[ExI] "Cybernetics Is An Antihumanism": ridicule sans context

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Thu Jun 12 23:35:30 UTC 2008

Well, let's see. I find a citation to something I 
wrote, so I have some notion of whether he's 
talking sense or not in that respect. Did Dupuy get it right?


Cybernetics Is An Antihumanism: Advanced 
Technologies and the Rebellion Against the Human Condition
By <http://metanexus.net/tabid/72/Default.aspx?aid=597>Jean-Pierre Dupuy

[...] The most obvious element of the 
nanotechnological dream is to substitute for what 
François Jacob called bricolage, or the tinkering 
of biological evolution, a paradigm of design. 
Damien Broderick, the Australian cultural 
theorist and popular science writer, barely 
manages to conceal his contempt for the world 
that human beings have inherited when he talks 
about the likelihood that "nanosystems, designed 
by human minds, will bypass all this Darwinian 
wandering, and leap straight to design 
success."14 One can hardly fail to note the irony 
that science, which in America has had to engage 
in an epic struggle to root out every trace of 
creationism (including its most recent avatar, 
"intelligent design") from public education, 
should now revert to a logic of design in the 
form of the nanotechnology program­-the only 
difference being that now it is mankind that assumes the role of the demiurge.


What I actually wrote:

           Is it likely that nanosystems, 
designed by human minds, will bypass all this 
darwinian wandering, and leap straight to design 
success? John K. Clark, a Miami electrical 
engineer and nano enthusiast, has explained why 
that might be feasible. He argues that with 
minting `if you have a good description of an 
object, then you could make another one, and if 
you don't, then Nanotechnology can examine the 
object and get a detailed description.'
           Rather than `writing' the huge number 
of coding steps needed to specify a complex 
object, we might scan a desired object at the 
atomic level and record the three-dimensional 
co-ordinates of each atom or molecule. Then a 
zillion teeny nano assemblers will allocate and 
time-share the job of making the smallest 
components, then joining those into next-biggest 
chunks, and up the ten or so steps to a gleaming, 
atomically-precise Consumer Thing.

Will simple nano work?

This is an amazing suggestion. Just record every 
atom's position, and then copy what you've scanned.
           How many atoms was that again?
           How much memory does this call for? How fast can it be accessed?
           Well, the process will be going on 
simultaneously in many parallel locations and 
levels. We must assume that data is stored in a 
zillion independent--but 
inter-communicating--nanites. We can also assume 
that the scanners are using excellent compression 
tricks, which saves a lot of storage. After all, 
many items of instruction take this form: `find a 
carbon atom; link it to the previous carbon atom 
on the left; find another carbon atom; repeat five trillion times'.[...]
           Still, it's not clear that we aren't 
begging major questions by bravely positing `a 
good description of an object' to be 
matter-compiled inside a mint as complex as a factory. [...]

Darwin to the rescue

I'm inclined to think we'll get interesting 
results faster through `darwinian' simulations 
inside computers. That approach would use what's 
called `artificial life' (`A-life'), based on 
cellular automata (CAs), and genetic algorithms (GAs).  [etc]


So what I was *actually* saying is that 
might be the way to go. (Whether that's a dumb 
idea is not the point; the good Dupuy didn't even *get* the idea.)

Ho hum. Away with the least nuance!

Damien Broderick

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