Are Post-Humanism and Trans-Humanism Anti-Humanist?

In the same interview I commented on in last week’s post, Frank Pasquale claims that 1) post-humanists and trans-humanists are pushing for AIs/robots which simulate humans and 2) this is anti-humanist. I quote:

How, specifically, are these positions anti-humanist?

In part, an essential element of being human is accepting and understanding our limitations. Our frailties. And that effort to transcend it and say, “Well, here’s an immortal entity; let’s treat it as being above and beyond the human,” is problematic. It involves rejecting the fact that we are mortal. That we feel pain. We have a limited amount of things that we can spend our attention on.

I do not understand how trying to deal with our limitations is a rejection of their existence. As far as I can tell, this argument could also be used against writing; our human minds have limited memories, so we should embrace that and stop writing down things that we might otherwise forget. By writing things down, we are rejecting our forgetfulness, which is an essential human quality. Continue reading

What Is the Argument Against Replacing Human Professionals with Qualified AI Professionals?

I have not read New Laws of Robotics: Defending Human Expertise in the Age of AI by Frank Pasquale, but I did read this article.

Perhaps because I only read the interview and not the book, I do not understand his argument for the first new law: “Digital technologies ought to ‘complement professionals, not replace them.'” At first, I was wondering if his argument was that AI simply cannot replace professionals, but upon closer reading, it’s clear that he’s open to the possibility that AIs, in the future, might be entirely capable of doing some of these jobs on their own. Therefore, his position is that they should not, not that they cannot. And yet, later on in the interview, he seems to be in favor of AI/automation taking over blue-collar jobs such as supermarket cashier “unless people who are in those positions can say, ‘Hey, there’s a reason why you need human judgment and humans in control of this process. And if you take us out of the loop, there’s going to be a big problem.'” I do not understand (at least without reading the book) why he wants to automate away blue-collar by default but is adamant that digital technologies only supplement, not replace white-collar professions. If his position were simply ‘preserve human jobs because our political-economy is structured so that people are forced to sell labor in order to meet their material needs’ would that not apply to all jobs? Does the cashier not need to pay their bills just as badly as the doctor? And if he’s okay with ‘automating away’ cashier jobs, why not the same for doctors, teachers, etc.? Continue reading

Revenge & Survival Fantasies > Power Fantasies

Revenge fantasies, fantasies of surviving in the face of imminent death, not power fantasies, appeal to me.

I’ve tried to read I Shall Seal the Heavens (ISSTH) by Er Gen (here’s the English translation of the novel), and I think I got more than a hundred chapters into it, but…for me, it was a chore to read. Yet it’s a really popular novel, which means it engages a lot of people other than myself.

I was reminded of this when I recently read (the beginning of) A Thousand Li: The First Step by Tao Wong. The first few chapters drew me in, I thought the protagonist’s situation was really unfair, being injured by the bully-young-rich-dude and almost dying because of the injury, and all of that. But once the protagonist joined the cultivation sect and studying, my interest flagged, and I did not read the book (following my new practice of Not Finishing Books). I noticed, at the end, that Tao Wong said that ISSTH was one of his main influences.

These aren’t the only novels I’ve tried reading in what I will dub the ‘ISSTH/A Thousand Li’ vein, I’m just using them as my examples because a) ISSTH is the best known of this type and b) A Thousand Li: The First Step is the one I most recently tried to read. What puts novels in this vein, at least to me, is if they are primarily about the protagonist cultivating/developing magical powers/whatever the heck awesome skills mainly so they can excel in that, not because of strong external pressure. Continue reading

About those claims that only the richest ancient Athenians paid taxes…

A benefit of studying Ancient Greek again and diving into the literature is that when someone comes out with an “ancient Greeks did X/were Y/said Z” type of claim, I can judge whether that claim is bullshit.

One of those claims I occasionally see is “in ancient Athens, only the richest of the rich paid taxes.” Though it’s not bullshit, it requires a lot of qualifications.

I recently stumbled on this article. Since it’s written by a Classics professor, it does a good job of being factually accurate, but boy is the presentation of those facts skewed. It tries to cast the rich people of ancient Athens as having a strong public spirit and willing to share their wealth democratically with progressive taxation, unlike rich people in the United States today who try to avoid/evade taxation. I think this view is…distorted. Continue reading