Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Monday, May 24, 2010

Does Anybody Seriously Think We Can Do Better than This?

Does Anybody Seriously Think We Can Do Better than This?

(Hat tip: NYT slideshow accompanying this article.)

30 comments:

  1. Apparently many do... or think they do. It would be useful to contrast Halsman's attitudes to human beings and the art of photography (about which I know nothing more than what was in the NYT article), and those of Dangin (and his fellows) explored here:
    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/05/12/080512fa_fact_collins

    ReplyDelete
  2. If that stomach cancer hadn't killed her she would have just turned 81. I think we can do better than that. It would be nice to still have her around.

    ReplyDelete
  3. That's a fine point in favor of medical research to treat cancer, Mr. Hughes. But I suspect you know that's not the question being asked.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm against stomach cancer too.

    ReplyDelete
  5. There are four hundred billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.

    There are over one hundred and seventy billion galaxies in the visible universe.

    According to our best guess from physics, the galaxies we can see are a very small part of what there is.

    I guarantee you that someone, somewhere is doing better.

    And since the human species is only just getting started, I see no reason we shouldn't do better too. It would be very sad if we never did, if we'd already peaked after a paltry few thousands of years in a universe thirteen billion years old.

    You seem to live in a very small world. I suggest looking up at the night sky sometime.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You guarantee? Hard to take such a claim very seriously. And until you can paint me a picture (literally), or go some way to describing this superior beauty, I have a tough time conceiving of it. I'm reminded of the Bostrom confusion: "We can conceive of aesthetic and contemplative pleasures whose blissfulness vastly exceeds what any human being has yet experienced" and yet, we are "constrained by the narrowness of our experience and the limitations of our imagination." Either the former or the latter, not both. And if the former, I'd like some help please. So here's the challenge -- take your most beautiful woman and improve her beauty. Now imagine you love her dearly. Would you risk her as she is to pursue your improvement? Wait... that sounds familiar.

    ReplyDelete
  7. For what it is worth, I’ve been an amateur astronomer since I was a pre-teen, and have the back issues of Sky and Telescope to prove it. But as suggested by an earlier posting, I don’t see what Mr. Yudkowsky sees when he looks at the night sky. I find it quite remarkable that we should be here to contemplate it at all, given the fragility and contingency of the circumstances that seem to allow that contemplation. Contrary to Mr. Yudkowsky, I don’t see a universe in which we can be certain that “someone, somewhere is doing better.” And if we were to use the Drake Equation to play the odds on this question, and someone, somewhere in a galaxy far, far away is in fact doing better? So far as we understand the universe at the moment, we will never know it.

    Still, I suppose it is possible to be an amateur astronomer and live in a “very small world.” But I think that size is not really the issue.

    More to the point is a classic bit of dialog from John Patrick Shanley’s under-appreciated Joe Versus the Volcano. Patricia (Meg Ryan, sigh) says to Joe (Tom Hanks), “My father says almost the whole world’s asleep... He says that only a few people are awake. And they live in a state of constant total amazement.” I can’t claim that I am always awake, but when I am, I am surely amazed — in part by some of the very things Mr. Yudkowsky so readily takes for granted.

    ReplyDelete
  8. The problem with Mr. Yudkowsky's assertion is that we don't know what "doing better" means. I take the same meaning from Mr. Rubin's question: To ask whether one really believes it would be possible, particularly by means of technology, to create a better person than the one in the picture, or a better moment of existence than the one captured, is not necessarily to assert that one has a scale by which to measure betterness or even to assess whether some other candidate was in fact a better person or moment. It might just be to point out how preposterous such a claim of betterness would be

    I might have preferred that the girl in the photo not be a movie star. Then again, the fact that it is someone I "know" as a particular individual from her movies and hearing about her life, and Mr. Hughes reminder of how her life ended in sickness, adds something, besides the marketability of the photo, which Mr. Halsman must have understood.

    So, no, I don't know how to improve on it, and if I thought I did, it would probably be some stupid idea.

    Likewise, I wouldn't know how to judge whether anything happening on another planet or even in another life would be an improvement on Ms. Hepburn or Mr. Halsman's photo of her.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Mr. Yudkowsky's comment confirms my longstanding sense that he and his comrades, self-proclaimed saviors of humanity, have no interest in understanding just what it is they're remaking, and so little ability to realize what it is that we would be losing.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Guys, relax.

    Just because Mr. Yudkowsky chooses to remake himself into something he thinks is "better" does not mean that everyone else has to. I'm sure Mr. Yudkowsky is perfectly happy for the rest of you to remain just as you are. I don't think he harbors any desire to "convert" everyone else to transhumanism. At least I hope not. He just has no desire that you impose your choice on him. I fail to see this as an unreasonable attitude.

    These "debates" about transhumanist are really getting tedious. The only problem I see is people wanting to stick their noses into other people's business. As long as you can live by your choices, what's it any of your business what choices Mr. Yudkowsky makes for himself? It ain't nobody's business but their own.

    With regards to the issue of alien, I don't think any of us has a clue. There could be alien civilizations that are more advanced than us or we might be entirely alone. I lean towards the latter explanation.

    ReplyDelete
  11. kurt -

    There are a few problems with this "Do your own thing" argument.

    The first is that if you are finding the debate tedious, by your own logic, you can tune out. But the struggle to influence how other people think about this will continue.

    The second is that the world and even our solar system have finite resources, and some of us would consider those to be the heritage of humanity, not to be usurped by machines gone wild, even if the machines believe themselves to be the continuation of humans once known as transhumanists.

    Finally, there is the question of whether we should really allow everyone to go to Hell in their own way. Society tries to suppress the availability of certain drugs because they are addictive and destructive. Prostitution is illegal regardless of whether it is a voluntary contract. Nor is suicide legal, even in the practice of religion (e.g. the Heaven's Gate cult). Whether these policies are wise, whether they are wise in all circumstances, whether there should be exceptions, are debatable questions. That's the point. They are debatable.

    ReplyDelete
  12. But the struggle to influence how other people think about this will continue.

    I've noticed that its not us trying to influence you. Rather, its people like you trying to influence us. This is a reflection of your ill will, not ours.

    The second is that the world and even our solar system have finite resources, and some of us would consider those to be the heritage of humanity...

    A regime of property rights is necessary for space development and the main concept in space law is of a "use-based" claim to property and resources, which is the only legitimate way to go. I think space is a non-issue for the vast majority of people because they have no interest in space colonization. If you don't believe me, try talking to the person sitting next to you on your next flight about space colonization and see what their reaction is. People who have no interest in a thing have no legitimate claim to it.

    Your equating transhumanist enhancement to self-destructive behaviors such as drug addiction is way off base. These are polar opposites to each other.

    ReplyDelete
  13. But the struggle to influence how other people think about this will continue.

    Since the purpose of this blog is to debate and influence how other people think and given your aversion to libertarian arguments, I'll take a shot at presenting collectivist arguments in favor of transhumanism. I defend transhumanism because I think it will lead to a more productive society that has far less dependency than current society.

    The healthcare reform bill includes a personal mandate for individuals to buy insurance that covers stuff (pregnancy, mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, etc.) that most people like myself will never have any need for. If there is a valid argument for this, I think there is a far stronger argument that once effective anti-aging therapies are developed (SENS, etc.) that everyone should be required to undergo them. Refusal to undergo treatment of aging will be considered a self-destructive activity no different than drug or alcohol abuse. Considering that suicide is illegal, refusal to undergo anti-aging treatments is a form of suicide and is, therefor, should be illegal as well. People who let their bodies fall apart naturally when it is no longer necessary are not taking proper care of themselves and may be considered a mental illness.

    Societies whose populations do not age will be more competitive economically than others because the dependency ratio will be far lower and will not suffer the economic costs associated with such (old populations needing health care services, kids needing education). Since the people in such a society will not age, they will remain more dynamic and will not experience the risk aversion that is common to age. Such societies will be more entrepreneurial and will enjoy more economic growth and opportunity as well as greater rate of technological innovation. Old people are a liability. Young people are an asset. It makes common sense to convert liabilities into assets.

    Same goes for reprogenetics (designer baby stuff). I've heard that there is a 3% chance of congenital birth defects for every live birth. This is similar to your chances of dying for each time you go up on the space shuttle (also 3%) and not much less than your chances of dying if you try to climb Mt. Everest (about 5%). I doubt many people would fly if their chances of dying were 3% every time they got on a plane. I see no reason why we should accept this kind of odds every time we have kids. Reducing these odds to near zero is a very strong argument for reprogenetics. Since I don't gamble in Las Vegas, I see no reason to do nature's version of gambling any more than the Las Vegas kind.

    It is reasonable to point out in the context of this discussion that any society is only as good as the human capital that comprises it. The better the human capital, the better the society.

