2:52

Émile P. Torres just pointed out the existence of this 5 year old video.

Elon Musk, Stuart Russell, Ray Kurzweil, Demis Hassabis, Sam Harris, Nick Bostrom, David Chalmers, Bart Selman, and Jaan Tallinn discuss with Max Tegmark (moderator) what likely outcomes might be if we succeed in building human-level AGI, and also what we would like to happen.

It’s 10 right-leaning white men dressed in black suits who have a history of stirring up fear to their own profit (or, in the case of Tallinn for instance, dismissing credible concerns about climate change for his own profit) clumsily sharing too few microphones to make up some science fiction shit. The panel is titled Superintelligence: Science or Fiction? | Elon Musk & Other Great Minds. I’m done already after seeing the title and lineup, but I’ve always wanted to witness hell, so I watched a little of it. Very little of it.

I made it to the 2:52 mark before I said, “aww, hell no, fuck this” and bailed out. Years of dealing with creationists has given me a high tolerance for bad bullshit, but this was too much for me. How far can you get?

I hope you weren’t eager to get Dinesh D’Souza’s latest book

D’Souza made a stupid, and clearly debunked, “documentary”, 2000 Mules, in which he claimed Democrats smuggled in crates of faked ballots to steal the election. Now he’s trying to turn it into a book. Oops, a snag.

Dinesh D’Souza’s book version of “2000 Mules,” based on the film that makes widely debunked claims that people were paid to dump fraudulent ballots at collection boxes in key 2020 election states, was abruptly recalled by the publisher Monday, the eve of its release.

Recalled? Publication delayed? You might think that’s a small thing to have happen, except…the publisher is Regnery. Regnery don’t care. Regnery publishes the most godawful stupid right-wing garbage without a qualm.

Now I really want to know what kind of garbage is in the first publication of that book that would make even Regnery gag.

Technoidiocy

Jared Kushner lives in a pampered bubble where he thinks he’s going to be sheltered forever.

From the last year, the one thing I’ve tried to put a priority on since I left the White House was, you know, getting some exercise in. I think that there is a good probability that my generation is, hopefully with the advances in science, either the first generation to live forever, or the last generation that’s going to die. So, we need to keep ourselves in pretty good shape.

There is no evidence that we can increase human life spans much beyond slightly over a century, and the only people claiming otherwise are scam artists or pseudoscientists (or both, <cough> Aubrey deGrey). The reasonable goal is to make our lives productive and comfortable within the limits of our biology, and that’s a good reason for exercise. Not this ridiculous post-human bullshit.

We’re not even doing that, though. Just browsing through the news, there have been catastrophic floods in Pakistan.

Millions of Pakistanis affected by the worst flooding in a decade are in desperate need of aid as authorities say they have been “overwhelmed” by the scale of the disaster, with the country’s climate minister calling it a “serious climate catastrophe”.

The death toll from monsoon flooding since June has reached 1,136, according to figures released Monday by the country’s National Disaster Management Authority.

Have Republicans been helping much with preventing deaths from climate change? Or take a look at the recent heat waves in Europe.

An extreme heat wave that meteorologists call an “apocalypse” broiled much of Europe and the United Kingdom on Monday, and hundreds of people died because of record high temperatures and ferocious wildfires.

At least 748 heat-related deaths have been reported in the heat wave in Spain and neighboring Portugal, where temperatures reached 117 degrees this month.

Gosh, it looks like science, or rather, our technological capitalist dystopia, has been inventing all kinds of unpleasant ways to die.

Mustn’t forget: at least six and a half million dead from COVID-19.

I would also point out that thanks to advances in science, Jared Kushner has an enhanced probability of dying on a guillotine. That’s far more likely than that he’d live forever.

And there are so many ways he could face mortality! Maybe it’ll be in the chaos of a civil war incited by his father-in-law, or in food riots after the collapse of the economy, or in a backstabbing struggle for power in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or his cozy relationship with the Saudis could end in betrayal and sawed off limbs, or he could just get cancer and die. So many possibilities! Science won’t save you from human nature or the physical limitations thereof.

