There has of late been a great deal of ink devoted to concerns about artificial intelligence, and a future world where machines can “think,” where the latter term ranges from simple autonomous decision-making to full fledged self-awareness. I don’t share most of these concerns, and I am personally quite excited by the possibility of experiencing thinking machines, both for the opportunities they will provide for potentially improving the human condition, to the insights they will undoubtedly provide into the nature of consciousness.
What underlies a question like this is that it’s okay to force people to work by withholding what they need to live, in order to force them to work for us. And at the same time, because they are forced, we don’t even pay them enough to meet their basic needs that we are withholding to force them to work.
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.
If asked to rank humanity’s problems by severity, I would give the silver medal to the need to spend so much time doing things that give us no fulfillment—work, in a word. I consider that the ultimate goal of artificial intelligence is to hand off this burden, to robots that have enough common sense to perform those tasks with minimal supervision.
But some AI researchers have altogether loftier aspirations for future machines: they foresee computer functionality that vastly exceeds our own in every sphere of cognition. Such machines would not only do things that people prefer not to; they would also discover how to do things that no one can yet do. This process can, in principle, iterate—the more such machines can do, the more they can discover.
What’s not to like about that? Why do I NOT view it as a superior research goal than machines with common sense (which I’ll call “minions”)?
Technological change is accelerating and transforming our world. Assuming trends persist, we will soon experience an evolutionary shift in the mechanisms of reputation, a fundamental on which relationships are based. Cascading effects of the shift will revolutionize the way we relate with each other and our machines, incentivizing unprecedented degrees of global cooperation.
In 2015, you probably have more computing power than that of the Apollo Guidance computer in your smartphone, and yet Moore’s Law continues unabated at its fiftieth anniversary. Machines are becoming faster and smaller and smarter.
Even if they aren’t flesh, “mindclones” deserve protection.
For much of the 20th century, capital punishment was carried out in most countries. During the preceding century many, like England, had daily public hangings. Today, even Russia, with a mountainous history of government-ordered executions, has a capital-punishment moratorium. Since 1996, it has not executed a criminal through the judicial system.
If we can learn to protect the lives of serial killers, child mutilators, and terrorists, surely we can learn to protect the lives of peace-loving model citizens known as mind clones and bemans—even if they initially seem odd or weird to us.
The scientific idea that is most ready for retirement is the scientific method itself. More precisely it is the idea that there would be only one scientific method, one exclusive way of obtaining scientific results. The problem is that the traditional scientific method as an exclusive approach is not adequate to the new situations of contemporary science like big data, crowdsourcing, and synthetic biology.
In his Orthogonality Thesis, Nick Bostrom proposes that “intelligence and final goals are orthogonal: more or less any level of intelligence could in principle be combined with more or less any final goal.”
However, there’s a problem hinted at by the combination of “orthogonality” and “more or less”. Nick acknowledges that intelligent purpose actually does have some constraints. And arguably those constraints are actually quite strong, which would mean the Orthogonality Thesis is rather weak.
But the weakness may not be fatal. We can formulate a Semi-Orthogonality Thesis that actually accounts better for Nick’s own observations and reasoning without overstating their ramifications, which remain momentous.
Recently, the Daily Kos published an article titled, I Am Pro-Choice, Not Pro-Abortion. “Has anyone ever truly been pro-abortion?” one commenter asked.
Uh. Yes. Me. That would be me.
I am pro-abortion like I’m pro-knee-replacement and pro-chemotherapy and pro-cataract surgery. As the last protection against ill-conceived childbearing when all else fails, abortion is part of a set of tools that help women and men to form the families of their choosing. I believe that abortion care is a positive social good. And I suspect that a lot of other people secretly believe the same thing. And I think it’s time we said so.
Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont, is campaigning to be the next USA President. He defines himself as a “Democratic Socialist” and praises Scandinavian nations. USA citizenry is largely puzzled and aghast:
“The only thing most American know about socialism is they don’t like it.” - Leo Huberman
In a survey of transhumanists, 16.9% described themselves as Socialist, 4.2% Marxist, 32.7% Liberal, 27.4 Libertarian, and 15.6 Moderate. The Transhumanist Party is running a candidate in 2016 - Zoltan Istvan. I’ll be posting a series of articles on transhumanist political positions.
In this first installment, I interview four contributors to IEET.
