Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Richard Jones Critiques Superlativity

Over on the blog Soft Machines yesterday, Richard Jones -- a professor of physics, science writer, and currently Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology for the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council -- offered up an excellent (and far more readable than I tend to manage to be) critique of Superlative Technology Discourses, in a nicely portentiously titled post, “We will have the power of the gods”. Follow the link to read the whole piece, here a some choice bits:
"Superlative technology discourse… starts with an emerging technology with interesting and potentially important consequences, like nanotechnology, or artificial intelligence, or the medical advances that are making (slow) progress combating the diseases of aging. The discussion leaps ahead of the issues that such technologies might give rise to at the present and in the near future, and goes straight on to a discussion of the most radical projections of these technologies. The fact that the plausibility of these radical projections may be highly contested is by-passed by a curious foreshortening….

[T]his renders irrelevant any thought that the future trajectory of technologies should be the subject of any democratic discussion or influence, and it distorts and corrupts discussions of the consequences of technologies in the here and now. It’s also unhealthy that these “superlative” technology outcomes are championed by self-identified groups -- such as transhumanists and singularitarians -- with a strong, pre-existing attachment to a particular desired outcome - an attachment which defines these groups’ very identity. It’s difficult to see how the judgements of members of these groups can fail to be influenced by the biases of group-think and wishful thinking….

The difficulty that this situation leaves us in is made clear in [an] article by Alfred Nordmann -- “We are asked to believe incredible things, we are offered intellectually engaging and aesthetically appealing stories of technical progress, the boundaries between science and science fiction are blurred, and even as we look to the scientists themselves, we see cautious and daring claims, reluctant and self- declared experts, and the scientific community itself at a loss to assert standards of credibility.” This seems to summarise nicely what we should expect from Michio Kaku’s forthcoming series, “Visions of the future”. That the program should take this form is perhaps inevitable; the more extreme the vision, the easier it is to sell to a TV commissioning editor…

Have we, as Kaku claims, “unlocked the secrets of matter”? On the contrary, there are vast areas of science -- areas directly relevant to the technologies under discussion -- in which we have barely begun to understand the issues, let alone solve the problems. Claims like this exemplify the triumphalist, but facile, reductionism that is the major currency of so much science popularisation. And Kaku’s claim that soon “we will have the power of gods” may be intoxicating, but it doesn’t prepare us for the hard work we’ll need to do to solve the problems we face right now.

More like this, please.

10 comments:

jfehlinger said...

Richard Jones wrote (in
http://www.softmachines.org/wordpress/?p=354 ),
quoting Alfred Nordmann (in
http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/(en)/ZIF/FG/2006Application/PDF/Nordmann_essay.pdf ):

> ". . .[T]he boundaries between science and science fiction
> are blurred,. . . and the scientific community itself at a
> loss to assert standards of credibility.” . . .
> [T]he more extreme the vision, the easier it is to sell to a
> TV commissioning editor. And, as Nordmann says:
> “The views of nay-sayers are not particularly interesting and
> members of a silent majority don’t have an incentive to
> invest time and energy just to 'set the record straight.'
> The experts in the limelight of public presentations or
> media coverage tend to be enthusiasts of some kind or another
> and there are few tools to distinguish between credible and
> incredible claims especially when these are mixed up in
> haphazard ways.”

This succinctly elucidates a point I was attempting (not very
successfully, I'm afraid) to make in an exchange with "Utilitarian"
in the comments of
http://amormundi.blogspot.com/2007/10/superlative-summary.html

-------------------------------
> ["Utilitarian" wrote:]
>
> In my view, while Kurzweil, Bostrom, Yudkowsky, et al are very
> intelligent people, the key area for 'Singularitarian' activism
> now is getting people who are still smarter than them to examine
> these problems carefully.

You might as well be calling for the "people who are still smarter"
than Tom Cruise to be "carefully examining" the Scientologists'
case against psychiatry. You'll recall that Ayn Rand was piqued
that the mainstream philosophical community never deigned to
take her ideas seriously enough to discuss them. I suspect
that the really smart people simply have better things to do.
-------------------------------

"Utilitarian" wrote:

"You might as well be calling for the "people who are still smarter"
than Tom Cruise to be "carefully examining" the Scientologists'
case against psychiatry."
Unlike Cruise, Kurzweil has demonstrated both a high level of
intelligence and a strong grasp of technology. While his predictions
have included systematic errors on the speed of consumer adoption
of technologies, he has done quite well in predicting a variety of
technological developments (including according to Bill Gates),
not to mention inventing many innovative technologies. Bostrom has
published numerous articles in excellent mainstream journals and
venues, from Nature to Ethics to Oxford University Press.
Yudkowsky is not conventionally credentialed, but was a prodigy
and clearly has very high fluid intelligence.

