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Archive for the ‘philosophy’ category

Sep 18, 2014

Why Superintelligence May Not Help Us Think about Existential Risks — or Transhumanism

Posted by in categories: alien life, biological, cyborg, defense, disruptive technology, ethics, existential risks, futurism, homo sapiens, human trajectories, internet, military, philosophy, policy, posthumanism, science, singularity, transhumanism

Among transhumanists, Nick Bostrom is well-known for promoting the idea of ‘existential risks’, potential harms which, were they come to pass, would annihilate the human condition altogether. Their probability may be relatively small, but the expected magnitude of their effects are so great, so Bostrom claims, that it is rational to devote some significant resources to safeguarding against them. (Indeed, there are now institutes for the study of existential risks on both sides of the Atlantic.) Moreover, because existential risks are intimately tied to the advancement of science and technology, their probability is likely to grow in the coming years.

Contrary to expectations, Bostrom is much less concerned with ecological suicide from humanity’s excessive carbon emissions than with the emergence of a superior brand of artificial intelligence – a ‘superintelligence’. This creature would be a human artefact, or at least descended from one. However, its self-programming capacity would have run amok in positive feedback, resulting in a maniacal, even self-destructive mission to rearrange the world in the image of its objectives. Such a superintelligence may appear to be quite ruthless in its dealings with humans, but that would only reflect the obstacles that we place, perhaps unwittingly, in the way of the realization of its objectives. Thus, this being would not conform to the science fiction stereotype of robots deliberately revolting against creators who are now seen as their inferiors.

I must confess that I find this conceptualisation of ‘existential risk’ rather un-transhumanist in spirit. Bostrom treats risk as a threat rather than as an opportunity. His risk horizon is precautionary rather than proactionary: He focuses on preventing the worst consequences rather than considering the prospects that are opened up by whatever radical changes might be inflicted by the superintelligence. This may be because in Bostrom’s key thought experiment, the superintelligence turns out to be the ultimate paper-clip collecting machine that ends up subsuming the entire planet to its task, destroying humanity along the way, almost as an afterthought.

But is this really a good starting point for thinking about existential risk? Much more likely than total human annihilation is that a substantial portion of humanity – but not everyone – is eliminated. (Certainly this captures the worst case scenarios surrounding climate change.) The Cold War remains the gold standard for this line of thought. In the US, the RAND Corporation’s chief analyst, Herman Kahn — the model for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove – routinely, if not casually, tossed off scenarios of how, say, a US-USSR nuclear confrontation would serve to increase the tolerance for human biological diversity, due to the resulting proliferation of genetic mutations. Put in more general terms, a severe social disruption provides a unique opportunity for pursuing ideals that might otherwise be thwarted by a ‘business as usual’ policy orientation.

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Aug 6, 2014

Reengineering Strategies & Tactics

Posted by in categories: business, complex systems, disruptive technology, economics, education, innovation, open source, philosophy, policy

I am very pleased to announce the publication of my book “Reengineering Strategies & Tactics”.

The book is based on more than 2 decades in manufacturing & management consulting, and presents the new business model, the Holistic Business Model, that ties together operations, revenue generation and business strategy. It also enables one to do strategy sensitivity analysis, and much more. Watch the video. Buy the book & enjoy rethinking & re-strategizing your company.

I might add that this is much better than anything you can get out of McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Booz Allen Hamilton or Bain Capital.

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Jul 22, 2014

‘A struggle between humans and nature’

Posted by in categories: biological, entertainment, philosophy, transhumanism
. @IEET. @HJBentham. @ClubOfINFO. #nature. #philosophy. #ebook.

There is often imagined to be a struggle between humans and nature. How does this struggle originate, and what is its resolution? Such a question is central to some religious traditions, and has much room to be explored in literature.

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Jul 15, 2014

Political futurism, ethics energized by sci-fi

Posted by in categories: entertainment, ethics, existential risks, philosophy, transhumanism
.@hjbentham . @clubofinfo. @dissidentvoice_ . @ieet. #scifi. #philosophy. #ethics.
Literature has served an indispensable purpose in exploring ethical and political themes. This remains true of sci-fi and fantasy, even if there is such a thing as reading too much politics into fictional work or over-analyzing.


Since Maquis Books published The Traveller and Pandemonium, a novel authored by me from 2011–2014, I have been responding as insightfully as possible to reviews and also discussing the book’s political and philosophical themes wherever I can. Set in a fictional alien world, much of this book’s 24 chapters are politically themed on the all too real human weakness of infighting and resorting to hardline, extremist and even messianic plans when faced with a desperate situation.

The story tells about human cultures battling to survive in a deadly alien ecosystem. There the human race, rather than keeping animals in cages, must keep their own habitats in cages as protection from the world outside. The human characters of the story live out a primitive existence not typical of science-fiction, mainly aiming at their own survival. Technological progress is nonexistent, as all human efforts have been redirected to self-defense against the threat of the alien predators.

