October 20, 2006

TTA screening of "Building Gods"

Last night the Toronto Transhumanist Association, in collaboration with the Toronto Secular Alliance, presented a screening of Ken Gumb’s documentary, “Building Gods.” Gumb’s independent rough-cut documentary deals with the topic of pending artificial intelligence with a particular focus on greater-than-human AI. It features interviews from the World Transhumanist Association’s Nick Bostrom, cyberneticist Kevin Warwick, AI developer Hugo DeGaris, and theologian Anne Foerst.

We were fortunate to have about 20-25 people attend, most of them members of the Secular Alliance and the local humanist chapter. The screening was held at the Freethought Centre near University of Toronto campus. After the screening, which was 80 minutes in length, I moderated an open forum for a discussion of the various issues as presented in the film. Topics discussed included: friendly AI, the concept of goal driven AI, the problem of consciousness, uploading and corporeality, subjective differentiation between analog and synthetic consciousness (particularly differences in the perception of time elapsement), and how non-augmented humans may hope to be treated by an advanced intellect.

I was fairly surprised to discover that many of the humanists and atheists present were unaware of the transhumanist meme and its attendant issues. Most had never heard of such thinkers as Ray Kurzweil, Hans Moravec, Bostrom, Warwick and DeGaris, and they had only known concepts like SAI and uploading from science fiction (if that). But despite the new material and futurist revelations, most attendees were able to hold their own in during the discussion period and contribute meaningfully. It helps to have an open mind and a scientific inclination -- attributes that certainly characterize most humanists and atheists.

We had a good crowd, a good venue and the appropriate equipment. The response and level of interaction was very good, so I'll work to organize future screenings.


Michael Anissimov said...

They weren't familiar with anything but were able to hold their own during the conversation sessions? I'd need to see it to believe it. Anyway, great of you guys to put on this event. Haven't seen Building Gods yet... I'm terrified to hear what Hugo has to say. :)

George said...

Michael: Admittedly, saying they "were able to hold their own during the conversation" may have been overstating the point. More accurately, we were able to advance the conversation beyond a certain level that the general population normally won't touch - things like cognitive functionalism (rather than vitalism), open-mindedness about both the prospect and desirability of uploading (rather than outright yuck-factor), and general humanist principles (rather than religion and ideas of hubris).

Interestingly, there was one attendee who at a very rudimentary level started to grok the poorly programmed SAI problem and began to spontaneously throw some quarantine/sandbox ideas at me. This goes beyond the kind of thinking and language that I've come to expect from the so-called man on the street.

That said, there were several people in the audience who refused to believe that AI could ever mature to this point and attain any semblance of "intuition" and qualia that characterizes human consciousness. So, it was a fairly mixed bag.