I was really impressed by Benford's book Deep Time, but this subsequent volume on robots and cyborgs did not do much for me.
I expected a robust discI was really impressed by Benford's book Deep Time, but this subsequent volume on robots and cyborgs did not do much for me.
I expected a robust discussion of not only the current trends in robotics and cybernetics but also their implications for society and the human species; instead I got the usual techno-utopian cheerleading that relies on weak, if not actually false, analogies (e.g., "We've always been tool users, so therefore being cyborgs with implanted/integrated "tools" won't really be anything novel," or "We've always been tinkering with genes through breeding, and so implanting new genes directly into crop species isn't really anything new") and which ignores the history of technoscience's broken utopian promises (flying cars, anyone?) and unintended consequences.
I was also fairly appalled at the implied dismissal of a humanist approach to these technologies, one that adds a nuanced historical perspective (see above re: broken promises and unintended consequences), political economic context, and ethical criticisms of robots, cyborgs, and the possible future of the human species. Bioethicists, the authors argue, find problems whereas engineers find innovative solutions; the point apparently being that humanists are not really necessary, other than as bothersome nags who cannot simply shut up and accept the onward march of technoscientific progress. (That humanists often point out future problems which may be solved by altering present trajectories is ignored, as is the inconvenient fact that technical solutions usually come with a host of new, attendant problems. In the words of Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." That whole figuring out if we should or not is the purview of the humanists, if not the human population as a whole.)
Lest readers of this review think Thom a mindless Luddite and pissed off old man who just don't like the newfangled gewgaws and wants the damn kids to stop playing in my yard, they are only partially correct. I've been a fan of science and of science fiction for my entire life, but I've also grown up in a world where science promised more than it was able to deliver, time and again. I often comment (only half-jokingly) to wife, kid, and friends that I would gladly be uploaded into a machine or cyborg, so that I could escape the aches and pains of my weary flesh; luckily one of those friends, who happens to be a humanist medical doctor and chair of medical humanities at a Midwestern medical school, reminded me of context: whomever would pay to have me uploaded probably has an agenda in mind that is entirely different from my cyber-goal of providing for my eternal comfort with an infinite library at my disposal. This book needs a stronger dose of that sort of cold water to temper the authors' enthusiasm....more
There is a rather tenuous division between war as education and education as war.... There is no question here of values. It is s
There is a rather tenuous division between war as education and education as war.... There is no question here of values. It is simple information technology being used by one community to reshape another one. It is this type of aggression that we exert on our own youngsters in what we call "education." We simply impose upon them the patterns that we find convenient to ourselves and consistent with the available technologies. Such customs and usages, of course, are always past-oriented and the new technologies are necessarily excluded from the educational establishment until the elders have relinquished power. (149)
In the present age this problem of not simply being human but of having to program the entire process has become a crux because of our electronic technology. The new potential is so great that no training for any individual or any society could faintly tap its possibilities. Life is not given to us ready-made but has become a task of making rather than of matching. There is no previous model, private or corporate, that can serve for the present time. That is why the anti-environment has become so indispensable a crux. We have simply got to create anti-environments in order to know what we are and what were are doing. (177)
Brown's opening paragraph sums up the contemporary metapredicament nicely:
The future has never looked brighter or more bleak. Never before in human hi
Brown's opening paragraph sums up the contemporary metapredicament nicely:
The future has never looked brighter or more bleak. Never before in human history has there been so much cause for both hope and alarm. We are living in a world of increasing uncertainty, and each day brings new reasons for both celebration and concern. Are we headed toward a glistening new world of technological marvels and wonders or own extinction?
Unfortunately, Brown doesn't have quite the interviewing chops necessary to rise the bar he sets with this introduction and the title. Which is not to say that this isn't an interesting read. It was interesting, enraging, thought-provoking, challenging, and even funny. That Brown managed to score interviews with many of these luminaries—including Noam Chomsky, George Carlin, Robert Anton Wilson, Douglas Rushkoff, Clifford Pickover, Bruce Sterling, Ray Kurzweil, Alex Grey, and Kary Mullis—is impressive in itself, and he is a brave/stupid enough interviewer to ask questions about psychedelics and alien abduction to Chomsky. He asks similar (and sometimes exactly the same) questions to different interviewees and usually in the same order. This allows the reader to compare the different worldviews articulated by the interviewees, I guess, but by the end of the book it was coming across as canned and tedious technique. Luckily, the range of personalities encountered and ideas explored was vast, with lots of intelligence and clarity of thought, but little overarching agreement, about topics as diverse as our contemporary media ecology, ecological collapse, artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, the Singularity, psychedelics, alien abductions, spiritual transformation, and the existence of God. ...more
"Unapologetically didactic..." Indeed! Thanks to Cory Doctorow's lectures and footnotes, I now know where to look to learn how to do the stuff describ"Unapologetically didactic..." Indeed! Thanks to Cory Doctorow's lectures and footnotes, I now know where to look to learn how to do the stuff described in this work of repression and resistance in near-future, all-too-real, dystopian Fortress America. Cool.
I harbor strong doubts about the long-term future of our current technoscience fetishes. That said, while these technologies dominate the near-term, young people need to be encouraged to analyze, to tinker, to explore, to dismantle, to dissect, to synthesize, to rebuild, and to hack; so that they approach the technologies in which they are immersed as they grow up (including the political technologies of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights) in the same way that we all approach written language, i.e. those who read can also write. In other words, they need to program, rather than to be programmed (to steal a phrase from Douglas Rushkoff). To that end, this is definitely something I want high schoolers to read, even if it does encourage "anti-social" behavior like cutting class to play inane Japanese alternate reality games, losing your virginity to the one you love, questioning teachers and principals, and standing up to the Department of Homeland Security.
I got a solid general understanding of both HTML--what it is, its general logic and structure, and the basics of writing code---and simple design prinI got a solid general understanding of both HTML--what it is, its general logic and structure, and the basics of writing code---and simple design principles....more