Re: Interview for all Extropians

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Tue Nov 13 2001 - 06:54:23 MST

On Tue, Nov 13, 2001 at 06:12:43AM -0500, wrote:
> Hello Extropian crew:
> Below are some questions I originally submitted to T.O. Morrow. If anyone
> would like to add their own replies to my questions, please do so under each
> T.O. Morrow entry. A bio of each contributor would also be appreciated.

Here are my comments:

> JEREMY: As far as current paradigms go, it has been a pet-peeve of mine to
> see critiques of Virtual Reality constantly tied to the limits posed by
> ???immersion???. For example, in the seminal work ???DataTrash??? by Arthur and
> Marilouise Kroker, virtualization is seen as a process where the physical
> properties of the flesh are consumed or ???harvested??? into a partial and
> incomplete reality. In a sense, one would become immersed in a space that is
> not equally co-existing with reality. Therefore, some critics are saying
> that virtualization initially seduces the body through its promise of
> (immersive) escapism but eventually degrades the physical integrity of
> meatspace by retreating into a false and secondary reality. Even today, new
> realities being built by developing and speculative technologies are being
> confused with having exclusively immersive properties. An Extropian example
> that comes to mind is the dream of uploading our minds into an immersed
> collective-super-conscious entity. As far as I understand, this is still a
> desirable Extropian vision.
> TOMORROW: Though I cannot pretend to speak for every self-proclaimed
> Extropian, I for one do not aim at Borganization. I certainly aim to change
> and grow, understand; I do not aim to obliterate my individuality, however.

There are two issues here: the creation of virtual environments having
more or less connection to "base reality", and the creation of new ways
of being. The first effort may be motivated by escapism, art or the need
for worlds more amenable to change - be it a physical world augmented by
virtual overlays, a physical world controllable through nanotechnology
or an entirely virtual world designed to demonstrate a scientific
concept. Whether this leads to a retreat into a false reality depends on
far more than just the technology. I think the existential computing
ideas of Steve Mann show that a virtualization can instead lead to an
enhanced participation in the real world.

As for creating new forms of being, that may be motivated by a
cybergnostic denial of the flesh but also the desire of more fulfilling
forms of existence. Again, what is more important is not the immersion
but what values are driving it.

> JEREMY: Has ???immersion??? become synonymous with ???evolution???? If not, do you
> see the possibility that our definition of the world ???virtual??? is at this
> point narrow and that a future VR will include extroverted realities that
> harmonize with the???real??? rather than harvest it?
> TOMORROW: I recognize the possibility that you describe--that virtual
> realities will always retain links with external meatspace. And, indeed, I
> regard purely virtual realities as more a theoretical possibility than a
> likely eventuality. But at any rate, your question concerns conditions at
> too far a remove to allow very confident claims.

Currently work on augmented reality, where the virtual and real worlds
are superimposed, show great promise of making immersion part of the
real world rather than an escape from it. The main issue is of course
which aspects of the real world to attend to - living in a multilayered
reality requires new perception skills or augmentation to really produce
an enhanced reality rather than a more confused reality. This is where
the transhumanist interest in finding ways of human augmentation meshes
well with efforts to create more human realities.

> JEREMY: As of today (November 08, 2001), I have heard the news that the first
> single-molecule transistor has been developed by Bell Labs (a division of
> Lucent Technologies). From hearing this news, I am reminded of a prediction
> by Wired Magazine (I think in 1998) that if we progress according to plan, we
> will have the first commercial nano-assembler on the market by 2004. Given
> the current rate of technological benchmarks and breakthroughs, do you think
> that such a prediction by Wired may still be accurate?
> TOMORROW: No, I would not bet on that prediction.

Neither do I. But reading Nature, Science and Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences these days does give the same thrill as
science fiction magazines once gave...

> JEREMY: Given this, what do you think will be the first commercial
> applications of the assembler? Do you envision any immediate
> artistic/cultural/aesthetic applications of the assembler once it is on the
> market?
> TOMORROW: I predict the first assemblers will work mainly on materials
> manufacturing, since they offer a relatively easy first job. For that
> reason, I do not foresee any immediate culture effects--unless you include
> recouping R&D costs as part of culture!

