January 21, 2007

The New Transhumanist Buzzwords

wordkit.jpgGeorge Dvorsky blogs about Must-know terms for the 21st Century intellectual. It is a nice list, with several very important concepts that should be in anybody's mental toolbox.

As a long-time transhumanist I also find it interesting as a sign of where transhumanism is moving. Imagine a list similar to George's made in 1996 by the members of a transhumanist mailing list. I think it would have run something like this:

  • Alife
  • AI
  • Autoevolution
  • Bionics
  • Cryonics
  • Connectionism
  • Cryptoanarchy
  • Immortalism
  • Memetics
  • Nanotechnology
  • Physical eschatology
  • Singularity
  • Uploading

Some entries are identical or mean the same thing. AI corresponds to AGI, bionics to neural interfaces, immortalism to SENS, nanotechnology to the assembler, eschatology and the singularity to themselves uploading to mind transfer. Memetics has become mainstream. Alife and cryptoanarchism are somewhat dead as movements (but left an active legacy).

The real difference is what is not on this 90's list. George's list is primarily conceptual: most entries are important ideas like the Anthropic Principle, Neurodiversity or the Simulation Argument. The 90's list was mostly about technologies. The ideas were certainly around then and motivated the enthusiasm for the tech, but it was seen as cruicial to convince people about all the cool tech for them to realize the relevance of the ideas. Today it is the reverse. I think this is also the right way around.

My old transhumanist terminology page is feeling quite old these days but represents 90's transhumanism quite nicely (just like my old website). It is interesting to see that relatively few of George's concepts are entirely alien to the list. There are a few newcomers. Bayesian rationality looks like the epistemic successor of the pancritical rationalism and evolutionary epistemology debated in the old days on the extropian list. SENS is the new and shiny plan for life extension. Existential risks have crept up on the agenda, as has the simulation argument and transparency.

A second difference is the number of political issues on the list. In 96 the only political issue was cryptoanarchy (how many remember the clipper chip these days?) On the current list I see about 8 entries that have heavy political overtones. Some because they have become political (like open source and human enhancement), others because they are intrinsically political. Transhumanism is finally getting into the political field. Again, perhaps several years too late but at least it is happening.

I think this points towards transhumanism finally growing up intellectually. A lot of the core ideas and values are the same, but now they are being intellectually extended and analysed. In the old days we discussed the technology because it was the simplest part of the field. Now we are getting to the final frontier: politics in the real world.

Posted by Anders3 at January 21, 2007 12:27 AM