Suffocation induces a sense of extreme panic. It’s a comparatively rare experience in contemporary human life, although panic disorder, an anxiety disorder characterized by recurring severe panic attacks, is extremely unpleasant and quite common. Whatever its cause, the experience of suffocation is horrific. One’s lungs feel as though they will burst at any second. There is a loss of control of bodily functions. There is no psychological “coping mechanism”, just an all-consuming fear, as witnessed by the traumatic effects of the waterboarding torture practised by the CIA; the entangled piles of bodies of victims in the Nazi gas chambers frantically clawing over each other to gasp in the last traces of breathable air; and the death-agonies of millions of herbivores every day in the wild.
One of the catastrophic risks that technoprogressives take more seriously than most policy analysts is the emergence of self-willed artificial intelligence and robotics. We are skeptical of the focus on “hard take-off” scenarios, which tend to lead to fatalistic or magical thinking approaches to risk mitigation, and we emphasize instead the importance of incremental steps such as regulation of computing to avoid the creation of self-willed machine minds until we have a better handle on how to safely integrate them. In this short story Alex imagines one way that the tension between human control and the self-awareness of machine minds might play out.
On a long drive to my mom’s house earlier this weekend, my son Zar and I got into a long conversation about the nature of causality, which got me thinking about the old puzzle of where the feeling of the directionality of time comes from…
The third criterion of life, Transcendence, requires a potential life form to demonstrate that it can extend itself beyond its information processing capability to serve the purpose of life. A fair test for Transcendence is compliance with the Second and Third Principles of Geoethics – the Principles of Equilibria and Assurance. (Part 4 of Hybriduality and Geoethics)
To avoid confusion we need a new, more appropriate term for the study of life than biology – which is now more properly understood as the study of life built from organic cellular chemistry. A better term for the study of life is Vitology.
In this piece David Eubanks asks how we might react to intelligence emerging from ubiquitous computing stuff in our environment. What if our imagination about where and how self-willed machine minds will arise is too narrow, and it might just pop up anywhere? What do we owe talking stuff?
Biology is said to be the study of life. But this is not really true. In fact, biology is only the study of some kinds of life. Biology, as practiced today, studies living things that are deemed similar to human life in one particular aspect – the possession of organic cellular chemistry characteristics. These characteristics are the use of six atoms (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur) to form molecules that build cellular membranes, metabolize nutrients and self-replicate in accordance with a chemical code. (part 2 of Hybriduality and Geoethics)
The Russian Revolution of 1917 that installed the communists in power and created the Soviet Union had a side effect that has been harder to undo than communism itself: it isolated Russia from the rest of Europe (at least from the part of Europe that was not occupied by the Soviet Union). Until then the Soviet Union had been a full member and protagonist of the big European mess, a continuing shift of alliances for the purpose of conquering small (and sometimes irrelevant) territories.
The Enlightenment stands for the intellectual trends in 18th Century Europe that espoused the use of reason and science as a universal method for obtaining knowledge and solving human problems. The Enlightenment writers argued that the light of reason and science could free humanity from the darkness of ignorance, the burden of false beliefs, and the destructive influence of prejudices and superstition.
By now, everybody knows that there’s a big crowd of folks who think something really big is going to happen this year because the Mayan Calendar allegedly ended in 2012 — specifically December 21, 2012. Less well known amongst the masses that are vaguely familiar with the meme is the fact that psychedelic/cyberdelic philosopher Terence McKenna was the original primary source for this notion and for this particular date.
Do you despise Congress? You’re not alone. The current Congress’s 11% approval rating is the lowest since polling began. Yet, because of gerrymandering and the resulting hyper-partisanship, people tend to support their own particular Representative, and to heap the blame on the other party.
Dorothy Roberts is author of the book Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century (New Press, 2011). She is also the Kirkland & Ellis Professor at Northwestern University School of Law and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research, with appointments in the departments of Sociology and African American Studies. Here she discusses the rise in identifying race as biological among some scientists.
Synthetic biology is a field of science that has been emerging in the last few years and could have a significant future impact with the potential to pro-actively manage biology and reshape many industrial sectors.
Specifically, synthetic biology or bioengineering is the creation of living systems from nonliving chemicals designed on a computer; the design and construction of new biological entities such as enzymes, genetic circuits, and cells, or the redesign of existing biological systems.
A recently released report by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council in the United States suggests that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) should dramatically curtail the use of chimpanzees as research subjects. According to the committee who put together the report, chimps should be used as subjects in biomedical research only under stringent conditions, including the absence of any other suitable model and inability to ethically perform the research on people.
I’m unlikely to read many more books before the year is out, and the ones that I really must read for professional purposes don’t look as if they are going to make any list of mine of favourite or top or “best” books. So here is a short list of my best books of the year, the ones that I found especially illuminating or enjoyable. It’s my top 12 for 2011.
There is an unbelievable essay written - in apparent sincerity - by my colleague John C. Wright (a pretty good author, by the way), in which he asserts that the long darkness called feudalism was admirable, and that - by dismal contrast - we now live in an age that is benighted by crudely materialistic modernity and a shabby shallowness of the soul.
“As an artist, I can appreciate precedent representation and objecthood crises at the cite and sight of artistic collage and assemblage. As a transhumanist, however, I’m cognizant that artistic collage and assemblage will look like mere speed bumps when compared to the transubstrationality to be encountered near a singularity spike.”
A few days ago, the famous comic book writer and illustrator Frank Miller issued a howl of hatred toward the young people in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Well, all right, that’s a bowdlerization. After reading even one randomly-chosen paragraph, I’m sure you’ll agree that “howl” understates the red-hot fury and scatalogical spew of Miller’s lavishly expressed hate: “Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.”