4 m ago in Quotes
What good does it do me, after all, if an ever-watchful authority keeps an eye out to ensure that my pleasures will be tranquil and races ahead of me to ward off all danger, sparing me the need even to think about such things, if that authority, even as it removes the smallest thorns from my path, is also absolute master of my liberty and my life; if it monopolizes vitality and existence to such a degree that when it languishes, everything around it must also languish; when it sleeps, everything must also sleep; and when it dies, everything must also perish?
6 m ago in Quotes
As someone libertarian-leaning, what I find disturbing about all this - we all told ourselves that companies in various totalitarian regimes went along with the regime's line because they'd be "disappeared" if they didn't. Here in our country, it seems that murder, jail time, and mysterious "disappearances" are not required. Most companies will happily go along with any regime's censorship plans just to make a few more bucks, not risk losing their market position, or not be a target of a twitter outrage mob.
How are we going to maintain a free society if nobody is willing to make any effort at it?
6 m ago in Quotes
Reddit does have an ideology: it's the "free marketplace of ideas" pushed by the Libertarian right. It's an ideology that favors noise and disinfo with a high churn rate, because that's what's most beneficial to the showrunners. Redditors will call themselves "center left" because they believe that holding vaguely pro-personal-freedom opinions about settled issues (weed and gay marriage) excuses them from any further social responsibility.
9 m ago in Quotes
These men were able to give the counsel they gave because they were operating at an enormous psychological distance from the people who would be maimed and killed by the weapons systems that would result from the ideas they communicated to their sponsors. The lesson, therefore, is that the scientist and technologist must, by acts of will and of the imagination, actively strive to reduce such psychological distances, to counter the forces that tend to remove him from the consequences of his actions. He must -- it is as simple as this -- think of what he is actually doing. He must learn to listen to his own inner voice. He must learn to say "No!"
Finally, it is the act itself that matters. When instrumental reason is the sole guide to action, the acts it justifies are robbed of their inherent meanings and thus exist in an ethical vacuum. I recently heard an officer of a great university publicly defend an important policy decision he had made, one that many of the university's students and faculty opposed on moral grounds, with the words: "We could have taken a moral stand, but what good would that have done?" But the moral good of a moral act inheres in the act itself. That is why an act can itself ennoble or corrupt the person who performs it. The victory of instrumental reason in our time has brought about the virtual disappearance of this insight and thus perforce the delegitimation of the very idea of nobility."Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment To Calculation" (1976)
9 m ago in Blog
Corollary: plenty of skilled engineers with fewer moralistic constraints will jump at the chance to do interesting work for high pay. For a company as large and wealthy as Google, they can continue to raise offer salaries until they are adequately staffed.
There is a school of thought that recommends “moral” people doing “immoral” work because if those people left then other “immoral” people will take those jobs and more readily implement “immoral” features. So the “moral” engineers have an incentive to stay and act as a front line against “immoral” actions, or at least have an insider’s position for whistleblowing.
Military drones are here to stay, and whether or not the US builds them, other military powers certainly will.
Ultimately, I don’t think this changes anything.
Joseph Weizenbaum pointed out the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of this "logic" in an interview: it's like saying every year there's bound to be rapes happening in Berlin -- so why not just go out and rape someone?
If your only excuse is that someone else would do it, you *are* that other person. Any simple person on the street would probably understand Weizenbaum's point a lot better than some people who frequent HN. Isn't that interesting? You really think you know yourself he didn't? Rather than demonstrating what is well known for like a century for those not doing it, those who have a slight interest in the subject matter of personal responsibility, sophistry, and industrialization of murder?
So the “moral” engineers have an incentive to stay and act as a front line against “immoral” actions
Instead they seem to prevent NOTHING, in factual history so far, but time and time again act as fig leaves. "Yeah, it's bad, but there are some good guys in there trying to do the right thing". They're offering themselves up as hostages, in a way, and it robs society of the determination with which it would defend itself otherwise. "School of thought", more like school of unthought. School of "nobody could have known that would happen".
It's like the onion layer structure of totalitarian systems, front organizations, with ever more secretive, slightly more extreme inner layers that look down on the fools in outer circles for not being radical enough, or for making compromises with the outside world that "just doesn't get it". That layer structure and the playing for time serves a function, and it works beautifully. In the end, everybody is just reacting, and nobody is responsible.
We're essential building a tower that will short circuit the heavens and the earth if we finish it and kill us all, and that will kill us all if it just keels over. But that doesn't mean you can't climb down instead of up, and spend energy on finding ways down, on finding ways to build nets for others to jump some distance safely, rather than rationalizing climbing up. Yeah, if you don't get drunk somebody else still might, but guess what, the best way to detect and address that is sobriety on your behalf. Swimming further out into the ocean of kool-aid just increases the distance you have to swim back, it does not lead to that ocean turning into drinkable water, much less land.
I cannot tell why the spokesmen I have cited want the developments I forecast to become true. Some of them have told me that they work on them for the morally bankrupt reason that "If we don't do it, someone else will." They fear that evil people will develop superintelligent machines and use them to oppress mankind, and that the only defense against these enemy machines will be superintelligent machines controlled by us, that is, by well-intentioned people. Others reveal that they have abdicated their autonomy by appealing to the "principle" of technological inevitability. But, finally, all I can say with assurance is that these people are not stupid. All the rest is mystery.
I have spoken here of what ought and ought not to be done, of what is morally repugnant, and of what is dangerous. I am, of course, aware of the fact that these judgements of mine have themselves no moral force except on myself. Nor, as I have already said, do I have any intention of telling other people what tasks they should and should not undertake. I urge them only to consider the consequences of what they do do. And here I mean not only, not even primarily, the direct consequences of their actions on the world about them. I mean rather the consequences on themselves, as they construct their rationalizations, as they repress the truths that urge them to different courses, and as they chip away at their own autonomy. That so many people ask what they must do is a sign that the order of being and doing has become inverted. Those who know who and what they are do not need to ask what they should do. And those who must ask will not be able to stop asking until they begin to look inside themselves. It it is everyone's task to show by example what questions one can ask of oneself, and to show that one can live with the few answers there are."Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation"
The salvation of the world depends only on the individual whose world it is. At least, every individual must act as if the whole future of the world, of humanity itself, depends on him. Anything less is a shirking of responsibility and is itself a dehumanizing force, for anything less encourages the individual to look upon himself as a mere actor in a drama written by anonymous agents, as less than a whole person, and that is the beginning of passivity and aimlessness.
11 m ago in Quotes
When it’s Tunisians and Egyptians using FB and Twitter, everyone is quick to take credit and talk about the “transformative” power of social media. When it’s genocide, suddenly everyone is mumbling and looking at the ground. You can’t have every job listing include “changing the world” and then duck responsibility when you actually do change the world, just for the worse.
2 y ago in Quotes
My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one's actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.