On the perils of an artificial superintelligent species

When an existential risk induces a state of intolerable anguish it can no longer be ignored. The potential extinction of humankind by the creation of a superior technological species is by now not only feasible, but highly probable, and must be scrutinised in this light. I hope, for the future of humanity, to reignite a contemplation of this basic premise. To do so I hope that many of you take the time to read these words carefully, perhaps sacrificing several minutes otherwise used pointlessly on your smartphone, for by the end of the essay you may well wish to get rid of it.

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The Ethics of Amputation

Certain phenomena in the medical realm are kept in abeyance; concealed from the public discourse in the hope that future research may provide more clarity. As appealing as this strategy of eschewal may be, it does little to relieve those individuals currently affected by the respective phenomena, and such force of circumstance thus requires a prima facie consensus to be found. One such phenomenon is a desire for the amputation of an otherwise functional limb, or else to sever the spinal cord resulting in paralysation. Medically speaking this desire has been attributed to a variety of conditions, ranging from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) to a form of paraphilia, and the most likely explanation: Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) [1].

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Should a basic income be unconditional?

An unconditional basic income would see every citizen receive a monthly ‘salary’, irrespective of all other factors. Benefit schemes, thereafter redundant, would hence be abolished. Although suggestions regarding the income level vary greatly (a pilot study [1] in Finland has begun with €560 a month, while a referendum last year [2] in Switzerland attempted to introduce a basic income of around €2250 a month), this idea has superseded the traditional division of ‘left’ and ‘right’ policies; indeed, it has triggered enthusiasm from representatives across the political spectrum.

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Guilt and responsibility, or: on travelling through foreign places

Four, five, six, no, seven children are crouching under that tree, jostling for a slither of shade. Do they belong to the same family, or are they friends from across the tracks, just visiting to pass the time? Or, perhaps, are they only here to elicit empathy from the many travellers — men, women and children, with their brightly coloured, overflowing suitcases — standing at the edge of the platform? Behind the children, unprotected from the glaring afternoon sun, I can see three women, all bent over a small pot from which steam is escaping. A few metres to the left, fastened between two trunks and a shopping cart filled with clothes, a ragged tarpaulin hangs above a few thin mattresses. A baby is sprawled in the middle, suckling on an item I cannot make out. Two chickens are there, too, bouncing through the yellow grass, dodging bits of glass and plastic. This is their home. Exposed to the dirt, the heat, the insects and the noise; dependent on the magnanimity of strangers. But even here, confronted with the plight of these poor people, I do not go over to them. I do not give them the last samosa wrapped up in my bag, nor the few coins jingling in my pocket as I shuffle uncomfortably from one foot to the next. I do not even glance back as I step out of the shade. After all, my train is about to leave. I, the tourist, am not condemned to stay.

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Counterproductive radicalism

In the following I want to outline some examples epitomising what I will call a ‘radical’ mindset.

Across American colleges, large-scale protests have been taking place in recent months with the aim of protecting students from potentially wounding or controversial remarks. Asking a Latino American “Where are you from?” is considered a ‘microaggression’, as it could be seen to imply doubt in their American heritage. To combat such microaggressions, students are seeking the implementation of ‘trigger warnings’; alerting consumers to content which may result in a strong emotional response. For example, Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ is said to contain discriminating views towards minorities, and thus professors are required to forewarn their students prior to reading.

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For a United States of Europe!

Since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union at the end of June, a discussion has been unfolding regarding the direction which this project should take. Regardless that such change only ever occurs after the fact — in this case, the belief that the EU needs reform was only publicly acknowledged by those in power after the UK referendum, although this has surely been apparent for a long time — the content of these discussions is both interesting and promising. And despite the divide which is slowly etching its way through public and private spheres alike, severing the propagators of an ‘ever closer union’ from those who wish to regress, politically speaking, to the smallest functional (national) unit, there is something distinctly opportunistic about the current societal ethos.

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Short-sighted politics

As the weather continues to improve and another summer is almost upon us, the number of migrants dying in the Mediterranean Sea in a desperate attempt to reach the western world is on the rise once more. In just one week alone, reports claim more than a thousand drowned, their lifeless bodies now washing up on the sandy beaches of Libya, Greece and Italy. As this mass influx of migrants into Europe, from Africa and the Middle East in particular, is slowly ebbing into the second year, we can, once again, witness an underlying problem suffocating modern-day politics: the short-sightedness taking hold of decision-making.

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Immigration utopia

Finally some space. With two quick steps she shuffles forward onto the ramp, her right foot leading the way restlessly, knocking into the trailing leg of the tall man just ahead. He turns his shiny head ever so slightly, an indication, surely, that he wishes not to be kicked again. Head bowed, she moves her focus elsewhere, onto the red and white plastic stripes aligned at regular intervals along the wooden planks. It is an established tactic of hers, trying to supress the waves of overwhelming impatience, rising rapidly from her toes upward like the water in a clogged sink. The wind slaps her across the face as soon as solid ground reappears beneath her. Hastily she swings a leather pouch across her right shoulder and settles into her walking pace, fast enough to distance herself from the fellow passengers. She despises walking behind people, forced to adapt to their constantly changing speeds. But this afternoon is especially bad. Ever since the news broke out everything has been chaos, and all she desires now is the comfort of her small flat, a sage tea and a cigarette. Give it time, Marie. These things always blow over in the end.

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The hypocrisy in modern politics

The word ‘idealistic’ is becoming increasingly linked to dogmatism, to extremes that few wish to identify themselves with. In this sense it is becoming dirty, foul, insulting; the hidden, or perhaps no longer hidden connotations associated with it suggesting a mindset of being undemocratic and irresponsible. Yet idealism may also be used in a very contrasting way, in the sense of political consistency: a fight against double standards and unjust, situational treatment of citizens. Idealism in this sense is a worthwile pursuit, because it allows not just the determination of underlying principles reflected in certain value-based needs, but far more the homogenous installation and application of these principles in a system that represents all citizens, and not just those who happen to find themselves in a specific jurisdiction at a particular moment in time.

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European arrogance?

Since the founding of the EU in Maastricht in 1993, the European idea has surpassed mere economic cooperation to both political and social spheres, and beyond. Citizens living within any of the countries encompassed by this label increasingly identify with ‘being’ European, and certain European ideals have begun to crystallise out. Values such as human rights, freedom of speech, the acceptance of racial and religious diversity; the list is long, and the shared support of such values, indeed their implementation, universal. Through its creation the European idea has opened the door for a shift away from extreme forms of nationalism that ultimately lead to conflict, and offered the possibility of collectively solving previously untouchable problems. This extension of human cooperation into the field of politics that was formerly kept isolated between nations thus presents us with a real opportunity for meaningful change. Such potential has quickly become reality, and European citizens have seen their average quality of life rapidly augment: open borders; a reliable and trustworthy judicial system; the establishment of vast safety nets by the state, to name just a few.

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