The charge against these people has to be bias rather than lack of ability.

. . .

"I suspect that the really smart people simply have better things to do."
Yes, e.g. string theory, winning a Fields medal, becoming a billionaire.
These are better things to do for them personally, but not necessarily
for society.
-------------------------------

The problem is similar to the "coverage" of Creationism in the popular
media. If you scan through the FM dial on your car radio, chances
are excellent you'll come across a Creationist lecturer "demolishing"
the "pretenses" of Darwinism, telling you that "everybody" in the
scientific community knows that evolutionary theory doesn't hold
water (maybe even invoking the eighth-grade schema of the scientific
method that's been used here recently to "debunk" the categories
of psychiatric diagnosis, by pointing out that there's no possibility
of experimental confirmation of an evolutionary explanation for
the existence of life on earth).

The "silent majority" of professional biologists don't have an incentive
to invest the time and energy just to "set the record straight."
In fact, they might even be putting their careers as well as their
leisure time at risk by doing so.

Utilitarian said...

James,

Your point was clear enough, but old news and not dispositive. Varied incentives of funding, status, career, etc might not motivate people to expend the energy to think about and debunk a worthless area, or conversely to contribute to an important one. When I have already adjusted my understanding of scientific opinion for a silence, you can't make the same evidence count double by repeating a known possible explanation for silence. That's why I described my interest in acquiring new evidence.

jfehlinger said...

"Utilitarian" wrote:

> Varied incentives. . . might not motivate people to expend
> the energy to. . . contribute to an important [area]. . .
>
> I have already adjusted my understanding of scientific opinion
> for [the] silence [in mainstream scientific circles surrounding,
> presumably, MNT and/or AGI].

And come to a conclusion the opposite of mine, it would seem. Well, your conclusion
**is** the one popular among folks who contribute to on-line discussions
of these things. There are very, very few contributions from
people who (1) bother to think about these things at all and
(2) are not, or have ceased to be, "enthusiasts of some kind or another".

> Your point was. . . not dispositive.

So few are, in discussions of this kind. ;->

Well, YMMV, as they say.

Or, as Sir Thomas More says in _A Man For All Seasons_,
"The world must construe according to its wits."

And, as Elrond says to Aragorn, "The years will bring
what they will."

Utilitarian said...

> I have already adjusted my understanding of scientific opinion
> for [the] silence [in mainstream scientific circles surrounding,
> presumably, MNT and/or AGI].

"And come to a conclusion the opposite of mine, it would seem."
We'd have to break down various issues. For the feasibility of pursuing nanotechnology research along more Drexler/CRN lines I take the mix of silence and a smattering of criticism as being a fairly strong negative signal about the usefulness of Drexlerian ideas as a design path, although the funding shenanigans related to the NNI probably had some role. (It's also hard to avoid drawing the parallel between Smalley's conclusion that complex molecular machines were beyond human design ability and his contemporaneous adoption of Christian Intelligent Design Creationism, concluding that the molecular machines of living organisms were too complex for abiogenesis.)

For AI feasibility, what I can glean of the view within the field indicates that near-term development is very unlikely, but hardware improvements, accumulating software techniques, the allocation of more human capital to the technology industry, improving neuroscience, the likelihood of biological intelligence enhancement, and increasing economic incentives for marginal AI improvements within fields such as finance, biometrics, and robotics make it seem like we should assign higher probabilities over time.

At the AI@50 conference 41% of attendees indicated that AI would never fully simulate human intelligence, 41% that it would but not for at least 50 years, and 18% that it would in less than 50 years. Many of those saying that AI will never be able to simulate every function probably have consciousness in mind, which is of little interest for my purposes. Nevertheless data like this push me in the direction of a probability distribution for AI development weighted heavily towards the further future. I don't outright adopt the central tendency of this opinion distribution, however, so as to take into account other factors, like wild card biotech enhancements to intelligence (which I think are generally not considered at all by scientists estimating progress in their fields for the 21st century).

jfehlinger said...

"Utilitarian" wrote:

> It's also hard to avoid drawing the parallel between
> Smalley's conclusion that complex molecular machines were
> beyond human design ability and his contemporaneous adoption
> of Christian Intelligent Design Creationism, concluding that
> the molecular machines of living organisms were too complex
> for abiogenesis.

Oh dear. I didn't know about **that**.

It is true that there's been frustratingly little progress
in clarifying the pathways of abiogenesis since the Miller-Urey
experiment that was pretty much all the school biology textbooks
had to say about it back in my day.

But I think retreating into Intelligent Design was a bit of an
overreaction on Smalley's part.

> For AI feasibility, what I can glean of the view within the
> field indicates that near-term development is very unlikely,
> but. . . we should assign higher probabilities over time.

OK, sure. Artificial-**anything** feasibility depends on what
kinds of artifacts we'll be capable of making. For intelligence
(understood in some kind of biological-analogical sense; I don't
really know what the word means otherwise)
we'll need a physical substrate that fulfills the kinds of
morphological and functional constraints that neuroscience
is beginning to suggest. Whether that physical substrate will
function anything like contemporary digital computers do is
an open question at this point.

> I. . . take into account other factors,
> like wild card biotech enhancements to intelligence (which I
> think are generally not considered at all by scientists estimating
> progress in their fields for the 21st century).

Oh, yeah, sure, there'll be wildcards.

All this is uncontroversial, in my view.

It's the other -- baggage (not all or even primarily content-related)
of the >Hist community that I find more disturbing.

Utilitarian said...

"It's the other -- baggage (not all or even primarily content-related)
of the >Hist community that I find more disturbing."
Could you allocate your >Hist distaste among the following in relation to AI?

1. GOFAI/AI based on more formal algorithms. (I'm not as convinced as you appear to be that this area, defined broadly, won't produce results. I would say that improvements in pattern recognition and statistical algorithms (in search, translation, biometrics) have been quite significant, even though the past failures of GOFAI should substantially lower our estimates of its success.)
2. Grandiose claims of personal programming or problem-solving ability. (These are to be discounted.)
3. Cultish psychological/sociological characteristics. (We've discussed this.)
4. Claims of strong ethical implications flowing from limited influence over AI development. (This, less so.)
5. Factors X, Y, Z...

AnneC said...

Huh, that's the BBC thing they interviewed me for back in May -- I'm still not sure why they wanted to talk to me of all people, but I sort of saw the whole project as akin to those "gee whiz, what if this happened?" speculative science shows I loved to watch as a youngster.

Those shows captured my imagination. They did not turn me into a True Believer(TM) or convince me of the inevitability of any outcome(s) in particular. In fact, I find that one of the main values of such media is found in the realm of cultural anthropology -- it is always enlightening and entertaining to look back on all the neat (or frightening) stuff that never actually ended up happening according to the speculations presented.

This is not to say that superlative critique is not needed -- of course it is, and people do need to be educated as to how they can avoid being seduced by wishful thinking and the "I don't need to think for myself anymore!" laziness that can come about as a result of discovering persons they perceive as Superlatively Smart. I guess I just see this kind of media piece (the BBC thing) as a "future cultural artifact" moreso than anything else. I liked having the opportunity to say some words about longevity research and about how morphological freedom should result in a proliferation (rather than a contraction) of diversity, but mainly I saw it as a sort of "fun" thing. But of course it's plenty OK to have fun with something and offer needed critiques of it at the same time.

jfehlinger said...

"Utilitarian" wrote:

> Could you allocate your >Hist distaste among the following
> in relation to AI?

All right, I'll make a stab at this. All these points are,
however, as Dale would say, "inter-implicated", as I've
come to realize.

> 1. GOFAI/AI based on more formal algorithms.

Call it 10%.

> I'm not as convinced as you appear to be that this area,
> defined broadly, won't produce results. I would say that
> improvements in pattern recognition and statistical algorithms
> (in search, translation, biometrics) have been quite significant. . .

So that maybe a build-up of the tools of "weak AI" will
coalesce into a capability for "strong AI". I'm not sanguine.

> . . .even though the past failures of GOFAI should substantially
> lower our estimates of its success.)

