[The Extropian vision]
June 26, 2001 8:17 AM   Subscribe

[The Extropian vision] Reason magazine reports from Extro-5. Visionaries or crackpots? Just how fast are things going to get strange?
posted by davidchess (8 comments total)
Is Kurzweil trying to be the Tim Leary of the 21st century? At least Leary was bright, funny, and understood the importance of social consciousness. Ray and the Extropians on the other hand seem overly serious, ethicalness, and dim. I'm aware of Ray's achievements but his books are laughable in their naivety.

Both Leary and Kurzweil are demagogues for the same agenda: life extension, intelligence increase, and space migration. I still haven't seen a computer suddenly come to life but I'm told when they get powerful enough they will. Its like saying if I build a TV bright enough and big enough the characters inside of it are no longer actors but living creatures.

More seriously, which AI projects are promising to build something that remotely resembles how humans think when thinking and consciousness are still a scientific and philosophical mystery. Look how long Cyc has been running and it still can't tell you where Lincoln's right leg was when he was giving the Gettysburg Address.

I'm also curious as to how Ray knows that nanotech will even be applicable in the way he describes? And where oh where do futurists get these dates from? Its just sad to come across Arthur C. Clarke articles about how 1982 will be some kind of utopia. I'll give Robert Anton Wilson and Bucky Fuller some credit as they usually give some equation before predicting the future.

Personally, I see Tim Leary's approach much more realistic than Ray's. Drugs work, we use them all the time, and they won't soon be replaced. The nanobots of the future are useless unless we understand the incurable diseases we currently have. Regardless, both futurists tend to ignore the real things they need to progress in before anything radical really takes place - economics and politics.
posted by skallas at 9:17 AM on June 26, 2001

I don't have the patience right now to see if this has been posted in the past, but the World Transhumanist Association is where everyone should go to get themselves briefed on the whole posthuman vision, of which Extropianism is a part of.

I came across this whole thing just a few months ago, and at first was scared of it, thinking it was cultish and mind-warping, but without too much effort, I realized most of my hopes and optimisms were pretty much the same as your average transhumanist's. Now whether or not I'll be signing up for cryonic suspension or being first in line to experience neural augmentation is another story, but I wouldn't mind an extra 500 years to watch humanity change, not to mention purchasing some nebula-front property which is bound to be available by then.
posted by dopamine at 9:52 AM on June 26, 2001

MIT is way ahead of this. Two or three years ago, we had an "MIT Extropians" group that argued that women and minority students had inferior reasoning skills and, of course, that we should defeat death through science. They were finally derecognized for stealing a list of names of incoming freshmen. I'm glad to see that this ignominious setback hasn't taken all the spunk out of the group.
posted by transona5 at 10:32 AM on June 26, 2001

Yeah, Kurzweil's habit of measuring "human brain capacity" in cycles/second is pretty silly (see for instance the comparisons about halfway down this page). Surely he must have responded to that criticism somewhere? It seems so crushingly obvious.

On the other hand, I have a hard time resisting Vinge's point that something pretty strange is probably going to happen pretty soon...

(MIT Extropians still exist. I didn't notice anything on their Web pages about the inferiority of women or minorities, though. The current page is signed by one "Han Huang", so maybe that view has gone out of style!)
posted by davidchess at 10:35 AM on June 26, 2001

The problem with the Extropians, Transhumanists, etc, is that they naively imagine that improved technology will put an end to the ambiguities and dissatisfactions of the human condition--things like mortality, disease, frustration and jealousy, aggression, and so on. As if all limits will be abolished. This just seems ludicrous to me--a sort of power fantasy that has gotten out of hand.
Now, I am not one to scorn technological improvement-- I'm glad we have computers and the internet and other modern communications technologies. I am even gladder that we have indoor plumbing, antiperspirants, and pain relievers like aspirin. I certainly believe that I am far better off than I would have beem living 100 years ago or 500 years ago. But to think that technology will lead to a magical resolution of all life's problems is just sad.
posted by Rebis at 10:38 AM on June 26, 2001

Interesting. For a while, they had to go by "T.I.M. Extropians."

Their views on women and minorities were rally just anti-affirmative-action taken to the nth degree - affirmative action is bad, so women and minority students at MIT _right_ _now_ display a notable lack of intellectual curiosity and ability. The stance didn't make them very popular - I'm not surprised they abandoned it.
posted by transona5 at 11:05 AM on June 26, 2001

Tim Leary's life really sends that point home, he was chock full of good ideas then had to face the reality of "the man," with a 30-year sentence for marijuana possession. Sure he managed to break out of jail a couple times, travel the world, and stayed in solitary for a year without going completely bonkers but in the end LSD research was made illegal, good LSD was no where to be found, and he more or less retired out of the public eye looking more like a crazed addict than anything else.

What's Ray expecting to happen when you can program/hack your nanobots to give you a really good high?

"Just say no to dopamine?" If their singularity happens in the next hour it'll be the 60's all over again and then the eventual crackdown on tech. The same conservative mentality that drives the war on drugs and web censorship will knock the Entropians down more than a few notches.
posted by skallas at 11:07 AM on June 26, 2001

Many extropians do talk about getting rid of disease and mortality; that's a rather basic part of the shtick. I don't recall hearing (m)any of them suggest that things like frustration, jealousy, and aggression would necessarily also go away! That may be a bit of a straw man? Of course some fervent Extropians (like some fervent Anythings) do go overboard and say silly stuff. But I don't think it's a basic tenet of Extropianism that we'll all become perfect once we're immortal? (That would be dull!)
posted by davidchess at 11:45 AM on June 26, 2001

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