Browsed by
Author: Gennady Stolyarov II

Fifth Enlightenment Salon – Discussions on Longevity, Gene Therapy, Overcoming Disabilities, Animal Lifespans, Education, and Privacy

Fifth Enlightenment Salon – Discussions on Longevity, Gene Therapy, Overcoming Disabilities, Animal Lifespans, Education, and Privacy

Gennady Stolyarov II
Bill Andrews
James Kohagen
Bobby Ridge
John Murrieta


On October 13, 2018, in the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment and its furtherance today, Gennady Stolyarov II, Bill Andrews, James Kohagen, Bobby Ridge, and John Murrieta met for the fifth interdisciplinary discussion – hosted by Mr. Stolyarov – on science, culture, education, advocacy, and policy. Subjects discussed included the following:

– The recent RAAD Fest 2018 in San Diego
– Developments in the field of gene therapy
– Advances in epidural stimulation for treating and overcoming spinal-cord injuries
– Long-lived organisms and their similarities and dissimilarities to humans
– How animal experiments can become more humane
– How contemporary science still has far to go to accumulate even fairly basic information about certain organisms
– How the study of lifespans can be included in educational curricula starting at early childhood
– Whether privacy will remain in a more technologically interconnected future.

Join the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside by filling out an application form that takes less than a minute.

Find out about Death is Wrong – the illustrated children’s book on indefinite life extension.

Future Grind Episode 28: Ryan O’Shea Interviews Gennady Stolyarov II on the State of Transhumanist Politics

Future Grind Episode 28: Ryan O’Shea Interviews Gennady Stolyarov II on the State of Transhumanist Politics

Gennady Stolyarov II
Ryan O’Shea


Listen to Ryan O’Shea’s interview with U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II on the Future Grind podcast, where they discuss the state of Transhumanist politics. Mr. Stolyarov responds to some of the most detailed and well-researched questions that he has been presented with regarding contemporary political issues in the U.S. Transhumanist Party and transhumanist movement. The U.S. Transhumanist Party thanks Mr. O’Shea for enabling a thoughtful discussion that will be of interest to our listeners.

– Watch/listen on YouTube.

– Listen/download on the Future Grind website.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Apply online here in less than a minute.

Description by Ryan O’Shea: In this installment of the Future Grind podcast host Ryan O’Shea sits down with Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the US Transhumanist Party. Gennady took the reins of the Transhumanist Party when the organization’s founder, Zoltan Istvan, stepped down after his campaign for President in 2016. In addition to his work work with the Party, Gennady is a published author and composer, and he has contributed articles to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, the Brighter Brains Institute, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and many more. They discuss the current state of transhumanist politics, why Gennady believes that they are important in the first place, and how he feels that transhumanism can transcend socialism, libertarianism, and all other conventional ideologies.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Meeting at RAAD Fest 2018 – September 22, 2018

U.S. Transhumanist Party Meeting at RAAD Fest 2018 – September 22, 2018


On September 22, 2018, representatives of the U.S. Transhumanist Party met in San Diego, California, during RAAD Fest 2018, in order to provide an overview of recent efforts and future prospects, discuss approaches to advocacy with several leading transhumanist public figures, and field audience questions regarding the transhumanist movement and its goals.

Watch the video of the meeting on YouTube here.

Participants at the meeting included the following individuals:
Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, U.S. Transhumanist Party
Arin Vahanian, Director of Marketing, U.S. Transhumanist Party
Newton Lee, Chairman, California Transhumanist Party, U.S. Transhumanist Party Education and Media Advisor
José Luis Cordeiro, U.S. Transhumanist Party Technology Advisor and Foreign Ambassador to Spain
Natasha Vita-More, Member of Los Angeles City Council (1992-1993), Elected on a Transhumanist Platform, Executive Director of Humanity Plus
Bill Andrews, U.S. Transhumanist Party Biotechnology Advisor
Charlie Kam, Director of Networking, California Transhumanist Party
Elizabeth (Liz) Parrish, U.S. Transhumanist Party Advocacy Advisor

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

Become a Foreign Ambassador for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. Apply here.

Andrés Grases Interviews U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II on Transhumanism and the Transition to the Next Technological Era

Andrés Grases Interviews U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II on Transhumanism and the Transition to the Next Technological Era

Gennady Stolyarov II
Andrés Grases


Andrés Grases, the publisher of the Transhuman Plus website (http://transhumanplus.com/) interviews U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II at RAAD Fest 2018 in San Diego, CA, on September 23, 2018. During the course of this conversation, both the contemporary state of transhumanist politics and future directions are covered – along with the challenges to reforming the educational system, the need to create open access to academic works, the manner in which the transition toward the next era of technologies will occur, the meaning of transhumanism and its applications in the proximate future – including promising advances that we can expect to see during the next several years.

