Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, August 04, 2012

An Open Letter To The Robot Cultists --

Any child of two can indulge in wish fulfillment fantasizing. It's not a philosophy. It's not a movement. And the way you Robot Cultists do it makes you a kind of techno-transcendental New Age cult too hype-notized to notice you are functioning as a crowdsourced cheerleading squad for celebrity CEOs and ramped up gizmo consumerism at a time when the world is literally perishing from extractive- industrial- petrochemical- consumer- indebted- corporate- militarism.

The digital revolution is a lie. Cyberspace isn't a spirit realm. It belches coal smoke. It is accessed on landfill-destined toxic devices made by wretched wage slaves. It abetted financial fraud and theft at every level of society around the world. Its "openness" and its "freedom" turned out to be targeted marketing harassment, panoptic surveillance, and zero comments.

Rather than grasp this catastrophic fraud, you embrace it more ferociously, you hyperbolize cyberspatial deceptions into a more delusive fantasy still, fancying it will be home to a history shattering perfectly parental God-AI delivering you into the digital garden where your "spirit self" can live forever and "be" anything and "have" everything and "know" it all forever.

Your Robot Cult -- whether in its eugenicist transhumanoid sects, or in its dead-ender AI (artificial imbecillence) Singularitarian nerd-rapture sects, or in its vitamin supplement replacement parts shiny robot body soul-migration techno-immortalist sects, or in its nano-santa nano-genies-in-a-bottle nano-cornucopiast sects, or in its greenwashing hyper-denialist "geo-engineering" sects -- your Robot Cult, I say, takes all the lies of crass commercialism -- it takes all its infomercial boner pills and anti-aging kremes and endless promises of consumer ecstasy -- and then sets the volume dial on eleven, turning what was just ugly stupid embarrassing commonplace circus-barker deception and crack-pottery into full on fulminating faith.

Drawing on deeply disseminated figures and conceits of mythology and theology (eden, prometheus, golem, invincible armor, the philosopher's stone, rapture, love potion, sorcerer's apprentice, excalibur, the fountain of youth, frankenstein, onmipotence- omnibenevolence- omniscience-) whose historically-weighted intuitive force reassures you, together with the fervency of the never-changing professions of your fellow-faithful, you keep telling yourselves and telling us -- in a tune that never really changes year after year after year even while you congratulate yourselves on your unflappable embrace of "accelerating change" -- that there is some substance in your faith-based initiative, that your roseate "The Future" is real and that in it you can be young and rich and invulnerable and right and cared for forever.

As I said, any child of two already knows where you are coming from. As adults, though, what matters more is that you are going nowhere, you are riding on the road to nowhere, weighting down and speeding up the cart that is taking us all down.

We have serious problems in this world and we need serious people to help solve them. You might be enjoying the haze you're in, like any techno-fetishizing bourgeois consumer dupe, but you are part of the problem.

You could have been something better, you could have done something else, but you didn't. It's not too late to wake up and help out.

14 comments:

Torn Halves said...

Perhaps your faith in the perspicuity of the child of two is slightly misplaced, but the central idea of the talk of the digital revolution being a lie is spot on.

More needs to be said, though, to clarify the extent to which it is not so much the technology that is the problem, but rather the way it is being mythologised and the way it is being sold.

Dale Carrico said...

I think you will find much on the topic of techno-mythologization here. For now, I will merely make the preliminary and obvious point that there is no such thing as "technology" in general, just a constellation of artifacts and techniques, some useful to some, some not so useful to others, some not yet put to the uses that might make them useful, some so familiar they no longer seem to be artifacts at all. If mythology is, as Barthes taught us, "de-politicized speech," that is to say, our speaking of a world that could be otherwise that is instead a natural world that is as it must be, then there is no more forceful mythology than that which naturalized our sense of what counts as technology, what technology is good for, what progress it can be counted on to bring the faithful. The task of progressives, in my view, must be to re-politicize the field of artifice and technique in the service of sustainable equity-in-diversity.

Camron Wiltshire said...

Scathing refutation of this dark techno-shamnistic trend. Thank you :)

Robert Gross said...

Please check these out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ku9b-fPa1s

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-believer-and-skeptic-show/id672135174

Both entail critical views of LessWrong and its satellite organizations.

Thank you,
Robert Gross
Believer and Skeptic Show

Muhammad al-Khwarizmi said...

"And the way you Robot Cultists do it makes you a kind of techno-transcendental New Age cult too hype-notized to notice you are functioning as a crowdsourced cheerleading squad for celebrity CEOs and ramped up gizmo consumerism at a time when the world is literally perishing from extractive- industrial- petrochemical- consumer- indebted- corporate- militarism."

