Fascist transhumanists and 21st century politics

Tom James @ 04-09-2009

chain_crossCharlie Stross has written an interesting and engaging blog post on the future of politics in the 21st century, specifically he identifies the emergence of a new form of fascism that draws on transhumanism, the overhumanists:

To get to the money shot: transhumanism is going to influence the next century because, unless we are very unlucky indeed, the biotechnology, nanotechnology, and telecommunications industries are going to deliver goods that combine to fundamentally change the human condition. We’ve seen the tip of the iceberg so far

And what particularly exercises me is the possibility that if we can alter the parameters of the human condition, we can arbitrarily define some people as being better than others — and can make them so.

Not all transhumanists have good intentions. Earlier I went on for a while about Italy, home of the Modernist movement in art and birthplace of Fascism. Italy’s currently in the grip of a wave of racism and neofascist vigilantism, presided over by an allegedly racist media mogul with a near-monopoly on broadcast media in that country.

So it’s probably not surprising that Italy is the source of a new political meme that I hadn’t heard of before this week: overhumanism

It had to happen eventually. It is sad to see the largely noble ideals of transhumanism (particularly my personal favourite strand of democratic transhumanism) subverted in this way.

Is the spread of fascistic transhumanism as likely as Stross fears? If so, what can be done to prevent it?

[from Charlie’s Place][image from cosmo flash on flickr]

Charlie Stross on the future of nuclear power

Tom James @ 19-08-2009

power_plantCharles Stross has made an interesting point on the view that there is only a very short supply of useable nuclear fuel:

firstly, the supply of known uranium deposits will only last 80-100 years if we don’t recycle it and start burning MOX. I’d like to note that today’s light water reactors are horribly inefficient — they only extract 3% of the available energy from their fuel before it is considered “spent” and reclassified as waste. If we use high burn-up reactors such as the EPR, we can get a whole load more energy out of the same amount of fuel. And if we use fast breeders and run a plutonium cycle we can convert U238 into Pu239 and burn that instead of U235: there’s 500 times as much U238 lying around.

Secondly, we haven’t even tried to build a thorium reactor yet, although we’ve got good reason to believe it would work — and thorium is considerably more abundant than uranium.

As I have mentioned before, nuclear really should be part of the future energy mix of any industrialised country. Renewables can provide a large chunk (depending on local availability) of our energy needs but that still leaves a gap that needs to be plugged with something reliable and non-carbon-dioxide emitting.

David JC MacKay has more on nuclear power in his excellent free online textbook Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air.

[image from christian.senger on flickr]

Stross and Doctorow on privacy in the modern age

Paul Raven @ 03-06-2009

A few weeks back the Open Rights Group held a benefit talk just up the tracks from me in London that I was meant to go to, though sadly the realities of self-employment intruded and kept me at home. The speakers were Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow – two very smart guys who, even if you’re not a fan of their fiction, have a lot of very interesting stuff to say on the matter of privacy and surveillance in the modern world.

Luckily for me (and everyone else) there’s video footage of the whole thing – and I heartily suggest you watch it. While somewhat focussed on the UK situation, the stuff about data security and information harvesting and ubiquitous surveillance is applicable to anyone who uses the web, has a government that uses computers or lives in a city or town with a CCTV presence… which (I imagine) covers pretty much everyone reading Futurismic right now.

There’s ninety minutes of video; the discussion between Stross and Doctorow fills a little less than the first half, but make the time to listen to the Q&A section afterwards as well. I’ve found myself with about four pages of notes and story ideas just from my first pass through, and I imagine there’ll be more when I go back to it. So get watching:

You know what would have made this even more interesting, though? If David Brin had been on the panel… now that would have been hands-down the debate of the year, at least for me.

