God in the Machine
April 18, 2017 1:40 AM   Subscribe

 
Transhumanism offered a vision of redemption without the thorny problems of divine justice.

As Spider Jerusalem probably said, it's all just different flavors of snake oil, anyway.

(Nifty article, though.)
posted by rokusan at 1:58 AM on April 18, 2017 [6 favorites]


Transhumanism is where I landed after escaping the fundamentalist evangelical feedback loop. Ten years later, I called it quits on Transhumanism, too; here's my comment on Metafilter right about when that happened.

It is very difficult, if not impossible, for someone who has been raised since birth with the belief that they are literally immortal - that *they* just go on forever in a less fetid format - to ever accept the idea of ending. I certainly haven't, not fully - at best I can manage a sort of "either a mind exists in stasis or it is *always* changing including, eventually, into something it would earlier have regarded as complete anathema."

That quote from Fight Club, "on a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero" extended to "on a trillion-year timeline, eventually everyone gets bored and tries genocide, rape, or pedophilia."

Put like that, maybe dying eventually isn't the worst thing that can happen.

At any rate - a seamless, bit-by-bit copy/uploading process for the human mind conducted while the user is awake and aware might be possible if the transfer to emulation occurs one synapse at a time, with the output from the virtual synapses still being fed back into the biological system until all synapses were successfully emulated. I wrote a much longer version of this idea here. If followed through, it would pretty effectively demolish the whole "am I just a copy?" objection.
posted by Ryvar at 2:52 AM on April 18, 2017 [7 favorites]


The similarities have often been pointed out, but the essay gains immensely from being written by someone with deep personal engagement and real knowledge.

I think our lives don't have to continue forever; properly understood, the fact that they are real is enough; it means they're never really wiped away and nobody lives in vain. But that's hard to believe. The irony is that transhumanists, by convincing themselves that life is not real, merely digital patterns, just simulation, might be distancing themselves even further from the understanding that might provide comfort in the admittedly terrifying face of death.
posted by Segundus at 3:13 AM on April 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think our lives don't have to continue forever; properly understood, the fact that they are real is enough; it means they're never really wiped away and nobody lives in vain. But that's hard to believe.

Can you expand on what you mean here? It seems true that people change the world in meaningful ways as part of their lives, so I agree that they are neither wiped away upon death nor lived in vain. But that doesn't sound like anything anyone could disagree with.

Do you think a happy human life of any duration is equally good as any other?
posted by value of information at 3:37 AM on April 18, 2017


You know the part where people are generally kinda jerks? You know, those that stand directly infront of you and have a conversation which prevents you from being able to reach the B&M baked beans and seem oblivious to your reach for them? So as a result you slowly smoulder because you can't get around them because their cart is blocking the way as it is mashed close enough to both the wall and the cart of the person their having a conversation with... so now you're contemplating going back all the way up aile 7, racing around aisle 8 and coming up the other side of aisle 7 so you can either reach the can from that angle or at least give the oblivious person the stink eye?

With transhumanism we have an option of being our better selves... so we can actually edit that response... I mean, you instill more patience in yourself, or prevent yourself from blocking the aisle by increasing your awareness... you can basically edit yourself and others into only harmonious interactions... which soon enough means since all you are at that point is a virtual brain is minimizing how much you impact others around you... slowly pulling back until your personal server is condensed into a singular place... a small box on a rack... disconnected from the rest of the world... which saves more space than a coffin and a gravestone.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:54 AM on April 18, 2017 [10 favorites]


It's called "the Rapture for geeks" for a reason.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:10 AM on April 18, 2017 [8 favorites]


when i think about technological immortality (if it's even possible), i think of the kind of people who would be the first to be able to afford it and i'm reminded that senesence and death, while inconvenient for the individual, are a great boon to society as a whole
posted by murphy slaw at 4:53 AM on April 18, 2017 [26 favorites]


I just mean to rebut the view that because we all die and everything is eventually destroyed, nothing is of any real worth.

I realise a topic as complex as this can hardly be dismissed as glibly as that, but this is after all just a blog comment.
posted by Segundus at 5:18 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


"At any rate - a seamless, bit-by-bit copy/uploading process for the human mind conducted while the user is awake and aware might be possible if the transfer to emulation occurs one synapse at a time, with the output from the virtual synapses still being fed back into the biological system until all synapses were successfully emulated. I wrote a much longer version of this idea here. If followed through, it would pretty effectively demolish the whole "am I just a copy?" objection."
Sort of a Brain of Theseus type item then. Intriguing. I don't personally think that gets away from the reality of the end-state *being* a copy (and the user's ultimate awareness of that fact), but it does use a process of such incremental change that no one step can be cleanly pointed to as the moment things switched over. In that sense, it feels eerily similar to the discussions I have elsewhere, over the minute, incremental changes between a populations' genes, eventually resulting in wildly different species, observed in evolution.
posted by mystyk at 5:44 AM on April 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


It's difficult to overlook the fact that "the transhumanist" is an anagram of "hermits hunt satan", if you see what I'm getting at there.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:53 AM on April 18, 2017 [20 favorites]


Crucially, though, "transhumanist" is an anagram of "'Man is thus' rant"
posted by Segundus at 6:05 AM on April 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


I've never understood how transhumanists get away with glibly handwaving away the implications of Poincare's proof that even simple systems like the three-body problem can't be computationally simulated without increasingly divergent error. In practical terms, a complete understanding of most physical systems is as intractable as hard cryptography. If you have the rock, you can just measure it. If you don't, the processing time to simulate it beyond a trivial abstraction will take longer than the lifespan of the universe.

My other annoyance is the way in which singularity cultists inevitably ignore the "socio" in "sociotechnology." Good engineering ideas that are truly disruptive to existing social, economic, and labor systems are murdered in their crib. This has been a truth of technology since the neolithic. At most, the hypothesized singularity computer would be impotent to do more than to flood the patent office with applications that would mostly be ignored, except for the ones that are most marketable.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:10 AM on April 18, 2017 [10 favorites]


It is very difficult, if not impossible, for someone who has been raised since birth with the belief that they are literally immortal - that *they* just go on forever in a less fetid format - to ever accept the idea of ending.

