I don’t know anyone who still buys music discs. The age of music downloads started about 15 years ago (remember Napster?), but today it’s much easier: if I want to hear a song, I just find it on Youtube. Film: if a film hasn’t been totally ignored, chances are that it can be found on the torrent sites. And now books: today’s dirty little secret is that most books are free to download.
The notorious 1982 video game Custer’s Revenge requires the player to direct their crudely pixellated character (General Custer) to avoid attacks so that he can rape a Native American woman who is tied to a stake. The game, unsurprisingly, generated a great deal of controversy and criticism at the time of its release. Since then, video games with similarly problematic content, but far more realistic imagery, have been released. For example, in 2006 the Japanese company Illusion released the game RapeLay, in which the player stalks and rapes a mother and her two daughters.
In a recent blog post and IEET article, I laid out an extremely general critique of Capitalism’s place within our society, and the barest outline of an alternative known as Social Futurism. The essence of that article was that Capitalism does certain things very well but it cannot be paused or adjusted when its effects become problematic, that rapid technological change appears to be on the verge of making certain alternatives viable, and that unfortunately we may be forced to fight for our right to personally choose those alternatives.
Human beings are weird. At least, that is, when comparing ourselves to our animal cousins. We’re weird in terms of our use of language, our creation and use of symbolic art and mathematics, our extensive use of tools. We’re also weird in terms of our morality, and engage in strange behaviors visa-via one another that are almost impossible to find throughout the rest of the animal world.
If we extended our lives by 200 years, or if we succeeded in uploading our minds to an artificial substrate, would we undermine our sense of personal identity? If so, would it be wiser to avoid such radical forms of enhancement? These are the questions posed in chapter 4 of Nicholas Agar’s book Truly Human Enhancement. Over the next two posts I’ll take a look at Agar’s answers. This is all part of my ongoing series of reflections on Agar’s book.
I recently published an article in the Journal of Evolution and Technology on the topic of sex work and technological unemployment (available here, here and here). It began by asking whether sex work, specifically prostitution (as opposed to other forms of labour that could be classified as “sex work”, e.g. pornstar or erotic dancer), was vulnerable to technological unemployment. It looked at contrasting responses to that question, and also included some reflections on technological unemployment and the basic income guarantee.
This is the third part of my series on Nicholas Agar’s bookTruly Human Enhancement. As mentioned previously, Agar stakes out an interesting middle ground on the topic of enhancement. He argues that modest forms of enhancement — i.e. up to or slightly beyond the current range of human norms — are prudentially wise, whereas radical forms of enhancement — i.e. well beyond the current range of human norms — are not. His main support for this is his belief that in radically enhancing ourselves we will lose certain internal goods. These are goods that are intrinsic to some of our current activities.
This is the second post in my series on Nicholas Agar's new book Truly Human Enhancement. The book offers an interesting take on the enhancement debate. It tries to carve out a middle ground between bioconservatism and transhumanism, arguing that modest enhancement (within or slightly beyond the range of human norms) is prudentially valuable, but that radical enhancement (well beyond the range of human norms) may not be.
The first time I encountered the claim that an anarchistic society would impede scientific progress I was too shocked — and later busy chortling — to sketch out a thorough response. It’s a surprising sentiment to me for a lot of reasons, not the least for the well known correspondence between scientific progress and social and material freedom in mass societies.
I’ve looked at data-mining andpredictive analytics before on this blog. As you know, there are many concerns about this type of technology and the increasing role it plays in our lives. Thus, for example, people are concerned about the oftentimes hidden way in which our data is collected prior to being “mined”. And they are concerned about how it is used by governments and corporations to guide their decision-making processes. Will we be unfairly targetted by the data-mining algorithms? Will they exercise too much control over socially important decision-making processes? I’ve reviewed some of these concerns before.
One of humanity’s greatest technological triumphs is today’s potential for widespread and unrestricted access to all of our collected knowledge. As we march towards this noble goal, there is something crucial we need to talk about. That is, some of the most vital information we have is our scientific research, and much of it is still widely unavailable to the public. At least, without paying prohibitively high costs.
In a media frenzy akin to the Komen scandal, Evangelical aid organization World Vision announced recently that it would allow legally married and monogamous queer Christians on its payroll. Conservative co-religionists, including Franklin Graham of Billy Graham Ministries, and Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention took to the media denouncing the decision as a violation of biblical Christianity and all that is good.
There’s a pervasive notion that monogamous relationships are the end-all-be-all – the default pact in human couplings that keep the fabric of society from being torn apart. But growing numbers of scientists believe monogamy is not our biological default; and may not even represent the best road to happiness.
