Are Emotions Necessary for General Intelligence?

From where I’m standing philosophically, the answer is “obviously not, our particular emotions are contingent aspects of human intelligence which exist for specific evolutionary reasons”. In trying to find more evidence for this opinion, I found this Wikipedia article on alexithymia:

Alexithymia, literally “without words for emotions” is a term coined by psychotherapist Peter Sifneos in 1973 to describe a state of deficiency in understanding, processing, or describing emotions.

The formal definition is here:

1. difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal 2. difficulty describing feelings to other people 3. constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a paucity of fantasies 4. a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style.

Continuing down the page, it looks like some pop-psychology BS is being deployed to define this category, but could it still be valid? If someone really has “no emotions”, it seems like they’d need to have some genetic disorder that somehow suspended functions in parts of the limbic system without killing them entirely. It seems possible to me that …

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NYT: The Conficker Worm: April Fool’s Joke or Unthinkable Disaster?

Interesting article at the NYT about the Conficker worm:

Given the sophisticated nature of the worm, the question remains: What is the purpose of Conficker, which could possibly become the world’s most powerful parallel computer on April 1? That is when the worm will generate 50,000 domain names and systematically try to communicate with each one. The authors then only need to register one of the domain names in order to take control of the millions of zombie computers that have been created.

One fictional example of a massive cyber-disaster I’ve heard of is Pluto’s Kiss, but I haven’t actually seen the show it’s on, .hack.

Massive Botnet: coming to a computer near you April 1, 2009.

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PGD-IVF Would Lead to Designer Babies

George Dvorsky at Sentient Developments points us to an op-ed at New Scientist titled “Fears over ‘designer’ babies leave children suffering”. The author writes:

Such fears are misplaced: IVF-PGD is little use for creating designer babies. You cannot select for traits the parents don’t have, and the scope for choosing specific traits is very limited. What IVF-PGD is good for is ensuring children do not end up with disastrous genetic disorders.

I, along with dozens of prominent scientists in the field, disagree — IVF-PGD would be useful for creating designer babies. Would would would. To boost this position, the author links another New Scientist article… (one that he probably edited, being biology features editor) which seems to contradict him:

Part of the problem is that only one or two cells are available for screening. Until recently this greatly restricted the tests that could be done. However, new ways of amplifying DNA are making it …

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Slashdot is Dead

Every so often, I run into someone who thinks that Slashdot still matters. Just FYI, Digg overtook Slashdot over three years ago, and for Slashdot, it’s been downhill from there. Look at the current picture on Alexa:

From the perspective of sites like Digg, Slashdot barely exists. It’s so bad that in January, this very website practically surpassed the traffic of Slashdot, at least according to Alexa. And you can’t get much more pathetic than that.

(Update: a commenter points out what’s already been pointed out many times, which is that Alexa isn’t perfect, then tries to defend Slashdot on that basis, which is like a flashback to 2006. But the alternate tracking service he cites, Compete, still demonstrates that Digg is more than 40 times more popular than Slashdot, which proves my point that Slashdot is dead, and has been for a long time.)

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H+ Magazine Website is Online

The people at H+ made a cool website to go along with their magazine. Check it out:

The editor, R.U. Sirius, has promised daily updates. Looking in the articles section, I see a summary of the recent AGI-09 conference by Ben Goertzel, a person whose sheer textual output probably exceeds 100 typical transhumanists combined.

There is a community section:

R.U. Sirius has a blog with one amusing post on Flash magazines. I can identify with all the points he makes.

Love the opening line. The slightly jokey/condescending tone throughout the article indicates something… what could it be? Personality.

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The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Truth About Morality

I just finished Joshua Greene’s paper, “The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Truth About Morality and What To Do About It” and loved it. Best paper I’ve read since Omohondro’s “Basic AI Drives”. If people just read and understood both those papers, then far more would probably drop everything they’re doing and do something about unfriendly AI. I hope that SIAI can build some sort of relationship with Greene, or get him to say a few words on how moral revisionism (in the sense of moving past moral realism) applies to AI morality.

Though the first half of Greene’s essay was the most intellectually serious and useful, the latter half was more amusing and interesting. I want to comment on it, but I don’t want to ruin it by having you reminded by the part I mention for the whole essay, so I’m just going to post the quote he concludes with:

“If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously …

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Study gives more proof that intelligence is largely inherited

From PhysOrg:

They say a picture tells a thousand stories, but can it also tell how smart you are? Actually, say UCLA researchers, it can.

