Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Sam Harris

Limits of Discourse: Discussion of Noam Chomsky and Sam Harris

For decades, Noam Chomsky has been one of the most prominent critics of U.S. foreign policy

The further left one travels along the political spectrum, the more one feels his influence. Although I agree with much of what Chomsky has said about the misuses of state power, I have long maintained that his political views, where the threat of global jihadism is concerned, produce dangerous delusions.

In response, I have been much criticized by those who believe that I haven’t given the great man his due.

Last week, I did my best to engineer a public conversation with Chomsky about the ethics of war, terrorism, state surveillance, and related topics.

As readers of the following email exchange will discover, I failed. I’ve decided to publish this private correspondence, with Chomsky’s permission, as a cautionary tale.

Clearly, he and I have drawn different lessons from what was an unpleasant and fruitless encounter. I will let readers draw lessons of their own.

–SH

April 26, 2015
From: Sam Harris
To: Noam Chomsky


Noam —

I reached out to you indirectly through Lawrence Krauss and Johann Hari and was planning to leave it at that, but a reader has now sent me a copy of an email exchange in which you were quite dismissive of the prospect of having a “debate” with me.

So I just wanted to clarify that, although I think we might disagree substantially about a few things, I am far more interested in exploring these disagreements, and clarifying any misunderstandings, than in having a conventional debate.

If you’d rather not have a public conversation with me, that’s fine. I can only say that we have many readers in common who would like to see us attempt to find some common ground.

The fact that you have called me “a religious fanatic” who “worships the religion of the state” makes me think that there are a few misconceptions I could clear up. And many readers insist that I am similarly off-the-mark where your views are concerned.

In any case, my offer stands, if you change your mind.

Best,
Sam

 

April 26, 2015
From: Noam Chomsky
To: Sam Harris

Perhaps I have some misconceptions about you.  Most of what I’ve read of yours is material that has been sent to me about my alleged views, which is completely false.  I don’t see any point in a public debate about misreadings.  If there are things you’d like to explore privately, fine.  But with sources.

 

April 26, 2015
From: Sam Harris
To: Noam Chomsky

Noam —

Thanks for getting back.

Before engaging on this topic, I’d like to encourage you to approach this exchange as though we were planning to publish it. As edifying as it might be to have you correct my misreading of you in private—it would be far better if you did this publicly.

It’s not a matter of having a “debate about misreadings”; it’s a matter of allowing our readers to see that conversation on difficult and polarizing topics can occasionally fulfill its ostensible purpose. If I have misread you, and you can show me where I’ve gone wrong, I would want my readers to see my views change in real time. (I doubt we can change our view in real time)

It would be far less desirable for me to simply report that you and I clarified a few things privately, and that I have now changed my mind about X, Y, and Z.

Beyond correcting our misreadings, I think we could have a very interesting conversation about the ethical issues surrounding war, terrorism, the surveillance state, and so forth. I’d be happy to do this entirely by email, or we could speak on the phone and have the audio transcribed.

In either case, you would be free to edit and refine your contributions prior to publication. My only request would be that you not go back and make such sweeping changes that I would have to totally revise my side of things.

While you’re thinking about that, I’d like to draw your attention to the only thing I have ever written about your work. The following passages appear in my first book, The End of Faith (2004), which was written in response to the events of 9/11.

Needless to say, the whole discussion betrays the urgency of that period as well as many of the failings of a first book. I hesitate to put it forward here, if for no other reason than that the tone is not one that I would have ever adopted in a direct exchange with you.

Nevertheless, if I’ve misrepresented your views in writing, this is the only place it could have happened. If we’re going to clarify misreadings, this would seem like a good place to start.

Best,
Sam
Leftist Unreason and the Strange Case of Noam Chomsky

Nevertheless, many people are now convinced that the attacks of September 11 say little about Islam and much about the sordid career of the West—in particular, about the failures of U.S. foreign policy. The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard gives these themes an especially luxuriant expression, declaring that terrorism is a necessary consequence of American “hegemony.” He goes so far as to suggest that we were secretly hoping that such devastation would be visited upon us:

At a pinch we can say that they did it, but we wished for it. . . . When global power monopolizes the situation to this extent, when there is such a formidable condensation of all functions in the technocratic machinery, and when no alternative form of thinking is allowed, what other way is there but a terroristic situational transfer.

It was the system itself which created the objective conditions for this brutal retaliation. . . This is terror against terror—there is no longer any ideology behind it. We are far beyond ideology and politics now. . . . As if the power bearing these towers suddenly lost all energy, all resilience; as though that arrogant power suddenly gave way under the pressure of too intense an effort: the effort always to be the unique world model.40

If one were feeling charitable, one might assume that something essential to these profundities got lost in translation. I think it far more likely, however, that it did not survive translation into French.

If Baudrillard had been obliged to live in Afghanistan under the Taliban, would he have thought that the horrible abridgments of his freedom were a matter of the United States’s “effort always to be the unique world model”?

Would the peculiar halftime entertainment at every soccer match—where suspected fornicators, adulterers, and thieves were regularly butchered in the dirt at centerfield—have struck him as the first rumblings of a “terroristic situational transfer”?

We may be beyond politics, but we are not in the least “beyond ideology” now. Ideology is all that our enemies have.41

And yet, thinkers far more sober than Baudrillard view the events of September 11 as a consequence of American foreign policy. Perhaps the foremost among them is Noam Chomsky.

In addition to making foundational contributions to linguistics and the psychology of language, Chomsky has been a persistent critic of U.S. foreign policy for over three decades. He has also managed to demonstrate a principal failing of the liberal critique of power.

He appears to be an exquisitely moral man whose political views prevent him from making the most basic moral distinctions—between types of violence, and the variety of human purposes that give rise to them.

In his book 9-11, with rubble of the World Trade Center still piled high and smoldering, Chomsky urged us not to forget that “the U.S. itself is a leading terrorist state.” (All surveys admit this premise)

In support of this claim he catalogs a number of American misdeeds, including the sanctions that the United States imposed upon Iraq, which led to the death of “maybe half a million children,” and the 1998 bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceuticals plant in Sudan, which may have set the stage for tens of thousands of innocent Sudanese to die of tuberculosis, malaria, and other treatable diseases.

Chomsky does not hesitate to draw moral equivalences here: “For the first time in modern history, Europe and its offshoots were subjected, on home soil, to the kind of atrocity that they routinely have carried out elsewhere.”42

Before pointing out just how wayward Chomsky’s thinking is on this subject, I would like to concede many of his points, since they have the virtue of being both generally important and irrelevant to the matter at hand.

There is no doubt that the United States has much to atone for, both domestically and abroad. In this respect, we can more or less swallow Chomsky’s thesis whole.

To produce this horrible confection at home, start with our genocidal treatment of the Native Americans, add a couple hundred years of slavery, along with our denial of entry to Jewish refugees fleeing the death camps of the Third Reich, stir in our collusion with a long list of modern despots and our subsequent disregard for their appalling human rights records, add our bombing of Cambodia and the Pentagon Papers to taste, and then top with our recent refusals to sign the Kyoto protocol for greenhouse emissions, to support any ban on land mines, and to submit ourselves to the rulings of the International Criminal Court. The result should smell of death, hypocrisy, and fresh brimstone.

We have surely done some terrible things in the past. Undoubtedly, we are poised to do terrible things in the future.

Nothing I have written in this book should be construed as a denial of these facts, or as defense of state practices that are manifestly abhorrent.

There may be much that Western powers, and the United States in particular, should pay reparations for. (With over $20 trillion in sovereign debt, the USA is blackmailing other States for reparation for defending their independence and sovereignty)

And our failure to acknowledge our misdeeds over the years has undermined our credibility in the international community. We can concede all of this, and even share Chomsky’s acute sense of outrage, while recognizing that his analysis of our current situation in the world is a masterpiece of moral blindness.

Take the bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceuticals plant: according to Chomsky, the atrocity of September 11 pales in comparison with that perpetrated by the Clinton administration in August 1998.

But let us now ask some very basic questions that Chomsky seems to have neglected to ask himself: What did the U.S. government think it was doing when it sent cruise missiles into Sudan? (Or lately into Syria?)

Destroying a chemical weapons site used by Al Qaeda. Did the Clinton administration intend to bring about the deaths of thousands of Sudanese children? No.

Was our goal to kill as many Sudanese as we could? No. Were we trying to kill anyone at all? Not unless we thought members of Al Qaeda would be at the Al-Shifa facility in the middle of the night. (You mean a very few Al Qaeda members?)

Asking these questions about Osama bin Laden and the nineteen hijackers puts us in a different moral universe entirely.

If we are inclined to follow Chomsky down the path of moral equivalence and ignore the role of human intentions, we can forget about the bombing of the Al-Shifa plant, because many of the things we did Not do in Sudan had even greater consequences.

What about all the money and food we simply never thought to give the Sudanese prior to 1998?

How many children did we kill (that is, not save) just by living in blissful ignorance of the conditions in Sudan?

Surely if we had all made it a priority to keep death out of Sudan for as long as possible, untold millions could have been saved from whatever it was that wound up killing them. We could have sent teams of well-intentioned men and women into Khartoum to ensure that the Sudanese wore their seatbelts.

Are we culpable for all the preventable injury and death that we did nothing to prevent? We may be, up to a point.

The philosopher Peter Unger has made a persuasive case that a single dollar spent on anything but the absolute essentials of our survival is a dollar that has some starving child’s blood on it.43 Perhaps we do have far more moral responsibility for the state of the world than most of us seem ready to contemplate. This is not Chomsky’s argument, however.

Arundhati Roy, a great admirer of Chomsky, has summed up his position very well:

[T]he U.S. government refuses to judge itself by the same moral standards by which it judges others. . . . Its technique is to position itself as the well-intentioned giant whose good deeds are confounded in strange countries by their scheming natives, whose markets it’s trying to free, whose societies it’s trying to modernize, whose women it’s trying to liberate, whose souls it’s trying to save. . . .

[T]he U.S. government has conferred upon itself the right and freedom to murder and exterminate people “for their own good.”44

But we are, in many respects, just such a “well-intentioned giant.” And it is rather astonishing that intelligent people, like Chomsky and Roy, fail to see this.

What we need to counter their arguments is a device that enables us to distinguish the morality of men like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein from that of George Bush and Tony Blair. It is not hard to imagine the properties of such a tool. We can call it “the perfect weapon.” (Like using weapons of mass destruction on Iraqi people)

Perfect Weapons and the Ethics of “Collateral Damage”

What we euphemistically describe as “collateral damage” in times of war is the direct result of limitations in the power and precision of our technology. (Bullshit)

To see that this is so, we need only imagine how any of our recent conflicts would have looked if we had possessed perfect weapons—weapons that allowed us either to temporarily impair or to kill a particular person, or group, at any distance, without harming others or their property.

