Technology and A.I. in “2001: A Space Odyssey”

At the start, the very appearance of the monolith creates a disturbance within the hominid family. The microcosm of wider society is this group, so we are to assume, and the immediate implication is thus that these are our primitive ancestors. We are presented with as close to that fictional-mythical state of nature as it might be possible to be, a picture by yet another artist, but shaved of Rousseau’s sentimentality. We are confronted by its artistic subversion of that ideal state, ground down to its base honesty. The monolith appears, and that dissonant, malevolent chorus crescendos. The break with the past is irrevocable, and the disruption will never be undone outside of acts of the imagination. At the same time as science and technology are born, with this moment of bone wielded as tool, as weapon, is born all the myriad problems of application.  Continue reading

Defending modernism and visions of the future

In Politics of Fear, Frank Furedi discusses risk-taking as essential for autonomy and central to the Enlightenment motto of sapere aude, dare to know. The matter here can be said to revolve around visions of the future. The Enlightenment looked forward, and – as in Kant’s “Idea for a Universal History”- this was not unqualified. Thinking towards the future was bound to an idea of responsibility. There was a gravity to the decisions one had to make. Agnes Heller in A Theory of Modernity gives us various versions of modernity and postmodernity, with the vision of the postmodern that she considers worthwhile being the only version I could imagine myself having some sympathy for. She gives us the metaphor of the railway station, as a means of explaining modernity, where it represents “the absolute present tense” [p. 7]. This is experiencing the present as a transitory state. The present of modernism/modernity, according to Heller, is a “‘just now’, an insignificant moment which always transcends toward an infinite future”. Now, while this gives us the modernist too much in the mode of Dr. Pangloss, it is not totally objectionable. What follows, however, is. Continue reading

Redefining superintelligence

Definition of “superintelligence

By a “superintelligence” we mean an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills. This definition leaves open how the superintelligence is implemented: it could be a digital computer, an ensemble of networked computers, cultured cortical tissue or what have you. It also leaves open whether the superintelligence is conscious and has subjective experiences.

Entities such as companies or the scientific community are not superintelligences according to this definition. Although they can perform a number of tasks of which no individual human is capable, they are not intellects and there are many fields in which they perform much worse than a human brain – for example, you can’t have real-time conversation with “the scientific community”.

Nick Bostrom, How Long Before Superintelligence? Continue reading

In your own time

Take the point made below about timescales, but reverse it. This isthe more accurate representation of how things stand in terms ofinfluence. Our own particular, partisan approaches require that thingsbe presented in the manner I first suggested, but the more exhaustivereading indicates that the reverse is the case. It seems a minor point,but it is crucial to the presentation of the argument. Here’s why.

Inthis change of timescales throughout history, the fragmentation of timehas taken place just as the individual has risen in importance.Fragmentation here isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We can simply observethat from the introduction of clocks in villages and towns, allowingfor a more precise breakdown beyond the pace of the ringing of churchbells for services, up to the industrial age and the ascent of thepocketwatch (and all the social effects of this) ever smaller divisionsof time have become possible. As a result, the grand timescales ofdynasties and institutions are now seen as an aggregate of phases, ofyears and decades and centuries. As such, the long view is no longerregarded as an organic or collective entity unto itself.

Considerthis with regard to the phenomenon of European aristocratic dynasties.The Habsburg family (with all its various cadet branches included)claims to trace itself back to the 10th century, and from herethey married their way to a continental supremacy that convulsed Europein war and ruin over the centuries. It would not be fruitful toconsider their history in terms of individuals, as our sense of time isdifferent to theirs.

Theircoat of arms is a testament to the various alliances, co-options,annexations, marriages, and outright thefts that consolidate such adynasty as a supra-individual entity. In these terms, we must considerthe context of time and timescales. By leaving out the collectiveentity of time, we miss something. In his “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View”,Kant points out in his second thesis that “those natural capacitieswhich are directed to the use of […] reason are to be fully developedonly in the race, not in the individual.” Ignoring the use of the word’race’ here with it’s chauvinistic implications, we see that there isan awareness of the different implications of different timescales. Oneis not superior to another, but has rather a different function.