It struck me the other day that many people hold two beliefs that are incompatible with one another. Those beliefs are the idea that people have a fundamental right to life, and the notion that everybody should earn a living.

How are these two beliefs incompatible? People who believe that everyone should earn a living say ‘why should others get something for nothing when I have to work?’. But if you have a fundamental right to life, then you must have a fundamental right to access whatever you need to make life possible. Food, water, protection from the elements, these things should not have price tags attached to them, forcing you to submit to wage slavery or begging in order to obtain such essentials. They should be freely accessible, the common property of all people.


Now, clearly, there is a practical problem with this sentimentality. Work has to be done to produce food, clean water, and pretty much all other essentials of life. The right to life is, of course, a purely human invention. There is no fundamental right to life built into the natural world. Were it not for our technological capabilities and social systems built up over millenia, human life would be like daily life for the rest of the animal kingdom: An ongoing struggle to survive in a world indifferent to suffering. We would have to strive to obtain the basic necessities of life. Well, not necessarily. Some percentage of the human race would be fortunate enough to live in an area that provides an abundance of food and clean water, and a clement enough climate to not worry about freezing to death during the winter. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle is a pretty decent one involving minimal work if you happen to live in a place where foodstuff and building materials are all readily available. But, of course, most areas of the world are not like that, demanding instead that animals and people alike work hard each and every day, if they are to survive to see tomorrow.

We have to accept, then, that people have always needed to work if they wanted to live. But, notice how the mentality is not that people must have a job of some sort and that nobody can get anything for free, like ideally this situation would not apply but hey ho this is how the world works, so we should just accept it. No, the argument is that people should not get anything for free and should earn their living. And that is saying something quite different to arguing that the world compels us to labour away. It is saying that, even if we could get away with not having a job but at the same time not face the prospect of material deprevation, it would be immoral for people to simply live their lives without earning a living.

I fail to see how this mentality is compatible with the notion of a fundamental right to life. It does not matter that this right exists only in our collective imaginations. Plenty of things exist in our world which are entirely a product of our minds with no objective existence outside of human thought. If there were no people in the world there would be no films, no music and no religion. But there are people in the world and those things- along with an uncountable list of other cultural creations- exist because we willed it. We can believe in the right to life, and work to make it a reality. But there can be no fundamental right to life along with a belief that nobody should get something for nothing.


Technological progress and societal organizations have made our lives much easier than they were in previous generations. In the past, food production took up the vast majority of most people’s time. Today, agriculture employs only a fraction of the numbers of people that used to be employed in order to grow crops and raise livestock. For our ancestors, preparing dinner took up most of the day. Those of us fortunate enough to live in wealthy countries with access to supermarkets, convenience food and microwaves can have a meal ready to eat within minutes. And our notions of retirement as a decades-long holiday as due reward for all those years of loyal service to the world of employment is a recent innovation. For most of history, people worked until they were fit only for the deathbed.

In affluent countries it is actually not the expectation that everybody must have a job or die. The elderly, the disabled, children, they are not expected to either be in employment or to live grim lives of hunger and material deprevation. Society has established systems of child support, welfare, and pensions which support these members of society without forcing them to go out and get a job. Not everywhere. Some parts of the world still have child labour, still require people to work right up until their death and still condemn the disabled to beg on the streets to secure enough money to pay for their next meal. But it is obviously true that in some parts of the world if you are below or above a certain age, or you have a disability which makes it too much of a struggle to function in any job, you are not forced to live in deprevation.

Personally, I see this as progress. But I suspect there are others that do not. People who see any form of socialism as an attack on liberty and spit blood at the very notion that any of their or anyone’s earnings should be used to fund the lives of those not in work, even when some people’s salaries ensure them a personal fortune orders of magnitude beyond anything required for material comfort and they would still be rich by any decent measure if 90% of their savings were taken and distributed among the nation’s children, disabled, and elderly.

Now, maybe these people would say I am misrepresenting their stand here. Maybe they would say, ‘look, Extropia, we are not saying that the child labour is right, that state pensions ought never to exist, and that the disabled should get no help from the government. We are just saying that anyone who is of working age and fit to work should be in a job, and contributing to society instead of just taking from it’.

This attitude assumes that there are people in the world who are not in employment simply because they are too lazy to be in a job. And you know what? Such people exist. There are benefit cheats who know how to work social systems and extract money to which they are not entitled. This, needless to say, means there is less money than there otherwise would be to give to the unfortunates of society who, due to genuine disability or ill health, really cannot be in work, just as there is less money due to the most affluent hoarding it in vast personal fortunes. We ought to put pressure on anyone who is taking a lot more than they really deserve or need, regardless of what social class they are in.


But we should also acknowledge that there are people whose sole job is to close down employment opportunities for other people. Who are those people? Why, the engineers of automated systems that replace manual labour, the software writers who design programs that do white-collar office jobs. Both robots and artificial intelligence systems are becoming less inflexible, and therefore more able to function adequately in a wider variety of tasks. It takes minimum skill to show a robot like Baxter how to perform any manual task that is in reach of its arms, no highly trained technition is required. And bare in mind that a Baxter is to robots what 70s and 80s Pcs were to computers. In the beginning, computers were bulky, expensive machines that required rare skills to operate, and were useful only in a very limited range of services. These mainframe computers evolved into minicomputers like the PDP1 (mini as in not taking up entire rooms, but still pretty big- the PDP1 was as big as a domestic refrigerator), and- by the 70s and 80s- into desktop computers, small, cheap and user-friendly enough to be of service in offices, factories, and eventually, our homes. Today, of course, computers are absolutely ubiquitous and our entire economy is dependent on these machines performing jobs which were either once the responsibility of people, or not performed by anyone due to humans being fundamentally incapable of doing such work.

If robots are about to become as ubiquitous as computers were in the 80s and 90s or today, then that has to have serious consequences for notion that people should earn their living. Bare in mind that, during the Great Depression, 25% of people were out of a job. Given the capabilities of robots and intelligent software being demonstrated in R+D labs around the world and piloted in some real world scenarios, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that pretty soon 45% of all jobs will be lost to automation. It is always tempting to believe one’s own job is immune to robotic takeover, or that technology will always create new jobs. But, as CGP Grey pointed out in his short documentary ‘Humans Need Not Apply’, if our ancestors had thought ‘more and better technology means new jobs for horses’ we can see that they were simply wrong. Today, there exists only a fraction of the number of working horses. They are simply unemployable, not economically viable thanks to the ‘horsepower’ we get from our machinery. Jobs for horses have not been reduced to zero. The Amish and developing world nations use horses or oxen to pull their farming instruments, we breed horses to race, the police use horses, England’s spectacle of trooping the colour would not be the same without those magnificent drum horses, but these amount to a paltry number of working horses compared to what there used to be.

Similarly, human employment may never be reduced to zero. There may always be some jobs which nobody or nothing has figured out how to automate in a cost-effective way, or jobs which we could automate but choose not to, feeling such work ought to be done by people and not machines. Childcare, for instance, may be a job that ought not to be offloaded to machines (though we may well want to make the task easier through machine assistance). However, such jobs must surely amount to a tiny percentage of all employment opportunities that exist today, so once all jobs except those rare unautomatable jobs are gone (assuming that there actually are jobs that could not or should not be automated) the stark truth is that most people will be as unemployable in the job market as a horse is.


If we have succeeded in achieving that level of automation, and have blue-collar robots doing most if not all manual labour, white-collar AI doing managerial, legal and financial work, and the economy is pretty much fully automated, or at least predominately automated requiring only a tiny percentage of the population to do anything, then for heaven’s sake why not extend the benefits system to support not just those who cannot work due to their age or ill health, but those who were made unemployable through no fault of their own? Why make them feel guilty about not having a job when the number of jobs still open to humans has been so drastically reduced there are more people out of work than there are vacancies available to be filled?

Why not, instead, see the ephemeralization of technology- its ability to enable more work to be performed with increasingly less effort- as a golden opportunity to make reality the stirring words of the American Declaration of Independence, that we hold as self-evident truth that all people are endowed with certain unalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The fundamental right to life means the right to have access, without restriction other than greed which restricts accessibility for others, to the material resources required to make life, liberty, and happiness possible. With our upcoming technological capabilities we could make it a reality that nobody need be in a job in order to have a decent life, and in such a world the attitude that people should earn their living would be objectionable by any decent ethical standard.

Posted in technology and us, work jobs and all that | Tagged | 4 Comments



Danger and death feature pretty heavily in videogames. There are various reasons why this is so. One is due to what you actually do while playing such games, which is pushing buttons. Since that is a purely physical act, it is best mapped to situations where there is not much thinking and success or failure is dependent on how good your reactions are. Hence the prevalence of sports sims and life-and-death situations. Modern computing power and advances like rag-doll physics enable reasonably naturalistic depictions of bodies responding to a hail of bullets but we are still lacking the technology and the knowhow that can successfully reproduce subtle social skills.

But so much danger presents videogames with a dilemma. Most games these days have a narrative arc with your character as the protagonist in the story. There is an ultimate goal that he or she is striving for and which, since it has already been written by the game’s authors, must reach. It is likely, though, that the protagonist will meet some untimely end before reaching the preordained end of his or her story. The dilemma is what to do in event of the protagonist getting killed.

The solution taken by most videogames is to pretend like it never happened. One moment your character is falling to her death because you totally misjudged that jump, the next moment Lara is back standing before the precipice as if that fatal error was nothing but a bad dream.

But a few videogames have come up with more inventive solutions than that. Here, in no particular order, are a few.


This game by Cinemaware cast you in the role of a world war one fighter pilot. The game interspersed gameplay which consisted of engaging the Hun in dogfights with diary entries written by a real life fighter pilot, describing his daily life. In real life these guys were known as the ‘20 minuters’, because the average lifespan of a rookie pilot was just 20 minutes. Inevitably, then, you the video gamer get shot down and killed at some point during the campaign.

At that point, scene depicting a funeral is shown along with all the victories and awards that pilot amassed before his death. And then a new pilot comes along, picking up the story where it was left by his predecessor.


You are Luke Skywalker, dishing out JedI justice to the nefarious forces of the empire. Only the force is not strong with you today because you just got shot to pieces (didn’t Han Solo tell you that hokey weapons were no match for a good blaster by your side?).

But that is OK, because you are Lego Luke Skywalker and your scattered lego parts reassemble themselves and on you go!


It had to happen. Living so dangerously, you were bound to get yourself fatally wounded. But fortunately for you this state has the best hospital ever to have existed and no matter how bad your injuries, you wake up from unconsciousness with nothing worse than a sum of money deducted from your bank balance.


ARRRRGH! You are dead. Cue cut scene of Elizabeth, the girl you are charged with protecting, administering an injection to bring you back from the dead.


There was a game involving mechs- huge bipedal walking tanks- and it might have been called Steel Batallion but I am not sure about that. The game cost a whopping £130, with most of that buying the huge twin-joystick 40 button controller you used to control your mech. One of those buttons was used to activate your ejector seat, enabling you to get out of harm’s way before your mech exploded.

If you did not eject in good time, you were dead. Really dead. The game would wipe your memory card clean of any progress saved up to that point.

Posted in fun stuff | Tagged | Leave a comment



During the Second World War, allied forces set up bases on islands around the Pacific that were home to a people who were, technologically, primitive. The indigenous population observed how the men who had come to the island engaged in most perplexing behaviour. This included such strange acts as persuading local people to dress up in identical clothes, and march up and down, and other actions which, so far as the local people could tell, served no real purpose whatsoever.

But then something happened which revealed the reason behind these strange actions. Huge metal birds appeared in the sky and, upon landing, disgorged from their bellies a bounty of food and material possessions. The local people figured that the strange acts were rituals those men performed in order to persuade the gods to come down and distribute material wealth among the people. By emulating those rituals, surely the local people could likewise encourage the gods to come down and give away food and luxury items. It sure beat working for it!

And so, the ‘cargo cult’ was born.

