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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.

Gennady Stolyarov II Interviewed by Nikola Danaylov of Singularity.FM

Gennady Stolyarov II Interviewed by Nikola Danaylov of Singularity.FM

Gennady Stolyarov II
Nikola Danaylov


On March 31, 2018, Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, was interviewed by Nikola Danaylov, a.k.a. Socrates, of Singularity.FM. A synopsis, audio download, and embedded video of the interview can be found on Singularity.FM here. You can also watch the YouTube video recording of the interview here.

Apparently this interview, nearly three hours in length, broke the record for the length of Nikola Danaylov’s in-depth, wide-ranging conversations on philosophy, politics, and the future.  The interview covered both some of Mr. Stolyarov’s personal work and ideas, such as the illustrated children’s book Death is Wrong, as well as the efforts and aspirations of the U.S. Transhumanist Party. The conversation also delved into such subjects as the definition of transhumanism, intelligence and morality, the technological Singularity or Singularities, health and fitness, and even cats. Everyone will find something of interest in this wide-ranging discussion.

Visit the U.S. Transhumanist Party website at http://transhumanist-party.org. To help advance the goals of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, as described in Mr. Stolyarov’s comments during the interview, become a member for free, no matter where you reside. Click here to fill out a membership application.

Beginners’ Explanation of Transhumanism – Presentation by Bobby Ridge and Gennady Stolyarov II

Beginners’ Explanation of Transhumanism – Presentation by Bobby Ridge and Gennady Stolyarov II

Bobby Ridge
Gennady Stolyarov II


Bobby Ridge, Secretary-Treasurer of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, and Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, provide a broad “big-picture” overview of transhumanism and major ongoing and future developments in emerging technologies that present the potential to revolutionize the human condition and resolve the age-old perils and limitations that have plagued humankind.

This is a beginners’ overview of transhumanism – which means that it is for everyone, including those who are new to transhumanism and the life-extension movement, as well as those who have been involved in it for many years – since, when it comes to dramatically expanding human longevity and potential, we are all beginners at the beginning of what could be our species’ next great era.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside.

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

In the background of some of the video segments is a painting now owned by Mr. Stolyarov, from “The Singularity is Here” series by artist Leah Montalto.

U.S. Transhumanist Party / Institute of Exponential Sciences Discussion Panel on Cryptocurrencies

U.S. Transhumanist Party / Institute of Exponential Sciences Discussion Panel on Cryptocurrencies

Gennady Stolyarov II
Demian Zivkovic
Chantha Lueung
Laurens Wes
Moritz Bierling


On Sunday, February 18, 2018, the U.S. Transhumanist Party and Institute of Exponential Sciences hosted an expert discussion panel on how cryptocurrencies and blockchain-based technologies will possibly affect future economies and everyday life. Panelists were asked about their views regarding what is the most significant promise of cryptocurrencies, as well as what are the most significant current obstacles to its realization.

Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, and Demian Zivkovic, President of the Institute of Exponential Sciences, are the moderators for this panel.

Panelists

Moritz Bierling

Moritz Bierling, in his work for Exosphere Academy – a learning and problem-solving community – has organized a Space Elevator bootcamp, an Artificial Intelligence conference, and an Ethereum training course while also authoring a Primer on the emerging discipline of Alternate Reality Design. As Blockchain Reporter for the Berlin blockchain startup Neufund, he has educated the city’s Venture Capital and startup scene, as well as the broader public on the applications of this groundbreaking technology. His work has appeared in a number of blockchain-related and libertarian media outlets such as CoinTelegraph, The Freeman’s Perspective, Bitcoin.com, and the School Sucks Project. See his website at MoritzBierling.com.

Chantha Lueung

Chantha Lueung is the creator of Crypto-city.com, which is a social-media website focused on building the future world of cryptocurrencies by connecting crypto-enthusiasts and the general public about cryptocurrencies. He is a full-time trader and also participates in the HyperStake coin project, which is a Bitcoin alternative that uses the very energy-efficient Proof of Stake protocol, also known as POS.

Laurens Wes

Laurens Wes is a Dutch engineer and chief engineering officer at the Institute of Exponential Sciences. Furthermore he is the owner of Intrifix, a company focused on custom 3D-printed products and software solutions. He has also studied Artificial Intelligence and is very interested in transhumanism, longevity, entrepreneurship, cryptocurrencies/blockchain technology, and art (and a lot more). He is a regular speaker for the IES and is very committed to educating the public on accelerated technological developments and exponential sciences.

