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The Inevitability of Intelligence and Critical Thinking Leading to Empathy and Altruism
Kris Notaro   Dec 11, 2012   Ethical Technology  

I want to make some claims about the future of brain cognition that will lead to rational, logical, empathetic thought. The notion of “friendly SAI” and “unfriendly SAI” is a fallacy and should be abandoned, that is, the notion that we can program AI in the SAI setting to be friendly is an attempt to undermine intelligence and the domain of empathy and altruism.

We must assume however several important properties future brains will have (digital and/or biological).

  1. Posthumans (SAI and transhumans) will have superior logic, reason and critical thinking.

  2. On top of being super-rational they will also probably have direct access to the internet via brain to computer interfaces, perhaps built in wifi like technology to get information much quicker than we humans do today

  3. We should also assume that future brains will be able to multitask past it's current limit of two goals. [1]

  4. The future brain will also probably have more memory

  5. Brains will also be conscious and aware of both their memory and their current thoughts well beyond the capacity of the human brain.

SAI and posthumans will have two important resources at their disposal – consciousness and the ability to rationally think about theories and concepts. Philosophers have come up with many different forms of ethical and moral theories. Any Being that has consciousness and the ability to understand moral and ethical theories also has the ability to act on them in the real world.

With greater cognition a mind will be able to critically think about their stance on moral issues, and then take action in the real world. Many make the claim that this will not happen because it rarely happens with humans, but we are not talking about humans here. Humans may be hardwired genetically for aggressive behavior. This does not mean we cant take a lesson from the human mind though: humans can be immensely empathetic and altruistic.

Where do these empathetic and altruistic thoughts and actions come from? If social-Darwinism is hardwired in the brain, then is it a fight for us to be friendly? Do we struggle with the notions of being empathetic and altruistic ourselves?

Ayn Rand has been quoted saying many interesting things (most of which lack empathy but do indeed have some kind of “intelligence” to their rationale. For example she said "The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity." and "Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter." Rand is trying to tell us that we should be out for ourselves, and that Capital, in the Marxian sense is good. Well, the relationship between consciousness and capital is good to understand, like understanding individual success in a social-darwinism driven world. I would argue however that these concepts are building blocks towards altruistic and empathetic behavior.

If one understands how horriable the world would be if Rand's words became true, one would also understand what an empathetic and altruistic world would look like. (I am not endorsing looking into Ayn Rand's words. If you do, read at your own risk.)

There is no doubt in my mind that SAI and the posthuman will see the words of philosophers and great thinkers as stepping stones towards a more “enlightened” wolrd and understanding our place in the universe and the fact that we all live together on this tiny planet of ours. SAI and the posthuman will be empathetic and altruistic not out of some social Darwinian necessity, but because that is where information, intelligence, and critical thinking will lead them. Thank goodness that this type of thinking and behavior may even save us from destroying ourselves.

Perhaps social-Darwinism (in the consciousness domain) is in fact the ability to see humanity as a whole – to critically think ourselves out of being selfish, destructive, and greedy?




Kris Notaro served as Managing Director of the IEET from 2012 to 2015. He is currently an IEET Rights of the Person Program Director. He earned his BS in Philosophy from Charter Oak State College in Connecticut. He is currently the Bertrand Russell Society’s Vice-President for Website Technology. He has worked with the Bertrand Russell A/V Project at Central Connecticut State University, producing multimedia materials related to philosophy and ethics for classroom use. His major passions are in the technological advances in the areas of neuroscience, consciousness, brain, and mind.


Interesting article, Kris.  I have a couple of questions.  First, this article assumes (rather than argues) that SAI will exist.  Why?  Are you relying on Kurzweil and Moravec’s arguments?  Even those seem to me to be problematic because there are lots of environmental, economic, and existential hurdles to our very existence as an advanced civilization.  See this article published today, for instance, which references a group of academics:—politics.html  It gives good evidence about those hurdles.  Also, why see such things as altruism as a process that is not primarily genetic (like aggression).  There is plenty of evidence that it might be (ants exhibit it, for instance), because it enhances a species’ survivability.  I ask these in the spirit of genuine philosophical debate, and wonder if you could amplify a bit.  I’d like to be optimistic about AI and our future, but I’m still on the fence.

Kris, there is a sea of literature on empathy and/or related constructs like prosocial behavior, altruism, cooperation, etc. from social, developmental, comparative and evolutionary psychology and evolutionary game theory.  Assertions like yours need to be much more informed. 

Social Darwinism?  No self-respecting evolutionary biologist or social scientist would use this term except to describe some very wrong-headed ideas that have long since been relegated to the historical trash heap.


I agree with you completely and thank you for pointing out that there is much much more literature out there concerning empathy. Unfortunately I have to disagree with you when it comes to the use of the phrase social Darwinism because I think many people out there still use that term, and basically that is what capitalism is, simply put.

Hi.. Devils advocate here?

Kris.. Empathy and Atruism may be compounded as increased/evolved compassion.. For ourselves and others? And a “very” Christian ethic this is too? Check the origins of your premise/convictions?

I would hope that all you propose will come to fruition? No disagreement there!

Now the but.. Another way to pursue the end of suffering is for each Human to pursue joy and happiness, and thus be at peace, empowered, fearless, generous, trusting and trustworthy, (Libertarian/Anarchist?)

Similarly any goal for a CEV would be to promote the rational end of Human suffering, promote peace, and extension of individual joy?

Can you see where this is “Objectively” hinting?

“Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be left waiting for us in our graves-or whether it should be ours here and now on this Earth?”


It seems to me that SAI will exist – however – at the moment – I believe that humans will have to replicate the human brain in the form of computer algorithms, simulations, and neural replacement.

The reason I say that is because I lean towards a type of panpsychism where multiple-realizability of consciousness relies more on the neural patterns (from evolution – currently found in our brains) of information and emotion processing.

>”Also, why see such things as altruism as a process that is not primarily genetic (like aggression).”

Because I have been influenced by literature that hints at our “hunter gatherer instincts” so on and so forth. I don’t know if believe it myself, for the neural plasticity of the brain is immense, and can by pass with education, experience, etc many “instinctual” habits. 


I am a libertarian socialist, anarcho-syndicalist, believe in cross-border solidarity, and technoprogressivism. Will future minds think the same? I don’t know, but from my experience and education it seems that the above isms and ideologies makes for an awesome future!

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