Call them transhumanists, or extropians, or convergenists. Call their mission GNR, or NBIC, or “RL meets SL.” A new generation of social scientists, with religious zeal, are changing reality as we know it.
(A meeting of the minds, at “Convergence of the Real and the Virtual: The First Scientific Conference in World of Warcraft.” Image: from the Convergentsystems wiki)
by Mark Baard
Virtual worlders, led by a so-called “convergenist” from the National Science Foundation, met this week to discuss one of their plans for humankind: capturing individual personalities onto computers, and transmitting them into other worlds.
Rather than meeting in the real world, attendees at the Convergence of the Real and the Virtual conference brought their swords and leopards, and their idealized bodies (big muscles, big boobs) to a space in World of Warcraft, an online massively multiplayer online role playing game, or MMORPG.
The NSF sociologist who organized the WoW scientific meeting, William Sims Bainbridge [sic], has taken the form of a “level 65 (out of 70) blood elf priest” in the game, which claims more than nine million players.
Part of Bainbridge’s job, as director of the NSF’s Human-Centered Computing Cluster, is to direct young researchers into areas of “future research,” including “immersive and multi-sensory technologies, and direct brain-computer interfaces.”
For the WoW meeting, Bainbridge described how human consciousnesses might be uploaded to virtual worlds (at least in Battlestar Galactica, they call it “downloading”).
He also described how virtual humans might be made governable:
(Virtual world) participants are much less likely to be guided by religious belief, and more likely to prefer the suspension of disbelief associated with science fiction and fantasy. So, we can expect that virtual worlds will prototype many social innovations that might then diffuse to offline governance, while often preaching sedition.
Bainbridge spent some of his younger days in a Scientology splinter group, and is considered by some academics to be a religious expert.
But Bainbridge is also a religious hero, to the transhumanists, who hope to accelerate the convergence of real and virtual reality, as well as genetics, nanotechnology and robotics (Ray Kurzweil’s GNR).
In addition to recruiting its partnerships with the NSF, NASA and other governmental agencies, the extropians court Hollywood stars such as William Shatner, and academics at Yale and Oxford.
Some transhumanists call themselves extropians, others, convergenists. Some also use a different convergence acronym, NBIC, which represents nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science.
Like Scientologists, transhumanists appear to brook little dissent, and seem eager to silence their critics. When Bainbridge meets with Second Lifers in a few weeks, for example, he will be hosted by a group of transhumanists “too busy building the future we want to spare time on unconstructive criticism.”
That unconstructive criticism, say the transhumanists, is any that comes from those who do not “share our goals and values.”