The YouTube question/comment chat for this Q&A session has been archived here and is also provided below.

Visit the U.S. Transhumanist Party Facebook page here.

See the U.S. Transhumanist Party FAQ here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside.

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

References

Chat Log from the Panel Discussion on Cryptocurrencies of February 18, 2018

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Abstract Orderism Fractals 68, 69, 70, 71, and 72 – Art by G. Stolyarov II

Abstract Orderism Fractals 68, 69, 70, 71, and 72 – Art by G. Stolyarov II

G. Stolyarov II

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Abstract Orderism Fractals 68, 69, 70, 71, and 72 were created in December 2017 as gifts for individuals who were instrumental to advancing the work of the United States Transhumanist Party or who have otherwise assisted me in profound ways. Each fractal communicates an aspect of the personality, values, and work of the person to whom it is dedicated.

Navigate to Individual Fractals

Abstract Orderism Fractal 68
Abstract Orderism Fractal 69
Abstract Orderism Fractal 70
Abstract Orderism Fractal 71
Abstract Orderism Fractal 72

Abstract Orderism Fractal 68

Abstract Orderism Fractal 68 – by G. Stolyarov II

Note: Left-click on this image to get a full view of this digital work of fractal art.

Abstract Orderism Fractal 68 is dedicated to Adeel Khan – a polymath whose never-ending curiosity and willingness to engage in discourse on a myriad of topics are just the attitudes that are necessary to achieve meaningful progress and make sense out of a complex world. Many of Adeel’s ideals align closely with mine, and he appreciates the multiple facets of the mindset needed to bring humankind into its next era – from the embrace of scientific reasoning to the support of the individual’s liberty to innovate.

Like Adeel’s interests, this fractal branches out in many different directions, but there are common overarching themes of improving our species! The path(s) toward a better world may be spiral in nature, but let all of us earnest thinkers explore them or forge our own.

Abstract Orderism Fractal 69

Abstract Orderism Fractal 69 – by G. Stolyarov II

Note: Left-click on this image to get a full view of this digital work of fractal art.

Abstract Orderism Fractal 69 is dedicated to B.J. Murphy, who has been a steadfast ally and a major contributor to the success of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, of which he serves as the Director of Social Media.

This fractal is gear-like in shape and in the impression of rotation it conveys. The gears at many scales symbolize the technologies that will form the backbone of the new transhuman civilization. B.J. extensively monitors, writes about, and contributes insights to the development of new technologies and entrepreneurial ventures, both on a large scale (for instance, space colonization) and on a small one (for instance, genetic engineering or cryptocurrencies, which exist as bits of code inhabiting physically tiny computer storage drives). The coppery orange color of this fractal is, of course, fitting for gears, but it also completes the color scheme for the U.S. Transhumanist Party, whose colors are orange and black. Orange, in particular, depicts the new political paradigm we seek to bring about. On the visible-light spectrum, orange is between red and yellow. In conventional politics, red has often been associated with socialism, while yellow has often found uses in libertarian symbols. B.J. has a history of involvement with socialist ideas and causes, while I have a (small “l”) libertarian background and sympathies (although the world and life are complicated!) – and yet the future cannot be won by either socialism or libertarianism as such. Rather, the orange color evokes our attempt to take the best aspects of these movements, leave behind ideas that did not anticipate the technological future, and invite all thinkers of good will to participate in the creation of the new era, whose political ideology will differ immensely from anything that came before. One reason why the Transhumanist Party has remained ecumenical and diverse – without being able to be pigeonholed as either “right” or “left” – is because B.J., like me and the rest of our Officer team, has understood and embraced the desirability of keeping it out of the political trenches and, instead, focused toward the stars.

Abstract Orderism Fractal 70

Abstract Orderism Fractal 70 – by G. Stolyarov II

Note: Left-click on this image to get a full view of this digital work of fractal art.

Abstract Orderism Fractal 70  is dedicated to Kim Bodenhamer Smith, who is herself an artist and combines a unique and extensive variety of passions and activities. One of these activities is unicycling in caves. (I am not sure just how she does it, but she does!) If you follow the progression of the circles in the center of this fractal, you will see the resemblance to a time-lapse of a unicycle wheel entering a cavernous tunnel. Of course, I made this fractal more colorful than the typical cave, because that would convey Kim’s personality more accurately.

