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


Security is Paramount

For billions of years on this planet, there were no rules. In many places there still are not. A wolf can dine on the entrails of a living doe he has brought down, and no one can stop him. In some species, rape is a more common variety of impregnation than consensual sex. Nature is fucked up, and anyone who argues otherwise has not actually seen nature in action.

This modern era, with its relative orderliness and safety, at least in the West, is an aberration. A bizarre phenomenon, rarely before witnessed in our solar system since its creation. Planetwide coordination is something that just didn't happen until the invention of the telegraph and radio made it possible.

America and Western Europe are full of the most security-deluded people of all. The most recent generations, growing up without any major global conflict -- Generation X and Y -- are practically as ignorant as you can get. Thousands of generations of tough-as-nails people underwent every manner of horrors to incrementally build the orderly and safe society many of us have the luxury of inhabiting today, and the vast majority of Generation X and Y neither appreciate nor understand that.

Wilsonian idealism, in particular, proved to be a turning point in the way Americans think about social interaction on a wide scale. Wilson was one of the first leaders to argue that national actions should be based on approximating some benevolent global goal or ideals rather than narrow national interest. This is not a terrible idea in principle, but without the brutal threat of military force or economic intimidation, it can't be carried out. High ideals are a luxury purchased with the currency of de facto and de jure power. De jure power itself is just a fabrication, a consensual illusion that draws all its strength from de facto power to persist, like a flower depends on its roots and stem.

A defenseless peasant of the Middle Ages could talk all he wanted about treating thy neighbor as thyself, kindness, sharing, reasonableness -- whatever. It wouldn't necessarily stop a power-mad knight from riding onto his land the next day, chopping off his head, taking his wife, and setting fire to his house and fields.

Benevolence, to flourish, should be promoted with words and ideas, but also force. Ultimately, people often choose to be stubborn and ignore all words. There are also those who pretend to go along but coordinate to violate norms discretely, usually with thinly veiled humor.

Security is the foundation of everything else. Free speech, including the ability to criticize the government and military, only exists because the highest power in the land permits it. If it's a God-given right, God had a funny way of implementing it when denied it from all his subjects by default for thousands of years, living under feudal rule and local warlords or strongmen.

Security does not come easy, since there are many people who will violate it any chance they can get for personal gain. Perhaps there exist some aliens who naturally cooperate peacefully, but we are not them. If anything, human beings are more bloodthirsty and warlike than most species, not less. Or, you could say we have a wider variance of behavior -- the ability to be highly cooperative as well as highly uncooperative.

Humanity's tendency to break apart unless constantly under self-vigilance will become an even greater liability for us when the Pandora's Box of Transhumanism is finally opened in the 2030s and 2040s. There are many people in the world interested in technology for only one reason -- to give them a better opportunity to screw over their enemies.

This urge in humanity is simply too omnipresent and intense to be reconciled or eliminated in the very short 20 or 30 years we have before things start to get more intense technologically. We can count on it being there, just as it has been there for thousands of years. The question is what sort of order, or disorder, will emerge when some human beings become radically more powerful than others.

There is a reason why conservatives are afraid of change. If the status quo is seen as acceptable, change makes things worse. Most possible changes, arguably, do. Every improvement is necessarily a change, however, so change is necessary if we are going to improve.

Some transhumanists confront of the challenge of massive power asymmetry like children. They see nanotechnology, life extension, and AI as a form of candy, and reach for them longingly. Like children, they have a temper tantrum at any suggestion that the candy could have negative effects as well as positive ones.

Transhumanists have to grow up. The world is not your candy basket. The technologies we are pushing towards could lead to our demise just as easily as our salvation. You and everything you love could be eliminated by the technologies you were so excited about in the 2010s and 2020s.

A cognitive transhuman, in particular, will be a bewitching thing. Someone who thinks faster than you, understands what your microexpressions mean, and has superior predictive theories of both the natural and artificial world will be able to solve "impossible" problems with some regularity. Detectives and the FBI do not primarily solve cases with guns, but with their minds. Superior transhuman minds will run circles around the merely human minds in law enforcement and the FBI, unless the latter has the equivalent or better intelligence enhancement technology.

The intelligence arms race has the potential to get uglier faster than any merely physical arms race before it. An intelligence with access to its own mind, under threat, will have an incentive to actually boost its paranoia through neural self-modification. Psychological extremes never imagined will become routine states for the most experimental and ambitious of the new self-enhancers. They will have every incentive to downplay their accomplishments, hide their abilities, and they will succeed.

The second we create an intelligence superior to ourselves, the world could become fundamentally unsafe in a new way. The delicate balance of roughly human-level intelligence will be broken. All rules will be thrown out the window. Transhumans will not feel intimidated by the threats of humans. This is a really good thing if they are on our side, a really bad thing if not. The choices we make in creating the first transhumans will determine whether they are on our side or not in the longer term. The great tree of the Transhuman World will be grown by the seed we plant today.

