Behold, our philosophical overlord wanna-bes


I don’t even know who most of these smug pasty-faced motherfuckers are.

Except for Nick Bostrom, the second from the left. He’s a philosophical dingleberry who is far more widely known than he deserves, simply because he has wacky ideas that appeal to filthy rich libertarians, Dark Enlightenment cockroaches, and transhumanists who dream of the day they can have their heads permanently grafted up their colons. Phil Torres seems to be making a useful career of dissecting “rationalists”, though, and has written up a good exposé.

For a long time, I’ve noticed that anything associated with Bostrom is pure poison — he is a wicked con artist who is great at coming up with bad ideas that serve the self-interest of wealthy, privileged elites. It’s a great racket. It used to be you had to invent a religion, but Bostrom…wait, no, his schemes actually are a novel technocratic religion.

This has roots in the work of philosopher Nick Bostrom, who coined the term “existential risk” in 2002 and, three years later, founded the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) based at the University of Oxford, which has received large sums of money from both Tallinn and Musk. Over the past decade, “longtermism” has become one of the main ideas promoted by the “Effective Altruism” (EA) movement, which generated controversy in the past for encouraging young people to work for Wall Street and petrochemical companies in order to donate part of their income to charity, an idea called “earn to give.” According to the longtermist Benjamin Todd, formerly at Oxford University, “longtermism might well turn out to be one of the most important discoveries of effective altruism so far.”

Longtermism should not be confused with “long-term thinking.” It goes way beyond the observation that our society is dangerously myopic, and that we should care about future generations no less than present ones. At the heart of this worldview, as delineated by Bostrom, is the idea that what matters most is for “Earth-originating intelligent life” to fulfill its potential in the cosmos. What exactly is “our potential”? As I have noted elsewhere, it involves subjugating nature, maximizing economic productivity, replacing humanity with a superior “posthuman” species, colonizing the universe, and ultimately creating an unfathomably huge population of conscious beings living what Bostrom describes as “rich and happy lives” inside high-resolution computer simulations.

It’s all about future potential. If killing a beggar in the street means that maybe, hypothetically two scions of an Oxford don might be able to each buy a second yacht in the future, then murder away! The net benefit to the economy, and therefore all of human happiness (which is, of course, entirely a product of a healthy economy) is greater for the loss of a parasite and the enhancement of the capitalist class. Never mind that the benefits are entirely imaginary and work to the advantage of nonexistent people, or that we could also imagine that beggar has the potential to cure all diseases given the opportunity, no, just fantasize a benefit for someone you like, and all harm is justified.

This is the kind of thinking that spawned Roko’s Basilisk, you know.

Anyway, billionaires love these guys. That ought to be enough to tell you that they are literally evil.

Comments

  1. springa73 says

    Well, a huge population of happy and healthy beings doesn’t sound like a bad long term goal to me (computer simulations or not), but I very much doubt that giving the rich and powerful even more wealth and power is a good way to get to that goal. If the wealthy and powerful really valued the long term well-being of humanity, we wouldn’t be facing a climate catastrophe, among other things.

  2. mailliw says

    Bostrom exists to justify laughing at philosophers.

    The Singularity bollocks was dreamt up by Ray Kurzweil – so should we be laughing at engineers too?

    I am confident that I can predict the risks of super-intelligent AI – absolutely zero. Why do people believe this nonsense?

    As far as I can see the enormously wealthy have completely failed to deliver on the real promise of automation – that we all work far shorter hours for more pay.

  3. says

    so should we be laughing at engineers too?

    No – that’s what happens when engineers go outside of their comfort zone and start philosophizing. The singularity has nothing to do with engineering.

  4. James Fehlinger says

    https://www.currentaffairs.org/2021/07/the-dangerous-ideas-of-longtermism-and-existential-risk
    +++++++++++
    Over the past decade, “longtermism” has become one of the
    main ideas promoted by the “Effective Altruism” (EA) movement,
    which generated controversy in the past for encouraging young
    people to work for Wall Street and petrochemical companies
    in order to donate part of their income to charity, an idea
    called “earn to give.”
    +++++++++++

    The folks who think “superintelligent AIs” are going to wipe out
    human life (Bostrom among them, presumably) have also attempted
    to co-opt the “Effective Altruism” movement. Give all your money
    to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (formerly
    the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, until
    Kurzweil managed to convince them to give up the “Singularity”
    brand), because supergenius Eliezer Yudkowsky is the only human
    alive who is smart enough to figure out how to prevent the
    AI Apocalypse from happening, dontcha know.

    It seems that Effective Altruist Holden Karnovsky is still marinating
    in all the sci-fi scenarios that the Extropians were hyperventilating
    about back in the 90s.

    https://www.cold-takes.com/

    (via
    https://www.reddit.com/r/SneerClub/comments/otokop/when_all_you_have_is_a_very_silly_hammer/
    and
    https://www.overcomingbias.com/2021/07/will-tech-help-totalitarians.html )

    ;->

  5. mailliw says

    @5 Marcus Ranum

    No – that’s what happens when engineers go outside of their comfort zone and start philosophizing.

    Whatever Kurzweil is up to it sure as hell isn’t philosophising.

    I’m not really sure if Bostrom is really a philosopher – from his bio page:

    Nick Bostrom is a Swedish-born philosopher with a background in theoretical physics, computational neuroscience, logic, and artificial intelligence, as well as philosophy…As a graduate student he dabbled in stand-up comedy on the London circuit,

  6. tacitus says

    ultimately creating an unfathomably huge population of conscious beings living what Bostrom describes as “rich and happy lives” inside high-resolution computer simulations.

    Who’s to say we’re not already there? How could we even tell? Perhaps “rich and happy lives” aren’t all they’re cracked up to be and the experience of suffering is discovered to be an essential part of a fulfilling life once lifespans become indefinite. Even deliberately blocking the awareness of your life outside the simulation makes sense, given it allows you to repeat the thrill of first time experiences, like climbing a mountain, becoming a parent, having sex, etc.

    Long term dreams of super-advanced technology begs the question, if it can ever be done, hasn’t it already been done?

    Hmm. That’s sounds like a mashup between Inception and Battlestar Galactica…

  7. tacitus says

    “earn to give”

    Ah, so a secular version of the Word of Faith movement — a way for extremely rich people to feel good about themselves.