In addition to sharing a commitment to truth and justice, Kim also has a highly creative mind and thinks outside of conventional parameters to seek solutions to today’s problems and ways to improve life on both large and small scales. She contributed great insights to our recent Discussion Panel on Art and Transhumanism, and she embraces technology and the innovative use of media in ways that get people thinking about how the world might be changed for the better. She has been a great ally to the U.S. Transhumanist Party as we seek these new paths that will lift humankind into its new era of advancement.

Abstract Orderism Fractal 71

Abstract Orderism Fractal 71 - by G. Stolyarov IIAbstract Orderism Fractal 71 – by G. Stolyarov II

Note: Left-click on this image to get a full view of this digital work of fractal art.

Abstract Orderism Fractal 71 is an example of what happens when an artificial intelligence is fed desserts. I started out with a fractal that somewhat resembled an ornate display dish on which desserts might be served. Then I used the Google Deep Dream Generator to sequentially feed it images of cakes and cupcakes by Tiffany Henderson Bateman, who has a thriving baking business. As the AI was “dreaming” of delicious treats, the fractal was transformed! J

Abstract Orderism Fractal 72

Abstract Orderism Fractal 72 - by G. Stolyarov IIAbstract Orderism Fractal 72 – by G. Stolyarov II

Note: Left-click on this image to get a full view of this digital work of fractal art.

Abstract Orderism Fractal 72 is dedicated to John Marlowe, whose staunch advocacy for patients of rare diseases is greatly needed in today’s medical system. In spite of his own struggles, John has found the time and energy to contribute to the transhumanist movement and has been a great friend of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, which embraces any and all efforts to increase medical research and funding toward combating as many rare diseases as possible. John has offered excellent insights on films and science fiction at the Discussion Panel on Art and Transhumanism, and I also enjoyed conversing with him at length at the Super Longevity Holiday Party in Newport Beach. John has been there for our movement and for me personally when we needed both a thoughtful and encouraging voice. We will be there for him and for everyone who needs the public, entrepreneurs, and officials alike to recognize the urgency of fighting every disease with the resources at our disposal.

This fractal might be best interpreted as a view from the top down of an upward spiral of progress, from which luminous flames fan out. This can be seen as an illustration that, from the advancement of medical science in general, specific insights and breakthroughs will arise to cure one disease after another – including rare ailments with no known cures today. We do not always know what the breakthroughs will be or which diseases will be defeated when – but the combination of scientifically informed hope and the ceaseless outward pushing of the boundaries of knowledge will improve the chances of as many people as possible. We have a long struggle ahead to win the war against disease and death, but with John as an ally, the Transhumanist Party will strive to make concrete differences for as many people as possible along the way.

About the Abstract Orderism Fractals

Each fractal above is a digital artwork that was created by Mr. Stolyarov in Apophysis, a free program that facilitates deliberate manipulation of randomly generated fractals into intelligible shapes.

This fractal is an extension of Mr. Stolyarov’s artistic style of Abstract Orderism, whose goal is the creation of abstract objects that are appealing by virtue of their geometric intricacy — a demonstration of the order that man can both discover in the universe and bring into existence through his own actions and applications of the laws of nature.

Fractal art is based on the idea of the spontaneous order – which is pivotal in economics, culture, and human civilization itself. Now, using computer technology, spontaneous orders can be harnessed in individual art works as well.

See the index of Mr. Stolyarov’s art works.

Jessica Milne – Presentation on Decentralizing Trust at the California Transhumanist Party Leadership Meeting

Jessica Milne – Presentation on Decentralizing Trust at the California Transhumanist Party Leadership Meeting

Jessica Milne


The California Transhumanist Party held its inaugural Leadership Meeting on January 27, 2018.

Jessica Milne, the California Transhumanist Party’s Director of Information Science and Technology, delivered a presentation entitled, “De-Centralizing Trust: A map to a better tomorrow”, on the subject of organizational dynamics and the various roles individuals tend to fall into in today’s organizations (as well as whether there might be a better way). This video includes a recording of the presentation and the subsequent interaction with the audience, including U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II, California Transhumanist Party Chairman Newton Lee, and California Transhumanist Party Director of Networking Charlie Kam.

Watch the first video from the California Transhumanist Party Leadership Meeting, featuring a presentation by Newton Lee and ensuing discussion on Transhumanist political efforts, here.