So far (perhaps unsurprisingly) cargo cultists have had no luck in persuading gods to shower the people with material comforts, despite their building runways and control towers out of bamboo and other local materials, and reproducing as best they can the ‘rituals’ that seemed to work for the Allied forces. But perhaps we, in the future, really could live in a world where material comfort comes with little effort beyond calling on the ‘gods’ to deliver it.

We see signs of this eventual reality already. If you search for ‘Amazon Robot Warehouse’ on you tube you will find video footage of robots produced by the company Kiva, whose job it is to fetch shelves containing desired items, all under the control of an algorithm that knows the location of all the thousands of shelves in Amazon warehouses. And in another example of automating their services, Amazon demonstrated a novel delivery system whereby a package was delivered by a quad-copter, guided to the correct location via GPS tracking.

Of course, the automation of Amazon’s business is far from complete, as is the automation of the economy in general. We do still have jobs that only humans can be reliably tasked to do. But there may come a day when that is no longer the case; when robots and the artificial intelligence that controls them are capable enough to be put to any conceivable task. With appropriate reconfigurations of our societies, we could live in extreme comfort, having offloaded responsibility for creating and distributing material wealth to our smart technologies.

But, then, what becomes of us? Obviously we would not be under any illusion that we are being served by gods who answer whenever we call, because we are too technologically sophisticated to think of an automated economy in that way. But how else might our behaviour change?


A common response to the possibility of a world in which all jobs are performed by robots is to think that everybody will become bone idle. We will all lounge around popping peeled grapes into our mouths, with no need or desire to get up and do anything productive.

And yet, to our modern minds, the visions of Heaven as portrayed by medieval scholars sounds dreadfully limiting. According to those scholars, Heaven is a place of endless material comfort, including a table forever laden with food and drink, and relaxation, relaxation, relaxation for all eternity. Well that sounds rather splendid, for a while at least. But forever? I reckon such a life would become exceedingly dull before too long.

You have to remember, though, that the people who dreamed of a heaven like that had no real practical experience of a life of leisure. They had no holidays, they looked forward to no retirement beyond collapsing in the deathbed. They toiled away for literally all their lives. What was to them a utopian dream of a life without hard toil is, for us, a regular reality. We know all too well that, whatever else material wealth and laziness may bring in terms of benefits, real happiness and fulfilment is not among them.

That is not to say that, in a world where robots do the jobs, nobody would choose to just put their feet up and take it easy. I am quite sure that, for a while, most people who were wage-slaves but now are free would want nothing more than to chill out. Observe how many people do not do much on the weekends and days off other than watch TV and drink beer. Perhaps that is not so surprising: If your body has been made weary by a week of toil and your mind dulled by the drudgery of the task your employer makes you do, you are hardly likely to turn into a powerhouse of creativity and productivity on the few days off you get .

But, eventually, the novelty of not needing to have a job in order to live in material wealth would wear out, and the need to be engaged in work- truly meaningful, productive work that provides rewards beyond mere monetary compensation- would become a priority. At that point, the robots would be on hand to deliver just enough resources to enable one to fulfil one’s dreams in a meaningful way.


There are two ways in which a videogame can be dull. One is when its gameplay is just too hard. In principle, one could make a first-person-shooter in which your computer-controlled opponents were simply unbeatable. They could dodge every bullet you fired at them, and score a headshot the second you peeped out from behind your cover. But since nobody wants to play an un-winnable game, designers strive to give bots artificial stupidity, which is to say humanlike weaknesses. They make ‘mistakes’ which can be learned and exploited. Naturally, if the bots are made too stupid, defeating them becomes a trivial task. Too simple a game is no more fun than one is too hard.

The perfect balance between ease and difficulty is struck when the challenge of an activity is slightly harder than your current skillset is equipped for. In that situation, you enter a state of mind that Milhay Csikszentmihalyi describes as ‘flow’, characterized by that feeling of absorption in a task that leads to one being pretty much unconscious of anything else. A rock climber, for example, who was interviewed by Csikszentmihalyi said, “you are so involved in what you are doing that you aren’t thinking of yourself as separate from that immediate activity”.

Flow occurs whenever a person is engaged in an activity that has neither more nor less challenge than he or she can handle. I do not suppose we would wish to achieve a state of flow in every conceivable activity. Most people, I suspect, do not want to be ‘challenged’ while doing household chores; they would rather not do these jobs at all and let a machine do it for them. But when it comes to work we enjoy doing- and it is almost always the case that whatever you enjoy doing you are gifted at- then we want it to be challenging enough for us to feel a genuine sense of achievement as we improve at our beloved task.

In that case, we would likely moderate our use of the robot cargo cult so that it provides us with resources enough to meet a challenge we care about, but not remove so much hardship that we can feel no satisfaction at reaching our goal. Would I like artificially intelligent assistants helping me to craft a great essay? Sure. Would I want to have it written for me, at the push of a button? No.


The roboticist Hans Moravec imagined a scenario whereby a fully automated economy could enable people to live in retirement from birth. The robot corporations would be heavily taxed, and the funds thereby raised would go pay for a lifelong pension for all people. The human populace would spend its money on things the robots corporations produced and so, in order to survive in the marketplace, the robots would strive to produce products people covet. Moravec reckoned that this would lead to robot corporations that:

“struggling to appeal to consumers will develop and act on increasingly detailed and accurate models of human psychology….Just doing their job (they) will peer into the workings of human minds and manipulate them with subtle cues and nudges, like adults redirecting toddlers”.

Put like that, the ‘robot cargo cult’ sounds rather dystopian. Who wants to be made to feel like a toddler? Bare in mind, though, that Moravec here is talking about not just artificial intelligence, but rather super intelligence. And it may well be that, in comparison to such profoundly intelligent artificial minds, our minds are like a toddler’s. Or even dumber than that.

But which AI that strives to appeal to consumers would be most likely to succeed? One that made you feel as dumb as a baby, or one that made you feel like you were smarter and more accomplished than you had previously considered yourself to be? Would we be most happy in a world where we are cared for as a responsible parent cares for an infant, or one in which we have adult ambitions and dreams, and the resources at hand in order to realistically strive towards excellence?

If Moravec’s robots really did their job well, they would moderate our access to material wealth and to knowledge so that we can obtain a real sense of achievement as we improve at the tasks we love. To be members of a robot cargo cult could very well be to achieve levels of self-actualization which, in our current society’s demand to have people do jobs they do not necessarily find personally fulfilling, is sorely lacking.

Posted in technology and us | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments



december 08 2013 my copies by jamie_001

As some of you may know, I once proposed something I called ‘Poor Man’s Uploading’ that could possibly work for digital people like myself. This form of ‘uploading’ starts with the premise that a digital person is a fictional being created and developed in online worlds/ social networks, with a human primary who acts in the role of author/actor/ puppeteer so as to imbue the avatar with humanlike qualities. Whereas one may insist on communicating with a particular human being if the avatar used as a means of communication is augmentationist (ie an avatar that represents a particular RL individual, making that avvie one more means of keeping in touch with that person like their RL phone number, email adress etc) there should be no need to worry or care about who, exactly, is behind the scenes when you interact with a digital person. All that matters is that the avatar behaves in ways that seem consistent with that character, according to your prior experiences and your expectations. Just as film characters can live on through a succession of performers, digital people can live on through a succession of primaries.

So, anyway, a couple of interesting developments happened over the last couple of days. One came about while I was reading Robert M Geraci’s book ‘Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in WOW and SL’. I am one of the people the author talks about and there are quite a few quotes from things I have written or said in conversation with the author. There was one particular quote which ran thus:

“The avatar is sort of you and, at the same time, sort of somebody else. It could be that increasingly sophisticated avatars will act as a kind of bridge easing humans into a future in which brains can be scanned, mapped, and reconstructed digitally: Uploads, in other words”.

The author of this quote was referred to simply as ‘one transhumanist’ but I was certain I must be that person, because it sounded like exactly the sort of thing I would have said. In fact, I was sure I did say those exact words in one of my essays. But a check of the notes at the back of the book revealed this to be a quote from somebody else.

My thoughts have turned to memes, and are infecting at least one other brain. There is another person out there, somewhere, whose mind is at least partially ‘Extropialike’.

The other thing that happened was: I tried to register an account with ‘Inworldz’ which is an online world like Second Life. Of course, I wanted to register my own name but this name was already registered. There was already a resident called ‘Extropia DaSilva’. I had to settle for naming my Inworldz avatar after the shorthand version of my name my friends tend to use: ‘Extie DaSilva’.

Now, Inworldz’s Extropia DaSilva would not seem authentic to me because my mental model of ‘Extropia DaSilva’ is so strong. And if my partner or sister were to come to Inworldz and meet ‘me’ I dare say they would find this Extropia strangely ignorant of key memories; their mental model of me, while not quite as high-resolution as the one installed in my primary’s mind, is still very strong and I doubt ‘Extropia DaSilva’ could stand up to too much questioning. Extie DaSilva, on the other hand, would certainly pass any test they could dream up in order to prove she is most like the version of myself Jamie or Seren have come to know in SL.

People not so well acquainted with me, though, may meet an avatar called’ Extropia DaSilva’ and naturally assume it is the same one as the Second Life Extropia, the Facebook Extropia, and the KurzweilAI forum Extropia. And while whoever is the primary of this avatar could never ever fool me and would hardly be likely to fool my wife or sister or best friends from SL for very long, they might be able to pretend to be me well enough to seem convincing to people who do not know me quite so well. And if somebody is convinced they are talking to me, then as far as they are concerned that avatar is Extropia DaSilva. What if the author of the quote from Geraci’s book and whoever registered the name Extropia DaSilva in Inworldz was one and the same person? Hardly likely, I know, but if that were the case I think many a casual acquaintance would accept that avatar as being truly me.

This is both vaguely disturbing and exciting. On one hand it feels like identity theft. But on the other hand I could view this as evidence that my identity is being imperfectly copied to other brains, making a crude ‘upload’ of myself. Not one convincing enough to stand up under ‘are you REALLY Extropia?’ scrutiny those closest to me could subject the avatar to, but perhaps good enough for folks with whom I have only loose ties.

Now, suppose it is The Future and I have an extensive lifelog of past events. Suppose furthermore that search engines have become extremely efficient at retrieving specific memories from a person’s lifelogged personal history. Backed up by an AI ‘prompter’ that swiftly searches through my digital memories and pithily summarises events (‘what was Jamie worried about last time we spoke?’ ‘Jamie was concerned about blah blah’) the person running the InWorldZ ‘Extropia DaSilva’ could seem authentic even to those who know me best, like Serendipity my SL partner. Imagine if my primary wore sensors that detected when death occurred, and when that happened an online search is conducted intended to find another human who could take her place, the person running Inworldz Extropia being the closest match. This person then gets access to my accounts in SL, Facebook, Kurzweilai and can come to those places along with my digital memories and the AI prompter augmenting their performance.

Thus, my patterns would persist for as long as there is somebody willing and able to maintain them, enabling me to ‘exist’ across a succession of primaries until such time as real mind uploading enables me to progress from a digital person to a mind child.

UPDATE: After posting this essay I went back into InworldZ and sent a message to ‘Extropia DaSilva’. The message got forwarded to my own email account, proving this is NOT an imposter pretending to be me, but an avatar I had completely forgotten I had!

There is still a lesson about identity to learn from all this, which is that we sometimes forget things so completely it is as if they never happened. Perhaps if we live long enough it will be our fate as the people we are today to become totally forgotten by the people of the future we will have become?

This shows existence  is still short and precious, even if a life goes on forever.

