EXTRO-3: a former layabout from England writes

Darren Reynolds (extro@blue.demon.co.uk)
Sun, 10 Aug 1997 08:55:52 +0100

Day One.

Of course, if you're a transhumanist extropian, you can't attend a
conference where K. Eric Drexler is the after-dinner speaker, and leave not
feeling that his presence was the reason for yours. But list subscribers
might already know that.

For me, the surprises lay elsewhere in the proceedings. The conference
seems to me a monumental achievement for the Extropy Institute. That so
many radically conservative thinkers could be assembled into such a small
space all at the same time is a most pleasing opportunity to those of us
who have our minds open to the future.

Anders Sandberg has made an indelible impression on my memory with his talk
covering techniques to improve recall and the process of thought. What a
character. I always loved his virtual personality, but the real fellow is
even more fun. I do hope we get a chance to talk over breakfast tomorrow.
Picture in your mind the Swedish chef from The Muppet Show, replace the
chicken with a presentation pointer, make him sixty years old, add a
generous helping of computational neuroscience, some white hair, some thick
glasses and, even though Anders' hair isn't actually white yet and he's in
his mid-twenties, you will know what Anders is about. It's an avatar that
works well for me, and I hang on his words.

I did find the inclusion of a debate on the future of gender quite bizarre.
I fail to see that gender has any long-term future, a view I did not change
today. It was pleasing, though, to hear Christopher Heward, Ph.D., (an
endocrinologist) announce quite publicly his down-to-earth disagreement
with the widespread, educated thinking on what gender is all about. His
views on the subject clearly come from his groin, and what better place?
This is social interaction in today's real world of testosterone, not that
mysterious plane of "enlightenment" where one can cite study after study on
why there are umpteen different variations on gender and sexuality, despite
what can plainly be seen and emotionally felt when one looks between one's
legs. Of the panelists, only Natasha actually commented on the FUTURE of
anything. But despite the expectations one might have had from the title to
the contrary, nobody actually discussed the future of GENDER. I still
couldn't grasp just what, in a posthuman world, I would need gender for. I
had some sympathy with Kathryn Aegis, whose widely heard yet silent
statement was the loudest of all contributions. (She wasn't there.)

Stephen Coles, M.D., Ph.D., started out very promisingly, warning so loudly
that one should be cautious when listening to charlatans. One must not
accept medical advice from someone who cannot back it up with a reference
to sound research, he said. He then gave some medical advice, and, only
when questioned, admitted that there was no research to back up the advice
whatsoever. So, before all men go cutting iron from their diets, I suggest
first adding a pinch of sodium and chloride.

The cryonicists appear finally to have recruited Dr. Drexler, not only as a
subscriber but also as a salesman. I'm familiar with the "you die / you die
/ you die / you don't" matrix, which must have persuaded at least a few to
part with their hard-earned cash, but I'm still surprised that I don't hear
anyone quizzing whether they could extend their lives more assuredly by,
say, buying additional safety features in their home and car. The day has
not YET come for ME when I believe that for a given amount of money, the
period of extension multiplied by the probablity it will work is greater
for cryonics than for buying better food and taking more excercise. If I
spend the money on cryonics today instead of on time off work to excercise,
then maybe I will "die" so soon that the freezing technology won't do a
good enough job. Afford the excercise, goes the theory, and I'll make it as
far as the five star freezer.

Greg Stock, by contrast, was fascinating. His demonstration of the
ludicrousness of popular opinion on germline genetic engineering was, for
me at least, thoroughly convincing. He reported that, asked whether they
would genetically modify their offspring to enhance functionality, Thailand
had a majority positive response, whilst the U.S. was seriously
unsupportive of the idea. I couldn't help but wonder whether the dominant
variation inter eastern and western religions was at the root. His report
that major in-vivo modification was "much more difficult" than ex-vivo and
germline engineering was disappointing. Like the Americans, I won't be
modifying my children. But I WOULD like to modify myself.

And the ever-present Max has managed to transform me at once from a
relatively static entity into a continually changing process which actively
seeks criticism in order to develop more rapidly. Thanks, Max, and, er,
wood shavings to you, too.

So far, a nice trip to California for a salesman from England.