Alpha Gamma Reviews: Edge 2015

Each year, Edge.org asks a few hundred very smart people how they’d answer a certain question. The results are always a mixed bag, but it’s one of the most exciting mixed bags in the intellectual world.

This year’s question dug into one of my own interests: “What do you think about machines that think?” 

In other words: What does the increasing power of artificial intelligence (AI) mean for humans, for the universe, and for the machines themselves? What will happen if and when AI becomes “general” or “superintelligent”, outperforming humans at almost every task?

The answers to this question would fill a book (and will, since Edge publishes one book each year). But even if you don’t have time to read a book, you should sample the content, because there’s always a ton of interesting material.

This post is my attempt to gather up some of the best answers and individual quotes, while addressing some of the mistakes that many different thinkers made.

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The Human Spirit

My fifth post for the humanist blog Applied Sentience is now live:

http://appliedsentience.com/2014/09/26/death-isnt-the-end-how-humanists-can-think-about-the-afterlife/

Here, I talk about one of my favorite subjects — the seemingly miraculous way that a bunch of individual human beings built the world we live in over the course of a few thousand years.

The secret of our success: Even if people don’t always understand one another, our intentions are similar enough that we manage to create laptops and buildings and pencils.

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Sky Lanterns and the World of Tomorrow

I just started writing for Applied Sentience, a blog curated by the humanist chaplaincies of various American colleges. This post first appeared over there.

Whether or not you like me, the other folks at Applied Sentience write really great stuff about physics, ethics, religious policy, and many other notable topics. Check them out!

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Humanist communities need more wonder.

This isn’t the fault of the humanist communities. Most religious communities also need more wonder. Most people need more wonder.

(The words “awe” and “transcendence” could stand in for “wonder” – I’m referring to that whole category of emotions.)

Whether it comes from the high note of a gospel hymn or the highest rocket in a fireworks display, wonder might just be the single best emotion. Mix wonder with affection, and you get love. Seek out wonder in your daily life, and you might avoid the hedonic treadmill that so often exhausts the pursuers of happiness. As far as I know, wonder never gets boring.

I don’t come by the feeling of wonder easily. And when I do, it’s hard to tell whether the things that give me that feeling will also work for other people.

(For example, most people don’t see dubstep as a quasi-religious experience.)

But last November, I stumbled onto something I think could become a wonder-inducing ritual for humanists around the world. The ritual is cheap, safe, beautiful, and equally accessible to one person or a gathering of thousands.

I could reveal it now, but this essay will make more sense if I tell you a story first.

Read the rest here!