The future is not exciting and optimistic. The future is dark and uncertain, imbued with the heavy sense of responsibility we personally have to make things go well. Reflecting back on this century, if we survive, we will care less about the fun we had, and more about the things we did to ensure that the most important transition in history went well for the weaker ambient entities involved in it. The last century didn't go too well for the weak -- just ask the victims of Hitler and Stalin. Hitler and Stalin were just men, goofballs and amateurs in comparison to the new forms of intelligence, charisma, and insight that cognitive technologies will enable.

Comments (55) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I couldn’t have put this better. The stability of human civilization we enjoy today is but a tiny footnote in our long history. Why should we expect that we have conquered humankind’s darker sides?

  2. Michael, you err in conflating the natural lack of rules with feudalism. I see you’re challenging Hobbes. You should know that the empirical evidence undermines eir claims about the advantages of civilization versus the state of nature. To the contrary, research shows better or equivalent health outcomes among historical hunger-gatherers as compared with seventeenth-century European urban centers. At best, Hobbes wrote only for eir own social class. Until the last century or two, the much trumpeted civilization, order, and progress strictly benefited a tiny elite at the expense of everybody else. Check out Health and the Rise of Civilization by Mark Nathan Cohen for the details.

    Even now, the record stands decidedly mixed. Do longer lives outweigh the psychological harm caused by social hierarchy and the constant self-vigilance (Foucault’s disciple) that you mention? Pick your poison, as they say.

    I share your concerns about technoscience-enabled totalitarianism, but preaching the need for authority to prevent future Stalins and Hitlers suggests a fundamental confusion. What rhetoric do you think those tyrants employed?

    • Summerspeaker, do you have a realistic alternative for “preaching the need for authority to prevent future Stalins and Hitlers”?

      Feudalism and such arose in the world just as soon as there was sufficient technology for people to start subjugating each other, and in retrospect we can see it was inevitable. While some people were nice, others were nasty, and insofar as the nice people decided to stay away from the evils of civilization or whatever, the nasty people just steamrolled over them.

      • Fixating on violence has a tendency to produce more of it. I consider that approach fundamentally misguided. However, even if you see the world strictly in terms of force, decentralization and egalitarianism offer advantages. It’s the giant bureaucracies that enable Hitlers and Stalins. Systems of distributed power give would-be tyrants less to work with.

        Incidentally, the West has no genuine claim to peace, especially not the United States. This country’s military has directly killed tens if not hundreds of thousands over the last decade. The developed world as a whole relies on horrific economic exploitation and environmental degradation. The violence has been exported and internalized, though even then not completely.

        • I agree with Summer about distributed power and bureaucracies.

          I disagree, however, with the exploitation theory. While plausible, the exploitation theory runs into causation problems. It’s difficult to prove that the third world would have been better off, had the first world never existed, which is what the exploitation theory must prove. After all, if the first world’s “exploitation” is better than the alternative (no first world at all), then it can hardly be exploitation. It’s not exploitation to have one’s life improved.

          (Of course, one can argue that this is a false dilemma, because “share the wealth” would be a third, and better, option. But a refusal to share one’s property with strangers is not exploitation. I agree that the first world could be more generous, but I do not think that goes to exploitation.)

          • It doesn’t need to prove that. We’re not talking about tallying all the good and bad done by the west into a single numerical value. For example inventing the printing press had a good effect, America’s sponsorship of dictators (like Pinochet in Chile) had a bad effect. The fact that the printing press was invented in Europe doesn’t compensate for human rights abuses made possible by a country on the other side of the Atlantic.

            Imagine this scenario, someone comes up to you and pokes you in the eye. You protest and as way of defence your attacker points out that his ancestors invented fire which has been incredibly invaluable to the human race, how dare you quibble about a little thing like a poke in the eye in the light of this wonderful contribution.

          • Exploitation theory argues that the South (developing world) would have necessarily developed by now, had the North (developed world) not prevented it. Some scholars argue, however, that the South simply failed to develop through no fault of the North. While the North rose to greater wealth, the South remained stagnant and is in much the same poverty it would have been had the North never developed. In this line of thought, to blame the North for the South’s failure to develop is like blaming the kid who gets better grades by studying harder. If the South wants to develop, instead of blaming the North, it should strive to improve its own cultural and economic resources.

            Now, you don’t have to buy that theory. I don’t even advocate it. I just wanted to throw out an alternative theory. I don’t like the cry of “exploitation” without specific reasoning or examples to back it up. It’s often a very emotional response.

