Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

Kara : a PS3 new technology

An evening pause: Hat tip Jim Mallamace, who asks the valid question, “What is our ethical responsibility to machines once they have feelings?”


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  • Garry

    That very question (and related ones) come up in the series Black Mirror (on Netflix), which our son got us interested in.

    We’ve only seen 4 episodes; they’re very intense and I can’t imagine watching more than one episode a week. It’s an anthology (different cast, different world every episode), and all the episodes deal with technology of the near future. It’s very well done, and thought provoking, although disturbing.

    This Evening Pause video reminds me of the episode White Christmas, perhaps the most intense episode I’ve seen.

  • Cotour

    My initial answer to the question “What is our ethical responsibility to machines once they have feelings?”, was none. And that may be the functional / legal answer to the question until we can answer the question, What is consciousness? What does it mean to be alive? A difficult question to answer for sure.

    But is the implication of the piece that there might be a statistical number of artificial intelligence humanoids produced that might become “sentient”? Is there some implication that at some point of producing a “device” at this level of complexity and technological expertise that it may become sentient due to some crossing of the line between device and “consciousness” when operating at this level of complexity? Im not sure that was the prime focus of the piece, but that is what I got out of it.

    So until that sentient / alive question can be reliably and consistently answered, even though the device that has been produced may have all of the physical and emotional ques that would illicit an emotional connection between a real human and a device that looks like a human, then the answer would still be technically none, IMO.

    What about something like a Gorilla, what is our ethical responsibility to their emotions? They certainly have emotions. And we can work our way right down the evolutionary highway right through to any animal that we though might have some level of emotion. I look in the eyes of my dog (who is gone now) and I know she had emotion, she definitely was thinking.

    Where is this line when humanity plays with creating “life”? What is the test? I do not know if humanity, although we may be able to create such “devices” will really ever be able to answer such questions.

    But I can guarantee, someone will want to marry one, and some lawyer will argue it :)

  • wayne

    Garry–heard of that series but have never seen it.

    Similar response(s) from me.

    –The question might just as well have been, “What moral/ethical responsibility do you have for your toaster when it becomes alive?”
    It’s a non sequitur.
    Machines are not sentient & they have no “feelings.”

  • LocalFluff

    The relevant criterium is our subjective consciousness, which is totally imperceptible outside of itself. Science has no idea at all about how it ever could be investigated in any way. Since science deals with objective, never subjective, phenomena, it must simply assume that subjectivity does not exist, although it is immediately obvious to all of us who has one. More certain than any knowledge. Knowledge is falsifiable while subjective consciousness is undeniable. As a matter of fact, subjective consciousness might very well be the only thing that exists, and the objective world just a sub-part of it, a purely subjective imagination.

    Robots can not have subjective consciousness. We build robots and we don’t have even the first idea about how to build consciousness, so we know that we don’t build it. It is something that has occurred in nature, biologically or otherwise, in some unknown way and with an unknown purpose and function. No one has ever proposed even one single possible answer to those questions, or even proposed how to start a first investigation into it.

    “Artificial” intelligence is a misnomer. It has nothing at all to do with intelligence. It is *simulated* intelligence. We call ourselves intelligent and that which looks as if it behaves like us is simulating intelligence. It is unknown how intelligence works. It is simply defined on a “we-know-it-when-we-see-it” basis. But we can create automatic simulations of behavior we have learned to expect from ourselves.

    The day we master subjectronics and can construct subjective phenomena, then we can let it apply a technology called fantasy and produce the impossible.

  • Ted

    Sort of a cross between the Borg Queen and Iron Mans suit assembler. Moral response…. once we figure out how to treat each other ….. Nuff said.

  • wayne

    Good stuff. (excellent flair! Wonderful wordsmithing tonight, my Man!)

    >Good point on simulated-intelligence.

    (as an aside–these billionaires who plan on “uploading their ‘consciousness’ to hardware & software,” are truly delusional.”

    I would also throw in; the whole “brain-as-a-computer” metaphor is extremely crude, not applicable except in the vaguest/meaningless sense, and doesn’t even begin to touch on what actually happens in biological organisms.

