentient devices", many of my readers no doubt own iPhones or Android-powered smartphones and use their many useful features on a daily basis, including a variety of applications. This is not like having Einstein in your pocket, but it is certainly an improvement on what we had before. The improvement in sophistication of mobile devices in the last few years is nothing less than remarkable.

Regarding "immortality pills", it makes great sense to look for compounds which have the potential to break up toxic accumulations of molecular junk in the body. That is what Geron and the SENS Foundation are doing, for instance. The Methuselah Foundation, while not working on "immortality pills", has created excellent prizes for mouse rejuvenation and organ printing. These organizations are fueled by the kind of "superlative thinking" that characterizes transhumanism and which is criticized not only by outright anti-transhumanists like Carrico but also insiders like IEET Managing Director Mike Treder.

As for immersive holodecks, I see few other things with the potential to improve our civilizational resilience and save travel money. Companies like Microvision are developing innovative heads-up displays, projectors, and glasses to help bring virtuality into the real world. The computational requirements needed to smoothly update a virtual scene as someone quickly moves their head around to observe it are formidable, but we are moving closer to this milestone. Ray Kurzweil predicts that immersive VR will be the hip thing in the 2020s. I've previously argued that full-body haptic feedback suits would be necessary to truly experience immersive VR, and I predicted that such a suit would be developed by 2020. I still stand by that prediction -- in fact, it could be sooner. Companies have already developed vests that can simulate hugging or combat. Guess where the hug vest was developed? Japan.

Desktop nanofactories, to me, seem more important and relevant than all the technologies listed above. Why? They would vastly accelerate progress towards all the above, probably so much so that it would actually be a threat to the stability of society. Instead of desktop nanofactories, today we have the explosion of 3D printing, which I follow closely and with great enthusiasm. Each week I wonder what the fabbing community will come up with next. Blogs like Fabbaloo chronicle progress in the field. Groups like open source ecology take it to the next level, making the open source fab lab a central feature of their effort. The success of open source ecology is a testimony to the power of desktop manufacturing units. As these manufacturing devices are improved, they will be able to fabricate an increasingly larger array of products. Their spatial resolution today is about 1 mm, but eventually that will drop to microns and eventually nanometers.

To manufacture true utility fog would require nanofactories, and a number of technological obstacles still remain between today's nanotechnology and the routine synthesis of rigid microscale or macroscale objects from atomic components. Instead, we have Intel and Carnegie Mellon working on "claytronics", what Brian Wang calls "poor man's utility fog". It could even be possible to manufacture early-stage catoms (the "atoms" of a claytronics setup") with current nanoscale manufacturing technologies.

In conclusion, even though the technologies that Dale lists don't exist yet, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't keep working towards them, or that the intermediaries won't be incredibly useful. The vision of far-future possibilities is what inspires some of the projects above to grind forward on a daily basis.

Comments (16) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Michael, I’m delighted to see that you refrain from engaging your critic utilizing his own inflammatory style and rather stay cool and sufficiently detached.

  2. Domestic Wi-Fi sounded pretty outlandish 15 years ago too. It’s funny how all the “toys” they list are actually being developed and refined.

    Another judgmental Luddite from Berkeley. History will set the record straight.

  3. I have a Q Michael.

    Slightly related to the notorious holodeck/full immersive VR.

    With todays “state of art” it just seems so ungraspable.

    I read a bit about lucid dreaming recently and came upon this (fairly short)paper:

    Which states among oher things:
    ” the
    perspective of experimentally manipulating and inducing lu-
    cid dreams means that the neurofunctional profle of certain
    aspects of self-consciousness can be made experimentally
    tractable. ”

    And this is an idea, I, among plenty of others most certainly have thought about to some
    Inducing lucid dreams via direct brain manipulation (optogenetics? tDCS?) perhaps helped by drugs, lengthening REM sleep, enhancing attention, self image etc. And of course building a business model around it.

    Going a little wildly into future territory, I can see “Dream-centers”, more like Spa’s where people go for a small vacation in the mind.