Visit the website of the California Transhumanist Party:http://www.californiatranshumanistparty.org/index.html

Read the U.S. Transhumanist Party Constitution: http://transhumanist-party.org/constitution/

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free: http://transhumanist-party.org/membership/

(If you reside in California, this would automatically render you a member of the California Transhumanist Party.)

California Transhumanist Party Leadership Meeting – Presentation by Newton Lee and Discussion on Transhumanist Political Efforts

California Transhumanist Party Leadership Meeting – Presentation by Newton Lee and Discussion on Transhumanist Political Efforts

Newton Lee
Gennady Stolyarov II
Bobby Ridge
Charlie Kam


The California Transhumanist Party held its inaugural Leadership Meeting on January 27, 2018. Newton Lee, Chairman of the California Transhumanist Party and Education and Media Advisor of the U.S. Transhumanist Party,  outlined the three Core Ideals of the California Transhumanist Party (modified versions of the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s Core Ideals), the forthcoming book “Transhumanism: In the Image of Humans” – which he is curating and which will contain essays from leading transhumanist thinkers in a variety of realms, and possibilities for outreach, future candidates, and collaboration with the U.S. Transhumanist Party and Transhumanist Parties in other States. U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II contributed by providing an overview of the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s current operations and possibilities for running or endorsing candidates for office in the coming years.

Visit the website of the California Transhumanist Party:http://www.californiatranshumanistparty.org/index.html

Read the U.S. Transhumanist Party Constitution: http://transhumanist-party.org/constitution/

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free: http://transhumanist-party.org/membership/

(If you reside in California, this would automatically render you a member of the California Transhumanist Party.)

Review of Philip Tetlock’s “Superforecasting” – Article by Adam Alonzi

Review of Philip Tetlock’s “Superforecasting” – Article by Adam Alonzi

The New Renaissance Hat
Adam Alonzi
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Alexander Consulting the Oracle of Apollo, Louis Jean Francois Lagrenée. 1789, Oil on Canvas.

“All who drink of this treatment recover in a short time, except those whom it does not help, who all die. It is obvious, therefore, that it fails only in incurable cases.”

-Galen

Before the advent of evidence-based medicine, most physicians took an attitude like Galen’s toward their prescriptions. If their remedies did not work, surely the fault was with their patient. For centuries scores of revered doctors did not consider putting bloodletting or trepanation to the test. Randomized trials to evaluate the efficacy of a treatment were not common practice. Doctors like Archie Cochrane, who fought to make them part of standard protocol, were met with fierce resistance. Philip Tetlock, author of Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction (2015), contends that the state of forecasting in the 21st century is strikingly similar to medicine in the 19th. Initiatives like the Good Judgement Project (GJP), a website that allows anyone to make predictions about world events, have shown that even a discipline that is largely at the mercy of chance can be put on a scientific footing.

More than once the author reminds us that the key to success in this endeavor is not what you think or what you know, but how you think. For Tetlock pundits like Thomas Friedman are the “exasperatingly evasive” Galens of the modern era. In the footnotes he lets the reader know he chose Friedman as target strictly because of his prominence. There are many like him. Tetlock’s academic work comparing random selections with those of professionals led media outlets to publish, and a portion of their readers to conclude, that expert opinion is no more accurate than a dart-throwing chimpanzee. What the undiscerning did not consider, however, is not all of the experts who participated failed to do better than chance.

Daniel Kahneman hypothesized that “attentive readers of the New York Times…may be only slightly worse” than these experts corporations and governments so handsomely recompense. This turned out to be a conservative guess. The participants in the Good Judgement Project outperformed all control groups, including one composed of professional intelligence analysts with access to classified information. This hodgepodge of retired bird watchers, unemployed programmers, and news junkies did 30% better than the “pros.” More importantly, at least to readers who want to gain a useful skillset as well as general knowledge, the managers of the GJP have identified qualities and ways of thinking that separate “superforecasters” from the rest of us. Fortunately they are qualities we can all cultivate.

While the merits of his macroeconomic theories can be debated, John Maynard Keynes was an extremely successful investor during one of the bleakest periods in international finance. This was no doubt due in part to his willingness to make allowance for new information and his grasp of probability. Participants in the GJP display open-mindedness, an ability and willingness to repeatedly update their forecasts, a talent to neither under- nor over-react to new information by putting it into a broader context,  and a predilection for mathematical thinking (though those interviewed admitted they rarely used an explicit equation to calculate their answer). The figures they give also tend to be more precise than their less successful peers. This “granularity” may seem ridiculous at first. I must confess that when I first saw estimates on the GJP of 34% or 59%, I would chuckle a bit. How, I asked myself, is a single percentage point meaningful? Aren’t we just dealing with rough approximations? Apparently not.

