The Speculist: Who Are They Sticking it To?


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Who Are They Sticking it To?

Via InstaPundit, the new Futurisms blog from The New Atlantis is providing some live and in-depth coverage of the Singularity Summit with surprisingly restrained snark for an organization that takes such pride in its association with Leon Kass. Of course, the snark does come through from time to time, along with what appears to be genuine puzzlement over the tone of much of the audience reaction to certain ideas. Here's a snippet:

A questioner asks what the FDA has to say about this, since they don't recognize aging as a disease (yet). Benford calls on David Rose to answer the question. Rose says the FDA is regulating health, but he says "everyone in this room is going to hell in a handbasket, not because of one or two genetic diseases," but because we're getting uniformly worse through aging. And that, he says, is what they're trying to stop. Scattered but voracious applause and cheering. It's that same phenomenon again — this weird rally attitude of yeah, you tell 'em! Who is it that they think they're sticking it to? Or what?

Gosh, I can't imagine. Maybe it's people who, upon seriously examining radical life extension, immediately start looking for ways to "help in forming the sort of public opinion that will be necessary to stave off some of these developments." Or maybe it's those who describe the inevitability of aging in poetic, if not romanticized terms...

This drama of growing old, passing down, and passing on is hardly new. It has always been at the heart of the human lifecycle, recognized by the wise men and women of every age

...and who put the blame for increases in dementia (and the increased fear of the possibility thereof that many suffer from as they age) squarely where it belongs -- medical progress:

The rising prevalence of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias in old age only makes these questions about the trajectory of life more acute. Besides the normal fear of senescence and death, many people are horrified at the thought of ending their lives only after a long period not just of physical frailty and disability but also of mental incapacitation, impaired memory, diminished awareness, loss of modesty and self-control, distortion of personality and temperament, inability to recognize friends and loved ones, and general dullness and enfeeblement of inner life. It seems a cruel irony that the very medical advances that have kept many of us reasonably healthy into a ripe old age have, by the same token, exposed us to the ravages of incurable and progressive dementia, and to the prospect that our life's drama may well end with an extended final act marked by a gradual descent into mindlessness.

You can see how the New Atlantis gang might have a hard time connecting the dots, here. They have achieved such a lofty moral, spiritual, and intellectual state that they have a difficult time even imagining that the positions they routinely take on issues -- being manifestly and self-evidently correct -- could be seriously opposed by anyone, much less in a vocal and enthusiastic way.


..And instead of fighting along a broad front that might bring reinforcements from other groups (ex: individual freedom to choose health in many forms) small groups will ineffectively fight some skirmishes that are easily routed by those powers that maintain the status quo.

I'm not convinced it's possible to change the world. If one has enough money and influence, he or she may be able to change an isolated part of it. This isn't new. Pharaoh knew it, Ghengis khan knew it, the sovereign kings of Europe knew it. These are extreme examples. The robber-barons of the industrial age knew it. Presently the rich & famous are living it...

We're trying to network with Ari, hopefully some dialog will come out of it. I just hope that they don't mind if we eat ice cream in public.

The New Atlantis crew remind me of the economic crowd who wonder what will happen to jobs when robots do all the work. Uh, jobs will disappear.

So, when they ask what we'll do as we live longer and longer and thus are afflicted by more and more dementia, I'll just have to remind them that the core concept of extreme long life research is to end aging, not merely to extend the average lifespan.

I read most of the blog entries in "Futurisms" and got the feeling of an outsider flailing away at some radically new concepts.

Regular futurists have the same problem. Check out my essay on Cetron and Davies: The Problem with Linear Projections of the Future.

Here's a blog reporting on the Summit, not many comments, snarky or otherwise here:

For those of you who indulge in Facebook, the following will take you to SIAI's Cause page. Join.

I've had a read of their site and I quite like it. What's wrong with interrogating transhumanism? I wish more transhumanists would do likewise.

The defensiveness of this post and the majority of comments is more alarming to me than the content of the blog itself.

It seems to me that the final blog at Futures on the Singularity Summit includes a number of good ideas for a very different kind of conference on the Singularity, accelerating technology, transhumanism, what have you.

Having not attended the Summit, I may be speaking out of turn, but there had been other criticisms on the Internet on the Summit's exclusivity. Futures also criticizes it for being mainly a techy, academic exercise.

"To put it another way, while its means may be technical and scientific, the ends of Singularitarianism, as disparate and even incoherent as they may be, are rather like those of a spiritual movement. I kept waiting for the presenters to make grand statements about the moral imperatives of the movement and about the awe-inspiring new things we will do and be.

There were a few, but those larger ideas were mostly taken for granted. I thought, in particular, that we might get some of these first principles from Anna Salamon, who gave the opening and closing talks, or from Ray Kurzweil, who presides as the de facto spiritual leader (and head coach) of the movement.

But for a movement that aspires to such revolutionary things, the summit was in fact rather conventional: dry talks, PowerPoint slides, and lectures in rapid succession. (I should note that the organizers kept the whole thing impeccably on schedule, except for allowing Kurzweil to go well over his time at the end of the first day.) It seemed that many of the attendees were most excited during the breaks between presentations. They huddled around the superstar presenters. I heard more than a few conferencegoers ask each other, "Have you seen Ray? Where is he? I want to talk to him." Many were excited just to be in the presence of fellow-travelers (since, as some of them told me, many of the attendees only knew of the Singularitarian movement through the Internet)."

Futures points out that the Singularity is such a huge concept that it can't be (honestly) limited to tech talk.

The Futures blogger doesn't believe that the concept of the Singularity doesn't grow out of human history or human nature. A good historian of technological development would reveal the opposite to be the truth. Accelerating technology did not begin with the modern computer. It began before the Stone Age.

The blogger was right to suggest more time for interaction between attendees and presenters. As a former organizer for the science track of programming at Minicon, Minnesota's very large SF convention, I can tell you point blank that some of the most enjoyable and learning intensive times at the con occurred out in the hallway and during semi-organized roundtable discussions.

The blogger also pointed out that a revolutionary development such as the Singularity would impact every aspect of our lives. Economics, the arts, leisure activities, sports, you name it, the Singularity would transform it. This point is well taken.

Perhaps if entrepreneurial organizers created a cross between last year's "unconference" and the Singularity Summit with lots of cross-disciplinary programming and a number of less structured events, Singulatarians would have the chance to explore far more aspects of what we believe will be the most revolutionary era in human history.

I think questioning the premises of transhumanism is an excellent idea, and it needs to be done both from the inside and the outside. I just found Ari's genuine puzzlement kind of amusing.

Bowermaster I am totally agree with you. It needs to be done from the inside and the outside. Its nice idea.

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