Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, January 28, 2013

Technology and existential risk

Huw Price, Jaan Tallinn, and Martin Rees are now working to establish in Cambridge the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (C.S.E.R.),
catastrophic risks to our species that are “our fault,” in the sense that they arise from human technologies. These are not the only catastrophic risks we humans face, of course: asteroid impacts and extreme volcanic events could wipe us out, for example. But in comparison with possible technological risks, these natural risks are comparatively well studied and, arguably, comparatively minor (the major source of uncertainty being on the technological side). So the greatest need, in our view, is to pay a lot more attention to these technological risks. That’s why we chose to make them the explicit focus of our center...
we humans are nearing one of the most significant moments in our entire history: the point at which intelligence escapes the constraints of biology. And I see no compelling grounds for confidence that if that does happen, we will survive the transition in reasonable shape. Without such grounds, I think we have cause for concern... 
I’m inclined to give a pragmatist’s answer: Don’t think about what intelligence is, think about what it does. Putting it rather crudely, the distinctive thing about our peak in the present biological landscape is that we tend to be much better at controlling our environment than any other species. In these terms, the question is then whether machines might at some point do an even better job (perhaps a vastly better job)...  
My Route to Existential Risk - NYTimes.com

And just to punctuate Price's concerns, the Times Magazine yesterday ran Ray Kurzweil's latest public and very sanguine testimonial to his prophesied Singularity. I used to describe Kurzweil as the genius crackpot who pioneered voice recognition software. Now I have to describe him as the genius crackpot pioneer who is now Google's director of engineering.

Concerned yet?

Take two aspirin and repeat after Jaron Lanier and me: I am not a gadget...
LINKS/tweets OF NOTE: A new TED Talk on minimally invasive surgery:
Laparoscopic surgery uses minimally invasive incisions -- which means less pain and shorter recovery times for patients. But Steven Schwaitzberg has run into two problems teaching these techniques to surgeons around the world -- language and distance. He shares how a new technology, which combines video conferencing and a real-time universal translator, could help. (Filmed at TEDxBeaconStreet.)
Dr. Steven Schwaitzberg is on a mission to teach surgeons around the world to perform minimally invasive surgery. But first, he's had to find the right technology to allow communication across the language barrier...
On the other hand, robotic surgery?
  1. “Posterity is for the philosopher what the next world is for the man of religion"-Diderot Check your philosophical health here: 
  2. Carl Sagan continues to inspire. Here are artistic interpretations of some of the best words ever written. 
  3. My new book, The Future: 6 Drivers of Global Change, out on 1/29. Preview:   

    Revolution Hits the Universities  “There is a new world unfolding, and everyone will have to adapt.”

    Talk: Ray Kurzweil Says We’re Going to Live Forever 
    : David Foster Wallace on the meaning of life" Those who chose to LIVE are more credible re: MoL.

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