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1 – Intelligent Life in the Universe?

I think there is likely intelligent life in the univrse. As for what “intelligence” would mean in a different galaxy, I’m not sure. However, it seems unlikely that in the infinite expanse of all known existence, living organizms capable of logic, building tools, and other signals of intelligence seems pretty feasible. According to a summary of a debate between six scientists at the University of Chicago in 2016:

The scientists arguing for the discovery of extra-terrestrial life in the near future centered on the ideas that life is versatile, that living organisms create noticeable biosignatures by changing their environment’s chemical makeup, and that with the increasing number of earth-like planets found through ventures like the Kepler mission, it shouldn’t be too long before a planet with the right signs is found.

As Howard A. Smith states in “Alone in the Universe” published in the Scientific American, “Even if ETI is infinitesimally rare, in an infinite universe, every physically possible scenario, however bizarre, will exist.” To further complicate things, Smith cites Stephen Hawking and other physicists who believe that their are multiple universes. This infinitely increases the likelihood of intelligent life both in our understanding of the universe and others. 

While many on the other side of this debate argue that because no intelligent life has made contact with humanity suggests we are alone, this logic seems fallible. It took humans billions of years to fly, let alone travel outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. Why would other intelligent life forms be so much more advanced than humans? Additionally, the infinite space of the universe makes finding other intelligent life pretty hard to find.

2 – Bradley’s Bot

If I had a robot that could do one thing and only one thing, I would like for it to be implanted in my brain to help me process information faster. There’s a lot I would like to learn, skills I’d like to develop, and my brain just always seems slower than I’d like it to be. I feel like the possibilities for what I could do in an information economy would therefore become endless: I could make a lot of money, I could solve many of the world’s most pressing problems, and I could potentially understand the meaning of life. And I think all of that would be pretty swell.

3 – Living in a Post-Economy World

 

I absolutely believe humans could survive and even thrive in a post-economic world. Essentially, I think we could basically create the reality portrayed in Star Trek. Rather than pursuing a life of labor for profit, we could instead focus on increasing knowledge, artistic expression, and exploring life’s greatest mysteries. 

4 – Response to Transcendant Man

 

I’ve been following Ray Kurzweil’s predictions and philosophizing about the singularity for awhile now. I’ve always cautiously admired his optimism for the future. The idea of the singularity feels both wholly feasible and, perhaps, even inevitable. I would say I share Kurzweil’s optimism. While we as a species have done some pretty stupid things since we started scribbling on walls, I believe our better impulses have prevailed (with a lot of work). 

I’m also hopeful that the Singularity comes about as an upgrade to our biology as opposed to designing an intelligence that “enslaves” us. It seems likely that we would upgrade ourselves, take control of our next phase of evolution. I believe we’ll create brain-computer hybrids and even “upload” our consciousnesses into other vessels. 

And at the end of the day, I really just want to become a space ship. Like, upload my consciousness into the mainframe of a shuttle that is used to explore the universe.

5 – “GOOD IDEAS about Our Future” Presentation

5 –Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil (pp. 160 – 180)

In this chapter, O’Neil discusses how the algorithms insurance companies rely on disproportionately give breaks to individuals who need them least at the cost of charging economically insecure people more. Just as a zip code can be used to predict racial and ethnic background, they are used to determine insurance rates. Furthermore, the folks who need insurance the most end up paying more for it, while the individuals who could suplement these rates—the people with steady incomes, low risk factors, and safe homes—are financially rewarded. In other words, current insurance models perpetuate both virtuous cycles for economically secure people and vicious cycles for struggling folks. 

As O’Neil puts it:

The resulting pricing is unfair. This abuse could not occur if insurance pricing were transparent and customers could easily comparison-shop. But like other WMDs, it is opaque. Every person gets a different experience, and the models are optimized to draw as much money as they can from the desperate and the ignorant. The result—another feedback loop—is that poor drivers who can least afford outrageous premiums are squeezed for every penny they have. (pp. 166-167)

She then goes on to zero-in on how where a person lives has a tremendous impact on how much they pay for insurnace. Folks in low-income communities because they can’t afford to live anywhere else are charged more, especially for car insurance. 

O’Neil concludes this section by describing the invasiveness of employee “wellness” programs. As more employers offer and have expanded health and wellness incentives and programs, they require more and more data on their employees. From BMI to hospitalizations to smoking and drinking, companies ask increasingly personal questions to gain more personal data from their employees. While this is in many ways an invasion of deeply personal privacy, it’s accepted because employers pitch this data collection as necessary to provide rewards and benefits to employees.