About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Back from Singularity Summit AU

I spoke earlier this evening at the Singularity Summit AU, which proved to be an enjoyable gig. My slightly (not entirely) sceptical talk about mind uploading seemed to have the audience interested, and it certainly produced a lot of discussion. I assume that Melbourne is now full of people who can't sleep because they're tossing and turning, trying to figure out whether - or in what circumstances - they would really enjoy the fruits of being uploaded into advanced computer hardware. I promised at the start of the talk to do my best to add value to the ongoing arguments about this, even if I couldn't resolve them definitively. Hopefully, that happened.

Thanks to the ghost of the late Bernard Williams, who inspired the questions that I was throwing out about when you'd fear something that was likely (or threatened) to happen to your uploaded self. If you don't fear threatened bad things that will happen to the upload, such as being tortured, I suggested, you also can't look forward to the upload's expected experiences if they are of something good, such as a long life revelling in the exercise of super-dooper cognitive powers. (In any event, I don't see why that symmetry doesn't work.)

Jenny and I had a pleasant dinner afterwards with Jeremy Byrne, whom I hadn't caught up with in ages. As one of the editors of Eidolon, Jeremy published "Lucent Carbon", which I consider the best of my stories about issues to do with uploading.

I have one more gig to do in Melbourne before driving back to Newcastle on Wednesday.


Lev Lafayette said...

I really should have guessed that you and Jeremy know each other - we go back quite a few decades ourselves.

Sorry I missed your talk, but I already had another commitment on the Sunday.

I am also interested in re-working my own presentation for JET....

mryana said...

I like reading your blog from time to time and of course I consider myself a Trekkie who likes to consider the cool things that happen in science fiction.

For some reason here, this upload thingy doesn't really make sense.

Though, it does kinda remind me of someone's "Big Brain" discussion....

It leaves me wondering just how much navel gazing on these subjects is actually fruitful.

spiral_shell said...

Hi Russell,
Great talk, it generated interesting audience response...
I was left wondering: Take a scenario in which one's corpus callosum were cut, in such that two brain hemispheres were unaware of each others experience. If the right brain was informed that the left brain would be inflicted with horrific mental torture in the near future, would the right brain as a consequence be likely to experience fear?
Also consider that the right brain would also have long term memories of times before the corpus callosum was severed.

As a separate addition to the above thought experiment, say the right brain knew that at some time in the future, the corpus callosum would be completely repaired and rejuvenated. Would the right brain as a consequence experience fear?

The other thought is this (which might be similar to James Newton-Thomas' idea): Consider that Person B is a clone of person A, and person C is a clone of Person B.
Person B's identity consists of all memories of Person A up to the time of cloning, plus the memory of the experience of being cloned (e.g. an awareness of the cloning process). Thus having the cloning process as part of it's identity.
If Person C were to be tortured in the near future, and Person B knew of it beforehand, would Person B likely experience fear?
(And as a separate joining scenario, if Person A knew that through some technological marvel, all the additional memories of Person B and C were to be later merged into person A in the after Person C's torture was complete, would Person A then experience fear for Person C's torture?)

Again, thank you so very much for spending the time and effort to present, which added great value to the Singularity Summit Australia 2010!

Cheers, Adam A Ford

Russell Blackford said...

Adam, it's hard to get my head around all the scenarios, but take the first case you mention. It's really not clear to me whether the person who exists prior to the severing of the corpus callosum should feel fear or not. If that's not clear, I don't see how it can be clear that the person who exists prior to the event can truly look forward to good things that will happen to the persons who (we're presuming) will exist after the corpus callosum is severed. It looks to me as if a lot of these ideas about what you can fear or look forward to become very problematic in these weird scenarios.

The first scenario you describe with the A's, B's, and C's seems simple though. Assuming that all of these persons know which one they are (which they may not if the super-scientist tries to deceive them) I don't see why person B should fear (in the full sense) something that is going to happen to person C. I think this talk about what is part of your "identity" is unhelpful and could easily lead to question begging. Obviously the fusion scenario makes a difference, though again this is so weird that it's hard to know what to say.

What we can say as a general observation, I think, is that it is often highly problematic to think that I can look forward to a certain experience had by someone psychologically like me who comes into existence as a result of uploading.

Russell Blackford said...

Lev, you're very welcome to submit material to JET. Just make sure you have a look at our site and follow the submission guidelines.

that qualia guy said...

In the persons A, B, and C question: A doesn't fear the torture, undergoes cloning, and receives no torture. But B, who has the same lack of fear as A, DOES receive torture! B's entire recollection of the events is consistent only with transference, so B should rightfully expect to transfer into C when cloned once more. B, then, would fear torture, but not be tortured; and also C would fear torture and then BE tortured. The critical point is their expectations are shared because the expectation is precloning - but their experiences are different, because that is postcloning.

Joe Hanna said...

Thanks for speaking - it was really interesting.

Anonymous said...

Umm, I'd fear the torture for the exact same reason I'd be worried if someone said, "Tomorrow after you wake up we're going to torture you."

This is because I still don't see how the discontinuity of consciousness involved in uploading is any different from the discontinuity of consciousness involved in falling asleep and waking up.

Are there any thought experiments clearing that up?

-Dan L.