What would we do with such technology? Pacifists would refuse to use it, despite the variety of monsters currently loose in the world: the killers and torturers of children, the genocidal sadists, the men who, for want of the right genes, the right upbringing, or the right ideas, cannot possibly be expected to live peacefully with the rest of us.

I will say a few things about pacifism in a later chapter—for it seems to me to be a deeply immoral position that comes to us swaddled in the dogma of highest moralism—but most of us are not pacifists.

Most of us would elect to use weapons of this sort. A moment’s thought reveals that a person’s use of such a weapon would offer a perfect window onto the soul of his ethics. (What is that crap again?)

Consider the all too facile comparisons that have recently been made between George Bush and Saddam Hussein (or Osama bin Laden, or Hitler, etc.)—in the pages of writers like Roy and Chomsky, in the Arab press, and in classrooms throughout the free world.

How would George Bush have prosecuted the recent war in Iraq with perfect weapons? Would he have targeted the thousands of Iraqi civilians who were maimed or killed by our bombs?

Would he have put out the eyes of little girls or torn the arms from their mothers?

Whether or not you admire the man’s politics—or the man—there is no reason to think that he would have sanctioned the injury or death of even a single innocent person.

What would Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden do with perfect weapons? What would Hitler have done? They would have used them rather differently.

It is time for us to admit that not all cultures are at the same stage of moral development. (They didn’t develop nasty weapons in order to confront USA ethical challenges)

This is a radically impolitic thing to say, of course, but it seems as objectively true as saying that not all societies have equal material resources. We might even conceive of our moral differences in just these terms: not all societies have the same degree of moral wealth. (You mean Moral Entities as in multinationals?)

Many things contribute to such an endowment. Political and economic stability, literacy, a modicum of social equality—where such things are lacking, people tend to find many compelling reasons to treat one another rather badly.

Our recent history offers much evidence of our own development on these fronts, and a corresponding change in our morality. A visit to New York in the summer of 1863 would have found the streets ruled by roving gangs of thugs; blacks, where not owned outright by white slaveholders, were regularly lynched and burned.

Is there any doubt that many New Yorkers of the nineteenth century were barbarians by our present standards?

To say of another culture that it lags a hundred and fifty years behind our own in social development is a terrible criticism indeed, given how far we’ve come in that time.

Now imagine the benighted Americans of 1863 coming to possess chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. This is more or less the situation we confront in much of the developing world. (Exported by the developed colonial powers?)

Consider the horrors that Americans perpetrated as recently as 1968, at My Lai:

Early in the morning the soldiers were landed in the village by helicopter. Many were firing as they spread out, killing both people and animals. There was no sign of the Vietcong battalion and no shot was fired at Charlie Company all day, but they carried on. They burnt down every house. They raped women and girls and then killed them.

They stabbed some women in the vagina and disemboweled others, or cut off their hands or scalps. Pregnant women had their stomachs slashed open and were left to die. There were gang rapes and killings by shooting or with bayonets.

There were mass executions. Dozens of people at a time, including old men, women and children, were machine-gunned in a ditch. In four hours nearly 500 villagers were killed.45

This is about as bad as human beings are capable of behaving. But what distinguishes us from many of our enemies is that this indiscriminate violence appalls us. (Because a few media displayed and covered the story?)

The massacre at My Lai is remembered as a signature moment of shame for the American military. Even at the time, U.S. soldiers were dumbstruck with horror by the behavior of their comrades.

One helicopter pilot who arrived on the scene ordered his subordinates to use their machine guns against their own troops if they would not stop killing villagers.46 As a culture, we have clearly outgrown our tolerance for the deliberate torture and murder of innocents. (What about Guantanamo torture and detained people in other countries by order of the US administration?)

We would do well to realize that much of the world has not.

Wherever there are facts of any kind to be known, one thing is certain: not all people will discover them at the same time or understand them equally well. Conceding this leaves but a short step to hierarchical thinking of a sort that is at present inadmissible in most liberal discourse.

Wherever there are right and wrong answers to important questions, there will be better or worse ways to get those answers, and better or worse ways to put them to use. Take child rearing as an example: How can we keep children free from disease?

How can we raise them to be happy and responsible members of society? There are undoubtedly both good and bad answers to questions of this sort, and not all belief systems and cultural practices will be equally suited to bringing the good ones to light.

This is not to say that there will always be only one right answer to every question, or a single, best way to reach every specific goal. But given the inescapable specificity of our world, the range of optimal solutions to any problem will generally be quite limited.

While there might not be one best food to eat, we cannot eat stones—and any culture that would make stone eating a virtue, or a religious precept, will suffer mightily for want of nourishment (and teeth).

It is inevitable, therefore, that some approaches to politics, economics, science, and even spirituality and ethics will be objectively better than their competitors (by any measure of “better” we might wish to adopt), and gradations here will translate into very real differences in human happiness.

Any systematic approach to ethics, or to understanding the necessary underpinnings of a civil society, will find many Muslims standing eye deep in the red barbarity of the fourteenth century. (And what of the 1,000 years they shined civilization to Europe?)

