Re: [sl4] Aubrey de Grey on BBC 'comedy' show.

From: Amon Zero (
Date: Mon Oct 12 2009 - 09:33:49 MDT

> Good to see these ideas getting out into the mainstream media, but from this
> show at least there still seems to be a fair amount of
> schoolyard/finger-pointing type ridicule...

That was interesting (and funny), thanks Mike. Seemed to me that the
'ridicule' was pretty good natured, given that it's a comedy show. It
was perhaps more telling that Aubrey's model was rejected because the
judges were more familiar with linear - rather than exponential -
thinking, and were also not previously familiar with the various
pieces of contextual information provided by Aubrey. In short, they
wanted to agree with the gist of what Aubrey had to say, but their own
forecasts were anchored in perceptions of a future that looks a lot
like the past. So far, so Kurzweil. That impression does, however,
lead me to thinking about ways in which transhumanist ideas could be
most effectively communicated to a wider audience, where necessary.

A cognitive psychologist (or Derren Brown) attempting to sway those
judges would probably try to find a way to pre-exposure them to the
various points Aubrey made, along with a bit of information about the
nature of exponential trends. The reason for this is based in two
empirical phenomena studied by psychologists: (1) The Mere Exposure
effect, and (2) the Anchor-and-Adjust Heuristic. The Mere Exposure
effect shows that if you expose a person to a simple idea or
phenomenon without any kind of explicit argumentation, then leave them
for a while, later they will find the idea/stimulus more attractive
than they would otherwise have done. The Anchor-and-Adjust Heuristic
is essentially a rule of thumb people commonly use when judging a
quantity (e.g. "What is my own estimate of average life expectancy a
hundred years from now?"); People start with a prior "anchor" - a
more-or-less arbitrary baseline - and then "adjust" slightly from
there, in the direction that a persuasive argument would suggest.

The judges on this TV show seemed like they *wanted* to agree with
Aubrey (his charisma and that beard go a long way to augment his
arguments!), but their "anchors" were rooted in linear extrapolation
of past trends, and so they couldn't agree with Aubrey's apparently
radical (and arguably exponential) model.

So, why might Derren Brown have planted billboards with the relevant
facts along the judges' route to the studio? Because mere exposure to
such contextual information might give them a new anchor, which is
within adjusting range of Aubrey's own estimates, thus making
agreement with him acceptable, and therefore more likely.

Might be a technique worth considering if people need to be convinced
of any arguments in favour of particular FAI techniques that can be
grounded in quantitative terms. If you don't agree with me, forget you
ever read this post, go away for a bit, and then next time you're
presented with this argument, it's more likely that you will ;-)

- Amon

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