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Deconstructing our future

Here, flagged up by Bruce Sterling, is an absolutely vital rant (by Dale Carrico) for anyone with even the most remotely passing interest in transhumanism, extropianism, the radiant future, etc. etc.

Manages to sum up in a few paragraphs a large chunk of my thinking on the subject since I finished Accelerando and recovered from the dot-bust hangover. Sample:

I have proposed that the "accelerating change" crowed about for the last two decades by futurologists in pop religious cadences and by more mainstream and academic New Media commentators in pop psychology and pop sociology cadences has never had any substantial reference apart from the increasing precarity produced by neoliberal looting and destabilization of domestic welfare and global economies—often facilitated, it is true, by the exploitation of digital trading, marketing, and surveillance networks—a precarity usually seen and experienced from the vantage of privileged people who either benefit from neoliberal destabilization or who (rightly or wrongly) identify with the beneficiaries of that destabilization.
Got that?

Shorter version: a big chunk of the "accelerating change" meme actually emerges from our experience of the future shock induced by our Martian invaders — the corporatist liquidation or privatisation of human social structures not mediated by money, culminating ultimately in the experience of disaster capitalism.

Yes, there is rapid technological progress in some areas. It's not all bad. But the beneficiaries of that particular shift (a narrow technological elite, and their masters in the shape of the 0.1%, the financial/social engineers who direct the new hive-organism aristocracy) have made a fetish out of change, ignoring (for the most part) the uncomfortable fact that "creative destruction" is an oxymoron:

... there is an unmistakably faith-mobilizing pseudo-transcendentalizing strain to be discerned in this very PR marketing imaginary, deranging us from our present distress into a yearning toward consumer techno-futures bathed in pastels and robots and cars and DNA helices and chocolate and glossy hair and youthful skin and golden sex.
So there! (That's us told.)

Seriously, go read the whole thing. It's an essential reality check for those who are too entranced by transhumanism to notice the sordid reality behind the curtain. (Yes, I am grumpy this morning. Wouldn't you be, if you woke from a diamond-encrusted dream of exponential progress to find yourself in a nation gripped by a double-dip recession induced by economic idiocy?)

Update: There is a rottenness at the heart of the transhuman project, and the biggest symptom of it is blindness to its own origins: a mixture of warmed-over Christian apocalyptic eschatology (which Cory Doctorow and I poke with a stick in "The Rapture of the Nerds") and the Just-So creation mythology of the smugly self-satisfied hypercapitalists who have unintentionally done so much to destroy so many of the moral and interpersonal values of post-Englightenment civilization.

508 Comments

1:

Interesting, indeed.

I wonder what will happen to the global economy if those pesky laws of nature rear their ugly heads. Hyperdepression?

2:

I'm used to encountering words not in dictionaries and all, but I had not come across 'precarity' before, and I didn't find its meaning to be obvious. So in the spririt of helpfulness:

We now come to the useful word “precarity,” which is part of the American lifestyle but distant from American politics. “Precarity” is, of course, the condition of existing precariously. The condition of losing one’s safety and security, of losing predictability and the ability to rationally plan ahead, the condition of being humiliated and in danger.

(From http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/the_true_21st_century_begins/)

3:

Considering all the stuff which foundation is nothing more than the exponential growth mantra, is what I mean.

4:

I am curious as to what you found of value in it. It looked to me to be pretty much a context-free aggregation of words gesturing vagely in the direction of a point.

5:

"Shorter version: a big chunk of the "accelerating change" meme actually emerges from our experience of the future shock induced by our Martian invaders — the corporatist liquidation or privatisation of human social structures not mediated by money, culminating ultimately in the experience of disaster capitalism."

That'll be the last 10 years or so of my life pretty much summed up then...

6:

From a slightly different perspective:

- Change isn't really accelerating, it's just the time distortion imposed by getting older and looking backwards rather than being young and waiting for the future to turn up.

- Most people secretly believes that their life is dull compared to certain "most others", and that "most others" are having more and shinier money / sex / abdominal muscles (doubly so when you're a student).

- An easy way to gain power or sell stuff is to promise an escape to a land of more and shinier money / sex / abdominal muscles.

- Journalists have to stand out in order for their magazine to sell advertising, so !ELEVENTY! CAPITALS! SHINY! compared to previous articles is the order of the day.

- A vocal minority of any group really, really, hate having their escapist fantasies challenged / put at risk / taken away.

7:

Well it is always "Jam tomorrow" or "Pie in the Sky when you die".

8:

Are you *sure* that wasn't output from by a post modern essay generator?

9:

Yeah, any potential meaning in that was totally buried in an enormous pile of reeking smugness and emotionally laden words.

10:

You didn't read it, did you?

It's from outside the transhumanist reality-tunnel, looking in.

11:

No, it's output from a postmodernist scholar. They tend to talk in 50 word sentences and use nested subordinate clauses. This is not good practice if you want to communicate clearly. However, the point this piece is making is so important that I felt the need to drag it in front of my regular peanut gallery.

12:

I'm quite fond of Gibson's idea that ideas about what the future is like are rooted in the present, and tell us more about the present than they do about the predictable future.

Perhaps the "accelerating future" meme is a product of it's time, much as the "20 years from now will be much the same as it is today" must have been prior to the scientific revolution.

Someone else said "Geeks are always confusing S curves with exponential growth" ;-)

13:

Sterling's correct that we could theoretically guarantee basic levels of security to everyone on the planet. He fails to notice that that's not what people want- no amount of economic development can grant _status_, and people would be happy to live in a pile of cow dung as long as their pile of shit was higher than their neighbors' shit piles.

Explains why there's that much attention devoted to being prettier (than your neighbor), richer (than your neighbor) and appearing smarter or more "with it" than your neighbor instead of giving a damn whether you and your neighbor are okay or not.

14:

Yeah, any potential meaning in that was totally buried in an enormous pile of reeking smugness and emotionally laden words.

Sort of like Ray Kurzweil's effusions about the future, then?

Ed Regis said much the same in Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition back in the 90s, but I wasn't paying enough attention. Also, the degree of noise in the hyper-capitalist echo chamber has risen to a deafening crescendo since then.

There is a rottenness at the heart of the transhuman project, and the biggest symptom of it is blindness to its own origins: a mixture of warmed-over Christian apocalyptic eschatology (which Cory Doctorow and I poke with a stick in "The Rapture of the Nerds") and the Just-So creation mythology of the smugly self-satisfied hypercapitalists who have unintentionally done so much to destroy so many of the moral and interpersonal values of post-Englightenment civilization.

15:

I think the real exponent here is how I find each thing that Sterling writes to be inconceivably more tedious than the last. At least Kunstler's ability to have a hate-on for everything without ever suggesting an alternative or a solution is occasionally funny. I want to disagree with him just on principle.

16:

Sterling's correct that we could theoretically guarantee basic levels of security to everyone on the planet. He fails to notice that that's not what people want-

I agree with your point, but I don't think he's missed that at all: he's pointing out that it's what we could have, if we wanted it. (Bruce is a very smart guy, a thought-leader for those of us trying to understand the near to medium future.)

17:

Status and security are mostly orthogonal. Which is why a non-precarious welfare state won't automatically collapse once people are no longer motivated by fear or desperation. You can have a society where the baseline affords the basic human needs (freedom from hunger, personal safety, &c.) for those at the bottom and people will still strive to rise above that. Conversely, “social mobility” is no guarantee of a society not throwing its poor to the wolves.

18:

"There is a rottenness at the heart of the transhuman project.. the smugly self-satisfied hypercapitalists who have unintentionally done so much to destroy so many of the moral and interpersonal values of post-Englightenment civilization."

I.e, "Fuck off, I am an entirely new order of being and no human concerns of yours apply to me"?

19:

Yes. You got it.

20:

It's just the utopian extrapolation of a capitalist society into the future. Cyberpunk is the dystopian version. Some people do give a religious fervor though.

Personally, I see it as a noble goal regardless of the path taken to get there. Banks's "Culture" ends up looking very similar, but I think was arrived there from a more socialist path.

Another thing I see that not many people seem to mention is that there is something of a Nietzschian undercurrent. The development of a technological ubermensch (as Nietzsche conceived of it, not the later baggage associated with the term).

21:

Bruce Sterling? But isn't this essay by Dale Carrico? At least, that's what the tag-line says ...

22:

Makes you wonder- why the desperate desire for separation? And I think it is desperation, not necessarily an exaltation of the self- fleeing from humanity, not toward godhood (by any other name)

23:

Ah. Like Libertarians, then.

24:

And there are plenty of S curves that look like exponential growth around just now. All kinds of things are still in the first half of the curve and are doubling on short doubling periods. If that's not accelerating change then what is it? There's a potential second mistake for geeks here as well; assuming that the second half of the S curve is smooth. Add some lag and lots of models predict wild overshoots and catastrophic declines rather than some smooth levelling out.

Meanwhile, The Manufactured Normalcy Field ensures that the immediate future stays just like the immediate past in a fairly unbroken spiral back to the 15th century or so. I don't think "20 years from now will be much the same as it is today" is something pre-scientific revolution at all. It's something happening all the time isn't it?
http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2012/05/09/welcome-to-the-future-nauseous/

25:

I located this essay via Bruce re-broadcasting it. It needs a broader audience.

26:

Yeah, I can't read Kurzweil either, for the same reason.

In fact, this rant reminded me of nothing more than the really loony die-hard Republican rants we see occasionally now and again: opaque jargon, deliberate attempts to drive away readers who aren't part of the clique, insulting language and insinuations of moral failings towards anyone who doesn't agree with the author... hopefully Sterling's worldview is more reality based than theirs, but the parallels are discouraging.

All this despite the fact that (as far as I can tell) I *agree* with him, mind you.

27:

There is a very strong correlation between west coast extropianism and libertarian politics. As in, it's about 80%.

The "fuck off" meme idea does appear to be a plausible explanation ...

28:

Ah, I didn't register this wasn't by Sterling! Phew. I am relieved.

29:

I think the key phrase in Carrico's rant (and the florid language and post-modern sentence structure are used here because this is a rant) is this:

a mass mediated Opium War (and often literal war) distracts the masses from awareness that we have already long since arrived at the techno-scientific level to provide security and equity and hence universal emancipation for all,

Which I take to mean that if you're fixated on making the perfect world by changing the human condition with woo-woo technology that doesn't exist, you'll miss the fact that we have the technology to solve most of the societal problems like feeding the entire human race at a reasonable level of nutrition. The reason we don't is that our Galtian Overlords are too busy grabbing everything they can so no one else can have any.

30:

Bruce Sterling's twitter account is like the Canary in the coalmine of the near future.

31:

An abridged version might be: most futurology is advertising. But we knew that, right? right? no?

[contemplates training a horse]

Martin Gardner -- Scientific American's famous columnist -- was one of the first critics of transhumanism who called it for what it was: a religious movement. He was intimately familiar with the splinters and mutations of modern Protestantism in all their myriad forms, from Dawkins-style atheism to Bob Jones-style WTF. (Wrote a not-bad novel of ideas on them too, The Flight of Peter Fromm.) Gardner called the trend correctly as far back as Moravec's Mind Children.

From that perspective, it's pretty obvious that the Transhuman Gospel is a high-tech version of the Prosperity Gospel: a pyramid scheme that has evolved to gull ignorant IT people who want to feel special about themselves into supporting the economic system they work under (e.g., de facto 80-hour work weeks, race towards the bottom outsourcing, the glorification of the venture capitalist beyond any true value-added, etc), in the hopes that they will someday partake of this wealth and have a shiny eternal robo-body of their own where they can live the porn lives of their dreams at will.

So you get hucksters like that blogger-pundit from Tennessee who gets freebies from tech companies in order to promote their products and a far-right political and economic agenda, but who also believes he too one day will live on in a robo-body. Or look at Vinge himself, who has carefully made sure that his predictions of the transhuman experience are not Popper-falsifiable.

And it's tiresome. We've seen this all before: Millions now living will never die! Get in on the ground floor! Only the target has changed. It used to be this sort of religion preyed upon dislocated rural-to-urban migrants. Now it preys on dislocated white-collar economic migrants.

No one likes being told they're a sucker, and no one likes being told they've suckered themselves. So I doubt that the people who need to understand this will ever do so. Deny or evade or ignore.

32:

Thaw me when robot wives are cheap and effective.

--The Manifesto of Jasper Bearley

33:

I liked it; I didn't mind being challenged by the writing, especially when I got to the end thinking: "Wait, I seem to be in agreement with this guy, even though the part of my brain that parses English needs an icepack on it".

He's coming at it from the heights (Death From Above 2079?), but from what I've learned over ten years of working for biotech, pharma, and medical device companies is that the piffling trivial details that Kurzweil and Drexler skate hurriedly over (how do those nano-assemblers actually get *built*, Eric?) are problems that evolution has solved in biological terms, but only after running trillions of parallel experiments per second across the entire planer over the course of about 3 billion years. The resultant nano-machines (enzymes and other proteins) are so incredibly baroque, specialized, and finely tuned that changes to a single unit can break their function completely. We don't even understand how these things assemble, or how you might conceivably engineer the attometer precisions that bring two reactants together in such a way that the chemical reaction between just the right molecules is *the* only energetically favourable outcome. WTF? That's engineering to tolerances we can only *dream* about. So, Carrico's politico-economic concerns aside, actually *designing* and *making* these nano-assemblages in functional bulk quantities is, if not impossible, then so far beyond our current abilities in doing synthetic biology as to be *virtually* impossible for the foreseeable future.

34:

*attometer be damned, I meant "picometer precisions" ...

35:

This is one of the things I have noticed about transhumanists - they appear to hate humanity in a way I find it hard to comprehend. I mean, I'm a chronically depressed cynic, but I still hold out hope for the majority of humanity; I believe that we're capable of so much more than we like to let ourselves think we're capable of. It doesn't need technological enhancement, cybernetic implants, uploaded personalities or anything like that. I mean, I'm doing something that my great-great-great-grandfather probably would never have conceived as being possible for one of his female descendants - I'm getting a university degree in computer science.

So what changed between great-great-great grandfather's era (around the 1820s) and this current epoch (20teens)? To start with, the growth of the education sector occurred, as education was broadened from being something that the wealthy received to being something that every child obtained. Women demanded (and obtained) equal voting rights, as well as the right for middle-class and upper-class women to undertake remunerative employment outside the home. Trade Unionism obtained better working conditions and established the expectation that people would have leisure time - eight hours for rest, eight hours for work, eight hours for play, as the old slogan went. Public health measures were undertaken, making it possible for more children to survive to adulthood (have a look at the demographic "pyramid" of a third world country compared with the demographic "column" of a first world country some day - that's the difference adequate disease prevention makes) and for more adults to achieve a longer life expectancy (GtGtGt-Grandfather probably had a life expectancy of about 50 years, if that. By contrast, my maternal grandfather died at age 93, and he was one of three of my four grandparents to live past 90 years). Technology changed, yes, and it changed very rapidly during the twentieth century; the entire discipline I'm studying was born then, and it still isn't a century old. But most of the changes which occurred were in the way people thought about things.

In the two centuries between my great-great-great grandfather's era and this one, we largely discarded the notion of the fixed social position. Where you're born doesn't necessarily determine where you're going to die; who your parents were doesn't necessarily determine who you can be or will be. Social mobility is possible. Education was recognised as a key factor in social mobility, and there was a broadening of the availability of education to a wider range of people - poor people, women, black people, people who lived outside the big cities. As we've been getting better and better at believing that nobody deserves to be left behind in the educational race (if they want education, they should be able to get it) we're starting to identify more and more ways in which the old systems advantaged a certain group of persons, and we're starting to raise more and more clamour about how that wasn't fair then, and it still isn't fair when it happens now. We've discarded (largely) the notions of ancestry and biology as destiny - we can be more than our ancestors, and more than just our bodies.

And by "we", I don't just mean white, anglo-celtic, industrialised, educated descendants of colonial overlords. I mean everyone. As Bruce Cohen pointed out, we have the technology and the ability to feed the world, to distribute the wealth freely and fairly to all. What we don't have at this point is the will to do it, or the willingness to include those people who aren't part of our WEIRD cultures in the greater mass of humanity. But I have hope, and faith. I believe we can do this. And I really do believe it won't need the latest and greatest in techno-neepery in order to do so. Just a strong belief in truth, in justice, in fairness, and in our fellow human beings as creatures which are capable of becoming better.

36:

Hang on, I don't think the picture for nanotech is quite that bad! At least, not if we're talking about goopy aqueous phase nanotech derived from existing biological systems with whatever fancy hacks we can layer on top of them. (Drexlerian diamond/vacuum phase boundary nanomachines are a whole lot more speculative: not obviously impossible, but we're in the shoes of late 18th century watchmakers speculating about mass-producing Diesel engines at this point.)

On the other hand: the prospects for mind uploading, procedural AI, and a bunch of the other shibboleths of the posthuman movement are ... well, they're looking about as good as the prospects for libertarianism as a stable and optimal form of government for a 21st century developed nation.

37:

Hey our overlords put a lot of hard graft and good old fashioned skull sweat into devising their utopian future! Now avert your eyes as they ascend.

38:

So what changed between great-great-great grandfather's era (around the 1820s) and this current epoch (20teens)? ... Women demanded (and obtained) equal voting rights, as well as the right for middle-class and upper-class women to undertake remunerative employment outside the home.

Not only that: women no longer needed to bear on average five children each, in order to maintain constant population, due to 50% of children dying before reaching the age of 5, while facing the spectre of a 10% risk of dying as a result of complications of each childbirth.

You want changes in education? Back in the 1820s the majority of British or American natives were illiterate (hence the tradition of marking an X on a first-past-the-post ballot).

The 1820-to-201x changes are far more radical than we usually recognize.

(And I'd like to agree wholeheartedly with your final paragraph.)

39:

"... the biggest symptom of it is blindness to its own origins: a mixture of warmed-over Christian apocalyptic eschatology"

I am certainly not blind to that, and consider it a big plus. One of the ZS projects I am running is to recast H+ into a modern religion. Worldwide I doubt whether the number of Transhumanists exceeds 10,000. The only way it is going to get a bigger audience is by embracing its religious underpinnings in an expression of 21st century spirituality (and yes, I WILL define that term if you want a chunk of the book dropped here).
Tellingly, even the crappiest most lunatic little Xian sect usually accomplishes more on-the-ground contact with people than the biggest H+ organization. Just travel through South London (for example) and you will see their churches in disused shops wherever you go. Since H+ does not even have its own rented premises I would suggest we are embracing the wrong aspects of H+ to successfully offer it to the public.
The Zero State incarnation is named: The Praxis

40:

Well, for one, this answered a question that had long been bothering me -- the existance (and purpose) of men's health magazines. And suddenly, they make more sense, in a certain way, than women's magazines do.

On a more serious note, however, it's interesting how easy it is to connect the dots between this article and our host's recent musings on the future of SF. The Golden Age SF relied on tech advances to bring about a more or less utopian future in which basic problems can be solved. We have now arrived to that point, yet problems are far from solved. In that regard, I would estimate that the purpose of new SF really shouldn't be more shiny inspirational visions of future tech, the way Neal Stephenson proposes, but rather shiny visions of future sociology, which might, in turn, act as inspiration for some imagined "Next Generation" to employ the existing technology in ways that optimistically-minded Golden Age had predicted.

Of course, that again connects with the basic problem visible in traditional hard SF -- lack of actually different visions in society on anything other than the largest macro plane -- and creates the connection to Charlie's recent complaints about recurring themes in the comments. Because it seems that what the (most vocal part/majority of?) existing audiences want is not very far removed from Golden Age and Star Trek TOS: more shinier tech, with patriarchy (kyriarchy) intact.

41:

"The Golden Age SF relied on tech advances to bring about a more or less utopian future in which basic problems can be solved. We have now arrived to that point, yet problems are far from solved. "

New toys, same monkey, same problems.
The difference with H+ compared to the old vision of the shiny toy future is that we want to change the fundamental nature of the monkey. *That* is what is new.

42:

Because it seems that what the (most vocal part/majority of?) existing audiences want is not very far removed from Golden Age and Star Trek TOS: more shinier tech, with patriarchy (kyriarchy) intact.

+1.

To which I should add: we are seeing interesting stuff coming out of the field of cognitive psychology and neurobiology these days. Maybe we've just been looking for our missing shiny keys/futures under the wrong street lamp ...

43:

Well, that's kind of my point -- we can't do much more than hack the current hardware. And badly, at that. There are no general enzymatic toolkits for, say, doing reductive amination bond formations, or Grignard reactions, or heterocyclic ring closing, or any of the really cool stuff that chemists currently do in test tubes. And they still do it in test tubes, because it's cheaper that way -- way cheaper. If we can't even cheaply and effectively tailor enzymes to do the chemistry we want, then we *definitely* won't be able to do nanotech. And that's because chemistry *is* nanotech.

44:

"Because it seems that what the (most vocal part/majority of?) existing audiences want is not very far removed from Golden Age and Star Trek TOS: more shinier tech, with patriarchy (kyriarchy) intact."

And what Transhumanists want is to change the fundamental nature of the players, not the toys. We already know what the future looks like with Homo Sapiens - more of the same forever.

45:

Looks like I am filling up the moderation queue

46:
In that regard, I would estimate that the purpose of new SF really shouldn't be more shiny inspirational visions of future tech, the way Neal Stephenson proposes, but rather shiny visions of future sociology, which might, in turn, act as inspiration for some imagined "Next Generation" to employ the existing technology in ways that optimistically-minded Golden Age had predicted.

In some ways, we already have the technology for that, too.

The Nordic model.

It's already here, it's just not evenly distributed. Of course, actually plotting a plausible path to get from here to there is decidedly non-trivial, execution even more so. The basic schema of one reasonably desirable end-point, though, is fairly easily visible. Or perhaps I should say way-point rather than end-point, it's hardly likely to be the end of the journey. On a scale of dystopia to golden age, the Nordic countries seem to be doing quite well.

47:

As somebody once said, we are only three missed meals away from barbarism. An exaggeration admittedly, but no social system is going to fix that.

48:

Fiction based on neurobiology and congnitive psychology is:

A) less comfortable than fiction based on more easily externalized objects of study

B) relatedly, tends to disrupt narrative structure

C) thus is harder to write well and takes longer to comprehend

D) is likely to come off as "experimental" and "postmodern" which will discourage casual readers

I don't want to be dismissive of "casual readers." Most of the time when I read something I want to read something in a conventional way and not think about what the act of reading is and the like; so I cannot blame other people for being basically as "lazy" as me. A lack of casual readers means a lack of sales means fewer publishers and fewer published writers means fewer people who even attempt that sort of project. So we get the literature we want, not the literature we say we want.

49:

What exactly makes it spooky? Is it the distance or the action? It just isn't all anything. And who else can be responsible for dreams? Out of the mix and match, there's slightly newer or newish, the combinations/patterns that fit, at the time when they do, for as long as they do. A big picture is not a dwarf, but it can dwarf. The universe has dumps, but is not a dump. You are not in traffic, you are traffic. You are not fat, you have fat. When you are not this, try that.

50:

The most interesting in all of this, is what is going on in the public media at the same time.

We have an apocalyptic eschatology (climate change). We have all discussions of economy reduced to one thing and one thing only jobs, combined with an active resistance to even contemplate other ways to distribute money. (Which is mostly down to the illusion that money has an inherent value that is independent of the state of the economy.)

We call the developing world the greatest threat to our economy (following the general historic patterns of the perception of Japan, Soviet Russia or Germany). Problems associated with the use of certain technologies are declared problems of the technology itself.

Well, it seems like we are talking about opposites both remarkably far removed from reality ... with SF having the benefit of at least being self-aware to the fact that it's fiction.

51:

Worse, we get the literature we want, not the literature we need.

52:

This would be much better in French. It would make sense because there are internal tools, hooks in this language for writing ultra long phrases.

Otherwise, it is utter drivel.

53:

Condemning transhumanism as "warmed-over Christian apocalyptic eschatology." is simply the genetic fallacy. Religion, being very old, was the first to notice the common human desire to escape the doomed, raging, demanding meat. Transhumanism merely offered a more plausible way to achieve it. If it works, it works; if it doesn't it doesn't. Who cares if it has religion cooties?

54:

Not only that: women no longer needed to bear on average five children each, in order to maintain constant population, due to 50% of children dying before reaching the age of 5, while facing the spectre of a 10% risk of dying as a result of complications of each childbirth.

Oh, trust me, I'm aware of that one. Here's the last few generations of my family in a matriarchal line:

My mother's maternal grandmother (my great-grandmother) died probably in around her mid-thirties, from a puerperal haemorrhage, after giving birth to her eleventh child. Her eighth child (my maternal grandmother) had three children, of whom my mother was the eldest. My mother had two children. I have none (by choice).

I'm also not the only child-free member of my generation - of the total of eight of us (myself, my brother, and our six first cousins) there are at least three of us who haven't had children, possibly more (I really have to check with my mother as to who's bred and who hasn't). At least part of my decision not to have children was based on my very real perception that there wasn't the same amount of social pressure demanding that I take up the role of "mother" that there was on even my mother, or her sister, or her sisters-in-law (in the late 1960s to early 1970s).

Now, admittedly, I'm a lot less involved in the mainstream culture than any of my relatives were (except possibly my two Christadelphian aunts, but they had the pressure to be parents coming from a different direction), but even so, I'm still fortunate in that I can say that I don't want children and not be immediately considered either insane or criminal. Again, my biology (female) isn't my destiny (motherhood).

55:

I do wonder if in a generation or two people will look back and regard the singularity genre/religion the same way we regard mid 20th century space SF ala John Campbell.

We may even have, in a form, all or most of the technologies that singularitarians harp on about. We may have fuly mapped the connectome and have ways of doing it in a reasonable time at a reasonable cost, our software and user interfaces maybe so sophisticated/capable/intelligent that we can interact with it in natural language, industrial automation/robotics and bio/nano technology may give us huge manufacturing capabilities for nanoengineered materials and products, gene therapies and finer control of metabolics may allow for boosted immune systems and better standard health etc etc

But I doubt that these will mean that we'll all upload to the great dyson swarm in the sky anymore than the development of computers have lead to a world ressembling an Asimov story.

Regardless of how interesting these hard science topics are it is the social sciences that really interest me (which will of course be affected/dependent on hard science developments). When psychology and neuroscience meet in the middle far more than they do today what does that mean for any field involving indivudual or group human behaviour? What can sociology tell us about how to structure our political systems? What new economic models can we develop that would better meet our needs?

Given the wealth disparity we have entered this century with it wouldn't suprise me if the biggest, and most unpredictable, differences by the end of the century are to be found in the theory and practice of politics and economics. Sure all the technologies listed above may be there but they will probably work and be used in ways far different to our quant ideas of technorapture and cyberpunk.

56:

Otherwise, it is utter drivel.

Ya think?

(I'm taking notes of who clearly Doesn't Get It. For future reference when moderating discussions -- see last but one topic.)

57:

I'm not sure that it's not a self-fulfilling prophecy. Which ties, again, into the existing system, and the underlying belief that it is the only system. Because large entertainment-producers are becoming more and more risk-averse, and therefore tend to rely only on what has sold well in the past. (The most extreme example of this is, of course, the American film industry, which nowadays seems concentrated mostly on producing sequels and remakes). Similarly, large publishers naturally want to make money off their product, so are wary of trying something that looks as if it would be hard to sell.

However, the fiction-reading public is getting more and more divided, with the vast majority of people (in the States and in Croatia -- sorry for the eclectic choice of examples, but those are the statistics that I have) not reading any long fiction at all, with occasional exceptions due to so-called "event books" -- stuff like Dan Brown or, more recently, 50 Shades of Gray. The other portion consists of mostly very passionate readers, people who read voraciously and spend serious cash on their habit. "Casual" readers -- people who read some, but not a lot (yes, I know it's not the sense in which you used the term) -- are actually a negligible minority, or well on their way to becoming one.

The problem is that it's not easy to reach the two larger audiences: event books are fairly unpredictable (no one in their right mind would have predicted mildly popular Twilight fanfic with the serial numbers filed off to have such potential) and almost impossible to create out of nothing (although marketing plays a very important role). The passionate audiences, on the other hand, tend to be fairly entrenched in their habits: one reader will consume only cozy mysteries, the other only regency romances, the third only grimdark fantasy. But it's there that readers for "new" SF can be found, particularly since there is already a reading horde for slipstream/new weird/non-epic fantasy. The sense that this would be impossible to sell comes merely from the fact that a devoted reader of classic hard SF is more likely to be converted to grimdark fantasy than to cognitive/neuroscience SF.

58:

And by "we", I don't just mean white, anglo-celtic, industrialised, educated descendants of colonial overlords. I mean everyone. As Bruce Cohen pointed out, we have the technology and the ability to feed the world, to distribute the wealth freely and fairly to all. What we don't have at this point is the will to do it, or the willingness to include those people who aren't part of our WEIRD cultures in the greater mass of humanity. But I have hope, and faith. I believe we can do this. And I really do believe it won't need the latest and greatest in techno-neepery in order to do so. Just a strong belief in truth, in justice, in fairness, and in our fellow human beings as creatures which are capable of becoming better..

Sorry, Megpie, bullshit.

I share this dream too. I can extend that list even further, but you know, it all comes down to the same problem:

Politics. Which we, being proud nerds and geeks, ignore, just as samurai used to ignore money.

I'm sorry, we can't keep treating politics as handwavium anymore. If politics is always the thing that comes between our precious dreams and reality, then politics is the critical problem we're ignoring, not something that can be waved off.

Unfortunately, our popular mythology says that politics doesn't matter, not in science (which is objective), not in technology. While it's major impediment to the reality we want, it's because politicians are stupid and listen to idiots, not because they have to deal with problems that are difficult to impossible to solve.

In ignoring the biggest problems we have, are we any better than the transhumanists we're mocking here?

I wrote a largely ignored blog post a few weeks ago about how the noosphere is already here, simply because political economy is a global force and has been for centuries. Right now it determines how fast tropical forests are turned into chopsticks (disposable and hence more hygienic) or palm oil farms (for biodiesel or fast food, take your pick), how fast pathogens and invasive plants spread around the world (via agriculture and trade laws), how river hydrologies are changed (via dams), how the atmosphere is changed (via air pollution), ad infinitum. Five centuries ago, our noosphere moved plants and animals around the world (the so-called Columbian exchange) and made whole groups of people (such as Hispanics and white Americans) possible.

This is Teilhard de Chardin's noosphere, only it's pedestrian and depressing, not transcendent. It's also a taboo subject, especially for people who are looking towards future transcendence.

So anyway, Megpie, you're right, but the solution isn't "I have faith, because it's only politics getting in the way." Politics is THE problem, and the technology was the easy part.

And just as faith won't solve a physics problem, faith won't solve a political problem either. Believe it or not, it requires learning, and engagement, and a lot of hard work. It might even require a little less scorn for all those specialists who deal with it, sickening though that thought may be.

59:

Fiction based on neurobiology and congnitive psychology is:

A) less comfortable than fiction based on more easily externalized objects of study

B) relatedly, tends to disrupt narrative structure

C) thus is harder to write well and takes longer to comprehend

D) is likely to come off as "experimental" and "postmodern" which will discourage casual readers

Except works of fiction that tens of millions of people have read, enjoyed, and enshrined as classics have been based on then-modern theories of psychology and personality, to the point where most readers don't even recognize where the concepts came from.

It's about the execution. If you want to claim SF and its audience can't handle it, I'm not going to argue.

60:

Because of its structural problems there are a great many meanings possible for that text.

That's why I say it is nonsense. It does not have a single clear sense to it.

What you make of it is another matter. It is the sense you have given to it. It's like an art critic who has taken a good look at the Mona Lisa and who then writes about the sense behind it.

Which is why I'm waiting for you to say more about it.

61:

Transhumanism, singularitarianism et al, seems to me to be another expression of the bad case of addiction to growth we've.
The root of this addiction seems to be, using C interpretation, "fuck off to limits, if I want it enough I will have it".
It must be some kind of magical thinking, an unspoken and maybe even unrecognized idea that we're the center of the universe, that only myself and my desires really counts, and that if I will it enough, I can shape my reality.
Or maybe a reaction to the feel of insignificance that staring into the abyss of the "absolute perspective vortex" can induce, like imho most religious feelings, I don't know.

Only, when I watch the enormous steps forward we've done in the past couple centuries, on one side I feel optimistic that we can go even further, like Megpie @35 said, but on the other hand I've a nagging fear that most of our progress may be only the fruit of being so extensively satiated, like a fully feed cat that can befriend the house hamster, and that when, as it's more than possible, we will hit the big roadblock we're running toward to, most of our progress will rapidly melt.

62:

The transhumanism cluster provides a convenient excuse to avoid tackling current problems.

After all, why bother doing anything about poverty or climate change when we'll soon be mind uploads/have cornucopia machines/live in a world reshaped by AI? (Choose an option corresponding to your preferred wish-fulfillment fantasy)

63:

Interesting convergence with today's Penny Arcade.


"Output from a postmodernist scholar"? Sterling's post is zippy and breezy compared to anything academic.

64:

On that note I just today started reading some absolutely fascinating stuff to do with manipulations of brain and body chemistry by parasite organisms, from inverting response mechanisms to predators to manipulating sexual response. From a single celled parasite!

I found it especially fascinating that male & female infected participants had diametrically opposed behaviour characteristics from what turned out to be a common root cause.

The following was a good place to start, the various journal articles mentioned have turned into quite the rabbit hole, especially with regards to neurological disorders like schizophrenia.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/03/how-your-cat-is-making-you-crazy/8873/


And this is from a pre-existing biological entity - I can only imagine the repercussions from unintended consequences of trying to do some of these adjustments deliberately!

65:

I'll read again later. But I think he's conflated a lot there. Seems to be a shotgun blast at consumerism, late capitlism and the starry eye'd wishful thinking of a few self avowed independant arch rationalists. Maybe I'm moving in the wrong crowds. I don't think I know anyone who seriously subscribes to the idea a Transhuman post singularity Utopia is just over the horizon, if even possible. Maybe it's that liberterian crossover thing. not a big demographic in urban working class UK.

But H+ as encompossing ideas about where the human race can go in the longterm. Well it has to be somewhere right? And that necesarily involves tackling the canabalistic economic systems we have now. Assuming your definition of the human race includes more than the 1%. But someone's got to build and maintain those life support systems.

66:

Greg Bear (kind of) did it back in 1990, back before the 90's revolution in neuroscience and cognitive psychology even took off. It's more than possible, 22 years on.

In fact, I'd love to see SF that tackles, in an informed way, the big grey speculative area forming out of the various discoveries and hypotheses emerging in the neuroscience and cog-psych fields. I mean, it touches on some pretty fundamental themes, including the nature (or existence) of free will and self-determined behaviour. It doesn't (necessarily) have to descend into a morass of post-modern phenomenonoligist navel-gazing either, to do it.

For example, OGH did it pretty well in Rule 34 in a number of 'light-touch' ways, most obviously around the regulation and control of sociopaths. I'd love more of an exploration of that! How could it come about? What are the potential second-order consequences, good and bad? How would the existing group of sociopaths running the show let this past, or what would the end-run condition be? What are the therapies and learning behaviours that could be applied to facilitate development of empathy (as opposed to simulation of it)? All fun, and fascinating.

