Posted by: Mark Waser | Mar 7, 2011

Please Quit/Boycott the Lifeboat Foundation


There was an interesting dust-up yesterday over at the Lifeboat Foundation (http:\\lifeboat.com).

Richard Loosemoore was apparently expelled for vociferously objecting to the invitation to Pamela Geller to join several of the advisory boards.

PJ Manney did a little research on the link between Lifeboat Founder Eric Klien and Geller and found the following writings by Klien on Geller’s blog:

From http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2007/01/doomsday_though.html

I believe that world after world throughout the universe has been destroyed by science out of control and therefore there are no advanced aliens out there like in the Star Wars or Star Trek movies. (Billions of worlds have likely been destroyed this way.)

Who am I? I am Eric Klien, founder of the Lifeboat Foundation.

What exactly will be the cause of our demise? It will be the Religion of Science. While I agree that the Muslim Religion will be responsible for quite a few deaths in the near future (check out our Nuclear Terrorist page), it is the Religion of Science that will do us in.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO SAVE US ALL?
You can check out our site and then join our cause. What are we doing that will make a difference? We are working at encouraging the building of defenses while also trying to expose the dangers that are coming. I should point out that to date most of our funding has come from libs so it would be nice if a few conservatives got off their lazy butts and gave us a few bucks. If Lifeboat Foundation does not become a huge organization over the next decade or so, we will all die.
I GUARANTEE IT!

From http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2007/08/atlas-exclusive.html:

RELIGION OF SCIENCE
The dangerous delusion that all scientific progress is good and what to do about it.
It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge. Adolph Hitler.

Remember this is a worldwide religion which will soon have the ability to commit human sacrifice a world at a time. If the religion was still alive in even one country, it would doom us all….

I have developed Lifeboat Foundation with a Trojan Horse meme that tries to wrap our goals in the Religion of Science memes. For example our mission statement begins with “The Lifeboat Foundation is a nonprofit nongovernmental organization dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements”.

By wrapping our meme with a Religion of Science coating, I hope to develop enough resources that we can make sure that unlike every civilization so far, we can have at least SOME people survive this dangerous religion.

As PJ concludes:

For my part, it’s time to shine a light on this organization and to leave the Lifeboat Foundation. Eric Klien is silent on so many issues because he wants to mollify us into complacency. He knows if he spoke his true feelings, most of his collected “advisors” would leave, so instead he presents a “fair and balanced” (pun intended) front, while manipulating us to support his ideas. Even if he’s playing both ends against the middle, I have no interest being associated with him and his game any longer.

I guess he thinks we’re idiots. In truth, we have been. But not anymore…

Richard Loosemoore is expecting an alternative organization to appear shortly but I’m pretty sure that a new similar but honest organization wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing. Even if the Lifeboat Foundation were as pro-science as it initially appears, it still is far more dedicated to fear-mongering about catastrophic risks rather than creating realistic solutions.

This debacle also has me taking yet another look at the SIAI. Other than “clarifying” the dangers of AI (and other risks), there is virtually no constructive work coming out of that organization either.  Worse, there are a lot of harmful, ill-advised and immoral memes being produced and their fear-mongering has already led to threats to researchers. For example, Ben Goertzel reports (http://multiverseaccordingtoben.blogspot.com/2010/10/singularity-institutes-scary-idea-and.html) :

Actually, I’ve had had two separate (explicitly) SIAI-inspired people tell me in the past that “If you seem to be getting too far with your AGI work, someone may have to kill you to avert existential risk.” Details were then explained, regarding how this could be arranged.

These threats were NOT official SIAI pronouncements, obviously, and I don’t blame SIAI for them. But this sorta shit does indicate to me the powerful effect the Scary Idea can have on people.

It does seem plausible to me that, if Scary Idea type rhetoric were amplified further and became more public, it could actually lead to violence against AGI researchers — similar to what we’ve seen in abortion clinics, or against researchers doing experimentation on animals, etc.

Personally, I think that we need to do far more work and education on figuring out how not to trample all over and kill each other. A good start would be to stop all of the lying and manipulation/fear-mongering. A great second step would be to stop playing us vs. them games. The world is too small for us to continue this way — especially when our “lifeboats” are just lies.


Responses

  1. Mark Waser, your plea reminds me of similar pleas against the ACLU when it joined a court suite claiming a corporation is a person. Since I joined Lifeboat before reading your plea. I guess my response should be to send another donation to the ACLU. The ACLU only trashed part of its history of accomplishments. Pamera founded SIOA, Stop Islamaization of America, which fit nicely with the organization Osma founded SIOI, Stop the Westernization of Islam. Osma was determined to stop Muslim values from seeming inferior by proving Islam could be far more ruthless than the West, and scared some of his followers when he had names and antiliaries of several al Qaeda operatives turned over to the West, to win the confidence to be in a meeting to suicide-bomb five top CIA operatives. But mostly bin Laden defeated himself by not following script, in his last moments. Imagine yourself a hero want-to-be, hoping to be chosen for a glorious victory though death, only to discover that your leader didn’t even bother to booby-trap the computer files.

    My hope is that Pamela Geller would likewise defeat herself. Nevertheless, Mark Waser I don’t think trashing the Lifeboat Foundation helps make this a better more secure and safe world. The extremely good news is that bin Laden’s defeat trashes Pamela’s hopes, for a west free of any Islamic values.

  2. Richard, your comments only address the smallest part of my point (albeit the precipitating cause). Eric Klein is dramatically anti-science and runs an organization for the purpose of undermining what it claims to promote. Focusing on Pamela is to miss the point.

  3. From my perspective Eric Klien has formed this organization to promote science while raising awareness of potential existential risks associated with the various scientific frontiers. Mere awareness of risks hardly undermines the research. Current research funded by the foundation investigates methods to prevent habitat destruction by any eventual nanotech ecophages. Since this advancement is unavoidable we might as least be responsible with its final employment.

    • Your perspective does not jibe with Eric’s own statements. Further, there is a huge differences between awareness of risks (critically necessary) and crying wolf (grey goo would need to have power “beamed” into it to be any sort of real danger — yet, this fact is *always* conveniently overlooked by Chicken Littles).

      • Please expound on how my perspective doesn’t jibe with Klien’s since my statement is predominantly derived from his mission statement.

        What precludes the grey goo from being solar-powered or powered by the digestion of organic material?

        I still don’t understand your issue with his foundation. They perform research to ensure responsible, but in no way restrictive, safeguards on our future. Their funding is exclusively through private donations, maintain independence from any government, and are a nonprofit organization.

        I respect your point of view, and don’t mind debating any perceived specific shortcomings or faults with this group. I’ve recently joined their Advisory Board and have found various Google results with an anti-Lifeboat opinion, so it’s in my best interest to learn all I can about this group.

        Thanks,

  4. You stated that your perspective was that “Eric Klien has formed this organization to promote science while raising awareness of potential existential risks associated with the various scientific frontiers.” Eric Klien has said “I have developed Lifeboat Foundation with a Trojan Horse meme that tries to wrap our goals in the Religion of Science memes.”

    If your goal is truly to promote science, you don’t need to hide your goals in a Trojan Horse meme. It is also odd to proclaim that science is a religion (yes, some wayward souls treat it that way but most do NOT). Most scientists are reasonable individuals who WELCOME honest risk assessments. Deciding that you are going to deliberately dupe someone (about your goals with a Trojan horse) who probably would have been an ally if you were honest is a HUGE red flag.

    You seem to be an individual who has taken the Trojan Horse at face value. A lot of people, including me, have done so. But now, I’m relaying Eric’s own words to you. What are you going to do?

    ADDED: Oh, and notice that the full quote from above explicitly referenced the mission statement (which you said that you are relying upon) in a way that clearly implied that the mission statement was the Trojan Horse. “I have developed Lifeboat Foundation with a Trojan Horse meme that tries to wrap our goals in the Religion of Science memes. For example our mission statement begins with “The Lifeboat Foundation is a nonprofit nongovernmental organization dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements”.

    • Please note, I’m merely arguing the devil’s advocate position. My mind is still not made up.

      I’ll concede that Eric Klien said the above quote, but it’s language unfortunately isn’t explicit. Another way to interpret it would be that the Trojan Horse is directed at frontier scientists who compete for scientific progress without giving thought to the humanitarian repercussions. As for the “Religion of Science” I don’t think either of us knows what that means, but is it unreasonable to interpret it as meaning the philosophy of science? Continuing in this vein when he states that they’re “dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements”, the Trojan Horse could be that some would say they may be impeding advancement in the short-term, this being at the expense of ensuring a worst case scenario safety net.

      While Klien did organize this group, the organization is bottom-up. From what I understand the Advisory Boards serve to create a common forum for the free exchange of ideas via blogs, forums, and listservs. Even if I concede your entire argument, the only utility to an anti-scientist I can imagine would be for him to eavesdrop where likely advances may be heading so that he may then work to undermine said goals. However Klien may intend to sandbag scientific progress, many of his members would still benefit greatly from bouncing their ideas off other educated leaders in the field.

      This, plus the fact that the foundation is funded by private donations and has no direct authority to restrict academic research, still leaves me leaning towards the side of staying with the group. Even if he does turn out to be a pro-religious, anti-science extremist, until I find explicit evidence of any shady behaviors I choose to remain duped and utilize the infrastructure he provides.

      What exactly is the harm?

      ~Mike

  5. While the language of the two sentences *might* be viewed as not being explicit (I would argue even that), the rest of his writing on the two blog posts cited make it quite clear that I’m not misinterpreting him. YMMV.

    Giving a crackpot a bully pulpit can divert effort away from progress. At a minimum, he can undermine the effectiveness of those in the foundation. Your wording that you “choose to remain duped” is telling. The real question is whether you gain more by using his infrastructure or whether it ends up both impeding you and your affiliation with it ends up hurting you. The fact that you have to even keep evaluating that question is a cognitive resource drain.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention before — Yes, grey goo can be solar or dirt-powered — but at a tremendous reduction of efficiency due to the difficulty of extracting and concentrating energy from those sources energy.


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