Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies



Technoprogressive? BioConservative? Huh?
Quick overview of biopolitical points of view



UPCOMING EVENTS: Piero Scaruffi



MULTIMEDIA: Piero Scaruffi Topics

Artificial intelligence and the Singularity - History, Trends and Reality Check

The Secret History of Silicon Valley




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Piero Scaruffi Topics




The cost of Greek austerity - what would Socrates think of this mess?

by piero scaruffi

In 2008 i was shocked to read that Lehman Brothers had accumulated a total debt of $613 billion: imagine what the world could do with that much money, money that just one firm managed to lose. At the time i was in Africa and i remember checking the GDP of African countries: i was amazed to realize that (in 2008) this amount was more than the GDP of any African country.

It is hard to believe, but in five years the money spent to save Greece from bankruptcy amounts to 350 billion euros (as calculated by the Greek statistics agency ELSTAT), which is about $400 billion.

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The Algorithmic Society and the Birth of Religion

by piero scaruffi

Algorithms increasingly guide our daily life: Google’s ranking algorithm pretty much decides which pages we visit, and therefore which information we access; Amazon’s algorithm influences which books we read; dating algorithms decide your sexual life and possibly your marriage; the smartphone’s navigation algorithm decides which streets we take; Yelp’s algorithm decides where we eat (and it is a simple average!)

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Hindu Fundamentalism - is it going down the way of Islam?

by piero scaruffi

One of the most important books ever published on Hinduism, Wendy Doniger’s 683-page “The Hindus - An Alternative History” (2010), still cannot be found in India.

The ultra-nationalist political agitator Dinanath Batra sued its publisher and the publisher withdrew the book from the Indian market. The lawsuit was based on a law (Hate Law Speech Section #295A, enacted in 1927 by the British under pressure from the Muslim community) that de facto allows courts to punish religious blasphemy.

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India: little real progress for most people during the 20-year economic boom

by piero scaruffi

First of all, someone needs to demystify the idea that Westerners have of India. There are two modern empires in Asia: Russia and mainland China. They are empires because they rule over subjects who, given a choice, would probably not want to be part of them and these are big chunks of territory with huge natural resources (Chechnya and other Muslim regions in the case of Russia, Tibet and Xinjang in the case of China). India is never listed alongside them because it used to be a colony. Somehow the colonial past deters people from seeing what is relatively obvious: India too is an empire just like China and Russia that rules over many “conquered” regions that, given a choice, would probably secede.

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The Genetics and Neuroscience of Torture

by piero scaruffi

Every book on torture that i have browsed is mainly devoted to methods of torture and then to three topics: Ethical arguments against torture, Utilitarian arguments against torture, and History of the rejection of torture. I cannot find a neuroscientist or psychologist who thought of writing about the exact opposite: What were the ethical justifications for torture?, What were the utilitarian arguments for torture? and What is the history of the widespread adoption of torture? 



The Master Switch - The Rise and Fall of Information Empires

by piero scaruffi

  "The Master Switch" is an intriguing history of radio, telephone, cinema and television business in the USA (note: "in the USA", which is not clearly stated in the introduction). The central theme of the book is the "oscillation of information industries between open and closed", a recurring pattern that he finds across those four industries… and that he projects into the age of the Internet. The pattern looks like this: scientific innovation creates an information technology, the information technology opens a new market, an industry is created to serve that market, a monopoly eventually comes to control that market and therefore the flow of information. 



The Future of Freedom

by piero scaruffi

Fareed Zakaria's thesis is that the USA is moving towards an excessively democratic system in which polls are having a perverse influence on a system that was designed to be less about democracy and more about liberty. He doesn't quite offer a crisp definition of "liberty" but roughly it means individual freedom and protection from abuses of authority by the state. "Freedom" is a vague term, that has been used throughout history in different contexts (for most nations it meant "freedom" from foreign oppression). "Liberty" is about personal freedom. 



The Concept of Mind, A Book Review

by piero scaruffi

Ryle thinks that Descartes invented a myth when he provided definitions for the mental and the physical, as if they were two different things; when he assumed that every human is both a body (that is in space and is subject to the laws of Physics) and a mind (that is not in space and is not subject to the laws of Physics); that a person lives two parallel lives, one as a body and one as a mind (one being a public history and the other being a private history because nobody can witness your inner thoughts).