Indeed.

There is another view of the whole question of intelligence which is,
rather oddly, simply not bruited about in >Hist circles.
There are plausible reasons for this. One is that it goes against
both the philosophical (Aristotelian, or crude Ayn Randian)
and political (what George Lakoff calls politics based on
"strict-father" morality) prejudices of the >Hist community.
Another is that it goes against the personal prejudices of some
of the most vocal of the >Hists (e.g., in that it simply wouldn't
do if we're going to **guarantee** "Friendliness").

I'm thinking of intelligence as a "selectional" rather than an
"instructional" process.

As evolutionary epistemologist Henry Plotkin puts it:

"[W]hy should the brain be seen as a Darwinian
kind of machine rather than as a Lamarckian
machine?... Forced to take sides,... there
are two... reasons for choosing the selectionist
camp. One is the problem of creativity...
Intelligence... involves... the production of
novel solutions to the problems posed by
change -- solutions that are not directly
given in the experienced world... Such
creativity cannot occur if change is slavishly
tracked by instructionalist devices. So
what we see here is that while selection
can mimic instruction, the reverse is never
true... Instructional intelligence comprises
only what has been actually experienced...
Indeed, according to D. T. Campbell, the father
of modern evolutionary epistemology, selectional
processes are required for the acquisition of
any truly new knowledge about the world:
'In going beyond what is already known, one
cannot but go blindly. If one goes wisely,
this indicates already achieved wisdom of
some general sort.' Instruction is never
blind. Selection always has an element...
of blindness in it. At the heart of all
creative intelligence is a selectional
process, no matter how many instructional
processes are built on top of it.

The [other] reason for choosing selection
over instruction is one of parsimony and
simplicity. If the primary heuristic
[i.e., phylogenetic evolution]
works by selectional processes, which it
most certainly does,... and if that other
embodiment of the secondary heuristic
that deals with our uncertain chemical
futures, namely the immune system, works
by selectional processes, which is now
universally agreed, then why should one be
so perverse as to back a different horse
when it comes to intelligence?

A nested hierarchy of selectional processes is
a simple and elegant conception of the nature
of knowledge. There will have to be good
empirical reasons for abandoning it."

-- _Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge_,
Chapter 5, "The Evolution of Intelligence",
p. 171

Or Gerald M. Edelman:

"Clearly, if the brain evolved in such a fashion, and
this evolution provided the biological basis for the eventual
discovery and refinement of logical systems in human cultures,
then we may conclude that, in the generative sense, selection is
more powerful than logic. It is selection -- natural and somatic
-- that gave rise to language and to metaphor, and it is
selection, not logic, that underlies pattern recognition and
thinking in metaphorical terms. Thought is thus ultimately based
on our bodily interactions and structure, and its powers are
therefore limited in some degree. Our capacity for pattern
recognition may nevertheless exceed the power to prove
propositions by logical means... This realization does not, of
course, imply that selection can take the place of logic, nor
does it deny the enormous power of logical operations. In the
realm of either organisms or of the synthetic artifacts that we
may someday build, we conjecture that there are only two
fundamental kinds -- Turing machines and selectional systems.
Inasmuch as the latter preceded the emergence of the former in
evolution, we conclude that selection is biologically the more
fundamental process. In any case, the interesting conjecture is
that there appear to be only two deeply fundamental ways of
patterning thought: selectionism and logic. It would be a
momentous occasion in the history of philosophy if a third way
were found or demonstrated"

-- _A Universe of Consciousness_, p. 214

Or Jean-Pierre Changeux:

"If the hypotheses put forward [in this book] are correct,
the formation of. . . representations, although using
different elements and different levels of organization, obeys
a common rule, inspired by Darwin's original hypothesis. A
process of selective stabilization takes over from diversification
by variation. The mechanisms associated with evolution of the
genome[,]... [c]hromosomal reorganization, duplication of genes,
recombinations and mutations, all create genetic diversity, but
only a few of the multiple combinations that appear in each
generation are maintained in natural populations. During
postnatal epigenesis, the "transient redundancy" of cells
and connections and the way in which they grow produce a
diversity not restricted to one dimension like the genome,
but existing in the three dimensions of space. Here again,
only a few of the geometric configurations that appear during
development are stabilized in the adult... Does such a
model apply for the more "creative" aspects of our thought
processes? Is it also valid for the acquisition of knowledge?

...

It is... worth noting that in the history of ideas "directive"
hypotheses have most often preceded selective hypotheses.
When Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck tried to found his theory of
"descendance" on a plausible biological mechanism, he proposed
the "heredity of acquired characteristics", a tenet that
advances in genetics would eventually destroy. One had to
wait almost half a century before the idea of selection was
proposed by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace and validated
in principle, if not in all the details of its application.
In the same way the first theories about the production of
antibodies were originally based on directive models before
selective mechanisms replaced them. It could conceivably be
the same for theories of learning."

-- _Neuronal Man_, Chapter 9, "The Brain -- Representation of the
World"

Not **all** >Hists are unsympathetic to these ideas. I've
mentioned Eugen Leitl. Another example is John Smart:

http://www.accelerationwatch.com/specu.html
"Emergent AI: Stable, Moral, and Interdependent vs.
Unpredictable, Post-Moral, or Isolationist? . . .

Are complex systems naturally convergent,
self-stabilizing and symbiotic as a function of
their computational depth? Is the self-organizing
emergence of 'friendliness' or 'robustness to
catastrophe' as inevitable as 'intelligence,'
when considered on a universal scale?"

(Smart clearly thinks the answer is "yes").
He goes on to comment:

"I tend to disagree with many assumptions of Yudkowsky['s
'Friendly AI',] but his is a good example of top-down models which
express a 'conditional confidence' in future friendliness.
I share his conclusion but without invoking a 'consciousness
centralizing' world view, which assumes that human-imposed
conditions will continue to play a central role in the
self-balancing, integrative, and information-protecting
processes that are emerging within complex adaptive
technological systems. While it is true that consciousness
and human rationality play central roles in the self-organizing
of the collective human complex adaptive system
(human civilization, species consciousness), and that
these processes often control the perceptions and models
we build of the universe (ie, the quality of our individual
and collective simulations) such systems do not appear
to control the evolutionary development of the universe
itself, and are thus peripheral to the self-organization
of all other substrates, be they molecular, genetic,
neural, or most importantly in this case, technologic.

It is deceptively easy to assume that because humans
are catalysts in the production of technology to increase
our local understanding of the universe, that we ultimately
'control' that technology, and that it develops at a
rate and in a manner dependent on our conscious understanding
of it. Such may approximate the actual case in the initial
stages, but all complex adaptive systems rapidly develop
local centers of control, and technology is proving to be
millions of times better at such 'environmental learning'
than the biology that it is co-evolving with. It can be
demonstrated that all evolutionary developmental substrates
take care of these issues on their own, from within.
Technological evolutionary development is rapidly engaged
in the process of encoding, learning, and self-organizing
environmental simulations in its own contingent fashion,
and with a degree of M[atter]E[nergy]S[pace]T[ime -- a most
unfortunate Scientological choice of terminology]
compression at least ten million times faster than human
memetic evolutionary development. Thus humans are both
partially-cognizant spectators and willing catalysts in
this process. This appears to be the hidden story of
emergent A.I.."

> ["Utilitarian" continued:]
>
> 2. Grandiose claims of personal programming or problem-solving
> ability. (These are to be discounted.)
>
> 3. Cultish psychological/sociological characteristics. (We've
> discussed this.)

These are inseparable for me, and together I'd count them at 70%.

A Web commentator wrote:

http://www.blog.speculist.com/archives/2006_07.html
--------------------------------------------------
Hired Help

Michael Anissimov writes that achieving Friendly AI is a
serious proposition -- so serious, in fact, that we might
ought to go ahead and pay somebody to do it.

It's really not that radical a proposition. You want a
radical proposition? How about this, written by the
"someone" whom Michael has in mind to hire to solve the
friendly AI problem (as quoted elsewhere on Accelerating Future):

"There is no evil I have to accept because 'there’s nothing
I can do about it'. There is no abused child, no oppressed peasant,
no starving beggar, no crack-addicted infant, no cancer patient,
literally no one that I cannot look squarely in the eye.
I’m working to save everybody, heal the planet, solve all the
problems of the world."

If it was anybody else saying it, it would sound kind of,
well, crazy.
--------------------------------------------------

Yeah, kind of. (Anybody **else**?!) :-0

Some people have very little defense against this kind of
"guru whammy", and other folks are all too willing to
exploit it for their own ends.

