Eric Garner. Michael Brown. The Sony hack and surrender to fear. 2014 seems to be ending on a crappy note. My twitter feed is full of people expressing good riddance to the year. 2014 was better than that. I want to take a moment to remind us, and to offer some perspective on the dark stories. So, good things about 2014:
So I have another paper coming out. It’s about plea-bargaining, brain-based lie detection and the innocence problem. I wasn’t going to write about it on the blog, but then somebody sent me a link to a recent article by Jed Radoff entitled “Why Innocent People Plead Guilty”. Radoff’s article is an indictment of the plea-bargaining system currently in operation in the US. Since my article touches upon same thing, I thought it might be worth offering a summary of its core argument.
Imagine a bracelet or watch that changes into something else when you take it off. Perhaps it becomes a cell phone, tablet, or computer. Although this scenario may seem like science fiction, this and much more will soon become reality with a ground-breaking new technology known as claytronics.
“I think it very likely—in fact, inevitable—that biological intelligence is only a transitoryphenomenon… If we ever encounter extraterrestrial intelligence, I believe it is very likely to be postbiological in nature …” Paul Davies
Looking back on my early experience as a young engineer, I am reminded how little my colleagues and I appreciated that what we did would change the world, for good and for bad. I am also reminded how Marcel Golay, one of my early mentors understood the duality of technology and how this feature plays large in its application for the right purpose.
Cryptocoin multiplicity is just one kind of currency multiplicity in the modern world. More broadly, we are living in an increasingly multi-currency society with all kinds of monetary and non-monetary currencies.
"You enter the wellness center and tell the receptionist avatar that you're here for an annual restoration, and though your real age is 110, you would like to be restored to the age of a 20-something. A nurse then injects billions of genome-specific 'bots non-invasively through the skin; you're now set for another year."
Samuel Scheffler made quite a splash last year with his book Death and the Afterlife. It received impressive recommendations and reviews from numerous commentators, and was featured in a variety of popular outlets, including the Boston Review and the New York Review of Books. I’m a bit late to the party, having only got around to reading it in the past week, but I think I can see what all the fuss was about.
Why do people torture others? Why do they march others into gas chambers? Because some are psychopaths or sadists or power hungry. Depravity is in their DNA. Some are not inherently depraved but believe the situation demands torture. If others are evil and we are good, then we should kill and torture them with impunity. Such ideas result from the demonization of others, from a simplistic worldview in which good battles evil. If others torture, they are war criminals; if we torture are motives are pure. But the world is more nuanced than this. There is good and evil within us all.
In his new work, How to Create a Mind [HCM], Ray Kurzweil reflects on the moral considerability of intelligent machines. He believes that in the near future we will be confronted with machines that have cognitive abilities and emotive expressions that closely emulate those of humanB beings. (I use the term “HumanB” and its cognates to designate biological humanity and the term “HumanM” and its cognates to designate moral humanity, i.e., persons). The issue for him is whether we humanB beings will be able to identify morally with non-humanB artificial persons that do not have a biological existence.
I recently published an unusual article. At least, I think it is unusual. It imagines a future in which sophisticated sex robots are used to replicate acts of rape and child sexual abuse, and then asks whether such acts should be criminalised. In the article, I try to provide a framework for evaluating the issue, but I do so in what I think is a provocative fashion. I present an argument for thinking that such acts should be criminalised, even if they have no extrinsically harmful effects on others. I know the argument is going to be unpalatable to some, and I myself balk at its seemingly anti-liberal/anti-libertarian dimensions, but I thought it was sufficiently interesting to be worth spelling out in some detail. Hence why I wrote the article.
We women hear a lot about side effects of birth control, but we don’t hear as much about the side benefits. If you haven’t had a conversation with your doctor lately about family planning, you may be in for some surprises, like the fact that lighter, less frequent periods may be healthier for you.
For anyone interested in the issues of human rights, justice, or peace, and I assume that would include all of us, 2014 was a very bad year. It is hard to know where to start, with Eric Garner, the innocent man choked to death in New York city whose police are supposed to protect citizens not kill them, or Ferguson Missouri where the lack of police restraint in using lethal force on African Americans, burst into public consciousness, with seemingly little effect, as the chilling murder of a young boy wielding a pop gun occurred even in the midst of riots that were national news.
In Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential: A Cosmic Vision for Our Future Evolution, IEET affiliate scholar Ted Chu, a professor of Economics at New York University in Abu Dhabi and former chief economist for General Motors and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, argues that post-humanity is a logical and necessary evolutionary next step for humanity, and we need a new, heroic cosmic faith for the post-human era. “The ultimate meaning of our lives rests not in our personal happiness but in our contribution to cosmic evolution,” says Chu…
Summary of Michio Kaku’s Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century (1997) “There are three great themes in science in the 20th century—the atom, the computer, and the gene.” – Harold Varmus, NIH Director. Three centuries ago Newton said that he was a boy, playing on the seashore while a “great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” Life in Newton’s time was, as Hobbes said, “nasty, brutish, and short.” But Newton unleashed a revolution that he could never have imagined. Within a few generations “the basic laws of matter, life, and computation were … solved.” [3-4]
The birth story of baby Jesus celebrates the promise of new life, but for girls it also sends a harmful message. How can we acknowledge this without spoiling the rest?Most Americans, even many who are not very religious, look forward to Christmas as a time to celebrate warmth, friendship, generosity and good cheer. Familiar festivities weave together stories and traditions from many cultures, which makes it easy to find something for everyone. But maybe it’s time to look a little closer at the Christmas story itself.
Communication is the basic principle of social interaction. We know that microbes use a method of communication called quorum sensing1, cetaceans have their whale song2, plants have airborne chemical communication and fungal signal transfer via their roots3. Let us take a moment to think about how do machines communicate with each other.
We asked “Should DIY biohackers be subject to the same safety regulations and oversight as corporate biological research labs?” Of the 573 of you that responded six out of ten (61%) believed that biohackers should be subject to some kind of regulation.
Accumulating evidence suggests that microbiota plays an important role in modulating lifespan. This makes possible to use symbiotic bacteria as “living drugs”, which live in the host organism and promote its longevity. We propose to create bacteria, which dramatically extend lifespan of its host. Such bacteria have to produce not one, but a set of longevity-promoting substances with optimal concentrations and dynamics of secretion. To obtain such bacteria we propose to use directed evolution, a process that mimics Darwinian selection on a laboratory scale.
We have heard occasional comments along the lines that Social Futurism or its affiliates are apparently Anti-Capitalist, but committed only to “half-measures”. I expect that we will hear this kind of comment increasingly in future, and it can range in tone from mild rebuke to antagonistic accusations of “populism”, so we need to address the matter now. Sometimes these issues are couched in terms of whether we are radical (usually implying too radical, or not radical enough), so I would like to address that question too.
I argued in my 2013 book, The Infinite Resource, that the “seeds shouldn’t be patented” argument against GMOs and specifically against Monsanto was invalid for a very specific reason: Patents end. As I wrote then, the patents for Monsanto’s first commercial genetically modified crop, Roundup Ready Soy I, would expire at the end of the 2014 growing season. After that, farmers would be free to save seeds to replant, universities would be free to tinker with the genetic trait, seed breeders would be free to cross-breed it into other strains, and so on.
Before you ask, yes, this is a post about risk. And no, I’m not talking about the dangers of immortalizing the star of Terminator Genisys‘ real-life biological brain. But to begin somewhere near the beginning.
“Nobody would try ECT (for fun),” says Lesley Galasso, who administers the Brainsway device to treat stubborn clinical depression. “Yet we all tried this (at a low frequency) when we had our training…”
The question that motivates this essay is “Can we build a benevolent AI, and how do we get around the problem that humans, bless their cotton socks, can’t define ‘benevolence’?” A lot of people want to emphasize just how many different definitions of “benevolence” there are in the world — the point, of course, being that humans are very far from agreeing a universal definition of benevolence, so how can we expect to program something we cannot define into an AI?
My son recently shared an interesting idea. Suppose we cryogenically preserve ourselves and send our bodies and brains into space, or simply leave them on earth to be reanimated. Even if advanced beings find us in the future and want to awaken us, there is a good chance that our minds will be too primitive to be rebooted. Our futuristic descendants may not have technology compatible with our primitive mind files. It would be as if we come across an old floppy disk or early telephone but no longer had the technology to run them.
In his 1960 paper “Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infra-Red Radiation”, published in the journal Science, Freeman Dyson famously argued that the long term evolution of technological alien societies might lead to capturing the bulk of all their star’s emissions, forming what came to be called by others Dyson Spheres. Dyson once said, “Science is my territory, but science fiction is the landscape of my dreams.” Though he has never written science fiction, his scientific imagination has inspired a great deal of it. Here he looks again at the very long term, but this time for life far from stars. Still, his focus is their energy needs.
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.