[extropy-chat] Report from Balticon

Joseph Bloch jbloch at humanenhancement.com
Mon May 30 01:30:20 UTC 2005

I've just returned from a most extraordinary visit to Balticon 
(http://www.balticon.org), the annual convention of the Baltimore 
Science Fiction Society. I had arranged to get an exhibitor table, and 
was scheduled (along with fellow WTA member Jeff Medina, who also held 
the banner high for SIAI and was a welcome expert on the many questions 
that came up on the subject of artificial general intelligence) to give 
two talks on >H as part of the science track of presentations on 
Saturday (family commitments prevented me from staying through Monday, 
even though the convention was still going strong when I left).

I arrived on Friday afternoon and set up the info table with a number of 
flyers (downloadable from the WTA website-- 
http://transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/resources/) I had printed out, as 
well as literature from Alcor (http://www.alcor.org), the New Jersey 
Transhumanist Association (http://www.goldenfuture.net/njta) and my own 
Center for Human Enhancement (http://www.humanenhancement.com). I didn't 
stay around on Friday night, as I was due at some friends' house, but 
figured a few interested early-comers might take some flyers.

Boy, did they! When I arrived to man the table on Saturday morning, 
almost all of the flyers I had left the night before had been taken. I 
know it wasn't a case of someone just cleaning off the table, as 
_everything_ wasn't gone, but 90% of what had been there wasn't there 
any more. I was starting to feel good about this event. I put out more 
of the literature I had brought with me, set up the signs and 
literature-holders, and hung up the 6' vinyl WTA banner in front of the 
table, and even before I could sit down, folks were coming up and asking 
me questions about Transhumanism; turns out some of them had read the 
flyers from the day before and wanted to know more! Many folks stopped 
by and said they had seen our presentations in the convention schedule 
and were very interested and planning on attending.

I was definitely feeling good about this. In fact, by the time Saturday 
was over, four new people had signed up as WTA members on the spot, and 
many more said they would do so on the website.

Throughout the morning, there was such a crush of people asking 
questions, taking literature, and so forth that I barely had time to 
take a ten-minute break and scan through the dealers' area for souvenirs 
for my wife and daughter. Certainly I wasn't going to be attending any 
of the programming myself.

In the nick of time, Jeff showed up for our first presentation at 1 PM, 
"An Introduction to Transhumanism". Without the benefit of any 
PowerPoint slides, any script, or really any preparation, we held an 
audience of 40 or so people enthralled with our description of the 
promise of Transhumanism. Almost as soon as our first sentence had been 
uttered, hands went up with questions, and the hour went by in an 
instant. Folks followed us back to the table, engaged in deep and 
thoughtful conversations.

The 6 PM presentation, "Anti-Transhumanist Themes in 'Star Trek'" (based 
on a paper I am submitting to JET) was an even better success. The 
audience was completely engaged, asking really deep, penetrating 
questions, and the whole thing was completely fun, being bound together 
by examples from the various 'Star Trek' series that the audience could 
relate to directly. Naturally, it wasn't all on a science fiction plane, 
as we took pains to keep reminding everyone that these technologies are 
going to be here long before the 23rd century. After this presentation 
was over, we stayed in the room for a full 45 minutes past the end, 
chatting and answering questions from the audience, until we were 
compelled to leave by the staff (we were the last presentation in the 
room, but it needed to be set up for the costume contest later that 
evening). The conversation continued, once again, as we repaired to our 
exhibitor table. (Both presentations were videotaped, and I'll try to 
make a digitized version available on the WTA website as soon as practical.)

This was such a different experience from my time at Lunacon. I can only 
think that it is the nature of the convention which accounts for the 
difference in response. Lunacon is primarily a literary science fiction 
convention, without any sort of science programming, and I think the 
people who attend reflect that emphasis. Balticon is a much larger 
convention, and has a well-established science programming track, and 
some people come just for that. Even those people who never go to the 
science programming are more (pro-)scientifically-oriented, and I think 
they regard the science programming track much like some people regard 
the existence of their city's philharmonic orchestra; they don't want to 
go see it, but they feel a certain comfort that it is there.

This isn't to say that everything was wine and roses, of course. There 
were a few folks who were cautious at best regarding >H's claims 
regarding the promise of technology, and they certainly gave spirited 
arguments. Some folks had their own axes to grind, and imposed their 
expectations on >H and found it lacking. But on the whole, >H was 
extremely well-received by many people at Balticon, and I find the 
experience completely positive overall. I will hopefully be attending 
several more such conventions in the coming year.

We've been invited back to Balticon next year, and I will certainly take 
them up on it. And next time, I'll have a few PowerPoint presentations 
with me.


Enhance your body "beyond well" and your mind "beyond normal": 
New Jersey Transhumanist Association: http://www.goldenfuture.net/njta
PostHumanity Rising: http://transhumanist.blogspot.com/ (updated today!)

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