  3. This post reminded me of Blindsight by Watts.

  4. I endorse this essay.

  5. “downplay their accomplishments, hide their abilities”

    This is what the powerful in today’s world already – of course – do. Any power that is put out there for others to scrutinize is necessarily a weakened power. Even an ex-power. To present an attack surface to the enemy, or to your subjects in case of rulers, isn’t how the game is played. This has always been apparent to those who saw they could extract value out of their peers. Never show your cards.

    We are ruled not so much by the words and decisions of our rulers but the expectations that our parents and peers instill and demand of us. Who introduced them? Not us.
    Our participation is involuntary. We never gave our consent. We assumed there was no consent to give. Life has to be lived in this one (world) way. We of the latest generations are indeed blind to the realities of the world, the possibilities, the threats.

    I suspect the first transhumans will indeed stay very low key for a long time and therefore we won’t see the dark clouds gathering. History shows that things often happen in jolts, sharp yesterday-today discontinuities – revolutions. And never more so than in the modern era. I expect to see a few.

    But life will go on, biologically, unchanged no matter how advanced some agents get. The future will not be distributed quickly. The effects will remain local.

    You are perceptive. I welcome your comments.

  6. The main thesis is surprisingly simple. (Some) people take advantage of each other if they have the chance. Second, technology, particularly intelligence augmentation, will exacerbate this problem.

    Of course, this problem isn’t unique to intelligence augmentation. There is already an arms race fought over present technologies. American civil liberties are being fought over in the areas of the cloud and the Third-Party Doctrine, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, GPS surveillance, etc…

    I think the weak part of Michael’s argument is that he sees human intelligence augmentation as necessarily being discontinuous. It will be a radical jump; there will be no time to play catch-up; and whoever is augmented will win. These assumptions are completely unmerited.

  7. «Thousands of generations of tough-as-nails people underwent every manner of horrors to incrementally build the orderly and safe society many of us have the luxury of inhabiting today, and the vast majority of Generation X and Y neither appreciate nor understand that.»

    It’s not just X and Y whose appreciation of history is distorted or non-existent.

    A couple of generations before Generation X and Y, those who ruled were already widely ignorant of these time-proven realities and have been steadily and seemingly irreversibly re-introducing the horrors back to the areas of earth where they had been all but eradicated from, simply by inviting persons to enter from areas where life is still more like it was in the past – take what you can, any way you can. You can take a person out of war but you can’t take the war out of the person. You can bring a person to civilization but that won’t bring civilization to the person. Americans and Asians seem to have a better grasp on these realities than Europeans.

    A few decades ago utterly peaceful countries are plunged centuries back into fear of violence, robbery and rape by those who do not appreciate nor understand history. They are guided by fantasy memes, political ideologies that are not unlike religions. In an environment suffused with memes, not rational thought, they seek personal and political status and gain, and succeed.

    What cities are the rape, mugging, robbery, murder capitals of today in the western, civilized world, including Asia and Oceania? What do statistics tell us of the situation 10-50 years ago? I believe they speak a language few are willing to understand. What will the future hold: Horrors 100 – Peace 0?

    • That is a scary post. It is of course also accurate.

      Predatory memes will only get worse as more and more people are reached by communications technology.

      And due to institutional inertia and possible economic pressures status games will only intensify.

      It seems that, to personify for a moment, reason is just strong enough to act as a memetic immune disorder ( How can we possibly hope for the sanity water line to suddenly pick up the pace and reach and exceed what is needed to solve current problems and deal in advance with things like friendly AIs or shadowy secretly enhanced groups (actually how do we know the first transhumans aren’t already alive and well today? How would one know when transhuman actors started making moves? To give a example of enhancement that dosen’t quite reach into the transhuman realm: It is easy to imagine someone rich hiring a few thousand uterus’s in third world countries a little over a decade ago and buying up the highest IQ eggs money could buy and then simply selecting from the result his heir(s).)

      • Today the memes are having a field day thanks to the introduction of the information supertubeway.

        The politics of the world consists largely of just hosts singing the tunes the parasite memes make them sing and the meme pays its host and servant in power and luxury for its propagation. The servants of the most powerful memes have historically usually been dominant and victorious. The pen is mightier than the sword. The meme is mightier than the pen. Yet, one is well advised to stay away from memetically influenced activies if one wishes to make a difference in the world. If money is the root of all evil, the meme is the one that executes it.

  8. Agree with comments pointing out that these “hidden advantage” problems already exist. Societies also have many layers of en(force)ment. Mall security, local police, national guard, army, etc. Local District Attorney’s office, and upward. The article fails to recognize that breaking existing systems, or breaking large sets of social rules, bears a cost that even a transhuman intelligence might not want to pay, especially given that enforcement systems will evolve (lagged) in these areas as it currently does in, e.g. banking. Also, the problem with keeping secrets is the constant if not non-linearly increasing cost to keep them secure over long periods and scope of influence increases. Best may be to work to ensure that entities to share enough common interests that they pay too high a price in conflict.