Fortunately, I don’t listen to overpaid athletes’ opinions on physics

Shaquille O’Neal said some incredibly stupid things five years ago, claiming to believe the Earth is flat. Those stories died down a while ago — I suspect a publicist took him aside and explained “Ouyay oundsay ikelay anyay idiotyay, ixnay ethay atflay earthyay BS” — but it has flared up again with recent remarks on a podcast.

The NBA legend, 50, was asked during an appearance on The Kyle & Jackie O Show if his former comments about the conspiracy theory were a “joke” or if he did, in fact, believe the notion to be true.

“It’s a theory,” O’Neal told hosts Kyle Sandilands and Jackie Henderson. “It’s just a theory, they teach us a lot of things. It’s just a theory,” he repeated.

“I flew 20 hours today, not once did I go this way,” O’Neal said, noting he “didn’t tip over” or “go upside down.” He added that he’s also unsure about whether the planet is spinning.

It’s OK. If you don’t mind that I’ll forever after disregard everything you say about anything, just announce that you believe the earth is flat, or only 6000 years old, and I’ll happily file you away in my mental bin labeled “bollocks”. That stuff is so stupid that O’Neal might convince me that basketball must be imaginary.

God-bothering violent fool was temporarily restrained

There’s the question I’d ask.

“Andrew Who?” That’s most of what the over-30 crowd said in response to the news that Andrew Tate had been banned from TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook after a spate of negative coverage and increasing concerns from parents and teachers about the TikTok star’s power over his followers. For adults who don’t have teenage sons, the 35-year-old kickboxer-turned-TikTok star was largely unknown, but as anyone in the high school and college age set could tell you, online he was an overnight sensation.

Admittedly, I’d heard of him second hand as a terrible trollish asshole, but I’d never seen any of his videos, so I’m glad Amanda Marcotte explained it. The big question, though, is how does a loudmouthed ignorant jerk become an overnight sensation? Amanda answers that, too.

His popularity is directly attributable to the profit motives of social media companies. As the Guardian demonstrated, if a TikTok user was identified as a teenage male, the service shoveled Tate videos at him at a rapid pace. Until the grown-ups got involved and shut it all down, Tate was a cash cow for TikTok, garnering over 12 billion views for his videos peddling misogyny so vitriolic that one almost has to wonder if he’s joking.

Oh.

I’m sure the executives behind those kinds of decisions are all cowering behind the smokescreen of the mysterious “algorithm”, but they wrote the code for that crap and fed it the data, and you’re telling me that they never noticed that their software was running amok and spewing bad recommendations all over the place? Nah, I don’t believe it. More likely there was the Chinese equivalent of Silicon Valley dudebros enthusiastically priming the system with the kind of videos they like to watch — a mob of James Damore wanna-bes — and it took off in a way that the grown-ups had to notice. They noticed the cash flowing into their pockets, anyway.

Parents, teachers, and anyone who cares about the wellbeing of young people should be worried. It’s not just that Tate was spreading hateful ideas and encouraging violence against women, though that on its own is terrifying enough. It’s that Tate is just the latest example of the way that far-right figures lure in young men by preying on their insecurities. Once the influencers suck in these young men, they start redirecting audience energies towards fascist organizing. Tate is just a piece of a larger puzzle that explains, for instance, how so many otherwise normal young men get wrapped up in groups like the Proud Boys and actions like storming the Capitol on January 6.

The strategy is simple. Far-right online influencers position themselves as “self-help” gurus, ready to offer advice on making money, working out, or, crucially, attracting female attention. But it’s a bait-and-switch. Rather than getting good advice on money or health, audiences often are hit with pitches for cryptocurrency scams or useless-but-expensive supplements. And, even worse, rather than being offered genuine guidance on how to be more appealing to women, they’re encouraged to blame women — and especially feminism — for their dating woes.

There has to be more to it than just a pied piper leading adolescent boys to their doom, though. I was an adolescent boy, once, and I would have been repelled by my fellow boys “saying shit like women are inferior to men, women belong in the kitchen, and refusing to read an article by a female author because women should only be housewives.” I’m not saying I wasn’t impressionable and stupid at a young age, but that there are some kinds of messages I would have rejected instantly. There’s got to be some other ingredient in the recipe to make a right-wing tool.

