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The Ethics of Moral Enhancement

Interview on Robot Overlordz: Tech Unemployment and Enhancement

John Danaher on “Will the Future be Ruled by Algorithm?”

GMOs - Can We Stop With The Hysterics Already?

The Ethics of Human Enhancement




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John Danaher Topics




The Argument from Abandonment and Suffering ( A Specific Version of the Problem of Evil)

by John Danaher

(Previous Entry)

The argument from abandonment and suffering is a specific version of the problem of evil. Erik Wielenberg defends the argument in his recent paper ‘The parent-child analogy and the limits of skeptical theism’.  That paper makes two distinctive contributions to the literature, one being the defence of the argument from abandonment and suffering, the other being a meta-argument about standards for success in the debate between skeptical theists and proponents of the problem of evil.

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Is God the Source of Meaning in Life? Four Critical Arguments

by John Danaher

(Previous Entry)

Theists sometimes argue that God’s existence is essential for meaning in life. In a quote that I have used far too often over the years, William Lane Craig puts it rather bluntly:

If there is no God, then man and the universe are doomed. Like prisoners condemned to death, we await our unavoidable execution. There is no God, and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life itself is absurd. It means that the life we have is without ultimate significance, value or purpose. (Craig 2007, 72)

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The Philosophical Importance of Algorithms

by John Danaher

In the future, every decision that mankind makes is going to be informed by a cognitive system like Watson…and our lives will be better for it.
(Ginni Rometty commenting on IBM’s Watson)

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Did My Brain Make Me Do It? Neuroscience and Free Will (Part 2)

by John Danaher

(Part One)

Discoveries in neuroscience, and the science of behaviour more generally, pose a challenge to the existence of free will. But this all depends on what is meant by ‘free will’. The term means different things to different people. Philosophers focus on two conditions that seem to be necessary for free will: (i) the alternativism condition, according to which having free will requires the ability to do otherwise; and (ii) the sourcehood condition, according to which having free will requires that you (your ‘self’) be the source of your actions. A scientific and deterministic worldview is often said to threaten the first condition. Does it also threaten the second?

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Does God Guarantee Meaning in Life? A Novel Argument for Atheism

by John Danaher

Meaning is important. People want to live meaningful lives. They want to make a ‘difference’. They want for it all to ‘matter’. Some people think that this is only possible if God exists. They say that if God does not exist, then we are doomed to live finite lives on a finite planet in a finite universe. Everything will eventually collapse, crumble and die. It will all be for naught. But if God does exist, there is hope. He will save us; He can guarantee our eternal lives in the most perfect state of being; He can imbue the universe with purpose and value.

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Did My Brain Make Me Do It? Neuroscience and Free Will (Part 1)

by John Danaher

Consider the following passage from Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement.  It concerns one of the novel’s characters (Briony) as she philosophically reflects on the mystery of human action:

She raised one hand and flexed its fingers and wondered, as she had sometimes done before, how this thing, this machine for gripping, this fleshy spider on the end of her arm, came to be hers, entirely at her command. Or did it have some little life of its own? She bent her finger and straightened it. The mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving, when her intention took effect. It was like a wave breaking. If she could only find herself at the crest, she thought, she might find the secret of herself, that part of her that was really in charge.

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Danaher Publishes Human Enhancement, Social Solidarity and the Distribution of Responsibility

IEET Affiliate Scholar John Danaher has a new paper in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice that argues for how human enhancement does not threaten social solidarity.

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The Case for a Marriage-Free State

by John Danaher

The last couple of months have seen major victories for marriage equality. In May, Ireland voted to legalise same-sex marriage in a national referendum — the first country in the world to do so by popular vote. In June, the US Supreme court issued a landmark 5-4 decision legalising same-sex marriage throughout the United States. These were important steps toward building a fairer and more just society. If marriage is to continue to exist as a legally-recognised relationship status, then it is important that it do so in an egalitarian and inclusive manner. I don’t think anyone should doubt this.

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Is Effective Regulation of AI Possible? Eight Potential Regulatory Problems

by John Danaher

The halcyon days of the mid-20th century, when researchers at the (in?)famous Dartmouth summer school on AI dreamed of creating the first intelligent machine, seem so far away. Worries about the societal impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) are on the rise. Recent pronouncements from tech gurus like Elon Musk and Bill Gates have taken on a dramatically dystopian edge. They suggest that the proliferation and advance of AI could pose a existential threat to the human race.

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Humanism, Transhumanism, and Speculative Posthumanism

by John Danaher

I have recently been working my through David Roden’s book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. It is a unique and fascinating work. I am not sure that I have ever read anything quite like it. In the book, Roden defends a position which he refers to as speculative posthumanism. This holds, roughly, that the future we are creating through technological change could give rise to truly weird and alien forms of posthuman life.