Posted in Philosophies of self | Tagged | 6 Comments

Thinkers June 17 2014: THE WAR METAPHOR

Extropia DaSilva: Today…oo kissy!…today our topic is…
[2014/06/17 15:33] Seren (serendipity.seraph): what’s up zo?
[2014/06/17 15:33] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): oh, what’s wrong, Zo?
[2014/06/17 15:34] Extropia DaSilva: THE WAR METAPHOR: ‘the war on drugs’, ‘the war on terrorism’. Quite often, we see war used as a metaphor for actions being taken to eradicate something deemed undesirable. But when is this metaphor useful and when is it not?
[2014/06/17 15:34] Zobeid Zuma: My eye has been bugging me.
[2014/06/17 15:34] Gwyneth Llewelyn: heh Zo. I *tried* to have a different experience with SL today, but it was hoping too much that LL fixed a bug that merely bothers a few thousands of users….
[2014/06/17 15:34] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Oh, nice topic. Very tircky.
[2014/06/17 15:34] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): oh, what’s your problem, Gwyn?
[2014/06/17 15:34] Seren (serendipity.seraph): hey ari, zo, gwyn, meta, rhi
[2014/06/17 15:34] Extropia DaSilva: first off, is it ever useful?
[2014/06/17 15:34] Zobeid Zuma: AS chance would have it, I was just thinking about something like this topic recently.
[2014/06/17 15:34] Metafire Horsley: Hi Rhi
[2014/06/17 15:35] Extropia DaSilva: I like this pose, darling.
[2014/06/17 15:35] Seren (serendipity.seraph): yay
[2014/06/17 15:36] Gwyneth Llewelyn: (Rhi: since LL moved the Mac codebase to use Cocoa, it made chat impossible to use. Not only public chat. Anything that requires typing. This only affects a few thousands or tens of thousands of Mac users, so LL cannot bother with it — neither the Firestorm team bothers with it, although at least they aclkowledge that the problem does, in fact, exist)
[2014/06/17 15:36] Zobeid Zuma: Most of time when War On X is invoked, it’s basically fraudulent.
[2014/06/17 15:36] Gwyneth Llewelyn: War on XY!
[2014/06/17 15:36] Seren (serendipity.seraph): well on war on drugs it is no one’s business what any adult chooses to consume so using “war” metaphor or not is beside the point.
[2014/06/17 15:36] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, it’s an attempt to get us mobilized and in a frenzy; but it usually means we’re going to fail at it.
[2014/06/17 15:36] Zobeid Zuma: Fraudulent!
[2014/06/17 15:36] Metafire Horsley: Is that because frenzies are stupid maybe? ;)
[2014/06/17 15:37] Almitra Vella: but a rose by any other name
[2014/06/17 15:37] Seren (serendipity.seraph): exactly. “We are at war so don’t complain whatever outrageous thing we demand of you”
[2014/06/17 15:37] Extropia DaSilva: can you think of an example where the metaphor is useful?
[2014/06/17 15:37] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): War on Poverty=poverty increased; war on drug=drug use increased. But it’s supposed to reconcile us to the restrictions on freedom involved.
[2014/06/17 15:37] Seren (serendipity.seraph): war on war :)
[2014/06/17 15:37] Metafire Horsley: War on language ;)
[2014/06/17 15:38] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, it’s usefully politically, if you agree there’s a social problem that needs addressing–and I thought of saying that, Seren, until I remembered that was used for WWI.
[2014/06/17 15:38] Zobeid Zuma: If we ever really had a “War on Drugs”, there would be armed jets patrolling the border, drone stikes on crack houses, etc.
[2014/06/17 15:38] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Hmm. Maybe it is because when democracies talk about ‘war’ it means that governments are ALLOWED to suspend personal freedoms — ‘temporarily’?
[2014/06/17 15:38] ArtCrash Exonar: I think the language of “The War on X” is used as an excuse to spend large amounts of public monies as well as cut back on accountability of methods used to further the goal.
[2014/06/17 15:38] Gwyneth Llewelyn: I’m thinking, for instance, of the US’s Patriot Act, or however it’s called
[2014/06/17 15:38] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, I think that’s part of it.
[2014/06/17 15:38] Extropia DaSilva: how about the ‘war on cancer’? Is it legitimate to say we are organising forces to battle this enemy?
[2014/06/17 15:38] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): I just call it the Enabling Act, but then I think of it as the department of fatherland security too.
[2014/06/17 15:38] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Good counter-example.
[2014/06/17 15:39] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Extie, that’s a good example
[2014/06/17 15:39] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Right, Rhi…. who gets ‘enabled’ by it, anyway?
[2014/06/17 15:39] Seren (serendipity.seraph): calling something so profoundly anti-american “The Patriot Act” makes my blood boil
[2014/06/17 15:39] ArtCrash Exonar: Is there a war on cancer? I haven’t heard that term used by any official entities.
[2014/06/17 15:39] Almitra Vella: I wouldn’t mind it being called a war if it was treated that way, everyone on the same team
[2014/06/17 15:39] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Sorry! I didn’t mean to sound offensive!
[2014/06/17 15:39] Zobeid Zuma: If we ever really had a “War on Poverty” it would involve drafting people into social service, rationing, war bonds, etc. It would require people to change their lifestyles and make real sacrifices to achieve victory.
[2014/06/17 15:39] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, at least its counter is called the Freedom ACt.
[2014/06/17 15:39] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Almitra: allegedly on a war you have at least TWO teams :D
[2014/06/17 15:39] Extropia DaSilva: Of course, the medical establishment does not really want to cure anything, since management of disease is more profitable.
[2014/06/17 15:39] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Welllllll
[2014/06/17 15:40] Almitra Vella: Yes, Zo, that’s what I mean, we only dilute our langugage
[2014/06/17 15:40] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Extie, I believe they’re rationing cynicism now, so be careful you don’t exceed your limit.
[2014/06/17 15:40] Gwyneth Llewelyn: hahahahahah Rhi
[2014/06/17 15:40] Zobeid Zuma: Even the “War on Terror” didn’t ask for sacrifice from most of the general public.
[2014/06/17 15:40] Seren (serendipity.seraph): war on aging? not sure anti-aging would benefit by such especially as calling it a “war” seems to mean government should run it and take whatever they wan from us to do so.
[2014/06/17 15:40] ArtCrash Exonar: Interesting that i’m finding it hard to conceive of a
[2014/06/17 15:40] Extropia DaSilva: The general public did end up sacrificing certain liberties.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Right, Extie. Remember, someone who lives FAR LONGER because they don’t get cancer, will get MANY OTHER DISEASES for an extended period of time. So, ultimately, fighting deadly diseases is a good’war’, from the perspective of medical economics :)
[2014/06/17 15:41] Zobeid Zuma: We barely even wage war on the battlefield anymore.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Metafire Horsley: Does it require personification of X if you declare “War on X”?
[2014/06/17 15:41] Gwyneth Llewelyn: /me is borrowing some extra cynism from Extie today
[2014/06/17 15:41] Extropia DaSilva: I charge compound interest, Gwyn.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Uh oh.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Sure it did Zo. We were expected and are expected to put up with TSA, NSA mass spying, “security letters” and so on.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Almitra Vella: /me shrugs, “It’s Tuesday” (grins)
[2014/06/17 15:41] Gwyneth Llewelyn: ㋡
[2014/06/17 15:41] Extropia DaSilva: You are already more in debt than Zimbabwe.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Oh my.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Almitra Vella: hahaha
[2014/06/17 15:42] ArtCrash Exonar: Interesting that i’m finding it hard to conceive of a ‘War On’ phrase to include funding of say astronomical or geological research.
[2014/06/17 15:42] Seren (serendipity.seraph): my darling is cynical? never noticed.
[2014/06/17 15:42] Zobeid Zuma: Well, those are things most people don’t see. Aside from the TSA. :p
[2014/06/17 15:42] Extropia DaSilva: *kisses Seren*
[2014/06/17 15:42] Almitra Vella: “ignorance about space”
[2014/06/17 15:42] Almitra Vella: the war on that
[2014/06/17 15:42] Metafire Horsley: You want a War on Ignorance? ;)
[2014/06/17 15:42] Gwyneth Llewelyn: We can’t fight the ‘War on Stupidity’ which is a shame. There wouldn’t be anyone left.
[2014/06/17 15:42] Gwyneth Llewelyn: hehe right, Metafire, same thought here.
[2014/06/17 15:42] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zimbabwe is in debt? I guess that’s what happens when you declare war on talent.
[2014/06/17 15:42] ArtCrash Exonar: I suggest a War on War.
[2014/06/17 15:42] Seren (serendipity.seraph): I did first
[2014/06/17 15:42] Seren (serendipity.seraph): :)
[2014/06/17 15:43] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Art, we had that, World War I, remember?
[2014/06/17 15:43] Metafire Horsley: War on metaphors! ;9
[2014/06/17 15:43] Almitra Vella: I’d prefer to stop the war on language
[2014/06/17 15:43] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): The war to end all wars.
[2014/06/17 15:43] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Even more interesting, we technically don’t have ‘wars’ any more — in the strictly legal sense.
[2014/06/17 15:43] Extropia DaSilva: eh?
[2014/06/17 15:43] Gwyneth Llewelyn: They are uh… ‘peace missions’
[2014/06/17 15:43] Almitra Vella: I thought that was the reason for releasing the gitmo five?
[2014/06/17 15:43] Extropia DaSilva: or conflicts
[2014/06/17 15:43] Zobeid Zuma: I think that was metaphorical. “War to End All Wars” = “Mother of All Battles”
[2014/06/17 15:43] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, and why do you think that is? It’s just as much trouble to get a resolution to take all means necessary as it is to get a declaration of war. No, police actions, Gwyn.
[2014/06/17 15:43] Gwyneth Llewelyn: That way, you don’t need to get it approved at the national parliament, which is the case in most countries.
[2014/06/17 15:43] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Well, police actions, yes
[2014/06/17 15:44] ArtCrash Exonar: I’m thinking here that the term War is meant to move the priority to the front of the line in terms of funding and support. As traditionally War trumped all other human activities.
[2014/06/17 15:44] Extropia DaSilva: I guess the 100 years war did not really last for a century?
[2014/06/17 15:44] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): But a resolutuon is approval by the national parliament, Gwyn.
[2014/06/17 15:44] Gwyneth Llewelyn: My own country is partially decomissioning the armed forces. They are shrunk to ahandful of people. By contrast, our National Guard — technically a police force — has grown beyond everything. And, of course, they’re trained and armed just like the army used to be.
[2014/06/17 15:44] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Maybe it sounds less agressive. “We reslolve to kick your ass, but we’re not at war with you”
[2014/06/17 15:45] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Now we just sent some drones wherever we want and maybe a bomber or two.
[2014/06/17 15:45] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Well yes, but in most cases, a’police action’ is merely an executive procedure, which doesn’t call for the same political engagement as a ‘war’ does.
[2014/06/17 15:45] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Wars have never been won with dragons, but with soldiers. Old Man Lannister.
[2014/06/17 15:45] Extropia DaSilva: so I guess the metaphor is useful in terms of a campaign to let people know experts are being assembled and budgets are being spent and Something IS Being Done about X?
[2014/06/17 15:45] Almitra Vella: saying they are armed makes me think Switzerland
[2014/06/17 15:45] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Dragons! Way cooler than drones.
[2014/06/17 15:45] Gwyneth Llewelyn: ㋡
[2014/06/17 15:45] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Extie: it’s useful politically.
[2014/06/17 15:46] Gwyneth Llewelyn: So, yes, it’s pure demagogy :)
[2014/06/17 15:46] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Extie, and that we really mean it. Really.
[2014/06/17 15:46] ArtCrash Exonar: This topic is making me think we should be more judicious with the use of the war word, as I’m thinking it obscures the specifics of what is being attempted.
[2014/06/17 15:46] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Exactly, art,.
[2014/06/17 15:46] Seren (serendipity.seraph): hmm. I wonder what it would take to make a drone pass for a dragon
[2014/06/17 15:46] Metafire Horsley: Just make some cool drones that are called “Dragon”. Drone style level increased by 300% ;)
[2014/06/17 15:46] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Art, I absolutely agree with that. What’s wrong with me. I’m absolutely agreeing with you.
[2014/06/17 15:46] Extropia DaSilva: If it looked like a dragon, maybe?
[2014/06/17 15:46] Gwyneth Llewelyn: That reminds me of ‘The 3 Formulas of Professor Sato’…. there was a ‘dragon drone’ in it
[2014/06/17 15:46] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Meta, right
[2014/06/17 15:46] Almitra Vella: /me laughs and repeats, “drone style level”
[2014/06/17 15:46] ArtCrash Exonar: haha
[2014/06/17 15:46] Zobeid Zuma: Well, lots of words get watered down. “War” has taken a beating, it seems.
[2014/06/17 15:47] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): I was thinking of Game of Thrones, as dragons were like aerial strikes, the cities looked like London after the blitz, except more medieval.
[2014/06/17 15:47] Gwyneth Llewelyn: If it looks like a dragon, breathes fire like a dragon, and flies like a dragon, is it a dragon? No! It’s a drone!
[2014/06/17 15:47] Metafire Horsley: As has “terrorism”. Nowadays everything is terrorism
[2014/06/17 15:47] Extropia DaSilva: My essays drag on.
[2014/06/17 15:47] Zobeid Zuma: People keep talking about that show, I may have to watch it someday.
[2014/06/17 15:47] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Aye, Metafire, again, because you fight terrorism with ‘police forces’
[2014/06/17 15:47] Extropia DaSilva: back when I used to write essays..
[2014/06/17 15:47] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Meta, there is a legal definition of terrorism. It’s the use of force to influence US policy. Which would make voting an act of terrorism, if you think about it.
[2014/06/17 15:48] Gwyneth Llewelyn: heh Extie, you’re in ‘bad pun mode’ now :)
[2014/06/17 15:48] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Haha Rhi!!!!!!
[2014/06/17 15:48] Seren (serendipity.seraph): So it is only US?
[2014/06/17 15:48] Extropia DaSilva: I wondered who would spot that.
[2014/06/17 15:48] Almitra Vella: “apparently”
[2014/06/17 15:48] Seren (serendipity.seraph): what is initiation of force about voting?
[2014/06/17 15:48] ArtCrash Exonar: I think the worst use of the term in the recent past is the “War on Drugs’ which has been used to actually wage war and escalate the situation. It doesn’t allow for any action in the drug debate that doesn’t involved eradication….
[2014/06/17 15:48] Gwyneth Llewelyn: US and its satellite countries, I’d say
[2014/06/17 15:48] Seren (serendipity.seraph): people have silly ideas of what force is
[2014/06/17 15:48] Metafire Horsley: Nah, half the world just copies the language of the US government.
[2014/06/17 15:49] Almitra Vella: seems very sad to believe that