Zingback! Anissimov vs Stross

Paul Raven @ 05-03-2009

Lest anyone think that a spate of recent links from here to Charlie Stross means I’m only listening to one side of the story, here’s Michael Anissimov’s response to Charlie’s “21st Century FAQ” piece. Executive summary: he doesn’t like it, and doesn’t think much of Charlie’s books either:

1) The Singularity is not “the Rapture of the Nerds”. It is a very likely event that happens to every intelligent species that survives up to the point of being capable of enhancing its own intelligence. Its likelihood comes from two facts: that intelligence is inherently something that can be engineered and enhanced, and that the technologies capable of doing so already exist in nascent forms today. Even if qualitatively higher intelligence turns out to be impossible, the ability to copy intelligence as a computer program or share, store, and generate ideas using brain-to-brain computer-mediated interfaces alone would be enough to magnify any capacity based on human thought (technology, science, logistics, art, philosophy, spirituality) by two to three orders of magnitude if not far more.


While I’m on this tangent, I might as well point out that Accelerando sucked. I don’t know how people get taken in by this crap. You can’t get an awesome story by shoving boring, stereotypically dark-n’-dysfunctional characters into a confused mash-up of style-over-substance futurist concepts and retro hipster cocktail party backgrounds. […] It’s like 2005, but oddly copied-and-pasted into space. Even the patterns and problems of 1970 were more different from today than today is from Stross’ future.

I think it’s fair to say that Michael is still hung up on a Gernsbackian idealist template for science fiction as a prediction engine; he’s much more qualified than I to talk about transhumanism and so on, but he doesn’t seem to recognise that sf is primarily a tool for examining the present (if indeed you consider it to have any value beyond pure entertainment, which is an equally valid opinion). But his closer is fairly telling:

Maybe Stross is a great guy in person. I don’t know him. But I can say that I wildly disagree with both his futurism and his approach to sci-fi. (Insofar as I care about sci-fi at all, which, honestly, is not a whole lot.)

Not a whole lot, but enough to get riled when an sf writer seemingly treads on your ideological turf? You kids play nice, now. 😉

(For what it’s worth, I read both Anissimov and Stross regularly; they may believe very different things, but the one thing they share is that they’re smart people.)

Hype and headlines: looking beyond the abstract

Paul Raven @ 05-03-2009

immigration hate-hype in a UK tabloid newspaperWe try our best here at Futurismic to look beyond the sensational aspects of the news and dig into the real implications. Over at his place, Charlie Stross dissects the latest alcohol and cancer risk stories as covered in the mainstream media, and points out why it’s important to do so:

Alas, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute keeps the actual text behind a paywall; which makes it hard for me to check this takedown by Junkfood Science. However, I feel the need to quote two chunks of that post (which you really ought to read):

… there was no dose response between the number of drinks the women consumed and their risk for all cancers. Women drinking no alcohol at all had higher incidences for all cancers than 95% of the drinking women. The actual incidents of all cancers was 5.7% among the nondrinkers. The cancer incidents were lower among the women drinking up to 15 drinks a week: 5.2% among those consuming ≤2 drinks/week; 5.2% of those drinking 3-6 drinks/week; and 5.3% among those drinking 7-14 drinks a week. [Table 1.]

In other words, women drinking as many as two drinks a day were associated with lower actual incidences of all cancers compared with the nondrinkers.

In other words, the abstract of the paper was radically at odds with the substance of the study’s findings.

In other words, good news doesn’t sell newspapers… nor say what certain groups may want us to hear.

One can’t help but wonder how much of this is to do with the way the state funds scientific research; Ceaser hears what is pleasing unto Ceaser, AMIRITE? I’m guessing a lab or body that consistently finds results opposite to the ones desired isn’t going to get so many gigs offered to it further down the line… which isn’t to accuse scientists of lying so much as to accuse the bureaucracy that surrounds science of making concessions to external forces. [image by secretlondon123]

But then I wonder if I’m slipping into the conspiracist paranoia of my youth again. Who can we trust to tell us truth? Does the new multiplicity of news sources with different ideological filters make this problem smaller or larger?

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