Professor Froward's Slough of Despond

Proud purveyor of flawed generalizations and vacuous tautologies.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Transhumanism, futurism, gibberish

Reynolds mutters about the "singularity", which is the idea that technology will, finally, after all these millenia, change us instead of just our diet and our commuting habits. It's not far from the usual "futurist" nonsense (the clueless technopundit kind, not the Italian art movement). "Futurism" is normally the practice of picking trends so glaringly obvious that even a "futurist" will notice them, and mechanically extrapolating them into the future to generate predictions about where society is going. The problem is that the obvious trends have already run their course, mostly. This method of augury therefore has the unique property of guaranteed failure; unlike reading chicken guts, there's no hope of a one-in-a-trillion lucky guess. Back in the 1990s, some people charged money for this crap.

The "singularity" idea attempts to work around the guaranteed-failure feature by recognizing that you can't actually predict anything. If you can't predict the future, they reason, the future must be infinitely weird, so weird that when we get there we'll be infinitely weird ourselves. That's just silly, and a non sequitur too. It's an SF idea, literally. Not serious stuff.

It reminds me of the "transhumanist" folks who used to run around loose during the tech bubble. As I recall, the leading lights were mostly dot-com millionaires who mistook the brownian motion of greater-fool speculators for evidence of their own business genius. They're still around, though. The World Transhumanist Association's website says they're "for the ethical use of technology to extend human capacities". Well, they haven't extended their own capacities far enough to use GIFs instead of JPEGs for text: Look at the logo, top center on the page. It's all speckly around the text where it ought to be white. Lossy compression, guys. Bad choice for line art. Someday, my descendants will still be hairless apes, while theirs may be tentacled biocomputers in a methane atmosphere, but I bet their web site will still look like crap.

Babbling giddily about "the future" doesn't make you futuristic yourself, any more than babbling about Darwinism makes you fit to survive, or marching in protests makes you virtuous, or reading Ayn Rand turns you into an industrial genius, or betting on the Preakness makes you a horse.