Watch the video here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Apply online here in less than a minute.

How Transhumanism Can Transcend Socialism, Libertarianism, and All Other Conventional Ideologies – Gennady Stolyarov II Presents at the VSIM:18 Conference

How Transhumanism Can Transcend Socialism, Libertarianism, and All Other Conventional Ideologies – Gennady Stolyarov II Presents at the VSIM:18 Conference

Gennady Stolyarov II


Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, discusses the key strengths and weaknesses of libertarianism, socialism, conservatism, and left-liberalism, the common failings of these and all other conventional ideologies, and why transhumanism offers a principled, integrated, dynamic approach for a new era of history, which can overcome all of these failings.

This presentation was delivered virtually by Mr. Stolyarov on September 13, 2018, to the Vanguard Scientific Instruments in Management 2018 (VSIM:18) conference in Ravda, Bulgaria. Afterward, a discussion ensured, in which Professor Angel Marchev, Sr., the conference organizer and the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s Ambassador to Bulgaria, offered his views on the dangers of socialism and the promise of transhumanism, followed by a brief question-and-answer period.

Visit the website of the U.S. Transhumanist Party here.

Download and view the slides of Mr. Stolyarov’s presentation (with hyperlinks) here.

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

Become a Foreign Ambassador for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. Apply here.

The Rational Argumentator’s Sixteenth Anniversary Manifesto

The Rational Argumentator’s Sixteenth Anniversary Manifesto

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 2, 2018
******************************

On August 31, 2018, The Rational Argumentator completed its sixteenth year of publication. TRA is older than Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit; it has outlasted Yahoo! Geocities, Associated Content, Helium, and most smaller online publications in philosophy, politics, and current events. Furthermore, the age of TRA now exceeds half of my lifetime to date. During this time, while the Internet and the external world shifted dramatically many times over, The Rational Argumentator strived to remain a bulwark of consistency – accepting growth in terms of improvement of infrastructure and accumulation of content, but not the tumultuous sweeping away of the old to ostensibly make room for the new. We do not look favorably upon tumultuous upheaval; the future may look radically different from the past and present, but ideally should be built in continuity with both, and with preservation of any beneficial aspects that can possibly be preserved.

The Rational Argumentator has experienced unprecedented visitation during its sixteenth year, receiving 1,501,473 total page views as compared to 1,087,149 total page views during its fifteenth year and 1,430,226 during its twelfth year, which had the highest visitation totals until now. Cumulative lifetime TRA visitation has reached 12,481,258 views. Even as TRA’s publication rate has slowed to 61 features during its sixteenth year – due to various time commitments, such as the work of the United States Transhumanist Party (which published 147 features on its website during the same timeframe) – the content of this magazine has drawn increasing interest. Readers, viewers, and listeners are gravitating toward both old and new features, as TRA generally aims to publish works of timeless relevance. The vaster our archive of content, the greater variety of works and perspectives it spans, the more issues it engages with and reflects upon – the more robust and diverse our audience becomes; the more insulated we become against the vicissitudes of the times and the fickle fluctuations of public sentiment and social-media fads.

None of the above is intended to deny or minimize the challenges faced by those seeking to articulate rational, nuanced, and sophisticated ideas on the contemporary Internet. Highly concerning changes to the consumption and availability of information have occurred over the course of this decade, including the following trends.

