To toot my own horn, one of my favorite talks in recent memory was one I gave to the Templeton folks on the compatibility of religion and transhumanism. Andres put it up on Thoughtware.tv, and he wrote to let me know that it has been their top-rated talk there. Listen to it here. The slides associated with that talk are here, and the paper is here.
IEET Fellow and JET Editor Russell Blackford writes: Udo Schuklenk and I will be co-editing a book, provisionally entitled Voices of Disbelief, which will contain 50 to 60 relatively short essays by prominent people explaining why they are not religious believers - why they don’t accept the existence of the Abrahamic God, or subscribe to other religious doctrines.
Abstract: Popular discussion of utopian possibilities and apocalyptic risks from new technologies is sometimes dismissed as ungrounded millennial hysteria. In this essay I reflect on the various types of historic, pancultural millennialism. I then suggest how contemporary forms of secular techno-utopian and techno-apocalyptic discourse reflect these millennialist types and their characteristic biases to over- or under-estimate catastrophic risks, and adopt fatalistic or inappropriate stances toward risk reduction. Then I suggest that awareness of these characteristic millennialist cognitive biases help us separate grounded assessments of catastrophic risks from their attendant psycho-cultural baggage. By carefully parsing our hopes and fears about the future from the characteristic dysfunctions of millennialism we can tap millennialism’s energy without being led astray by it. (Download the chapter PDF and the Powerpoint presentation from the July 2008 Catastrophic Risks Conference at Oxford University )
The goal of a liberal society puts obligations on its citizens, that we practice reasonableness and openness to ideas, that we do not just tolerate one another but support one another to our fullest flourishing. A liberal society is not neutral about values like disease and health, sloth and effort, deceit and integrity, cowardice and courage. There are excellences that citizens of a liberal society must promote to survive. [Discuss this article in IEET Fora]
Columbia U historian Matthew Connelly‘s Fatal Misconception documents 150 years and a cast of thousands involved in the effort to control the fertility of women in the name of population control. We discuss eugenics, China, India and the reality of population stabilization. (MP3)
Our global civilization is very fragile, and could crumble under the impact of catastrophic events. Wise use of emerging technologies could make our bodies, our communities and our civilization more resilient, or more vulnerable to collapse.
In the last two decades, our rapidly developing biotechnology has brought us into the realm of human genetic engineering.We are now able to not only screen for many diseases and a few genetic characteristics, but are on the verge of being able to select characteristics of a child.
Why not start erecting wind farms wherever they make sense? Why not go forward immediately with projects to tap energy from the tides, from the waves, and perhaps even from deep geothermal sources? Why not set up large community solar collectors in every city, town, and village?
“Jamais Cascio, a futurist writer, gives four possible scenarios for how the increasing integration of technology into our lives will unfold. These scenarios are the the combination of values on two variables: whether technology is used to augment or simulate reality, and whether it is externally focused or looking inside a person. These scenarios are not inherently good or bad but will be shaped by the process used to create them.
Since all technology is a product of its creators, even the first intelligent machines will be biased toward the interests and beliefs of those who make it. For a globally significant event like the Singularity, we need to be sure that the process that leads to it includes input from all of the stakeholders that will be affected by it. These diverse interests can’t be slapped on at the end, but rather need to be brought in early in the process. Democracy is messy, but participation is more important than efficiency.
As part of his recommendation that we should be working as hard on global inclusion as on the creation of an artificial general intelligence, Jamais makes a few recommendations. All development should be based on trust, honesty, and transparency. Controls should be in place on access to personal information. And lastly, open access to information makes the risks associated with all of these scenarios more manageable. The interference of the many is better than the secrecy of the few.”
Note from Dr. J.: I confess I have community-building ambitions. Thus far the IEET has been focused on building a high quality site for pushng out technoprogressive thought and public policy analysis. But in the coming year I would like to build more audience feedback and discussion into the IEET.
A controversial (apparently) Dutch parliamentarian, Geert Wilders, has recently released a short film, Fitna, which has been interpreted as a warning against the Islamisation of Europe - and is, on any interpretation, an attack on the content of the Koran.
I’ve delayed commenting until I found some time to watch Fitna. I’ve now seen it.
There is no such thing as a natural death. Nothing that happens to Man is ever natural, since his presence calls the whole world into question. All men must die, but for every man his death is an accident. And even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation.—J.R.R. Tolkien
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical procedure involving the insertion of a small electrode into the brain to modulate electrical activity. Over 40.000 patients worldwide have undergone placement of Medtronic Activa, the most popular DBS system.
(Part 1 of 2) Nicolas Rasmussen is professor of history and philosophy at University of New South Wales, Australia, and author of On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine. We talk about the lessons to be learned for drug policy reform from the history of amphetamines. We also hear Australian Professor Rodney Detritus (comedian Rodney Marks) on the state of bioethics, by permission of the Science Show from Australia. Part 1: (MP3) Part 2: (MP3)