Tetlock reminds us that the GJP does not deal with nebulous questions like “Who will be president in 2027?” or “Will a level 9 earthquake hit California two years from now?” However, there are questions that are not, in the absence of unforeseeable Black Swan events, completely inscrutable. Who will win the Mongolian presidency? Will Uruguay sign a trade agreement with Laos in the next six months? These are parts of highly complex systems, but they can be broken down into tractable subproblems.

Using numbers instead of words like “possibly”, “probably”, “unlikely”, etc., seems unnatural. It gives us wiggle room and plausible deniability. They also cannot be put on any sort of record to keep score of how well we’re doing. Still, to some it may seem silly, pedantic, or presumptuous. If Joint Chiefs of Staff had given the exact figure they had in mind (3 to 1) instead of the “fair chance” given to Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs debacle may have never transpired. Because they represent ranges of values instead of single numbers, words can be retroactively stretched or shrunk to make blunders seem a little less avoidable. This is good for advisors looking to cover their hides by hedging their bets, but not so great for everyone else.

If American intelligence agencies had presented the formidable but vincible figure of 70% instead of a “slam dunk” to Congress, a disastrous invasion and costly occupation would have been prevented. At this point it is hard not to see the invasion as anything as a mistake, but even amidst these emotions we must be wary of hindsight. Still, a 70% chance of being right means there is a 30% chance of being wrong. It is hardly a “slam dunk.” No one would feel completely if an oncologist told them they are 70% sure the growth is not malignant. There are enormous consequences to sloppy communications. However, those with vested interests are more than content with this approach if it agrees with them, even if it ends up harming them.

When Nate Silver put the odds of the 2008 election in Obama’s favor, he was panned by Republicans as a pawn of the liberal media. He was quickly reviled by Democrats when he foresaw a Republican takeover of the Senate. It is hard to be a wizard when the king, his court, and all the merry peasants sweeping the stables would not know a confirmation bias from their right foot. To make matters worse, confidence is widely equated with capability. This seems to be doubly true of groups of people, particularly when they are choosing a leader. A mutual-fund manager who tells his clients they will see great returns on a company is viewed as stronger than a Poindexter prattling on about Bayesian inference and risk management.

The GJP’s approach has not spread far — yet. At this time most pundits, consultants, and self-proclaimed sages do not explicitly quantify their success rates, but this does not stop corporations, NGOs, and institutions at all levels of government from paying handsomely for the wisdom of untested soothsayers. Perhaps they have a few diplomas, but most cannot provide compelling evidence for expertise in haruspicy (sans the sheep’s liver). Given the criticality of accurate analyses to saving time and money, it would seem as though a demand for methods to improve and assess the quality of foresight would arise. Yet for the most part individuals and institutions continue to happily grope in the dark, unaware of the necessity for feedback when they misstep — afraid of having their predictions scrutinized or having to take the pains to scrutinize their predictions.

David Ferrucci is wary of the “guru model” to settling disputes. No doubt you’ve witnessed or participated in this kind of whimpering fracas: one person presents a Krugman op-ed to debunk a Niall Ferguson polemic, which is then countered with a Tommy Friedman book, which was recently excoriated  by the newest leader of the latest intellectual cult to come out of the Ivy League. In the end both sides leave frustrated. Krugman’s blunders regarding the economic prospects of the Internet, deflation, the “imminent” collapse of the euro (said repeatedly between 2010 and 2012) are legendary. Similarly, Ferguson, who strongly petitioned the Federal Reserve to reconsider quantitative easing, lest the United States suffer Weimar-like inflation, has not yet been vindicated. He and his colleagues responded in the same way as other embarrassed prophets: be patient, it has not happened, but it will! In his defense, more than one clever person has criticized the way governments calculate their inflation rates…

Paul Ehrlich, a darling of environmentalist movement, has screeched about the detonation of a “population bomb” for decades. Civilization was set to collapse between 15 and 30 years from 1970. During the interim 100 to 200 million would annually starve to death, by the year 2000 no crude oil would be left, the prices of raw materials would skyrocket, and the planet would be in the midst of a perpetual famine. Tetlock does not mention Ehrlich, but he is, particularly given his persisting influence on Greens, as or more deserving of a place in this hall of fame as anyone else. Larry Kudlow continued to assure the American people that the Bush tax breaks were producing massive economic growth. This continued well into 2008, when he repeatedly told journalists that America was not in a recession and the Bush boom was “alive and well.” For his stupendous commitment to his contention in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he was nearly awarded a seat in the Trump cabinet.

