“When Matter Touches Antimatter” by Rodney Rawlings – Brian Minnick, Tenor

“When Matter Touches Antimatter” by Rodney Rawlings – Brian Minnick, Tenor

The New Renaissance Hat
Rodney Rawlings
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“When Matter Touches Antimatter,” World Premiere, performed by tenor Brian Minnick (http://bminnick3.wix.com/brianminnick), November 3, 2017, Central Presbyterian Church, Austin, Texas. A winner of Second Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Art Song, One Ounce Opera.

See this video on YouTube here.

“When Matter Touches Antimatter” describes a well-known astronomical concept and uses it as a metaphor applicable to a well-known human situation. See another performance of it by soprano Amanda Noelle Neal here.

You can also listen to the original (2004) arrangement of this song: MP3 file.  (Left-click to listen, right-click to download.)

“WHEN MATTER TOUCHES ANTIMATTER”

Some say there must exist in the outer zone
A world of antimatter.
The thought makes people scatter,
‘Cause it could make our own
World shatter
If, by some awful twist, part of it is hurled
And crosses over. Watch out, my friend:
With scarce a chance to catch your breath
You have no world.Ah, you should know by now: Matters of the heart,
Are not just idle chatter
And more like antimatter
If you are worlds apart
While at her
Side, acting like your Earth
Circles ’round her sun.
So at the slightest hint of the end
That comes WHEN MATTER TOUCHES ANTIMATTER,
Run.

Because, no matter what you pretend,
That antimatter’s touch is death
To everyone.

© 2017 Rodney Rawlings

Rodney Rawlings is a Toronto writer and composer/songwriter. He arrived at the concept of hypercomplex numbers independently, using Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism to guide him.  See his YouTube Channel
“Squeak” – Art by Laura Katrin Weston, a.k.a. Katrin Brunier

“Squeak” – Art by Laura Katrin Weston, a.k.a. Katrin Brunier

Laura Katrin Weston



Commentary by Gennady Stolyarov II: “Squeak” is a print by Dr. Laura Katrin Weston, a.k.a. Katrin Brunier, the original exemplar of which I received in November 2017 due to my donation to the successful MouseAge crowdfunding campaign by Lifespan.io.

It is fitting for a project on mouse longevity to involve at least one image of mice – creatures whom life has unfortunately dealt a bad hand, due to their short lifespans (only 3 years for even long-lived mice in the absence of medical intervention), difficulty in getting along with humans, and unnecessary attrition due to disposal practices after lab experiments. “Squeak” invites the viewer to appreciate mice a bit more; if we can extend their lives significantly, we stand a decent chance of achieving dramatic extension of our own lifespans.  Perhaps we can also give some of the mice a break by using photographic markers of aging in experiments, as the MouseAge project seeks to do.

Here, the mice are depicted scurrying along a narrow circular path. The golden circle, with rays emanating outward represents perhaps the great hope that these creatures unknowingly provide to us. One may wonder, as I have done over many months of reflecting on this work, whether these are mutant, two-tailed mice, or whether they each just have their ordinary curly tails, and the track along which they move might simply be painted in the same colors and textures as their tails. (Well, in actuality it is indeed painted that way!) Mutant or not, these mice are rather extraordinary in having become emblems of a species that has added much to our understanding. Unlike most of their brethren to date, these mice have earned their extreme longevity through Laura Katrin Weston’s brush.

You can find more work by Dr. Laura Katrin Weston at the Katrin Brunier Gallery, an Ethical Investment-Grade Art Gallery for the Neo-Renaissance Era (see its Instagram page). Proceeds from art sales at the Katrin Brunier Gallery will go to support causes such as medical research and conservation.

“To Venus and Mars” by Rodney Rawlings – Sandra Flores-Strand, Mezzosoprano

“To Venus and Mars” by Rodney Rawlings – Sandra Flores-Strand, Mezzosoprano

The New Renaissance Hat
Rodney Rawlings and Sandra Flores-Strand
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Description by Rodney Rawlings: Performed by mezzosoprano Sandra Flores-Strand with pianist John Massaro in rehearsal for Voices of Vienna concert of April 13, 2018, in Fountain Hills, Arizona. A video of the concert is expected to become available soon. This song is in tribute, and counsel, to those adventurers who push out the boundaries of our one and irreplaceable existence.

