You may recognize me as the author-slash-editor of Fight Aging!, a long-running news and advocacy site focused on progress towards reversal of aging and engineering longer human lives. There is more to progress in the general sense than just the underlying science, however, and with that in mind I recently announced the launch of Open Cures, a volunteer initiative with the aim of greatly speeding up the development of clinical applications of longevity science.
Monthly Archive: May 2011
Over the last couple of years, in various interviews and discussions, I’ve been dropping the notion that Voluntary Collaborationism is the model for productive and creative activity and exchange for the future. I like to say that this is the emergent property of a networked culture. I certainly hope so.
The open source approach to software development has proved extremely productive for a large number of software projects spanning numerous domains – the Linux operating system (which powers 95% of webservers hosting the Internet) is perhaps the best-known example. Since the creation of powerful Artificial General Intelligence is a large task that doesn’t fit neatly into the current funding priorities of corporations or government research funding agencies, pursuing AGI via the open-source methodology seems a natural option.
Emergent properties are almost magical properties that manifest out of a bunch of simpler units working together. When functioning as a whole, these units create a complexity that’s much more than what you’d expect from the sum of the parts. Life, for example, is an emergent property of a bunch of organic chemicals, proteins, enzymes and DNA molecules working together. Human intelligence is an emergent property of individual nerve cells working together. A network is basically a mathematical construct that tries to provide a basis for understanding how such properties can arise out of collections of simpler objects working together.
Now, 13 years after the publication of The Transparent Society, I was pleased to have the opportunity to pose David a couple questions about the potential future implications of sousveillance. I found his confidence in the feasibility and potential value of sousveillance undiminished – but also detected a note of frustration at the ambiguity (and sometime skepticism or downright hostility) with which today’s general public views Enlightenment ideals like calm reasonable analysis, which Brin views as important for nudging society toward positive uses of sousveillance technology.
The cyborgization process of becoming in which we presently take part has a long history and a very likely and highly plausible future. This will include an array of options for radically enhancing our bodies and minds. However, the cyborgization of our civilization is a multilayered, multidimensional progression that can be parsed in many ways, one of which is the hyper-connected, virtualized enmeshed reality already in progress.
The futurist Ray Kurzweil and I have crossed swords several times in the media in the past on the question of whether humanity will “merge or purge” our increasingly intelligent machines.
This essay presents the two main views on what is likely to happen to humanity as our machines become artilects (godlike, massively intelligent machines trillions of trillions of times above human levels). I have labeled these two views the “merge” view (Kurzweil’s) and the “purge” view (mine) for simplicity. I begin by discussing the merge view.
Humans have generated and entered a new postgenetic era of evolution. We now have new relationships with natural selection and DNA because we impact both to an unprecedented degree. Barring a catastrophe, this new power, fueled by rapid advances in cultural evolution, is only going to increase.
Cultural evolution is a new power player in evolution, exerting an increasing influence on both natural selection and DNA. As the late physicist Erwin Schrodinger said: “Behaviour and physique merge into one…. You cannot have efficient wings without attempting to fly.” That is, culture can feed back on DNA.
In The Rapacious Hardscrapple Frontier, Robin Hanson analyses the evolutionary economics of how civilization spreads throughout the universe. The article is a must-read if you’re interested in the long-term future of humanity, frontier life or evolution. I’d like to elaborate on some points that Hanson couldn’t find space to discuss in his essay.
Wendell Wallach, a lecturer and consultant at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, has emerged as one of the leading voices on technology and ethics. His 2009 book Moral Machines (co-authored with Colin Allen) provides a solid conceptual framework for understanding the ethical issues related to artificial intelligences and robots, and reviews key perspectives on these issues, always with an attitude of constructive criticism. He also designed the first university course anywhere focused on Machine Ethics, which he has taught several times at Yale.