The new television show Humans raises some important ethical questions for a not-too-distant future society where human-looking domestic robots are commonplace. The 8 part series, shown on AMC in the US and Channel 4 in the UK, is based on the Swedish series Äkta människor (“Real Humans”) and is set in modern day London with the only discernible difference being that a company is manufacturing and selling “synths” – multi-purpose robots designed to look like humans and work as direct replacements for them. The drama tackles a wide range of questions from how synths would be treated and their impact on society, alongside the main story line of what happens if the artificially intelligent humanoids gain true self awareness and consciousness.
I recently binge watched my first TV series, Humans, which airs Sunday nights on AMC. As a science fiction writer myself, many people have been suggesting I check it out for weeks now. Finally I gave in, sat down on the couch, and watched the first six episodes over the course of two days. Not bad for a mother of two. And now I have to wait two whole days to see what happens next!!!!!
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?
Terry Hyland is Emeritus Professor at University of Bolton, UK and Lecturer in Philosophy at Free University of Ireland, teaching courses in mindfulness. He has written over 150 articles, 19 book chapters and 6 books. His book Mindfulness and Learning was published by Springer in 2011. I interviewed him via email.
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.
The future isn’t a robot boot stamping on a human face forever. It’s a world where everything you see has a little telemarketer inside them, one that knows everything about you and never, ever, stops selling things to you.
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.
There is so much human potential. I see it everywhere I turn. Yet something seems to hold us back, ever so slightly, from actually becoming a stable species. Yes, we have come a long way, yet at this moment in time it seems we have but two choices before us, begin to cooperate and live in harmony, or destroy everything, including our planet.
In his 1932 “My Credo” Albert Einstein wrote “I do not believe in free will.” In the best-seller Free Will, Sam Harris declares the notion “incoherent.” Neuro-philosopher Garrett Merriam opines in an IEET interview “the notion of ‘free will’.. [is a] useless concept… I have high hopes that neuroscience will…eliminate [it]…”
A friend emailed me to say that he believed that transhumanists should strive to be free, if free will doesn’t currently exist, or strive to be freer, if humans currently possess some small modicum of free will. He also suggested that becoming transhuman would expedite either process. In short he was claiming that transhumanists should desire more freedom.
Medical procedures and research are yucky. Good healthcare means getting over it. If religious conservatives have their way, reproductive healthcare will be dictated by the same psychology that drives middle school jokes about genitals, dead babies and poop—our instinctive squeamish reaction to things that are disgusting and shocking, especially if they relate to sex. Good thing public health advocates and medical providers have a higher set of priorities.
Back in the late winter I wrote a review of the biologist Edmund O. Wilson’s grandiloquently mistitled tract- TheMeaning of Human Existence. As far as visions of the future go Wilson’s was a real snoozer, although for that very reason it left little to be nervous about. The hope that he articulated in his book being that we somehow manage to keep humanity pretty much the same- genetically at least- “as a sacred trust”, in perpetuity. It’s a bio-conservatism that, on one level, I certainly understand, but one I also find incredibly unlikely given that the future consists of….well…. an awfully long stretch of time (that is as long as we’re wise enough or just plain lucky ). How in the world can we expect, especially in light of current advances in fields like genetics, neuroscience, artificial intelligence etc, that we can, or even should, keep humanity essentially unchanged not just now, but for 100 years, or 1000s year, 10,000s years, or even longer?
While less controversial than it was fifty years ago, psychotherapy is an anomalous feature of modern culture, plagued by defects. Among its shortcomings, psychotherapy has made remarkably little use of information technologies. This blog considers electronic devices to measure human emotional response, that may have been stigmatized by their use in radical religious movements, or by their origins in primitive attempts a century ago to cure neurotics. I do not recommend simply adopting those religious or therapeutic practices, but adapting the technology to new uses. A mentally healthy individual could employ emotion-sensing hardware to identify personal goals, consider the meaning of past events, and explore future possibilities.
Like our brains, the human penis hasn’t evolved in tens of thousands of years — and that’s a real shame. Our favorite male body part is capable of so much more. In consideration of pending advances in science and technology, here’s what to expect with penis 2.0.
Social thinkers long yearned for the kind of predictive power offered by universal laws of Galileo, Newton and Einstein—reductionist rules that changed our relationship with the material world, from helplessness to manipulative skill. If only similar patterns and laws were found for human nature! Might we construct an ideal society suited to decent living by all?
The current foundation phase of “Transhumanist” politics deserves a critical discussion of the philosophical principles that implicitly underlie its new political organization. As part of the effort towards a self-critical evaluation of political transhumanism, which is undoubtedly still in a very early phase of development, this chapter discusses the philosophy drafted by the founder of the “Transhumanist Party of the USA”, Zoltan Istvan, in his bestselling novel “The Transhumanist Wager” (2013) dedicated to develop the vision of a better society. Istvan called the philosophy underlying his meta-national, if not global, vision “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”. We discuss the achievements, contradictions and dialectics of and within this philosophy; its possible relation to realistic social policy programs; as well as the potential implications and consequences. The goal is to achieve a more considered overall discourse at the contested new ideological interface between humanism and transhumanism which could define an influential zeitgeist of our time.
Politics is being shaped by our responses to the prospect of accelerating, exponential technological change. Technosceptics deny accelerating change will occur. Technoconservatives accept that accelerating change poses radical questions, and want to stem the tide of change. Technolibertarians believe accelerating change will be for the best, and technology and capitalism just need to be left to work their wonders. Technoprogressives believe accelerating change poses serious risks as well as rewards, and that we can maximize the rewards and minimize the risks through public policy.
We asked the IEET audience “In the coming century will face-to-face, in-body sex be more or less common?” given tech that will encourage virtualization such as brainjacks, porn, sexbots, and electronically-mediated sex. Or will we revel in our newly young, perpetually healthy, and hormonally tweaked bodies by having a lot more face-to-face sex. The 140 of you who responded were two-to-one convinced we are headed for more virtual sex.
A decade ago, it was nearly inconceivable that in 2015, gay marriage would be legal across the US and marijuana fully legal in four states plus the District of Columbia. Yet it happened. It happened because citizens who wanted change led, from the bottom up, often through citizens initiatives.
Politics 2.0 – what might that mean? Like most people probably would, i immediately associated it with the numbering system commonly used in software releases, but having worked as a programmer for 30 years i could not see how this could be applied to something as complex and diffuse as politics. However if taken as something like a cognitive metaphor i still could not clearly grasp its meaning, beyond the vague implication of improvement over Politics 1.x, presumably what humanity is struggling with today.
What do vampires and Las Vegas atheists have in common? Ethical rules, social stigma, and a hunger for community. When people think about Las Vegas, most picture some combination of gambling, burlesque, night clubs and legalized prostitution—the pleasures that earned Vegas the nickname Sin City. But when Sociologist Lori Fazzino thinks about Las Vegas, she pictures churches.
After several decades of relative obscurity Transhumanism as a philosophical and technological movement has finally begun to break out of its strange intellectual ghetto and make small inroads into the wider public consciousness. This is partly because some high profile people have either adopted it as their worldview or alternatively warned against its potential dangers. Indeed, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama named it “The world’s most dangerous idea” in a 2004 article in the US magazine Foreign Policy, and Transhumanism’s most outspoken publicist, Ray Kurzweil, was recently made director of engineering at Google, presumably to hasten Transhumanism’s goals.
Authors Peter H. Diamandis and Steve Kotler have created just about the perfect handbook when it comes to envisioning a technically advanced, democratic and thriving society. Written in 2012, this book is still an important read for anyone who’s interested in a technical future where humanity finally rises above the mire it has been tethered to for millennia.
I have been interested in the above topic since taking a wonderful graduate seminar in the subject about 30 years ago from Richard J. Blackwell at St. Louis University. Recently a friend introduced me to a paper on the topic, “Bridging the Is-Ought Divide: Life is. Life ought to act to remain so,” by Edward Gibney who argues (roughly) that the naturalistic fallacy has no force. Gibney is not a professional philosopher, but I found myself receptive to his argument nonetheless.
Fewer pregnant teens, fewer abortions, fewer unwed mothers, fewer single-parent families on welfare, more balanced state budgets. Sounds like a set of goals that should be common ground for anyone who cares about America’s future, right?
Today, I retract my support. Although EA’s core intention is morally commendable - donating “expendable income” to world-improving causes - there are multiple details in its strategy and organization that are sloppy, simplistic, ethically dubious and downright foolish.
It pains me to reach this conclusion. Here’s how it happened:
I just finished reading Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford. This is a nonfiction book in which Ford predicts that all jobs will soon be automated away, and that this will lead to an economic crash, since no one will have any money to buy anything. I’ve written about this idea before, and Ford’s position hasn’t changed much since his previous book, Lights in the Tunnel.