And FWIW, having looked a little more deeply at the Transhumanism argument on back of recent posts, I'm finding it meme-swapping more and more in my head with Scientology . Any argument that you need to co-opt my temporal and parietal lobes to trigger existential euphoria and resulting buy-in is pretty much ##FAIL## from my POV.

And off-topic but following on from the previous post on the current commentariat, I'm a lurker rather than poster by preference, but can now see the value in making the effort to change that, and will try to do so.

67:

I'm not sure how much attention you have paid to Adam Curtis at the BBC, but his blog has some excellent articles on sociological development around the world, and particularly how each generation of political elites has tried to impose their spherical cow ideologies onto the world and the ensuing fallout as viewed through the lens of archival BBC footage.

It is deeply saddening when you look at something like the pioneering work of Norman Borlaug, and how it has been corrupted and co-opted by multinationals like Monsanto to enhance corporate profits at the expense of the growth of the developing nations.

68:

@ 18
There is a rottenness at the heart of the transhuman project.. the smugly self-satisfied hypercapitalists who have unintentionally done so much to destroy so many of the moral and interpersonal values of post-Englightenment civilization."
I.e, "Fuck off, I am an entirely new order of being and no human concerns of yours apply to me"?

& Charlie replied @19:
Yes. You got it.
Godwin warning.
We've seen this before, haven't we?
A new Herrenvolk, in other words?
Scary, or what?

Supergee @ 53
Arte you saying necause it's "religious" it's a GOOD thing?
Uh?
I won't go on about that any more, or Charlie will wag his finger at me!

"Every time, after a defeat, and a respite, the Shadow takes a new form and grows again"
Yeah.

69:

" I would estimate that the purpose of new SF really shouldn't be more shiny inspirational visions of future tech, the way Neal Stephenson proposes, but rather shiny visions of future sociology,"

Maybe true for SF, but the reality will be more of the same. I have an old second hand book on my shelves that lists political systems that have been tried somewhere, sometime over the past millennia. Some are so amazing and bizarre that I had not even heard of them. The bottom line is, there is *nothing* new going to come along in the way of social organization, political ideology or religion as applied to "Human Nature". Indeed the idea of some new social system or magic cultural bullet harks back to the day of H G Wells utopianism where they believed that all that was needed for the perfect society was education and wealth distribution. Turns out that was as naive as some medieval peasant thinking that everyone would be happy if they had a full stomach.

70:

The transhumanism cluster provides a convenient excuse to avoid tackling current problems.

After all, why bother doing anything about poverty or climate change when we'll soon be mind uploads/have cornucopia machines/live in a world reshaped by AI? (Choose an option corresponding to your preferred wish-fulfillment fantasy)

I totally agree. Sadly this isn't just transhumanists, techno-optimisim is prolific and it's quite damaging. You see this mostly in discussions regarding the energy crisis, the impending peaks of fossil fuels and the potential disaster this may bring to the global economy and infrastructure are dismissed. Usually in breathtakingly simple terms of "it won't be a problem, I saw a cool article on solar paint/laser fusion/off-shore windfarms in newscientist the other day" as though the report of an experimental lab prototype is just a hop, skip and jump away from the construction of a new multi-trillion dollar energy infrastructure.

71:
On a scale of dystopia to golden age, the Nordic countries seem to be doing quite well.
All of the Nordic countries are culturally homogenous, none of them have a population over ten million, and Norway, at least, is sitting on a fortune in oil. The Nordic countries are often held up as examples of orderly management, but I'm not sure their model would work the same way if it were applied to Europe, or India, or the United States.
72:

I have an old second hand book on my shelves that lists political systems that have been tried somewhere, sometime over the past millennia

Sounds interesting! What's the book? I feel inclined to point out however that just because we perceive a lack of poltical novelty in recent times that isn't necessarily ther case (just think of the new democracies croping up around the world and how they pay potentially progress) and it doesn't mean we wont have a drive for change in future.

73:

"The transhumanism cluster provides a convenient excuse to avoid tackling current problems."

Not any more.
Zero State is arguably the second largest H+ org in the world. By the end of next year we will probably be the biggest. Our motto is "Nobody left behind". We are actually doing stuff.

74:

This is one of your MOST important subjects yet. I'm delighted that you interacted with the early posters. LOTS to chew over and digest --

Your previous subject of a couple of months ago -- about changes and trends that were predicable, partly predictable and completely unpredicatble -- apply here too. But surely the completely unpredictable changes can accelerate faster than expected? Some new religion for example ... or breakthrough in cognition?

My personal current challenge is how to be polite to the True Believers in Transhumanism and libertarianism - etc. -- how to disagree politely.

75:

"What's the book?"

Not at home at present - I'll post the details later

76:

And just as faith won't solve a physics problem, faith won't solve a political problem either. Believe it or not, it requires learning, and engagement, and a lot of hard work. It might even require a little less scorn for all those specialists who deal with it, sickening though that thought may be.

Well said. Let me extend that to include more than political systems. As Pogo says "We have met the enemy and it is us". In some respects, we need a dose of early Heinlein as an antidote to wishful thinking divorced from reality.

77:

"we are seeing interesting stuff coming out of the field of cognitive psychology and neurobiology these days. Maybe we've just been looking for our missing shiny keys/futures under the wrong street lamp ..."

So, you ARE a closet Transhumanist!
Because changing the meaning of "Human Nature" is what H+ is all about. However, if you think that simply applying new knowledge to new(!) social models will change anything I think you are very wrong. The last couple of millennia suggest we have been through a kind of political Darwinian evolution with every system imaginable being tried.
However, applying the new knowledge to create new drugs and genetic tweaks might well work. In fact, there is only one profoundly personal transformative technology that works at a deep and often permanent level - LSD.

78:

I see some clear parallels with Eric Hoffer's descriptions of the psychology of mass movements. Typical quote: There is a fundamental difference between the appeal of a mass movement and the appeal of a practical organization. The practical organization offers opportunities for self-advancement, and its appeal is mainly to self-interest. On the other hand, a mass movement, particularly in its active, revivalist phase, appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self. A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.

Hoffer is worth reading if you're interested in the intersection of psychology and politics.

79:

heteromeles wrote:

Politics. Which we, being proud nerds and geeks, ignore, just as samurai used to ignore money.

I'm sorry, we can't keep treating politics as handwavium anymore. If politics is always the thing that comes between our precious dreams and reality, then politics is the critical problem we're ignoring, not something that can be waved off.

Actually, I'm far from ignoring politics. Indeed, if we look at politics as the study of power and the way that power is defined and used, we're actually in one of the more politically fascinating centuries right now. Because what we're seeing is a massive backlash against the sorts of thinking which altered in the decades between 1820 and now - and most of that backlash started back in the 1950s and 1960s, and has been carried forward since then, picking up momentum in the 1980s and beyond.

I've been well aware, ever since I first became aware of myself as a part of a wider society than just my family, my school classroom, or my circle of friends, that our means of cultural and social production have largely been hijacked by certain ideologically driven types. However, contrary to the popular memes and myths floating around, the hijackers are not the "leftist" or "Marxist" types. Instead, they're what a Marxist would label the cultural bourgeoisie - the people who are intent on redefining the culture to their own purposes, and on reinstating a cultural, social and economic system which leaves them on top, and everyone else far, far below them. They're the ones who have been selling the myth of money as the sole means of measurement of achievement, of making money as the only real purpose in life, of "greed is good". Generally, they've been smashingly successful in achieving their goals, because for the most part, they control the means of cultural production. So of course we're going to see films from Fox studios glorifying the rich and the powerful (who owns Fox studios again?). Of course we're going to see television programs which mostly star educated white men (who is it who run the television networks?). Of course we're going to read a lot of stuff in the newspapers which promotes the notion that the poor aren't trying hard enough, that the only ones who know where things are really going are the leaders of the big corporations, that the governments are better off forgetting this "democracy" nonsense and listening to our corporate overlords (again, who owns the newspapers?). Our democratic political systems have been becoming less and less representative of us the people, and more and more representative of they, the corporate lobbyists.

But politics isn't just the stuff which is happening in the houses of parliament (or their equivalent) or behind the green baize doors of various government departments. Politics is also about who gets to speak and who gets heard. And in the last ten to twenty years, the politics of speech and hearing have been altering as well. All of a sudden, the gatekeepers are becoming less important, and the gates of speech are opening wide.

The mainstream media are well aware of this. So are the cultural bourgeoisie. To be honest, they'd love to be able to smash the internet - or at least lock it down so that only their little walled gardens were available, carefully gatekept, closely monitored, carefully weeded. Most of the so-called "anti-piracy" measures they're proposing are basically attempts to kill off online culture, or force it into channels that they can regulate and control (and, of course, make a profit from, because making a profit is all that matters).

If anyone doesn't recognise this as possibly the single most important political issue facing a lot of the world today, then they just haven't been paying attention.

So how do we fight this? I say it starts with realising that the personal is also political. It starts with realising that any division of humanity into "we" and "not we" is selling the humanity of the "not we" group short. It starts with recognising that individual differences don't come with a moral weight - that being different is not the same as being "better" or "worse" than someone else. It starts when we question the myths we're being sold: why is it so important for businesses to profit; what is so terrible about homosexual people being allowed to marry; who profits when we go to war with another nation; where's the justification for keeping the rest of the world poor; how does demanding that massive national debts be serviced help anyone outside the financial sector; when would it be appropriate to take action to deal with climate change, in the opinions of our corporate overlords; do I really need to know all these details about the life of this so-called "celebrity"; is this really the only way there is of doing things?

The changes which occurred between the lifetime of my great-great-great grandfather and myself came about because people questioned the reality they were living in, and took action to change the way things were. Changes in this world we're living in will happen for the same reasons. We can't just dream the dreams, I agree. But I believe very strongly that we start with the dreamers, and they're the ones who start changing the world. The politicians follow along behind.

80:
The bottom line is, there is *nothing* new going to come along in the way of social organization, political ideology or religion as applied to "Human Nature".

I'd argue that our generation might be seeing the beginning of the end of war. We have multinational corporations, most of whom don't stand to profit from multinational conflicts, we have large treaty blocs like the European Union, which are for the first time not held together by hated emperors, and we even have an asteroid farming operation that may lessen the pressure to go to war over scarce metals. That's something new under the sun, and it may open up a few possibilities for structures that otherwise wouldn't have had time to grow.

81:

First, I think "trilobite torsoed" should be hyphenated, and in general Twitter-era Sterling needs to hire Cheap Truth-era sterling as an editor to stop these poetic...irruptions...into his anti-fascist diatribes.

Second, I agree with the posters here who draw a parallel between singularity SF and Golden Age SF. Not only is one a continuation of the other, but I imagine both as sort of literary "gravity wells" that pull everything nearby backward into them. There's a sameness to so much modern SF that comes from everything falling backward toward a handful of core assumptions, and those core assumptions, while slightly different from the Golden Age core, are equally corrupt. Not only are many of those assumptions anti-humanistic and as technocratic as the bad guys in old-timey sci-fi, but they are simplistic, samey, and small. My problem with the heart of modern SF isn't just that it's rotten, as Stross says, but that it's so damn puny. It's the same, like, five things! If I'm going to read about the same old shit, I'd rather read the same old shit about robots, space ships, and ray guns--those are cool! The "singularity" gravity well has been pulling us back toward the late 80s/early 90s, when the core ideas were first promulgated--nanotech, genemods, the Internet--and so much "cutting-edge" science fiction today could have come out in 1993 alongside Snow Crash and A Fire Upon the Deep, just like so much "cutting-edge" sci-fi in 1975 could have come out alongside Foundation.

82:

Not at home at present - I'll post the details later

Thanks :)

The last couple of millennia suggest we have been through a kind of political Darwinian evolution with every system imaginable being tried.

I don't think the analogy to evolution is applicable. For the most part politics is simple groups of people acting to protect their own interests and/or the interests of others. It deals with what it has but there are significant cultural hurdles to overcome with any reform unless there are strong driving forces. It's not like we regularly rationally design, implement, review and modify political systems according to a set of agreed upon metrics.

Also it's worth bearing in mind that the spread of certain political systems has been achieved via military, religious and economic take over.

83:

"I'd argue that our generation might be seeing the beginning of the end of war. "

As does every generation at some point in history. Big political alliances/blocs dedicated to peace etc are nothing new either. It all works well right up to the point it fails. Anyone remember "the war to end wars"?
As for asteroid mining, that will have no more importance than if the same materials were discovered in a free-for-all Antarctic mining operation.

84:

No. I'm saying that religion picked it up because it's a good thing, or at least something a lot of us desire.

85:

Hammer - nailhead interface 100% successful, and not a semi-impenetrable 150 word sentence in sight. ;-)

The problem is politics, or possibly the way that politics has been hijacked by the 0.1% as another tool for enriching themselves.

I'd like to pose a question. How many of you, if any, are actually members of a political party?
For the USians, this means that you attend meetings of $party and make voluntary donations of your money and time to $party, not that you registered as a supporter of $party at city hall.
For the non-UK Europeans and Antipodeans (and Clare in Osaka) I don't know whether the UK model where affiliation to $party is decoupled from your voter registration or the USian model where they're directly coupled, is applicable, sorry.

86:

Hm. My earlier post needs a correction:

We have multinational corporations, most of whom don't stand to profit from conflicts in countries where they already have a presence.

87:

Anyone remember "the war to end wars"?

Er, which one? That's very much the point isn't it?

88:

Every system tried has been constrained by Human Nature, sometimes requiring massive oppression and genocide to try to circumvent that failure mode. Until Humans themselves change at a fundamental level there will be nothing new except the toys, which might distract for a while but ultimately might simply facilitate one more failure mode.
H+ is not about accelerating change, if such a thing exists. It is not about the singularity or uploading or cryonics or nanotechnology. Those are just facilitators. The bottom line is changing what it means to be Human at a deep and (probably) irrevocable level.

89:

"The problem is politics, or possibly the way that politics has been hijacked by the 0.1% as another tool for enriching themselves."

A traditional monkey failure mode. Nothing new to see here... move along please...
This all seems to hark back to the old socialist dream of ... "a system so perfect nobody has to be good".

90:

The Amor Mundi rant didn't impress me much. The author conflates ideas (e.g. transhumanism and singularitarianism), lumps in other "isms" (e.g. Futurism") using perjoratives to belittle them, rather than argument.

And the man teaches "critical thinking"? I call the emperor has no clothes. OK, I will give you he is walking around in sackcloth.

Take the central piece OGH highlighted"I have proposed that the "accelerating change" crowed about for the last two decades by futurologists in pop religious cadences and by more mainstream and academic New Media commentators in pop psychology and pop sociology cadences has never had any substantial reference apart from the increasing precarity produced by neoliberal looting and destabilization of domestic welfare and global economies".

Oh really? So it is all the fault of the 1%, going back to when the 1% was somewhat tamed after the Great Depression? Or maybe we should go back further to the gilded age, when the 1% had more balls and didn't get all whiny if looked at funny? He can propose ideas all he likes, let's see the evidence.

Kim Stanley Robinson prefaced his "Pacific Edge" with the meme "pocket utopias" - utopias that are constructed with no realistic path to reach them. Mr. Carrico seems to be ranting that his pocket utopia got lost somewhere in all the distraction. Yet despite OGH calling the present day a dystopia a few posts back, it really doesn't look that way to me, albeit we have some serious unmet challenges that could make it so "if this goes on".

Economist Brian Arthur, and Kevin Kelly have both written books on why technology is, why it accelerates and what it might mean. I think most people can appreciate that technology change comes with pros and cons, and that increasing rates of change can be disruptive, without having to either call "halt" or engage in religious transcendentalism to avoid it.

91:

Hi Charlie -

As much as this is a valid point of view, I think it would be a serious mistake to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Transhumanism needn't be eternally wedded to Anarcho-Capitalist notions in the way it was 20+ years ago... in fact, that association has been disintegrating for some time now.

Extropianism is history. Not the people or the hopes, mind, but the brand and its preoccupations. Even its successor, the World Transhumanist Association (sorry, Humanity+) seems to have reached a late stage in its life-cycle, preaching a bland version of an old message to an already-converted few.

There are all sorts of interesting trends going on now, though, which are carrying the transhumanist torch and which don't necessarily get too hung up on notions like Singularitarianism or (economic) Libertarianism.

Couple of last thoughts...

- If we give up on the Transhumanist idea simply because it is wearing old clothes, we leave the way open for Luddites to fill the gap and enjoy greater influence over how people perceive the future and the opportunities worth working toward.

- This all reminds me (I'm grinning now, honest) of all the goths moaning when emo came along, like the world had ended. No, it's just a clarion call for change and adaption... and that's a good thing!

- Amon

92:

In Australia, political party membership is distinctly uncoupled from voter registration. Political party membership is handled by the party in question (and no, I'm not a member of any of them - although I'm sometimes tempted by the Australian Greens), while voter registration is handled by the Australian Electoral Commission, which is an apolitical commonwealth government agency set up to handle voter registration and the organisation and conduct of elections.

(Incidentally, public servants working for the AEC aren't allowed to be members of any political party; public servants in other branches of the state and federal governments are allowed to be members, although they're expected to stand down from their jobs should they choose to run for parliamentary office).

I do vote in elections. Mostly, I'll admit, because it's a requirement here - we're required to turn out and get our ballot papers for each state and federal election, and the local government elections are starting to tend that way too. But I choose to submit valid papers (rather than simply doing a donkey vote, or voting invalidly as a "protest" against the quality of the candidates) because I figure that's part of being an adult member of Australian society.

93:

Hold on though. "Human nature" is a fuzzy thing, because there are a lot of ways of being human (Miller's adaptation of Sturgeon's Law: 90% of -culture- is cruft around 10% of problems which every society needs to solve). Around a billion people live in societies where most infants will live to be 70; where most people give time and money to strangers who aren't part of their community; where anyone but the desperately poor can travel across continents at least a few times in their life; where status differences are relatively subtle (no slaves, and the politicians and oligarchoi wear slightly fancier clothes and have a handful of followers); where most people will live without seeing an act of violence intended to kill or permanently injure; where a law against conquering thy neighbour has been created, and mostly enforced for 70 years; and so on. Tell that to Xenophon or Confucus and I think they would respond with angry disbelief that any of those things was possible in the real world rather than the vague and glorious past. (Fantasies about the Golden Age, or Cocaigne, or the Long-Lived Ethiopians being safely distant and unreachable without the aid of the gods, or the magical water of a special spring).

Unless you are a theist or extreme nationalist, purposes in life are something that each human chooses for theirself. Going on with each decade richer and healthier and more learned than the last isn't a bad thing.

94:

Charlie, I don't know you, so my impressions could be completely wrong, but your last few posts seem to have expressed a sense of fatigue and frustration with science fiction and with the science fiction community. Given your age (40ish?), the words "midlife crisis" even come to mind. You may benefit from a bit of a change. You could try writing something different for a while, or a vacation, or both. Just a suggestion.

BTW, I consider myself a moderate transhumanist. I think tinkering with the genome may be profitable, but more in a "no more diabetes" and "reality TV audiences plummet" way than in a transcendent way. Improvement, but not the overturning of the human condition.

95:

I'd wager almost all extropians are libertarians of some stripe (heavily weighted toward the more far-out anarcho- side), but at least in the U.S., I'm not sure the reverse holds. A large chunk of the self-professed libertarians in Ron Paul's camp, for instance, are in it mainly to keep the Malevolent Forces of Government from taking their money in taxes and giving it to the undeserving.

Which is still very much consistent with the "fuck you" impulse, but I'm not sure that captures the whole phenomenon either. One thing I've repeatedly encountered in my (limited) exposure to libertarian thinking is a quasi-religious faith that if they can't buy something they want, at a price they're willing to pay, the only possible reason that the Market isn't meeting their needs is that the Malevolent Forces of Government Regulation are preventing the business that could do it from springing into being.

(For instance, in health care, they will insist that the solution is for government to stop regulating insurance companies, whereupon affordable plans would spring into being. The Libertarian Party's page on the subject is a fine example. Theoretical arguments about adverse selection will not shake this faith. Nor will the lived experience that, say, the government had to create Medicare --- single-payer health insurance for the aged --- because its clients couldn't get health insurance in the market.)

What's really sad is that this kind of thinking isn't a fringe phenomenon. The Cato Institute's policy recommendations, which have a fair amount of influence in the US, have a lot of this kind of thinking. (Timothy Lee wrote one for them about how Net Neutrality regulation was unnecessary because the Forces of Competition would keep large companies from screwing their customers. To his credit, he also wrote a much more recent piece in Ars Technica about how it hasn't worked out like that...)

96:

The bottom line is, there is *nothing* new going to come along in the way of social organization, political ideology or religion as applied to "Human Nature".

And you predict this based on... extraordinary richness of already tried political systems? So because we were able to come up with large numbers of different social organizations in the past, we are obviously unable of coming up with more and new forms? That makes no sense.

Furthermore, I don't think anyone here is talking about magic bullet social systems. Just like Golden Age SF did not, in fact, instantly produce spaceships and communicators -- but we do have them today, although not necessarily in the form initially imagined. The fact remains that many of today's tech innovators claim SF as one of the most important, if not the most important influence on their desire to create the future they'd seen in Amazing or Asimov's or any other magazine beginning with A. In that sense, I don't think it's naive to expect that another generation may not find a similar kind of inspiration in neurocognitive and sociological SF. We just need to produce it first.

97:

@Megpie71 This is good stuff.

Recent transhumanism has been wedded to internal modifications like gene-fixed life extension or "magic" like super-nanotech, but am I the only who thinks that ubiquitous smartphone coverage is as potentially transformative to our society as uploading ourselves into metal boxes on stilts?

I don't know where "complete change to our social order through technology" ends and "transhumanism" begins, but the potential of ubiquitous ground-level surveillance by non-elites amazes me. Cops (or their masters) are starting to react to pointed camera-phones the way they react to pointed guns. Brits seem nervous about the fascist potential of surveillance because their government points those fucking cameras everywhere, but the (admittedly still-anemic) American protest movements have been empowered by relentless surveillance *of* elites *by* us by regular people. (Disclaimer: "regular" people who are rich enough to afford a smartphone, educated enough to know how to use them to maximum effect, and privileged enough to ignore blaring stentorian warnings that using technology in that way is immoral.) The transhumanists believe that only by transforming ourselves with technology can we get a New Civilization(tm), and maybe they're right, but maybe the only necessary transformation is 1) giving everyone a functioning smartphone and 2) preventing the predominant culture from teaching them that using its full power against the elite is a crime.

98:

"Going on with each decade richer and healthier and more learned than the last isn't a bad thing."

That's a rather radical, heretical notion on this "Speculative Fiction" forum!

99:

" So because we were able to come up with large numbers of different social organizations in the past, we are obviously unable of coming up with more and new forms? That makes no sense."

It is certainly not something I could prove, but I do think it is very likely. The only "getout" I can see is something emerging from ubiquitous comms ability ie the ability for anyone in the world to communicate instantly with anyone else. Clearly quite a few governments see this as a threat, and they are probably correct. However, taken to its limits with brain computer interfaces and you are deep into H+ territory.

100:

Dirk: H+ is not about accelerating change, if such a thing exists. It is not about the singularity or uploading or cryonics or nanotechnology. Those are just facilitators. The bottom line is changing what it means to be Human at a deep and (probably) irrevocable level.

You forgot to add, "(c) Vladimir Lenin, 1917" to the end of that statement.

(Seriously. Been there, heard that before. It seldom ends well.)

101:

Lenin failed, and was doomed to fail.
Like I said, the only alternative to H+ is more of the same forever (and that includes Lenin).
What's your Third Way?

102:

And on a brighter note, I have just discovered that cats cannot use capacitative touch screens. So all is not lost...

103:

Given your age (40ish?), the words "midlife crisis" even come to mind.

Older than that -- closer to 50 than to 40. And yes, writing something different is on the cards. (For "Halting State" and "Rule 34" values of different.)

I'd like to take an optimistic view of the future. Perceiving it as dominated by the bankrupt ideologies of the present is unpalatable. But so is bloody-handed revolution. As for attempts to redefine humanity ... that's all well and good, but an irreducible hard core of actually-existing humans don't want to be redefining, and acts of redefinition involving razor wire and guard towers always tend to end badly.

104:

The only other possible viable model is a direct theocracy eg The Culture

105:

The power of selective mis-quotation stikes again; The rest of that posting was intended to demonstrate to you by personally worked example that the issue is at much the fault of the 99.9% who allowed the hijacking by disengaging themselves from national party politics as it is of the 0.1% who've advantaged themselves of the disengagement.

106:

question the myths we're being sold: why is it so important for businesses to profit

OK, I'll bite. Why do you think this is a myth and what is your Rx (prescription)?

107:

I'd argue that our generation might be seeing the beginning of the end of war.

That sounds like Tom Friedman's argument. Did you know that global trade peaked just before WWI and that it only recovered to the same level around the 1970's. Didn't stop WWI (which arguably included WWII).

108:

See Rachel Armstrong and some guy called William Gibson about cyborgization through the medium of smartphones; why go through the hassle of implants to change the phenotype when you can adapt in the extended phenotype?
(sez the guy with a magnet in his finger.)

109:

Of course it is the fault of the apathetic, as well as the deluded and stupid. All very well known Human traits. As for engaging in politics, I created a political party some 10 years ago that is now being revamped for the ZS political arm. However, I am under no illusion - the vast majority will continue to vote for yin or yang, kang or kodos. Still, global economic meltdown does present opportunities.

110:

'beginning of the end of war' reminds me of one of my favourite poems: Kipling's _The Peace of Dives_ (http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_dives.htm)

Which is a fine paean to how increasing commercial interconnection made war so inconvenient and expensive as to be unthinkable: written in 1903.

111:

Arrant nonsense.

The big picture is that until roughly 400 years ago, the main model of government world-wide was the hereditary monarchy. Democracy and various forms of tyranny had been tried on small scales (e.g. the Greek city states, for male property owners only) but only for relatively short periods. It was obvious to all well-educated men that monarchism was the most efficient form of government.

Today, that kind of monarchism is confined to batshit insane backwaters like North Korea, while the rest of the plant is in a ferment of experiment with various scales of republic, oligarchy, despotism, plutocracy, theocracy, even (breathe it) representative democracy.

We have no way of knowing, yet, which of these (if any) is an optimal stable form. Indeed, the most optimal form of government probably hasn't been invented yet.

112:

What a disappointing rant.

There's a point in there that's useful, buried beneath the type of florid language that new college students insert into essays to make them seem less like the bullshit that they are. The Singularitarian cult is as religious as any other, and it does tend to reinforce the existing free market ideology with its inequalities in returns on the use of new technology. A pity that others have made that point already, usually in much better essays with much less verbal chaff.

And of course, it wouldn't be that kind of rant without a conclusion that drags out the stale Marxist fantasy of "Social Engineering": that the gains from technology can be conveniently separated from the institutions and incentives that create them, then re-engineered into arbitrary political arrangements to fit the needs of policymakers. The point about how the technology to give everyone a good life already exists is typical of that kind of thinking - "We can engineer The Good Life if only those pesky people with their incentives and complications didn't stand in the way."

113:

I think Cavil's rant from Battlestar Galactica sums up transhumanist feelings nicely:

Brother Cavil:"In all your travels, have you ever seen a star go supernova?"

Ellen Tigh:"No."

Brother Cavil: "No? Well, I have. I saw a star explode and send out the building blocks of the Universe. Other stars, other planets and eventually other life. A supernova! Creation itself! I was there. I wanted to see it and be part of the moment. And you know how I perceived one of the most glorious events in the universe? With these ridiculous gelatinous orbs in my skull! With eyes designed to perceive only a tiny fraction of the EM spectrum. With ears designed only to hear vibrations in the air."

Ellen Tigh: "The five of us designed you to be as human as possible."

Brother Cavil: "I don't want to be human! I want to see gamma rays! I want to hear X-rays! And I want to - I want to smell dark matter! Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can't even express these things properly because I have to - I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid limiting spoken language! But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws! And feel the wind of a supernova flowing over me! I'm a machine! And I can know much more! I can experience so much more. But I'm trapped in this absurd body! And why? Because my five creators thought that God wanted it that way!"

114:

It took me a while to hack through the various linked articles. I will be a model of British restraint and say that they're of variable quality in terms of their writing.

I suppose the thing that surprises me is that people are still writing this sort of polemic against transhumanism. It's an idea whose basic assumptions I found tricky to accept but that others didn't. Based on those assumptions, in the (relative to its lifespan) distant past it produced some interesting thoughts and ideas, flawed though I considered them to be.

Since then it seems to me that it's curved from flawed but sometimes interesting idea cluster ("memosome" if you like) to religion in all but name (on the walks like a duck and quacks like a duck basis) to a cult. (In this case a cult being a religion where anyone who dares criticise the religion is to be attacked, fanatically and frantically. I have yet to find a better word than cult for that.)

At some point in that process, again to my mind, the value of external discussion fell to zero and alongside that, the amount of rational internal discussion also fell to zero.

I consider the chances of sensible discussion fell to the product of the two - convincing me of the value of the core transhumanist ideas is nil. But the chances of me convincing a committed transhumanist that they're wrong is also 0. Just like I consider the chances of a creationist convincing me of their point of view to equal the chances of me convincing them of their error - 0 again.

I'm sure I've insulted a number of the regular readers. But if you consider the correct response to people disagreeing with you, read the bit in brackets about the way I've used cult and think about it. And if it's worth a card, so be it - sorry for stealing the bandwidth.

115:

"More of the same forever" Indeed, I fully agree. Human nature is immutable, set in stone by the Creator on the Sixth Day. Why, my house slave was so uppity this morning he needed to be whipped, although I read the Good Book and let him go with only a few lashings. As if my day was not complete, the little woman is gassing on about some notion of suffrage; Imagine the very idea of frail womanhood having a voice in men's business.

At least I haven't the problems of Burbage down the street, caught in a foul liaison with a catamite, but at least he shot himself before dishonouring the family further.

The notion that humanity might evolve of its own accord? Blasphemy, I say, inspired by the mutterings of mad Charles Darwin before he was transported to Australia. Would the same could be done to those scurrilous scribblers of "scientific romances"!

116:

We have no way of knowing, yet, which of these (if any) is an optimal stable form. Indeed, the most optimal form of government probably hasn't been invented yet.

Why the assumption of a single stable form, rather than a stable dynamic of different forms?

It is rather like trying to eliminate business cycles. Mitigate yes, eliminate no.

117:

Really? Feline iPad apps are an entire cat(*ahem*)egory on iTunes. Here's video of one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltGDLgj2jo4

118:

Aqueous-phase nanotech does have the problem that it's much easier to evolve rather than to engineer it; but the fact that single changes can make the activity very different means that there is at least the scope to evolve - it reminds me a bit of the orbit transfers through chaotic dynamics, where the fact that everything's chaotic means that you can wait patiently and make a single perfect move at the right time to get you out on the right tramline. It's an awkward hill to climb and the individual steps of the hill-climb are expensive, but it can be done.

http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2010/10/06/chemical_biology_engineering_enzymes.php

is the story of a real-world case where an enzyme was developed to convert C=O to C-NH2 in the middle of a complicated molecule full of fluoro substitutions; the enzyme is used to make a type-2 diabetes treatment that sells $2.5 billion a year.

http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2011/07/06/a_first_step_toward_a_new_form_of_life.php

(very reminiscent of one of Lem's stories in _Imaginary Magnitude_) has a machine that encourages bacteria to evolve cellular machinery that uses different DNA bases.

119:

am I the only who thinks that ubiquitous smartphone coverage is as potentially transformative to our society as uploading ourselves into metal boxes on stilts?

You are not the only one, and not just in ways you described. Consider this: A generation is growing up (quite a few already grew up) for whom the concept of being lost is completely alien. They always know where they are, and at any time someone else knows where they are.

120:

...future shock induced by our Martian invaders — the corporatist liquidation or privatisation of human social structures not mediated by money, culminating ultimately in the experience of disaster capitalism.

Yeah Charlie, I agree. BUT THIS IS NOT HOW I WANT TO BE CONVINCED.

Dale Carrico's rant was the stupidest damn thing I've read in a long time. The whole thing could have been written in a sentence or two; "Extropian Science Fiction is bad, mmmm-kay? It convinces tech-types to follow the agenda set by evil big business types, mmm-kay?"

Here's the thing. There are non-ranters out there which discusses the problems of our society in complete and relevant detail, and bringing an "mmm-kay" sayer into the picture is the equivalent of screaming "Hey you kids, get off my lawn!!"

121:

Quote the whole thing - you missed off "because profit is all that matters."

I'm not speaking for Megpie here, I'm sure she can and will do that herself.

In our current business model and culture, making a profit is the only thing that can realistically keep a business going. It is unlikely if the banks screw up again in the next few years that there will be any chance of a government bail out. In 30 years... maybe... but that's a very rare alternative.

The problem with this model is the assumption that goes profit=good therefore more profit=better and acting solely to maximise profit, almost always in the short term.

For example, Apple at various points has made choices that business analysts say are 'unprecedented' and has always invested a relatively large amount of its cash into R&D and design. In the light of criticism it is reducing its profits to increase the quality of life of the workforce in the feeder factories in China. It has acted to use greener materials and exceeds the standards expected. Oh, and in case you've missed the news it's also become the most profitable company in the world, although 20 years ago it was almost dead.

But it's made choices for its future, the future of the workforce and the best guesses for the future of the planet that have almost certainly cost it short term profits. How much bigger would its war chest be if it hadn't done that? Would it still be here if it hadn't done that throughout most of its life?

Profit isn't, to my mind, a bad thing. Raping the customer for every penny and not giving anything back though... that is. And that's what the current business model promotes.

122:

My view has always been that a 'singularity' is a black swan event that changes the status quo in an unexpected direction, and what's a bigger change than a sudden modification in the constraints of the human condition..

Note: I would add mushrooms to the LSD short list as vehicles for permanent change:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110929074205.htm

In a recent study showing a 'copying mistake' maybe responsible for human smarts:
http://news.discovery.com/human/ancient-human-brain-neanderthal-120506.html
we get the suggestion that our brains could be a rare occurrence, given its usually much more probable for less advantageous mutations in complex systems. Its possible there are 'booster' modifications but testing them will be ... interesting.

In decades of talking with my 104 year old grandmother I have seen that repetitive cycles of personality and behavior crop up within her massive family. Outliers here and there, but overall responses fall into the same continuum of cyclic behavior. While one can attempt to evade the negative behaviors, even the positive ones tend along the same attractors.

However, if permanent aspects can be changed (LSD or Mushrooms or advanced biotech) with positive results it might help break cyclic patterns ( I suspect that the solution space for negative results is much larger.)

123:

Charlie, this is a cheap and easy generalization a la Dale Carrico, no more accurate than saying that all Brits are colonialists. This transhumanist totally agree with most of your (and Dale's) political positions.

124:

In sufficiently serious circumstances, people seem reasonably prepared to trade a stable low-status position in a bad game for an unstable unknown-status position in a potentially better one - consider a Shaanxi hill-farmer's daughter moving to operate a sewing machine in Zhangjiagang, or any blues song where the country boy gets on the Greyhound.

125:

This is off-topic, but should be of interest to somebody. I am getting rid of books, three boxes full so far, of which 80% is adult-level science fiction by people with names like Niven, Weber, Gear, Gibson, Varley, etc. If anyone in the Southern California area wants them, I can be reached at tungtung ^at^ pacbell *period* net

The sole rule for this give-away is simple. You take everything in all three boxes and don't argue about it. If you come to my place, you should not be allergic to cats.

126:

Interesting wake-up call. I mean, it was a rant, written as the author says 'in between chuckles and as a bit of a lark', but I've found rants to be remarkably effective in making a point, if a touch hyperbolic. Sometimes you need hyperbolic!

I think that it's possible to be optimistic about the future without disappearing down the Libertarian rabbit-hole. I don't like the implication that transhumanism -> "fuck off!", but part of why I don't like it, part of why it makes me uncomfortable, is that there's more than a grain of truth to it, and it's good to be reminded of your system's failure state so that you can be vigilant against it. There's a warning in the rant; throwing away the warning for the sake of tone-trolling is at /least/ as silly as throwing away the entire transhuman memeplex because of a particularly shaky set of foundations, and probably much sillier.

I care about getting things right, now, because of how much potential we have. I'd -like- to be alive in a future where scarcity and suffering are opt-in, of course, but it's more important to me that my seven-odd-billion distant relatives' descendants are, and that can't even begin to be guaranteed until we start solving problems now with the technology we have now.

And yet I'm a transhumanist, and I thought transhumanism was -literally about- smashing the kyriarchy, making life better for everyone, removing the zero-sum blinders from everyone's eyes. Am I wrong? I mean, that's the transhumanism I want to be a part of; there's a lot of obsession with gee-whiz tech in these circles, but the stuff that really catches my eye is stuff like what was mentioned elsethread, surface treatments that might obsolete dishwashers and washing machines. I'd be willing to bet nearly anything that most of the really interesting, important tech of the next few decades comes from the developing world.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this- but does an unwillingness to accept the fundamental nature of the 'vale of tears', an inability to accept death and disease as an inevitable part of existence, a belief that the future can, if we don't fuck up, be better than the present, as long as that belief is anchored in reasonable projections and not in blind faith- immediately mean that transhumanism is an expression of a religious impulse? I'd argue that the religious impulse usually concerns itself with -accepting- death and suffering, in the ideal case in a graceful manner, not in struggling against. I also don't think - despite the strong statistical correlation between viewpoints - that transhumanism is inexplicably intertwined with libertarianism.

Thank you for posting the link, though- I appreciate anything that challenges my views and makes me reconsider my own mental foundations.

127:
The Nordic countries are often held up as examples of orderly management, but I'm not sure their model would work the same way if it were applied to Europe, or India, or the United States.

I'm certain they would not work at all when applied to highly heterogeneous societies. Unfortunately, much of the human race resides in those societies, so we need to solve the harder problem. If we can come up with solutions that work in Indonesia, or India, or the Balkans we have a chance at a much better world.

One possible future, that's made more likely if we all stand around and wait for the technology to make us all better people, is an extinction level event for those of us not in the 0.01% and their closest minions. Once the machinery is good enough, they won't need anyone else, and they have the power to remove everyone else from the board should they have a strong enough desire to do so. If artificial general intelligence is practical, there's no physical law that says that it will be used to lift us all into a utopia, as opposed to replacing all of us who aren't in the elite. Wells got it wrong, there's no need for the ancestors of the Eloi to keep the ancestors of the Morlocks around at all.

128:

I would hesitate before assuming the level of homogeneity within Scandinavian societies. A Norwegian friend of mine maintained that northern and southern Norwegian people are very different, and this is something supported by my experience of Norwegians from both regions, while Finland struggled for years with the legacy of a bitter, and bitterly divisive civil war. Yet they both created functioning social democracies.

129:

Firstly, Technological acceleration is real and is having a profound impact on the mass humanity, you need look no farther then cellphones to demonstrate this. In the past twenty years humanity has developed three new super powers:

- Unlimited, essentially free, point to point communication anywhere on the planet.
- Essentially unlimited compute capability
- Unlimited and instantaneous storage and retrieval of all the information of the species

We are busily working on a fourth power which will allow direct, real time observation of much of the planet and still exploring the intersections of the second and third bullet above (think Watson)

This is a profound change and not to be minimized

130:

I haven't had time to read all the comments, so this may have already been noted. David Noble wrote an interesting (and short) book named The Religion of Technology on the prevalence of Christian apocalyptic eschatology in the tech sectors that manages to be quite hair raising. I had no idea so many nut cases were so influential.

131:

Now we know why the Morlocks hid under ground.

132:

Secondly, there is a good chance that we are bumping up against some essential limits in human nature with regards to how humanity can utilize it's abilities for the greater good. I do not believe the current problems can be simply laid at the doorstep of external, changeable factors like " oh we picked the wrong economic system, capitalism is the problem".


If you accept the hypothesis that mankind must fix evolutionary inherited shortfalls in cognition and socialization (a set of well documented and well understood cognitive biases) in order to achieve peace and prosperity, then you hit H+.

Eventually our technological abilities may grow to the point where our sociopathic desire to self educed scarcity in order to maintain a primate pecking order may simply become impossible, but that is not a certainty

133:

But [it's [Apple] made choices for its future, the future of the workforce and the best guesses for the future of the planet that have almost certainly cost it short term profits.

The objective is not short term profits but wealth maximization. Can you unequivocally state that Apple has or has not done that? Forgoing short term profits is entirely consistent with wealth maximization. In fairness, there is no way to know if wealth maximization has been achieved - it is a goal, whose success or failure is perception, not objective.

BTW, there are lots of companies that do well by their employees. Target and Costco are 2 examples that come to mind in the retailing sector, in contrast to say, Walmart. HP was famous for that in the past, until the whizz kids took over.

134:

And of course, it wouldn't be that kind of rant without a conclusion that drags out the stale Marxist fantasy of "Social Engineering":

Brett, in what way is "social engineering" a "stale Marxist fantasy" when the current supreme practitioners of it today are the gauleiters of the right-wing neoliberal consensus?

I think you're missing the point by a mile.

135:

And based on what my Swedish flatmate tells me, the ethnic makeup is not evenly distributed - there has been a large scale migration from the middle east through to Pakistan into Sweden over the last forty years, which has heavily skewed towards the young end of the spectrum.

Case in point, my other flatmate, a Pakistani with Swedish residency after moving to Uppsala to study, based on recommendations from his extended family.
Something in the region of half a million Swedes identify as Muslim these days, and they're mostly under 40 and concentrated in the south.

136:

I don't know ... a lot of golden age SF was strongly hostile to the idea of replacing humans with something better. Heinlein toyed with the idea of psychic or genetic supermen, but decided that they were a bad idea and almost sacriligious; Niven used stable humans as a foil for his thought experiments; and Anderson, de Camp, Piper, and Pournelle had philosophical objections to the idea.

I'm not completely unsympathetic with transhumanism, but think its too closely tied to dualism and apocalipticism, and tends to use markets and technology as magic wands. Some problems may not be solvable, or not within ethical bounds (see the short story “The Life Cycle of Software Objects”). Technologies open doors, but users decide which door to open, and they usually don't do it consciously.

137:

I'm disappointed in the new version of preparing for the Apocalypse. In the old days, the blessed would rise up and at least leave their stuff for those of us left behind. The idea that "you can't take it with you" was internalized to the point that poverty was something of a virtue.

Now, the social darwinists preparing for the End seem bent on both leaving us poor saps in the dust but also taking along all the goodies in the process- the space colonists explicitly plan on bankrupting nations to get away, the uploaders seem comfortable with becoming more than human (ie Vile Offspring.)

138:

Why the assumption of a single stable form, rather than a stable dynamic of different forms?

I have wondered about that possibility, yes: find a couple of stable attractors with well-defined non-violent transitions between them, and you could allow for generational "Change We Can Believe In" movements to have their time in the sun without falling into the trap of violent revolution. (Sort of like existing two-party political factions in some representative democracies I could name.)

But that's actually rather more complex than a single stable system. And the prevalence of folks who want a reductionist, simple to grasp view of their political environment makes me wonder if it's actually possible.

139:

All the Nordic countries put together have a population of 25 million people which is roughly the same population as a large metro area. A system that works in for a small corner of an extremely affluent and well educated part of the world is not likely to directly translate to say, Indonesia or Iran.

You also cannot really look at those nations in a vacumn. They are a well off suburb of the Western World.

140:

I'm not sure politics is the right term for what Megpie71 is talking about. Is the gradual acceptance of homosexuality in the Western world politics? I think we're talking about broader social trends that go deeper than what I think of as politics. The social attitude shifted and moved (is moving?)the related politics.

Regardless of my argument about semantics, if we grant that the problem of unlocking the Future of Awesome For All (or At Least "Us") is social (or polical, if you'd rather), then maybe what we need is more science fiction attacking that problem?

I'd love to read science fiction about how to fix the future lock problem that doesn't rest on a technologically magic fix, or replacing humans with something else. IIRC, some of Elizabeth Bear's science fiction work touches on that sort of thing. And really, my favourite parts of OGH's Glasshouse weren't the nanotech parts.

Going back to Megpie71's post comparing her life to that of her ancestors', maybe what we should be paying attention to is less the progression towards greater prosperity in the past 200 years and more the progression towards greater equality and freedom. That seems to be the long term social force that's going to get us closer to Awesome For All as much, or more, than the death of scarcity.

Which does just raise the argument of whether post-enlightenment western civ is just in some kind of social justice bubble that's bound to burst and throw us into the Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse when the oil/grain/bees run out. Which boils back down to Utopia vs. Dystopia; either the current trend towards greater equality is sustainable or it isn't.

141:

Per Peter Drucker, the most fundamental purpose of any business is to generate customers. If you view Apple's activities through that lens, it all makes perfect sense. Everything they do is about generating repeat customers.

142:

I am reminded of a comment a very elderly (for lived through the 1930's) socialist friend had about class relations. The gist of it was that once only the rich had indoor toilets, now everyone has them. So how are rich people to know they are rich, when even poor people have indoor plumbing? On the other side, some very well off acquaintances have periodically ranted to me about the injustice of lazy poor people being subsidised by hard working upright citizens such as themselves (they inherited most of their money, actually).
Obviously a gross simplification, but I think it captures some of the rationale behind both predatory capitalism and transhumanism. The point behind coring out the social structure of society and planning a transcendent future for the select (Elect?) few is to establish once again a highly structured society - because some people think they deserve the perks of success - and everyone else does not.
In terms of Wells' dystopian future, it suggests that the Eloi will always have the Morlocks around - to reassure themselves that they are indeed superior beings.

143:

Northern Norway (say, beyond Trondheim) is a thousand mile long rind of land between the mountains and the sea, where towns larger than 10,000 people are rare. (You've got 5,000 people in your town? You've quite possibly got scheduled SAS flights to your local airport then.)

What many people forget is how long Norway is. If you wanted to drive from Kirkenes to Rome, Oslo is the halfway point. If you want to go from Bergen (halfway up southern Norway) to Kirkenes, you can ride a ship which takes nearly a week to get there, despite spending most of the time doing 15 knots. (It stops at 34 ports, many tiny enough to have little more than a high street and a dock. That does delay is somewhat.)

Given that huge distance, it's perhaps surprising they're not more different.

144:

It's interesting to see nowadays anything can be linked to corporation/1%/0.1%/elite/libertarian/whatever, even simple ideas like transhumanism/accelerating change cannot escape this strange attractor. I wonder if this link got mentioned when western economy is booming in the 1980/1990s, I doubt it.

I think all these rants about big bad corporation/1%/0.1%/elite/libertarian is nothing but a knee jerk reaction to the rise of developing economy and relative decline of western economy, it has nothing to do with transhumanism or whatever other topics got linked. What you called "neoliberal looting and destabilization of domestic welfare and global economies" is accompanied by millions of people lifted out of poverty, and forming of a new middle class in developing nations, all thanks to technology, capitalism and global trade.

Unfortunately, without the new technologies these modern day Luddites are so afraid of, this globalization process is a zero sum game, people in India and China who is willing to work for $5 per hour means you couldn't justify your $20 per hour salary unless you're 4 times as productive as them, the job goes to India/China which means your lose and their win, this has nothing to do with evil corporation/1%/0.1%/elite/libertarian, and blaming it on transhumanism is just silly.

Same situation exists in resource allocation, the new middle class in developing nations need oil to fuel their shining new cars, this means less oil and higher oil price for everyone. I think someone said for everyone on earth to get to western level of comfort would require resources from 4 earths, I'm sure the number is just a guess, but the idea is simple, without new technology, "provide security and equity and hence universal emancipation for all" means people in western nations will have to lower their living standard, since there is just not enough resources to give everyone. This is the process that's happening right now, and that's where all these rants about corporation/1%/0.1%/elite/libertarian comes from, after all it's all well and good to say you want to "provide security and equity and hence universal emancipation for all", but when this translates to higher oil price, less domestic jobs to go around, it suddenly looks a lot more evil and grim.

Of course it doesn't have to be a zero sum game, you can use technology to change the game, make the pie bigger. This is why I support transhumanism/accelerating change/whatever shining new tech that is being advertised, and this is why the blog article by amor mundi is totally wrong, there're 3 goals in the article: 1. debunk technology progress/growth/change; 2. keep or raise western people's welfare; 3. raise the welfare of the people in developing worlds. You can only have 2 of 3 goals, what the article is saying is we should have all 3 at the same time, which is simply impossible.

145:

This is almost 100% why Glasshouse is my favourite book of all time, yes.

I think we might be onto an answer to OGH's question about where SF is going or should go, outside of the thread in which he asked the question. (Except he's already writing SF like this! Which is why he's among my favourite current SF writers. Big Ideas are more sociological/mythopoetic than anything else, which is exactly what I love reading about and what I think peoples' imaginations need.)

To answer your question, it depends on whether or not we play our cards right /right now/, and keep playing our cards right into the foreseeable future. I don't think- barring the birth of benevolent Banksian Minds- a culture that we would actually want to live in is sustainable without sustained and significant effort on the part of its members. This might be the critical period, it might not be.

I think a lot of the confusion about transhumanism and the progress fetish comes from a misframing of progress; that is to say, it's possible to have a concept of 'progress' that's not inherently isomorphic to 'profit' or 'unending exponential nerdgasm' or whatever. I charitably interpret a lot of discussion of 'progress' with the more inclusive, interesting meaning, and I think Carrico is, for the sake of the point he's trying to make, uncharitably interpreting 'progress' with the most exclusive, limiting meaning possible, and that's where most people's anger at his piece is coming from, because they either believe or think they believe in an inclusive meaning, and so their hackles go up when it's attacked.

I've used the same rhetorical tactic; it's a good rhetorical tactic, as long as the people you're talking to either share your cynicism, or can temporarily put themselves into the right context, and appreciate the criticism of the dark sides and failure states of their ideology, which is a useful skill.

146:

Spot on Jim R.

147:

"However, applying the new knowledge to create new drugs and genetic tweaks might well work. In fact, there is only one profoundly personal transformative technology that works at a deep and often permanent level - LSD."

Only LSD? No love for MDMA, with recent research showing considerable effectiveness with respect to PTSD? How about psilocybin, looking like a potential long-term treatment for depression - and with fewer side-effects than current anti-depressants. Given a choice between eating mushrooms and popping Effexor, with its frightening habituation curve, I'd definitely start looking at magic omelette recipes.

This gets us to a comparison of lab-designed compounds and plant-based derivatives: why are things such as mescaline, psilocybin, LSD (part of ergot), and even MDMA (close to safrole) a) found in nature, and b) so effective on nervous systems, not part of plants? The answer: for various reasons, plants and fungi evolving these chemicals were able to propagate more often than without them. Whether it's a "don't eat this" warning or "hallucinating animals spread seed far & wide", selection over millions of years fine-tuned the compounds for maximum power. In comparison, lab creations such as Xanax, Prozac, usw, are like using blunt tools when obsidian knives are lying around for the asking.

Now let's look more closely at the transhumanist idea, which AFAICT seems to be the notion that humanity can be chopped & channeled into a Newer! Better! Ideal! form, mentally & physically, without the limitations of evolutionary history. This strikes me as going beyond hubris into coyote-driving-rocket-off-the-cliff territory. As a point of reference, the role of tonsils in the immune system was unknown until a couple of decades ago. Another point: only over the past ten years has the link been made between aerobic exercise and cognitive strengths, including creativity. To paraphrase an old war criminal: "There are known knowns, things we understand. There are known unknowns, things we know we don't know, and there are unknown unknowns, things we don't even know we don't know". Those last ones will get you. We can make a pretty good guess at the first and possibly the second. For example, how does the connectome vary between people? Does it change with time? How much? Can we understand how psychological traits map onto the connectome? (speculation: it's probably not a one-to-one mapping) Now how about the stuff we don't even know we don't know? How certain are we some H+ modification might not work for a few years then crash catastrophically? ("The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long" -- Dr Eldon Tyrell) Or perhaps there could be a more subtle flaw, which doesn't show up save under certain stressors? Perhaps the fault only shows up in following generations? These are things we don't know, have no way of knowing until the experiment is run, and utopians peddling their one size fits all nostrums are uncomfortably reminiscent of early twentieth century quackery, whether daily enemas, electric belts, radium water, or daily affirmations.

Long story short, the wisdom of countless years of evolution should not be discounted, and until one understands *why* that weird kink in the human animal exists, where it came from, and whether a change would be an actual benefit instead of causing problems down the road, caution is definitely of the essence. ("How's the death rate?" "Pretty high, actually, but we manage" -- Spider Jerusalem at the Farsight Community)

148:

Brett, in what way is "social engineering" a "stale Marxist fantasy" when the current supreme practitioners of it today are the gauleiters of the right-wing neoliberal consensus?

The fact that right-wingers are trying it doesn't make it any less of a traditionally Marxist fantasy. It goes to the heart of Marxism, the idea that the gains of technology can be separated from the "unjust" institutions and incentives that produce them, and you see it every time someone makes an argument like the one that Sterling made near the end of his essay about how the technology exists to provide for everyone.

At least the "neoliberal consensus" was smart enough to tread lightly on that, and focus on institutions that are supposed to channel incentives into prosperity. Speaking of which, I'm curious as to who composes the "neoliberal consensus" these days - is the IMF, who've backed away from their 1990s era policies to endorse fiscal stimulus? The World Bank? The WTO? The Big Banks? The nations that bailed them out because the social and economic costs of their failure were deemed too high?

149:

Off-the-cuff answer is that they're insecticides / poisons, as plants don't enjoy being eaten generally, and what hopelessly scrambles an insect brain does hilarious and interesting things to ours.

See also: nicotine, caffeine.

I am about as far from an expert as you can get on this, though.

150:

You're dead wrong. I speak from experience on the Extropy-L mailing list in the early 90s; there was a strongly established libertarian/transhumanist nexus back then, if anything stronger than the relationship existing today.

(Appeal to "zero sum game" ignored because I'm not in the mood to play buzz-word bingo.)

151:

Yellow card.

You're trying to derail the discussion and drag it round to your pet political hobby-horse.

Take some time out, please.

152:

META:

I see the west-pondians are now awake and participating, and bringing the expected batch of right wing/libertarian political ideology to bear.

To which all I can say is, tread lightly lest I start wielding the ban hammer. No, I do not intend to engage in derailing debates with right wingers (for values of: British right wing, or further right). I have a life, and a pub to go to in an hour or so.

153:

Interested Charlie, how many people on that "Extropy-L" mailing list? Hardly remember riots in the streets back then, nothing like the Occupy movement in the US anyway. It's a certainty that in the US at least the current anti-capitlism backlash is very tightly linked to the factors that Jim R is mentioning

It's very far fetched to me to attribute future shock on capitlism. Not a fan of capitlism mind you, but it is not the root cause of everything...

154:

"Hardly remember riots in the streets back then, nothing like the Occupy movement in the US anyway."

Charlie's participation in a Transhumanist list in the early '90s would have coincided with the Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of the police who assaulted Rodney King.

I was unaware that the Occupy movement engage in rioting. Could you be more specific?

155:

"I am curious as to what you found of value in it. It looked to me to be pretty much a context-free aggregation of words gesturing vagely in the direction of a point."

I hate to say it, but that was my impression. The guy writes like a rougher version of the people he's critiquing.


WHINE WARNING: More and more I feel that if a native English speaker can't write like they actually know the language, have thought even a little through the idea before writing down anything, and at least took a cursory glance at what they wrote, then they are not worth reading. I don't demand Orwell, but stream of consciousness or boilerplate is a sign that nobody worth listening to is home.

156:

link for your pleasure DJ, this happened a few blocks form me

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/01/mission-riot-san-francisco_n_1468352.html

However I agree, occupy has been mostly peaceful.

Rodney King was a social injustice response not primarily an anti-capitlism movement. It was also a singe relatively isolated event

My point is there is truth in the idea that capitalism was fine with the western world as long as they were benefiting and became less fine once the benefits shifted to the developing world

I also question a substantive linking between future shock and corporations. I think corporations are a factor yes, but technological advance is also a factor and probably a more important one.

157:

"You didn't read it, did you?

It's from outside the transhumanist reality-tunnel, looking in."

Yes, Charles, we did. Please notice that your summary of it captured a huge chunk of the idea, in far fewer words.

What I (and the others) were commenting on is that I've put more thought into getting my message through in comments than he's thought about in that essay. It had the same flavor as the transhumanist/rah-rah articles, but even less attempt at communicating.

158:

To give a possible nearterm H+ technology related to brain tweaking, it seems that a person's susceptibility to depression, PTSD, physical pain etc are mediated by a very small number of alleles. It is quite conceivable that one could genetically engineer people not to get depressed and to be generally much happier than they are now, on average. Also to modify the pain response so it is limited far below the level that some people now experience it.
That is why ZS has adopted the Abolitionist project as one of its core goals. It is do-able.
http://www.abolitionist.com/

159:

We're getting a real life example of this in Canada right now.

Some police were cleared of all wrong-doing for shooting a mentally ill man five years ago because they were acting in self-defense-- he was attacking them!

Video recently turned up that seems to show that the mentally ill man was on his hands and knees when he was shot in the head.

Clearly, it should be a crime to film police officers.

160:

Dale Carrico is apparently a lecturer in Rhetoric. This makes we wonder why his blog posts are so florid and lacking in punchy, effective rhetoric. His naming of transhumanism "The Robot Death Cult" is amusing, and effective, but so much of his prose is overdone.

Still, there's a bit of a same-ness to a lot of techno-utopian thinking these days, so he's right to call people out on that.

161:

I agree. My favourite offshoot of Transhumanist thought are the Grinders - inspired by the Warren Ellis comic Doktor Sleepless, they combine a DIY-poor-person's-H+ ethos with a deeply critical stance on Nerd Rapture. You'll find 'em at grinding.be.

162:

"Status and security are mostly orthogonal. "

I would say the opposite; status helps with security.

163:

Yup, and this sort of thing is going to become unavoidable, barring total deconstruction of peer-to-peer telecommunications as we've come to understand them. And doing that would destroy the very infrastructure that the CAPITALIST GANGSTER SWINE--*ahem*, I mean, the entrenched elites--require to function.

There's still room for us to Screw Up Everything, but the benefits of universal smartphone technology are becoming increasingly inescapable. The grassroots public panopticon isn't as glamorous as gleaming chrome starships, but that's where I suspect political changes will come from, not some weird outer-space Wild West diaspora.

How to write a good science fiction novel about it, though, I have no idea.

164:

[[ Trolling troll tries to troll ]]

165:

Actually, the idea of a society with absolutely no privacy, esp for the poor, is standard throughout most of history.

166:

"As somebody once said, we are only three missed meals away from barbarism. An exaggeration admittedly, but no social system is going to fix that."

(warning - boilerplate whine!)

Dirk, I don't see that this is relevant here, but also it's generally irrelevant. In the developed world, missing three meals (in a row) is the exception, whereas in the third world and in history is wasn't.

BTW, I think that the original was 'three days', which works much better.

167:

"Absolutely no privacy" isn't the point or even the goal. I'm talking about immediate, universal access to what occurs in the public sphere. We've never even come close to that before because the technology hasn't been there before. The transhumanists can have fun trying to upload themselves to GeoCities; I'd rather know what the cops are up to.

168:

I think this web comic (now 14 years old!) is still one of the best reflections on the immaturity behind techno-utopianism:

http://www.electricsheepcomix.com/almostguy/

I think that behind the "technology will save us" attitude is the idea that humans should exert absolute control of the world around us -- with that desire for control often extending to control of other people, as well.

I propose that many of the problems of current society are actually scalability problems resulting from the powers that be (government, corporate, religious institutions) attempting to assert control over technology and people in ways where such control is infeasible or illegitimate. Rather than adapting to changing circumstances, the established powers are trying to turn back the clock, or failing that they create their own reality and hope to fool enough people into accepting it.

One area where science may have some answers is using scientific understanding of neuroscience and cognitive psychology to encourage better society-wide decision making by designing systems that are more resistant to cognitive bias, asymmetric information, etc.

I agree that SF is sort of running into its own shock wave, with many the big ideas of SF either becoming reality or receding ever further into the future. Perhaps utopian stories about realistic societies that actually work are the biggest fantasy of all?

169:

" I'm talking about immediate, universal access to what occurs in the public sphere. We've never even come close to that before"

Of course we have, in every village in history

170:

"I think that behind the "technology will save us" attitude is the idea that humans should exert absolute control of the world around us -- with that desire for control often extending to control of other people, as well."

I think the "technology will save us" attitude is a desperate last stand because history has shown that nothing else will.

171:

As a village-dweller, I don't know what to say here except "You're wrong." I can't even tell when the bus is running late.

172:

In a village everyone knows everyone else's business. That's always been one of the most disliked aspects of village life.

173:

No. They really, really don't. We have walls 'n' stuff, even if we don't lock our doors. And a thousand years ago, there were no cameras, which is rather what I'm talking about: the ability to accurately record and disseminate information about public events. Not fishwives gossiping over fences or whatever strange view of "village life" people have gleaned from fantasy novels and Victorian anthropology.

Look, is this some strange fundamental part of your worldview? Is "people in villages have unlimited access to public information" a core premise without which everything else collapses, like "hard work makes you rich" or "the Pope speaks for God?" I'd like to know if I'm running into an axiomatic non-negotiable.

174:

Not necessarily every village now.
Access to the public sphere was often also limited in various ways, by gender, money etc.

175:

I'd like to take an optimistic view of the future. Perceiving it as dominated by the bankrupt ideologies of the present is unpalatable. But so is bloody-handed revolution. As for attempts to redefine humanity ... that's all well and good, but an irreducible hard core of actually-existing humans don't want to be redefining, and acts of redefinition involving razor wire and guard towers always tend to end badly.

Don't worry. The future will almost certainly be dominated by bankrupt ideologies that nobody has thought of yet. The more things change...

And remember the key insight of evolution: just because humanity is being redefined, doesn't mean anybody is in charge of the redefinition or that the redefinition is going according to some big Plan. Nobody set out to create the couch potato, and whatever comes next will probably be just as unexpected.

176:

I don't know so much about other regions and periods, but in medieval europe, whilst towards the end there was a trend towards privacy, the rich were as lacking in privacy than the poor, perhaps even more so. They had to be waited on by servants, had to be seen in public to reafirm their status and everyone present could see who went into their rooms.

177:

Fascinating and amusingly cantankerous article (you linked to). He brings up some good points.

It makes me wonder about how we can go about imagining *realistically* optimistic futures. Cranky distopianism is good for clearing the fog from our glassy eyes, but we also have to allow for actual progress to be acknowledged when it occurs (um, medicine anyone?), and to be imagined for the future. Otherwise the boot-in-the-face, world government terrorists will have already won.

I agree that the brain-uploaded shiny titanium-assed sexbot future is not only ridiculously unlikely, but simply ridiculous. No Singularity is going to save us from ourselves, but that just means that we have an opportunity to imagine something(s) constructive that could possibly happen, and begin to sketch those out. Neuroscience does offer some interesting possibilities. There are some grim meathook versions of that as well (YGBM tech, thought crime), but every technology is a double-edged etc, etc.

I don't have an answer, but I'd love to read some plausible and at least somewhat non-distopian future fiction.

178:

"Not necessarily every village now. "

No, at least in Western Europe because people can live lives completely outside the village. However, when I was growing up, and in much of the developing world, that was/is not an option.

179:

"I'm not sure how much attention you have paid to Adam Curtis at the BBC, but his blog has some excellent articles on sociological development around the world, and particularly how each generation of political elites has tried to impose their spherical cow ideologies onto the world and the ensuing fallout as viewed through the lens of archival BBC footage."

'Link, please?', asked the lazy man.

180:

"Don't worry. The future will almost certainly be dominated by bankrupt ideologies that nobody has thought of yet."

A laundry list of inchoate bankrupt ideologies might be useful here. I wonder which of today's "dumb technology interface ideas" will eventually blossom into full-fledged toxic ideologies. Will "RIAAism" become one of the 21st century's brain-rashes, like--sorry to mention it, Charlie--libertarianism, or ur-fascism? If manned space travel ends, will "NASAism" linger like a bad stench, its dwindling proponents as bitter as the Confederates? Heaven knows--we might be stuck with techno-vegans who don't want anyone to shut down antiquated search engine AIs (they might even be right, depending on how smart the search engines are), or a nasty schism in the extropic/transhumanist movement as half-assed uploading or digital immortality schemes become available. If (questionably believable sci-fi alert!) digital immortality becomes available, but only for people who truncate their personalities or agree to join some kind of "hive" of like-minded individuals, I can imagine never-ending, vicious arguments between the "uploaded" and the "remainders" (the latter holding out for something better) so nasty that we haven't seen the like since the grimmest days of "USS Enterprise vs Imperial Star Destroyer" on Usenet.

Most post-cyberpunk novels I read kick around ideas like this, but they're usually presented in the form of a 1960s-style cult. Having to deal with something like the Cato Institute or PETA, but for stuff nobody's invented yet, will be...intriguing.

181:

"I don't have an answer, but I'd love to read some plausible and at least somewhat non-distopian future fiction"

Why stop there? Why not join the game for real and try to actually create the future?

182:

"All of the Nordic countries are culturally homogenous, none of them have a population over ten million, and Norway, at least, is sitting on a fortune in oil. The Nordic countries are often held up as examples of orderly management, but I'm not sure their model would work the same way if it were applied to Europe, or India, or the United States. "

IIRC, at the time of the American revolution, there had been no democracy or republic larger than a homogeneous city state, and that this was one reason by people predicted a rapid end to that system in the USA.

184:

All of the Nordic countries are culturally homogenous, none of them have a population over ten million, and Norway, at least, is sitting on a fortune in oil. The Nordic countries are often held up as examples of orderly management, but I'm not sure their model would work the same way if it were applied to Europe, or India, or the United States.

I'm struggling to see why the main things that got the Scando-Nordic nations to their current economic health don't translate.

I'd like somebody to specifically point out why you can't scale their systems to larger, more diverse populations.

185:

"Ears stand up when you concentrate ... lay down when you relax"

Fantastic! We can use them to see who is slacking on the job and prioritise people for redundancies.

Remember! The upright ear has nought to fear!

186:

Hmm. Charlie, the essay you linked kind of hits a nerve with me - it quantifies something I've had trouble putting a finger on for a long time. I've felt for a while there was a sense of falsehood to this singularity stuff, and now I recognize it as the stench of marketing. Believing that in 30 years we'll all be gorgeous anime techno-gods makes us much more amenable to doing and buying what we're told.

(Who needs conspiracies when you have capitalism?)

OTOH, as glad as I am to see the above rant, I'd be much happier if it didn't come from a postmodernist perspective. Postmodernism, as I understand it, categorically denies the existence of any objective truth, and I consider that belief a social and intellectual poison. In fact, I blame it for a lot of the political problems in the US. Ever seen a newscaster try to give equal credence to two sides of an issue, when one side was clearly wrong, if not outright immoral? Postmodernism in action, there.

(And yes, I guess you could describe me as an "arch-rationalist," if only for the single reason that irrationalism, as I have seen it thus far, literally and purposefully does not make sense. You can't build a society on something that does not work by design.)

187:

The book:
"Political Ideas and Ideologies - a history of political thought" - Mulford Sibley
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Political-Ideas-Ideologies-History-Thought/dp/006046139X

188:

What isn't going to happen: Humans become fully rational.

A nice, simple Theory Of Everything to explain the universe. It's complexity all the way down.

What is going to happen: The Beast with an unlisted number. Something obscure, overlooked by almost everyone, will turn out to be more important than The Major Problems of Our Time.

189:

"All of the Nordic countries are culturally homogenous...." Not entirely. From Ethnologue.com: "National or official languages: Danish, Standard German (regional), Faroese (regional). Also see Greenland....Immigrant languages: English (20,000), Iu Mien (200), Kirmanjki, Northern Kurdish (8,000), Turkish (30,000), Western Farsi (9,000). Also includes languages of the former Yugoslavia (10,000), and of India and Pakistan (4,000). Information mainly from B. Comrie 1987; I. Hancock 1991; M. Stephens 1976. Deaf population: 3,500 to 314,548 (1998). Deaf institutions: 20. The number of individual languages listed for Denmark is 8. Of those, 7 are living languages and 1 has no known speakers." "The number of individual languages listed for Norway is 10. Of those, all are living languages." "The number of individual languages listed for Sweden is 12. Of those, all are living languages." "The number of individual languages listed for Finland is 12. Of those, all are living languages."

190:

This is the second time I've noticed this argument used in the last couple of days, and it really stands out due to every single part of it being wrong. Norway, Denmark and Sweden all have ethnic or immigrant populations in the 10 - 15% range, broadly comparable to the UK.

Sure, they have small populations, but since when has that been a guarantee of social harmony? Japan has a population of around 120 million but is a secure and peaceful society by any criteria; in contrast El Salvador has a population of only six million and has the highest murder rate in the world.

And it should go without saying that possession of large oil reserves is not highly correlated with social and political stability.

191:

Thread drift, but I think the thing about the Nordic countries is not that they are small and culturally homogenous is that they are small, well educated, and incredibly rich

I believe if we could get the rest of the world up to $40,600 per capita and a 99% literacy rate, the model would work nicely.

In a country where there is not a uniformly well off and well educated population, there are incentive problems with convincing the the haves to share with the have-nots.

192:

Also, when Norway decided to start its present welfare state policies, it was just coming out of a period of Nazi occupation. The oil and gas booms were far in the future.

193:

So who decides which alleles get tweaked? How do we know the modifiers are on our side? One could easily see brainmod shops infiltrated by religionists determined to add a touch of credulity and passivity to make over the population into a more faithful flock.

Here's a fictional take from Transmetropolitan: "He - the kid who told me this - suffers from the naivete trait that parents thought were cute twenty years ago. He has a pre-civilization neural connectivity. Where we have instinct that, no, you shouldn't cross the road, he hallucinates God telling him to not cross the road. I've heard that naivete trait is getting popular again. If you're thinking about it, think about the boy weeping uncontrollably as God cries for him to not cross the street."

Now imagine Jerry Falwell with his hand on the DNA scrambler. Would he make over your child's brain into something more receptive to the Old Time Gospel Hour? In a hot second he would.


