9.23.2013

Jason Silva banned me from his G+ stream.

About a week or so back, I wrote a longish critique of +Jason Silva's philosophy of technology. Although my comment was critical and negative, I don't believe I trolled, insulted, or otherwise abused anyone in the thread. Nevertheless, my comment has since been deleted. See for yourself:

https://plus.google.com/u/0/102906645951658302785/posts/U4EFvbX9pa5

You'll notice a few direct responses to my comment, and my replies to those comments are still around, but my original comment has been deleted. Luckily, I archived it here:

https://plus.google.com/u/0/117828903900236363024/posts/J2TxJqhSv2D

I'm rather disappointed that Silva chose to censor my critique, instead of addressing it and taking it seriously. I think I'm raising legitimate concerns that ought to be addressed. I've enjoyed engaging the responses from Silva's fans, including some G+ science heavyweights whom I respect a lot, like . I've tried to engage the community in a respectful manner with the goal of discussion and dialogue. I'm not trying to start a fight, I'm just trying to do some philosophy on a topic I care about at least as much as Jason. 

I'd understand if Jason is too busy to respond, but I don't understand the need to delete my comment. He's since reshared the talk, presumably to get a fresh comment thread going without my critique. I'm not trying to troll, so I'll leave the thread alone. 

However, Silva's series of talks makes it clear that he's willing to stake quite a lot of his intellectual motivation on this idea of "exponential thinking". In my original critique, I argued that this term is empty, and has no basis in neuroscience, psychology, or philosophy. The only academic reference you'll find for the term comes from the Singularity Institute and their brand of futurism. That's fine if you're looking to give motivational speeches to the tech industry, but as a philosophical approach to technology it ranks with  "quantum healing" as an approach to medicine. In both cases, a serious misunderstanding of the phenomena gives rise to seriously troubling disinformation and pseudoscience. I imagine a critique of Chopra would go over quite well in G+ science communities, so I'm surprised at how defensive people are at a similar critique of Silva. 

I left another comment on the video I've shared below questioning this term, which I'm reproducing here in case it also goes missing:

> By "exponential", do you mean nonlinear? I've looked for any serious treatment of "exponential thinking" outside the context of the Singularity Institute, and I've yet to come up with any reputable reference for the term, or indeed any acknowledgement from the psychological or neuroscientific communities that this term has significance when discussing the mind and brain. I've come up short in my research, and I'd love to hear something more concrete on these topics. 

There are, of course, a number of nonlinearities to be found in a complex network like the brain, but describing this as "exponential thinking" seems deliberately misleading. 

// I'm trying to be civil in these comments, but in my own thread I'll speak my mind.  The ideology being pushed Silva and other Singulatarians is a feel-good, new age snake oil. It is packaged as futurism and psychedelic art, but it presents a picture of science, technology, and the world that is either seriously misleading, deliberately bewildering, or just plain false. Since these are issues I care about, I also care to get them right, and the mystical futurists make my job that much harder with their bullshit. 

The support given to Kurzweil by Google, and more generally the support given to the Singularity Institute by Stanford and others, has done a lot to make these careless thinkers gain some undeserved legitimacy in academia, in the tech industry, and in popular consciousness. I think it is imperative that serious thinkers on technology subject this work some much needed critical scrutiny and philosophical clarity. The fact that this has not been systematically done is disappointing, but apparently there is active suppression of these critiques, so I shouldn't be surprised. 

We desperately need a clear, mature discussion of technological change and the future of humanity, and Singularity theory is manifestly not giving us such a treatment. Please stop taking them seriously. Please stop giving them high profile jobs and cable TV shows. It is not helping. 

         


Update: Before I was done writing this essay, I was banned from Silva's G+ stream, and can therefore no longer share or comment on his posts. Unfortunately, that means Silva has decided to kill the network between us and undo whatever connections and conversation might there form.


More discussion of the ban is taking place here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/117828903900236363024/posts/FGpYH8voWcb