October 30, 2010

This Magazine: Technology, ethics, and the real meaning of the “Rapture of the Nerds”

Chris Kim
Keith Norbury of This Magazine has published a piece called Technology, ethics, and the real meaning of the “Rapture of the Nerds”. I was interviewed for this article and asked questions about the state of transhumanism and singularitarianism today in Toronto and Canada in general. We also discussed the the tendency of the press and the public to roll all transhumanists into the Singularity camp, which, as I pointed out, was a mistake:
Not all people who believe in technology’s power to transform humanity are Singularitarians. Transhumanists, as their name implies, also expect technology to alter the species. “These are two communities that seem to have a connection,” says George Dvorsky, president of the Toronto Transhumanist Association. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that one follows the other. I happen to know many transhumanists who don’t buy into the Singularity at all.”

While both groups believe that rapid technological progress will radically reshape our lives, the Singularitarians believe a unified, superhuman intelligence is a necessary part of that change. Transhumanists believe no such super-intelligent entity is necessary. Either way, both believe that our future will be completely unrecognizable. “We are talking about transforming what it means to be human,” Dvorsky says.
The article also goes on to describe how interest in the TTA and local transhumanist chapters has waned in the past several years. I'm rather frustrated by Norbury's angle on this, which is to suggest that the fringe is getting fringier, and that good work isn't being done in these areas through other channels. The fact of the matter is that these ideas, namely the notion of human enhancement and the unknown potential for a greater-than-human artificial intelligence, are being addressed by a diverse and distributed group of individuals—and just as importantly, these ideas are slowly (but surely) being normalized into our daily discourse.

Indeed, organizing local meet-ups are all fine and well, but that's not where the rubber hits the road. I've made a conscious effort over the past few years to devote most of my time and energy to my blog, Humanity+, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies where my outreach is considerably greater and more impactful than through a local chapter alone. Annoyingly, Norbury failed to make mention any of these and chose to focus on the TTA and chapter-level organizing which is no longer of any real interest to me.


ZarPaulus said...

So he's saying that Singularitarians want to create God while Transhumanists want to be gods.

charlie.vick said...

"Indeed, organizing local meet-ups are all fine and well, but that's not where the rubber hits the road." This! Meeting up with fellow transhumanists seems second fiddle to either promoting transhumanism or actually, you know, implementing changes in technology and society that will improve our lives. 'Meetings dropping off' gets trumped by cars that drive themselves and average lifespans increasing and improving.

Have to say, Thomas Homer-Dixon has a way with words. It's one thing to say Kurzweil pulls the false optimism card, but he segues through that to talking about people who think we'll geoengineer climate change away 'when it gets bad' (rather than do anything now). That is quite bad, but not something Kurzweil has anything to do with (as far as my reading of him has seen). And then on to: “It’s going be extremely ironic if Mr. Kurzweil dies of cancer.” This comes across as viscous, and completely unnecessary. Death is tragic, no matter the beliefs of the person doing the dying. And cancer's kind of a touchy thing to be considered ironic.

I'm sure he'll have a post about being taken out of context, but yeesh.

George said...

@Charlie.vick Hear, hear!