Even though The Traveller and Pandemonium depicts humanity facing a common alien foe, the various struggling human factions still fail to cooperate. In fact, they turn ever more hostilely on each other even as the alien planet’s predators continue to close in on the last remaining human states. At the time the story is set, the human civilization on the planet is facing imminent extinction from its own infighting and extremism, as well as the aggressive native plant and animal life of the planet.

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Jul 11, 2014

Making opinions matter: making headlines

Posted by in categories: internet, journalism, media & arts, philosophy

.#democracy. #you. #indie. #webcontent. #contentmarketing. @HJBentham.

Ever wanted to be the subject of international news, or to be recognized as an expert in your field? In the age of the web, both are relatively easy for anyone to accomplish – and it really matters. Thanks to digital culture, equal opportunity is becoming an unstoppable reality rather than an empty promise from ultimately self-centered authorities and companies.

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Jun 30, 2014

New book: The Beginning and the End by Clément Vidal

Posted by in categories: alien life, complex systems, ethics, philosophy, physics, posthumanism, singularity

By Clément Vidal — Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium.

I am happy to inform you that I just published a book which deals at length with our cosmological future. I made a short book trailer introducing it, and the book has been mentioned in the Huffington Post and H+ Magazine.

Inline image 1
About the book:
In this fascinating journey to the edge of science, Vidal takes on big philosophical questions: Does our universe have a beginning and an end, or is it cyclic? Are we alone in the universe? What is the role of intelligent life, if any, in cosmic evolution? Grounded in science and committed to philosophical rigor, this book presents an evolutionary worldview where the rise of intelligent life is not an accident, but may well be the key to unlocking the universe’s deepest mysteries. Vidal shows how the fine-tuning controversy can be advanced with computer simulations. He also explores whether natural or artificial selection could hold on a cosmic scale. In perhaps his boldest hypothesis, he argues that signs of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations are already present in our astrophysical data. His conclusions invite us to see the meaning of life, evolution, and intelligence from a novel cosmological framework that should stir debate for years to come.
About the author:
Dr. Clément Vidal is a philosopher with a background in logic and cognitive sciences. He is co-director of the ‘Evo Devo Universe’ community and founder of the ‘High Energy Astrobiology’ prize. To satisfy his intellectual curiosity when facing the big questions, he brings together many areas of knowledge such as cosmology, physics, astrobiology, complexity science, evolutionary theory and philosophy of science.
http://clement.vidal.philosophons.com

You can get 20% off with the discount code ‘Vidal2014′ (valid until 31st July)!

Jun 19, 2014

Mind uploading won’t lead to immortality

Posted by in categories: aging, bionic, biotech/medical, evolution, futurism, human trajectories, life extension, neuroscience, philosophy, posthumanism, robotics/AI, singularity, transhumanism

Uploading the content of one’s mind, including one’s personality, memories and emotions, into a computer may one day be possible, but it won’t transfer our biological consciousness and won’t make us immortal.

Uploading one’s mind into a computer, a concept popularized by the 2014 movie Transcendence starring Johnny Depp, is likely to become at least partially possible, but won’t lead to immortality. Major objections have been raised regarding the feasibility of mind uploading. Even if we could surpass every technical obstacle and successfully copy the totality of one’s mind, emotions, memories, personality and intellect into a machine, that would be just that: a copy, which itself can be copied again and again on various computers.

THE DILEMMA OF SPLIT CONSCIOUSNESS

Neuroscientists have not yet been able to explain what consciousness is, or how it works at a neurological level. Once they do, it is might be possible to reproduce consciousness in artificial intelligence. If that proves feasible, then it should in theory be possible to replicate our consciousness on computers too. Or is that jumpig to conclusions ?

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Jun 12, 2014

Could a machine or an AI ever feel human-like emotions ?

Posted by in categories: bionic, cyborg, ethics, existential risks, futurism, neuroscience, philosophy, posthumanism, robotics/AI, singularity, transhumanism

Computers will soon be able to simulate the functioning of a human brain. In a near future, artificial superintelligence could become vastly more intellectually capable and versatile than humans. But could machines ever truly experience the whole range of human feelings and emotions, or are there technical limitations ?

In a few decades, intelligent and sentient humanoid robots will wander the streets alongside humans, work with humans, socialize with humans, and perhaps one day will be considered individuals in their own right. Research in artificial intelligence (AI) suggests that intelligent machines will eventually be able to see, hear, smell, sense, move, think, create and speak at least as well as humans. They will feel emotions of their own and probably one day also become self-aware.

