Sunday, April 29, 2012

The End of Cheating

Much like issues with the end of judgment and the end of insurance, will future technology bring the end of cheating?

I am, of course, referring to sex robots. They are coming. They are quite literally an inevitability. I would imagine that our first ostensibly human-like robots are less than twenty years away, and our first affordable robots that are at least functional for sexual purposes at a price that people can afford is maybe another twenty years after that.

As with so many things in the future, our ability to understand and thus manipulate the blocks of the world that represent "reality" forces questions upon us. We take so much of the world at face value, which of course makes perfect sense. We evolved in a world where we had to take things at face value. But as concepts like souls, free will, identity, and humanity fall apart under analysis, where we will go?

As regards sexbots, will we be forced to recognize the philosophical issue of not knowing what happens in another person's head? And our concept of a "person" is extrapolated from behavior of a creature that looks like "me." We already have studies showing that human-like robots can be "blamed" in the same way that we blame other people. We know that the robots are not human. We know that they are nothing more than lines of code. Yet, our emotional drives are apparently willing to ascribe human-like souls to robots if they are suitably human-like.

This drive is there even with robots that look more like Wall-e than Wally, so when robots that look very human, this drive will likely be as strong as they would for real humans. Will the inevitable sexbots change our conception of cheating?

For example, very few people would count masturbation as cheating. Likewise, complex masturbation through tools and sex dolls would also not be seen as cheating. Cheating, at least for most people, requires another person. But what happens when sex dolls look like another person?

Aside from the surface issues, we also get into thorny problems like intent. Would it be cheating if the cheater thought that the robot was another person? Could a person program an impossibly-attractive robot to specifically seduce someone for the purpose of destroying a relationship? Would we accept people being in "relationships" with robots? Many more questions present themselves, because this isn't just about sex, it's about love, friendship, emotions, and our ability to socialize.

My answer to these problems is one that Dan Savage would love: the end of relationships as we know them is less than a lifetime away. Traditional relationships with fidelity and monogamy are, by and large, social constructs. They don't even work very well when we only have human people running around, what with over 50% of marriages ending in divorce, as many as 70% of people cheating at some point in their life, and 10% of men caring for kids that they think are theirs... but aren't.

When sexbots come out, our traditional conceptions of fidelity and relationships will be ripped apart, and we will finally be free from the shackles of our ridiculous, socially-prescribed conceptions, free to live and love as we see fit.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The End Of Health Insurance

I was watching a recent PBS Nova episode about analyzing the human genome, and how the future is one where any illnesses related to genetics will be predictable to a high degree of confidence. While I understand that it is a bit esoteric for a national discussion that includes people dumb enough to holler things like this, the inevitable future of insurance needs to be broached. In the future, insurance will be dead because of genetic analysis.

I'm not a tin-foil-hat sort of fight the future wingnut. I can't wait for the future. It's gonna' be great. But that doesn't mean that many things that the future holds do not carry concerns along with them. Genetic understanding, perhaps more so than any other endeavor, is a hornet's nest of thorny issues. And that's absolutely great. All of the ethical issues that must be addressed are actually a blessing in disguise, not an imposition on progress. They force people to realize a mechanistic nature to our reality.

We are mechanistic, and we are learning more about the gears with every passing day. Many of the systems in our modern world are based on not knowing. For example, I buy car insurance because I don't know if I will get into an accident. Likewise, health insurance is based on not knowing. But as we discover more, we are starting to know. We are starting to understand.

For example, a person has a genetic make-up that guarantees that they will contract an ultimately deadly illness. This person is a guaranteed loss for any insurance company. If this is known, no company would ever accept this client. How can we fix this? We could force insurance companies to cover these patients, but could we force them to charge certain prices? The government would be forcing a company to accept a loss.

Would we see the emergence of cheap insurance providers who specifically provide only to those with clean DNA, thus leaving other insurance companies to provide incredibly expensive care to those without? Both DNA and economics would conspire to create a genetic underclass who cannot afford health care.

This future is inevitable. Some day, we will know with incredibly high confidence the healthful future of anyone who has their DNA sequenced. And if we still have insurance companies, why should they not be allowed access to data that is substantive to a prospective client's health? Understanding the human machine and insurance based on chance do not mix.

