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.
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]…”
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.
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.
Setting aside differences of metaphysic, how closely do the core values of utilitarians/abolitionists and Buddhists coincide? If suffering and its abolition are central to life on Earth, can differences between the two traditions be resolved to questions of means, not ends?
TMS involves using a computer controlled array of electromagnetic coils placed on or close to the scalp and then activated in such a manner that magnetic “waves” stimulate neural activity in selected areas of the brain. There are essentially two types of TMS technology largely defined by the power levels used. A lot of contemporary research (circa 2005CE) uses extremely high power levels, in many cases involving peak powers flowing in the coils in the megawatt region, to directly “kick” the brain in selected locations.
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.
Psychedelic substances are resurging into the popular culture in ways unrivaled since the starry-eyed, long-haired baby boomers of the 1960’s dropped acid and discovered peace and promiscuity. However, today’s generation of visionary psychonauts are making a much more measured movement to the mainstream than the hundred thousand hippies who descended on San Francisco in 1967’s summer of love.
If selling afterlife perks is your business, then getting people to believe, attend and give “voluntarily” is the whole game.
Churches just got a new way to figure out who is sleeping in on Sunday morning: facial recognition software that scans the congregation and tracks who showed up. Churchix is a product of Skakash LLC, which sells Face-Six for law enforcement, border control, and commercial applications. According to CEO Moshe Greenshpan, 30 churches have already deployed the new software and service, which could be used to target members who need a nudge or to identify potential major donors among those who attend faithfully.
Four years ago I wrote a trio of essays that generated a barrage of hate mail. The feedback I received wasn’t 100% venomous, but it was more than 50% negative, with one essay getting a thumbs-down 80% of the time.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about puppets. I know that sounds way too paleo-tech, and weird, but hear me out. Puppets are an ancient technology, which, for all the millennia that passed before, and up until very, very recently, were the primary way we experienced animated art. For the vast majority of human history the way we watched projected figures in front of us playing out some imagined drama was in the form of shadows cast on the walls.
I’ve been thinking a lot about connectivity lately. On many levels. From the fact that Comcast really is just a horrible ISP, to the connection between the ecosystems on Earth, I think it’s safe to say we’re not separate entities. We are intimately connected within webs, both virtually (which is why when we all want to stream Netflix in the neighborhood, our internet slows around here) and materially (which is there is a link between an increase of flesh eating bacteria on our beaches after a major oil spill—those little guys just love a good tarball.)
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”.
In the wake of news that scientists in China modified the DNA of human embryos, a number of scientists and bioethicists have called for a global moratorium on experiments that could alter the human germline. The White House has come out in support of such a ban — for now.
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’.
A worry that is not yet on the scientific or cultural agenda is neural data privacy rights. Not even biometric data privacy rights are in purview yet which is surprising given the personal data streams that are amassing from quantified self-tracking activities. There are several reasons why neural data privacy rights could become an important concern.
“May all that have life be delivered from suffering”, said Gautama Buddha.
The vision of a happy biosphere isn’t new. Jains, for instance, aim never to hurt another sentient being by word or deed. But all projects of secular and religious utopianism have foundered on the rock of human nature. Evolution didn’t design us to be happy.
Recently, I tuned in to watch a 60 Minutes television story on a experimental cancer treatment being tested that was being hailed as near miraculous. As I saw the face of one white patient after another white patient who was cured by injecting the polio virus into a brain tumor, I started to wonder: where are all the black people? Or Hispanics or Asians? It brought to mind the popular campaign and twitter hashtag, Black Lives Matter
Pandora’s Brain is one of the most philosophical science fiction novels I have read recently. And since Calum Chace has been a valuable contributor to Singularity Weblog, as well as a great blogger with an interesting and diverse experience in his own right, I thought that he would make a great guest for my Singularity 1on1 podcast. And so I invited him for an interview which turned out to be a very enjoyable conversation indeed.
Every book on torture that i have browsed is mainly devoted to methods of torture and then to three topics: Ethical arguments against torture, Utilitarian arguments against torture, and History of the rejection of torture. I cannot find a neuroscientist or psychologist who thought of writing about the exact opposite: What were the ethical justifications for torture?, What were the utilitarian arguments for torture? and What is the history of the widespread adoption of torture?
In his article, “What is the Difference between Posthumanism and Transhumanism?”, Kevin LaGrandeur sets out to clarify the meaning of the terms “posthuman”, “transhuman” and “posthumanism”. (http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/lagrandeur20141226) He notes that the relative newness of the terminology is a source of confusion among many who employ these terms.
One thing that can certainly not be said either the anthropologist Ynval Harari’s or his new book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is that they lack ambition. In Sapiens, Harari sets out to tell the story of humanity since our emergence on the plains of Africa until the era in which we are living right now today, a period he thinks is the beginning of the end of our particular breed of primate. His book ends with some speculations on our post-human destiny, whether we achieve biological immortality or manage to biologically and technologically engineer ourselves into an entirely different species.
Are there ways to directly strengthen fairness and moral cognition in the prefrontal cortex, and weaken the cognitive biases bubbling up from the amygdala? Research on the genetic correlates of moral cognition, and the effects of psychoactive drugs, and of electrical and magnetic manipulation of the brain, suggest there are ways to enhance fairness and impartiality.
Position Paper: The Critical Need to Promote Research of Aging Below is the position paper on the Critical Need to Promote Research of Aging of the International Society on Aging and Disease (ISOAD). This paper briefly details the rationales, the technologies and the policies that are needed to promote this research. Thus it can serve as a generally applicable advocacy or lobbying paper in different countries. Please help spread it. Please contribute to the widest possible recognition and support of biological research of aging and aging-related diseases. We welcome the readers to circulate this position paper, share it in your social networks, forward it to politicians, potential donors and media, organize discussion groups to debate the topics raised (that may later grow into grassroots longevity research and activism groups in different countries), translate this position paper into your language, reference and link to it, even republish it in part or in full (for example, the policy recommendations can fit on a single page flyer), join the ISOAD or other aging and longevity research and advocacy organizations.
A genre that science fiction writers have been attempting to colonize with some regularity is that of the suspense thriller. Here the dissolution of genre boundaries is more subtle, since the imaginative material and narrative conventions of science fiction may be retained, while the plot, structure, and tone are borrowed from a mode of paranoid pursuit melodrama pioneered in espionage novels from John Buchan to Robert Ludlum. Initially, those novelists who seemed most successful—at least commercially—in effecting this merger were novelists whose starting point was the thriller rather than the science fiction tale: Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, and Peter Benchley are among the most prominent examples, with Crichton having based nearly his entire career on science fiction conceits.