Watch an earlier performance of “To Venus and Mars” by soprano Amanda Noelle Neal here.

“TO VENUS AND MARS”

While children down here in the fields
Catch fireflies in jars,
So grown men chase evening light …

… To Venus and Mars
Someday a brave man will go–
Someone who can bear to be launched
And leave us below.

But deep in the sky
He will lose sight of the earth
Ere catching that one final glimpse–
Stuff of memoirs–
Knowing he’s bound on a course
To Venus and Mars.

—-

Now he must seek higher realms instead.
It was time for those last looks to end.
Echoes remind him of what they said
When he first heard their call to ascend:
“Do you find most of this globe absurd,
“With its throngs, restless passions, and tears?
“This world is vain, as we’ve often heard.
“Do you long for a mission that’s one-way
“To Venus and Mars– to Venus and Mars–?”

—-

Near Venus and Mars
Yet might he grow ill at ease
To gaze on them–visions of Earth
Taint all that he sees?

This trav’ler may soon
Dream he will one day return–
To mingle on streets full of life,
To chase falling stars
And quite serenely look up to Venus and Mars.

(Spoken:) And quite serenely look up
(Sung:) to Venus and Mars.

© 2018 Rodney Rawlings

Rodney Rawlings is a Toronto writer and composer/songwriter. He arrived at the concept of hypercomplex numbers independently, using Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism to guide him.  See his YouTube Channel

Carson Valley Variations, Op. 87 – Musical Composition by G. Stolyarov II

Carson Valley Variations, Op. 87 – Musical Composition by G. Stolyarov II

G. Stolyarov II


Four orchestral variations in a late 19th-century style build upon a piano theme begun by Mr. Stolyarov in 2002 and subsequently rediscovered and completed in 2018. The strong chords and frequent major-minor contrasts evoke the dramatic, sweeping views of the Carson Valley, which often encompass multiple contrasting weather phenomena.

Download the MP3 file of this composition here.

This composition and video may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE this video in order to spread rational high culture to others.

See the index of Mr. Stolyarov’s compositions, all available for free download, here.

“Teeming” – Art by Laura Katrin Weston, a.k.a. Katrin Brunier

“Teeming” – Art by Laura Katrin Weston, a.k.a. Katrin Brunier

Laura Katrin Weston



Commentary by Gennady Stolyarov II:
“Teeming” is a print by Dr. Laura Katrin Weston, a.k.a. Katrin Brunier, the original exemplar which I received in November 2017 due to my donation to the successful MouseAge crowdfunding campaign by Lifespan.io.

Although some may consider the plants depicted in this print to be weeds, Laura Katrin Weston has painted their flowers beautifully. Such plants proliferate in a teeming, but ultimately ephemeral manner – yet this print presents a view that can be enjoyed indefinitely, in effect taming the weeds and presenting their best imagined attributes for our appreciation.

You can find more work by Dr. Laura Katrin Weston at the Katrin Brunier Gallery, an Ethical Investment-Grade Art Gallery for the Neo-Renaissance Era (see its Instagram page). Proceeds from art sales at the Katrin Brunier Gallery will go to support causes such as medical research and conservation.

What It Will Be Like to Be an 85-Year-Old in the 2070s – Article by Scott Emptage

What It Will Be Like to Be an 85-Year-Old in the 2070s – Article by Scott Emptage

Scott Emptage


I will be 85 sometime in the early 2070s. It seems like a mirage, an impossible thing, but the future eventually arrives regardless of whatever you or I might think about it. We all have a vision of what it is to be 85 today, informed by our interactions with elder family members, if nothing else. People at that age are greatly impacted by aging. They falter, their minds are often slowed. They are physically weak, in need of aid. Perhaps that is why we find it hard to put ourselves into that position; it isn’t a pleasant topic to think about. Four decades out into the future may as well be a science-fiction novel, a faraway land, a tale told to children, for all the influence it has on our present considerations. There is no weight to it.

