Could Artificial Intelligence Ever Become Conscious?

Could Artificial Intelligence Ever Become ConsciousWhen we look around at the world today, we are seeing several modest advances in artificial intelligence, such as being on the doorstep to seeing cars drive themselves. And now we could be on the verge of yet another amazing development: machines that are aware of their own existence and their surroundings. Now only that, such machines could have the ability to absorb massive quantities of real time data. They could go out dangerous missions, into either combat or space. Besides perhaps driving folks around, they could be able to cook for us, clean our homes, and even do our laundry.  They could also us company when there are no other people around.

Replacing Humans Altogether?

An advanced group of these machines could totally replace us at most all jobs. That could save mankind from drudgery of daily work, but it will probably disturb several societal foundations. Lives with all play and no work could become a dystopia.

Conscious machines will most likely bring up some disturbing ethical and legal problems as well. How about the liability behind a conscious AI machine if it were to hurt someone? Or to go a step further, perhaps these machines would come together and rebel against human society – just like in the science fiction movies. Many experts consider these machines to be a bit of an societal evolution.

Many scientists and engineers are somewhat divided as to whether these conscious machines will ever exist. In addition to that, they are also debating as to whether these machines would ever be called “conscious” in the same way that we think of a human being conscious – or even the way that some animals are conscious. Some of these great questions pertain to technology; while other questions ask about the definition of consciousness itself.

Is awareness enough?

Many computer scientists believe that consciousness is will the result as technology advances. Some of these experts feel that consciousness means being able to accept new information, retrieving and storing old information and then applying some cognitive processing of this data which results into actions and perceptions.

If this is true, then perhaps there will be a day when these machines become conscious. They will be able to collect much more data than a human ever could, and store enough of it to fill countless libraries, have access to massive databases within only milliseconds, and then compute all of this into decisions that are more complex than any human could ever dream of.

However, there are philosophers and physicists who claim there are more to humans than could ever be computed by a computer. Creativity, for instance, and the feeling of freedom are states of mind that humans have which are not derived from calculations or logic.

But these aren’t the only viewpoints of what consciousness is all about, or even if machines could ever get there.

Quantum viewpoints

Yet another view of consciousness comes from the popular quantum theory, which comes from the field of physics. The orthodox Copenhagen Interpretation claims that the physical world and consciousness are complementary factors of the very same reality we see. Whenever someone observes, or conducts an experiment on, a certain part of our physical world, their individual conscious interaction will cause changes in what they are testing.

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Near-Death Experiences Have Proven an Afterlife

Near-Death Experiences Have Proven an AfterlifeMany religious visions of an afterlife, like those of heaven from Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, are essays of faith that are expected to be believe without any demands for proof or evidence. However, scientific quests for immortality are based on beliefs that evidence is the main premise but could already exists through Near-Death Experiences and even reincarnation. Let us look at both paths to heaven independently since they have completely different rationale for what’s actually happening.

Are Near Death Experiences Really Stairways to Heaven?

Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) are usually depicted by 5 components that common to each incident: (1) Out-of-Body Experiences (OBE) with feelings of floating above their body while they look down; (2) Total separation from their body; (3) Going into darkness via a hallway or tunnel; (4) Observing a very bright light at the tunnel’s end that appears to be a passageway to… (5) Another side, where bright light, the holy God, angels, and loved ones who have “crossed over” are all there to usher in and welcome the person who is dying.

Often times there’s a review of one’s life, and most of these NDEs are very positive and lead dying individuals to experience extreme joy and gratitude. But according to the International Association of Near-Death Studies, some 9 – 23% of these people have experienced very negative NDEs that were characterized by void, fear, pain, emptiness, and even the feelings of nonexistence. Rather than going to heaven, several of these folks feel they are going to hell. According to one NDE scientist named Phyllis Atwater, who’s gone through NDEs herself and now specializes in these negative experiences that some people are reporting, these hellish NDEs happen to “those who seem to have deeply repressed guilt, fear, and anger, or those who expect some kind of punishment after death.” So whenever we start explaining NDEs, we have to realize that there is going to be big variety of them and therefore, no single monolithic theory is going to explain all of them.