By the way, Andrew Tate himself might be banned, but TikTok and YouTube are stuffed to the gills with Andrew Tate videos — his acolytes have been busy duplicating and uploading copies of his videos everywhere…and none of the services profiting off them will do a thing about it. Kent Hovind could be sent to prison for ten years, and still his lies continued to proliferate. Expect Tate to thrive in the same virtual way. He’ll be back. Or some vicious little copy of him will be.

Who needs religion when you’ve got these clowns promoting bad ideas?

That’s an unholy trinity if ever I saw one: Bostrom, Musk, Galton. They’re all united by terrible, simplistic understanding of genetics and a self-serving philosophy that reinforces their confidence in bad ideas. They are longtermists. Émile Torres explains what that is and why it is bad…although you already knew it had to be bad because of its proponents.

As I have previously written, longtermism is arguably the most influential ideology that few members of the general public have ever heard about. Longtermists have directly influenced reports from the secretary-general of the United Nations; a longtermist is currently running the RAND Corporation; they have the ears of billionaires like Musk; and the so-called Effective Altruism community, which gave rise to the longtermist ideology, has a mind-boggling $46.1 billion in committed funding. Longtermism is everywhere behind the scenes — it has a huge following in the tech sector — and champions of this view are increasingly pulling the strings of both major world governments and the business elite.

But what is longtermism? I have tried to answer that in other articles, and will continue to do so in future ones. A brief description here will have to suffice: Longtermism is a quasi-religious worldview, influenced by transhumanism and utilitarian ethics, which asserts that there could be so many digital people living in vast computer simulations millions or billions of years in the future that one of our most important moral obligations today is to take actions that ensure as many of these digital people come into existence as possible.

In practical terms, that means we must do whatever it takes to survive long enough to colonize space, convert planets into giant computer simulations and create unfathomable numbers of simulated beings. How many simulated beings could there be? According to Nick Bostrom —the Father of longtermism and director of the Future of Humanity Institute — there could be at least 1058 digital people in the future, or a 1 followed by 58 zeros. Others have put forward similar estimates, although as Bostrom wrote in 2003, “what matters … is not the exact numbers but the fact that they are huge.”

They are masters of the silly hypothetical — these are the kind of people who spawned the concept of Roko’s Basilisk, “that an all-powerful artificial intelligence from the future might retroactively punish those who did not help bring about its existence”. It’s “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”, where the “many” are padded with 1058 hypothetical, imaginary people, and you are expected to serve them (or rather, the technocrat billionaire priests who represent them) because they outvote you now.

The longtermists are terrified of something called existential risk, which is anything that they fear would interfere with that progression towards 1058 hardworking capitalist lackeys working for their vision of a Randian paradise. It’s their boogeyman, and it doesn’t have to actually exist. It’s sufficient that they can imagine it and are therefore justified in taking actions here and now, in the real world, to stop their hypothetical obstacle. Anything fits in this paradigm, it doesn’t matter how absurd.

For longtermists, there is nothing worse than succumbing to an existential risk: That would be the ultimate tragedy, since it would keep us from plundering our “cosmic endowment” — resources like stars, planets, asteroids and energy — which many longtermists see as integral to fulfilling our “longterm potential” in the universe.

What sorts of catastrophes would instantiate an existential risk? The obvious ones are nuclear war, global pandemics and runaway climate change. But Bostrom also takes seriously the idea that we already live in a giant computer simulation that could get shut down at any moment (yet another idea that Musk seems to have gotten from Bostrom). Bostrom further lists “dysgenic pressures” as an existential risk, whereby less “intellectually talented” people (those with “lower IQs”) outbreed people with superior intellects.

Dysgenic pressures, the low IQ rabble outbreeding the superior stock…where have I heard this before? Oh, yeah:

This is, of course, straight out of the handbook of eugenics, which should be unsurprising: the term “transhumanism” was popularized in the 20th century by Julian Huxley, who from 1959 to 1962 was the president of the British Eugenics Society. In other words, transhumanism is the child of eugenics, an updated version of the belief that we should use science and technology to improve the “human stock.”

I like the idea of transhumanism, and I think it’s almost inevitable. Of course humanity will change! We are changing! What I don’t like is the idea that we can force that change into a direction of our choosing, or that certain individuals know what direction is best for all of us.

Among the other proponents of this nightmare vision of the future is Robin Hanson, who takes his colonizer status seriously: “Hanson’s plan is to take some contemporary hunter-gatherers — whose populations have been decimated by industrial civilization — and stuff them into bunkers with instructions to rebuild industrial civilization in the event that ours collapses”. Nick Beckstead is another, who argues that saving lives in poor countries may have significantly smaller ripple effects than saving and improving lives in rich countries, … it now seems more plausible to me that saving a life in a rich country is substantially more important than saving a life in a poor country, other things being equal. Or William MacAskill, who thinks that If scientists with Einstein-level research abilities were cloned and trained from an early age, or if human beings were genetically engineered to have greater research abilities, this could compensate for having fewer people overall and thereby sustain technological progress.

Just clone Einstein! Why didn’t anyone else think of that?

Maybe because it is naive, stupid, and ignorant.

MacAskill has been the recipient of a totally uncritical review of his latest book in the Guardian. He’s a philosopher, but you’ll be relieved to know he has come up with a way to end the pandemic.

The good news is that with the threat of an engineered pandemic, which he says is rapidly increasing, he believes there are specific steps that can be taken to avoid a breakout.

“One partial solution I’m excited about is called far ultraviolet C radiation,” he says. “We know that ultraviolet light sterilises the surfaces it hits, but most ultraviolet light harms humans as well. However, there’s a narrow-spectrum far UVC specific type that seems to be safe for humans while still having sterilising properties.”

The cost for a far UVC lightbulb at the moment is about $1,000 (£820) per bulb. But he suggests that with research and development and philanthropic funding, it could come down to $10 or even $1 and could then be made part of building codes. He runs through the scenario with a breezy kind of optimism, but one founded on science-based pragmatism.

You know, UVC, at 200-280nm, is the most energetic form of UV radiation — we don’t get much of it here on planet Earth because it is quickly absorbed by any molecule it touches. It’s busy converting oxygen to ozone as it enters the atmosphere. So sure, yeah, it’s germicidal, and maybe it’s relatively safe for humans because it cooks the outer, dead layers of your epidermis and is absorbed before it can zap living tissue layers, but I don’t think it’s practical (so much for “science-based pragmatism”) in a classroom, for instance. We’re just going to let our kiddos bask in UV radiation for 6 hours a day? How do you know that’s going to be safe in the long term, longtermist?

Quacks have a “breezy kind of optimism”, too, but it’s not a selling point for their nostrums.

If you aren’t convinced yet that longtermism/effective altruism isn’t a poisoned chalice of horrific consequences, look who else likes this idea:

One can begin to see why Elon Musk is a fan of longtermism, or why leading “new atheist” Sam Harris contributed an enthusiastic blurb for MacAskill’s book. As noted elsewhere, Harris is a staunch defender of “Western civilization,” believes that “We are at war with Islam,” has promoted the race science of Charles Murray — including the argument that Black people are less intelligent than white people because of genetic evolution — and has buddied up with far-right figures like Douglas Murray, whose books include “The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.”

Yeah, NO.

It’s a JBP Socratic Monologue!

Jordan Peterson is so absurd. @thebadstats has posted a series of excerpts from his latest interview, each only a minute or two long, which is about the longest stretch of listening to this bozo I can take. Listen to him expound on his definition of “matter”, which is just him getting confused by homonyms, which leads to him being so moved by his own profundity that he starts crying.

The man is just losing it. This is what happens when you become a cult leader and begin squirreling about in your own head and believing in the deepities you pass off as wisdom.

Here’s another one where he explains that you have to believe in “ontological transcendence” in order to be a scientist.

I don’t think the fact that scientists don’t believe they know everything is quite the same as believing in whatever weird god occupies Peterson’s thinking.

