The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas about Living Ethically - With Peter Singer, Hosted by Dr. Linda Barclay
Monash University welcomes Professor Peter Singer to discuss how effective altruism is changing ideas about living ethically. Professor Singer visited Monash University, May 14 and 15, 2015. Peter Singer, often described as the world’s most influential living philosopher, presents a challenging new movement in the search for an ethical life, one that has emerged from his own work on some of the world’s most pressing problems. Effective altruism involves doing the most good possible.
There has of late been a great deal of ink devoted to concerns about artificial intelligence, and a future world where machines can “think,” where the latter term ranges from simple autonomous decision-making to full fledged self-awareness. I don’t share most of these concerns, and I am personally quite excited by the possibility of experiencing thinking machines, both for the opportunities they will provide for potentially improving the human condition, to the insights they will undoubtedly provide into the nature of consciousness.
The rapidly growing field of transhumanism—an international social movement whose highest immediate priority is overcoming human death via science and technology—is facing a colossal challenge. About 85 percent of the world’s population believes in life after death, and much of that population is perfectly okay with dying because it gives them an afterlife with their perceived deity or deities—something transhumanists often refer to as “deathist” culture.
In fact, four billion people on Earth—mostly Muslims and Christians—see the overcoming of death through science as potentially blasphemous, a sin involving humans striving to be godlike. Some holy texts say blasphemy is unforgivable and will end in eternal punishment.
After I’d been living in rural Africa for a few months, I remarked to an American friend, “Based on careful analysis, I’ve discovered why people here are so poor: They don’t have any money.”
Poor people don’t have money. When they get money they become less poor. Sounds staggeringly obvious, but you’d be surprised how convoluted, dysfunctional and tangled up in bureaucracy that equation becomes once governments and the big foreign aid organizations—the Do-Gooder Industrial Complex—get involved.
Implemented by the Liberian Ministry of Gender and Development with support from UNICEF and funded by the EU and Japan, it was called the “Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCT)” and was aimed at the “ultra-poor” - the poorest of the poor.
The ultra-nationalist political agitator Dinanath Batra sued its publisher and the publisher withdrew the book from the Indian market. The lawsuit was based on a law (Hate Law Speech Section #295A, enacted in 1927 by the British under pressure from the Muslim community) that de facto allows courts to punish religious blasphemy.
Planetary Resources, founded by Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson, aims to pave the way to humanity mining asteroids for vast wealth… as the B612 Foundation hopes to detect and track asteroids that threaten civilization’s survival… a real case of synergy of purpose. (I’ve been helping both.)
This article examines the risks posed by “unknown unknowns,” which I call monsters. It then introduces a taxonomy of the unknowable, and argues that one category of this taxonomy in particular should lead us to inflate our prior probability estimates of annihilation, whatever they happen to be. The lesson here is ultimately the same as the Doomsday Argument, except the reasoning is far more robust.
Jaron Lanier’s book “Who Owns the Future?” discusses the role that technology plays in both eliminating jobs and increasing income inequality. Early in the book Lanier quotes from Aristotle’s Politics:
If every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet, “of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods; ”if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.
Aristotle saw that the human condition largely depends on what machines can and cannot do; moreover, we can imagine that machines will do much more.
Sticks and stones can break my bones , but words can never hurt me
The Nursery Rhyme is Bulls**t. Words hurt.
They don’t physically damage our bodies, but the pain is palpable. It’s also measurable in our brain activity. Social rejection activates the same parts of our brain as a punch to the face or a broken arm.
First of all, someone needs to demystify the idea that Westerners have of India. There are two modern empires in Asia: Russia and mainland China. They are empires because they rule over subjects who, given a choice, would probably not want to be part of them and these are big chunks of territory with huge natural resources (Chechnya and other Muslim regions in the case of Russia, Tibet and Xinjang in the case of China). India is never listed alongside them because it used to be a colony. Somehow the colonial past deters people from seeing what is relatively obvious: India too is an empire just like China and Russia that rules over many “conquered” regions that, given a choice, would probably secede.
Children are among those who populate the witch camps in the Northern Ghana. These children are not at the sanctuary because they were accused of witchcraft. They are at these shelters because their mothers or grand mothers were accused. But from my observations, many of these children end up suffering as a result the label of witchcraft applied to their mothers or grand mothers. The belief in child witches exist among the Dagomba and other ethnic communities in the Northern region. But it takes a different dimension.
What underlies a question like this is that it’s okay to force people to work by withholding what they need to live, in order to force them to work for us. And at the same time, because they are forced, we don’t even pay them enough to meet their basic needs that we are withholding to force them to work.