Conversely, I was raised atheist and I feel nothing but a spectrum between utter disinterest and screaming fantods when confronted with the idea of immortality (depending upon how that immortality is conceived of). I don't get the appeal, at all.


With transhumanism we have an option of being our better selves.
Couldn't one just do that... right now?
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:24 AM on April 18, 2017 [21 favorites]


when i think about technological immortality (if it's even possible), i think of the kind of people who would be the first to be able to afford it and i'm reminded that senescence and death, while inconvenient for the individual, are a great boon to society as a whole

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."- Max Planck

Imagine the geocentric folks, or the creationists, or the mercantilists still held all the top academic positions and controlled all the capital and would keep them in perpetuity. Immortality holds the likelihood of incredible societal stagnation. Also imagine the restrictions they'd put on reproduction to prevent (the now real) problem of overpopulation.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:24 AM on April 18, 2017 [14 favorites]


Good engineering ideas that are truly disruptive to existing social, economic, and labor systems are murdered in their crib.

Huh? Tell that to the steam engine, birth control, the printing press, and the internet.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:28 AM on April 18, 2017 [10 favorites]


2/3rds of the way thru the article and the author hasn't mention Dr. Aldous Leekie, the Dyad Institute or Neolutionists yet ... what's going on?
posted by pjsky at 6:28 AM on April 18, 2017 [9 favorites]


This topic suddenly feels so sane next to the politics/election threads.
posted by runcifex at 6:39 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


no it doesn't
posted by glasseyes at 6:41 AM on April 18, 2017 [9 favorites]


In this bargain-bin pre-apocalyctic cyberpunk dystopia we currently endure, any exit seems like a good exit.
posted by signal at 6:44 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


Ok, finished the article and now I'm wondering .... Don't kids read Franz Kafka anymore?
posted by pjsky at 6:44 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


What I just don't understand is how this:

According to the “Argument for Virtuous Engineers”, it was reasonable to assume that our creators were benevolent because the capacity to build sophisticated technologies required “long-term stability” and “rational purposefulness”. These qualities could not be cultivated without social harmony, and social harmony could be achieved only by virtuous beings

matches up with libertarianism. Shouldn't they all be socialists?
posted by glasseyes at 6:45 AM on April 18, 2017 [5 favorites]


I've long been fond of the idea that AI could lead to a new field, applied theology, where one could try out the effects of different belief systems, and even engineer new ones, thus introducing a proper scientific framework for religion. (I blame a childhood infection by the PKD virus, which has bound itself irrevocably to my CNS.)

The ethics of this - and the actual theology - are delightfully tangled, as are the practicalities. Assuming you have an AI, into which I think the class of transhumanist mind comfortably fits, then on top of the existing issues of free will, perception, divine nature, etc, you have the new issues of precision self-modification of cognitive function, regression, memory malleability, effective immortality, and duplication.

Religion as it is now is an entirely human creation, and filled with beings who are to a greater or lesser extent analogues of humans with various superhero powers. (The extent to which this is true of animism-based religions is arguable, but I think the case can be made.) We made our gods in our own image, and our images are formed from our inate physical and mental capabilities and processes. Those will change, as AIs will be infinitely reconfigurable, so the gods - if there be gods - will have to change too.

Which doesn't fit well with Abrahamic religions at all, I fear the trans-evos aren't thinking this through.
posted by Devonian at 6:59 AM on April 18, 2017 [4 favorites]


Tell that to the steam engine,

The steam engine was invented to drain coal mines so that capitalists could send workers deeper to meet a rising demand for residential and industrial energy (steel and glass production) due to the clearcutting of most of England's forest lumber resources and exhaustion of accessible surface coal. Its application to transportation initially covered gaps in commercial waterway transportation. It's application to manufacturing was evolutionary from the use of water power to run the same machines.

birth control,

Extended history going back to the Roman era in support of existing patriarchal relationships. See archaeological discoveries of mass infanticide associated with brothels. The automobile changed family structure in the 20th century more than birth control did. Birth control has been almost completely co-opted and regulated by patriarchal systems on all levels: produced by corporate oligarchies, adoption dictated by sexism within relationships, available with approval from a professional medical system, and regulated by governments that hate women.

the printing press,

Existed in different forms for centuries until changes in socio-economic structures made information into a commodity. The printing press fit well with the rise of a growing merchant class and was quickly coopted into capitalist systems.

the internet

Invented and developed as an expansion of a military communication doctrines going back to the American Civil War. Most of the utility of the internet and its associated problems (including flaming, identity, cryptographic issues, commercialization, and the use of cheap labor in data centers) are evolutionary with earlier telecommunications networks. The structure of the internet has evolved, in some ways, to recreate earlier disparities in capitalist infrastructure development.

So pretty much you've just provided four examples of innovations that were either developed to enhance existing systems of economic power, or have been completely coopted by those systems of economic power.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:01 AM on April 18, 2017 [6 favorites]


Anyone else make this random connection?
  • She says: Once, after following link after link, I came across a paper called “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” It was written by the Oxford philosopher and transhumanist Nick Bostrom, who used mathematical probability to argue that it’s “likely” that we currently reside in a Matrix-like simulation of the past created by our posthuman descendants
  • She lives in Chicago.
  • The Wachowskis were from Chicago
  • The Matrix has street names and a general look-and-feel borrowed from Chicago
Tumbling down the rabbit hole, indeed.
posted by zooropa at 7:04 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


did you ever wonder if maybe Morpheus was pretty bad at his job and that a different person in charge of onboarding would have at least put "welcome to the desert of the real" in colorful block letters on a nice banner and provide cake and some drinks, take the edge off the whole reality-shaking revelation a bit at least
posted by cortex at 7:14 AM on April 18, 2017 [27 favorites]


I think the Catholic church may have a somewhat different opinion of the printing press as non-disruptive technology that enhanced existing power structures, and its absence from the early modern Islamic world provides an interesting comparison.

The original point was that truly disruptive technologies are strangled in the crib. If so, where are the bodies? A shipwreck off Antikythera? I don't think anyone claims that early automation was deliberately suppressed, just that it didn't confer economic advantage in a world of slaves.
posted by Devonian at 7:18 AM on April 18, 2017 [8 favorites]


...the Oxford philosopher and transhumanist Nick Bostrom, who used mathematical probability to argue that it’s “likely” that we currently reside in a Matrix-like simulation of the past created by our posthuman descendants

That's the sexy part of his argument, but it's really a more complicated dilemma structure:

ABSTRACT. This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed..

If you buy that, and also think the idea of the "post-human" is hogwash, then you're stuck in stupid old reality.
posted by thelonius at 7:20 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


Extended history going back to the Roman era in support of existing patriarchal relationships. See archaeological discoveries of mass infanticide associated with brothels. The automobile changed family structure in the 20th century more than birth control did. Birth control has been almost completely co-opted and regulated by patriarchal systems on all levels: produced by corporate oligarchies, adoption dictated by sexism within relationships, available with approval from a professional medical system, and regulated by governments that hate women.

You can say literally any invention "has been almost completely co-opted and regulated by patriarchal systems on all levels" by the fact that it exists and is widely used. That's not an argument.

Birth control means that women can effectively put pressure on first world governments to support gender equality, pro-child policies, and generous childcare provisions, because otherwise you get a birthrate like Italy's. The delicious irony is that this pressure works especially well with racist nativists who are generally opposed to those policies, but are even more terrified of being overwhelmed by brown immigrants.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:23 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


The automobile changed family structure in the 20th century more than birth control did. Birth control has been almost completely co-opted and regulated by patriarchal systems on all levels: produced by corporate oligarchies, adoption dictated by sexism within relationships, available with approval from a professional medical system, and regulated by governments that hate women.

The fact that birth control is contested and fought over is not proof that it is ineffective; rather the opposite. It has utterly transformed the lives of women, most significantly their rates of survival into old age. The fact that it failed to banish patriarchy like a magic wish does not mean it has no real value. I think you need to do more reading on this issue.

Back to the topic: I have said before that my number one issue with human immortality is that it means we will never be rid of people like Dick Cheney or the current president. My fear of death is assuaged by the comfort I take in knowing that eventually, even the worst assholes will die.
posted by emjaybee at 7:29 AM on April 18, 2017 [18 favorites]


Anyone else make this random connection?
She says: Once, after following link after link, I came across a paper called “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” It was written by the Oxford philosopher and transhumanist Nick Bostrom, who used mathematical probability to argue that it’s “likely” that we currently reside in a Matrix-like simulation of the past created by our posthuman descendants
She lives in Chicago.
The Wachowskis were from Chicago
The Matrix has street names and a general look-and-feel borrowed from Chicago
Tumbling down the rabbit hole, indeed.


Wait, are you saying we've all been living in Chicago this whole time?

If so, why can't I get a decent hot dog?
posted by leotrotsky at 7:32 AM on April 18, 2017 [9 favorites]


Can we give these guys their own bathrooms already? I just want to take a dump without being surrounded by the existential terror of mortality.
posted by Behemoth at 7:33 AM on April 18, 2017 [6 favorites]


You need to eat more fiber, then.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:34 AM on April 18, 2017 [5 favorites]


It seems The Guardian have decided to double down on their Whatsapp-misinfo stupidity.

Ray Kurzweil is not a good representative of transhumanism.

Yet although few transhumanists would likely admit it, their theories about the future are a secular outgrowth of Christian eschatology.

It's interesting how people criticise transhumanists for predicting X, Y, and Z about the future, while their own belief systems contain no future predictions whatsoever (or they don't have the intellectual courage to examine the future implications of their beliefs).

You end up contending with the kinds of things the west dealt with more than a hundred years ago: materialism, the end of history, the death of the soul.

This points to "incompetent theological institution."

One morning, on the train home from work, I became convinced that my flesh was melting into the seat.

Speaking as someone who's dealt with my fair share of mental illness, this is not a helpful addition to the article.

But at least one piece of that despair came from the knowledge that my body was no longer a sacred vessel; that it was not a temple of the holy spirit, formed in the image of God and intended to carry me into eternity; that my body was matter, and any harm I did to it was only aiding the unstoppable process of entropy for which it was destined.

I think Greg Egan has it (assuming there's no God and the purely materialist conception of reality is the correct one) "there's no pre-existing abyss, you have to create it all yourself on your way down."

but the stakes in my case were higher because I was planning to become a missionary after graduation. I nodded deferentially as my friends supplied the familiar apologetics, but afterward, in the silence of my dorm room, I imagined myself evangelising a citizen of some remote country and crumbling at the moment she pointed out those theological contradictions I myself could not abide or explain.

Ibid.

What I could not reconcile was the idea that an omnipotent and benevolent God could allow for so much suffering.

Ibid. (If your theological school can't properly address theodicy, you're wasting your money.)

Conclusion: Guardian, when you ask for donations, you can go fuck yourselves.
posted by iffthen at 7:41 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


Ex religious people deeply believe in Bad Science Fiction, news at 11.
posted by sammyo at 7:42 AM on April 18, 2017 [4 favorites]


Ray Kurzweil is not a good representative of transhumanism.

This is a classic "No True Scotsman" fallacy. In the public sphere, Ray Kurzweil is the voice of transhumanism. Many transhumanists I know first encountered the idea from a Kurzweil book or essay or lecture. If he's not a good representative, then the movement has a serious problem.
posted by muddgirl at 7:49 AM on April 18, 2017 [9 favorites]


Devonian: I think the Catholic church may have a somewhat different opinion of the printing press as non-disruptive technology that enhanced existing power structures, and its absence from the early modern Islamic world provides an interesting comparison.

Again, we're talking about technology that existed 400 (for movable type) and 1,200 (for block printing) years before the "disruptive" events claimed.[1] The Reformation was one of multiple "disruptions" in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Almost all of them involved complex socio-economic developments. Attributing any one of them to this or that technology is bad history, and the engineers' fallacy underlying transhumanism that invention = change.

Devonian: The original point was that truly disruptive technologies are strangled in the crib. If so, where are the bodies?

Take for example, the marginalization of peer-to-peer architecture on the Internet in favor of a commercial 1960s client-server model dominated by a handful of corporations. A fair bit of that involved aggressive legal action against peer-to-peer network systems, creating network practices where peer-to-peer traffic is actively blocked by network administrators.

Now if your point is that the figurative language is too extreme, I'll confess that it is. But then again, so is the hogwash that clever engineers with good ideas create revolutions.

letrotsky: You can say literally any invention "has been almost completely co-opted and regulated by patriarchal systems on all levels" by the fact that it exists and is widely used.

Then it's not disruptive by any definition of the term.

emjaybee: The fact that birth control is contested and fought over is not proof that it is ineffective; ...

Effective is not the question. The question is whether birth control was disruptive. The fact that the development, manufacture, distribution, and regulation of birth control has served to minimize its effect on patriarchal systems isn't heavily contested.

[1] Before you argue with either of those dates, Chess was successfully imported into Europe from Asia prior to the printing press. It also was adapted to fit European and Muslim culture.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:49 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


"welcome to the desert of the real" in colorful block letters on a nice banner and provide cake and some drinks

Welcome to the dessert of the real
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:59 AM on April 18, 2017 [10 favorites]


So pretty much you've just provided four examples of innovations that were either developed to enhance existing systems of economic power, or have been completely coopted by those systems of economic power.

This is because the marketing bro use of the phrase "disruption" doesn't really map well on to history. I don't think any knowledgeable person would deny that inventions like, say, the printing press, both "disrupted" other contemporary economies—in this case the economies of manuscript production—and at the same time enhanced and were co-opted by existing economies—monasteries housed many of the earliest presses in the century following largely because they were the institutions with the resources and labor to profit off the invention.

In this bargain-bin pre-apocalyctic cyberpunk dystopia we currently endure, any exit seems like a good exit.

In the words of Brother Theodore, "As long as there is death, there is hope."
posted by octobersurprise at 8:08 AM on April 18, 2017 [4 favorites]


Note that I agree that the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, and Modernism were disruptive movements, but they were socio-economic movements. Technology just supported the new power relationships.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:12 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


Good engineering ideas that are truly disruptive to existing social, economic, and labor systems are murdered in their crib. This has been a truth of technology since the neolithic.

Several ideas of technologies that weren't quashed have been offered above, with interesting discussion around them, but I'm curious to come at this from the other direction: What are some examples of technologies that were murdered in their cribs to avoid disruption of existing systems? Especially going back to the neolithic era?
posted by dbx at 8:17 AM on April 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


For a suppressed technology, peer-to-peer is remarkably well supported in AWS and is, if I remember correctly, a popular mechanism for managing massively distributed systems. Or doesn't that count, because it hasn't actually led to the downfall of capitalism?

No technology comes from nothing; you can trace stuff back as far as you like if you're so minded. To confine 'disruptive' to 'disruptive the moment it's invented' isn't helpful. Lots of ideas bubble away in time, only becoming significant when the environment's right, but that doesn't detract from their significance. Observations of semiconductor effects started in the early 19th century, but I'd have a hard time with an argument that semiconductors aren't a disruptive technology despite only really starting on that path about 150 years later. Did the digital world spring fully-formed from Bell Labs in 1947? No, but it wouldn't have happened if events like that hadn't potentiated it.

Are you saying that no successful technology can be thought of as disruptive, because hierarchical human organisations still exist? Or that disruptive only applies to ideas that disrupt humankind in ways that haven't happened yet? I'm struggling to find an historical context in which anything would meet the definittion you seem to be espousing.

If semiconductors haven't been disruptive, what has? Blaming such a perspective on 'engineer's disease' rather downplays the symbiosis of humanity and our technologies; social change always has elements of both, and minimsing either is not helpful in understanding that particular duality.
posted by Devonian at 8:22 AM on April 18, 2017 [4 favorites]


Wow, this got to James Burke and Connections, really fast.
posted by valkane at 8:24 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


As to the similarities between Transhumanism and the mystery religion of your choice, I'm like "Oh? You think?"

I'm reminded of my favorite tweet:
"How cults hook people in with easy answers to complex questions ...
— @TEDTalks
"
(Points for name-checking Teilhard de Chardin, tho. Always dug Papa Pierre, as well as Robert Wright's description of the Point Omega as a "kind of giant, organic, brotherly-love blob.")
posted by octobersurprise at 8:41 AM on April 18, 2017 [8 favorites]


letrotsky: You can say literally any invention "has been almost completely co-opted and regulated by patriarchal systems on all levels" by the fact that it exists and is widely used.

Then it's not disruptive by any definition of the term.


You're defining disruptive as not existing and being widely used?

If so, you've established your point by begging the question:

"Any widely used invention is not disruptive because disruptive inventions are never widely used."
posted by leotrotsky at 8:43 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


everything that rises must converge, modulo protocol incompatibilities
posted by murphy slaw at 8:49 AM on April 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


Maybe this is part of why the "San Junipero" episode of Black Mirror resonates so much for me and a specific subset of my friends—the hyperintelligent, always-searching-for-meaning, always-searching-for-romance types, many of whom were raised in the church or in contact with people for whom religion once provided the deepest meaning.

This also explains the opposite, something I've noticed in recent years: some number of exes of mine who used to share my vaguely transhumanist hopes who respectively converted to evangelical Christianity. The craving for connection, for a belief that there is something more, for losing oneself in divine romance, has a stunning pull even for those who fancy themselves supremely rational and scientifically minded—and in fact, maybe it's even stronger for those who are most in conversation with the fundamental realities and order of our universe.

See also: Oppenheimer and the Gita.

This is exceedingly interesting.
posted by limeonaire at 9:00 AM on April 18, 2017 [6 favorites]


This is why I love the Blue: interesting article and fascinating comments where I can genuinely say I learned something new. Thanks, y'all. :)

That said, this is starting to feel like every other conversation I've had about transhumanity. It eventually devolves into mental masturbation very quickly.
posted by zooropa at 9:00 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


Semiconductors were evolutionary, literally replacing components that had been built in glass and steel. Industry was already producing computing machines for markets that already existed. Telecom was already producing wired and wireless networks for markets that already existed. Semiconductors made those products faster, cheaper, and smaller, but the primary change in labor and productivity happened when industries automated and laid off workers by the thousands.

A central transhumanist thesis is that the mere existence of a technology transforms socio-economic systems, and at some point in the future, runaway invention will overwhelm socio-economic systems. Which is empirically bullshit, and quite literally putting the cart before the horse and driver. Technology exists as part of socio-economic systems that determine if and how a technology gets produced and used. The fact that steam power was known for centuries before multiple socio-economic conditions made its adoption desirable poses a key challenge to the transhumanist thesis.

AWS isn't disruptive in practice because its use is to consolidate control of the means of production as product within an existing hierarchy.

leotrotsky: You're defining disruptive as not existing and being widely used?

I'm defining disruptive as fundamentally revolutionizing socio-economic relationships. Of course since those socio-economic relationships dictate if and how a given technology is used, the potential for innovation to them is quite limited.

I suspect the extent to which technology is disruptive is likely via unintentional side-effects. The mass extinction of American megafauna, the extinction of seafaring culture on Easter Island due to over-harvesting of trees, and the results of anthropogenic climate change might be examples.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:07 AM on April 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


Oops correction: Since socio-economic relationships dictate if and how a given technology is used, the potential for innovation to revolutionize them is quite limited. A brilliant design probably isn't going to revolutionize the world.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:15 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


It is very difficult, if not impossible, for someone who has been raised since birth with the belief that they are literally immortal - that *they* just go on forever in a less fetid format - to ever accept the idea of ending.

I didn't have a problem with not believing in immortality. It hasn't sublimated into quasi-religious beliefs in transhumanism or something else. Maybe it's just temperament, and why the whole religion-thing didn't take.
posted by jpe at 9:27 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm actually a big fan of what might be called transhumanism light, the belief that developments in cybernetics and biotechnology offer the potential to augment our human capabilities in interesting ways. I'm even open to the possibility of corporeal immortality in which physical minds and bodies can be maintained indefinitely with a high quality of life.

Of course, given the socio-economic constraints described above, a likely scenario will probably be similar to *Ghost in the Shell: Arise,* with augmented humans perpetually chained to designed obsolescence.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:35 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


Fascinating how quickly the changes to the the lives of billions of women are so quickly and casually dismissed as unimportant.

I've studied the changes effective reproductive control made in women's lives worldwide. Any theory actually based in reality can't just dismiss the massive changes in health and lifestyle that came about due to women no longer being condemned to repeatedly squat out children until an early death, and the related ability to have careers outside of the home,

Globally, birth control was the basis for the Demographic Transition. Fifty years ago it was common knowledge that nothing could be done about the "Population Bomb" and now we have major areas of the world going through negative population growth. And yet, because this is women-based, these changes are dismissed.

I'm sorry, but your theory of "socioeconinuc relationships" are so abstract and divorced from the real world, and your arguments so circular, that I doubt it's possible to have a debate with you.
posted by happyroach at 9:49 AM on April 18, 2017 [19 favorites]


In terms of the notion of coming to faith, one of the only things that ever resonated with me, as someone who was deliberately raised without organized religion, was this, from an agnostic lay leader of a local Jewish community: The idea shouldn't be that you must have faith in order to evidence it through good works. The idea is that you come to faith through your works.

I used to wonder whether hoping for faith was enough; ultimately, for me, it wasn't. So I chose not to become a Christian, chose not to marry someone who wanted me to save me, wanted me to become a Christian. But to some extent, fear of mortality (or more positively, wishing for more wishes, if you will) leading me to a desire to believe in transhumanism is similar. I want to believe. I have sincere doubts that even if we get there, we'll get there in my lifetime. Same thing with commodified space travel or colonization: Due to the timing of things, I will almost certainly live and die on this planet, will not be immortal, etc.

I'm also a believer in the supernatural at large, a recognizer of spooky patterns in the world around me, a seeker of meaning. I don't think these things are incompatible.

So do I want to be cremated, my ashes grown into a tree? Do I want my ashes swirled into a glass paperweight? ¿Por qué no los dos? That's the reality, but maybe my words or the noise I make will live on in some way. Maybe I'll someday teach a kid or a friend something that will resonate. Or maybe I will just find companionship and eventual happiness with the time I have here, and nothing of what I am will linger apart from the most concrete physical objects. These are the things all of us alive now have to consider and anchor in our hopes.
posted by limeonaire at 9:52 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's interesting how people criticise transhumanists for predicting X, Y, and Z about the future, while their own belief systems contain no future predictions whatsoever

It's interesting how people criticize using Genesis as an explanation of the origination of life, while their own belief systems contain no explanation whatsoever.

It's interesting how people criticize doomsday cults for predicting X, Y, and Z about the future, while their own belief systems contain no future predictions whatsoever.

also "not X, Y, or Z" is itself a future prediction
posted by PMdixon at 10:01 AM on April 18, 2017 [4 favorites]


Fascinating how quickly the changes to the the lives of billions of women are so quickly and casually dismissed as unimportant.

The argument on the table is whether those changes were disruptive. Not whether they were unimportant. All of the important changes you cite are true. Yet still we have:

1) Institutionalized violence against women in almost every conceivable sphere, pandemic in many demographics.

2) Almost universal disparities in both paid and unpaid labor.

3) Almost universal concentration of wealth in the hands of men.

4) Access to birth control almost universally tied to patriarchal institutions.

That's not to say that birth control didn't change things in important ways. But the benefits of birth control have been mediated to a great degree by patriarchal power structures. Those structures are likely to restrict access to birth control for millions of women over the next few years. Patriarchy did an brilliant job in using birth control to create whole new forms of discrimination against women in the area of reproductive choice.

And, oh, how about the lack of funding devoted to permanent or semi-perminant birth control for male bodies?

I'm sorry, but your theory of "socioeconinuc relationships" are so abstract and divorced from the real world, and your arguments so circular, that I doubt it's possible to have a debate with you.

The argument isn't circular at all. Socio-economic systems control technology. It's that simple. Concrete real-world examples: the use of steam power to expand textile sweatshop labor independent of water power, and the mass layoffs of women in telecom due to automation.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:25 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


In fact, short of some magical gender-neutrality straight out of Lathe of Heaven, I'm pretty convinced that patriarchy can't be technologically disrupted.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:35 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


Socio-economic systems control technology. It's that simple.

It feels to me like maybe you've never built anything, from scratch, and I mean a complicated machine, for no other reason than you could.

Maybe you have. I have. I built a sailboat. I didn't have to. I didn't do it for love or money. There was a lot I had to learn, and a lot of plans to follow, but in the building, I came up with all kinds of things that I did that I'm sure no other boat builder ever did, probably because I was an amateur, and I took what knowledge I had and adapted it to the task at hand. That's innovation and technology, to me, anyway.

A lot of technology advances incrementally, I'll give you that, but a lot of it is at the hobbyist level, which is arguably outside of the "socio-economic" sphere. People do it because they want to, not because they're gonna get rich or get acclaim. Shit, you even pointed to one such person in your previous post: Gregori Perelman.
posted by valkane at 10:42 AM on April 18, 2017


The argument isn't circular at all. Socio-economic systems control technology. It's that simple.

It isn't that simple. Technological advances have also altered, sometimes significantly, socio-economic systems. There's an historical feedback loop there. You can declare that "socio-economic systems" simply control technology (for whatever value of "control"), but that neglects to take account of the fact that material culture and material advances are intimately intertwined in the production of those systems, in the specific nature of those systems, and in the ways in which individuals engage each other in those systems. Simply asserting that "socio-economic systems control technology" is as crudely reductive as asserting that technology is the mainspring of history. For all the work it's doing here you might as well replace "socio-economic systems" with "God."

The argument on the table is whether those changes were disruptive. Not whether they were unimportant.

This seems to be the epitome of splitting hairs.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:51 AM on April 18, 2017 [4 favorites]


I mispelled his name, it's Grigori.
posted by valkane at 10:54 AM on April 18, 2017


I do build stuff for fun. But it doesn't revolutionize anything, and my resources (including my leisure time) are mediated by my culture and economic situation.

I'm specifically talking about disruption within Kurzweil's transhumanism. Which among other things, proposes the following:

1) We'll invent inventive machines.
2) We'll invent better inventive machines.
3) The inventor-machines will become so good at invention, that we won't be able to understand the wonders they create.
4) This will be so disruptive, we can't imagine the results.

And at that point, I think the thought experiment falls apart. Where do the energy, materials, and time for those inventions come from? How does this runaway inventor-machine procure those scarce resources?

It isn't that simple. Technological advances have also altered, sometimes significantly, socio-economic systems.

It is, really. Almost all technology requires the investment of energy, materials, and/or time. Someone has to say, "we're using this energy, materials, and time to build a handheld computer rather than a gun." That choice is determined by how much the people in the culture value smartphones vs. guns. Of course, there is a feedback loop involved, but at no point does a smartphone, gun, inventive machine, or Roko's basilisk really demand to be constructed.

This seems to be the epitome of splitting hairs

Again, we're talking about transhumanism where the epitome of "disruption" is that the effects of a technology are so transformative of human social systems that we can't even speculate on the results. So the question about whether a given piece of technology has really disrupted the fundamental forces of our culture such as capitalism or patriarchy is critical to whether the transhumanist concept of disruption is coherent.

It's a distinction that we regularly make in history. As much as idealists really wanted to believe in a "war to end all wars," the reality is that global capitalism and colonialism pretty clearly evolved to the new circumstances with some clear continuity.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:18 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


is critical to whether the transhumanist concept of disruption is coherent.

I think the transhumanist concept of disruption is pretty incoherent. Maybe I wasn't clear. I'm extremely skeptical that transhumanist technology will ever bring the Jubliee, the Singularity, or the Eschaton. So to that degree, no, no technology has ever been that "disruptive" and I'm skeptical that any ever will be. At the same time, it seems pointless to argue that no technology was ever "disruptive" if it wasn't disruptive to the degree to which transhumanist evangelists dream. And I think it's perfectly intelligible to talk about ways in which inventions have disrupted societies without looking for eschatological revolutions each time.

I doubt we're actually disagreeing here, so much as talking about different things.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:55 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


On one level, transhumanism is about human beings becoming improved through technological enhancement. Our frail bodies and minds bolstered by some kind of durable computer-based exoskeleton. In this formulation, we imagine ourselves as the masterminds of the whole process. We purposefully augment ourselves into demigodhood.

From another perspective, transhumanism is the story of technology eating up human beings for its own mindless agenda. Even though this technology is not "alive" in the way that we are alive, it's still possible to see evolutionary patterns. Viruses aren't alive, either. Prions aren't alive, but they destroy healthy brain proteins through purely structural forces.

The Ophiocordyceps doesn't "know" what it does to the ant. But the advantage is clear. Humans improve and perpetuate computers to the extent that we hold certain beliefs about them. How fortunate for computers if some humans were to slowly come to identify more with the computer than with our lowly organic cousins, the other animals.

Of course, in the long run, very few technologies remain truly voluntary. If human-machine fusion allows for increased economic competitiveness, then those of us who want to stay organic are going to have a tough time of it. Eventually we'd probably come to be viewed as a nuisance (at best). How would the post-human being relate to the original model? What would we be to them? What would we be worth to them?
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:00 PM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


And yes, I'm probably guilty of overstating my case just a bit. I've lived through 30 years of techno-utopians followed by transhumanists trying to sell me on the premise that the new thing is going to TRANSFORM HUMANITY to be kinder, gentler, and more enlightened. I not only see patriarchy, heterosexism, and racism still firmly entrenched, I see them quite successfully co-opting every innovation that the utopians sold as liberating. I take that personally because I contributed to the development of some of those innovations. So I'm deeply bitter and skeptical when anyone tries to sell me technical solutions to cultural problems.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:01 PM on April 18, 2017 [4 favorites]


Maybe I'm making shit up here but a technology might also be said to be disruptive if removing (not that it would be possible, given the twined network of antecedents to any technological development) it had major socio-economic effects.

That is to say, my grandma (with her seven filthy children and husband) would have given up her washing machine when you pried it from her cold, dead hands.
posted by klanawa at 12:28 PM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


This was a great read. It's interesting to see the perspective of someone who got into transhumanism through a Christian background and a crisis of faith in losing those ideals. The opposite happens, too; Frank Tipler, one of the Big Names in transhumanism and more worthwhile reads (at least, Physics of Immortality), ended up embracing the Christian-transhumanist parallels to an extent that made him somewhat of an apostate within both modern transhumanism and physics. (Likewise, Anders Sandberg continues to just play with fun thought experiments for the apparent joy of it, and thus is No Fun Anymore... it seems like you only ever hear about transhumanists anymore when they're being creepy totalitarian-libertarian alt-right fascists.) Rick Strassman, who conducted DMT research in the 90s, wound up going in a similar direction, though I guess it's almost expected that anyone studying psychedelics will explore odder avenues of thought. It's a fairly established pattern, and there have been a few studies on their effect on openness to experience.

There is an aspect of this essay that goes a bit unexplored. The author has a history of faith metastasizing into debilitating obsession, but that isn't necessarily the only or logical end result. A large part of my fascination with things like transhumanism, world religions and generally "out there" stuff that pushes past the boundaries of acceptable thought is the simple stimulation of it. It's fun. The danger is in allowing faith, belief, thought, openness or whatever to ossify; to shift from, "This is a reality I feel and experience" to, "This is how reality must be."

I'm a big fan of the Bostrom paper. It's a good litmus test for whether someone is an interesting person or not. I feel that's what really piqued my interest about transhumanism, and why I shrugged it all off. There were some interesting ideas there, and I sort of admire anyone willing to search for real solutions to cold sweat 3am existential terror; but the movement was compromised by wealthy fascists before it ever had a chance to get off the ground. Something something about movements that don't dance.
posted by byanyothername at 12:28 PM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


And yes, I'm probably guilty of overstating my case just a bit. I've lived through 30 years of techno-utopians followed by transhumanists trying to sell me on the premise that the new thing is going to TRANSFORM HUMANITY to be kinder, gentler, and more enlightened. I not only see patriarchy, heterosexism, and racism still firmly entrenched, I see them quite successfully co-opting every innovation that the utopians sold as liberating. I take that personally because I contributed to the development of some of those innovations.

It is a bit irritating to see tech bros descend upon programming with all their bullshit now that they can see there's lots of money in it.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:03 PM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


One of the many, many objections I have to transhumanism as it is packaged by the hand-wavers is just that - there's no attempt to explain how it would happen, except for a prayer to the exponential deity. If you look at the way the universe is hard-wired, in respect of information, entropy and the geometry of space-time, it's pretty clear that you can't go wallowing up an exponential curve of data manipulation forever. You need to introduce a god at some point. Believe in this awesome, incomprehensible thing I can neither describe nor explain because of awesome incomprehensible reasons I can neither describe nor explain? My experience of such arguments, in politics, religion and tech, have at least been consistent.

On the other hand, 'here's a cool thing. Let's play with it and see what happens' has much more varied results. If you look at the real engines of creation in the universe, that's how they work. In our present culture, technology is a big part of this, and I think that where it will change us the most isn't by out-evolving us and relegating us to, at best, some sort of Matrixian mitochondria role, but in giving us the tools to look into the future with more precision. Modelling and mapping are huge parts of the human experienec and utilisation of cognition, and they are grossly fallible in important ways when it comes to large societies, their organisation and resource management.

If there is to be a tech-utopia, and one is certainly more possible now than ever before, then it too will evolve through the hit-and-miss forces of better tools and changing environments in their economically-mediated utilitarian feedback loops. Better modelling through better use of data is certainly part of that, and will build on better techniques and mental sweat just as much as on gee-whizz uberengineering/ I'm rather heartened by this not being oversold by bright-eyed futurists, because it's a bit dull and has plenty of failures when you push the hype button; it seems a more productive environment for experimentation and reflection.
posted by Devonian at 1:06 PM on April 18, 2017 [4 favorites]


I'm a big fan of the Bostrom paper. It's a good litmus test for whether someone is an interesting person or not.

I think the key part lies in V, the assumption that I can consider myself as a sample drawn from the space of all minds (or minds sufficiently like mine). It is entirely unclear to me that this is a well defined or definable distribution, and without the probabilistic argument to lean on the whole thing falls apart. His arguments that this is a reasonable thing to do rely upon analogies to taking cross sections of a population at a specific time, which is not at all what he's doing.
posted by PMdixon at 1:31 PM on April 18, 2017


Techbros aren't new. When I was in college in the 80s, we had business majors giving the CS majors a half inquisition about how they could make money out of computers "you know, like IBM, but without waiting so long".

As long as there are business majors looking to exploit the next big thing between trying to see how many beers they can get down, people who want to change the system and make it better using technology will need a lot of icepicks to stop them.
posted by mephron at 3:12 PM on April 18, 2017 [4 favorites]


people who want to change the system and make it better using technology will need a lot of icepicks to stop them.

It was an ice axe and your theories on the motivation behind the death of Trotsky intrigue me.
posted by PMdixon at 4:27 PM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


Hey now.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:40 PM on April 18, 2017 [5 favorites]




One of the many, many objections I have to transhumanism as it is packaged by the hand-wavers is just that - there's no attempt to explain how it would happen, except for a prayer to the exponential deity.


QFMFT
posted by lalochezia at 7:47 PM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


valkane, you inadvertently raise what I think is a very significant point: the fundamental role of capital in this and other technological-evangelism debates.

Your hobby is building and tinkering with stuff in your spare time. You built a sailboat. You say:
I didn't have to. I didn't do it for love or money. There was a lot I had to learn, and a lot of plans to follow, but in the building, I came up with all kinds of things that I did that I'm sure no other boat builder ever did, probably because I was an amateur, and I took what knowledge I had and adapted it to the task at hand. That's innovation and technology, to me, anyway.
Let's just extract a few points from that, not because you are somehow wrong, but because they are illustrative.
  1. You didn't have to. However, you had the time to spend on the project, time not dedicated to work or gathering basic survival needs. You had the available funds (or trade goods) to obtain materials and tools, or build what you couldn't get from scratch. You had the economic capacity to complete this task.
  2. You didn't do it for love or money. In other words, you did it without expectation of a return on your investment or time completing this project. Again, this indicates an economic capacity - you could afford to devote time, energy, and funds to this project and not be too concerned about paying bills or rent instead.
  3. You had a lot to learn, and a lot of plans to follow. Not only does this show you are literate - you could do research, calculations, read plans, and analyse complex information - but also you have the social capacity to locate the information you need or contact the people who can help you.
  4. You came up with alternative solutions to problems, which indicates a level of education and a type of education which value problem solving as opposed to learning by rote. This indicates an intellectual capacity to complete the task.
These capacities are capital, and very much in the Marxist or post-Marxist sense. These things set you apart from people who don't have them. You have access, and have had access in the past, to things in your world that give you an advantage over another person who does not have the time, energy or resources to spend on this project, or who has in the past been unable to access resources and education which would lead them to being able to complete this task. The fundamental fact that you didn't have to do this thing puts you in a category far removed from quite literally billions of other human beings. Your hobby is precisely within the socio-economic sphere, and in fact it is one of the defining features of modern capitalism.

But that isn't my point. My point is that the transhumanist argument/debate/utopia is absolutely grounded in capital. We only need to look at our current relationship with technology - such as Facebook, Uber, Tesla, and anything Elon Musk has done, all of which have used explicitly transhumanist language to promote their projects. These are companies and individuals who have profited to an unthinkable degree by selling human beings, human thoughts, and human bodies as commodities to people and companies like themselves. Not as physical things, but as clicks and eyeballs and content. The utopian vison of the Web has collapsed into feifdoms of market cap and IPO.

Any transhumanist who thinks we'll be made free by technology is denying what is right in front of them.
posted by prismatic7 at 11:02 PM on April 18, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm on medication (mood stabilizer) that do a fantastic job of transforming "basic human nature" in all its faults.

Ironically, it's the liberal-ish mental health advocacy groups that find this troubling. Our bigoted society might create financial barriers to me accessing my medication, but it's largely okay with me taking it. Not so much the identity politics groups that want to treat me taking medication as a problem with social conformity.

Humans are hierarchical beings. If a technology could truly change this, I don't think there's a single person (let alone a group) that would be okay with this, because the idea of a single tool changing how we interact completely is freaking terrifying, regardless of whether the results are desirable.

If "disruption" involves a complete destruction of our current order, then the only two technologies that could achieve that level of disruption are a weaponized disease and a nuclear war. And I'm quite glad our racist, patriarchal, ableist society has decided to regulate these things. Everything else -- everything that guarantees a level of continuity-- is going to be integrated into our society. And, yes, that involves regulations, because modern governments are highly beaurocratic.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:11 AM on April 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm defining disruptive as fundamentally revolutionizing socio-economic relationships.

When you redefine terms the way you want and brook no deviation from your own cannon, you can grind your axe as sharp as you like, I suppose.
posted by kjs3 at 1:27 PM on April 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


steady-state strawberry: If "disruption" involves a complete destruction of our current order, then the only two technologies that could achieve that level of disruption are a weaponized disease and a nuclear war.

True, perhaps more important is that transhumanists are typically engineers neck deep in marketing language and have a weak understanding of the history and sociology of technology.

kjs3: When you redefine terms the way you want and brook no deviation from your own cannon, you can grind your axe as sharp as you like, I suppose.

I'm using a definition commonly expressed by the transhumanists discussed in the FPP, which is built around a sociology of technology that handwaves away the problem of technology needing a cultural means of production.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:41 AM on April 20, 2017


To steer this away from semantic bullshit, the production and use of any form of technology depends on the political and economic action of stakeholders and gatekeepers. The sociology of many transhumanists claims that at some point in the magical future, stakeholders and gatekeepers will be irrelevant and clever technology will force its own production and adoption. Transhumanist futurism is a nerd eschatology in another way. Nerds will not only transcend humanity, they'll inherit the Earth and be liberated from the pesky constraints technology stakeholders and gatekeepers.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:37 AM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yes, technology will in fact be mediated by cultural and economic factors. That doesn't mean that technology doesn't completely destroy pre-existing social structures and norms, including the ones that mediated it in the first place. (Look, for example, at the ways that birth control has enabled women to live lives that don't involve regular childbirth. Patriarchy has not been destroyed, no, but our world today is a *vast* improvement over that of the 1950s.)

There are many, many reasons to think that transhumanism is ridiculous and pointless, but declaring that it can be disproven simply because technology requires people to both make it and buy it isn't one of them.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:05 PM on April 20, 2017


I suspect that technological determinism (TD) is a mirror of the great man fallacy. No, I don't think the changes in family structure in industrial and post-industrial economies after WWII (that's a mouthful of qualifiers) can be attributed to just contraceptives (some of which, were invented a century earlier or more). Nor can they be attributed to mechanized warfare, the nuclear bomb, industrial automation, diesel maritime engines, telecommunications, radio and tv entertainment, or the post-war transportation systems. Human participation in all of the above, and probably a dozen other factors, shaped the post-modern family.

Technology as usually described is an object and not a subject or verb in those systems, unless we're adopting a particularly humanist definition of technology that looks at human practices as part of the technology itself. That's where I stand as a designer. I've built small things that helped people, and was part of teams that built brilliant and glorious failures. There are more brilliant and glorious failures in my field than things that helped people, and we're talking about thousands of great technological ideas that didn't work. Almost always that's because the brilliant idea wasn't the right idea for the people who needed it.

The flavor of transhumanism I see addressed in the article is utterly convinced that technological determinism (TD) is a good theory. Not only that, but they're convinced that TD positions them as the prophets of the biggest change since the neolithic. If we're placing bets there, my money is on the climatologists rather than the computer scientists.

That's only the second of my objections to transhumanism. The first is that I don't believe that human mind simulation is a problem that can be solved by throwing more transistors at it. (I suspect it can't be solved at all.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:13 PM on April 20, 2017


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