Caplan’s work fosters greater understanding of science, medicine and ethics. On March 24, 2014 the National Science Board (NSB) announced that renowned bioethicist and IEET Trustee Arthur Caplan, a global leader in medical ethics, is the 2014 recipient of its Public Service Award for an individual.
The best thing about Occupy Wall St. wasn’t what it argued politically or accomplished legislatively, but what it modeled for us: a new way of engaging with issues, resolving conflict, and reaching consensus. It was a style of engagement that seemed like it could only happen in person, between young people willing to sit in a cold park all night until they could come to an agreement over an issue.
Secular Americans and many liberal people of faith have been horrified by the Right’s most recent ploy: “religious freedom” claims that would give conservative business owners license to discriminate. Until Arizona made the national spotlight, the need for lunch counter sit-ins had seemed like a thing of the past. But in reality, advocates for religious privileges have been circling toward this point for some time.
We are only just starting to discover what our upcoming technologies will be capable of, and already, through fear of possible future threats, bombs are being sent to physicists. Emerging technologies are set to revolutionise our world during the next few decades; could this lead to the rise of anti-technology terrorism becoming even more of a threat than radical [religion]?
Yes. Yes we can. The last year has brought with it the revelations of massive government-run domestic spying machineries in the US and UK. On the horizon is more technology that will make it even easier for governments to monitor and track everything that citizens do. Yet I'm convinced that, if we're sufficiently motivated and sufficiently clever, the future can be one of more freedom rather than less.
Someone interviewing me for a magazine asked me what current technology tomorrow’s children would find obsolete. I almost answered “The Internet.” Then I decided to think about that answer a little bit because it’s pretty scary. Then I decided it’s true. Shortly, humans may find today’s wide open Internet as archaic as we now find phones that are wired to walls. Here’s why. There are three huge pressures on the internet as we know it today – the one where I can write this essay, post it on my website, and you can find it and read it. Whoever you are.
Femen is notoriously well-known for its anti-authoritarian, anti-religion “top-free” protest activities in Europe, especially in the Ukraine (where they’re originally from) and in Paris, where they’re presently headquartered. Recent activities include disruption of a Catholic Christmas Mass in Cologne Cathedral in Germany, where Josephine – a Femen “sextremist” – clambered up and posed on the altar, arms widespread, with “I Am God” scrawled in black paint on her torso.
In late December, while marriage equality became law in New Mexico and Utah, a Washington vice principal and coach at a Catholic school got fired for marrying his partner, and a Philadelphia Methodist minister was defrocked because he performed a wedding ceremony for his son.
This is the second in a series of posts looking at Searle's Wager and the rationality of mind-uploading. Searle's Wager is an argument that was originally developed by the philosopher Nicholas Agar. It claims that uploading one's mind to a computer (or equivalent substrate) cannot be rational because there is a risk that it might entail death. I covered the argument on this blog back in 2011. In this series, I'm looking at a debate between Nicholas Agar and Neil Levy about the merits of the argument. The current focus is on Levy's critique.
When is it ethically acceptable to harm another sentient being? On some fairly modest assumptions, to harm or kill someone simply on the grounds they belong to a different gender, sexual orientation or ethnic group is unjustified. Such distinctions are real but ethically irrelevant. On the other hand, species membership is normally reckoned an ethically relevant criterion. Fundamental to our conceptual scheme is the pre-Darwinian distinction between “humans” and “animals”.
In a forthcoming episode of the Rationally Speaking podcast, Julia and I discuss the philosophy and science of suicide, i.e. what empirical inquiry tells us about suicides (who commits them, how, what are the best strategies for prevention) and how philosophical reflection may lead us to think of suicide. In this post I will focus on the philosophical side of the discussion, for which an excellent summary source, with a number of additional references, is this article by Michael Cholbi in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, to which I will keep referring below.
Standard IQ tests are problematic on many levels — not least, because they do very little to tell us about the quality of our thinking. Looking to overcome this oversight, psychologist Keith Stanovich has started to work on the first-ever Rationality Quotient test. We spoke to him to learn more.
The human brain is capable of 1016 processes per second, which makes it far more powerful than any computer currently in existence. But that doesn't mean our brains don't have major limitations. The lowly calculator can do math thousands of times better than we can, and our memories are often less than useless — plus, we're subject to cognitive biases, those annoying glitches in our thinking that cause us to make questionable decisions and reach erroneous conclusions.