Numerous Cases Experiencing the Door to Heaven

The public became aware of NDEs and OBEs in 1975 because of Raymond Moody’s bestseller entitled Life After Life, which described well over one hundred cases, where numerous individuals accepted as proof of the afterlife. The frequency at which NDEs take place is very difficult to express with reliable data or numbers. There is a cardiologist who is named Fred Schoonmaker, for instance, who claimed that some 50% of more than 2000 of his patients across an 18 year interval had reported having NDEs. In a 1982 Gallup poll, they reported a percentage number that was considerably smaller at 5%. There is another cardiologist named Pim van Lommel who is claiming that about 12% of his 344 cardiac arrest cases have been successfully brought back from NDEs, and he wrote in his book called Consciousness Beyond Life what most folks believe—NDEs are proof that the mind survives without their  brain.

Perhaps the most famous and popular NDE occurred in the year 1984 when this migrant worker named Maria entered a hospital in Seattle after suffering a heart attack. While in ICU she had another cardiac arrest. After resuscitation she described what had happened to her. She said that she had floated above her body to the ceiling. From there, she saw medics trying to revive her. Remarkably, she claimed says she floated outside that hospital room and spotted a tennis shoe on a ledge of a window on the third floor. Her social worker in the ICU, who was a woman called Kimberly Clark, went to the third floor and got a shoe from the ledge of that window: “The only way she could have had such a perspective was if she had been floating right outside and at very close range to the tennis shoe. I retrieved the shoe and brought it back to Maria; it was very concrete evidence to me.”

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Harvard Researchers Claim Young Americans are Dumping Democracy

Harvard Researchers Claim Young Americans are Dumping DemocracyThere is no doubt that 2016 was a crazy year from a political standpoint. In huge upset, voters in Britain voters chose to exit to leave the European Union which sent the markets spinning. And then Americans elected Donald Trump as President which shocked the world. And then In the country of Austria, the right wing populist candidate representing the Freedom Party barely lost the presidency to a 72-year-old opponent.

Democracy Getting Canned Worldwide

We saw Turkey, who is a member of NATO and a possible EU member, was often referred to as a shining example of a very stable Democracy from the Middle East. Then the military currently engaged in a coup d’etat under the cause of “constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, and the rule of law”. The ensuing defeat of this coup led to a huge crackdown on journalists, academia, and even police officers.

All these factors have made the recent results of a brand new study about the world’s young people understandable. This study was conducted by Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk, and it has shown that young people have become increasingly un-democratic and un-liberal in their political views as to how a government should operate. In fact, they discover that just a third of millennials from the US view civil rights as essential to democracies, as compared to about 40% of citizens who are older. We have seen poll results on the topic are a little higher in Europe.

The study also found that only 20% of US millennials agreed with the statement “a military takeover is not legitimate in a democracy”. And there was about 25% of American millennials who believed that democracy is either “bad” or “very bad” for any country, which is up about 10% from a poll that is 20 years old. And European millennials pretty much responded the exact same way.

Finding Out Why

Why do these young people think this way? The polls have almost always shown that younger people have a tendency to have these kinds of attitudes toward anti-liberal political views, when compared to their elderly counterparts. The fact is that these millennials are remembering only the time after which Francis Fukuyama made the statement “End of History” along with the triumph of Western Liberal Democratic Capitalism. To a large extent, they are probably taking the social order for granted and are not seeing the full issue of reduced liberties. They have no memory at all of the evil totalitarian regimes from the past – like their older counterparts remember.

In all fairness to them, these young people have witnessed several failures of democracy within their lifetimes. Americans who are at least 24 have witnessed seven different presidential elections within their lifetime. They have seen two of these elections lost by the candidate who won the popular vote. They have also seen four of these elections won by people who didn’t even receive 50% of the votes.

