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Jul 2, 2020

Software Wars, The Movie, Free download

Posted by in categories: futurism, human trajectories, open source, space

Software Wars is a 70 minute documentary about the ongoing battle between proprietary versus free and open-source software. The more we share scientific information, the faster we can solve the challenges of the future. It also discusses biology and the space elevator.

Here is the feature trailer:

For now, you can watch the movie for free or download it via BitTorrent here: https://video.detroitquaranteam.com/videos/watch/07696431&#4…ac9c7d22b1

Jun 2, 2020

Annihilation of all Yardsticks — essay on Wittgenstein’s thoughts about certainty

Posted by in categories: aging, evolution, futurism, health, human trajectories, life extension, mathematics, philosophy, robotics/AI

How do we know what to do in life? How do we know where to go, where to start, where we are, what it’s all made of, why it matters? Why don’t we know? Can we know? Why am I alive? What is alive? Why is this place here? What is going on?

In his collection of papers and notes posthumously published as a book in 1969, titled On Certainty, Ludwig Wittgenstein writes, “How does someone judge which is his right and which his left hand?” We are certain that we know, but we really don’t know the answer. “At the foundation of well-founded belief lies belief that is not founded.” He serendipitously illustrated his point from beyond the grave when he wrote: “‘But is there then no objective truth? Isn’t it true, or false, that someone has been on the moon?’ If we are thinking within our system, then it is certain that no one has ever been on the moon. Not merely is nothing of the sort ever seriously reported to us by reasonable people, but our whole system of physics forbids us to believe it.“ We only have the ability to examine a minuscule fraction of the information available in the big picture of it all. We cannot escape uncertainty yet, even though we routinely pretend that we have.

The book talks about “language games”. It’s a concept that Wittgenstein developed earlier in his life to explain how people inherit and subconsciously create unspoken rules of communication that gloss over or emphasize certain words and ideas. He writes, “It’s not a matter of [philosopher G.E.] Moore’s knowing that there’s a hand there, but rather we should not understand him if he were to say ‘Of course I may be wrong about this.’ ” We don’t say we know that our religious, political or even sports affiliations are true, the assumptions are built right into our languaging. What better example is there than the wide-eyed sports fan who is unquestionably convinced that their random group of players is the best that there ever was and will be? Many of them are not bluffing, their language game has programmed them. The word structure that they know will not allow them to see it any other way. People’s various language games assume what they want, often from habit, usually based on subconscious tradition.

“Suppose now I say ‘I’m incapable of being wrong about this: that is a book’ while I point to an object. What would a mistake here be like? And have I any clear idea of it?” There are fake books, tricks are played, there are mind altering substances, coincidences happen, there could be a secret society of magicians controlling public perceptions, or our world could be some kind of solipsistic melting pot of dreams and hallucinations. We could list things like these all day. There are simpler examples for common situations as well, like, somebody might be unquestionably convinced they are seeing a magazine when it is a zine, or a cow when it is in fact a bull. It’s also pretty common for people to think that they know a person made a mistake that they did not actually make. Consider that the way the future is headed, there is a good chance we will all have 3d printers that run on practically free energy and make everything out of basic materials like sand and vegetation, be free to travel around the universe with access to trillions of planets, and so forth. In that reality, theme planets are all but inevitable. There will be planets for specific ecological niches and time periods. People will be able to set up Plato’s Cave, Truman Show style planets, and countless other scenarios. Being that this seems so inevitable (read The Singularity is Near if you are not convinced), why would we assume that we are not in a scenario like that right now?

What happens though, is if we were to take the groundlessness of surety into account in our day to day communication, we wouldn’t be able to say anything. It seems we might almost be cornered into adopting language games. “This game proves its worth. That may be the cause of its being played, but it is not the ground.” The temptation to stay locked into them is almost irresistible, especially the hereditary ones. “[W]ould it be unthinkable that I should stay in the saddle however much the facts bucked?” It isn’t unthinkable because the entire purpose of the game is to ride unreasonable broncos and we have been training since we were born. Wittgenstein goes on to ponder, “Certain events would [put] me into a position in which I could not go on with the old language-game any further. In which I was torn away from the sureness of the game. Indeed, doesn’t it seem obvious that the possibility of a language-game is conditioned by certain facts?” It’s possible but usually very difficult because safeguards and defense mechanisms are built into them too. When a person does something detrimental, “it is what it is” — when evidence bucks, faith grips tighter — another team might have won the super bowl, but their quarterback threw for more yards in the season.