    Dr. Robert Epstein
    “Why your brain is not a computer”

    Personally, I have a strong Behavioral bent & would maintain “consciousness” is an illusion. (I am also highly leery of the concept of “free-will,” but concurrently I fully realize we can NOT run the World without maintaining at least a nominal belief in “free will.” And concepts of “dualism” are merely semantic arguments and have no basis in reality.)

  • wayne

    Good stuff.
    (Next big thing will be “Robot Rights.”)

  • wayne

    Rick and Morty
    “They’re just robots Morty”
    (It’s ok to shoot robots…)

  • Insomnius

    We build machines to do things and that can include everything we want to do except be…us, I’m afraid. I don’t believe in strong A.I.

  • mivenho

    Did you catch “Westworld” on HBO? The Kara vid reminded me of that series

  • ken anthony

    Can we create a sentient being? We do it all the time. We call them babies. So working backwards, what do we replace or delete and still have a sentient being?

    Is the change from sentience to non, gradual or abrupt?

    Is it ok to torture someone that has gone just beyond the threshold?

    What about the Dr. Moreau scenario?

  • Joe

    I wonder if the people in charge of these A/I programs at various Internet giant enterprises are trying to create a machine that could become immortal with the addition of a soul, so as to never die, but to feel and to think and to contemplate the days ahead, what other purpose does A/I have or could be used for? If it were possible for this to happen, I can imagine how evil that kind of an entity could become, to never have repercussions, to be unpunishable, I think I would fear for man kind.

  • Insomnius

    Joe, watch the film Transcendence from 2014.

    Ken Anthony asked, “Is the change from sentience to non, gradual or abrupt?”

    Some would call it A Singularity Theory of some kind,.. is it coming or going?….I don’t have a clue……maybe when we all know…we will know?! LOL IDK

  • LocalFluff

    wayne, great link to Epstein, thanks for that!
    One way to create real AI is to scan all electric impulses in a human brain, which might be possible in several decades, and build a digital software copy of all those event in a computer. But no magic will happen. It will just be a data copy of what happens in a brain. It is pretty amazing that philosophers and computer sciences do not understand this.

    One potentially very serious problem with robots simulating human looks and behavior, which is very practical since we then can interact with them in an intuitive way, is that their presence might change how humans interact with each others. If you can deactivate, modify or sell your humanoid robot, it will feel as natural to do the same with real humans.

  • Alex


    There are no relations describable by natural laws between your mind’s content that you experience subjectively as a person (first person perspective) and your described brain’s pattern of electric impulses objectively (third person perspective). Think about consequences of this truth!

  • wayne

    Good stuff by all.

    Alex– excellent point.
    – I’m highly leery of the active, real-time, MRI scanning experiments that purport to show more than is technically possible. The pictures are pretty, but scientifically crude.

    LocalFluff– glad you liked the video clip. It’s not the best one by, but it was the quickest one to find with the shortest duration, that still made relative sense.
    The brain-as-computer, is just the latest iteration of extending a completely faulty metaphor.
    (One’s eyeballs, for example, are not merely camera’s providing input to the CPU, etc.)

    I’m primarily a Behaviorist, but infinitely less of a purist than I was in my 20’s, so have a bit of Cognitive Theory thrown in.

    As well, I’ve been highly intrigued with these type of theories for some time:

    “The Origin of Consciousness in the breakdown of the bi-cameral Mind”

    And a comment on this topic would not be complete without referencing Dr. Roger Penrose.
    He has a highly intriguing but not fleshed-out, theories about quantum decoherence as a potential causative mechanism for biological consciousness.

    Sir Roger Penrose – “Consciousness and the foundations of physics”

  • ken anthony

    This is the problem with the Turing test. Mimicry is not the same as actual self awareness or having feelings. If you can’t tell the difference, is there a difference? I say yes. Some people are already fooled by current levels of technology and improvements don’t change that fundamental dynamic.

  • wayne

    Ken– most excellent point. Mimicry is not self-awareness.

    If the real Question is:
    “What do you do IF your sex-robot, starts talking back?”

    >Call a Bladerunner, immediately.