This is not to say a mistake should become the journalistic equivalent of a scarlet letter. Kudlow’s slavish adherence to his axioms is not unique. Ehrlich’s blindness to technological advances is not uncommon, even in an era dominated by technology. By failing to set a timeline or give detailed causal accounts, many believe they have predicted every crash since they learned how to say the word. This is likely because they begin each day with the same mantra: “the market will crash.”  Yet through an automatically executed routine of psychological somersaults, they do not see they were right only once and wrong dozens, hundreds, or thousands of times. This kind of person is much more deserving of scorn than a poker player who boasts about his victories, because he is (likely) also aware of how often he loses. At least he’s not fooling himself. The severity of Ehrlich’s misfires is a reminder of what happens when someone looks too far ahead while assuming all things will remain the same. Ceteris paribus exists only in laboratories and textbooks.

Axioms are fates accepted by different people as truth, but the belief in Fate (in the form of retroactive narrative construction) is a nearly ubiquitous stumbling block to clear thinking. We may be far removed from Sophocles, but the unconscious human drive to create sensible narratives is not peculiar to fifth-century B.C. Athens. A questionnaire given to students at Northwestern showed that most believed things had turned out for the best even if they had gotten into their first pick. From an outsider’s perspective this is probably not true. In our cocoons we like to think we are in the right place either through the hand of fate or through our own choices. Atheists are not immune to this Panglossian habit. Our brains are wired for stories, but the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves seldom come out without distortions. We can gain a better outside view, which allows us to see situations from perspectives other than our own, but only through regular practice with feedback. This is one of the reasons groups are valuable.

Francis Galton asked 787 villagers to guess the weight of an ox hanging in the market square. The average of their guesses (1,197 lbs) turned out to be remarkably close to its actual weight (1,198 lbs). Scott Page has said “diversity trumps ability.” This is a tad bold, since legions of very different imbeciles will never produce anything of value, but there is undoubtedly a benefit to having a group with more than one point of view. This was tested by the GJP. Teams performed better than lone wolves by a significant margin (23% to be exact). Partially as a result of encouraging one another and building a culture of excellence, and partially from the power of collective intelligence.

“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

-Helmuth von Moltke

“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

-Mike Tyson

When Archie Cochrane was told he had cancer by his surgeon, he prepared for death. Type 1 thinking grabbed hold of him and did not doubt the diagnosis. A pathologist later told him the surgeon was wrong. The best of us, under pressure, fall back on habitual modes of thinking. This is another reason why groups are useful (assuming all their members do not also panic). Organizations like the GJP and the Millennium Project are showing how well collective intelligence systems can perform. Helmuth von Moltke and Mike Tyson aside, a better motto, substantiated by a growing body of evidence, comes from Dwight  Eisenhower: “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

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.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel on Art and Transhumanism

U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel on Art and Transhumanism

G. Stolyarov II
Emanuel Iral
Rachel Lyn Edler
John Marlowe
R. Nicholas Starr
Leah Montalto
Kim Bodenhamer Smith
Laura Katrin Weston
Ekaterinya Vladinakova


On November 18, 2017, the U.S. Transhumanist Party invited leading artists in a variety of media and styles to a two-hour discussion, moderated by Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II and Director of Visual Art Emanuel Iral, on the subject of Art and Transhumanism, delving into how and which works of art can help inspire humans to pursue the next era of our civilization – through promoting the advancement of science and technology, rationality, and/or a more hopeful vision of the future. The panel also explored various interactions between art and technology and ways in which art can improve human connection and understanding, while also comprising the very improved functionality that emerging technologies provide.

Panelists

Emanuel Iral

Emanuel Iral is Director of Visual Art for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.

Emanuel’s artwork ranges from traditional paint and pencil work to 3D digital work. Currently he is working on his VFX and animation skills, as he is producing short films for his music. He encompasses his art under the term Prismatis – Latin for prism.  A prism refracts white light into the three primary colors: yellow, magenta, and cyan. Prismatis is all about the aesthetic of human expression, which can be separated into the art, audience, and artist.