There are a lot of incompatible language games being played around the world. If you tell a person embedded in another one that they are wrong, it’s almost as if they cannot know it because if they were to consider that they should doubt parts of it, it would open the door to the slippery slope leading to the “annihilation of all yardsticks”, and it is difficult, maybe nearly impossible, to live in a world without them. “If something happened calculated to make me doubtful of my own name, there would certainly also be something that made the grounds of these doubts themselves seem doubtful, and I could therefore decide to retain my old belief.” In order to take action, you have to make decisions, and in order to make decisions, some of the patterns in your mind need to win out over the others. If there aren’t any execute commands in the code, then the code is lifeless and goes nowhere.

Does this mean that we have to permit some unsubstantiated assertions? All of them? Do we have the right to dismiss any of them? If it turns out to be true that there is no foundation for knowledge or contemplation, then how could we draw such a line? I think a lot of it comes down to what I talk about in terms of how much we are willing to bet at a given time, and the use of words like “seems”. “We just do not see how very specialized the use of ‘I know’ is. For ‘I know’ seems to describe a state of affairs which guarantees what is known, guarantees it as a fact. One always forgets the expression ‘I thought I knew’ “.
It’s not that we know, it’s that certain things look very likely to us from our current perspective, and we all know that our perspectives have changed, and therefore that more of them will likely change as well. We should learn to expect this, and if we are honest with ourselves, be proactive about it. I believe that is the common language game we can all play. It is like we are trying to play blackjack with people who are trying to play poker, war, concentration and rummy with us. If we all played poker, our individual bets would still range in scale depending on our hands at any given time but we would all be playing a compatible game.

When it comes to the concept of “seems”, I have found that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of alternatives, which sometimes makes it difficult to talk in terms of it in a stylistically appropriate way. Being that people are prone to asserting the uncertain so pervasively, it makes sense that we might end up with so few words for expressing variations and shades of doubt. Wittgenstein uses a variety of phrasing throughout the book that give us some ideas on how we might expand it. I pulled many of them together and summed them up:

“Suppose I replaced Moore’s ‘I know’ by ‘I am of the unshakeable conviction’?”
“It stands fast for me and many others…”
‘That’s how it is — rely upon it.’
“I learned it years and years ago”
“I am sure it is so.“
“is an irreversible belief.“
“it gives us a right to assume it.”
“Suppose it were forbidden to say ‘I know’ and only allowed to say ‘I believe I know’?”
“excludes a certain kind of failure”
“I can hardly be mistaken”
“That is the truth — so far as a human being can know it.“

That is not to say that every communication should necessarily be tentative. One of the main conclusions that Wittgenstein reaches is that our beliefs can be justified, but not certain. “[…] I find it quite correct for someone to say ‘Rubbish!’ and so brush aside the attempt to confuse him with doubts at bedrock, — nevertheless, I hold it to be incorrect if he seeks to defend himself (using, e.g., the words ‘I know’).” I think of that in terms of calculated risk. Sometimes you have to remove the language of doubt in order to favor the patterns in life that seem most important. That, though, is less like certainty and more like leadership. All confidence is either bluff or ignorance. If we have calculated the potential value in bluffing our certainty, that is one thing, but to do it blindly, unknowingly, is another.

Wittgenstein talks about how if existential certainty is there to be found, it would probably be in a form similar to a mathematical proposition and proof. “If the proposition 12×12=144 is exempt from doubt, then so too must non-mathematical propositions be.” “If” being a key word there. He reminds us that it seems as though they cannot be certain either but goes out on a short limb to humor that they are. In that process he makes what I find to be one of the most profound and rather Godel-esque insights of the book: ”there ought to be a proposition that is just as certain, and deals with the process of this calculation, but isn’t itself mathematical. I am thinking of such a proposition as: ‘The multiplication 12×12, when carried out by people who know how to calculate, will in the great majority of cases give the result 144.’ Nobody will contest this proposition, and naturally it is not a mathematical one.” That might be a key to extinguishing existential angst and establishing the foundation of common meaning.

