There has been a debate on morality brewing of late over at LessWrong. As readers of this blog know, I am not particularly sympathetic to that outlet (despite the fact that two of my collaborators here are either fans or even involved in major ways with them — see how open minded I am?). Largely, this is because I think of the Singularity and related ideas as borderline pseudoscience, and have a hard time taking too seriously a number of other positions and claims made at LW. Still, in this case by friend Michael DeDora, who also writes here [Rationally Speaking], pointed me to two pieces by Eliezer Yudkowsky and one of the other LW authors that I’d like to comment on.
One iconic image expresses our existential condition: the pale blue dot. That photograph of Earth the Voyager 1 spacecraft took in 1990 from 6 billion kilometers away told us how small we are. What worries me is that dot may be all we ever have, all we can command, for the indefinite future. Humanity could become like rats stuck on the skin of our spherical world, which would look more and more like a trap.
Earlier this month, a report funded by the Greenwall Foundation examined the legal and ethical implications of using biologically enhanced humans on the battlefield. Given the Pentagon's open acknowledgement that it's working to create super-soldiers, this is quickly becoming a pertinent issue. We wanted to learn more, so we contacted one of the study's authors. He told us that the use of cyber-soldiers could very well be interpreted as a violation of international law. Here's why.
The idea of artificial slaves - and questions about their tractability - is present not only in the literature of modern times but also extends all the way back to ancient Greek sources; and it is present in the literature and oral history of the early modern period as well. Aristotle is the first to discuss the uses and advantages of the artificial slave in his Politics.
This past December I was at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Society for Risk Analysis. Several sessions focused on emerging technologies governance. Each presentation nominally focused on one technology, mainly synthetic biology and nanotechnology. But most of the ideas discussed applied equally well to any emerging technology.
Yet for all the efficiencies these do engines may provide, they may also carry a significant risk. Evan Selinger, a fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, argues that less friction in our lives may “render us more vulnerable to being automatic,” and eliminate crucial opportunities for moral deliberation. “The digital servant becomes the digital overlord, and we don’t even recognize it.”
Oh my, I thought I was done for a while chastising skeptics like SamHarris on the relationship between philosophy, science and morality, and I just found out that my friend Michael Shermer has incurred a similar (though not quite as egregious as Harris’) bit of questionable thinking. As I explained in my review of Harris’ book for Skeptic, one learns precisely nothing about morality by reading The Moral Landscape. Indeed, one’s time on that topic is much better spent by leafing through Michael Sandel’s On Justice, for example.
In 2012, superstorm Sandy pummeled the East Coast to the tune of $50 to $60 billion in damage. A record-breaking drought wiped out almost a third of the nation’s corn crop,resulting in roughly $18 billion in losses. The Arctic ice cap shrank to a record minimum, decades ahead of the projections made by climate scientists as recently as 2007. In short, 2012 was the year that climate change made its impact, more than any other year in modern history. Worse, it’s just the beginning — a small taste of what’s to come.
As we head into a new year, the guardians of traditional religion are ramping up efforts to keep their flocks—or, in crass economic terms, to retain market share. Some Christians have turned to soul searching while others have turned to marketing. Last fall, the LDS church spent millions on billboards, bus banners, and Facebook ads touting “I’m a Mormon.” In Canada, the Catholic Church has launched a “Come Home” marketing campaign. The Southern Baptists Convention voted to rebrand themselves. A hipster mega-church in Seattle combines smart advertising with sales force training for members and a strategy the Catholics have emphasized for centuries: competitive breeding.
New Google hire and renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil sums up how technologies might play out over the next two decades with this claim: “If you remain in good health for 20 more years, you may never die.”
Kim Souzzi, a young woman diagnosed with brain cancer while studying neuroscience at college, passed away early in the morning of January 17th, at the age of 23. She was successfully cryo-preserved at Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Alcor CEO Max More said that there will be a summary of her stand by and preservation posted in the coming days on the Alcor blog: http://www.alcor.org/blog/
Josh Trank and Matt Landis’ 2012 film Chronicle provides an audience with what is ostensibly newly broken ground in the superhero genre. But even slightly scrape this outer facade and what one begins to see is a detailed - yet unvocalised - discussion on the ethical and moral standpoints occupied by trans-human characters within a definitively human social structure.
