Although there are some enthusiasts, many people I talk to are deeply ambivalent about the prospects of human enhancement, particularly in its more radical forms. To be sure, this ambivalence might be rooted in human prejudice and bias toward the status quo, but I’m curious to see whether there is any deeper, more persuasive reason to share that unease.
Lately I have been on a quest for a more mindful and ethical way of living, particularly as regards my buying habits. It is not easy, I tell you. Yes, there are — of course — apps for that, but let’s not kid ourselves. Trying be more ethical (or at least less unethical) requires work and will likely cost you more than if you don't give a crap about the environment, workers’ conditions, or the use that corporations make of the money you send their way when you buy their products.
Why the U.S. Civil War -relates to Sci Fi. Each night in November we watched Ken Burns's CIVIL WAR documentary with our 16 year old. A terrific work of high-class, dramatic and enriching media, very highly recommended. Still, I felt the documentary was a bit light on the underlying causes of a national trauma that is resonating within and among Americans.
Whom the gods would destroy, the old saying says, they first make mad. And there’s no quicker way to become completely untethered than to read economic reports, including the latest one from the Congressional Budget Office, and then watch the political debate go on as if reality didn’t even exist.
This is the second (and final) part in my series looking at the arguments from Muehlhauser and Helm’s (MH’s) paper “The Singularity and Machine Ethics”. As noted in part one, proponents of the Doomsday Argument hold that if a superintelligent machine (AI+) has a decisive power advantage over human beings, and if the machine has goals and values that are antithetical to the goals and values that we human beings think are morally ideal, then it spells our doom. The naive response to this argument is to claim that we can avoid this outcome by programming the AI+ to “want what we want”. One of the primary goals of MH’s paper is to dispute the credibility of this response. The goal of this series of blog posts is to clarify and comment upon the argument they develop.
The rise in reported cases of people being born with conditions on the Autism Spectrum indicate a possible evolutionary trait: a mutation that enhances the ability of the most powerful tool the human animal has – its mind. Instead of working toward a cure for ASD, we should be harnessing the collective power of these genius minds to fundamentally change our society. We need to evolve or die.
I held out for a long time, longer than pretty much everyone I know. But eventually I joined Facebook. In fact, I held out for so long that, by the time I joined, a bunch of my friends were already deep into the “how the fuck do I actually DELETE my account FOREVER?!” backlash.
I've wanted to write about the always highly contentious topic of guns for a long time (RS has covered the issue before: here and here, but I have never written about it). The aftermath of last week’s horrific events seems like a good time to do it (despite repeated calls from conservative quarters that it is “too soon” to do so, whatever that means). This essay cannot come even close to being comprehensive enough to cover all relevant aspects of the debate, and as it is often the case for my writings here, it is more a way for me to clarify my own thoughts than anything else. Still, I hope people will find these reflections useful for further (much needed) discussion.
I am currently reading a monster of a book. At 802 pages, Steven Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature, leaves even a voracious reader like myself a little winded. Pinker’s argument is that the world has become less and less violent over time, so much so that we now live in what is the most peaceful period of human history ever.
1: Q&A: Lean on me by Dale McGowan 2: CREATe: a trade fiction author’s perspective by Charlie Stross 3: Quantified-self Experimentation Platforms by Melanie Swan 4: As Public Makes “Hard Choices” On Social Security, Alan Simpson Ducks His “Moment of Truth” by Richard Eskow 5: Second child syndrome by Carol Lloyd
Imagine if you could enjoy an exotic vacation billions of light years from Earth; or travel back in time to observe the dinosaurs in their violent world; or hop into a parallel universe where another you is living a better life than you; and you could swap places if you like.
