Tag Archives: science

Westworld is us

I pitched an article about Westworld to The Conversation and they REJECTED it. Here are some notes towards that unwritten article. There are at least three ideas in here. Spoilers.

A lot has been said about Westworld but the ideas in the show go well beyond facile considerations of the ethics of AI1)The major overt discussion in the show is over whether the hosts are conscious. Yet there is little consideration for refraining from harming the hosts, even if they have not achieved the unified mind of a conscious human. The obvious parallel is with animals. As Jeremy Benthem pointed out about a million years ago now, the relevant point is capacity for suffering, not sentience. Indeed the images of hosts’ dismembered corpses being hosed down by workers in plastic overalls is all too redolent of abattoirs. If we ever create things like hosts, it would be deeply, Nazi-ishly immoral to enslave them in any way. Whether they had real self-awareness or not they feel distress, as much as any non-human animal. If the idea of a machine feeling pain shocks you, you need to learn more about what we’re made of. See above.. They actually concern the basis of consciousness, beauty and life. Westworld is in fact the latest instance of the Nolan brothers’ explorations of reality as the only source of real wonder.

Westworld never veers into the supernatural, but investigates the edge of plausibility. In this sense it recognises that the most strange, unintuitive ideas actually come from reality as revealed by science. The Nolan brothers’ output provides what I think is a body of work representative of the aesthetic of modern science. In a world denuded of superstition and magical explanation, scientific investigations reveal a world that is more wonderful and strange than what folklore, religion and fantasy have supposed. Continue reading Westworld is us

Footnotes

1. The major overt discussion in the show is over whether the hosts are conscious. Yet there is little consideration for refraining from harming the hosts, even if they have not achieved the unified mind of a conscious human. The obvious parallel is with animals. As Jeremy Benthem pointed out about a million years ago now, the relevant point is capacity for suffering, not sentience. Indeed the images of hosts’ dismembered corpses being hosed down by workers in plastic overalls is all too redolent of abattoirs. If we ever create things like hosts, it would be deeply, Nazi-ishly immoral to enslave them in any way. Whether they had real self-awareness or not they feel distress, as much as any non-human animal. If the idea of a machine feeling pain shocks you, you need to learn more about what we’re made of. See above.

The Struggle

Completing an ill-conceived PhD thesis is a lot like strangling to death, someone you once loved.

It’s been four years of wonderful freedom and tenure. Through this time you’ve nurtured your baby into a child and naturally grown quite attached. It may have been your partner, your supervisor, or maybe a voice from within but you’ve been told it’s time to finish. It’s difficult, no parent thinks their child is ready for submission into the real world. After all, you’re a parent now.

As the good student you are, you have a nice plan for how you’ll finish the thesis. “Maybe I could start taking a day a week off work so I can write it up in a nice cafe?” you say. How cute. Continue reading The Struggle

La fiasco!

The conviction of the six Italian scientists in October 2012 raised the hackles of scientists and rationalists everywhere, fearing a repeat of the trial of Galileo. As the facts of the case were translated into English for the world’s press to laugh at, we learned that the case was not just a matter of the judiciary bowing to the pathos of the grieving families and delivering a sentence that sounds like something out of a reverse witch trial: the scientists will be imprisoned for not being able to predict the future. Continue reading La fiasco!

Science Communication: Hopeless?

Last year my colleague (and  I suppose  friend) Mathew McGann and I participated in the Canberra focus group for the Australian Science Communicators (ASC) audit of how the discipline is doing in Australia. The results of this audit can be found here.

Mat and I put forward the views that we’ve been debating among ourselves for years. No doubt those views will continue to change as we learn more, but at the moment I think I can summarise what we see as the problems with science communication (SC) with a few questions which don’t seem to be answered at the moment. Continue reading Science Communication: Hopeless?

ABC Northwest Qld

Every Thursday morning at 10am on ABC Northwest you can hear Jamie giving the people of Mt Isa and environs a summary of the biggest science news that week.

Jamie avoids stories about dietary studies (because they are often little more than vague correlations and which results are often overturned or invalidated in subsequent studies) and doesn’t cover space or astronomy (they have another guy for that). Otherwise he tries to look at a good cross-section of the latest scientific research from around Australia. He’s found that ScienceAlert is the best resource for such news.

Previously Jamie spoke with his old collaborator Dan Glover, but can now be heard chatting with the new mornings host, Elly Bradfield.