It's sort of funny you say that because I'm inclined to think that human sociobiology is and always has been inherently destructive of the environment—conspicuous consumption, excessive reproduction, etc.—and so the only way to attain a sustainable civilization is to do away with humanity.

Or does that not fit into your narrative that all transhumanists are somehow anti-environmentalists?

Dale Carrico said...

Go to the Superlative Summary where you will find me directly addressing actual pieces by actual futurologists (every one of which is linked to for you check against my so-called strawmen distortions), organized both by individual author and by topic. You may not be persuaded by the material gathered there but nobody can honestly pretend my critique is not based on an incredibly widespread and longstanding engagement with the primary arguments and figures of futurological discourse in its many variations. You can keep posting these insubstantial one-line explosions of nuh-UH neener neener on post after post, but I'll just stop publishing anything from you that lacks substance when you cease amusing me with your idiocy.

Muhammad al-Khwarizmi said...

"Go to the Superlative Summary where you will find me directly addressing actual pieces by actual futurologists"

I'm aware that Ray Kurzweil and Eliezer Yudkowsky are daft. But that implies neither that transhumanism is a technically infeasible project, nor that it is an undesirable one. You seem to think that criticizing them is sufficient to dismantle the whole concept. It is not.

Indeed, you like to point out that these, figures have little to do with any real technological developments. You'd be right. See here for example: http://www.darpa.mil/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=1778‎

"Enhanced Human Performance is aimed at preventing humans from becoming the weakest link in the U.S. military by exploiting the life sciences to make the individual warfighter stronger, more alert, more endurant, and better able to heal."

One can see such things as are being worked on here:

http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/DSO/Focus_Areas/Biology.aspx

These research projects are articulate in their technical detail, not pie-in-the-sky "futurology", and are already yielding concrete dividends, in the field of prosthetics for instance. One can even see videos of these results in action on YouTube. On a related note, non-human locomotion has also come a long way: observe the achievements of DARPA contractor Boston Dynamics. Embodiment is crucial to real-world intelligence and these achievements are impressive.

None of this has nothing to do with Yudkowsky's Harry Potter fanfics, and so much the better. Whether you find such things repulsive is another issue. Infeasible? No. In fact, your essays reek of deep-seated fear that these things will come to pass.

Dale Carrico said...

Nobody has to join a Robot Cult to contribute to actual research and development and the more equitable distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits to all of its stakeholders of healthcare, materials science, renewable infrastructure, network security, and such -- futurological framings of legitimate science does a disservice to the science, it doesn't legitimate futurological discourse. You say you disapprove of Kurzweil, Yudkowsky et al -- so what the fuck are you whining about anyway? Science isn't about loose techno-transcendental talk about "becoming post human" -- and to the extent that there are legitimate academic discourses taking up that term (STS and critical race theorists and such) I address their authors directly on their own terms. I strongly support consensus science and equitable technodevelopment. Either you can't tell the difference between science and pseudo-science or you attack strangers online without reading what they say. Do your homework before you start lunging around the Moot again -- and don't expect me to simply publish vapid insults or non-responses, you are starting to commandeer threads without making contributions and such antisocial behavior shouldn't be encouraged.

Muhammad al-Khwarizmi said...

"Nobody has to join a Robot Cult to contribute to actual research and development and the more equitable distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits to all of its stakeholders of healthcare, materials science, renewable infrastructure, network security, and such"

So this is about equity. You probably won't get it. But that doesn't make the transhumanist project infeasible.

"you are starting to commandeer threads without making contributions and such antisocial behavior shouldn't be encouraged."

So disagreeing with you is "antisocial". And I'm writing "insults" and "non-responses". Pot, kettle, etc.

Dale Carrico said...

"So this is about equity." Again, what my critique is about can be seen by actually reading the critique. Equity comes into it in parts, when "technological progress" is being discussed for example in ways indifferent to equity, for example. But I talk about much more than that in my criticisms of futurological discourses and subcultures. Actually reading the critique to which you are presumably responding would give you more of a clue about what it is in the critique, just saying.

You have mentioned "the transhumanist project" a couple of times. Since you have dismissed some of the highest profile figures associated with the actual public delineation of what many people call "the transhumanist project" like Kurzweil and Yudkowsky it is hard to know what the phrase actually means to you or why anybody should care what it means to you (perhaps you aren't even aware of what most transhumanists mean by the term you are taking up or haven't thought the relations among its observable argumentative tendencies through very deeply).

