In this entry, I take a look at Bostrom’s orthogonality thesis. As we shall see, this thesis is central to his claim that superintelligent AIs could pose profound existential risks to human beings. But what does the thesis mean and how plausible is it?
My goal in this article is to demolish the AI Doomsday scenarios that are being heavily publicized by the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, the Future of Humanity Institute, and others, and which have now found their way into the farthest corners of the popular press. These doomsday scenarios are logically incoherent at such a fundamental level that they can be dismissed as extremely implausible - they require the AI to be so unstable that it could never reach the level of intelligence at which it would become dangerous. On a more constructive and optimistic note, I will argue that even if someone did try to build the kind of unstable AI system that might lead to one of the doomsday behaviors, the system itself would immediately detect the offending logical contradiction in its design, and spontaneously self-modify to make itself safe.
Over the past few weeks, revelations of potentially dangerous errors in US federal labs handling pathogens have placed health and safety high on the national agenda. In June, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced as many as 75 of its staff may have been exposed to anthrax due to safety issues at one of its labs. At the beginning of July, vials of smallpox virus were found in an unsecured room at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Then earlier this week came the revelation that in the same room were over 300 vials containing pathogens such as dengue virus, influenza, and the bacterium that causes Q fever.
Over the past few days, the interweb’s been awash with virtual “oohs” and “ahs” over Surrey Nanosystems’ carbon nanotube-based Vantablack coating. The material – which absorbs over 99.9% of light falling onto it and is claimed to be the world’s darkest material – is made up of a densely packed “forest” of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes (see the image below). In fact the name “vanta” stands for Vertically Aligned NanoTube Array.
Theoretically the problem is already solved. It is now quite obvious what kind of research should be done for life extension. For example, testing various combinations of different things that extend lifespan in old mice. Particularly important is longevity gene therapy development.
Jim Thomas of the ETC Group has just posted a well reasoned article on the Guardian website on the challenges of defining the the emerging technology of “synthetic biology”. The article is the latest in a series of exchanges addressing the potential risks of the technology and its effective regulation.
Over the past few days, my news and social media streams have been inundated by articles on “nanojuice”. The “juice” – developed by researchers at the University of Buffalo and published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology – is a suspension of light-absorbing nanoparticles which, when drunk (and only mice have had this privilege so far), allow an unprecedented level of real-time imaging of the small intestine. It also presents an unusual series of safety challenges as the particles are designed to be intentionally ingested.
Geoengineering has come under attack recently by conspiracy theorists, scientists, to “greens.” There have been many kinds of proposals for geoengineering, and even a legal/illegal experiment pouring 200,000 pounds of iron sulfate into the North Pacific which was supposed to increase plankton that would absorb carbon dioxide. The experiment did not work and pissed off a lot of scientists. China also recently stopped their “flattening of mountains.” Therefore this article is not purely about techniques of combating global warming, but about the need for people to understand that geoengineering is a must, not only a must, but also a “human right.”
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.
A few days ago, I drove up the Califonia coast to help my son move. The trip coincided with the attempted (3 am) launch from Vandenberg AFB of JPL's Orbiting Carbon Observatiory—OCO-2—which will nail down Earth's CO2 cycle. OCO is part of a constellation of five earth-sensing satellites bring launched just this year. (The first OCO failed, weirdly, and others were canceled, back during the Bush Administration. Whereupon it took a while to re-start the earth-sensing programs.)
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
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.
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?
Somewhere around a dozen years ago, I was sitting in a bar in Eastern Washington. It could have been Lake Chelan or Yakima. I really don’t remember. But I do remember meeting two cowboys. Real cowboys (we still have them in the west). They weren’t talking about herds of cows over their beers. They were talking about fires.
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.
The bold gamble of the Brazilian neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis to have a paralysied person using an exoskeleton controlled by the brain kick a soccer ball during the World Cup opening ceremony has paid off. Yet, for how important the research of The Walk Again Project is to those suffering paralysis, the less than 2 second display of the technology did very little to live up to the pre-game media hype.
Over the past few weeks, a question we have faced before as a species reared its head once again: Should we destroy the last known samples of smallpox on Earth? The answer might seem obvious, may not even seem to require a second thought: Of course we eradicate smallpox! What good is it? One question I would ask in response is: What kind of species do we want to be?
In a rarely cited polemic from 1986 titled The Cult of Information, the historian Theodore Roszak recalls Hans Christian Andersen’s children’s book The Emperor’s New Clothes. Early in the text, Roszak offers a riposte to what he perceives as the growing idolization of information: “Information has taken on the quality of the impalpable, invisible, but plaudit-winning silk from which the emperor's ethereal gown was supposedly spun.” The book is an historical overview that analyzes information as a commodity.
Positive future watchers believe we will see more progress in the next three decades than was experienced over the last 200 years. In The Singularity is Near, author Ray Kurzweil reveals how science will change the ways we live, work, and play. The following timeline looks at some amazing possibilities as we venture ahead in what promises to become an incredible future…
You do not need to be a biologist or medical doctor to help hasten the arrival of indefinite life extension. An important array of activist endeavors, which are laying the groundwork for the eventual achievement of unlimited lifespans, can be implemented by anybody. They range from giving out books to playing games to simply running one’s computer – all the while making important contributions to scientific progress and the receptiveness of the general culture to the feasibility and desirability of indefinite longevity.
Recently, I was at Peet’s Coffee writing an article on my laptop. A tired father walked into the shop with his adult son, a portly-looking 20-year-old weighing over 200 pounds. The son had Down syndrome, and his mental state was so confused that the father had to walk closely behind him, holding both of his shoulders to guide him. The son moaned as he walked, jerking forward in sharp, uncoordinated movements. Saliva bubbled out of his mouth.
The IEET is committed to a position of non-anthropocentric personhood ethics, which values animals with personhood, such as apes, whales and dolphins, more than merely sentient creatures and nature in general. But this position is morally inconsistent and politically inadequate to the challenge of fighting back against ecological destruction. In contrast I offer a defence of the position of biosperic egalitarianism as the most consistent and politically effective stance in fighting for the interests of other species.
With the announcement of EPA’s proposed cuts to carbon emissions from existing powerplants, there’s already tremendous argument about how much they’ll cost. Some will argue that they’ll destroy the economy. How has that argument worked out in the past?
The recent spate of disease outbreaks, such as the measles and mumps in Ohio, has led to more calls for improving public health through better vaccination. While vaccines are readily available in the United States, many parents choose not to vaccinate their children.