About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Saturday, May 27, 2006

What do I get out of this?

∞ As I've been writing about life extension, a cure for aging, etc., over the last few weeks I've been struck (again) by the fact that I personally am now too old to have much prospect of benefiting from any truly radical technological breakthroughs that would greatly extend human capacities or the maximum human life span.

I'm very grateful for the modern techniques of medicine and dentistry (as well as good nutrition and moderate exercise) that have kept me relatively youthful into middle age, now I find myself here, and I expect to obtain some benefits from further technological developments when I reach later middle age and old age. But I'm under no illusion of being in the first generation of immortals. More likely, I and the baby boomers and GenXers who make up most of my friends are not even the last of our world's mortal generations.

My intellectual opponents seem consistently unable to grasp how radically things will change in the next 100, and certainly the next 1000 or 10,000, years. They massively underestimate the cumulative effects of scientific, technological and economic change. There is a failure of imagination here. I envisage that humankind will be radically transformed by technology, in different ways, over each of those time frames and beyond; this seems inevitable, unless there is some global catastrophe, and it is also (generally) desirable. The point is to try to influence how it starts to unfold. But at least some transhumanists and other futurists seem to be fooling themselves by massively overestimating what will be possible in their own lifetimes.

Surely, if we are realistic, we should not be too focused on narrowly selfish benefits from technological change. I see nothing wrong with getting whatever opportunistic benefits we can - I don't advocate any theory of impartial, self-denying morality. Yes, selfishness gives us one good motive to defend, say, embryonic stem cell research against irrational attacks. But the gains for me, personally, will be relatively marginal - perhaps a few extra years, perhaps a few extra good ones. The main thing is to have a positive effect on the probability that those who come after me will enjoy a smooth takeoff to whatever strange future awaits them.

That's really what I'm in this for. That's why I'm a philosopher and a futurist. That's what gives the satisfaction. ∞

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