  8. mailliw says

    @10 Marcus Ranum

    If only Ray had stuck to making interesting electronic musical instruments. He was good at that.

  9. Akira MacKenzie says

    <

    blockquote>As a graduate student he dabbled in stand-up comedy on the London circuit…

    <

    blockquote>

    Jebus! This creep. Crowder. Mataxis. Rogan. Why do some failed stand-up comics become fascistic monsters?

  10. birgerjohansson says

    I don’t want to derail the thread, I just want to show that sometimes the mighty cannot get away with everything they want.
    .
    In Malta, an inquiry finds the government is responsible for the murder of a journalist by creating a culture of impunity.
    -In Germany, a Syrian doctor is prosecuted for torturing 18 and murdering one victim on behalf of the regime.
    And in Sweden, a man that played a crucial role in the mass ececutions of political prisoners in Iran 1988 will soon be on trial.

  11. James Fehlinger says

    I usually go back to someone who really knows what they are
    talking about when it comes to AI and Robotics

    https://rodneybrooks.com/predictions-scorecard-2021-january-01/

    Yes, there are some folks who have attempted to steer the Transhumanists
    and Singularitarians (or at least their audiences) back towards Earth.

    E.g.:

    Richard A. L. Jones
    (a physicist whose blog is at blog at http://www.softmachines.org )
    The sidebar links to a free PDF of his
    “Against Transhumanism: the delusion of technological transcendence”
    http://www.softmachines.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Against_Transhumanism_1.0_small.pdf


    +++++++++++
    Maciej Ceglowski – Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People (Keynote)
    WebCamp Zagreb
    Published on Dec 6, 2016
    +++++++++++

    But given that this is really a religious movement (attempting to
    cloak itself in the mantle of Science), debating with these folks is
    all-too-similar to debating with Christian fundamentalists.

    When people think they have discovered the Meaning and Purpose of Life
    (of Life in general, and of their own lives), it’s really really hard
    to pull them back into grey mundanity (and indeed, I suppose there’s an
    element of cruelty in the attempt).

  12. weylguy says

    Nick Bostrom is okay. He’s a philosopher, so he doesn’t have to prove anything. Maybe we are living in a computer simulation, but how will we ever really know until we die?

  13. birgerjohansson says

    Let me clarify @15 .
    Weasels like the ones PZ mention play an important role in justifying the indefensible. Even a philosophical nonentity like Ayn Rand can be elevated to stardom if no better ‘court philosophers’ can be found.
    And when corruption cross over in outright murder -Malta today, outright dictatorships like Germany Italy the USSR Argentina and a helluva lot of other countries in the past- they will go on praising the powerful, protecting the illusion of moral credibility.
    Even Heidegger did not stoop from collaborating.

  14. mailliw says

    @17 weylguy

    He’s a philosopher, so he doesn’t have to prove anything.

    As a philosopher he has to prove that his arguments are consistent – and as logic is an inherent part of philosophy he should be able to do that.

    The Singularists and Transhumanists seem to labour under what I call the Moore’s Law fallacy. Because the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit (IC) doubles about every two years they jump to the completely unjustified conclusion that therefore computers are getting exponentially more intelligent. I can’t follow the jump in logic there at all, but maybe I’m missing something.

  15. lotharloo says

    Any philosopher who seriously talks of “living in a simulation” needs to have his/her degree retracted or the department from which they received their degree needs be branded as a pile of garbage. The same goes for people masturbating about “super intelligent AI”.

  16. springa73 says

    @21
    I’m curious as to why you think that. As far as I know, the possibility that what we perceive as reality might be at least in part an illusion goes back to ancient times in philosophy, and certainly isn’t seen as “garbage”. I don’t think it’s likely that our reality is a simulation, but I don’t see anything disreputable about considering it as a possibility.

  17. Rob Grigjanis says

    springa73 @22: Other ancient pursuits which can’t be called disreputable: scratching one’s arse and picking one’s nose.

  18. hillaryrettig1 says

    I have to keep recommending Naomi Klein’s work to all who haven’t read it.

    In the Shock Doctrine, she talks about the conservative tendency to want to work from a clean slate. We saw it in New Orleans, when they used Katrina as excuse to guy the public school system, in the oil industry in its talk of “sacrifice zones” where all humans, ecosystems, etc., are sacrificed for profit, and we see it here, where Bostrom et al. obviously consider the entire Earth a sacrifice zone.

    In This Changes Everything, she attended a meeting of rich technogeeks who joked openly about how: (a) they would profit handsomely from climate devastation, and (b) whatever happens, they and theirs would be fine.

  19. jenorafeuer says

    Akira MacKenzie@12:

    Jebus! This creep. Crowder. Mataxis. Rogan. Why do some failed stand-up comics become fascistic monsters?

    I think you’re looking at it the wrong way around. Fascistic monsters who think they’re funny (because their similarly cruel mates all laugh at their cruel ‘jokes’) have a tendency to become failed stand-up comics when they try to bring their ‘humour’ to a wider audience.

  20. consciousness razor says

    mailliw, #11:

    If only Ray had stuck to making interesting electronic musical instruments. He was good at that.

    Meh.

    You hear all of those button noises? It’s nice to get some tactile feedback, but I certainly don’t want to hear them.

    And lot of the patches (e.g., violin, cello, orchestra) just sound awful to me. The piano one is fine … because it’s relatively easy to synthesize something like that.

    Besides, these days, this is all done much better and cheaper and faster with software. I’m sure he did make lots of money from it back in the 80s and 90s though.

    If you wanted to, you could still spend way more money than necessary on tons of hardware like that, but I don’t think it makes any sense to ask for more capitalists profiting off of this kind of thing. How about he just quietly takes up gardening or whatever? Wouldn’t that be nice?

    springa73, #22:

    I don’t think it’s likely that our reality is a simulation, but I don’t see anything disreputable about considering it as a possibility.

    Bostrom’s simulation argument (and all the related crap you can see there on that website) is not merely claiming it’s a logical possibility. Presumably, that’s what “seriously talks of” means in lotharloo’s comment.

  21. consciousness razor says

    OMG is that “Dust in the Wind”?

