Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beware the technology/science/intelligence wish myth

Often in arguments about the future resolutions of apparently intractable problems, vague references to science or human intelligence to solve problems, or specific technological fixes are invoked that would neatly resolve said intractable problem.

Too many times the fix is chosen in a way that most closes the argument rather than being the most likely path that technology (or other aspects of humanity) will take in the resolving the problem or the opposite. Technology, science and intelligence are just as capable of enabling "problems" to be extended in time. What can be imagined to be solved by an improbable specific technology, could more likely be attacked by a sequence of more probable ones.

So when someone says that a space vehicle engine will be found that can take us directly from earth to Mars, or that peoples intelligence will be put to eradicating wars forever, or that we could live cheaply as brains in tanks, I would like a believable sequence of events or pathway that has a finite possibility.

16 comments:

Dr. Clam said...

"...vague references to science or human intelligence to solve problems, or specific technological fixes are invoked that would neatly resolve said intractable problem."

Vague references bad, sure.

But specific technological fixes don't need to be butressed with some elaborate future history to be compelling, if they are technically, economically, and psychologically plausible. Haven't you ever heard that proverb about building a better mousetrap?

Marco said...

I challenge you to find any breakaway technology examples that did not have a precedent that was quite analagous, both in its final form, and the way it got there in the first place.

I am making a distinction between the benefits of science fiction where compelling plausible technologies can make us think, whether they are impossible or not: and technology invoked as part of a vision which we want to get behind and do our bit to help make it happen.

If there is no plausible pathway, how do we now if our actions are taking us away, or towards the positive results of our vision?

Dr. Clam said...

Your challenge is too vague and formless, and also appears irrelevant to the point you seem to be making. Here are the social and economic drivers to brains in tanks:

*Each incremental advance in health care that allows people to continue existing, whatever the quality of their lives, has been eagerly embraced by the medical fraternity.

*There are strong social and economic pressures to bring down the price of each new advance in health care.

*A large subset of the population are living more and more of their lives in virtual worlds that are becoming more and more immersive.

I could set out and elaborate and incremental future history which outlines exactly how we get there from here, but I thought these drivers and the probable pace of incremental advance along them were crystal clear when I first raised the possibility of brains in tanks. So I'm not pleased to see you lumping it together as a pipe-dream with eradicating wars forever.

Dr. Clam said...

Actually, putting people's intelligence to work eliminating war forever is not a pipe-dream either. Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' outlines a very plausible path for doing just that.

(BTW, word verification is 'coppini'- does this mean anything?)

Marco said...

My criticism stands. It is not just the thought experiment plausability of the technology, but the balancing of how technology has no preferred direction (good/evil, progressive/regressive etc.) If the ability to hold a brain in a tank became possible, the tank would be portable, and would control a "robot" to do useful work (Or to destroy the "lazy brain" facility for sedentary brains which were just a drain on the resources of the pre-retirement brains in tanks)

If Governments/religions or anyone had access to banks of artificial wombs, the obvious game theory outcome would be that they would use them to create armies of clones (or the emperors own children at the least) in the tradition of Ghengis Kahn or of ants. The selfless use to prevent murder of unwanted children is neither economically nor psychologically plausible.

As for war, the trick is to find ways to get intelligent people into positions of power. Not for intelligent ideas to be thought of. War is all about the system - in the modern case, the system of nations. Technology differential means that wars can be won more easily. If a Global system took hold for whatever reason, that could make possible intelligence to bear on the situation. Intelligence is not the bottleneck. It should not be offered as an alternative or addative to what is already happening.

Anonymous said...

'As for war, the trick is to find ways to get intelligent people into positions of power.'

What, the sort of people who know what is good for us? God forbid. I don't want 'intelligent people' who 'know better' than the market and the electorate running things. Tricksy scheming people like that are always trying to get into positions of power, anyway, and should be strung up from lampposts by preference.

No, we need *systems* that will work when operated by stupid people, because that is the sort of people we have.

