Valid Transhumanist Criticism?

Lately, I’ve been seeing something interesting — valid criticism of the transhumanist project. The concern is decently articulated by the people who are being paid to attack me and other transhumanists, over at The New Atlantis Futurisms blog, funded by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, “dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy”. To quote Charles T. Rubin’s “What is the Good of Transhumanism?”:

While some will use enforcement costs and lack of complete success at enforcing restraint as an argument for removing it altogether, that is an argument that can be judged on its particular merits — even when the risks of enforcement failures are extremely great. The fact that nuclear non-proliferation efforts have not been entirely successful has not yet created a powerful constituency for putting plans for nuclear weapons on the Web, and allowing free sale of the necessary materials. In the event, transhumanists, like “Bioluddites,” want to make distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate uses of “œapplied reason,” even if as we will see they …

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Last Chance to Contribute to 2010 Singularity Research Challenge!

Cross-posted from SIAI blog:

Thanks to generous contributions by our donors, we are only $11,840 away from fulfilling our $100,000 goal for the 2010 Singularity Research Challenge. For every dollar you contribute to SIAI, another dollar is contributed by our matching donors, who have pledged to match all contributions made before February 28th up to $100,000. That means that this Sunday is your final chance to donate for maximum impact.

Funds from the challenge campaign will be used to support all SIAI activities: our core staff, the Singularity Summit, the Visiting Fellows program, and more. Donors can earmark their funds for specific grant proposals, many of which are targeted towards academic paper-writing, or just contribute to our general fund. The grants system makes it easier to bring new researchers into the fold on a part-time basis, widening the pool of thinkers producing quality work on Artificial Intelligence risks and other topics relevant to SIAI’s interests. It also provides transparency so our donor community can directly evaluate …

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New Book Examines the Flawed Human Body

From the Genetic Archaeology blog:

Humanity’s physical design flaws have long been apparent – we have a blind spot in our vision, for instance, and insufficient room for wisdom teeth – but do the imperfections extend to the genetic level?

In his new book, Inside the Human Genome, John Avise examines why – from the perspectives of biochemistry and molecular genetics – flaws exist in the biological world. He explores the many deficiencies of human DNA while recapping recent findings about the human genome.

Distinguished Professor of ecology & evolutionary biology at UC Irvine, Avise also makes the case that overwhelming scientific evidence of genomic defects provides a compelling counterargument to intelligent design.

Here, Avise discusses human imperfection, the importance of understanding our flaws, and why he believes theologians should embrace evolutionary science.

Our brains and bodies are both full of flaws. According to the pre-transhumanist worldview, the plan is just to sit around for the rest of eternity with these flaws, even as we colonize the Galaxy. According to the transhumanist worldview, the plan is to …

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Diamond Trees (Tropostats): A Molecular Manufacturing Based System for Compositional Atmospheric Homeostasis

Robert Freitas has a new idea for a product that could be built using molecular manufacturing — diamond trees designed to sequester carbon dioxide. The concept is fleshed out in technical detail at a paper now available at the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing website. Let’s bring up that abstract!

The future technology of molecular manufacturing will enable long-term sequestration of atmospheric carbon in solid diamond products, along with sequestration of lesser masses of numerous air pollutants, yielding pristine air worldwide ~30 years after implementation. A global population of 143 x 109 20-kg “diamond trees” or tropostats, generating 28.6 TW of thermally non-polluting solar power and covering ~0.1% of the planetary surface, can create and actively maintain compositional atmospheric homeostasis as a key step toward achieving comprehensive human control of Earth’s climate.

On the topic of MNT, I also wonder what it will take for the skeptics to become convinced that the technology is plausible. Positional atomic placement has already been demonstrated, including at room temperature. Will complex rotating 3D nanosystems convince them? I doubt those are far off.

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Assorted Links for 2/20/2010

Scientific research indicates human athletic performance has peaked Corporations, agencies infiltrated by botnet Dolphin cognitive abilities raise ethical questions, says Emory neuroscientist Synchronized flying robots could paint pictures in the sky (w/ Video) Millimeter-scale, energy-harvesting sensor system developed Nanodiamonds Produce ‘Game Changing Event’ for MRI Imaging Sensitivity The Onion: U.S. Economy Grinds To Halt As Nation Realizes Money Just A Symbolic, Mutually Shared Illusion CNN: Bill Gates and the “Nuclear Renaissance” Telegraph: Christians to debate impact of high-profile atheist scientists Michael Graham Richard: Science is the Only News

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Artificial Flight Article on BoingBoing

Cory Doctorow linked the Aaron Diaz article yesterday, which is good for exposure. Doctorow said:

Dresden Codak’s “Artificial Flight and Other Myths (a reasoned examination of A.F. by top birds)” is a superb, spot-on critique of artificial intelligence skeptics (like, ahem, me), comparing the our arguments against the emergence of “real AI” to the arguments a bird might make against “real” artificial flight. I love being made to re-examine my own convictions while laughing my ass off.