    It’s just a shame how they made them cut the verse about how it’s not all dust in the wind, because we’ll become (if we’re not already) simulated post-humans who are destined to colonize the entire galaxy forever.

  22. robro says

    I’m no data scientist, although I happen to be working on an AI/ML/NLP project. It’s fascinating stuff, and we’ll probably do a lot more with it in the future. I don’t have a crystal ball but whether it will ever achieve some sort of “super intelligence” (whatever that is) I don’t think anyone can say. It certainly doesn’t look like it at this point. Right now machines don’t learn and AI was a marketing term.

    However, what the machine may or may not be able to do in the future may not be the principle cause for concern. That should probably be what people believe these technologies can do, and more to the point of the post, what some con men convince people it can do. It’s startling to see how people believe that this stuff can magically make all the decisions. In the wrong hands that is dangerous even if the machine doesn’t really work that well.

    As one AI researcher put it, we always want to be able to unplug the machine. And as one wag in the audience quipped, “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that.” We never want to get to the place where we can’t unplug a machine intelligence…even of modest capabilities…serving as a front for a human intelligence with nefarious intents.

  23. consciousness razor says

    SC, you might like Todo Tiene Su Final — thematically similar but musically very different. One of my favorite tunes with Hector Lavoe. (Written by Willie Colón, the lead trombonist.)

  24. consciousness razor says

    re: #34 … It really bothers me that they use trumpet graphics for the trombone line at the end. I can’t do anything about that. Mail your complaints to Fania Records c/o Concord in Nashville, TN.

  25. chrislawson says

    Ah, Roko’s Basilisk. I haven’t heard that name in a while…

    Great idea for a Fredric Brown style short story. Terrible idea for a serious philosophical assertion.

  26. says

    re: #34 … It really bothers me that they use trumpet graphics for the trombone line at the end.

    Ha. The trumpet graphics generally are a little jarring, IMO. A bit too clip art.

  27. dorght says

    So Bostrom is a sex worker to rich egos.
    Or to to quote Douglas Adams’
    “…I have a very special service for rich people….”
    “Oh yes,” said Ford, intrigued but careful, “and what’s that?”
    “I tell them it’s okay to be rich.”
    “You what?” he said.
    The girl laughed and stepped forward a little out of the shadow. She was tall, and had that kind of
    self-possessed shyness which is a great trick if you can do it.
    “It’s my big number,” she said. “I have a master’s degree in social economics and can be very
    convincing. People love it. Especially in this city.”

  28. mailliw says

    @28 consciousness razor

    I stand corrected, I’ve never played a Kurzweil keyboard – only Korg. Almost everything I do nowadays is software based – amps, effect pedals and so on, but I don’t think anything digital can replace my trusty Stratocaster.

  29. mailliw says

    @32 robro

    It’s startling to see how people believe that this stuff can magically make all the decisions. In the wrong hands that is dangerous even if the machine doesn’t really work that well.

    The lawyers are going to have a field day.

    How did you arrive at this disastrous decision for you company?

    The computer told me to do it.

    Can you explain by what logical steps the software arrived at this recommendation?

    No idea, it was done by a neural net.

    As regards “data science”, if you have a PhD in statistics you might plausibly be a “data scientist”, no one else can honestly lay claim to such a job title.

  30. says

    @#7, mailliw

    Whatever Kurzweil is up to it sure as hell isn’t philosophising.

    Ask a philosopher what philosophy has given the world, and they will loftily explain that every discipline is really just philosophy. Physics? That was originally philosophy! Chemistry? Originally philosophy! Literature? All writers are philosophers, as are all literary critics!

    Point out that a specific philosopher is spewing nonsense, and suddenly it’s No True Scotsman all the way down.

  31. John Morales says

    Vicar:

    Ask a philosopher what philosophy has given the world, and they will loftily explain that every discipline is really just philosophy.

    Heh. Kinda cute how you imagine each and every philosopher would answer that question thus.

    (’cause they’re all just the same, right? ;) )

  32. sammy1998 says

    Ok, I never particularly liked Bostrom, but holy shit! Phil Torres seems right on this.

  33. birgerjohansson says

    The “living in a simulation” idea was first thougt up by Stanislaw Lem in a short story from the late 60s/early 70s.
    It was great when new and Matrix gave it a new twist (influenced by the late Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld) but by now it has been done to death.

  34. birgerjohansson says

    Mailliw @ 43

    XKCD and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal hammer home similar points again and again :-)

  35. birgerjohansson says

    Jean-Luc Godard made the 1960s film ‘Alphaville’ about the kind of awful capitalist/fascist AI-run state these wankers want.
    In it, a Dr von Braun has built an AI that can surveill everything, it is filmed in contemporary parts of Paris built in the neobrutalist style.
    It is filmed in black and white, which suits the subject well.
    Much recommended as a counterpoint to techno-utopias described in other contemporary films.

  36. birgerjohansson says

    John Morales @ 48
    I stand corrected!
    Heinlein was clever, even if I did not like all his stuff.

  37. KG says

    Even Heidegger did not stoop from collaborating. – birgerjohansson@18

    Heidegger was no collaborator! He was an enthusiastic Nazi, a true believer, who never apologised for his crimes, although he made various (and pretty successful) efforts to obscure them after 1945. He was “pre-adapted” to Nazism by his ridiculous fetish for “authenticity”, which prefigured the Nazi valorising of the German peasantry. See Yvonne Sherratt’s Hitler’s Philosophers.

  38. lotharloo says

    @springa73:

    As far as I know, the possibility that what we perceive as reality might be at least in part an illusion goes back to ancient times in philosophy,

    That’s fine and interesting and I don’t have a problem with that but that is really not what people mean when they bring up simulations. If people mean that, then they are trying to re-invent the wheel and repackage old philosophical thoughts.

    My biggest problem is that a lot of people don’t have a clue what simulation is or they don’t seem to care. They think everything boils down to computation or computational power.