    “You’ve done a man’s job, sir…”
    aka “It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?”

  • wayne

    As much s I enjoy this story & the movie…. it’s fiction, of a scientific nature.

    Whose Revolution?
    I Robot

  • Garry

    @mivenho – my wife just started binge-watching Westworld; I’ve seen bits and pieces of it, and it also reminds me of the Kara video.

    Westworld is not my cup of tea; I much prefer the anthology / short story style: communicate an interesting premise, and put some characters in it, without getting too complicated with character development and plot lines. I’ve never been one to watch tv series, or movie franchises.

    Dark mirror reminds me of the twilight zone, but much better production and much darker plot lines.

  • Cotour

    I can hang two water balloons in a tee shirt, and make them as big or as small as you like, and I can illicit an emotion from you.

    What does that say about the balloons? What does that say about the observer?

    This conversation of course leads to the question “what the hell is this all about?”. And this is where science when it looks hard, long and deep into the subject it can not develop a real answer (not based in science as we now define it anyway), we are now in the realm of spirituality, “God”, Creation and so on.

    I have posted this here before and have recently expanded upon it:

    If existence is about size, distance and time, then we are absolutely nothing. However, If existence is about mind, consciousness and observation then we may all be at the center of the universe.
    (The truth will reveal itself soon enough :) JGL

  • wayne

    >The 6 minute version of Dr. Penrose’s speculations:
    “Is Your Mind Quantum?”
    Roger Penrose Ph.D

  • wayne

    last one from me—

    Roger Penrose:
    “The Emperor’s New Mind; Quantum Mind, Quantum Consciousness, The Laws of Physics.”

    “”The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and The Laws of Physics” is a 1989 book by mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose. Penrose presents the argument that human consciousness is non-algorithmic, and thus is not capable of being modeled by a conventional Turing machine-type of digital computer. Penrose hypothesizes that quantum mechanics plays an essential role in the understanding of human consciousness. The collapse of the quantum wavefunction is seen as playing an important role in brain function.”

  • Cotour

    I agree entirely with Penrose, a computer, no matter how complex, is not a human mind and will never be one. I will watch that video tonight.

    If an AI mind observes does that observation effect that that is being observed? At this point we may come to understand that WE are much more than what we think or believe that we are related to the universe. Things are a lot stranger than they seem, we are limited by our narrow ability to perceive the universe around us.

  • LocalFluff

    wayne, you’re last link to Dr Penrose mentions microtubules and his colleague Stuart Hameroff (an anesthesiologist i.e. someone who’s work is all about shutting subjective consciousness on and off!). He et al do work on quantum biology, a fascinating field of science. They claim to have explained why photosynthesis can transfer energy from sunlight without any losses throughout a plant. The captured energy wave takes all possible ways simultaneously, and collapses to the most economic one.

    The link to consciousness is vague but fundamental physics seems to have hit the end of the road both in the smallest and the largest scales and new brave ideas are desperately needed to bring the understanding of the most important phenomena forward. Computer programming won’t do it.

  • LocalFluff

    The worldview we live in which is about family, management of the Earthly paradise garden, and what we should eat, is certainly unique ever everywhere in the visible universe. Even if there are other biological civilizations, they would have completely different subjective perceptions of their existence. Animals are very much like us. Dog’s TV would also have alot of cooking shows and porn. Plants would only differ in their theme being that which is eaten… But even they have our Earthly paradise garden management (like industry) in common, because we are all so very closely related. Did you know that Chlorophyll and Hemoglobin are the same protein!?? So my hope that SETI ever will contact anything is diminishing the more I learn and think about it. I hope they disprove me one day.

  • wayne

    Good deal.

    I can’t resist– a fairly good public discussion on quantum-biology.
    ( Can’t say I endorse everything, but they do a good job of posing The Questions I think must be posed.)

    Quantum Biology:
    The Hidden Nature of Nature
    World Science Festival presentation/discussion

  • wayne

    Good stuff!
    Aware of the Hameroff material, but have not as yet fully delved into any of it.

    a repeat from me; wherein Snowball the dog becomes self-aware.
    Rick and Morty –
    “You Will Be My Best Friend”

  • Garry

    I think that billionaires “uploading their consciousness into software” is not about the software becoming sentient, but about their great generosity in leaving the rest of us a simulation of their brilliant minds, without which the world could never possibly be a good place. /sarcasm

    Even that concept has a huge flaw; how could any computer programmer ever write an algorithm that would simulate, for example, how Thomas Edison would react if he discovered the Internet, travel by jet, and other modern conveniences? Who could predict what inventions all that might inspire? How does the process of inspiration work?

    Or how would the founding fathers react if they were placed in our world; how would they change their views on society, and how would they amend the Constitution to take their modified views into account?

    Some things just can’t be simulated. The billionaires would be better off just writing books, etc.

  • wayne

    Fascinating Topic and Thread.
    Great input by everyone.
    (and yes, a hat-tip to Jim for triggering all this “good stuff.”)

    I’m totally off in left-field now, (but not really soooo much, in the Grand Scheme) >> we can’t forget about the dimension of Time.

    Time, is having its way, with us all. (rich-man, poor-man, beggar-man, thief. as Jim Morrison once said, “no one here, gets out alive.”

    >First of three Messenger lectures at Cornell University delivered by Leonard Susskind, April 2014:

    “Boltzmann and the Arrow of Time”
    (This is really good.)

    excuse for monopolizing this thread.
    (and with that…, I must do my actual assigned work for today or they won’t pay me.)

  • Cotour

    We seem to be “plopped” into time in order to have the tactile / emotional experience (if that indeed is the purpose). Three dimensions of space plus time is our reality. The question is, and IMO it is reasonable, after this experience do we “step off” into / onto a next level / dimension or are we recycled in some way IE reincarnation? Or do we tend to fool ourselves because we can ask the question and we understand that at some point we will “go away” and not exist any more?

    There are documented near death, reincarnation and I would include experiencing “ghosts” and even UFO’s into this question. IMO science has so far only been able to explain just so much in the three dimensions plus time reality, then I think some different or expanded ways of thinking are needed.

    Lets ask a Yogi: here in may lie the larger answers.

  • wayne

    Personally, I get off the Bus with Yogi’s and that type-of-thing. Although I do admit I’ve grown less deterministic/mechanistic over the years.
    I do find the concept of some sort of “abstraction-layer,” (crudely) that mediates quantum events with classical events in some process we do not understand.
    >If I was 30 years younger I’d go for a PhD in “Quantum Behavioral Psychology.” (although I still can’t do the Math, but that’s what grad assistants are for.)

    Ken– referencing your Dr. Moreau scenario, thought.
    That’s a huge ball-o-yarn in itself. We are already genetically engineering our major food crops.

  • ken anthony

    Chlorophyll and Hemoglobin are the same protein

    Not quite.

  • wodun

    I’ll throw in another endorsement of WestWorld. Entertaining, thought provoking, some eye candy, great acting, and good twists.

  • Insomnius

    Just do yoga instead, it would be more useful!

    What, you ask, was the beginning of it all?
    It is this…Existence that multiplied itself for sheer delight of being and plunged into numberless trillions of forms so that it might find itself innumerably.
    Shi Aurobindo

  • Edward

    There have been several movies and television shows that have explored questions similar to Jim Mallamace’s.

    Star Trek’s Next Generation put the android, Data, on trial as property, but as one of the surprises for the court, he had been intimate with a fellow crewmate. On at least one occasion he had expressed that he had become accustomed to the presence of one or more fellow crew members, suggesting that he would miss them when they were gone.

    The movie “Bicentennial Man” explored an android who developed feelings and desired to become a human. This was reminiscent of “Pinocchio.”

    But I think one thing that has yet to be explored comes from recent events. Would a machine afflicted with feelings die of a broken heart as Debbie Reynolds did the day after her beloved daughter, Carrie Fisher, died?

    Does the answer to this question matter to Jim’s question? Do we need to have that same level of feelings in machines that have developed feelings in order to have ethical responsibility toward them?

  • Laurie

    Hmmm. Maybe we’d better first answer the question, “What is our ethical responsibility to other human beings once we understand they, too, have feelings?”

  • wayne

    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

  • Cotour

    Until there is a way to establish consciousness and what exactly it is, which I am not sure can be done without expanding human definition of what acceptable science is to do so, a highly adapted and extremely complex “device” or association of hardware created by human hands, even though it may be able to elicit an emotion in a human being is still technically going to be a device. What is the more important element here is the human being emoting rather than whether the device has emotions.

    Remember this story?

    Could this be the dividing line? In this universe in order to consider something created by the hand of man to be alive maybe the spark of life must be present? Where is the spark of life in a high technology robot / android? Is DNA, the ultimate coding, necessary in order to define something as being alive?

    There is a long way between two water balloons hanging in a tee shirt and the primal reaction it could elicit and a highly complex machine that man creates that says that it is “scared”, but maybe not much.

  • Steve Earle

    Wayne, you and I think alike, my first thought was “Bladerunner” and my second thought was “I Robot” :-)

    Edward brings up the TNG episode where Data is put on trial, good pick, there was also another episode equally compelling where Data created a daughter, Lal, who then was put into crisis when threatened by Starfleet:

    “The Offspring”

  • wayne

    Steve Earle–
    Good stuff.

    “Somebody Else’s Memories”
    Rachael realizes she’s a Replicant

    Remember the episode from the original-series?;
    Nurse chapel goes to visit a long lost boyfriend, and it turns out his “mind” has been uploaded into an android. And they plan on making “Replicants” of Kirk & taking over the Galaxy. (1st season, early episode.)

  • Edward

    Cotour wrote: “even though it may be able to elicit an emotion in a human being is still technically going to be a device. What is the more important element here is the human being emoting rather than whether the device has emotions.

    More important at the moment, but what do we do later, when the toaster expresses fright at being thrown out or unplugged. Do they already feel but are unable to express those feelings to us?

    Also, since the element of human emotion is important, do or should people have the right to marry objects that they happen to love? The human’s love may be real, but does the human (objectophile?) get to impose his will upon the object? After all, the object has no means of expressing consent or lack thereof.
    (I like Ye’s explanation that he married mainly in order to express his dissatisfaction with reality.)

    Steve Earle reminded us of “another [Star Trek] episode equally compelling where Data created a daughter, Lal, who then was put into crisis when threatened by Starfleet

    I had forgotten about that one. That one is even more appropriate for the feelings of machinery. There are two sides to emotions. I would call it a two edged sword, but only one edge hurts.

    Which brings us back to the possibility of dying of a broken heart.

    Then again, could robots that barely feel already live among us? The Big Bang Theory ponders that question by examining the Vulcan-like Sheldon: (2 minutes)
    Examining whether a human is really a robot is not quite the same thing as the feelings of machines or objects; after all, if we ask ourselves the same questions, we may come to the same conclusion.

    Do the robots who are blocked by the reCAPTCHA system have feelings; do they feel bad when they are blocked? After all, they were unable to carry out their intended purpose.

    Finally, just what counts as a machine having feelings? If the person operating the mobile virtual presence device has feelings does that mean that the device has feelings? (1 minute)

    For those countries giving robots rights, do these rights extend to the mobile virtual presence device? What are the limits or definitions of things that deserve/have rights? These laws are the beginning of the real-world answer to Jim Mallamace’s question.
    From the article: “The proposed legal status for robots would be analogous to corporate personhood, which allows firms to take part in legal cases both as the plaintiff and respondent.

    For a machine to be a plaintiff, does it not have to feel wronged or violated in some way?

    Maybe, since we may be equating robots and companies, we need to expand the question to include whether we have an ethical responsibility to companies, since they are made up of humans who have feelings.

    Or are we overthinking this?

  • Insomnius

    We come from Asgard! ;)
    (eukaryotes and microbes)

  • Alex Andrite

    The “valid question” is easily answered.
    Feelings ?
    oh poor machine. here let me help. first we need more funding to find a cure. then more activists and anarchists. ah, taxpayers can handle the load. now, for the signs and media control …. hmmm what next …?

    HAL Is ME.

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