Likewise in the United Kingdom, there was a recent election where results were the absolute worst ever in history in terms of voting results when compared to who wound up getting into office. Only about 36% of total votes cast were actually cast for their Conservative party, who was able to form a majority government in the end.

It is easy to look at these political events and conclude that your political participation makes very little difference.

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Why Does Your Brain Keep False Beliefs?

Why Does Your Brain Keep False BeliefsThe methods that our brains use to form our beliefs have been influenced by an evolutionary push to be more efficient instead of accurate. Abstract belief creation, which is those beliefs that are conveyed through language and not by our experiences, is most likely one of the truly few things that make us uniquely human, and this makes it fairly new within the span of evolutionary time.

History of Belief Formation

Prior to language, our ancestors would create form a new belief only through the things that they experienced directly within the physical world that existed around them. And for these perceptual beliefs that come straight from our direct sensory experiences, so this makes it reasonable to assume that our senses would not lie to us. After all, seeing is indeed believing. Because in those early days, if you questioned what you saw or heard could have gotten you eaten. And for our ancestors, it was always much better to be safe rather than sorry – particularly if the decisions is whether or not a lion is sitting in the nearby grass.

This is why we humans did not exercise very much skepticism whenever our beliefs pertained to those things that we experienced directly – particularly whenever our life is on the line. Then as our language began to form, we gradually became able to begin forming beliefs about issues and things that we had not experienced directly for ourselves. And many of them we began to believe very strongly.

Our Brains Don’t Update Beliefs that are False – But We Do

The fact is many of our beliefs are probably harmless. Lots of them were most likely picked up in the environment that we grew up in. The problems come from the risk of not keeping these beliefs current. We tend to hold onto beliefs even though the basis for those beliefs might have changed. And on top of this, we still keep forming beliefs without performing any due diligence on any of them, and sometimes we even keep them after getting corrective information that directly contradicts our chosen beliefs.

In the year 1994, scientists and researchers Colleen Seifert and Hollyn Johnson requested that their study subjects to examine and read messages regarding a warehouse fire. Some of those messages claimed that this fire began close to a closet that contained paint cans and gas cylinders, and it encouraged them to make a connection. And then, after receiving five additional messages, these same subjects get a correction which explained that this closet had actually been empty, the subjects still responded to questions regarding the fire by placing blame on burning paint and referred to neglect of having flammable objects stored close by. So it seems that seeking the real truth – the desire in knowing the actual truth even though it may not align with our current beliefs – actually opposes the way our brains process data.

So we may need to step up and give some assistance to our brains occasionally. Whenever you have an argument with someone about a topic you passionately believe in, it might be a good idea to determine why you believe in it and why. Sometimes, a little skepticism goes a long way.

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Democracy is Declining Everywhere—even in the United States

Democracy is Declining Everywhere—even in the United StatesAs with any other government, there are many problems associated with a democratic government. And constant failure to resolve these problems can lead to the loss of trust by their citizens – especially in the face of declining quality in public services. However, in the end democracy relies on the support of its populous in order to function.

Unpopularity could be the least of Democracy’s Worries

The Economist Intelligence Unit, who provides an annual Democracy Index report, are indicating that democracies are in trouble all over the globe. There were 167 countries that received ranking this year, 89 of those countries got lower scores this year as compared to last year. These scores are reflecting a big range of attitudes, liberties, and norms that make up the most vital aspects of free society.

How does the scoring work?

This report assigns rank for each country on a 0-10 scale in each of the categories ranging from the electoral process and pluralism, government functionality, civil liberties, political participation, and the overall political culture. Every one of these categories is composed of more specific indicators. All these scores are then combined into one single score that represents the status of democracy and freedom within that country.

The overall score of every country places them into one of four classifications: a full democracy, a flawed democracy, a hybrid regime or an authoritarian regime.

How bad is the world overall?