    Here’s the thing: the basic model of a computer, one that is taught at every Architecture 101 course, includes a processing unit, an input unit and an output unit. The last two are probably more important than computational power when it comes to “having people live in a simulation” but these philosophers apparently don’t know that. There is no feasible technology to be able to create user interfaces like those done in “The Matrix”. We are good in creating visual stuff, but that’s it. So just focusing on the computational power is stupid as fuck when the user interface problem is probably the biggest problem. On the other hand, from a computational point of view, all modern computers are equivalent as they are all Turing complete. And as the “in simulation time” does not need to correspond to the real time, the issue of computational power becomes irrelevant. E.g., instead of having 1 million times extra computational power, you can just run your simulation a millionth time slower and it would be the same thing. So somehow, the issue of “the simulation not being fast enough” should enter the conversation or otherwise, these guys cannot jack off with their Moore’s law non-sense but they never bother.

  39. John Morales says

    lotharloo,

    Here’s the thing: the basic model of a computer, one that is taught at every Architecture 101 course, includes a processing unit, an input unit and an output unit.

    That’s digital computers (general purpose).

    Back when I began studying computers, we were taught about both digital and analog computers. Those are not Turing-complete, they work differently.

    So somehow, the issue of “the simulation not being fast enough” should enter the conversation or otherwise, these guys cannot jack off with their Moore’s law non-sense but they never bother.

    cf. Permutation City.

    Anyway, I wonder why the concept exercises people.
    Whether reality as we know it is base or simulated, it is indeed our reality.
    So whether the concept is true or not, it makes zero difference to us.

  40. John Morales says

    Same as Roko’s Basilisk — it is a very silly concept.

    Whatever would be tortured is not the person, it is a simulation of a person.

    (It would affect me as much as being burned in effigy without me knowing about it)

  41. KG says

    Among the many things the “longtermists” appear to have overlooked is that even if our descendants do colonise the local group of galaxies, and live in simulations, that doesn’t guarantee that they will be having a good time. Perhaps that far future will be ruled over by a “teratyrant”, or a caste of sadistic psychopaths who spend their time competing as to which of them can devise the most exquisite torments for the quintillions of beings under their control. Prompt extinction of humanity is surely preferable to such a future. We have absolutely no way of knowing whether such a cosmic dystopia is more or less likely than the “rich and complex lives” Bostrom envisages; although one might guess that it will be more likely if the near future is dominated by people able to casually dismiss the suffering and premature deaths of billions of those alive today.

  42. mailliw says

    @32 robro

    Data science – there is no such thing.

    Both statistics and data management are mathematical disciplines not scientific ones.

    Edgar Codd who invented the relational model was a mathematician who demonstrated that predicate logic and set theory could provide a generalised approach to representing and manipulating data. So you might call him a data mathematician.

    Software is applied mathematics rather than science or engineering, A computer program is a mathematical expression.

    Scientists use data, but that’s something different.

  43. mailliw says

    @44 The Vicar

    Ask a philosopher what philosophy has given the world, and they will loftily explain that every discipline is really just philosophy.

    There may be a specific philosopher who holds this view but if you are implying that all philosophers think like that, I only need to find one that doesn’t to disprove your assertion.

    If you asked a sample of mathematicians where their discipline belongs, many would say it is part of philosophy.

  44. John Morales says

    mailliw,

    Software is applied mathematics rather than science or engineering, A computer program is a mathematical expression.

    That’s akin to claiming a pair of nail clippers is applied metallurgy.
    Change ‘mathematics’ to ‘logic’ and you’d be sort of right.
    Its encoding is mathematical, but it’s encoding concepts, not numbers.
    And a computer program is not a mathematical expression, it’s an algorithm.

    (BTW, logic was engendered by philosophy)

  45. KG says

    John Morales@58,
    You have a very constricted view of mathematics if you think it has to be about numbers! Algorithms are certainly part of mathemtics.

  46. KG says

    Data science – there is no such thing.

    Both statistics and data management are mathematical disciplines not scientific ones. – mailliw@

    Absurd pedantry. Determining which parts or aspects of a slew of data are more reliable, and which less so, how best to choose proxies when the data you want is not available, how to validate what you have – these are all empirical matters, and hence science even by the narrowest definition.

  47. says

    When I was first employed here at UMM, they were just in the throes of splitting apart the mathematics department in two — a math and statistics department. I got to hear all the (entirely amicable) discussions about why it was necessary, and how they were fundamentally different disciplines.

    Then a couple of years ago we had the fun of making a decision to hire a data science guy, who would also be part of the computer science department. Disciplines are simultaneously fluid and distinct domains.

    It’s like how biology is actually at least a dozen different fields of study. It’s all biology, but really, the people on the ecology and evolution side are doing completely different things than the people on the molecular biology side (one side has a lot more money than the other, for example). And yet people on both sides are doing lots of math!

  48. birgerjohansson says

    Computers have very little to do with the structure of biological brains.
    Wossname issue of Science some month ago had an article about the painfully slow – but ongoing- effort to ubderstand how the mind works, using brain scanning.

    We will get to AI as the problems are not infinite, but not in my lifetime. We are more at the stage of Newton, noting that an object hypothetically could be made to orbit the Earth if launched at the right velocity from a mountain extending outside the atmosphere.
    OT
    James “Gaia” Lovelock – who helped understand the dangers of cfc’s to the ozon layer- became 102 years old this week and is still going strong.
    If you have a life span like that you might experience ‘strong AI.
    :-)

  49. James Fehlinger says

    An amusing exchange from 15 years ago:

    http://mthollywood.blogspot.com/2006/04/e-mail-to-wall-street-journal-i-sent.html
    ++++++++
    Monday, April 03, 2006
    E-Mail To The Wall Street Journal

    I sent the following e-mail to the Letters editor of OpinionJournal,
    with a copy to the features editor:

    I’ve become concerned that you intend regularly to publish pieces
    by Glenn Reynolds in your Opinion Journal Federation. I’ve begun
    to notice that in his blog posts, as well as in his freelance pieces
    and in his book, Reynolds is making thinly disguised pitches for a
    cult-like belief system called “transhumanism”. In fact, Reynolds
    identifies himself as a “transhumanist”, but he doesn’t make it
    plain that this involves bizarre beliefs. I don’t think the
    Wall Street Journal should be providing a respectable platform for
    such opinions without investigation. There are several blogs that
    have been looking into “transhumanism” and trying to sound alarms,
    including that of Andrew Keen at
    http://andrewkeen.typepad.com/the_great_seduction/2006/03/technology_and_.html
    (Keen wrote one of the very rare unfavorable reviews of Reynolds’s
    book at The Weekly Standard) and mine at
    http://mthollywood.blogspot.com

    In particular, Reynolds and Raymond Kurzweil share many aspects of
    this bizarre belief system. Reynolds gave a highly favorable review
    of Kurzweil’s book The Singularity is Near in the WSJ on October 1, 2005.
    However, I don’t believe Reynolds acknowledged the extent to which he
    and Kurzweil share the bizarre, cult-like “transhumanist” belief system,
    and as a result, I believe Reynolds may have had a conflict of interest.

    With many other transhumanists, Reynolds and Kurzweil believe in a
    “Singularity”, which is an apocalyptic event predicted within the
    next 30-40 years in which computers become super-efficient and the
    human race merges with machines. This will allow the human-machine
    combine to do things like cure diseases and death via “nanotechnology”.
    In this view, human beings, once they merge with computers, will
    become immortal robot-like beings (within 30-40 years). A web search
    should show you that transhumanists typically misuse the term
    “nanotechnology” to refer to the ability of hypothetical future
    atomic-size robots to repair disease and reverse any problem that
    may cause death. This is not the scientific use of the term.

    That some may believe in a merged, immortal computer-human life form
    and nanobots is only part of the problem. Some cultists go so far
    as to have their brains or whole bodies frozen when they die in
    anticipation that after the Singularity, the nanobots will be able
    to fix whatever led to their deaths and bring them back to life.
    I don’t believe Reynolds has expressed a public opinion on this,
    but Kurzweil is on record as saying he will have his brain frozen
    when he dies, and by his public example he advocates the practice.
    Mainstream medical practitioners make it clear there is no scientific
    support for this practice, and some refer to it as quackery.

    However, some believers have gone far enough to request assisted
    suicide in the belief that if they kill themselves now and have their
    brains or bodies frozen, they can be brought back after the Singularity
    and cured without the need to suffer from degenerative diseases.
    There is at least one case on record of an individual “suicided”
    with an overdose of barbiturates before having her brain frozen.
    I’m concerned that the WSJ may, by publishing its favorable review
    of Kurzweil and by providing Reynolds with a respectable platform,
    be helping to further these views.

    In his review of Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near , Reynolds said

    “Naturally, Mr. Kurzweil has little time for techno-skeptics like
    the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Richard Smalley, who in September 2001
    published a notorious piece in Scientific American debunking the
    claims of nanotechnologists, in particular the possibility of
    nano-robots (nanobots) capable of assembling molecules and substances
    to order. Mr. Kurzweil’s arguments countering Dr. Smalley and his
    allies are a pleasure to read — Mr. Kurzweil clearly thinks that
    nanobots are possible — but in truth he is fighting a battle that
    is already won.”

    I’ve read the Smalley piece Reynolds refers to, and this is simply
    an attempt by a mainstream scientist to debunk the transhumanist
    cult-like view that atom-size robots can cure all disease, as well
    as aging and death. The tendency to dismiss mainstream scientific
    views is, of course, characteristic of cults and quackery. Kurzweil,
    who is an inventor and self-promoter with no background in chemistry,
    is portrayed as out-arguing a Nobelist.

    If the Wall Street Journal’s editors knew that one Scientologist
    was going to review (very favorably) another Scientologist’s book,
    and the book was a highly slanted apology for Scientology, I don’t
    believe the WSJ would print such a thing. But this is what Reynolds
    did with Kurzweil. I’m concerned that Reynolds often includes not
    fully ingenuous pitches for transhumanism, in his blog, in his book,
    and in his other freelance writing.

    I urge the WSJ’s editors to review this problem and make a decision
    as to whether Reynolds should continue to have a respectable platform
    to advocate cult-like thinking.
    ++++++++

    To which a transhumanist PR watchdog fired back:

    http://www.sentientdevelopments.com/2006/04/john-bruce-describes-transhumanism-as.html
    ++++++++
    I [George Dvorsky, of the “Sentient Developments” blog]
    received an email from J Hughes today informing me about how
    blogger John Bruce has blasted Glenn Harlan Reynolds for
    promoting transhumanism. Here’s the letter [from Hughes]:

    The blogger John Bruce recently read Glenn Harlan Reynolds’
    Army of Davids, which promotes transhumanism, and has decided
    to launch a campaign to have newspapers drop Reynolds on the
    grounds that he promotes the “transhumanist cult.”
    I exchanged some email with Mr. Bruce trying to bring him
    up-to-speed [!], but it had no effect. It seems clear that
    he is motivated by some personal and partisan agenda I don’t
    full[y] understand. He writes for The Dartmouth Review and
    The New Partisan, and appears to want Reynolds to blog and
    link back to launch an “Instalanche” of traffic to Bruce’s blog.

    This is his letter to the WSJ trying to alert them to Reynolds “cultism.”

    [as above]

    So, there you have it. After reading this, I [George Dvorsky] decided
    to write a letter to John Bruce:

    Mr Bruce,

    It is extremely regrettable that you have chosen to characterize
    transhumanism as a cult and to compare it to a known cult like Scientology.
    With these comments you have not only perpetuated a falsehood about
    transhumanism, you have trivialized an actual cult that actively goes
    about its business of ruining lives.

    Transhumanism is at most a philosophy of science and broad-based
    social movement with no fixed political or religious agenda.
    Futurists, scientists, and philosophers who make conjectures about
    a possible transhuman future most certainly do not go about creating
    mindless drones, nor are they engaging in any kind of pseudoscientific
    or quasi-religious endeavor. As an idea it has been around for
    centuries, spawned by the Enlightment and a cousin of secular humanism.
    It has only recently crystallized as an academic discipline and as
    a social movement that is both concerned and hopeful of various
    pending technologies.