  • While social media have been beneficial in terms of rendering personal communication at a distance more viable, the fragmentation of social media and the movement away from the broader “open Internet” have seemingly accelerated. Instead of directly navigating and returning to websites of interest, most people now access content almost exclusively through social-media feeds. Even popular and appealing content may often become constrained within the walls of a particular social network or sub-group thereof, simply due to the “black-box” algorithms of that social network, which influence without explanation who sees what and when, and which may not be reflective of what those individuals would have preferred to see. The constantly changing nature of these algorithms renders it difficult for content creators to maintain steady connections with their audiences. If one adds to the mix the increasing and highly troubling tendency of social networks to actively police the content their members see, we may be returning to a situation where most people find their content inexplicably curated by “gatekeepers” who, in the name of objectivity and often with unconscious biases in play, often end up advancing ulterior agendas not in the users’ interests.
  • While the democratization of access to knowledge and information on the Internet has undoubtedly had numerous beneficial effects, we are also all faced with the problem of “information overload” and the need to prioritize essential bits information within an immense sea which we observe daily, hourly, and by the minute. The major drawback of this situation – in which everyone sees everything in a single feed, often curated by the aforementioned inexplicable algorithms – is the difficulty of even locating information that is more than a day old, as it typically becomes buried far down within the social-media feed. Potential counters exist to this tendency – namely, through the existence of old-fashioned, static websites which publish content that does not adjust and that is fixed to a particular URL, which could be bookmarked and visited time and again. But what proportion of the population has learned this technique of bookmarking and revisitation of older content – instead of simply focusing on the social-media feed of the moment? It is imperative to resist the short-termist tendencies that the design of contemporary social media seems to encourage, as indulging these tendencies has had deleterious impacts on attention spans in an entire epoch of human culture.
  • Undeniably, much interesting and creative content has proliferated on the Internet, with opportunities for both deliberate and serendipitous learning, discovery, and intellectual enrichment. Unfortunately, the emergence of such content has coincided with deleterious shifts in cultural norms away from the expectation of concerted, sequential focus (the only way that human minds can actually achieve at a high level) and toward incessant multi-tasking and the expectation of instantaneous response to any external stimulus, human or automated. The practice of dedicating a block of time to read an article, watch a video, or listen to an audio recording – once a commonplace behavior – has come to be a luxury for those who can wrest segments of time and space away from the whirlwind of external stimuli and impositions within which humans (irrespective of material resources or social position) are increasingly expected to spin. It is fine to engage with others and venture into digital common spaces occasionally or even frequently, but in order for such interactions to be productive, one has to have meaningful content to offer; the creation of such content necessarily requires time away from the commons and a reclamation of the concept of private, solitary focus to read, contemplate, apply, and create.
  • In an environment where the immediate, recent, and short-term-oriented content tends to attract the most attention, this amplifies the impulsive, range-of-the-moment, reactive emotional tendencies of individuals, rather than the thoughtful, long-term-oriented, constructive, rational tendencies. Accordingly, political and cultural discourse become reduced to bitter one-liners that exacerbate polarization, intentional misunderstanding of others, and toxicity of rhetoric. The social networks where this has been most salient have been those that limit the number of characters per post and prioritize quantity of posts over quality and the instantaneity of a response over its thoughtfulness. The infrastructures whose design presupposes that everyone’s expressions are of equal value have produced a reduction of discourse to the lowest common denominator, which is, indeed, quite low. Even major news outlets, where some quality selection is still practiced by the editors, have found that user comments often degenerate into a toxic morass. This is not intended to deny the value of user comments and interaction, in a properly civil and constructive context; nor is it intended to advocate any manner of censorship. Rather, this observation emphatically underscores the need for a return to long-form, static articles and longer written exchanges more generally as the desirable prevailing form of intellectual discourse. (More technologically intensive parallels to this long-form discourse would include long-form audio podcasts or video discussion panels where there is a single stream of conversation or narrative instead of a flurry of competing distractions.) Yes, this form of discourse takes more time and skill. Yes, this means that people have to form complex, coherent thoughts and express them in coherent, grammatically correct sentences. Yes, this means that fewer people will have the ability or inclination participate in that form of discourse. And yes, that may well be the point – because less of the toxicity will make its way completely through the structures which define long-form discourse – and because anyone who can competently learn the norms of long-form discourse, as they have existed throughout the centuries, will remain welcome to take part. Those who are not able or willing to participate can still benefit by spectating and, in the process, learning and developing their own skills.

The Internet was intended, by its early adopters and adherents of open Internet culture – including myself – to catalyze a new Age of Enlightenment through the free availability of information that would break down old prejudices and enable massively expanded awareness of reality and possibilities for improvement. Such a possibility remains, but humans thus far have fallen massively short of realizing it – because the will must be present to utilize constructively the abundance of available resources. Cultivating this will is no easy task; The Rational Argumentator has been pursuing it for sixteen years and will continue to do so. The effects are often subtle, indirect, long-term – more akin to the gradual drift of continents than the upward ascent of a rocket. And yet progress in technology, science, and medicine continues to occur. New art continues to be created; new treatises continue to be written. Some people do learn, and some people’s thinking does improve. There is no alternative except to continue to act in pursuit of a brighter future, and in the hope that others will pursue it as well – that, cumulatively, our efforts will be sufficient to avert the direst crises, make life incrementally safer, healthier, longer, and more comfortable, and, as a civilization, persist beyond the recent troubled times. The Rational Argumentator is a bulwark against the chaos – hopefully one among many – and hopefully many are at work constructing more bulwarks. Within the bulwarks, great creations may have room to develop and flourish – waiting for the right time, once the chaos subsides or is pacified by Reason, to emerge and beautify the world. In the meantime, enjoy all that can be found within our small bulwark, and visit it frequently to help it expand.

