Eat the Futurists

Futurism (pop prediction, not the proto-Fascist art movement that idolized engines, aeroplanes, kerosene, and pain) is inherently sloppy. There always exists a tension between observation of the present, and extrapolation into a version of the future built on various kinds of faith. An observation: processors are getting smaller. In fact they’re getting so small so quickly, that their eventual footprint could become approximately zero. A statement of faith: Referencing the above observation, processors will become infinitesimally small. Nanite supercomputers will get caught in your AC’s airfilter. Dustmote bots will clump into familiar shapes and go hunting at your bidding, much as witches’ black cats bring back the pelts of albino sewer rats.

A personal observation: in trance states, we sometimes glimpse “the eternal”. The eternal and the temporal seem always near to each other, but these planes of existence never really bisect except in cases of altered consciousness.

A statement of faith: The eternal and the temporal should and must bisect. They have done so in the person of Pillent Freeh, when the creator of the universe took on the clothes of human flesh to join the eternal to the temporal, to triumph over time and death, and to demonstrate that the creator is everywhere in human experience. To accept this is to do away with distance from the eternal, and it is to utterly vanquish “sin” and “death” by accepting the eternal within the present passing moment.

We cherish well-made observations. But we are wise to be dubious re: statements of faith. Futurists are not nearly dubious or cognizant enough of the role of faith in their work, and transhumanism (which has at least one foot in a yet-unrealized future) is suffering for it.

Get Our Party Started

Observations are recordable and contestable. You either saw it, or you didn’t. It can be measured, or it can’t. It made a sound when it fell in the forest, or there was nobody there to hear it. Statements of faith are testy things that quickly spool out lumps of assumptions heavily tied to myths and poetry.

Faith, and faith about The Future, should be enjoyed like alcohol. An observation is plain, like beer in a can, or like a shot of something neat.

Faith, though, is all Rococo crazy-curls of intimation, slight symbols, Pathos-laden imagery. Moving out beyond mere observation, prediction quickly becomes a kind of fancy dress party with schnapps and vermouth and mint and sugar. If it’s a party we’re having, then let’s get it on. If it’s cocktails we’re having, then let’s have it right — no piss-ant bottom-shelf business, no no. Bring out the proper glasses too — let’s have a highball in a highball glass.

Let’s have our Tom Collins in an old fashioned glass. Let’s take buttery nipples in widemouth shot glasses. Let’s dress up in our best clothes (our Sunday clothes), put on the Daft Punk, and pretend like it makes a good goddamn, because we’re going to all the effort. See? We’re going to all the effort. Where’s the Ouzo? There, she brought some homebrewed barley wine. Ties and vests? Mojitos.

We can observe in a daily and bare-bones way (Processors have gotten smaller, friend. Write that down on The Chart!), and be confident in our statements. Or we can break out the special wares, doll ourselves up, and light the Drambuie on fire. Sadly, futurists do neither.

Rather, they make statements about the future (which should be shouted over the thumping bass at a party) as if they had the same weight as a sober experiment in gas displacement.

Now Moore’s Law is combinatory — dash of observation, dose of faith. Because processors have shrunk, they will or they must shrink. Not especially scientific. But prediction almost always has this problem. No matter how reasonable, rational, cool-headed, or “scientific” the predictor, any statement about something not directly observable (like, say, The Future) is just a guess. The quality of such guesses vary greatly, and there is such a thing as a Good Guess.

Transhumanism, as a macro-level project, too often allows shallow and dated guesses to be accepted into its cannon. In just a few iterations of media-re-purposing, Transhumanism finds itself in danger of courting silliness.

Is it a good thing that Kurzweil shows up on big TV talkshows and the cover of news magazines? It’s no more good for Transhumanism than Frederick Pohl’s glib statements about the future of cosmetics in the 1960s.

These things have expiry dates.

