Me on Al Jazeera again

I’ll be on Al Jazeera again at 3:30p EST today , this time with George Dvorsky and Ari Shulman; the topic: ethics of transhumanism.

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  • M.W.

    Robin, I’m sorry to say this but you countered Schulman poorly in the interview. You totally let yourself look like you’d support sexism, which Ari then extended to racism following the logic of child design.

    The most articulate opponents of transhumanism will go on about how controlling biology enables evil and we need to counter them whenever they do so, ideally by explaining how they’re wrong and backing that up with evidence. You made us look bad and even if you’re on video about H+ again I doubt you’ll have an opportunity to repair the damage your mistake caused.

    • I may have note been paying close enough attention, but did Ari even bother to say why sex selection is a bad thing? Because if not, I don’t see why Robin can’t just assume parents are making intelligent decisions given their options (i.e. being surrounded by sexism). It’s hard to see how reducing the number of female offspring itself constitutes a breach of women’s rights.

      • Poelmo

        It means a lot of men are forced to stay single, that makes them unhappy and that increases crime (including rapes) and lowers productivity.

        Robin said that the quality of life would go up, what he meant by that was that some rich parents avoid paying a dowry they could easily miss. He conveniently left out what happens to people from poor or middle class families (what I wrote in the previous paragraph). Maybe in his mind everything averages out but there are a lot of people who would dispute that society is not worse off when 10% of the population gets it X% better and 90% get it (X/9)% worse.

        Don’t be fooled that “rationality” will solve everything: in the West people can’t even make the choice of going to college (and with which major), or not in a rational manner and we don’t even have things like (completely irrational) dowries. If people were actually rational in these things there would be no dowries and people wouldn’t care about the gender of their child because in a rational world a woman can earn just as much money as a man if she sets her mind to it.

      • Why do you think all this is a violation of women’s rights (i.e. sexism)? That was my main objection.

        I’m not sure why you think dowries are going to survive in an environment where there are many more men than women. Isn’t the whole reason for dowries (where women pay to get married) because men have historically died in wars and thus left a surplus of women?

      • Poelmo

        No, dowries exist because women were (and are) considered a financial burden. These societies either believe women cannot be as productive as men when working the land (though, in practice women often ended up doing most of the work) or because women were forbidden from making money (it’s especially easy to see the fallacy in the latter way of thinking).

        Robin, erronously describes this as a free market: women used to be a financial burden so dowries were created and in the future the scarcity of women will lead to reversed dowries. This is wrong because dowries were never rational to begin with (the “price” of women was “fixed” by an irrational rule, stemming from religious and cultural tradition, that women were not allowed to make money).

        Even if the free market model was correct it would not add any real value to the economy (it’s basically speculation with people), while it does cause human suffering (there will be significant lag in the system, meaning that it’s “out of balance” most of the time). So, It beats me why anyone would be in favor of such a scheme, unless they intend to make money off of it themselves.

      • The physiology of abuse during pregnancy is quite interesting. It epigenetically programs the fetus in utero to be more violent. This is the well known “cycle of violence”.

        If a woman is living in a violent society, where to be successful one must use violence first, then it would be a “feature” for her mate to beat her while she is pregnant with their child. The child will get a “head start” in being ruthless and violent. The more trauma a woman experiences while pregnant, the more violent and ruthless her child will be.

        Turns out that worked for Saddam.

        It is interesting that Conservatives are trying to do the same thing in this country, make the lives of the poor, and especially poor women as harsh and brutal as they can reasonably get away with.

        It turns out that works pretty well, some of the greatest predictors of future criminality is childhood abuse and socioeconomic status.

  • Poelmo

    I don’t agree with Robin when he dismissed the issue of universal healthcare being necessary to guarantee equal access to all. I don’t think this is one thing you can’t leave to the free market and not expect it to completely destroy any notion of social mobility. This is not a $500 iPad that might shave 5 minutes off your worktime (if at that). The technological and biological enhancements would likely cost millions per person and greatly enhance that person’s ability to make money. It could take decades for the technology to become affordable by our current standards. The problem is unenhanced people may very well have had their real incomes decline a lot by then (because they simply can’t compete anymore) and even if they don’t, they might not ever be able to catch up to those who “ascended” decades earlier (through investment you can, on average, maintain a financial headstart indefinitely because everytime the poor guys money doubles, so will yours).

    On the issue on parents getting to decide the properties of their children. This might seem harmless but it’s not. We know people cannot rationally make such a choice. many people are gamblers: they’d rather go for that 1 in a million chance to win 100 million dollars than for a 1 in 2 chance to win 300 dollars. The evidence is all around us: poor people playing the lottery, millions of kids in American high schools or Brazilian slums practicing several hours a day in the hopes of becoming the next big basketball or soccer player (they’d be much better off doing homework during those hours), people sending their kids to college (and not in engineering, science or medicine) because “any” college education gets you better chances in life (that was true in the 1970s, when the parents went to college, but not anymore, because so many more kids are going to college now), millions of people falling for the idea that there are no “haves and have nots” in America, just “haves and soon-to-haves”, etc… The “market” doesn’t work here because many people are not rational and the ones that are don’t have access to all the relevant information needed to make an informed choice (you’d have to know, at any time, what everyone else is planning to do to be able to make an informed decision yourself).

