Headlights On For Safety

I’ve written before about the transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom. His work is concerned with the long-term prospects of the human race, with particular interest in the future of artificial intelligence, and its perils. In these pages we’ve mentioned his suggestion that we might already be living in a computer simulation (see here and here), as well as his thoughts on the “Great Filter” — to wit, whatever it is that has apparently, so far, prevented intelligent life from spreading to very corner of the galaxy. (Here.) We’ve even touched on one of the more exotic, and disturbing, ideas to bubble up out of AI speculation, namely “Roko’s Basilisk”. (Some would say I am putting you at risk even by mentioning it, but here you go. Caveat lector.)

Anyway, Nick Bostrom is a very intelligent man who thinks about very interesting things. Now he is the subject of a substantial article at the New Yorker that I think would be well worth your time. In particular, an embedded video gives a clear and chilling metaphor for the general idea of memetic hazard, which alone will be worth your trip. (See the “Roko’s Basilisk” post, linked above, for other examples.)

When I was at Singularity University a few years back, one of the lecturers said something to the effect of: “If you can see the road ahead of you, you aren’t going fast enough”. Nick Bostrom, very wisely I think, wants better headlights.

Read the article here.

Related content from Sphere


  1. whitewall says

    Singularity University …as I look over the web site, I am struck by how much coverage Forbes Magazine gives the institution and the concepts within. Makes me wish I was just finishing college about now.

    Posted December 24, 2015 at 8:39 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says


    It’s quite a place. I participated in a week-long “executive session” there in 2012, at the invitation of my friend Salim Ismail, who was SU’s founding executive director. (He and I worked together in a tiny startup company about ten years ago.)

    What struck me there was the blithe optimism and infectious eagerness everyone there had about the accelerating pace of technological change. I was a major outlier in this, and was the resident pessimist in every seminar, but as you can see from the post I wrote just after returning, some of it even rubbed off on me (albeit briefly).

    Here’s another post, from about two years ago, that mentions both transhumanism and SU.

    I was in pretty close touch with SU folks for a while after my visit — Salim gave some talks at SU and elsewhere about my “small-world” metaphor of social change, and we were even talking about the possibility of making a book out of it — but I think I may have become a little bit “radioactive” at this point.

    Posted December 24, 2015 at 1:37 pm | Permalink
  3. — but I think I may have become a little bit “radioactive” at this point.

    Are you expressing yourself metaphorically, Malcolm, or do you actually glow in the dark? If the latter, get thee to an emergency room post haste!

    Posted December 24, 2015 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  4. Abelson says

    Malc, many thanks for this. A fascinating read on Christmas morning. And only in The New Yorker would such a serious subject share the page with “Chaucer on lyne three.”


    Posted December 25, 2015 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  5. whitewall says

    That New Yorker piece and related matter is beyond my scope. Current human ethics can’t keep up with medical advancements and I doubt our ethics are any match for advanced AI. One thing may come of advancing AI…the return of Religion as a moral guide among average people, though not among scientists who live for the “creation”.

    Posted December 27, 2015 at 3:01 pm | Permalink
  6. whitewall says

    Malcolm, re your visit to SU three years ago, I believe you were somewhat smitten. Maybe you were part of the older set in the room? From your second post mentioning transhumanism and SU..I detect that not only are Leftism and Islamism our current enemies, but “scientism” may need to be added…and not the “global climate change stuff”? Modern civilized man seems to have an array of monstrous challenges ahead. All created by man.

    Posted December 27, 2015 at 3:26 pm | Permalink