Cyborgs on Edge

Since 1998 the digital magazine Edge has asked a question to a variety of accomplished people designed to contribute to discussions about issues facing humanity.  The overall project of Edge is to promote a “third culture” which  “consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.”

Edge generally poses these questions in a way open to a very wide net of interpretations and provocations.   This year’s question is:

2015 : WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK?

The editors frame this overall question with the following:

Just over a month ago, in early December, Stephen Hawking warned of the potentially apocalyptic consequences of artificial intelligence, which in his opinion could eventually lead to “the end of the human species”. But really, should we fear the danger of a future army of humanoids out of control? Or rather we should celebrate the extraordinary opportunities that could give us the development of thinking machines, and even sentient beings? Do such beings along with ourselves pose new ethical dilemmas? Would they be part of our “society”? Should we grant them civil rights? Would we feel empathy for them?

While the intellectual latitude is wide, Edge editors instructs its contributors to put aside the things of a child, such as fiction and movies, and to “grow up” with some rigorous thinking about Artificial Intelligence.  The post contains responses from 182 contributors.  I’ve sampled a fair number of them but I’m sure I’ve missed more than I’ve absorbed.

So given the editorial stance, no crazy talk about cyborgs or Buddhism here.  Even Andy (“we have always been cyborgs” fame) Clark strikes a mostly reasonable tone – although he does worry at the end of his essay that while unlikely, it is possible that machine intelligence may end up eating us.

Many of the contributors focus on the key words in the question: “think” and “machine” or the elements of related concepts such as “artificial” and “intelligence”.  Not only are such approaches useful, they are necessary.  My impression this is the plane that many of the essays are the most successful.

I expect to make my way through more of the essays, and to do so with more focus and attention than the skimming I have done so far.  I expect to discuss my thoughts in future posts.  Meanwhile check it out for yourself.

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