Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Bane of Science Hopefuls

From the Black Gate:
Back in 1977, science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote a piece for Advertising Age predicting, among other things, that consumers would opt to receive ads personalized to their interests as well as the role of “persuasion techniques developed by advertology (sic)” to promote social change. While Asimov got the general idea right, he was wrong on the delivery channel for target marketing (he thought it would be television, having no notion of the Internet) and the evolution of political advertising (he thought it would be for the purpose of “battling ignorance and folly” as opposed to most political messages today that’d rather promote ignorance and folly).
Asimov was from a generation of SF writers who saw their avocation in part as to predict the future as a positive, better place to live. In the same article, Asimov conjectured that by 2000, “Energy will once more be relatively plentiful, and it will be used more wisely, we hope, by a world that has been taught by the events of these recent decades to cooperate for survival.” Good luck with that.

How surprising that scientists and science-lovers would make predictions based upon their own wishful thinking.  There is also a post-facto rationalization involved here. For why would scientists, who ostensibly facilitate the advancement of science, want to work on something that will not bring everlasting benefit to mankind?

The futurist Ray Kurzweil comes to mind. Predicting the singularity will arrive at 2045, the 63 year old Kurzweil is doing everything he can to squeeze in another 44 unassisted years so that he can live to the moment he predicts the singularity will empower mankind with functional immortality, among other things.

But this will probably never be. His fixation on the future blindsides him of our evolutionary past.  In his book, “The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life: How to Reduce Fat in Your Diet and Eliminate Virtually All Risk of Heart Disease and Cancer” he calls for a diet that, against every evolutionary argument and medical study to the contrary, should consist of a mere 10% fat, with less the better.  Anyone cognizant of the merits of the paleo diet would know that Kurzweil will probably not make it to 97.

That doesn’t stop him from believing he can, of course, but had he entertained a more pessimistic outlook regarding the singularity, no doubt he would be pushing the date farther down the line past his projected death, probably in the 2060’s.

Science and technology have ameliorated the burden of poverty and disease, at least in some parts of the world.  But it cannot fundamentally alter human nature to create a poverty-free and violence-free technotopia. It cannot transform the vast sea of idiots into informed, rational, purely-productive individuals.

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