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I Favor Republicans

I am voting for Republicans. My reasons for voting for Republicans would probably make those Republicans choke. Let us start at the beginning.

In the past century the cost of computing a given mathematical calculation fell by a factor of over 600 billion. Since 1940 the progress of computers exploded. Economist William Nordhaus believes that the modern computer architecture developed around World War II coincided with a “tectonic shift” in growth patterns. We can construct mathematical models of the ensuing trends and extrapolate them into the future. Several people, including futurist Ray Kurzweil and computer scientist Hans Moravec, predict using these models that PCs will reach the raw computing power of a human brain by the 2020s and that the second half of the 21st century will be dominated by superintelligent machines.

Others like philosopher Nick Bostrom and economist Robin Hanson are uncertain about this outcome but ascribe it considerable probability. Since its consequences would be enormous this means that we must adjust our plans. I agree. We cannot simply dismiss the possibility that a 70-year-old trend will continue another 15 years or even 70 years. The consequences might seem absurd, laughable, and outrageous. Bizarre consequences do not however void a conclusion based on sound logic. And powerful mind-enhancing drugs, genetic engineering, and immortality seem at least as likely if you take superintelligent machines seriously.

Some see these technologies as blessings ushering in utopia. In particular they view immortality as positive. I completely differ on immortality’s desirability. A fountain of youth would warp the institution of the family beyond recognition: the childbearing rate would have to drastically slow to maintain a steady population. That might mean no children or children only for the wealthy. Think In Time or Children of Men.

With immortality there is no temporal structure to life and no sacrifice. You can have it all: you can be both drifter and doctor. You can live fifty years with one wife and fifty years with another. Failure has no consequence. Nothing matters. And who could refuse this “gift”? Would not refusal be suicide, a sin in many religions? The concept of immortality seems a siren beckoning toward the rocks of meaninglessness. I do not think that humans are capable of maintaining the fetters of mortality of our own accord—it seems our nature to hearken to the beautiful voices of the sirens and struggle against our bonds. But by breaking the fetters we would lose our humanity.

A more obvious problem is that AIs or other entities might decide to simply eradicate mankind. This would less likely produce a dramatic Terminator battle than the equivalent of humans killing bacteria. That unfortunately does not make for exciting films. Or intelligent life could totally fail at managing its technology and destroy itself. Nuclear weapons already make this possible.

Remaining human must be enough for us. Some like Francis Fukuyama imagine that future technologies can be regulated and controlled. They are correct in acknowledging the danger but their proposed solution is lacking. Our capabilities could easily grow so advanced that regulation would be impossible. Developing such powers would be suicide—the only question is the form of destruction. We must change course on a global level or it may soon be too late. A worldwide treaty is needed to block threatening technologies.

Nor must we split hairs over details or delay unnecessarily. Disaster is unlikely in the next few years but both social change and technological advance are rough processes. It would be far better to miss benign technologies than overshoot. The price of renunciation may be a fearsome Scylla but Charybdis is worse.

Not all technological advance should stop. New energy sources to replace fossil fuels will be necessary. Space exploration too is desirable. Unfortunately, few are giving much thought now to picking and choosing technologies. One lever that voters do have is influence over general economic growth. Either one party or another will encourage more growth and technology. We can choose all or nothing. Given the risks of choosing all, I think the responsible choice is nothing. Opinions will no doubt differ on which party would produce less growth. My opinion is Republicans. It is unfortunate that their foreign policy is less internationalist than Obama’s–that is a source of doubt and conflict for me–and I am considering an exception with the office of President. But for Congress and statewide offices whose powers are more domestic, Republicans get my vote.

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