"Oh, man, I gotta say it. For me, what is the most maddening thing about human beings? There are many to choose from, but Crazy Thing #1 for me is the fact that there's some nutcase running around, he's batshit crazy, he's not getting the medication he desperately needs, etc. BUT this total wacko is well-respected, people take him seriously, clueless mainstream media-types write articles about him, he's got a good-paying, high-prestige job, blah blah blah.
In short, humans are staring crazy right in face, and they don't have the psychological wherewithal to recognize it! They're not competent enough to see it!
I see this incompetence over and over again. Well, that's Flatland for you.
Technology evangelist and delusional optimist Ray Kurzweil is an excellent case in point. Let's look at The Guardian's Are the robots about to rise? Google's new director of engineering thinks so...
Ray_kurzweilIt's hard to know where to start with Ray Kurzweil. With the fact that he takes 150 pills a day and is intravenously injected on a weekly basis with a dizzying list of vitamins, dietary supplements, and substances that sound about as scientifically effective as face cream: coenzyme Q10, phosphatidycholine, glutathione?
With the fact that he believes that he has a good chance of living for ever? He just has to stay alive "long enough" to be around for when the great life-extending technologies kick in (he's 66 and he believes that "some of the baby-boomers will make it through").
Or with the fact that he's predicted that in 15 years' time, computers are going to trump people. That they will be smarter than we are. Not just better at doing sums than us and knowing what the best route is to Basildon. They already do that. But that they will be able to understand what we say, learn from experience, crack jokes, tell stories, flirt. Ray Kurzweil believes that, by 2029, computers will be able to do all the things that humans do. Only better.
Jesus Fucking Christ! Ray thinks he's gonna beat the Grim Reaper! He's gonna live forever! Why is The Guardian writing articles about this nut job?
But then everyone's allowed their theories. It's just that Kurzweil's theories have a habit of coming true. And, while he's been a successful technologist and entrepreneur and invented devices that have changed our world – the first flatbed scanner, the first computer program that could recognise a typeface, the first text-to-speech synthesizer and dozens more – and has been an important and influential advocate of artificial intelligence and what it will mean, he has also always been a lone voice in, if not quite a wilderness, then in something other than the mainstream.
It's a Big Leap from inventing the first flatbed scanner to taking 150 pills every day to keep yourself alive until "great life-extending technologies kick in." To wait for human immortality by 2045 (video below).
I mean, dontcha think? It's a Pretty Big Leap, is it not? You DO see what I mean, right?
And what's Ray up to now?
And now? Now, he works at Google. Ray Kurzweil who believes that we can live for ever and that computers will gain what looks like a lot like consciousness in a little over a decade is now Google's director of engineering. The announcement of this, last year, was extraordinary enough. To people who work with tech or who are interested in tech and who are familiar with the idea that Kurzweil has popularised of "the singularity" – the moment in the future when men and machines will supposedly converge – and know him as either a brilliant maverick and visionary futurist, or a narcissistic crackpot obsessed with longevity, this was headline news in itself.
I don't know which point strains credibility more — 1) the fact that Ray has a great job at Google or 2) the fact that The Guardian used the word "consciousness" in the same paragraph with the word "singularity," that astonishing moment in the future when "when men and machines will ... converge."
However, we must give credit where credit is due — the reporter did manage to sneak the undoubtedly accurate phrase "narcissistic crackpot" into that same paragraph. Apparently, that's not an identifiable human category at Google.
Ray is widely praised by clueless humans everywhere.
Bill Gates calls him "the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence". He's received 19 honorary doctorates, and he's been widely recognised as a genius.
But he's the sort of genius, it turns out, who's not very good at boiling a kettle.
He's too fucking addled to boil water to make instant coffee.
He offers me a cup of coffee and when I accept he heads into the kitchen to make it, filling a kettle with water, putting a teaspoon of instant coffee into a cup, and then moments later, pouring the unboiled water on top of it. He stirs the undissolving lumps and I wonder whether to say anything but instead let him add almond milk – not eating dairy is just one of his multiple dietary rules – and politely say thank you as he hands it to me. It is, by quite some way, the worst cup of coffee I have ever tasted.
