Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Conversation Constellation

I had a lot of good conversations with various people on my hall the past few days, and I'd like to record some of the thoughts flying around.

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Would you step into the Star Trek Transporter?

If you are dematerialized and reassembled with 100% accuracy, did you die/is the person who walks out of the Transporter a clone, or are you defined only by the pattern of your constituent particles at an arbitrary level of organization (i.e. the person who walks out is really you)? I take the latter view, because I cannot in good scientific conscience believe in a soul.

Based on a small sample size, we determined that people with religious upbringings always took the first view (consistent with the belief that there is something extra that endows people with identity), and people who profess not to believe in souls sometimes also thought that stepping into the Transporter means death.

What defines your identity, your you-ness? The physical atoms and molecules that make you up, and the patterns they form? Or is there some sort of special sauce that turns you into a human?


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What are the potentials and pitfalls of increasingly intelligent robots (non biological intelligence)?

Watch this video first:


Humans Need Not Apply -- CGP Grey

What incentive do robots have to serve humans? Should we build that into their software or would that be enslavement? Are there any jobs which only a human can do (for the record, if we assume arbitrarily sophisticated robots, I don't think so)? Does this mean that we should stop development of AI?

Sadly, I have a class that conflicts with the lecture series CS122: Artifical Intelligence -- Philosophy, Ethics, and Impact. But some of my coconversants are in the class and they will be happy to share, as long as I don't ask right before an essay is due.

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Is grammar valid?

The purpose of language is to communicate thoughts with as high a level of fidelity as possible between one mind and another. Why, then, is it incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition if the meaning is still clear? Because it sounds wrong? But then, admitting that language correctness is democratic opens the door to mass-approved changes to grammar rules.

Is language a democracy or a republic?

Some rules are historical, leftovers from Latin. In many languages, infinitives are one word and so you literally cannot split them. In English they are two words; why should we treat them as one unit?

The world is not a state function. History leaves its traces everywhere, and some stains should be wiped away.

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And some shouldn't.

"Caesar was such an egotist!"

"Watch yourself, Augustus is my homeboy."

"He named a month after himself! How much more self-aggrandizing can you get?"

"The 2000th anniversary of his death was last month and people still remember what he did and feel the results of his actions. He deserves a month."

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What is wrong with startup culture?

Read this first: The Unexotic Underclass.

A lot of startups address trivial problems of the urban, affluent set to which many founders belong. A lot of aid to developing countries is paternalistic and steamrollers over a community's true needs and desires.

People in Silicon Valley buy into the whole "change the world and get blazing rich while doing it" mindset. Honestly, I do too. But it's not always about you, and we need more understanding--empathy without condescension.

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Are you afflicted with FOMO?

Bees in a hive periodically touch just to check in, to make sure everything is the same. When we lurk or like on social networks such as Facebook, we are doing the same thing.

FOMO = fear of missing out. By stalking someone's wall or feed, even if we don't interact with them in any meaningful way, we reassure ourselves that we are still up to date/relevant, still participating in people's lives. Humans have a psychological need for socialization.

See also: Can we break free from the fear of missing out?

I admit that sometimes I go on Facebook and just skate through people's profiles to make sure I'm not missing anything (important). This despite my interesting IRL conversations.

I wonder if a robot would have this problem.

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