Nanoassemblers are merely tools in the same way microprocessors are -
they enable a host of abilities but are in themselves not that "sexy".
But just as computers had significant cultural effects long before
reaching the microprocessor stage, emerging nanotechnology will likely
affect culture. A renewed interest in the possibilities of the very
small, the organic shapes created by biotechnology and supramolecular
chemistry, the possibilities of materials with ultraprecise texturing
and novel properties, all of these are possible cultural effects.

On the commercial side, assemblers are likely best at making new
assemblers and molecular tools. Already before them limited systems will
act as artificial enzymes, at first changing chemical production, later
medicine, materials and computing.

> JEREMY: Here is an elaboration/extension on Question #2. Since September the
> 11th, there has been a lot of government money thrown towards the U.S.
> National Nanotechnology Initiative and Nanotech startup companies such as
> Zyvex Corp. in Dallas. Given the logic of the ???trickle down effect???, when
> do you see this technology filtering down from the Defense and Medical
> priorities down to the level of the personal prosumer?
> TOMORROW: I'm not really very well placed to make predictions on timetables,
> so I'll only venture a range from 2015-2050.

I would agree. The problem is that predicting the rate of advance of any
future technology is highly uncertain, but this question adds the
economic, political and cultural dimensions to it. It might well be that
(as possibly in the case of genetic modifications) the greatest
applications of nanotechnology in manufacturing and personal life will
not occur in the first world but the third world.

> JEREMY: The Foresight Institute has given a lot of attention to cautious and
> thoughtful discussions towards the practical and moral implications of
> Nanotechnology but little foresight has happened with regards to discussions
> dealing with the future of cultural discourse once this promised technology
> has arrived.. At first glance, this may not seem too strange because the
> immediate foresight necessarily needs to deal with issues that may mold or
> destroy our environment totally. However, the apparent lack of initiating
> any active cultural thinktank devoted to foresight may be lacking foresight
> itself as K. Eric Drexler in his book ???Engines of Creation??? (1986) seemed
> to suggest that the end-goal of Nanotechnology is to create a generation of
> liberated Performance Artists because Nanotechnology should in theory,
> provide for all our material wants and needs. The only thing left to explore
> and maintain would ultimately be culture. So, what importance do you place
> the value of developing a creative thinktank at his time? Or, do you think
> it is best for the technology to arrive first before the context is
> appropriate for thinking about the specific direction that creative
> individuals will take?
> TOMORROW: I think Foresight has taken the correct focus. To try to predict
> culture would at best waste time, and at worst fritter away resources better
> spent on more concrete and preliminary matters. The very nature of culture
> renders it immune to prediction; it arises out of the interactions of free
> individuals in a particular place and time. We can only wait and see--with
> great anticipation--what tomorrow's artists will create with
> nanotechnological tools. I think Foresight has taken the correct focus. To
> try to predict culture would at best waste time, and at worst fritter away
> resources better spent on more concrete and preliminary matters. The very
> nature of culture renders it immune to prediction; it arises out of the
> interactions of free individuals in a particular place and time. We can only
> wait and see--with great anticipation--what tomorrow's artists will create
> with nanotechnological tools.

I agree with T.O. Morrow about the impossibility of predicting culture.
But culture is far more than art - it is about values, ethics, shared
symbols and themes. And these things matter deeply in how nanotechnology
will be shaped. Cultural foresight would not deal with predicting a
future culture but in actively creating it - by seeking out currently
isolated strands of discourse and bringing them together, opening
channels of dialogue between C.P. Snow's two cultures and by formulating
ideas for philosophy and culture that might help form a basis for a
culture adapted to a world with nanotechnology and other radical
technology. Technology and culture (co)evolve together. This might not
be the job of Foresight Institute, but it is still necessary work to do
if we want to avoid having a world with radical technology but totally
outmoded ideology.

> Jeremy Turner is instructing a new course on the ???History of Digital Audio???
> starting this April, 2002 at the Vancouver Community College in Vancouver,
> Canada. Turner is also a composer and inter-disciplinary artist. He is the
> co-founder of an international artist collective, 536 (
> Turner used to be a regular Arts/Entertainment critic for AOL Canada and
> website reviewer for in New York.

Anders Sandberg is researching computational neuroscience at the Royal
Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden and a writer for the
think-tank Eudoxa AB. He participated in the founding of the Swedish
Transhumanist Association and has been active debater in transhumanist
circles for many years. He is also interested in the intersection
between art and science, working in graphics and scientific

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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