Clearly, Crazy Ray is the archetypal distracted genius who can't tie his own shoes. That's because he's way too busy being delusional about thinking about the future.
Kurzweil is a ... member of the Global Future 2045 International Congress. Backed by some pretty deep pockets, the organization seeks to merge man with computer avatar by that year. Kurzweil has announced that by then, we’ll all be downloading our brains into robots.
If you haven’t seen this video laying out their timeline for our robotic future, it’s sobering...
It certainly IS sobering to observe over and over again that humans can't recognize wacko bullshit when it's right there in front of them.
Ray believes computers will "trump people" in 15 years. Well, if humans generally are as dense as Ray Kurzweil, then computers are smarter than people right now.
But let's be accurate — Ray is a narcissistic crackpot, so when he says computers will be smarter than people in 15 years, what Ray really means is that computers will be smarter than Ray in 15 years.
And if, in 15 years, some robot can boil a cup of water and make instant coffee, Ray's prediction will come true.
That's why I don't leave the house much anymore Smiley_glasses
The climate debate has gone completely off track over the past few years, and at least 50% of the blame for that lies with the well meaning people who want climate change to be our (as in: all 7 billion of us) number one if not only priority. But as well-meaning as they may be, they’ve fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the book. They’ve been tripped and blind-sided by straw men.
Most of you have at one time in your lives, in high school, college, university or even workplace, been involved in discussion techniques and role playing. The most basic variety is when your neighbor argues one side of an issue, and you – by default – argue the complete opposite, whether you agree with what you argue or not. It’s an exercise. This is what the climate debate seems to have become, an exercise. And given the fact that in this case there are real issues at stake, I would argue it’s an exercise in futility.
There’s a bunch of people who react to every argument made that emissions resulting from human activity cause climate volatility, by saying that’s not true. Whatever the argument, they argue the opposite. The reaction to their blunt opposition is a neverending stream of reports and studies that seek to prove it IS true. And the reply is always: no it’s not. A proven model, as Monty Python showed years ago: See Video
This approach does not strike me as either terribly smart nor as particularly useful. The climate side keeps arguing its points, the other side just keeps saying no. Maybe it’s time for something a little cleverer. Because this isn’t going anywhere. The Guardian had two pieces over the weekend that show just what’s wrong here.
Climate change deniers have grasped that markets can’t fix the climate (Guardian)
The refusal to accept global warming is driven by corporate interests and the fear of what it will cost to try to stop it
Part of the answer is in the influence of some of the most powerful corporate interests in the world: the oil, gas and mining companies that have strained every nerve to head off the threat of effective action to halt the growth of carbon emissions, buying legislators, government ministers, scientists and thinktanks in the process. In the US, hundreds of millions of dollars of corporate and billionaires’ cash (including from the oil and gas brothers Koch) has been used to rubbish climate change science. That is also happening on a smaller scale elsewhere, including Britain.
But climate change denial is also about ideology. Many deniers have come to the conclusion that climate change is some kind of leftwing conspiracy – because the scale of the international public intervention necessary to cut carbon emissions in the time demanded by the science simply cannot be accommodated within the market-first, private enterprise framework they revere. As Joseph Bast, the president of the conservative US Heartland Institute told the writer and campaigner Naomi Klein: for the left, climate change is “the perfect thing”, a justification for doing everything it “wanted to do anyway”.
There’s nothing here that hasn’t been said a thousand times before. It’s like the only thing the writer can think of is to repeat the same things over and over. Thinking or hoping that at some point in time the so loathed contrarians or “deniers” will see the light. While the deniers only seek to gain time by obfuscating the discussion. And succeeding wonderfully in their goal, not in the least because the other side is not handling the situation that well. One side seeks to prove their claim once and for all, the other just needs one small crack in “beyond all reasonable doubt” to live another day.
