April 22, 2008

M.G. Richard's 7 questions

Blogger Michael Graham Richard recently asked me and several other pundits to answer 7 questions. Here are my responses:

1. What would you nominate as the best idea that anybody has ever had? Why?

The greatest idea ever is the suggestion that human consciousness is far from perfect and complete -- and that it can be refined to a much greater extent.

This profound idea -- that consciousness can and should be optimized -- is nothing new and was first conceived by Siddhartha Gautama over 2,500 years ago. Buddhist practitioners have traditionally sought to re-work conscious experience through meditation and mindfulness.

Today we are learning that our evolutionarily endowed psychology represents a very narrow band of all possible mind-spaces.

Eventually, given greater control over our minds, we will see neurotypicality replaced by neurodiversity (i.e. alternative psychologies and changes to consciousness wrought by increased intelligence, memory and sensory capacities).

2. What non-fiction book do you think everybody should read? Why?

The most important non-fiction book I’ve read in the last ten years is From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice by Allen Buchanan et al. This book sent shock waves through my system and made a profound impact on my bioethical sensibilities.

By tying Rawlsian notions of social justice to the world of biotechnology (most specifically genetics), the authors showed that access to transhuman-enabling technologies must be considered an integral component of justice and fairness.

It's bioethical discourse at its best.

3. What fiction book do you think everybody should read? Why?

Greg Egan's Diaspora. This book presents a posthuman future that is as close to my own projections as I've ever encountered – and then some. It features uploaded civilizations, clock speed weirdness, robotic mind transfers, trans-dimensional travel, postgendered societies, human speciation, and more. Each page is as mind-blowing as the next.

4. What technology has most changed your life in the past 10 years and why? What technology do you think will have the biggest impact on your life in the next 10 years and why?

Indeed the obvious answer has to be the Internet. And what's crazy is that we've only scratched the surface of its potential; it's still in embryonic form.

As for the next 10 years, I would have to think that it will be the ubiquitization of computers and communications technologies into all facets of life. Computers will be everywhere, invisible, and in the most banal of places, while communications technologies will continue to bring more and more people together and in more meaningful and intimate ways.

5. What piece of music would you want with you on a desert island (that has a functioning stereo, of course)?

Very difficult to answer, as it would be hard to pick just one. I’d like to take Red Sparowes’ Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun, or Evpatoria Report’s Golevka – but they’re both post-rock instrumental albums and I’d want some positive lyrical content to keep my spirits up while alone on my desert island.

So, I’ll take Tool's Lateralus for its power, beauty, virtuosity, and spiritually uplifting lyrics.
With my feet upon the ground I lose myself
between the sounds and open wide to suck it in.
I feel it move across my skin.
I'm reaching up and reaching out.
I'm reaching for the random or what ever will bewilder me.
And following our will and wind we may just go where no one's been.
We'll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one's been.
Spiral out. Keep going...
6. What is the most interesting thing you are working on/reading about/writing about these days?

I'm conceptualizing a strategy that I'm calling 'distributed humanity' that could work to help mitigate the possibility of human extinction. I’m trying to tackle the ‘eggs in one basket problem’ that we’re currently facing.

Specifically, it would be a social re-arrangement policy in which human societies work to physically segregate and quarantine themselves from other societies (both on and off planet). Multiple societal nodes would be individually protected by encryption schemes, active shields and other defenses (including strategies to uphold political/constitutional continuity in case of a political coup).

Ultimately, the complete destruction of one node, while terrible, would not result in the destruction of all.

The threat of malign nanotechnology, however, may prove to be intractable. Even domed cities with sophisticated defense systems may not be immune from its effects. So, my idea may die on the vine....

7. Looking ahead, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Why?


I'm one of the few people who use Occam's Razor to show that catastrophism is the most likely and simplest explanation for the Fermi Paradox. Ultimately, humanity's future task of juggling multiple apocalyptic technologies in perpetuity -- while never dropping one -- will likely prove to be an untenable proposition.

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