‘I Married an Extropian’ – reader
DARPA's brains trust unravelled
Letters Admiral Poindexter reappeared to defend the Pentagon's Terror Casino (PAM) this week. Our coverage provoked a few letters, and some corrections. Extropians aren't rich.
A small footnote to history - the more famous of the two founders of Extropianism is from Britain; he is a friend of mine from university, and we tend to have a flurry of exchanging emails once or twice a year.
We visited him and the co-founder in glamorous South Central L.A. in the late 80s, when they were both graduate students at U.S.C. If they had lots of money or rich backers they certainly concealed it well. The same is pretty much true today, as far as I know. I believe he is comfortably off but he is hardly the Maharishi. Robin Hanson (not to be confused with Robin Hansen - author of 'Knit Mittens - 15 Cool Patterns to Keep You Warm') is as you note an associate professor, hardly a great money spinner.
Extropians, like Libertarians, seem rarely to be actually rich - they are more interested in 'making money' in the abstract rather than making money (without quote marks) in the particular.
The 'ideas futures' idea was one they seemed very keen on back in the late 80s. I was not surprised to see one of this group being behind it, but I was too lazy to research it, so thanks for your article.
I have personally long felt that Libertarianism and related beliefs have something to do with poor potty training. Most people come rapidly to the conclusion that governments are, as with all human endeavours, the product of flawed humans, rather than a body of selfless people working tirelessly in the public interest, they then move on and get on with their lives ignoring the government when appropriate, trying to intervene when appropriate etc.. Libertarians, however, seem to get caught at this 'ohmigod it's not fair' stage and continue to bang on about it ad nauseum.
I am probably preaching to the choir here, but to me it seems that the main reason the computer / software / whatever you want to call it industry punches well below its weight vs. e.g. the entertainment industry / the military-snooping complex / Fortune 500 companies outsourcing everything to the developing world, is the fondness for the libertarian 'stick fingers in the ears and repeat 'it's not fair, you're interfering with the market, let the market decide' trope.
Clearly there is research to be done here on the geek / libertarian / Aspergers / potty training nexus, but I feel sure that research dollars would be more than well spent if they lead to a cure.
It's amusing, in a slightly sad way, to see the more naive sort of economist - Hanson and the other proponents of PAM - earnestly declaring their faith in the predictive power of the market. As Robert Heilbroner (himself an economist, though of a stripe that is not popular these days, at least in the US) points out in Twenty-First Century Capitalism, economists nicely failed to predict pretty much every major economic event of the last century (the fall of the Soviet Union, for example). And if the markets predicted them, they did so in a marvelously obscure and subtle fashion. How many market analysts correctly read its augury of the dot.com bubble collapse?
It was published a few years too early to include the Extropians, but Ed Regis' _Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly Over the Edge_ (Addison Wesley, 1990) remains an entertaining and informative introduction to various transhumanist ideas and proponents. Some of the people Regis profiles are nice enough folks with decent, if underdeveloped, ideas - Eric Drexler, for example - or basically harmless, like Hans Moravec. Others (the fans of recreational explosives) are dangerous but probably mostly in a small way. A few, or their compatriots, may have started to gain real power, like Hanson and the Extropians.
Regis sees many of these folks as suffering from "fin de siecle hubristic mania", which is as neat a phrase as I could come up with for it (and considerably politer than most of my efforts).
I heard Katherine N. Hayles give a talk once about "artificial life" researchers. She noted that they leaned heavily on ideas about "emergent phenomena" - basically, that when you lump enough stuff together, the whole does more than what you'd expect from the sum of its parts. It's their favorite narrative. Like so many best-loved stories, though, it doesn't appear to need any connection to the real world.
Are you channelling Bill O'Reilly, or are you an Extropian yourself, merrily taunting the Entropians of your readership?
Enquiring minds want to know.