Let Us Attend

Transhumanism has to learn when to go for the baroque aesthetics and the Sunday clothes, and when to deck-out in lab coats and rubber gloves. Let’s by god have cocktails, and let’s do so unapologetically (maybe even with a garnish of irony) — after our workday is done. Guesswork is just that, and it’ll never do anything for Transhumanism but give critics ammunition to point out its failures, its points of incoherence, and the inanities of its internal quibbles (I’m an Extropian. And I’m a Technogaianist.) Transhumanism should leave behind any pretense of seriousness about the pop-sci prediction business and get busy giving “Happy Mutants” the tools they need to create a Here-and-Now Sci-Fi Universe.

IEET has its place. Serious and sober talk about the social ramifications of technology has its place, and is important. Let’s not lose that stuff — let’s not chunk out The Journal of Evolution and Technology in an effort to deck out our 10HZ strobing ether goggles in neon. But IEET, in fact, has a keen interest in the here-and-now examination of the impact of technology on society — those folks are putting shoulder-to-wheel in a way much more serious than paperback futurists commonly do.

So here is where we leave serious attempt to map out the next 1000 years behind. Our project is to work hard in the here and now, and to have a hell of a lot of fun doing it. Whether the futurists and their pocket-protector-prognostications evolve, or whether they get left behind, it’s time for Transhumanists to put on their Sunday best and cut loose after a hard day at work.

With a sense of humor and a strong Maker ethos, we can start shaping the future in the present instead of failing to guess it. Aren’t you bored with looking around in sadness at what hasn’t yet come to pass? Now is the Future. Get to work. Then get your drink on.

11 Comments

  1. Thanks for the IEET shout-out Woody. I’m not sure people outside of H+ would consider us that sober, but we certainly are trying to bridge H+ and visionary futurist ideas to here-and-now academic and policy audiences. I see that as complementary (and usually complimentary) to the folks focusing on the visionary part.

    • Hey Dr. J — yall’s the “git ‘r dun!” wing of the movement — well you & the engineers!

  2. “Transhumanism, as a macro-level project, too often allows shallow and dated guesses to be accepted into its cannon.”
    google

  3. Great article. I especially identify with the whole “internal quibbles” statement. It’s hard to define a notion or idea when there are so many competing concepts that may or may not pertain to your own. A lot of these “sub-transhumanist” ideas (singularitarians, extropians, technogaians, et al.) aren’t mutually exclusive from the transhumanist ethos.

    I believe one can have vision without prediction. Rather than say “This is going to happen, based on what’s happened in the past.” we should be saying “This is what I want to happen. Let’s look to the past for similar and converse situations for a better understanding on how to get there.”

  4. V,
    Sweet of you… I think…
    😉
    Thanks for reading.
    Thanks “shag” for catching the typo.
    W

  5. Woody… Sometimes you amaze me. Sometimes you just make my brain hurt. I haven’t decided which this is yet.

  6. “Transhumanism, as a macro-level project, too often allows shallow and dated guesses to be accepted into its cannon.”
    canon*

  7. Was this supposed to be funny?

  8. Pop prediction is prophecy incarnate. It assures the predictor’s place in record, and does little more.

    Some of the only records of European women’s speech re: faith-ontology in the Middle Ages was taken from the mouths of female prophets, because they were merely ‘vessels’, through which a higher voice could speak. No-one would have thought of recording what they were saying, if they had not claimed to be prophesising. The predictors take a similar role in our culture; obliviously self-serving and record-keeping.

    Thanks for the post, will have to read again after it’s sunk in!

  9. This article almost perfectly captures what I hope H+ becomes as it gains conscious presence in the minds of the general populace. My only concern is that as the H+ mindset permeates our world it might become something very different and less healthy than what we currently might imagine… like a fad. In light of that I say party on… as long as we keep our eyes on the ball. People who get too comfortable with progress only run the risk of become complacent about it. How long would that mentality take to render us unable to understand our own origins… would we even care?

  10. “Eat the Rich.” is that the reference? Ya know, aerosmith.

    I agree with the tone of the article. The best way to remedy the situation is by having more people place bets on the future and compare them to kurzweils. Also get a group of motivated laymen to read kurzweil’s book and judge his accuracy.

    And why not compare this to biblical prophesy and ancient Grecian prophesy or whatever? could be fun.

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