This book offers a colossal synthesis of history, biology, philosophy, psychology and neurophysiology. Surprisingly, the latter is the least plausible region of the book (we still know too little about the book). But by mixing historical facts and evolutionary theories and using a bit of logical thinking, Pinker comes up with great insights into human nature. Pinker synthesizes the work of (literally) hundreds of thinkers and researchers and draws his own original conclusions.
Without clear rules for cyberwarfare, technology workers could find themselves fair game in enemy attacks and counterattacks. If they participate in military cyberoperations—intentionally or not—employees at Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Sprint, AT&T, Vodaphone, and many other companies may find themselves considered “civilians directly participating in hostilities” and therefore legitimate targets of war, according to the legal definitions of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols.
The police response to protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri were filled with images that have become commonplace all over the world in the last decade. Police dressed in once futuristic military gear confronting civilian protesters as if they were a rival army. The uniforms themselves put me in mind of nothing so much as the storm-troopers from Star Wars. I guess that would make the rest of us the rebels.
Continuing our series on co-veillance, sousveillance and general citizen empowerment, on our streets… last time we discussed our right and ability to use new instrumentalities to expand our ability to view, record and hold others accountable, with the cameras in our pockets.
Our economy is broken. There’s one economy for the wealthy, and another for the rest of us. This division has been worsened by the behavior of corporate executives who manage their corporations for short-term personal gain rather than for long-term fiscal soundness.
This isn’t a complete review of Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence (2014), but a summary of the thoughts that came to my mind while and after reading the book. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (2014) opens with a cautionary fable: a group of sparrows consider finding an owl to assist and protect them. Only the more cautious sparrows see the danger – that the owl may eat them all if they don’t find out how to tame an owl first – and Bostrom dedicates the book to them (and of course to the cautious humans afraid that superintelligent life forms may destroy humanity if we don’t find out how to control them first).
Last week, I published a guest post at Wired UK called It's Time to Consider Restricting Human Breeding. It was an opinion article that generated many commentary stories, over a thousand comments across the web, and even a few death threats for me.
“This year alone, there have been 17,000 cases of meningitis in Nigeria, with nearly 1,000 deaths”. It’s a statement that jumped out at me watching a video from this summer’s Aspen Ideas Festival by my former University of Michigan Public Health student Utibe Effiong.
I'm back from the first Climate Engineering Conference, held in Berlin. Quite a good trip, but in many ways the highlight was the talk I gave at the Berlin Natural History Museum. The gathering took place in the dinosaur room, which holds (among other treasures) the "Berlin Specimen" Archaeopteryx fossil, among the most famous and most important fossils ever discovered.
If you push long and hard enough for something that is logical and needed, a time may come when it finally happens! At which point – pretty often – you may have no idea whether your efforts made a difference. Perhaps other, influential people saw the same facts and drew similar, logical conclusions!
“This is an economic revolution,” a new online video says about automation. The premise of “Humans Need Not Apply” is that human work will soon be all but obsolete. “You may think we’ve been here before, but we haven’t,” says CGP Grey, the video’s creator. “This time is different.” The video has gone viral, with nearly two million YouTube views in one week. But is it true?
I’ve recently been looking into the ethics of vegetarianism, partly because I’m not one myself and I’m interesting in questioning my position, and partly because it is an interesting philosophical issue in its own right. Earlier this summer I looked at Jeff McMahan’s critique of benign carnivorism. Since that piece was critical of the view I myself hold, I thought it might be worthwhile balancing things out by looking at an opposing view.
There’s a condition I’ve noted among former hard-core science-fiction fans that for want of a better word I’ll call future-deflation. The condition consists of an air of disappointment and detachment with the present that emerges on account of the fact that the future one dreamed of in one’s youth has failed to materialize. It was a dream of what the 21st century would entail that was fostered by science-fiction novels, films and television shows, a dream that has not arrived, and will seemingly never arrive- at least within our lifetimes. I think I have a cure for it, or at least a strong preventative.
