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Armed with tenure and a TED talk, the philosophy professor very much doubted that any monster could be so persuasive, but was nonetheless intrigued. To reject its argument and stop it eating you, it asks you to discard a widely held and intuitive principle about how to weigh up right and wrong. Long regarded as unlikely, if not impossible, the utility monster is usually considered the stuff of fanciful imagination.
If they are right, we could soon have some tough choices to make if we want to avoid being eaten. Roughly sketched, a utilitarian is guided by the principle that well-being can be totted up and that we should aim to maximise it overall in the world. For many of its advocates, utilitarianism offers a simple rule for deciding how to live life, donate to charity and choose careers. But while the principle of maximising wellbeing and happiness can seem intuitively correct, there are some extreme cases where it feels less so. There are various other challenges to utilitarianism, but the one that matters for us belongs to our hungry monster.
In the fictional city of Omelas, there is widespread flourishing - but it depends on the suffering of one child Credit: Getty Images. Back on the street, when the utilitarian philosopher asks to be presented with a case to be eaten, the monster explains that it has a special way of experiencing well-being. If I eat you, it will give me more well-being and Monster eating person than all humans who have ever lived.
The philosopher hesitates while trying to think of a counterargument. Of course, there are responses to the monster. A philosopher who believed that there are certain moral codes that cannot be broken would have much less trouble. A utilitarian response to the monster scenario is that they'd never encounter such a creature in the first place — it is so unrealistic that it can be set aside when making moral decisions in the real world.
Nick Bostrom and Carl Shulman of the University of Oxford have proposed a way that a utility monster could, in principle, come into existence.
It might be in the far future, but in laboratories and companies all over the world right now, they believe we may already be taking steps in that direction. Bostrom is one of the main academic proponents of the idea that we ought to prepare for the sudden arrival of super-intelligent machines, far smarter than the best human minds and capable of raising new ethical Monster eating person for humanity.
And when it happens, it will happen fast, creating new ethical and existential dilemmas, which they say are prudent to start thinking about now. Even setting aside issues of super-intelligence or human-level, at least things that start to rival animals of various degrees of sophistication in terms of their cognitive repertoires are already here or on the immediate horizon. One thing they identified during this exercise was that digital minds might have the potential to use material resources much more efficiently than humans to achieve happiness.
In other words, achieving wellbeing could be easier and less costly for them in terms of energy, therefore they could experience more of it. They also need no sleep, so for them it could be happiness all night long too. Humans also cannot copy themselves, whereas in silicon there is the strange possibility of multiple versions of a single digital being that feels a huge amount of well-being in total.
Digital minds would have no such barriers. An essential point is that Monster eating person the most contented, joyful human who ever lived might not sit at the pinnacle of possible well-being — synthetic life could exceed it. And if so, that could create a few dilemmas for us when these machines come along. It might even be an argument for avoiding building them in the first place. If one subscribes to the view that they should be afforded rights which I am aware, again requires you to switch on Monster eating person sci-fi genethey might have a case for being the sole beneficiaries of resources and energy when those were scarce, because the quality and quantity of their well-being would so massively outweigh ours.
Forcett spends his whole life doing everything he can to please others, such as letting a teenager relentlessly bully him, making himself thoroughly miserable in the process. Our happiness is constrained by our evolutionary past - not necessarily so for digital minds Credit: Alamy. Still, it could get ethically complicated, to say the least. It could require us to say that humans have greater privileges than any synthetic mind, no matter how conscious, intelligent and advanced it is.
Bostrom and Shulman take quite a hard line towards that attitude, drawing parallels with historical racial supremacy or animal cruelty, both of which are now generally abhorred as morally wrong. What if we instead accidentally created conscious digital minds that are incredibly efficient at experiencing suffering?
What if we created an explosion of negative well-being among synthetic beings, of a depth never before seen in history? But if you accept that consciousness might not be unique to biological cells, then subjective experiences akin to pain could also arise, no matter how alien they are to us.
But the subjective wellbeing of intelligent, digital minds should not be disregarded, he argues. How much of our resources should we share with them? And should they be afforded the same non-discriminatory moral status as human beings? That might start it on a path towards a different, deeper understanding of what it means to be good. And if so, our hypothetical monster might not choose to eat moral philosophers, but intellectually it could easily have them for lunch. one million Future fans by liking us on Facebookor follow us on Twitter or Instagram.
Machine Minds. Machine Minds Philosophy. The intelligent monster that you should let eat you. Share using. By Richard Fisher 13th November Imagine a monster with a set of words so powerful you have to let it eat you. It might sound fanciful, but we could be on a trajectory to inventing one right now, writes Richard Fisher. One day, a philosopher was walking down the street, when a monster jumped out.
Despite its terrifying fangs, it was actually more polite and articulate than expected. A few minutes later, the monster stomped away, with a dead professor in its belly. Are we on the road to civilisation collapse? A utilitarian is guided by the principle that we should aim to maximise overall well-being in the world. Even the most contented, joyful human who ever lived might not sit at the pinnacle of possible well-being.
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