The 2009 "Humanity+ Summit" kicked off this morning to a sellout crowd and an overflowing conference room.
Empathy is in the air this year, with tachyons of fellow feeling racing across the conference space—the graciously provided offices of Eon Reality in sunny Irvine, California— and embedded nanobots of the milk of human kindness busily recalibrating the hedonic processing centers of seemingly all the transhumanists.
Negative utilitarian philosopher David Pearce, for example, seen at right with Galactus the devourer of worlds, calls for empathy as the building block of a future in which suffering has been abolished.
Yesterday, this correspondent stank up the joint during a Q&A session at the "Biopolitics and Popular Culture Seminar" by asserting that empathy for a robot that gets kicked is wasted empathy, no matter how much pathos the robot's reaction evokes. Annalee Newitz, unflappable imperatrix of the great Io9 blog, put me in my place by pointing out that empathy is not a zero-sum emotion: You can apparently feel sorry for the steel and the hand that wields it. So go ahead and weep for that discarded lamp.
All the empathy talk may seem surprising. This is a crowd that inclines more toward family-outliving extreme life spans; long, lonely cryofreezes; and at best a sort of hive-mind feeling for their fellow meat packages. (In fact, the transhumanists' confidence in a collaboratively filtered fourth wave of collective intellect makes them a refreshing break from libertarians. Several speakers have already called for an end to selfishness, if not self-consiousness, on the path toward a better life under a post-mammalian queen bee. Where do I plug in?) I don't know whether we're talking about a general quality of mercy that droppeth down to the third ventricle of every post-human heart, or if "empathy" is just code for giving equal rights to the scientifically augmented or differently socialized.
For my money, the best show of the day has been University of California, Santa Barbara's Joann Kuchera-Morin's CG-powered presentation "Using the Creative Process to Map N-Dimensions: Quantum Information at your Fingertips," during which stunned audience members were able to see giant carbon atoms and hear the actual sound of electrons. You too may be able to hear the sound of electrons by turning to the "Soundscapes" Music Choice channel, available in the 900s with most cable packages. You can watch live webcast of the conference here.
We can all agree that Ron Bailey defecates better transhumanism coverage than I can ever hope to produce, and I appreciate your patience with my humble efforts. If all goes well, I hope to bring you an extended-lifetime achievement award, Fashion Catastrophes®, and a Miss Congeniality prize later this weekend.