Materials and how we use them are inextricably linked to the development of human society. Yet amazing as historic achievements using stone, wood, metals and other substances seem, these are unbelievably crude compared to the full potential of what could be achieved with designer materials.
There was an interesting panel discussion at the Transhuman Visions Conference in San Francisco, February 1, 2014, which got even interesting-er when the following question was posed: “If you knew you could live for 1,000 years or more, would you possibly become so risk-averse that you may be afraid to do anything that is even remotely dangerous and consequently live a long, but very insular and inhibited life?”
This is the sixth part in my series on Nick Bostrom’s recent book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. The series is covering those parts of the book that most interest me. This includes the sections setting out the basic argument for thinking that the creation of superintelligent AI could threaten human existence, and the proposed methods for dealing with that threat.
“Every office full of ambitious people has them. And we have all worked with at least one—the co-worker with an inexplicable ability to rise in the ranks,” wrote the Wall Street Journal recently in an article entitled What Corporate Climbers Can Teach Us. “‘How do they do it?’ we may ask ourselves or whisper to friends at work,” it continued. “They don't have more experience. They don't seem that brilliant.”
Within the next few years, autonomous vehicles—alias robot cars—could be weaponized, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fears. In a recently disclosed report, FBI experts wrote that they believe that robot cars would be “game changing” for law enforcement. The self-driving machines could be professional getaway drivers, to name one possibility. Given the pace of developments on autonomous cars, this doesn’t seem implausible.
I had the opportunity to see Wally Pfister’s Transcendence, with Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, and Morgan Freeman, only last week, more than three months after the film’s release in theaters. Before seeing the film I satisfied my Transcendence cravings with an old, still unnamed copy of Jack Paglen’s script that can be found online (it appears that Paglen’s screenplay was part of what is known as the Black List, a list of popular but unproduced screenplays in Hollywood).
The transfer of used military equipment from the armed forces to police departments around the country has been accompanied, at least to a certain extent, by a shift in public thinking. The news media have played a critical part in that shift, both in its coverage and in what it chooses not to cover.
On August 9, at around 12 in the afternoon, Michael Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson were attacked by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson. With his hands in the air, telling Officer Wilson that he was unarmed, the officer shot Brown several times, killing him as a result. This was the eyewitness account told by Brown’s friend Dorian.
The WHO medical ethics panel convened Monday to discuss the ethics of using experimental treatments for Ebola in West African nations affected by the disease. I am relieved to note that this morning they released their unanimous recommendation: “it is ethical to offer unproven interventions with as yet unknown efficacy and adverse effects, as potential treatment or prevention.”
Human beings seem to have an innate need to predict the future. We’ve read the entrails of animals, thrown bones, tried to use the regularity or lack of it in the night sky as a projection of the future and omen of things to come, along with a thousand others kinds of divination few of us have ever heard of. This need to predict the future makes perfect sense for a creature whose knowledge bias is towards the present and the past. Survival means seeing enough ahead to avoid dangers, so that an animal that could successfully predict what was around the next corner could avoid being eaten or suffering famine.
The resilience of our entire civilization is increasingly reliant on a fragile network of cell phone towers, which are the first things to fail in any crisis, e.g. a hurricane or other natural disaster… or else deliberate (e.g. EMP or hacker) sabotage.
They say that one swallow doesn’t make a summer, and one Politico story certainly doesn’t make a campaign season. But if a recent article there is correct – if the Democratic Party’s strategy this year really is “Running as a Dem (while) sounding like a Republican” – then the party may be headed for a disaster of epic but eminently predictable proportions.
Debate about the merits of enhancement tends to pretty binary. There are some — generally called bioconservatives — who are opposed to it; and others — transhumanists, libertarians and the like — who embrace it wholeheartedly. Is there any hope for an intermediate approach? One that doesn’t fall into the extremes of reactionary reject or uncritical endorsement?