It is true that the universe might be infinite and that even if it isn’t, the work to reach certainty might still end up being like trying to reach zero by continuously dividing by half, always inching closer, impossible to reach. In the meantime, we wait in suspense as patterns wind their way through the chaos like armies meandering through mine fields. Certainty is no more than the soldiers out ahead who haven’t been blown up yet, standing in the middle of the field with a universe of unknown mines ahead. Some evolutionary lineages successfully walk on for hundreds of millions of years before they are blown up and consumed by the blur. What choice do we have, what else might we do, use patterns we don’t understand or that are wrong more of the time? We don’t know if we will make it or not. Maybe it is too difficult. Maybe it will take a hundred million additional years. Maybe we are in the home stretch and artificial intelligence of the near future is the calculator of existential proofs. We just don’t know.

We don’t know how long it might take to get a better grip on the nature of certainty, and death is barreling down on us, hence the movement for indefinite life extension. It is tragic to be uncertain about everything, which includes our own wants and needs, when the stakes are so high. It is tragic to live and die as a captive in a dark basement. Earth is that basement and our lifespans are the walls. Some people don’t see that, like captives of Plato’s cave.

As things stand, the best we can do is be willing to make educated bets at any given time. The only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know anything for sure. We don’t even know if we don’t know. That is good news though, therein sneaks the foundation that begins to unravel the absurd. If the only thing we know is that nothing makes sense until we know, and that by working to figure stuff out, we could end up knowing, that small patch of philosophical ground in the quicksands of uncertainty becomes the launchpad upon which we begin stringing lines of certainty together. Anything else would be illogical, against our nature, detrimental to our fitness. Standing on this platform is a stage in our evolutionary trajectory.

“We all believe that it isn’t possible to get to the moon; but there might be people who believe that that is possible and that it sometimes happens. We say: these people do not know a lot that we know. And, let them be never so sure of their belief — they are wrong and we know it. If we compare our system of knowledge with theirs then theirs is evidently the poorer one by far.”

Jun 24, 2019

Is artificial consciousness the solution to AI?

Posted by in categories: computing, driverless cars, Elon Musk, ethics, evolution, futurism, homo sapiens, human trajectories, information science, law enforcement, machine learning, science, Skynet, supercomputing

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an emerging field of computer programming that is already changing the way we interact online and in real life, but the term ‘intelligence’ has been poorly defined. Rather than focusing on smarts, researchers should be looking at the implications and viability of artificial consciousness as that’s the real driver behind intelligent decisions.

Consciousness rather than intelligence should be the true measure of AI. At the moment, despite all our efforts, there’s none.

Significant advances have been made in the field of AI over the past decade, in particular with machine learning, but artificial intelligence itself remains elusive. Instead, what we have is artificial serfs—computers with the ability to trawl through billions of interactions and arrive at conclusions, exposing trends and providing recommendations, but they’re blind to any real intelligence. What’s needed is artificial awareness.

Elon Musk has called AI the “biggest existential threat” facing humanity and likened it to “summoning a demon,”[1] while Stephen Hawking thought it would be the “worst event” in the history of civilization and could “end with humans being replaced.”[2] Although this sounds alarmist, like something from a science fiction movie, both concerns are founded on a well-established scientific premise found in biology—the principle of competitive exclusion.[3]

Continue reading “Is artificial consciousness the solution to AI?” »

Jun 9, 2019

Catalyst: A review of 7 predictions from 2013

Posted by in categories: economics, futurism, governance, government, human trajectories, internet, journalism, transparency

My own 2013 book Catalyst: A Techno-Liberation Thesis offered a prediction of the political future, viewing the near-term future as a time of crisis shaped by the nature of technology and the slowness of states to adjust to it. As this struggle becomes more acute, guarded new technologies will also get stolen and overflow across borders, going global and penetrating every country before they were intended to. States and large companies will react with bans and lies as they try to save their monopolies. Ultimately, over a longer time-frame, the nation-state system will collapse because of this pressure and an uncertain successor system of governance will emerge. It will look like “hell on earth” for a time, but it will stabilize in the end. We will become new political animals with new allegiances, shaped by the crisis, much as the Thirty Years’ War brought about our Westphalian nation-state model. Six years on from my book, are we any closer to what I predicted?

