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Artificial Intelligence Isn’t Just Technology — It’s Also a Religion

March 13, 2016

I spend a lot of time covering advances in artificial intelligence.

It's one of the big stories of our time,— so much so that the White House has said it will remake our society.

On Wednesday, I attended an Intelligence Squared debate at Manhattan's 92nd Street Y that made me see artificial intelligence in a whole new way.

Don’t Trust People Who Worship Technology

March 10, 2016

Jaron Lanier and Andrew Keen make powerful arguments against tech utopianism.

A debate on artificial intelligence took place at the 92nd St Y on Wednesday night, and it took on real sweep that went beyond the subject of AI. This wasn’t just because the victory of a Google bot over a South Korean champion at the ancient game of Go has made the matter of AI especially pressing. Wednesday’s discussion highlighted some of the best – and worst – ways we think about technology. The whole debate, called “Don’t Trust the Promise of Artificial Intelligence,” is worth watching.

The best came from Jaron Lanier, who has an important place in these conversations. One of the key ways cyber-utopians shut down anyone who express doubts about technology is to brand them as a “Luddite,” but this computer scientist who helped develop virtual reality and recently sold a company to Google is hard to tar that way. On Wednesday night, he gave a technical description of how AI worked and didn’t, and he concluded with one of the sharpest things anyone has said about our assumptions about the digital world.

How to Turn NPR Fans Into Artificial Intelligence Cynics

March 10, 2016

At a debate Wednesday night co-hosted by Intelligence Squared US and the 92 Street Y in New York City, a largely white, middle-aged audience was easily convinced that the supposed bright future of artificial intelligence is perhaps not all that it’s cracked up to be.

The nonprofit debate series, syndicated as a podcast on NPR, works something like this: Before the debate begins, the audience votes in favor of the motion, against the motion, or as undecided. Last night’s motion, “Don’t Trust The Promises of Artificial Intelligence,” was affirmed by 30 percent of the audience and negated by 41 percent at the start of the debate. A whopping 29 percent were undecided, indicating they knew little about the topic beforehand. Votes weren’t just cast by the live audience, but also by viewers online.

Is Artificial Intelligence Being Oversold?

March 10, 2016

A debate in New York tries to settle the question.

After taking a 2-0 lead in its five-game match with Lee Sedol on Thursday, Google-DeepMind’s AlphaGo artificial intelligence program seems likely to claim victory within the next few days. This will no doubt resurface the many questions people have about AI’s future and whether humans are inching towards Matrix-like enslavement. Fortunately, last night’s "Don’t Trust the Promise of Artificial Intelligence" Intelligence Squared U.S. debate in New York City addressed a lot of these questions and concerns.

Watch Leading Thinkers Debate the Risks and Rewards of AI

March 09, 2016

Jaron Lanier and Martine Rothblatt address our darkest AI fears.

The advent of artificial intelligence is as dreaded as it is lauded. Proponents believe it's a technological advancement that will augment humans in unprecedented ways -- think immortality and super-intelligence. But the critics often point out the dangerous repercussions of this revolution -- autonomous weapon systems and self aware bots. Should we brace ourselves for a robotic apocalypse? Is that idea based on science fiction or reality? Does the fear of AI slow down the progress of a technology that could amplify human existence? Tune in for a riveting debate -- "Don't trust the promise of artificial intelligence."

A Transgender, Biotech-Running Cybercreator Debates Artificial Intelligence

March 07, 2016

The ever-fascinating Martine Rothblatt is a colorful figure on the Washington scene — lawyer, author, founder of Sirius XM, founder and chief executive of United Therapeutics, co-creator of a head-only robot modeled on her wife of 30-plus years (they were married before Rothblatt’s sex reassignment surgery), pilot, piano player . . . .

[She invented Sirius XM, a biotech and a religion. For starters.]

Rothblatt, whose most recent book is “Virtually Human: The Promise — and the Peril — of Digital Immortality,” will take the stage at New York’s 92nd Street Y on behalf of one of her passions: artificial intelligence.

She will be one of four experts on two teams debating whether pursuit of superintelligence and autonomous machines may result in dangerous unintended consequences, or whether fears of that outcome will prevent technological progress. It’s the latest in the series of fast-paced, provocative debates put on by the public affairs program IQ², or Intelligence Squared.

Is 78.8 Years Long Enough to Live?

February 05, 2016

How long should we live? Is the age of death for the average American (78.8) about right or should science continue trying to expand life expectancies? On February 3, that question was debated by four leading experts for Intelligence Squared U.S. moderated by ABC News correspondent John Donvan in front of a packed house at New York’s Kaufman Center.

How Old Is Too Old? A Debate on Toying with the Human Life Span

February 04, 2016

Should we toy with the human life span?

As it turns out, four experts on that subject gathered in New York City on Wednesday to debate that very topic in a forum sponsored by the nonprofit Intelligence Squared.

Is 78.8 Years a Long Enough Life?

February 02, 2016

With more and more money being funneled into the field, more health data being crunched and chances increasing that scientists will crack the aging code, it’s a good time to examine the arguments. That’s what Intelligence Squared U.S. will be doing in a heavyweight debate between leading life-extension scientists (including de Gray) and ethicists (including Paul Root Wolpe, a founder of neuroethics).

Smart Drugs for College Kids

November 05, 2015

Pop a pill, ace a test. If you could take a pill that would instantly make you work harder, improve your brain function and make you “smarter,” would you?

A panel of experts argued this question in a debate this week presented byIntelligence Squared U.S. at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., entitled, “College Students Should be Allowed to Take Smart Drugs.”

Are Smart Drugs a Smart Choice? Experts Debate at SMPA

November 03, 2015

If there was a pill that could make everyone smarter and more focused, how many people would take it?

This question was the subject of debate among experts at the Jack Morton Auditorium Monday night. Moderated by ABC News correspondent John Donvan, the panel weighed the medical and moral risks, as well as the benefits, of college students using drugs like Adderall, without a prescription, to help them study.

‘Smart Drugs’ Are Here — Should College Students Be Allowed to Use Them?

November 03, 2015

We use coffee to stay awake, good food and nutrition to stay healthy and alert. But if there was a drug that made you smarter, helped you learn, and made you more focused, would you take it?

That’s a question that Nicole Vincent, associate professor of philosophy, law and neuroscience at Georgia State University, asked to open her TED talk in Sydney last year.

That question also opened a Monday night debate at George Washington University in which two sides argued both for and against whether “College Students Should Be Allowed to Take Smart Drugs.”

Why Banning Smart Drugs for College Students Is Impossible, Evil

November 03, 2015

Should college students be allowed to take Adderall and Modafinil to improve their academic performance, or should universities treat these so-called “smart drugs” the same way Major League Baseball treats steroids? I attended a debate on the subject at George Washington University last night, and came away convinced that banning smart drugs is not only impractical—it’s profoundly evil.

Are Smart Drugs Good for College Students?

November 03, 2015

Should college students take smart drugs? That was the question posed to a panel of professors at an Intelligence Squared debate at George Washington University on Monday night.

Colleges Should Allow Students to Take Smart Drugs

November 03, 2015

Last night, I had the pleasure of debating my views on why college students should be allowed to take smart drugs. My partner, Anjan Chatterjee and I were in support of the resolution. Nicole Vincent and Eric Racine were opposed.

The debate, hosted by Intelligence Squared US (IQ2US) and FIRE, was an engaging conversation about the existing and potential role of these drugs in society, and in particular on college campuses.

Intelligence Squared / FIRE Debate: College Students Should Be Allowed to Take Smart Drugs

November 01, 2015

Intelligence Squared US and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) are embarking on a joint venture (that I am proud to have brokered), to present a series of high-profile debates on college campuses. Our first debate will be tomorrow at George Washington University.

‘Smart Pills’ for College Students: Would That Be Cheating?

October 26, 2015

Should students be allowed — or encouraged — to take “smart drugs” so they can get better grades?

That will be the question on the table on Monday when the public affairs program Intelligence Squared — IQ2 — brings its lively debate format to George Washington University.

Arguments Against Death Penalty Abolition Prevail in Great Intelligence Squared Debate

April 26, 2015

I have long been a fan of the Intelligence Squared debate series, which I often hear on my local NPR station (and which too often leads me to stay in my car longer than I had intended). I was especially excited when I learned that the series was finally going to focus on the death penalty.

The Social Implications of Brittany Maynard 'Dying With Dignity'

November 16, 2014

During an Intelligence Squared panel in New York City Wednesday evening, debaters argued over what defines “dignity” and what it means, exactly to die with it. Dying with dignity, in Brittany Maynard’s mind, implies that taking control of her situation and dying on her own terms is the best possible solution to her diagnosis. Having control over your own death may not be “natural” per se, but it can be compassionate. Maynard made the choice because life as the way she wanted to experience it should have been full of youth, vigor, beauty, and love — not pain, suffering, and a gradual wasting away of her mind and body. But to the physicians arguing against the law, dignity meant embracing the fact that life's value wasn't only found in beauty, youth, and independence — things our society values so much. Life itself was dignity, they claimed, even if it meant becoming deteriorated, old, and dependent.

Physician-Assisted Suicide: Poll Shows 2X People Voted Against It After This Debate

November 14, 2014

A group that hosts debates on volatile social, economic and political topics took up the question of physician-assisted suicide after Brittnay Maynard‘s case gave the topic national attention this month. And 45 percent of the audience changed their mind completely, voting either for, against or undecided after listening to just one hour of debate on the topic.

Intelligence Squared Debate: Legalize Assisted Suicide?

November 14, 2014

Two weeks after the physician-assisted suicide of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, an Intelligence Squared debate in New York explored whether the policy is compatible with the doctor’s healing role. The argument opposing physician-assisted suicide laws was judged the winning one by an audience gathered at the Kaufman Music Center Thursday night.

Andrew Solomon on Assisted Suicide, Brittany Maynard and Death with Dignity

November 11, 2014

The end of a life is inevitably tragic — but what if an even bigger tragedy could be avoided by hastening it?

That was the eventuality that 29-year-old Brittany Maynard chose to avoid. On Nov. 1, supported by her family and the millions around the world who learned about her choice to end her life before an aggressive brain tumor could leech it from her slowly and painfully, Maynard took a prescribed dose of lethal medication.

To get that prescription, Maynard moved with her family to Oregon, one of only five states with a “Death with Dignity” law that allows for assisted suicide, in which a doctor can provide medication to end the life of a dying patient who’s deemed mentally competent. Whether the option should be available nationwide, or banned entirely, will be the subject of an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate taking place Nov. 13, with passionate advocates on both sides.

FDA considers controversial fertility procedure. What’s at stake?

February 25, 2014

On Tuesday Feb. 25 and Wednesday Feb. 26, the FDA will consider a controversial cutting-edge fertility procedure otherwise known as “oocyte modification in assisted reproduction for the prevention of transmission of mitochondrial disease or treatment of infertility.” Despite the hype, the mitochondrial transfer procedures being considered are far from the “creation of three-parent babies.”

Instead, the FDA is finally considering whether it should green-light small clinical trials that could one day enable the thousands of women afflicted with mitochondrial disorders to have a shot at having healthy genetic children. Passions tend to run high in this area. Before the alarm bells start ringing on both sides, it might be helpful to have an overview of what is and is not at stake.

You can learn more about the pros and cons of mitochondrial transfer by listening to the Intelligence Squared Debate, in which I participated, here. It was a great debate and really aired a lot of the issues.

Debate Recap: Don’t Eat Anything With A Face

December 12, 2013

Last week I posted to Facebook and Twitter about a debate that was happening on IntelligenceSquaredUS.com, a site dedicated on showcasing live debates on various topics. Since then, the results of the debate have been analyzed and I find them very exciting.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the entire debate. It was wonderful to hear how each side agrees on a lot of matters: eat less meat, no factory farming, no GMOs…that’s progress.

Debate: Don't Eat Anything With A Face

December 12, 2013

Earlier this month, The Discerning Brute covered promotions for the debate event “Don’t Eat Anything with a Face.” It got a lot of press traction. Hosted by the U.S. affiliate of Intelligence Squared, the debate featured two two-member teams arguing each side of the motion. For the motion were Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and George Washington University and his debate partner Gene Baur, founder and co-president of Farm Sanctuary. Against the motion were Chris Masterjohn, author of the blog The Daily Lipid (sponsored by the Weston A. Price Foundation), and his debate partner Joel Salatin, public speaker and director of Polyface Farms.

The debate was composed of three rounds, including a question-and-answer with the audience, and to my delight it maintained an intelligent, robust, and precise examination of the motion, Don’t Eat Anything with a Face.

Face Off! A Debate About Eating Anything With A Face

December 10, 2013

Is it healthier to be a vegetarian? Or an omnivore? And how much of an environmental impact does livestock really have? These questions can spark a lively debate and that’s exactly what happened last week when Intelligence Squared presented Don’t Eat Anything With A Face. Clinical researcher and author Dr. Neal Barnard and Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, both in favor of the motion, faced off against farmer and author Joel Salatin and nutritional sciences researcher and blogger Chris Masterjohn.

It’s possible this debate could soon extend to include meat without a face.

Should We Eat Anything With A Face? Vegetarianism Vs. Carnivorism

December 08, 2013

Vegetarianism has been a part of human culture since the dawn of civilization, when Greek philosophers debated the morality of killing animals for their flesh. It was Pythagoras, the father of mathematics, who said, "As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower-living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other." (For what it's worth, that is not necessarily true.)

More than 2,000 years later, we're still having that debate. Last week, Intelligence Squared hosted a panel on the rights and wrongs of meat-eating, entitled "Don't Eat Anything With a Face."

Reflections on the "Don't Eat Anything With a Face" Debate, Part 1: Overall Impressions and Lessons

December 07, 2013

This past Wednesday I participated in an Intelligence Squared US debate, "Don't Eat Anything With a Face." Dr. Neal Barnard and Gene Baur argued for the motion, while Joel Salatin and I argued against it. If you missed it, you can watch the video here. It was a great experience, from which I learned a lot. I will be publishing a series of reflections on the debate, the first installment of which is below.

Should We Eat Anything With A Face?

December 07, 2013

Wednesday night, the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series took on vegetarianism and animal rights with the motion “should we eat anything with a face?” So who won?

The debate spanned nearly 90 minutes and covered nutrition, environmental concerns, animal welfare and ethics.

One thing that was established early on in the debate is that all of the panelists are against industrial factory farming, so discussion of that industry’s ethics were off the table completely — even though 99 percent of all farmed animals raised and slaughtered in the United States are from factory farms.

What they did discuss was the following...

Don’t Eat Anything with a Face: A Discussion on Eating Meat

December 06, 2013

The award-winning debate series, "Intelligence Squared U.S.," concluded its fall season with "Don't Eat Anything with a Face," moderated by ABC News correspondent John Donvan. The debate was centered on physical, psychological, environmental, and moral impacts caused by the American consumption of animal protein.

Not surprisingly, the topic ignited a strong reaction from vegans and omnivores alike.

What made the public feel so strongly about something as basic as food? [The program's chairman, Robert] Rosenkranz speculated that it was because our dietary choices have become a form of branding.

Choosing to buy organic and locally grown foods, or to only consume a plant-based diet, is part of our identity that broadcasts our personal values to the rest of the world. For example, being a vegan implies that you value your own health and the well-being of other species and the environment. However, is it possible to be ecological, ethical, and health-conscious while still consuming meat? The debate's four panelists sought to answer that very question.