Failing that, widespread adoption of the Abolitionist manifesto means much, if not most, of a society's creativity would go away. Many creative people are neuro-atypical, displaying symptoms of bipolar disorder, schizoaffectiveness, and, yes, even depression. Individuals on mood stabilizers report a loss of new ideas, and some discontinue medication because enduring the mood swings is less painful than the loss of originality. As Leo Kottke said: "When you're manic, you create. When depressed, you edit."


Even worse, the notion of free will goes right out the window. It's like Stimpy's diabolical invention: "It's the Happy Helmet, Ren. Now you'll *always* be happy! And this is the remote control, and I use this dial to control how happy you are."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJ3yqtu5Hgc&feature=youtu.be&t=1m13s


The transhumanists are to be congratulated. Their neurological utopia is a 21st Century Hell more frightening than the medieval notion of demons, pitchforks, and burning sulfur.

194:

You missed the fundamental development that allowed all the other changes between women's worlds of the 1820's and now -- CONTRACEPTION, particularly contraception that women can control.

Which = war on reproductive rights by the you-know-whos.

195:

As somebody once said, we are only three missed meals away from barbarism. An exaggeration admittedly, but no social system is going to fix that.

Katrina and the other Texas coast big on a year or two later showed a few people that were oblivious to the concept that maybe modern life wasn't all the secure. I live over 1000 miles away but our supply of gasoline and diesel fuel come from that area and we started running out. And without fuel all kinds of things started getting scarce as the supply chains stopped moving for all but truly needed things.

196:

hmmm... interesting.

Ok, reading the essay, fundamentally I got the point "Your movement is zero sum and being hijacked by Zombies" (or martians, as OGH also describes them).

I can't fundamentally disagree with the second, or the current truth of the first, but I think both are contrary to the long term goals of the movements.

A lot of libertarians believe too many things (including the economy) are zero-sum games. A lot of economists overstate how exponentially reinforcing economies are, but I think they're more right. Lots of modern macroeconomics and international trade economics are all about how non-zero-sum things are, how things benefit mutually from changing rules and opening up.

I think Transhumanism has the potential to be like that, regarding human capacity and organization.

Charlies post a few up about attractors and nonviolent transitions is a good one. The attractor for a endpoint transhuman utopia is implausibly far away at the moment, and no non-destructive transition paths are evident (other than, plug away at component ideas and tech until a miracle occurs). I don't know if there's anything wrong with that approach.

The "hijacked by zombies" part is true of everything these days; blaming extropianism for it seems like a cause/effect blame misalignment. The Zombies are all about doing everything; is it any wonder that movements which are all about change and openness and explaining things are open to being exploited? Designing systems so they can't be exploited is nigh-on impossible.

I still see random "but if we can move past profit/capital!..." utopianism... To which, I still ask, how and to what? The use of capital - concentrated wealth applied to projects bigger than individual tribes of humans can achieve - has got us most of what we have now technology and economy wise. Profit is necessary for that to work. So... ? What else, what next.

Writing "And then Economy 2.0 $MIRACLE occurs" is nice, but there's neither an adequate end-state attractor defined there nor a violence-free transition evident...

197:

Francois @193: mood stabilizers making people less creative does not mean manic = creativity. Most mood stabilizers are neurotoxins that just happen to have mood stabilizing effects. Valproic acid for instance can knock 20 IQ points off a person easily (and I've seen it do worse).

198:

"I'd like somebody to specifically point out why you can't scale their systems to larger, more diverse populations."

The Nordic countries don't have to be culturally homogeneous to be the way they are. They just have to have mass acceptance of one concept- egalitarianism.
Populations lacking wide presence of that meme aren't going to generate the same society or same government.

Note that the strongest competing meme is probably Merit- "Bob is better than Ted at (some activity), therefore Bob should have more good stuff than Ted. Maybe a lot more good stuff."

199:

Politics. Which we, being proud nerds and geeks, ignore, just as samurai used to ignore money.
...
Unfortunately, our popular mythology says that politics doesn't matter, not in science (which is objective), not in technology. While it's major impediment to the reality we want, it's because politicians are stupid and listen to idiots, not because they have to deal with problems that are difficult to impossible to solve.

Yep. Major new tech companies in the US found this out the hard way. Lobbying dollars has gone from near zero to many many millions for Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, etc... as they discovered that what happened in Washington could dramatically affect their goals.

Not that I think the way they now pay attention to politics is all that useful to society but they are starting to pay attention at the top of these companies.. Sometimes. Almost. Google and Facebook seem especially adverse to dealing with the fact that the world around them just isn't logical most of the time and doesn't just agree with their outlook on, well, everything.

And the "nerds" in the trenches mostly don't seem to get it. After all we were told our entire lives if we just concentrate on making better shiny toy widgets the world will get better on it's own.

200:

I'm not convinced that meme is merit. Sorry, but the first bit is merit, the second is a concept of merit-based reward.

You can be egalitarian and consider Anne is better than Bobbi, but that Anne will use her superior skills to help Bobbi have a better life. Or you could be communalist (rather than communist), and consider that applying your best skills for the good of the community, along with everyone else, makes the community function better and helps you all do better.

201:

SciFi CRISIS !

Gibson: writing about trousers
Stephenson: backpacker adventures
Doctorow: gone political
Stross: IN DOUBT

you are all trying to flatten the curve ?

stefan

(sorry about the capitals in my first comment here)

202:

"So who decides which alleles get tweaked? How do we know the modifiers are on our side?"

The alleles already exist.
Doctors - you either trust them or not.
As for happiness and lack of pain putting a damper on creativity, that is false. We are talking about states that already exist in some people being made available to all.

203:

True, manic does not necessarily imply Leonardo-level creativity, otherwise people would be drinking even more coffee than they do now. On the other hand, many creative people have at least a touch of mania about them; you pretty well need it to figure your idea is better than anyone else's on the planet.

204:

We will certainly not force happiness on anyone.
You are free to be as miserable and depressed as you like.
Just don't deny other people the choice.

205:

If you assume the Singularity is going to be good or desirable, then I agree with you. The evidence indicating that is on the sparse side. This, however, doesn't mean that change isn't accelerating. And in my experience it is.

Naturally, the unexpected changes aren't in predictable places. That's sort of implicit in "unexpected". But they do seem to be coming with increasing rapidity. E.g., I never expected carbon nanotubes. I still don't know how important they will be, but it's an example of an "unexpected change". When they show up, unexpected changes usually aren't clear as to how significant they will be. Nobody predicted that lasers would improve computers.

FWIW, if I didn't consider our governments to be suicidal (for the civilization, if not for the individuals in power) I'd be radically opposed to the Singularity (not that it would make any difference). Even as it is I'm not really hopeful, but I consider it more desirable than leaving the current lunatics in charge. Atomic weapons made all current forms of government a suicide pact. This doesn't mean that I can see a plausible alternative, it means that if some unexpected one wasn't coming down the pike I'd be likely to despair. But it seems rather clear that SOME change is going to happen. Probably a massive one, and within 20 years. (Even in places that have recently been congratulating themselves on having drastically improved their government.) Whether this will be one we can live with, I don't know. But the current government systems are ones we will kill ourselves with. I'm really surprised we got through the last half-century, but we can't keep on depending on being saved from the hair thin edge of catastrophe. (Of course, that's *one* form of the Singularity, but it's one I hope we can avoid.)

206:

Thank you very much, I'll shop around and see if I can get hold of a copy.

207:

Umm, egotism is necessary for creativity? Disagree, strongly. You don't have to believe your idea is better than anyone else's; you only have to believe it's worth pursuing. Believing that it's not worth pursuing because it's not the best in the world would probably qualify as depressive, if we want to medicalize everything.

BTW, the Kottke quote reminds me of one from James Michener: "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter." Or more generically: "Genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration." Editing is (in most cases) not necessarily a bad thing.

208:

Fantastic! We can use them to see who is slacking on the job and prioritise people for redundancies.

Remember! The upright ear has nought to fear!

Man, go down to Best Buy on a Thursday afternoon and ask for Jimmy, For $50 or a half-ounce of weed, he'll stick a simulator in the ears that gives you a nice, safe 5-10% relaxation reading any time you put it on.

209:

Egotism is necessary to convince others yours is the best idea in the world. And there's many, many creative things in this world that have been midwived by a friend talked into it...

210:

http://transhumanpraxis.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/just-do-it-the-zs-ethos/

"What’s the difference between a dotcom billionaire and thousands of others who had the same idea at the same time, or even earlier? The answer is that the billionaire implemented the idea and the others did not.

Well, that’s a bit simplistic but nevertheless contains a lot of truth. Ideas are NOT “The Big Thing”- implementing them is. Ideas are ten a penny, as are the people who come up with them. Putting them into action, putting in the work to make them real, is the rare skill.

How often have you heard, or read, of someone saying “…something must be done”, or “why doesn’t somebody do something…”? Most people who want to see change stop at that point. It does not occur to them to actually do it themselves, or if they cannot do it themselves, get some likeminded people together to help.

This is not usually the result of laziness or incompetence but conditioning. We are trained throughout our entire lives not to do things unless sanctioned by a Higher Authority or peer group pressure. It starts during our very first day at school, where we have to put up our hand and ask permission to go to the toilet. It starts with the safety of the crowd, with our natural desire to fit in and not offend those around us. It starts with being taught not to cross the road when the light is red – the penalty for failure is death. It starts when we are first shown that there are people in charge, that they know more than us and they have more power than us.

Which is fine for a child, but the habit of doing nothing, of asking permission and waiting for someone else to do what is necessary, becomes ingrained in the adult. Those who overcome that instinct early in their adult lives become the leaders in all spheres of Human activity. They are the politicians, entrepreneurs, business leaders and revolutionaries.

The first step to becoming any of those, apart from wanting to join the club, is recognizing the source of this social paralysis in ourselves and consciously fighting against it..."

211:

"You don't have to believe your idea is better than anyone else's; you only have to believe it's worth pursuing."

Which takes a healthy amount of ego. And certainly, believing that what you have created is worth showing to other people takes a healthy ego.

Note that this doesn't stop people from being crippling insecure at the same time. That paradoxical combination is pretty common in creative types.

212:

In sufficiently serious circumstances, people seem reasonably prepared to trade a stable low-status position in a bad game for an unstable unknown-status position in a potentially better one - consider a Shaanxi hill-farmer's daughter moving to operate a sewing machine in Zhangjiagang, or any blues song where the country boy gets on the Greyhound.

I used to agree with this but have come to change my mind. I think the folks you are referring to are thought of as the norm due to they are the ones that get talked about. News stories, songs, whatever.

But I've met way too many people who would rather sit in their known misery than move on to a more likely much better situation but with unknowns. Or just different.

My brother married into a family of these. (His wife being an apparent outlier.) But when no work was available in old family area two of them moved to another state and found good jobs. But after constant family pressure they moved back to being unemployed but with family.

I see this all the time. Even amongst engineers and such. Stick with bad known rather than different and/or unknown better.

213:

Judging by the mostly-Scandinavian side of my family, I think the key difference is risk aversion. Scandinavian winters tend to kill the unprepared, and over time gave rise to a population that prefers certain survival to a slim chance at riches. Ergo they are much more willing to insure each other against life's risks than most peoples.

214:

I'm not trying to plug someone else's book but I think this book fits recent and current topic discussions.

Anyways, I watched an interview with Jonathan Haidt about his most recent book (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion) which I haven't read yet but plan to. Haidt is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, and his research focuses on the psychological bases of morality across different cultures and political ideology.

Here's the Book Description off AMZN:

"Why can’t our political leaders work together as threats loom and problems mount? Why do people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens? In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding.

His starting point is moral intuition—the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do. These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are wrong. Haidt shows us how these intuitions differ across cultures, including the cultures of the political left and right. He blends his own research findings with those of anthropologists, historians, and other psychologists to draw a map of the moral domain, and he explains why conservatives can navigate that map more skillfully than can liberals. He then examines the origins of morality, overturning the view that evolution made us fundamentally selfish creatures. But rather than arguing that we are innately altruistic, he makes a more subtle claim—that we are fundamentally groupish. It is our groupishness, he explains, that leads to our greatest joys, our religious divisions, and our political affiliations. In a stunning final chapter on ideology and civility, Haidt shows what each side is right about, and why we need the insights of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to flourish as a nation."

Hope this book is as good as it sounded in the interview as it could be good fodder for SF story ideas and discussion on this Charlie's blog ...

I read the rant...angsty, convoluted and melodramatic. Parts where I disagree but not enough time to get into it here.

215:

By "healthy," do you mean "healthy" or do you mean "grotesquely inflated"? If the latter then I must again disagree.

anonemouse @207: True. History is rife with artists who were not recognized until after their deaths.

216:

I don't know, honestly.

Take me, for instance. I make my living, now, writing fiction (specifically, I write comic books) and I am usually thinking that everyone is going to figure out that I am untalented hack who got lucky, and it all fall apart.

So, insecure.

On the other hand, I decided to go into a profession where there are perhaps a few hundred people making a living doing it, if that. My first book was at a company that has a (and I am not kidding) 99% rejection rate for submissions.

To do this, I had to have the implicit belief that I was as good as the people doing it, and better than 99% of the people trying to do it.

Is that a healthy ego or grotesquely inflated? Dunno. Does the answer change if I had that belief and wasn't good enough?

Likewise, if you think you have a new way to, for istance, build a mousetrap, it carries the implicit belief that you can do it better than anyone else ever has, or at least that you've had an idea no one else has.

I would say that no matter how you cut it, that requires at least a healthy ego.

217:

re:egos By "healthy," do you mean "healthy" or do you mean "grotesquely inflated"? If the latter then I must again disagree.

I've worked for five different startup companies, each with different sets of founders, and have come to two conclusions:

1) Raging narcissism is more normal than not for an entrepreneur, and

2) There are more enjoyable ways to go bankrupt than by starting your own tech company.

218:

Hmm. You know, I'd never thought of entrepreneurs as creative types. Maybe my worldview needs some adjusting.

219:

"There are more enjoyable ways to go bankrupt than by starting your own tech company."

Amen.

220:

Humanity's been building gods/God for as long as can be remembered. I'll never understand persons who believe we'll get it right if we build in binary or QC instead of stone and paper. There isn't a god we've written so far who wouldn't be a monster made flesh.

Transhumanism promises a easy solution to situations that seem too complex to solve easily. Can't fix world hunger? Don't worry kids, nanotech is right around the corner! Can't get people to agree with each other? No problem! Once everyone's fixed, everyone will get along too! It's the same garbage politicians and religious leaders have been selling since flint-napping was a skill for living.

It's time that we stop looking too the sky for salvation. Our problems may well be insurmountable, but no one (and no thing) is going to solve them for us. It's time to stop making excuses.

221:

... output from a postmodernist scholar. They tend to talk in 50 word sentences and use nested subordinate clauses. This is not good practice if you want to communicate clearly...

This is not good practice in English. In some other languages, it's not a problem. French is not my native language, but I know it well enough to sympathize with Alain: I imagine that he too has learned to appreciate how comparatively easy it is in English to convey ambiguity precisely, and how comparatively difficult to arrange sentences with multiple clauses without unacceptable ambiguity. It is particularly grating if you are used to languages where you can communicate clearly with sentences like that, to find this quality of the English language is abused for tactical advantage, by authors who try to appear more clever by deliberately burdening their readers with an increased cognitive load to be understood, or even worse, by deliberately constructing sentences that rely on the reader for cleverness[1]. At least in French you can more easily tell the difference between someone who did that on purpose but respectfully, and someone who is using muddled sentences to hide muddled thinking, because it's so much harder in French to write an ambiguous sentence that is still grammatically correct.

In other words, I view Alain's comment @51 and @60 in light of XKCD #169 (especially including the alt text), although I might rephrase th punch line in this case to "Communicating badly and then acting smug when people give up trying to understand you is not cleverness".

[1] How sure can you be that the important point you wanted to drag in front of your regular peanut gallery here was their point, and not some supercritical nucleus of cleverness latent in your own thinking that just so happened to condense their amorphous sentences into something meaningful? Perhaps I just don't appreciate the art of writing such amorphous sentences, and they really are clever, but surely then they could have made the point in a way the hoi-polloi can get it too!

222:

We have no way of knowing, yet, which of these (if any) is an optimal stable form. Indeed, the most optimal form of government probably hasn't been invented yet.

Something that I dont' see talked about much (or at all) in the dicussion of political systems is their evolutionary fitness in a larger political ecosystem. Specifically advocates of stateless utopias tend to gloss over what happens when their less-enlightened neighbours roll over the border to steal their cupcakes.

223:

Not quite convinced by this argument. It's not all that long ago that having flatter pay scales between the very well paid and the poorly paid was pretty normal in the UK and USA, it's really only the last 30 years where we've collectively moved away from what was pretty normal 50 years ago.

There's no question, even in Scanadanvian countries that if Bjorn is better than Tomas he should have more things, as, say a CEO he may have 40 or 50 times as many things as Tomas.

Where I am struggling is the point where we started to think that having CEOs earning 200+ times what the people working for them do...(*)

It's also frowned upon still in most Scando-Nordic countries to get into debt to buy things, unlike the UK/US where the only way that the wealth transfer we've seen could be maintained without open revolt was by making sure that people could make up for poor/decreasing incomes through cheap credit.

I'm just saying, I don't think what they do in Scandanavia is all that magical, but that what's considered conventional in the UK and US has got really out of line with reality.

(*) - based on the recent surveys on US CEO pay

224:

Mild disclaimer: I've just woken up and I haven't finished my first cup of tea yet. Vital systems have not yet finished booting. However, Alex has presumably been waiting for an answer to his question since about 4.30pm UK time (and it's now close on 11pm over there when I've started writing this) so I'd better give a response.

Alex asked why I thought the notion of "business profit uber alles" is a myth, and what I'd want altered.

It's easier to answer this one last bit first. The bit I want altered is the idea of "mega profit uber alles" as the best (only?) business metric - the notion that profits have to be ever-expanding, that the best way of measuring success is by the size of the piles of money the directors and shareholders are able to lounge around on at the end of the fiscal year.

It seems to be a nasty bit of toxic thinking which has slipped into our cultural matrix without our noticing. It's actually something which goes against the external reality (in the world outside business, the only things which naturally grow unrestricted and unrestrainedly without limit are cancers; how do we treat cancer again?) and as such it's damaging for all of us. It's used to justify acts which are widely regarded as immoral, unethical, and in some cases outright illegal (but of course, in the name of profit nothing is actually illegal if you can afford the lawyers to argue otherwise). It's a way of justifying treating people as things (which, as Granny Weatherwax points out, is the root of all evil actions).

It's also altering the way business thinkers look at the natural world. Have a look at the "drill, drill, drill" types as an example - they seem to believe the magical thinking of profiteering companies will somehow alter the physical world. Their logic is that if we just drill enough oil wells fast enough, more oil will appear to supply the demand. They've bought the economic model of unlimited resources to the point where they're unable to accept it's just a model, a theoretical construct used to simplify the actual environment so the sums make sense. Instead, they argue their model has to be real, and if they just believe hard enough, they can make it so. To the detriment of everyone.

How can we alter this? Well, we can start with the notion that maybe mega-profits aren't a desirable goal any more. I'd be interested in seeing what would happen if a government specified that the maximum annual profit allowable for any business would be 5% of gross income from the previous year. If you earn more than 5% profit, either you have to re-invest it into the business, or you have to hand it all over to the government as tax (with maybe a proviso that each year the company does this, they earn credit against bad years in the future, to a maximum of five successive bad years).

Comes right down to it, what's wrong with just having "breaking even" as a sustainable goal? A buffer of five years worth of expenses from any profits is allowable (with maybe a 10% margin on top as a hedge against inflation), held in escrow and not earning interest, but other than that, a company isn't expected to do more than meet expenses. Profit is 100% taxable, and is taxed on similar lines to private income (sans tax-free threshold).

(Before anyone says anything, I know full well that the first government to attempt such measures would probably be deafened by the shrieks of outrage from the business community, and suffer a capital exodus of overwhelming proportions. But it might be worth seeing what would happen if a government which was supported by the people did such a thing, at the request of the people themselves.)

225:
Something that I dont' see talked about much (or at all) in the dicussion of political systems is their evolutionary fitness in a larger political ecosystem. Specifically advocates of stateless utopias tend to gloss over what happens when their less-enlightened neighbours roll over the border to steal their cupcakes.

You and me both.

226:

Megpie71:


Comes right down to it, what's wrong with just having "breaking even" as a sustainable goal? A buffer of five years worth of expenses from any profits is allowable (with maybe a 10% margin on top as a hedge against inflation), held in escrow and not earning interest, but other than that, a company isn't expected to do more than meet expenses. Profit is 100% taxable, and is taxed on similar lines to private income (sans tax-free threshold).

Profit's already taxed at high rates in the US (34-35%).

The issue with your formulation is that it seems to ignore capital recovery. Investors had to put money in to start the thing going. Most new companies can't get bank loans - they have no assets to guarantee them with. So they have to get equity investments. Those investments only make sense if the investors get money back (at adequate rates to cover the 90% of businesses that ultimately fail rather than thrive).

Rarely companies don't need that sort of investment and can grow from early sales, but as a rule you need investors and capital recovery. So... How? What system do you propose that can provide new startups with enough capital to get going, and not be worse at selecting those than the market is now?

227:

Charlie:


We have no way of knowing, yet, which of these (if any) is an optimal stable form. Indeed, the most optimal form of government probably hasn't been invented yet.

Morat:


Something that I dont' see talked about much (or at all) in the dicussion of political systems is their evolutionary fitness in a larger political ecosystem. Specifically advocates of stateless utopias tend to gloss over what happens when their less-enlightened neighbours roll over the border to steal their cupcakes.

The overcivilization problem. Barbarians still exist. People too far away from them tend to discount their risk. In some cases absolutely. Modern technology enables them to travel and strike with significant damage now...

Of course, foolish economic and social policy grows homegrown ones and forces them into criminal systems, so there's a ready-made local source as well.

228:

Who is this "we" of which you speak? Fellow transhumanists? How about covert God-botherers? Or perhaps, to take an outre example, a Scientology higher-up with his own ideas for Clearing the planet? How then is this to the advantage of free will? History shows idealists get forced out by pragmatists and the power-hungry with surprising speed; one wonders how well the transhumanist experiment will survive the arrival of the chancers.

And urging caution is not denying people choice, just as putting up a sign "Warning Sharp Curve Ahead" is not denying drivers the choice to kill themselves.

No, given how little is still known about the body, the brain, and how the mind live in the two (turns out intestinal flora affect neurotrophic factors and behaviour in humans), this fanboy's fantasy strikes me as a singularly bootless enterprise, with failure leaving a trail of well-intentioned victims, and success having the potential for dictatorship, all the more appalling because the peons will not even know they're subjugated - or care.

229:

First up, how do we know that "the market" (whatever that is) is "good" (however you define that) at selecting the companies which will succeed now?

Investors had to put in money to start a company going. Fine. That's great. They should be able to get that money back, that's only fair. But why do they need to get more money back than they put in? Why does the amount of money they get back need to be theoretically unlimited?

230:

There are a variety of options. Two really obvious ones even at gone 1am:

The venture capitalists could write their investments as loans in such a way that company repays them as a cost amortised over time. The profits-limited-to-5% would not prevent repayment. Or if there is a big increase in tax revenue thanks the 5% limit, the government sponsors start-ups on a much bigger scale. The company buys itself from the state - those who have political objections to a "big government" will scream no doubt, but this isn't actually any different to being sponsored by venture capitalists as long as it's a political neutral application process.

Given your figure of 90% of start-ups failing it doesn't take a big leap to say the current process is deeply flawed. Can you think of anything else where a 90% failure rate is regarded as good, or even acceptable? I'm too tired to come up with a clear idea of what an alternative system should be but, a bit like 5-year survival for cancer (some forms of cancer a 10% chance of being alive after 5 years is still good news, one of the few places that's true) working to a system that increases the 5 year survival rate of businesses even a little - say to 20% is a big improvement to the process.

231:

Most ground-floor investors expect to recover their initial capital investment (and then some!) with the IPO. While it's true that dividends are making a come-back, the real get-rich-quick scheme is - especially since the mid-80's - in share prices. Ditto for executive remuneration. Both have been out of touch with actual company (i.e. operating) performance for decades.

232:

Can you think of anything else where a 90% failure rate is regarded as good, or even acceptable?

Weight-loss dieting. Heck, the diet industry has built a (very profitable!) business model around the knowledge that 9 out of 10 people aren't going to succeed in losing weight long term.

233:

I was unaware that the Occupy movement engage in rioting. Could you be more specific?

Here in central NC they broke into, took over, and were later evicted from two separate privately owned buildings. Of course there then erupted a squabble about whether or not they were not true Occupiers or just splinter group of anarchists who seized an opportunity. Not rioting in the LA/Watts sense but sure caused a lot of yelling around here. :)

234:

Megpie71:


First up, how do we know that "the market" (whatever that is) is "good" (however you define that) at selecting the companies which will succeed now?

It seems experimentally to have been better than other mechanisms people have tried historically. There are assertions that there has to be some better way of doing it; so far nobody has demonstrated one. Economy 2.0 is (still) vaporware.

Doesn't mean it will never happen...

Investors had to put in money to start a company going. Fine. That's great. They should be able to get that money back, that's only fair. But why do they need to get more money back than they put in? Why does the amount of money they get back need to be theoretically unlimited?

They need to get back more than they put in to reward them:


  • For the failed businesses they invested in (total market return of investments needs to be positive including failed investments, or people will not take the risks)
  • For tying up their money for a length of time

Also, because it's capitalism.

The last is not a given forever. Also the "theoretically unlimited" is unlikely. Competitors show up, and accept lower margins to get a market share. Returns that are too high are unsustainable absent a true monopoly (and those are illegal, basically).

Economy 2.0 can propose alternatives to all this...

235:

"...I think the thing about the Nordic countries is not that they are small and culturally homogenous is that they are small, well educated, and incredibly rich"

They used to be credibly poor. Agricultural countries, with so little good soil that Norwegians eagerly took over some of the worst farmland in the British Isles. Sweden has better off; I think the best Swedish farmland is equivalent to the worst in New York State.

Up through some time in the early 20th century, Scandinavians and Finns emigrated to the US in large numbers.

236:

Eloise:


Given your figure of 90% of start-ups failing it doesn't take a big leap to say the current process is deeply flawed.

Sure. Flawed as hell. But... Do you see Silicon Valley and the web booms taking root anywhere else as energetically as in Silicon Valley?

We're rich here (houses are 2x national average, etc). That money is here because people are making money. Even at 90% failure rate.

Plenty of economic system business analysis shows that rapid risktaking and rapid rewards - plus rapid failure (with known predictable consequences) are part of the economic growth engine here.

Yes, we're failing like mad. But look what we've done when we succeed...

That sounds insane, but it's working. Isn't science taking what's working and building on it, rather than saying "That makes no sense!" and trying to make it go away?

237:

I hate to follow myself up, but:


That sounds insane, but it's working. Isn't science taking what's working and building on it, rather than saying "That makes no sense!" and trying to make it go away?

Economy 2.0 and Politics 2.0 will have to outcompete (in some sense that ultimately is determinative) current Global Economy 1.x and Geopolitics 1.y which we're on now.

It's not enough to say "I can make it fairer" - they also have to win in the marketplace of whatever value or domination matters to you.

238:

Up through some time in the early 20th century, Scandinavians and Finns emigrated to the US in large numbers.

And seemed to go looking for frozen farmland full of rocks. I guess once you get used to something ....

239:

Given your figure of 90% of start-ups failing it doesn't take a big leap to say the current process is deeply flawed. Can you think of anything else where a 90% failure rate is regarded as good, or even acceptable? I'm too tired to come up with a clear idea of what an alternative system should be but, ...

OK. Here's snarky reply.

Just who gets to decide which new ideas are not worth allowing to happen? A new business approval government agency? Sorry but it sounds a lot like the old USSR and China until recently.

But seriously. If we cut out allowing marginal ideas to be tried we would not have Federal Express. Of course we'd also not had the joy of watching pets.com implode also. Should we have not allowed FedEx to happen just to avoid pets.com?

Sorry if these examples are too US oriented to make sense.

240:
Isn't science taking what's working and building on it, rather than saying "That makes no sense!" and trying to make it go away?

Um, no. That sounds more like engineering to me. Science is about observing a situation, creating a hypothesis to explain it and testing it, then either refining the hypothesis or finding a new one in the light of the data. (That's a rather abbreviated form of the standard scientific model.) It's about saying "that makes no sense!" and then working out how it happens, making it make sense if you want, certainly striving to make the "no sense" bit go away.

But even engineers look at situations and tinker with them to improve things. Extra efficiency, more mpg from your car, radio, mobile phones, 2G, 3G and 4G mobile internet, 28.8k dial-up, 56k dial-up, faster and fatter broadband pipes. (I remember going to a hospital in the UK in the early 90's which was 'very well connected' with a 2Mbps hard line connection. Just about every flat/apartment in the building I live in has more than that today.)

And I would continue to contend at 90% failure rate it's not working. What you have is either a system that fails to recognise successful businesses - the 10% that succeed should be identifiably better than the ones that fail but the systems aren't up to it - or relies on sheer luck. One is amenable to improvement. The other is a local anomaly. It will end soon. Badly. May I point you at 2008 and the banking crisis for an example of when luck based systems have a bad run of luck?

241:

Why is a government agency any worse at deciding whose ideas are supported and whose aren't than venture capitalists?

Say they decide on a system where only 80% of the business they support fail. Surely that's better than the current system? The idea isn't necessarily to duplicate FedEx, it's to produce successful new businesses surely?

Given your US-centric examples, I wonder if you're having a knee-jerk reaction to "big government" as I predicted might happen? If I replaced government with a magical handwavium consortium of bankers and others with a plan to support riskier businesses (so they can get a bank loan rather than using venture capitalists) with an 80% failure rate... is that better than the current 90% failure rate without setting off your other reflexes?

242:

I think Charles Stross is experimenting. He's fiddling with the controls and the inputs, finding out what's "forumable" or not.

(Or what's subject to "forumisation" or not)

243:

"Can you think of anything else where a 90% failure rate is regarded as good, or even acceptable?"

R-strategy reproduction? Hell, 10% of salmon eggs living to adulthood would crowd the seas.

244:

Given your US-centric examples, I wonder if you're having a knee-jerk reaction to "big government" as I predicted might happen? If I replaced government with a magical handwavium consortium of bankers and others with a plan to support riskier businesses...

Who appoints this handwavium consortium? At the end of the day when you're putting up millions of $$ you either get to governments, or private groups with buckets of cash. Unions, pension funds, wealthy groups, whatever.

Do you think that these Venture Cap folks really want to loose money on 9 out of 10 deals. These are folks dedicated to making money and if they knew how to raise their odds they would. And some do better than others and have a line at their door of people asking if they can come in and join the party.

My aversion isn't to big government. It's to government that feels a bureaucrat with no "skin in the game" will maximize an investment better than someone whose money is at stake.

245:

And back to the questions:

They need to get back more than they put in to reward them.

Why?

What's so bloody special about giving away money (rather than, for example, time, or skill, or warehousing space, or expertise) that it deserves theoretically unlimited return? Why isn't seeing something you created standing on its own, giving employment to a variety of people, creating new things, facilitating transactions or whatever else the business does - why isn't that joy in creation reward enough?

Yes, they're taking a risk. But so is the person who takes up employment in the new firm - indeed, the employee is arguably taking on a greater risk, because they're risking their entire livelihood (and possibly the livelihoods of their families) on the chances of this company succeeding or failing. Most capital investors are investing their own surplus - their livelihood is secure, and they're not going to starve or be jobless should the company fail. The suppliers and customers of the company are also taking on a risk - suppliers are risking their income and markets, customers are risking their supply of whatever it is the company is selling. What makes the risks the investors are taking so much greater and so much more deserving of reward?

And why, for crying out loud, is the notion that money might be tied up in the new business such a terrible thing? What would the investor be doing with it otherwise? Yes, they're having to face an opportunity cost - the money that they invest in business A cannot be invested in business B at the same time. But everyone else faces opportunity costs (aka choices), too, and the further you go *down* the economic ladder, the more crucial these costs become. Consider the choice between being able to heat your living space and being able to feed yourself; a choice, I might point out, that a lot of people wind up facing on a regular basis. We can't have everything we want - this is the core of the human dilemma. Why are the opportunity costs of investors and capitalists so damn paramount that they have to be richly compensated for having to face them in order to make investment possible?

246:

Well, biological reproduction is one place where you'll easy find 90% failure or more, depending on the species.

I too have been thinking along the lines of zero profit corporations, they could be crowdfunded and compete in existing niches with the advantage that they don't need to show a profit, thus raising a sort of cancer within the capitalist system designed to subvert it from within. Recruiting people who just want to do whatever the task the company is for, rather than just make money.

That's the theory anyway

247:

And, I see, in the time I took to take a short walk before posting the comment, both my points have been made better. :)

248:

1. We already have organizations that don't return profits to investors, and in which the main reward is either getting something done, feeling good about doing it, or both. They're "charities" or "non-profit organizations". People can already form non-profits to do the same type of thing that businesses do, but outside of a few narrow areas (such as credit unions), they don't.

2. Ask the companies accepting the capital why they're willing to pay such a high price for it. If they weren't, the investors wouldn't be able to charge that price, or simply wouldn't invest at all in many cases.

3. Governments can and do give money to start-ups. Look at government-subsidized micro-finance in Nicaragua and India, or the support the US small business administration gives out. The problem is that the government agencies tend to be worse at deciding which start-ups are more efficient and productive than other ones, and much worse at culling the failures as opposed to propping them up with tax money.

249:

Let's make this smaller. My father built the house we were living in when I was about 2. He had also built a house on speculation and sold it when I was 6. (Not sure of how it was financed.) Plus he had done a variety of contractor type of re-modeling for people over the years. But this was NOT his main job. That was working in a chemical process plant.

Anyway, when I was about 11 my father decided he wanted a better life than he had. He basically approached some older friends and the agreed to lend him some of their retirement funds for a new venture. Subdividing some land and selling lots empty and building a few houses to sell also. All while still working at the plant. They loaned him the money. We did it over several years and paid back the loans plus put a little extra into our pockets.

This required my dad to work about 80 hours a week for 4 or 5 years. He did it and he wanted to do it. I got to do some paid and unpaid work also during this time.

Note this could have all gone bust. Almost did as the housing economy in our area of the US was almost as bad for a period as it was recently country wide. And if he had failed his lenders would have lost their money also.

Who should have vetted this investment/loan? Should the carpenters he hired have been given a cut of our profit. What if there was a loss should they have shared in that also? Why shouldn't his lenders be allowed to make a profit on their loan?

What I seem to hear you saying is that people with money (that they earned - we'll skip the inherited argument for now) at risk should not make a profit. Is this correct?

What is wrong with me or someone else working hard to make more than someone who doesn't want to work as hard. And I'm not saying most people are lazy bums. But there are some of us willing to work harder for more. Either swinging a hammer or coding in front of a computer. Are you saying we shouldn't?

250:

You're right, except that the only proven, practical alternative up to now has been co-ops and they take a lot of time and loving care to start and nurture, and they are limited to specific markets.

But when they do get to speed they are astonishing. The Publix supermarkets in Florida are employee owned and they had 25 billion in revenue in 2010.

And then, you have credit unions:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_union

They work fine in my province but they have been slow to spread outside.

251:

"We already have organizations that don't return profits to investors, and in which the main reward is either getting something done, feeling good about doing it, or both. They're "charities" or "non-profit organizations". People can already form non-profits to do the same type of thing that businesses do, but outside of a few narrow areas (such as credit unions), they don't. "

Actually, this is something that government probably ought to strongly encourage more - non profits to drive actual competition with private versions of stuff.

While agree with the premise that the cancer capitalism we've got going is bad mojo, I don't know that limiting profit is a good idea or, perhaps more importantly, something that be accomplished barring societal collapse or outright revolution.

I've actually got no problem with government getting into certain businesses and letting the chips fall where they may - if private business can't compete then that's clearly something that should be done by government.

(Note, I don't believe the reverse is necessarily true.)

252:

And then, you have credit unions:
...
They work fine in my province but they have been slow to spread outside.

Credit Unions are great also in the US. Banks have been squealing for the last 15 year or so due to their great success.

253:

"I too have been thinking along the lines of zero profit corporations, they could be crowdfunded and compete in existing niches with the advantage that they don't need to show a profit, thus raising a sort of cancer within the capitalist system designed to subvert it from within."

Depends- can you raise more money (on average) crowdfunding than you can by attracting profit-seeking investors?
Bear in mind a lot of those investors are things like national retirement funds and the like who really do need to turn a profit on their investment, and who control vast amounts of capital.

The other problem is that profit is fungible but the end-product of a business isn't. With the zero-profit crowdfunding system you only throw money into things that you figure will benefit you or your interests...the results might be quite libertarian.

254:

By Nordic standards, that American (and Canadian) farmland was good. And for some of them, the climate of the Upper Midwest and Prairie Provinces was noticeably better.

255:

So, in always submitting a valid vote, are you not forced on occasion to vote for a candidate/party that you would not normally wish to support?

The present unedifying situation in Australian politics is due in part to people having to make this type of choice. [I had a choice between a non-locally chosen ALP candidate, a "green lawyer" [erk], and sundry loonies; the conservative Coalition failed to nominate a candidate, so I made a 'write-in' vote instead, not regarded as valid)

This problem about quality of candidates for the political arena is not confined to Australia, I suspect.


256:
However, contrary to the popular memes and myths floating around, the hijackers are not the "leftist" or "Marxist" types. Instead, they're what a Marxist would label the cultural bourgeoisie - the people who are intent on redefining the culture to their own purposes, and on reinstating a cultural, social and economic system which leaves them on top, and everyone else far, far below them.

This.

On the last thread, there was some speculation given over to discrimination. Given the players involved and their histories, I strongly suspect that the most obvious reason is also the most plausible - the discrimination game is played to gain an advantage. It follows almost immediately then that out-groups will be discriminated against to the degree that they lack power (usually of the political sort).

Now, over the last few centuries, out-groups have gained in relative power and the original ferocious discrimination has subsided to a degree. So what do you do if you're hidebound on retaining privileges? Easy. Create lots of out-groups. That is, maximize the number of intersecting circles in the Venn diagram of privilege. Discriminate on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, education and as many other things that you can think of and then break those categories down even further so that it's no longer religious/non-religious or even Christian/non-Christian, but Sunni/Shiite. The trick is to somehow contrive to be at the center of all the intersections so that even though there is a difference of only, say, ten percent between a given in-group/out-group, this accumulates into an advantage of several hundred or several thousand percent.

Iow and as usual, discrimination is just another way for elites to retain their privileges.[1] Of course there's been pushback against the last few centuries of progress, and of course as advantage has been lost because of less discrimination other mechanisms have been employed to gain it back.

I speak, of course, of money power.

[1]Per that earlier thread, this is why I don't place a particular emphasis on sexual discrimination, or indeed any discrimination against a singular given trait.

257:

The Nords were also were insanely violent and kept slaves at one point in their history. Go back far enough in history and anything is true. This has not a lot of bearing on the current state of the Nordic peninsula though.

Megpie71 says "why isn't that joy in creation reward enough?"

Because evidently based on the entire history of mankind it isn't enough. We are not wired that way. Congratulations. You just very eloquently made the "human nature is fundamentally flawed" point

258:

Is anyone else getting filtered with every post?

[[ It looks like just you. If, when you get a post retained, you continually resubmit tiny variations on it at short intervals, you seem to trick the Bayesian filters into thinking you are a probable spammer ]]

259:
This is the process that's happening right now, and that's where all these rants about corporation/1%/0.1%/elite/libertarian comes from, after all it's all well and good to say you want to "provide security and equity and hence universal emancipation for all", but when this translates to higher oil price, less domestic jobs to go around, it suddenly looks a lot more evil and grim.

Well, no Jim, that's not what those "rants" have been about at all. In fact, those "rants" as you call them, have had a high rate of success as predictions, e.g., opposition to treaties like NAFTA back in the 90's. See below.

Of course it doesn't have to be a zero sum game, you can use technology to change the game, make the pie bigger.

The problem with this little conservative talking point - in case you've been in suspended animation for the last 40 years - is that it hasn't been a zero-sum game in the real world. Technological progress has indeed made the pie higher (as one USian prez put it), and if the gains in productivity followed the distribution of wealth as it was apportioned in the 70's, median household income would be on the order of $80 K/year. But that is not what has happened as a matter of historical fact. As the pie got higher, the slice allocated to the bottom 99% actually shrank as a percentage.

So something else is going on here, and it's not just the hebephrenic whingings of the Heinleinian rabble.

260:

Sure, the Nordic countries are mostly while and all, but you don't have to run too far down those lists before you hit places like New Zealand and Australia. Both countries are civilised by most measures and are quite nice to live in. Sure, they have race problems but they're of a generally civilised nature (people are rude to each other rather than killing each other). Both are dealing with the legacy of colonialism but in fairly different ways (a legacy of quite different approaches to the (debated-at-the-time) existing inhabitants. Both have suffered neo-liberal revolutions are (at least in Australia) are trying to recover. Unfortunately NZ is run by a merchant banker at the moment.

I've visited other "advanced democracies" but I wouldn't want to live in them. There good reasons why my ancestors left, after all (albeit in some cases neither descriptor applied when they did).

261:

Megpie71 @35 and Charlie @38:

You are both right about human progress over the last 2 centuries in health and education.
Ironically/tragically/insanely, we in the U.S. are now being governed by a group which gives unceasing lip service to these gains but is working hard to undo them. They are starving education, unraveling the scientific establishment and fighting to maintain an insanely inefficient, inhumane and unimaginably inefficient health care system which guarantees that at least the poorest 25% will have minimal access to medical care.

And, they are managing to accomplish this with the willing, if ill informed, consent of approximately 30% of the population. Worse, a disproportionate percentage of those consenting are themselves victims of these policies. The right wing in the U.S. have completely absorbed and mastered Goebbels’ “Big Lie” tactics.

PrivateIron@48 and Charlie: for a brilliant novel about neurobiology and cognitive psychology, see The Echo Maker by Richard Powers (winner of the National Book Award for Fiction in 2006) and his subsequent novel Generosity: An Enhancement (2009).

And, a final comment. It is rather silly to say that change is not accelerating. In the last 15 years there have been at least 3 highly disruptive technologies which have which seriously affected business, culture and even society; the internet itself, online retailing and social networks. Within a decade we can foresee at least two more; 3D printing per se and some elements of nanotech applied in conjunction with 3D printing (human organs) and basic manufacturing. I am simply talking about extensions of existing technology, no breakthroughs.

The problem is a very widespread and frequently violent rejection of modernity by significant numbers of people and cultures.

262:

I just want this frail body to live healthy long enough until I can step into something in silicon and be home free forever and all the other stuff you and your sci-fi colleagues write about. Accelerando bonzai!!

263:

Actually, I tend to use preferential voting to its fullest in order to vote against (or in other words, I tend to write my preferences backwards - I start with the candidate/party I'd least like to see elected, and figure out who's getting my first preference by a process of elimination). But then, I've never really been faced with an electoral candidate I'd overwhelmingly support; I tend to find it's very much a process of praising with faint damns instead.

As I keep saying in various locations, at present the Liberal party hasn't really done that much to guarantee themselves anything other than my final preference, and the ALP generally winds up being chosen for second-last (although that can vary if there's a candidate with sufficiently bigoted views who is sufficiently vocal about them in order to get past the majority of the two-party-preferred media coverage). If the Natural Law Party (yogic flyers) want to nominate someone to stand in Brand in the next election, I'll be willing to place them at the head of my preferences, though. I figure they're pretty much a "chicken soup" party at best - may not help, probably won't hurt.

264:

why go through the hassle of implants to change the phenotype when you can adapt in the extended phenotype?

Very true. I remember thinking all this cyberpunk with implants and all that stuff was cool (I still have a lot of Shadowrun books on my RPG shelf), but now, twenty years later, all that seems somehow... quaint.

Also even current implants generate a lot of social and cultural problems. Example: cochlear implants, while brilliant and in many cases very much life-improving devices, create a lot of problems with the sign-language speakers. There isn't an influx of children who absolutely need the sign language, as there used to be. I'm not sure the engineers developing the implants did think of this.

And what happens when you get a bad patch of implants? Replacing a faulty phone is easy but replacing, for example, leaky implants requires surgery.

265:

I think the main thing to grab hold of here, especially considering the choir we are currently all preaching to, is that we are looking at education levels as much as anything else.

All of the Scandiwegian countries have very good education systems. Finland's, in particular, has world-leading test scores, which they achieved in a very particular way:
http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/

At some level, the early Singularitarian stages seem to be about the acquisition of either synthetic memory or actual omniscience - hence the Macxian fondness for smartphones and embedded computing. The omnipotence is a later stage of relevance, hence the relatively lesser importance given to the cyborgs who embed magnets, or RFID into their bodies.

So, coming full circle: would universal literacy and education jump-start the Rapture of the Nerds, or delay it? How do we build a transhumanist paradise together, if we don't all have the same tools to build it?

266:

why go through the hassle of implants to change the phenotype when you can adapt in the extended phenotype?

One reason is that thenee implants can do things the extensions cannot, for example the recent announcement of silicon retinas. Clearly implanted organs are a better bet than machines.

Unlike others on this topic, I do think gene manipulation/hacking will be common. Initially it will be to fixed genotypes that have defective disease causing genes. After that, predictive genetics will give enough data to allow more widespread gene manipulation - replacing variants. Then there will be plain enhancements, for example extra genes for 4 color vision (this seems to work quite seamlessly in some humans already).

Maybe it is the taboos around sex and reproduction, but we already do some selective breeding of humans just by partner choice. We are quite happy to intensively selectively breed animals, yet humans do not do this because of the bogey man of defective double recessives. Yet soon we will be able to engineer these out. Just how many generations will it take to change some human populations (socioeconomic rather than geographic) quite noticeably in some desired directions - beauty, physical abilities, maybe even mental ones?
SF sometimes depicts such future societies, but the means to reach those ends was stepped around.

As a side note, I found Heinlein's later novels hit my moral disgust buttons, but I believe he was trying to explore these themes with the shadowy Howard Foundation as agency.

267:

I find that instant access to facts on the web is a very useful aid to an incomplete memory and can be used to fact check conversations. It can be used to prune nonsense and overcome the bluffers' confident tones.

If that could be applied even more rapidly and effectively, e.g. as augmented reality, then I would expect to see some interesting societal effects.

268:

Productivity gains don't necessarily show up as income gains. They can show up as decreases in the cost of living, as previously costly activities become much cheaper. Food, for example, has become vastly cheaper because of productivity gains.

@Miko Parvainian
And what happens when you get a bad patch of implants? Replacing a faulty phone is easy but replacing, for example, leaky implants requires surgery.

I think this will be a significant barrier to the adoption of non-medical implants, particularly if there are cheap non-implant alternatives that are "good enough" without requiring invasive surgery.

Compare wearing Augmented Reality glasses a la Google versus implants directly in your eyes. I'd probably go with the glasses, if only because I don't need to see an eye doctor every time they start having issues.

269:

For everyone discussing alternate corporate structures, check out flexible purpose corporations and benefit corporations. These are corporate structures recently created in several U.S. states that allow corporations to take into account specific goals other than shareholder value when making decisions. Right now, execs can be sued for making the "right" decision in terms of societal good if it results in making less money for the corporation than some other path. Yuck.

As a recent non-profit founder, I regret not looking into this option more, since non-profits are astonishingly high-overhead.

270:

Alain:


You're right, except that the only proven, practical alternative up to now has been co-ops and they take a lot of time and loving care to start and nurture, and they are limited to specific markets.

But when they do get to speed they are astonishing. The Publix supermarkets in Florida are employee owned and they had 25 billion in revenue in 2010.

My health care here in California is provided by Kaiser Permanente, which is a not-for-profit corporation founded by William J Kaiser originally to give healthcare to his second world war shipyard workers (if I recall all of the history right) and which has kept growing since then. It has generally (over the last 20 years at least) outcompeted the for-profit HMO and PPO organizations on the west coast, though not to the point of dominating the market and pushing anyone else out. And it's outcompeting them on quality of service as well as price.

That said - Rumors were that the Obama administration approached Kaiser about going nationwide as a public option for their healthcare reform and were rebuffed. Because managing what they have (about 15% of the US population in the coverage area) versus what they'd have to grow into to do that are two completely different stories. They'd probably have destroyed the organization trying to grow like that.

These examples, including credit unions and the various coop groceries and the like, point the way to A alternate way, but it's not dominating the market nor proving more dynamic than for-profit companies. They're competing, but not outcompeting.

Could something change in that equation? ... You tell me. It's not a clear "no".

271:

er, in my last I misdid the quote. The second paragraph is from Alain as well as the first. My apologies for the misformat.

272:

"The problem with this little conservative talking point - in case you've been in suspended animation for the last 40 years - is that it hasn't been a zero-sum game in the real world."

Which I think it's good thing, I certainly don't want to live in 1970, do you?

"Technological progress has indeed made the pie higher (as one USian prez put it),"

But the number of people who wants a piece of the pie also increased, world population increased from 3.7 billion to 7 billion, and nearly a billion workers in China/India entered the labor market.


"and if the gains in productivity followed the distribution of wealth as it was apportioned in the 70's, median household income would be on the order of $80 K/year. But that is not what has happened as a matter of historical fact."

I'm not seeing this in government statistics, per http://www.bls.gov/fls/#productivity, manufacturing productivity gain and compensation increase is comparable.

" As the pie got higher, the slice allocated to the bottom 99% actually shrank as a percentage."

1. Even if this is the case, the 99% could still be benefiting since the increase of the pie compensates for the decrease of the allocation percentage
2. You're counting the wrong pie, you need to take into account that the pie is divided by the entire world, not just your corner of USA. Comparing to the farmers in China/India, you're the 1%.

273:

Sorry for the massive quote:

Megpie71:


And back to the questions:

They need to get back more than they put in to reward them.

Why?

What's so bloody special about giving away money (rather than, for example, time, or skill, or warehousing space, or expertise) that it deserves theoretically unlimited return? Why isn't seeing something you created standing on its own, giving employment to a variety of people, creating new things, facilitating transactions or whatever else the business does - why isn't that joy in creation reward enough?

Yes, they're taking a risk. But so is the person who takes up employment in the new firm - indeed, the employee is arguably taking on a greater risk, because they're risking their entire livelihood (and possibly the livelihoods of their families) on the chances of this company succeeding or failing. Most capital investors are investing their own surplus - their livelihood is secure, and they're not going to starve or be jobless should the company fail. The suppliers and customers of the company are also taking on a risk - suppliers are risking their income and markets, customers are risking their supply of whatever it is the company is selling. What makes the risks the investors are taking so much greater and so much more deserving of reward?

And why, for crying out loud, is the notion that money might be tied up in the new business such a terrible thing? What would the investor be doing with it otherwise? Yes, they're having to face an opportunity cost - the money that they invest in business A cannot be invested in business B at the same time. But everyone else faces opportunity costs (aka choices), too, and the further you go *down* the economic ladder, the more crucial these costs become. Consider the choice between being able to heat your living space and being able to feed yourself; a choice, I might point out, that a lot of people wind up facing on a regular basis. We can't have everything we want - this is the core of the human dilemma. Why are the opportunity costs of investors and capitalists so damn paramount that they have to be richly compensated for having to face them in order to make investment possible?

This is an exchange of goods. In this case, surplus capital, for potential value.

In quite a few cases, the results of those investments are "this entire investment pool is wiped out", and a bunch of moderately rich people are now much less rich. It's their money to start with; they can set the terms under which they loan it to people to start businesses. People who want to start businesses find investors, they get the capital to get going, the business stands up and is running. No money, no business.

If you want to set up another mechanism for funding new businesses, then fine. Nothing is stopping you. Kickstarter, for example, just shook the dice and seems to have come up with A New Way, and for selected projects it's turning into a gold mine (both of value and investments). For some they're getting nothing.

If you believe that the existing venture capital mechanism should be outlawed - why?

If you have a better mechanism then new startups will flock to you. In a heartbeat. You'll outcompete VCs in a second, if you can outcompete them and have resources to sell/loan/give out/etc.

If you want to ban it, you're setting up an artificial legal barrier between money (that wants to do something constructive) and entrepreneurs (who want to do something constructive), just because the occasional very early eBay, Google, or Apple investor makes a 10,000 times payoff.

A better way to do it is not going to get any objections. Banning the existing way, now, seems silly. VCs work very hard for their money. They get rich rewards on the statistical average, over large periods of time and large pools of investment, but are taking on a lot of risk (if you invest in 5 projects, all 5 statistically may well fail). Nobody gives them decapitalization insurance on the loser projects.

If you have a good case (other than moral outrage) for why the existing system should be banned, please make it. If you have a better way, that you think can outcompete Kickstarter and the existing VC 1.0 method, please let us know...

274:

It sounds like you're saying that any comments that are not supportive of the status quo with respect to the current system are unjustified unless the person commenting can also provide a compelling alternative and prove to your satisfaction that it would work at least as well. Without meaning to be confrontational, you sound pretty dismissive of the comment you responded to simply on that basis. You're setting the bar for participation in the discussion pretty high; surely we're at least allowed to express our thoughts on the subject without also having to single-handedly construct a compelling alternative edifice?
Personally I'd be interested in hearing what Megpie71 has to say even if an alternative to VC isn't brought forward.

275:

Daveon @ 219:
"Not quite convinced by this argument. It's not all that long ago that having flatter pay scales between the very well paid and the poorly paid was pretty normal in the UK and USA, it's really only the last 30 years where we've collectively moved away from what was pretty normal 50 years ago."

By coincidence 30 years ago is about when deregulation and maximizing shareholder value became popular.

George William Herbert @ 222:
"Profit's already taxed at high rates in the US (34-35%)".

True in theory. In practice you get stuff like General Electric not paying any tax on US$10 billion in profit.

276:

"Yup, and this sort of thing is going to become unavoidable, barring total deconstruction of peer-to-peer telecommunications as we've come to understand them. And doing that would destroy the very infrastructure that the CAPITALIST GANGSTER SWINE--*ahem*, I mean, the entrenched elites--require to function.

There's still room for us to Screw Up Everything, but the benefits of universal smartphone technology are becoming increasingly inescapable. The grassroots public panopticon isn't as glamorous as gleaming chrome starships, but that's where I suspect political changes will come from, not some weird outer-space Wild West diaspora."

Smartphone and mobile communication in general is a good example, I'm going to steal it to illustrate my point, I'm not trying to debunk anyone here.

Have you considered where your smartphone comes from? Most likely it's designed by an evil corporation, using chips from another evil corporation, assembled by underpaid (underpaid by western standard) workers in China, and when you upload your police video, you are most likely uploading it to a video site managed by a 3rd evil corporation. So basically you're paying the capitalist swine to enrich them, while they're selling you the very tool that can undermine their hold on society, how's that for irony.

I think this illustrates a very important point: Technology is class neutral, there's no technology for the elite 1% or technology for the poor 99%, it benefits Everyone. Technology that is only available to the elite 1% can be yours in a few years. I still remember the days when having a cellphone is a status symbol of the rich, now even farmers in China has one, if this is not "accelerating change" and a good thing, I don't know what is. This is why even if transhumanism is in bed with libertarian, I would still support it, because the technology produced is not only usable by libertarians, everyone can use it.

Now on to another interesting topic, of course you don't have to use the product from evil corporations, in mobile communication the choice is rather limited (there's openmoko), but in software world, there're a lot of open source alternatives instead of using the product from the evil Microsoft. It's interesting people on this board are still discussing whether zero profit corporation is possible, of course it is, it's already here, it's call Free Software Foundation.

I couldn't prove it, but I believe the blossoming of the open source movement is positively correlated to the decrease of the computer hardware price, we won't have so many open source software if it still costs an arm and a leg to buy a computer. And guess who produced all these cheap computer hardware? Evil corporation again. Zero profit corporation and for profit corporation are not enemies, they need each other in the current economical environment. I certainly hope # of zero profit corporations would increase, but the fact is we still need for profit corporation to do the heavy lifting for a while.

And this brings us to the Maker movement, if you really want to get rid of the evil corporation, you'll have to manufacture the cellphone yourself, and this is the spirit of the Maker movement. With the advance in 3D printing, desktop manufacturing, I hope this can be done in the foreseeable future. But for this to happen, there has to be giant leaps in terms of manufacturing technology, which has to come from corporations, and if you want to see this in your life time, you'd better hope it's "accelerated". And this is where the blog by amor mundi is so mind boggling stupid, it's taking cheap shot at Maker movement who is the very person (and the only person) that can free you from the evil corporations and capitalists which the blog article despises.

277:

How about this:

We write about Transhumanism now the same way sci-fi authors in the 1950s wrote about atomic-powered flying cars. Our society is coming to grips with a new batch of technological innovations, and we can't help but extend that the changes we went through into the future. It's more realistic to imagine, though, that some OTHER technology will transform society in the next generation. Maybe Bruce Stirling's neuro-tech?

278:

...and youthful skin and golden sex.

I first read this as "...and golden skin and youthful sex", probably because of some Peter F. Hamilton book with people with golden skin.

I re-read the phrase because I didn't see the youthful sex as something that many people would aim for. Golden skin might be passable, but I'm okay with the current one.

279:

That's a point I've been thinking about as well. I remember reading somewhere that many 50's authors (consciously or not) expected an energy revolution and based their stories on that, whereas what we actually got as time wore on was an information revolution.
At the moment, many people are expecting an information revolution. There's the potential for a similarly unexpected development to render these predictions wrong too, perhaps.

280:

The irregularly updated blog is hosted at
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/

Some random examples

The lost history of Helmand Province

The history of British involvement in Bahrain

Russian Shock Therapy

Primitive tribes, and how they mould themselves to what the filmmakers desire

And the frankly extraordinary links between fundamentalist christians and moslems courtesy of Oliver North

281:

220 comments since I last looked ... aarrrrgggh!

Dirk @ 73
"nobody left behind"
And suppose they WANT to be left behind - what then?
- which leads to Megpie @ 81
What happens iof the "not we" want to be that way - if they cllasify themselves as (let's call them the "ummah" shall we? Or maybe not!) and reject every liberal "western" enlightened idea ever, and are determined to retreat into their mystic world of whicheve primitive myth they embrace, and are prepared to kill to do that, too.

Sruart @ 80
we have large treaty blocs like the European Union, which are for the first time not held together by hated emperors... No, they are held together by hated, faceless, unelected corrupt bureaucrats.
Um.

Kyle @ 97
Cops (or their masters) are starting to react to pointed camera-phones the way they react to pointed guns Yeah - the two fully-armed (semi-automatic machine-pistols) cops I saw at Kings Cross station yesterday - I very carefully got a picture of them... Scary, or what?

Dirk & Paws @ 109
And why are some of us political-apathetic?
I've BEEN a member of a political party [Lem-o-Crats] I gave up when I realised they were as corrupt, incompetent and stupid as all the others.
I have still managed, just, to vote in every election, but it's a grim struggle, forced to vote for the least-worst candidate, or to try to keep some bastard out, by voting for someoene you don't really like - I've had to do that twice, now.
See also @ 249

Markham @ 122 & others
There is this persistent, false myth that a "singularity" is an instant: ... "a flash, in the twinking of an eye & we shall all be changed".
Well, wrong - & I hope people recognise my quote.
Singularites happen - slowly.
Do I need to spell it out again? I hope not.

Tom @ 160
Rhetoric? That is very interesting.
Is it time to re-engage with Robt M. Persig and Pheadrus?

Barry @ 182
Errr no.
Britain was as democratic as the USA at its' foundation. It had an hereditary monarch, as opposed to a Pres, but that was it .....
Remember that the "US revolution" was a civil war, with the USians being aided by an enemy (to Britain) foreign power - France.

Jagen @ 216
It's time that we stop looking too the sky for salvation
"Our fault, Horatio, lies not in our stars, but in ourseleves".

Rick York @ 257
Yes, but WHY are the 0.1% doing this, trying to unravel the scientific/enlightenement advances - what is actually in it for them?
That's what I can't see. Are they truly mad?

282:
And this is where the blog by amor mundi is so mind boggling stupid, it's taking cheap shot at Maker movement who is the very person (and the only person) that can free you from the evil corporations and capitalists which the blog article despises

That's an ideological point, and I think it's a fairly aggressively wrong ideological point; the Maker movement is a collection of computer-people realising that it's fun to make physical objects, it's William Morris with CNC mills rather than looms, or the Wiener Werkstatte without the manifesto, and it will hit the problem they hit: economies of scale exist and advocating hand-made or unit-machined objects unavoidably means advocating objects too expensive to afford.

283:

I find that kind of post that offers a half-paragraph response to each of a dozen points lost in the far past extremely irritating; I skip them unread, but I think it would not spoil the conversation much if they weren't there at all.

I see that it's an attempt to do what you would do if there weren't threading, but the goal of the absence of threading is that you not do that rather than that you find clunky workarounds for it

284:

"Yes, but WHY are the 0.1% doing this, trying to unravel the scientific/enlightenement advances - what is actually in it for them?
That's what I can't see. Are they truly mad?"

To point out the obvious flipside of this- the 0.1% have a great enough understanding of how human society works to climb to the very peak of it in accumulating wealth. You presumably have a model for understanding human society yourself. Why are you so sure that they're the mad ones with no understanding of what they're doing? What if their understanding of how things work is actually better than yours?

Look at it this way- which may be how the 0.1% look at it: there's no point in investing money in your janitor if that additional money doesn't get the floor swept any better. There's no point in investing in a good retirement system for him if he's not going to produce any labor after retirement age anyway. There's no point in investing money in a great educational system if the kids of janitors are mainly going to be janitors, and if the kids of engineers (or other professions) can have their engineer parents pay for their educations.

On the scientific front it's a bit more odd- the OECD found a negative correlation between government spending on scientific research and GDP growth. If you want to get richer, you might let some other guy do the basic research, then copy it after the kinks are worked out.

285:

"These examples, including credit unions and the various coop groceries and the like, point the way to A alternate way, but it's not dominating the market nor proving more dynamic than for-profit companies. They're competing, but not outcompeting."

One of the reasons they're not outcompeting (and in some cases not competing at all) has to do with an ugly little thing which Charles Stross calls regulatory capture.

The traditional banks have gotten to the market ahead of the credit unions (and other employee owned financial organisms) and they've managed to influence lawmakers enough to make it very difficult for non-standard financial institutions to get a foot in the door.

There is no level playing field. The big banks have managed to stack the odds against newcomers.

I know that some of them like the Fonds the solidarité de la FTQ (an investment group owned and controlled by an association of trade unions) are extremely dynamic:

http://www.fondsftq.com/en/accueil.aspx

But they are up against financial institutions which control entire political parties at the federal level.

286:

Cops (or their masters) are starting to react to pointed camera-phones the way they react to pointed guns.

It's comments like that which make the average person file your other points under "overinflated and hysterical", and from then to "ignore".

Pointing a gun at at an armed policeman gets you dead.

Pointing a camera at an armed policeman might (at worst) get you a quiet word. The reason for this is not "!!!Fascists!!!", it's because by and large the men with guns are there because there is a credible threat to something or someone, and you're pointing a camera at the thing being threatened. The armed policeman just happens to be in the way.

Having a word with you is not the stamping down of the regime upon the freethinking, it's an attempt by the public-facing security personnel to filter "innocent tourist" from "potential intelligence-gathering", and to deter those intelligence gatherers from being noticed. The fact that some of them can occasionally behave like complete numpties does not invalidate the threat.

Claiming that this is "security theatre" or "overblown" should consider that this behaviour is a direct result of actual terrorist attacks upon mainland UK. For thirty years it was Irish Republican Terrorism (thousands dead across the UK); it has included supporters of al-Qaeda (hundreds dead across Europe); and it has included extreme right-wingers and hate-mongers (a few score in the UK, rather more in Europe).

How quickly we forget that there are parts of the UK (namely, Northern Ireland) where every policeman is armed, and most are armed off-duty; and where the presence of armed soldiers on the streets with powers to stop and search are not long gone.

287:

But, if I am pointing a camera at an armed policeman, and he has done nothing wrong, then he has nothing to fear. Or so those who keep attacking our civil liberties would claim.

288:

And, a final comment. It is rather silly to say that change is not accelerating. In the last 15 years there have been at least 3 highly disruptive technologies which have which seriously affected business, culture and even society; the internet itself, online retailing and social networks. Within a decade we can foresee at least two more;

I'll assert my point from post #6 - Change isn't really accelerating, it's just the time distortion imposed by getting older and looking backwards rather than being young and waiting for the future to turn up.

In addition, we forget previous disruptive technologies because to us they have always been there in the background, are completely normal, and not worth comment or awe. See OGH's previous comments about not using the word "computer" in Rule 34.

Go back forty years - "disruptive technology" includes space rockets and satellites, men walking on the moon.

Go back sixty years - jet engines, antibiotics, the discovery of DNA.

Go back ninety years - wireless telegraphy becomes widespread, powered flight, personal telephony.

Go back further and you can consider recorded sound, powered ships, horseless carriages, mass production techniques, wired telegraphy, inland navigation, farm machinery, the powered loom, spectacles (i.e. eyeglasses), telescopes, microscopes...

289:

The obvious difference here is in ethical and personal motivations. Greg, although being a grumpy old man is less motivated by personal greed than the top 0.1%, and is aware of the broader damages caused by their behaviour. The top 0.1% though see it all as working perfectly because their position at the top is perpetuated as long as possible. You don't need a sophisticated understanding of how society works in order to get rich; if you did I don't understand how most rich people got rich, since in many cases it was luck, in other cases being willing to work long hours and lie to people, or sometimes they have a good idea that actually works out. Phrasing it the way you have suggests that they are running internal models of the world which are big and effective, whereas that isn't really what happens now is it? You are attributing them near superpowers, whereas their behaviour is closer to those of old fashioned dictators who eventually get caught out by the rebellion which kills them.

290:

No, additional money gets the floor swept better. Surely the natural point is that some of these 0.1% a cynics, and think it would be in societies' interest to remove them from their high places. As such, they want a society mentally broken enough to not perceive that, but still effective. A conventional class society seems to be the way to go for them - bind the top 10% in by self interest and stuff the rest.

291:

#141 and #141, on the function of business.

(Charlie, Eloise and Megpie mostly)

As I was taught in Business Studies classes, the first function of a business is to survive.

I'd like to propose that the best way of doing this is by attacting and keeping customers, hence generating reasonable profits for paying stakeholders and re-investing in new and improved products.

292:

I've been reading Amor Mundi for years. Dale does make sense but it often requires a bit more work to unpack his meaning than say The Daily Mail. I don't see that as a bad thing.

If you don't understand what he's saying I wouldn't crow about the fact if I were you. It's not something to be proud of.

293:
One reason is that thenee implants can do things the extensions cannot, for example the recent announcement of silicon retinas. Clearly implanted organs are a better bet than machines.
I did mention the magnetic implant, didn't I? (",) There are some things that work better as implants, and companies rather than researchers or the differently sane garage tinkerers are starting to look into the non-medical space.
294:

Unfortunately, without the new technologies these modern day Luddites are so afraid of, this globalization process is a zero sum game, people in India and China who is willing to work for $5 per hour means you couldn't justify your $20 per hour salary unless you're 4 times as productive as them, the job goes to India/China which means your lose and their win, this has nothing to do with evil corporation/1%/0.1%/elite/libertarian, and blaming it on transhumanism is just silly.

Not necessarily.
Worked anecdotal example:-

My sis worked for a specialist company providing data services. Their (USian) CEO decided that he could save $lots by transferring their posts to India. The big problem here was that the Indians actually couldn't do the job to adequate standards of time or quality, with the result that she and most of her colleagues now have their old jobs back except that they work as sub-contractors to a different company at 20% more.

Names will not be supplied, in order to protect the innocent!

295:

" Phrasing it the way you have suggests that they are running internal models of the world which are big and effective, whereas that isn't really what happens now is it? You are attributing them near superpowers, whereas their behaviour is closer to those of old fashioned dictators who eventually get caught out by the rebellion which kills them."

No, superpowers would be having a _perfect_ model- the king's offspring would stay kings forever, the country gets played like a fiddle, etc.
They merely may have a better model of how society- and wealth in society- works. Not perfect, just better- possibly for similar reasons why a nuclear engineer has a better idea of how a reactor works than a non-nuclear-engineer scientist.
Does it fail sometimes? Sure. Note Chernobyl or Fukushima for engineering examples of that.

296:

How can we alter this? Well, we can start with the notion that maybe mega-profits aren't a desirable goal any more. I'd be interested in seeing what would happen if a government specified that the maximum annual profit allowable for any business would be 5% of gross income from the previous year. If you earn more than 5% profit, either you have to re-invest it into the business, or you have to hand it all over to the government as tax

Unfortunately, big businesses have a weapon up their sleeve to deal with exactly this contingency: accountants.

"Profit" is simply the money left over from your gross income after all your operating expenses are taken out of it -- raw materials, labour, shipping, depreciable equipment, and so on.

It is really easy to reduce your profits: just invest in something that can plausibly be claimed to be a business expense. Director's salaries, for example! Money paid to the CEO is taxable as income, sure (subject to said CEO's use of wealth planning consultants), but it comes off the company's profits. If the tax on profits is draconian, the company can save money by throwing profits directly at the CEO instead.

(A sensible company would invest their profits in staff retention -- higher pay for everyone, not just the masters of the universe -- and training and working environment and so on, and then spend some more on figuring out how to gain new customers. But common sense seems to be thin on the ground in whatever they're teaching MBAs this century.)

297:

The stories about photographers being hassled by the Police—all Police, not just the armed ones—only started appearing in the UK after the "troubles" in Ireland had wound down. And at least some of the hassles have been from private security, using terrorism as a reason, since 9/11.

That timing makes it a bit hard to blame things on the Irish Problem. The IRA had spent years attacking targets in the rest of the UK.

298:

I'll accept wealth in society, but not society as a whole, although the ruling class as a whole perhaps gives that impression through individual specialisation. For instance Ruper Murdoch clearly has a better idea of how to build a global media empire pandering to the rich and elites and the lower common denominators in society. But then he and indeed many other members of the richest part of society clearly didn't see or didn't want to see the global crash coming, whereas quite a few people outside the elites did.

