Disconnection pres5


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"The Disconnection thesis": delivered at Dublin City University, 23 October 2011.

In his 1993 article ‘The Coming Technological Singularity: How to survive in the posthuman era’ the computer scientist Virnor Vinge speculated that developments in artificial intelligence might reach a point where improvements in machine intelligence result in smart AI’s producing ever-smarter AI’s. According to Vinge the ‘singularity’, as he called this threshold of recursive self-improvement, would be a ‘transcendental event’ transforming life on Earth in ways that unaugmented humans are not equipped to envisage.

In this paper I argue Vinge’s idea of a technologically led intelligence explosion is philosophically important because it requires us to consider the prospect of a posthuman condition succeeding the human one. What is the ‘humanity’ to which the posthuman is ‘post’? Does the possibility of a posthumanity presuppose that there is a ‘human essence’, or is there some other way of conceiving the human-posthuman difference?

I argue that the difference should be conceived as a historically emergent disconnection between individuals, not in terms of the presence or lack of essential properties. I also suggest that these individuals should not be conceived in narrow biological terms but in ‘wide’ terms permitting biological, cultural and technological relations of descent between human and posthuman.

Finally, I consider the ethical implications of this metaphysics of the posthuman. If, as I claim, the posthuman difference is not one between kinds but between individuals, we cannot specify its nature a priori but only a posteriori. Thus the only way to evaluate the posthuman condition would be to witness the emergence of posthumans. The implications of this are somewhat paradoxical. We are not currently in a position to evaluate the posthuman condition. Since there are no posthumans, the condition of posthumanity is not defined. However, posthumans could result from some iteration of our current technical activity, so we have an interest in understanding what they might be like. It follows that we have an interest in making or becoming posthumans.

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Disconnection pres5

  1. 1. The Disconnection Thesis
  2. 2. Speculative Posthumanism <ul><li>Our technical activity in areas such as the NBIC technologies </li></ul><ul><li>(Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science) </li></ul><ul><li>could produce “living” beings significantly alien to us. </li></ul><ul><li>There might be post-humans… </li></ul>
  3. 3. The Posthuman Impasse <ul><li>Given Speculative Posthumanism, </li></ul><ul><li>Discounting the posthuman consequences of our actions seems irresponsible. </li></ul><ul><li>Accounting for them, then, seems obligatory </li></ul><ul><li>… .but maybe impossible. </li></ul>
  4. 4. The SP Schema <ul><li>SP: Descendants of current humans could cease to be human as a consequence of a history of technical alteration . </li></ul>
  5. 5. Key features of SP <ul><li>Value Neutrality </li></ul><ul><li>Descent is wide not just biological </li></ul><ul><li>Human-Posthuman difference consists in a relation between historical individuals </li></ul><ul><li>… not concepts or abstract kinds. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Value Neutrality: Alteration vs. Enhancement <ul><li>Bostrom: A posthuman is a being with: </li></ul><ul><li>“ a central capacity greatly exceeding the maximum attainable by any current human being without recourse to new technological means” </li></ul><ul><li>Nick Bostrom, “ Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up ’ , in Medical Enhancement and Posthumanity , ed. Bert Gordijn and Ruth Chadwick (Dordrecht: Springer, 2009), pp. 107-137. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Wide Descent: Supporting Assumptions <ul><li>I) The appropriate concept of descent for SP is not biological but technically mediated to an arbitrary degree. </li></ul><ul><li>II) Humanity is already the socio-technical result of a technogenetic process . </li></ul>
  8. 8. Wide Human Descent <ul><li>The Wide Human (WH) is an assemblage with both “narrowly” human and narrowly non-human parts (e.g. domesticated animals, technologies, etc.). </li></ul><ul><li>An entity is a wide human descendant if it is the result of a technically mediated process: </li></ul><ul><li>A) Caused by a wide human descendant (recursive part) . </li></ul><ul><li>B) Caused by a part of WH. </li></ul>
  9. 9. The Disconnection Thesis <ul><li>A wide human descendent is a posthuman iff: </li></ul><ul><li>it has ceased to belong to WH (The Wide Human) as a result of technical alteration. </li></ul><ul><li>Or is related by wide descent to such a being. </li></ul>
  10. 10. “ Apophatic ” Accounting
  11. 11. Flat Ontology <ul><li>While] an ontology based on relations between general types and particular instances is hierarchical, each level representing a different ontological category (organism, species, genera), an approach in terms of interacting parts and emergent wholes leads to a flat ontology, one made exclusively of unique, singular individuals, differing in spatio-temporal scale but not in ontological status. </li></ul><ul><li>Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (London: Continuum 2009), 58. </li></ul><ul><li>Flat ontology disavows essences and thus blocks accounting by apophasis! </li></ul>
  12. 12. Disconnections <ul><li>Superhuman intelligence via recursive intelligence amplification (Vingean singularity) </li></ul><ul><li>The production of novel cognitive formats </li></ul><ul><li>(e.g. Instrumental elimination of propositional attitudes) </li></ul><ul><li>Non-Personal Phenomenologies </li></ul>
  13. 13. Disconnections <ul><li>Non-human social dispositions (Super-cooperators, super-individualists…) </li></ul><ul><li>Technically engendered Niche-differences </li></ul><ul><li>? </li></ul>
  14. 14. Metaphysical Implications <ul><li>A posthuman-making event occurs iff. a part of WH goes “feral”, “AWOL” , etc. and this is an effect of technology (Disconnection thesis) </li></ul><ul><li>No entity is intrinsically posthuman . An entity is posthuman in virtue of its historical relationship to WH. </li></ul><ul><li>To be a posthuman-maker a technology T just has to instantiate this causal role. (Multiple Realizability) </li></ul>
  15. 15. No Radical Aliens <ul><li>What if some posthumans are very weird indeed (swarm intelligences, etc.) ? We might not be in a position to interpret and thus evaluate these forms of life . </li></ul><ul><li>A flat-ontology countenances varying difficulty of human-relative interpretation. </li></ul><ul><li>… But not human-relative uninterpretability (that requires a human cognitive essence!) </li></ul>