Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Little More

By popular demand
(on this blog, this means one comment), I present a critique of Transhumanism with appended rating:


When treated as a religion, Transhumanism combines techno-fetishism with the mind-boggling notion that technology itself can mitigate all the troublesome aspects of human interaction. It also requires complete ignorance toward the seeming ease with which corporations have managed to restrict access to new technology - which only seem to grow progressively more ravenous as transformative technologies emerge. Couple that with the almost-guaranteed law of unintended consequences (many of which will no doubt be negative) and you're just as likely to see a future society even more stratified than today (which already clearly shows the results of the disparity created by the lack of readily-available, well-understood technological development/access, e.g., the United States health-care system) as you are some form of techno-utopia. It should be noted that the Singularity resembles an optimist's version of Catastrophe Theory - two sides of the same coin, perhaps it will land on its edge. You must also believe that advanced AI will fall into either the friendly or unfriendly camp - just ignore everything about the vast permutations of psychology (HAL 9000 being a good example of the new possibilities - consistent, well-programmed, homicidal). Basically, transhumanism requires the elitist view that humanity is best-left-behind and advanced technologies should be embraced without skepticism or caution. D+

A little long-winded, I know. Okay, a lot long-winded. But this particular subject deserved a little more, partly because not everyone may be familiar with it and partly because I haven't considered it a religion so much as a mess of futurism mixed with wild speculation about how unproven technologies might help human beings.

For an even more negative take on Transhumanism, do read this series of posts over at Sadly, No!.

There is, of course, a lot more to the subject. One could read up on Timothy Leary's SMI2LE (Space Migration, Increased Intelligence, Life Extension) as a progenitor of this kind of thinking - it is nearly unequivocally optimistic that those three programs taken together would make things better. There is some justification for those ideas, and I'd be very interested to see them in practice, but can't share such smiling enthusiasm.

I consider Bucky Fuller's treatment of a similar subject to be much more helpful. Utilization of current technology coupled with careful application and analysis to attempt to bring the necessaries of life to as many individuals as possible. It smacks of at least a little more honesty - future technologies aren't necessarily going to be a tipping point, especially if you consider that current/past technologies properly implemented would already improve things to a great degree, with the side benefit that there is more data as to the drawbacks. And he had much firsthand knowledge of how political/economic structures could fuck up that proper implementation.

Enough of this for now. I still have to finish up the Round Table post, but can do more on this later, especially if I get any responses.

Update: For my favorite of measured transhuman/futurist discussions, please do visit Warren Ellis' site, die puny humans. It's a great dose of optimism and pessimism and various other reactions. And they talk about zombies a lot.


Anonymous said...

Your view of transhumanism is quite like the one-sided coin you're critiquing.

Patrick Dugan said...

I think your critiques are justified to the extent that transhumanist teleologies are often problematic in the ways you describe. Transhumanism at its core is inclusive to different predictive (or even wildly speculative) scenarios of the future, but it doesn't prescribe any one of them. Anything from Vingean Singularity to a collective network revolution could come out in the future, transhumanism merely suggests that whatever happens, we need to value personhood in all its forms, including forms than aren't human, hence the trans prefix.

Check out this write-up of Vinge's keynote at the AGC.

When you say "as a religion" you seem to mean "abandoning all rational discourse for blind fanaticism"; in that sense I hope nobody takes transhumanism as a religion, because its certainly dangerous in that sense.

Johnny Pi said...

Anonymous - I guess devil's advocacy ain't what it used to be. Glad to see you could come up with a catch-all response that in no way addresses anything I wrote. Hats off.

Patrick - The "taking it as a religion" was part of the initial conceit. Chris Bateman mentioned it in his list of atheist religions, so I looked at it from the position of strict interpretation of doctrine. The Good News, if you will.

Patrick Dugan said...

In that case it deserves the grade.

But what was problematic (albiet interesting) about that post, and this follow up, is that these are philosophies, and taking them as religions more or less destroys their utility.