(Early) Monday Idiocy: Chris Bertram Wages War on Eyeglasses, Surrenders to Cyborgs

Chris Bertram, three years ago:

Noah Smith had me going for a minute there: I just love econobloggers, with their capacity for Swiftian satire…
…Dry as dust, yet clearly having a laugh, they aim to reel in the poor saps who are take them seriously… making as if they really mean it…. Noah Smith surpasses them all with a new blog on The Rise of the Cyborgs… does a really excellent job of pretending to be keen on the robot-human future he imagines…. [H]e feigns enthusiasm most successfully about the prospects for the economy….
Indeed, employers could make it a condition of employment that workers undergo the necessary cyber-modifications! Actually, I think Smith missed a trick there, by failing to imagine how this might affect workplace dynamics. Oh well, I expect someone will be along to explain how such contracts would be win-win. Brilliant.

This is the one argument Chris actually made against visual and auditory implants, etc. — against hearing aids, eyeglasses, canes, artificial hips, and, indeed, writing (a cyber-modification of our brains to aid memory): It is that “employers could make it a condition of employment that workers undergo the necessary cyber-modifications.”

Bertram then got upset at those of us who pointed out that an argument that calls for the abolition of eyeglasses, canes, literacy, etc. has little purchase. As if it is obvious that requiring literacy on the part of employees has had such devastating consequences! In the process, Bertram found himself denouncing not just hearing aids but iPods, and not just iPods but CDs.

He did, however seem at some level to realize that his claims that technologies were bad just because “employers could make [them] a condition of employment” was… really, really weak.

So he claimed that he was not just engaged in pointless trolling:

seriously… insofar as these technologies are viable, they have the potential to enslave us without improving our real well-being…

and he promised that he would:

write a more comprehensively Luddite post soon…

and in fact declared:

a more nuanced post is in preparation…

Let the record show that three years have passed since Chris Bertram’s original trolling of Noah Smith, with neither a “more nuanced post” or a coherent “comprehensively Luddite post” been written.

There are, after all, standards for this sort of thing. Trolling econobloggers is a high art. It a noble profession. To do it as badly as Bertram has — -this is what Erik Loomis calls heads-on-sticks time.

Chris Bertram has, by the Custom of the Internet, granted Noah Smith and cyborgs everywhere a permanent, irrevocable, general license to freely laugh at and mock him, for as long and as loudly as they wish, until the sun falls.


Noah Smith (2012): Rise of the Cyborgs: “People have been requesting that I do more futurist posts…

…so here’s a bit of holiday optimism…. Another technological revolution… is right under our noses, about to change our world in a big way. I’m talking about the rise of biomechanical engineering… or, to use a more catchy term, cyborg technology…. Here are some extrapolations of technologies that currently exist:
(1) Direct mental control of machines (also called Mind-Machine Interface, or MMI). Non-invasive ways of controlling machines with one’s mind have already been developed and will soon be commercialized. The biggest benefit of this, of course, will be for physically impaired people, but it will also probably allow us to write a lot faster; just think words, and they appear on the page…. Another aspect of this is mind-internet interface… scary, since you don’t want your brain getting hacked by jerky teenagers halfway around the globe….
(2) Augmented intelligence. Artificial intelligence is… most-talked-about technologies, but… it’s probably easier and more natural to begin with the intelligence we already have, and simply augment it with computers… artificial memory centers…. Artificial brain structures might also allow boosted cognitive ability…
(3) Augmented learning. This sounds very pie-in-the-sky, until you read the BBC article and find that it is already real….
(4) Mood modification. We already know how to stimulate certain emotions…. Cognitive behavioral therapy currently relies on human attention and vigilance to replace negative thoughts with positive ones (thus alleviating depression and anxiety); if this process could be automated, it could help cure some of the great psychological scourges of modern society. But why stop there? People with phobias could get rid of the phobias by counteracting fear responses at high speed…. Of course, at this point, mood modification becomes a rudimentary form of my ‘holy grail’ technology of Desire Modification….
(5) Artificial sensory input. This already exists and is on the market, in the form of cochlear impants (artificial ears) and visual prostheses (artificial eyes)….
OK, time to stop…. Many cyborg technologies that currently exist have the potential to quickly and dramatically reshape human life. I leave it to you to fill out the list…. What will this mean for the economy? Well… biomechanical technologies are good old manufactured goods; their inclusion into the economy will show up in the GDP statistics…. Also, cyborg technologies have the potential to improve human productivity quite a bit, as my examples above have hopefully shown. Humans who can store vast amounts of knowledge and expertise, who can directly interface with machines, and who can make themselves more well-adjusted and motivated at the touch of a (mental) button will be valuable employees indeed, and will prove useful complements to the much-discussed army of robots…. This could be very, very big.

Update: Just to clarify, I think that: A) cyborg technologies that affect the mind are going to be far, far more important than ones that affect mainly the body, and B) Noninvasive methods of brain-computer interface definitely count as ‘cyborg’ technology; you don’t have to have robot parts in your head to be a cyborg…. George Dvorsky lists 16 science fiction predictions that actually came true just in 2012. Cyborg technology dominates the list; see items 1, 3, 10, 13, and 15. The cyborg revolution is upon us!… A TED talk on cyborgs…. Futurist Ramez Naam has an article in Forbes summarizing a lot of the new cyborg tech…

Originally published at www.bradford-delong.com.