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

The singularity will not make you a better person


One of Ray Kurzweil‘s more provocative theses from The Singularity is Near is that the singularity will clean up all the environmental mess from the past centuries, those slagheaps of our reliance on fossil fuels and dirty industry.  Postscarcity means that the sins of the father will no longer be visited on the sons, daughters, cousins, etc. As much as I can understand that Kurzweil is not coming from a position of optimism, but rather what he interprets as a logical inevitability of technological development (albeit with the Law of Increasing Returns taking a very questionable central role), I find it on some levels offensive. A little game I like to play with myself when bored is “Reasons the Singularity is will never happen” (my current favourite is ‘Athlone‘…), but when not being glib and doubting Kurzweil’s technoeschatology, I have other genuine difficulties.

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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