The Power of Pull

by piero scaruffi

A general rule that rarely fails is: “Be wary of books written by multiple authors”. Multiple authors tend to amplify each other’s crap instead of edit it down, and the results are often embarrassing ideological pamphlets, no matter how smart the premise.The premise here is interesting. The digital age has changed the world in which we live in not only from the point of the consumers but also from the point of the producers. We live in the age of Web platforms that were not designed top-down but sprung up bottom-up. The future may be more of it, and faster.



The Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

by piero scaruffi

The "transactional" interpretation of Quantum Mechanics was devised by John Cramer in 1986 to provide a complete and consistent interpretation of Quantum Mechanics without introducing new elements.The story begins in 1925 when, de facto, Heisenberg made a metaphysical revolution by surrendering the concept of reality in favor of the concept of observables: we can't know what really exists, we can only know what we can observe. Kastner points out that Heisenberg's metaphysical move was essential to discovering a theory that turned out to correctly predict observation.



On “The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human”

by piero scaruffi

Ramachandran begins the book by wondering which features are truly unique to the human brain. Many features of the ape brain were hijacked by evolution to produce novel functions in the human brain (a process called “exaptation”). For example, mirror neurons are responsible for human culture and ethics. Ramachandran believes that these unique traits are perfectly consistent with Darwinian evolution: millennia of gradual evolution can produce the mental equivalent of phase transitions, when suddenly a substance reorganizes itself into a different substance with different properties.



On “How We Became Post-Human”

by piero scaruffi

Hayles has written a complex and erudite book on the hidden premises and visible consequences of the information age. Ultimately, her thesis is summarized by a sentence in the prologue: “thought is a much broader cognitive function depending for its specificities on the embodied form enacting it”. Rewritten in plain English, it means that you cannot separate your “i” from the body that you inhabit. Her nightmare is “a culture inhabited by posthumans who regard their bodies as fashion accessories rather than the ground of being”. Her dream is a society in which we “understand ourselves as embodied creatures living within and through embodied worlds and embodied words.”



Brain, Mind, and the Structure of Reality

by piero scaruffi

The US neurophysiologist Paul Nunez previously wrote “Electric Fields of the Brain” (1981) and “Neocortical Dynamics and Human EEG Rhythms” (1995), and in fact his credentials in the field of brain studies harken back to a paper originally written in 1972 and ambitiously titled “The Brain Wave Equation” (an equation that eventually he resurrects in this book, 40 years later). In this book Nunez summarizes his novel ideas on the way that “brains cause minds” (to use Searle’s expression).



A Wiki for President

by piero scaruffi

Digital technology is instead progressing very slowly when it comes to government: the link between the citizen and the politician is often just a “feedback form” on the politician’s website. Very little effort has been made to link the citizen and the decision making process in more effective and creative ways.



Why oil is getting cheaper

by piero scaruffi

When international agencies started noticing that new technologies would soon cause a dramatic shift in the oil market, one country took notice and, well, panicked: Saudi Arabia. Its wealth and relatively new political power are entirely due to the oil that sits under its soil.



Nick Bostrom’s “Superintelligence” (Part II)

by piero scaruffi

Bostrom writes that the reason A.I. scientists have failed so badly in predicting the future of their own field is that the technical difficulties have been greater than they expected. I don't think so. I think those scientists had a good understanding of what they were trying to build. The reason why "the expected arrival date [of Artificial Intelligence] has been receding at a rate of one year per year" (Nick Bostrom's estimate) is that we keep changing the definition. There never was a proper definition of what we mean by "Artificial Intelligence" and still there isn't.



Book review: Nick Bostrom’s “Superintelligence”

by piero scaruffi

The “Singularity” seems to have become a new lucrative field for the struggling publishing industry (and, i am sure, soon, for the equally struggling Hollywood movie studios). To write a bestseller, you have to begin by warning that machines more intelligent than humans are coming soon. That is enough to get everybody’s attention.



On Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of our Nature”

by piero scaruffi

This book offers a colossal synthesis of history, biology, philosophy, psychology and neurophysiology. Surprisingly, the latter is the least plausible region of the book (we still know too little about the brain). But by mixing historical facts and evolutionary theories and using a bit of logical thinking, Pinker comes up with great insights into human nature. Pinker synthesizes the work of (literally) hundreds of thinkers and researchers and draws his own original conclusions.