A worry that is not yet on the scientific or cultural agenda is neural data privacy rights. Not even biometric data privacy rights are in purview yet which is surprising given the personal data streams that are amassing from quantified self-tracking activities. There are several reasons why neural data privacy rights could become an important concern.
If asked to rank humanity’s problems by severity, I would give the silver medal to the need to spend so much time doing things that give us no fulfillment—work, in a word. I consider that the ultimate goal of artificial intelligence is to hand off this burden, to robots that have enough common sense to perform those tasks with minimal supervision.
But some AI researchers have altogether loftier aspirations for future machines: they foresee computer functionality that vastly exceeds our own in every sphere of cognition. Such machines would not only do things that people prefer not to; they would also discover how to do things that no one can yet do. This process can, in principle, iterate—the more such machines can do, the more they can discover.
What’s not to like about that? Why do I NOT view it as a superior research goal than machines with common sense (which I’ll call “minions”)?
Technological change is accelerating and transforming our world. Assuming trends persist, we will soon experience an evolutionary shift in the mechanisms of reputation, a fundamental on which relationships are based. Cascading effects of the shift will revolutionize the way we relate with each other and our machines, incentivizing unprecedented degrees of global cooperation.
In 2015, you probably have more computing power than that of the Apollo Guidance computer in your smartphone, and yet Moore’s Law continues unabated at its fiftieth anniversary. Machines are becoming faster and smaller and smarter.
Even if they aren’t flesh, “mindclones” deserve protection.
For much of the 20th century, capital punishment was carried out in most countries. During the preceding century many, like England, had daily public hangings. Today, even Russia, with a mountainous history of government-ordered executions, has a capital-punishment moratorium. Since 1996, it has not executed a criminal through the judicial system.
If we can learn to protect the lives of serial killers, child mutilators, and terrorists, surely we can learn to protect the lives of peace-loving model citizens known as mind clones and bemans—even if they initially seem odd or weird to us.
On May 20 I participated in a four person debate about the existence of God at Western Washington University. On the ‘yes’ side were Mike Raschko and Mark Markuly from the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. On the ‘no’ side were Bob Seidensticker and me. Here are my remarks:
The scientific idea that is most ready for retirement is the scientific method itself. More precisely it is the idea that there would be only one scientific method, one exclusive way of obtaining scientific results. The problem is that the traditional scientific method as an exclusive approach is not adequate to the new situations of contemporary science like big data, crowdsourcing, and synthetic biology.
In his Orthogonality Thesis, Nick Bostrom proposes that “intelligence and final goals are orthogonal: more or less any level of intelligence could in principle be combined with more or less any final goal.”
However, there’s a problem hinted at by the combination of “orthogonality” and “more or less”. Nick acknowledges that intelligent purpose actually does have some constraints. And arguably those constraints are actually quite strong, which would mean the Orthogonality Thesis is rather weak.
But the weakness may not be fatal. We can formulate a Semi-Orthogonality Thesis that actually accounts better for Nick’s own observations and reasoning without overstating their ramifications, which remain momentous.
Is every orphanage in the world operated by a religious organization?
Nope. Not any more.
BiZoHa Orphanage was launched by four members of the Brighter Brains Institute - a think-and-do tank located in San Francisco’s East Bay. BiZoHa is situated in Muhokya, in Kasese province, near the Rwenzori mountains of western Uganda, close to the Congo border.
Witch sanctuaries, described by local NGOs as ‘witch camps’, form part of the infrastructure of witchcraft in Northern Ghana. These sanctuaries are shrines, though one of sanctuaries in Gushiegu is not attached to any shrine. Tindana are the heads of the sanctuaries. The Dagbani term, Tindana, literally means - the one who owns the land. They are responsible for consulting the Tindang, the community spirit or god whenever there is a problem like drought or epidemic, war, plague, accusations of death or illness witchcraft, etc
If your first impulse was to tell me how many years it has been since you were born, stop right there. There could be a huge difference between your chronological age and your biological age.
Let me explain.
Your chronological age measures how long you have been on this planet. Your biological age measures how you look, feel and perform—and is a gauge as to how long you will live. Recent studies have shown that the rate at which you age is only determined 25–35% by your genetics. The rest is up to you.
Recently, the Daily Kos published an article titled, I Am Pro-Choice, Not Pro-Abortion. “Has anyone ever truly been pro-abortion?” one commenter asked.
Uh. Yes. Me. That would be me.
I am pro-abortion like I’m pro-knee-replacement and pro-chemotherapy and pro-cataract surgery. As the last protection against ill-conceived childbearing when all else fails, abortion is part of a set of tools that help women and men to form the families of their choosing. I believe that abortion care is a positive social good. And I suspect that a lot of other people secretly believe the same thing. And I think it’s time we said so.