    It would probably be fairly invasive, not only from the direct modulation of the brain, but on overall physiology (sleep cycle), so a customer would perhaps need to set off a whole weekend/have the next day off.

    A “customer” would perhaps already have an engineered sleep-cycle that would allow the person this “extra” activity once a week or so.

    What are your thoughts on feasibility? Do you know of any (other) serious research/discussions on the subject?

    To (the naive) me it seems not so far fetched, but probably hard to perfect or make economically viable in the short term.

    Would probably be awesome for problem solving to.. hyper priming etc..

  4. Carrico seems hung up on the ethnicity of American transhumanism, which he characterizes as a white, male, middle class phenomenon. I wonder what he’ll write if a transhumanist movement arises in China and other East Asian societies. For example:

    Last summer I also met a woman from China who made a special visit to Alcor because, she said, some wealthy people back home want to invest into cryonics and get the technology to work.

    American leftists display a blind spot and bias regarding East Asians any way. The higher IQ’s and efficient cultures of East Asian immigrant groups in the U.S. make them unsuitable candidates for leftist grievance politics against rich white guys.

  5. Peering through the scorn and mockery, I see glimpses of a meaningful critique in Carrico’s post. Four distinct themes emerge:

    1) It’s better to be mainstream than extreme.
    2) Transformative technological advancements will never happen.
    3) Transhumanists worship their distorted view of science.
    4) Transhumanists have little critical awareness of their own privilege and espouse harmful political ideologies.

    As you would expect, I only have sympathy for #4. (Perhaps a bit for #3.) #2 defines the disagreement. I can see how that assessment of future possibility would lead quickly to antipathy for our entire movement. Needless to say, I also find such an adamant rejection of both the historical trend of exponential progress and the potential of superhuman intelligence to be untenable.

  6. For God’s sake, Michael, just ignore this clown. Carrico is the sort of person who can only argue by calling you a filthy homophobe if you are straight and a filthy fag if you are gay. Just ignore him.

  7. Giulio, I wanted an excuse to talk about all these cool technologies. Plus, you’re the one who has been interacting him extensively over the past year or two when I have pretty much been ignoring him.

  8. I used to interact with him frequently, but I stopped long ago. I used to enjoy our little verbal wars, but he did not like the taste of his own medicine and asked me to stop.

  9. A real movement needs real detractors.

    Long live Dale Carrico!!!

  10. Leftists like Dale have more to fear from soccer stadiums than from transhumanists, once the Strict Fathers get back in control.

    And I bet hardly anyone reading this will understand my allusions.

  11. What’s with all the liberal-bashing going on here in the comments section?

  12. Well, Michael himself tends toward political centrism. Transhumanism as a whole cover a wide range of views, including disdain for leftists.

  13. Hey. I’m a Transhumanist and a Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist-Communist who is actively working for the overthrow of capitalism (as a process and not necessarily an event). Nevertheless, I like reading this blog, I actually work for private enterprise, and I believe in the transhuman future as a socialist possibility.

    I don’t agree with Dales’ views. Dale is actually anti-Marxit and an Obama supporter.

    I’m against identity politics and don’t support the Obama adminstration, although I would be classified as black in the U.S.

    From my analysis, the Obama administration is right wing and serves the interest of big business.

    I also love science fiction, Kurt Vonegut, techno, hate Hip Hop, hate Dancehall etc. and am fascinated with string theory.

  14. so what, i wonder, is dale carrico’s vision of the future? how does he see the evolution of humankind? if you are going to belittle someone else’s viewpoint quite so comprehensively you must surely have a superior alternative.

  15. Hello! Excellent post, really helpful! I was looking into dreaming and lucid dreaming and found this ebook called vivid dreaming – I downloaded it and it was pretty good stuff! I suggest you take a look if you’re into lucid dreaming (click my name or go here: – btw I will boukmark this blog, you’re doing a smashing job! Awaiting more of your posts! :)

  16. Yes I think It’s good.I have one.

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.