IBM's cloud-computing system is making its first foray into food
Watson, a cognitive computing system that can learn and process natural human language, has been one of IBM's most exciting projects of the last decade. Over the past few years, Watson has learned a variety of tasks, from defeating contestants on "Jeopardy" to diagnosing life-threatening diseases. Now the cloud-based system is making its first foray into an industry we can all enjoy: food.
IBM calls it "cognitive cooking," a collaboration with New York's Institute of Culinary Education that uses data to create the best-tasting food possible.
IBM engineers carefully examined flavor compounds in thousands of ingredients, going down to the molecular level to measure the pleasantness of each. Then, using nutritional data from the FDA, they had the chefs at ICE try out the combinations Watson had determined would make for a delicious meal.
One of the most striking and important developments in the world of technology over the last two decades or so has been the rise of an alternative mode of production that is open, collaborative and global. This began in the world of software, with...
What do you think poses the greatest threat to humanity?
Sandberg: Natural risks are far smaller than human-caused risks. The typical mammalian species lasts for a few million years, which means that extinction risk is on the order of one in a million per year. Just looking at nuclear war, where we have had at least one close call in 69 years (the Cuban Missile Crisis) gives a risk of many times higher. Of course, nuclear war might not be 100% extinction causing, but even if we agree it has just 10% or 1% chance, it is still way above the natural extinction rate.
Nuclear war is still the biggest direct threat, but I expect biotechnology-related threats to increase in the near future (cheap DNA synthesis, big databases of pathogens, at least some crazies and misanthropes). Further along the line nanotechnology (not grey goo, but “smart poisons” and superfast arms races) and artificial intelligence might be really risky.
The core problem is a lot of overconfidence. When people are overconfident they make more stupid decisions, ignore countervailing evidence and set up policies that increase risk. So in a sense the greatest threat is human stupidity.
With the Hollywood blockbuster Transcendence playing in cinemas, with Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman showcasing clashing visions for the future of humanity, it's tempting to dismiss the notion of highly intelligent machines as mere science fiction. But this would be a mistake, and potentially our worst mistake in history.
Most people think of bitcoin as a form of money, if they think of bitcoin at all. But 19-year-old hacker Vitalik Buterin sees it as something more -- much more. He sees it as a new way of building just about any internet application.
Cognitive performance enhancers promise to deliver a better version of ourselves: smarter, more alert and more mentally agile. But what if such enhancement was no longer a personal choice but a socially…
Molly Crockett: The complexities of ethics and the brain make it difficult for scientists to develop a pill to enhance human morals.
Could we create a "morality pill"? Once the stuff of science fiction, recent studies in neuroscience have shown that brain chemicals can subtly influence some aspects of moral judgments and decisions. However, science is very far from creating pills that can turn sinners into saints, as I have argued many times before. So imagine my surprise when I came across the headline, “‘Morality Pills’ Close to Reality, Claims Scientist”– referring to a lecture I gave recently in London. (I asked the newspaper where the reporter got his misinformation, but received no response to my query.)
Sensationalist reports like this are not only inaccurate, but also neglect the rich complexities of the brain that make neuroscience so fascinating. It is these same complexities that will make it very difficult for scientists to develop a morality pill.
First, let’s consider the evidence that drugs can influence morals. Laboratory studies typically compare the effects of a placebo pill with those of a drug treatment that alters the function of a specific brain chemical. After taking either the drug or placebo, healthy volunteers make a series of moral decisions or judgments. For example, they may consider whether to donate to charity, or cooperate with others, or judge whether it is permissible to harm one person in order to save many others. The key question is whether the drug alters people’s decisions and judgments, relative to placebo.
In Synthetic Aesthetics, researchers and designers team up to present an exciting way of learning from nature
SYNTHETIC biology is not like other sciences. At its first big conference, held just 10 years ago at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the startling initial premise was that life is simply too complicated for biotechnologists to easily modify and that it would be better if engineers rebuilt life from scratch so the created organisms did exactly what was required.
The youthful enthusiasm that powered the field, and brought together engineers, biologists, computer scientists, physicists and biohackers, persists today. There have been a few major achievements, most notably last month's creation of a computer-designed yeast chromosome. And before that, the creation of the first synthetic cell.
Alongside this big science, researchers have built libraries of standard DNA code that controls different things inside cells. The dream is that one day it will be easy to design novel organisms using DNA as the programming language. Synthetic biology's headline-grabbing achievement is its annual International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, which attracts hundreds of student teams to reprogram organisms. Last year's winners re-engineered the bacterium E. coli to recycle gold from electronic waste. At iGEM, the defensive attitude of biotech is replaced with one of turn up, take part, and talk.
As artist Daisy Ginsberg puts it, design "is about possibility", the unimagined things that life could be. Synthetic biology, she writes, has been addressing "humanity's needs" – limitless fuel, for example – rather than "our needs as individual, diverse and complex humans". This is refreshing: worries about the separation between the top-down design of the future and those who must live with the designs are quite rare in science.