Re: Questioning transhumanism & Futures

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Fri Jul 07 2000 - 13:01:39 MDT

"Waldemar Ingdahl" <> writes:

> Transhumanism often falls into the trap of discussing VERY remote
> technologies, while completely neglecting the present. I think it is
> because, if we're discussing the present topics like economics,
> philosophy, sociology etc come into the forefront. But those are not
> topics that people in general discuss at all- they are so mired in
> what is considered "practical" and "moral" today that transhumanists
> even adopt the stasist point of view towards them (comes with the
> fact of a hegemony being present in these topics).

Yes, I have noted this too (and often contributed to it - omega point
physics is so much simpler than economics!).

The problem is that most of us are not well educated in economics,
philosophy and sociology, and that it often doesn't seem they are
necessary. After all, the system largely works, doesn't it? We miss
the obvious stuff just because it is right under our noses, and
concentrate on the rest. But transhumanism is very much about
questioning the way things have always been, *all* of the human
condition - including how we relate to the current philosophical,
political, social and economical systems. If we don't question things,
try to come up with new solutions and then test them to see if they
are better than the current ones we will be dependent on the solutions
other groups produce, solutions which may not just be bad but also
based on fundamentally incompatible values.

I find reading the journal "Futures" valuable, as there I often
encounter radically different ideas about what a desirable future
would be like. There have been papers discussing how to get *out* of
this spiral of technological advancement and into some nice, "more
human", static world - an idea I find abhorrent as stated (because it
implies that *everyone* must do it), but is widely accepted in many
circles. If we don't learn to deal with the real world issues well
from *our* philosophical point of view, the above view might well be
what spreads into most economical and political solutions, badly
cramping us.

On the other hand, in the latest issue of the journal (Futures 32
(2000) 603-612) there was also "Millennium Project's draft scenarios
for the next 1000 years" by Jerome C. Glenn, which contains some
long-range future scenarios from the Millennium Project. These three
scenarios contained many elements we are used to: nanotech, AI,
cyborgization, radical changes in the human condition. One of the
scenarios was a very nice and somewhat Star Trek-esque united Earth in
3000 (but with some problems), another was the extinction of humanity
and the subsequent evolution of AI and the third dealt with a humanity
splitting between people for or against radical technological
changes. The interesting thing was that these ideas are now part of
serious future studies, and they will percolate outwards from there.

This is of course great, but it gave me pause to find that in the list
of factors most likely to affect the next 1000 years immortality was
on the second last place! Also, note the relative ranking here (I
think the index is simply the product of the probability, importance
and priority if they occur):

Ratings of the factors that may influence the next 1000 years

Very long-range factors Probability Importance Priority Index

Human-environment dynamics (3) 4.114 4.163 4.095 70.133
Human genetics (11) 4.302 3.951 4.098 69.655
Safe energy (4) 3.753 4.250 4.341 69.240
Nanotechnology (5) 4.311 3.814 3.930 64.618
Forms of movement (6) 3.091 4.429 4.000 54.760
Increasing intelligence (13) 3.667 4.024 3.548 52.354
Occurrence climate change (2) 3.761 3.977 3.444 51.514
Control forces to destroy humanity (7) 2.891 4.341 3.788 47.539
Conscious-Technology (12) 3.545 3.548 3.738 47.015
Collective futures (9) 3.111 3.744 3.476 40.487
Avoid climate change (1) 2.844 4.163 3.233 38.277
Gender relation (16) 3.444 3.520 3.088 37.435 P
Philosophy and mental maps (8) 3.000 3.538 3.308 35.111
Conscious evolution (14) 2.974 3.556 3.222 34.074
Space migration (18) 3.093 2.977 3.651 33.618
Global ethical system (10) 2.930 3.100 3.525 32.018
Extraterrestrial contact (7) 2.359 3.876 2.811 25.702
Immortality (15) 2.643 2.825 2.825 21.093
Interspecies communication (19) 2.425 2.744 3.051 20.302

I think the ranking tells us much about general opinions on what is

Which of these factors are we discussing the most? Human genetics,
nanotech, increasing intelligence, human extinction, conscious
technology, conscious evolution, space migration, extraterrestrial
contact, immortality and interspecies communication - yes. That mainly
leaves out human-environment dynamics, safe energy, forms of movement,
collective futures, climate change, gender relations, philosophy and
global ethical systems. Sure, we have discussed all of these too, but
with far less rigor (and in many cases with more rancor :-) - but it
is almost half of what the Project considers important for this
millennium! And this is an admittedly hubristic super-long-range
study, a near-term study would almost certainly put a much greater
weight on these issues.

To continue, there is another paper in that issue: (Futures 32 (2000)
595-602) "The twilight of the Baconian age and the future of humanity"
by Francisco Sagasti. This paper claims that the Baconian program is
running out (it can be seen as the program Francis Bacon began 400
years ago with his idea that technology and science can be used to
improve the human condition, that progress is possible, desirable and
nearly inevitable etc), both due to increased internal and external
criticism (that is, the stuff we usually dismiss as "luddites",
"conservatives" and "postmodernist fluff") and the fact that we are
now approaching a state where we are changing the human condition
itself through a very changed view of physics, new discoveries in
ecology, biotechnology, psychology, anthropology, AI, virtual reality
and whatnot that are undermining the old notions of the human as the
center of the universe, or even an individual thing. The paper
concludes that we need a new direction for the post-Baconian

While I dislike the tone of the paper a bit I think it says something
directly to us transhumanists. We are already thinking *partially* in
this post-Baconian world, and we do have the chance to be the ones
that explore it, set the agenda, come up with the influential myths!
But to do that we have to give up the default assumptions of the old -
without falling into a postmodern mist of relativism and hidden
authority worship.

This was just two papers from a single issue, but both suggest that we
1) have a problem and 2) that we have a wonderful opportunity! So
let's start educating ourselves even more in everyday psychology and
philosophy, in economics and ecology, in politics and physics. We need
the practical *combinations*, good ideas like Idea Futures, WWW and
tupperware marketing.

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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