As William Gibson always reminds us the real role of science-fiction isn’t so much to predict the future as to astound us with the future’s possible weirdness. It almost never happens that science-fiction writers get core or essential features of this future weirdness right, and when they do, according to Gibson, it’s almost entirely by accident. Nevertheless, someone writing about the future can sometimes, and even deliberately, play the role of Old Testament prophet, seeing some danger to which the rest of us are oblivious and guess at traps and dangers into which we later fall. (Though let’s not forget about the predictions of opportunity.)
Frank Herbert’s Dune certainly wasn’t intended to predict the future, but he was certainly trying to give us a warning.
“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.
While I’m generally an extremely stubborn person, my opinion has radically changed on some topics over the years. I don’t view this as a bad thing. I don’t aspire to be one of those people whose ideas are set in stone, impervious to growth or adaptation.
Some of my changes of opinion have been purely “changes of heart”—e.g. in my early 20s I transitioned from a teenage solipsism to a more compassion-oriented attitude, due more to internal growth than any external data or stimuli.
Other times, the cause of my change of opinion has been encountering some body of evidence that I simply hadn’t been aware of earlier.
The change of mind I’m going to write about here has been of the latter kind— data-driven.
Considering machines that think is a nice step forward in the AI debate as it departs from our own human-based concerns, and accords machines otherness in a productive way. It causes us to consider the other entity’s frame of reference. However, even more importantly this questioning suggests a large future possibility space for intelligence.
Over the last few years, I’ve received various reactions from the public about my articles on transhumanism. Those reactions have ranged all across the board—from spewing hatred to mocking skepticism to genuine interest. The thing with transhumanism—the core of its message—is whatever it espouses, it’s new thinking. Whether it’s brain implants, bionic limbs, designer babies, robotic hearts, exoskeleton suits, artificial intelligence, or gene therapies that aim to eliminate biological death, it’s decidedly uncharted territory for the human species.
Michael Tooley’s article “Moral Status of Cloning Humans” defends human cloning. I am in complete agreement with it. Cloning, despite the viceral reaction it raises, is a tool in the arsenal of the transhumanist once it is understood.
Here is a brief outline of the article with a bit of commentary identified by parenthesis.
Sometimes, if you want to see something in the present clearly it’s best to go back to its origins. This is especially true when dealing with some monumental historical change, a phase transition from one stage to the next. The reason I think this is helpful is that those lucky enough to live at the beginning of such events have no historical or cultural baggage to obscure their forward view. When you live in the middle, or at the end of an era, you find yourself surrounded, sometimes suffocated, by all the good and bad that has come as a result. As a consequence, understanding the true contours of your surroundings or ultimate destination is almost impossible, your nose is stuck to the glass.
Question is, are we ourselves in the beginning of such an era, in the middle, or at an end? How would we even know?
If yoga helps a Christian man to walk for the first time in thirty-three years, does his newfound strength come from God or the Devil? That is the question tearing apart an Evangelical church in Las Vegas.
The final frontier of digital technology is integrating into your own brain. DARPA wants to go there. Scientists want to go there. Entrepreneurs want to go there. And increasingly, it looks like it’s possible.
You’ve probably read bits and pieces about brain implants and prostheses. Let me give you the big picture.
Education is important to every individual on this planet. In pre-colonial Uganda, education was mainly informal. Missionaries and colonialists introduced the formal education system, but the missionaries wanted Africans to believe in the message of Jesus.
Today, Jesus and Muhammed have almost equal shares in Africa.
As religion dies in the western countries, it is busy in Africa, along with poverty and human rights abuses.
As a child of the 60s I spent most of my life regretting that we didn’t build those cities on the Moon and the planets. Now I realize that the Apollo adventure was too far from our supply lines to be sustainable. But we are still doing space, and someday (not soon) we will go back to the Moon, and then to Mars, to the planets, and to the stars.
Groucho Marx, one of my favorite comedians of all time, famously wrote a telegram to a Hollywood club he had joined, that said: “Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” I have recently considered sending such a letter to the skeptic and atheist movements (henceforth, SAM), but I couldn’t find the address.
Any reader of this blog knows that I am a transhumanist; I believe in using technology to overcome all human limitations. What follows is a summary of an article by Paul Lauritzen, a Professor Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic, Jesuit John Carroll University near Cleveland Ohio. I believe his argument worthless, and contrary to everything I believe in, but I will summarize it as best I can. As I proceed I will provide a few parenthetical comments, as well as a few critical remarks at the end.
A company in South China’s Guangdong province is building the city’s first zero-labor factory. It’s an effort to address worker shortages and rising labor costs, but the rise of semi-autonomous “smart factories” could be a sign of things to come, in China and elsewhere.