Gennady Stolyarov II,
Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

Victory Against the Formican Hordes – Poem by G. Stolyarov II

Victory Against the Formican Hordes – Poem by G. Stolyarov II

G. Stolyarov II


Deep in the crevices where there is scantly light,
Formican hordes amassed, antitheses of right:
The tyrant queen, attendant sycophantic knaves,
Vast quantities of servants – or compliant slaves –
Not even one savant among them to protest
Antagonistic ploys to rouse their dormant nest.
In wanton disregard of property and tact alike
At my abode they militantly sought to strike,
Past every antechamber to the kitchen went,
Detected every speck pursuant to its scent,
In swarms outrageous antics perpetrated,
Blatantly coveted the food refrigerated!

Defiantly I stood against them, justice-bound,
In Reason my advantage could be found.
Against the vast, infestant foe I called to fight
Abundant bait abetted by the Mighty Mite.
Combatant infantry, by gel intoxicated,
Conveyed the poison, as anticipated,
To queen and to the infant larvae of their brood,
With rampant appetites devouring fatal food.
Through errant treachery these looters had invaded,
Thusly, through treachery, their remnant faded.
And yet not one foe would its evil ways recant,
Therefore, no mercy asked – no mercy could I grant.
Mark Antony himself, transplanted from the grave,
Would have scant means these miscreants to save.
Only oblivion did the doomed assailants find.
Rejoice triumphantly, victorious mankind!
As at Lepanto and Antietam, so now here
The valiant defense of right did persevere,
And while Constantinople’s walls once failed,
My adamantine bastion has prevailed!

Observant reader, heed the moral of this tale:
Gargantuan numbers may incessantly assail
What we hold dear with brute, malignant force,
But if ascendant Reason charts a constant course,
No giant, teeming mass man’s fortunes can derail.

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

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

Laura Katrin Weston


Commentary by Gennady Stolyarov II: “Shattered” 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. Along with the three other artworks that I acquired from Dr. Weston – “Teeming”, “Graceful”, and “Squeak” – this print is featured as part of my Longevity Wall.

This work depicts how the forces of ruin can lead once-ornate and beautiful things to become eroded and deteriorated. This process, unfortunately, afflicts human organisms and minds as well, causing much of value to be lost or at least faded with time. Even with age, there remain in everything and everyone traces of the former splendor that can yet potentially be reclaimed – if humanity reconsiders its priorities and decisively commits to the war on ruin, including the quest to overcome aging and death.

Artist’s Description: “Time ravages even the greatest of minds, shattering them into a chaotic cloud of misfired potential. Once simple tasks become impossible, we become unable to live without aid, to live for ourselves any longer.

“I don’t know about you… But I don’t want that future. We have the power to change that. All we need is more support.”

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.

Why California Cities Are Becoming Unlivable – Article by Andrew Berryhill

Why California Cities Are Becoming Unlivable – Article by Andrew Berryhill

Andrew Berryhill
******************************

California has the highest poverty rate in the U.S. and is rated dead last in quality of life.

In July, the mayor of San Francisco frankly stated that poverty in the city is so bad, that “there is more feces on the sidewalks than I’ve ever seen.” And it’s not just her – the local NBC investigative unit found a “dangerous mix of drug needles, garbage, and feces throughout downtown San Francisco.”

While such conditions are thankfully not widespread, California still has the highest rate of poverty of any state when factoring in living costs and is rated dead last for quality of life. It’s no wonder that from 2007 to 2016, California lost a million residents on net to domestic migration.

This plight may appear counterintuitive since California’s economy is booming. If the state were an independent country, its economy would rank as the 5th largest in the world. However, a high GDP does not necessarily entail socioeconomic wellbeing.

So, what’s the main problem ailing California and creating such a high cost of living?

Housing Costs

How bad are housing costs? The median price of a home in California is over $600,000 (compared with $300,000 nationally) and a recent study found that:

“Across California, more than 4 in 10 households had unaffordable housing costs, exceeding 30 percent of household income, in 2015. More than 1 in 5 households statewide faced severe housing cost burdens, spending more than half of their income toward housing expenses.”

Housing costs are so high that in San Francisco and San Mateo counties the government considers a household of four making $105,350 as “low income”.

