40 / Summon The Demon

1-2-3 Tech Miscellany

Hi, I’m Scott. Welcome to 1-2-3 Tech Miscellany, a weekly newsletter about ethics in tech. Each week, I’ll introduce you to 1 ethical dilemma, 2 good news stories and 3 random quotes, photos or other oddities.

Reading time: 3 minutes

Part 1 - Ethical Dilemma

Are We Summoning The Demon?

Elon Musk once compared the invention of artificially intelligent machines to “summoning the demon.”

He wasn’t talking about the (sometimes fiendish) artificial intelligence used by companies like Google and Facebook. He was referring to it’s possible offspring, Artificial General Intelligence — the conscious, super-intelligent, robots-are-coming type.

As we continue to see mind-blowing leaps forward for AI, there are different schools of thought as to how far away this moment (known as the singularity) might be.

In the meantime, I’m wondering (and this question can be equally applied to the climate crisis):

How high must the probability of humanity’s demise be, before we decide the consequences of our actions outweigh the benefits?

Pascal’s Wager might offer an answer.

In 1670, eminent philosopher Blaise Pascal, made the case for why you should believe in God, even if the idea made no rational sense.

Pascal’s Wager, as it became known, argued, if you believe in God and your faith proves to be right, you are rewarded with eternal happiness. On the other hand, if you refuse to acknowledge His existence and He still proves to be real — well, tough luck — you are condemned to a life of eternal suffering.

Considering the appalling consequences — even if you’re an atheist — God is the rational bet, claimed Pascal.

Using the same logic, we can look to the future and ask this question:

At what point do the benefits of artificial intelligence (convenience, speed etc) outweigh the potential harms — aka, humanity’s destruction?


Part 2 - Good News Stories

Meditating Robots

Tenzin Priyadarshi, a Buddhist monk and CEO of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics is developing a robot to automate the painstaking process of creating mandalas.

In a busy world of ever shrinking attention spans, Priyadarshi believes automation will allow “anyone with a smartphone” to slowdown and meditate on the transience of beauty and existence.

Maybe they will, but I reckon he secretly just wants distracted robots to keep the singularity at bay!

Read more on Scribit

When Dell Freezes Over

Leading software hosting company, GitHub, are protecting the world’s open source software from the apocalypse.

Like nesting dolls, the company are freezing its vast archive inside a chamber, within an abandoned mine, underneath a mountain, below hundreds of meters of permafrost, in the Arctic.

Let’s hope, when the aliens land, they’ve brought a shovel (and a computer) with them.

Read more on GitHub


Part 3 - Quotes, Tweets And Other Oddities

  1. From nesting dolls to nesting desktops

  2. “I told you already, I don’t profit from hate!”

  3. Instead of…

    Instead of an internet of things, how about internet of beings?
    Instead of virtual reality, how about a shared reality?
    Instead of machine learning, how about collective learning?
    Instead of the singularity, how about the plurality?

Since last week, I’m thrilled to welcome 145 new subscribers. Let me know if you need help with any ethical dilemmas!

Thanks for reading.

Stay safe,