299:

"That's an ideological point, and I think it's a fairly aggressively wrong ideological point;"

Not really. Whether the products from Maker/open hardware/yourself cost less than the mass produced ones from corporation/capitalist, and whether the customer/you are willing to pay for this premium are two open questions I don't claim to have a definite answer, although I wouldn't jump to No so quickly.

What I was saying is, if you don't want products from corporation/capitalist since presumably you despise them, then the only alternative is the Maker crowd, this has nothing to do with ideology, it's just the reality we're in. After all someone will have to manufacture your cellphone, it won't rain from the sky would it ;)

300:

@32:
Thaw me when robot wives are cheap and effective.
---
"Harcourt Fenton Mudd! Where have you been?!"

301:

Exactly, it's not about quibbling over some futurology timeline as a few people here have suggested. He's critiquing a mindset that ignores problems such as climate change, inequality, resource wars, etc in exchange for putting your faith that the system is on track to creating super duper solutions to all these problems at some point in the future. Hence Bjorn Llomborg's argument that you don't have to worry about climate change's effect on Bangladesh because by the time they're underwater they'll be filthy rich and able to deal with it somehow. Which is effectively just a later stage of denial.

302:

"Dirk @ 73
"nobody left behind"
And suppose they WANT to be left behind - what then?"

It has to be read in the context of the Zero State policy of non coercion in these matters. However, what kind of other pressures do you suppose might exist, being "normal" in a world of superhumans?


"- which leads to Megpie @ 81
What happens iof the "not we" want to be that way - if they cllasify themselves as (let's call them the "ummah" shall we? Or maybe not!) and reject every liberal "western" enlightened idea ever, and are determined to retreat into their mystic world of whicheve primitive myth they embrace, and are prepared to kill to do that, too.""

Well, as long as they do not physically attack us the Amish will still be around.

303:

"I've BEEN a member of a political party [Lem-o-Crats] I gave up when I realised they were as corrupt, incompetent and stupid as all the others."

Ditto - I was a member of the Green party years ago.
Anyway, finding myself in your position I created my own party.

304:

Greg @281: Yes, but WHY are the 0.1% doing this, trying to unravel the scientific/enlightenement advances - what is actually in it for them?

Authority always has a troubled relationship with science. Scientists provide all sorts of useful gadgets and techniques, but they also think critically, and people who think critically eventually tend to realize that the authorities are neither morally superior to nor more competent than the other 99.9%. Worse, they may at any time discover that some foundational aspect of society (like fossil fuels, or God, or strong money) is causing huge problems and needs to be expensively fixed. The 0.1% tend to be shoot-the-messenger types.

305:

@104:
The only other possible viable model is a direct theocracy eg The Culture
---
My preferred example is Joan D. Vinge's "Outcasts of the Heaven Belt," though many others exist.

The problem with democracy is that the default trend is toward "bread and circuses." (now called "entitlements" in the USA) The various republican and parliamentarian implementations slow the trend down at the cost of concentrating power among an oligarchy.

Primates other than h.sapiens are organized in tribes with rigid pecking orders. Sapiens got the trick of being able to identify with multiple tribes, but the tribe / chieftain / pecking order thing is still very strong.

A few years after I departed the corporate IT path I got a mild interest in primate behavior, but the direct correlations between that and cubicle life were extremely depressing.

Any type of government more sophisticated than punching someone in the face and taking their women could be considered "unnatural." Which is probably why government (or management) tends to be such a flaming disaster.

306:

The primary issue is short termism and it's as prevalent in politcs as it is in business (likely this is no coincidence, since big business has almost fostered a culture of farming politicians, feeding them up with pre-election capital then reaping the harvest of lax laws/enforcement, or bonuses in the form of subsidies, down the line).

Time and again I've seen first hand companies practically gutted in the rush to reduce overheads and deliver short term results at the expense of long term survival. It's a downward spiral, too, because the next batch of miracle workers drafted in at great expense to fix the problem will try to solve it by doing what the last batch did, cutting costs, reducing wages and "perks", etc (which obviously has the direct effect of introducing a brain drain as all the people who -could- have helped the company out of the pit go off to work elsewhere).

I don't know what the solution to this is. Having the entire workforce decide on the rewards of those at the top seems the fairest idea, so it's the least likely to ever be enacted (other than maybe a token representative of the workers being part of the reward decision process).

A scheme where directors are rewarded in line with the longer term success of the company seems like the only thing approaching a workable solution, even that is broken since it relies on those who come after you not being idiots and undoing your good work (plus the fact that business controls government therefore this would never make it onto the books). I sometimes think the only way to ensure those at the top of companies look to the long term is to have familial ties, almost a feudal approach, but we all know how broken that is (plus we'd end up with a token head getting paid to be largely inneffective, like a monarchy).

Maybe this will only be fixed when we have true AI and a company really is a "living entity" and will actively pursue a course of dumping directors who seek to maximise their personal short term goals at the expense of the company, but then we're back to pinning our hopes on future tech, which is what started off this discussion in the first place...

307:

My experience has been somewhat more favourable than either of yours then; I gave up my party membership when I suddenly no longer had 12 hours per week to spend leafletting.

I take it we're all in agreement that at least part of the problem is the reducing level of political party membership amongst the many who do not aspire to political office and are not the immediate family of those who do?
Hence the note that USian voter registration as a supporter of $party was not what I meant.

308:

"Look at it this way- which may be how the 0.1% look at it: there's no point in investing money in your janitor if that additional money doesn't get the floor swept any better. There's no point in investing in a good retirement system for him if he's not going to produce any labor after retirement age anyway. There's no point in investing money in a great educational system if the kids of janitors are mainly going to be janitors, and if the kids of engineers (or other professions) can have their engineer parents pay for their educations. "

'the peasant should not be allowed to live; neither should he be allowed to die'.

Every dollar in that janitor's pocket is a dollar which is not in the hands of the 1%. Every dollar spent on public schools is a dollar of tax money from the pockets of the 1%.

The 1% deeply want a society with a majority of peons, a minority of trained people one step above peons, 5-10% of managers, and themselves. They get more money, and they get the power and ego boost from being in an aristocracy.

309:

The problem I had is detailed here in a ZS article I wrote:
http://transhumanpraxis.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/so-you-have-just-joined-zero-state-what-next/

A later problem I had was that the Greens turned into the Luddite Party. That's when I gave up on them, and I had voted for them since they were the Ecology Party.

310:

This great line is spoken by Roy Batty in Blade Runner.

"Chew, if only you could see what I've seen with your eyes!"

With implants, it could be Chew speaking that line.

311:

"Pointing a camera at an armed policeman might (at worst) get you a quiet word. The reason for this is not "!!!Fascists!!!", it's because by and large the men with guns are there because there is a credible threat to something or someone, and you're pointing a camera at the thing being threatened. The armed policeman just happens to be in the way."

Please read the g-d news. It can easily get you arrested.

And it's not because of a legitimate threat; it's because you're documenting their actions.

312:

"As I was taught in Business Studies classes, the first function of a business is to survive."

I imagine that the B-Schools do teach that, but I'd bet that in the view of the people at the top, the first function of a business is to give them money, power and status. As such, any given business entity is potentially harvestable.

313:

"Any type of government more sophisticated than punching someone in the face and taking their women could be considered "unnatural." Which is probably why government (or management) tends to be such a flaming disaster."

That statement does rather ignore both that our huge brains and emotional capabilities can be used for more subtle persuasion than that of violence, and that even a cursory study of human history will show numerous occaisions when it was perfectly natural for people not to punch someone else in the face and take their women, but rather for negotiation and suchlike to take place. True in many cases violence is implied as a possible alternative to discussion, but the simple fact is that it is all more complex than you suggest.

314:

Minor correction. They probably didn't pay any US taxes. They did pay taxes, however. But your main point stands, they paid substantially less than the full corporate rate, as do most multinationals and large domestic US corps.

315:

No, on the American side of the pond, it can get you: arrested, fined, jailed/imprisoned, your camera confiscated and maybe put on trial. Even in states where it is legal to photograph police. Fighting these charges is expensive and time consuming and all too often the photogaphs and equipment are accidentally destroyed.

Its quite a bit more than a quiet word. Its a frequent topic on photgraphy and civil liberties blog.

Trying to move back to the topic of the post: I've never been convinced of the singularity as the bright eyed optimists have been. I always liked Charlie's old idea of we're living in humanity's 4th or 5th singularity myself.
As to the rant - it could benefit from an editor and maybe the use of bullet points. I do like the robot death cult idea though.

316:

@137:
the space colonists explicitly plan on bankrupting nations to get away
---
Considering most of the industrialized world seems to be playing footsie with bankruptcy already, I suspect there might be a teensy problem with that plan.

@168:
replacing, for example, leaky implants requires surgery.
I think this will be a significant barrier to the adoption of non-medical implants,
---
It doesn't seem to have hurt the breast implant business much. A pair of implants is now a popular graduation present for teenage girls.

317:

As I was taught in Business Studies classes, the first function of a business is to survive.

Showing your age. You know that the dot.com craziness was mostly about the exit strategy and not the ongoing business. It was just the latest "Get Rich Quick" scheme that have been around forever.

318:

Disambiguation - I was doing Business Studies as part of a Business IT course designed to equip me to run a data centre rather than something like an MBA.

319:

It is really easy to reduce your profits: just invest in something that can plausibly be claimed to be a business expense.

It's even easier. Have part of the product cost (manufacturing, IP, etc) in a registered company in a tax haven. This "cost" is then tax free profit while acting as a tax shield in the taxed country.

320:

I am really surprised how many people still based their criticism of transhumanism on third-hand hearsay about that was said by one or another ten years ago in some mailing list, in the opinion that the effort could be spared of investigating the subject they are discussing in favour of some alleged "intuition" or anedoctical personal experience of a hypothetical pop culture.

I also wonder how many and which books or essays our host has actually read in the past five years on the subject.

At the Associazione Italiana Transumanisti we have established a Universal Transhumanist Bibliography at http://www.transumanisti.it/8.asp, and I would really be hard pressed to find five authors that embody in some significant measure the strawman attacked in the rants discussed.

In fact, if our host were willing to take the pain to read the English translation of my own long interview about transhumanism and biopolitics that is currently available at http://www.biopolitix.com he might be surprised not to find either the fantasies about "chrome-plated jackboots" he is only too ready and willing to echo in this blog or anything remotely likely the more or less imaginary politics he discusses in this post.

321:

If a week is a long time in politics 10 years of post-Extropian Transhumanism is an eternity.

322:

"(A sensible company would invest their profits in staff retention -- higher pay for everyone, not just the masters of the universe -- and training and working environment and so on, and then spend some more on figuring out how to gain new customers. But common sense seems to be thin on the ground in whatever they're teaching MBAs this century.)"

'Sensible company' doesn't mean much. The decisions at that level are taken by the top few people. Their goal is to help themselves first and foremost. Money spent on anything else is only of value to the extent that it helps those at the top.

323:

"The problem with democracy is that the default trend is toward "bread and circuses." (now called "entitlements" in the USA) The various republican and parliamentarian implementations slow the trend down at the cost of concentrating power among an oligarchy."


(WHINE WARNING) Again, some more tired old '70's scifi right-wing boilerplate. In the Anglosphere, the problem is that the elites have captured the system, and are sucking in the wealth for themselves. Have you actually not looked at what's been going on for the past few decades?

324:

Okay, I'm declaring comment thread bankruptcy: I simply can't keep up with this topic!

(I'm flying out to a major trade show on Saturday morning, so in addition to trying to finish a novel I'm also trying to deal with everything else that needs doing first, not to mention a possible plumbing leak and a cat who performs just fine in front of the vet and then starts bleeding from every orifice when she gets home, so to speak ...)

325:

Regarding "sensible companies" and their goals: I think it's increasingly a mistake to treat companies and even nations as having "goals." Maybe 20 or 50 years ago, one could meaningfully say that Company X had a goal, or America had a plan, because the motivation of the people in charge was largely identical to the motivation of the organization itself. Now I don't think you can make that connection.

(This runs counter to the "cyberpunk" notion that megacorporations are entities independent of their owners with inscrutable motivations. That's a cool idea, but it increasingly looks like many corporations are run by a handful of greedy bastards whose motivations are very easy to understand.)

Company X might not HAVE any over-arching motivation because the people in charge have only one goal: to move money to themselves. The best way to do that is to extract all money from the company, then leave and do it again with another company. Stuff about how much to pay the janitor in order to maximize the company's profits doesn't enter into it.

It's like trying to make sense of the Iraq Conquest based on what America gains. "America" doesn't gain shit. A handful of Republicans gained re-election in 2004 because war favors incumbents and Republicans. That was it. That was the goal. We need to abandon the "shadowy conspiracy theory" view of government popular in the 80s and 90s and embrace the "they are robbing us in plain view of everyone, there they are, look at them taking the money" view.

326:

If you're taking notes of Who Doesn't Get It, start off with the author of that rant, please. The purpose of written language is communication, not spewing ultra-long sentences of what amounts to sense-free drivel onto a page.

To be honest, I am reminded of a form of ancient writing called Twig Runes. These were a lightly-coded variant on normal Norse Runes, and were designed for showing off one's superior knowledge of arcane literacy with. Very pretty, in a "looking down one's nose" sort of way, but pretty useless for communication.

This guy's doing the same sort of thing with his sentence structures. Transhumanists are supposed to be ultra-smart and super-intelligent, and this guy's dumb enough to think that burbling away with lots of long words, complex sentences and arcane terminology is the same as being ultra-smart (the truly ultra-smart would communicate clearly without pissing off most of the audience inside a couple of paragraphs).

327:

What this blog does illustrate is the vast difference between those who read Science Fiction and those who read Speculative Fiction.
The latter seem to have little interest in scitech except as it pertains to being the cause of interesting dystopias. They also seem like chronic pessimists.

328:

Charlie, good luck with keeping the plates all spinning, and in particular with resolving your cat's health troubles.

We recently suffered the (so far) inexplicable disappearance of one of our three feline-friends, and despite the fact that cats are disloyal sociopaths most of the time, he is still greatly missed.

329:

Here's hoping the cat stops leaking. Enjoy the trip!

330:

Seconding this and #329.

331:

Cannabis and capsicum are outliers in this sort of game; cannabis seems to be an anti-feedant for large mammalian browsers (cows apparently really do not like getting high from cannabis), and capsicum is also distasteful to mammals but not to birds; this is so that the seeds of pepper plants only get eaten by, and dispersed by birds.

Grasses (and the unrelated horsetails) secrete silicates outside their cells; these are tough and abrasive and act to wear down the mouthparts of feeding insects and mammals' teeth. This is why herbivorous mammals normally have always-growing teeth.

332:

Martin @ 286
Enough cases in this country, where pointing a camera at an un-armed policeman has got people beaten up and arrested on false charges.

delinear @ 306
An answer to your problem is the J Lewis model, where the capitalisy corporation is aslo a shareowner/workers co-operative.
Compare Waitrose (part of J Lewis) with Asda (part of Wal-Mart).
Next Q - why are there not more J Lewis' around?

Ratatosk sends his sympathies to the suffering feline.

333:

Exactly. The person who finds a bug is not necessarily the person who will fix that bug. Bug-finding is a skill all its own.

334:
Pointing a camera at an armed policeman might (at worst) get you a quiet wordbeaten.

Nor is this the only recent example.

335:

Well, I'm not active in my local party, but I am very active in local environmental politics. That's the general thing about politics. If you get involved in any issue as an advocate (as Megpie noted in her second post), you get involved in politics. The media focus a lot of energy at the top, but there are whole ecosystems of committees trying to figure out how to deal with stuff that matters. Even though an issue may be small in scale and consequence, it can take a lot of expertise--and a lot of time--to sort it out.

Even becoming part of a jury is political, in that it's where ordinary citizens get to be part of the justice process. They're an imposition to serve on, but I'd much rather have a jury involved, than have legal cases tried solely by judges and lawyers.

336:

Hope the cat improves. And the novel terminates satisfactorily.

337:

Re the idea of people wanting to move money to themselves, I think it's simpler than that - I think it all boils down to ways of measuring who's 'winning'. Past a certain point, the money becomes simply another tracker. It's certainly been proven that there's no correlation between bonus payments and performance/productivity.

It's no coincidence that Investment Banks pay senior (and successful junior) employees obscene sums of money - it's ingrained into their very culture that money is the metric you measure everything against, and they are the most hard-nosed "Glengarry Glen Ross eat-your-heart-out" salesmen you will ever meet. They measure their actual existential worth by these numbers. In other industries, yardsticks would be number of customers, square footage of premises, $profit$, market share. For the 2000 Republican Presidential victory it was 'America won, and we can write our own history now'. It's all about keeping score, inventing the scoring metrics in the first place if need be, and then gaming the system as much as possible so you win. Never mind what gets broken in the process. Never mind that the logic that 'you pay peanuts you get monkeys' has never been demonstrated as true, because the winners are defining what 'monkeys' are.

IOW, never attribute to overt malice (or conspiracy) what can be attributed to simple incompetence or blinkered self interest. It's the Fundamental Attribution Error, unfortunately operating on a very large, detrimental, scale...

338:

Remember that the "US revolution" was a civil war, with the USians being aided by an enemy (to Britain) foreign power - France.

While I understand where you are coming from to make it a true civil war, the colonies would have had representation in Parliament.

339:

Hmm.
My first thought would be because the John Lewis model is not sustainable in a larger form in the sectors it operates in. Mostly because better quality has a certain associated cost structure

In other words, Waitrose is a premium level supermarket that does very well in its sector. But the kind of person who regularly shops at Asda or Lidl is financially constrained. Shopping at Waitrose is always going to be fundamentally more expensive than Asda, and although the quality benefits may balance some of that out, it will always deter a certain percentage of the market.

That is ignoring the great appeal of status in the UK - If one shops at Harrods or Waitrose, one might consider M&S, but would never enter a Sainsburys or Tesco. Asda and Aldi simply do not even enter the picture. I would expect there to be a similar factor in the other direction.

340:

Yes, but WHY are the 0.1% doing this, trying to unravel the scientific/enlightenement advances - what is actually in it for them?
That's what I can't see. Are they truly mad?

They're not mad Greg, they're spoiled to the point of insanity and they've found some useful idiots to vote their way. It doesn't take too many generations of money to produce people who are over-privileged to the point where they have no contact at all with reality.

The two big points of being spoiled for our purposes are paying taxes and being regulated.

Paying Taxes: I make a million dollars a year, and I have to pay 35% taxes, which with all my various tax-shelters and exemptions means I really pay 15% a year, but this is still too much, because I'm a wonderful special person with servants and an expensive car and and expensive wife, so I'll join ALEC and make sure my taxes go down no matter who it hurts. They don't understand that something very simple: Taxes pay for civilization, and (with some exceptions) the more taxes you pay, the more civilization you're buying. And of course, taxes pay for research, and research makes discoveries the 0.1% don't want to hear about.

If you bring taxes down, then by definition you're buying less civilization. (Once again with some exceptions.)

Being Regulated: I'm special. I can do whatever I want. Who cares if it crashes the ecomony. I'm making money. Since regulations are essentially the "anti-jerk" subprograms in our legal system, ignoring or removing them leaves more room for jerks to operate and make money, and screw things up for the rest of us?

So why has this turned into a jihad against science? The religious right are the useful idiots (voters) who make anti-tax and anti-regulation jihads possible, because these have been linked to wedge issues like abortion, evolution, and gay marriage.

That's how things work in the US. Your mileage may vary.

341:

It's interesting to see nowadays anything can be linked to corporation/1%/0.1%/elite/libertarian/whatever, even simple ideas like transhumanism/accelerating change cannot escape this strange attractor. I wonder if this link got mentioned when western economy is booming in the 1980/1990s, I doubt it.

It did, actually. Quite frequently. Just not in major North American media sources.

342:

The penultimate paragraph doesn't work in the UK - abortion, evolution and gay marriage (and global warming and more) are all more or less politically dead (gay marriage possibly not with the nutty right and the church, but when even the moderate right-of-centre is pro-gay-marriage it's the fringes). But the basic rules apply over here.

Possibly not as universally mind. Lord Sugar, who is the hirer in the British version of The Apprentice, is a labour peer. They're generally pro-tax, pro-regulation. I don't remember him saying any of things like "we should have a 90% top rate of tax" that have been uttered in my life-time (and implemented at some points) but he certainly was pretty anti the recent tax cuts for millionaires that the coalition introduced.

343:
The Nordic countries don't have to be culturally homogeneous to be the way they are. They just have to have mass acceptance of one concept- egalitarianism. Populations lacking wide presence of that meme aren't going to generate the same society or same government.
Note that the strongest competing meme is probably Merit- "Bob is better than Ted at (some activity), therefore Bob should have more good stuff than Ted. Maybe a lot more good stuff."

DING!DING!DING! What type of discrimination has increased, and increased drastically even as other types have waned? What type of discrimination is the chief cause of our economic ills today?

Answer: "merit" based discrimination. The sort of ill-defined, poorly measured attribute that allows a certain class of people to repeatedly fail upward, to claim million-dollar "bonuses" for their allegedly superior job performance even as their organizations lose hundreds of millions or billions of dollars a year.

This is precisely where capitalism has failed us, and it has failed very, very badly.

344:
" As the pie got higher, the slice allocated to the bottom 99% actually shrank as a percentage."
1. Even if this is the case, the 99% could still be benefiting since the increase of the pie compensates for the decrease of the allocation percentage 2. You're counting the wrong pie, you need to take into account that the pie is divided by the entire world, not just your corner of USA. Comparing to the farmers in China/India, you're the 1%.

Aside from the usual right-wing shifting of claims, absurd standards of proof and all-round general incoherence . . . thanks for admitting that no, making the pie higher does not guarantee that in general most people will be better off.[1]

Personally, I've always thought that giving someone a ten cent an hour raise for getting three times as much done is actually brutally ripping them off and directly contravened some rather basic economic principles. But then again, maybe that's because I'm one of those socialist commie pinko scientific types ;-)

[1]As countless numbers of people have already noted, there's a reason why there's a big overlap between libertarian nonsense and singulatarian nonsense.

345:

The computer output in the May 30 Penny Arcade could be the premise of a Charles Stross novel.

346:

"Now, over the last few centuries, out-groups have gained in relative power and the original ferocious discrimination has subsided to a degree. So what do you do if you're hidebound on retaining privileges? Easy. Create lots of out-groups. That is, maximize the number of intersecting circles in the Venn diagram of privilege. Discriminate on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, education and as many other things that you can think of and then break those categories down even further so that it's no longer religious/non-religious or even Christian/non-Christian, but Sunni/Shiite."

I don't follow. Who's creating the outgroups? How would you show, for example, that the Sunni-Shiite split was the result of the machinations of some central power-group rather than a legitimate schism between two empowered groups? And how does it make sense that this split happened well before your 'last few centuries' timeline when the privileged began fighting back against enlightenment, liberalism and the American Way ("progress")? Do you have a more apt or timely example of the phenomenon you're trying to describe here?

347:

Enough cases in this country, where pointing a camera at an un-armed policeman has got people beaten up and arrested on false charges.

Really? Out of the blue, for no reason, on a perfectly normal day? Or when dealing with stressed and by-now humourless policemen in a public order situation?

I've never done public order training; absent the occasional aggressive moron (I'm thinking here of PC Simon Harwood, IMHO a prime manslaughter candidate), once the riot kicks off, if you lack the situational awareness to stay away from rioters, you lose a certain amount of sympathy if you aren't actively and obviously trying to get away. Standing next to the "protestors" while trying to film the fascist boot heel and its effect on the poor souls whose peaceful protest has only turned violent because of the oppressive tactics yadda yadda yadda...

Taking the photo doesn't get you the arrest/ kicking, as I understand it. Gobbing off to the police concerned, getting all shirty, and mouthing off about your "rights" while ignoring the fact that you're standing next to a large group of people who are smashing, looting, and chuck bricks gets you the kicking.

Having said all of this, I hope that I've done enough posts that people realise that I'm far from a Daily Wail-reading right-of-centre type, and I am occasionally depressed by low standards on the part of the occasional policeman; I'd like to think that I'm a realist, though.

348:

I'm coming to the conclusion that H+ pisses off a lot of people because it seems to be "taking over the future". Something for both Luddites and space cadets to hate.

349:

Please don't confuse entrepreneurs with BIGCORP C-Suites: they're differ widely and most are not villains. Below are some entrepreneur 'types'*, please feel free to use these labels and/or add new types.

Professional entrepreneur - left BIGCORP to start his business with the objective of selling it to a BIGCORP or scoring it big on the IPO. Stays within the industry exploiting a new niche within a tight silo. This type usually makes lots of money. Quite often not a pleasant type to work for because their business is the quickest means to an end, and this person never abandons their C-Suite mentality.

Inventor/creative - idea/hobby/side project dabbler who’s in it mostly for fun but for so long that it takes over his/her life so gets fired from 'regular job'. Because this type fixates on their inventions/creations, while they usually make enough money to pay the mortgage, etc., they're the likeliest to get screwed out of money by a ‘bad’ partner or business deal because they don't understand business.

"Opportunist' - is the most creative type of the lot. This type looks at the world and instantly sees every niche where money can be made. Entrepreneurship here is like magic, art, or a game -- it's fun and completely captivating. Needs a good partner to keep them from over-extending themselves personally and financially because of their enthusiasm. (Michelangelo looked at a block of marble and saw David - same deal, but the medium happens to be business not marble.)

'Avocational' - sees entrepreneurship as a holy calling, and feels personally compelled to try every scheme without vetting it. Often fails repeatedly before stumbling into a business that he can't screw up.

'Empire builder' - this is the guy who deliberately sets out to create a new big idea. His target market is not the end consumer but the network: the larger portion of the money is often in the distribution channel and rights [B2B and/or B2G]. Sounds like a franchise but isn’t since this business model offers no down-the-channel support.

'Wannabe-entrepreneur' – Small brand franchise operator: no originality or higher-order management skills needed but gets to be ‘own boss’. This is not the same as getting a car dealership or McDonald’s franchise which require very substantial investment and some insider connections.

"Invisible entrepreneur" - This is the unflashy plodder who just keeps working and very slowly adding a few customers here and there until he’s cornered the market. Think the American Midwest: back in the '80s the Midwest produced the largest proportion of newly minted millionaires. [No idea what's happened since, apart from WalMart.]

A lot of the new-business 90% failure rate is attributable to the same people trying and failing over and over again, especially restaurants and small retail clothiers.


* The "type" labels are mine based on qual and quant studies.

350:

Bruce is American, commenting mostly about the USA. By your language you are British.
In the USA, it has been well documented that some police will attack, arrest and/ or beat people filming them whilst they attack and arrest someone (or arrest then attack, whichever). These officers object to being filmed whilst carrying out possible offences themselves. We're talking about things that have happened in a normal evening, not riots or anything like that. In fact the Baltimore police department had to be slapped down by the department of justice after its officers tried to stop people recording them as they went about their duty:
http://www.pixiq.com/article/department-of-justice-slaps-baltimore-pd


Then we come to the UK. There was a film on youtube by a London photographers group, I forget the name, who went around photographing buildings in the city of London. They were hassled incessantly by disposable security guards who didn't want anyone standing on their pavement or photographing the building they worked in. Some even called the police, however the City police had been properly briefed and dealt with it sensibly.
The reason the photography people had done this in the first place was because of the number of photographers who had been hassled by police officers over the last few years and in some cases had their photos deleted or threatened with arrest.

351:

"I'm coming to the conclusion that H+ pisses off a lot of people because it seems to be "taking over the future". Something for both Luddites and space cadets to hate."

Perhaps rather that you arrogantly write and act as if it is the future?

352:

"Perhaps rather that you arrogantly write and act as if it is the future?"

Just the way Charles did to make his name?
Anyway, I am doing my best to ensure it *is* the future.

353:

AS far as I am concerned, it is fair enough to try to make sure that is a possible future, but comparing it to our hosts writings is a bit much. Fiction writing is different from getting a political party/ movement going. Also I don't recall him ever saying that was THE future in the way you are doing on this thread.

354:

It was Accelerando that made him famous. The biggest "constituency" for those scenarios are Transhumanists. It now seems he's trying to ditch that image and having a rant based around outdated Extropian/libertarian shit is his way of cutting the ties.

355:

"They're not mad Greg, they're spoiled to the point of insanity and they've found some useful idiots to vote their way. It doesn't take too many generations of money to produce people who are over-privileged to the point where they have no contact at all with reality."


Or not even that - take somebody who's 60, and has spent the last 40 years very successfully clawing their way to control of money. It's not surprising if they are totally self-centered. Indeed, it'd be surprising if they weren't.

356:

"(I'm flying out to a major trade show on Saturday morning, so in addition to trying to finish a novel I'm also trying to deal with everything else that needs doing first, not to mention a possible plumbing leak and a cat who performs just fine in front of the vet and then starts bleeding from every orifice when she gets home, so to speak ...)"


Good luck!!!!

357:

YELLOW CARD, Dirk.

You are getting close to seriously pissing me off, now. Final warning.

358:

"IOW, never attribute to overt malice (or conspiracy) what can be attributed to simple incompetence or blinkered self interest. It's the Fundamental Attribution Error, unfortunately operating on a very large, detrimental, scale..."


This is another old saying that I think needs to be demoted a rank (or several). When people keep doing it, it can well be due to malice.

359:

(re: police beating people for photographing them)

"Really? Out of the blue, for no reason, on a perfectly normal day? Or when dealing with stressed and by-now humourless policemen in a public order situation?"

People are posting examples. Look at them, please.

360:

A few weeks ago I lost my cat of 14 years after a similar display of vet non-performance. Turns out she had a tumor in the lower intestine that burst a few years back and sealed over (hence the blood). The vet at the time was unable to get a sample.. I would recommend an ultrasound if its intermittent bleeding from the lower orifice..

361:

I'm sorry, but do you suppose I'm the only one that sees it this way?

362:

When I Called Charlie Stross A Dirty Name… “Transhumanist”

http://www.acceler8or.com/2012/05/when-i-called-charlie-stross-a-dirty-name-transhumanist/

"You said “I’d be very happy with cures for senescence, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and the other nasty failure modes to which we are prone, with limb regeneration, and tissue engineering and unlimited life prolongation.” It seems to me that this still puts you in the Transhumanist camp. Would you agree?"

363:

I don't see how you reached your conclusion unless you class any desire for technology that improves human quality of life as transhumanist.

Personally I don't call myself a transhumanist because in spite of the fact I'd love to see technologies that allow the average human physic and intellect to be enhanced the whole ideology that comes with transhumanism I'm less in line with like the dogma of accelerating change, promise of the upload salvation etc etc. TL;DR if I tell someone I'm a transhumanist they will get a different idea of me than they one I want to convey.

364:

You're not serious, are you? The examples of this kind of police harassment are far too numerous cite. Do you really think that the only ones who are arrested by the police or physically and psychologically assaulted deserved it?

I'm no radical and, I think the police have one of the worst and toughest jobs in existence. But, seriously Martin, look at the link Bruce Cohen posted.

And, why the hell shouldn't any citizen be able to question a police action?

How can you and so many others have lost track of what basic civil liberties are in a democratic society?

The right to question, ad hoc, the action of any civil authority is absolutely fundamental to a free society. And, it is eroding all too quickly.

Sometimes an emergency might preclude an immediate response but, even that does not justify arrest or harassment of the questioner.

365:

It has happened here (UK). It has certainly happened around riots and the like. It shouldn't but most reasonable people will consider that if you're standing in a riot and something shitty happens you kind of asked for it. But it happens on occasions when there's not a big background event like that.

There are many, many times I'm pleased our police aren't armed. Each time I see one of these I'm even more pleased. That said, I think in general the police force does a wonderful job of policing in unpleasant situations without cracking people on the head, shoving them down the stairs and the like.

I don't know if it was only on the BBC but I know they ran a special across several R4 programmes for a week or so about a year ago about taking pictures of buildings. You and Yours, Law in Action, I think The Media Show and more got in on the act. A definite case of awareness raising. The Met ran awareness courses on the back of it and (with a few exceptions) they won't arrest you for photographing buildings.

I believe I heard that in one case they arrested the head of security for a department store who screamed that they weren't doing their job. He got to the point of abusing the police, so they nicked him for breach of the peace or some such. Not sure it's true but urban legend or not, I bet it's reduced the number of nuisance calls they get.

I suspect they're much more leery of people around places like MI6 headquarters though... or the missile batteries for the Olympics.

366:

The problem with democracy is that the default trend is toward "bread and circuses." (now called "entitlements" in the USA)

If only we could look at something, let's call it data, about such things and see if it worked that way.

We've had 30 years of almost stagnation in the pay of normal people. A 'normal' person, on a normal wage probably won't be able to save enough to retire on at the moment and they certainly will go bankrupt paying for their healthcare...

And in the US, people are complaining because they're paying less of their income in taxation than at any point in pretty much the last 50 years...

Geesh. The US right needs some new talking points, it really does.

367:

"I don't see how you reached your conclusion unless you class any desire for technology that improves human quality of life as transhumanist."

The defining element of H+ is fundamentally improving the performance of baseline Human to "Better Than Well" through the use of "internal" modifications. Its not about bringing people up to scratch or curing cancer or returning them to health. Those, if they exist, are side effects. Innoculation is a Transhumanist technology because the immune system is being enhanced, but is often overlooked because it is such an old bit of tech. The desire to abolish ageing definitely makes one a Transhumanist.

368:

I don't want to get into a long debate/argument but this is why the definition is so weak. Why distinguish between things that work externally and internally? And to what extent does something have to have an effect before it becomes transhuman? Is critical thinking education a transhumanist technology because it makes people more intelligent? Why doesn't access to a optimally healthy diet (thus improving your health) count?

For me I don't see the benefit for the term and I see plenty of negatives through the association of a plethora of transhumanist dogma with the term. Lastly what is it that the "transhumanist movement" is actually doing that is qualitatively different to the concerted actions of scientists, engineers and academics in the past who have worked to improve the human condition?

369:

Chekhov's Gunman writes:


It sounds like you're saying that any comments that are not supportive of the status quo with respect to the current system are unjustified unless the person commenting can also provide a compelling alternative and prove to your satisfaction that it would work at least as well. Without meaning to be confrontational, you sound pretty dismissive of the comment you responded to simply on that basis. You're setting the bar for participation in the discussion pretty high; surely we're at least allowed to express our thoughts on the subject without also having to single-handedly construct a compelling alternative edifice?
Personally I'd be interested in hearing what Megpie71 has to say even if an alternative to VC isn't brought forward.

Ok, then that came out wrong.

It's not wrong to criticize the current situation.

But actionably doing something about it, which comes up from time to time, requires understanding the totality of the picture and a replacement that will sell politically (for something not as good) or will win out in a fair and open marketplace (for something that's designed to outcompete).

Even good criticism is made stronger by better understanding the totality of why the existing system works the way it does.

I think the holy grail here is actually finding some combination of stuff that might credibly make an Economy 2.0. That will almost certainly have to come from a suitable understanding of Economy 1.x, as well as utopian goals for a better place.

370:

It's not the "sixty-year-old who clawed their way to the top" that worries me, so much as their kid or their grandchild, or worse yet, their great-grandchild.

The first generation has hopefully learned something on their way to the top. The people who were born there... not so much.

371:

On bread and circuses being inevitable and what is actually happening, David Brin had a challenge for anyone promoting that idea to come up with some evidence. Oddly enough nobody did so.

