Michael Reinsborough on Tue, 13 May 2014 22:40:17 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> tensions within the bay area elites

Hi nettimers, 

I don't get as much time to read (let alone to post to) nettime as would like but just wanted to underline the previous posts in this thread that made remarks on google/Kurzweil.

Not only is the Kurzweil-&-other-transhumanists agenda emerging from the private sector (for example Google) but also there is quite a bit of it hidden in publicly funded projects.  The Obama Brain Initiative in the U.S. and the Human Brain Project (HBP) in Europe intending to "map the human brain" https://www.humanbrainproject.eu/en_GB/neuromorphic-computing-platform1 have subtle transhumanist influences.  The  HBP for example will spend half (!) of its budget on developing NEUROMORPHIC COMPUTER CHIPS in partnership with IBM.  The hope is to copy the efficiency of the brain (a new type of biopiracy/intellectual property lifting/copyright copying?) to create 'brain-like' machines.  http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=127617 While contemporary robots reduce the number of automobile workers needed (employed) to make cars, in the future these hypothetical brain-like machines might reduce the number of university lecturers (is anyone on nettime in this profession?) that 
 it takes to build students.  Another hope is that brain-like machines will be able to do face recognition successfully in a way that current software cannot, etc.  a bit less dramatic than the imaginations of artificial intelligence (AI) that have previously circulated but significantly more so than contemporary robotics/ computing. The front-end justification for these research investments in mapping the human brain is medicine, pharmaceutical cures, and psychiatric health. Most of this medical research involves big data algorithm strategies for which is required massive assembling of patient data.  not surprisingly this is about to set off a debate on consent/lack of consent necessary to access patients brain data (clinical, lifestyle, demographic, neuroimaging) by the neuroscientist/pharmaceutical company alliance that would do the research.  I see part of the influence on the public research agenda by transhumanists as coming from the "converging technologies" discourse [for exa
 mple the convergence of biology and computer science as in synthetic biology circuit diagram type engineering of one-celled microorganism metabolic pathways (bugs in a vat that eat waste corn stocks- shit out petroleum!), as in medical informatics/big data, as in neuromorphic computing].  The convergence discourse in publicly funded science started with Mike Roco & William Bainbridge who wrote about converging technologies for human enhancement.  Roco is a big picture scientist at the National Science Foundation (of the USA) who supervised the huge investments in any physical sciences that worked at the molecular level and called this convergence 'nanotechnology'. http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/nano/  Bainbridge is publicly a transhumanist.  Roco doesn't talk about any political commitments he might have.   Their latest description of convergence suggests the brain is the paradigmatic model for all convergences, and thus brain science will teach us the most about how to do convergences
 .   http://www.wtec.org/NBIC2-Report/

Questions for nettimers  :
 -How will brain science affect computing?  does it matter whether or not predictions of the future are actually plausible?
 -Has/How has the transhumanist imagination influenced research investment by the military and by public science?
   -Are there regional differences in how converging technologies are imagined by science policy (E.U. vs USA vs elsewhere in world)?
 -Has/How has the transhumanist imagination influenced research investment by private corporations?  Which ones?
 -Has/How has the transhumanist imagination influenced the direction of software development communities?  Which ones?
-What is the transhumanist imagination?  How do we characterise it? what social/psychological(technical?) forces create such a strong enthusiasm for the technological sublime? What is its history?
-Once the transhumanist influence is cleaned up for public consumption (some of them are kind of wacky in the same way that Eric Drexler was as soon as he started talking about nanobots and grey goo, etc. so his previous friends in the research community threw him under the tracks to make themselves seem more respectable, see the Richard Smalley/Eric Drexler debates http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drexler%E2%80%93Smalley_debate_on_molecular_nanotechnology ) what will it be that corporate, military, and governance institutions will have gained from investing in their imaginative visions?

BTW, has anyone seen the Johnny Depp film in cinemas just now 'Transcendence'? Perhaps we should even be asking about influence on popular culture. 

I think nettime spends a lot of time talking cultural theory, subjectivities of the web ("no one knows you're a dog on the internet" and that sort of thing) interesting but I'm not sure that is fully getting at some of the other significant changes coming down the pike that we and the communities we interact with will either be prepared to engage with or knocked over by in the swell of surprise.  Obviously in any wave of innovation (tsunami?) the communities least prepared will suffer and the communities with greatest access to anticipatory knowledge will be able to best position themselves for seizing new opportunities in the chaos.  This knowledge advantage/disadvantage axis tends to work along the line of class structure or other forms of power/marginality such as race, gender, etc.  Google is obviously making some choices about investment in robotics, etc.  Neighbourhoods like the Tenderloin in San Francisco, historically low income with a partially black population, are now pres
 umably stalked by Google buses picking up well to do employees of the digital classes. Whereas following the centripetal forces of gentrification/black emmigration outwards, one might arrive at Richmond in the North Bay, one of the few places where house prices are not once again back on the rise.  The ethnic minority communities there that managed to buy their own houses during the boom have been left 'underwater' paying back the banks more money on their mortgage than their house is now worth to sell.  Presumably few people in Richmond neighbourhoods are investing in robotics, drones, or AI


Date: Mon, 12 May 2014 22:38:02 +0200
From: Florian Cramer <fcramer@pleintekst.nl>

more so. Lately, the company has been aggressively ventured into
military-industrial territory with its recent investments into robotics,
artificial intelligence, augmented reality and drone technology.

On top of that, or rather: in sync with it, its top management believes in
technological "Singularity" (about which Wikipedia remarks that the
"flashback character in Ken MacLeod's 1998 novel The Cassini Division
dismissively refers to the singularity as 'the Rapture for nerds'). Ray
Kurzweil, chief "Singularity" evangelist, has been working as Google's
director of engineering since 2012. Google is co-founder and main sponsor
of his "Singularity University" (

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