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Technological Unemployment and Personal Well-being: Does Work Make Us Happy?

by John Danaher

Let’s assume technological unemployment is going to happen. Let’s assume that automating technologies will take over the majority of economically productive labour. It’s a controversial assumption, to be sure, but one with some argumentative basis.  Should we welcome this possibility? On previous occasions, I have outlined some arguments for thinking that we should. In essence, these arguments claimed that if we could solve the distributional problems arising from technological unemployment (e.g. through a basic income guarantee), then freedom from work could be a boon in terms of personal autonomy, well-being and fulfillment.

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The Logic of Surveillance Capitalism

by John Danaher

You have probably noticed it already. There is a strange logic at the heart of the modern tech industry. The goal of many new tech startups is not to produce products or services for which consumers are willing to pay. Instead, the goal is create a digital platform or hub that will capture information from as many users as possible — to grab as many ‘eyeballs’ as you can. This information can then be analysed, repackaged and monetised in various ways. The appetite for this information-capture and analysis seems to be insatiable, with ever increasing volumes of information being extracted and analysed from an ever-expanding array of data-monitoring technologies.

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How Might Algorithms Rule our Lives? Mapping the Logical Space of Algocracy

by John Danaher

This post is a bit of an experiment. As you may know, I have written a series of articles looking at how big data and algorithm-based decision-making could affect society.  In doing so, I have highlighted some concerns we may have about a future in which many legal-bureaucratic decisions are either taken over by or made heavily dependent on data-mining algorithms and other artificial intelligence systems. I have even referred to such a future state of governance as being a state of ‘algocracy’ (rule by algorithm).

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Voluntary Intoxication and Responsibility

by John Danaher

If you voluntarily consume alcohol and then go out and commit a criminal act, should you be held responsible for that act? Many people seem to think that you should. Indeed, within the criminal law, there is an oft-repeated slogan saying that “voluntarily intoxication is no excuse”.

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Intoxicated Consent to Sexual Relations: A Map of Moral Claims

by John Danaher

Consent is moral magic. It transforms an impermissible act into a permissible one. But deciding when and whether to respect a particular token or signal of consent is an ethically fraught business. Can children consent to medical treatment? Can adults with early stage dementia consent to give away all their earthly possessions? Is a smile or a nod sufficient for consent? Is it possible to consent to something by doing or saying nothing? Can you consent to have something done to you while you are asleep, if you provided the consent in writing in advance? Questions of this nature abound.

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The Automation Loop and its Negative Consequences

by John Danaher

I’m currently reading Nicholas Carr’s book The Glass Cage: Where Automation is Taking Us.  

I think it is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the growth of AI and robotics, and the future of humanity. Carr is something of a techno-pessimist (though he may prefer ‘realist’) and the book continues the pessimistic theme set down in his previous book The Shallows (which was a critique of the internet and its impact on human cognition). That said, I think The Glass Cage is a superior work. I certainly found it more engaging and persuasive than his previous effort.

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Is Automation Making us Stupid? The Degeneration Argument Against Automation

by John Danaher

This post continues my discussion of the arguments in Nicholas Carr’s recent book The Glass Cage. The book is an extended critique of the trend towards automation. In the previous post, I introduced some of the key concepts needed to understand this critique. As I noted then, automation arises whenever a machine (broadly understood) takes over a task or function that used to be performed by a human (or non-human animal). Automation usually takes place within an intelligence ‘loop’.

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A Framework for Understanding our Ethical Relationships with Intelligent Technology

by John Danaher

How do we relate to technology? How does it relate to us? These are important questions, particularly in light of the increasingly ubiquitous and often hidden roles that modern computing technology plays in our lives. We have always relied on different forms of technology, from stone axes to trains and automobiles. But modern computing technology has some important properties. When it incorporates artificially intelligent programmes, and utilises robotic action-implementation systems, it has the ability to interfere with, and possibly supersede, human agency.

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Are AI-Doomsayers like Skeptical Theists? A Precis of the Argument

by John Danaher

Some of you may have noticed my recently-published paper on existential risk and artificial intelligence. The paper offers a somewhat critical perspective on the recent trend for AI-doomsaying among people like Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates. Of course, it doesn’t focus on their opinions; rather, it focuses on the work of the philosopher Nick Bostrom, who has written the most impressive analysis to date of the potential risks posed by superintelligent machines.