I found a rather provocative characterization of another
putatively historical figure on the Web recently:

"Jesus Christ, narcissist"
by Sam Vaknin
http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/narcissisticabuse/message/5148

> ["Utilitarian" continued:]
>
> 4. Claims of strong ethical implications flowing from limited influence
> over AI development.

You mean that if we can't control the outcome of the development
of >H intelligence (in the form of AI), then maybe it's unethical
to do it at all?

I dunno, it sometimes seems to me that **some** >Hists are eager to
instantiate Hugo de Garis' "artilect war" before there's even as
good a reason as de Garis seems to think there would have to be before it
would happen. How ethical is that?

I'm suspicious of claims of "superior" ethicality. It's part of
the guru-whammy, for one thing. It's a rhetorical ploy to cut off
criticism.

Also, I think that ethical discussions among >Hists, like discussions
of intelligence, tend to over-rely on formal deontological systems.

I prefer Bertrand Russell's characterization:

WOODROW WYATT: Well now, if you don't believe in religion,
and you don't; and if you don't, on the whole,
think much of the assorted rules thrown up by
taboo morality, do you believe in any system of ethics?

BERTRAND RUSSELL: Yes, but it's very difficult to separate
ethics altogether from politics. Ethics, it seems
to me, arises in this way: a man is inclined to do
something which benefits him and harms his neighbor.
Well, if it harms a good many of his neighbors, they
will combine together and say, "Look, we don't like
this sort of thing; we will see to it that it
**doesn't** benefit the man." And that leads
to the criminal law. Which is perfectly rational:
it's a method of harmonizing the general and private
interest.

WYATT: But now, isn't it, though, rather inconvenient
if everybody goes about with his own kind of private
system of ethics, instead of accepting a general one?

RUSSELL: It would be, if that were so, but in fact
they're not so private as all that because, as I was
saying a moment ago, they get embodied in the criminal
law and, apart from the criminal law, in public
approval and disapproval. People don't like to
incur public disapproval, and in that way, the
accepted code of morality becomes a very potent
thing.

-- LP "Bertrand Russell Speaking" (1959)
(Woodrow Wyatt Interviews)

Or Antonio R. Damasio:

"The essence of ethical behavior does not begin with
humans. Evidence from birds (such as ravens)
and mammals (such as vampire bats, wolves, baboons,
and chimpanzees) indicates that other species
can behave in what appears, to our sophisticated
eyes, as an ethical manner. They exhibit sympathy,
attachments, embarrassment, dominant pride,
and humble submission. They can censure and
recompense certain actions of others. Vampire
bats, for example, can detect cheaters among
the food gatherers in their group and punish
them accordingly. Ravens can do likewise. Such
examples are especially convincing among primates,
and are by no means confined to our nearest
cousins, the big apes. Rhesus monkeys can
behave in a seemingly altruistic manner toward
other monkeys. In an intriguing experiment
conducted by Robert Miller and discussed by
Marc Hauser, monkeys abstained from pulling a
chain that would deliver food to them if pulling
the chain also caused another monkey to receive
an electric shock. Some monkeys would not
eat for hours, even days. Suggestively, the
animals most likely to behave in an altruistic
manner were those that knew the potential target
of the shock. Here was compassion working better
with those who are familiar than with strangers.
The animals that previously had been shocked
also were more likely to behave altruistically.
Nonhumans can certainly cooperate or fail to do
so, within their group. This may displease
those who believe just behavior is an exclusively
human trait. As if it were not enough to be
told by Copernicus that we are not in the center
of the universe, by Charles Darwin that we have
humble origins, and by Sigmund Freud that we
are not full masters of our behavior, we have
to concede that even in the realm of ethics there
are forerunners and descent."

-- _Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain_,
Chapter 4, "Ever Since Feelings" (pp. 160 - 161)

OK, so call this 10%

> ["Utilitarian" continued]
>
> 5. Factors X, Y, Z...

Yeah, well there's the politics. Disappointingly right-wing.