[2014/06/17 15:49] Metafire Horsley: The USA are (still) very influential after all.
[2014/06/17 15:49] Gwyneth Llewelyn: True, Metafire. So true.
[2014/06/17 15:49] Zobeid Zuma: Yeah, the “War on Drugs” has been an unmitigated disaster. I think maybe the end is in sight, though. Or at least the beginning of the end.
[2014/06/17 15:49] Gwyneth Llewelyn: ‘If it works for the US; it should work for us. MAybe. Oh, what the hell, let’s just copy them anyway.’
[2014/06/17 15:49] Seren (serendipity.seraph): after 911 the US government worked hard to come up with a definition of terrorism it liked and did not make many of its own actions terrorism. It failed.
[2014/06/17 15:49] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zo, yes, it’s a very well done show. Millions of dollars, only 10 episodes per seasons, they take the time to do it right.
[2014/06/17 15:49] Extropia DaSilva: So is hypocrisy the thing that makes the metaphor turn bad? In the case of the war on drugs, the hipocrisy being the condoning of some bad substances such as alcohol?
[2014/06/17 15:49] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Or you could just read about the War of the Roses. lol
[2014/06/17 15:50] Gwyneth Llewelyn: /me would be fine fighting with roses.
[2014/06/17 15:50] Zobeid Zuma: It just sounds so dreary. :|
[2014/06/17 15:50] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Exie: hypocrysy, cynism, demagogy….
[2014/06/17 15:50] Metafire Horsley: No, it’s worse: Oh, it doesn’t work for the US. Maybe it still works for us? Probably not, but at least Uncle Sam won’t be angry with us if we make the same mistakes ;)
[2014/06/17 15:50] ArtCrash Exonar: What is interesting about the war on drugs is that it has nothing to do with prescription drug misuse at all. ONly imported opiates and psychedelics.
[2014/06/17 15:50] Extropia DaSilva: Seren’s love is like a rose/ and I am a little thorny…
[2014/06/17 15:50] Seren (serendipity.seraph): no the hypocrisy is claiming to be a country based on freedom and then attacking people for what they consume and throwing them in cages
[2014/06/17 15:50] Gwyneth Llewelyn: That’s SO true, Metafire!!
[2014/06/17 15:50] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Extie, hypocrisy is a separate issue; it’s not necessary to be a hypocrite to fight a war on X, it just helps when X is a popular thing to do.
[2014/06/17 15:50] Seren (serendipity.seraph): the hypocrisy is not that they didn’t include other drugs
[2014/06/17 15:50] Zobeid Zuma: Some kind of medieval soap opera about a bunch of ridiculous royals.
[2014/06/17 15:50] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Well, there is such a thing as the freedom to throw people into cages :)
[2014/06/17 15:51] Seren (serendipity.seraph): no there is not
[2014/06/17 15:51] Gwyneth Llewelyn: *now* there is :)
[2014/06/17 15:51] Gwyneth Llewelyn: /me would love a War on Political Correctness
[2014/06/17 15:51] Seren (serendipity.seraph): or not any non-contradictory real freedom
[2014/06/17 15:51] Seren (serendipity.seraph): freedom fries
[2014/06/17 15:51] Extropia DaSilva: hey Sean
[2014/06/17 15:51] Sean Gorham: Hello!
[2014/06/17 15:51] Almitra Vella: how about instead of a war on war, we teach love of truth
[2014/06/17 15:51] Zobeid Zuma: Terrorism is an act of violence against the populace to instill fear.
[2014/06/17 15:52] Metafire Horsley: What seems to be (mis)used most is the Freedom to be stupid ^^
[2014/06/17 15:52] Almitra Vella: agreed, Meta
[2014/06/17 15:52] Gwyneth Llewelyn: How do you fight a war on war? Use even stronger armed forces to prevent armed forces of using, well, armed force?
[2014/06/17 15:52] ArtCrash Exonar: because truth is dependent on ‘theory of knowledge’ and therefore not objective.
[2014/06/17 15:52] Seren (serendipity.seraph): almost no one loves truth
[2014/06/17 15:52] Extropia DaSilva: What is the truth?
[2014/06/17 15:52] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Like the parody of the Talking Heads, “Dare to be STupid.”
[2014/06/17 15:52] Gwyneth Llewelyn: hehe Metafire. Indeed. And it will get worse: stupid people reproduce faster! That reminds me always how fickle evolution was to come up with ‘intelligence’, when we see it’s so little used.
[2014/06/17 15:53] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Huh, ArtCrash?
[2014/06/17 15:53] Seren (serendipity.seraph): so Number Theory means math is not objective?
[2014/06/17 15:53] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Extie, are you really channeling for Pontius PIlate? Look what happened when he, erm, washed his hands.
[2014/06/17 15:53] Zobeid Zuma: That was the so-called “Marching Morons” problem, Gwyn. But it’s really bogus.
[2014/06/17 15:53] Metafire Horsley: I’m slightly amazed that “Truth” hasn’t been used as a brand name for something already. Like an energy drink. “Drink Truth! It makes you clever!” ;)
[2014/06/17 15:53] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, you’ve read The Marching Morons, I see.
[2014/06/17 15:53] Gwyneth Llewelyn: oooh Metafire…. you’re so goood at this
[2014/06/17 15:53] Gwyneth Llewelyn: No, I haven’t!
[2014/06/17 15:53] Sean Gorham: Or watched “Idiocracy.”
[2014/06/17 15:53] Seren (serendipity.seraph): well, there is a reason zombie movies are so popular
[2014/06/17 15:53] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Meta, you’d have to come up with a legal definition then. Heh.
[2014/06/17 15:53] Extropia DaSilva: I, like everyone, have a worldview and in that worldview somethings are axiomatic, some all but certain, some things less certain, and some things I dismmiss as plain crazy. But what guarantee do I have thay MY worldview maps perfectly to Reality?
[2014/06/17 15:54] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Hi Sean
[2014/06/17 15:54] Sean Gorham: Hello!
[2014/06/17 15:54] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Extie: it does…. for your variant of Reality :)
[2014/06/17 15:54] ArtCrash Exonar: Truth for the religious is based on belief, whereas for the scientist it is based on reasoned evidence. Those things lead to people having different definitions of truth, so It can’t be the same for everyone.
[2014/06/17 15:54] Seren (serendipity.seraph): what is “maps perfectly” and why is it required?
[2014/06/17 15:54] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Nice argument, Art :=)
[2014/06/17 15:54] Metafire Horsley: You get that guarantee from the Ministry of Truth. Where else do you expect it to come from? ;)
[2014/06/17 15:54] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Note that I also consider ideologies as a form of religion.
[2014/06/17 15:55] Almitra Vella: not everything need be hypothetical, sometimes we can say we’d like to find a cure cancer and tell folks what it would really take, no latte’s for a year or whatever
[2014/06/17 15:55] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Not if they are grounded in reality and reason
[2014/06/17 15:55] Extropia DaSilva: Maps perfectly means everything I think is possible IS, and everything I think impossible is indeed not possible.
[2014/06/17 15:55] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, it’s about a world where welfare made all the low IQ’s reproduce but the high IQ’s, concerned about population control didn’t. They had to take care of the billions of morons, until they revived a Madison Avenue type from the 20th century. He made a campagin to sell Venus, and travel to it (and Venus was like it is in reality). The morons all booked flights to Venus. Problem solved.
[2014/06/17 15:55] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Oh! Like on the HitchHiker’s Guide of the Galaxy!
[2014/06/17 15:55] Seren (serendipity.seraph): as you are not and cannot be omniscient your definition is obviously impossible and devoid of meaning, my love
[2014/06/17 15:55] Gwyneth Llewelyn: I haven’t seen that movie, but the plot is familiar.
[2014/06/17 15:56] Zobeid Zuma: I think Douglas Adams recycled that idea for the Golgafrinchian Ark Ships.
[2014/06/17 15:56] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Exactly.
[2014/06/17 15:56] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): For science, truth is based on a paradigm, on consensus, on tradition, not so different than religion.
[2014/06/17 15:56] Zobeid Zuma: But Asimov was wrong.
[2014/06/17 15:56] Extropia DaSilva: Is the truth merely that info which gives us comfort?
[2014/06/17 15:56] Gwyneth Llewelyn: March of the Morons is an Asimov story?
[2014/06/17 15:56] Extropia DaSilva: I guess not..
[2014/06/17 15:56] Seren (serendipity.seraph): No it is not based on those things
[2014/06/17 15:56] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, they probably got it from the book
[2014/06/17 15:57] Extropia DaSilva: But the ring of truth…what is that?
[2014/06/17 15:57] ArtCrash Exonar: I think the term race, as in Space Race, might be a good term for future major goals. The race for green energy or The race for genetic disease control…..
[2014/06/17 15:57] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): No, it’s not an Asimov story. He’d have a benevolent government, or robot, come in and make things all better.
[2014/06/17 15:57] Extropia DaSilva: OO race..
[2014/06/17 15:57] Zobeid Zuma: I think it was Asimov… I know from his editorials that he took the idea seriously, at any rate. He saw the “Population Explosion” as a critical threat to civilization.
[2014/06/17 15:57] Almitra Vella: well, “race for”
[2014/06/17 15:57] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Rhi, for science ‘truth’ has a precise mathematical definition…. outside the field of maths, there is just ‘temporary truth until we find a better one’ :)
[2014/06/17 15:57] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Art, well it’s not just a metaphor; there was a race for space, so it doesn’t manipulate language the way ‘war’ does.
[2014/06/17 15:57] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Zo: and Asimov was wrong, you say?
[2014/06/17 15:57] Seren (serendipity.seraph): March of the Morons is idea that more intelligent people almost always have less kids so if intelligence is in large part genetic you get a dumber and dumber average population
[2014/06/17 15:57] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Right. What is wrong with that hypothesis?
[2014/06/17 15:58] Gwyneth Llewelyn: As far as I can observe, from my parochial statistics, it fits perfectly to reality as I observe it :)
[2014/06/17 15:58] Extropia DaSilva: Do prizes count as metaphor? Like the X-prize, for the first commercial spacecraft or the Methusulah mouse prize for making an old mouse biologically young?
[2014/06/17 15:58] Seren (serendipity.seraph): knowledge is contextual. What is the best fit for the facts within the context of what we know so far.
[2014/06/17 15:58] Seren (serendipity.seraph): that doesn’t mean it is arbitrary or religious.
[2014/06/17 15:59] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, Gwyn, the precise mathematical definition is predicated on a lot of assumptions. I grant precision may be a difference between science and theology. For now, I grant it, anyway. Call me back by the end of the week.
[2014/06/17 15:59] Seren (serendipity.seraph): or subjective
[2014/06/17 15:59] ArtCrash Exonar: It turns out that Space Race actually meant extreme prioritizing of science for attainment of a specific goal. But extreme prioritizing doesn’t have a ring to it…..
[2014/06/17 15:59] Seren (serendipity.seraph): faith or believe “because it is absurd” has no place in science
[2014/06/17 15:59] Gwyneth Llewelyn: hehe Rhi — also notice that I made a huge distinction between ‘maths’ and ‘the rest of all other sciences’ (and we could argue if ‘math’ is a science)
[2014/06/17 15:59] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Religous isn’t arbitray either, necessarily
[2014/06/17 15:59] Zobeid Zuma: For one thing, average intelligence is still going up because of better education and nutrition around the world. Genetics is a relatively minor factor. And wealth seems to be what really cuts down the fertility rate, rather than IQ level.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, yes, we could. It involves no necessary empirical data.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Extropia DaSilva: Religions evolve like anything else.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Genetics is about 50% by most estimations
[2014/06/17 16:00] ArtCrash Exonar: Math is a tool for science, not a science itself.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Well, you have eased my worst worries, Zo. I’m always scared when I see how moronic kids are these days, and they will run this country when I’m too old and frail :)
[2014/06/17 16:00] Metafire Horsley: It is a science itself. But some also see it as a form of art.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, that’s a topic in itself, Art, what is science. But math is not-empirical, and science does have an empirical dimension to it.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Seren (serendipity.seraph): math is a tool for formalizing patterns and abstractions and operations upon them
[2014/06/17 16:00] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Art: I would tend to agree.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Seren (serendipity.seraph): so very important tool for understanding and predicting reality
[2014/06/17 16:00] Gwyneth Llewelyn: And Rhi, yes, I would also agree with you :)
[2014/06/17 16:01] ArtCrash Exonar: It isn’t a science in that it is based on arbitrary givens. And not discovered.
[2014/06/17 16:01] Zobeid Zuma: Also, we got the lead out of the gasoline and the paint. So that helps a lot.
[2014/06/17 16:01] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, that just shows your age; the older generation has said that about kids since at least Arisophanes.
[2014/06/17 16:01] Seren (serendipity.seraph): It is not based on arbitrary givens
[2014/06/17 16:01] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Aye, and see what the world is *today*, Rhi ;)
[2014/06/17 16:01] Extropia DaSilva: Is Peter Joseph correct to say education and entertainment is deliberately dumbed down to ensure people are not capable of achieving the levels of critical thinking needed to see the state of our current moral and social zeitgeist?
[2014/06/17 16:01] Zobeid Zuma: oh yes, quote time. Ahem….
[2014/06/17 16:02] Zobeid Zuma: /me quotes: “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; THEY contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.” ― Socrates
[2014/06/17 16:02] Almitra Vella: /me smiles, “hide the truth”
[2014/06/17 16:02] ArtCrash Exonar: Given: here are the acceptable rules, and these are not. That is the basis of all maths.
[2014/06/17 16:02] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Well, if Rhi is right, Extie, than the answer is ‘no’. If I’m right, the answer is that peter Joseph is spot on!
[2014/06/17 16:02] Almitra Vella: because it’s old does it become less true?
[2014/06/17 16:02] Sean Gorham: In other words, “Damn those kids today, when I was a kid we had MANNERS.”
[2014/06/17 16:02] Gwyneth Llewelyn: good question, ALmitra.
[2014/06/17 16:02] Seren (serendipity.seraph): well if you see it then you a) go mad; b) become a religious leader which is much the same thing; c) become hyper-cynical; d) become a revolutionary; e) become some misunderstood poet or artist
[2014/06/17 16:02] Almitra Vella: yes, Sean, I believe you did, by those standards
[2014/06/17 16:02] Gwyneth Llewelyn: So I would say that manners declined since the days of Socrates :)
[2014/06/17 16:03] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, no, I recall thinking how can there be public education in a democracy, after all State education should make people dumb and docile. And then it dawned on me–isn’t that exactly what public education does?
[2014/06/17 16:03] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Seren: I’ll pick c=
[2014/06/17 16:03] Sean Gorham: If they’ve been declining for THAT long I dare say we’re holding up pretty well.
[2014/06/17 16:03] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Sean, yes, exactly my point in bringing that up
[2014/06/17 16:03] Almitra Vella: oh, Seren, my hopes of becoming a thoughtful person with reasonable expectations are doomed?
[2014/06/17 16:03] Metafire Horsley: Which kids nowadays actually know who Socrates was? They are likely to think he’s a kind of pop star or something.
[2014/06/17 16:03] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Rhi: right!
[2014/06/17 16:03] Gwyneth Llewelyn: We had a prime minister named Socrates. He was terrible.
[2014/06/17 16:04] Metafire Horsley: :(
[2014/06/17 16:04] Sean Gorham: And when today’s kids grow up, they’ll say the same thing about *their* kids.
[2014/06/17 16:04] Seren (serendipity.seraph): what is this “reasonable”? How will you know?
[2014/06/17 16:04] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Almitra, no, the oldness of the belief is to show that it is a natural thing for the older people to say of the younger people, and that that doesn’t mean civilization is in decline–no more than it always has been, anyway
[2014/06/17 16:04] Zobeid Zuma: I learned about Socrates from Steven Martin.
[2014/06/17 16:04] Almitra Vella: current standards
[2014/06/17 16:04] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, just what country do you live in?
[2014/06/17 16:04] Almitra Vella: but that doesn’t make it less true, Rhi
[2014/06/17 16:04] Extropia DaSilva: Almitra, empires go through the same basic cycle. And the last stage of an empire is the age of decadence, typified by massive differences between the ruling class and everybody else, consipcuous displays of wealth, a parasite class that help themselves to the wealth without contributing anything, and ‘bread and circuses, ie the veneration of celebrity. How much of that sounds like current life?
[2014/06/17 16:04] Metafire Horsley: Oh, we have declined in many ways from ancient Greek standards. Those guys were amazing!
[2014/06/17 16:05] Seren (serendipity.seraph): but current standards are mad as a hatter in many ways or out-of-date with today much less tomorrow
[2014/06/17 16:05] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zo, worse ways to learn about Socrates. Steve Martin understood him and probably learned from him
[2014/06/17 16:05] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Sean: exactly, so the decline will go on and on. I think that we will hit the Reverse SIngularity soon: not a super-AI that is more intelligent than humans, but a rather stupid, non-functional AI which will just barely work, but that won’t matter, because future humans will be so stupid that they will all hail it as their leader.
[2014/06/17 16:05] Almitra Vella: I agree, Seren but I do not believe I must go to extremes, simply observe and accept
[2014/06/17 16:05] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Extie: everything!
[2014/06/17 16:05] Zobeid Zuma: “Wait, hemlock is poisonous? How was I to know that? I’m a philosopher! I know what is beauty, what is truth! I don’t know what is poisonous and what is not poisonous.”
[2014/06/17 16:05] Sean Gorham: Is it really a decline, though, or is that just our own biases influencing what we experience?
[2014/06/17 16:05] Seren (serendipity.seraph): we have that kind of AI or much better already.
[2014/06/17 16:06] Sean Gorham: To expect every generation to behave just like their ancestors is silly.
[2014/06/17 16:06] Extropia DaSilva: Our civilization has to collapse. It is a physical certainty.
[2014/06/17 16:06] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Sean: I’m just being cynical. I expect that better education and better health actually allows more people to become clever, and that offsets the ongoing decline of human intelligence.
[2014/06/17 16:06] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zo, he knew it was poisonous, he thought it was his duty to carry out his own execution. Being a citizen, he had to obey the law (he thought).
[2014/06/17 16:06] Zobeid Zuma: Not following you, Extie…
[2014/06/17 16:06] Sean Gorham: Oh, believe me, Gwyn, I’m quite the pessimist too!
[2014/06/17 16:06] Seren (serendipity.seraph): how about “war on self-dishonesty” or “war on akrasia”
[2014/06/17 16:06] Almitra Vella: YAY, Seren
[2014/06/17 16:07] Almitra Vella: that would stop so many politicians and their critics in their tracks
[2014/06/17 16:07] ArtCrash Exonar: Advance and Decline are relative concepts to the values of the person speaking them.
[2014/06/17 16:07] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): oh akrasia, for a moment I thought you said Alaska. I thought that was rather silly. But yeah, agree with you, Seren
[2014/06/17 16:07] Seren (serendipity.seraph): except that that gives too much self anger and guilt and falls apart
[2014/06/17 16:07] Metafire Horsley: When you fight a “War”, you should have an idea what your army is and what your weapons are.
[2014/06/17 16:07] Gwyneth Llewelyn: haha Sean… I’m not really pessimit…. I’m just glad that I’m not immortal: it would be horrible to see the collapse of everything we’ve achieved so far. I’ll die way before that happens!
[2014/06/17 16:07] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, unless the Singularity happens. lol
[2014/06/17 16:07] Extropia DaSilva: Because Zo, endless growth and consumption has to run up against the finite resources of our home, this planet Earth.
[2014/06/17 16:07] Metafire Horsley: Oh, yeah, the nation of Akrasia has always been the arch enemy of our people ;)
[2014/06/17 16:08] Sean Gorham: I seem to remember George Carlin having a wonderful little routine about how we like to “declare war” on things.
[2014/06/17 16:08] Seren (serendipity.seraph): they are not all that finite and we aren’t limited to this one rock
[2014/06/17 16:08] Gwyneth Llewelyn: No! We’re developing warp drives now!
[2014/06/17 16:08] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, but by that time, we will have the resources of the solar system, and we are already working on warp drive. As they say in my home state. “Earth First. We’ll log the other planets later.”
[2014/06/17 16:08] Extropia DaSilva: People use the term Singularity like the Greeks used the Deus Ex Machina, a handy thing that sweeps in and solves all our problems for us.
[2014/06/17 16:08] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Seriously :)
[2014/06/17 16:08] Zobeid Zuma: Extie, how did you bring “endless growth and consumption” into the equation? That was not part of your orginal assertion.
[2014/06/17 16:08] Metafire Horsley: Things collapsing make room for other things emerging out of the ashes.
[2014/06/17 16:08] Extropia DaSilva: what?
[2014/06/17 16:08] Seren (serendipity.seraph): good one Rhi
[2014/06/17 16:09] ArtCrash Exonar: Tell me why there would be a singularity? Who wouldn’t there be a group of AIs? What is so obvious about AI wanting to be all powerful? That seems to be a human trait.
[2014/06/17 16:09] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Metafire: say THAT to the Martians.
[2014/06/17 16:09] Almitra Vella: /me grins, “oh, you mean like telling the truth would do”
[2014/06/17 16:09] Gwyneth Llewelyn: The more human-like AIs become, Art, the more human traits they ought to have :)=
[2014/06/17 16:09] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Singularity does not require all powerful AI or “there can be only one” bullshit
[2014/06/17 16:09] Extropia DaSilva: The Singularity is the creation of superintelligence and what that means for the future, NOT artificial intelligence.
[2014/06/17 16:09] ArtCrash Exonar: So Nietzche was right even for AI? heh
[2014/06/17 16:10] Zobeid Zuma: Singularity means something different for everyone. :p
[2014/06/17 16:10] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Extie, my point is that we don’t NEED superintelligence if everybody is dumbed down :)
[2014/06/17 16:10] Almitra Vella: intelligence = truth
[2014/06/17 16:10] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Naaha Almitra.
[2014/06/17 16:10] Seren (serendipity.seraph): it is the advent of > human artificial general intelligence – that is the point where we are not at the top of the local intelligence food chain
[2014/06/17 16:10] ArtCrash Exonar: Tell me WHY it is singular? Nothing in the universe is singular.
[2014/06/17 16:10] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): And they will have a warp bubble fairly soon. Only it’s the size of a pin, so there would have to be big breakthroughs in micro-miniaturization before its useful
[2014/06/17 16:10] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Art: the Big Bang is!
[2014/06/17 16:10] Almitra Vella: agreed, it’s actually recognizing the truth
[2014/06/17 16:10] Metafire Horsley: Everyone should be as dumb as possible, but not dumber ;)
[2014/06/17 16:10] Seren (serendipity.seraph): singular has nothing to do with it any more than there is only one black hole
[2014/06/17 16:10] Almitra Vella: please excuse me
[2014/06/17 16:10] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, Gwyn, not in really the same way.
[2014/06/17 16:11] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Rhi: I wrote an article about that; I’m actually fascinated about the possibilities :)
[2014/06/17 16:11] Second Life: Lilly (taylor.schroeder) is online.
[2014/06/17 16:11] Extropia DaSilva: Intelligent people can be ‘protected’ from the truth, because they are more adept at defending ideas for nonsmart reasons.
[2014/06/17 16:11] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): i know Stephen Hawkins defined it as the Singularity at the beginning of the universe, and the Big Crunch as the singularity at the End of the Universe, but the latter was really a restaurent.
[2014/06/17 16:11] Gwyneth Llewelyn: ‘Protected’ from the truth….
[2014/06/17 16:11] ArtCrash Exonar: Well if the black hole is your metaphor, it breaks down in a lot of ways….
[2014/06/17 16:11] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, well, that’s what they do in today’s high schools isn’t it?
[2014/06/17 16:11] Gwyneth Llewelyn: heh Rhi. Well. I don’t know. Most of the people I know talk about the Big Bang as a singularity.
[2014/06/17 16:11] Seren (serendipity.seraph): no big crunch just winds down..
[2014/06/17 16:12] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Rhi: sadly, yes
[2014/06/17 16:12] Zobeid Zuma: If there’s anything *like* a Singularity as most people seem to imagine it, it won’t be based on AI or some fantastic “superintelligence” somehow appearing. It’ll be based on molecular nanotechnology.
[2014/06/17 16:12] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Who are those ‘most people’? :)
[2014/06/17 16:12] Seren (serendipity.seraph): that would not give a singularity
[2014/06/17 16:12] Zobeid Zuma: Extie. :p
[2014/06/17 16:12] Zobeid Zuma: And probably this Kurzweil character who she keeps referring to.
[2014/06/17 16:12] Seren (serendipity.seraph): much better manufacturing, energy production and use, computation, medicine, etc.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Gwyneth Llewelyn: /me fights a War against Singularties. Once.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Metafire Horsley: The Singularity is an old hat. Let’s talk about something else please.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Extropia DaSilva: The technological singularity holds that the human mind has a finite capacity for understanding, that the abstract space of all possible minds allows for other minds which can know things beyond human natural capacity to know, and that such minds will be made real through technology.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Singularity sounds a lot like Marx’s end of history. As all history involved class conflict, when society evolves to the point were there is only one class, which is the same as classlessness, there would no longer be laws of history.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Zobeid Zuma: Yes… Let’s talk about… The War on Singularity!
[2014/06/17 16:13] ArtCrash Exonar: I’m afraid I can’t ‘believe’ in the singularity. It resembles an amorphous god concept, so little specifics that anything goes.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Gwyneth Llewelyn: oh what a fantastic point, Rhi
[2014/06/17 16:13] Seren (serendipity.seraph): interesting formulation
[2014/06/17 16:13] Extropia DaSilva: Oh for goodness sake.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Zo: I already started that topic. But we can discuss it only once.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): With immortality, artificial intelligence, etc., there would not ge human life as we know it.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Seren (serendipity.seraph): gross, a marxism analogy.
[2014/06/17 16:14] Seren (serendipity.seraph): /me holds nose
[2014/06/17 16:14] Metafire Horsley: Oh, one more fitting criticism about the Singularity. I like it, Rhi :)
[2014/06/17 16:14] Zobeid Zuma: Let’s hope for that, Rhi.
[2014/06/17 16:14] Second Life: Flenser Juergens is online.
[2014/06/17 16:14] Zobeid Zuma: Human life as we know it has a lot of down sides.
[2014/06/17 16:14] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Art, but that’s the whole thing abut black holes, singularities, communism–there couldn’t be specifics, as they are beyond what we can know.
[2014/06/17 16:15] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Aha. It’s an ontological question.
[2014/06/17 16:15] ArtCrash Exonar: So The Singularity is in actuality The Singularities?
[2014/06/17 16:15] Sean Gorham: The singularity is today’s version of “here there be dragons” on old maps.
[2014/06/17 16:15] Metafire Horsley: Would you recognize a classless society when you saw one?
[2014/06/17 16:15] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Maybe, bands change their names all the time…. ops wrong discussion.
[2014/06/17 16:15] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): yeah, it’s not necessarily a criticism of the singularity than human life as we know it would cease. It’s just that it, like so many ‘religious’ beliefs involves the unknowable.
[2014/06/17 16:15] Extropia DaSilva: Is it really so hard to believe? Science, which is really the product of the human collective, is already opening up aspects of reality we hardly understand. Is it really so hard to believe that sci-tech could reveal truths that our minds REALLY cannot get a handle on!?
[2014/06/17 16:15] Zobeid Zuma: Sean has a point. Like the weather, technological advancement is chaotic, unpredictable.
[2014/06/17 16:15] Sean Gorham: It’s not hard to believe at all,
[2014/06/17 16:16] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Belief is always hard, Extie, if you have a scientific mind :)
[2014/06/17 16:16] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Sean had a point and I missed it? Rats.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Seren (serendipity.seraph): it is that we are not the smartest beings around any more and history is not primarily our creation from then on.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Sean Gorham: But because of the fact we can’t get a handle on it, we could talk about it forever and never come to a conclusion.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Zobeid Zuma: So in a mathematical sense, the Singularity is a point beyond which it’s hopeless to try and predict.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Extropia DaSilva: Then why do people not see that the tech Singularity is a definite possibility?
[2014/06/17 16:16] Sean Gorham: We won’t really know we’re in a singularity until we’re THERE.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Sean: like we do with God. :)
[2014/06/17 16:16] Sean Gorham: And maybe not until after.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Or a critical one, Gwyn. More that, as one physicist found out that as students get indoctrinated into physics, they form very rigid beliefs and aspects of reality that actually are coming true, but they don’t believe in it.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Gwyneth Llewelyn: And maybe it will be too late then.
[2014/06/17 16:17] Seren (serendipity.seraph): it is not god. no claim of all those omni-thingies
[2014/06/17 16:17] ArtCrash Exonar: Postulating AI that thinks in different and better ways in which we do is different than postulating AI or it’s successor that contains all knowledge and information. Quantum difference there. And I think no different than belief in God.
[2014/06/17 16:17] Gwyneth Llewelyn: hat’s interesting, Rhi. Almost paradoxal.
[2014/06/17 16:17] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zo, why, you just have to accept it on faith that it would be wonderful.
[2014/06/17 16:17] Second Life: Lilly (taylor.schroeder) is offline.
[2014/06/17 16:17] Gwyneth Llewelyn: For the quantum difference, use quantum computers. They will get it right. Maybe.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Zobeid Zuma: It’s the ultimate unknown, and the unknown is always very scary.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): But what if you just want a quantum of solace? Oh, wait, there’s British Inteligence for that.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Seren (serendipity.seraph): It is not predictable what these non-human superintelligences will do.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Zo: mmh. I have heard that phrase before.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Rhi: hahahahaha
[2014/06/17 16:18] Zobeid Zuma: Sort of like going into the monolith in 2001. :)
[2014/06/17 16:18] Gwyneth Llewelyn: /me watched that movie again last week!
[2014/06/17 16:18] Metafire Horsley: I predict they will do SOMETHING. Hah, I win ;)
[2014/06/17 16:18] Second Life: Lilly (taylor.schroeder) is online.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Sean Gorham: “My stars, it’s full of gods!”
[2014/06/17 16:18] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zo, right, and then after a few archetypal, dream like experiences, you’ll come out as a space fetus.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Sean Gorham: No, wait, that’s not how it goes.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Sean: hahahahahahaha
[2014/06/17 16:18] Extropia DaSilva: BTW would you say the discovery of the Higgs boson was a feat of superhuman intelligence, given that it took such a large concentration of human effort to do?
[2014/06/17 16:19] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Sean, right. lol
[2014/06/17 16:19] ArtCrash Exonar: We should explore what is possible and even postulate what is possible, but we go wrong when we start to expect our postulations to be actual….
[2014/06/17 16:19] Seren (serendipity.seraph): what would you do if say you thought 1 million times faster than anyone else
[2014/06/17 16:19] Zobeid Zuma: Time spent watching 2001 is never wasted.
[2014/06/17 16:19] Sean Gorham: No, that was just a lot of human intelligences putting their heads together.
[2014/06/17 16:19] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Extie: Many humans working together are still human.
[2014/06/17 16:19] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Seren, I would probably protect myself from slow dullards, like the Koontz AI
[2014/06/17 16:19] Metafire Horsley: I would do a lot of thinking.
[2014/06/17 16:19] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Seren: get bored a million times faster?
[2014/06/17 16:19] Metafire Horsley: Yeah, and then get bored ;)
[2014/06/17 16:19] Seren (serendipity.seraph): get the hell away from the mad slightly evolved chimps?
[2014/06/17 16:20] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Barely evolved.
[2014/06/17 16:20] Seren (serendipity.seraph): figure out how to make at least select ones of them like yourself?
[2014/06/17 16:20] Metafire Horsley: Nah, they taste like chicken ;)
[2014/06/17 16:20] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, the Koontz AI took care of those ‘chimps’ He liked, and protected himself from those who might get ‘em.
[2014/06/17 16:20] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Everything tastes like chicken, specially fried.
[2014/06/17 16:20] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): We could all be pets of the AI
[2014/06/17 16:20] Extropia DaSilva: But Gwyn, the LHC is a machine of such astonishing complexity it is just completely beyond my abillity to understand completely.
[2014/06/17 16:20] Seren (serendipity.seraph): the Culture series is about the best benign outcome in fiction
[2014/06/17 16:20] Sean Gorham: That doesn’t mean it’s beyond human understanding altogether.
[2014/06/17 16:20] Gwyneth Llewelyn: So what? I can’t even understand how a car works. I can still drive it.
[2014/06/17 16:20] Extropia DaSilva: and who DOES understand it completely?
[2014/06/17 16:21] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): My Great Aunt Maude; she understands *everything* lol
[2014/06/17 16:21] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Uh, nobody? That reminds me of the old quantum mechanics jokes, ‘there are just three living people understanding quantum mechanics’
[2014/06/17 16:21] Seren (serendipity.seraph): The car doesn’t decide where it wants to go on its on.
[2014/06/17 16:21] Metafire Horsley: There’s no reason to understand anything completely. You just need to know the basic essentials and the details you are going to work on.
[2014/06/17 16:21] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Not until Google sells them.
[2014/06/17 16:21] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, and you can’t know their exact location, right?
[2014/06/17 16:21] Extropia DaSilva: So what creates these things? If we attribute the termite mound to the superorganism, why not say the LHC or your motorcar was made by a human superorganism?
[2014/06/17 16:21] Seren (serendipity.seraph): yeah. I want my AI chaffeur
[2014/06/17 16:21] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Heh. Exactly, Rhi :)
[2014/06/17 16:22] Sean Gorham: I help people all the time with computers. Those people don’t know how computers work. Some of them barely have a concept of what the Internet is. That doesn’t mean it’s beyond human understanding. It just means they’re ignorant on the subject.
[2014/06/17 16:22] Seren (serendipity.seraph): yes
[2014/06/17 16:22] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Why not say that the LHC was merely put together by a lot of humans working as a team?
[2014/06/17 16:22] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Sean, good point.
[2014/06/17 16:22] Metafire Horsley: What’s a superorganism exactly?
[2014/06/17 16:22] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): And where the heck are you? I don’t see you and don’t want to mess up my view by moving my camera around.
[2014/06/17 16:22] Gwyneth Llewelyn: I’m an IT consultant, and I have not the slightest clue on how a semiconductor works at the quantum level.
[2014/06/17 16:22] Sean Gorham: Lack of knowledge or understanding doesn’t automatically make it… ineffable?
[2014/06/17 16:22] Zobeid Zuma: We’ve got a special thing here on Earth, hope we don’t blow it.
[2014/06/17 16:22] Seren (serendipity.seraph): funny how most physicists I know make their living as software engineers
[2014/06/17 16:23] Gwyneth Llewelyn: haha yes, Seren
[2014/06/17 16:23] Gwyneth Llewelyn: putting people like me out of a job!
[2014/06/17 16:23] Extropia DaSilva: Computers are postmodern. We operate them at a surface level of signs and symbols, with their true workings totally obscure to most people these days who use them.
[2014/06/17 16:23] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, but with AI, you will have one terrific time as its pet.
[2014/06/17 16:23] Zobeid Zuma: They’re finding so many seemingly-habitable exoplanets now, the big question is turning to: where is everyone?
[2014/06/17 16:23] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Just remember not to pee in its facility.
[2014/06/17 16:23] Gwyneth Llewelyn: But wasn’t that true of MOST tools over human history? We used horses well before we understood biology.
[2014/06/17 16:23] Seren (serendipity.seraph): I built my first computer myself so I do know how they work
[2014/06/17 16:24] ArtCrash Exonar: One can think of millions of specialist deep knowledge examples. Our culture is already an organism of some sort in that is functions above the knowledge of any person or group.
[2014/06/17 16:24] Seren (serendipity.seraph): well some of the device physics requires better math than I have..
[2014/06/17 16:24] Extropia DaSilva: but you do not know how to build one from scratch, beloved.
[2014/06/17 16:24] Metafire Horsley: We even use the most complex system of all, the human brain before we understood it ^^
[2014/06/17 16:24] Sean Gorham: The world is too complex for everyone to understand everything about it.
[2014/06/17 16:24] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Zo: oh yes, let’s do a topic on that: ‘The Fermi Paradox Revisited: now that we know how to create warp drives, where are all the aliens?’
[2014/06/17 16:24] Zobeid Zuma: That would be a good topic.
[2014/06/17 16:24] Seren (serendipity.seraph): yes. depending on what level of “scratch” you want to go to. Do I get to start with diodes and transistors at least?
[2014/06/17 16:24] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Wow, so we went from the war metaphor to a discussion of intelligence, to singularities, to AI, to specialization being compatible with human understanding. Did I leave anything out?
[2014/06/17 16:25] Sean Gorham: Warp drive, therefore aliens? Heh.
[2014/06/17 16:25] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): oh, right, warp drive. Thanks Sean
[2014/06/17 16:25] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Sean: yeppers
[2014/06/17 16:25] ArtCrash Exonar: I think the best answer for where are the aliens, is that after advancing to a certain level, they are no longer interested in lower life forms other than in a caretaker role.
[2014/06/17 16:25] Seren (serendipity.seraph): war on wandering talks. :)
[2014/06/17 16:25] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, the nearest technological alien would have to be at least 60 light years away, or we’d hear their radio shows.
[2014/06/17 16:25] Sean Gorham: I suppose we can wait for the Vulcan science ships to appear after we complete our first Warp 1 test, then. :P
[2014/06/17 16:25] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Warp drive and the warp torpedo: the weapon to destroy whole solar systems. Being built at a NASA lab as we speak.
[2014/06/17 16:25] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): And that’s quite a large area to explore before first contact.
[2014/06/17 16:26] Zobeid Zuma: I think the whole warp drive idea is bogus.
[2014/06/17 16:26] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): But Obama has publicly said, when people wanted him to build a death star, “The President doesn’t believe in blowing up planets.”
[2014/06/17 16:26] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Art: yes, they might have come upon their own Singularity and ignore pretty much the rest of the Universe, my basking in its light :)
[2014/06/17 16:26] Sean Gorham: But yeah, what happened to that whole “declaring war” thing? That’s why I showed up!
[2014/06/17 16:26] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Wow really, Rhi???
[2014/06/17 16:26] Zobeid Zuma: I wonder about that too….
[2014/06/17 16:26] Extropia DaSilva: But even alien civilizations must produce entropy or waste heat as a biproduct of their work. We should be able to detect that, but we do not.
[2014/06/17 16:26] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Yeah, Gwyn.
[2014/06/17 16:26] Metafire Horsley: Is there a better alternative to “War on X”/
[2014/06/17 16:26] ArtCrash Exonar: I declare War On The Singularity!
[2014/06/17 16:26] Sean Gorham: America is an empire. It’s not The Empire. :P
[2014/06/17 16:27] Zobeid Zuma: That was my idea! :P
[2014/06/17 16:27] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Art: Zo and I beat it to it. And you can declare that war only once.
[2014/06/17 16:27] Gwyneth Llewelyn: *you
[2014/06/17 16:27] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Extie, again, that means that they would have to be at least 60ly away.
[2014/06/17 16:27] Seren (serendipity.seraph): The same president that says we don’t want weapons of war on American streets but gives mini tanks to police forces and gives drones to several agencies?
[2014/06/17 16:27] Extropia DaSilva: No the empire is the multinational corporations.
[2014/06/17 16:27] Sean Gorham: ^
[2014/06/17 16:27] ArtCrash Exonar: /me cries
[2014/06/17 16:27] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Seren, the very one. lol
[2014/06/17 16:27] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Maybe he meant, ‘no weapons of war on AMerican HANDS, not streets’
[2014/06/17 16:28] Extropia DaSilva: oh gosh three mins left…anyone want to get us back on topic?
[2014/06/17 16:28] Gwyneth Llewelyn: State: monopoly on violence, remember?
[2014/06/17 16:28] Extropia DaSilva: 2 mins now
[2014/06/17 16:28] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, right, he doesn’t want a sniper to shoot out the Death Star’s land station.
[2014/06/17 16:28] Metafire Horsley: What happens when the counter reaches 0?
[2014/06/17 16:28] Zobeid Zuma: Well, we blew off the War on X metaphor because it’s either A) an excuse to undertake drastic measures that otherwise wouldn’t be accepted, or B) a way to make it sound like you’re taking strong measures when you aren’t really.
[2014/06/17 16:28] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Maybe because the state has a monopoly on violence, it decides to wage war on anything requiring some sort of violence? (like removing personal freedoms)
[2014/06/17 16:28] Seren (serendipity.seraph): yes Zo
[2014/06/17 16:28] ArtCrash Exonar: Governments are not the main organizations of control any more Corporations are. They cross all borders and are beholden to none.
[2014/06/17 16:28] Gwyneth Llewelyn: And I agree with your summary, Zo.
[2014/06/17 16:29] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, why consistent libertarians are anarchists.
[2014/06/17 16:29] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Art: indeed, and most constitutions don’t protect citizens from corporations, only from governments
[2014/06/17 16:29] Zobeid Zuma: Libertarians are NOT anarchists.
[2014/06/17 16:29] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zo, yes, that explains why we spun off to other topics.
[2014/06/17 16:29] Seren (serendipity.seraph): government is unique in legally being allowed to initiate force
[2014/06/17 16:29] Gwyneth Llewelyn: That’s what ‘monopoly on violence’ means, Seren :)
[2014/06/17 16:29] Extropia DaSilva: leviathan
[2014/06/17 16:29] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): There are libertarian anarchists, Zo, and they do argue that archists (the other kind, a term coined by Tibor Machan) are inconsistent.
[2014/06/17 16:29] Seren (serendipity.seraph): sure. but someone said they are no different from corporations which is false.
[2014/06/17 16:30] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Ah. Agreed, Seren.
[2014/06/17 16:30] Gwyneth Llewelyn: We live in cyberpunk days.
[2014/06/17 16:30] Extropia DaSilva: OK my time is up!

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Diamond rain.


It might have been called ‘the rock to alter the course of history’. But that would have seemed too grandiose a name for it during much of its long life. In comparison to the vast and dark and mostly empty cosmos through which it drifted, the rock was but an infinitesimal speck, and not at all remarkable. Had its path through space been different, it would have been ignored out of existence like the countless billions of rocks likewise drifting through the lonely cosmos. But its path was what it was, and so it was destined to become something of a legend, the solution to a great mystery, many millions of years into the future.

When the first eyes caught sight of the rock, it could not be recognised as such for it had been transformed. When it did land, the force unleashed would be unmatched by any event in this part of the cosmos, unless in some distant past a star had gone supernova.

But that was in the imminent future. For now, the rock was falling through the planet’s atmosphere, and as it did so the friction built up to the point where the object became a mighty, dazzling ball of fire, with plasma trailing off it like a stupendous comet. If there had been minds capable of understanding what this spectacle meant, they surely would have stood transfixed both by the beauty of what they beheld in the sky, and the fear of what they knew was to come. But there were no minds evolved to appreciate beauty or to connect fire in the sky with something so abstract as the apocalypse. The creatures that inhabited this world were concerned only with hunting, or avoiding being hunted, or mating.

And then the rock, which was the size of mount Everest, impacted with the Earth. Darkness fell. A Nuclear winter gripped the planet. In geological terms the darkness lasted but a moment, but for 75% of all life the winter persisted forever. Their kind would never walk or fly or swim again, for the impact of the rock and the environmental changes this cataclysm wrought doomed them to extinction.

And, for 65 million years, the arrival of that rock and the effect it had on the history of the planet were forgotten, and unknown. No creature which survived concerned itself with such matters; their minds were focused only on day to day survival. But through those daily struggles species evolved, until a primate walked the Earth with a brain large enough to infer past events from the subtlest clues of the present day, and with hands that could fashion tools and so bring about a different kind of evolution: That of technology.

Most of the species that went extinct 65 million years ago were fated never to be remembered. No trace of their ever having existed would be found. But a few left fossil remains, and those stone skeletons and bones were testament to a lost world which no human ever witnessed, a world dominated by dinosaurs. Dinosaurs that had survived far longer than the entire lifespan of the human race, but which seemed to have vanished from the earth almost overnight. Why? That was the great mystery.

But various clues had been left after the cataclysmic arrival of the asteroid, waiting to be noticed by minds smart enough to read their millions year old message. For the space rock carried with it an element that was very rare on Earth but common in asteroids: Iridium. In the geological record there lay a thin layer of iridium, a boundary that could be found throughout the world in marine and terrestrial rocks. Below that boundary, one could find the fossils of dinosaurs and other flora and fauna of the lost world. Above that boundary, no such fossils existed. Along with other clues, the so-called K-pg boundary testified to the reason why the rule of the dinosaurs had come to such a sudden end.

The asteroid that killed altered the course of evolution on planet earth had arrived unopposed, for no power had existed on Earth that could have altered its course or otherwise prevented its impacting with it. Other rocks drifted through space, and they, too would have smashed into the earth if the path of our planet and that of the rock had likewise coincided. If. If they had arrived before a certain period in time.