And it’s not just low and middle-income families that are suffering – even many “elite” technology workers can barely make ends meet. Lucrative six-figure salaries don’t go far when you live in the most expensive housing markets in America while also paying some of the highest taxes.

You can save money by living in the suburbs, but multi-hour commutes in soul-crushing traffic may await. Is such an arrangement worth it? Many have said “no” and moved to other states. While their new jobs elsewhere might pay less, other benefits more than make up for it.

But why is the housing situation in California so terrible?

It’s easy to simply say “supply and demand” – so many people have moved to cities that housing construction can’t keep up, causing real estate prices and rents to skyrocket.

However, this invites an important question: why can’t residential developers build fast enough?

Regulations

Regulations play an especially large role in the San Francisco Bay Area, which shockingly includes 15 of the 30 cities with the highest rents in the country. One article explains these struggles well:

For new housing developments in San Francisco, there’s a preliminary review, which takes six months.

Then there are also chances for your neighbors to appeal your permit on either an entitlement or environmental basis. The city also requires extensive public notice of proposed projects even if they already meet neighborhood plans, which have taken several years of deliberation to produce. Neighbors can appeal your project for something as insignificant as the shade of paint. . .

If those fail, neighborhood groups can also file a CEQA or environmental lawsuit under California state law, challenging the environment impact of the project. . .

Then if that fails, opponents can put a development directly on a citywide ballot with enough signatures. . . That’s what happened with the controversial 8 Washington luxury condo project last November even though it had already gone through eight years of deliberation.

These barriers add unpredictable costs and years of delays for every developer, which are ultimately passed onto buyers and renters. It also means that developers have problems attracting capital financing in weaker economic years because of the political uncertainty around getting a project passed.”

Why aren’t politicians working to fix this? Self-preservation. Here’s the unfortunate reality:

“The reason the San Francisco city government won’t fix things that seem obvious . . . is because it fears a backlash from the hundreds of neighborhood associations that blanket the city and can reliably turn people out to the polls.”

Community Sentiment

This cultural opposition to development is not a modern phenomenon:

“San Francisco’s orientation towards growth control has 50 years of history behind it and more than 80 percent of the city’s housing stock is either owner-occupied or rent controlled. The city’s height limits, its rent control and its formidable permitting process are all products of tenant, environmental and preservationist movements that have arisen and fallen over decades.”

Development proposals have been shot down for reasons ranging from burrowing owl protection to complaints that the size of new residential buildings will block sunshine and thereby “devalue human life”.

The power of this “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) movement has been considerable, but counter-movements are growing. When one homeowner recently complained in a Berkeley city council meeting that a proposed residential building would block sunshine for her zucchini garden, one young woman angrily responded: “You’re talking about zucchinis? Really? Because I’m struggling to pay rent.” Young workers facing unaffordable rents are increasingly fed up with petty opposition to more affordable housing.

However, Californian cities still seem more preoccupied with banning strawscocktail swordsscootersdelivery robots, and workplace cafeterias.Even when politicians try to help, they frequently ignore the root causes of the issue. For example, California Representative Kamala Harris recently proposed a bill called the “Rent Relief Act” that would provide a tax credit for people spending over 30 percent of their income on rent.

Harris’ proposal only addresses symptoms of an underlying disease and would almost certainly be counterproductive. It doesn’t encourage more housing construction, which is the only real solution.

Until sweeping housing reform to enable residential development is passed at the state and local levels, Californians will keep fleeing to Texas, Nevada, and Arizona. I don’t blame them.

Andrew Berryhill is an Alcuin Fellow at Intellectual Takeout and a rising senior at Hillsdale College majoring in economics. Andrew has interned on Capitol Hill and was a research fellow for Hillsdale’s economics department. In his spare time, he enjoys practicing the violin and playing golf.

This post (“Why California Cities Are Becoming Unlivable“) was originally published on Intellectual Takeout by Andrew Berryhill.

Review of Ray Kurzweil’s “How to Create a Mind” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Review of Ray Kurzweil’s “How to Create a Mind” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

G. Stolyarov II


How to Create a Mind (2012) by inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil sets forth a case for engineering minds that are able to emulate the complexity of human thought (and exceed it) without the need to reverse-engineer every detail of the human brain or of the plethora of content with which the brain operates. Kurzweil persuasively describes the human conscious mind as based on hierarchies of pattern-recognition algorithms which, even when based on relatively simple rules and heuristics, combine to give rise to the extremely sophisticated emergent properties of conscious awareness and reasoning about the world. How to Create a Mind takes readers through an integrated tour of key historical advances in computer science, physics, mathematics, and neuroscience – among other disciplines – and describes the incremental evolution of computers and artificial-intelligence algorithms toward increasing capabilities – leading toward the not-too-distant future (the late 2020s, according to Kurzweil) during which computers would be able to emulate human minds.

