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Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Machines of Loving Grace

"The story of the rise of the machines, and why no one believes you can change the world for the better anymore."



This is episode 3 of the BBC documentary series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, featuring evolutionary theorists George Price (@19 & 34 & 42 minutes in) and William Hamilton. Also making appearances: Dian Fossey (@27 & 31 & 40 min), John von Neumann (@21 min), Richard Dawkins (@44 min), gorillas, chimps, Hutus, Tutsis, imperialists, mercenaries, and a mercenary (sociopathic?) mining company CEO (@7:30 min; good Hamilton gene stuff follows). Fossey is portrayed as a nut case; some of the details (e.g., about the death of her favorite gorilla Digit) do not match what is in her Wikipedia entry.

Bonus points to commenters who can classify the individuals by their V, M, and empathy scores ;-)

The episode describes the rise of the idea that humans are merely automata, sometimes altruistic and sometimes murderous, programmed by their genes. This perspective, it is claimed, is appealing because it absolves us of responsibility for terrible unintended consequences of our actions, such as the Rwandan genocide.

The logic of Machines of Loving Grace is sometimes suspect, but nevertheless it's a highly stimulating series.

4 comments:

Reactionary_Konkvistador said...

"This perspective, it is claimed, is appealing because it absolves us of
responsibility for terrible unintended consequences of our actions, such
as the Rwandan genocide."

It is actually hard for me to grok such view. I generally think that things that can be ameliorated by shaming should be. A genocide is something that can be stopped by applying appropriate social pressure.


I also fail to see why people find cultural determinism so much more acceptable. Why are memes less spooky than genes? Is this a cognitive bias that will stay with us, or is it a convenient rationalization until such a time comes that we will be able to change genes as easily as culture (over which we don't really have that much control currently either)?

Max B said...

. I generally think that things that can be ameliorated by shaming
should be. A genocide is something that can be stopped by applying
appropriate social pressure.

Genocides are performed by society.  "Your shaming" attempts are nothing because you are outsider to them. You get rid of genocide by getting rid of the savage and dumb people (which is kinda ironic )

TheGuyFromEarlier said...

Oh, like the Germans.

sykes.1 said...

Determinism of any kind, even that which absolves the actor of any responsibility (like insanity) does not eliminate the need for or efficacy of punishment, even capital punishment. Even if we are mere machines, we are somewhat programmable and so can be at least deterred and possibly reformed by suitable punishments. Otherwise, the bad machine can be recycled.

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