Re: Nature defines transhumanist

Date: Thu Jun 15 2000 - 15:34:36 MDT

John Grigg quotes Nature, as forwarded by Robin:
> "There is no such thing as bad publicity, it is sometimes said. But
> ever since Eric Drexler brought the term 'nanotechnology' into vogue in
> his 1986 book Engines of Creation, some researchers have felt that the
> field has been burdened by unwanted baggage. Drexler envisioned an era
> in which factory production lines were replaced by self-replicating,
> nanoscale 'assemblers' and warned that such entities could supplant
> humans to become the dominant 'life' forms on our planet. These ideas
> were quickly seized on by transhumanists - people who imagine what the
> world will look like after technology has rendered us extinct.

I suppose that if they had said "posthumanists" it wouldn't have been
too bad a definition.

> So let me get this right, the author was saying transhumanists are
> a bunch of science groupies?? Is Drexler our Elvis or Paul McCartney?
> Did the article point out that Drexler himself "encouraged" these people
> by forming _The Foresight Institute_?

No, the article didn't say anything more about Drexler. In fact my
perception is that the whole field is doing its best to pretend that
he doesn't exist. I predict that the Foresight conference will soon
no longer be the premier nanotech conference. The real academics will
want to disassociate themself from the nanofanatics and set up a more
respectable venue. (Maybe this has happened already; I don't follow
the research.)

I can't help thinking that a core problem is cryonics. Cryonicists have
been hoping that nanotech will give them respectability for 15 years now.
In fact, the opposite seems to have happened. Cryonics is so disreputable
for most people, so firmly entrenched in the nonsense/fraud category,
that the least association with the practice is enough to discredit
any activity. Drexler wrote about repairing the damage from cryonic
suspension in Engines, and thereby permanently branded his form of
nanotech as nonsense, for many observers.

If Drexlerian nanotech comes about, in the full flower of its predicted
power, then there is a decent chance that cryonic suspension will work.
And that means that everyone who has allowed a loved one to die has,
in effect, murdered that person. This would be an intolerable moral
burden for most people, making it hard for them to think clearly about
where this technology may lead.

> I'm glad to see the author admits nanotech is taking off now. I still
> remember the infamous _Scientific American_ article that slammed nanotech
> believers as a "cargo cult."

The Science article really didn't change this view. They seemed to be
drawing a distinction between the blue-sky dreams of Drexler and the
practical, concrete research going on today in labs studying buckytubes
and crystals (much of which is not really that closely related to nanotech
as we know it).

The article even had something negative to say about Bill Joy's critique,
because it envisioned dangers from Drexlerian nanotech. This is far
beyond the limited perceptual horizon of the article's author.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:13:19 MDT