  9. There is some serious xenophobia in the comments here. Zazen repeats the ancient nativism that outsiders are ruining our way of life by bringing in their inferior cultural ethos and disrupting our orderly civil society. For one professing an interest in history, Zazen neglects to recall that the same was said of the Irish, the Germans, the Chinese, etc… in the United States. Put frankly, I (and most Americans) would not have the comfort to “indulge” in these apparent delusions, if Zazen’s philosophy had prevailed.

    But I do not think that mimetic handwaving makes a belief in modern comfort delusional. Few Americans are under the delusion that, were civil society to collapse, it’d be “every man for himself”. We revel in apocalyptic movies, after all; it’s nearly a national obsession. It is also not delusion to be willing to have a riskier life in order to have freer life. This is not to say that law enforcement should be denied access to information; quite the contrary. But there is a line to draw, and it is not delusion to draw it on the side of risky liberties.

    But I remain in the dark. What are these modern delusions? Can you clearly articulate them? I have yet to hear one specific delusion.

    • Calling it xenophobia only perpetuates the unreality that has already led to so many disastrous policy errors. Do you read the news? According to you the leaders of the free world are xenophobes.

      I wonder what the name of the bias is for people who label everything they disagree with (usually for no reason based in reality) a phobia.

      • I have no idea what anything you wrote even means. Could you spell it out, instead of using vague words like “it”?

  10. Its all about creating the conditions in which , stealing & plotting against somebody else will simply make no sense in terms of material gain and emotional satisfaction.

    Education, especially public schooling will have to change radically or be phased out in order to make bulliness, dirty competition and conspiracy-plots almost impossible to occur in society.

    What should also really be focused on, is the adults and the teachers/robots/technology who will raise them up and the behavior that is reinforced by the people these kids see in daily life and through mediums, and the quality of conversations/communication that kids have within their local communities and on the net.

  11. The way for any transhumanist who agrees with this is to start working on leveling – reducing power in the hands of the few, increasing transparency, and furthering human rights and democracy.

    We should look closely at governments, corporations, states, universities, criminal networks, the very rich – any general category that wields power out of bounds and has a habit of using this power abusively. We may have to snip these growths in the bud before they turn malignant.

    • “We may have to snip these growths in the bud before they turn malignant.”

      Good luck pulling that off. The kinds of entities you speak of have been running the world for thousands of years now. They’re way past the budding stage, and have already survived countless attempts for truly democratic reform.

      Some effort should be put into the kinds of activities you describe — especially projects for increased transparency have some hope of significant success on a relevant timescale — but one also needs to realize that it’s very unlikely that such approaches will be game-changingly successful (at least not before the Transhuman Transition, i.e. not soon enough to be a key part of the solution to those greatest challenges of all).

      Most likely very large power asymmetries will remain for what time we have left before the Transhuman Transition. Therefore, that is the system within which one needs to work if one is serious about actually having an influence on how stuff unfolds.

    • Transparency of governance and regulation is the most potent protection available.

  12. I think the dangers lie in the fact that transhumanism might cause imbalances in the social skills of human beings.

    If some people have an edge and can enchance their cognitive powers and their genes.

    Think about what will happen if some people develop superior conversational skills and a superior sense of humor, superior athletic abilities, looks, etc.

    That will cause social division, I think the danger lies not so much in who gets material abundance, as in who will try and gain an edge in the social aspects of life.

    It will create a deprived class of people who wish they could do/have these things, and who feel that their current looks, sense of humor, athletic abilities, critical thinking, imagination and intellectual abilities are insufficient and irrelevant, because of these “super humans”. Really… This is an important subject of discussion. Transhumanism has the potential to marginalize and alienate millions of people and make their lifes seem less meaningful and exiting. Because these people will notice the huge difference between themself and the “uber-mensch”. So there is a gap there. And it’s that gap, which i fear.

  13. Funny, when I made some of these same comments to Anna Soloman, she dismissed them as beneath notice in terms of technology’s influenece upon the future.

    I have more than just a little bit of experience at using technology to evade the law (I have given that practice up some time ago), mostly to evade the laws of other nations for the benefit of the USA, but I also used the SAME TECHNOLOGIES here in the USA for my own (and my compatriots’) personal benefit.

    Anna Soloman did not seem to get that one needn’t invent a Human+ Level of Intelligence before it became a SEVERE threat to mankind.

    Just have a look at what Derivatives have done to the economy, or what entertainment technologies have done to the way that people obtain news in the USA (and in other parts of the world as well).

    Most humans dangle at the end of puppet-strings dancing to the tunes of corporations who manipulate those strings.

    With the work being done at places like Berkeley, UCSF, UCLA, UCSD, and USC on technologies such as the Prosthetic Hippocampus, Dopamine Synthesis Enhancement, And control of the Basal Ganglia’s regulation of the Thalamus (another Dopamine system) it will not be too terribly long before heightened memory, attention and salience control features are available to those with the money (or “Medical Need”)… Or, for those who perform certain “Jobs” which the Government or Corporate Power use to acquire even more power.

