An article, a rant really, yesterday, in Counterpunch titled “If Only Glenn Beck Were A Cyborg,” — in which author David Correia goes to the recent Singularity Summit and finds that the “Singularity Movement” is “made up of university scientists, technocapitalists, and military funders” and is a tool of… “the bourgeois dream of class domination and faith in technoscience”… and that it hides “its corporate face with scientific fact, military control with techno-enthusiasm, and ruling class ideology for general human benefit.”
So there I am curiously reading along, when I come to this sentence in the third paragraph: “The journal, H+ (Humanity Plus), along with a host of institutions, centers and even universities advance a research agenda many refer to as ‘transhumanism’ in which the problems of human intelligence and immortality are primary subjects.” And for a moment, I wondered: what is this H+ Journal? And then it hit me. He’s talking about us! Us? A Journal?! A tool of the ruling class yet. Does that mean my all volunteer staff can finally get paid? I’m chuffed! Jeeves, fetch my saddle and bring Mr. Ed out to the courtyard. It’s time to celebrate with a round of Polo!
Well OK, getting more serious… arguably something like ‘”The Singularity” could permanently stamp its corporate sponsors’ logos on the exo-neocortex copies of us all as we upload our psyches onto slick little Apple devices where we will only get to access realities that have signed an exclusive contract with Steve Jobs. And arguably, aspects of the “Singularity Movement” may play into the fantasies of a few billionaires who have experienced a revolution in rising expectations over the last three decades… “Let’s see, I’ve got the 14 houses, the 8 boats, the 10 private jets, the private Island in the Pacific, the surgically sculpted trophy wife… what else is there? I know. I’ll live forever in a super-body on the moon with Branson!” The economics of all this are a lot more complex than billionaires plotting to live forever and screw the rest of ya, but I’ll leave that for another time. (I do go into my thoughts on it a bit here.)
Correia, of course, paints a diverse culture with a broad brush — failing to distinguish between singularitarianism and transhumanism, for one, and amongst singularitarians for another. And what about this idea that the Singularity Movement is “made up of university scientists, technocapitalists, and military funders.” Absolutely true. And hackers, open source fanatics, citizen scientists, ordinary tech enthusiasts, and dreamers of various political bents (including leftists). In other words, it has basically the same social and cultural dynamic that has been in play in technoculture since the mid-1980s… maybe with more of a leaning toward the big establishment types than, say, in the more broad-based transhumanist movement, but all the types are very much in play. And as always, they exist sometimes in easy alliance, sometimes in uneasy alliance, and sometimes in opposition.
Underlying the usual concerns about class distinctions, Correia uses singularitarianism as a launching pad for his view that the program of technological progress should be in doubt: “The long held progressive view of technology took hit after hit in the twentieth century. Barbaric world wars, the possibility of nuclear apocalypse, and the failure of either industrial capitalism or state communism to resolve social problems such as poverty and inequality…”
This, too, is a serious discussion that I can’t — or won’t —do justice to in this brief commentary. Obviously, most of us want technology to do good things for us and to not do bad things to us. I would suggest that Correia probably shares the goals — and apparent possibilities — of conquering diseases, getting clean and plentiful energy, and ending the conditions of scarcity, projects that seem to require radical technological change.
It seems to me that Correia and others like him are giving up, assuming that they can’t win (or at least influence) a battle to have radical technological development serve what they perceive as humane purposes Correia quotes Karl Marx: “‘…’the hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord’ wrote Karl Marx in the Poverty of Philosophy, ‘the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.”” But Marx also believed that industrial capitalism, in the context of human history up to that point, had been a progressive force. Neomarxists like Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt believe that contemporary techno-capitalism has also been largely a progressive force, again within the context of history. Marx believed — and Negri believes that humanity can do better; that it can eliminate all forms of domination using Marxism as a roadmap… when the conditions are right. That certainly remains to be seen (the 20th century attempts?… not so good!)
So maybe Correia should get in the game, instead of standing outside and jeering. All social relations are still in play, and if anything, extreme technology is a disrupter that could change everything in unexpected ways.