Let’s start with a thought experiment. Suppose that in a given population 50% of people have blue eyes and 50% have brown eyes. Suppose further that there is no evidence to suggest that eye colour has any effect on cognitive ability; indeed, suppose that everything we know suggests that cognitive ability is equally distributed among blue and brown-eyed people. Now imagine that in this population 80% of all senior academics and professors are blue-eyed. What conclusions should we draw about the justice of this society?
Transhumanism—the rapidly growing international movement that aims to use radical science and technology to significantly improve the human being—has many fascinating fields of study. One of my favorite areas is biohacking. I recently had a chance to chat with Rich Lee, a leading biohacker whose upgrades and experiments to his body are both impressive and courageous. His exploits have been featured in CNN, The Guardian, Popular Science, The Huffingon Post, and many other well-known media sites.
It could be difficult for human civilization to survive a global catastrophe like rapid climate change, nuclear war, or a pandemic disease outbreak. But imagine if two catastrophes strike at the same time. The damages could be even worse. Unfortunately, most research only looks at one catastrophe at a time, so we have little understanding of how they interact.
The developed nations of the Western world are currently characterised by a political-economic system typically referred to as “Liberal Democracy“*. Up until very recently, there has been a tendency for all major political parties to converge on an ostensibly moderate, centrist, Liberal Democratic position. This position is characterised by Representative Democracy on the one hand, and commitment to Liberalism (both social and economic, but with emphasis on Market Liberalism) on the other. This worldview is frequently depicted by its proponents as the polar opposite of and only ethical or viable alternative to Authoritarian forms of social organization.
Over the spring the Fundamental Questions Institute (FQXi) sponsored an essay contest the topic of which should be dear to this audience’s heart- How Should Humanity Steer the Future? I thought I’d share some of the essays I found most interesting, but there are lots, lots, more to check out if you’re into thinking about the future or physics, which I am guessing you might be.
The event we celebrate on the Fourth of July is not America’s victory over Great Britain. The British weren’t defeated until September 3, 1783. July 4, 1776 is the day the Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence.
Back when I published research on optical ellipsometry, “polarization” seemed an innocent-enough term — and indeed, lately there have been applications that let us peer into the very origins of the universe. Alas though, more and more, we hear talk about a polarization of politics — especially in the USA - that has destroyed a great nation’s ability to argue fairly, negotiate pragmatically, and forge the sort of effective compromise solutions that enabled past generations to keep moving ahead.
I have always been fond of the concept of feedback loops, and it is indeed the case that much of humankind’s progress, and the progress of a given individual, can be thought of as a positive feedback loop. In the technology/reason interaction, human reason leads to the creation of technology, which empowers human reason and raises rational thinking to new heights, which enables still further technology, and so on.
As expected, the last case ruled on before the Supreme Court of the United States adjourned until October was the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga case. For those unaware, this case is based on the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, classifying contraceptives as preventive healthcare required under all insurance plans without a co-pay. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood both objected to this, saying that covering some forms of birth control, like the IUD/IUS or Plan B, violated their religious beliefs by requiring them to fund abortive medications.1
The Prime Minister of Morocco recently compared women to “lanterns” or “chandeliers,” saying that “when women went to work outside, the light went out of their homes.” His remarks, which ran counter to Morocco’s constitutionally-guaranteed rights for women, promptly provoked both street demonstrations and an “I’m not a chandelier” Twitter hashtag.
Imagine if you could take an exotic vacation billions of light years from Earth, peek in on the dinosaurs’ first-hand, or jump into a parallel universe where another you is living a more exciting life than yours; and you could swap places if you like.
Prophecies of doom, especially when they’re particularly frightening, have a way of sticking with us in a way more rosy scenarios never seem to do. We seem to be wired this way by evolution, and for good reason. It’s the lions that almost ate you that you need to remember, not the ones you were lucky enough not to see. Our negative bias is something we need to be aware of, and where it seems called for, lean against, but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss and ignore every chicken little as a false prophet even when his predictions turn out to be wrong, not just once, but multiple times. For we can never really discount completely the prospect that chicken little was right after all, and it just took the sky a long, long time to fall.
The preceding installments have described a tension between organized human effort and individual freedom. The former entails the adoption of a machine-like way of processing observations and acting on them (nowadays a techno-bureaucracy) that has no inherent morality: human values lie entirely with the people who make judgments within this machine.
Since giving my support to the May 24 march against Monsanto, I have taken the time to review some of the more unusual opinions in the debate over genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). The enthusiasts for technological development as a means of eliminating scarcity and disparity view GMOs favorably.
I just watched a video of an event in Amsterdam where the well-known Libertarian Stefan Molyneux spoke. Let me link it for your edification. Immediately after the event his Google+, Gmail and Youtube were deleted, as a result of complain vandalism. In other words, what he said caused a counter reaction. Now I am not usually overly enthusiastic about Peter and his Libertarian ideas, but in this video he makes a pretty much spectacular point against the power of unbridled governance. This particular line of reasoning I really like.
“Why do you cry, Gloria? Robbie was only a machine, just a nasty old machine. He wasn’t alive at all.” “He was not no machine!” screamed Gloria fiercely and ungrammatically. “He was a person like you and me and he was my friend.” – Isaac Asimov (1950). Most discussions of “robot rights” play out in a seemingly distant, science-fictional future. While skeptics roll their eyes, advocates argue that technology will advance to the point where robots deserve moral consideration because they are “just like us,” sometimes referencing the movie Blade Runner. Blade Runner depicts a world where androids have human-like emotions and develop human-like relationships to the point of being indistinguishable from people. But Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the novel on which the film is based, contains a small, significant difference in storyline…
World Beyond War has created a set of online interactive maps to help us all see where and how war and preparations for war exist in the world today. You can find the maps we’ve created thus far at http://bit.ly/mappingmilitarism and send us your ideas for more maps here. We’ll be updating some of these maps with new data every year and displaying animation of the progress away from war or the regress toward more war as the case may be.
What does it mean to be a person? For the anti-abortion group, Personhood USA, a “person” is present from the moment a sperm penetrates an egg, and members are fighting to have their definition encoded into law. Online coaching tools for abortion opponents use the term person interchangeably with human or human being. Are they interchangeable? Does it matter?
When Satoshi Nakamoto cracked the code for the blockchain he altered the course of all our lives, whether one has an interest in using Bitcoin or not. The full extent to which the world is changed by this peer-to-peer technology is not yet realized, but becomes more and more apparent as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies grow and develop, and future platforms built on top of these networks are envisioned. It is not an exaggeration to write that a major paradigm shift has occurred, one that many believe is of similar caliber to the World Wide Web.
If predictions by future thinkers such as Aubrey de Grey, Robert Freitas, and Ray Kurzweil ring true – that future science will one day eliminate the disease of aging – then it makes sense to consider the repercussions a non-aging society might place on our world.
If you wish to understand the future you need to understand the city, for the human future is an overwhelmingly urban future. The city may have always been synonymous with civilization, but the rise of urban humanity has been something that has almost all occurred after the onset of the industrial revolution. In 1800 a mere 3 percent of humanity lived in cities of over one million people. By 2050, 75 percent of humanity will be urbanized. India alone might have 6 cities with a population of over 10 million.
Discussions of technological change in the media are generally coupled with discussions of technological unemployment and the increasing polarization of wealth. A good example is a piece by Eduardo Porter in the New York Times (“Tech Leaps, Job Losses and Rising Inequality,” April 15). Amid talk of all the technological wonders issuing from Silicon Valley, Porter observes that in recent years employers have seized on the falling cost of capital relative to labor that results from such improvements as an opportunity to substitute capital for labor.
The fictional cosmic religion of “Earthseed,” featured in the works of Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006), one of the greatest science fiction writers of all times, keeps inspiring new religious ideas and movements in the real world.“[M]any [Terasem] believers embrace traditional positions held by mainstream religions – including the omnipotence of God and the existence of an afterlife – but say these are made possible by increasing advancements in science and technology,” says a recent TIME article about the Terasem religion. “Einstein said science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind,” Terasem founder Martine Rothblatt tells TIME. “Bina and I were inspired to find a way for people to believe in God consistent with science and technology so people would have faith in the future.”
The American Bible Society funds an annual “State of the Bible” survey, and this spring the Christian Post cheered some of their findings: “The Bible continues to dominate both mind space and book retail space as America’s undisputed best-seller.” According to the study, conducted by Barna, over 88 percent of American homes contain a Bible. In fact, the average is 4.7 copies per household.
This is the second part in my series on the ethics of benign carnivorism. The series is working off Jeff McMahan’s article “Eating animals the nice way”. Benign carnivorism (BC) is the view that it is ethically permissible to eat farmed meat, so long as the animals being reared have lived good lives (that they otherwise would not have lived) and have been killed painlessly.