Actually, the win-win technological fix to the war problem is lifespan extension, because then the modal Gazan (for example) will be someone who has lived long enough to learn sense, rather than an angry adolescent.

The former Dr Clam said...

If Governments/religions or anyone had access to banks of artificial wombs, the obvious game theory outcome would be that they would use them to create armies of clones (or the emperors own children at the least) in the tradition of Genghis Khan or of ants. The selfless use to prevent murder of unwanted children is neither economically nor psychologically plausible.

WTF? You seem to be pursuing this whole line of discussion with bizarro-world Sandor-c.1987 logic.

So, you are saying that all organisations exist only for the purpose of world conquest, and that if the Royal North Shore Hospital, for instance, had access to such technology for saving very premature babies who were wanted by their parents, they would use it to create an army of clones?

You are saying that none of the innumerable NGOs that are professedly 'selfless' would use this technology, once it was pioneered through such institutions, in a selfless way?

You are saying that no government faced with a demographic crisis would not do a cost-benefit analysis of the cost of raising children itself vs. forcing people who don't really want them to raise them, and opt for the former? (This assumes the problem of producing healthy primate clones remains, as I think it will be, an order of magnitude more difficult than artificial wombs.)

Marco said...

It's not like that. My argument is that no possible futures with such economical artificial wombs that you envisage, would end up being used by governments or individuals in the way you envisage.

However, like problems such as the four colour mapping problem, there may be an extensive number of pathways that need to be debunked. However, I think eventually, with enough logic with regards to this, I can convince you.

Once was mild-mannered Dr Clam, now am embracing my inner troll said...

My argument is that no possible futures with such economical artificial wombs that you envisage, would end up being used by governments or individuals in the way you envisage.

That is not an argument, that is an unfalsifiable conclusion presented- once again- without any evidence or any coherent reasoning.
Calling your logic Bizarro-world logic was an insult to Bizarro-world logic!

...mbracing my inner troll said...

... the rest of my name should have read

Marco said...

I do have long, elaborate, tight arguments in my head to demonstrate my point; I just don't have time right now to elaborate and am stuck with bizarro-world logic trying to make headway to the implicit axioms of mine that I need to make explicit for my tight argument. Bare with me - I will get there!

Chris Fellows said...

I have similar concerns to 'Anonymous' - well, identical concerns, since he was really me as well. :P

It seems to me that you have come more and more to embrace coercive 'top down' solutions to our problems, rather than 'bottom up' solutions arising from the irrepressible ingenuity and adapatability of the human species. Is this a real trend, an authoritarian streak that has always been there that I have been blind to, or am I dreaming?

Marco said...

I am leaning towards the dreaming option.

There are thousands of missed nuances to my actual thoughts on the matter and, really, the only reason I haven't got to them is because there are so many, and so little time.

I in no way "embrace" coercive top down anything. The way to solutions is finding an evolutionary path to a beneficial endpoint and ones role as an individual in that.

By "in power", I mean the people pulling the strings, not the President. In Australia I call them policy wonks.

If intelligence had anything to do with stopping wars, It is the people that can make strategic decisions that are important. I reiterate that even in our current systems, wars happen independently to intelligence or lack thereof.

Therefore, I don't want an intelligent President, but a system that puts intelligent policy wonks into positions to make a difference.

Chris Fellows said...

By "in power", I mean the people pulling the strings, not the President. In Australia I call them policy wonks.

Yes, that is precisely where I don't want people who 'know better' than me, because they can't be turfed out come next election.

The people have a right to make their own mistakes.

Anonymous said...

1. I in no way "embrace" coercive top down anything.

2. In a society where pregnancies were automatically registered at conception...

...

Marco said...

I don't think registrations of pregnancies need be any more coercive than registrations of births are now. If most people want their pregnancies to be registered early so that they start getting parental benefits as soon as possible, there will be stigma for those that don't implant themselves with the detection mechanism anyway. Even if abortions are perfectly legal, they would then be performed very early (presumably, chemically)