    Some of the world’s most distinguished scientists are currently
    thinking very hard about humanity’s future, many of whom agree that
    a potential Singularity or some kind of ‘existential paradigm shift’
    awaits us in the not too distant future. The idea of a transhuman
    future is hardly the monopoly of Ray Kurzweil. A short list of highly
    respected scientists who agree that a posthuman future awaits us
    include Steven Hawking, Sir Martin Rees, Michio Kaku, Nick Bostrom,
    Hans Moravec, Marvin Minsky, and James Watson. And there are many,
    many others; I urge you take a look at the citations in Kurzweil’s
    Singularity book to see how broadly these ideas have disseminated
    throughout academia and research labs around the world.

    You may not agree with any of these thinkers’ conclusions, but
    disagreement hardly justifies the claim that transhumanism is a cult.

    Moreover, there are a number of thinkers who have been in opposition
    to transhumanism who agree that these are plausible projections,
    particularly the potential for radical life extension. Francis Fukuyama
    and Leon Kass immediately come to mind. At no time have these individuals
    described transhumanism as a cult or as pseudoscientific, and I
    challenge you to prove me otherwise.

    Consequently, I am formally asking you to retract your irresponsible
    and false mischaracterization of transhumanism as a cult.

    Regards,
    George Dvorsky
    Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
    Board Director
    ++++++++

    And the beat goes on. . .

    ;->

  50. snarkrates says

    Mailliw: “Data science – there is no such thing.”

    I am sorry, but that is just flat stupid. Data science exists, just as material science exists. Ferchrissake the transition from “natural philosophy” is only a couple hundred years old. Physics, chemistry, biology…would have been considered arbitrary distinctions at the founding of the Royal Philosophical society.

    And while mathematics is thousands of years old, statistics only dates back a little over 200 years, and at the time of Leonardo, solving cubic equations was considered the state of the art. To this day, there is no fully satisfactory derivation of probability from mathematical first principles–it remains one of the fundamental problems proposed by Hilbert in 1900 that remains unsolved to this day.

    As to software, no it is NOT purely mathematical. Parts of it (e.g. reliability and security) are engineering disciplines. Some problems do not lend themselves to being attacked by narrow disciplines. What a particle physicist does is at least as different from what a laser jock does as what a material scientist does.

    There is more to data analysis than statistics and math. A lot of what a data scientist does is curation of data from many different sources–making decisions about what data belong together and which should be kept separate and for which analyses. Please educate yourself.

  51. mailliw says

    @65 snarkrates.

    I work every day with data. I use mathematical ideas to represent and manipulate the data. I am not inventing any new methods of representing or manipulating data, just using them – so even if data were a scientific discipline I wouldn’t be doing science. I am just a practitioner not a researcher.

    I try to stay humble and accept my limitations.

    Thinking about computer programs and mathematical expression is a useful approach. If it was like engineering then presumably bugs would occur because a subroutine wore out through constant reuse ;-).

  52. mailliw says

    @65 snarkrates

    If your looking at how data is interpreted, which is fundamental to designing software system that does useful things, then the proper discipline to consider is semantics – and again you are just using existing semantic methods – not researching any new ones.

  53. mailliw says

    @61 KG

    Absurd pedantry.

    Why do people get so upset about considering data representation and manipulation or software for that matter as mathematical disciplines?

  54. snarkrates says

    mailliw: “Why do people get so upset about considering data representation and manipulation or software for that matter as mathematical disciplines?”

    Because they are demonstrably NOT purely mathematical disciplines! Or at least, a lot of work is required before using all but the smallest, most specific data in an analysis. A dataset is usually generated with a particular goal in mind and to the extent that that small data set fulfills the needs of the analysis, processing can be straightforward. However, there is nothing to stop someone else from appropriating that data for a “bigger data” analysis, along with other such datasets. Different data sets in the analysis may even be representative of the phenomenon being investigated to varying degrees. For instance, one may have to use the data in a hierarchical model to see the degree to which it constains the analysis. The data scientist has to understand the limitations of the data, its relationship to the phenomenon under investigation, what sorts of modeling techniques are available to make use of the data, the limitations of those techniques and so on.
    Consider the following example. It is known that certain companies benefit more than others at different phases of an economic cycle. GDP is a good indicator of where one is in a cycle, but it is a lagging indicator–not much good if you want to buy stocks. However, earnings from FedEX, UPS, etc are pretty good indicators of things like consumer and business spending, and are often available months before GDP numbers. How full freight cars or container ships are is another piece of data that can be useful, albeit noisy, indicator. You want to use all this data to decide when to buy Microsoft and when to buy P&G. It’s not just a matter of plugging data into an equation. Your model has to not only predict where we are in the business cycle, but how far off you could be with what confidence and what that means for return or loss of your client’s investment.

    That is “just math” in precisely the same way that building a rocket engine is “just math”. Not everything you don’t understand is easy.
    Now I am not a data scientist. I am an applied physicist, but my specialty…the thing I’ve published most of my papers on…is trying to make use of crappy data and trying to combine multiple crappy data sets to actually say something useful.

  55. birgerjohansson says

    KG@ 52

    Goddammit!
    He was not just a weasel and opportunist , he was a full-blown actual nazi!

  56. mailliw says

    @69 snarkrates

    Because they are demonstrably NOT purely mathematical disciplines!

    I don’t think I said they were – only that the basis for software development and data representation and manipulation is mathematical.

    There are all sorts of people running around at present with the job title “data scientist”. With my background I could also adopt this title and no one would bat an eyelid. I am absolutely sure that what I am doing or what at least 95% of “data scientists” are doing is not science. So I have my own integrity to think about and my respect for people who are doing real scientific research.

    I spend a lot of time talking to people and understanding their requirements. This part of the work is mainly about communication and understanding, and of course without this understanding whatever system you build will be meaningless.

    However, if you don’t build the system in a logically consistent manner then you are going to get garbage out no matter how well you have done the analysis. In order to build systems that work consistently and accurately you have to use mathematical principles.

    That’s why I would say that fundamentally, data management and software development are branches of applied mathematics.

    Of course actually building and implementing systems requires a lot of other skills.

    If there were actually a real discipline called data science then it would probably be where mathematics, linguistics and computer science intersect. A computer system is the combination of a formal system and the interpretation of that formal system by its users (who may all have subtlely different interpretations of the formal system)

  57. mailliw says

    @69 snarkrates

    Your model has to not only predict where we are in the business cycle, but how far off you could be with what confidence and what that means for return or loss of your client’s investment.

