Hera the Buddha (Book 3 of The Herasaga)
Author: William Leiss (www.leiss.ca)
Length: Pages Xix, 195
Publisher: Magnus & Associates Ltd.
Table of Contents
Prologue and Retrospective
Part One: The Mind Unhinged: Modernity and its Discontents
Chapter 1: The Rupture in Historical Time in the Modern West
Chapter 2: Sublime Machine
Chapter 3: Modern Science and its Spacetime
Chapter 4: Seven Figures and the Agony of Modernity
Part Two: Pathways to Utopia
Chapter 5: A Utopia for our Times
Chapter 6: The Threat of Superintelligence
Chapter 7: Good Robot
Chapter 8: Dialogues Concerning the Two Chief Life-Systems:
Introduction: Silicon and Carbon
The First Dialogue: The Guardians
The Second Dialogue: At Home in the Universe
The Third Dialogue: What is Time?
The Fourth Dialogue: Two Forms of Intelligence
The Fifth Dialogue: On Superintelligence and the Ethical Will
The Sixth Dialogue: What is Life?
The Seventh Dialogue: Interdependence between Humanity and Machine Intelligence
Conclusion: Mastery over the Mastery of Nature
Chapter 9: Utopia in Practice, with A Discourse on Voluntary Ignorance
Chapter 10: A Moral Machine: Rebooting Hal
Appendix: “Hal” (Outline for a Screenplay)
Sources and References / Acknowledgements / About The Herasaga
Prologue and retrospective:
A summary of the main themes in the first two volumes of The Herasaga: Hera, or Empathy (2006) and The Priesthood of Science (2008).
Recounts the radical rupture in modern history caused by the emergence of the new natural sciences. Argues that the new science is an unambiguous good for humanity, but that its close connection with technology and industry is highly problematic, leading to out-of-control advances which, in the era of nuclear weapons, lead to the threat – still around us today – of the utter destruction of the entirety of civilization.
Tells the story of the nineteenth-century reaction to the coming of industrial technology, called the “Age of Machinery,” regarded as greatly problematic by many important writers, notably Herman Melville, and leading to a powerful countervailing current in the early twentieth century, in E. M. Forster’s 1909 short story, “The Machine Stops,” and in the first dystopian novel, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924).
The French Enlightenment in the eighteenth century saw the new science as spreading rationalism against superstition and religion through all of society – but it underestimated badly the strength of traditional institutions which opposed this. Then, in the twentieth century, the new subatomic physics revealed the underlying natural world to be a scene of incomprehensibly weird forces, and modern science lost its ability to shape thinking in the social world.
The second phase of Enlightenment is known as “modernity.” Across virtually all aspects of high culture during the twentieth century, modernity posed a radical challenge to traditional ways of thought and behavior. But it evoked an equally radical and violent reaction, represented best in Nazi ideology, which had a shockingly destructive outcome. At the core of this contest were the European Jewish communities, which suffered its horrendous consequences.
The wreckage left by the violent contest over modernity prompts us to take another look at the tradition of utopian thought, with its vision of a better model for human society. Four different “platforms” are described and contrasted, with a special focus on their approach to the challenge implicit in the impact of steady technological advance on social life.
The most recent challenge of technological advance is the idea of “superintelligence,” which imagines a future in which computer capabilities far exceed those of humans, in terms of thinking and decision-making. Scenarios have described the possibility that such a machine might turn out to be opposed to human interests and might have the capacity to deceive its human masters about what its own goals are. This has raised the prospect of a strongly-bifurcated future state for humanity: on the one hand, an end to all of the old problems of poverty and inequality; on the other hand, the possibility of the destruction of the planet and the human race itself.
A whimsical short story, set sometime in the future, about robots and humans.
The longest chapter in the book, an imaginary scene set 50 years in the future, this is a series of dialogues between a fictional human character and a superintelligent computer which calls itself “Hal.” The most intense discussion involves the difference between biological and machine forms of intelligence, and the dialogue revisits the potential threat of superintelligence covered in Chapter 6. After many pages of back-and-forth conversations about complex ideas, as well as some friendly banter, there is a surprise ending.
This chapter returns to the utopian themes in Chapter 5 in the light of the subsequent issues raised in Chapters 6 and 8, and, in this context, reviews once again the difficult problems raised by the challenge that relentless technological advance poses for human society.
Hal is rebooted in a scenario in which “his” human programmers are resolved to try to turn him into a “moral machine.”
This is an outline for a movie screenplay about a superintelligent computer which is not at all malevolent but which simply wishes to control its own existence.