In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience Feb. 18, UCLA neurology professor Paul Thompson and colleagues used a new type of brain-imaging scanner to show that intelligence is strongly influenced by the quality of the brain’s axons, or wiring that sends signals throughout the brain. The faster the signaling, the faster the brain processes information. And since the integrity of the brain’s wiring is influenced by genes, the genes we inherit play a far greater role in intelligence than was previously thought.

Genes appear to influence intelligence by determining how well nerve axons are encased in myelin — the fatty sheath of “insulation” that coats our axons and allows for fast signaling bursts in our brains. The thicker the myelin, the faster the nerve impulses.

Thompson and his colleagues scanned the brains of 23 sets of identical twins and 23 sets of fraternal twins. Since identical twins …

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The Future is Now: Scientists Build Anti-Mosquito Laser

I’ve wanted this to be developed for a long time. From Physorg:

( — In an effort to prevent the spread of malaria, scientists have built a laser that shoots and kills mosquitoes. Malaria, which is caused by a parasite and transmitted by mosquitoes, kills about 1 million people every year.

The anti-mosquito laser was originally introduced by astrophysicist Lowell Wood in the early 1980s, but the idea never took off. More recently, former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold revived the laser idea when Bill Gates asked him to explore new ways of combating malaria.

Now, astrophysicist Jordin Kare from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Wood, Myhrvold, and other experts have developed a handheld laser that can locate individual mosquitoes and kill them one by one. The developers hope that the technology might be used to create a laser barrier around a house or village that could kill or blind the insects. Alternatively, flying drones equipped with anti-mosquito lasers could track the insects with radar and then sweep the sky with the laser.

The researchers …

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Generally Negative Review of Life Extensionists on

Any coverage is good coverage, right? The answer is no. Negative coverage of life extension can spread stereotypes that cause funding sources to become more squeamish about contributing to groups like the Methuselah Foundation.

On, a feature “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now” includes “Amortality” as one of their ideas, saying that, “The defining characteristic of amortality is to live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death.” The journalist also writes, “They’re a highly sexed bunch”, and includes Nicolas Sarkozy, Madonna, and Mark Zuckerburg among their number.

You might read the article and say it’s not too negative, but it is negative. The general feel I got was that life extensionists are irresponsible and deluded about their age. This is the same reaction that we’re used to hearing, but these arguments are even more dangerous because they can appeal to moderates and liberals, unlike the arguments of Leon Kass for instance, which appeal only to religious …

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Will Any Sufficiently Intelligent AI Designer See the Necessity of Friendliness Theory?

As I’m working my way through the Greene dissertation (currently on page 163, thanks to Roko for pointing this out to me originally via his blog), I feel myself getting more optimistic about a certain issue: that is, that any sufficiently intelligent human will figure out that morality doesn’t generate itself automatically in the absence of very sophisticated and specific cognitive hardware. This is wonderful, because it lessens the probability of unFriendly AI, that perennial Singularitarian bugaboo.

In the Greene essay, he points to three things: psychopaths, Phineas Gage, and similar patients with damage to their ventromedial frontal lobes, which are apparently indispensable to generating moral evaluations and feelings. They all display significant intelligence but the inability to have strong feelings about right and wrong, or to distinguish between moral rules and conventional rules. This proves that intelligence is independent from morality. These findings were buttressed with fMRI studies Greene did on criminal psychopaths.

Anyone who philosophizes enough will figure out that morality is in the …

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Technological Singularity/Superintelligence/Friendly AI Concerns

To make everything as open and obvious as possible, I created a small boxes-connected-by-arrows chart to explain my beliefs on what the Singularity is about and what mankind should do about it:

We can call these nodes 1 through 8, reading left-to-right from the top.

What observations can we make right away? Well, it’s interesting how all the ideas at the top are relatively non-mainstream, non-widespread, controversial, and none of them are interdependent. You can have a hard takeoff without superintelligence, for instance, and seed AI without any of the other boxes. You can argue in favor or against any one of these boxes as a profession (if you’re a tenured philosopher), or just as a hobby.

Say we annihilate the box that says seed AI is likely before 2030. That partially ameliorates my concern/worry, but not really, because then I still have to worry about self-bootstrapping BCI-augmented humans and/or uploads.

However, there is one box that does contribute a lot to the concern/worry, and that’s the far right one, …

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