Mormon prophetic tradition includes the idea that humans (and perhaps other animals) will no longer eat other animals when the Earth attains its millennial or terrestrial glory. For example, see this recent post at the Mormon blog, Times and Seasons. Although some have interpreted these prophecies to support vegetarianism, others may be happy to learn that the techology to produce meat that has never been part of a sentient animal is already available. Would widespread use of such technology satisfy the prophecy?
I recently came across a document by Margaret A Somerville, which presents "The Case Against 'Same-Sex Marriage'". This is, to date, the best argument I've read from opponents of gay marriage. It accounts for the importance of religious perspectives, but does not argue from them, and instead appeals to secular ethics. Somerville's summary of her argument follows:
Like yesterday afternoon, I participated in unconference sessions this afternoon. First, I attended a session with PJ Manney on empathy and technology. The session began by focusing primarily on how to promote empathy through video games, by encouraging persons to take on roles that require action other than violence. Then we discussed differences between how film and books promote empathy; the lack of differing details (internal dialog for film or visual stimuli for film) results in differing pathways to empathy. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make any comments, but had hoped to discuss the importance of creating pathways for empathy. Many of us find it easy to have empathy for experiences that can be viewed, but find ideological empathy much more difficult. Because of that, it is important that those of us who understand competing ideologies work to formulate syncretizations which enable persons of the two sides to empathize with each other.
This morning, the Convergence 08 conference continued with a panel of experts on synthetic life. One of the panel members observed that genetic engineering is almost as accessible as computer programming in the early 80s, when teenagers were able to become involved inexpensively. Another panel member responded skeptically that there are serious risks associated with synthetic life, particularly when introduced to natural environments, and more evidence should be gathered in favor of benefits before proceeding further. On the subject of benefits, other panelists agreed there are risks, but that risk management techniques will come with time. The most immediate benefit of synthetic life will probably be biofuels. Benefits for cardiovascular health, alzheimers and diabetes may arise from products entering human trials soon. The panelists debated the degree of risk associated with use of artificially selected insects, and emphasized the importance of rigorous research and precaution.
Paul Saffo was the key note speaker on Saturday, and he endeavored to share some principles of forecasting. He began by distinguishing between futurists and forecasters, defining the former as active advocates and the latter as passive observors. He observed that persons looking to the future have a tendency to compress all the exciting things together, but history illustrates that times tend to produce long stretches of dullness. He encouraged questioning of all assumptions. For example, is tech actually converging, or rather is it diverging and producing greater complexity and diversity? Things may turn out other than we think.
This afternoon, I've been bouncing around among unconference sessions. First, I attended a session on balancing spirituality with technology. It had a lot of potential and several interesting persons attended, but the discussion was turned too often to the discussion leader's marketing of a device intended to stimulate meditative states. One interesting matter I'll note was one person's suggestion that we need not attempt to persuade each other to various spiritual perspectives. I disagrred with him, and expained that our individual spiritual perspectives have far reaching effects in our community and environment. Many of the challenges faced in the world today have arisen from lack of attention to the practical consequence of spiritual and religious world views.
The first session of the Convergence 08 conference is focusing on artificial intelligence. While waiting for the session to begin, I had a conversation with Peter Milford of Parallel Rules. He told me that his interests are in practical near-term applications of the ideas on which the conference is focusing. When he learned that my interests are in the intersection of technology and spirituality, he kindly expressed his disinterest -- and probably assumed I'm nutty. In time, perhaps he'll begin to recognize the practical near-term consequences of the intersection between tech and spirituality. To the extent that he and others do not recognize the practical importance of these matters, we're in for far more division and turmoil than necessary. Cool gadgets will not suffice to fill the spiritual heart of humanity.
Observing trends in information technology, some researchers conclude that artificial intelligence (AI) will eventually surpass the brightest human minds and take control of its own evolution. Assuming these researchers are correct, it is in our interest to ensure that we design AI to be friendly from the beginning.
Congratulations again to Barack Obama, who will be the next President of the United States of America. This is an historic moment, both for African Americans and all other Americans, in that it illustrates how far we have come as a people in overcoming the lingering influence of ancient racial biases. Not so long ago, no one could have reasonably imagined an African American winning a presidential election. However, our community has been nourishing respect for differences in and diversity of the human form. Times have changed for the better. May God continue to bless us with the wisdom and inspiration we need for the many challenges ahead.