Even more debate on transhumanism

Following on from my short e-book “Against Transhumanism: the delusion of technological transcendence” (available free for download: Against Transhumanism, v1.0, PDF 650 kB), I have a long interview on the Singularity Weblog available as a podcast or video – “Richard Jones on Against Transhumanism”.

To quote my interviewer, Nikola Danaylov, “During our 75 min discussion with Prof. Richard Jones we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: his general work in nanotechnology, his book and blog on the topic; whether technological progress is accelerating or not; transhumanism, Ray Kurzweil and technological determinism; physics, Platonism and Frank J. Tipler‘s claim that “the singularity is inevitable”; the strange ideological routes of transhumanism; Eric Drexler’s vision of nanotechnology as reducing the material world to software; the over-representation of physicists on both sides of the transhumanism and AI debate; mind uploading and the importance of molecules as the most fundamental units of biological processing; Aubrey de Grey‘s quest for indefinite life extension; the importance of ethics and politics…”

For an earlier round-up of other reactions to the e-book, see here.

5 thoughts on “Even more debate on transhumanism”

  1. Richard, I’m curious as to why your e-book states that it is clear that solar photovoltaics together with the necessary energy storage technologies is the right direction to phase out fossil fuels.

    Certainly there have been credible studies suggesting otherwise. Example: Low EROEI of pv’s, storage being unsolvable due to the required scale

    If it is impossible to replace fossil fuels entirely with renewables then are you not stuck in the realm of being unrealistic along with transhumanism?

  2. I watched the interview yesterday and I found many of your arguments quite convincing. I would love to read the eBook on my eReader. However, I wasn’t able to convert the PDF to a common eBook format. Would it be possible to offer the book as EPUB or MOBI?

  3. Jim, I cite solar PV + energy storage as an example of what we need, rather than the whole solution. The studies you allude to make clear the difficulties with current technologies (especially for storage), hence the need to develop better ones. And the appropriate solution will depend on where you are – in particular how demand for electricity matches supply of sunshine. That’s going to work much better in Arizona, where air conditioning is a big demand on energy, than here in the UK, where we have this pesky thing called winter. Here I believe we’re going to need nuclear, which has its own set of difficulties.

    Michael, more formats is on the to-do list for a future version.

  4. Prof. Jones I watched the talk and you certainly bring up very interesting points, especially around difficulties in mind uploading and nanotechnology. I think transhumanism is in need of people like you who raises the bar for what’s passes as a scientific prediction and the evidence to support it. Sometimes it feels not enough other scientists take this seriously enough to offer a educated rebuttal. Your arguments puts some pressure on Kurzweil and other mind uploaders to offer explanations. I personally thought Kurzweil’s book on the brain was very hand wavy and amounts to wishful thinking.

    That said, I’d love if you elaborated a bit more on your thoughts on Aubrey de Grey’s SENS program. I haven’t found in your book or talk a satisfactory rebuttal. SENS does recognize several avenues for senescence and it claims to offer a comprehensive program for damage repair (the 7 “deadly sins”). Is in your view that list incomplete or possibly complete but likely very difficult and in what aspect? I do think a good rebuttal or confirmation of SENS is an important goal and even in the case current evidence it’s inconclusive at least for me it’s enough to send money their way to allow them to find out.

  5. Holygrail, I agree entirely about the disappointing reluctance of other scientists to get involved in these discussions – in the nanotechnology arena, it was only really Philip Moriarty (a physics professor from Nottingham Uni) besides me who I think took the time to look at the arguments critically. The trouble is, this sort of rebuttal is time-consuming to do well, because it usually needs some serious work to get on top of areas of science that are not one’s own specialism, and the scientific community itself doesn’t give one much credit for doing it. And you’re right, I haven’t done a satisfactory rebuttal of the de Grey SENS program, and that would be worth doing. The one part of the SENS programme I do know enough to be confident talking about without a lot of further research is the role of protein misfolding in neurodegenerative disease, where it is clear to me that de Grey is hugely overconfident about understanding the cause of the problem and suggesting that there’s an potentially straightforward solution. Pharma companies like Eli Lilly have spent 100’s of millions of dollars over the last ten years trying to bring anti-Alzheimers drugs to market with conspicuous lack of success, to the point where we should probably conclude that we simply don’t yet understand the problem enough to begin to solve it.

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