Re: Heresy

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Thu Aug 09 2001 - 17:01:08 MDT

"" wrote:
> More productively, a contact lens is an excellent example in expressing
> how humans have been augmenting their bodies for quite some time and
> that it is a technological manifestation from the first magnifying
> glass designed many centuries ago. By this example, it is easier to
> explain to people how such technologies, which are commonplace today,
> were considered science fiction many yeas ago. Iím sure when Leonardo
> da Vinci designed the contact lens, it was considered novel but
> unrealistic. Albeit, this line of thinking is very important to
> understanding the human desire to improve him/herself and actualizing
> such augmentations.

I think here we have the basic root of the disagreement. Contact lenses
are part of a continuing trend toward *physical* transhumanity that
started with wooden legs; contact lenses are on the path to Primo 3M, and
adaptive-optics LASIK even more obviously so. Humanity's past experience
with physical enhancement has shown that, despite the inevitable cries of
<whatever>, physical enhancement is a good thing that makes everyone's
lives easier; even if the technology is expensive at first, it soon
becomes cheaper. Repeated disproof of the naysayers has demonstrated that
physical enhancement has basically no drawbacks, only benefits. It is
both legitimate and valid to take a physical transhumanity scenario like
3M and draw a line from that to contact lenses; the metaphor reflects a
similarity of underlying causes. In speaking to an audience, one would
expect them to sense the validity of this metaphor and to be justly

But to me, "transhuman" has almost purely the connotation of a transhuman
mind. An ape may be able to lift heavier weights than I do, but he is not
a transhuman. A human is a human mind; the brain is what sets the human
species aside and defines our ecological niche, not sharp eyes or rending
talons or poisonous fangs. A being with a tail and four arms and a human
psychology is a human in a funny suit. So if we're talking about
cognitive transhumanity, which is the territory that humanity will be
entering shortly, then it is utterly unlike anything in humanity's social
or technological experience. I would expect even the most unprepared,
nontechnical audience to be disturbed on some level by any analogy between
"transhumanity" and contact lenses, sensing intuitively that it really
isn't the same thing at all, even if they would find it difficult to put
the problem into words.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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