Late-Breaking, Live-Streaming

If any of you have gotten bored and glanced over at the Coming Appearances slice of the sidebar, you may have noticed the Transhumanism Meets Design item coming up this weekend in New York.  It’s an event which, while not present in the flesh, I’ll be Skyping into around 1400 so that I may riff with fellow panelists Ted Byfield, Perry Hall, and Ed Keller on the subject of “OUT THERE — Self organization, xeno-communication, non-human minds”. I didn’t mention this before now because, well, Skype. Not actually present in the flesh.  And who’s gonna fork over good bucks just to see me loom cantankerously on a screen like a scruffy Big Brother for half an hour?

It turns out, though, that the whole event is going to be streamed online, so anyone can pop over to and experience two days’ worth of transhumanist goodness from the comfort of their own home (program here).

I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to be saying. Probably something about how child molesters will be the early adopters who set the ground rules for the coming Singularity.

Yeah. That should go over great with this crowd.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Friday May 13 2011at 11:05 am , filed under On the Road, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

25 Responses to “Late-Breaking, Live-Streaming”

  1. Sure you should go with the pedophile demographic?

  2. So long as it gets people thinkin and talkin!

  3. I always worry that the early adopters will tend to be the sort of folks I always wind up in the same room with at my various IT jobs. For some reason, HR likes to throw me in with the (other) Asperger Syndrome types, which annoys me because I do make a conscientious effort to try to be “normal”. The ones who think that even trying to be neurotypical and socialized is for the birds, those are the ones I get in the cubicles on both sides of me. And almost inevitably, they’re transhumanists. I doubt that they’re child molesters, though. Still, I suppose one doesn’t have to be a sex offender to be perverse. The one guy who said “actually, being Borg would be cool because you get to assimilate people and resistance is futile” is one of the ones that does worry me, though. See also Peter Watts’s story “the Thing(s)”.

  4. Or see also Greg Egan’s novel DISTRESS.

  5. There’s an undercurrent, in certain elements of transhumanism (mostly where it overlaps with the singularity crowd), of a degree of naked self interest that really turns my stomach. Because hey, why care about the other 99% of humanity after you rapture yourself up into rich nerd heaven?

    One of my favorite ideas in Blindsight is the vampires using Heaven as a meat locker.

    How many meters of hardened concrete and farraday mesh are the first uploads going to need between their server farms and the vengeful meat?

  6. Early adopters will be in this order:

    1) Escapists (will fall for recruitment / field testing campaign ads)
    2) Adventurers (will follow, in a pioneering spirit, to make things “livable” in transHU space cos God knows the Escapists won’t care… they’re prolly already plotting their escape into the next space)
    3) Capitalists (will follow, in an exploitative spirit, now that things are livable/workable it stands to reason that there’s wealth to be made)
    4) “everbody else”… :o)

  7. Thomas, you should take it as a compliment, they’re putting you there to act as a bridge between the neurotypicals and the aspie-and-proud-of-it. From a management perspective it makes all kinds of sense.

    My pet hypothesis is that human brain size is just a side effect of the neoteny that is a side effect of our ancestors jailbait chasing tendencies. Intelligence? Just a convenient accident. “child molesters are the reason the human race exists at all” makes a great icebreaker at parties.

  8. Good talk. It looks like you scared everyone.

  9. I couldn’t tell. I had to shut down the live stream to keep the Skype feed relatively smooth, so I had no sense of what I looked like up there. Hopefully it’ll get archived.

  10. I missed your talk. I checked in at the beginning of the discussion and the sound on my system here isn’t that great. I gave up. Maybe someone will post it later.

  11. (The woman who gave the intro spoke clearly enough, but everyone else spoke too quietly and my computer was too meh for it)

  12. @Nestor: Um. I totally agree on the general fact of modern humanity being such a success due to neoteny. However, I don’t think I’d use that line as an icebreaker at a party, as if I got invited to parties (other than by aspies who don’t know me yet 😉 ). Anyway, I think the logic falls apart on a couple of grounds of natural selection. Too much jailbait mating and kids aren’t born right or there are birth complications, etc. Additionally, what would select for a longer life-span if the predominant selector is the (under) age of the female rather than the age, experience, and built coalitions of “silverback” pre-humans and humans? Remember, neoteny isn’t much use unless the youngster lives long enough to learn quite a lot, and there are at least a few elders around to teach. I guess it all comes out in the end as a bell-curve thing, most people are wired to skirt the edges of the envelope, though who knows what sort of weirdness or good SF-stories could evolve due to society occasionally sometimes becoming very detuned to Nature.

    @Peter: Sorry I missed this and I do hope you can post a link to an archive is one can be found. Anyone who can manage to scare the transhumanists probably deserves some sort of award. I need to get back to trying to do that, myself.

  13. Peter Watts: I couldn’t tell. I had to shut down the live stream to keep the Skype feed relatively smooth, so I had no sense of what I looked like up there.

    Like the giant live streaming head of God. 😉

    You did bring some good food for thought, especially for the more rose tinted “Rapture me up Scotty” crowd. As much as many of us would like to see a better and brighter posthuman future, the fact is that there’s a damn good chance it won’t include humans as we would understand them by it’s very nature. No time for art or babies, as you said.

    Which begs the question: how does one relate to or understand a truly posthuman intelligence without necessarelly being one yourself (or at least having someone like Siri around to translate)? Could it somehow still relate to us (doubtful as far as I can see)?

    Hell, could posthumans relate to each other? One can imagine that they might be as different from transapients as they would be from us, depending on how they arose and perceive the world around them. Would an hyper intelligent AI be able to get along with a gengineered superman or would they react to each other as if in the presence of something utterly alien?

    Way to bring on the weekend philosophical musings, Peter. Keep up the good work.

  14. I didn’t at all catch Peter’s remarks, and thanks for anyone filling in the gaps.

    On the one hand, we might hope that posthumans/transhumans would think and react to the non-engineered “naturals” in the way we humans think of dogs. We love them, as individuals, but as a species, we manage them, quite frequently fatally as they may inconvenience us. And as dogs are known to bite the hand that fails to feed, we might bite back in our own ways. See also Gene Wolfe’s excellent “the Hero as Werewolf”.

    On the other hand, we might reasonably hope that the Singularity itself escalates the posthumans/transhumans into some realm of perception or cognition which means anyone left behind by “the Rapture” is beneath being noticed.

    On the third hand, or the middle hand, we might wonder if the interactions between transhumans/posthumans (or emergent non-human intelligences such as AI) would be about what we see between human sociopaths or paranoids (or paranoid sociopaths). As long as they see a reason to do business, they do business, as it advances any common goals. But it’s not as if they like each other…. they just see a means to an end. What happens afterwards might likely be the sort of thing you see between aligned-but-rival intelligence agencies or between career organized-crime types. Until the job is completed, they’re intimates. Once the job is done, it’s all about watching your back and trying to get a leap forward onto someone else’s back. It’s bad enough when it’s between humans. Who knows what hyper-intelligent beings aided (or running on) super-fast hardware might think or do. I suspect rapid evolution would occur among them.

  15. The video archive of the conference can be found at: . The programme is at . The archive only lists the sessions, not the speakers, but you can use the programme to match the sessions to the speakers. Peter is in “hplus day1 afternoon1”.

  16. Good talk. Your Head of Doom worked visually well:

    I think I agree with you that early adopters of some technologies are going to be more than a little out there. In my talk I was looking at self experimentation in science, the body performance art crowd and the body modification crowd. One reason to do it is of course to go beyond convention: many of them want to outrage everyone. The ones to really watch are the ones that want step into the fresh white snow of totally uncharted domains and make up their own morality since there is nothing there yet. Might apply to space colonization too if the starting costs ever go down.

    High entry costs = things get done by “responsible” concentrations of power, low entry costs = things get done by crazies. The good stuff eventually gets gobbled up by the concentrations, if anybody survives.

    The big issue you mentioned was whether we should go for AGI or transcendent posthumans that “like art and babies” or just charge on. I think it would be pretty stupid not to try to aim for human-compatible intelligences (resurrected vampires, what could possibly go wrong?) but also stupid not to think that they would be going off in completely unexpected directions anyway. The trick is to aim for designs or interactions that make them part of the “human family” – linked to our culture, economics and reciprocal relations. As things charge off into the unknown at least some of our stuff will be carried along. Actually implementing it in the face of our overconfidence, lack of coordination, principal agent problems, incompetence in making accurate predictions, the rewards for early and unsafe products, and the fundamental unknowability of “next level” minds is of course left as an exercise for the designer.

  17. Greg Egan did a funny parody of the US transhumanists in his latest book..

    IMO, people who are not doing research or engineering concerning these technologies ought to shut up about transhumanism.

  18. @Branko: Thanks a million for the links! Fascinating discussion.

    @Lanius: Um, sorry. We who aren’t doing engineering still feel we have a need to be part of the discussion… much in the same way as neighborhood residents have every right and need to participate in discussions about proposed freeway route alternatives which might or might not claim their own homes.

    @Peter: The discussion on cities-as-AI (sort of) deeply interests me. I’m an unsuccessful local-politics candidate who ran 3 times in 3 years mostly to make input to the campaigns on matters of Urban Planning, as we seem destined to convert our recently suburban/semi-rural County into an intentionally urban system. While not so utterly transformative as “the One True Singularity”, still it’s going to be quite a change to go from a mostly accidental aggregation of 900K people (with 500K of them living in suburbs “planned” in the 1950s through early-1970s), to a planned gregaration expected to comprise some 1.5 millions of people by 2030 or so. The problem we confront here is this, IMHO: 12 politicians are going to be responsible for evolving the systems that need to be able to make this livable.

    Don’t ask me for any reasonable contribution to it, to use your analogy from the conference, “he’s only a mouse”.

  19. Greg Egan did a funny parody of the US transhumanists in his latest book..


  20. Greg Egan has been making fun of transhumanists and the singularity at least since Schild’s Ladder (2003.) Ironic considering that he writes posthumans and uploads better than just about anyone.

  21. I agree, great discussion.

    I think the idea of these post humans needing to have some inherent love of art and offspring may be obsolete in their purpose. What this species branches off to could be something much further away from being mere biological organisms. The overall goal of the species would have to outweigh the basic needs of survival and convenience. It would have to be something bigger than ourselves.

    One possibility might be to expand into the cosmos, and live long enough to explore and report back discoveries, and any new knowledge gained. I don’t know how we’d expand our lifespans, or get to the point of interstellar travel, but spreading out into the unknown in search of knowledge, new worlds, and maybe new forms of life isn’t too bad a goal. It’s a damn expensive and risky one though.

    It’s not as if the problem of reproduction couldn’t be solved via test tubes, and possibly artificial wombs. Maybe in our unforeseeable future there will be a sort of system not unlike what a beehive uses; basically, at a certain age the larva will be sealed in a chamber with ample food, and so many weeks/months later, they emerge fully functional adult. Very big ‘maybe’ there.

    I was also wondering what kind of mind a post human might have. I was thinking about how we have a conscious and subconscious mind, and what would happen if the two were aware simultaneously. How would that change a human, at least in just the mental aspect?

    Sorry for a long post, and I may not be accurate on a few things, but this was a very good topic. I couldn’t resist.

  22. Who else to satirize than the people you almost agree with? They are much more annoying than the people who you have nothing in common with.

    Being an oldtimer transhumanist I constantly find myself annoyed by various statements made by transhumanists. Thank heavens for smart critics instead. Or even IMHO mistaken critics like Fukuyama – he helped transhumanism more than anybody else by attacking it.

    Cities as AI is an intriguing idea. I touched on it in my Gurps transhuman space module, leaving it deliberately unanswered. I am starting to think it would be worthwhile to dig into the issue of metaorganism intelligence – being worried about AGI taking over might be irrelevant if companies, NGOs and nations have already taken over. Maybe the personhood of General Motors is actual moral person-hood and not just a legal fiction. That might be problematic if we think the metaorganisms are dangerous – sure, you have a right to protect yourself against sociopaths, but you might not have a moral right to kill them.

  23. @Thomas Hardmann..

    Yeah, but people who do discuss the stuff while not doing anything constructive remind me of people who says Counter-Strike is realistic. And/Or play airsoft.

  24. Another thought I just had: if you could create posthuman lifeforms with a love of art, would we recognise it as such? I mean there are certain art forms that to some barely qualify as art at all. Imagine what a posthuman superintelligence might create: would it be understandable to us poor baselines or would this be more of a Lovecraftian “My sanity’s breaking just looking at it” kind of scenario?

  25. But singularity idea is just ridiculous. I mean… the idea that it’s easy for an artificial intelligence to self improve isn’t exactly obvious, provable, or sane.

    I am fairly convinced that attempts at AI self improvement will often result in schizophrenia, mental breakdowns and various undesirable outcomes.

    Maybe it won’t even be possible. Is there some sort of rock solid statement that proves arbitrarily high intelligence is possible?

    Then there’s this whole idea that AI would be friendly, or give a fuck about our problems. I bet that half or maybe 3/4 of the wannabe -transhumanists have never read Golem XIV. They fucking should..