As an atheist who believes in the fundamental nature of information and meaning this episode of Future Proofing on Faith – “how the functions of religion could be taken over by technology” – I found very hard to listen to.
Great conclusion from Timandra Harkness, despite some awfully confused content contributors. Good in parts, but where to start, so much wrong?
Congregationality beats mindfulness? Well OK, but how about both, time and a place for each? Some seriously confused secular spirituality. Sacks wins hands-down as usual, but Pinker is so weak anyway. Harkness even quotes Gödel back at Pinker – priceless – wonderful irony given Rebecca Goldstein is a Gödel authority. Yuval Harari and Giulio Prisco – gimme strength. And only the unreconstructed Pastor invoked God. We’ve barely scratched the surface. [Lots of previous links to add.]
Saved for another day when I have the will.
Hat tip to Elizabeth Oldfield. Grrr.
So responding to a programme that covered so much ground from so many perspectives is a frustration but what if we focus on the question posed by Elizabeth Oldfield?
the thing about this excellent programme which has really stuck with me is if you define human value by intelligence and then invent something more intelligent (AI) then what happens? how do you fight for dignity? Will we worship something we have made? https://t.co/3ONm9x7bQQ
— Elizabeth Oldfield (@TheosElizabeth) May 15, 2018
My original statement of interest as an atheist humanist and a believer in the fundamentals of information crosses this automation of human value premise. We need to tease apart these two aspects:
Do we define human value by intelligence? Actually, I do, but clearly hat depends on what we mean by (human) intelligence and that’s more than simply a definition.
Whatever it is it’s more than some narrow “new atheist” view of rationality where all emotion and subjectivity can – or should – be reduced to some sort of dispassionate objective logic. That’s scientism. There are whole libraries of books on what more that is. Metaphysically, ontologically and above all epistemologically – what it means to be human over and above any other known sentient being in the cosmos. For example, something like problem solving creativity – being a universal constructor to use David Deutsch’s term. The ability to automate the problems we’ve already solved, to build them into the mundane workings and technological tools of everyday life so that, free from unnecessary drudgery, we can seek out new unsolved, misunderstood and even unknown future problems. To imagine and create new meanings and new explanations for new things. For our futures.
Can we invent AI to be something more intelligent? No. By definition.
It’s a wonderful irony that information seems to be a fundamental component of the mix of chaos and order we see in the entire life history of the cosmos at all scales. That really is a creative source of new meaning and explanations of things even as yet undreamt.
The conflation however is to see applied information science – in big data, AI, patterns and algorithms, you name it – as a replacement for human creativity when it is in fact a tool. Tool use, exploiting technology, is fundamental to human creativity. However advanced AI gets it will always be an automation tool for actual intelligence, at least until it takes on a transhuman life of its own, but that will require not just AI but A-Life and actual life to outgame humans (and other as-yet-unknown intelligent beings) for cosmic resources and creativity. If we value humanity we should always plan to keep humans ahead of this game, it’s what we do naturally. And, sure, we could fail to spot a catastrophic error in executing our plans, but we’ve not yet identified any entity more creative than ourselves in dealing with that problem when it arises.
Our dignity – our value and meaning – is in being good at being human. That’s what we should value – even worship and have faith in – above all. If we ever do meet a being we genuinely consider more human than ourselves, only then would we have more faith in that.
Previously on Psybertron:
[David Deutsch on meaning as the unending quest for explanation.]
[Andy Martin and Kenan Malik on Transhumanism and Yuval Harari.]
Also published on Medium.