    And, I will be one of the people who will be working to provide these technologies (I will be starting my Junior year at either Berkeley, UCSD or UCLA next fall. I have heard from all three and I just need to make up my mind at this point which one I will be attending to study Computational Neuroscience). I have met many others who are far sharper crayons in the box than I, who will themselves be working toward similar technologies, but with a far less developed sense of ethical behavior and morality than I have acquired…

    These are very real issues… Although… I doubt that they will destroy society. My guess is that they will fragment society. Do that in the right way, and we would never notice it.

  14. Michael, thanks for this very dark but relevant and realistic analysis. It is important because it doesn’t focus on the technology, but the application of it.

    There are already processes, organizations, or individuals that already exhibit the characteristics of “cognitive transhumans”: corporations, high-speed trading platforms, high net worth individuals, special interest groups, unrestrained global trade.

    I believe that those who desire a positive, constructive path for transhumanism, the singularity, AI, necessarily must ally with those calling for political and economic transparency, universal and enforceable human rights, social justice and equality.

  15. The film “Limitless” explores these concerns in an entertaining and, to my mind, realistic way.
    A Stalin who is twice as smart and lives forever is very scary.

  16. All the fears which I have seen in these comments seem based on quite probably false assumptions. What you all are assuming is that Hitler, Stalin, and the like possessed the same desires as transhumans of the future. If neurotransmitter levels are corrected then they will not possess these desires. Are we really going to postulate that transhumans will have such errors in mental faculties yet you all admit they will have superior intelligence? Would this not include superior emotional intelligence? It seems we’re only looking at one kind of intelligence, working memory in the prefrontal cortex.

    Example to possibly help enlighten:
    Humans evolved past chimps while sharing a common ancestor. In this scenario there should exist not fear, but motivation to evolve if one so desires. Some may miss out on evolving for no opportunity. Is this not different than how evolution has always worked? Species are left behind. What are we so afraid of exactly?

  17. In danger of sounding like the kid reaching for his candy. I think this highly pessimistic view on humanity is inaccurate and is definitely not going to help. If we just look at the data I see a lot of positive developments in the last century suggesting that humanity is improving its moral end ethical position. You referring to Hitler and Stalin is not convincing to me at all. Stating a superior intelligence would easily outdo their cruelties is a simplistic way of putting things at best. Hitler and Stalin could never have come to power and done what they have done if circumstances weren’t just right and the populous was not receptive to authoritarian rule. I assume that any climate in which agi arises will also have conciderable intelligence gains for the populous which most likely will in turn guard humanity from being ruled in an undemocratic fashion. Furthermore I agree with your main suggestion that nature is intrinsically indifferent and therefore atrocities can take place. But I think this aplies to humanity less and less as our tools increase in power and the general trend moves to better ethics and morals. None of the transhumanist children you describe don’t realize there are inherent dangers attached to reaching a singularity. But we have to ask ourselves who will benefit from fear mongering in the long run? So let’s stop polarizing everything and concentrate on the most constructive way to transcend without ignoring the risks involved.

  18. Some good points in the article. We need to be careful about the future, and make sure it unfolds in a way that keeps us alive. However, I think it’s important to note that technology has *in general* consistently made out lives better as time has gone on; it keeps increasing human lifespan, health, and standard of living with each century that passes.

    I do disagree with one part of the article:
    “If anything, human beings are more bloodthirsty and warlike than most species, not less.” I actually think we are not that bloodthirsty relative to other species. We do have a tendency for cooperation and empathy that many other species don’t have. As vile as human beings can be to each other, rape, infanticide, war/murder, and other immoral actions are still more common in the animal kingdom. Rape happens among humans but it isn’t our primary means of reproduction. Infanticide occurs regularly all throughout the animal kingdom but is still relatively rare in humans, even in lawless areas. I actually think humans, for all our flaws, do quite well considering we are battling against the current of our evil animal nature.

    One hope I have is that it may be possible, through technology, to change our bloodthirsty and greedy nature itself. The soul/self is really physical in nature (it’s the human brain and its processes) and so it can be altered. Though I recognize some will not choose to alter their nature in a more peaceful way.

  19. “@The soul/self is really physical in nature (it’s the human brain and its processes) and so it can be altered.”

    What’s then “in a less peaceful way”? Anyone who knows anything about humans LOL now. :)

    It sure can be altered, in a millisecond!

    On a more serious note, anyone who has seen an addict go clean knows it’s very very very chemical indeed.

    But I have no illusions about the plasticity of the brain: we’re installing children with very flawed software, thanks to the disease that is the meme (religion, politics, nationalism, etc.), and yet we have no reliable way of uninstalling them. Rationality doesn’t work!

