Rapture with Constraints?

   H+, Transhumanists [1] hope that science and technology will eventually
   radically improve human characteristics and capacities (mental and physical).

   Radical and profound transformations (Rapture of the Nerds [2]) are not
   on everyones wishlish though!

    Indeed, some believe it would be wrong for humans to tamper with fundamental aspects of themselves.
    Wrong to create a new ersatz religion. A ''religion'' based on greed - for longer and healthier lives,
    additional intelligence and memories etc. - and naive dreams about utopia.
    And some just don't think humans are capable of radical and profound transformations.
    Certain, it will just never happen.

    So, who is right?
    a) Will human characterics and capacities radically change?
    b) Should people hope for such changes?
        Indeed, will such proposed changes be moral or immoral?

    An investigation follows.

    February 28th, 2010 - by Simon Laub - Email: slaub@csc.com

 Clifford Stoll in 1995:  Predicting the future of the internet.

  Obviously, we won't know the future until we get there.
  On one side we have the singularity crowd that tells ud that just about everything tech will happen soon.
  And on the other hand we have sceptics - luddites, technophobes and (certainly) realists,
  who doesn't buy into current (2010) singularity dreams.

  Personally, I think some sort of middle ground seems to be the best approach.
  When the singularity crowd tells us that we will all be wearing brain caps (Arthus C. Clarke style)
  - and more - in 20 years time - I'm a little sceptical.
  Futuropolis 2058 is just not that easy to create.

  But on the other hand, I think Arthur C. Clarke gave us some pretty good quotes:

    When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible,
    he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible,
    he is very probably wrong.

    Arthur C. Clarke, Clarke's first law.

    At the present rate of progress, it is almost impossible to imagine any technical feat
    that cannot be achieved - if it can be achieved at all - within the next few hundred years.

    Arthur C. Clarke, 1983.

  The elderly scientists and reporters certainly seem to go out of their way to prove Clarke right.
  My favourite example is Clifford Stoll's piece about the internet from 1995:

    The Internet? Bah!
    Hype alert: Why cyberspace isn't, and will never be, nirvana
    Consider today's online world. The Usenet, a worldwide bulletin board, allows anyone to post messages
    across the nation. Your word gets out, leapfrogging editors and publishers. Every voice can be heard
    cheaply and instantly. The result? Every voice is heard. The cacophany more closely resembles citizens
    band radio, complete with handles, harrasment, and anonymous threats. When most everyone shouts, few listen.
    How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on disc. At best, it's an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow
    of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can't tote that laptop to the beach. Yet
    Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we'll soon buy books and
    newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.

    Then there's cyberbusiness. We're promised instant catalog shoppingójust point and click for great deals.
    We'll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts.
    Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire
    Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over
    the Internetówhich there isn'tóthe network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

  Clifford Stoll in Newsweek feb 27th 1995 [3].
  Stoll is the author of "Silicon Snake Oil--Second Thoughts on the Information Highway."

  It doesnt prove that you will be wearing a braincap in 20 years time,
  or that the socalled Rapture of the Nerds, uploading our consciousnesses into cyberspace,
  is a certainty.
  But it does suggest that the answer to a) is probably not going to be
  ''human characterics and capacities will always stay the same'' !   :-)

  See the Long Now list [4] for additional reflections.

 Rapture of the Nerds - Future wishlish of the singularity crowd.

 To transhumanists, glasses and birth-control pills are but the first steps in becoming a true cyborg....
 Which is all good, as noone can ''seriously argue that the apex of intelligent life is the state
 crafted by the processes of natural selection''
[5]? Indeed, most transhumanists will tell you
 that the human species is not forever destined to remain a purely biological entity!
 Advances in biotechnology, cybernetics and information technologies, molecular nanotechnology etc.
 will, according to transhumanists, make it a pretty safe bet that humanity is poised to under go
 a transformation that will be nothing short of radical and profound!?

 If not the full Rapture of the Nerds with uploading of consciousnesses into cyberspace,
 then surely the transhumanists expect things like:
 According to the transhumanist credo [7]: "...to the extent intelligence can be improved,
 it will be improved."

 And why stop here on Earth with humans? In sci-fi novelist David Brin's [8] the uplift wars one
 sapient species after another (throughout the galaxy) uses genetic engineering to uplift
 non-sapient species to sapiency [9].
 In Brin's books, humanity uplifts dolphins and chimps. But, it can come as no surprise
 that many transhumanists see this is as way too little too late :-)
 Indeed, what should stop us from uplifting cows, if we just gave them hands?
 [10], [11].

 The ''no-singularity please''-crowd sees it differently though.

 Here, uplifting a non-human species is a crazy idea. As is the idea of creating diminished humans.
 Indeed, uplifted creatures (that are then the moral equivalent of humans) serves what purpose?
 Are they to be subhumans, happy slaves, creatures with constrained or predetermined psychologies,
 beings to be used for demeaning or dangerous work? - sounds kind of immoral?
 And what might happen if the uplifters overshot and created cows that are smarter than we are?
 The ''no-singularity please''-crowd is indeed sceptical!
 And Googling it gives you a lot more scepticism:

 Rapture with constraints.

 So, are we convinced by the singularity-tech-yes or the singularity-tech-no crowd?
 Probably, most people end up in the middle - as usual :-)

 So for b) the right answer is ''With rapture -- there should also be caution and constraints,
 but then we might proceed...'' :-)
 Indeed - Inhancements, moral or immoral - What will we think?
 Probably, we will end up using the tried and tested trial and error approach !?
 If some biotech treatment or enhancement induces a sense of purposelessness,
 meaninglessness or feeling of immorality, then people will not choose it.
 Otherwise - they just might. And so, towards the singularity....


Simon Laub

Posted on Usenet - March 6th 2010:

Subject: Rapture with Constraints
From: Simon Laub
Newsgroups: rec.arts.sf.science,alt.history.future,comp.society.futures
Followup: rec.arts.sf.science
Keywords: H+, Transhumanists, Singularity, Future Society, Rapture of the Nerds.
Sent: Saturday, March 06, 2010 10:31 PM