Tag Archives: artificial intelligence

May 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • The public today is more complacent about nuclear weapons than they were in the 1980s, even though the risk is arguably greater and leaders seem to be more ignorant and reckless.
  • The NSA is trying “to identify laboratories and/or individuals who may be involved in nefarious use of genetic research”.
  • We hit 410 ppm at Mauna Loa.

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Some experts think the idea of national sovereignty itself is now in doubt.
  • Taser wants to record everything the police do, everywhere, all the time, and use artificial intelligence to make sense of the data.
  • The sex robots are here.

April 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • I first heard of David Fleming, who wrote a “dictionary” that provides “deft and original analysis of how our present market-based economy is destroying the very foundations―ecological, economic, and cultural― on which it depends, and his core focus: a compelling, grounded vision for a cohesive society that might weather the consequences.”
  • Judges are relying on algorithms to inform probation, parole, and sentencing decisions.
  • I finished reading Rainbow’s End, a fantastic Vernor Vinge novel about augmented reality in the near future, among other things.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

NPR had a review of this book recently (below is the Amazon description).

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Yuval Noah Harari, author of the critically-acclaimed New York Times bestseller and international phenomenon Sapiens, returns with an equally original, compelling, and provocative book, turning his focus toward humanity’s future, and our quest to upgrade humans into gods.

Over the past century humankind has managed to do the impossible and rein in famine, plague, and war. This may seem hard to accept, but, as Harari explains in his trademark style—thorough, yet riveting—famine, plague and war have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. The average American is a thousand times more likely to die from binging at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.

What then will replace famine, plague, and war at the top of the human agenda? As the self-made gods of planet earth, what destinies will we set ourselves, and which quests will we undertake? Homo Deus explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century—from overcoming death to creating artificial life. It asks the fundamental questions: Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world from our own destructive powers? This is the next stage of evolution. This is Homo Deus.

With the same insight and clarity that made Sapiens an international hit and a New York Times bestseller, Harari maps out our future.

November 2016 in Review

Sometimes you look back on a month and feel like nothing very important happened. But November 2016 was obviously not one of those months! I am not going to make any attempt to be apolitical here. I was once a registered independent and still do not consider myself a strong partisan. However, I like to think of myself as being on the side of facts, logic, problem solving, morality and basic goodness. Besides, this blog is about the future of our human civilization and human race. I can’t pretend our chances didn’t just take a turn for the worse.

3 most frightening stories

  • Is there really any doubt what the most frightening story of November 2016 was? The United Nations Environment Program says we are on a track for 3 degrees C over pre-industrial temperatures, not the “less than 2” almost all serious people (a category that excludes 46% of U.S. voters, apparently) agree is needed. This story was released before the U.S. elected an immoral science denier as its leader. One theory is that our culture has lost all ability to separate fact from fiction. Perhaps states could take on more of a leadership role if the federal government is going to be immoral? Washington State voters considered a carbon tax that could have been a model for other states, and voted it down, in part because environmental groups didn’t like that it was revenue neutral. Adding insult to injury, WWF released its 2016 Living Planet Report, which along with more fun climate change info includes fun facts like 58% of all wild animals have disappeared. There is a 70-99% chance of a U.S. Southwest “mega-drought” lasting 35 years or longer this century. But don’t worry, this is only “if emissions of greenhouse gases remain unchecked”. Oh, and climate change is going to begin to strain the food supply worldwide, which is already strained by population, demand growth, and water resources depletion even without it.
  • Technological unemployment may be starting to take hold, and might be an underlying reason behind some of the resentment directed at mainstream politicians. If you want a really clear and concise explanation of this issue, you could ask a smart person like, say, Barack Obama.
  • According to left wing sources like Forbes, an explosion of debt-financed spending on conventional and nuclear weapons is an expected consequence of the election. Please, Mr. Trump, prove them wrong!

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

self-driving cars

Here’s an interesting TED talk on self-driving cars. They are going to save a lot of lives.  I think arguments against them like this one on NPR are ignorant at best and immoral at worst. If you can save a million lives a year and you choose not to do it, you are instantly one of history’s mass murderers. Even if there is some bizarre special case someone can cite where a computer might kill someone and a person might not, that’s going to be extremely rare.

Citi and Oxford on automation

Citi and Oxford have a long report called Technology at Work v2.0: The Future Is not What It Used to Be. Among the worrisome statistics and over-the-top infographics: 77% of jobs in China at risk due to automation, compared to 47% in the U.S. 77% seems like a recipe for serious unrest. 47% is still half. Still, maybe these are existing jobs and there will be new jobs created. Like robot repairman, for example. Being the guy who owns the robots seems like a very good option, if you can pull it off. Another eye opening statistic they show is the payback period for investments in robots at 1-2 years in China right now.

January 2016 in Review

I’m going to try picking the three most frightening posts, three most hopeful posts, and three most interesting posts (that are not particularly frightening or hopeful) from January.

