Pro-Life! A Visit with Extropians
By Brenda Cooper, 2000
Imagine that medical nanotechnology has restored your youth and health, a blend of biology and computing has gifted you with perfect memory, and even upgraded your thinking abilities to twice what you started with. Your mother has a backup copy of you that she carries in her purse. There’s a team of medical experts standing by in case an accident happens and you want to preserve your physical body, and you are learning astrophysics from an artificial intelligence named “Sam”.
Then answer a question. How much different from today is what you just imagined? Is it more different than today is from the worlds of our recent past? Just three hundred years ago, we had no planes, no telephone, no United States of America, no cars, and certainly no television or worldwide web. A microwave oven would have been magic beyond comprehension.
Extropians, among other definitions, are a community of individuals who would probably feel very comfortable in the future described in the first paragraph. They define Extropy as ‘the opposite of entropy.’ The Extropian Institute put on a three-day conference in San Jose on June 15-17th, 2001. I went, drawn by a Wired article I’d read two years ago, by Ray Kurzweil’s work, and by an intriguing art piece done by Natasha Vita-More, an Extropian herself.
I spend a lot of time with very smart people. The Extropians may be the most controversial, cutting edge, joyfully ebullient, and slightly scary group I’ve had the good fortune to visit with. If you picture a pendulum describing an arc through the human viewpoints about the profound affects of science and technology on the human race, you can place many of the luddite movements on one end of the pendulum’s swing. The Extropians would be on the other end.
I think they have chosen the end that better describes a healthy approach to the future. They want to create the future as they see it, as they hope it will be. Not wait for it; create it. No, there isn’t a specific single vision of the future held by all Extropians. There is rather a conversation among people of reasonably similar interest, complete with a set of guiding principles that are well worth reading.
During the conference, most topics were presented with multiple slightly variant viewpoints and the speakers and audience dialogued about core ideas, implementation, challenges, and problems. I agreed with a lot; some things I’m not sure about, and I heard a few things I did not agree with. The experience, the conversation, was incredibly rich. Some of the questions asked and pondered included:
- How do you create a “friendly” artificial intelligence, one that will be supportive of humans rather than destructive?
- How will machine life and human life interact?
- If we are truly evolving at a high rate of speed, what are we evolving into?
- How do you defeat the concept of death?
- How do you work with people who are afraid of technology, longevity, and scientific mistakes?
- How is the architecture of the information web best utilized today and in the future?
I left with a clear idea about one thing there was consensus on: it would be a good thing to live forever. Almost to a person, the Extropians I met are pro-life in the strongest sense of the word: they intend to defeat death.
Immortalism and Life Extension information on the Transhumanist Resources Page. This page is run by Anders Sandberg, a speaker and participant at Extro 5. He appears to be brilliant, polite, thoughtful, and large of heart.
Two driving forces in Extropianism are clearly Max More and Natasha Vita-More. Both are interesting people. Be sure to check out Natasha’s Primo 3m+2000.
The main page for the Extropy Institute has information about a wide variety of topics.
Joy and the Future, an article sparked by hearing Bill Joy talk at the University of Seattle in June, 2000. Raymond Kurzweil talked at Extro5. Check out Hearing Ray Talk.
If you want to search the web for more general information, try the term “transhumanist.”