Over at The Speculist, Phil Bowermaster says:
One area where transhumanists consistently disappointment me is politics. We can talk about accelerating change and singularities and human enhancement and the possibilities are endless, but when the subject comes to politics, everyone seems to revert to one of a very small number of philosophical templates, most of them created in the 19th century or earlier. And for some reason those are inviolate.
Bruce Sterling at Beyond the Beyond jumps in and wonders, “Why aren’t these advanced conceptualists arguing about suffrage for Artificial Intelligences?”
Agreeing with that point, a commenter at Michael Anissimov’s Accelerating Future blog opines that “the arguments are taking place in a sandbox in the middle of the Sahara.”
The implication there, as in the other three items referenced above, is that a debate over contemporary terrestrial (and US-centric) politics is passé, that it basically misses the point of what emerging technologies are all about. Once artificial general intelligence is achieved, or molecular manufacturing is developed, or the Singularity arrives, then none of this will matter any more—or so the story goes.
I beg to differ.
For one thing, emerging technologies—whether AI or nanotech or genetic engineering—do not emerge into nor from a vacuum. They are developed within a context of political reality, amidst the daily tussle over regulation, funding, and proper usage. None of them will arise fully-grown and pristine, as Venus from the sea, but will be hammered out, molded, shaped, and modified through endless discussions in both corporate boardrooms and the halls of government. Our input is therefore essential if we hope to have any influence on how those technologies ultimately are deployed.
Some may speculate that a particular powerful technology (usually AI) will suddenly and immediately transform the world in such a way as to render moot all previous political considerations, but I would say that those ideas are exactly that: speculation. That scenario is no more certain than any other; clearly, it is worth exploring, but it would be a big mistake to make that the final word and forgo examination of other less millenarian but probably more likely outcomes.
Given that we live in a real world, not a science fiction world, where real governments and real companies make real decisions that affect real people—and knowing that we can’t say for sure when or if any spectacular new technology will turn everything upside down overnight—then it is up to us to stay engaged in current political debates and work out the best possible environments within which transformative technologies might emerge.