IEET Affiliate Scholar John Danaher was IEET’s top writer for 2015. His philosophical articles garnered a total of 209,541 hits.
Other top-producing writers were Managing Editor Hank Pellissier (167,288 hits), Affiliate Scholar John Messerly (163,398 hits), Advisory Board Member Gray Scott (150,453 hits) and Valerie Tarico (127,430 hits).
In the past year, I have written several posts about Chalmers and Clark’s famous extended mind thesis. This thesis takes seriously the functionalist explanation of mental events, and holds that the mind is not confined to skull. Instead, it can extend into artefacts and objects in the world around it.
Artificial intelligence is a classic risk/reward technology. If developed safely and properly, it could be a great boon. If developed recklessly and improperly, it could pose a significant risk. Typically, we try to manage this risk/reward ratio through various regulatory mechanisms. But AI poses significant regulatory challenges. In a previous post, I outlined eight of these challenges. They were arranged into three main groups. The first consisted of definitional problems: what is AI anyway? The second consisted of ex ante problems: how could you safely guide the development of AI technology? And the third consisted of ex post problems: what happens once the technology is unleashed into the world? They are depicted in the diagram above.
Blockchain technology is at the heart of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Most people have heard of Bitcoin and some are excited by the prospect it raises of a decentralised, stateless currency/payment system. But this is not the most interesting thing about Bitcoin. It is the blockchain technology itself that is the real breakthrough. It not only provides the foundation for a currency and payment system; it also provides the foundation for new ways of organising and managing basic social relationships. This includes legal relationships such as those involved in contractual exchange and proprietary ownership. The most prominent expression of this potential comes in the shape of Ethereum, an open source platform that allows developers to use blockchains for whatever purpose they see fit.
The political left has long been oriented toward the future. This is clear in its revolutionary ethos: the utopia of the revolutionary is, after all, always just around the corner. But in orienting itself toward the future, the left has not always been actively futurist in its outlook. Many leftists are uncomfortable with technology and science, viewing them as insidious and malign capitalistic projects. As a result, their utopian dreams often end up looking to a mythic historical Golden Age for inspiration.
This is a follow-up to my previous post on Debra Satz’s analysis of commercial surrogacy. In that post, I reviewed three classic objections to surrogacy and presented some of Satz’s critiques of those objections. As I mentioned, this was a ground-clearing exercise. Although Satz’s thinks that the traditional objections are flawed, she is not herself a supporter of commercial surrogacy (to be precise, she is not a supporter of ‘contract pregnancy’, which makes the target and conclusion of her arguments less clear — I’ll return to this point below).
Debra Satz’s book Why some things should not be for sale is an interesting take on the commodification debate. There are some — let’s call them economic imperialists — who think that we should have markets in virtually everything. Satz’s book is an extended debate with the imperialist view. Satz argues that some markets are morally noxious, particularly when they are likely to prey upon weak and vulnerable agents, and result in great harms to both individuals and society at large.
There is a serious shortage of kidney donors throughout the developed world. This has obvious consequences for people with severe kidney disease. I’ll use my home country of Ireland as an example. According to one 2009 study, which covered the period 2000-2005, the average waiting time for someone on the transplant list was 8-15 months (with waiting times varying considerably depending on blood type). According to more recent figures from the Health Service Executive’s webpage, the average waiting time is two years, and at present there are over 650 people on the waiting list .
Surrogacy is the practice whereby a commissioning parent (or parents) procures the services of a surrogate who will carry a child to term on their behalf. For obvious reasons, all surrogates are thus biologically female. There are two main categories of surrogacy: (i) genetic, whereby a male commissioning parent impregnates the surrogate (typically via artificial insemination); and (ii) gestational, whereby the commissioning parent(s) provide (or procure) an embryo for implantation in the surrogate.
There is no denying that improvements in technology allow machines to perform tasks that were once performed best by humans. This is at the heart of the technological displacement we see throughout the economy. The key question going forward is whether humans will maintain an advantage in any cognitive or physical activity. The answer to this question will determine whether the future of the economy is one in which humans continue to play a relevant part, or one in which humans are left behind.
Inequality is now a major topic of concern. Only those with their heads firmly buried in the sand would have failed to notice the rising chorus of concern about wealth inequality over the past couple of years. From the economic tomes of Thomas Piketty and Tony Atkinson, to the battle-cries of the 99%, and on to the political successes of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US, the notion that inequality is a serious social and political problem seems to have captured the popular imagination.
Machines have long been displacing human labour, from the wheelbarrow and plough to the smartphone and self-driving car. In the past, this has had dramatic effects on how society is organised and how people spend their days, but it has never really led to long-term structural unemployment. Humans have always found other economically productive ways to spend their time.
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.
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)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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