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Technophobia! by Daniel Dinello April 3, 2011

Posted by Summerspeaker in Technology, The Singularity, Transhumanism.
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I read the book this week as a part of the class I’m taking with David Correia. Now I better understand the origins of the narrative of Singularitarianism as religious fanaticism, though I’m no more sympathetic to it. This narrative, Dinello’s basic conception of technology, eir employment of science fiction alone as basis for policy, and eir opposition to radical social transformation constitute my primary objections to the text. I found the work difficult get through because of my disappointment with transhumanist criticism based on such dubious foundations.

The overbearing characterization of transhumanists as true believers in a technological variant of fundamentalist Christianity confuses more than it clarifies. Dinello alleges dreams of perfection in order to discredit his victims but refrains from elaborating on what defines perfection and why such a goal occupies a space outside of reasonable discourse. The embrace of the progress narrative and claims of certainty from Ray Kurzweil and company absolutely merit criticism, but a vast difference exists between transcendent visions based on the supernatural versus the materialistic worldview. Other then symbolic resonances with Christianity, Dinello provides no basis for dismissing transhumanist goals such as indefinite lifespans and material abundance. Assumptions about absurdity and impossibility deserve unpacking. Eir own ideal of ending poverty often receives the same presumptuous rejection Dinello reserves for supposed techno-utopians. I would suggest nothing hinders revolutionary politics more than unfounded assertions of impossibility. That way lies reaction and possessive attachment to the status quo.

Dinello goes so far as to present K. Eric Drexler of all people as “the high priest of nanotechnology” and ridicules em with stereotypical religious language.  About science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, Dinello writes that ey “expressed an unwavering faith, akin to religious fundamentalism, in a technological utopia.” The war Dinello posits between the machine and mankind allows for no neutrality and scant nuance. Eir stifling conception of technology as a monolithic, autonomous force that exists on linear continuum defines this entire work to its detriment. Under this framework, Dinello makes a hard distinction between fanatical technology worshipers bent world domination and wise technophobes contesting their vision. Everyone discussed either wears a black hat or a white one. Thus – apart from a brief treatment of science fiction connected with Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” – Dinello denies space to complex engagement with futurism and obscures critical distinctions between thinkers ey groups on the same side.

While the discipline of Western science historically comes out of the Christian religious tradition and naturalistic atheism in many cases has cast itself as an alternative within the same framework of belief, Dinello’s construct of Technologism as the faith of Singularitarians, transhumanists, and technophiles in general annihilates essential differences. Any claim about how the world should be in a sense operates in the religious mode because it goes beyond empiricism, but that’s no excuse for lumping Catholics and Marxists together. Scientific rationalists indeed err when they assert the autonomy of reason; many hold a speculative faith in progress. This doesn’t make them equivalent to the frenzied, Bible-thumping preachers Dinello wants us to imagine. Singularitarians draw their dreams of divine powers from extrapolation based on the materialist perspective and scientific understanding of the world. Even the questionable matter of mind uploading as a path to immortality rests on far firmer ground than Christian belief in the Rapture. Substituting human ingenuity for supernatural agents matters. The two should not be confused.

In the conclusion to Technophobia!, Dinello compounds the problems of eir approach to future innovation by asserting science fiction as a basis for establishing technological impossibility. Ey writes, “Technologism promotes fantastic expectations of individual perfection which science fiction shows technology cannot achieve.” Think about that for a moment. My jaw dropped when I read this section of the book. Dinello wildly misjudges the role of science fiction in influencing policy. The literature ey explores can indeed serve as a warning about the dangers of technologies such as robotics and undermine narratives of progress by suggesting potential pitfalls, but creative production cannot determine what the universe will allow. Rigorous experiments and carefully crafted theoretical models stand as our best tool for understanding the material world. While the scientific method and speculation based on current knowledge offer no certainty, this approach decisively trumps watching Blade Runner to deduce the prospects of artificial intelligence development.

As outlined above, Dinello’s work uses a troubled framework for critiquing the implications of futurist thought. Ey counters their dude supremacist, elitist, and imperialistic visions with a reactionary attack on ambitious social transformation. Nor does Dinello spend much text on examining the conservative ideological aspects of the science fiction ey lauds as resisting the techno-totalitarian monstrosity. The necessary deconstruction of the teleology and predestination so prevalent within futurism gets lost amidst the overbearing claim of zealotry and mocking religious language. Dinello’s conception of technology as simple sliding scale in fact supports the aforementioned teleology. I urge all critics to avoid these errors and think deeply about the assumptions employed on all sides.

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