Re: Nature defines transhumanist

From: Robert Bradbury (
Date: Fri Jun 16 2000 - 06:56:31 MDT

On Thu, 15 Jun 2000 wrote:

> 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.

Interesting claim, without much explanation as to "why" that is the case.
I read Engines, then I read much of Nanosystems and Nanomedicine.
The writing is on the wall for those who want to read it.

> > These ideas
> > were quickly seized on by transhumanists - people who imagine what the
> > world will look like after technology has rendered us extinct.

Actually, only the grey goo problem would potentially render us
extinct (and Robert F's recent paper casts some questions on those
scenarios) [see below]. I think most "transhumanists" would value the
diversity of a world (solar system?) that includes humans and trans-humans.
I don't see any of us recomending "Transhuman or die" as a motto
for our license plates (though there may be a few among us
who are closet thinkers along those lines...) :-)

> 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.
The "whole field", such as it is, consists of a couple of University
centers, where I suspect there is a fair amount of respect for Eric's
work. The "newly born" nanotech researchers stepping up to the funding
trough, probably haven't even read EoC.

> 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.)

The FI fall conference is moving to the East Coast this year, presumably
to make it easier to pull in the East coast conservatives. Academic
conferences in general tend to move around to educate more people.
As it moves, the FI influence may become less, but I don't see any
other organization as likely to come along and "bridge" the various
disciplines that MNT requires.

Some of the commercial education organizations have started nanotech
conferences, but they are more expensive than the FI conference and
are still much smaller. NIH is having an NT conference this summer
but it is more buzzword labeling than hardcore NT.

> 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.

You may be right to some degree. But the same underlying problem exists
for both Cryonics and Replicators -- you have to connect all of the dots
between the inputs and the outputs. I would say that people have as
much trouble with Replicators as Cryonics because they "break" tradiational

> 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.

Or, if Replicators work, then the "slow & steady/save for tomorrow"
approaches are all wrong. You want an all-the-stops-pulled-out
sprint to the finish line.

Fundamentally, robust nanotech "breaks" many, many "cherished" beliefs
and for most people their beliefs are what is really important.

> The Science (Nature?!?) 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).

Yep, a lot of relabeling going on. But the parallel-tip nanoscale
writing AFM's are going to put another nail in the coffin of the
naysayers. The balance will tip and when it does, you don't want
to be in front of the crowd rushing into the "pro"-nanotech pan,
saying, "See, I always said Drexler was right...".

It would be nice to get some of the people who are "naysayers"
on record, so you can feed them their words in a few yeaers.

It is interesting to note that among the "technical people",
computer programmers and/or systems engineers seem to be those
who can "see" the Drexlerian vision. Scientists who are simply
devoted to taking things apart (e.g. most health researchers) or
engineers who have a micro-focus (e.g. one rivet in an airplane)
can't see the big picture.


[Note: re: the grey goo/ecophagy problem -- I don't want to reopen
that discussion, because, as Neil Jacobstein pointed out at the
FISA conference, the problem is its too easy to get out-of-sync with
regard to offensive/defensive technological levels. Robert F. has
laid a good foundation, the next level of the discussion would
require a few dozen people versed in weapons tech and nanotech
to sit down and do careful scenario planning and strategy analysis.]

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