As it turns out, less than 50% of the people in the world are living under some kind of a democracy. This margin is quite thin as a single percent swing could actually tip the scale, and it is also symbolic of how democracy has declined during the past decade. Approximately 33% of the world’s population is living underneath authoritarian regimes – the majority of this number represents the population of China. But only 5% of the world’s population is living in a full democracy.

The biggest driver for this fall in democratic governments is Asia. And then there is India, who became a democratic nation after their independence, who has seen a big drop in its country’s score because of a marked increase in ethnic and religious unrest. Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam have all fallen deeper into authoritarian rule, and them there was the religiously infused election over the governorship of Jakarta that caused Indonesia’s score to drop tremendously.

Basically, the average score for all Asian country is equal to a hybrid regime, as opposed to full democracy status that are inherent throughout Europe and North America. And the averages core for Latin American countries is now a flawed democracy, even though Uruguay is the lone developing country which can claim full democracy status.

Why did this even happen?

While many of these democratic declines we are seeing globally is attributable to the extended use of authoritarian practices, like Spain’s response to the rebellion of Catalonia or the famous crackdowns on dissent in the nation of Venezuela, there were also some problems that occurred in established democracies as well.

The creators of this index also warn people that there are lots of elements for falling scores. Some of these elements go on to initiate deadly and vicious cycles, like the increase in the polarization that can hinder the overall function of government. This drop in functionality will almost always leads to the erosion of belief in their public institutions.

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Does the US have the 5 Elements of Fascism?

Does the US have the 5 Elements of FascismMany Americans are witnessing the most politically polarizing times of their lifetimes. Both sides have and continue to make remarkable claims and accusations about the other side. One of those claims have been claiming the other sides are engaging in fascism.

Is this really true? Is American seeing one of her major political parties become fascists? Maybe we should examine this charge more closely.

The Real World of Fascism

To begin with, the word fascist is hardly ever used correctly. The present use totally ignores the historical precedent as well as the precise environment that is needed before a country can become fascist.

Actually, fascists do not come from Germany and the Nazis. Instead they come from Italy. The Italian leader Benito Mussolini started the National Fascist Party during the years of 1919 to 1921, right after the conclusion of World War I. As a matter of fact, the very word “fascism” is derived from “fascio littorio”, which is a group of rods that are tied to an axe, which is a symbol for the magistrate’s authority that originated in ancient Rome. And this authority could be used to order capital punishment if necessarily.

What has to happen for a country to go fascist?

1) Fascism requires a militaristic society. One of the reactions to World War I was the extreme militarization of several countries. Nations such as Germany and  Italy believed there was a great need for having the ability to quickly mobilize millions of people very quickly in order to fight wars and for various means of economic support.

2) Fascists reject democracy. They do not believe in governments where the general population is allowed to select government powers, because it is felt that the populous is not capable of picking proper leaders. Thus, people’s rights and freedoms are limited.

3) Fascists prefer a totalitarian rule of one-party with a strong sole leader (a dictator). They believe that this configuration allows for the country to enjoy an unparalleled national unity of purpose, to have a much more ordered society, and to maximize readiness for any armed conflict. It is also believed that these societies are better prepared to react quicker to economic measures as well, particularly during times of difficulties. This is what causes fascist countries to isolate themselves, and then they tend to blame international economics for its problems.

4) Fascism is not solely a left-wing or right-wing society. It can actually have elements from both sides of the political spectrum. Even Mussolini described the fascist movement as one that will strike “against the backwardness of the right and the destructiveness of the left”.

The historian Roger Griffin from Britain wrote that fascist societies from the 20th century possessed such elements as “a rebirth myth, populist ultra-nationalism and the myth of decadence.” In other words, fascism makes the claim that these radical and nationalist new politics will left a nation out of decadence and into a renewal period of renewal.

5) Fascism causes people to freely give up their ideals out of great fear for their safety. Nations who got the short end of the stick after World War I were quite ripe for a fascist movement because many of them greatly feared the rest of the world. This is a very important element of fascism as people are required to give up their rights in exchange for safety and security.

