Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

The singularity

No doubt you have heard about the prediction of mad genius Ray Kurzweil of the singularity, when machines will be smarter than people and we'll connect our brains to the cloud.

Well, that probably won't happen, for better or for worse. However, our unquestioning love of technological advances is a serious blind spot. It's trivially obvious that there are downsides to nuclear weapons, internal combustion engines, and hydrogenated vegetable oil, to name a few. And it ought to be just as obvious that if firearms were still muzzle-loading muskets we'd have less of an argument about them and a lot less to fear.

But I haven't heard very many people worrying about a disastrous technological singularity. As a thought experiment, what if teleportation became possible? It seems to me it would be the end of civilization, possibly of humanity. Door locks would become irrelevant. Anybody could remove any object or person from any place. You could knock down skyscrapers by teleporting away part of their footings, kidnap anybody from anywhere, kill anybody by removing the head, steal all the gold from Fort Knox. And anyone who had a monopoly on the technology would have absolute, unassailable power over all humanity.

Okay, that's probably impossible. Laws of physics and all that. But sci-fi writers don't seem to have thought it through. But technology that is possible is also pretty scary. Consider 3-D printing. It's a cool way to make customizable objects, including prostheses and other good stuff. And, as German Lopez discusses at the link, guns. Plastic guns that are untraceable and don't set off metal detectors. They can be made so they don't look like guns and won't be identifiable with x-rays. Anybody can make them without worrying about a background check. As Lopez explains:

The wide release of the 3D-printed gun blueprints, however, has only become an issue now due in large part to the Trump administration. The previous administration, under President Barack Obama, had forced libertarian Cody Wilson to stop publishing these blueprints on his website, Wilson sued the administration in hopes of republishing his schematics. The case seemed like an easy win for the government, with multiple courts initially ruling in the government’s favor.
But once the Trump administration came in, with its gun-friendly politics, the Justice Department abruptly agreed to a settlement — giving Wilson and his nonprofit, Defense Distributed, “essentially everything they wanted,” Andy Greenberg reported for Wired. The deal allowed Wilson to publish his blueprints starting in August, and paid him $40,000 for his legal costs.
So that was going to happen today, but a court has stopped it for now. Doesn't matter, they're already out there. Thousands of these blueprints have already been downloaded and they're being shared. And of course people can make new ones, and better ones. So yeah, you can now get on an airplane or enter a courthouse or other government building with a gun. What other capabilities will be coming along soon? People with chemistry sets making powerful neurotoxins, people gene-editing bioweapons in their garages -- this is possible right now.

I'm not sure how worried to be but we probably ought to be at least a little bit worried. Our technological capabilities have run far ahead of our wisdom.


Don Quixote said...

I tremble for my country.

I don't read The Nation like I used to because it features articles casting doubt on Donald Trump's treachery. But the first article (below) caught my attention. I already call Trump "Shitler" because of his proclivity for reading Hitler's speeches and his desire to mimic the monster that was Hitler.

I do believe the United States of America's government is in the hands of traitors, who are, to a man/and woman, so-called congressional "Republicans."

I know that Shitler is demented, self-hating, the world's most insecure man, a carnival barker/snake oil salesman, a sociopath without conscience, mentally very, very ill, with the worst imaginable case of narcissistic personality disorder, and an unsatisfiable lust for power that derives from his anger at an engulfing father and the inner knowledge that everything that came to him--Shitler--was given, and he has wasted his life, and has a small dick that he's angry about because he thinks it matters. And everyone's gonna pay for his raw deal!

I don't understand how anyone could support such a person ... even though I've worked and been friendly with people who wanted to "shake things up" in Washington. But to have no idea of what character is? Electing a fraudulent, pathologically-lying, hate-filled megalomaniac who dreams of being a thug and--with the mainstream media's permission--stalks his "debate" opponent onstage? I just don't get it. Can people really be this blind and/or ignorant? A man who "pays off" everyone he tries to fuck--including, now, the farmers?

Do our votes even count? Most voting machine corporations are owned by hard-right Republicans. I am beginning to believe that it is all a cynical song-and-dance between the corporations and the mainstream media. I'm no conspiracy theorist. But we are lied to constantly; that I know. It's the American way. FDR was a traitor to his own wealthy class.

If other countries can have democracy and compassion, we can too. Do I sound like a moron, a buffoon? A bleeding-heart liberal? I think not. I sound like my eyes are open. Call me a "radical"--from the Latin radix, meaning one who endeavors to get to the root of something.

"Honor those who seek the truth, but beware those who claim to have found it."

Don Quixote said...



But "No!" cry the Trumpists. It's okay if he does it! If he lies, cheats, murders. Why? Because ... because ... hmm ...

Perhaps it's not okay.

It's not! "Stop the witch hunt! Oh, it's an investigation into Shitler's treachery and stealing, his treason? Oh ..."

If this were Obama in office, all the Trump supporters would be apoplectic. But THEIR guy can do no wrong. If he cooks Barron and eats him? "Hey, the man was hungry! Leave him alone! It's HIS kid! He can do what he likes!"

All of the blind, ignorant supporters can tell you why THIS time in history ... it's okay! Because Shitler is a "stable genius!" Oh, he's not stable? Oh, he's not a genius?

Shit, are WE fucked!

Don Quixote said...

PS I don't blame Shitler for going on the offensive and claiming, in his sociopathic way, that he's a victim. After all, he's going to spend the rest of his highly UNnatural life in prison.
[(Did you see the news today (8-1-18)? Shitler thinks you have to show a photo ID to buy groceries. Can you say, "Completely, hopelessly, out-of-touch?" And this is the guy who ran as a populist for all the ignorant supporters who can't see that he's asking them to bend over so he can stick his little spiny penis up their asses and fuck 'em REAL good so they're all destitute. No, they wave their flags and MAGA hats and say, "Yay, he's for guns and against abortion!" Neither is true. He just wants to fuck EVERYONE as badly as he feels he's been fucked.]

As Robin Williams said about men (specifically, the desire to use nuclear bombs), "It's men's way of saying, 'If we can't fuck it, we'll kill it.'"

That is what a harpy is. That's who Cheney and Bush and Trump and all the other evil Caucasoid motherfuckers are.

mojrim said...

I'd like to return to the topic at hand if you worthy gentlemen are so inclined...

We've been here before, literally thousands of times. As with any advance it's going to take years, perhaps decades, for the state regulatory apparatus to catch up. I'm not sure what the answer is in all cases but (gene editing aside) it seems like we'll get through with less morbidity and mortality than 18th and 19th century industrialization.

The 3D printing case is a shit-storm in a piss-pot, really, as (a) the TSA is a theatre troupe failing 90% of penetration drills against conventional attacks, (b) they don't use metal-limited x-rays and they have chemical sniffers, and (c) you can't seize an american airplane at this point no matter what weapons you have.

NB: SF authors have thought the ever-loving-shit out of any technology you can imagine, teleportation and home fabrication included. Depending on their breadth of mind and ideological inclination the effects vary wildly. They might be the people to ask for regulatory solutions.

Don Quixote said...

Good comments, mojrim. Thanks :-)