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The Ethics of Robot Sex: Interview on Robot Overlordz Podcast

by John Danaher

I had the good fortune to be asked back on to the Robot Overlordz podcast this week. I am the guest on episode #163 during which I chat with the hosts (Mike Johnston and Matt Bolton) about the ethical, legal and social implications of sex robots. We also talk about related issues from the world of AI and futurism.



The Epistemic Costs of Superintelligence: Bostrom’s Treacherous Turn and Sceptical Theism

by John Danaher

An advanced artificial intelligence (a “superintelligence”) could pose a significant existential risk to humanity. Several research institutes have been set-up to address those risks. And there is an increasing number of academic publications analysing and evaluating their seriousness. Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies represents the apotheosis of this trend. In this article, I argue that in defending the credibility of AI risk, Bostrom makes an epistemic move that is analogous to one made by so-called sceptical theists in the debate about the existence of God. And while this analogy is interesting in its own right, what is more interesting is its potential implication. It has been repeatedly argued that sceptical theism has devastating effects on our beliefs and practices. Could it be that AI-doomsaying has similar effects? I argue that it could. Specifically, and somewhat paradoxically, I argue that it could lead to either a reductio of the doomsayers position, or an important and additional reason to join their cause. I use this paradox to suggest that the modal standards for argument in the superintelligence debate need to be addressed.

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Bitcoin and the Ontology of Money

by John Danaher

Money has long fascinated me, and not for the obvious reasons. Although I’d like to have more of it, my interest is largely philosophical. It is the ontology of money that has always disturbed me. Ever since I was a child, collecting old coins and hoarding my pocket money, I’ve wondered why it is that certain physical tokens can function as money and others cannot. What is money made from? What is it grounded in? Why do certain monetary systems fail and others succeed?



Psychopaths and Moral Blame: Empirical and Philosophical Issues

by John Danaher

They are glib and superficially charming. They have a grandiose sense of self worth. They are often pathological liars and routinely engage in acts of cunning and manipulation. If they do something wrong, they are without remorse.



God, Immortality and the Futility of Life

by John Danaher

William Lane Craig has a pretty dispiriting take on the atheistic view of life: If there is no God, then man and the universe are doomed. Like prisoners condemned to death, we await our unavoidable execution. There is no God, and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life itself is absurd. It means that the life we have is without ultimate significance, value or purpose. (Craig 2008, 72)



Should prospective parents have to apply for licences? An Ethical Debate

by John Danaher

Should prospective parents have to apply for parental licences? The argument seems obvious. Having children is a serious business. Negligent or irresponsible parents risk causing long-term harms to their offspring, harms that often have spillover effects on the rest of society. A licensing system should help us to filter out such parents. Therefore, a licensing system would benefit children and society at large. QED



Three Practical Hurdles to a Universal Basic Income

by John Danaher

The campaign for the introduction of a universal basic income (UBI) has been gaining ground in recent years. What was once a slightly obscure proposal, beloved by certain political theorists and welfare reformists, is now being embraced as a potential solution to the threat of technological unemployment. I myself have written about it on several occasions, mainly focusing on different political and philosophical arguments in favour of its introduction.



Human Life and the Quest for Immortality

by John Danaher

Human beings have long desired immortality. In his book on the topic, cleverly-titled Immortality, Stephen Cave argues that this desire has taken on four distinct forms over the course of human history. In the first, people seek immortality by simply trying to stay alive, either through the help of magic or science. In the second, people seek resurrection, sometimes in the same physical form and sometimes in an altered plane of existence.



How I Write for Peer Review

by John Danaher

Publish or perish, or so they say. That’s the rule in academia. But not all publications are created equal. I’ve “published” over 700 posts on this blog (and republished many on other blogs), and although I think there are advantages to having done so, I’d be lying if I said these publications were academically “significant”. They’re certainly not significant from the perspective of the administrators and overseers lurking within the groves of academe. If you want to please these people you must produce peer-reviewed publications (preferably double or triple-blind peer-reviewed publications) in high impact academic journals. That’s where the game is.



Two Interpretations of the Extended Mind Hypothesis

by John Danaher

I’m trying to wrap my head around the extended mind hypothesis (EMH). I’m doing so because I’m interested in its implications for the debate about enhancement and technology. If the mind extends into the environment outside the brain/bone barrier, then we are arguably enhancing our minds all the time by developing new technologies, be they books and abacuses or smartphones and wearable tech. Consequently, we should have no serious principled objection to technologies that try to enhance directly inside the brain/bone barrier.



The Logical Space of Democracy: A Map

by John Danaher

Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms which from time to time we have tried. Granting this, we might be inclined to wonder what sorts of democratic decision-making procedures are possible? This is a question that Christian List sets out to answer in his paper “The Logical Space of Democracy”. In this post, I want to share the logical space alluded to in his title.

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