How can technology that we are able to build with today’s tools help us to solve the big problems of individuals, organizations, and the world at large? More specifically: How can we use the internet in the best way to improve our collective problem-solving capabilities? Questions like these don’t seem to be asked very often, perhaps because people usually focus on specific problems, rather than general problem-solving in its own right.
Get Nima Arkani-Hamed going on the subject of the universe—not difficult—and he’ll talk for as many minutes or hours as it takes to transport you to the edge of human understanding, and then he’ll talk you past the edge, beyond Einstein, beyond space-time and quantum mechanics and all those tired tropes of 20th-century physics, to a spectacular new vision of how everything works. It will seem so simple, so lucid. He’ll remind you that, in 2015, it’s still speculative. But he’s convinced that, someday, the vision will come true.On the strength of the torrent of ideas he has produced over the past 20 years—he won the inaugural $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012 “for original approaches to outstanding problems in particle physics, including the proposal of large extra dimensions, new theories for the Higgs boson, novel realizations of supersymmetry, theories for dark matter, and the exploration of new mathematical structures in gauge theory scattering amplitudes”—Arkani-Hamed, 43, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, N.J., is widely considered one of the best theoretical physicists working today. Colleagues point to his knack for simplifying impossibly complex problems, as well as his exceptional mathematical ability, creativity, instincts and vast knowledge of physics. “Nima is amazing in every component of talent space,” said Savas Dimopoulos, a theoretical particle physicist at Stanford University.
The idea that human history is approaching a “singularity” — that ordinary humans will someday be overtaken by artificially intelligent machines or cognitively enhanced biological intelligence, or both — has moved from the realm of science fiction to serious debate. Some singularity theorists predict that if the field of artificial intelligence (AI) continues to develop at its current dizzying rate, the singularity could come about in the middle of the present century. Murray Shanahan offers an introduction to the idea of the singularity and considers the ramifications of such a potentially seismic event.
Shanahan’s aim is not to make predictions but rather to investigate a range of scenarios. Whether we believe that singularity is near or far, likely or impossible, apocalypse or utopia, the very idea raises crucial philosophical and pragmatic questions, forcing us to think seriously about what we want as a species.
Shanahan describes technological advances in AI, both biologically inspired and engineered from scratch. Once human-level AI — theoretically possible, but difficult to accomplish — has been achieved, he explains, the transition to superintelligent AI could be very rapid. Shanahan considers what the existence of superintelligent machines could mean for such matters as personhood, responsibility, rights, and identity. Some superhuman AI agents might be created to benefit humankind; some might go rogue. (Is Siri the template, or HAL?) The singularity presents both an existential threat to humanity and an existential opportunity for humanity to transcend its limitations. Shanahan makes it clear that we need to imagine both possibilities if we want to bring about the better outcome.
It’s a popular sci-fi plot: Earth sets up colonies on Mars; Mars colonies grow, developing their own technologies and culture; Mars colonies rebel against overbearing Earth government, demanding independence. It happens in Total Recall, in Babylon 5, in Red Mars.
But what if we gave Mars its independence right from the get-go? Rather than giving future colonies to governments or corporations, Jacob Haqq-Misra thinks we should let Martian colonists develop their own values, governments, and technologies, with minimal interference from Earth. Haqq-Misra is an astrobiologist at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, a non-profit organization that promotes international unity in space.
Not only would Haqq-Misra's strategy preclude any Martian wars for independence, but cultural independence could help Martians think differently enough to solve problems that Earth continues to struggle with—such as working together to fight global environmental problems, or making long-term plans for the future of humanity.
Could an AI avatar collect all your thoughts and memories, then become a digital clone of yourself and “live” forever?
It is 2015 and we are closer to launching the Eternime avatar that will eventually become your digital alter ego, your immortal bits-and-bytes clone. Two years, two pivots, all personal savings invested, a new team, more than 30,000 people waiting for it, and we’re one step further on this amazing journey, ready to launch and start fundraising for the next chapter. The past two years have been “part poetry, part hero’s journey, part weird Tarantino movie” as a friend of mine says, so here’s the story of the Eternime journey until today.
I consider Ray Kurzweil a very close friend and a very smart person. Ray is a brilliant technologist, futurist, and a director of engineering at Google focused on AI and language processing. He has also made more correct (and documented) technolo...
The idea that our ability to reflect has been outsourced to algorithms may seem hyperbolic. We assume we have agency regarding the choices we make, influenced by the paradigm of personalization but not subsumed within a Matrix of someone else’s making.
But how do you know? Have you created a list of activities you’d never delegate? Could you even discern where your moral boundaries end and codified biases begin?
While welcoming the feedback that sensors, data and Artificial Intelligence provide, we’re at a critical inflection point. Demarcating the parameters between assistance and automation has never been more central to human well-being. But today, beauty is in the AI of the beholder. Desensitized to the value of personal data, we hemorrhage precious insights regarding our identity that define the moral nuances necessary to navigate algorithmic modernity.
If no values-based standards exist for Artificial Intelligence, then the biases of its manufacturers will define our universal code of human ethics. But this should not be their cross to bear alone. It’s time to stop vilifying the AI community and start defining in concert with their creations what the good life means surrounding our consciousness and code.
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