Re: Economics, posthumanity, and self-replication (was: MORALITY)

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Fri Nov 09 2001 - 16:29:35 MST

On Fri, Nov 09, 2001 at 09:14:54AM -0800, Robert J. Bradbury wrote:
> Anders wrote:
> > the most powerful impact is with the idea that within a few years
> > you *must* get yourself a better brain in order to avoid becoming
> > poor and powerless.
> But is that idea valid? Where does it come from?

I don't think so, but I think we need to do a careful look into the
problem (I plan to do it together with a social democrat political
scientist friend - we have very different perspectives but can at least
discuss, and are both very interested in finding the answer).

I think the origin is easy to figure out: people feel threatened by
change, since that requires costly adaptation and most people evaluate
risks as greater than opportunities (we are likely very biased in the
other direction on this list). Add to this around 200 years of the idea
that society is driven by competition and struggle rather than
cooperation and trade, and you get a likely memetic source for such

> The concept of "poor and powerless" suggests that in some way their
> survival will be threatened. But as "we" know there are plenty
> of resources to support the population we can envision existing
> on the planet within the next 50-100 years. There is no need
> for SIs to run around eliminating persons who choose to remain
> pre-post-human. There seems to be no inherently obvious argument
> as to why upevolution is required unless you propose an argument
> that some amoral SI chooses to gobble up all the matter and energy
> locally available.

Being poor and powerless has historically meant that your safety has
been in the hands of someone else, and that in turns has implied that
you were very seldom truly safe. This is likely to continue, even when
everybody is extremely wealthy and capable.

> > That slots neatly into a lot of political pre-programming and
> > gives us a ready-made organized political resistance to our projects.
> People operate with meme sets that say "If I'm alive, my current
> operating system (gene/meme-set) must be working." It is change itself
> that produces the resistance -- not so much "political pre-programming".
> This is, IMO, more "genetic pre-programming". Accelerating change
> generates accelerating resistance because you have increasingly diminished
> confidence that your current gene/meme-set will ensure survival.

I disagree with this. One thing I have learned after starting to really
read up on the history of ideas, philosophy, media and the ideas of our
opponents is that ideology matters a lot. To take an example, why would
the resistance to genetic engineering develop as fast as it has, when
directly applicable products (=change) have not appeared until recently?
The protests started in the 70's, long before even the basic experiments
were done. The increased resistance is to a large extent due to the
formation of very capable institutions and memetic channels for the
resistance, regardless of the factual threats to gene/meme-set. Change
may be the basic emotional fuel, but the motor is ideology.

> I've looked briefly at the "The ETC Century" and its a significant
> piece. It isn't clear to me from glancing at it (I haven't read
> all 128 pages in detail) what their primary gripe is. It seems
> that they are afraid that corporations will end up concentrating
> and controlling the technologies, ascerbating inequalities
> destroying the environment & biodiversity. It discusses
> pretty much everything -- biotech, nanotech, human performance
> enhancement, bioterrorism, global media enterprises, etc.

Note that it also suggests that all these are connected and should be
resisted. They are just waiting for somebody to give them a name for
this immense evil that must be crushed... Maybe it would be
"hyperhumanism" or "anti-entropism" or something like it?

> One interesting quote:
> "As our survival base erodes and uncertain new technologies muscle
> their way into our social infrastructure, extraordinarily powerful
> new corporate configurations are replacing governments and engineering
> new systems of control over almost everything."
> It seems to come across as anti-technology and anti-change in general.

Yes. But they are also far better than us at getting their ideas across
(where is the corresponding transhumanist report?), getting funding and
getting the ears of politicians and lobbyists. This group is hardly the
most skilled in this respect, but I was got a real fright when I noticed
that the little lady next to me at a genetics conference last week had
one of their reports in her paper pile. They are getting widespread.

At the same time, note that we do not have the huge conspiracy of
corporate power they assume supporting us! One reason is that we have
not been working enough to connect with the right networks, another is
that the "corporate conspiracy" doesn't really exist and at least is
ideologically not aware. Why else would Monsanto fail so totally at
handling the anti-GMO opinion? One thing we saw again and again in our
work with the book was that the pro-genetics side failed at addressing
ethical issues - it was always the opposition that had ethical claims,
and most attempts to counter them simply tried to show them to be
factually wrong rather than to show that genetic engineering can be the
ethical thing to do and relinquisment unethical. This is a huge hole I
think a mature transhumanist philosophy can fill - and actually act as
the glue creating a powerful force for technology and change - but we
need a lot of work to get there.

> The thing is that the technologies *will* make "current inequalities
> *worse*" but it seems to me that you will have a fair amount of choice
> as to precisely *where* you want to be in terms of your use of those
> technologies (a pre-post-human Amish lifestyle to an uploaded Jupiter
> Brain). In that respect, the report seems to want to push us
> in the direction where every individual *is* precisely equal.
> So much for cultural diversity.

Well, if you look at the political undertones and ideological pedigree
of the document it becomes fairly clear why having everybody equally
poor is seen as better than having them inequally rich.

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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