    So there. I have given you three strong collectivist arguments in favor of both radical life extension and reprogenetics.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Kurt-

    This probably isn't the right place to shoot it out on all these questions. But it is a good discussion to have.

    I see the struggle as mostly one of trying to influence the thinking of people who are new to these ideas, or haven't made up their minds yet. I have also tried to pry open the minds of some transhumanists, but with limited success.

    There may be a need to dissect "transhumanism" and separate some of the things that transhumanists have lumped together.

    I personally have no objection in principle to slowing or reversing the aging process, if and to the extent that it is possible by reasonable means. The means do need to be considered - what other effects would they have, besides rejuvenation?

    I'm not sure about forcing it on other people, but I'm not worried about the use of rejuvenation therapies becoming the norm, as long as they are therapies, which leave us human, and not something else.

    However, many transhumanists want to replace human flesh wholesale with technology, and human beings with machines. Ray Kurzweil and other prominent transhumanist thinkers predict and advocate a kind of mass suicide for the human race, literally seduced by our computers and robots and enticed to "merge" with them - except it's more like a takeover, leaving nothing of the human except a grin.

    As for "designer babies," your argument seems to support not the choice of blue or brown eyes, but the elimination of clearly harmful mutations from the gene pool.

    In many cases, we can discern that a gene which had spread through the population, because it contributed in some important way to the health and abilities of the body, has since been damaged, in some family lines, by some accident, and this may be something we can correct. It would be a form of therapy, not "enhancement" or "design" of new human beings.

    Arguments for the need to improve "human capital", particularly to secure the competitive position of one nation over others, ignore the oncoming eclipse of human intelligence by artificial intelligence. People may in some ways better themselves if they try, but it is unlikely that we will greatly expand individual human intelligence, or improve moral character, through the use of bio- or any other technology. In contrast, machines will soon reach and then rapidly surpass human intellectual capabilities.

    Space development, other than the placement of satellites, hasn't happened yet because it is not yet technologically and economically feasible. When it is, more people will be interested. Their options should not be foreclosed.

    BTW, Article II of the Outer Space Treaty, the bedrock of space law, specifically rejects the appropriation of space resources "by means of use or occupation...."

    ReplyDelete
  15. The reason that Hepburn seems so great to us is that we're humans. If lizards could speak, then hundreds of millions of years before humanity, a lizard would be similarly impressed by an image of another, attractive lizard. Does that mean that Creation should have stopped at lizards?

    Our evaluations of "goodness" are not objective facts, just subjective facts about the structure of our own minds. The opportunity to modify and enhance those minds will vastly increase the space of things we can understand and appreciate. This will allow us to create new forms of attractiveness and wonder that we lack the facilities to appreciate now.

    I disagree with my colleague Eliezer Yudkowsky that civilizations elsewhere in the universe are doing "better" in any absolute sense because evaluations of "better" are necessarily mind-structure-contingent. Humans can arbitrarily define the status quo as the best there is, and who could argue with them? That's their personal opinion.

    However, for the vast majority of people, "better" would indeed include more than the species and technological status quo. Maybe Hepburn would have embraced transhumanism if she lived in a time when safe and beneficial body and brain self-modification and self-improvement were possible. Of course, even though I'm favor of morphological freedom (rather than the morphological fascism that I have to look and think a certain specific way, the way it's been for over 200K years) doesn't mean that I discourage people from rejecting transhumanism entirely and living only among other humans. (I do, however, think that children should be able to do what they want with themselves after a certain age, and I doubt that Christian conservative parents will be able to stop their curious and neophilic children from embracing transhumanist technologies.) Today, for instance, there are some people that only choose to live among their own race, for fear that race-mixing leads to irrevocable societal chaos. It is only natural to fear that species-mixing in a society could lead to problems, but I'll bet that some combinations of species could lead to a harmonious equilibrium.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Nope. Humanity peaked when Audrey Hepburn jumped in the air. No future progress need be undertaken.

    Just pleasant anticlimax, now that Audrey Hepburn has jumped in the air.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I don’t presume to know what hypothetical aliens or counterfactual lizardoids would make of this picture. I don’t even claim to know what Audrey Hepburn was actually thinking when it was taken. I am content to look an image of an extremely beautiful human being displaying joyous energy — which in its own way only makes her more beautiful. If I think about it, I remember having seen things live that are more or less versions of this picture — maybe on a busy playground, or an athletic field, or even when people were engaged in doing some intense physical labor they loved. What the picture shows us then is indeed not the peak of human history or existence, but it does show us a peak of human experience. I can understand and sympathize with a conception of progress that wants more people to be able to reach this and other such peaks. But as a number of the responses to this post make perfectly clear, that is not what the various transhumanisms are aiming at. Mere human peaks are but the foothills (at best) for the mountains of the transhumanist imagination, and as such are hardly worth noting on their mental maps.

