Comments on Ray Kurzweil’s Book: The Singularity Is Near

I read  from the book. I was persuaded by the section documenting ogarithmic growth in technology development, computer speeds, miniaturization, technology ubiquity, price declines for computing capacity. That part is undeniable.

I did notice one prediction that Kurzweil missed. One of his predictions- “We will have the requisite hardware to emulate human intelligence with supercomputers by the end of this decade”- failed . As he was writing in 2005, the end of the decade is upon us today and that particular prediction has not come to pass. It doesn’t even seem close. This calls into question the likelihood of all his other predictions coming to pass on schedule. Granted, even with the schedule set back, many of his predictions could certainly be fulfilled.

One of my objections to his enthusiasm has to do with the role of body in our personhood. Here’s a quote from the book:

In virtual reality, we can be a different person both pysically and emotionally. In fact, other people (such as your romatic partner) will be able to select a different body for you than you might select for yourself, (and vice versa).

Who then are they making love with? Body and emotion, history and memory are tied up in one unique individual.

Kurzweil imagines all our lives wrapped up in only the intelligence aspect. He thinks we can download our knowledge, emotions, personality and memories into the computer and live forever in a constantly evolving, ever happier, ever more stimulated state. My question: Since memories are the basis of personal knowledge, where will new people, intelligences who we bring into being, who exist only in the computer non-biological mode, get any memories, if they’ve never had bodies, never had sensory experiences they can call their own? To me, bodies, sexual reproduction, and biological identity remain absolutes for meaning.

Kurzweil’s teleology leaves me baffled.

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Actual Ethics: Book Review

Actual Ethics

By James Otteson

Read December 2009

This book seemed to be inspired by a popular book by Peter Singer, Practical Ethics. Otteson sets out to counter Singer. Otteson affirms the classical liberal approach. He favors libertarianism. He relies on utilitarianism and disagrees with Kantian pure reason. He accepts natural law but only to a point.

Most of the book comported with my views though I kept thinking of some of Sandel’s and Robert George’s teachings as I read. Mostly, Otteson confirmed my beliefs. He favors the General Liberty principle. He accepts a narrow scope for justice: harms against others boil down to takings of property, physical assault and a few other things. He denies the “cosmic justice” claims of socialists, where everything is a harm against an aggrieved party or class, to be corrected by a busy-body state apparatus. He discounts competition as a harm, as does Epstein.  He seems to like Epstein. He adores Hume and Locke.

This book covered a lot of ground. He dealt with a concept that could take several lectures and readings to flesh-out, in a matter of paragraphs. I was glad to have some background.

The tone of the book was pleasing, challenging but not pedantic, aimed at college readers. His goal is to be accessible, but humor and the “aw shucks” approach was sparing. He could have had a few more jokes to truly reach his stated tone.

Otteson’s many applications of principles to particular cases were as I would have them. However, his discussion of homosexual marriage didn’t work. He said for people to do what they want. Cool. But that leaves the state out. Should the state have no role in defining and controlling marriage? I think he stopped short of what his logic demanded, which is an untenable position, to me.

Giving offense and excluding people is stupid, crass and reprehensible, but should not be punishable by law. That’s Otteson. Discrimination in hiring will harm the employer so it will happen rarely. Social constraints should be more relied upon than codifying everything under law. I agree with him.

This book’s many references to other books are one of its strengths. I was enticed to probe his many sources. Time allowing, I will. Perhaps I should buy my own copy so I have the bibliography to guide future reading choices.

Low Flow TVs and Smart Meters

The headline read: California Sets Energy-Efficiency Rules for TVs. Wall Street Journal, Nov. 19, 2009.

The goals are clean air, energy conservation, saving water, saving rain forests, keeping forests from logging, reducing congestion, the environmental panoply. The list of things local, county, state, national, and now international governments are willing to do to constrain individual choice is long and imaginative. Hybrid car mandates. CAFÉ standards. Energy efficient appliance mandates. Import quotas. Recycling subsidies. Insulation subsidies. Subsidies for wind and solar power.

I love the idea of smart meters, house-mounted electric meters that get minute-by-minute information about the price of power. The homeowners’ computer can program the air conditioner to wait 5 minutes, hoping for cheaper power to enter the grid, before starting up the AC. The clothes dryer can wait until the target price for power is available on the grid, then dry that load of clothes. Wind power after midnight could be cheap, cheaper than coal power between 5-8 p.m. when everyone else is trying to do things at home.

The concern is that government would not be content to let you choose when to dry your clothes or how many light bulbs to leave on. They would reach into your smart meter and your controlling computer and tell you how much power you can consume. National imperatives, global demands require it. And don’t think for a moment that they wouldn’t. They have shown willingness to encroach in the most minute personal decisions, such as what kind of TV you can buy, in an effort to save the environment. This quells my enthusiasm for smart meters.

Gambling With a Pair of Tens

Democrats are gambling big. They have a pair of tens but they are betting their entire capital. They think health care takeover will make them heroes. It could easily make them losers.

Democrats are marching Americans across the island like the Japanese did in the Batan Death March in WWII where many died. They have us captive. It’s a punishing scenario. The guards are brutal.

