Sunday, 5 February 2017

Homo Deus

At Stockport's January meeting David Seddon and Derek McComiskey gave a brief presentation of the book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow before throwing it open to the floor for discussion.

The author Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli academic, teaching at a University in Jerusalem, who writes in Hebrew then translates his work into English. His first book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, reminded us that there is nothing special or essential about who we are. We are an accident. Homo sapiens is just one possible way of being human, an evolutionary contingency like every other creature on the planet. That book ended with the thought that the story of Homo sapiens could be coming to an end. We are at the height of our power but we may also have reached its limit.

There are three old problems underlying life: Famine, Disease and War that underlie human development. He claims that war is increasingly obsolete; famine is rare; and disease is on the retreat around the world. Some might take issue with these claims. We have achieved these triumphs by building ever more complex networks that treat human beings as units of information. Evolutionary science teaches us that, in one sense, we are nothing but data-processing machines: we too are algorithms. By manipulating the data we can exercise mastery over our fate. The trouble is that other algorithms – the ones that we have built – can do it far more efficiently than we can. That’s what Harari means by the “uncoupling” of intelligence and consciousness. 
New problems for the future could include: Immortality (or living to 200 or 1000 years), Happiness and Divinity (in the form of robots).

In a world run by algorithms, problems become personal. In a Humanist world we are the gods. There are three type of Humanism: Liberal Humanism, Socialist Humanism e.g. Soviet/Chinese communism, and Evolutionary Humanism e.g. Nazism and Eugenics.
Each of these has come and gone leaving us without a model. In the future machines will rule the world and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be decoupled from consciousness. 
On this gloomy note the subject was turned over to the floor and many ideas were explored e g:

  • Many futuristic books in the past have not come to pass.
  • We need an ethical framework for technology.
  • Some algorithms do not turn out the way it was intended leaving us not knowing how Computer decisions are made.
  • Machine learning has alternatives to neural networks.
  • Neuroscience is making great strides in how the brain works.
  • Predictions that automatic cars could reduce accidents.
  • AI outperforms humans in so many areas. Can it pass the Turing Test?
  • Is AI a new religion?
  • What constitutes life and what doesn’t constitute life? Will machines have consciousness? Will AI become humanlike or just serve humans? Will we abdicate our decisions?
  • Just because we have created the technology doesn’t mean we can police it.
  • If AI can find answers to big decisions such as climate change, do we let it run or do we assume Humans autonomy is paramount?
  • Brain vs Mind
  • The future of Humanism.
  • Need for a new ethical framework
  • Role of social media.
  • What is pleasure?