Upcoming Talks at Starbase Indy 2018

Upcoming Talks at Starbase Indy 2018 October 30, 2018

I will be speaking at Starbase Indy this year, and they have a fantastic program lined up. Here are my two contributions which are offered jointly with my colleague Ankur Gupta:

Friday, November 23
Autonomous Computers and the Kobayashi Maru
Astrophysics, 8pm – 9:15pm
Tags: STEM, Presentation
James McGrath, Ankur Gupta

Kirk’s not the only one who dislikes no-win situations. The difficulty all humans face when it comes to no-win scenarios brings key aspects of human ethical reasoning into focus, whether they be captaining ships or programming our values into the software guiding autonomous vehicles.

Conversely, it also suggests that when situations arise in which there are genuinely no “good” options, whether on the road or near the neutral zone close to Klingon space, it may be advantageous to leave the hard decisions to machines rather than human beings. Let’s explore why.


Saturday, November 24
A Data-Driven Approach to Artificial Intelligence and Machine Freedom
Astrophysics, 4pm – 5:15pm
Tags: STEM, Presentation
James McGrath, Ankur Gupta

Philosophers, neuroscientists, computer programmers, and science fiction authors do not agree on what is meant by free will or whether or not humans possess it. Nuances in the definition of free will further complicates the issue. For example, do domesticated animals have free will? (Surely, your cat seems to, doesn’t it?) Does a human newborn child have free will to the same extent as they will have it later? Is free will a purely binary property, or does it exist on a continuum? A number of science fiction television shows – including not only Star Trek but also Westworld, Humans, and others – have explored some of these questions in terms of their moral, ethical, philosophical, societal, technological, legal, and religious implications. This session will use the metaphor of Commander Data as a basis for conversation about robots, rights, and responsibilities, both in realistic technological environments as well as imagined universes where machines (at least outwardly) express traits in the human image.

Take a look at the program to see what else is on there. It is so strange for me to see my own part of the program listed as having a STEM focus, while others are offering humanities approaches to topics such as the intersection of theology and Star Trek!

Of related interest, see the article about the robot that co-taught a course about philosophy – covering subjects like AI and just war theory – at West Point! Also, Joshua Kim talked about robots taking jobs and the future of higher education. New Scientist published articles recently about the trolley problem and driverless cars, and about our attachment to and anthropomorphizing of robots. Kate Darling gave a TED Talk on that last subject too. And Azerbaijan issued a visa to Sophia the robot when she visited the country – another first in robot history.

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  • John MacDonald

    James said:

    Philosophers, neuroscientists, computer programmers, and science fiction authors do not agree on what is meant by free will or whether or not humans possess it.

    Free Will is a fun question.

    Kant argued there is a sense in which individual human Wills are not free (no freedom-from), but human Will as such does posses a certain kind of freedom (freedom for).

    Kant observed we are not free to disassociate ourselves from the moral, and in fact any, consequences of our actions. Unlike animals, and unless we are crazy, we cannot free ourselves from being morally attached to our actions. On the other hand, we can see that, without external influence, the Will, for whatever reason, self-legislates that my fingerprint be affixed to all my actions, and hence makes ethics possible. .

    Kant said in the first Critique that:

    “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.

    With this reflection on the moral law within, I am suspicious that Kant had in mind Romans 2:14-15:

    Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do by nature what the Law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Law, 15since they show that the work of the Law is written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts either accusing or defending them.

    • John MacDonald

      People may vehemently protest that they have reasons as to why they are not culpable for a certain action they did, but such protest vividly shows people understand that our ownership is attached to our actions. Why the Will self-legislates that our fingerprint be attached to our actions is a mystery, and hence worthy of thoughtful consideration.