As Nietzsche realized, once you've rejected 100%
pure foundationalist epistemology and ethics
(derived from God, or the universal rules of Logic
as discovered by Aristotle), then all **guarantees** are
off. It **doesn't** mean that the world instantly dissolves
into total chaos, but it **does** mean that things can
drift, over decades, centuries, or millennia (to say
nothing of geological ages) enough to make a lot
of people radically motion-sick. And it does indeed
mean that a powerful technology for the control of human
behavior, if it were ever invented, could allow a few
people to impose their will on the majority.
"For into the midst of all these policies comes the Ring
of Power, the foundation of Barad-dur, and the hope of Sauron.
'Concerning this thing, my lords, you now all know enough for the
understanding of our plight, and of Sauron's. If he regains it, your valour
is vain, and his victory will be swift and complete: so complete that none
can foresee the end of it while this world lasts.'" C. S. Lewis
also points out this unpleasant truth in _The Abolition of Man_
(his defense of foundationalist ethics; unfortunately, IMO, just
because something admits of unpleasant consequences,
that in itself is no ground for rejecting it as untrue).

And apropos the transhumanists, as Dale once pointed out,
"Lately, I have begun to suspect that at the temperamental
core of the strange enthusiasm of many technophiles for
so-called 'anarcho-capitalist' dreams of re-inventing the
social order, is not finally so much a craving for liberty
but for a fantasy, quite to the contrary, of TOTAL EXHAUSTIVE
CONTROL. This helps account for the fact that negative
libertarian technophiles seem less interested in discussing
the proximate problems of nanoscale manufacturing and the
modest benefits they will likely confer, but prefer to barrel
ahead to paeans to the 'total control over matter.'
They salivate over the title of the book From Chance to Choice
(in fact, a fine and nuanced bioethical accounting of
benefits and quandaries of genetic medicine), as if
biotechnology is about to eliminate chance from our live
and substitute the full determination of morphology --
when it is much more likely that genetic interventions
will expand the chances we take along with the
choices we make. Behind all their talk of efficiency
and non-violence there lurks this weird micromanagerial
fantasy of sitting down and actually contracting explicitly
the terms of every public interaction in the hopes of
controlling it, getting it right, dictating the details.
As if the public life of freedom can be compassed
in a prenuptual agreement. . .

But with true freedom one has to accept an ineradicable
vulnerability and a real measure of uncertainty. We live
in societies with peers, boys. Give up the dreams of total
invulnerability, total control, total specification.
Take a chance, live a little. Fairness is actually
possible. . ."

The "weird micro-managerial fantasy" isn't so weird after
all, it's a temperamental hankering after old (lost, for
good, but a lot of smart people aren't ready to acknowledge
it) religious certainties.

"[T]hat we are not inviolate selves but a pandemonium
or parliament of contesting inner voices, that we are
constructed not given from eternity, that even universal
mathematics might be as gapped and fissured as any
poststructuralist text..., once deeply shocking, has
become familiar news."

-- Damien Broderick, _Transrealist Fiction_, p. 56

"Please observe that the whole dilemma revolves pragmatically
about the notion of the world's possibilities. Intellectually,
rationalism invokes its absolute principle of unity as a
ground of possibility for the many facts. Emotionally, it
sees it as a container and limiter of possibilities, a
guarantee that the upshot shall be good, Taken in this way,
the absolute makes all good things certain, and all bad
things impossible (in the eternal, namely), and may be
said to transmute the entire category of possibility into
categories more secure. One sees at this point that
the great religious difference lies between the men who
insist that the world **must and shall be**, and those who
are contented with believing that the world **may be**, saved.
The whole clash of rationalistic and empiricist religion
is thus over the validity of possibility. . .

In particular **this** query has always come home to me:
May not the claims of tender-mindedness go too far?
May not the notion of a world already saved in toto
anyhow, be too saccharine to stand? May not religious
optimism be too idyllic? Must **all** be saved? Is **no**
price to be paid in the work of salvation? Is the last
word sweet? Is all 'yes, yes' in the universe? Doesn't
the fact of 'no' stand at the very core of life?
Doesn't the very 'seriousness' that we attribute to life
mean that ineluctable noes and losses form a part of it,
that there are genuine sacrifices somewhere, and that
something permanently drastic and bitter always
remains at the bottom of its cup?