There are undoubtedly historical and cultural reasons for this, and enough blame to go around, but we should not ignore the fact that we must now confront whole societies whose moral and political development—in their treatment of women and children, in their prosecution of war, in their approach to criminal justice, and in their very intuitions about what constitutes cruelty—lags behind our own.

This may seem like an unscientific and potentially racist thing to say, but it is neither. It is not in the least racist, since it is not at all likely that there are biological reasons for the disparities here, and it is unscientific only because science has not yet addressed the moral sphere in a systematic way.

Come back in a hundred years, and if we haven’t returned to living in caves and killing one another with clubs, we will have some scientifically astute things to say about ethics.

Any honest witness to current events will realize that there is no moral equivalence between the kind of force civilized democracies project in the world, warts and all, and the internecine violence that is perpetrated by Muslim militants, or indeed by Muslim governments. Chomsky seems to think that the disparity either does not exist or runs the other way.

Consider the recent conflict in Iraq: If the situation had been reversed, what are the chances that the Iraqi Republican Guard, attempting to execute a regime change on the Potomac, would have taken the same degree of care to minimize civilian casualties? (None?)

What are the chances that Iraqi forces would have been deterred by our use of human shields? (What are the chances we would have used human shields?) What are the chances that a routed American government would have called for its citizens to volunteer to be suicide bombers? (They would have)

What are the chances that Iraqi soldiers would have wept upon killing a carload of American civilians at a checkpoint unnecessarily? You should have, in the ledger of your imagination, a mounting column of zeros.

Nothing in Chomsky’s account acknowledges the difference between intending to kill a child, because of the effect you hope to produce on its parents (we call this “terrorism”), and inadvertently killing a child in an attempt to capture or kill an avowed child murderer (we call this “collateral damage”).

In both cases a child has died, and in both cases it is a tragedy. But the ethical status of the perpetrators, be they individuals or states, could hardly be more distinct.

Chomsky might object that to knowingly place the life of a child in jeopardy is unacceptable in any case, but clearly this is not a principle we can follow. The makers of roller coasters know, for instance, that despite rigorous safety precautions, sometime, somewhere, a child will be killed by one of their contraptions.

Makers of automobiles know this as well. So do makers of hockey sticks, baseball bats, plastic bags, swimming pools, chain-link fences, or nearly anything else that could conceivably contribute to the death of a child.

There is a reason we do not refer to the inevitable deaths of children on our ski slopes as “skiing atrocities.” But you would not know this from reading Chomsky. For him, intentions do not seem to matter. Body count is all.

We are now living in a world that can no longer tolerate well-armed, malevolent regimes. Without perfect weapons, collateral damage—the maiming and killing of innocent people—is unavoidable.

Similar suffering will be imposed on still more innocent people because of our lack of perfect automobiles, airplanes, antibiotics, surgical procedures, and window glass.

If we want to draw conclusions about ethics—as well as make predictions about what a given person or society will do in the future—we cannot ignore human intentions. Where ethics are concerned, intentions are everything.

(Sounds like a mea culpa of Sam Harris for publishing his book and wanting Chomsky to forgive him by forcing upon him a re-edited version that is worse than the original?)

Andrew Bossone  shared and commented on this link.

A very interesting non-exchange, though the title given by one of the authors involved may be misleading:

rather then the “limits of discourse”, why not “the limits my own thinking when moralising others”?

Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky attempt to have a conversation about the ethics of war, terrorism, state surveillance, and related topics–and fail.
samharris.org|By Sam Harris
Advertisements

 

The Art of Timing:

How to take pleasure of the Present?

Alan Watts on the Perils of Hurrying and the Pleasures of Presence

by

“For the perfect accomplishment of any art, you must get this feeling of the eternal present into your bones — for it is the secret of proper timing.”

Among the things that made British philosopher Alan Watts not only the pioneer of Zen teachings in the West but also an enduring sage of the ages was his ability to call out our culture’s chronic tendency to confuse things of substance with their simulacra.

Watts had a singular way of dispersing our illusory convictions about such pairings, whether he addressed belief vs. faith or money vs. wealth or productivity vs. presence or ego vs. true self or stimulation vs. wisdom or profit vs. purpose.

In one particularly poignant passage in his altogether soul-expanding 1970 anthology Does It Matter? Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality (public library), Watts considers another such infinitely important duality — the notions of hurrying and timing.

Echoing Seneca’s ideas about busyness and Bertrand Russell’s famous lament“What will be the good of the conquest of leisure and health, if no one remembers how to use them?” — Watts considers how we cheat ourselves of the joys of the present moment by grasping after the potential rewards of the future:

Just exactly what is the “good” to which we aspire through doing and eating things that are supposed to be good for us?

This question is strictly taboo, for if it were seriously investigated the whole economy and social order would fall apart and have to be reorganized. It would be like the donkey finding out that the carrot dangled before him, to make him run, is hitched by a stick to his own collar.

For the good to which we aspire exists only and always in the future. Because we cannot relate to the sensuous and material present we are most happy when good things are expected to happen, not when they are happening.

We get such a kick out of looking forward to pleasures and rushing ahead to meet them that we can’t slow down enough to enjoy them when they come.

We are therefore a civilization which suffers from chronic disappointment — a formidable swarm of spoiled children smashing their toys.

In a sentiment that calls to mind Mary Oliver’s thoughts on rhythm, Watts speaks to our one saving grace in countering the momentum of this headfirst rush toward disappointment:

There is indeed such a thing as “timing” — the art of mastering rhythm — but timing and hurrying are … mutually exclusive.

