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09/10/2016

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On "Believing in free will": it mentions the Vohs research on belief and cheating, but that research partially-failed a replication attempt: https://osf.io/i29mh/ By partial failure, I mean the effect size was much smaller in the replication. I don't mean to cast any doubts on Seto's study.

The bioengineered future, on the other hand, definitely merits some doubts. "The life sciences, he announces, consider that all living things (including humans) are just algorithms." Um, no: at least not by the usual, Turing machine based, definition of algorithm. Turing machines are discrete; living things are generally analog systems. The Schrodinger equation uses real-numbered values for t (time) and x (position). It takes careful engineering to build something out of physical particles that is not an analog system, and not highly sensitive to minute variations in the values of some parameters.

But the real problem with that statement isn't the "algorithms". (Perhaps the Turing machine definition isn't the best.) It's the "just". What's to belittle about algorithms, if they can do all this?

As for turning over voting to a machine, I can already bring my cell phone into the voting booth. I could rely on it to relay verdicts from a larger computer at work or home, if I wanted to. Key words: if I wanted to. No changes to voting rights are necessary or desirable. If computer algorithms gain the prophesied abilities, people can take advantage of them.

A more substantial crisis for democracy comes from something the article doesn't discuss. If people can "upload" to computers, they can also create many copies of themselves. Denying these new persons any voting rights seems wrong, but so does allowing a few people to become a majority voting bloc because they're rich enough to buy 51% of all computing resources. Luckily, this paragraph contains an "if", which I suspect won't come true. Unluckily, the reason is that we'll probably face a bigger crisis first.

The best thing so far written bearing on futurism, IMO, is http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/
The bearing is mostly indirect, but powerful nonetheless.

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