The Superlative Summary addresses MANY other futurological figures, many of them explicitly transhumanist-identified. Maybe you dismiss all of them as well? To the extent that "the transhumanist project" involves more than consensus science that nobody has to become "a transhumanist" or care about "transhumanism" to work on one can only assume you mean genetic prosthetic cognitive "enhancement" (probably indifferent to the fact that enhancement is not a neutral but a contested term depending on the ends one values and without attention to which such discourse replays very tired eugenicist tropes -- hell, for all I know you are one of the transhumansist who embrace the eugenicism or liberal eugenicist title proudly, many key figures do, although no doubt pointing this easily checked fact is another strawman) or perhaps this project involves your investment in serially failed AI dreams or fantasies of techno-immortalism via SENS, cryonics, programmable nano-bots or uploading as a cyberangel -- since actual transhumanists advocate all of these patently nonsensical things in public places all the time to which I have responded occasionally whether you like it or not.

This is my blog -- in which I have delineated an extremely detailed, careful, extended critique to which you are responding with one-liners and ignorant pot-shots. You are unhappy that I ridicule as ridiculous some things you Truly Believe, and you may think my dismissals of your dismissals are a matter of the pot calling the kettle black... but I didn't invite you here, I didn't make you insult a stranger you haven't read, I don't care if you live or die, if you never reply again I will forget you exist in at most five minutes' time, this is not remotely an exchange you are equal to. You could be, possibly, if you took some care and proceeded in better awareness and better faith, but that is entirely up to you.

Muhammad al-Khwarizmi said...

"Since you have dismissed some of the highest profile figures associated with the actual public delineation of what many people call "the transhumanist project" like Kurzweil and Yudkowsky it is hard to know what the phrase actually means to you"

I'm an atheist, too. I don't agree with everything Richard Dawkins says about evolutionary psychology—some of it seems quite ridiculous—and I thought Sam Harris' book The Moral Landscape was a load of tosh. Bertrand Russell and Carl Sagan were soft-hearted to a fault, and so is Neil DeGrasse Tyson today.

Does that mean I am not an atheist?

All you're showing here is that you can't think beyond a set of stereotypes. I am not a stereotype, and you are incapable of seeing it. That's no fault of mine.

"The Superlative Summary addresses MANY other futurological figures, many of them explicitly transhumanist-identified. Maybe you dismiss all of them as well?"

I'd like to know what you have to say about Alan Turing or F.T. Marinetti.

"your investment in serially failed AI dreams"

DARPA wanted a mechanical quadruped in the Vietnam era. Do you think they got it? No, but BigDog exists today. Huge amounts of progress has been made on the embodiment issue, as well as in a renewed focus on general learning mechanisms in AI. There is no doubting the sort of progress that has been made. And, news flash: "GOFAI" is generally considered ridiculous by practitioners. You're at least ten years late at this point.

"This is my blog -- in which I have delineated an extremely detailed, careful, extended critique to which you are responding with one-liners and ignorant pot-shots."

Spare me. You're like virtually every other critical theorist I've ever come across: all style, zero substance. In your case, complete with ridiculous strung-together phrases like "genetic prosthetic cognitive enhancement" which betray your utter ignorance of the technical subject matter in question.

Dale Carrico said...

This is discourse analysis of a discourse that exists, the arguments against which I respond are actually made and linked to. You don't like my views -- that was clear the first million times you said it. Do I have to fuck you to get you out of my life, asshole?

Muhammad al-Khwarizmi said...

"This is discourse analysis of a discourse that exists"

Right so, summing up, because some transhumanists have apparently advocated "hyper-consumerism", geo-engineering, greenwashing, determinism (oh no! not determinism!), etc., etc., etc. ad nauseum, then no progress is being made in (embodied) artificial intelligence and it will just be a pipe dream forever and ever. Any marginally competent engineering team could have built BigDog, PETMAN, Crusher or any of those others around the time of the Tet Offensive. Nothing to see here. Move on. Move on, I said!

You really do seem frightened.

Dale Carrico said...

I am not afraid of your silly views and nobody thinks I am -- including you. The views I criticize are not "apparent" but actual, patently so, and there are extensive quotes and links to them in my critiques of them, their authors tend to be considerably higher profile than you are within the canons and organizations that define transhumanism as such, and in two decades of study and writing on futurological discourse I have more than demonstrated their representativeness. When you call yourself a transhumanist or defend what you call "the transhumanist project" you are taking on actually-existing associations whether you like it or not. I'm an atheist, too. That's one of the reasons I have no patience with the faith-based initiatives of transhumanoid pseudo-scientists dreaming of Robot Gods and Holodeck Heaven. Atheism and freethought are long deep and varied traditions -- transhumanism is recent, shallow, marginal, and defensive -- the analogy is not atheism but Scientology. Nobody forced you to join or defend a Robot Cult. Now, you've dominated this thread without contributing to it more than long enough and in ways that will probably keep anybody else with sense from commenting. You've made your point, please move on.