singularitarian rebukes the nerd rapture crowd

October 8, 2010

The Singularity Institute’s media director, Michael Anissimov, is apparently fed up with transhumanists whose desperate focus on tuning into immortal robots was recently satirized on prime time TV, and wrote the kind of lengthy and detailed rebuke to their worldview you might easily expect from me on his blog, even citing a key point about the future of cyborgs I’ve been emphasizing to the Kurzwelian crowd. I wouldn’t say I’m all that surprised that Michael and I see the situation in very similar ways because where transhumanists and I tend to disagree are implementation details rather than overall principle, and I’m not going to claim that this post is some sort of a sign of a schism between Singularitarians and Kurzwelian transhumanists because this isn’t an official position paper from The Institute, but Michael’s opinion. But I can’t resist from pointing back to what may be attempts to cool overzealous disciples of the Nerd Rapture from the scholarly side of the movement.

As mentioned before, big name transhumanists are very politely distancing themselves from Kurzweil and as they sing praises to the man seen as the Singularitarian-in-Chief by the media, they also revise his claims and provide far more realistic and academic overviews of his more outlandish sound bites, like his notions of reverse-engineering the human brain in a million lines of code. And now, after reading an op ed by one very enthusiastic and overly optimistic transhumanist, Michael suddenly left his usual script of saying that while a myriad of problems still have to be resolved for complex technologies to work, scientists and institutions are aware of them and are trying to fix them, and let loose with a stern dressing down to those who down enough supplements to ensure a happy and healthy life for a mature bull elephant in hopes of living forever just after they become superhuman. His advice? Work out. Go for a run or a hike. Sign up for cryonics if you want to. An almost worshipful reliance on technology to solve all your problems is unrealistic until we can build nanotech that will manipulate our bodies on a molecular level. Though it’s very unlikely we could ever manipulate living organisms, or anything, on a strictly molecular level with nanotechnology due to the limits imposed on us by physics and the cost of making trillions of such complex machines, the rest is all sound advice.

While we should also note that nanotechnology will be just the first step in radical human enhancements and that the kind of enhancements we’re talking about may remain science fiction for almost a century, this highly grounded strain of transhumanism being voiced more and more often sounds encouraging. Sure, I still have my doubts about a general artificial intelligence system and really don’t see why we should build one, but this is miles better than the typical proclamations I was seeing on a regular basis two years ago, saturated by an obsession wth reaching digital immortality by 2045 and fury at those who note why mind uploading won’t be a viable means of achieving that goal. If George and Michael kept this up, I could end up finding fewer and fewer material for those classic WoWT-goes-to-town-on-Singularitarians posts. But I’d be willing to mark that down as a positive, especially after having my posts included in Singularitarian debates along the way…

[ illustration by John Liberto ]

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