The problem with the online hipster culture that Doctorow embodies is that its attention span is so unbelievably short that these sorts of short humorous pieces are the only way to get them to pay attention, ever. The idea of reading papers is absolutely foreign to this huge subculture, which powers Digg, Reddit, and practically every other social news site on the Internet. They are the mainstream media (MSM) of the Internet.

You know the motto of Improbable Research, “research that makes people laugh and then think”? I always think of this motto when I look at the …

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Kevin Warwick: Terminator Scenario “Realistic”, Singularity Likely in “Not Too Distant Future”

Kevin Warwick, though obviously is a Singularitarian, portrays the same adversarial stance against AI as other human chauvinists, such as James Hughes. I paraphrase it as: “If there’s an entity around that’s smarter and more powerful than me, then I’m going to equate that with me being subservient and freak the fuck out!”

My suggestion: calm down. Let’s do what we can to develop AIs that are nice people. There is no way we are going to outrace AI in the long run, so have to pursue this path, whether we like it or not. We are not going to eliminate all computers in the world, or keep power in the hands of humans forever. The question is not, “will the most powerful and capable entities in the world eventually be AIs?” (the answer is yes), the question is, “what the heck can we do to ensure our continued survival and prosperity once these entities inevitably become more capable than us?”

Sooner or later, positive experiences with AI programs or robots will cause …

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Aaron Diaz: “Artificial Flight and Other Myths (a reasoned examination of A.F. by top birds)”

Aaron Diaz, author of the webcomic Dresden Codak (one of the most scientifically and philosophically literate webcomics on the internet) and “Enough is Enough: a Thinking Ape’s Critique of Trans-Simianism”, a hilarious defense of transhumanism, has now written “Artificial Flight and Other Myths (a reasoned examination of A.F. by top birds)”, which pokes fun at those who think that Artificial Intelligence will require replicating every aspect of the human brain. Here is the opening:

Artificial Flight and Other Myths a reasoned examination of A.F. by top birds

Over the past sixty years, our most impressive developments have undoubtedly been within the industry of automation, and many of our fellow birds believe the next inevitable step will involve significant advancements in the field of Artificial Flight. While residing currently in the realm of science fiction, true powered, artificial flying mechanisms may be a reality within fifty years. Or so the futurists would have us believe. Despite the current media buzz surrounding the prospect of A.F., a critical examination of even the most basic facts can …

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Revisiting ‘Beyond Anthropomorphism’

My understanding of the concept of anthropomorphism really “clicked” when I first read “Beyond anthropomorphism”, part of Creating Friendly AI, an early (2000) Singularity Institute document. I strongly recommend it for those who are interested in better understanding the concept of non-anthropomorphic artificial intelligence. Here is the opening:

If you punch a human in the nose, he or she will punch back. If the human doesn’t punch back, it’s an admirable act of self-restraint, something worthy of note.

Imagine, for a moment, that you walk up and punch an AI in the nose. Does the AI punch back? Perhaps and perhaps not, but punching back will not be instinctive. A sufficiently young AI might stand there and think: “Hm. Someone’s fist just bumped into my nose.” In a punched human, blood races, adrenaline pumps, the hands form fists, the stance changes, all without conscious attention. For a young AI, focus of attention shifts in response to an unexpected negative event – and that’s all.

As the AI thinks about the fist that bumped into vis nose, …

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The Power of Self-Replication

How can a small group of people have a big impact on the world? Develop a machine or service that is self-replicating or self-amplifying.

In a mundane way, artifacts such as iPhones and even shovels engage in human-catalyzed self-replication. People see them, then want them, then offer their money for them (or build them themselves, in a few cases), which provides the economic juice necessary to increase production and maintain the infrastructure necessary for that self-replication, like the Apple Store.

Self-replication can be relatively easy as long as the substrate is designed to contain components not much less complex than the finished product. For instance, the self-replicating robot built at Cornell self-replicates not from scratch, but rather from a set of pre-engineered blocks not much simpler than the robot itself. Using a hierarchy of such self-replicators, where each step is relatively simple but results in the creation of more complex components used in the next stage of self-replication, could provide a bootstrappable pathway to self-replicating infrastructures. Such a scheme also makes recycling easier — if a large …

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