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(e)-thics are tech platform agnostic

By 09/02/2011One Comment

I got a lot of reactions on my blogpost Connected Brains, artificial intelligence… and you. Predictably, most people had questions on ethics. Will all kinds of bad people not take advantage of this human-enhancing technology? Should we not stop inventing and evolving, before the bad guys take over the show? Or… worse… the intelligent machines go rogue and do all kinds of unpleasant things with humanity before warping the leftovers to a non-identified planet… Would it not be more ethical not to think about enhancing our capabilities and stop moving slowly to Theilhard De Chardins famous “Point X” (Kurzweils singularity)?

Hm, I honestly think ethics are technology and platform agnostic. People do not need technology, networks, weapons and fiber connected super computers to be ethically correct or horribly wrong. Networks, robots and datacenters will not hurt, maim, humiliate, starve or kill people. People will.

In every stage of our evolution, there have been good people, and really bad people. Some bizarre part of our main human programming gives us the ability to choose: good or bad. Isaac Asimov gave his beloved robots a very severe basic programming: hardcoded in their positronic brain were three non-negotiable laws, preventing all harmful attacks on individuals. Any attempt to tamper with, or violate any of these laws would autodestruct the robot, by frying its brain. We, humans, do not have a hardcoded safety valve. We’re free to harm whoever we choose…

Fire, written language, science, medicine, aviation, chemistry… everything ever invented by humankind has been used and abused for ethically very questionable purposes. Inventing more, better, quicker… will not stop this process; nor will it accelerate it.

Bio-machine technology, connected networks, thought controlled computing, cyber enhancements etc… will eventually make us smarter, quicker, more enduring, longer lasting and Star Trek ready.

It will not make us better humans. There will always be the Dark side of the Force. Let’s take them on with better tech ;-).

One Comment

  • Nicholas Courant says:

    As always, great food for thought! You’re spot on with your claim that “ethics are technology and platform agnostic”. Ethics is really a by-product of the evolution that our human brain has gone through and thereby, ethics is inevitably linked to human behavior. But the limitations of our brain due to its specific evolutionary track, is an aspect that is in my opinion missing in the “singularity” discussion. I do believe that we shouldn’t oppose to radical change from any natural condition –if such a thing would even exist- based on a conservative reflex or simply on fear of what will come. In that respect, I get the creeps from some of the blind opposition against genetic modification. What I do oppose to is any equally blind faith in “bigger, better and smarter” without taking into consideration the model of how our brain works. Evolutionary psychology tells us that our brain is like a swiss army knife, with specific tools designed for specific tasks. Unfortunately, these tools –“designed” in a prehistoric context- come with specific limitations; dealing with extended groups, compared to the in-groups of our ancestors, to name just one example. So we turn to clever tricks to identify ourselves with the larger type of groups that we face these days. Nationalism, waving the flag as a way of capturing our “extended family”, is the result of that imperfection of our minds. It’s these type of limitations that I think we should consider more consciously before dreaming about plugging our swiss army knife into tomorrow’s supercomputers. Not because we should fear progress and change per se, but because a fundamental shift like that might not be compatible with one of our most obvious imperfections: “we, humans, do not have a hardcoded safety valve”

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