Much of our perilous hurrying, Watts argues, comes from the tyranny of the clock — a paradoxical pathology all the more anguishing given how relative and elastic time actually is. Watts writes:

Clock time is merely a method of measurement held in common by all civilized societies, and has the same kind of reality (or unreality) as the imaginary lines of latitude and longitude. (Until drawn on maps and being able to measure the location?)

The equator is useless for stringing a rolled roast. To judge by the clock, the present moment is nothing but a hairline which, ideally, should have no width at all — except that it would then be invisible.

If you are bewitched by the clock you will therefore have no present.

“Now” will be no more than the geometrical point at which the future becomes the past. But if you sense and feel the world materially, you will discover that there never is, or was, or will be anything except the present.

Presence, of course, is essential to our ability to experience the “spiritual electricity” of creative flow, something Watts captures unambiguously:

For the perfect accomplishment of any art, you must get this feeling of the eternal present into your bones — for it is the secret of proper timing. No rush. No dawdle.

Just the sense of flowing with the course of events in the same way that you dance to music, neither trying to outpace it nor lagging behind. Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present.

Does It Matter? is a superb read in its entirety.

Complement it with Watts on how to live with presence, Sam Harris on cultivating mindful living, and Frank Partnoy on the art of waiting, then revisit Annie Dillard’s ever-timely reminder that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

Note: Without a project set in the future and well designed and planned, how can we enjoy the moment of its progress?

Can we Not lose control over Artificial Intelligence?

Scared of super-intelligent AI? You should be, says neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris — and not just in some theoretical way.

We’re going to build superhuman machines, says Harris, but we haven’t yet grappled with the problems associated with creating something that may treat us the way we treat ants

Sam Harris. Neuroscientist, philosopher. Full bio

I’m going to talk about a failure of intuition that many of us suffer from. It’s really a failure to detect a certain kind of danger.

I’m going to describe a scenario that I think is both terrifying and likely to occur, and that’s not a good combination, as it turns out. And yet rather than be scared, most of you will feel that what I’m talking about is kind of cool.

0:36 I’m going to describe how the gains we make in artificial intelligence could ultimately destroy us. And in fact, I think it’s very difficult to see how they won’t destroy us or inspire us to destroy ourselves.

And yet if you’re anything like me, you’ll find that it’s fun to think about these things. That response is part of the problem. OK?

That response should worry you. And if I were to convince you in this talk that we were likely to suffer a global famine, either because of climate change or some other catastrophe, and that your grandchildren, or their grandchildren, are very likely to live like this, you wouldn’t think, “Interesting. I like this TED Talk.”

Famine isn’t fun. Death by science fiction, on the other hand, is fun, and one of the things that worries me most about the development of AI at this point is that we seem unable to marshal an appropriate emotional response to the dangers that lie ahead.

I am unable to marshal this response, and I’m giving this talk.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.
ted.com|By Sam Harris
It’s as though we stand before two doors. Behind door number one, we stop making progress in building intelligent machines. Our computer hardware and software just stops getting better for some reason.
Now take a moment to consider why this might happen. I mean, given how valuable intelligence and automation are, we will continue to improve our technology if we are at all able to.
What could stop us from doing this? A full-scale nuclear war? A global pandemic? An asteroid impact? Justin Bieber becoming president of the United States?

The point is, something would have to destroy civilization as we know it. You have to imagine how bad it would have to be to prevent us from making improvements in our technology permanently, generation after generation.

Almost by definition, this is the worst thing that’s ever happened in human history.

the only alternative, and this is what lies behind door number two, is that we continue to improve our intelligent machines year after year after year. At a certain point, we will build machines that are smarter than we are, and once we have machines that are smarter than we are, they will begin to improve themselves.

And we risk what the mathematician IJ Good called an “intelligence explosion,” that the process could get away from us.

this is often caricatured, as I have here, as a fear that armies of malicious robots will attack us. But that isn’t the most likely scenario.

It’s not that our machines will become spontaneously malevolent. The concern is really that we will build machines that are so much more competent than we are that the slightest divergence between their goals and our own could destroy us.

Just think about how we relate to ants. We don’t hate them. We don’t go out of our way to harm them. In fact, sometimes we take pains not to harm them. We step over them on the sidewalk.

But whenever their presence seriously conflicts with one of our goals, let’s say when constructing a building like this one, we annihilate them without a qualm. The concern is that we will one day build machines that, whether they’re conscious or not, could treat us with similar disregard.

I suspect this seems far-fetched to many of you. I bet there are those of you who doubt that superintelligent AI is possible, much less inevitable. But then you must find something wrong with one of the following assumptions. And there are only three of them.

Intelligence is a matter of information processing in physical systems. Actually, this is a little bit more than an assumption. We have already built narrow intelligence into our machines, and many of these machines perform at a level of superhuman intelligence already.

And we know that mere matter can give rise to what is called “general intelligence,” an ability to think flexibly across multiple domains, because our brains have managed it. Right?

I mean, there’s just atoms in here, and as long as we continue to build systems of atoms that display more and more intelligent behavior, we will eventually, unless we are interrupted, we will eventually build general intelligence into our machines.

It’s crucial to realize that the rate of progress doesn’t matter, because any progress is enough to get us into the end zone. We don’t need Moore’s law to continue. We don’t need exponential progress. We just need to keep going.

The second assumption is that we will keep going. We will continue to improve our intelligent machines. And given the value of intelligence — I mean, intelligence is either the source of everything we value or we need it to safeguard everything we value.

It is our most valuable resource. So we want to do this. We have problems that we desperately need to solve. We want to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer.

We want to understand economic systems. We want to improve our climate science.

So we will do this, if we can. The train is already out of the station, and there’s no brake to pull.

Finally, we don’t stand on a peak of intelligence, or anywhere near it, likely. And this really is the crucial insight. This is what makes our situation so precarious, and this is what makes our intuitions about risk so unreliable.

just consider the smartest person who has ever lived. On almost everyone’s shortlist here is John von Neumann.

I mean, the impression that von Neumann made on the people around him, and this included the greatest mathematicians and physicists of his time, is fairly well-documented. If only half the stories about him are half true, there’s no question he’s one of the smartest people who has ever lived.

So consider the spectrum of intelligence. Here we have John von Neumann. And then we have you and me. And then we have a chicken.

There’s no reason for me to make this talk more depressing than it needs to be.

It seems overwhelmingly likely, however, that the spectrum of intelligence extends much further than we currently conceive, and if we build machines that are more intelligent than we are, they will very likely explore this spectrum in ways that we can’t imagine, and exceed us in ways that we can’t imagine.

And it’s important to recognize that this is true by virtue of speed alone. Right?

So imagine if we just built a superintelligent AI that was no smarter than your average team of researchers at Stanford or MIT.

Well, electronic circuits function about a million times faster than biochemical ones, so this machine should think about a million times faster than the minds that built it.

you set it running for a week, and it will perform 20,000 years of human-level intellectual work, week after week after week. How could we even understand, much less constrain, a mind making this sort of progress?

The other thing that’s worrying, frankly, is that, imagine the best case scenario. So imagine we hit upon a design of superintelligent AI that has no safety concerns. We have the perfect design the first time around.

It’s as though we’ve been handed an oracle that behaves exactly as intended. Well, this machine would be the perfect labor-saving device. It can design the machine that can build the machine that can do any physical work, powered by sunlight, more or less for the cost of raw materials. So we’re talking about the end of human drudgery. We’re also talking about the end of most intellectual work.

what would apes like ourselves do in this circumstance? Well, we’d be free to play Frisbee and give each other massages. Add some LSD and some questionable wardrobe choices, and the whole world could be like Burning Man.

 that might sound pretty good, but ask yourself what would happen under our current economic and political order?

It seems likely that we would witness a level of wealth inequality and unemployment that we have never seen before. Absent a willingness to immediately put this new wealth to the service of all humanity, a few trillionaires could grace the covers of our business magazines while the rest of the world would be free to starve.

And what would the Russians or the Chinese do if they heard that some company in Silicon Valley was about to deploy a superintelligent AI? This machine would be capable of waging war, whether terrestrial or cyber, with unprecedented power.

This is a winner-take-all scenario. To be six months ahead of the competition here is to be 500,000 years ahead, at a minimum. So it seems that even mere rumors of this kind of breakthrough could cause our species to go berserk.

one of the most frightening things, in my view, at this moment, are the kinds of things that AI researchers say when they want to be reassuring. And the most common reason we’re told not to worry is time.

This is all a long way off, don’t you know. This is probably 50 or 100 years away. One researcher has said, “Worrying about AI safety is like worrying about overpopulation on Mars.” This is the Silicon Valley version of “don’t worry your pretty little head about it.”

No one seems to notice that referencing the time horizon is a total non sequitur. If intelligence is just a matter of information processing, and we continue to improve our machines, we will produce some form of superintelligence.

And we have no idea how long it will take us to create the conditions to do that safely. Let me say that again. We have no idea how long it will take us to create the conditions to do that safely.

 if you haven’t noticed, 50 years is not what it used to be. This is 50 years in months. This is how long we’ve had the iPhone. This is how long “The Simpsons” has been on television. Fifty years is not that much time to meet one of the greatest challenges our species will ever face.

Once again, we seem to be failing to have an appropriate emotional response to what we have every reason to believe is coming.

The computer scientist Stuart Russell has a nice analogy here. He said, imagine that we received a message from an alien civilization, which read: “People of Earth, we will arrive on your planet in 50 years. Get ready.” And now we’re just counting down the months until the mothership lands? We would feel a little more urgency than we do.

Another reason we’re told not to worry is that these machines can’t help but share our values because they will be literally extensions of ourselves.

They’ll be grafted onto our brains, and we’ll essentially become their limbic systems. Now take a moment to consider that the safest and only prudent path forward, recommended, is to implant this technology directly into our brains.

this may in fact be the safest and only prudent path forward, but usually one’s safety concerns about a technology have to be pretty much worked out before you stick it inside your head.

The deeper problem is that building superintelligent AI on its own seems likely to be easier than building superintelligent AI and having the completed neuroscience that allows us to seamlessly integrate our minds with it.

And given that the companies and governments doing this work are likely to perceive themselves as being in a race against all others, given that to win this race is to win the world, provided you don’t destroy it in the next moment, then it seems likely that whatever is easier to do will get done first.

I don’t have a solution to this problem, apart from recommending that more of us think about it. I think we need something like a Manhattan Project on the topic of artificial intelligence.