Albert Einstein famously asserted that “we will not solve present problems with the same thinking that created them”, so pointing out that the problems we now face—problems like climate change, rising income inequality, financial crises, resource depletion, and so on—are the product of old ways of thinking. The problems remain unsolved, in other words, only because our thinking hasn’t yet caught up. So it’s our thinking that needs to change.
When I saw that the scientist and science-fiction novelist, David Brin, had given a talk at a recent Singularity Summit with the intriguing title “So you want to make gods? Now why would that bother anybody?” my hopes for the current intellectual debate between science and religion and between rival versions of our human future were instantly raised.
Out of South Africa’s nine provinces, the greatest number of farm-workers resides in the wealthy and fertile Western Cape.Despite their fundamental role in the success of our country’s valuable fruit, wine, and tourism industries, farm-workers benefit very little, in large part because they are subject to exploitative conditions and human rights abuses without sufficient protection of their rights.
Is the end of death in our future? Positive futurists say it is. Infectious disease, accidents, starvation, and violence have kept average life expectancy at 20-to-30 years throughout most of human history. However, the quest to live longer and enjoy good health is one of the most ancient and deep-rooted hopes ingrained in our species.
Manny Ramirez. Mark McGwire. Barry Bonds. Baseball is no stranger to superstars using steroids. Sprinter Ben Johnson was disqualified from an Olympic victory decades ago. More likely than not, every sport has players who use ‘performance enhancing drugs’ – it’s just that the player’s performance is not generally enhanced to superstar status. Now Lance Armstrong has admitted to doping, and once again the world is shocked.
The west African nation of Ghana is rather widely known for its ‘witch camps’, where mainly old women who are accused of occult crimes and subsequently banished from their communities. They seek refuge in these ‘camps’ to avoid being killed by their family and community members. But in the village of Sang, off Tamale-Yendi Road, in the northern region of Ghana there is a care center for vulnerable children.
Bruce Sterling wrote influential works like Schismatrix and Islands in the Net, plus he practically invented cyberpunk (with all due respect, of course, to William Gibson and Rudy Rucker). We are serious fans of his work. And if his recent comments about the potential risks of greater-than-human artificial intelligence — or lack thereof — are any indication, he's itching to start a giant fight among futurists.
Will robots have souls? Do animals? Do we? At first glance, this line of questioning may appear to be purely theoretical, having no bearing on life until it ends and the individual discovers for them self what it’s all about. However, looking at the history of our species, the doctrine of the soul has been used to subjugate, to elevate, to enslave, and to empower based on an individual’s possession of one or lack thereof.
When I was fourteen, or thereabouts, one of the very first novels I read was theFoundation Trilogy of Isaac Asimov. Foundation is for anyone so presumptuous, as I was and still am, to have an interest in “big history”- the rise and fall of civilizations, the place of civilization within the history earth and the universe, the wonder at where we will be millenia hence, a spellbinding tale.
The quote of the day comes from Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who suggested to NPR that Obamacare is a “fascist” program. Other CEOs are still insisting the health bill’s too “socialist,” as Mackey has in the past.
I find most beautiful not a particular equation or explanation, but the astounding fact that we have beauty and precision in science at all. That exactness comes from using mathematics to measure, check and even predict events. The deepest question is, why does this splendor work?
Positive futurists believe that as thought talking technologies become reality, which some believe could happen during the 2030s and 2040s; our diverse world could evolve into a peaceful global community eliminating most of the ethnic and religious barriers that plague society today.
If you could design your own body, give it any shape, size, color, contour, texture and elegant design, what would you choose? What if your body could regenerate healthier, fresher skin and worn out tendons, ligaments and joints with replaceable ones? What if your body was as sleek, as sexy, and feel as comfortable as your new automobile? These are just a few of the questions to consider in the decades ahead. Sit back, take a deep, relaxing breath, follow the Primo Guides, and come along for an aerodynamic ride. Welcome to the future! ’ (Natasha Vita-More) 1
’… in a couple of years, everyone will consider the possession of a soft, hairy, sweating body to be shameful and indcecent. In a prostheticized society, you can snap on the loveliest creations of modern engineering.’ (Stanislaw Lem The Futurological Congress: Vision of 2039) 2
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