Episode 2: Wendell Wallach

SuchThatCast episdoe 2: Wendell Wallach
Photo by Peter Asaro

Wendell Wallach
Location: University of Twente
Duration: Appr. 65 min.

Keywords: Wallach, moral machines, friendly AI, Philosophy of mind, neuroscience, bioethics, meditation, silent ethics, transhumanism, computer revolution, counterculture


In the second episode of SuchThatCast, I talk to Wendell Wallach, who is a consultant, ethicist, and scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. He chairs the Center’s research group on Technology and Ethics and is a member of other research groups on Animal Ethics, End of Life Issues, Neuroethics, and PTSD. Wendell co-authored (with Colin Allen) the influential Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right From Wrong (Oxford University Press 2009), which maps the new field of machine ethics.

Wallach talks about his extraordinary career, from being a spiritual guru in the 1960s to becoming one of today’s leading authorities on machine ethics. He also discusses his involvement in the transhumanist society, as well as his current project of developing a ‘silent ethics’, grounded in meditation practices.

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  • Søraker, J.H. (Producer). (2012, September 3). Episode 2: Wendell Wallach (audio podcast). SuchThatCast. Podcast retrieved from http://suchthatcast.com/Wallach
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8 thoughts on “Episode 2: Wendell Wallach”

  1. I’d love to hear more about the work where he refers to though being material things.

    On the meditative approach, I understand the value people can get from “classical” meditation, but that many people will too easily understand meditation as an oriental-spritual activity (or non-activity, depending on your view on things ;)). But the flow state Johnny mentioned seems to me to be very much a meditative state, with much of the same benefits of the oriental variety.

  2. Great interview Johnny. Sound like it is becoming religious hour (-;

    I already know this side of Wendell but it is interesting to hear him make such a public statement about his background and beliefs.

    There are so many seemingly conflicting issues that he has to resolve on our behalf from panpsychism to Transhumanism.

    Where I disagree with him is that despite what he says, he was a quintessential ‘hippy’. Certainly not in the sense of Herb Cain of the San Francisco Chronicle labelling the Haight Ashbury crew, but in the sense adopted by the rest of the world for young restless people in search of meaning and higher purpose to life (and who wore ridiculous bright clothes and had long wild locks of hair).

    Some took the fast route with LSD and some did the India trek (as Wendell). I insist that it was not a non-intellectual movement as Wendell suggests. There was a Hippie syllabus e.g. Herman Hesse, Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, Hunter S. Thompson, Naked Lunch, Electric Cool Aid Acid Test, One Flew over the cuckoos nest, James Joyce Ulysses, George Elliot Middlemarch and many more (OK maybe not the last two).

    Seriously I really enjoyed this Johnny. You have a very gentle style of interview that brings people out. My only suggestion is that (as we all learn in media training) you leave out the time references. You mention that you have been talking for 2 hours but we have only heard 65 minutes.

  3. Emiliano: I’m intrigued by thoughts being material things as well, and I kind of regret not following that up properly. I’ll ask next time we meet. As for the meditation vs flow, I guess flow activities may be shortcuts for those of us without the discipline to properly silence thoughts, but I think the latter is a better way to understand the mental patterns we tend to get stuck in.

    Noel: I’m also surprised how prominent the religion theme has become, in episodes to come as well. I guess it’s the kind of topic that tends to surface when philosophers talk about “what goes on behind the scenes”, which is precisely what I want to mediate. I will leave the hippie discussion to those of you who actually were there, but your description makes good sense and makes me sad not having lived through that era. I left the time reference as a way to emphasize that any non sequiturs were due to my editing and not Wendell, but you’re right that it sounds a little strange. Thanks for the kind words.

    1. Yes, well, I tend to be distrustful of the guru approach. People increasingly seem to believe profound insight can only be gained by traveling eastward; merely trading in one belief system for another doesn’t seem like progress to me. It’s not like western insights have nothing to offer in this realm.

  4. There’s something about the constellation between space and time happening here. First, Eastern belief systems were precisely that before the Internet (i.e. you had to go there), and Western self-reflection seems to be threatened after the Internet (i.e. I have already forgotten which point I was trying to make)

  5. In case generic encouragement is valuable: I am really enjoying these podcasts. I am not an academic philosopher, but it’s great to have an entree into that world other than the way arguments are usually stated in papers and college classes, to hear people’s intellectual life stories, etc. It paints a picture of the field more open and open-minded than it sometimes looks.

    1. Thanks, Dave. That is very valuable, and it’s precisely the picture I want to paint. Hope you’ll enjoy the interview with Noel Sharkey as well, coming up later today.

Questions, comments suggestions?