    The exact same thing happens when parents in India choose to only have boys: they assume their boys won’t be the ones without wives in the future (meaning the parents win because they don’t have to pay a dowry AND get to have grandchildren), that’s a completely irrational gamble they are willing to make, and because so many of them make the same gamble it has become a huge problem for India. Imagine that such technologies would become available to give parents the choice of making their child either highly athletic or highly intelligent. Too many parents would always choose one way so at any given time there will be a lack of either highly athletic or highly intelligent people. Not to mention what this might due to factors we don’t yet understand (maybe the current, natural ratio of highly athletic and highly intelligent people is there for a reason, maybe it’s the one that produces the best average immune system for humanity).

  • mjgeddes

    Yudkowky and Hanson must stop peddling libertarian economic pseudo-science.

    Extracts fom ‘Consilience’ by Edward O.Wilson

    Ch 9, ‘The Social Sciences’, Pgs 216-226

    ‘…the theorists cannot answer definitively most of
    the key macroscopic economic questions that concern
    society, including the optimal amount of fiscal
    regulation, future income distribution within and
    between nations, optimal population growth and
    distribution, long-term financial security of
    individual citizens, the roles of soil, water,
    biodiversity, and other exhaustible and diminishing
    resources, and the strength of “externalities” such as
    the deteriorating global environment. The world
    economy is a ship speeding through uncharted waters
    strewn with dangerous shaols. There is no general
    agreement on how it works’

    ‘…The models also fall short because they are
    hermetic – that is, sealed off from the complexities
    of human behaviour and the constraints imposed by the
    environment. As a result, economic theorists, despite
    the undoubted genius of many, have enjoyed few
    successes in predicting the economic future, and they
    have suffered many embrassing failures…’

    ‘…Expect in the most general and statistical terms,
    economic models cannot forecast the onset of bull and
    bear markets, or the decades-long cycles triggered by
    war and technological innovation. They cannot tell us
    whether tax cuts or national deficit reduction is the
    more effective in raising per capita income, or how
    economic growth will affect income distribution.’

    ‘Economic theory is impeded by a second, equally
    fundamental difficulty…it lacks a solid foundation
    of units and processes. It has not acquired or even
    attempted serious consilence with the natural
    sciences…In economics and the remainder of the
    social sciences as well, the translation from
    individual to aggregate behaviour is the key analytic
    problem. Yet in these disciplines the exact nature
    and sources of individual behaviour are rarely
    considered. Instead the knowledge used by the
    modelers is that of folk psychology, based mostly on
    common perception and unaided intuition..’

    ‘Their models contain elegant graphical
    representations and analytic solutions to theoretical
    problems of equilibria. Yet seen through the
    established principles of the behavioral sciences,
    they are simplistic and often misleading…Typically
    the predictions arise from the commonsense intuitions
    of the modeler, that is, from folk psychology…Seldom
    are the premises of such models examined closely.’

    • Poelmo

      Nobody takes economists seriously, except for economists themselves and sometimes politicians (when the economists say something that fits the politician’s narrative). Economics never was a science, just a publicly funded religion that worships the 18th century axioms of capitalism.

      A science would reject its assumptions when those are proven wrong, a science would never allow its members to speak like soothsayers about stuff that they’re only 50% sure that they’re 50% sure about (yes, you might as well throw dice or read animal intestines to match an economist’s predictive skills).

      Could there be real science called about economics? Yes, but it would be much more humble, much more creative and much more critical about its own assumptions.

      Talking about assumptions: economists have taken as axioms (and often still do) that:

      – giving poor people money will make them breed like rabbits (disproven by globally falling birthrates)

      – everyone in the market has perfect information all the time and is always acting rationally (disproven by George Soros, but that was really just a “no shit, Sherlock” moment for anyone who ever followed hysterical self-perpetuating panic spirals on the stock market)

      – the free market is always the best solution (because people from a small town will naturally walk towards the next small town to try and compare the only post office there to the one in their own town and of course we’re all better off when the free market takes over healthcare and education and start charging a garbage man the same amount as a billionaire.)

      And no, these are not honest mistakes of people who had only data to go on, no, the first of these points could be corrected by holding a simple anonymous survey (Mrs. X, if religion got off your back and there was a cheap pill that could prevent pregnancy, would you still have 10 kids, or just 2?), the other ones could have been corrected through simple psychological experiments and simulations. But no, economists are too good for the scientific method so they never test their assumptions and often don’t even adjust them when someone else does the testing for them and falsifies those assumptions.

      So come on Robin, you can do better, you have a masters degree in physics, you can think for yourself and be more critical of economist’s axioms.

    • Poelmo

      I mean seriously:

    • Physics D Major

      All I want to know from you guys is why do you think the air is free ?

  • On the topic of military tech/drones, a relevant link is War From Near and Far.