372:

"Why distinguish between things that work externally and internally?"

Because internal implies it is an integral part of the person. That's why vaccination is H+ and popping an antibiotic pill is not.

"And to what extent does something have to have an effect before it becomes transhuman?"

Difficult to say, but boosting an ability of a normal person to the top percentile would probably qualify if it could be applied to everyone. Again, vaccination as the model. Myostatin blocker gene therapy would also probably qualify as H+ tech.

"Is critical thinking education a transhumanist technology because it makes people more intelligent?"

No, I would say the boost is not sufficient. This also applies to (apparently) spectacular tech like tDCS - not enough of a boost.

"Why doesn't access to a optimally healthy diet (thus improving your health) count?"

Not enough of a boost.
Again, these are the ways I would define it and others may have different thresholds. However, it is definitely H+ if it internalizes an ability that no existing Human possesses. Freedom from ageing would fall into this category, as would IR or UV vision etc

373:

re SFReader@349: I'd add another two categories

Scientific: Has a PhD and a technical competence (ego the size of Montana optional). Has an idea of how the competence can create a product. Immature nature of the technology and poor understanding of market requirements practically guarantee failure.

SBIR bandit: Used to be a scientific entrepreneur. Small business research funding (typically SBIR and STTR programs) came to dominate the company's revenue and strategy. These programs give enough money to keep a project going for years, but do not give enough money to actually launch a product. The sure sign is that a company with fewer than 30 employees seems to be developing at least five significantly different products, none of which is yet on the market.

374:

My objection to these sort of screeds is that they seem to inflate the actual importance and visibility of transhumanism. This is a fringe spinoff of a minor literary genre with no unified ideology - sure many might seem to be libertarians which I'm told is a bad thing, but you can say the same about atheists.

Maybe I'm just misinformed and unaware of the massive transhumanist lobby but it seems like bitterly decrying the influence of tabletop wargaming on modern military strategy, or blaming webcomics for the current state of modern entertainment.

375:

Having been a Transhumanist from before the modern term existed, and even being one pre-Extropy Institure, I have to agree.
The real influence of Transhumanists on anything real world is approximately zero. In fact, that's why we created ZS because we saw H+ as largely being a scitech fanclub just waiting for the "inevitable" goodies to arrive. Which we do not think are inevitable at all.

Of course I could feed the paranoia and pseudo-importance of H+ (and myself) by telling how I discussed brain computer implants and mind uploading with Madsen Piri at a Mensa meeting in 1977. Madsen being current President of the Adam Smith Institute.

376:

BZZZZT, wrong answer. If this was aimed at Yr 'Umble Narrator, I've been doing engineering for the better part of four decades and reading Science-bloody-Fiction for longer.

On the other hand, I've seen how lax standards at a large aerospace company led to significant failures, so humility in the face of complex systems is second nature, and the human brain is just about the most complex system to be found on the planet. Having J. Random Fanboy talk glibly on fucking about with people's alleles (and how would that be done? Specialised virus? How about containment procedures? Or what happens should it fall in the wrong hands?) sets off every hubris warning bell I know.

So, bunky, wanna try again? Or will you come about with "Why are you answering if you aren't guilty?"

377:

The US right needs some new talking points, it really does.

Why? The ones they're using seem to be working for them (at least in terms of getting into/staying in power)…

378:

How would it be done? Well, there is already one Transhumanist genetic tweak very close to being done in Humans, and is currently being trialed in primates:
http://nextbigfuture.com/2009/11/myostatin-inhibiting-gene-therapy.html

379:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-imprinted-brain/201005/happiness-ultimately-its-genetic

"However, new research by Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, James Fowler, and Bruno Frey has found that the default setting for happiness is directly controlled by a single gene. Twin studies have already established that baseline happiness is heritable but, using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, these authors show that individuals with a more efficient version of the serotonin transporter gene, 5HTT, are significantly more likely to report higher levels of life satisfaction. Having one or two versions of the more efficient gene raises the average likelihood of being very satisfied with one's life by 8.5% and 17.3%, respectively."

380:

well, it appears there are varying degrees of transhumanism - any SF writer would be somewhere on the Mohs scale of extropian hardness...or they wouldn't be writing SF.

The idea still stands than any putative Human-plus technology would not be used for the betterment of all mankind, but sold to the highest bidder[s] and used to bolster existing power structures - are all medical treatments, no matter how complex, risky or expensive available to those who need them, even in countries in with socialised medicine?

of course not

all things being unequal, transhumanist technology will be the genetic/cybernetic equivalent of sending your son to Eton, Oxford and Harvard

381:

Yet another post confusing Accelerating Change and the Singularity with stupid things people say about them. Unlike just about everyone else, Vinge made it clear that we cannot in principle say anything about conditions after the Singularity because we don't have the capacity to predict what beings with cognitive capacities well beyond ours might do or be capable of doing. We have no way of knowing whether the Singularity might be good or bad or even how such a judgement could be rendered. We will never experience the Singularity.

Accelerating Change is what we poor pre-singularity humans get to deal with over the next few decades. It is easy to predict the emergence of both very wonderful and very dangerous options in the fairly near future. The predictable processes of Accelerating Change do not tell us much about which options we will apply or how. I find Accelerating Change quite frightening, but I don't think it is possible to avoid it. We are doomed to live in interesting times and we had better see if we can get good at it.

_Touch

382:

"The idea still stands than any putative Human-plus technology would not be used for the betterment of all mankind, but sold to the highest bidder[s] and used to bolster existing power structures - are all medical treatments, no matter how complex, risky or expensive available to those who need them, even in countries in with socialised medicine? of course not"

The only hard core 100% Transhumanist bit of technology currently available are boosted immune systems. Now ask your question again as to the availability of vaccination.

383:

I have occasionally wondered out loud whether the Kurzweil version of accelerating change is necessary simply to produce an apparent linear increase. One exponential process cancelling out the exponential hardness of increasing linear change. The same way that exponentially increasing energy is necessary to get a linear increase in speed.

384:

"Precarity" is the key to it all, I think. Precarity makes it more likely that people will make immoral choices. Precarity is what lets wealthy people feel poor. We have embraced precarity as a driver of innovation and industrial activity because people in a state of precarity are driven and hard working, ignoring that they also do not care for collateral destruction or for building systems to survive the long term.

Accelerando imagined an Economics 2.0 in which transcendent humans and A.I.s still lived in our current state of precarity, and in which the human protagonists themselves were in situations deliberately engineered to induce precarity. The seeds of our gracious host's current intellectual crisis? (A crisis a lot of us are going through at the moment, I think.)

385:

The answer to precarity is Stoicism and Perspective. Dave Cameron's militia is not coming to murder us.

386:

great comment thanks.

387:

The same way that exponentially increasing energy is necessary to get a linear increase in speed.

For the nonrelativistic case, quadratically increasing energy gives linear increases in speed. As you approach lightspeed, even exponential increases in energy give asymptotically small increases in speed.

388:

It will be a fest watching you Uber-techgeeks once Moore's Law doesn't hold anymore, your house of cards collapses and change grinds down to a trickle once more like so often before in history.

I hope implantable handkerchief dispensers will have been invented by then, because you're gonna need 'em.

389:
Any type of government more sophisticated than punching someone in the face and taking their women could be considered "unnatural."

Pssst... Some women own themselves!

390:

"t will be a fest watching you Uber-techgeeks once Moore's Law doesn't hold anymore, your house of cards collapses and change grinds down to a trickle once more like so often before in history."

Unless someone does the equivalent of circumventing the limits of chariots by inventing horseback riding.

By the way, what is the limit for Moore's Law? How low below the atomic level is it possible to go?

391:

No, it won't be a feast; in all likelihood it will be another dark age, and the lot of us will be too busy trying to survive one day to the next. Civilizations rise, and they collapse; and there's no reason our "postindustrial" civilization can't collapse just because it's gone (somewhat) global.

In fact, our "technologically advanced" civilization has actually grown in some really stupid ways. We're hugely dependent on not-very-durable technologies that require centralized manufacturing methods (see for instance the computer I'm typing this on), and on distribution systems that rely on cheap fuel and cheap power. Compromise one or two elements, and the whole thing is suddenly in danger of imploding.

We like to think everything can go on the way it is forever. That's not going to happen. We've been too shortsighted for too long, and if there is one thing about this universe that you can say is predictable, it's that it doesn't reward stupidity.

If you're wondering what solutions I propose... I wish I could say I had some ideas, but I don't. As far as I can tell, the situation is completely out of control at this point; those in power are driven by greed, willful ignorance, and quite possibly sadism, and do not care the slightest bit about the lives of those living under them. I sincerely hope the situation is salvageable; because neither myself nor my family and friends are equipped to stay alive when mass starvation rears its head.

392:

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"
Transhumanism, if it does come to pass won't be for the rich, the beautiful, the smart or even the norms. They are already getting status, mates and happiness from the system as is.

The successful members of a species are never the ones to accept radical change and move into a new niche or evolve into a new species...it is always the disadvantaged and the outliers that embrace the different.

The poor, the ugly, the diseased, the mentally different are the ones who will run with the new ideas rejected by 'sensible society'and move on leaving the norms in their manicured gardens playing their little social games until the planet dies or something nasty eats them.

393:

Dirk @ 375
Madsen Piri being current President of the Adam Smith Institute.
Well, that's a fail, right there, for a start!
The "Adam Smith Institute" are a right-wing [ Privatisation GOOD! State ownership - of anything - BAD!] who do not appear to have read Adam Smith's famous work at all. I'd start again, if I were you.

@ 381 yes!
Could anyone in 1805, well after Boulton/Watt had improved static steam-power predict what 1905 would look like - with ships the size of the Mauretania, transatlantic cables, and powered flight?
Except, of course ... Ersamus Dawin:
Soon shall thy arm, Unconquer'd STEAM! afar
Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car;
Or on wide-waving wings expanded bear
The flying-chariot through the fields of air.

Fair crews triumphant, leaning from above,
Shall wave their fluttering kerchiefs as they move
Or warrior bands alarm the gaping crowd
And armies shrink beneath the shadowy cloud.

For something written in 1791, that's remarkable.

Wat Tyler @ 384
And, of course, in "Accelerando", it's hard to see (I had to have it pointed out to me) but, that a lot of Humanity_1.0 dies, or is killed off by the uploaded, as Earth is deconstructed into computronium. Not a good or desireable outcome, methinks.

Cecropium @ 391
Much of what you say is so, and worrying ... but, but:
Even the 0.1% will need serious quantities of (electical) power, and grids to distribute it, and transport infrastructures, and potable drinking water.
Someone will have to maintain those, and be reasonably well-rewarded for it, won't they?

Similarly, Robt Horley @ 392
And, possibly, even those, who are really pissed-off with the way they have been discarded, and see H+ as an opportunity for a fresh start, even if they are 66 (like me).
Could be interesting, for Chinese values of the word.

394:

That's funny, I see the monied classes going for most of what transhumanism purports to offer like flies on shit.

395:

I suspect that too big a fraction of the businesses, and too many of the politicians, are guilty of finding one-surfaced solutions. The handling of national economies is a fairly obvious example: there is a clear problem of an excessive budget deficit, as a percentage of GDP. But there are two ways of attacking that problem. Everyone seems to be focused on cutting the spending, and doing nothing to increase GDP. Both actions will reduce the percentage deficit.

Now, Keynes might agree that the changes in the distribution of manufacturing will change the multiplier from the effects of money circulation. If I buy a Kindle, the money is spent by workers in Longhua rather than workers in Leeds. It isn't the same world as the 1930s, but it seems that our Lords and Masters just aren't trying to boost the economy.

And the frightening thing is their apparent willingness to follow the lead of the people who got us into this mess.

396:

The physically and mentally weak are already fighting a war with normal society for access to steroids, genetic fixes and intellegence altering drugs so that they can equal the more genetically gifted...this is called cheating by normal society.

Life extension drugs, hormone treatment and Viagra for the elderly are frowned upon by normal society because it takes away the inborn advantage of the young and strong.

Immigration/emigration to more technologicall sophisticated environments are opposed by norms because it upsets the normal order of things. Internet connections to socially unacceptable ideas is being fought tooth and nail by the elites.

I could go on and on. Any new technology is only accepted for mainstream use if it doesn't disadvantage the status quo.

397:

You're taking my description too literally.

(Also: $FELINE is 17-18 years old and a bit frail. While I try to take good care of her, I'm not going to subject her to painful/unpleasant interventions, especially ones requiring general anaesthesia: too much risk, not enough benefit.)

398:

It seems to me that this still puts you in the Transhumanist camp. Would you agree?"

Only to the same extent that, say, wanting antibiotics and varifocal spectacles would put someone from the 1930s in the transhumanist camp: i.e. not at all -- I'd just love to see improvements in the medical outlook for existing humanity.

Electronic implants, brain/computer interfaces? Well: if you get the 2013 model, you're going to be as obsolete as an 8" floppy disk by 2023. And if anything goes wrong with the implant hardware, fixing it is a lot harder than taking your iPhone to the nearest Genius Bar. Not to mention the side-effects of a zero day exploit being potentially fatal for the operator, not just the device. For the time being, it makes a lot more sense to keep our augmentation devices outside our bodies. (This might change as and when the S-curve of improving electronics tapers off, and it's a different trade-off if, say, we're talking about electronic retina implants for folks who have suffered total macular degeneration, but as a general principle, it makes sense not to be the first penguin to lead the stampede from the ice floe into the possibly-seal-infested water ...)

399:

You're USian, aren't you?

Here in the UK, the power of $special_interest_pressure_group appears to be a function of how easily its interest translates in excuses for raising revenue (taxes and/or fines) and/or passing laws.

400:

[singing]Here comes the new boss,
Same as the old boss,"[/end]

Enough said?

401:

Re Dirk @ 375

Well, a few of them may have, but only to use the power of selective mis-quotation to prove the exact opposite of what Smith actually wrote.

402:

"For the time being, it makes a lot more sense to keep our augmentation devices outside our bodies."

Consider the number of breast implant surgeries per year for examples on why that might not be a good enough reason.
Personal opinion, you'd have to be absolutely mad to undergo a medical procedure- under full anesthesia- for no better reason than vanity, but about 10 thousand women in the UK a year disagree, as do about a quarter million a year in the US.

What if the first major implants are essentially lifestyle-enhancing viagra-equivalents? (And I note that penile implants for erectile dysfunction are not uncommon).

403:

I'm not sure exactly how that relates to my point about building a business to the benefit of all stakeholders (owners, employees, suppliers, customers and yes government at all levels where the manufacturing and distribution side uses real estate and/or vehicles), but I actually agree with everything you said anyway.

404:

"Personal opinion, you'd have to be absolutely mad to undergo a medical procedure- under full anesthesia- for no better reason than vanity, but about 10 thousand women in the UK a year disagree, as do about a quarter million a year in the US. "

They're not mad. They're misled, lied to, kept in the dark, and otherwise fooled by plastic surgeons.

405:

"That's funny, I see the monied classes going for most of what transhumanism purports to offer like flies on shit."

That's funny, because I don't. Otherwise they would all be lining up to throw money at things like SENS and Artificial General Intelligence research. OTOH, maybe its because Transhumanism doesn't actually have anything to offer beyond a vision of how the future ought to be. In fact, I would bet that if you got one hundred random people each worth more than 100million, 90%+ would not even know what Transhumanism is.

406:

"In fact, I would bet that if you got one hundred random people each worth more than 100million, 90%+ would not even know what Transhumanism is."

That's probably true of any random 100 people, even the ones who aren't worth 100 million.

407:

Wrong. If anything, it needs to be re-emphasised hugely.

Perhaps I expressed my point poorly - so, go and look up the Fundamental Attribution Error then come back and discuss again. Apply Occam's Razor, rinse and repeat.

I know. I have worked with - and seen - some of these people in action. They are as dumb as you and me, often more self-interested due to narcissism and being somewhere on the high-functioning end of the Sociopathic spectrum, and for them gaming the system is everything. And the best way to game the system is to bend the rules to your advantage. And they assume (because, per FAE, #MYFAIL# = the system is broken and needs fixing because it won't let me do X, #YOURFAIL# = you didn't manage to do X because you're dumb/don't work hard enough/aren't the right kind of people), everyone else is doing the same zero-sum-game in their head too.

You may call that malice. I call it stupidity. Or monkey-think, if you prefer. Malice is a whole different organised level (e.g. cigarette companies knowing for 40 years that their products killed millions, and colluding to cover it up), and while it may be there in isolated cases/scenarios, there's no need to hypothesise "organised 0.1% Gnomes of Zurich running things" scenarios (unless you think that's what they do at Davos) when it can be more plausibly explained as just lots of dumb people who think they are smart, and have a set of success measures that just accidentally happen to be toxic for 99% of the rest of humanity. The fact that it creates outcomes so complex they look organised/designed is incidental. And if it can be gamed, it will be.

For a better analysis than my half-baked attempt above, go talk to a Behavioural Economist. Also read a chapter in a basic Cog-Psych textbook discussing Group Behaviour, particularly conformity.

408:

@C 402 and @Alain 404

The idea that people who get cosmetic surgery are automatically mad or the victims of an evil exploitive industry is extreme to the point of stupidity. Many people who partake in cosmetic surgery do so purely because they want it and many more experience positive improvements in their quality of life thanks to a better body image. I notice that you've both focused on breast implants but what about sex change operations? Being stuck in a body that doesn't fit your psycholigical body image sounds like torture and changing it a relief rather than a vain action.

There are two things we need to focus on in cosmetics:

1) Improving the technology as much as possible to eliminate side effects and increase the "naturalness" of what work is being done. Last year a colleague of mine worked on a proof-of-principle project involving growing breast tissue in a degradable tissue culture scaffold. The idea is that a future breast implant would be designed to degrade over a period of years stimulating the growth of breast tissue as it does. A few short years after the surgery and the patient would be left with perfectly natural, healthy and larger breasts. This sort of approach would circumvent the host of practical problems associated with implants (fibrous encapsulation, inflammation, slippage, leakage, wear, inability to adapt over time etc.)

2) A bigger issue this but we need to tackle the social issues that influence people's decisions. If you're an outlier on the bell curve of human body types then it is likely you'll want to change, there's nothing wrong with that unless you actually like your body but you want to change it because others make you feel like you should. This is even worse of a problem for people who aren't outliers, like perfectly healthy and attractive young men and women who are bombarded constantly by images of fit, bronzed, models with the implicit message of YOU WANT TO LOOK LIKE THIS [subtext]and if you buy our product you might[/subtext]. That's why I support harsher regulation of advertisement industries (e.g. enforcing that all modified pictures must come with a warning with a score of how much they've been modified; a score of 1 for minimal things like make-up and lighting and a score of 5 for almost totally airbrushed.), measures to increase education on diversity in beauty and whatever measures could encourage the proliferation of non-"ideal" images.

If we can do achieve these points well then we'll be in a situation where people can alter their body in a sophisticated and healthy manner and those who do so will because for the significant most part they freely want to rather than feel socially forced to.

409:

RED CARD for Dirk.

You're banned from this topic. Sorry, but further comments by you on this subject will be deleted by moderation.

Reason: I just counted them all and you posted 48 comments out of the total of 398 on this thread.

It seems to me that you're monopolizing this discussion to promote your own platform. And in so doing, you've thoroughly derailed all the discussion of the original point. Not single-handedly, of course: the usual posthumanist fan club showed up to help. But rather than letting us hold an enquiry into the sociological roots of posthumanism as a side-effect of the current capitalist orthodoxy -- much less examine other strains of posthumanist thought, from Federovism through the later Soviet Communist space colonization drive -- you basically turned it into your own ideological hobby horse.

I need to update the moderation policy to make this one clear as a banning offence: thou shalt not monopolize a discussion (unless you're the person who posted the original blog entry).

410:

You have half of a point there, about the implants. But I'll note that penile implants for erectile dysfunction aren't a cosmetological procedure; the recipients are generally men who have lost the ability to climax due to e/d, and want it back. A more accurate comparison against breast enhancement surgery would be penile enlargement. (Yes, we all get those spams. Watch me manually dig this comment out of the sin bin ... :) And as far as I know, that's still a minority pursuit. Orgasm being a CNS phenomenon triggered by peripheral stimulation, it'd make far more sense to speculate about a wirehead implant. And even then, it turns out that they're not as addictive as early rodent studies suggested ...

411:

Also note that before it was marketed as "cosmetic" surgery, it was known as "plastic" surgery. And it was mostly developed during the First World War, by surgeons like Harold Gillies.

412:

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmetic_surgery#Cosmetic_surgery "Cosmetic" "surgery" (note second set of quotes; it's a hint as to my view of some "cosmetic" procedures) is a superset of the original "plastic surgery" family of reconstructive procedures.

413:

Also note that before it was marketed as "cosmetic" surgery, it was known as "plastic" surgery. And it was mostly developed during the First World War, by surgeons like Harold Gillies.

Very true, in fact it's still called plastics by practitioners. I used cosmetic exclusively though to differentiate between people who have reconstructive surgery (which few sane people would have a problem with) and elective surgery. The latter more often or not is a physical surgery to address a psychological problem. So long as we minimise the effect of social pressure and weigh up other options besides surgery then I have no problem with cosmetics.

What will be interesting is if in future improvements in neuropharmacology and cognitive therapy get us to the point where we have the option to change the body to suit the mind or change the mind to suit the body. Hopefully most of the conservative movements will have moved on into what now would be liberal else transgender regulations may take a dystopian turn.

414:

Remember that the "US revolution" was a civil war, with the USians being aided by an enemy (to Britain) foreign power - France.

While I understand where you are coming from to make it a true civil war, the colonies would have had representation in Parliament.

Nonsense. Generally the definition is for it to be a conflict within a country, contested between groups where one (usually defined as being the State) has de facto authority over the other. It usually occurs for political, ethnic or economic reasons.

Representation is irrelevant, and despite the mythology that has grown up around the War of Independence, the various elites that triggered the war generally had all the representation they required. A significant reason for the revolt was the likelyhood of an increase in taxation of the elites for the benefit of the region as a whole, at which point they started whipping up the masses against the idea. Sound familiar to anything else lately?

And that's not even getting into the proxy support of agitators beforehand by France, Spain and Holland who had just lost the Seven Years War against Britain and Prussia and were keen to get a bit of their own back.

Sorry, not agitators. Heroic Patriots. After all, they won.

415:

AFAIK breast implants also started as 'plastic' (i.e. corrective) surgery for mastectomy patients back in the late 19thC. The further development into cosmetic enhancement is less clear to me, but it's likely no coincidence that it appears to ante-date the discovery of antibiotics.

416:

Apologies, 'corrective' in 412 above should have been 're-constructive'...

417:

But, seriously Martin, look at the link Bruce Cohen posted.

I did - it was worrying (in the sense that a police PR type who wanted to "control the message" was able to get someone arrested) but on the other hand, said bloke was left uninterrupted for several minutes prior while jogging around immediately in front of several large groups of riot cops manoeuvering into position.

This is a guy who appears proud of his ability to get arrested - all power to his struggle, but then he isn't the typical "passer-by who was arrested for pointing a camera at the cops", is he? This is a Crusading And Fearless Seeker After Truth (tm)...

My original point was that against the original poster's hyperbole that "pointing a camera at a cop gets treated the same as pointing a gun". Clearly, it doesn't, although it does get a reaction.

And, why the hell shouldn't any citizen be able to question a police action?

How can you and so many others have lost track of what basic civil liberties are in a democratic society?

The right to question, ad hoc, the action of any civil authority is absolutely fundamental to a free society. And, it is eroding all too quickly.

Eroding? I'm not sure, but I'm not sure whether the US has actually seen a dip in civil rights, or just an increasingly realistic view of their civil rights (as compared to being unrealistic about them, as in years gone by).

Consider that not long ago, US policemen were active participants in the widespread beating and not-infrequent killing of protestors; I'm thinking Bull Connor et al. I can remember the Rodney King video. Not just policemen - what of the days of the House Un-American Activities Commission? It takes more than policemen to prevent the blacklisted from holding a job.

The US is a society that elects its police chiefs, and views the public prosecutor's role as a springboard to elected office; small wonder that it incarcerates such a comparatively large proportion of its population.

In the UK, the police have their faults; but all of them have gone to one of the few Police training colleges, and these are approved and reviewed by HM Inspectors of Constabulary (and they occasionally issue a red card to a particular Police Force). I'm unconvinced of the argument that we need elected police commissioners over here, although I'm not sure that the end result will be any worse in operational terms.

In England & Wales, it's been well over a decade since PACE and the move away from Police prosecution into the hands of an independent Crown Prosecution Service (Scotland already had the Procurator Fiscal and stricter rules on Police evidence).

Sometimes an emergency might preclude an immediate response but, even that does not justify arrest or harassment of the questioner.

Your last paragraph there is the key point, I think. The "emergency" may be present in the mind of the policeman, and completely absent from the perspective of the photographer. That may be down to better awareness on the part of either party...

Yes, there are twitchy and overaggressive police officers; but similarly there are the unrealistic types who either "just don't get how dangerous things really are", or refuse to acknowledge any boundary on their behaviour - witness the journalists who tried to cover an invasion from between the two opposing forces in 2003, and then (after getting caught in the vicinity of a firefight, and at least one of them died) claimed that their human rights had been infringed.

That's an extreme case, and I don't know how to balance their utter stupidity against Marie Colvin's (IMO almost definitely targetted) death while attempting to reveal what was going on in Syria. I admire people like her; I don't admire the ones who point shoulder-mounted TV cameras at tanks, and then act surprised when they are mistaken for an anti-tank gunner.

418:

Indeed so. You happen to know someone who went through a car windscreen in her teens and had reconstructive surgery on her face.

Another example is corrective surgery for hare-lips. The result may still be visible, but it's usually a vast improvement functionally.

(For MTG Dub at 416, this is what I'd consider corrective, since there was no preceding form to revert to.)

And as mentioned, reconstructive surgery after breast surgery. My sister will be undergoing that in a while, which is slightly problematic since the surgeons prefer to take a bit of stomach flab as the bulk, and she has no stomach flab. (She's horrible, horribly fit, with horse riding and triathlons as her favoured sporting activities.)

419:

I consider myself partial to elements of transhumanism, but perhaps its biggest problem in its current form is its utopian element. Nature doesn't do utopias and every attempt to create utopias I know of has led to tyranny.

420:

Electronic implants, brain/computer interfaces? Well: if you get the 2013 model, you're going to be as obsolete as an 8" floppy disk by 2023. And if anything goes wrong with the implant hardware, fixing it is a lot harder than taking your iPhone to the nearest Genius Bar.

Yes, this is a problem.

Again mentioning the cochlear implants (sorry, but they're the implants I know best), for 'fixing'[1]
congenital deafness, it's best to implant as early as you can. This obviously means you have to go with the implants that exist *now*, instead of waiting for example five years and seeing if better ones are available.

At least one manufacturer makes the cochlear implants in such manner that the part that goes into the head is passive (meaning: no batteries or such) and that the detachable part can be upgraded as better models become available.

This device is still constrained by the implanted part, but as the processors and batteries and microphones are in the detachable parts, they can be improved.


[1] They don't fix hearing to "normal" levels. The users are still hearing-impaired, even when the implants work as well as they can, and they don't work for all people. Mainly they still have a higher threshold for working (meaning that silent sounds can't be heard) and they have a lot less channels than normal human hearing. I think most current models have about 20 channels, compared to thousands of a normal ear. There is usually more frequency resolution than that, because the sounds are usually not pure sine waves.

421:

paws @ 401
Exactermiley!

Charlie @ 410
A bit like the Golden Torcs in that warmed-over christian myth written a few yaers back?
[ Saga of the Exiles / Pliocene Earth ?]

and - mayhem @ 414
What is often forgotten was the almost-ethnic-cleansing of those who backed Britain - who had to up sticks and go to Canada - if they were lucky not to be lynched by the slaveowners, who had just won their first round. Bacause, it was apparent, even in 1776, that it was likely to be abolished by the Westminster guvmint within one's then lifetime. As indeed, happened.

422:

"unreflexive utopianism"

Is this a fair criticism? I can't think of a single transhumanist or singularitarian text I've read that doesn't have dystopian or apocalyptic themes.

I mean obviously some elements of the technology are utopian. In accelerando human disease and ageing are defeated and material post scarcity is achieved. Then inscrutable posthuman intelligences disassemble the solar system and it's heavily implied they too fall to a sort of inevitable information economy entropy/collapse common to matrioshka brains.

Glasshouse? Wonderful cornucopia machines and body duplication, all essentially brought to shit by some kind of spam virus attack (To the point I actually resented being described as a "technology assisted primate" by those smug posthumans, seemed to me they weren't doing so well either).

It seems like the dystopian elements heavily outweigh the utopian ones in practically all the stories I've read.

Which is obvious since utopias make for boring stories, but even in the non narrative arena, Kurzweil who is known to be a big cheerleader for utopian futurism of this kind can be found giving estimates of human extinction in the near future and Drexler's shiny utopias of nanotech plenty include plenty of warnings about gray goo and unchecked military buildups using new technologies. Yudkowsky's entire work seems to be about pinning down a scientific philosophy of ethics as a prerequisite for a non-catastrophic hard takeoff (Or whatever it is they believe over at lesswrong nowadays)

423:

Shorter Dale Carrico: "What you think is the beginning of the Singularity is actually just Another Damn Bubble."

"Just-So creation mythology of the smugly self-satisfied hypercapitalists who have unintentionally done so much to destroy so many of the moral and interpersonal values of post-Englightenment civilization."

I think the reactionaries have more to do with that than the transhumanists, who really don't have very much political or social power. Some of them have good money but, heck, the Koch brothers and Saudi princes have better money. Reactionary eschatology is much easier to preach than this weird new stuff: people already know the stories.

The desire for a perfect body, free of human wants and needs, can be found in St. Paul.

424:

there is a clear problem of an excessive budget deficit, as a percentage of GDP.

A little perspective?

http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/uk_national_debt

425:

This bit of DFH philosophy from Gregory Bateson seems to be applicable:

"If you put God outside and set him vis-a-vis his creation and if you have the idea that your are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be your and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races, and the brutes and vegetables.

"If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or, simply, of overpopulation and overgrazing. The raw materials of the world are finite.

"If I am right, the whole of our thinking about what we are and what other people are has got to be restructured. This is not funny, and I do not know how long we have to do it in."

426:

"Transhumanism, if it does come to pass won't be for the rich, the beautiful, the smart or even the norms. They are already getting status, mates and happiness from the system as is."

This assumes that transhumanism is not a process of enhancements, each one of which is desirable in and of itself.

Please note that in your implied model of the world, rich people would not seek more riches, and men with beautiful wives would not have affairs or replace them.

427:

But they do know what Life Extension is, and they are the funders of private foundations researching it.

428:

Alex, that source isn't exactly un-biased.

429:

I'm unconvinced of the argument that we need elected police commissioners over here, although I'm not sure that the end result will be any worse in operational terms.

But it's what the USians do, so it must be better than what we do!! ;-)

430:

"The idea that people who get cosmetic surgery are automatically mad or the victims of an evil exploitive industry is extreme to the point of stupidity. "

No, no, no, no, you got it wrong. Or maybe I was not clear. For once I'm not blaming an industry or a larger group. I'm blaming individual doctors. I'm saying that they have an individual responsibility and they are not acting honestly.

Also, I don't blame plastic surgeons for promoting and practising cosmetic surgery in general. After all I don't blame orthodontists for offering / doing the same to adults with crooked smiles.

I blame plastic surgeons who don't make serious attempts to convince women that implants are dangerous. Put things like this in front of them:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/new-health/andre-picard/are-breast-implants-a-form-of-mutilation/article2304457/

But not just the text. Put those notices with much more detailed pictures, lots of them and big ones too. See what they look like after ruptures, infections, etc.

431:

No, no, no, no, you got it wrong. Or maybe I was not clear. For once I'm not blaming an industry or a larger group. I'm blaming individual doctors. I'm saying that they have an individual responsibility and they are not acting honestly.

Ah I see, yes I misunderstood you and thought you were suggesting that people were being duped into surgery rather than talking about doctors not performing their job properly.

Yes I agree with you and think that what you highlight fits nicely with the two points I outlined above.

432:

" Malice is a whole different organised level (e.g. cigarette companies knowing for 40 years that their products killed millions, and colluding to cover it up), and while it may be there in isolated cases/scenarios, there's no need to hypothesise "organised 0.1% Gnomes of Zurich running things" scenarios (unless you think that's what they do at Davos) when it can be more plausibly explained as just lots of dumb people who think they are smart, and have a set of success measures that just accidentally happen to be toxic for 99% of the rest of humanity. The fact that it creates outcomes so complex they look organised/designed is incidental. And if it can be gamed, it will be."

'Malice' doesn't mean 'worldwide organized conspiracy'.

433:

It seems really hard to get historical data for the UK on the web from government sources. Here is a 1999 Bank of England report that has UK national debt vs GDP which tells the same story as the link I gave earlier.

What exactly makes the current UK debt level a more serious problem as compared to, say the 1950's or 1960's, let alone the post WW1 period?

434:

Much of what you say is so, and worrying ... but, but:
Even the 0.1% will need serious quantities of (electical) power, and grids to distribute it, and transport infrastructures, and potable drinking water.
Someone will have to maintain those, and be reasonably well-rewarded for it, won't they?

You're missing the shortsightedness factor. Governments and other large organizations have a bad track record when it comes to planning ahead; I hate to say it, but IMO it's not unreasonable to predict that we won't get around to de-leveraging ourselves until some major disaster starts doing it for us. And the 0.1%, as you put it, don't help the situation; they only care about their own short-term gains, and would be quite willing to let everyone else kick the bucket if they thought it would benefit them.

I will say that things like the Hundred Year Starship Project give me some distant hope that someone, somewhere, knows what they're doing. But it is a very distant hope.

435:

"What is often forgotten was the almost-ethnic-cleansing of those who backed Britain - who had to up sticks and go to Canada - if they were lucky not to be lynched by the slaveowners, who had just won their first round. Bacause, it was apparent, even in 1776, that it was likely to be abolished by the Westminster guvmint within one's then lifetime. As indeed, happened."

IIRC, 200K Loyalists fled the USA, out of a (free) population of around 2 million people. IOW, 10% of those free to leave left.

I don't have to think long to realize what US elites make of a (undesired by US elites) foreign revolution, if 10% of the population flees the country afterwards.

436:

My thought would be the current debt is more severe as there is less ability to finance it now than there was in the past. While it may not be as bad in relative terms, it is significantly worse in abolute terms.

For example, the huge debts at the end of the napoleonic period would be paid off by the huge expansion in industry and development in the late victorian period. I expect the vast coal reserves exploited at the time probably helped.
The debt ballooned in WW1 & WW2 with the vast amounts of military expenditure required, and the end of the Empire, paid off by the boom of the cold war and no doubt the North Sea Oil fields helped.

It dropped again in the 90s & 00s, at strangely similar times to when gold reserves were being sold off.

Today the debt is creeping up again due to a financial system resting on thin air, and no real reserves of magic pixie dust to call on to assist funding paying it back.

437:

'Malice' doesn't mean 'worldwide organized conspiracy'.

I don't have an OED to hand, but the following definition seems about right:

Malice: desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering on another, either because of a hostile impulse or out of deep-seated meanness

If you wish to rebut my argument, by all means do so. Equivocation isn't accomplishing that. Pointing to proof of active malice will do so. Passively not giving a damn, unfortunately, is not in the same moral ball-park, and doesn't count.

A follow-on question, if you prefer: given the built-in human propensity to not give a damn, what alternatives, other than the ludic fantasies of handwavium #shiny# futures could result in giving Homo Sapiens giving a damn, or the behavioural support to the same end? I suspect it does lie somewhere down the greater understanding and regulation of extremes (economic and behavioural), with the very concept of the Corporation/Limited Company being put against the wall and shot somewhere along the way. The main problem being that the latter (taken as a virtual being with real legal abilities and a hive-mind to propogate them) really is maliciously psychopathic, and will go down fighting?

This is pure thought-experiment by the way; I've no faith this could actually happen. But I'm inherently optimistic :).

438:

Oh, gods. Look, debt is not a physical thing: it is real the way language is real. The worst thing that happens if domestic debt gets out of hand is that some people don't get paid. Which (probably) is not a good thing, but is not the end of the world, either.

Out-of-hand foreign debt, on the other hand, can lead to the appearance of armies on your doorstep.

439:

I avoided commenting on this at first because it looked like a derail, but it keeps living.

The conflict did not start as a conflict between two sides of the indigenous population. It started as a conflict between a large segment of the indigenous population and the British state. The military on the other side was not primarily a Loyalist ground force backed by Redcoat air support. Some people did continue to support the British state and unsurprisingly quite a few of them left after that side lost. American elementary and high school textbooks (which do NOT forget the subject by any means) generally describe it as 1/3 Revolutionary; 1/3 Loyalist and 1/3 On the Fence. So if we take Barry's figures, roughly two thirds of the Loyalists were not "ethnically cleansed." I also imagine that the Loyalist exiles would prefer their diaspora if they compared notes with, say, the Highlanders of a few generations prior. Many of these proto-Abolitionist Free English Air types went on to such hotbeds of tolerance as the West Indies and South Africa. Someone remind me about the British positions on the Haitian Revolution and the Polish Constitution/resistance to the Partitions. Britain put the Ancient Regime and colonialism ahead of liberal ideals and even temporary foreign policy advantages every time.

440:

I am aware that most economic figures in the modern world are intangible numbers on a screen and have little bearing on any real physical product.
That being said, my overall point was that the UK has currently less ability to spontaneously generate additional magic numbers in the positive column than it had 40 or 100 years ago owing to having pulled most of it out of the ground already.

After all, it's not like we're seeing a rash of success stories in industry or exploration related to British companies at the moment.

441:

Economic figures in the historical world are no more tangible: coins are objects with numbers on them. Gold and silver have little intrinsic value; one can neither eat them, nor make many things from them.

"That being said, my overall point was that the UK has currently less ability to spontaneously generate additional magic numbers in the positive column than it had 40 or 100 years ago owing to having pulled most of it out of the ground already."

Value in any economy is a result of production in some way--you don't pull it out of the ground. It's not like Britain has the lost the ability to feed its own people, or keep warm in the winter: there are still farms and oil wells.

Now, there are societal reasons for using money, but high debt levels are not the end of the world, and the UK's debt levels aren't even that high. On the other hand, austerity programs in a depression can be very destructive, because they lead to the dismantling of the economy of things: the closing of farms and the capping of wells.

Anyhow, this is a giant distraction. I just get so disgusted with this whole line of argument.

442:

From what I've read the elected police overseers commmissioners specifically won't have input or direction over operational policing. Which leaves them as, depending on your points of view, a figleaf, or a useful extra overseer, or a nice place to park out of work politicians.

I think they're a waste of time personally, but am far more concerned about the privatisation of police functions, about which I can rant for hours but that would be unfair to Charlie. Short point is that it siphons expertise out of public services and into private hands which is not conducive to a well run or reasonably priced service, and neither can it improve accountability. Basically the senior management are being bought out in the same way as happened in previous privatisations. They are also obviopusly afraid to do their job in the first place, much easier to outsource it to some numpty employing undertrained cheap staff.

443:

Economy 2.0 and Politics 2.0 will have to outcompete (in some sense that ultimately is determinative) current Global Economy 1.x and Geopolitics 1.y which we're on now.

No, Geopolitics 1.* was "My empire's army will conquer the whole world!" (bwa-ha-ha), and it was an upgrade to the Politics 1.0 system of "Them other tribe's people is weird." While it worked pretty well in the swords and horses era it's become much less popular in the last few hundred years. We've dabbled with Geopolitics 2.* a bit, which was "My national system of religions and merchants (backed up by the army) will conquer the world" - that's not completely off the market yet, as an examination of some unreconstructed American politicans will demonstrate.

It seems that Geopolitics 3.0 is still in beta release; we'll probably not be ready to talk about it until some more reviews are in. As mentioned elsewhere, it's highly promising but still rather buggy.

444:

For example, the huge debts at the end of the napoleonic period would be paid off by the huge expansion in industry and development in the late victorian period.

This is both true and a ridiculous explanation; nobody in 1815 could have had much idea of what was going to happen to the British economy over the next 60 years!

Again, nobody fighting WW1 or WW2 had any idea how they were going to pay for those wars: they just knew that they had to fight or die, and if national bankruptcy was the price, then it was a price worth paying because the alternative was far worse.

Today the debt is creeping up again due to a financial system resting on thin air, and no real reserves of magic pixie dust to call on to assist funding paying it back.

Again this is sort of true ... but we have no good idea of where the British economy will be in sixty years' time. The smart thing to do would be to take a good look at what caused the current mess and take corrective action: I'd vote for a solid industrial policy, backed up by a major re-assessment of how the education system has been treated (badly: the quality of schooling has fallen over the past 25 years, while academia has been turned into a diploma mill). It's a long-term solution to a long-term problem. And if what it takes to fund the solution is further debt, well, Keynes wasn't wrong.

445:

Re: Jay 373: (I'd add another two categories)

Thanks, in fact in some industries both the (a) Scientific(/Academic) and (b) SBIR/STTR entrepreneur types seem to make up the bulk of the newest entries. I figure this is happening because (a) fewer PhDs can get tenure and/or research grants and (b) downsizing (including post-acquisition ‘restructuring’) among the high-tech giants and their suppliers. Each economic boom/bust cycle usually sees new entrepreneur types emerge: some last, most don’t.


Re: Robert Horley 392 – “Life extension drugs, hormone treatment and Viagra for the elderly are frowned upon by normal society because it takes away the inborn advantage of the young and strong.”

First off most of these drugs/meds generally improve the quality of life which is actually good for the younger/employed folks since they’re a lot cheaper than institutionalized care and less emotionally taxing. So who buys these drugs/medical fixes will be whoever is going to be most affected by this emotional/financial balancing act.

Second - when’s the last time you went into a drug store/pharmacy or a health food/nutrition store? All age groups are buying into self-medication/improvement and for a variety of reasons within each age group. Middle-agers/seniors can be just as body-conscious as teens.

What’s really new is that it’s now socially acceptable for people to actually behave (not just say) that they have the right to do whatever they want to their bodies. For example, braces: used to be only kids/teens had braces; now, no one thinks twice if someone in their 50s finally decides to get their ‘smile’ fixed. There are many other examples of this – tinkering with one’s body is already the new norm. (The “low cost” version of body-tinkering is tattoos and piercings: even the grannies are getting ‘tats’ and in my area there are probably as many tattoo parlors as nail or hair salons.)

446:

About that "redefining humanity" idea. Why the hell are people proposing to redefine what is not defined in the first place?

In other words: this entire thread is a discussion about an ill-defined term. About as useful as discussing Free Will or God.

Good night.

447:

Any comment on whether the oil problem will significantly affect our ability to pay back the debt (as opposed to using worse options)?

448:

Scott:


No, Geopolitics 1.* was...

Relabeling stuff isn't changing it.

I've seen people play this game with variations going back to "Homo Sapiens Sapiens vs Neandertal" - and a drinking game variation based on Dinosaur empires and an impending asteroid landing.

Modern geopolitics is a post-WW-II, mid-20th-century invention. The Great Game that came before it and the interwar vacuum that the fascists and militarists filled were something else.

Something new would be as different as the Cold War was from the Great Game. Superficially similar, but in many key ways completely different, and not a good conflation to make.

449:

What will be interesting is if in future improvements in neuropharmacology and cognitive therapy get us to the point where we have the option to change the body to suit the mind or change the mind to suit the body. Hopefully most of the conservative movements will have moved on into what now would be liberal else transgender regulations may take a dystopian turn.

You mean they remain dystopian or go back to being dystopian. People forget that psychosurgery, aversion therapy, being pumped full of birth-assigned sex hormones, and many other things were tried and still are in some places, as a means of changing the mind to fit the body. One particularly recent case involved an 11 year-old trans girl in Germany being forcibly institutionalized.

The paperwork side of regulation is also nasty in many places. Gender-markers that can't be changed at all or without SRS. SRS is difficult to obtain in many places for those that do want it, and the system leaves no recourse for those who don't or can't.

Then of course, some countries like Sweden have additional dystopian requirements like mandatory sterilization and destruction of any preserved gametes.

And that doesn't include societal factors like the widespread de-humanization of trans women, or gatekeeping by the medical community.

450:

Always late to the party...
The biggest obstacle to mind uploads and the like is that it is being studied only from the outside (mind as object), rather than from the outside and the inside (mind as subject). Uploads will require technology plus greatly heightened (ie trained) self-awareness

451:

Greg: "Much of what you say is so, and worrying ... but, but:
Even the 0.1% will need serious quantities of (electical) power, and grids to distribute it, and transport infrastructures, and potable drinking water.
Someone will have to maintain those, and be reasonably well-rewarded for it, won't they?"

Crecopian: "You're missing the shortsightedness factor. Governments and other large organizations have a bad track record when it comes to planning ahead; I hate to say it, but IMO it's not unreasonable to predict that we won't get around to de-leveraging ourselves until some major disaster starts doing it for us. And the 0.1%, as you put it, don't help the situation; they only care about their own short-term gains, and would be quite willing to let everyone else kick the bucket if they thought it would benefit them."

Actually, governments have great records in that respect, and large organizations aren't that bad.

The problem that we're in is one of looting by the elites. They don't care about the day after tomorrow, and have good reason - they'll be the last to feel the pinch, and the first to be bailed out.

This will continue to reward them lavishly until the day it doesn't.

452:

"If you wish to rebut my argument, by all means do so. Equivocation isn't accomplishing that. Pointing to proof of active malice will do so. Passively not giving a damn, unfortunately, is not in the same moral ball-park, and doesn't count."

The War with Iraq, and the conduct of that war.
The conduct of the oil industry - massive pollution and supporting whatever violence was needed to put down protests. Wall St - selling the odd trillion of junk securities as AAA, fraud in the mortgage industry (wiki 'robosigning'), pulling down trillions of bailout dollars, Euros, etc., in such a way as to save their *sses, and handing the bill to us.

That's a start.

I suggest that you read Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone, and *start* from there.

453:

"That being said, my overall point was that the UK has currently less ability to spontaneously generate additional magic numbers in the positive column than it had 40 or 100 years ago owing to having pulled most of it out of the ground already."

This is just a claim. Now, I wouldn't be surprised if it were true, but I'd give the reason that the 0.01% steal most of the wealth, destroy most of what they stole, and then make us pay for it.

A vicious circle of parasitism.

454:

Actually, governments have great records in that respect, and large organizations aren't that bad... The problem that we're in is one of looting by the elites.

Who do you think controls most of a government's policies?

455:

The biggest obstacle to mind uploads and the like is that it is being studied only from the outside (mind as object), rather than from the outside and the inside (mind as subject).

NOTHING is studied as a subject. Subjectivity is inherently unscientific (I'd even say supernatural) concept.

456:

My thought would be the current debt is more severe as there is less ability to finance it now than there was in the past

Sorry, but this just isn't the case, particularly for the UK and the US. Just look at the yields on 10 year bonds issued by either government. They're negative against current inflation - i.e. that they're being viewed as an ultra-safe place to park your money and won't lose value compared to... well... pretty much anywhere else.

There is no problem, at the moment in either the UK or USA with the ability to a) borrow and b) finance debt.

The time to start addressing the debt is when the economies are growing again.

The problems with sovereign debt in the Euro zone are completely unrelated to the availability of credit and have more to do with the fallout from the 2008 problems which STILL haven't been dealt with.

457:

Not studiable by science (= not empirically verifiable), yes
Unknowable, unstudiable, no


Put it another way, passive mind uploading (no skill required on the part of the person being uploaded) will be as advanced compared to active mind uploading (requiring seriously trained capacity on the part of the person being uploaded) as a completely self-driving car will be compared to the Model T.

458:

Me: "Actually, governments have great records in that respect, and large organizations aren't that bad... The problem that we're in is one of looting by the elites."

Cecropian: "Who do you think controls most of a government's policies?"

Increasingly (in the USA/UK), as countervailing forces are weakened, only the elites. The checks on them have weakened, so that instead of having massive influence, they run the game.

459:

I'm not sure I buy 'active mind uploading.' Very few surgical procedures require the active help of the subject. What part of the mind mapping process would be helped by some action on the part of the subject mind? And how would a person train for it, anyway?

Our current very crude explorations towards the Moravec Operation do not require any active participation by the subject. This is a good thing, since getting a C. elegans nematode to perform on command is challenging.

460:

Oops, reversed the terms in my metaphor.
Skillful uploading: Consumer uploading::Model T:Fully self-driving car

461:

Meditative skill would be useful. In particular, some of the Tibetan practices, such as Phowa and Chod.
Passive uploading would require the technological capacity to recreate most (all?) of the details of the source brain. Active uploading would only require an adequate target and would guide the development of the details in the target from the inside, subjectively. In other words, if you can contain your memories and experiences in the target, you don't need to know all the details of the physical form.
Even once the technology first becomes available, it would still require many years of training and the process would take years to complete.

462:

Would meditation help? I can't think offhand of any way skill in meditation would hurt, but that's not the same thing as assisting the modeling system.

You seem to be offering something that is less like the full brain modeling that might (or might not) be necessary for true uploading, and rather more like a customized expert system that will pass the Turing test. We can't actually do either of those yet, but we can make educated guesses about some of the engineering - and the latter seems to rely on life logging and massive data mining rather than on personal meditation.

I'll pass on the imitative AI option, I think. As for uploading...the early adopters will be the terminally ill or otherwise desperate, and I hope not to be in that category. If I take that option at all I'd like it to be as late as possible.

463:

Sorry, don't have the energy to read all 462 extant comments, so pardon me if this has been said before:

Of course--you know, Charlie, that I've been saying this sort of thing since the very first conversation you and I had.

On the other hand, to deny the possibility of the default Singularitarian future is just as much a mistake as defending its inevitability. As I've said elsewhere recently, the Singularity is a *lens* and should be used as one in a suite of lenses for viewing the futures.

This may make it easier: let's stop saying "the future" because it completely mangles the concept. Let's say either "a future" or "the futures" when we talk about things to come. Just doing this on a consistent basis would start to make all these conversations and theories and ideological stances so much clearer--and also clarify what exactly it is we're trying to do when we talk about futures.

464:

This Wikipedia opening description of transhumanism is pretty accurate.
"Transhumanism, abbreviated as H+ or h+, is an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities."

Indeed. If you've actually attended, say, an H+ conference it can be that "dull" and obvious... albeit these things are actually controversial still amongst the wider public. I mean, over here they're still fighting about such ancient biological alterations as birth control.

The dreamier stuff... singularities and nanobio superhumans in the stars -- and the large minority of self identifying Transhumanists who buy that narrative -- makes better copy for us editors and fires the imaginations of SF writers... obviously. But even these folks don't usually agree on much (least of all swallowing Ray Kurzweil's entire package whole... ummm, sorry for that image...) and are actually pretty diverse in their political and philosophical tendencies. It's not all or even mostly that guy (mostly guys) -- the rabid libertarian who believes in an extreme transcendence of the human condition in our lifetime... a singularity and who is inured to or unaware of the depredations of contemporary plutocratic power.

I guess what I'm saying is that Carrico is stretching the term cult to fit all transhumanists much much much more than I was stretching the word transhumanist to fit Charlie. But enough of that. One forgives a novelist for clinging to an eminently satirizable caricature. And I don't really insist that anybody is anything that they say they're not. I was just making a bit of a point.

465:

Not studiable by science (= not empirically verifiable), yes
Unknowable, unstudiable, no

There are 2 kinds of knowledge. One is produced by science, and the other is called fiction.

466:

Once I got past the smug scholarly pomp of the article I kind of got the point. Throughout human history we've been enraptured by the idea that our minds might be able to escape our meat spacesuits. Transhumanism isn't much different to the widespread religious belief in an immortal soul. Slight difference in that we MIGHT be able to achieve it this time.

The information encoded in my DNA has unbroken lineage going back 4.5+ billion years. That's pretty cool. But my mind is a unique instance of some portion of this code that will compile and run, then be erased in a cloud of entropy. Most lifeforms agree, that's not cool. As information it will never be copied. I'd go so far as to say that's a bit shit. Who is to say that fixing this problem with living in this universe isn't the actual end game of intelligent life? We're technologically pretty close to having a crack at it. I find it hard to believe that we won't try make our precious science fiction become science fact, in some weird reversal of cause and effect on the old addage. Carrico rants some reality about the stuff we're getting sold on and what it really means but doesn't do any convincing beyond that.

467:

464:
Not studiable by science (= not empirically verifiable), yes
Unknowable, unstudiable, no

There are 2 kinds of knowledge. One is produced by science, and the other is called fiction

There is one thing Science can't explain: the impossible. Which fortunately for science, cannot happen.

468:
we have large treaty blocs like the European Union, which are for the first time not held together by hated emperors...
No, they are held together by hated, faceless, unelected corrupt bureaucrats.
You are a Daily Fail reader.
469:

@ 467
NO
I wouldn't sully my hands with the Daily Nazi ...
I will explain, again, for those that missed it.
I have changesd sides on the EU, about two years ago, when I realised that it has changed from what I voted for, back in the 1970's into something else entirely - as described above.

470:

The EU has a bureaucracy about as big as a large city.

It's held together by the member governments, not the bureacracy.

"It was unelected Eurocrats that forced us to do it" is a get out of jail free card for the "elected" minsters that get together to decide what they want to do.

471:

Greg, I suggest that a thread on transhumanism is not a useful place to discuss the European Union.

[[ Agreed. Such posts are now being culled ]]

472:

Re "Throughout human history we've been enraptured by the idea that our minds might be able to escape our meat spacesuits. Transhumanism isn't much different to the widespread religious belief in an immortal soul. Slight difference in that we MIGHT be able to achieve it this time."

This is a good way of putting it. Mind uploading is not inevitable, it is certainly not imminent, and may even be impossible. But I think our current scientific understanding of brains and minds gives enough plausibility to the feasibility in-principle of mind uploading, to justify the enthusiasm of researchers and persons interested in science, not to mention science fiction authors and readers.

If Charlie sells a lot of books and makes a lot of money (as I really hope), it may be because our collective Jungian mind senses that these things are coming;-) (humor-challenged readers: the emoticon means that the latter is a half-joke)

473:

This may make it easier: let's stop saying "the future" because it completely mangles the concept. Let's say either "a future" or "the futures" when we talk about things to come.

Yeah, it's important to remember that the future is as vast as the past. It's important to give some idea of whether we're talking about 20 years from now in California, 300 years from now in (what's now) Nigeria, or 2 million years from now in (whatever remains of) Sudan, even before we consider the uncertainty implicit in futurism itself.

474:

In the mind-upload/transporter beam scenario, why is it automatically assumed that every body must be completely unique and built from scratch every time? I'd offer only 20 or so different basic body models.

Rationale:

1) No one's going to want an old, run-down, unhealthy or unattractive body so that automatically reduces the number of 'body models' you need to keep in inventory, i.e., at the beam-to location.

2) Only the brain would need to be accurately reproduced (beamed) to ensure 'individuality'. Actually you could probably pre-code/boilerplate certain motor and sensory functions thereby further reducing the total amount and complexity of any individual mind that is to be coded/uploaded/beamed. (Sperm and ova would be stored for future procreation use, or just use the DNA map off the perfectly replicated brain tissue/cells to create the necessary sex cells.)

3) Further body/personality individualization could be offered/performed at incremental cost by the Beam-Me-Up-Scotty after-market industry. Such individualization would however mean more time before the body is fully functional, as well as the cost of drugs, plastic surgeries, etc. The low-cost post-market industry could end up (in $) as lucrative as the OEM market.


A thought about the H+ topic --

Some of the doomsday scenarios associated with the accelerating pace of technology (including the likelihood/desirability of H+) doesn't wash when you look at some of the most preferred tech toys/brands. I'm thinking specifically of iPod, iPad, etc. Perhaps the true trend is toward an "iLife" -- tech that is always hidden from view so that all the user ever sees/uses is an extremely simplified - elegant - and virtually invisible interface. The benefit of such a psychological marketing approach with respect to new tech is: what the consumers can't see/get their hands on, they can't get frightened by or screw up*. My point is that you can get away with warp speed technological changes as long as you keep the tech looking/feeling/acting simple or 'familiar'.


* I call this the 'Jobs Principle'.

475:

The brain uploading idea is just an assumption, you don't know what else might be needed - your gut contains a great complexity of nerves. Also, I think you'd want your new body to look like you, even if it's a bit worse.

476:

I could see people intentionally choosing non-optimized bodies if we get to the point where aesthetic perfection is free/cheap.

477:

There is a problem with brain "uploading" that is ignored in this thread for some reason. Namely, if brain uploading is basically copying your brain into new medium and then deleting it from the old, no one is going to use it.This is the bullshit that strained my suspense of disbelief the most in "Accelerando" and "Glass House". It's not uploading, it's copying yourself and them killing off the old copy. You can't have uploading until you can prove the new medium houses the same individuality. And we don`t even know what individuality is.

478:

Read some Varley.

479:

What I always say is the initial impetus will come from society rather than the individual. At one point we will have the technology to restore your son's crushed head from backup, and you'll say go ahead. Or, doctors will just go ahead and do it and say "there may be some short term amnesia", curiously coincident with the last time you had a full brain scan.

Once an individual has gone through it a few times it likely will become a normalized experience subjectively no different from going to sleep and waking up.

480:

Link some Varley. Or quote some Varley.

481:

Oh, and BTW:

"What I always say is the initial impetus will come from society rather than the individual."

This is how Fascism starts. Decoupling the society from the individuals it's made of and using the concept to justify whatever you want.

482:

Apologies for the double, there was an error when I first submitted and I thought it didn't go through.

[[ It happens. Duplicate removed ]]

Fascism? I'm not seeing it, rather I was pointing out how there's no such thing as a human in a vacuum. We've discussed in earlier threads how the human body is part of an ecosystem, likewise the human individual is part of a society, it seems natural that this society will attempt to fix holes in it's structure if the technology is available.

Fixing a crushed hand is not ethically confusing, why should fixing a crushed brain?

483:

Your last line needs a conversation all of its own. But it's a conversation I doubt we could find an agreement on, since the concept of the 'soul' seems deeply embedded in some/many/most people's psyche, and even the 'continuity of consciousness' variant of that requires a brain to continue in its original form.

If you decide you don't need that continuity, some strange things happen. The most mind-blowing novel treatment for me was Greg Egan's Permutation City.

484:

Anatoly.

You are invoking Godwin's Law. I've dropped your post about the gas chambers, and I would ask you to be more considered in your arguments.

485:

Bellinghman,

1. You are confusing criminal law with a physical law, me thinks. Godwin's Law states, I quote: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." I doesn't state that comparing something to Nazis or Hitler is forbidden. And I don't see such a law in the moderation policy.

2. I think that a comparison between a future where people routinely destroy copies of themselves and the past where Nazis sent Jews to gas chambers is legit. In both cases an atrocity is happening because one group of humans dehumanized another group.

486:

>>>If you decide you don't need that continuity, some strange things happen

What happens is you die. And then your copy dies. And so on and so forth.

487:

I never said anything about destroying, rather that the choice to "preserve you" via partial or total restoration from backups would probably initially come from next of kin, or routine medical procedure.

I understand the link between fascism and reducing the value of the individual, but on the other hand altruism comes mostly from reduced individualism - The very nature of the word "selfless" implies it. I know most of my current behaviour in relation to others is born from the intellectual recognition we're all basically the same kind of critter.

Unauthorised duplication (Glasshouse's sinister variant of identity theft) and destruction of variant copies are of course the kind of cans of worms we'd be faced with in such a brave new world.

It's an interesting inversion of the real world euthanasia debate, currently the humanist position is to end life when the biological substrate cannot support cognition in a satisfactory form, but given enough technology I could see the positions completely flip. Religious people refusing a Terry Schiavo case brain backup restoration while humanists fight for her right to be restored. Of course the level of detail required for such a backup means it's unlikely to be a casual decision open to interpretation.

488:

Ah, it's actually getting interesting again!

OK, what about systemic degeneration of the brain, as happens with the various forms of dementia & Alzheimer's?
How far back does one go for a back-up to "restore" an individual's personality, and is this acceptable?
Assuming, of course an suitable "empty" substrate is available - and what is the moral/ethical position of, erm, "creating" ( engineering? / "manufacturing"? / "growing"? ) said substrate. Is "it" a real human being, is it an "empty vessel" and very importantly, who gets to decide?

Given that, at last, some slow and hesitiant progress is finally being made into re-growth of lost "parts" - which will, presumably be better than the old worn/damaged one(s) this could get very complicated, particularly where the head's contents are concerned.

489:
Fixing a crushed hand is not ethically confusing, why should fixing a crushed brain?

Bellinghman's right; this is a whole conversation by itself. Even if you leave aside the issue of "soul", there are serious ethical issues to consider in terms of what changes can (potentially even should) be made, and what sorts of permission are necessary or desirable. If someone needs reconstructive facial surgery after an accident and asks that their new jawline to look a bit different from their old one, there aren't any moral issues with that. (There may be other problems, if what they want isn't possible, or would be vastly more expensive than their old face, of course. And you might argue there could be moral, or at least legal, questions about a request to look exactly like someone else. But I digress.)

But lets think about someone who needs their brain reconstructing after an accident. They're presumably not in any condition to express a desire for changes right now, but if they previously expressed a desire to be made smarter in these circumstances, should that be obeyed (if possible)? What if their desire was to be made more violent? Suppose they haven't left any requests, but their beaten spouse and abused children ask that they be made more generous; is that acceptable? If so, how about a case where the (healthy, happy) spouse and children ask for the reconstruction to make the injured person less generous, so that they will eventually inherit a greater fortune? Is that acceptable? (And if one is and the other is not, then why?) If someone is known to be an abusive spouse, is it OK for the reconstructive surgeon to change (either on their own account, or because of a dictate from above) that while reconstructing their brain even if their spouse opposes the change?

490:

Oops; sorry for the double post. Got a server error and hit "reload" without even thinking.

491:

I was actually thinking along those lines earlier on, people who have severe head injuries, comas, etc, often exhibit altered personalities, this is already a given, so technology to prevent it would be beneficial, I think.


Cosmetic brain surgery? Obviously it will become available at some point. In Adam Warren's Empowered one telepath character edits her own brain to be more ethical and altruistic to distinguish herself from her psychopathich brother. The obvious totalitarian options are of course easy to imagine but lobotomies for enemies of the state isn't a new concept...

492:

Of course a lot of these scenarios have been explored in novels already, I seem to recall a Vinge (Possibly) book where a poet suffering from Alzheimers is cured by a new treatment, however he loses his muse, but on the other hand becomes a nicer person.

493:

Tim Whitworth 475:

"... you don't know what else might be needed - your gut contains a great complexity of nerves. Also, I think you'd want your new body to look like you, even if it's a bit worse."

r: What else might be needed --- we know fairly well even now what the minimum system (human body) requirements are. Every healthy/functional human body must have a through z --- so these are the things we boilerplate. I'm saying that to keep the costs and tech sophistication achievable, we beam/upload only those aspects that are unique to (effectively, describe) an individual.

Actually I was already thinking that we'd probably need some types of "Gut Goop" (TM) and other fluids as part of the boilerplate. Please note though that -- all of these things are common across humans so can be boiler-plated. For this beam/upload scenario there's no practical reason to have multiple blood groups, different HLA profiles, or a whole bunch of other differences -- focus only what makes a person 'this person, and no other' - boilerplate everything else.

And, if you want to look like you when you beam -- stick on a plastic mask. Most people only recognize others by their face, so a plastic/malleable mask should suffice, hence so few body types. You could (probably) also send a holo of your face to get a 3D mask (added plastic where your face is normally fuller, etc.)

494:

It does not take a severe, or even any, head injury to induce a (partial) personality-chamge, since "merely" waking up in hospital, having lost (eventually) more blood than you started with can do it.
How do I know?
Guess.

495:

One could call a lack of oxygen to the brain due to reduced blood flow an injury to the brain.

496:

I saw this and thought about my answer. I think I can formulate it now:

The problem with planning and modifying a society is hard. E.g. to integrate East Germany with less than 20 million people was really hard for West Germany. To solve the problem of poverty for the world is inside economic possibilities, but impossible to plan as a project; it just can't be executed in a centrally planned fashion.

What we have left is to point the way which other societies walked up the stairs of prosperity, which was not fun -- but at least it is much faster to walk them when it has already been done.

There is a similar problem with tranhumanism. Development and industrial revolutions will happen the coming 10-30 years. But culture/society change like evolution, with very few big steps. There has to be a hill climbing algorithm that moves us from A to B. The transhumanists ignore that.

I wish I'm wrong and there is some way to wave a magical wand and solve hard problems in central planning of societies. Until I'm disproved on that, I'll sadly have to be scared of all idealists.

Disclaimer: I'll try to read the 500 comments later; I hope I don't rewrite arguments (and if I've already been disproved, please give comment number!)

497:

Dale's rants are a great example of the kind of diseased thinking that makes politics such a minefield of cognitive bias induced irrationality. It's a mindset that cares much more about making the opponent look bad, about winning, rather than about making a solid argument on impartial grounds.

498:

I've only recently started reading Sterling's novels, but "Distraction" was wonderful.

499:

"Just-So creation mythology of the smugly self-satisfied hypercapitalists who have unintentionally done so much to destroy so many of the moral and interpersonal values of post-Englightenment civilization."

It is destroying many of the morals and interpersonal values of pre-enlightenment civilization too thank you every much.

500:

Quite enjoyed the rant, it's been pretty obvious for some time that we've had all the pieces for a utopian society for some time. In fact we are probably living in one already if the games kids play on their computers are anything to go by and at least 1% of the population is having a really great time. Plus refer to that quote by Mr Gibson about the future not being everywhere at one ect

501:

One aspect of the beam-me-up scenario that's been missing is the possibility of re-integration of 'personalities':

a) The unchanged and dormant (because your real body is an induced coma while your consciousness /active brain) is traveling;

PLUS:

b) The uploaded brain that was shot out by laser beam to whichever galaxy your conference is being held on.


We're all pretty familiar with operating systems, so let's assume that each of my proposed body types is a distinct OS. At the same time, each OS will need a variety of boiler-plated apps just like there's Office for MSFT/PC as well as for Mac -- stuff like Excel, PowerPoint as well as Adobe, etc.

At this point, we - the consumers/users of various computer OS - know from personal experience that it is possible to move our Excel or PDF files between different OS. Okay - sometimes very old OS files will degrade, but they're usually still readable. Further, we can move new spreadsheets from our new office PC into our old home PC without wiping out any of the other files - Excel or any other apps - on our old home PC. Similarly, we do not as a rule lose any of our old files whenever we download OS updates - some of which are massive and complete enough to qualify as completely new OS.

So, if we can do this on PCs, why do people persist in thinking that we wouldn't plan on doing this (i.e., compatibility between OS, sequestering apps and files, etc.) with the minds that would be beamed to-and-fro. From the bits of neuroscience articles I've read, in real life our memories are distributed around the brain in some ways similarly to the way data is distributed on a computer drive. Very messy, disorganized really, i.e., 'fragmented'. The consciousness beam-up scenario such as I'm proposing would also allow us to defrag our brains while re-combining the experiences of slightly diverged experiences of the same individual, i.e., merging data from two different Excel spreadsheets into one.

Frankly, focusing only on that which makes us individual human beings could make such a technology both more feasible and less scary. There is tremendous therapuetic potential here.

502:

Splitting and reintegrating personalities has been done, in Greg Bear's Eon the partials would be reabsorbed to the main personality once they'd completed their tasks, and in Glasshouse the protagonist was a whole tank regiment during the war. Even in webcomics, Dr. Mcninja has himself cloned hundreds of times so he can go off and get a PhD in everything and then be recombined into one omnicompetent individual (Like his hero, batman)

503:

Thanks! - I'll pick up Bear's book.

504:

I'm so tired of people trying to discern the "spectre of capitalism" in everything they stare at hard enough. OF COURSE, the phenomenon of capitalism is relevant to the idea of "accelerated change." But both are merely small aspects of a much greater subject.

In open systems far from equilibrium, entropy statistically goes down. This is a universal law, that includes such elements as the evolutionary principle, the concept of phase transition (of which singularity--ANY singularity--is one), and many others as its corollaries or special cases. Capitalism is but a blip on it.

http://www.pinknoise.net/2012/03/23/optimism-and-darkness-in-science-fiction/

505:

Except it is all a freaking heap of hand-waving and ignoring the problem.

506:

Oh I meant done "in fiction" of course. I often find myself thinking in these discussions how much of this stuff has already been thought out in great detail by OGH and his peers.

507:

"Sterling's correct that we could theoretically guarantee basic levels of security to everyone on the planet. He fails to notice that that's not what people want- no amount of economic development can grant _status_, and people would be happy to live in a pile of cow dung as long as their pile of shit was higher than their neighbors' shit piles."

A year ago I'd have agreed with this but lately I've been reading a very insightful book about Psychopaths/Sociopaths. Competition for status is a normal Primate drive, we're supposed to compete for status- to a degree. This drive is tempered by conscience in at least 96% of the population- but for 1-4% there is no such thing as conscience or empathy so 'winning' becomes everything.

I think most people ARE content with security- basic needs met, decent laws that protect them from crime etc. I used to think this was negative, that people just want "bread and circuses". Now I just see it as natural and not nearly as dark as I once thought.

There's enough food to feed the whole world yet millions of people are starving anyway- this thought has haunted me for decades. There's no real reason for most of the world's manmade evils, most of today's atrocities are caused by psychopathic leaders who'll do anything to hold on to power (just look at Syria)

508:

Dear cult,

Whole Brain Emulation (or 'mind uploading', whatever this 'mind' thing is) is a good platform for radical human enhancement and computational neuroscience research. It's certainly an interesting idea.

But the long-term undurability of computers shows it's not a way to be 'safe on the net' or live forever. Actually bothering to pick up a neuroscience textbook shows it's not as easy as "lul nanobots hurp durp". Finally, not suffering from psychotic delusions shows that it's not a viable way to "escape the tyranny of biology" or "become God".

Please keep the cult away from other transhumanists (We liked A Requiem for Homo Sapiens too, guys, we just didn't root for the Church the whole way).

Regards,
A guy who grows more uncomfortable calling himself a 'transhumanist' by the day

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