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Chris Hables Gray on Singularity 1 on 1: We Need Strong Citizenship!

chris-hables-gray Prof. Chris Hables Gray is someone whose work on both war and the cyborg is a must read for anyone interested in those topics. I have followed Gray’s work for over 10 years and have read at least 3 of his books. So when I discovered that Chris will be one of the speakers for the upcoming ISTAS2013 conference in Toronto, that I can’t wait to attend this June 27-29, I decided to use it as an excuse to get him for an interview on Singularity 1 on 1.

During my conversation with Chris Hables Gray we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: how Chris got interested in issues related to war and cyborg; the definition of cyborg and why the term has been actively avoided by both NASA and the US military; the difference between a drone and a robot; cyborg society and the politics thereof; why cyborgization is as overdetermined as it is a political process; human nature, nurture, competition and cooperation; Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto; mind-reading, mind-control and neuro-marketing; philosophy and death; transhumanism and the technological singularity; artificial intelligence and hubris; Gray’s upcoming book on Infoisms…

My favorite quote that I will take away from this conversation with Chris Hables Gray is:

“We need good citizenship, strong citizenship like Socrates had when he went and risked his life to fight for Athens. […] We can’t be just people who vote. […] We must be really engaged citizens like our hero Socrates and risk all, risk our lives to make the world better – for our children and our friends.”

(As always you can listen to or download the audio file above, or scroll down and watch the video interview in full.  If you want to help me produce more episodes please make a donation)


Who is Chris Hables Gray?

Chris Hables Gray, Ph.D., lectures at the University of California at Santa Cruz and California State University at Monterey Bay in the Cultural Studies of Science and Technology. His particular interest is how information technologies shape contemporary war and peace making and the politics of our ongoing cyborgization. He is the editor of The Cyborg Handbook and author of Postmodern War, Cyborg Citizen, and Peace, War and Computers. Currently he is researching social media and social change and finishing a book on information theory entitled Infoisms: Aphorisms About Information.

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  • The reason we can’t create a strong AI is lack of hardware.

    To think that a computer in the eighties, with maybe 640 kb and 10 Mhz, would be able to do anything human like is ridiculous. Past AI projects were doomed to fail. I mean, how can you expect human like intelligence if the machine can’t even remember all words in the language, or store more than a few images in memory?

    It takes the human brain several years to learn how to talk and perhaps a decade before it can pass the Turing test. The amount of data the human brain has to process to reach that level of intelligence is enormous. When we get hardware that can process the same amount of data within a reasonable time, say a couple of weeks so we can try out different algorithms, strong AI will be possible.

    If we don’t succeed at that time, I agree, it’s a software problem and it may take a very long time solve. Now, it’s hardware, and Moore’s law will most likely provide that within a few decades.

  • I think it is a lot more than hardware issue friend. For example, when I interviewed Ramez Naam who has worked on the creation and AI behind the Bing search engine he said pretty much the same thing that Chris Hables Gray did:


    Another example of someone knowledgeable who thinks the same way is David Ferrucci – the team-leader behind Watson:


  • Terrence Lee Reed

    Wow, thanks again for another fantastic interview Socrates. There is so much to comment on it is hard to know where to start, but I will do my best.

    1) I fully agree that most or all homo sapiens are already cyborgs, via clothing, vaccinations, etc. It was revealing to me that even bees are cyborgs, via the beehive, which they can make for themselves or that can be manmade. Therefore it is irrational to be prejudiced against “cyborgization”/ “borgification” or even “Google Glass”.

    2) You briefly talked about drones. I think this technology is already a disaster, far worse than nuclear proliferation and sanctions. US “security” policy is self-fulfilling, creating the threat, encouraging it, emboldening it, and ultimately empowering the threat both at home and abroad. The seeds that are being planted today will not sprout immediately, but when they do it will be like the cicadas on the east coast of the US.

    3) The fear of longevity is absurd, agoraphobia is not going to increase because people expect to live a thousand more years. You still take one day at a time. The “Surrogates” (2009) scenario is more interesting in this regard, it definitely has some appeal.

    4) I agree that if aliens come to Earth it will not be for water or natural resources, that they will come for what has evolved is more plausible “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (2008) represents this with floating orbs that take samples of all life on earth.

    5) I appreciate the emphasis on politics as the driver for cyborgization. Current development is overwhelmingly hierarchical, but there is definite progress on the distributed systems front and this is where we will see the most innovation if not the most domination.

    6) You said that you see 0% chance that humanity will make it through the coming “bottle neck”, but I think this inaccurately ties humanity solely to homo sapiens.
    I prefer the term “Post-Homo Sapiens Humans” over “Posthuman” as every individual will have the opportunity to become a new species of human.
    I do not see “borgification” in the future, it’s merely a trope.
    I see us remaking ourselves in ways that we can only begin to comprehend in our current form. Humans will evolve to the point where they are writing their own DNA at will, there will be no need for clumsy “machines”. The very term “machines” is increasingly meaningless as we are able to engineer on the nano scale altering our own DNA as well as delivery devices such as viruses and bacteria. Why start from scratch where there are so many effective machines in and around our bodies already. We will radically amplified human intelligence (IA) as a more valuable and satisfying than artificial intelligence (AI).

    We will eventually eliminate the need for organic molecules altogether and by that time there will be no difference in functionality, just efficiency and productivity.
    You could say that organic molecules will simply become too inefficient and unproductive to continue, but as long as the Earth has a life-sustaining atmosphere there is no need to forgo organic life. It is a stage that everyone should enjoy. In either case, we will still be human.

    7) His statement that The Singularity is “The Nerd Rapture” is a sure sign that Chris does not know what he’s talking about in this area. Kurzweil is not the one who is remarkably naive.

    8) I agree, evolution inevitably leads to consciousness, the ability to manipulate one’s environment consciously. This is tied to the study of complex systems, which I find utterly fascinating. Consciousness has so far been limited to homo sapiens, but that will not be the case for much longer as most of us here would agree.

    9) We cannot transcend Earth because it is what sustains us. This is related to using up the resources on Earth and then moving out into space, “Well, there goes the neighborhood.”

    I agree that we cannot destroy our home in the hopes that we can find another, but at the same time we are fighting the clock. If we do not develop technology fast enough then we risk being wiped out by a number of factors that we know about and many of which we do not. That being said, we need to be more introspective and not just use up the Earth’s resources as if there is no tomorrow.

    10) The interview ended with a brief mention of participatory democracy. This is something that we all need to take to heart and a good reason to read more of Chris Hables Gray’s work, which I will most certainly do.

    Again, I loved the interview and appreciate further discussion on any or all of the points mentioned.

  • You make good points as always Terrence! Let me invite other readers to continue the discussion on them and I may also jump in here and there 😉

  • Dark Cyberian Knight

    Listening to the podcast I hear Chris criticize brute force. Whats wrong with brute force if it solves the problem?

    We don’t fully know at this point how our brains are handling the problems but they do appear to be massively parallel.

    I’m sure there is plenty of room to improve the algorithm but we often presume our algorithm is best or ideal which from some smart things machines do I doubt that very much.

    Algorithms that usefully interact with us model and mimic us are useful and interesting to us but could be ultimately less intelligent.

  • Wholewitt

    Living for even 100 years for most of the world population would be a disaster. World population is still out of control with war being the main control. The US is stupidly allowing high immigration levels so that we will continue to divide limited resources, hence the large national debt. Better to have people live normal lifetimes well. We can’t even stop climate change much less pay for saving more people from disasters.

  • I couldn’t disagree with you more my friend:

    Firstly, world population is out of control due to poverty, disease and lack of education. War is not keeping it in check. It is a well known fact that as soon as societies get more urban, wealthy and educated (especially the women) they start dropping in population growth. It is poor farmers what usually need many kids. Urbanized and better educated people don’t. So, instead of being grateful for “war being the main control” for population growth, focus on eduction which is a win-win scenario for us all.

    Secondly, people who live longer don’t rush to have children for they don’t feel the pressure of their biological clocks like people worried about death all the time. Demographics has also proven that trend so if you look it is countries with short life spans that have the youngest and fastest growing populations. Give them longer and healthier lives and they will have fewer kids.

    Thirdly, as long as the US has the “scarcity” mentality it is doomed to internal upheaval and implosion. Instead, the country has to focus on abundance i.e. “how can we make our pie grow?” rather than “we don’t wanna share our scarce pie with those people!”

    Lastly, immigration has nothing to do with the national debt. In fact it is quite the opposite – the US was built by immigrants who escaped all kinds of other countries for a better life. Those people built the country so that the people who live there today owe their status to the immigrants before them. Thus, the US did not pay for “saving more people from disaster” – neither back then nor today. “Those” people built the country back then. Those people bring up the country up today, pay taxes, invent things, build companies and make the US prosperous no less than anyone lucky enough to be born American – something no one earned and many take for granted. So, if the US bans all kinds of immigration at once, for example, it will eventually turn into a backwardly country like Stalinist Russia. Everything that makes the US great today is in someway or another connected to people coming from abroad and “making the American dream” reality for them. Thus the main divider for people was and should remain to be not where you come from but what are you willing to do to achieve your version of the dream. And when people do that they contribute to the country they live in.

    Immigration is the lifeblood of new ideas, workers, products, business, cultural exchange and mutual understanding. So, again, if the US bans immigration completely today, then, us Canadians are going to take over the world for we would take your immigrants too (even though we already take more than US of immigrants per capita and don’t seem to grow our deficit like you) and will get even more powerful and more prosperous than we are now 😉

  • Terrence Lee Reed

    How did the conversation spin into an overpopulation debate? It is not my favorite topic, but I’ll have a go at it.

    There are abundant resources and we are only using a fraction of what we can, we are even seeing a rise in urban agriculture, or vertical gardens. Unfortunately, food aid from the USA has had the overall effect of increasing populations that cannot sustain themselves and crippling their production capacity because of their inability to compete and disincentivising them to produce anything but cash crops for which they still only get enough to get by as they cannot compete in the area of cash crops either. This is where “Fair Trade” comes in and where Japan is absolutely right in protecting its farmers from cheaper imports.

    I have yet to be convinced that the world can become overpopulated, there are always a limits, disease (not scarcity) being chief among them, one would think that scarcity would be the limiting factor, but as we can see by looking at India, a lot of people can live on next to nothing, no meat, and in some cases literally nothing (see Jainism).

    War is not the main control for world population, the #1 killer is heart disease, #2 is Infectious and parasitic diseases, together these make up more than 50% of deaths in the world. Intentional injuries (Suicide, Violence, War, etc.) are #12 at less than 3%. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_causes_of_death_by_rate

    Disease has always topped the charts and brought the fall of many empires and civilizations throughout our brief history. Even during the US Civil War, more soldiers died as the result of disease than of being killed by the enemy.

    If people live over 100 years as a rule, or even considerably longer, there will certainly be room for concern about overpopulation, but at the same time people will simply have fewer children as we have seen in Japan, Sweden, Germany, etc. People simply put-off having children, in many cases indefinitely. There simply isn’t any need to have more children, so people stop having them.

  • I’m guessing that the human brain has hardware that turns into software with training… neural nets whose program is strongly influenced by their predetermined structures. We would have to discern and master the structures to produce a human-like AI.

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