October 12, 2007

You either get it or you don't

When it comes to anticipating the future, you either get it or you don't.

Existential risks: You either acknowledge the strong possibility that humanity could go extinct in the coming decades, or you don't.

Singularity: You either recognize the radical potential for greater-than-human artificial superintelligence and its disruptive capacity, or you don't.

Molecular Assembling Nanotechnology: You either subscribe to the Drexlerian vision of nanoscale engineering and its potential to revolutionize society and biology, or you don't.

Global Warming: You either accept the substantive threat of anthropogenic climate change and the dangers of runaway global warming, or you don't.

Transhumanism: You either accept the notion that our species has the capacity to become a self-modifying posthuman and post-corporeal species, or you don't.

Radical Life Extension: You either agree that aging is a disease that can be defeated, or you don't.

So, do you get it?


Michael Anissimov said...

I do indeed sir. And what a lovely piece of digital artwork that is.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it, actually. "Pseudo-" is the term that comes to mind.

Rasmus said...

Nice overview.

However, "possibility", "could go", "potential", "threat", "capacity" - these are words that really just make "getting it" a matter of belief, not science.

Tristan Palmgren said...

One of the traditional advantages of the futurism movement is that it relies on science, not certainty or faith. Complexity and debate, not black-and-white distinctions between adherents and outsiders. Otherwise, there's nothing to distinguish futurism from religion. I really don't want to say that because comparing the two is such a hoary old criticism, and usually used without merit, but when I read this kind of language nothing else comes to mind.

Yes, I hate aging. Yes, it is a disease. If a life extension treatment is released, I'd be desperate to get it. I love the promise and the potential of the future. But am I confident that aging can be "defeated"? No--and to be honest, I'm not even sure that's a meaningful statement. Entropy, at the very least, puts an absolute lifespan on the universe, or so all the evidence indicates at present.

Why should I say that immortality will happen, or is at least a possible, when that's so far from proven? If I don't, does that make me an outsider? Someone who doesn't "get it"? Does anybody profit from these kind of lines drawn in the sand?

Doubt should be a futurist's best friend. Doubt and adaptability to new evidence are part of what distinguishes futurism from every other religion and Nostradamus to be absolutely confident - and absolutely wrong - about the future in the past. If you cut out doubt, you also cut out your most enthusiastic error-checkers. Even with the best intentions and intelligence, that leaves you the easy prey of groupthink--and you don't have to look very far back in history to see the dangers of that.

This doesn't seem like a matter of "getting it" or not. It seems like a matter of constantly reevaluating your premises. More importantly, though, it's about leaving open the option to reevaluate. Language like "Either you get [prediction x] or you don't" comes dangerously close to blocking that option off.

Mark Plus said...

"Drexlerian vision of nanoscale engineering"? Uh, George, I guess you didn't get the memo. Mainstream scientists who know how molecules really behave have discredited a lot of Drexler's ideas. Read Nanoconvergence, by William Sims Bainbridge. Bainbridge apparently knows Drexler, and expresses support for what he tried to do (converge chemistry with mechanical engineeering). But he acknowledges that Drexler's scenario hasn't held up well under scientific criticism.

You might also want to read what "futurists" back in the 1970's and 1980's wrote about our era, and how much they got wrong. Robert Anton Wilson popularized a lot of this wishful thinking in his writings. For example:

Next Stop: Immortality (1978).


Ten Good Reasons to Get Out of Bed in the Morning (1977)

F.M. Esfandiary's writings back then also sound delusional now. Refer to (PDF):

Transhumans -- 2000 (1974)


Up-Wing Priorites (1981)

Anonymous said...

Are you advocating a theocracy where faith-based assertions dominate those of science which are fact-based. (on a aside note Zi did not realize you where such a strong Bush supporter)

Science demands empirically demonstrable patterns that do not not multiple possible explanations. This limits the range of inferences that scientists make.

One of the comments correctly connects your links your assertion to futurism and science fiction. This should not be taken negatively given that futurism (and science fiction) is an alternative way of seeing the world before us. It just is not science.

Anonymous said...

It seems strange to me to put global warming fears alongside all these fantastic technologies.

I find the popular concept of global warming risk sketchy anyway, but surely with stuff like MNT and strong AI in the picture, we are not going to be ruined by a few degrees change in temperature?

al fin said...

Right. These issues are not equally well defined, nor equally worthy of taking seriously. Other than that, I take your point.

We should not try to take a set of issues and make a new secular religion out of it. Take them all on their own merits and work with them as we can. Some will pan out, but others will look very silly in hindsight.