Of course there are those who actually believe that “Earth and its ecosystems – created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence – are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory.” But that’s a purely religious argument, while most who are worried about the climate don’t do so on religious grounds. So that’s always a lopsided discussion, and one that should probably be avoided.
A potentially more fruitful discussion is the one with those who deny climate change claims – more or less – purely for financial reasons. One point the author of the article above makes is valid: that of “the fear of what it will cost to try to stop it”. There are lots of people who understand the – short term – threat to their wealth from attempts to halt – long time – climate change damage. And they find that important, enough so to approach any claims that it needs to be done with doubt and then some.
Perhaps that’s where the focus should be: in economics. Because our economic system is a main culprit in this whole issue. We can wonder whether it‘s human stupidity that makes the economic system flourish, or the other way around, but there’s no doubt that the incessant quest for profit is a protagonist in driving emissions higher. And that would suggest that a case for limiting emissions might need to be made at the economics and financial level.
Nicholas Stern wrote in 2006 that climate change is “the greatest market failure the world has ever seen”, so it’s not like this is something entirely new. Why this is not a much more prevalent topic in climate discussions I don’t know, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that not many people in the climate camp feel at ease in economics, and – arguably for that same reason – tend to dismiss it as far less relevant than climate itself. An attitude that might not go far, and even be counter productive, if economic arguments can be made to convince people of the need to reduce emissions, let alone if a direct link is established between economics and climate.
A nice quote comes from an article on UK nuclear power plants in yesterday’s Observer: “If operators paid for their own insurance indemnities, their case for economic production of nuclear electricity collapses.” The article states that the costs of any accidents in the lifecycle of a nuclear plant will be paid by the taxpayer, because that’s how we’ve set up our economic systems.
Obviously, these things may be hard to calculate, since the timeframes they take place in are often so long they tend to be discounted. And besides, if the (cost of) externalities of all industrial activities were moved away from the public and towards the industries, how much activity would still take place? And while you may be inclined to think that that would be a good thing, and you might well be right, the implications for our societies would be earth shatteringly large, and certainly not something you can simply gloss over.
That is to say, if we were to slow down the rate of emissions to a level where we might still halt some of the worst consequences of increasing climate volatility, we would dramatically alter our societies and economies. It seems only fair for the “climate people” to do the math and explain this to people. This should probably have been done a long time ago.
You don’t save your planet by changing a lightbulb, installing solar power on your roof, or having BP paint their gas stations green. The very least you would need to do, as in you and everyone else in your societies, is shrink your energy use by 90% or more. No more driving, no more central heating, very sparse use of electricity, no long haul transport of goods, a far more localized world, and one in which people would need to provide for themselves dramatically more, certainly when it comes to basic necessities. Not hell on earth, but certainly very different.
This would need to be done globally, with a much fairer distribution of available resources than we have now. If one large country refuses to cooperate with such a plan, it’s basically impossible to implement. It would mean bankrupting most of the world’s richest corporations and even nations, no trifle matter. It’s plain to see that, and why, there would be a lot of resistance to this. There is also no global body that has the power to even start discussing such a plan.
We might want to wonder if the human mind is capable of not only imagining, but actually implementing, this (as we might want to wonder if the human mind is capable of long term planning in general). And while wondering that, it seems indispensable that the real picture gets out there of what halting the changes in the climate would mean in practical terms: a completely different world. If those who feel climate is the number one issue today would start explaining that different world, instead of staying trapped in a regurgitating and bottomless argument exercise with those who are going to keep saying “no” regardless of what is said, that would at least greatly improve the level of conversation.
It won’t be an easy thing to do, because many people who are nowhere near deniers or contrarians will still say they’ll pick the long term risk of ongoing emissions above that of short term scorched earth economics. But at least it’ll be less of an insult to intelligence.
That our economic system is busy blowing itself up as we speak, and that the carbon sources we have extracted and exploited to raise emission levels have passed their peaks, should be inserted into the story as well somewhere. So people can get the biggest possible picture, and not just a narrow view through either the lens of just economics or just climate, or energy. Because that does not work, and deniers et al are only partly to blame for that.
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