Waking Up with Sam Harris #66 – Living with Robots (with Kate Darling)

The Waking-Up Podcast

#66 – Living with Robots:

In this Episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Kate Darling about the ethical concerns surrounding our increasing use of robots and other autonomous systems.

Kate Darling is a leading expert in robot ethics. She’s a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, where she investigates social robotics and conducts experimental studies on human-robot interaction. Kate is also a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Yale Information Society Project, and is an affiliate at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. She explores the emotional connection between people and life-like machines, seeking to influence technology design and public policy. Her writing and research anticipate difficult questions that lawmakers, engineers, and the wider public will need to address as human-robot relationships evolve in the coming decades. Kate has a background in law & economics and intellectual property.

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Kate Darling


Mistress of Machines. Human-robot interaction, robot ethics, IP theory & policy at MIT . Fellow at and affiliate.

Cambridge, MA


(Photo via the Séb)

The Coming Transhuman Era

The Coming Transhuman Era — Jason Sosa at TEDxGrandRapids


Transhumanism is the idea that man is merging with technology. Marvin Minsky was asked the question, “Will robots inherit the earth?” He said, “Yes, they will, but they will be our children.”

Transhumanism is a term used for a broad range of ideas that technology is greatly enhancing human capabilities. This means everything from bionic limbs to brain implants to artificial intelligence to even, someday, uploading our minds to the internet.

We have already a symbiotic relationship with our technology and in that sense, we’re already transhuman. I’m sure many of you here today brought your smartphones with you. Transhumanism is the future of connectedness. It is technology as an extension of ourselves.

How do we get from where we are today to the science fiction future? Well rarely are there major technological jumps. Technology usually follows a very predictable evolutionary path. It’s the groundwork that’s laid by these previous technologies that allow these new levels to be achieved.

For example, the cell phone infrastructure that was created allowed for the rise of mobile computing and the internet allowed for the rise of social networks and cat videos but its it’s hard to imagine where these advances take us as a species because we are only able to observe these small incremental steps along the way.

Now I believe that the pace of technology will evolve to the point where biology will become the limiting factor. How many thoughts can you hold on in your mind at once? Two maybe three? How many of you are still memorizing phone numbers? So we’ve already begun the process of augmenting the capacity of our minds onto our devices.

Let’s take a look at how far we’ve come today.

The smartphone in your pocket has more computing power than all of NASA in nineteen sixty-nine when it sent to astronauts to the moon.

The sony PlayStation of today which costs about three hundred dollars is a hundred and fifty times more powerful than an IBM supercomputer that then cost millions of dollars. The iPhone that you have in your pocket. The iPhone today is 40 times more powerful than the original iPhone and that was just released six years ago and it’s seven times more powerful than the Mars Curiosity rover.

One of the principles of this evolution in technology is that technology is getting smaller, faster, cheaper and more powerful every day and in terms of physical size its a hundred times smaller every decade. This principle is known as Moores law and it’s the idea that technology will grow exponentially or double about every two years.

Ray Kurzweil explains it in 30 steps. If we take 30 linear steps vs exponential 30 steps. Just walk 30 steps you will be 30 steps farther. That is simple. We all know that. 30 exponential steps, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 by the time you get to 30 you’ve arrived at a billion. This is the type of growth that enables us to carry supercomputers in our pockets that once used to fill an entire building and in the future will allow us to carry computers the size of a blood cell.

Cyborgs in fiction

Cyborgs in Fiction

In Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Man That Was Used Up”, the narrator visits a heroic General at his home, and discovers that most of his body has been destroyed in a war and replaced by a collection of prostheses, so that his body must be assembled piece by piece.

In the story The Ablest Man in the World (1879), by Edward Page Mitchell, a computer (said to be inspired by ‘Babbage’s calculating machine’, presumably the real-life difference engine designed by Charles Babbage) is inserted into a man’s head, turning him into a genius.

The Tin Woodman from L. Frank Baum’s Oz books (at least before he became entirely metal).
Gaston Leroux, the author of The Phantom of the Opera, wrote a 1923 story titled La poupée sanglante – La machine à assassiner (translated as The Machine to Kill in the English edition) in which the brain of a guillotined murderer is inserted into a “clockwork man”.