    But I think you must agree that what the modelling is doing is describing a relationship between some sets of data and is thus mathematically a function – albeit a somewhat complex one. Investment banks employ some very highly qualified mathematicians to design these kind of functions.

  58. KG says

    Why do people get so upset about considering data representation and manipulation or software for that matter as mathematical disciplines? – mailliw@68

    Why do people misidentify contempt for stupid, pedantic nonsense as upset?

  59. mailliw says

    Why do people misidentify contempt for stupid, pedantic nonsense as upset?

    I suppose because people often use abusive language when they are upset.

    If a computer program, or a database, isn’t a mathematical structure then what is it?

  60. KG says

    mailliw@74,
    If I had described you as stupid, that would have been abusive language; I didn’t. You need to learn to distinguish between frank criticism and abuse.

    If a computer program, or a database, isn’t a mathematical structure then what is it?

    You also need to stop goalpost-shifting. Of course these things are mathematical structures. That doesn’t mean that creating or using them does not involve scientific research or the application of such research.

  61. consciousness razor says

    KG, #61:

    Absurd pedantry. Determining which parts or aspects of a slew of data are more reliable, and which less so, how best to choose proxies when the data you want is not available, how to validate what you have – these are all empirical matters, and hence science even by the narrowest definition.

    I think it’s worth pointing out that if some area of study has to do with empirical matters or makes use of empirical evidence, it does not follow that it is “science,” because that’s also a key component of numerous other non-scientific disciplines (and interdisciplinary subject areas).

    In order for that not to be the case, the topic needs to be totally abstract or otherwise disengaged in some way from any phenomena experienced in the physical world (about the things, events, relations, etc. which we seem to find in it). Various forms of pure math or logic are examples — those are simply abstract, and of course that isn’t itself a genuine problem. But it could be unhinged or confused bullshit of some sort, as in the case of theology for instance.

    Otherwise, it is rather straightforwardly an “empirical” matter, which as I said doesn’t suffice to make it science. A much thornier issue is about when something should be regarded as “pseudoscience” rather than “science,” but in any case, that doesn’t in general reduce to questions like whether or not it is empirical.

  62. mailliw says

    Various forms of pure math or logic are examples — those are simply abstract, and of course that isn’t itself a genuine problem. But it could be unhinged or confused bullshit of some sort, as in the case of theology for instance.

    Databases are a place where logic meets reality. The database structure and data are purely abstract logical entities. It is only the people designing them and using them that gives them meaning.

    Database data can be wrong in two ways – either the data doesn’t correspond to reality – my current weight is 90kg when it is actually 80kg or the database is logically inconsistent – it reports that my current weight is simultaneously 80kg and 90kg.

    We try to design databases to completely exclude the second type of error completely, the first type of error cannot be prevented by logical means.

    If there is science involved with data management I think it is concerned with linguistics – how the purely formal system is interpreted by the people who use it.

    If the data in your database is bullshit you will get bullshit out – even if the database design is absolutely logically consistent.

    I have a naive belief that it is harder to think up logically consistent falsehoods than logically consistent truths – but this may just be wishful thinking on my part.

  63. KG says

    consciousness razor@77,
    Valid points. But in the context of mailliw denying that there is such a discipline as “data science”, not particularly relevant.

  64. KG says

    If there is science involved with data management I think it is concerned with linguistics – how the purely formal system is interpreted by the people who use it. – mailliw@78

    More absurd drivel. How on earth are the endeavours I mentioned@61:

    Determining which parts or aspects of a slew of data are more reliable, and which less so, how best to choose proxies when the data you want is not available, how to validate what you have

    “linguistics”? These are among the things data scientists do – I’m not one myself, but I work with them.

  65. says

    Some of the world’s most distinguished scientists are currently
    thinking very hard about humanity’s future,

    Before or after the 5C temperature increase that collapses our civilization?

  66. mailliw says

    These are among the things data scientists do – I’m not one myself, but I work with them.

    What qualifications do these data scientists have? Is there a university course where you study data science? If so what is the content of this course?

    The endeavours you mention in @61 are all part of statistics – how is data science different from statistics?

  67. mailliw says

    More absurd drivel.

    You’re all charm.

    In order for a group of people to use a database they all have to have a common understanding of what the terms in the database mean – this is not straightforward – in general different people within an organisation will use different terms for the same thing or the same term for different things.

    Everyone has to belong to the same semantic community, if you will excuse the jargon.

    Semantics, therefore linguistics.

    It is the interpretation that is the non-mathematical part of a database system.

  68. James Fehlinger says

    I don’t even know who most of these smug pasty-faced motherfuckers are.

    Apart from Bostrom, I didn’t recognize any of the faces either.
    And the linked article doesn’t seem to actually caption the picture
    anywhere that I could find.

    However, Googling the various named mentioned, the photos seem
    to be of (from left to right):

    #1 Toby Ord
    #2 Nick Bostrom
    #3 Jaan Tallinn
    #4 Hilary Greaves
    #5 Will MacAskill

    ;->

  69. Owlmirror says

    Semantics, therefore linguistics.

    I don’t think these are equivalent, though; nor is semantics a mere subset of linguistics. While linguists are certainly interested in semantics and semantic changes, semantics is also something that has overlaps with rhetoric, philosophy, politics, journalism, legislation, jurisprudence, and other fields of scholarship.

    You might have meant “semantics” rather than “linguistics”, and if so, that’s what you should correct your wording to, not defend an inapt word choice.

  70. mailliw says

    @86 Owlmirror.

    I tend to think of semantics as a branch of linguistics, but you are correct to point out that it has a wider scope.

  71. mailliw says

    @86 Owlmirror

    And the idea of a logical system being divided into its formal logical part and its interpretation comes directly from logic – so philosophy and mathematics play a role too.

    Codd’s relational model is based on predicate logic – so the same considerations apply to a relational database system as to a logical language.

  72. mailliw says

    @85 James Fehlinger

    I shall remember these names when the time comes to round up the usual suspects.

    Let’s not forget Max Tegmark – who has received a grant from Elon Musk to reseach the “existential risk from advanced artificial intelligence”* and who changed his surname from Shapiro because he thought he would stand out from the crowd with a more unusual surname. Something that one might expect from pop singers, but not usually from theoretical physicists.

    I very much enjoyed the Maciej Ceglowski talk by the way – thanks for pointing that out. As someone who works in software I have long thought that the people at the top in the tech industry are insane. I wish they would shut up about AI and concentrate their attention on solving some real problems instead – for example there is currently no algorithm that can completely ensure the consistency of a transaction in real time in a multi-user system – but I guess that isn’t very sexy.

    Here’s a clue Max, the answer is no risk whatsover, but don’t tell Elon that, or he will ask for his money back.

  73. James Fehlinger says

    Max Tegmark. . . changed his surname from Shapiro because he
    thought he would stand out from the crowd with a more unusual surname.

    Now that’s something I didn’t know.

    Back in the 90s, in the heyday of the Extropians, changing your
    name was symbolic of a kind of baptism or transubstantiation of the
    personality — a token or badge (the “outward and visible sign
    of an inward and spiritual grace” as the Anglicans say)
    to wear in the mundane world as a reminder to oneself and others of the
    glorious life to come (come the Singularity, or come being uploaded as
    an AI, or come being woken up after a century in the Dewar).
    Also good practice for thinking of yourself and behaving like a more
    godlike character, to be able to fully deserve and enjoy your new
    Primo 3M+ Posthuman body.
    ( http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/primo-posthuman/ )

    Hence “Max O’Connor” became “Max More”; “Nancie Clark O’Connor” became
    “Natasha Vita More”, “Mark Potts” became “Mark Plus”, etc.

    In a 1997 posting on a cryonics mailing list
    ( https://web.archive.org/web/20050517144016/ttp://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/dsp.cgi?msg=7510 )
    Mike Darwin (one of the principals in the cryonics movement at
    the time) wrote:
    “In my personal experience, somewhere around 50% of the cryonicists I’ve met meet
    the DSM classification for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. . .
    It has a great deal to do with: . . .
    . . .having a sense of comic book grandiosity such as renaming yourself Tom Terrific
    or Super Mann. . .”

    (Ironically, Mr. “Darwin” himself was actually named
    Mike Federowicz. He claimed to have come by the alias
    “honestly” though — he said he didn’t pick it himself,
    it was bestowed on him by his friends. He used it with
    a straight face, though.)

    The Extropians took a personality trait
    that most of them probably came by naturally and elevated it
    into a virtue.

    They subscribed to the Nathaniel Branden school of “self esteem”.
    It was part of the definition of Extropy — no Debbie Downers
    or Shrinking Violets allowed. Branden himself, of course,
    inherited all this from Ayn Rand.

    ;->

  74. James Fehlinger says

    Back in the 90s, in the heyday of the Extropians, changing your
    name was symbolic of a kind of baptism or transubstantiation of the
    personality. . .

    https://www.wired.com/1994/10/extropians/
    ++++++++++
    ED REGIS
    10.01.1994
    Meet the Extropians

    . . .

    “In Southern California, everybody changes their name:
    actors do, writers do. I knew I wanted to be a writer
    and become known, so that I could spread these ideas better,
    so I thought I might as well change my name,” which
    until then had been Max O’Connor.

    He spent a year thinking up a new name for himself,
    finally deciding on the word, More.

    “It seemed to really encapsulate the essence of what
    my goal is: always to improve, never to be static. I was
    going to get better at everything, become smarter, fitter,
    and healthier. It would be a constant reminder to keep
    moving forward.”

    It would also be the start of a trend among Extropians:
    Mark Potts became Mark Plus; Harry Shapiro became Harry Hawk.

    “It’s a great expression of self-transformation,” said
    Tom Morrow, a Silicon Valley attorney, about renaming himself.
    “This is how I’m changing myself: I’m going to change the way
    people think of me – because people think of you, in part,
    by the way you’re named. Also we pick descriptive names,
    which is a trait the Quakers also shared; they often named
    their kids with descriptive names like Felicity or Charity.
    You see that same trait in Extropians. They hold their values
    so dear, they want to be associated with them more than by
    just holding them. They want to be known by them.

    “And also,” he added, “it’s a fun sort of thing.”. . .
    ++++++++++

    There was also this guy:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FM-2030
    ++++++++++
    In the mid-1970s F.M. Esfandiary legally changed his name
    to FM-2030 for two main reasons. Firstly, to reflect the hope
    and belief that he would live to celebrate his 100th birthday
    in 2030; secondly, and more importantly, to break free of
    the widespread practice of naming conventions that he saw as
    rooted in a collectivist mentality, and existing only as a relic
    of humankind’s tribalistic past. . .

    The name 2030 reflects my conviction that the years around 2030 will
    be a magical time. In 2030 we will be ageless and everyone will have
    an excellent chance to live forever. 2030 is a dream and a goal.”. . .
    ++++++++++

    Alas, I think he might have been disappointed in 2030 (as viewed
    from 2021), if he had lived to see it.

  75. kurt1 says

    Rokos Basilisk seems to be a very smart idea. If your thing is AI just tell the guy with all the money that a potential future AI will burn his effigy if he doesn’t give you tons of money. The tech-priests making the rich buy indulgences so their soul brain wont go to transhumanist hell.

  76. snarkrates says

    mailliw,
    Jesus wept, you are thick! Of course the model a data scientist is using is mathematical. I’m a physicist, and the models I am using are mathematical. Does that mean the physics doesn’t exist as a separate discipline from math?

    How about materials science? Does that exist, or is it merely a branch of physics? Chemistry? Math?
    As near as I can understand, your entire argument breaks down as follows:
    Mailliw doesn’t understand statistics.
    Mailliw doesn’t understand data science.
    Therefor by the transitive property of not understanding shit, data science = statistics.

    I will leave it to the student to spot the fallacy.

  77. rrutis1 says

    I have nothing useful to add to the philosopher discussion…except for the connection between failed stand up comedians and philosphy:

  78. James Fehlinger says

    I am confident that I can predict the risks of
    super-intelligent AI – absolutely zero. Why do
    people believe this nonsense?

    Resistance is futile!


    +++++++++
    “I Tried To Warn You” – Elon Musk LAST WARNING (2021)
    Jul 20, 2021
    Elon Musk Zone
    +++++++++

    ;->

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