Vox Populi 14

Vox Populi Episode 14:
Length: 30 min.

Sean Prophet’s answers:

1. You are handed an envelope, and in the envelope is a letter. On that letter is the date and time of your death. What do you do? Death.mp3 0:43

2. Do you think that artificial intelligences will one day be made as intelligent as human brains? Do you think that such intelligences should have rights? Artificial Intelligence.mp3 2:55

3. Religious believers seem to take upon themselves to build hospitals and operate a lot of charities, and then use this as evidence that the religious are more moral. What is your interpretation? Charity.mp3 1:43

4. Do you ever find yourself being superstitious despite your awareness of its irrationality? If so, why? If not, why do you think superstition exists? Superstition.mp3 1:27

Comments (4 comments)

Rhianna Newton / June 23rd, 2006, 10:17 pm / #1

Interesting article about human finitude and dignity, which also touches on the AI question:

I agree with your first answer: “such a letter would help me to get organized..and do the things I want to do before I die.”

BlackSun / June 24th, 2006, 10:11 am / #2

Rhianna, thanks for the link. I checked out the article. I find the repeated use of the word “extinctionist” to sort of encapsulate the author’s opinion that the coming changes represented by the singularity are to be feared.

Like most other human endeavors, the drive toward the singularity and the change in the substrate for human consciousness presents many risks as well as potential for immense reward.

I’m familiar with the critiques. For me, what separates the various responses to singularitarian literature is as follows: 1) People who support the concepts of human evolution and argue about the means and risks, and 2) people who are simply sentimental about the current state of humanity and would resist all attempts to significantly change it.

The article you linked to seems to be in the latter camp. To me there is nothing worth preserving in human imperfection and decay. If we have a problem with our biological hardware, let’s fix it. If our brains can be improved and interconnected, let’s do it. There will no doubt be false starts and mistakes along the way. And certainly the Utopian vision of a Kurzweil or Moravec may never occur. But simply having their vision as a guide gives us something to strive for. People will not be able to resist the pull of vastly improved and longer lives.

It is a far preferrable scenario to the one we have now, where we are certain to die of bodily decay or from an accident or violent act at the hands of another human.

Rhianna Newton / July 4th, 2006, 11:40 pm / #3

Dear Sean,

Even after looking up the word substrate I am not clear on your meaning in “..change in the substrate for human consciousness..”?

>>>For me, what separates..responses to singularitarian literature is..: 1) People who support..concepts of human evolution and argue about..means and risks, and 2) people who are simply sentimental about the current state of humanity and would resist all attempts to significantly change it.

>>>The article you linked to seems to be in the latter camp.

I believe the article is in the former camp, not the latter. In the New Atlantis article, Rubin explores the positive and negative aspects of biologically enhanced life, and many possible outcomes, throughtfully presenting a conclusion.

He points out that advocates of biologically enhanced life “are clearly the descendants of the founding thinkers of modern science, Francis Bacon and René Descartes, who saw the human condition as something to be improved and nature as simply a tool to improve it.”

He concludes, after thoughtfully examining the many positive aspects of biologically enhanced life, that it is useful, illustrating many such examples both in the real world and in Kurzweil and Morovec’s imagined utopian future. He concludes, in the balance, that biologically enhanced life may result in a world in which humans can not survive.

Sean, I understand that resolution in the form of agreement on this and our many other points of disagreement is unlikely.

I sincerely wish you well on your voyage into the future.

God bless you.

BlackSun / July 5th, 2006, 9:40 am / #4

Rhianna, by “change in substrate”, I mean from carbon to silicon or some other manufactured form of computational hardware. I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of migration of consciousness. It goes something like this: If methods can be found to auugment or repair aging human brains with non-biological hardware, eventually, the entire brain could be “repaired” so that there was no remaining biological material. The consciousness of the person whose brain has been “repaired” in this manner could then be said to reside on an artificial substrate. If done properly, they would retain all of their memories and faculties, and no doubt still claim to be themselves.

The idea here is that consciousness is simply a product of the structure of the brain. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that biological neurons are not the only form of matter capable of computation and therefore cognition.

If human intelligence can be so migrated, I submit that it does not matter whether or not humans continue to exist as biological organisms. To me, a post-singularity civilization could transcend, but still not completely eliminate its human origins.

Rubin is correct in his fear that unenhanced humans would not be able to compete or even comprehend the vastly greater knowledge. In such a scenario, unenhanced biological humans would indeed have little to contribute.

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