  20. The brain may exhibit plasticity, even to an old age, but the mind doesn’t after childhood. That’s why we need generations to keep things moving along. Can you imagine people from the 1800s being still around? Even a lot of people from the 1950s seem out of touch and just standing in the way. The average age of tech companies is rather on the low side than the high, isn’t it?

  21. A meme is not a disease. The English language, any song you’ve learned to sing, and your own name are all memes.

    Let’s rewrite your post by deleting the erroneous use of the word “meme”.

    “[W]e’re installing children with very flawed software, [such as irrational notions like] (religion, politics, nationalism, etc.)[.]”

    Notice how deleting the word “meme” made the sentence easier to read.

    • Sure, not all memes are diseases. There are good bacteria and bad bacteria. But for every good meme there are a thousand bad ones. That’s why humanity has been called a disease on planet Earth. I was using it in that way; similarly to not thinking that humanity is a disease, just that sufficiently large and influential parts of it are for it to be called one. Memes are great. Our life would be much less if we didn’t have them to enjoy. Just like people. The dark side memes should be gotten rid of. One way or another (probably another) they will, in time. And that will cure a lot of the people problems, because people problems are software problems.

  22. Now is better than then by miles as you point out in your post. Proportionately fewer people these days need to worry about bandits raping and pillaging our villages. Why think that trend will change?

    As technology provides more and more relief for our material needs, society will become more and more peaceful.

    Besides, we will be the super-intelligent beings that exist in the future. If you had the power to oppress others by using your super-powers, would you do it? No, you wouldn’t. Nor would anyone else. What’s the point?

  23. You want to know the point why people would? The point to oppress people for no good reason can be found in irrational and disastrous collections of memes called religions.

    The “people of the [meme]” will oppress you. Memes will oppress you, mentally and physically. That’s the only reason some of them exist, to justify oppression. Why? Because some people like to oppress, and come up with memes to justify it, put them in a book and there you have it: justification for oppression that billions can enjoy. And they’re doing pretty well last time I checked – regionally 90%+ religious.

  24. You’ve had the same vision of the future as Nietzsche. From Tom Wolfe’s essay “Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died” and its analysis of Nietzche:

    “The story I have to tell,” wrote Nietzsche, “is the history of the next two centuries.” He predicted (in Ecce Homo ) that the twentieth century would be a century of “wars such as have never happened on earth,” wars catastrophic beyond all imagining. And why? Because human beings would no longer have a god to turn to, to absolve them of their guilt; but they would still be racked by guilt, since guilt is an impulse instilled in children when they are very young, before the age of reason. As a result, people would loathe not only one another but themselves. The blind and reassuring faith they formerly poured into their belief in God, said Nietzsche, they would now pour into a belief in barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods: “If the doctrines…of the lack of any cardinal distinction between man and animal, doctrines I consider true but deadly”–he says in an allusion to Darwinism in Untimely Meditations –“are hurled into the people for another generation … then nobody should be surprised when …brotherhoods with the aim of the robbery and exploitation of the non-brothers…will appear in the arena of the future.” …

    Nietzsche said that mankind would limp on through the twentieth century “on the mere pittance” of the old decaying God-based moral codes. But then, in the twenty-first, would come a period more dreadful than the great wars, a time of “the total eclipse of all values” (in The Will to Power ). This would also be a frantic period of “revaluation,” in which people would try to find new systems of values to replace the osteoporotic skeletons of the old. But you will fail, he warned, because you cannot believe in moral codes without simultaneously believing in a god who points at you with his fearsome forefinger and says “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not.”

    Why should we bother ourselves with a dire prediction that seems so far-fetched as “the total eclipse of all values”? Because of man’s track record, I should think. After all, in Europe, in the peaceful decade of the 1880s, it must have seemed even more far-fetched to predict the world wars of the twentieth century and the barbaric brotherhoods of Nazism and Communism. Ecce vates! Ecce vates! Behold the prophet! How much more proof can one demand of a man’s powers of prediction?

    Echoing Wolfe is A.N. Wilson, who in “God’s Funeral” comes very close to laying the horrors of the 20th century at the feet of the atheistic philosophers of the 19th century. He sites two main philosophical branches: the Carlyle/Nietzsche branch in which God is replaced with the hero or superman, and the Hegel/Marx branch in which heaven is replaced with a workers utopia. The first gave us the atrocities of the far right, the other the atrocities of the far left.

    The first half of Nietzsche’s prophecy has come true. God help us if Nietzche is right again. If he’s right a second time the coming century will see horrors greater than those of the 20th century.

  25. “Humanity’s tendency to break apart unless constantly under self-vigilance will become an even greater liability for us when the Pandora’s Box of Transhumanism is finally opened in the 2030s and 2040s.”