“The Machine Man of Ardathia” by George Henry Weiss (published under the name Francis Flagg, a pseudonym for Weiss[2]), which appeared in the November 1927 issue of Amazing Stories, featured a time-traveling descendant of humanity from 28,000 years in the future, who lived inside of a transparent cylinder filled with machinery that had been integrated into his body, and who commented that among his people each embryo is placed inside such a cylinder and “the various tubes and mechanical devices are introduced into the body by our mechanics and become an integral part of it.”

The Mi-go aliens in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft, first appearing in the story “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1931), can transport humans from Earth to Pluto (and beyond) and back again by removing the subject’s brain and placing it into a “brain cylinder”, which can be attached to external devices to allow it to see, hear, and speak.

Deirdre, a famous dancer who was burned nearly completely and whose brain was placed in a faceless but beautiful mechanical body, in C. L. Moore’s short story of 1944, “No Woman Born”. Collected in “The Best of C. L. Moore” in 1975

Jonas the (star) sailor in Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun novels. His near light speed ship had been gone so long that on its return to Urth, there were no space port facilities any more, and it crashed. Other crew members patched him up from available parts. (However, he started out as fully robotic, and was repaired with human parts, rather than the more usual reverse).

Molly Millions, Henry Dorsett Case, and Peter Riviera all have some sort of cybernetic augmentation in William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy.

Professor Jameson, a cyborg pulp hero by Neil R. Jones, and his allies and benefactors, the Zoromes.
Marge Piercy’s He, She and It presents a rather feminist view on the cyborg issue with Yod who, however, is provided with some male attributes.

Anne McCaffrey wrote short stories and novels known as The Ship Series (1961–) where otherwise crippled humans live on as the brains of starships and large space stations.

The genetically engineered and prosthetics-ready warriors of the planet Sauron in the CoDominium series of short stories and novels initiated by Jerry Pournelle and also written by guest authors.

In Martin Caidin’s novel, Cyborg, a test pilot named Steve Austin is rebuilt after a horrendous crash, given new “bionic” limbs, and becomes a superspy. Followed by several sequel novels and also adapted as the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man.

Caidin’s retelling of the Buck Rogers story, Buck Rogers: A Life in the Future, has Rogers being partially rebuilt as a cyborg after his hibernation and includes a reference to Steve Austin.
Angus Thermopyle, The Gap Cycle.

Haberman and Scanners from Scanners Live in Vain by Cordwainer Smith.

The Comprise, a computer-mediated hive mind which has taken over Earth, in the novel Vacuum Flowers by Michael Swanwick.

Rat Things in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. They are attack-programmed guard dogs whose long hairless tails make them look less like dogs and more like rats. They are powered by nuclear engines that will fatally over-heat if they stop. Technology invented by Mr. Ng and, evidently, made exclusively for the defense of the franchise Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong.

In William C. Dietz’s Legion of the Damned the Legion is made up of a combination of humans and heavily armed cyborgs.

Kage Baker has written a series of novels about The Company in which orphans from various eras (who fit certain physical requirements) are recruited by a time-traveling corporation, augmented and turned into immortal cyborgs, and trained to rescue valuable artifacts from history.

Shrike in Dan Simmons novel series Hyperion.

Hannes Suessi from David Brin’s Uplift novels is transformed into a cyborg by the time he re-appears in Infinity’s Shore

Catherine Asaro’s Saga of the Skolian Empire prominently features cyborgs called “Jagernauts”, who are empaths or even telepaths, who serve as elite fighter pilots. Many prominent members of the Ruby Dynasty ruling the Skolian Empire are jagernauts.

Linda Nagy, a.k.a. Ellen Troy, who has wetware in her brain, spines in her fingers (for linking with computers) and an antenna that lets her shut down machine remotely from the Venus Prime series by Arthur C. Clarke and Paul Preuss

Jessamyn ‘Krokodil’ Bonney, protagonist of Kim Newman’s Demon Download series was extensively augmented by Dr. Simon Threadneedle, also a cyborg.

