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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.

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The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Some Futurists Come in for Criticism, and What It All Means -- Rev, SkiP, Soc

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Simon Smith at Betterhumans posted his comments on an interesting review of the TransVision 2005 transhumanist conference in Caracas, Venezuela. To say the review by Jordan Ginsberg was negative would be putting it mildly, particularly as he is apparently rooting for the success of transhumanism -- a philosophy that calls for technology to be used to enhance human health, abilities and quality of life in every way possible.

The sharpest criticism offered by Ginsberg and his predecessor, Shannon Larratt is "What transhumanism needs is transhumanists. Not people who talk about. People who do it." He is also particularly searing when he accuses transhumanists of undermining their own credibility by coming across as irrelevant or deranged.

Transhumanism's credibility matters to "the rest of us" because their core idea of improving the human condition using all available technological means is not only something most futurists would agree with, but in fact the vast majority of human beings. Now where an organization like the World Transhumanist Association takes that concept is another story. But if transhumanism can be put up as a straw man by people who want to attack all technological progress that might lead to "better humans" (like almost any advanced medical research), then it may turn into a tool for thwarting technological progress rather than promoting it. Which means, wherever you stand on human augmentation, longevity, medicine, etc, this is an issue worth watching.

I found one of Ginsberg's comments particularly interesting. He was describing Jordan Amadio's talk about a firsthand look at the flowering of Africa's biotech field, the continent's great potential in nanotech, and the great work teachers are now doing in teaching science to village children in ways they find relative to their lives.

"This, to me, seemed more like the embodiment of true transhumanist values than any of the nonsensical ramblings I was subjected to otherwise—the idea of making humans the absolute best they can be. While some philosophical movements in transhumanism—such as the idea that the human body is the weakest, most flawed vessel for our mind to inhabit and that our future will consist of living on within machines—are questionable on many moral and ethical levels, this struck me as a very basic, yet virtuous mission that really does help people improve themselves."

I think this effectively sums an unfortunate reflex in transhumanist forums -- the inclination to dismiss everything that doesn't relate to the Chosen Technology(ies). And worse still, to dismiss as irrelevant everything about the human condition except a few key researchers or projects that will enable the Chosen to leapfrog out of this mortal clay into the transcendent digitized heights beyond.

Whatever you may think of humanity's potential (or transhumanity's), there's a vast number of things which can impact our immediate future. Energy crises, rampant plagues, wars, nuclear terrorism, a political backlash against some or all scientific research as well as many other matters. Yet you often converse with people who are not merely deeply ignorant of these factors, but willfully so. And proud of it.

The argument, of course, is that humanity's position is so precarious that the enlightened -- in good conscience -- have to devote every waking moment to Saving the World by means of their research. To the extent that their particular work is "mission critical" human survival, they've got a point.

I understand that professionals usually have to focus on their fields of expertise. But somehow I have to assume that a true transhuman -- be they a superior human or posthuman -- would have a greater understanding of the world, not a sadly narrow or limited one. What's more, most participants in these groups aren't professionals in key research fields. Even more ironically, many people, both inspired researchers and untalented enthusiasts, might find resources, ideas and inspiration that could help them build their future. If only they'd pay attention. And open their minds.

Who else finds it amusing to see people on transhumanist forums decrying fundamentalists, while also crying out that the Great Rapture Technology will save us all when the god-computer descends from the heavens in all its glory to raise the dead, eat our brains and free the living from this mortal coil? A view of the future which is often held up as being as inevitable in the eyes of the faithful as any religious apocalypse.

I admit, not everyone has such an extreme viewpoint, but these assumptions are widespread enough that transhumanist forums, which arguably should among the most wide-ranging and expansive of futurist discussion groups, are too often woefully narrow in their commentary.

Getting back to Shannon Larratt's review -- I appreciate his concern that there's too much talk and not enough action being seen at these conferences. I fear that's all-too-likely given the present state of "the transhumanist movement," mainly a scattered group of enthusiasts with a few researchers and philosophers among them. Not everyone, to be frank, yet has something substantive to offer.

Personally, while I'm not necessarily a transhumanist, I am a believer in human enhancement, improving human health and life-extension. What am I trying to do to shape the future for the better? At the moment, I'm trying to become very, very rich.

...And I'm also working on a few simple but potentially highly useful and/or lucrative inventions I have up my sleeve. Once I complete my present entreneurial project, I'll be working on those.

Why? One, becoming wealthy will provide any one of us with the funds to support research, invest in new projects, develop new technologies, see to our own personal development, and so on. And two, since I have some ideas worth exploring, I'm going to see what I can do about some of those imminent world problems.

My point here isn't to gloat, but to point out something very basic. The more you accept that only one or two fields of science "Really Matter," the more you'll be inclined to lay down and wait for someone else to bring you salvation, instead of going out there and working for it yourself. And I believe everyone has the potential to contribute to our future, often in staggeringly effective ways.

Future Imperative

10 Comments:

Blogger Michael Yamashita said...

Ralph,

I read your comments in regards to transhumanism and would like to invite you and your readers to check out the Methuselah Prize site (www.mprize.org) - we're working to catalyze serious life-extension therapies. So come in and check us out, and join in the conversation!

Cheers

August 23, 2005 6:15 AM  
Blogger Ralph Cerchione said...

Thanks for the comment, Michael. The M-Prize actually represents a kind of grassroots effort that doesn't require vast personal wealth. On the other hand, it does require intelligence and organization to do it right. Unfortunately, too many dreamers want the future handed to them instead of working diligently to accomplish their goals, as you guys at mprize.org appear to be doing.

So thanks for offering a good example, and for being one.

August 26, 2005 12:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work » »

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