Not to build it, because I think we’ll inevitably do that, but to understand how to avoid an arms race and to build it in a way that is aligned with our interests. When you’re talking about superintelligent AI that can make changes to itself, it seems that we only have one chance to get the initial conditions right, and even then we will need to absorb the economic and political consequences of getting them right.

13:44 But the moment we admit that information processing is the source of intelligence, that some appropriate computational system is what the basis of intelligence is, and we admit that we will improve these systems continuously, and we admit that the horizon of cognition very likely far exceeds what we currently know, then we have to admit that we are in the process of building some sort of a God. Now would be a good time to make sure it’s a god we can live with.

 

Stop Saying “Moderate Muslims.” You’re Only Empowering Islamophobes.

 posted this June 25, 2014

Last week’s Heritage Foundation panel on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi was bound to be an ugly affair, what with the presence of panelist Brigitte Gabriel, a self-described “terrorism analyst” with a laundry list of offensive statements about Islam and Arabs.

Sure enough, when attendee Saba Ahmed, an American University law school student, explained that not all Muslims are terrorists, Gabriel retorted that “the peaceful majority were irrelevant” in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the way that peaceful Germans were irrelevant during the Holocaust.

That prompted much hand-wringing, primarily on cable news, about the supposed silence of “moderate Muslims” in this supposed age of Islamist extremism. What no one on either side of the debate questioned, though, was the legitimacy of the phrase “moderate Muslims” itself.

In the years that I’ve spent writing about and studying the phenomenon of Islamophobia, that phrase has always troubled me.

Muslims and non-Muslims alike bandy it about, though the latter usually demand that the former prove that they are such. What bothers me is not that there aren’t “moderate Muslims”from my perspective, there certainly are. The unacknowledged problem is how that phrase informs our judgments.

Brigitte Gabriel, for instance, told the Australian Jewish News in 2008, “Every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim,” meaning “moderates” must be only those who don’t practice their religion. (About time to redefine “practicing religious person”)

Celebrity atheist Sam Harris writes that “moderate Muslims” are those who express skepticism over the divine origins of the Quran and “surely realize that all [sacred] books are now candidates for flushing down the toilet.”

Then there’s conservative columnist John Hawkins, who enumerates 7  criteria that Muslims must meet in order to be considered “moderate” while the queen of Muslim-bashing, Pamela Gellerasks in typical fashion, “What’s the difference? Today’s moderate is tomorrow’s mass murderer.”

To be fair, it’s not just the wackos. NewsweekNPR, the Wall Street Journal,ReutersTIMEThe New Republic and many others have used this phrase to describe Muslims who fit a certain preferred profile. Many Muslims themselves have bought into this dichotomy, if only to distance themselves from the so-called radicals and extremiststo assure paranoid non-Muslims, in other words, “I’m not that kind of Muslim.”

How is it that we talk about Muslims much like we talk about Buffalo wings, their “potency” being measured not by some objective rubric but rather by our personal preferences?

It’s the mild ones that we seem to search out: not so spicy in their religious practices that they burn us, yet not so bland that they dilute our religious diversity altogether.

The idea of a “moderate Islam” or “moderate Muslim” is intellectually lazy because it carves the world up into two camps:

the “good” Muslims and the “bad” Muslims, as Columbia University professor Mahmood Mamdani has noted. (Saba Ahmed herself used the word “bad” in her remarks at the Heritage panel.) Until proven good, or in this case “moderate,” all Muslims are perceived as “bad,” or potentially extreme.

We certainly don’t spend our time searching out “moderate” Christians or Jews, but rather reckon that the Westboro BaptistsJewish Defense League, and others are aberrations. And sure, Muslims give us plenty of bad examples, but it’s our own fault if we allow those examples to constipate our ability to perform basic logic.

During the panel, Gabriel argued that “15-25 percent” (how they get these stats? and why this huge margin?) of the world’s Muslims are extremists, and that the remaining “moderates” are “irrelevant” (I shouldn’t have to explain that it’s usually the majority of a given group that makes the minority irrelevant, not vice versa).

Based on the lower end of that range, that’s 240 million of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims  the equivalent of every single Muslim in Sub-Saharan Africa, or nearly 6 times the number of all Muslims on the entire continent of Europe. Where are the examples of such supposedly widespread extremism? Even if a mere 1% of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims is committed to violence, why is it that we haven’t seen 16 million violent attacks?

Proving one’s “moderation” is a trap, anyway. (And why you are required to prove moderation? Are the Inquisitions in progress and kicking?)

Is the only way to do it  to meet the criteria set forth by the person making the demand?

For Gabriel and others, it’s by supporting Western foreign policies in the Middle East, cheering continued military aid to Israel, and even rejecting certain Islamic tenets.

It’s why a figure like Zuhdi Jasser, a darling of the Republican Party and Peter King’s star witness in the “radicalization” hearings, is held up like a trophy while Saba Ahmed is mocked.

That’s the problem with this “moderate Muslim” nonsense: it empowers anti-Muslim activists by implying that the degree to which a Muslim digests their religious faith is indicative of their status as a potential terrorist.

Thus, “moderately” subscribing to the teachings of the Quran is OK, but should they cross over into the world of daily prayers, Friday afternoons at the mosque, and, God forbid, Ramadan, they’re suddenly flirting with extremism.

That way of thinking is predicated on the unfounded notion that pious religious orthodoxy necessarily entails Muslims behaving badly. It also implies that religious “moderation” involves swallowing up one particular political narrative.