  1. The internet is “liberating” and “empowering” in a political sense (pp. 2, 3)
    • Uncertain outcome. Will current habits of censorship, de-platforming and other techno-enslavement as a result of controversies like “Russiagate” persist or are they temporary? If the economically or commercially favorable course is one of freedom and the removal of all filters and bans, will we see a reversal in the next few years? As younger politicians replace the old, will the internet become a sacred anarchy again?
  2. “Duplicitous policies” preserve the status of rich countries as exploiters and bullies (p. 11)
    • Yes, and it is increasingly obvious. Such policies became exposed and visible under the Trump administration, which openly declares its national interest to lie in the economic deprivation of others and sabotage of their tech. This has been criticized as harmful to free trade, and has been described as “de-globalization”. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin remarked that the tech war complicates the issue of global inequality (a rare observation seemingly asserted only in the Catalyst Thesis before recently).
  3. “Nano” and “bio” appliances will be in the household and will “shrink” production processes, abridging these processes so they are not corporate or state controlled and are in the “hands of the people” (p. 15)
    • This is uncertain. If there has been progress towards this outcome, it is not visible and has not had a major impact on world events. The possibility of it has started to cause concern for states and monopolistic schemes, but this is more in the ‘alarm’ stage rather than the ‘ban’ stage. More time may be needed, before this trend has a deeper impact on society.
  4. The nation-state system is being weakened by technology, media and globalization (p. 16), anti-state forces are “winning”
    • Well, not really. As of 2019, unless everything we just saw was a hiccup in the grand plan of history, the “ideological mask” of exploitation and division — the nation-state system — has reasserted itself. In almost every policy area in every country, the clock is running backward towards nationalism, censorship, borders, walls, and deep paranoia. Almost everyone on the political left and right is part of the problem, wittingly or unwittingly. Whether you support Trump or think he’s a Russian asset, or even care, your views and values are right out of the Nineteenth Century. We have seen the defeat of net neutrality, along with the passive acceptance of censorship on social media in the foolish assumption it will only be used on targets we dislike or who went too far. There seems to have been a lack of any major follow-up disclosures of government abuses on the scale of Edward Snowden’s, and whether it will ever happen again is questionable. With all these things considered, “losing” might be a better description of the situation for anti-government techno-politics as of 2019. If what is happening is not a minor disruption in the flow of history, it is consequential for the Catalyst Thesis and severely undermines its value. If the “soft” battle is lost as described above, and we revert to a society dominated entirely by strong states and corporations, the “hard” battle of techno-liberation may never start in our lifetimes.
  5. Historical transitions are “dark and filled with reaction” (p.23)
    • Yes. This appears to still be the case. The reaction may be what we are already facing, as all elites invested in the old system desperately try to suppress the global political will, motivated by fear of a new world order in which they are demoted.
  6. “Open-borders global political will” will form as a result of the internet, translation software, and the difficulty of statists in managing the overflow of popular technologies and their users (pp. 24, 25)
    • Yes. Almost every attempt by the media conglomerates and/or state to create a uniform public opinion about an election, a global issue, a scandal, etc. is failing because of alleged foreign “trolls”. They cannot be stopped because the internet’s circulatory system is not for one nation, but completely open to the world. That is the whole point of it, the reason it is the internet. The US 2016 election was the most visible example of the loss of control. Repressive and paranoid statements ensued. But, as of 2019, governments and media still gasp at the results they are getting.
  7. We will see new or experimental technologies shared illegally, the way information is leaked (p. 37)
    • Uncertain. Edward Snowden and Wikileaks do not seem to have captured as many imaginations as they should have, given how central they have been in the story of the internet. It is difficult to argue that the next generation will be even more rebellious, if they are to grow up in a much more monitored and conformist society. If the anarchy of the internet is going to be stopped and the smallest infractions punished as treason, this will damage the thinking of younger people who should have grown up noticing the contradictions in society. If, on the other hand, younger people are increasingly trained to be highly capable in the cyber-world (e.g. coding classes), we may see an even bigger generation of cypherpunk rebels accidentally raised by the state.

Catalyst is read in less than a day, and can be found on Kindle as well as in print. It was written to bring together a number of ideas and predictions I presented in articles at the IEET website, h+ Magazine, and other websites and includes full lists of sources. If you prefer to see more first, follow @CatalystThesis on Twitter or sign up to the email newsletter.

Mar 18, 2019

Dr. Philip Nitschke — Exit International — IdeaXme show — Ira Pastor

Posted by in categories: aging, biotech/medical, business, cryonics, disruptive technology, engineering, futurism, geopolitics, health, human trajectories

Mar 16, 2018

The Transhumanist Test of Faith

Posted by in categories: Elon Musk, ethics, human trajectories, moore's law, singularity, transhumanism

This piece originally appeared at the Institute for Emerging and Evolutionary Technologies website. It is dedicated to Leon Festinger.