3 most frightening posts

  • Paul Ehrlich is still worried about population. 82% of scientists agree.
  • Thomas Picketty (paraphrased by J. Bradford Delong) says inequality and slow growth are the norm for a capitalist society. Joseph Stiglitz has some politically difficult solutions: “Far-reaching redistribution of income would help, as would deep reform of our financial system – not just to prevent it from imposing harm on the rest of us, but also to get banks and other financial institutions to do what they are supposed to do: match long-term savings to long-term investment needs.”
  • Meanwhile, government for and by big business means the “Deep State” is really in control of the U.S. In our big cities, the enormous and enormously dysfunctional police-court-prison system holds sway over the poor.

3 most hopeful posts

3 most interesting posts

  • There are some arguments in favor of genetically modified food – they have increased yields of some grains, and there is promise they could increase fish yields. 88% of scientists responding to a Pew survey said they think genetically modified food is safe, but only 37% of the U.S. public thinks so. In other biotech news, Obama’s State of the Union announced a new initiative to try to cure cancer. In other food news, red meat is out.
  • Not only is cash becoming obsolete, any physical form of payment at all may become obsolete.
  • The World Economic Forum focused on technology: “The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.”


Strong AI

Here’s an article about “Strong AI“:

This is how computers interact with us. They don’t understand English or whatever language we speak, but they do understand binary code. A human programmer tells the computer how to respond to you based on your input. The same thing goes for chess. The computer does not at all understand that it’s playing chess or any other game – it doesn’t even know what a game is. It only knows that, if you make a move in chess, that equates to some machine code to which it should respond. It then references its giant chess book – put there by humans and written in machine code – to decide how to respond to you.

Over the years, these tomes have become enormous. Using the chess example again, it would take many years for a human to sift through one of these tomes, but a computer can do it in seconds. As a result, you now have computers that simulate the total sum of human knowledge with regards to chess and yet they don’t understand a lick of it. What they cando, however, is obey the instructions put there by a human to beat you, handily…

Once we have the technology to make an ambulatory, perceptive robot using pre-written instructions (i.e. the ‘tome’), the challenge will then be to ‘birth’ one that has no pre-written instructions and no prior knowledge of the world, forcing it to learn like a human child. This sort of self-learning robot is an example of what Searle calls ‘Strong AI[10]’.

2015 Luddite Awards

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has awarded the 2015 Luddite awards, Congratulations to the following winners:

  1. Alarmists tout an artificial intelligence apocalypse.
  2. Advocates seek a ban on “killer robots.”
  3. States limit automatic license plate readers.
  4. Europe, China, and others choose taxi drivers over car-sharing passengers.
  5. The paper industry opposes e-labeling.
  6. California’s governor vetoes RFID in driver’s licenses.
  7. Wyoming outlaws citizen science.
  8. The Federal Communications Commission limits broadband innovation.
  9. The Center for Food Safety fights genetically improved food.
  10. Ohio and others ban red light cameras.

In #1 and #2, they argue that any risks from artificial intelligence are so far off that we shouldn’t worry about them now, and that the spillover effects from military AI research will be beneficial overall. In #8, they come out against net neutrality (at least, the recent U.S. legislation with that name). And in #9, they make some claims in favor of genetically modified food organisms that I hadn’t heard before:

Biotechnology is playing an increasing role delivering innovations in agriculture that the world desperately needs to meet rising demands for food, feed, and fiber, as the world’s population continues to grow. The most comprehensive meta-analysis to date shows biotech innovations in crop improvement have increased agricultural yields on average by 22 percent, reduced pesticide use by 37 percent, and increased farmer income by 68 percent. Improvements in animal husbandry have lagged, however, despite numerous needs and opportunities. That changed this year when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of fast-growing AquAdvantage bioengineered salmon. In their ongoing attempt to ban all genetically improved foods, an organization called Center for Food Safety announced plans to sue the FDA to block the approval.

The salmon represents a real innovation that will improve people’s health while reducing the price of food. It has been improved to reach market size in half the usual time (16-18 months, rather than the usual 32-36) on 20 percent less feed, meaning that for the first time salmon could be a low-cost substitute for meat in American diets. The salmon is intended to be grown in concrete tanks in warehouses close to major markets, like Chicago. The fish are sterile, so they cannot breed with wild salmon in the unlikely event they escape from their concrete tanks and get to an open ocean. They also have been designed to eliminate the potential downsides sometimes associated with conventionally farmed Atlantic salmon, which have been observed to escape from their sea pens and carry parasites or diseases into wild populations.

The FDA took more than a decade to review data on the salmon to ensure it would be safe for humans to eat. At the end of an exhaustive review process that examined thousands of pages of data and scientific literature, the FDA concluded the AquAdvantage salmon is, in all respects relevant to health, safety, and nutrition, indistinguishable from any other Atlantic salmon. Thus it is safe for consumers to eat and requires no special labels. These findings elicited an entirely predictable response from the neo-Luddite enemies of innovation.

I am not necessarily against all bioengineering of food, but I am concerned about biodiversity generally and the resilience of our food-growing system. Even if genetically modified (or hybridized or plain old inbred) organisms are deemed safe for consumption, you don’t want your entire food supply to come from a very narrow gene pool or to be controlled by a very narrow range of interests. With any new technology, you can pursue it while actively taking steps to mitigate the risks, and constantly asking yourself the hard questions about the ethics – identifying that line between right and wrong and choosing not to cross it.