There may not be any reason per se to want sentient robots to experience exactly all the emotions and feelings of a human being, but it may be interesting to explore the fundamental differences in the way humans and robots can sense, perceive and behave. Tiny genetic variations between people can result in major discrepancies in the way each of us thinks, feels and experience the world. If we appear so diverse despite the fact that all humans are in average 99.5% identical genetically, even across racial groups, how could we possibly expect sentient robots to feel the exact same way as biological humans ? There could be striking similarities between us and robots, but also drastic divergences on some levels. This is what we will investigate below.

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May 10, 2014

What to make of the film ‘Transcendence’? Show it in classrooms.

Posted by in categories: 3D printing, augmented reality, bionic, computing, cyborg, disruptive technology, existential risks, fun, futurism, homo sapiens, human trajectories, innovation, nanotechnology, philosophy, posthumanism, privacy, robotics/AI, science, singularity, transhumanism

transcendenceI recently saw the film Transcendence with a close friend. If you can get beyond Johnny Depp’s siliconised mugging of Marlon Brando and Rebecca Hall’s waddling through corridors of quantum computers, Transcendence provides much to think about. Even though Christopher Nolan of Inception fame was involved in the film’s production, the pyrotechnics are relatively subdued – at least by today’s standards. While this fact alone seems to have disappointed some viewers, it nevertheless enables you to focus on the dialogue and plot. The film is never boring, even though nothing about it is particularly brilliant. However, the film stays with you, and that’s a good sign. Mark Kermode at the Guardian was one of the few reviewers who did the film justice.

The main character, played by Depp, is ‘Will Caster’ (aka Ray Kurzweil, but perhaps also an allusion to Hans Castorp in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain). Caster is an artificial intelligence researcher based at Berkeley who, with his wife Evelyn Caster (played by Hall), are trying to devise an algorithm capable of integrating all of earth’s knowledge to solve all of its its problems. (Caster calls this ‘transcendence’ but admits in the film that he means ‘singularity’.) They are part of a network of researchers doing similar things. Although British actors like Hall and the key colleague Paul Bettany (sporting a strange Euro-English accent) are main players in this film, the film itself appears to transpire entirely within the borders of the United States. This is a bit curious, since a running assumption of the film is that if you suspect a malevolent consciousness uploaded to the internet, then you should shut the whole thing down. But in this film at least, ‘the whole thing’ is limited to American cyberspace.

Before turning to two more general issues concerning the film, which I believe may have led both critics and viewers to leave unsatisfied, let me draw attention to a couple of nice touches. First, the leader of the ‘Revolutionary Independence from Technology’ (RIFT), whose actions propel the film’s plot, explains that she used to be an advanced AI researcher who defected upon witnessing the endless screams of a Rhesus monkey while its entire brain was being digitally uploaded. Once I suspended my disbelief in the occurrence of such an event, I appreciate it as a clever plot device for showing how one might quickly convert from being radically pro– to anti-AI, perhaps presaging future real-world targets for animal rights activists. Second, I liked the way in which quantum computing was highlighted and represented in the film. Again, what we see is entirely speculative, yet it highlights the promise that one day it may be possible to read nature as pure information that can be assembled according to need to produce what one wants, thereby rendering our nanotechnology capacities virtually limitless. 3D printing may be seen as a toy version of this dream.

Now on to the two more general issues, which viewers might find as faults, but I think are better treated as what the Greeks called aporias (i.e. open questions):

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Apr 24, 2014

Parables involving the Theft of Knowledge

Posted by in categories: cybercrime/malcode, philosophy, security, transhumanism

From CLUBOF.INFO

All religions have points of agreement concerning human toil and its relationship to the divine. This essay considers some of the Biblical and Hellenic parables of human origin, specifically the origins of human knowledge and instrumentality.

Here I want to present how knowledge and instrumentality are reported to originate with an act of mischief, specifically the theft of a divine artifact. My argument is that, although the possession of knowledge may be seen as a sin to be atoned for, the kind of atonement originally promoted may have simply been for us to apply our knowledge constructively in our lives. The concept of atoning for original sin (whether it is the Biblical or Hellenic sin) can then be justified with secular arguments. Everyone can agree that we retain the capacity for knowledge, and this means our atonement for the reported theft of such knowledge would simply rest with the use of the very same tool we reportedly stole.

The story of the titan Prometheus, from ancient Greek mythology, has been interpreted and reinterpreted many times. A great deal of writers and organizations have laid claim to the symbolism of Prometheus, including in modern times. [1] I would argue that too many writers diluted and over-explored the meaning of the parable by comparing everything to it, although this is not the focus of my essay. Greek mythology is notably weak on the subject of “good and evil” because it predates the Judeo-Christian propagation of their dualism, and this means most of the characters in Greek mythology can be defended or condemned without violating Hellenic theology. Prometheus as a mythic figure could be condemned from a Christian standpoint, because he seems strikingly similar to other scriptural characters engaged in a revolt against the divine. Yet the spirit of Prometheus and his theft has also been endorsed by people and organizations, such as the transhumanists who see him as an expression of the noblest human aspirations. [2]

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