måndag 27 juni 2016

Advisor at the Foundational Research Institute

I have recently been recruited to serve as "advisor" at the Foundational Reseach Institute (FRI); see their official list of advisors. In their own words, the FRI
    brings together researchers from diverse fields to examine how humanity can best reduce suffering in the future. We draw on insights from artificial intelligence, technology, anthropic reasoning, international relations, sociology, public policy, ethics, animal welfare, and many other disciplines.
I have tended to view the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI, with researchers like Nick Bostrom, Anders Sandberg and Stuart Armstrong whose works are frequently quoted and discussed on this blog) at the University of Oxford as the absolute cutting edge when it comes to thinking broadly and outside the narrow boundaries of mainstream discourse, yet rationally, about the far future for humanity and/or other sentient species. I still think this description of FHI is correct, but there are ways in which FRI can bee viewed as departing even further than FHI from mainstream thinking. To illustrate this, let me offer a passage from pages 239-240 of my book Here Be Dragons where I discuss the work of leading FRI researcher Brian Tomasik. In the paragraph leading up to the quoted passage, I had been discussing work of Bostrom concerning the possibility of colonization of our solar system, the Milky Way and the rest of the observable universe by humans (or posthumans) - work that seemed to take for granted that such a development would be a good thing. Not so fast, says Tomasik, and here's the quote from my book:
    That a universe imbued by human civilization is better than one that is not [...] is a very common assumption in futuristic discussions, but not one that is self-evident. What if such a colonization process would actually constitute a catastrophe of cosmic proportions? Computer scientist and ethicist Brian Tomasik has, in a couple of recent essays The importance of wild-animal suffering and Applied welfare biology and why wild-animal advocates should focus on not spreading nature, highlighted a way in which it could turn into such a catastrophe. In the first of these, he begins with quoting Dawkins (1995):
      The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. (p 131)
    Tomasik then goes on to argue that "animal advocates should consider focusing their efforts to raise concern about the suffering that occurs in the natural environment". In the second essay, he points out that if, when we colonize of the universe, we decide to bring wildlife along, and to terraform planets where this wildlife can then spread, then we risk multiplying the already enormous amount of suffering described by Dawkins immensely. Humans (at least many of them, including myself) tend to value nature and wildlife highly; hence there may be a temptation to bring those to the planets we settle down on. Tomasik's suggestion is that we ought to resist that temptation due to the vast amount of animal suffering we would otherwise create.
I'm not prepared at this point to endorse Brian Tomasik's view, but I'm not rejecting it either. The issue needs further thought.

5 kommentarer:

  1. Aargh, is this really a thing? With this analysis, a big joint euthanasia would be really ethical (as humans are - suffering - animals). But it seems not so interesting to definie ethical in such a way so that there is consensus that we do not want it. Shouldn't it rather be _net_ suffering that's the key concept? I.e. other animals' joy should count as well?

  2. Etisk diskussion grundad på känslohedonism blir lätt en freak show... Människor är inte mer värda än grisar i en sådan filosofi. Och grisar äter vi.

    1. För att upphöra med denna freakshow behöver vi antingen

      (a) sluta låtsas som om vi brydde oss om andra kännande varelsers lidande, eller

      (b) ändra vårt beteende.

      Vilket förordar du - (a) eller (b)?