The main protagonist of Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles, Linh Cinder, is a cyborg.

Cyborgs in popular culture

Cyborgs have become a well-known part of science fiction literature and other media. Although many of these characters may be technically androids, they are often referred to as cyborgs. Well-known examples from film and television include RoboCop, The Terminator, Evangelion, United States Air Force Colonel Steve Austin in both Cyborg and, as acted out by Lee Majors, The Six Million Dollar Man, Replicants from Blade Runner, Daleks and Cybermen from Doctor Who, the Borg from Star Trek, Darth Vader and General Grievous from Star Wars, Inspector Gadget, and Cylons from the 2004 Battlestar Galactica series. From manga and anime are characters such as 8 Man (the inspiration for RoboCop), Kamen Rider, Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko Kusanagi, as well as characters from western comic books like Tony Stark (after his Extremis and Bleeding Edge armor) and Victor “Cyborg” Stone. The Deus Ex videogame series deals extensively with the near-future rise of cyborgs and their corporate ownership, as does the Syndicate series. William Gibson’s Neuromancer features one of the first female cyborgs, a “Razorgirl” named Molly Millions, who has extensive cybernetic modifications and is one of the most prolific cyberpunk characters in the science fiction canon.

Define: Cybernetics

Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems – their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Norbert Wiener defined cybernetics in 1948 as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.” In the 21st century, the term is often used in a rather loose way to imply “control of any system using technology.”

Cybernetics is applicable when a system being analyzed incorporates a closed signaling loop – originally referred to as a “circular causal” relationship – that is, where action by the system generates some change in its environment and that change is reflected in the system in some manner (feedback) that triggers a system change. Cybernetics is relevant to, for example, mechanical, physical, biological, cognitive, and social systems. The essential goal of the broad field of cybernetics is to understand and define the functions and processes of systems that have goals and that participate in circular, causal chains that move from action to sensing to comparison with desired goal, and again to action. Its focus is how anything (digital, mechanical or biological) processes information, reacts to information, and changes or can be changed to better accomplish the first two tasks. Cybernetics includes the study of feedback, black boxes and derived concepts such as communication and control in living organisms, machines, and organizations including self-organization.

Concepts studied by cyberneticists include, but are not limited to learning, cognition, adaptation, social control, emergence, convergence, communication, efficiency, efficacy, and connectivity. In cybernetics, these concepts (otherwise already objects of study in other disciplines such as biology and engineering) are abstracted from the context of the specific organism or device.

Philip K. Dick

Philip Kindred Dick (December 16, 1928 – March 2, 1982) was an American writer, whose published works mainly belong to the genre of science fiction. Dick explored philosophical, sociological and political themes in novels with plots dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments, and altered states of consciousness. In his later works, Dick’s thematic focus tended to reflect his personal interest in metaphysics and theology.

He often drew upon his life experiences in addressing the nature of drug abuse, paranoia, schizophrenia, and transcendental experiences in novels such as A Scanner Darkly and VALIS. Later in life, he wrote non-fiction on philosophy, theology, the nature of reality, and science. This material was published posthumously as The Exegesis.

Futurology (Futures studies)

Futures studies (also called futurology) is the study of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them. There is a debate as to whether this discipline is an art or science. In general, it can be considered as a branch of the social sciences and parallel to the field of history. History studies the past, futures studies considers the future. Futures studies (colloquially called “futures” by many of the field’s practitioners) seeks to understand what is likely to continue and what could plausibly change. Part of the discipline thus seeks a systematic and pattern-based understanding of past and present, and to determine the likelihood of future events and trends. Unlike the physical sciences where a narrower, more specified system is studied, futures studies concern a much bigger and more complex world system. The methodology and knowledge are much less proven as compared to natural science or even social science like sociology, economics, and political science.

Dr. Max More – Transhumanist, Futurist, Writer, Philosopher

Max More is a philosopher and futurist
Max More is a philosopher and futurist who writes, speaks, and consults on advanced decision-making about emerging technologies.

Dr. Max More (born Max T. O’Connor, January 1964) is a philosopher and futurist who writes, speaks, and consults on advanced decision-making about emerging technologies.