So what do we do? We either restrict health insurance companies to the point where they become quasi-governmental entities or a fool's business, or we stop pretending like the conservative wackos in this country know at all what they're talking about, and join the rest of the Western world in government-provided health care.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Are You A Creep? (UPDATED)

Jezebel has a great article by Hugo Schwyzer about "creep-shaming." This is only one part of an expanding online discussion on the subject and is fantastically enlightening.

First, before going any further, let it be said that creep-shaming is total nonsense. It's yet another game for men's-righters to play, and as we all know, they are essentially a hate group. I will admit, though, that it would sting much more if someone called me a creep than any other particular name. Why that is is worth addressing.

If I call a black man an asshole, that's behavioral. But if I call him a "nigger," that is qualitative. Ignoring the fact that racial epithets have buckets more emotional baggage than simply a qualitative insult, and as such add to sting, there is nothing that a black man can do about being black, and I am insinuating that this fact makes him less-than.

I think that creep is the same thing. It's not just that "creep" communicates the mental state of a woman, but that it qualitatively jabs the man. A man who is an "asshole" simply knows to stop acting like an asshole, because the statement is generally about behavior. But "creep" is not something where a man can simply stop acting in a particular way. He is a creep.

They hit on something very important in the other articles, and that is the reason why the word "creep" is qualitative. It's because unlike "asshole," which has pretty well-defined behavioral patterns attached to it, "creep" does not. As such, the men who are called creeps may not even fully understand why, and thus, it becomes something they are as opposed to something that they do. In an absence of understanding, it's not surprising that many men become angry.

That doesn't mean that quantifying the behavior is entirely impossible. I think it can be done (I think it has to do with those who copy the gross aspects of confident behavior and those who behave in a certain way because they are confident), but for the sake of this article, we won't try to do that.

Moreover, men who are "creeps" are setting off warning bells with women. People are good at detecting micro-behaviors as a way to interpret someone else's mindset. Facial expression, body positioning, hand movements, eye contact: all of these things come into play in interactions not just for women, but for all of us. These are not things that are easily controlled, which is why when people go into an interaction with someone and try to be a particular way, it seems off. The gross behavior does not line up with the micro-behavior, and thus, we have a creep.

For men who don't want to be creeps, it requires more than behavioral changes, it requires a deep analysis of one's mindset at the beginning of an interaction. This is not easy, but the ease with which it can be done has nothing to do with men's anger. It is the fact that many of them aren't even aware that this is the case.


A study has been released essentially confirming this. "Creeps" elicit a physiological response that literally gives people shivers.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Hardest Job In The World

I hate when people say that. I really do. “Motherhood is the hardest job in the world.” Because the person who says it is usually someone who couldn’t have any idea whether that was true or not...painting us all as selfless saints is a ridiculous generalization that allows public figures to pay lip service to motherhood without standing behind it.
- Amy Wilson

She is correct to paint this not as an issue specific to mothers, or women, or any group in general. It is a lesson learned at the expense of oppressed masses over the past two millenia. Because, as leaders throughout history have discovered, there is no easier to way to imprison someone, than restrain them with the chains of adulation.

please stop saying that motherhood is the hardest job in the world (When Did I Get Like This?)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Disasters Change People's Minds

Captain, I think something is wrong.
A study has come out showing that those most affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill were highly likely to have their views on general environmental issues changed. Basically, if you were near the Gulf, you now think that environmental concerns are bigger, with global warming and oil as bad, and alternative energy as good.

First off, as with many situations such as this, the people who change their minds should be commended. It may have taken the worst oil spill in history to change their mind, but at least they did. In the face of mounds of evidence, there are many people out there who still refuse to alter their views. They remain steadfast against reason, logic, argument, and even elementary English, in their refusal to accept something that doesn't jibe with their dogma.

Second off, as with many situations such as this, the people who change their minds should be ridiculed. It took the worst oil spill in history to change their mind. They are still idiots. They've got at least another five years of making good decisions before I hand over their "Smart Club" card.

Gulf Coast residents say BP Oil Spill changed their environmental views, UNH research finds (EurekAlert)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Space Dinosaurs

A new study by Ronald Breslow from the Journal of the American Chemical Society, yes, we have one of those, has speculated on the nature of life elsewhere in the cosmos. They specifically question whether dinosaurs could have become the dominant, intelligent form of life on other planets.

I'm glad to see scientists catching up to what 80's kids have known for over two decades.