Q: As the hyper-ecologies of transhumanist ideologies, post-singularity economy, and nanotechnologies replicate on the WEB--other digital networks have countered that this is all part of a dubious 'California' techno-faith meme--that is part of an 'exit culture,' or death drive, mind set of the West in recline. As you state in your essay "Networking in the Mind Age", ...since nothing stable will be likely to persist (let alone spread) for long in the rapidly evolving environment, the main 'survival' recipe will be aggressive self-modification, always eventually resulting in the loss of identity of the original object -- a death forward, so to speak." Is the "network mind" just another sign of jurassic culture dealing with its own demise?
A: As I see it, the idea of a "static identity" has always been an illusion. Things that do not change, are not alive. This concentration on a [relatively] stable identity can be explained by the fact that in a relatively recent past, when the ideological foundation for the current crop of human cultures was being formed, things were "relatively" stable, so the "static view" worked as a first approximation. Also, in the conditions of scarcity, people's minds were more on finding the stuff they knew they could use, and not that many people had time to run around and explore things. In the more diverse, fluid, and affluent world, people turn more to the exploration of new things, and our concepts, values, and ideas of identity change correspondingly. Of course, with more opportinities for change there come greater issues of intelligent choice and responsibility.
Self-modification is already a part of the mainstream culture. People not just tolerate changes of their knowledge, interests, careers, relationships, clothes, homes, etc. We seek these changes and value them in others. We often take pride in, and even "identify", with our ability to grow and change, more than with any current knowledge or thing we may possess.
Most of our aspirations and effort are already directed at self-transformation. Pastoral idylls are no longer our dream, they seem boring. We want rich life, full of change and adventures. It doesn't bother anybody that our interests change so dramatically within our lifetime that we look more like a chain of different personalities than a single one, with a thread of development connecting these multiple identities. Unfortunately, our abilities to find new interesting things and adapt to them are limited by both the abilities of our biological organisms and the primitive state of the existing technology. So far, people have been using every opportunity to facilitate and speed up change.
The technologies that we may foresee coming may allow us to liberate ourselves from most of the known restrictions, and change - to [almost] whatever we may imagine now, and then a lot more. On the way, we may leave our current interests, homes, bodies and identities, split into parts and reunite with parts of others. Today I personally am filled more with ideas taken from books I read, and atoms taken from Boston restaurants than with ideas and atoms I had when I was a 2-year-old boy. I want these changes to continue and accelerate, and view this process and tools that are making it possible not as an escape from reality, but as empowerment and liberation, that may allow be to enrich and expand both reality and myself.
Q: For the extropic movement digital workers (proto-info morphs) are Nietzsche's tight rope between man and the Overman--the rest of the world becomes left-overs for Malthusian organ harvesting. Or does your vision of the implosion of a "superliquid economy, cyberspace anarchy and advanced consciousness" create a possible zone of invention for those who are not part of these digital tight rope communities?
A: I can't resist the temptation to criticize the terms "digital" and "electronic" here. These are just surface observations of current technologies. Our DNA is more quantized than our software, and electrons play a more direct and crucial role in keeping our bodies or physical tools together than they play in transmitting information in the fiber-optic networks. The real direction of development in the last 15 billion years has been the liberation of functions from their physical carriers. From crystallization processes to DNA replication to cultural processes to information revolution, we see functional entities more and more independent from their physical substrate. In the next stage, we will hopefully need no organs or labor of the current human variety. What will humans do then? Let us imagine monkeys or children asking themselves:
- "What will we do when humans/adults take over the world?".
The answer is:
- you will be them.
- "OK, but what about the children who do not grow up? Won't they suffer? Will their efforts be needed?"
- Most normal children will grow up. It is in the nature of children and humans in general to grow. Everybody who wants to have a zone of invention will want to create faster and with the best tools they have. A few conservatives? Well, what happens now to people who want to keep inventing the wheel? They are not inventors anymore, no inventor would repeat primitive things instead of learning new wonderful knowledge and advancing the state of the art.
Sure, there may be a few individuals - the Amish of the posthuman future - who may stubbornly refuse to grow, keep doing useless things driven by some outdated memes, and protecting their "rights" to deprive their children of the opportunities to find better knowledge, liberty, and tools necessary to achieve them.
This may create some ethical problems, though such problems have never been too serious and I do not see any reason to believe they would be more serious in the future. I personally would much rather concentrate on the issues facing those who do want to move ahead, and let the neo-Amish curb their opportunities for inventions by themselves.
Q: In the post-biological future of "transcended robots" and transhumans you foresee a type of schizmatrix of 'separate, but equal" knowledge clusters -- rather than recombinant spaces that coagulate the machinic and genetic as polyspacial sinthomes (amorphs) and not "infomorphs" (distributed beings)--is the extropian dialectic the only logical conclusion?
A: I think equality, just as "identity", is a myth/simplification even now. People may have been relatively equal in very primitive cultures. Modern humans are all different. They do not have equal personalities, abilities, possessions, interests, rights of access to various things, etc. The diversity among people grows with every new opportunity and technology. When one can easily modify, borrow, or drop, merge with others, and separate, any of their external and internal features (what is the difference between them in a fluid system, anyway?), there won't be distinct lines between individuals anymore. There is a good term "dividuals" for self-reconfigurable entities; also, there is the aspect of overlap between entities in a liquid functional ecology. Could you say whether forests, or patches of grass, are all equal? How about more structurally fluid things, like Internet communities, or ideas? Knowledge clusters will be more fluid and intermixed than anything we know, and the concept of equality would look to them as a memetic relic.
I do not think they will retain much from today's DNA or machines, just as today's life forms and technologies have little in common with original autocatalytic chemical sets or clay tablets. They will all be technological, after a while, in the sense that they will be intentionally designed (when I say "technology", I mean intentional development, such as speech, dancing skills or problem solving methods, and not necessarily "cold things with sharp corners".
As it is a good practice in system development, material structures should be modular, and easily reconfigurable. Most interesting stuff will eventually be functionally independent from the material carrier and insulated from it by multiple lower layers of modular architectures, so the question of whether the intelligent beings are made of DNA or silicon, will be moot. Think of memes/software/ideas living, effectively, in a constructed [semantic] space. They may even no longer be interested in the nature of the ultimate substrate there.
Humans are mostly interested in DNA studies, because DNA often doesn't work well which creates health problems that make us suffer. When the problems are mostly gone, the interest will go down. Today's software engineers or poets are already not interested in the underlying structure of their creations- as long as it works. Very likely, nobody will be interested in whether they are distributed, either. Physical reality may eventually become of interest only to a few remaining "substrate maintenance engineers" who will provide others with resources, health, and effective immortality, as well as sentimental "post-naturists" who would like to maintain some degree of "intimacy" with the "raw world". On the other hand, the physical reality could be richer than we expect and, with some creative modifications of the physical laws, keep providing the intelligent entities with new exciting ways to harmoniously integrate our spirits with physical reality, and provide us with never-ending streams of novel experiences.
Since Hans Moravec is mentioned in the very first sentence of "networking in the Mind Age," here's a link to an interview Dike Blair did back in 1993 and was originally published on THE THING BBS and Purple Prose.