Kurzweil’s fundamental claim is that there is nothing which a biological mind is able to do, of which an artificial mind would be incapable in principle, and that those who posit that the extreme complexity of biological minds is insurmountable are missing the metaphorical forest for the trees. Analogously, although a fractal or a procedurally generated world may be extraordinarily intricate and complex in their details, they can arise on the basis of carrying out simple and conceptually fathomable rules. If appropriate rules are used to construct a system that takes in information about the world and processes and analyzes it in ways conceptually analogous to a human mind, Kurzweil holds that the rest is a matter of having adequate computational and other information-technology resources to carry out the implementation. Much of the first half of the book is devoted to the workings of the human mind, the functions of the various parts of the brain, and the hierarchical pattern recognition in which they engage. Kurzweil also discusses existing “narrow” artificial-intelligence systems, such as IBM’s Watson, language-translation programs, and the mobile-phone “assistants” that have been released in recent years by companies such as Apple and Google. Kurzweil observes that, thus far, the most effective AIs have been developed using a combination of approaches, having some aspects of prescribed rule-following alongside the ability to engage in open-ended “learning” and extrapolation upon the information which they encounter. Kurzweil draws parallels to the more creative or even “transcendent” human abilities – such as those of musical prodigies – and observes that the manner in which those abilities are made possible is not too dissimilar in principle.

With regard to some of Kurzweil’s characterizations, however, I question whether they are universally applicable to all human minds – particularly where he mentions certain limitations – or whether they only pertain to some observed subset of human minds. For instance, Kurzweil describes the ostensible impossibility of reciting the English alphabet backwards without error (absent explicit study of the reverse order), because of the sequential nature in which memories are formed. Yet, upon reading the passage in question, I was able to recite the alphabet backwards without error upon my first attempt. It is true that this occurred more slowly than the forward recitation, but I am aware of why I was able to do it; I perceive larger conceptual structures or bodies of knowledge as mental “objects” of a sort – and these objects possess “landscapes” on which it is possible to move in various directions; the memory is not “hard-coded” in a particular sequence. One particular order of movement does not preclude others, even if those others are less familiar – but the key to successfully reciting the alphabet backwards is to hold it in one’s awareness as a single mental object and move along its “landscape” in the desired direction. (I once memorized how to pronounce ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ as a single continuous word; any other order is slower, but it is quite doable as long as one fully knows the contents of the “object” and keeps it in focus.) This is also possible to do with other bodies of knowledge that one encounters frequently – such as dates of historical events: one visualizes them along the mental object of a timeline, visualizes the entire object, and then moves along it or drops in at various points using whatever sequences are necessary to draw comparisons or identify parallels (e.g., which events happened contemporaneously, or which events influenced which others). I do not know what fraction of the human population carries out these techniques – as the ability to recall facts and dates has always seemed rather straightforward to me, even as it challenged many others. Yet there is no reason why the approaches for more flexible operation with common elements of our awareness cannot be taught to large numbers of people, as these techniques are a matter of how the mind chooses to process, model, and ultimately recombine the data which it encounters. The more general point in relation to Kurzweil’s characterization of human minds is that there may be a greater diversity of human conceptual frameworks and approaches toward cognition than Kurzweil has described. Can an artificially intelligent system be devised to encompass this diversity? This is certainly possible, since the architecture of AI systems would be more flexible than the biological structures of the human brain. Yet it would be necessary for true artificial general intelligences to be able not only to learn using particular predetermined methods, but also to teach themselves new techniques for learning and conceptualization altogether – just as humans are capable of today.

