Monday, December 28, 2009

Visionary futurism AND practical technoprogressivism

First, an example of visionary futurism. A few months ago I co-wrote a short entry on Ten Cosmist Convictions for Ben Goertzel's Cosmist Manifesto. One is: Spacetime engineering and future magic will permit achieving, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions -- and many amazing things that no human religion ever dreamed. Eventually we will be able to resurrect the dead by "copying them to the future." I have chosen one of the most visionary points, but the others are also visionary enough.

Another example: in a recent article on software consciousness and mind uploading, republished on the IEET blog as Will Uploaded Minds in Machines be Alive?. Martine Rothblatt writes: The differences between organic and cybernetic life are less important that their similarities... Mindclones are alive, just not the same kind of life that we are accustomed to. They are functionally alive, albeit with a different structure and substance than has ever existed before. Yet, that is the story of life.

Now, some examples of practical technoprogressivism. The IEET blog has many excellent technoprogressive articles written by Jamais Cascio, listed by Foreign Policy among the world’s most influential thinkers in 2009 and now a Research Fellow at IFTF, James Hughes, Mike Treder and many other brilliant technoprogressive thinkers.

In his last article on Making the Best of a Messy Real World, Mike Treder warns that the rapid growth of our cities and our industries is producing an impact that threatens to destabilize the complex ecosystem that supports us. We may be reaching a tipping point where we will be unable to control the runaway effects that could undo all that we’ve managed to build in the last ten millennia. The article is well written, scientifically sound, balanced, and a much needed input for citizens and policy makers. The IEET has the potential to play a very important role to promote sound and fair technoprogressive policies, and I am honored to be one of its founders.

Most IEET Fellows and writers are concerned with the responsible development of emerging technologies, promoting social and geopolitical fairness, equitable access to resources, and a pragmatic scientific approach to the problems of today's world. I am proud to be in the IEET because I am a citizen who wishes to see a better world and a better society. I don't care for fundamentalist extremes in one sense or another, and I want to live in a society which is both dynamic and fair. I want to live in a world where global decisions are taken together, and at the same time local autonomy is respected. I want to live in a society which offers everybody empowerment and a chance at a decent life, which in practical terms means a basic income guarantee (BIG) for everyone, and at the same time offers sufficient personal rewards to high flyers to keep them motivated. I want to see the development of emerging technologies pursued aggressively, but without killing people or the planet. I want personal freedom for everyone, but with responsibility and respect for others. These are all difficult issues for which there is no one-size-fits-all magic bullet, but I believe they can be faced with hard thinking, hard working, a scientific problem solving approach, empathy for others, and the sound application of appropriate technologies. This is why I call myself a technoprogressive.

Yes: I consider myself a visionary futurist, AND at the same time a technoprogressive, and I don't see any conflict between these two separate identities. I can and do wear both hats, but one at a time. The IEET was founded by other visionary futurists and even, God forbids, transhumanists. Before founding the IEET a few years ago, we had long discussions on transhumanist mailing lists. I was one of those urging a more mature and socially responsible "mainstream" approach, not only focused on tomorrow's world of science fiction but also on making today's world a better place.

For me, the visionary and technoprogressive approaches can co-exist and even mutually reinforce, and the IEET must be a conversational space where both are represented and encouraged. Better health today, and post-biological life tomorrow.

On the other hand, some idiots out there keep saying that responsible technoprogressive citizens should not contemplate transhumanist visions and, with the thought-policing attitude typical of fundamentalist bigots, wish to ban transhumanists from technoprogressive interest groups. Occasionally, these idiocies are echoed by our own discourse. For example, in the otherwise excellent article mentioned above, Mike writes: Techno-rapturists among our reading audience might be quick to respond with glib answers about miraculous nanotechnology solutions that are just around the corner, or the promise of a superintelligent friendly AI who can take over everything and solve all our troubles just like Daddy would.

I reply: Nobody responded with similar answers. Perhaps we should show more respect for our audience? If there are no "techno-rapturists" in the audience, then this sentence is redundant. If there are some, they may feel unnecessarily insulted. I recommend we work together on the many technoprogressive initiatives we all agree upon, and agree to disagree on unrelated personal preferences.

I have been asked: Who you can point to who does, for you, represent immature technorapturism? Who do you think should become more sophisticated about the importance of politics in achieving the vision? I would find your thoughts on that very interesting.

I think I have answered this question in my article I am a Singularitian who does not believe in the Singularity:

Most recent anti-transhumanist articles do not address real transhumanism, but a demonized, caricatural strawman of transhumanism which some intellectually dishonest critics wish to sell to their readers, which I find very annoying. In some cases, I rather agree with some specific points addressing over-optimistic predictions: While I am confident that indefinite life extension and mind uploading will eventually be achieved, I don't see it happening before the second half of the century, and closer to the end. Perhaps even later. Very few transhumanists think practical, operational indefinite life extension and mind uploading will be a reality in the next two or three decades. Probably Kurzweil himself does not _really_ believe it. Similarly, I don't see a Singularity in 2045. Perhaps later, perhaps never. But even when I agree with the letter of these articles, I very much disagree with their spirit, and I think criticizing Kurzweil for making over-optimistic predictions is entirely missing the point. Ray Kurzweil's bold optimism is a refreshing change from today's often overly cautious, timid, boring, PC and at times defeatist attitude. It reminds us that we live in a reality that can be reverse- and re- engineered if we push hard enough. It reminds us that our bodies and brains are not sacred cows but machines which can be improved by technology. He is the bard who tells us of the beautiful new world beyond the horizon, and dares us to go.