Rachel Lyn Edler

RachelLyn Edler is an accomplished graphic designer with over 20 years of creative experience. Rachel comes from a diverse background of product development, packaging and web design. In her free time she volunteers for several scientific and secular organizations including the Planetary Society, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science and the Secular Coalition for America.

John Marlowe

John Marlowe was educated in film theory and trained in film production at UC Berkeley.  His outlook on film as a vehicle for social messaging has been largely influenced by his lifelong struggle with a genetic inborn error of metabolism, a type of disease that – until recently – was beyond the scope of medicine.  Consequently, John feels it is his onus to emphasize the artist’s responsibility in shaping the conversation regarding medical research, to create a society more amenable to scientific progress, rather than one fearful of change.

Leah Montalto

Leah Montalto is a painter based in New York City and has maintained a successfully operating painting studio in New York for the past 12 years.  Her paintings have been exhibited at the National Academy Museum of Fine Art in New York, and have been reviewed in the New York Times and the Providence Journal.  Leah’s paintings have received awards including the National Academy Museum of Fine Art’s Hallgarten Prize in Painting and the NYC Cultural Commission arts grant.  Leah is a former professor at Sarah Lawrence College, and has an MFA in Painting from Rhode Island School of Design.  Leah is not affiliated with the Transhumanist Party, but her paintings explore related themes.

Kim Bodenhamer Smith

Kim Bodenhamer Smith is a single mother of two boys living in Chattanooga, TN. She is a founding member of Southside Abbey, a Lay Missioner in The Episcopal Church, and an Outdoor Wear Business owner of Chilliheads. She is a caver, unicycler, and an aviation enthusiast and creator of #helichurch. She has a BFA in Metals and also studied Graphic Design and Political Science. *She also has many Tesla Tales to tell and is a Social Media Manipulator (different from a troll)!

R. Nicholas Starr

R. Nicholas Starr is an audio engineer and multimedia artist whose work focuses on Earth’s dystopias of past, present, and future. Also a biohacker, researcher, and theorist, he immerses himself in the subjects surrounding these worlds and has published several non-fiction articles and interviews. With an education in electronic signals intelligence from the United States Air Force, and 15 years of digital art and audio production in the US and abroad, he has become a unique voice for science fiction, the U.S. Transhumanist Movement, and American policy.

Ekaterinya Vladinakova

Ekaterinya Vladinakova is an accomplished digital painter and professional freelance illustrator. Vladinakova specializes in fantasy and science fiction work, but is also interested in editorial illustration. Vladinakova spends most of the day painting in Photoshop, creating scenes related to fantasy, or science fiction, as well as brushing up older works. Vladinakova’s paintings have been featured by the U.S. Transhumanist Party – including the “City of New Antideath” – a vision of the future which was commissioned for Mr. Stolyarov’s 30th Birthday.

Laura Katrin Weston

Dr Laura Katrin Weston is from England and studied Fine Art before going on to studying Medicine. She is a trained pathologist with a specialism in medical biochemistry and inflammation-related disease. She has used her medical knowledge and professional painting career to support Lifespan.io – one of the biggest life-extension research and advocacy charities. Laura is also vocalist for symphonic metal band Cyclocosmia – a music act that will be trying to raise awareness of transhumanist and human mortality issues in their next upcoming album.

The YouTube question/comment chat for this Q&A session has been archived here and is also provided below.

Visit the U.S. Transhumanist Party Facebook page here.

See the U.S. Transhumanist Party FAQ here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside.

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

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Second Enlightenment Salon – G. Stolyarov II, Bill Andrews, Bobby Ridge, and Scott Jurgens Discuss the Convergence of Technological Advances

Second Enlightenment Salon – G. Stolyarov II, Bill Andrews, Bobby Ridge, and Scott Jurgens Discuss the Convergence of Technological Advances

Gennady Stolyarov II

Bill Andrews

Bobby Ridge

Scott Jurgens


U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II invited Dr. Bill Andrews (the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s Biotechnology Advisor), Bobby Ridge (the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s Secretary-Treasurer), and Scott Jurgens to his Second Enlightenment Salon, where they shared their thoughts on emerging life-extension research, advances in prosthetics and orthotics, philosophy of science, brain-computer interfaces, and how technologies from a variety of fields are converging to bring about a paradigm shift in the human condition – hopefully within the coming decades.