    ReplyDelete
  18. However, many transhumanists want to replace human flesh wholesale with technology, and human beings with machines.

    See, I don't think this is going to happen for a long, long time. People who subscribe to this scenario are usually computer specialists who have limited knowledge of biology. These are often the same people who subscribe to the notion of "mechanical" nanotechnology when no such thing exists. Nanotechnology, which will be developed, will be very "biological" in nature. Perhaps my rants are because I do not put much stock in these scenarios.

    As for "designer babies," your argument seems to support not the choice of blue or brown eyes, but the elimination of clearly harmful mutations from the gene pool.

    Yeah, this is true. I actually don't care about designer baby stuff one way or another. I don't have kids. So, its not an issue I obsess about. I was just throwing it out in order to duke it out in this thread.

    TW, Article II of the Outer Space Treaty, the bedrock of space law, specifically rejects the appropriation of space resources "by means of use or occupation...."

    Actually the 1967 treaty says nothing about private ownership of space resources. It specifically bans appropriation of space resources by political entities (e.g. governments). The space lawyers I know of or read about talk about implementing a use-based property rights regime which would be analogous to the U.S. homestead act of the 19th century. This strikes me as the most reasonable approach to human space settlement.

    I re-read Eric Drexler's "Engines of Creation" last week, and it struck me how conservative it was compared to all of the singularity stuff we hear today. For one, it was much more biologically-oriented. It says a little about AI but nothing about uploading. It talks mostly about biological life extension.

    Drexler has recently gone back to a more biological paradigm with regards to nanotechnology. This is why the transhumanist singularity crowd mostly ignores him.

    I don't believe AI or uploading is going happen for a long, long time. People who predict these things really don't understand biology and just how different brains work from computers. I don't believe there is anything magical about biology or human consciousness that makes it impossible to duplicate by computers. I just think that the computer/AI people fail to appreciate how fundamentally different biology works from digital computers and why it will be very difficult to simulate by digital computers.

    Also, software is crap and, unless there is a technology revolution that automates the creation of software, software will always lag in performance to the underlying hardware.

    I also think sentient AI is a lot further away that most people think. We already have computers that exceed the raw computational capabilities of the human brain, but they certainly are not sentient. Computers will continue to increase in capability until we reach the molecular limits of computer, probably around 2040, then progress will stop in this field. I think even then we will not have sentient AI, although we will have very powerful computers.

    We're going to remain "biological" for the foreseeable future. Despite my obsession with biology, I call myself a transhumanist because I believe in using technology, in the more general context, to improve the human condition. I just regard the specific computer/AI/uploading scenarios as sheer fantasy.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Kurt-

    Apparently we have some differing technology assessments. I do agree that faithful simulation of brain or any other living tissue at the level of megamoles of molecular interactions per second, by digital computers, is very far off, if it is possible at all. But I think that's irrelevant to the development of AI that equals or surpasses human capabilities. Such systems are likely to be partly neuromorphic, partly algorithmic and computer-like, but not direct copies of the human brain.

    Considering the size, speed, and complexity of neural structures, I find it hard to understand your claim that we will "reach the molecular limits of computer, probably around 2040..." but "even then we will not have sentient AI...." But I'll leave it at that (for now).

    On the OST, you are right that the language is "national appropriation" but without national appropriation there can be no private appropriation, as you may see if you review Articles VI, VII, and VIII. No doubt some kind of private use permit system (such as the ITU system for assigning orbital slots in GEO) is needed, but I don't see the need for unmodified property rights.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Mark,

    I first heard of nanotechnology about 25 years ago and was dubious about the "mechanical" version of this technology. 25 years later and I'm still not convinced of the possibility of "mechanical" or non-biological nanotechnology. As far as R&D is concerned, nanotechnology is becoming a real industry and it is ALL biological-like (Venter's synthetic biology, Seeman's DNA robots, etc.).

    Richard Jones (Soft Machines) and others, even people I know personally in cryonics, have been critical of the "mechanical" concepts of nanotechnology and why they will not work. I share these criticisms. I think the future of technology will be mostly wet and squishy. Many transhumanists have a problem accepting this.

