The Silicon Vatican and the root of technology disputes

One point which I believe is worth making regarding the ongoing and eternal dispute between techno-sceptics on the one hand (such as the ever-compelling Dale Carrico at Amor Mundi) and the techno-utopians and techno-ideologists on the other hand (take your pick…) is the differing degrees of investment in the ideas being discussed. Carrico refers to these acolytes of undiluted progress as Robot-Cultists, both for specifically rhetorical and tactical reasons, but also in terms of the group identity they seek to foster for themselves. I am tempted to play Good-Cop to Carrico’s I’ll-beat-a-confession-out-of-them-yet-sarge-Cop (making me a techno-scepto-wimp?), and to say that this identity isn’t quite so monolithic as to warrant being called a cult, but perhaps is closer to something like a religious order.

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Long quote from Dale Carrico’s “An Open Letter to 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.”

The rest at amor mundi.

Techno-scepticism is not Neo-Luddism

A continual hazard, when one writes about technology, is that being out of step with prevailing opinion leaves you open to charges of being a Neo-Luddite. The received wisdom is that technology=progress, and that progress is a Good Thing. From this it follows, according to the vulgar logic, that not going along with this generally agreed-upon approval is a Bad Thing. You do not even have to criticize; simply questioning and suggesting that perhaps we need to think things through a bit more carefully is sufficient. I attempted to draw out some of the implications of the Luddite’s views in a previous post (“The Luddites Were Right”), and by saying they were right I intended that this was so according to their socio-economic status and level of political enfranchisement. This shows that Luddites were not simply reactionaries. We should be wary of using it as an epithet of dismissal, and even more wary of those who throw it around as a term of contempt. I wish to come at things from a different perspective now. Continue reading

Individuality is unnecessary for intelligence

Computers + artificial intelligence + robotics will not lead us where techno-ideology prays it will. We will not have an android like Data, who will be able to do all the things that we can, only better. To manage to do all that we can, such a technological entity would need to be as versatile, robust, and massively parallel as we are. This might be achieved via incredible inefficiency, or via some form of biological route. The former disqualifies itself from the running, if we are to require that this is to be a project undertaken on a large scale, to augment our reality via an alternative, artificial intelligent life-form of our own making which would be an addition to our existence. The latter is basically growing another, harder, better, faster, stronger version of ourselves, and falls under trans-/post-humanism.

The alternative is to allow technology to do what it does best: allow tools to be excellent at what it is that they are for. This gives specificity, where all the energy and computation is given focus. Let these tools do these tasks amazingly well and without distraction, and then we have a start. Admittedly, this sounds like the Adam Smith view of technology as mass-produced, mono-function widgets. Smart-phones seem to be a counter-example to my throw-back to the industrial revolution. Continue reading

Technology and A.I. in “2001: A Space Odyssey”

At the start, the very appearance of the monolith creates a disturbance within the hominid family. The microcosm of wider society is this group, so we are to assume, and the immediate implication is thus that these are our primitive ancestors. We are presented with as close to that fictional-mythical state of nature as it might be possible to be, a picture by yet another artist, but shaved of Rousseau’s sentimentality. We are confronted by its artistic subversion of that ideal state, ground down to its base honesty. The monolith appears, and that dissonant, malevolent chorus crescendos. The break with the past is irrevocable, and the disruption will never be undone outside of acts of the imagination. At the same time as science and technology are born, with this moment of bone wielded as tool, as weapon, is born all the myriad problems of application.  Continue reading

Social awkwardness of the singularity, and are hipsters post-scarcity?

In a list of reasons to live as long as possible, one given is that “your loved ones and children don’t deserve to see you perish.” Ok, yeah, so that’s one possible reason for us to live as long as possible. Presumably with some sort of ideal body age. But, if we start living like that, and if we continue to have children and relationships, and the post-scarcity society means that we are able to focus on creativity rather than drudgery… well, I can see the sort of society this would lead to. There might be mindless, soulless hedonism, but it might also give us the chance to learn from each other for longer (hopefully, assuming that small-minds and obtuseness are also made obsolete – good luck with that).
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What can space opera tell us about the future?

The Beyonders in The Algebraist of Iain M. Banks, the Ousters in The Hyperion Cantos of Dan Simmons, the Slashers in Century Rain: all are from 90’s – 00’s SF, and all seem to manifest some sort of dissatisfaction with the inability to write through the time-wall. This is a recasting of a phrase found in Ernst Jünger‘s Eumeswil:

There can be no doubt that gods have appeared, not only in ancient times but even late in history; they feasted with us and fought at our sides. But what good is the splendor of bygone banquets to a starving man? What good is the clinking of gold that a poor man hears through the wall of time? The gods must be called.

I take this to imply that there is sometimes a point in our speculations that it is difficult, to the point of perceived impossibility, to proceed outwards into a realm of new possibility that we have convinced ourselves exists. We hit a bottleneck of time and thought. Continue reading