    In the past, our violent, baser instincts were (barely) contained by religion. The point being that nobody can be “good” without proper socialization. And historically, the best vehicle for delivering socialization has always been religion.

    In our natural (nasty, brutish and short) state we are vicious and feral species, not unlike our evolutionary cousins the chimpanzees. It takes considerable amount of training, indoctrination, and socialization to make our naturally feral species fit for civilization (if only barely).

    The harsh fact is, we are not naturally good.

    Our natural instincts formed by millennia as hunter/scavengers on the plains of Africa are not suited for civilized society. We are hard wired for survival and procreation in a much more brutal environment. Civilization is a recent software add-on which conflicts with our basic OS.

    The real question is what is the best means or tool for proper socialization.

    Religion is the most cost effective way of socializing naturally feral human children so they can function in a civilized setting. The two main agents for civilizing humans have always been policemen and priests. Of the two, priests are far more cost effective as thay are assisted by the belief in an all seeing, invisible God who hands out judgement.

    Historically, societies that have tried a purely secular approach to socialization (revolutionary France, communist regimes of the 20th century, etc.) have poor track records. As noted by the atheist historian Renan:

    “Let us enjoy the liberty of the sons of God, but let us take care lest we become accomplices to the diminution of virtue which would menace society if Christianity were to grow weak. What would we do without it? If Rationalism wishes to govern the world without regard to the religious needs of the soul, the experiences of the French Revolution is there to teach us the consequences of such a blunder.”

    Whether a religion is true or false is unprovable, and doesn’t matter anyways. What matters is whether religion is useful and necessary. History and human nature say it is.

  26. doowoper-

    You said: “you cannot believe in moral codes without simultaneously believing in a god who points at you with his fearsome forefinger and says ‘Thou shalt’ or ‘Thou shalt not.'”

    Do you mean that those who believe in a compassionate, forgiving god are less likely to be moral than those who believe in a frightening, angry god?

    Here’s another question: if, as a study recently suggested*, atheists are /less/ likely to cheat on tests than believers in a compassionate deity but are more likely to cheat than believers in a fearsome deity; should we encourage atheism, if it is too difficult to inculcate a belief in a fearsome deity?


    (Actually, I suspect that if we disaggregated “atheist” into more categories, we might find that some types of atheists are more moral than any type of believer in religion. But that’s for another day.)

  27. Panda, the trouble with the “atheists can be as moral as theists” argument is that it fails to distinguish between individuals and people as a group. To quote one of my favorite movies, “Men in Black”:

    “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it”

    To paraphrase, a person (atheist or otherwise) can be moral, but people are evil, nasty, cruel animals – and you know it.

    The purpose of religion is to ensure group peace and stability, which was the point Nietzsche (not me) was making.

    Remove the fear of a vengeful God who hands out punishment and people do horrible things, whether its the Terror of the French revolution noted by Renan or the Nazis and Communists (“barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods”) of the past century predicted by Nietzsche.

    Or the more horrible things Nietzsche predicted would occur in this century once we achieved the “total eclipse of all values”.

    In such a situation the morals of enlightened indiviudals don’t mean squat.

    • Most people are of low IQ, therefore religion exists.
      Most people are of low IQ, therefore violence (and all kinds of immoral behavior) exists.

      A relatively, though not absolutely, small number of people are of very high IQ. The highest IQ group has no such problems. No beliefs. No violent tendencies. No problems at all. They’re pulling the sled forward, while the rest are freeloaders and even set up roadblocks. They’re doing the heavy lifting. They’re creating new capabilities out of the nothingness of the void to help humanity. You and me. Everyone. Only because of them, humanity is where it’s at today. The rest are just there for the ride.

      The only true, real, substantial problem of humanity is its generally insufficient IQ, cosmically speaking just above the threshold of having any consequence whatsoever to the workings of physical reality. All other untrue and nasty things, like religion and violence, are the consequences of it – and notice how much they go hand in hand. They’re nonexistent in the highest IQ group (with the exception of the mentally ill).

      Sufficiently high IQ is the only guarantee of true sanity. Sanity of the highest kind that wishes no ill to anyone and wants to believe nothing untrue, that is, that which can’t be demonstrated to be true, true as in physical or logical (proof) reality.

      Our species needs to be uplifted, as in brain-augmented. For all IQ-caused problems to be solved, everyone must be in the highest group. And eventually everyone will be.

      Until then, feed them what they can chew. (That is, religion, political propaganda, nationalism, etc.)

      • You be sure to get back with us once you figured out how to raise everyone’s IQ.

        In the meantime you just might want to consider the possibility that higher IQ wil simply result in smarter criminals.

        Also, since the new atheism is kind of a “white boy” thing, with blacks and women being under represented in the atheist ranks, does your IQ arguement imply that blacks are less intelligent than whites or that women are less intelligent than men?