Does science fiction owe a “duty” to the past? I’ve long pondered: might the field better have been named Speculative History? First: SF authors read more history than science (only a few of us know very much about the latter). Second, almost everything we do is about extending, or extrapolating, or pondering alterations in the grand, sweeping epic of humanity. Even when zooming down to the private angst of one narrow life, we in this genre remain keenly aware of the context - our shared drama and the poignancy of change. I’ll talk some more about this below… and in my next posting…
With an increasing use of retail agents and communications technology, bank-led and nonbank-led models are found to be converging not in branchless banking but a banking beyond- branch (BBB) arrangement.
I enjoy a habit of contrarian-poking at overused assumptions. Especially the hoary nostrum that humanity is not improving. Elsewhere I take on one aspect of this cynical calumny, where folks sadly shake their heads over how "our ethics haven't kept pace with technology." What malarkey. What stunning ability to ignore all we have done in the last 60 years.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, I favor immigration reform, under the general outlines that have been proposed both by President Obama and the recent bipartisan committee in the US Senate. After a shellacking at the polls, Republicans now seem ready to join in resolving an array of issues. Still, I'm less interested in discussing this consensus than factors that the public may not know about.
Most science fictional and futurist visions of the future tend towards the negative — and for good reason. Our environment is a mess, we have a nasty tendency to misuse technologies, and we’re becoming increasingly capable of destroying ourselves. But civilizational demise is by no means guaranteed. Should we find a way to manage the risks and avoid dystopic outcomes, our far future looks astonishingly bright. Here are seven best-case scenarios for the future of humanity.
It has been a while since I last talked about prosthetic devices. For reference, see here, here, and here. This is part one in a several part series, but I intend to put out the whole series over the next week. What are the hottest new things to come out in the last year or so? Let’s start from the top, make our way down, and pretend this is Deus Ex.
As some folks know, I’m leading a discussion this afternoon on citizen/DIY science and research ethics, with my co-moderator, Dr. Judy Stone. One of the things that Judy and I have been talking about lately is whether or not there’s really a concern with ethical research in citizen science, or if the concern is with DIY science, a related yet independent concept.
There is a growing incident of lynching and murder of suspected witches in different parts of Africa. This wave of witch hunting targets elderly people particularly women. In Nigeria, a court has rejected the bail application of three persons accused of killing a 70-year old woman, Mrs Rebecca Adewumi, for witchcraft.
What often strikes me when I put the claims of some traditionally religious people regarding “eternal life” and the stated goals of the much more recent, I suppose you could label it with the oxymoronic phrase “materialist spirituality”, next to one another is just how much of the language and fundamental assumptions regarding human immortality these very different philosophies share.
Fitness trends come and go, but weight training in particular never seems to come into style. Part of the problem is that most people associate it with bodybuilding culture, and women in particular are reluctant to join the guys at the back of the gym.
Although Lance Armstrong has broken the rules, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge him. In many ways he’s a pioneer in human enhancement, and history books may forgive him, argues Professor Andy Miah, Director of the Creative Futures Institute at the University of the West of Scotland.
In general, I’m not a betting man. Intellectual humility cautions against sticking one’s neck out too far into terrain that is too complex to understand, let alone reasonably predict with any confidence.
Around the world, a handful of projects are in the process, specifically, of attempting to duplicate, simulate, or in some way technologically reproduce the human brain. And we, as a species, do not appear to be even remotely prepared for the implications that success from those projects could bring.
In December of 2011 a podcast produced by Radiolab discussed a legal issue involving Marvel characters, including the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man (although the episode focuses on the X-Men). The "attorneys for a company that imported Marvel character action figures noticed that imported dolls were subject to a higher tax than toys, per the Harmonized Tariff Schedule. More importantly, dolls were distinguished from toys by “representing only human beings and parts and accessories thereof.”
In gambling casinos, cameras spot a card counter, thief, or blacklisted player, and a database instantly confirms identification. The suspect is quickly escorted from the facility, or arrested. Intelligent cameras that can observe people and react to events are advancing exponentially. At a White House briefing, counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said, thanks to the U.S. military's latest facial recognition technology, he was "99 percent" certain that the commando team had killed bin Laden.