The latter portion of the book is more explicitly philosophical and devoted to thought experiments regarding the nature of the mind, consciousness, identity, free will, and the kinds of transformations that may or may not preserve identity. Many of these discussions are fascinating and erudite – and Kurzweil often transcends fashionable dogmas by bringing in perspectives such as the compatibilist case for free will and the idea that the experiments performed by Benjamin Libet (that showed the existence of certain signals in the brain prior to the conscious decision to perform an activity) do not rule out free will or human agency. It is possible to conceive of such signals as “preparatory work” within the brain to present a decision that could then be accepted or rejected by the conscious mind. Kurzweil draws an analogy to government officials preparing a course of action for the president to either approve or disapprove. “Since the ‘brain’ represented by this analogy involves the unconscious processes of the neocortex (that is, the officials under the president) as well as the conscious processes (the president), we would see neural activity as well as actual actions taking place prior to the official decision’s being made” (p. 231). Kurzweil’s thoughtfulness is an important antidote to commonplace glib assertions that “Experiment X proved that Y [some regularly experienced attribute of humans] is an illusion” – assertions which frequently tend toward cynicism and nihilism if widely adopted and extrapolated upon. It is far more productive to deploy both science and philosophy toward seeking to understand more directly apparent phenomena of human awareness, sensation, and decision-making – instead of rejecting the existence of such phenomena contrary to the evidence of direct experience. Especially if the task is to engineer a mind that has at least the faculties of the human brain, then Kurzweil is wise not to dismiss aspects such as consciousness, free will, and the more elevated emotions, which have been known to philosophers and ordinary people for millennia, and which only predominantly in the 20th century has it become fashionable to disparage in some circles. Kurzweil’s only vulnerability in this area is that he often resorts to statements that he accepts the existence of these aspects “on faith” (although it does not appear to be a particularly religious faith; it is, rather, more analogous to “leaps of faith” in the sense that Albert Einstein referred to them). Kurzweil does not need to do this, as he himself outlines sufficient logical arguments to be able to rationally conclude that attributes such as awareness, free will, and agency upon the world – which have been recognized across predominant historical and colloquial understandings, irrespective of particular religious or philosophical flavors – indeed actually exist and should not be neglected when modeling the human mind or developing artificial minds.

One of the thought experiments presented by Kurzweil is vital to consider, because the process by which an individual’s mind and body might become “upgraded” through future technologies would determine whether that individual is actually preserved – in terms of the aspects of that individual that enable one to conclude that that particular person, and not merely a copy, is still alive and conscious:

Consider this thought experiment: You are in the future with technologies more advanced than today’s. While you are sleeping, some group scans your brain and picks up every salient detail. Perhaps they do this with blood-cell-sized scanning machines traveling in the capillaries of your brain or with some other suitable noninvasive technology, but they have all of the information about your brain at a particular point in time. They also pick up and record any bodily details that might reflect on your state of mind, such as the endocrine system. They instantiate this “mind file” in a morphological body that looks and moves like you and has the requisite subtlety and suppleness to pass for you. In the morning you are informed about this transfer and you watch (perhaps without being noticed) your mind clone, whom we’ll call You 2. You 2 is talking about his or he life as if s/he were you, and relating how s/he discovered that very morning that s/he had been given a much more durable new version 2.0 body. […] The first question to consider is: Is You 2 conscious? Well, s/he certainly seems to be. S/he passes the test I articulated earlier, in that s/he has the subtle cues of becoming a feeling, conscious person. If you are conscious, then so too is You 2.

So if you were to, uh, disappear, no one would notice. You 2 would go around claiming to be you. All of your friends and loved ones would be content with the situation and perhaps pleased that you now have a more durable body and mental substrate than you used to have. Perhaps your more philosophically minded friends would express concerns, but for the most party, everybody would be happy, including you, or at least the person who is convincingly claiming to be you.

So we don’t need your old body and brain anymore, right? Okay if we dispose of it?

You’re probably not going to go along with this. I indicated that the scan was noninvasive, so you are still around and still conscious. Moreover your sense of identity is still with you, not with You 2, even though You 2 thinks s/he is a continuation of you. You 2 might not even be aware that you exist or ever existed. In fact you would not be aware of the existence of You 2 either, if we hadn’t told you about it.

Our conclusion? You 2 is conscious but is a different person than you – You 2 has a different identity. S/he is extremely similar, much more so than a mere genetic clone, because s/he also shares all of your neocortical patterns and connections. Or should I say s/he shared those patterns at the moment s/he was created. At that point, the two of you started to go your own ways, neocortically speaking. You are still around. You are not having the same experiences as You 2. Bottom line: You 2 is not you.  (How to Create a Mind, pp. 243-244)

This thought experiment is essentially the same one as I independently posited in my 2010 essay “How Can Live Forever?: What Does and Does Not Preserve the Self”:

Consider what would happen if a scientist discovered a way to reconstruct, atom by atom, an identical copy of my body, with all of its physical structures and their interrelationships exactly replicating my present condition. If, thereafter, I continued to exist alongside this new individual – call him GSII-2 – it would be clear that he and I would not be the same person. While he would have memories of my past as I experienced it, if he chose to recall those memories, I would not be experiencing his recollection. Moreover, going forward, he would be able to think different thoughts and undertake different actions than the ones I might choose to pursue. I would not be able to directly experience whatever he choose to experience (or experiences involuntarily). He would not have my ‘I-ness’ – which would remain mine only.

