Re: more on Brand and the Singularity idea

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Tue Jan 16 2001 - 19:58:08 MST wrote:
> Hans Moravec calls our intelligent robotic descendents "mind children",
> children who are created by our minds rather than by our bodies.
> We must love our bodies and hate our minds, if the progeny of one is
> honored while the other is a threat.

Moravec paints some pretty scary pictures himself in the sequel
to _Mind Children_ (_Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Being_).
He suggests that unenhanced humans, in order to protect themselves,
may require transhumans who wish to expand their capacities beyond
a certain limit to, in effect, resign from the human race, accept
a severance package, and head out into space. He suggests that the
first of these "Ex"es (as in ex-humans) will rule the roost, picking
off newcomers as they leave the earth, and perhaps eventually
holding Earth hostage. I believe Moravec actually uses the
image of a drop of pond water as a metaphor for the sort of
Darwinian free-for-all he envisions among the Exes in the
Solar System (those with less of a taste for battle
and lucky enough to get through this gauntlet will head straight
for deep space).

Charlie Stross wrote:
> Bzzt: Ken's take on things is not that simplistic. (I hope you aren't
> reading Cassini Division in isolation, rather than as book #3 in a four-
> book set.)

As for Macleod -- no, I haven't read anything besides _Cassini_,
though I have heard rumors that the larger picture he paints is a more
subtle one than might be supposed from that book alone (I should hope so!).
I take it then, that MacLeod's portrayal of the "Outwarders" is
not necessarily the author's own view of the matter.

"Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:
> Dale Johnstone wrote:
> >
> > Please be more careful when quoting people. I'm sure the context of the word
> > 'humanity' indicated 'human-ness'. I really don't think Eliezer means he
> > doesn't care about the people living now, far from it.
> Thank you, Dale! You phrased that perfectly - better than I did, in fact.
> I've changed positions quite a bit over the years...

Well, it was a paraphrase from memory, not a direct quote. I don't
think it was a careless misrepresentation -- I've been reading
Yudkowsky's Web articles since 1997 with some attention, and I
could have sworn I've read things on this list (and in the
Meaning of Life FAQ) to the effect that the rational goal of
thinking folks at this stage of history should be to abet the
creation of an SI, that what happens to the human race after that
will be pretty much up to the SI, and that if there seems to be
a conflict of interest between humanity and the SI then, again,
rational folks will support the SI because it will know best.

It all sounds a bit like that 1969 movie "Colossus: The Forbin Project",
which is a very grown-up treatment of the subject (much more so than
"The Matrix"). However, it was not my intention to attack this
position, merely to exhibit it (from memory) as the sort of thing
that can give ordinary folks the shivers. I mentioned Yudkowsky specifically
only because he has laced his (high-profile, as such things go) Web
essays with such verve and personality.

Apologies to Eliezer if I have overlooked his most recent positions on
these matters -- I certainly didn't mean to suggest that **he** is a monster!
Also, perhaps the juxtaposition with de Garis and Warwick was a bit
misleading. However, it's been my impression that being willing even to contemplate
the end of humanity (whether by death or the metamorphosis of
"human-ness" into something else) -- to take a cosmic, Stapledonian view of the
place of Man in the cosmos -- gets one pegged as somewhat cold-
blooded by a lot of people with more conventional horizons.

I got a face full of this back in 6th grade (in 1963 or 64), when
I dared to mention Arthur C. Clarke's _Profiles of the Future_ (and
in particular, some of the stuff in a chapter entitled "The Obsolescence
of Man") in a class discussion. The hapless teacher, Mrs. W., reacted
with a mixture of scorn, anger, and (I think) fear that my
tender mind had been polluted by such rubbish. She didn't send
me to the principal's office, but she was at pains to point out to
the rest of the class that such notions as cybernetic organisms
and personal immortality were sheer hogwash: "Strike that from
the record!", she said, in effect. In retrospect, that doesn't
surprise me, but it's a little disappointing that I was apparently
the only one in class who was reading that stuff. Come to think of
it, that was around the same time that I first saw what remains
my all-time favorite portrayal of a transhuman -- David McCallum's
role as Gwyllm Griffiths in the original _Outer Limits_ episode
"The Sixth Finger".

I guess the point I was trying to make is that it may not
ever be possible, or even desirable, to candy-coat this stuff
for the masses. Most people still get the screaming meemies
at the sort of universe that modern science rubs Man's face
in -- particularly the Darwinian vision of life. Any film buffs
remember Katherine Hepburn as Violet Venable in the movie
of Tennessee Williams' _Suddenly Last Summer_ describing her
poet son Sebastian's reaction to seeing the birds swoop down
on the newly-hatched sea turtles during a visit to the
Encantadas? That's what I mean.

Finally, abject apologies for the inconvenient line breaks in my last couple
of posts -- they were originating in my own Netscape outgoing message
settings, which I have adjusted.

Jim F.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:56:20 MDT