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Meg lives in WA, where she noodles around the internet, plays computer games, and studies a combination of psychology and computer science.

This author has written 4 posts for Hoyden About Town. Read more about Megpie71 »

8 responses to “Some Thoughts on Transhumanism”

  1. Eivind

    There’s a fairly simple explanation for the domination of IT-types in transhumanism. We’ve seen extraordinary exponential progress over several decades. No other field I know of comes close.

    The first computer I used regularly had 64KB of ram. The one I use to type this message on has precisely a factor of one million (64GB) more ram. This happened in 25 years.

    By extrapolating, I can guesstimate that in another 25 years, I’ll have ready access to computers with ram measured in petabytes.

    It’s pretty reasonable to spend some time thinking about just what we’ll use those computers for.

    What you say: that we don’t know how the brain works, is true. But it’s also true that algorithms and hardware always gets better over time – and it’s reasonable to assume that a million times more powerful hardware, compared with better algorithms, will be able to do more than todays computers.

    Strong AI ? No idea. Things that are closer to strong AI than what we’ve got today ? Certainly !

  2. medivh

    Ignoring the culture in the H+ movement for a second, I have to admit that the whole business of artificial intelligence and mind uploading feels too distant for me to be bothered with. I don’t share the optimistic time frames that most H+ people seem to think are possible, and I’m not sure that AI is the panachea that it’s talked up to be.

    I’m more excited about the possibility of mechanical augmentation. To start off with, it would just be a matter of replacing limbs that had been lost to accident, but the end-game of augmentation would allow a human to have direct control over, say, a bomb disposal drone. Or a vehicle – complete with an expanded kinesthetic sense, so that controlling it felt as natural as walking does to an able bodied person. I feel augmentation is a vastly overlooked area of H+ that’s a lot closer and more exiting than most of the rest of it. I mean, we’ve already got bionic ears, and we’re starting to be able to give limited bionic sight to some otherwise blind people.

    Back to the culture aspect; I agree with you, Megpie, that most H+ people are blinding themselves to the potential harms. I think that this will change over the next 10 years, as more women and PsOC get into STEM fields and forcibly remove the ‘other’ label by way of being a consistent presence and reminder that these ‘others’ are people too.

    I think that the next decade will also produce vast changes in education for autistics, like myself, so that arseholes don’t get to pretend they’re incapable instead of unwilling. Especially since most autistics aren’t incapable of considering such concepts as othering. And as we are more widely understood, fewer opportunities will arise for arseholes to use us as cover. Of course, they’ll try another front. But I think they’re running out…

  3. YetAnotherMatt

    To start off with, it would just be a matter of replacing limbs that had been lost to accident, but the end-game of augmentation would allow a human to have direct control over, say, a bomb disposal drone.

    Well, yes, that would be the end game for some people, and for others just a side effect of building a battlemech that can plant bombs.

  4. medivh

    YetAnotherMatt: There are downsides to all technologies. That particular downside is easily predictable and, depending on how you look at it, not particularly down. It’s the same kind of situation that the US air force is raising with UAV aircraft: on the one hand, you have the capability of harm to civilians – much like piloted fighter and bomber craft. On the other hand, UAVs mean no more pilot deaths. Battle mechs potentially harming civilians? Yes, but only in the same way that soldiers already were. Battle mechs saving soldiers lives? I count that as a win. The problem comes not in the technology, but the misuse of power. You know, one of the major reasons HaT exists, if in the misuse of male priviledge rather than military power.

    In short, I think the down sides can be overcome by working on humans rather than preventing technology. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be feminist.

  5. Aqua of the Questioners

    My background is maths/stats and evolutionary biology, so I tend to assume stuff I know nothing about will be more complicated than it first appears, and that it’s really important to pay attention to the bits you don’t know about at all times because that’s what is going to bite you on the bum.

    So transhumanism either confuses or annoys me. Because by one set of definitions, we’ve been “transhuman” as long as we’ve been human, possibly longer (there are two species that might have self-domesticated: cats and humans). The other set of definitions seems to be based on ideas about biology and evolution that aren’t worthy of being printed on the back of cereal boxes.

    Overall, I’m in total agreement with Megpie, but from a different angle, I think.

  6. Chris

    Firstly, there’s the very real tendency on the part of IT and engineering types to consider their expert knowledge about their field makes them experts in every other field.

    Well everyone knows that B.E. stands for Bachelor of everything :-) And there’s certainly a lot of examples out there who believe that’s true. But I don’t know if that stereotype is specific to IT/Engineers or rather just to generally smart people (doctors/lawyers etc) because you see it a lot in people from other fields too. Though perhaps the number of people in IT/Engineering with poor social skills is larger so they come across worse.

    and one of the things which worries me about what I’m studying is there doesn’t seem to be much consideration of the ethics of what’s being done

    I did both computer science and engineering. In computer science there weren’t any courses (elective or not) that covered ethics. It simply wasn’t on the map. The engineering course did have some coverage, though mostly related to the compulsory professional accreditation that you need to act as an engineer.

    I think there’s a general attitude in computer science that what people build are merely tools – for example you can use advances in supercomputing to cure cancer or test nuclear weapons. And its pretty much impossible to advance one without the other. Or another example is the networking technology that can protect your privacy and data from being stolen is exactly the same technology that can be used by oppressive governments to control their citizens.

    From what I’ve read about AI singularity (which admittedly is not a whole lot) it appears that a popular belief is that its going to happen accidentally. Someone will be building a an extremely complicated system and someone will realise its actually sentient. If that’s true its going to be pretty hard to put a stop to that even if we wanted do.

    The knock-on effects of the internet are still being discovered, the ethical ramifications of this greater degree of connectedness are still being explored, and the pitfalls are being fallen into as we discover them.

    That’s true, but I don’t think this is something that can be regulated or controlled like you might find say with medical research.

  7. Louise

    We’re busy wiping out other species and destroying habitat and stuffing the environment life depends on, and these clowns are wrapped up in this sort of stuff …

  8. Feminist Avatar

    Fortunately, there is a whole discipline of people who worry about the ethics of this sort of stuff for you! Donna Haraway is perhaps one of the most famous ethicists who works on this, but this is a big field. There is also a branch called ‘cyberfeminism’, although this is now bigger than just AI and cyborgs and can include scholars working on less biologically-intensive techonologies, like the internet.

    One of the things that strikes me about this isn’t just about whether it’s right or wrong or will cause problems, but it offers some fundamental challenges for some disability rights positions, that argue that differently bodied does not mean a need or desire to be ‘fixed’.

    There is also a whole secular philosophy around the human ‘soul’, to apply a religious term to a complex concept. There are whole branches of philosophy devoted to this idea, who might wonder whether it can be replicated and indeed whether human cyborgs might become less rather than more, by being less than ‘fully’ human.

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