I can not speak officially as a pragmatist here;
all I can say is that my own pragmatism offers no
objection to my taking sides with this more moralistic
view, and giving up the claim of total reconciliation.
The possibility of this is involved in the pragmatistic
willingness to treat pluralism as a serious hypothesis.
In the end it is our faith and not our logic that
decides such questions, and I deny the right of any
pretended logic to veto my own faith. I find myself
willing to take the universe to be really dangerous
and adventurous, without therefore backing out and
crying 'no play.' I am willing to think that the
prodigal-son attitude, open to us as it is in many
vicissitudes, is not the right and final attitude
towards the whole of life. I am willing that there
should be real losses and real losers, and no total
preservation of all that is. I can believe in the
ideal as an ultimate, not as an origin, and as an
extract, not the whole. When the cup is poured off,
the dregs are left behind forever, but the possibility
of what is poured off is sweet enough to accept.

-- William James, _Pragmatism_,
Lecture 8, "Pragmatism and Religion"

So call that another 10%

jfehlinger said...

Anne Corwin wrote:

> I guess I just see this kind of media piece (the BBC thing)
> as a "future cultural artifact" moreso than anything else.

Yes, although fiction seems to hold its "cultural artifactual"
value longer than non-fiction.

From my childhood, _The Outer Limits_ is still eminently watchable
That was more psychological/Gothic horror than SF, but "The Sixth
Finger" is right-on-the-money transhumanistically (not surprising, since
it was a rip-off of Shaw's _Back to Methuselah_ -- not that I hold
that against it). David McCallum's portrayal of the >H (**not** >Hist ;-> )
Gwyllm Griffiths is a fantastic piece of acting. The narcissism (so irrational
that it's almost an embarrassing plot hole, for somebody who's supposed to be so smart,
but we can forgive it in the transcendental light of the finale) is
there, too -- "Life should go forward, see, not backward. But how can
a man go forward here? -- it's the most backward place in the world!"
"You'll go forward, Gwyllm; you're smarter than the others." "Well I'm
too smart to go on eating coal dust for the rest of my life. All I
need is a chance to use my brain, and I'd show 'em. I'd be
drivin' 'round in a sports car with a big gold ring on my finger."

_Star Trek_ is still eminently watchable, with glosses on >Hist themes
(in "Where No Man Has Gone Before", "Errand of Mercy", "What Are
Little Girls Made Of?" and "The Return of the Archons", among
other episodes) deserving of more credit than the contemporary
>Hists have ever given them.

And these were both mainstream network (ABC and NBC, respectively)
TV shows, for cryin' out loud!

Even a cartoon like _The Jetsons_ retains its entertainment value
(all the more so in that flying cars that fold up into briefcases
and apartment buildings on stalks that can be elevated above
the rainclouds at the touch of a button have yet to materialize).

There was a non-fiction show that came on Sunday nights (IIRC)
called "The 21st Century" that I used to watch religiously.
Narrated by Walter Cronkite, of all people. The only thing I
remember about that show now is the opening title-sequence that
showed a counter running from the current year (1967, or whatever it was)
up through the 70's, 80's, and 90's, and finally rolling up
2000 and 2001, where it stopped. (My God, all those years have
been lived through, now.)
http://www.retrofuture.com/spaceage.html

Syd Mead's artwork (which I remember well from 1960's car magazines
like _Motor Trend_) is still **fabulous**.
http://www.scrubbles.net/sydmead.html

An exception I'll grant to the ephemerality of non-fiction is
Arthur C. Clarke's _Profiles of the Future_, which is still
eminently readable even though it's starting to be disappointingly
off-target.

jfehlinger said...

"Utilitarian" wrote:

> GOFAI/AI based on more formal algorithms. (I'm not as convinced as
> you appear to be that this area, defined broadly, won't produce
> results. I would say that improvements in pattern recognition
> and statistical algorithms (in search, translation, biometrics)
> have been quite significant. . .

Maybe even more significant than we think!

An entertaining thread on /. from a couple of years ago:

> [C]ompany GTX Global. . . claim[s] they've developed the
> first 'true' AI.

http://developers.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/12/03/065211

Hey, wasn't "GTX" the name of the media/telecommunications
conglomerate in James Tiptree, Jr.'s story "The Girl Who
Was Plugged In"? (Forerunner of William Gibson's Sense/Net
and Tally Isham, the girl with the Zeiss-Ikon eyes.)

From the thread:

> Interesting to see how the guy went from selling satellite TV
> equipment to having the best AI ever. This is a truly amazing
> trajectory. . .