Like having a nanny that runs over the kids and bursts into flame

The Musk grift continues. The technology he just buys outright is OK, but he always promotes it with hype and lies about what it can do. Battery powered electric cars? Great. Boring tunnels to solve traffic congestion? Utterly bonkers, won’t work. Colonizing Mars? Nonsense. A death trap. Neuralink? Small animal torture that is so invasive it’s not going to be implemented in people.

The next bit of insanity is Optimus, his humanoid robot.

“Tesla Bots are initially positioned to replace people in repetitive, boring, and dangerous tasks. But the vision is for them to serve millions of households, such as cooking, mowing lawns, and caring for the elderly,” Musk wrote in an essay published in China Cyberspace magazine.

In 2021, Musk said the robot – codenamed “Optimus” – will use the same chips and sensors as Tesla’s so-called Autopilot software, which has come under intense scrutiny from politicians and federal regulators.

The bot will be able to carry 45 pounds (20.4kg) and lift 150 pounds (68kg), Musk said, adding that it will be able to run 5 miles (8km) per hour. He said the machine will be designed so that humans can easily run away from and overpower it.

He is promising a set of capabilities based around general artificial intelligence built on the foundation of his unapproved autodriving car technology. That’s absurd. I don’t believe it could even be implemented in my lifetime. I can’t imagine buying one of these to take care of my 80 year old mother, because I have zero interest in euthanizing her, which is all it would be good for.

Why wasn’t Musk laughed off the stage after this “demo” last year?

He keeps on lying and faking it, but his cult keeps swallowing it.

Bret Weinstein used to teach evolutionary biology

It was a big win for Evergreen College to get rid of him, because he had to have been teaching it badly. This is the kind of obsolete adaptationist garbage he was teaching, and the kind of twisty reasoning he uses.

Let us begin the vivisection.

Foreskin is an evolutionary adaptation.

No, he does not know that. There is no evidence to suggest that it has any significant effect at all, in an evolutionary sense. There is no history of people born without foreskins in any kind of competitive interaction with people with them; there is no evidence of a differential reproductive advantage in any human lineages.

He’s making shit up. This is indicative of a crude adaptationist mindset where everything must have an adaptive effect.

It had a value and may or may not be net -beneficial in the modern environments

What value? Be specific. What change in value in modern environments has occurred?

Circumcision is also an adaptation that may/may-not be net-beneficial in modern times

Loss of a foreskin is not an adaptation — it’s not heritable. It’s a cultural trait. It’s effects are complex: sure, it may be important in establishing a group identity (a cultural phenomenon again!), but it probably has also led to some small number of babies bleeding out. So what if it may or may not be beneficial? It’s a thing. People also get ear piercings, or tattoos, or funny haircuts. Are those adaptations now?

All this adds up to Weinstein’s kicker.

Surgical sex change is not an adaptation. Done in children it’s immoral.

Alex up there hits the nail on the head. Why is one kind of modification (circumcision) adaptive, but another kind (gender affirmation) “immoral”? This is all just bad rationalization by Weinstein. I wonder if he has a sense of shame left any more?

Nope.

Has nothing to do with preference. Circumcision has stood the test of evolutionary time. If it was simply negative, selection would have eliminated it.

There you have it: if it exists for some length of time, it is good and must have some advantage, or evolution would have eliminated it, because every bad thing is culled by the all-seeing perfect eye of natural selection. Migraines, bad knees, PCOS, religion, hernias, primogeniture, aging, the infield fly rule in baseball, wisdom teeth, vitamin C dependency, and war, all blessed by the flawless filter of evolution, or they wouldn’t exist anymore.

Good god, what a panadaptationist idiot. They really do exist. With bad logic and science like that, you know all he’s doing is signaling fallaciously to his bigoted anti-trans cronies.

But also, I have to wonder: why does he consider evolutionary consequences to be the only thing we consider when doing a thing? I blog because I enjoy it, not because it gives my offspring some advantage. You can like a rainbow or dancing or music or being in the company of friends because it makes you feel good — not everything is derived from some kind of biological calculus.