How Beppe Grillo is failing while trying to control eDemocracy in Italy

by Pietro Speroni di Fenizio

Doc Searls makes a great talk on the State of the Net in which he explains how we are reaching the personal data cloud. And also how, also this time, like in the past, with computers, mainframe, networks, mobiles, the corporate world is trying to control those data. And in doing so they limit their usefulness. What gets built outside always becomes more valuable than what is being built inside. Inevitably ending to support those corporations prefer to interface with what is outside than build their own walled gardens.



The Fittest Species: Who is Winning the War for Survival

by piero scaruffi

Most of the world’s genetic diversity lies in viruses. The longest living beings are bacteria. No wonder that these microscopic organisms kill more humans than any other dangerous animal. (Technicalities: viruses are not form of lives, since they cannot replicate without a host cell; bacteria are living organisms, perfectly able to replicate on their own, but they are limited to one cell).



The value of technology: The USA will not decline any time soon

by piero scaruffi

In the age of self-defeatism it may sound strange to claim that the USA has never been so powerful, but critics forget that technology has always been a major driver of conquest and supremacy.



Rules Save Lives but do not Save Brains

by piero scaruffi

Ultimately, the most structured society will be a society in which every action has to comply with some rules, i.e. its citizens will de facto be robots with no brains. Why does brain/mind want to get rid of brain/mind?



What is consciousness?

by piero scaruffi

Koch: Consciousness has nothing to do with the wild dances of neurons in the brain and has only to do with the flow of information.



The War on Drugs: What’s the Point?

by piero scaruffi

The moment one argues in favor of liberalizing drugs people accuse him of being a drug addict: i have not drugs, do not do drugs and do not intend to do drugs. I care for my brain. Just like i do not smoke because i care for my lungs and i do not eat junk food because i care for my heart.



A New History of Prehistory - Part 1 & 2

by piero scaruffi

The Missing Mutation: Are We Really Smarter than our Ancestors? Several innovations that happened in the Neolithic seem to provide no advantage and sometimes create problems instead of solving them. About 10,000 years ago the burial ritual lasted a lifetime and the living were supposed to give offerings to the dead that were not valuable. At some point the burial ritual became much simpler but the living were supposed to give offerings to the dead that were valuable (e.g., food at times of starvation). Neither attitude makes a lot of sense from a materialistic viewpoint: what is the adaptive advantage of wasting goods and food for dead people? At the same time the cult of the dead moved from underground to aboveground (temples, pyramids), again an incredible waste of resources.



Why the Singularity is not Coming any Time Soon

by piero scaruffi

Historians, scientists and poets alike have written that the human being strives for the infinite. In the old days this meant that it strives to become one with the god who created and rules the world. As atheism began to make strides, Schopenhauer rephrased the concept as a “will to power”. Nietzsche confirmed that god is dead, and the search for “infinite” became a mathematical and scientific program instead of a mystical one. Russell, Hilbert and others started a logical program that basically aimed at making it easy to prove and discover everything that can be.



A review of Federico Pistono’s book Robots Will Steal Your Job But That’s OK

by piero scaruffi

The impact of technological progress on jobs has been the topic of countless books: most of them are forgotten because they were so wrong about it. Predicting the future has always been a lucrative business (Delphi’s Oracle, Nostradamus, George Orwell), but rarely a science. If all of them had been right, today we would all be unemployed and, in fact, extinct. Instead, guess what: humans are wealthier than ever in history, the world has never been so peaceful and we all buy machines by the millions. Pistono’s book is the refreshing exception: no, we are not doomed. That, per se, is a good reason to read it.



The Fittest Species: Who is Winning the War for Survival?

by piero scaruffi

Most of the world’s genetic diversity lies in viruses. The longest living beings are bacteria. No wonder that these microscopic organisms kill more humans than any other dangerous animal.

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The Biggest Problem of All: The End of the World is Coming?

by piero scaruffi

Paul Ehrlich recently gave a talk that listed eight major catastrophic environmental problems that are coming sooner than even pessimists predict… should we create a “culture of panic”?

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The Age of Big Data and the Death of Theory

by piero scaruffi

Is the World Wide Web and modern technology… replacing the human mind? Knowledge today is not a set of theories, but instead just Data, and the machine is a better place to store data than the human mind.

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