        • IQ is a measure of certain reliably repeatable mental performance characteristics that have a strong, even inevitable and inescapable, correlation with real-world consequences, beliefs, skills, and life outcomes. That is, statistically. That means that even though each person is an individual, you’re very very unlikely and also likely to find certain kinds of abilities, attitudes, and life decisions, if that person has a low IQ and vice versa.

          I don’t see any argument there, nor need for arguments. The question of IQ is not a question one can argue about, or have opinions about, any more than one can have about the capacity of a CPU. It can only be tested, not argued about. An IQ test is a benchmark, like the ones you do on computer hardware. Those who get good IQ scores, tend to like IQ measuring, those who don’t doubt and ignore them. “What’s this IQ fetish of yours? What good is IQ anyway? IQ is not such a big deal. It’s another flawed test that doesn’t tell us anything real about us as humans.” To which the high IQ person can only sigh: if you only knew… IQ is an important and central metric among the high IQ people because they know it’s all that really matters.

          You might want to consider that crime is always dumber, that is, easier, than non-crime and that’s the reason really smart people don’t commit crime. They don’t find it mentally satisfying, and to them the money isn’t everything, or not much at all. They have smarter, more mentally challenging and rewarding things to do. Crime is a risky, uncertain way to earn a living, and it often doesn’t pay well compared to the risks. Crime attracts people who are unable to perform the elaborate mental work that is, with few exceptions, required for great sums of money to exchange hands, and the barrier of entry real money-making business is growing continuously.

          • “An IQ test is a benchmark, like the ones you do on computer hardware.”

            IQ tests are culturally biased and therefore useless as a gauge of intelligence.

            Brain =! computer hardware
            Mind =! software

  28. “Most people are of low IQ, therefore religion exists.
    Most people are of low IQ, therefore violence (and all kinds of immoral behavior) exists.”

    Notice that I say ‘most’. If most people were of high IQ, religion and violence would not be tolerated, at all, any more than we tolerate drugs and breaking things (though we do tolerate them a lot more today than they would be tolerated in a high IQ society, which is zero). They actually already aren’t tolerated in high IQ parts of humanity. Good luck spewing Fairytales of Your Parents to people who wish to understand and know the world or acting even a bit aggressively: it’s the end of your participation in that society. If you’re of high IQ and mentally not ill, such things just don’t happen.

    • Hey let me guess… You’re one of those lucky few people with the high IQs that are soooo much better than the rest of us, aren’t you?

      • You seem to have a problem with the concept of IQ and minds as machines. All of reality is a single machine made of smaller machines. We couldn’t figure out how the world works if it weren’t a machine, after all.

        And the concept of some configurations of matter being much better than others strikes you as ludicrous, and unfair. Am I right? We should stop Nobel prizes and the like right away, because those guys can’t be sooo much better than the rest of us, right?

        I find that outlook on life a really weird and sad one. Instead of being jealous, you should feel lucky that there exists way waay higher than your IQ people in the world during your lifetime. Without them, we’d be in the caves.

        High IQ folks also tend to be a bit richer than the rest of us. And more artistically talented. And are and/or have better looking spouses. And healthier and live longer, etc. to add insult after insult to injury.

        I myself am a bit on the lucky side, being certainly in the top 10-20%, probably way less than 10%. I’ve turned my luck in the cosmic lottery into helping others, and not thinking about the 80-90% as “below” me – though it is very very appallingly apparent at times – so don’t hate the player hate the game!

  29. Good context-relevant historical recap from doowoper on Nietzsche and some associated things. Thanks.

    (In your argument with Mind Container, on the other hand, the position you’re trying to defend unfortunately isn’t a solid one.)

  30. Criminology is a vast field with many explanations for destructive human behavior.

    Pointing to higher IQ as a panacea is dangerous. This is because relative IQ may matter more than absolute IQ.

    Committing crime is the smartest way to get anywhere for some segments of society. If those of higher IQ dominate the legitimate routes to success, then you might look for another way out. Under this theory, you could triple everyone’s IQ, but because the smartest will always control the legitimate means of success, you have simply made the left-out criminal smarter…

  31. Yeah! There’s only so much beach-front property to go around.

    We’d all be much happier if there were fewer of us.

  32. Thanks, Michael. Very clear and thought-provoking, as your usual.

    Two favorite quotes come to mind-

    Sir Martin Rees (on the human prospect)-“I am a technological optimist and a poltical pessimist”.

    British political theorist John Gray- (on genetic engineering and “redesign”ing humans)-“…they will not do so based on enlightened international consensus. It will occur haphazardly, as part of competition and conflict among states, business corporations and criminal networks”.

    I would add, as if the above weren’t dismal enough, the likelihood of error and unintended consequences, especially if these technology races are seen as zero-sum, first or lost (sic) competitions.

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