Transhumanism is more often regarded as a faith by its detractors than its supporters. For my own part, I have long argued that the signature themes of transhumanism – especially the preoccupation with intellectual immortality and physical resurrection – bear the marks of Abrahamic theology. Indeed, without that theological backdrop, transhumanism’s zeal for mind uploading and cryonics looks simply bizarre. However, in this context, transhumanists can reasonably argue that they are scientifically delivering on those original theological promissory notes. Nevertheless, there remains the potentially pejorative sense of ‘faith’ lurking in what might be called transhumanism’s sense of eschatology – that is, its account of when, how and to whom those promissory notes will be delivered.

History shows that any humanly conceived idea is eventually realized in some form. Most of these ideas are realized fairly shortly after conception and in more or less the manner intended by their conceiver. However, many of the most important ideas – the ones that profoundly alter humanity’s self-understanding — are only realized much later and typically in a context quite alien to those who originally conceived them. Norbert Wiener famously observed that the possibility of an artificial intelligence was first raised in Talmudic discussions of the Biblical Golem. One of the goals of medieval alchemy was the creation of life from non-living materials. As for space travel and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, they became staples of speculative thought starting with the European Renaissance’s unprecedented confidence in the power of human ingenuity. But in all these cases, the ideas have taken 500‑2000 years to be realized – and many have yet to fully satisfy the ambitions of their conceivers.

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Dec 27, 2017

What’s Love got to do with Education?

Posted by in categories: complex systems, education, ethics, evolution, futurism, health, homo sapiens, human trajectories, innovation, philosophy, sustainability

[This article is drawn from Ch. 8: “Pedagogical Love: An Evolutionary Force” in Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures.]

“There is nothing more important in this world than radical love” as Paolo Freire told Joe Kincheloe over dinner.

- Joe Kincheloe. Reading, Writing and Cognition. 2006.

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Dec 6, 2017

Raising the Profile of Women Futurists

Posted by in categories: ethics, futurism, human trajectories, philosophy, sex, sustainability, transparency

An Interview with Jennifer Gidley

by Tracey Follows, Founder/Director of the Female Futures Bureau

Jennifer Gidley is a former President of the World Futures Studies Federation (2009−2017), a UNESCO and UN partner and global peak body for futures studies scholarship, she led a network of hundreds of world leading futures scholars and researchers from around the globe. An adjunct Professor at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, UTS in Sydney, futurist, author, psychologist and educator, Jennifer is a prolific author of dozens of academic papers, serves on several academic boards, and most recently authored Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures (Springer, 2016) & The Future: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2017).

Tracey: I spoke to Jennifer about her perspective on Female Futures.

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Nov 24, 2017

Futurism Interview with Steve Fuller on Elon Musk’s Attempt to Turn Humans into a Multi-Planetary Species

Posted by in categories: Elon Musk, futurism, habitats, human trajectories, space travel

Chelsea Gohd, a reporter for Futurism, recently interviewed Steve Fuller on Elon Musk’s plans to turn humans into a multi-planetary species. Her report, including the details of Musk’s plans can be found here. What follows is the full interview, only part of which was published in the article:

1. Do you think human beings are capable of becoming a multi-planetary species?

Yes, in two senses, one trivial and one not so trivial. The trivial sense is that there is no reason why we couldn’t survive in other planets – perhaps located in other star systems – that have roughly the same environmental conditions as the Earth. We just need to find them! The not so trivial sense is that we may be able to ‘terraform’ various currently uninhabitable planets to make them more-or-less habitable by humans. This would require enormous infrastructure investments that could be quite risky, at least at the start. But if there’s enough planning, capital and political will, it too could be done.

2. What do you think of Elon Musk’s recent statements insisting that becoming multi-planetary is “insurance of life as we know it”

Continue reading “Futurism Interview with Steve Fuller on Elon Musk's Attempt to Turn Humans into a Multi-Planetary Species” »

Nov 18, 2017

Transforming Education through Imagination — even for Tech Execs

Posted by in categories: architecture, education, environmental, human trajectories

Why do Silicon Valley technology executives send their children to an almost tech-free school? Several authors have explored this question, including New York University professor Adam Alter. In his book “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked” Alter explores the case of a San Francisco Steiner-Waldorf school where 75% of students are the children of Silicon Valley tech execs. How ironic.

In this piece I propose some additional reasons why imaginative education is becoming an approach of choice for parents wanting their children to become innovative, ecologically aware and even, as Whitehead suggests, to develop genius.

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