Lastly, calling on “moderate Muslims” to condemn violence or other loathsome acts presumes that anyone who doesn’t is a terrorist lying in wait (should every Moslem claim the 5th and not incriminate himself?).

It gives credence to the idea that only those who are at the beck and call of Islam’s credential police are the peaceful ones, and that the ones posing the question“where are the moderate Muslims”are sufficient arbiters of what Islam really is and isn’t.

In order to arrive at a more peaceful and equitable place in our society, we must divorce ourselves from the notion that we are authorities on the faith traditions of others and as such are entitled to prescribe how they must interpret them in order to be welcomed.

The diversity within religious traditions is just as important to the pluralistic fabric of America as the diversity of religious traditions. Carving up our Muslim compatriots into categories that fit our idea of what they should be isn’t going to get us there.

Note: Nathan Lean is the Research Director at Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

He is the author of three books, including The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims. His next book, The Changing Middle East, will be released this year.

Do Muslim Women Need Saving?

Did the Western crusade to rescue Muslim women has reduced them to a simplistic stereotype?

A moral crusade to rescue oppressed Muslim women from their cultures and their religion has swept the public sphere, dissolving distinctions between conservatives and liberals, sexists and feminists.

The crusade has justified all manner of intervention from the legal to the military, the humanitarian to the sartorial.

It has also reduced Muslim women to a stereotyped singularity, plastering a handy cultural icon over much more complicated historical and political dynamics.

 published this Nov. 1, 2013 on Time:

As an anthropologist who has spent decades doing research on and with women in different communities in the Middle East, I have found myself increasingly troubled by our obsession with Muslim women.

Ever since 2001, when defending the rights of Muslim women was offered as a rationale for military intervention in Afghanistan, I have been trying to reconcile what I know from experience about individual women’s lives, and what I know as a student of the history of women and of feminism in different parts of the Muslim world, with the stock images of Muslim women that bombard us here in the West.

Over the past decade, from the girls and women like Nujood Ali, whose best-selling memoir I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced was co-written, like so many of the others, by a Western journalist, to Malala Yousafzai, they have been portrayed as victims of the veil, forced marriage, honor crimes or violent abuse. They are presented as having a deficit of rights because of Islam.

But they don’t always behave the way we expect them to, nor should they.

Take the veil, for example.

We were surprised when many women in Afghanistan didn’t take them off after being “liberated,” seeing as they had become such symbols of oppression in the West.

We were confusing veiling with a lack of agency. What most of us didn’t know is that 30 years ago the anthropologist Hanna Papanek described the burqa as “portable seclusion” and noted that many women saw it as a liberating invention because it enabled them to move out of segregated living spaces, while still observing the requirements of separating and protecting women from unrelated men.

People all over the globe, including Americans, wear the appropriate form of dress for their socially shared standards, religious beliefs and moral ideals. If we think that U.S. women live in a world of choice regarding clothing, we need to look no further than our own codes of dress and the often constricting tyrannies of fashion.

As for Malala, she was subjected to horrible violence by the Taliban, but education for girls and Islam are not at odds, as was suggested when atheist Sam Harris praised Malala for standing up to the “misogyny of traditional Islam.”

Across the Muslim world girls have even been going to state schools for generations.

In Pakistan, poverty and political instability undermine girls’ schooling, but also that of boys. Yet in urban areas, girls finish high school at rates close to those of young men, and they are only fractionally less likely to pursue higher education.

In many Arab countries, and in Iran, more women are in university than men.

In Egypt, women make up a bigger percentage of engineering and medical faculties than women do in the US.

A language of rights cannot really capture the complications of lives actually lived.

If we were to consider the quandaries of a young woman in rural Egypt as she tries to make choices about who to marry or how she will make a good life for her children in trying circumstances, perhaps we would realize that we all work within constraints.

It does not do justice to anyone to view her life only in terms of rights or that loaded term, freedom. These are not the terms in which we understand our own lives, born into families we did not choose, finding our way into what might fulfill us in life, constrained by failing economies, subject to the consumer capitalism, and making moral mistakes we must live with.

There is no doubt that Western notions of human rights can be credited for the hope for a better world for all women. But I suspect that the deep moral conviction people feel about the rightness of saving the women of that timeless homogeneous mythical place called Islamland is fed by something else that cannot be separated from our current geopolitical relations.

Blinded to the diversity of Muslim women’s lives, we tend to see our own situation too comfortably.

Representing Muslim women as abused makes us forget the violence and oppression in our own midst. Our stereotyping of Muslim women also distracts us from the thornier problem that our own policies and actions in the world help create the (sometimes harsh) conditions in which distant others live.

Ultimately, saving Muslim women allows us to ignore the complex entanglements in which we are all implicated and creates a polarization that places feminism only on the side of the West.

MORE: Saudi Cleric Says Driving Hurts Women’s Ovaries

(MORE: Forbidden to Drive: A Saudi Woman on Life Inside the Kingdom)

(MORE: Brides Before Bombs: Nigerian City Fights Terrorism With Mass Weddings)

 is a professor at Columbia University and the author of the new book, Do Muslim Women Need Saving?

Read more: Lila Abu-Lughod: Do Muslim Women Need Saving? | TIME.com http://ideas.time.com/2013/11/01/do-muslim-women-need-saving/#ixzz2mcZ3vEB2


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

August 2019
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Blog Stats

  • 1,317,228 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.adonisbouh@gmail.com

Join 682 other followers

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: