What Lies Behind the Dream of Turning People into Computers and Computers into People

Reviewing some half-dozen recent books by self-proclaimed futurists who predict a world where artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies will, in one way or another, break down the distinction between man and machine, Joseph Bottum finds little intellectual sophistication but some noteworthy commonalities:

[T]hese books are far more interesting in general than they are in particular, and the bulk of them suggests far more compelling thoughts than any one of them manages on its own.

Although the authors tend toward the happy-happy end of futurism—soon we will live like George Jetson!—they begin in outrage. It’s outrageous that our bones break and our cells fail. It’s outrageous that we have such flimsy bodies. It’s especially outrageous that we die. The indignation here is metaphysical, a fury at the human condition, and it has its root in Francis Bacon’s modernity-defining claim that science is born in rejection of the world as unchangeable.

Unfortunately, . . . instead of plowing ahead on the path that early-modern thinkers [like Bacon] pointed out, seeking to ameliorate the shocks that flesh is heir to, the new generations of computer-enamored writers seem to have taken a detour—and found themselves looping back to recreate, all unknowingly, the old hatred of the material world taught by the Gnostics of late antiquity. If it’s outrageous that our bodies fail us, then we should try to eliminate the body. If it’s outrageous that we die, then we must become immortal. If it’s outrageous that human existence is so sloppy and fragile, then the human parts of us will simply have to go. . . . [These authors share with the Gnostics a longing] to be an animal, a tree, a stone, an angel, a machine—anything but a human being.

Read more at Washington Free Beacon

More about: Artifical Intelligence, History & Ideas, Mortality, Technology


An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy