24 September 2009

Transhumanism

Mind Hacks | Transhuman nature:

ABC Radio National's All in the Mind has just had an excellent programme on 'the singularity', the idea that at some point in the future computer power will outstrip the ability of the human brain and then humanity will be better off in some sort of vague and unspecified way."
Bingo.

Of course humanity almost certainly will be better off in some sort of vague and unspecified way in the future, and specifically due to increased computing power. The hard-core transhumanists' problem is that they tend to confidently extrapolate exceedingly specific ways things are going to be different, but leave the actual mechanisms for these changes entirely ambiguous and indeterminate.

Ray Kurzweil et al's bread and butter is "and then a miracle occurs."

Transhumanists are like the eccentric uncle of the cognitive science community. Not the sort of eccentric uncle who gets drunk at family parties and makes inappropriate comments about your kid sister (that would be drug reps), but the sort that your disapproving parents thinks is a bit peculiar but is full of fascinating stories and interesting ideas.

They occasionally take themselves too seriously and it's the sort of sci-fi philosophy that has few practical implications but it's enormously good fun and is great for making you re-evaluate your assumptions.
Quite right, again. I find transhumanism very fun, and it makes for some enjoyable fiction. (Try, for instance Schismatrix. Make sure you read the "Plus" version that includes the short stories in addition to the novella.) Unfortunately when you get down to brass tacks, there's just no way currently to get cognition to reduce to computation, which seems to be the underpinning of most transhumanism (at least the prominent and annoying singularitarian side of it). I wish things were otherwise, but thought is not a Turing process. That doesn't in any way preclude us from a "Quacks Like a Duck" theory of AI, but it also means that faster computers will not necessarily get us any closer to true thinking machines.

(Via Ryan Sager)

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