    Also, our computers will become more like us as we approach the molecular level because such computers can be made only through self-assembly and such self-assembly will necessarily be biology-like.

    For the most part, I do not subscribe to the possibility of non-biological nanotechnology.

    ReplyDelete
  21. There are probably millions of people on earth who would look at this picture and think it represents western moral decay, not some aesthetic peak experience to be glorified.

    ReplyDelete
  22. OK Mike, but what do you think?

    Kurt,

    By "mechanical nanotechnology" I assume you mean the concepts discussed in Drexler's Nanosystems, and by Drexler, Merkle, Freitas and Phoenix in various papers and books. It seems to me that these authors speak for themselves better than I could.

    Have you read this literature? What specific technical errors have you found? I understand that you are skeptical on general grounds. But can you tell me where any of these authors have made a specific technical mistake? I'm sure there are some, but do you know where they are? Please share this information with the rest of us, because I haven't heard of any important technical errors in this literature, and I've listened to a lot of the scoffing.

    That said, I am agnostic about whether biotechnology or vacuum science is the best route to nanotechnology. My expectation is that every useful technique will be used wherever and however it is useful.

    But by now we have gone way off-topic. My apologies to all Hepburn fans.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Perhaps Mike is correct, but I have no idea why it matters to the point I made. “Millions of people” would find transhumanism an expression of Western moral decay, but the mere fact that they hold such an opinion tells us nothing about its merits, and the discussion of transhumanism’s merits is the purpose of this blog. If there are people in the world who think that either a depiction of (female? shoeless?) joyous energy is wrong, or that the actual (female? shoeless?) expression of joyous energy is wrong, or does not represent a peak human experience, let them advance their reasons. Perhaps they will have good arguments, perhaps not. But “I disagree” is not an argument, and “they disagree” is even less of an argument.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Yes, at a minimum, by having more people look and feel like she does, and live for longer in such excellent health, etc.

    Even if Audrey Hepburn's experience in that photo (or our reaction to it) were really the best ones possible, we ought to go about creating more such experiences, which is not trivial given Audrey is currently a massive outlier.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Michael,

    You asked if "Creation should have stopped at lizards". I wonder what you meant by capitalizing "Creation". Perhaps you realized it would be meaningless to ask if "evolution should have stopped" since evolution does what it does regardless of what any of us think it should do. Or has until now, anyway.

    We may agree that it is now potentially within humanity's reach to determine or influence to some extent the future trajectory of evolution (of our species, other species and the biosphere itself), at least for the immediate future. In the long run, we know Mother wins. But in the immediate future, we might be able to "improve" the human genome by eliminating deleterious mutations, we might even be able to add new genes that we believe will be beneficial (at great risk, obviously). We might be able to radically engineer the species, or we might be able to take care not to let the gene pool drift too much, so as to preserve the species in its present form. We might even find the power of "Creation" in our hands.

    Returning to your lizards, they obviously were in no position to Create their own descendants, but suppose they had been. As you point out, they would be more likely to find a beautiful lizard attractive than Audrey Hepburn, who probably wouldn't interest them at all. So, turning your question around, should the lizards have wanted to create or direct the evolution of their descendants in the direction of Audrey? I don't see why, and I am pretty sure they wouldn't either.

    You say that "the opportunity to modify and enhance [our] minds" will enable us to imagine and know what we want our descendants to be like. Do you mean that when we take certain drugs we will be able to imagine having twelve heads and six penises, or what? I'm serious, because I don't know how you are going to so radically alter human intelligence and what we call human nature by means short of radically altering the organism beyond what would be recognizably human.

    Sure, we can imagine lots of things, with just these brains we have. But are they really desirable, and why? That's the question here.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Mark,

    I've read Drexler's "Nanosystems" and papers by Merkle, Freitas, and others and remain unconvinced. This stuff remains theoretical. These guys have yet to produce anything in the lab.

    Synthetic biology, Seeman's DNA work, and the work coming out of probably a hundred labs around the world is, well, all lab work and therefor real to me.

    Biology works on the basis of redundancy and as hierarchy of complexity, with redundancy built in on ever level. The proposals for mechanical nanotechnology seem short to me in this area. Also, even if mechanical nanotechnology is possible, it will work only with a few elements that form covalent bonds with each other. Bio-chemistry works with more than 75% of the elements from the periodic table. The range of chemical reactions (and thus end products that can be made) in solution phase chemistry is far greater than what could possibly be done based on vacuum-based "machine-phase" chemistry.

    Many of the applications mentioned in Drexler's first book "Engines of Creation" are already being developed. These include molecular level electronics, nano-particle based cancer treatments, other novel drug delivery technologies based on nano-materials of complex designs, and stem-cell based regenerative/rejuvenative treatments. Some of the medical nanotechnology being developed does approach Eric Drexler's original concept of "cell repair machines". The difference is that they are biological rather than mechanical. Also, fullerines are being developed and production scaled up incrementally for many industrial applications and as a material used in construction.

    To me, "nanotechnology" is being developed as and represents a broad range of capabilities where each technology is specific to the application at hand, rather than as a "jack of all trades" nano-machine. I thought in the early 90's that this was how the technology would develop and much of what I see today mirrors my predictions. I think 2050 or so, bionanotechnology will exist as a broad range of capabilities that will be a part of many industries ranging from health-care to construction.

    Technology and industry tends to develop in this manner. I see no reason to believe it will be any different for nanotechnology.

    ReplyDelete
  27. About AI and uplaoding, lets say we really do get AI and computers with a zillion times the "computational power" of the human mind and uploading becomes possible. Uploading a person's identity into such a system would be like running an old 1980's micro processor program on a present-day supercomputer. It would just disappear. I think if this kind of technology emerges and the transhumanists "upload" themselves into it, they will just disappear without a trace, which I think would be quite funny.

    ReplyDelete
  28. "Our evaluations of "goodness" are not objective facts, just subjective facts about the structure of our own minds."


    It seems that this line of argument is at the crux of the most radical aspects of transhumanism, and of most other radical transformative ideologies as well. When ‘goodness’ is made completely contingent on the structure of our historically/biologically conditioned minds, we make room for the possibility of new kinds of goodness, if we alter the historical or biological conditions that structure our minds . As Mark just pointed out however, if our concepts of goodness are structured by our current situation, what reasons could we (or the lizards) have for choosing new kinds of goodness?


    The argument that ‘most people’ will want something ‘more’ than the biological status quo seems to fall short of a prescription for radically new modes; if the biological/social structure of our minds sets the limits of our moral horizons, won’t the ‘more’ that most people want simply be ‘more of the same’? Actually I would argue that most people would in fact want less rather than more, which is to say that they will look to technological advances for ameliorations of the bad things in human existence; cancer, genetic mutations, depression, and so on. These problems are already present, we experience them and wish that we didn’t, but to return to the point of this post, could we really imagine anything better than the kind of joy Miss Hepburn seems to be feeling here? I’d also like to dispute the argument that Hepburn is an extreme outlier; certainly in terms of her fame and fortune, and perhaps in terms of her beauty, but in terms of the experience of joy being expressed in this photo I would argue that most people have at least occasional access to such experiences. The suffering that gets in the way of such experiences is generally the result of social conditions such as poverty, not some underlying biological facts.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Brendan, regarding the subjectivity of morality, I believe that this thesis totally ends the argument. We have reason to develop our notion of goodness because goodness includes improvement and growth.

    I think it's pretty self-evident that life could be made better if at least some of the underlying biological facts were changed or ameliorated. Sorry if that's not an argument.

    Ultimately, radical new modes will have to be created and publicized before the majority of society is ever interested in experiencing them. We can argue forever now (presumably the goal of most anti-transhumanists -- to prolong the argument forever, not to say you are an anti-transhumanist), or I and other transhumanists and scientists can just work towards showing you.

    ReplyDelete
  30. The problem with Yudkowsky is not that he wants to convert everyone into a transhumanist. It's that he stands for baloney and pseudo-science, taking fanciful conjecture, giving it enough of a patina of hard STEM to lure in the gullible, and then seizes stages proclaiming himself to be a champion of rational thinking, a skeptic's skeptic, an atheist's atheist, and a scientist's scientist.

    What is "tedious" (to use kurt9's term) is the lack of first principles of basic journalism whenever questioning anything Yudkowsky has to say. The line of questioning should not begin with "I challenge you to articulate the place aesthetics will hold in your projected future transhumanist regime." Rather, the line of questioning should begin with:

    -Who are you?
    -What are your credentials (i.e., why should we listen to you)?
    -Where is your peer-reviewed research?

    It's amazing what pseudo-respectability can be brought to bear by a billionaire's money. In the meantime, I for one will continue to listen to commentators who have actually been to high school.

    ReplyDelete

[Basic HTML tags can be used in this comment field. Comments are moderated for civility and relevance and will not appear until the blog's editors have approved them.]