Born in Bristol, England, Dr. More has a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from St Anne’s College, Oxford (1987). His 1995 University of Southern California doctoral dissertation The Diachronic Self: Identity, Continuity, and Transformation examined several issues that concern transhumanists, including the nature of death, and what it is about each individual that continues despite great change over time.

Founder of the Extropy Institute, Dr. Max More has written many articles espousing the philosophy of transhumanism and the transhumanist philosophy of Extropianism, most importantly his Principles of Extropy (currently version 3.11). In a 1990 essay “Transhumanism: Toward a Futurist Philosophy”, he introduced the term “transhumanism” in its modern sense.

Dr. More is also noted for his writings about the impact of new and emerging technologies on businesses and other organizations. His “Proactionary Principle” is intended as a balanced guide to the risks and benefits of technological innovation.

At the start of 2011, Max More became president and CEO of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, an organization he joined in 1986.

Personal website: http://www.maxmore.com/
wikipedia.org: Dr. Max More

Transhumanism is an international and intellectual movement

Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international and intellectual movement that aims to transform the human condition by developing and creating widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as the ethics of using such technologies. The most common thesis is that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into different beings with abilities so greatly expanded from the natural condition as to merit the label of posthuman beings.

Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international and intellectual movement that aims to transform the human condition by developing and creating widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.

The contemporary meaning of the term transhumanism was foreshadowed by one of the first professors of futurology, FM-2030, who taught “new concepts of the human” at The New School in the 1960s, when he began to identify people who adopt technologies, lifestyles and worldviews “transitional” to posthumanity as “transhuman”.

This hypothesis would lay the intellectual groundwork for the British philosopher Max More to begin articulating the principles of transhumanism as a futurist philosophy in 1990 and organizing in California an intelligentsia that has since grown into the worldwide transhumanist movement.

The year 1990 is seen as a “fundamental shift” in human existence by the transhuman community, as the first gene therapy trial, the first designer babies, as well as the mind-augmenting World Wide Web all emerged in that year. In many ways, one could argue the conditions that will eventually lead to the Singularity were set in place by these events in 1990.

Influenced by seminal works of science fiction, the transhumanist vision of a transformed future humanity has attracted many supporters and detractors from a wide range of perspectives including philosophy and religion.Transhumanism has been characterized by one critic, Francis Fukuyama, as among the world’s most dangerous ideas, to which Ronald Bailey countered that it is rather the “movement that epitomizes the most daring, courageous, imaginative and idealistic aspirations of humanity”.

Cybernetic Organism

A cyborg (short for “cybernetic organism”) is a being with both organic and biomechatronic body parts. The term was coined in 1960 by Manfred Clynes and Nathan S. Kline.

Early Engraving of a Man Machine
Early Engraving of a Man Machine

The term cyborg is not the same thing as bionic, biorobot or android; it applies to an organism that has restored function or enhanced abilities due to the integration of some artificial component or technology that relies on some sort of feedback. While cyborgs are commonly thought of as mammals, including humans, they might also conceivably be any kind of organism. It is hypothesized that cyborg technology will form a part of postbiological evolution, in the form of transhumanism – where people are artificially enhanced beyond their original biological characteristics.[citation needed]

D. S. Halacy’s Cyborg: Evolution of the Superman in 1965 featured an introduction which spoke of a “new frontier” that was “not merely space, but more profoundly the relationship between ‘inner space’ to ‘outer space’ – a bridge…between mind and matter.” In popular culture, some cyborgs may be represented as visibly mechanical (e.g., the Cybermen in the Doctor Who franchise or The Borg from Star Trek or Darth Vader from Star Wars); as almost indistinguishable from humans (e.g., the “Human” Cylons from the re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica etc.) The 1970s television series The Six Million Dollar Man featured one of the most famous fictional cyborgs, referred to as a bionic man; the series was based upon a novel by Martin Caidin titled Cyborg. Cyborgs in fiction often play up a human contempt for over-dependence on technology, particularly when used for war, and when used in ways that seem to threaten free will. Cyborgs are also often portrayed with physical or mental abilities far exceeding a human counterpart (military forms may have inbuilt weapons, among other things).