The pandering platitudes of Yuval Noah Harari

A lot of people suggested that I read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I got a copy — it’s moldering in a pile somewhere in my office somewhere — and read a couple of pages before the klaxon blaring in my head made me put it down. I did not trust the author in the slightest bit, and his stories all seemed either off or clearly weird opinions. I see my initial presentiments were valid, if you accept this review of Sapiens.

Unfortunately, Harari is tainting the reputation of science popularizers. At least the article labels him as a “science populist”, which is a whole different ball of wax. I think the difference is that a populist tries to ingratiate themselves with an audience by telling stories that reassure them that their biases about themselves are right.

We have been seduced by Harari because of the power not of his truth or scholarship but of his storytelling. As a scientist, I know how difficult it is to spin complex issues into appealing and accurate storytelling. I also know when science is being sacrificed to sensationalism. Yuval Harari is what I call a “science populist.” (Canadian clinical psychologist and YouTube guru Jordan Peterson is another example.) Science populists are gifted storytellers who weave sensationalist yarns around scientific “facts” in simple, emotionally persuasive language. Their narratives are largely scrubbed clean of nuance or doubt, giving them a false air of authority—and making their message even more convincing. Like their political counterparts, science populists are sources of misinformation. They promote false crises, while presenting themselves as having the answers. They understand the seduction of a story well told—relentlessly seeking to expand their audience—never mind that the underlying science is warped in the pursuit of fame and influence.

Since I didn’t read his book, I didn’t discover one of his core messages was something that drives me into a rage: he’s one of those genetic reductionists. All we need to do is figure out what genes you have, and we’ll understand everything. We won’t.

Harari’s speculations are consistently based on a poor understanding of science. His predictions of our biological future, for instance, are based on a gene-centric view of evolution—a way of thinking that has (unfortunately) dominated public discourse due to public figures like him. Such reductionism advances a simplistic view of reality, and worse yet, veers dangerously into eugenics territory.

Our genes are not our puppet masters, pulling the right strings at the right time to control the events that create us. When Harari writes about altering our physiology, or “engineering” humans to be faithful or clever, he is skipping over the many non-genetic mechanisms that form us.

For example, even something as seemingly hardwired as our physiology—cells dividing, moving, deciding their fates, and organizing into tissues and organs—is not engineered by genes alone. In the 1980s, scientist J.L. Marx conducted a series of experiments in Xenopus (an aquatic frog native to sub-Saharan Africa) and found that “mundane” biophysical events (like chemical reactions in the cells, mechanical pressures inside and on the cells, and gravity) can switch genes on and off, determining cell fate. Animal bodies, he concluded, result from an intricate dance between genes, and changing physical and environmental events.

Yeah, that’s pretty much the consensus among informed biologists. It’s hard to argue against it, unless you’re the kind of racist who ignores the science. Yet somehow, Harari gets all these recommendations from big name people like Obama and Zuckerberg and Gates. Why?

Harari’s motives remain mysterious; but his descriptions of biology (and predictions about the future) are guided by an ideology prevalent among Silicon Valley technologists like Larry Page, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and others. They may have differing opinions on whether the algorithms will save or destroy us. But they believe, all the same, in the transcendent power of digital computation. “We’re headed toward a situation where A.I. is vastly smarter than humans and I think that time frame is less than five years from now,” Musk said in a 2020 New York Times interview. Musk is wrong. The algorithms will not take all our jobs, or rule the world, or put an end to humanity anytime soon (if at all). As A.I. specialist François Chollet says about the possibility of algorithms attaining cognitive autonomy, “Today and for the foreseeable future, this is stuff of science fiction.” By echoing the narratives of Silicon Valley, science populist Harari is promoting—yet again—a false crisis. Worse, he is diverting our attention from the real harms of algorithms and the unchecked power of the tech industry.

Yeah, one path to fame and fortune is to pander to the biases of Silicon Valley tech bros. You know that “Larry Page, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and others” are people lacking in any biological expertise at all, but they do love uplifting stories of human nature and evolution, especially when the message is that the artificial hierarchy that has made them rich is intrinsic and natural. Yuck.

(To those of you who recommended the book to me: I appreciate it! It sounds like the kind of book I would like, it’s just that you can’t know until you dig into the content. Harari relies on superficial impressions to fuel the Harari industry.)