But the next asteroid whose path put it on collision course with Earth was destined to enter our solar system when a force greater than it had emerged on our planet: The force of technologically-enhanced intelligence.

In comparison to the evolutionary forces of natural selection, the rise of technology had been astonishingly swift. Nature took billions of years to invent biological machines which could fly; people aided by technology achieved it after a few hundred thousand years. Nature took billions of years to establish various self-regulating systems between the planet’s geology, atmosphere, waters, and life. Systems which maintained such things as the stability of global temperature, ocean salinity, and the levels of oxygen in the atmosphere. Humankind, once it acquired technology, took only a few hundred thousand years to add to those homeostatic mechanisms what was essentially a nervous system: Countless sensors and satellites and computers all networked via communications networks, augmenting human minds with the capacity to find patterns and detect phenomenon which hitherto had existed outside of conscious awareness.

Automated telescopes scanned the skies, controlled by narrow artificial intelligences designed to detect the nanosecond change in light levels whenever an asteroid passed in front of a star. At first this ability to detect asteroids and map their trajectory was not combined with a capability to do anything about such rocks that were on a collision course. But technological evolution continued apace. Economic incentives, the need to use finite resources with as much efficiency as possible, the improvement to scientific instruments through refinement of their component parts, all these factors and more combined to push technology in the direction of miniaturization. Microtechnology progressed in time to nanotechnology, which, in turn, evolved into atomically-precise manufacturing and self-replicating machines.

No self-replicating machine actually existed on Earth, due to laws which forbade the introduction of anything which could trigger a grey goo scenario. But, out in space it was different, for it was recognized that Von-Neumann replicators held the key to prevent another impact event.

Factories had been established on the Moon, where low gravity made it feasible to launch satellites no larger than your thumb. The wonders of molecular nanotechnology meant these were not just satellites but entire automated factories which could build more of their own kind out of common elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. They drifted through the solar system, and when they happened to came across material they could use, on-board guidance systems granted them the ability to navigate toward such resources. Once safely landed, the astonishing process of manipulating matter at the atomic level would begin, and more satellite/factories would be produced. Thus, the numbers of satellites grew exponentially.

By the time the satellites reached the outer edges of the solar system, exponential growth had raised their numbers to the trillions. A halo of sensors encircled our system, ever-watchful for the arrival of space rocks and equipped with enough computing power and artificial intelligence to accurately map the trajectory of such rocks and determine with 100% accuracy whether or not they threatened the Earth.

When, on May 15th 2060 such a rock passed by the Detection Halo, it awakened something which lay dormant among the many rocks of the asteroid belt. For the self-replicating factories had not only produced the satellites that comprised the Detection Halo, but also left other factories which could produce-along with more factories- atomic disassemblers. Or, to give them their more common name: Rock munchers.

The arrival of the May 15 asteroid caused a signal to be sent out by the Detection Halo, which raced ahead of the rock at the speed of light. As it passed by sensors left on space debris, the dormant factories were activated. What as at first an invisibly sparse layer of bug-sized rock muncher robots became, in time, a vast cloud, hundreds of miles thick. A huge, narrow intelligent dusty orb of self-replicating atomic disassemblers, their numbers growing exponentially as they travelled through space, replicating themselves by devouring necessary materials wherever they found them, until their numbers were sufficient to deal with the asteroid headed for Earth.

As the rock of 65 million years ago had smothered the Earth in a layer of dust that blocked out the Sun, now too was this rock denied sight of our local star by the omnipresence of dust. Smart dust, each speck a complex nanotechnological device with the ability to manoeuvre matter atom by atom. They covered the surface of that rock and began to devour it, disassembling it at the molecular level.

By the time it reached the orbit of the Moon, the rock munchers had processed almost all of the asteroid’s usable elements into products that would serve useful purposes for the many space-borne automated factories that orbited between the Earth and our neighbour satellite. What was left of the asteroid was still headed for our planet, but that was no mistake. It had been planned as a celebration of intelligence over dumb matter.

The whole world gathered in the Nevada desert. Some attended physically; most attended via telepresence technologies which enabled them to enjoy the moment with all the immersiveness of actually being there. Eyes were trained toward the skies. And there they were! As promised, falling down, sparkling like rainbow-coloured drops of water, iridescent. A portion of the asteroid’s carbon, atoms rearranged into face-centred cubic crystal structures, the brilliant sunlight refracting off the droplets as if God Himself were impressing the people below with a light display.
It was raining diamonds.


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Thanks to modern technologies that enable us to observe, in increasing detail, not only how brains are organised but how they function, and thanks to increasingly capable communications networks and knowledge-management systems, humanity is slowly advancing toward a comprehensive model explaining how the brain works. This task is still very much incomplete but what would be the consequences of its eventual success? What would happen to our minds, when we know our minds completely?

I think that one consequence, once the science is common knowledge among laypersons, would be the elimination of evil.

What do I mean by that?

First, let me explain what I do not mean. I do not mean that, by developing a science sophisticated enough to understand exactly how brains work, we will be able to create a utopia in which nobody ever perpetrates a wrongful act. What I do mean, is that we will reject the concept of ‘evil’ as an immaterial malevolent force which affects some people and causes them to do immoral things. In replace of this outmoded form of thinking, we will have a more mechanistic, malfunction-based way of explaining why people do things which society has deemed immoral.

In the British sitcom Fawlty Towers, there is a scene in which lead character Basil Fawlty is driving his car in a desperate race to reach his destination on time. Inevitably, Murphy’s Law kicks into effect and his car suffers a mechanical breakdown. Trying the ignition several times, and greeted only with the sounds of an engine that refuses to turn over, all the while yelling “Start! Start you selfish bastard, start!”, Fawlty gets out of his car, tells it “right, you’re in for a damn good thrashing” and punishes his uncooperative vehicle by beating it with a branch of a tree.

What makes this scene so absurd and comedic is the fact that Fawlty puts so much blame- in a moral sense- onto his car’s mechanical breakdown. Of course, the vehicle cannot be held morally responsible for jeapordising Fawlty’s gourmet night. It was not an ‘evil bastard’; it simply had suffered a mechanical failure that caused it to cease functioning as it should.

We all can see the absurdity in condemning a machine as evil and slapping it with a makeshift club in order to punish it, but why not see judging people as ‘evil’ as equally absurd? Are they really evil or, like the car, do they have some kind of malfunction which affects their ability to follow social norms?

Broadly speaking, the tendency to be violent or break the rules of society can be seen as being largely a problem of self-control. People who commit crimes do not have the ability to see that a larger reward which is further off in the future outweighs the benefits of a smaller reward which is imminent. Thus, the criminally minded are self-indulgent types who do things which help oneself in the short-term but which will very likely hurt oneself more in the long-term.

The psychologists Janet Metcalf and Walther Mischel carried out studies into ’myopic discounting’ in children (myopic discounting being the name for choosing instant gratification over a higher reward which is further in the future). Studies like these lead economists David Laibson and George Lowenstein (themselves working alongside psychologists and neuroimagers) to conclude that myopic discounting can be seen as a give-or-take between two brain systems. Steven Pinker dubbed these two brain systems ’hot’ and ’cool’, but in neuroscientific terms they are the limbic system and the frontal lobes.

According to Pinker, “the lymbic system includes the rage, fear, and dominance systems that run from the midbrain through the hypothalamus to the amygdala, together with the dopamine-driven seeking circuit that runs from the hypothalamus through to the striatum. Both have two-way connections to the orbital cortex and other parts of frontal lobes, which… can modulate the activity of these emotional circuits”.

Well, there’s a lot of awfully complex-sounding words in that explanation (neuroscience is a master of using latin words to make things sound well-understood. Calling a region of the brain an ‘amygdala’ sounds so much more impressive than ’thingy that looks like a walnut’ which is a fairly accurate translation of ’amygdala’. And then there is the parts of the brain which, when translated from Latin into English, is ’unknown stuff’). But in simpler terms, it says that we all have circuits in the brain which tell us ’go for it!” and circuits in the brain which modulate such impulsive behaviour, enabling us to act more rationally and weigh up the risk-reward benefits and costs.

Armed with knowledge that the brain contains ’hot’ and ’cool’ systems, and understanding where in the brain those two brain systems are, neuroimagers can literally read people’s minds and predict when they will opt for a reward now and when they will abstain from instant gratification in favour of a greater reward that is further off in the future, just by noticing what areas of the brain are ’lighting up’ during fMRI scans.

Long before we had fMRI scanners or any means of peering into live brains to see how they work, psychologists have known that damage to the frontal lobes results in a peculiarly impulsive form of behaviour. If you have frontal lobe damage, you become purely impulse-driven. Put a chair in front of such a person and they will automatically sit on it. Give them an apple and they will reflexively bite into it. I do not know what would happen if you gave such people a gun, but if it ended in tragedy I think it is fair to say that the person is no more ‘evil’ than a person who is paralysed and unable to get out of bed when ordered is ‘lazy’.

Another study into the biology of immoral acts focused on genetics. There is an enzyme in the brain called monoamine oxidise-a or MAO-A for short, and what it does is break down certain neurotransmitters preventing them from building up in the brain. A Dutch family carries a rare mutation that leaves half the men of the family without a working version of the gene that codes for MAO-A, and the result of this inheritable defect is that they are prone to aggressive outbursts. Again, we find a physical, mechanistic explanation for why some individuals’ behaviour falls outside of socially-held views of what is ‘right’,

My conjecture is that we will always be able to reduce any criminal behaviour to a miss-wiring or other kind of malfunction of the brain’s circuitry. In the future, if a person repeatedly breaks the rules of society, rather than suppose some malevolent spirit possessed that person and rather than or condemn them as being ‘pure evil’, we would be able to diagnose the specific neurological malfunctions which leads to their being incapable of following the rules, just as a mechanic could have diagnosed the actual physical reason for Basil Fawlty’s clapped-out old mini and come up with a more useful, rational explanation than ‘it’s an evil bastard’.

If we can diagnose such malfunctions, why can we not also correct them, thereby achieving a utopian society in which everybody is good?

I suppose, given suitably advanced medical technology, we could repair or redesign brains to produce minds which better conform to social norms (those do-anything nanobots beloved of the bright-eyed and optimistic transhumanists would be, as always, an effective tool) but, moral relativist that I am, I am reluctant to say that this would result in a world in which evil acts were eliminated once and for all.

The thing with morality is, our concepts of what are acceptable and what is a gross violation of all that is good, are not immutable but always evolving. Very often, the problem the world has is not a lack of morality, but rather that there is too much of it. Some of the most outrageous crimes against humanity (to our modern eyes) were carried out by people who were driven by a deep-seated sense of moral rightousness. The grim examples include all the homocides committed in pursuit of self-help justice, religious and revolutionary wars, and ideological genocides.

It is a sobering thought to ponder what might have happened if the societies which perpetrated such despicable acts had gained access to neurotechnologies which could rewire citizen’s brains and so make them behave in ways which were deemed ‘morally acceptable’ to that society. I think it is fair to say that the world would be a much darker, malevolent place than it is today.

I like, also, to think that the advances we have made in spreading democracy, abolishing slavery, condemning torture, and expanding the circle of human rights gives us reason to suppose we are a much more tolerant, enlightened bunch than our temperamental, hot-headed ancestors were. But perhaps we should not get too self-congratulatory and remind ourselves that our future descendants may look back on our way of life and be just as appalled at our behaviour.

Maybe human behaviour and the collective action of billions of people is too complex and prone to the ‘butterfly effect’ for there ever to be a grand ethical system which neatly divides actions into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and so it could be that, no matter how sophisticated science and technology becomes, we will never be able to rewire people’s brains and produce free-thinking agents who always do what is intrinsically, morally right. But perhaps, as our understanding of the neurological underpinnings of human behaviour grows toward a complete picture of how minds work and what, physically, goes wrong when they produce bad judgements, we will eliminate ‘evil’ as an explanation for the occurrence of immoral or unethical behaviour in favour of a more scientific, neurological prognosis.

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