Einstein's Humanity

When I did a report on Albert Einstein in 3rd grade, I cherished him as a grandfatherly eccentric, whose portrait hung with uncharacteristic solemnity in my dad’s study. I watched Young Einstein and learned the tall tales of his youth (I suspected he didn’t actually diffuse an A-bomb by shredding on an electric guitar). I read the word “pacifist” for the first time.

Doing Good Better

The Individual Scenario: You have $100 to donate to charity, how do you spend it? Please write where you might donate before reading further:

The Bulk Scenario: Oprah has given you $100 million and asked you to donate it to charity. What a huge responsibility! How do you spend it?

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

Can we create an intelligence that outclasses human intelligence as much as human intelligence outclasses a worm’s? Could we enhance the human brain, through augmentation or selective breeding, to achieve this? Or would creating a machine-based general artificial intelligence that can recursively improve itself be a better approach?

How do we reason about the motivations and behavior of a superintelligence? What unforeseen consequences could spell devastation for humanity if a superintelligence doesn’t share our values? Could we conduct a ‘controlled detonation’, powering on a potential superintelligence in a guarded environment so we can test it safely?

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

Nicholas Carr, a widely regarded journalist and author, experienced a rude awakening when he realized that he could no longer drum up the concentration required to read a book. He soon discovered that many of his friends and colleagues reported being similarly unable to calm their minds and read at length anymore, preferring the rapid pace of the Internet to the quiet solitude of the book. In The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Carr synthesizes the history of intellectual technology with today’s burgeoning understanding of brain plasticity, in an attempt to allay his fear that “the tumultuous advance of [the Internet] could…drown out the refined perceptions, thoughts, and emotions that arise only through contemplation and reflection” (222).

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

Jaron Lanier is a preeminent technologist and Silicon Valley pioneer. In You Are Not a Gadget, Lanier artfully and even-handedly argues that today’s prevailing Internet ethos undervalues the individual, and instead places emphasis on the misguided notion of the “hive mind”–the powerful crowd dynamic that breathes life into sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia.