Fwd: Transhumanist Community

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (sentience@pobox.com)
Date: Wed Dec 07 2005 - 17:12:32 MST

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [extropy-chat] Transhumanist Community
Date: Tue, 6 Dec 2005 23:09:48 -0600
From: Brandon Reinhart <transcend@extropica.com>
Reply-To: ExI chat list <extropy-chat@lists.extropy.org>
To: 'ExI chat list' <extropy-chat@lists.extropy.org>

I am speaking as a relatively new transhumanist. Those of you who are long
standing, highly active members of this community should not be offended by
my comments. I do not intend to indict or insult.


It seems to me that transhumanist community is in a sorry state. When I look
at sites that are well known to transhumanists, I see very low rates of
participation and conversion.

Some thoughts on possible changes, improvements, and mistakes:

1. Favoring email lists instead of open forums.

As far as I can tell, neither the WTA nor the Extropy Institute have public
web forums. Instead, the two organizations rely on majordomo style email
lists to facilitate communication. In my opinion this is a mistake.

First, forums are more easily accessible than email lists. Any forum with a
modern thread view and search facility provides a simple UI for quickly
reading up on the latest discussion. If a reader wants to convert to
participant, they are probably more familiar with the account creation and
activation process of the major forum kits than majordomo, which is a
relatively aged piece of software.

Second, forums are potentially less "hostile" than email discussion lists.
The email discussion list pushes data to the reader. Busy lists push so much
discussion as to be unusable in real-time. Users have to be fairly
interface-savvy in order to either A) filter the list into a separate folder
in their email client or B) request the server send a digest. I suspect that
the rapid-push nature of email lists could even alienate certain users in
the "unwanted email == spam" environment we live in today. While it is
probably reasonable to assume that most transhumanists are highly
computer-literate, it is no reason to make quality transhumanist discussion
only comfortably accessible to the class of individuals who are

Certainly, forums take more work to maintain, generally, than email lists.
The lowered barrier to accessibility means a somewhat lower signal-to-noise
ratio. Forums have to be monitored and abusive users have to be silenced.
Nonetheless, forums are very familiar to most web users, even at very low
levels of computer-literacy.

Computer literacy is not, in my opinion, a prerequisite to being
transhumanist. After all, we extropians believe that art, music, and culture
is an integral part to creating a Nice Place To Live and many artists aren't
necessarily going to understand how to interact with majordomo, etc.

2. Not having any community at all.

I'm _amazed_ that the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence has
no forum what-so-ever. SIAI interests do maintain the SL4 mailing list but
it is clearly intended for highly technical discussion, not general
evangelism or community building. The SIAI seems to greatly desire an
increased audience for the "singularity is AI dammit!" meme, Yudkowsky's
philosophies in FAI and AGI construction, etc. Get a forum! Let people
respond! Get someone to answer those posts and actively engage your readers.
It isn't the only, final, or even necessarily the best path to getting that
audience, but it is a relatively simple start.

3. Utilize blog style focused content delivery and then direct conversation
to your forum.

A front page with a blog structure is a great way to constantly push new
events in your organization. The organization must seem to be alive in order
to attract ongoing attention. If your front page hasn't been updated in
three months, people will stop visiting. On the other hand, if you update
with interesting (even if trivial) news about your organizations efforts,
people will return to learn and discuss.

In my opinion, the blog should be the initial page (with direction to "who
we are" type of inquiries on a side panel menu). A few sites that do have
blogs have a static main page and a "read our blog" type of link buried
somewhere. This doesn't seem to be very effective.

And yeah, I'm not walking the walk here either. Extropica is a potentially
cool name for a transhumanist-evangelist site, but I have neglected it.

4. Not pushing people to community in an intuitive way.

I just popped open the ExI site in my browser. In the center of the page I
see something interesting: The Proactionary Principle. What is this? I want
to read about it. It's compelling content. I click on it and see a draft of
something interesting! Posted for public comment, awesome! But at the
bottom: "please submit your comments to Extropy Board of Directors."

What? No!

There should be a link to a public forum saying "comment and discuss this
and other ExI projects in our forums." Push those readers to the
conversation. We are talking about smart people. They want to talk about
what they just read. Or maybe just read what other people think. If they
post, you've more or less guaranteed they will return to your organization's
site and check the responses to their post.

5. Asking for the email address, before providing interesting information.

I think that organizational updates sent by email are not as effective as
posting those updates on the main site, perhaps with a forum to seed a
discussion. SIAI has a "Free eBulletin" but an examination of the site's
front page reveals no way to get this information without giving them my
email address.

Get with the 90s! I know few people who will give out their email address to
an automated form when it isn't required (i.e.: not buying something online
or performing security validation). It seems to me that the information
regarding what conferences you're sending so-and-so to and what research
papers whats-his-name is working on are critical donation engines and that
information would always be as easily available as possible.

This emphasis on forums and community is only important because we are
currently a very issue and subject based community with relatively few
participants. A forum for an organization like the Red Cross wouldn't really
make sense, as they are extremely well established and aren't a small
community organization. They have much more effective funding-mechanisms in


- People need to participate more. If I pop open the imminst.org forums, I
see a very low post-to-view ratio in a lot of the forums. People are reading
the threads, but not responding. Maybe part of this comes from the
complexity of transhuman subjects. People don't want to look like idiots.
But we need people posting their questions so they can get answers, so there
can be a much wider ranging dialog than exists currently.

- People need to write more. There are a thousand interesting core concepts
out there that have barely been scratched. When I read a series of articles,
I generally see the same names popping up over and over. The Max Mores, the
Kurzweils, the Anissimovs, etc. I cannot possibly believe that there are
only a handful of people doing interesting thinking about transhumanist

I suspect that many will disagree with me, but I see the need for more
arm-chair transhumanist evangelists. I think there is a need for people who
can translate the concepts behind FAI and cryonics (etc) in a language that
is not hostile, heavy handed, or nerdy.

- People need to avoid meaningless dogma:
What's with pressing the need to differentiate between the Kurzweil
"singularity" and the Vinge "singularity"? It's counterproductive. Make up a
new word or something! Its okay to let "singularity" go. We can steal a new
word. If the media or public, as a result of Kurzweil's book and evangelism,
ultimately latch onto a non-Vinge definition of singularity, that's fine.
Celebrate that one of the critically interesting transhumanist memes is
getting greater attention.

Of course there will always be some meaningful internal conflict:
And that kind of exchange should happen.

Anyway, I'm mostly a lurker, but I thought I'd post my thoughts. Gotta think
about ways to encourage people to learn about the singularity and get
involved. I'm really in the "we have to push to make this happen" camp not
the "singularity is an inevitable result of market forces" camp. I don't
even know if those two camps really exist, or are just the result of
miscommunication among individuals.

Brandon Reinhart

extropy-chat mailing list

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                          http://intelligence.org/
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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