When I am 85, there will have been next to no senescent cells in my body for going on thirty years. I bear only a small fraction of the inflammatory burden of older people of past generations. I paid for the products of companies descended from Oisin Biotechnologies and Unity Biotechnology, every few years wiping away the accumulation of senescent cells, each new approach more effective than the last. Eventually, I took one of the permanent gene therapy options, made possible by biochemical discrimination between short-term beneficial senescence and long-term harmful senescence, and then there was little need for ongoing treatments. Artificial DNA machinery floats in every cell, a backup for the normal mechanisms of apoptosis, triggered by lingering senescence.

When I am 85, the senolytic DNA machinery will be far from the only addition to my cells. I underwent a half dozen gene therapies over the years. I picked the most useful of the many more that were available, starting once the price fell into the affordable-but-painful range, after the initial frenzy of high-cost treatments subsided into business as usual. My cholesterol transport system is enhanced to attack atherosclerotic lesions, my muscle maintenance and neurogenesis operate at levels far above what was once a normal range for my age, and my mitochondria are both enhanced in operation and well-protected against damage by additional copies of mitochondrial genes backed up elsewhere in the cell. Some of these additions were rendered moot by later advances in medicine, but they get the job done.

When I am 85, my thymus will be as active as that of a 10-year-old child. Gene and cell therapies were applied over the past few decades, and as a result my immune system is well-gardened, in good shape. A combination of replacement hematopoietic stem cells, applied once a decade, the enhanced thymus, and periodic targeted destruction of problem immune cells keeps at bay most of the age-related decline in immune function, most of the growth in inflammation. The downside is that age-related autoimmunity has now become a whole lot more complex when it does occur, but even that can be dealt with by destroying and recreating the immune system. By the 2030s this was a day-long procedure with little accompanying risk, and the price fell thereafter.

When I am 85, atherosclerosis will be curable, preventable, and reversible, and that will have been the case for a few decades. There are five or six different viable approaches in the marketplace, all of which basically work. I used several of their predecessors back in the day, as well. Most people in the wealthier parts of the world have arteries nearly free from the buildup of fat and calcification. Cardiovascular disease with age now has a very different character, focused more failure of tissue maintenance and muscle strength and the remaining small portions of hypertension that are still problematic for some individuals. But that too can be effectively postponed through a variety of regenerative therapies.

When I am 85, there will be an insignificant level of cross-linking in most of my tissues, as was the case since my early 60s. My skin has the old-young look of someone who went a fair way down the path before being rescued. Not that I care much about that – I’m much more interested in the state of my blood vessels, the degree to which they are stiff and dysfunctional. That is why removal of cross-links is valuable. That is the reason to keep on taking the yearly treatments of cross-link breakers, or undergo one of the permanent gene therapies to have your cells produce protective enzymes as needed.

When I am 85, I will have a three-decade patchwork history of treatments to partially clear this form of amyloid or that component of lipofuscin. I will not suffer Alzheimer’s disease. I will not suffer any of the common forms of amyloidosis. They are controlled. There is such a breadth of molecular waste, however: while the important ones are addressed, plenty more remain. This is one of the continuing serious impacts to the health of older individuals, and a highly active area of research and development.

When I am 85, I will be the experienced veteran of several potentially serious incidences of cancer, all of which were identified early and eradicated by a targeted therapy that produced minimal side-effects. The therapies evolve rapidly over the years: a bewildering range of hyper-efficient immunotherapies, as well as treatments that sabotage telomere lengthening or other commonalities shared by all cancer cells. They were outpatient procedures, simple and quick, with a few follow-up visits, so routine that they obscured the point that I would be dead several times over without them. The individual rejuvenation technologies I availed myself of over the years were narrowly focused, not perfect, and not available as early as I would have liked. Cancer is an inevitable side-effect of decades of a mix of greater tissue maintenance and unrepaired damage.

Do we know today what the state of health of a well-kept 85-year-old will be in the 2050s? No. It is next to impossible to say how the differences noted above will perform in the real world. They are all on the near horizon, however. The major causes of age-related death today will be largely controlled and cured in the 2050s, at least for those in wealthier regions. If you are in your 40s today, and fortunate enough to live in one of those wealthier region, then it is a given that you will not die from Alzheimer’s disease. You will not suffer from other common age-related amyloidosis conditions. Atherosclerosis will be reliably controlled before it might kill you. Inflammatory conditions of aging will be a shadow of what they once were, because of senolytic therapies presently under development. Your immune system will be restored and bolstered. The stem cells in at least your bone marrow and muscles will be periodically augmented. The cross-links that cause stiffening of tissues will be removed. Scores of other issues in aging process, both large and small, will have useful solutions available in the broader medical marketplace. We will all live longer and in better health as a result, but no-one will be able to say for just how long until this all is tried.

Scott Emptage is an anti-aging activist in the United Kingdom. 

Third Enlightenment Salon – Gennady Stolyarov II, Bill Andrews, Bobby Ridge, and Mihoko Sekido Discuss Science-Based Advocacy of Transhumanism and Healthy Living

Third Enlightenment Salon – Gennady Stolyarov II, Bill Andrews, Bobby Ridge, and Mihoko Sekido Discuss Science-Based Advocacy of Transhumanism and Healthy Living

Gennady Stolyarov II
Bill Andrews
Bobby Ridge
Mihoko Sekido


The Third Enlightenment Salon, hosted by Gennady Stolyarov II on May 27, 2018, featured excellent conversations on the rise in public awareness of transhumanism and life extension and what can be done to further increase support for life-extending medical research. Dr. Bill Andrews, Bobby Ridge (a.k.a. Robert Ridge), and Mihoko Sekido shared insights on medical science, promotion of health, and methods of communicating the forthcoming convergence of advances in a wide array of technological fields. Importantly, we addressed how anyone can get involved in the transhumanist movement and improve public acceptance of the emerging technological future.

The following were some interesting areas of discussion:

– The new Telomere Coin, which will help fund Dr. Andrews’s research efforts – http://defytime.group/
– Bobby Ridge’s forthcoming new video channel – Science-Based Species
– Aspects of online videos that help increase their reach
– Factors that contribute to longer lifespans among Okinawans
– Motivators for leading a healthier lifestyle and its relation to the recognition of the possibility of indefinite life extension in our lifetimes
– Some potential health effects of metformin and the importance of the ongoing TAME clinical trials
– What anyone can do to promote life extension and other emerging technological fields – including joining the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free on this page.

This video also contains some excerpts from the remaining conversations at the Third Enlightenment Salon, including discussions of science-based medicine, promotion of transhumanism, autonomous vehicles, and responses to the prospect of longevity escape velocity.

Along with the recorded segment, there was much discussion about future directions of transhumanist initiatives, reasonably healthy food in a refined atmosphere, and previews of excellent video compilations that will become publicly available later this year. Mr. Stolyarov looks forward to hosting more Enlightenment Salons to bring together individuals in various fields of expertise and enable them to synthesize their insights into ways of comprehensively improving the human condition.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II Answers Common Interview Questions

U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II Answers Common Interview Questions

Gennady Stolyarov II


Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party and Chief Executive of the Nevada Transhumanist Party, answers questions posed by Francesco Sacco, which are representative of common points of inquiry regarding transhumanism and the Transhumanist Party:

1. What is Transhumanism and what inspired you to follow it?
2. What are the long-term goals of the Transhumanist party?
3. What are your thoughts on death and eternal life through technological enhancements?
4. Do you feel there are any disadvantages to having access to the cure for death? What advantages are there?

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Fill out our Membership Application Form here.

See Mr. Stolyarov’s presentation, “The U.S. Transhumanist Party: Pursuing a Peaceful Political Revolution for Longevity“.

Contra Robert Shiller on Cryptocurrencies – Article by Adam Alonzi

Contra Robert Shiller on Cryptocurrencies – Article by Adam Alonzi

Adam Alonzi


While warnings of caution can be condoned without much guilt, my concern is critiques like Dr. Shiller’s (which he has since considerably softened) will cause some value-oriented investors to completely exclude cryptocurrencies and related assets from their portfolios. I will not wax poetically about the myriad of forms money has assumed across the ages, because it is already well-covered by more than one rarely read treatise. It should be said, though it may not need to be, that a community’s preferred medium of exchange is not arbitrary. The immovable wheels of Micronesia met the needs of their makers just as digital stores of value like Bitcoin will serve the sprawling financial archipelagos of tomorrow. This role will be facilitated by the ability of blockchains not just to store transactions, but to enforce the governing charter agreed upon by their participants.

Tokens are abstractions, a convenient means of allotting ownership. Bradley Rivetz, a venture capitalist, puts it like this: “everything that can be tokenized will be tokenized the Empire State Building will someday be tokenized, I’ll buy 1% of the Empire State Building, I’ll get every day credited to my wallet 1% of the rents minus expenses, I can borrow against my Empire State Building holding and if I want to sell the Empire State Building I hit a button and I instantly have the money.” Bitcoin and its unmodified copycats do not derive their value from anything tangible. However, this is not the case for all crypto projects. Supporters tout its deflationary design (which isn’t much of an advantage when there is no value to deflate), its modest transaction fees, the fact it is not treated as a currency by most tax codes (this is changing and liable to continue changing), and the relative anonymity it offers.

The fact that Bitcoin is still considered an asset in most jurisdictions is a strength. This means that since Bitcoin is de facto intermediary on most exchanges (most pairs are expressed in terms of BTC or a major fiat, many solely in BTC), one can buy and sell other tokens freely without worrying about capital gains taxes, which turn what should be wholly pleasurable into something akin to an ice cream sundae followed by a root canal. This applies to sales and corporate income taxes as well. A company like Walmart, despite its gross income, relies on a slender profit margin to appease its shareholders. While I’m not asking you to weep for the Waltons, I am asking you to think about the incentives for a company to begin experimenting with its own tax-free tokens as a means of improving customer spending power and building brand loyalty.

How many coins will be needed and, for that matter, how many niches they will be summoned to fill, remains unknown.  In his lecture on real estate Dr. Shiller mentions the Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto’s observation about the lack of accounting for most of the land in the world.  Needless to say, for these areas to advance economically, or any way for that matter, it is important to establish who owns what. Drafting deeds, transferring ownership of properties or other goods, and managing the laws of districts where local authorities are unreliable or otherwise impotent are services that are best provided by an inviolable ledger. In the absence of a central body, this responsibility will be assumed by blockchain. Projects like BitNation are bringing the idea of decentralized governance to the masses; efforts like Octaneum are beginning to integrate blockchain technology with multi-trillion dollar commodities markets.

As more than one author has contended, information is arguably the most precious resource of the twenty first century. It it is hardly scarce, but analysis is as vital to making sound decisions. Augur and Gnosis provide decentralized prediction markets. The latter, Kristin Houser describes it, is a platform used “to create a prediction market for any event, such as the Super Bowl or an art auction.” Philip Tetlock’s book on superforecasting covers the key advantages of crowdsourcing economic and geopolitical forecasting, namely accuracy and cost-effectiveness. Blockchains will not only generate data, but also assist in making sense of it.  While it is just a historical aside, it is good to remember that money, as Tymoigne and Wray (2006) note, was originally devised as a means of recording debt. Hazel sticks with notches preceded the first coins by hundreds of years. Money began as a unit of accounting, not a store of value.

MelonPort and Iconomi both allow anyone to start their own investment funds. Given that it is “just” software is the beauty of it: these programs can continue to be improved upon  indefinitely. If the old team loses its vim, the project can easily be forked. Where is crypto right now and why does it matter? There is a tendency for academics (and ordinary people) to think of things in the real world as static objects existing in some kind of Platonic heaven. This is a monumental mistake when dealing with an adaptive system, or in this case, a series of immature, interlocking, and rapidly evolving ecosystems. We have seen the first bloom – some pruning too – and as clever people find new uses for the underlying technology, particularly in the area of IoT and other emerging fields, we will see another bloom. The crypto bubble has come and gone, but the tsunami, replete with mature products with explicit functions, is just starting to take shape.

In the long run Warren Buffett, Shiller, and the rest will likely be right about Bitcoin itself, which has far fewer features than more recent arrivals. Its persisting relevance comes from brand recognition and the fact that most of the crypto infrastructure was built with it in mind. As the first comer it will remain the reserve currency of the crypto world.  It is nowhere near reaching any sort of hard cap. The total amount invested in crypto is still minuscule compared to older markets. Newcomers, unaware or wary of even well-established projects like Ethereum and Litecoin, will at first invest in what they recognize. Given that the barriers to entry (access to an Internet connection and a halfway-decent computer or phone) are set to continue diminishing, including in countries in which the fiat currency is unstable, demand should only be expected to climb.

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of the novels A Plank in Reason and Praying for Death: A Zombie Apocalypse. He is an analyst for the Millennium Project, the Head Media Director for BioViva Sciences, and Editor-in-Chief of Radical Science News. Listen to his podcasts here. Read his blog here.

Review of Frank Pasquale’s “A Rule of Persons, Not Machines: The Limits of Legal Automation” – Article by Adam Alonzi

Review of Frank Pasquale’s “A Rule of Persons, Not Machines: The Limits of Legal Automation” – Article by Adam Alonzi

Adam Alonzi


From the beginning Frank Pasquale, author of The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information, contends in his new paper “A Rule of Persons, Not Machines: The Limits of Legal Automation” that software, given its brittleness, is not designed to deal with the complexities of taking a case through court and establishing a verdict. As he understands it, an AI cannot deviate far from the rules laid down by its creator. This assumption, which is not even quite right at the present time, only slightly tinges an otherwise erudite, sincere, and balanced coverage of the topic. He does not show much faith in the use of past cases to create datasets for the next generation of paralegals, automated legal services, and, in the more distant future, lawyers and jurists.

Lawrence Zelanik has noted that when taxes were filed entirely on paper, provisions were limited to avoid unreasonably imposing irksome nuances on the average person. Tax-return software has eliminated this “complexity constraint.” He goes on to state that without this the laws, and the software that interprets it, are akin to a “black box” for those who must abide by them. William Gale has said taxes could be easily computed for “non-itemizers.” In other words, the government could use information it already has to present a “bill” to this class of taxpayers, saving time and money for all parties involved. However, simplification does not always align with everyone’s interests. TurboTax’s business, which is built entirely on helping ordinary people navigate the labyrinth is the American federal income tax, noticed a threat to its business model. This prompted it to put together a grassroots campaign to fight such measures. More than just another example of a business protecting its interests, it is an ominous foreshadowing of an escalation scenario that will transpire in many areas if and when legal AI becomes sufficiently advanced.

Pasquale writes: “Technologists cannot assume that computational solutions to one problem will not affect the scope and nature of that problem. Instead, as technology enters fields, problems change, as various parties seek to either entrench or disrupt aspects of the present situation for their own advantage.”

What he is referring to here, in everything but name, is an arms race. The vastly superior computational powers of robot lawyers may make the already perverse incentive to make ever more Byzantine rules ever more attractive to bureaucracies and lawyers. The concern is that the clauses and dependencies hidden within contracts will quickly explode, making them far too detailed even for professionals to make sense of in a reasonable amount of time. Given that this sort of software may become a necessary accoutrement in most or all legal matters means that the demand for it, or for professionals with access to it, will expand greatly at the expense of those who are unwilling or unable to adopt it. This, though Pasquale only hints at it, may lead to greater imbalances in socioeconomic power. On the other hand, he does not consider the possibility of bottom-up open-source (or state-led) efforts to create synthetic public defenders. While this may seem idealistic, it is fairly clear that the open-source model can compete with and, in some areas, outperform proprietary competitors.

It is not unlikely that within subdomains of law that an array of arms races can and will arise between synthetic intelligences. If a lawyer knows its client is guilty, should it squeal? This will change the way jurisprudence works in many countries, but it would seem unwise to program any robot to knowingly lie about whether a crime, particularly a serious one, has been committed – including by omission. If it is fighting against a punishment it deems overly harsh for a given crime, for trespassing to get a closer look at a rabid raccoon or unintentional jaywalking, should it maintain its client’s innocence as a means to an end? A moral consequentialist, seeing no harm was done (or in some instances, could possibly have been done), may persist in pleading innocent. A synthetic lawyer may be more pragmatic than deontological, but it is not entirely correct, and certainly shortsighted, to (mis)characterize AI as only capable of blindly following a set of instructions, like a Fortran program made to compute the nth member of the Fibonacci series.

Human courts are rife with biases: judges give more lenient sentences after taking a lunch break (65% more likely to grant parole – nothing to spit at), attractive defendants are viewed favorably by unwashed juries and trained jurists alike, and the prejudices of all kinds exist against various “out” groups, which can tip the scales in favor of a guilty verdict or to harsher sentences. Why then would someone have an aversion to the introduction of AI into a system that is clearly ruled, in part, by the quirks of human psychology?

DoNotPay is an an app that helps drivers fight parking tickets. It allows drivers with legitimate medical emergencies to gain exemptions. So, as Pasquale says, not only will traffic management be automated, but so will appeals. However, as he cautions, a flesh-and-blood lawyer takes responsibility for bad advice. The DoNotPay not only fails to take responsibility, but “holds its client responsible for when its proprietor is harmed by the interaction.” There is little reason to think machines would do a worse job of adhering to privacy guidelines than human beings unless, as mentioned in the example of a machine ratting on its client, there is some overriding principle that would compel them to divulge the information to protect several people from harm if their diagnosis in some way makes them as a danger in their personal or professional life. Is the client responsible for the mistakes of the robot it has hired? Should the blame not fall upon the firm who has provided the service?

Making a blockchain that could handle the demands of processing purchases and sales, one that takes into account all the relevant variables to make expert judgements on a matter, is no small task. As the infamous disagreement over the meaning of the word “chicken” in Frigaliment v. B.N.S International Sales Group illustrates, the definitions of what anything is can be a bit puzzling. The need to maintain a decent reputation to maintain sales is a strong incentive against knowingly cheating customers, but although cheating tends to be the exception for this reason, it is still necessary to protect against it. As one official on the  Commodity Futures Trading Commission put it, “where a smart contract’s conditions depend upon real-world data (e.g., the price of a commodity future at a given time), agreed-upon outside systems, called oracles, can be developed to monitor and verify prices, performance, or other real-world events.”

Pasquale cites the SEC’s decision to force providers of asset-backed securities to file “downloadable source code in Python.” AmeriCredit responded by saying it  “should not be forced to predict and therefore program every possible slight iteration of all waterfall payments” because its business is “automobile loans, not software development.” AmeriTrade does not seem to be familiar with machine learning. There is a case for making all financial transactions and agreements explicit on an immutable platform like blockchain. There is also a case for making all such code open source, ready to be scrutinized by those with the talents to do so or, in the near future, by those with access to software that can quickly turn it into plain English, Spanish, Mandarin, Bantu, Etruscan, etc.

During the fallout of the 2008 crisis, some homeowners noticed the entities on their foreclosure paperwork did not match the paperwork they received when their mortgages were sold to a trust. According to Dayen (2010) many banks did not fill out the paperwork at all. This seems to be a rather forceful argument in favor of the incorporation of synthetic agents into law practices. Like many futurists Pasquale foresees an increase in “complementary automation.” The cooperation of chess engines with humans can still trounce the best AI out there. This is a commonly cited example of how two (very different) heads are better than one.  Yet going to a lawyer is not like visiting a tailor. People, including fairly delusional ones, know if their clothes fit. Yet they do not know whether they’ve received expert counsel or not – although, the outcome of the case might give them a hint.

Pasquale concludes his paper by asserting that “the rule of law entails a system of social relationships and legitimate governance, not simply the transfer and evaluation of information about behavior.” This is closely related to the doubts expressed at the beginning of the piece about the usefulness of data sets in training legal AI. He then states that those in the legal profession must handle “intractable conflicts of values that repeatedly require thoughtful discretion and negotiation.” This appears to be the legal equivalent of epistemological mysterianism. It stands on still shakier ground than its analogue because it is clear that laws are, or should be, rooted in some set of criteria agreed upon by the members of a given jurisdiction. Shouldn’t the rulings of law makers and the values that inform them be at least partially quantifiable? There are efforts, like EthicsNet, which are trying to prepare datasets and criteria to feed machines in the future (because they will certainly have to be fed by someone!).  There is no doubt that the human touch in law will not be supplanted soon, but the question is whether our intuition should be exalted as guarantee of fairness or a hindrance to moving beyond a legal system bogged down by the baggage of human foibles.

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of the novels A Plank in Reason and Praying for Death: A Zombie Apocalypse. He is an analyst for the Millennium Project, the Head Media Director for BioViva Sciences, and Editor-in-Chief of Radical Science News. Listen to his podcasts here. Read his blog here.