Thus, Kurzweil and I agree, at least preliminarily, that an identically constructed copy of oneself does not somehow obtain the identity of the original. Kurzweil and I also agree that a sufficiently gradual replacement of an individual’s cells and perhaps other larger functional units of the organism, including a replacement with non-biological components that are integrated into the body’s processes, would not destroy an individual’s identity (assuming it can be done without collateral damage to other components of the body). Then, however, Kurzweil posits the scenario where one, over time, transforms into an entity that is materially identical to the “You 2” as posited above. He writes:

But we come back to the dilemma I introduced earlier. You, after a period of gradual replacement, are equivalent to You 2 in the scan-and-instantiate scenario, but we decided that You 2 in that scenario does not have the same identity as you. So where does that leave us? (How to Create a Mind, p. 247)

Kurzweil and I are still in agreement that “You 2” in the gradual-replacement scenario could legitimately be a continuation of “You” – but our views diverge when Kurzweil states, “My resolution of the dilemma is this: It is not true that You 2 is not you – it is you. It is just that there are now two of you. That’s not so bad – if you think you are a good thing, then two of you is even better” (p. 247). I disagree. If I (via a continuation of my present vantage point) cannot have the direct, immediate experiences and sensations of GSII-2, then GSII-2 is not me, but rather an individual with a high degree of similarity to me, but with a separate vantage point and separate physical processes, including consciousness. I might not mind the existence of GSII-2 per se, but I would mind if that existence were posited as a sufficient reason to be comfortable with my present instantiation ceasing to exist.  Although Kurzweil correctly reasons through many of the initial hypotheses and intermediate steps leading from them, he ultimately arrives at a “pattern” view of identity, with which I differ. I hold, rather, a “process” view of identity, where a person’s “I-ness” remains the same if “the continuity of bodily processes is preserved even as their physical components are constantly circulating into and out of the body. The mind is essentially a process made possible by the interactions of the brain and the remainder of nervous system with the rest of the body. One’s ‘I-ness’, being a product of the mind, is therefore reliant on the physical continuity of bodily processes, though not necessarily an unbroken continuity of higher consciousness.” (“How Can Live Forever?: What Does and Does Not Preserve the Self”) If only a pattern of one’s mind were preserved and re-instantiated, the result may be potentially indistinguishable from the original person to an external observer, but the original individual would not directly experience the re-instantiation. It is not the content of one’s experiences or personality that is definitive of “I-ness” – but rather the more basic fact that one experiences anything as oneself and not from the vantage point of another individual; this requires the same bodily processes that give rise to the conscious mind to operate without complete interruption. (The extent of permissible partial interruption is difficult to determine precisely and open to debate; general anesthesia is not sufficient to disrupt I-ness, but what about cryonics or shorter-term “suspended animation?). For this reason, the pursuit of biological life extension of one’s present organism remains crucial; one cannot rely merely on one’s “mindfile” being re-instantiated in a hypothetical future after one’s demise. The future of medical care and life extension may certainly involve non-biological enhancements and upgrades, but in the context of augmenting an existing organism, not disposing of that organism.

How to Create a Mind is highly informative for artificial-intelligence researchers and laypersons alike, and it merits revisiting a reference for useful ideas regarding how (at least some) minds operate. It facilitates thoughtful consideration of both the practical methods and more fundamental philosophical implications of the quest to improve the flexibility and autonomy with which our technologies interact with the external world and augment our capabilities. At the same time, as Kurzweil acknowledges, those technologies often lead us to “outsource” many of our own functions to them – as is the case, for instance, with vast amounts of human memories and creations residing on smartphones and in the “cloud”. If the timeframes of arrival of human-like AI capabilities match those described by Kurzweil in his characterization of the “law of accelerating returns”, then questions regarding what constitutes a mind sufficiently like our own – and how we will treat those minds – will become ever more salient in the proximate future. It is important, however, for interest in advancing this field to become more widespread, and for political, cultural, and attitudinal barriers to its advancement to be lifted – for, unlike Kurzweil, I do not consider the advances of technology to be inevitable or unstoppable. We humans maintain the responsibility of persuading enough other humans that the pursuit of these advances is worthwhile and will greatly improve the length and quality of our lives, while enhancing our capabilities and attainable outcomes. Every movement along an exponential growth curve is due to a deliberate push upward by the efforts of the minds of the creators of progress and using the machines they have built.

This article is made available pursuant to the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author, Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II). Learn more about Mr. Stolyarov here