Is the US Really Ready for Fascism?

What would it actually take for the United States to brush aside democracy for the dark side? There are many out there who become fearful upon hearing the slogan “make America great again”, which does indicate a need for the renewal of America. But then there are others who fear a stronger government would only bring tyranny that take their guns away, take their money, and even dissolve their religion. Thus, both parties see elements of fascism in the other. The strong presence of state within the fascist structure directly defies the beliefs of the US Republican party, while potential social restrictions do not sit well for the Democratic party. This means in reality, fascism is a government that doesn’t really fit either political party in America.

As a matter of fact, these fascist conditions are not currently present in our country – at least not on a national level. Quite honestly, it appears to be impossible for any movement to attain the required militarization, get complete control of the media, and then have the social power that would be needed to become a serious threat to the democracy of the United States. However, as the old saying goes, never say never.

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Americans Consider Buddhism as More of a Philosophy than a Religion

Americans Consider Buddhism as More of a Philosophy than Religion - 1During the month of February, within the heart of Eastern Asia, Buddhists will celebrate the death of the great Buddha and his ushering mankind into final enlightenment. Yet in American, many Zen temples have that celebration of Buddha’s enlightenment during the December holiday season. This is just an example of America’s view of Buddhism.

Early Influences of Buddha

Buddhism made its way into the American culture during the late 19th century. This was a time when Americans were intrigued by Oriental mysticism. In fact, it fueled the imaginations of many famous American philosophers, artists, poets, and even world religion scholars.

Many great poets such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were said to have read Buddhist philosophy quite often. And Henry Steel Olcott even visited Sri Lanka in the year 1880 and actually made a conversion to Buddhism, he then went on to found a very popular brand of mystical philosophy that is now called Theosophy.

Additionally, many connoisseurs that admired Buddhist art exposed America to its beauty. Ernest Fenellosa, who was a well know art historian and also a Professor of philosophy , and his fellow Bostonian William Sturgis Bigelow, were some of the very first Americans at that time to travel to Japan. There they converted to Buddhism and collected many pieces of Buddhist art. After returning home, their art collections were the beginning of the famous Arts of Asia collection located at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

And then there were the early scholars that studied world religions like Paul Carus who made Buddhist material available to Americans. He was responsible for the publication of The Gospel of Buddha, which is a best-selling group of Buddhist parables, one year after he attended the World Parliament of Religions that took place in Chicago during the year 1893. This was actually the very first time in modern history where members of the world’s largest religions met to find out more about each other’s religious traditions.

More Modern Views

The Buddhist delegation that took place in Chicago which included the Sri Lankan Buddhist reformer Anagārika Dharmapāla as well as the Japanese Zen master Shaku Sōen, the former of which has studied science and philosophy from the west in order to modernize his own traditions. Many of these Buddhists who have been influence by the west are presenting their existing traditions to their current Western audiences as a “rational” and “non-theistic” tradition which has no competing gods, meaningless rituals, or irrational beliefs.

The fact is that traditional Buddhism does have many deities, rituals, and doctrines, as well as ordained priests, sacred texts, sectarian developments, ethics, and other such elements that people would usually associate with an organized faith or religion. The view of Buddhism shifted at the 1893 World Parliament, when Buddhist masters presented their religion’s meditative traditions and rituals to modern America as merely a practical philosophy, and not a religion. This is the same perception that many Americans have of Buddhism to this day.

However, it is believed that these Buddhists didn’t intend to deliberately misrepresent their rituals and traditions; perhaps they only told Americans the things they wanted to hear.

But the end result was that Buddhist merely transplanted a few little branches of Buddhism’s very large tree and planted them into America’s soil. As it turns out, just a few little cuttings of real Buddhist philosophy, meditation, and art actually came to America. There are still many traditional elements from the great Buddha that remain in Asia.

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