The battle over Democrat’s health care takeover has parallels to many of the imbroglios of the great wars; Antietam, Bulge, Dardanelles. Maybe the closest parallels are the charge of the Light Brigade and Custer’s last stand. The battle lines are clear. The casualties are high and mounting. That it is a turning point in the war is clear. The danger to survivors is high. Have Democrats gone a bridge too far?

Jon Tester: “Change Parties”!

Suggestions for Senator Jon Tester

December 27, 2009

Don’t let Landrieu get all the goodies. Request an amendment for a Black Angus Museum in Bozeman, a Sheep Museum in Lewistown, a Horse Museum in Miles City, a Grizzly Museum in Kalispell, a Wolf Museum in West, a Sturgeon Museum in Glasgow and a Buffalo Museum in Helena. Don’t let duplication worry you. Make sure the appropriation is on the order of those finagled by Nelson, Landrieu and others.

Have you considered switching parties? Republicans welcome you, with sufficient contrition, of course. Liberal groups rate you poorly, so maybe the switch would not be cumbersome. One recent rating from a liberal watchdog group had you at only 25%. Come over. Switch your vote on the health care takeover to “no”. Be a stud.  You’ve taken orders from your present party long enough.

Is God a Pushover?

Some disciples in Belgrade imagine a God who lets everything go, tolerates everything. To them, He is a patsy, a pushover, the teacher who never sends anyone to the principal, the principal who repeatedly says, “If you hit your teacher one more time, I’m going to expel you!”, and never does.

These disciples get their imaginings from therapeutic TV, Scott Peck, Hallmark cards, and weak-sauce Protestantism where rules are not rules and nothing is too bad for God to forgive. In fact, they believe He forgives instantly. In further fact, He doesn’t need to forgive because that would require for Him to have disapproved of the sin. He can’t forgive, that would be judgmental! For these disciples, He loves His children, no matter what. He doesn’t exclude, punish, or set limits. It’s always “maybe”, “Do what you want; I don’t care.”

To such disciples, the term “unconditional love” means there is no disapprobation. Then there can be no chastisement and no guidance. There is no “way”, just every person’s way, each equally valid. Each person defines true goodness. There is no objective standard. Goodness is what that person wants.

What kind of success would a group home manager, charged with a bunch of willful teens have managing in this way? The World is a group home and we are its teens.

What the disciples imagine is a Judge that never passes a verdict. They do not crave a Just Judge. They want a down comforter. They like friends, enablers, and authorities who make excuses for them, or at least buy their excuses.

Can God be both infinitely loving and stern? He can, because he sent His Son. The standards for obtaining His presence are crystal clear. He does not yield on them.

Would you like a place with any less exacting standards?

Imagining a God who is a pushover is to deny God. But Justice must be precise. Though challenging, we would not like to live in a sea of self-indulgence, presided over by a God who indulges our whims, sins and loutishness. That would be sick.

These disciples are unfamiliar with thorough explanations of how God can both be precise and demanding, yet loving. Many scriptural hours would instruct them. Maybe they’ve never heard of 2 Nephi 2 and 9, Alma 34 and 42, of Mosiah 2-6.

The greatest comfort is to know that we will be judged by the Just Judge, with a surrogate at our side whose perfection covers for our mistakes, (I John 4:10), on the conditions of our repentance and broken-hearted, whole-hearted striving to meet the immutable standard. There is no comfort in imagining a flaky Judge.

Montana Policy Institute Covers Healthcare Protest

Local Group Protests Health Care Proposals

By: Michael Noyes | 2009-12-15

BOZEMAN – The national health care debate came to Main Street today as protesters gathered at noon outside Sen. Jon Tester’s (D) local office.

Around 35 people showed up to protest potential health care legislation that is currently under consideration in the Senate. The House passed a health care bill earlier this year.

The protest was organized by local activist Tom Burnett to coincide with the 218th anniversary of the Bill of Rights ratification. Members of the group held signs with slogans such as “No New Entitlements” and “No to Federal Control of Health Care.”

Retired Bozeman resident Joel Price, 76, participated in the protest and said current health care proposals would overload the system. He said any changes should attempt to address individual issues without scrapping the current system.

“It’s just like having a car with a flat tire,” Price said. “You don’t destroy the whole car.”

The group spent about 30 minutes outside Tester’s office before taking the protest to the local office of Senator Max Baucus (D) who plays a leading role in shaping health care legislation in the Senate.

Jon Cummins, a 37-year-old student and carpenter from Belgrade, stopped to talk with protestors in front of Tester’s office. Cummins said he disagrees with those who say the country can’t afford the current health care proposals.

“In my opinion, we can’t afford not to,” Cummins said. “By doing nothing, it continues to keep the unhealthy, unhealthy…that’s an infringement on the rights and equality of people in America.”

Burnett said he believes increased government involvement in health care would lead to higher costs, lower quality care and fewer innovations.

“It’s gargantuan and it’s ever morphing,” Burnett said of current proposals. “Its general provisions are ruinous to the economy.”

Burnett said he has received calls from Montana voters who are wintering throughout the southwest states who oppose the current legislation. Protestors also gave each senate office a list of about 90 names of Montana voters opposed to current health legislation proposals to the senators, according to Burnett.

Tester’s local office referred questions to a spokesperson who did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment.