Don’t Fear Artificial Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil

This is an article from TIME by Ray Kurzweil called Don’t Fear Artificial Intelligence.  Basically, Kurzweil’s stance is that “technology is a double-edged sword” and that it always has been, but that’s no reason to abandon the research.  Kurzweil also states that, “Virtually every­one’s mental capabilities will be enhanced by it within a decade.”  I hope it makes people smarter and not just more intelligent! 


Don’t Fear Artificial Intelligence

Retro toy robot
Getty Images

Kurzweil is the author of five books on artificial ­intelligence, including the recent New York Times best seller “How to Create a Mind.”

Two great thinkers see danger in AI. Here’s how to make it safe.

Stephen Hawking, the pre-eminent physicist, recently warned that artificial intelligence (AI), once it sur­passes human intelligence, could pose a threat to the existence of human civilization. Elon Musk, the pioneer of digital money, private spaceflight and electric cars, has voiced similar concerns.

If AI becomes an existential threat, it won’t be the first one. Humanity was introduced to existential risk when I was a child sitting under my desk during the civil-­defense drills of the 1950s. Since then we have encountered comparable specters, like the possibility of a bioterrorist creating a new virus for which humankind has no defense. Technology has always been a double-edged sword, since fire kept us warm but also burned down our villages.

The typical dystopian futurist movie has one or two individuals or groups fighting for control of “the AI.” Or we see the AI battling the humans for world domination. But this is not how AI is being integrated into the world today. AI is not in one or two hands; it’s in 1 billion or 2 billion hands. A kid in Africa with a smartphone has more intelligent access to knowledge than the President of the United States had 20 years ago. As AI continues to get smarter, its use will only grow. Virtually every­one’s mental capabilities will be enhanced by it within a decade.

We will still have conflicts among groups of people, each enhanced by AI. That is already the case. But we can take some comfort from a profound, exponential decrease in violence, as documented in Steven Pinker’s 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. According to Pinker, although the statistics vary somewhat from location to location, the rate of death in war is down hundredsfold compared with six centuries ago. Since that time, murders have declined tensfold. People are surprised by this. The impression that violence is on the rise results from another trend: exponentially better information about what is wrong with the world—­another development aided by AI.

There are strategies we can deploy to keep emerging technologies like AI safe. Consider biotechnology, which is perhaps a couple of decades ahead of AI. A meeting called the Asilomar ­Conference on Recombinant DNA was organized in 1975 to ­assess its potential dangers and devise a strategy to keep the field safe. The resulting guidelines, which have been revised by the industry since then, have worked very well: there have been no significant problems, accidental or intentional, for the past 39 years. We are now seeing major ad­vances in medical treatments reaching clinical practice and thus far none of the anticipated problems.

Consideration of ethical guidelines for AI goes back to Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, which appeared in his short story “Runaround” in 1942, eight years before Alan Turing introduced the field of AI in his 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” The median view of AI practitioners today is that we are still several decades from achieving human-­level AI. I am more optimistic and put the date at 2029, but either way, we do have time to devise ethical standards.

There are efforts at universities and companies to develop AI safety strategies and guidelines, some of which are already in place. Similar to the Asilomar guidelines, one idea is to clearly define the mission of each AI program and to build in encrypted safeguards to prevent unauthorized uses.

Ultimately, the most important approach we can take to keep AI safe is to work on our human governance and social institutions. We are already a human-­machine civilization. The best way to avoid destructive conflict in the future is to continue the advance of our social ideals, which has already greatly reduced violence.

AI today is advancing the diagnosis of disease, finding cures, developing renewable clean energy, helping to clean up the environment, providing high-­quality education to people all over the world, helping the disabled (including providing Hawking’s voice) and contributing in a myriad of other ways. We have the opportunity in the decades ahead to make major strides in addressing the grand challenges of humanity. AI will be the pivotal technology in achieving this progress. We have a moral imperative to realize this promise while controlling the peril. It won’t be the first time we’ve succeeded in doing this.

Kurzweil is the author of five books on artificial ­intelligence, including the recent New York Times best seller How to Create a Mind.


 

This article can also be found here.
 

 

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Hugo de Garis – Singularity Skepticism (Produced by Adam Ford)

This is Hugo de Garis talking about why people tend to react with a great deal of skepticism.  To address the skeptics, de Garis explains Moore’s Law and goes into it’s many implications.  Hugo de Garis makes a statement toward the end about how people will begin to come around when they begin to see their household electronics getting smarter and smarter.


Runtime: 12:31


This video can also be found here and here.

Video Info:

Published on Jul 31, 2012

Hugo de Garis speaks about why people are skeptical about the possibility of machine intelligence, and also reasons for believing machine intelligence is possible, and quite probably will be an issue that we will need to face in the coming decades.

If the brain guys can copy how the brain functions closely enough…we will arrive at a machine based on neuroscience ideas and that machine will be intelligent and conscious

 

 

Ben Goertzel – Beginnings [on Artificial Intelligence – Thanks to Adam A. Ford for this video.]

In this video, Ben Goertzel talks a little about how he got into AGI research and about the research, itself.  I first heard of Ben Goertzel about four years ago, right when I was first studying computer science and considering a career in AI programming.  At the time, I was trying to imagine how you would build an emotionally intelligent machine.  I really enjoyed hearing some of his ideas at the time and still do.  Also at the time, I was listening to a lot of Tony Robbins so you could imagine, I came up with some pretty interesting theories on artificial intelligence and empathetic machines.  Maybe if I get enough requests I’ll write a special post on some of those ideas.  You just let me know if you’re interested.


Runtime: 10:33


This video can also be found at here and here.

Video Info:

Published on Jul 27, 2012

Ben Goertzel talks about his early stages in thinking about AI, and two books : The Hidden Pattern, and Building Better Minds.

The interview was done in Melbourne Australia while Ben was down to speak at the Singularity Summit Australia 2011.

http://2011.singularitysummit.com.au

Interviewed, Filmed & Edited by Adam A. Ford
http://goertzel.org

 

Peter Voss Interview on Artificial General Intelligence

This is an interview with Peter Voss of Optimal talking about artificial general intelligence.  One of the things Voss talks about is the skepticism which is a common reaction when talking about creating strong AI and why (as Tony Robbins always says) the past does not equal the future.  He also talks about why he thinks that Ray Kurzweil’s predictions that AGI won’t be achieved for another 20 is wrong – (and I gotta say, he makes a good point).  If you are interested in artificial intelligence or ethics in technology then you’ll want to watch this one…  

And don’t worry, the line drawing effect at the beginning of the video only lasts a minute.


Runtime: 39:55


This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4W_vtlSjNk0

Video Info:

Published on Jan 8, 2013

Peter Voss is the founder and CEO of Adaptive A.I. Inc, an R&D company developing a high-level general intelligence (AGI) engine. He is also founder and CTO of Smart Action Company LLC, which builds and supplies AGI-based virtual contact-center agents — intelligent, automated phone operators.

Peter started his career as an entrepreneur, inventor, engineer and scientist at age 16. After several years of experience in electronics engineering, at age 25 he started a company to provide advanced custom hardware and software solutions. Seven years later the company employed several hundred people and was successfully listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

After selling his interest in the company in 1993, he worked on a broad range of disciplines — cognitive science, philosophy and theory of knowledge, psychology, intelligence and learning theory, and computer science — which served as the foundation for achieving new breakthroughs in artificial general intelligence. In 2001 he started Adaptive AI Inc., and last year founded Smart Action Company as its commercialization division.

Peter considers himself a free-minds-and-markets Extropian, and often writes and presents on philosophical topics including rational ethics, freewill and artificial minds. He is also deeply involved with futurism and life-extension.


http://www.optimal.org/peter/peter.htm

My main occupation is research in high-level, general (domain independent, autonomous) Artificial Intelligence — “Adaptive A.I. Inc.”

I believe that integrating insights from the following areas of cognitive science are crucial for rapid progress in this field:

Philosophy/ epistemology – understanding the true nature of knowledge
Cognitive psychology (incl. developmental & psychometric) for analysis of cognition – and especially – general conceptual intelligence.
Computer science – self-modifying systems, combining new connectionist pattern manipulation techniques with ‘traditional’ AI engineering.
Anyone who shares my passion – and/ or concerns – for this field is welcome to contact me for brainstorming and possible collaboration.

My other big passion is for exploring what I call Optimal Living: Maximizing both the quantity & quality of life. I see personal responsibility and optimizing knowledge acquisition as key. Specific interests include:

Rationality, as a means for knowledge. I’m largely sympathetic to the philosophy of Objectivism, and have done quite a bit of work on developing a rational approach to (personal & social) ethics.
Health (quality): physical, financial, cognitive, and emotional (passions, meaningful relationships, appreciation of art, etc.). Psychology: IQ & EQ.
Longevity (quantity): general research, CRON (calorie restriction), cryonics
Environment: economic, social, political systems conducive to Optimal Living.
These interests logically lead to an interest in Futurism , in technology for improving life – overcoming limits to personal growth & improvement. The transhumanist philosophy of Extropianism best embodies this quest. Specific technologies that seem to hold most promise include AI, Nanotechnology, & various health & longevity approaches mentioned above.

I always enjoy meeting new people to explore ideas, and to have my views critiqued. To this end I am involved in a number of discussion groups and salons (e.g. ‘Kifune’ futurist dinner/discussion group). Along the way I’m trying to develop and learn the complex art of constructive dialog.

Interview done at SENS party LA 20th Dec 2012.

 

 

Sean O’Heigeartaigh – Interview at Oxford Future of Humanity Institute (on Artificial Intelligence)

Here is a video interview with Sean O’Heigeartaigh.  O’Heigeartaigh speaks on the ethics of artificial intelligence, the technological singularity, augmented reality… he covers a lot of ground.  The video is called Sean O’Heigeartaigh – Interview at Oxford Future of Humanity Institute and it’s worth the watch.


 

Runtime: 47:01


This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cY90WIIrrlo 

Video Info:

Published on Jan 24, 2013

Dr Sean O hEigeartaigh
James Martin Academic Project Manager with the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology

Seán has a background in genetics, having recently finished his phD in molecular evolution in Trinity College Dublin where he focused on programmed ribosomal frameshifting and comparative genomic approaches to improve genome annotation. He is also the cofounder of a successful voluntary arts organisation in Ireland that now runs popular monthly events and an annual outdoor festival.

The Future of Humanity Institute is the leading research centre looking at big-picture questions for human civilization. The last few centuries have seen tremendous change, and this century might transform the human condition in even more fundamental ways. Using the tools of mathematics, philosophy, and science, we explore the risks and opportunities that will arise from technological change, weigh ethical dilemmas, and evaluate global priorities. Our goal is to clarify the choices that will shape humanity’s long-term future.

the Future of Humanity Institute: http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/

This short YouTube video on neurobiotics (called A Simulated Mouse Brain in a Virtual Mouse Body) talks about building a ‘virtual mouse’ by putting a computer model of a mouse brain in a virtual mouse body.  How cool is science?


 

Runtime: 2:28


This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldXEuUVkDuw

Video Info:

Published on Feb 23, 2015

Neurorobotics engineers from the Human Brain Project (HBP) have recently taken the first steps towards building a “virtual mouse” by placing a simplified computer model of the mouse brain into a virtual mouse body. This new kind of tool will be made available to scientists, both HBP and worldwide. Read more:https://www.humanbrainproject.eu/-/a-…

Useful Links:

Human Brain Project: http://www.humanbrainproject.eu
NEST simulator software for spiking neural network models: http://nest-simulator.org/
Jülich Press Release 2013, Largest neuronalnetwork simulation using NEST : http://bit.ly/173mZ5j

Open Source Data Sets:
Allen Institute for Brain Science: http://www.brain-map.org
Bioinformatics Research Network (BIRN): http://www.birncommunity.org

The Behaim Globe:
Germanisches National Museum, http://www.gnm.de/
Department of Geodesy and Geoinformation, TU Wien, http://www.geo.tuwien.ac.at

 

A Transhumanist Explores a New Type of Community – Zoltan Istvan Interviews Amon Twyman

In this interview from Psychology Today (entitled A Transhumanist Explores a New Type of Community), Dr. Amon Twyman discusses the Zero State community, the WAVE Network, and transhumanism with Zoltan Istvan.  


 

Dr. Amon Twyman – Photo by Joanna Twyman

Source: Joanna Twyman

Rapid advances in technology are paving the way for new ideas about the future, including those of the communities we live in. I had a chance to catch up with transhumanist, Zero State founder, andcognitive scientist Dr. Amon Twyman, who is a leader of one such community that is exloring new directions for the betterment of humanity.

Q. Dr. Twyman, What is Zero State?

A. Zero State(link is external) (ZS) is a community that grew out of the transhumanist movement back in 2011. It’s now part of a broad coalition of groups and movements that we call WAVE(link is external), referring to a coming wave of radical technological and social change. The basic ZS idea is to create networks of people and resources which could evolve into a distributed, virtual State. Right now there are only a few thousand ZSers (albeit well connected to much larger networks), but in a hypothetical full-blown Zero State there would be tens of millions or more, all supporting each other and being part of a single nation no matter where they live in the world. Our motto is “positive social change through technology.”

Q. How does transhumanism(link is external) relate to ZS?

A. Our core principles and ideas are deliberately compatible with transhumanism. That comes naturally, as ZS grew out of transhumanism and our most active “citizens” tend to self-identify as Transhumanists. That said, it’s important to stress that people don’t have to be transhumanists to join ZS. More generally, we consider ourselves to be a “Social Futurist” community, which is to say that we believe technological breakthroughs don’t happen in a social vacuum. There are social, economic, and political issues which not only stubbornly continue to exist in the face of techno-optimism, but which are sometimes greatly exacerbated by technological change. In short, we believe that technology should be applied to improving the human condition on both physiological and societal levels.

Zero State logo

Source: Dr. Amon Twyman

 

Q. How can ZS help the world?

A. In the first instance, we are focused on helping ZS’ citizens, or more accurately, helping them to help each other. An increasing number of people are finding themselves in need of help of one type or another these days, and we would like to demonstrate that mutual support is made more achievable than ever before thanks to the power of cutting-edge technologies. We tend to focus on bringing together people and ways to access current technologies such as meshnets, cryptocurrency, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence, while exploring ideas such as longevity, super-intelligence & wellbeing, accelerating change, and direct democratic action to circumvent obsolete political institutions. Beyond working to help our own people, we actively work to support the wider network of like-minded groups and believe that compassionately, intelligently applied technology has the potential to improve the lives of everybody in the world.

Q. How did you come to be the founder of ZS?

A. My background is in a combination of psychological research (consciousness anddecision making, Artificial Intelligence) and digital & performing arts. Although I’d read my fair share of science fiction as a kid, I decided I was a transhumanist while studying at university, after reading “Mind Children” by Hans Moravec. Over time, my various interests in art, science, transhumanism, and contemporary social/political issues coalesced into a coherent worldview, and I eventually decided to form an organization to pursue these ideas. The result, Zero State, was heavily informed by my experience as a co-founder of the UK Transhumanist Association, which has since evolved into Humanity+ UK. I started building WAVE, the broader network ZS is part of, two years later. That was once we’d had time to realize that there was a bigger picture emerging; a large number of like-minded groups forming to address a vast array of specific issues with a common outlook. That common outlook is characterized by technological savvy, distaste for old thinking and limits, and a keen awareness of social issues.

A. What does the future hold for ZS?

Q. ZS-affiliated project groups continue to work on developing tools for our members. A lot of these projects are collaborative and many have a distinctly transhumanist flavor, such as experimentation with Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (using electrical charge to help concentration—work being done in collaboration with Dirk Bruere and Andrew Vladimirov). Some of the projects seem more like simple fun than serious experimentation at first glance—such as the ZSers building Minecraft environments in which to test their AI software—but that’s half the point; For people to do something useful and have fun at the same time. Our most vigorous efforts are currently going into WAVE, expanding the wider, networked context in which ZS operates, doing what we can to help out like-minded groups. We’ve been establishing connections with large networks, such as The Zeitgeist Movement and an emerging coalition of online transhumanist organizations. We live in extremely exciting times, with lots of rapid change both good and bad, and it looks like Zero State will soon get its chance to help people help each other in that brave new world. If you believe in the promise of technology, the importance of social justice, and the power of community building then feel free to jump in and join the fun!

Zoltan Istvan is an award-winning journalist, philosopher, and activist. You can find him on Twitter(link is external)Google+(link is external)Facebook(link is external), and LinkedIn(link is external). Zoltan is also the author of the recently published #1 Philosophical bestseller novel The Transhumanist Wager(link is external). Available in ebook or paperback, the controversial novel is a revolutionary reading experience. You can check it out here(link is external).


This interview can also be found here.

 

What is Transhumanism? by Nick Bostrom at the World Transhumanist Association

What is transhumanism?  This part definition, part article on transhumanity is from the World Transhumanist Association website and was written by Nick Bostrom.


 

What is Transhumanism?

Over the past few years, a new paradigm for thinking about humankind’s future has begun to take shape among some leading computer scientists, neuroscientists, nanotechnologists and researchers at the forefront of technological development. The new paradigm rejects a crucial assumption that is implicit in both traditional futurology and practically all of today’s political thinking. This is the assumption that the “human condition” is at root a constant. Present-day processes can be fine-tuned; wealth can be increased and redistributed; tools can be developed and refined; culture can change, sometimes drastically; but human nature itself is not up for grabs.

This assumption no longer holds true. Arguably it has never been true. Such innovations as speech, written language, printing, engines, modern medicine and computers have had a profound impact not just on how people live their lives, but on who and what they are. Compared to what might happen in the next few decades, these changes may have been slow and even relatively tame. But note that even a single additional innovation as important as any of the above would be enough to invalidate orthodox projections of the future of our world.

“Transhumanism” has gained currency as the name for a new way of thinking that challenges the premiss that the human condition is and will remain essentially unalterable. Clearing away that mental block allows one to see a dazzling landscape of radical possibilities, ranging from unlimited bliss to the extinction of intelligent life. In general, the future by present lights looks very weird – but perhaps very wonderful – indeed.

Some of the possibilities that you will no doubt hear discussed in the coming years are quite extreme and sound like science-fiction. Consider the following:

bullet Superintelligent machines. Superintelligence means any form of artificial intelligence, maybe based on “self-taught” neural networks, that is capable of outclassing the best human brains in practically every discipline, including scientific creativity, practical wisdom, and social skills. Several commentators have argued that both the hardware and the software required for superintelligence might be developed in the first few decades of the next century. (See Moravec [1998] and Bostrom [1998].)
bullet Lifelong emotional well-being through re-calibration of the pleasure-centers. Even today, mild variants of sustainable euphoria are possible for a minority of people who respond especially well to clinical mood-brighteners (“antidepressants”). Pharmaceuticals currently under development promise to give an increasing number of “normal” people the choice of drastically reducing the incidence of negative emotions in their lives. In some cases, the adverse side-effects of the new agents are negligible. Whereas street drugs typically wreak havoc on the brain’s neurochemistry, producing a brief emotional “high” followed by a crash, modern clinical drugs may target with high specificity a given neurotransmitter or receptor subtype, thereby avoiding any negative effect on the subject’s cognitive faculties – (s)he won’t feel “drugged” – and enables a constant, indefinitely sustainable mood-elevation without being addictive. David Pearce [1997] advocates and predicts a post-Darwinian era in which all aversive experience will be replaced by gradients of pleasure beyond the bounds of normal human experience. As cleaner and safer mood-brighteners and gene-therapies become available, paradise-engineering may become a practicable possibility.
bullet Personality pills. Drugs and gene therapy will yield far more than shallow one-dimensional pleasure. They can also modify personality. They can help overcome shyness, eliminate jealousy (Kramer [1994]), increase creativity and enhance the capacity for empathy and emotional depth. Think of all the preaching, fasting and self-discipline that people have subjected themselves to throughout the ages in attempts to ennoble their character. Shortly it may become possible to achieve the same goals much more thoroughly by swallowing a daily cocktail pill.
bullet Space colonization. Today, space colonization is technologically feasible but prohibitively expensive. As costs decrease, it will become economically and politically possible to begin to colonize space. The thing to note is that once a single self-sustaining colony has been established, capable of sending out its own colonization probes, then an exponentially self-replicating process has been set in motion that is capable – without any further input from the planet Earth – of spreading out across the millions of stars in our galaxy and then to millions of other galaxies as well. Of course, this sequence of events will take an extremely long time on a human time-scale. But is interesting to notice how near we are to being able to initiate a chain of events that will have such momentous consequences as filling the observable universe with our descendants.
bullet Molecular nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is the hypothetical design and manufacture of machines to atomic-scale precision, including general-purpose “assemblers”, devices that can position atoms individually in order to build almost any chemically permitted matter-configuration for which we can give a detailed specification – including exact copies of themselves. An existence-proof of a limited form of nanotechnology is given by biology: the cell is a molecular self-replicator that can produce a broad range of proteins. But the part of design space that is accessible to present biological organisms is restricted by their evolutionary history, and is mostly confined to non-rigid carbon structures. Eric Drexler ([1988], [1992]) was the first person to analyze in detail the physical possibility of a practically universal molecular assembler. Once such a gadget exists, it would make possible dirt-cheap (but perfectly clean) production of almost any commodity, given a design-specification and the requisite input of energy and atoms. The bootstrap problem for nanotechnology – how to build this first assembler – is very hard to solve. Two approaches are currently pursued. One of them builds on what nature has achieved and seeks to use biochemistry to engineer new proteins that can serve as tools in further engineering efforts. The other attempts to build atomic structures from scratch, using proximal probes such as atomic-force microscopes to position atoms one-by-one on a surface. The two methods can potentially be used in conjunction. Much research is required before the physical possibility of Drexlerian nanotechnology can be turned into an actuality; it will certainly not happen in the next couple of years, but it might come about in the first few decades of the next century.
bullet Vastly extended life spans. It may prove feasible to use radical gene-therapy and other biological methods to block normal aging processes, and to stimulate rejuvenation and repair mechanisms indefinitely. It is also possible that nothing short of nanotechnology will do the trick. Meanwhile there are unproven and in some cases expensive hormone treatments that seem to have some effect on general vitality in elderly people, although as yet nothing has been shown to be more effective at life-extension than controlled caloric restriction.
bullet Extinction of intelligent life. The risks are as enormous as the potential benefits. In addition to dangers that are already recognized (though perhaps inadequately counteracted?), such as a major military, terrorist or accidental disaster involving nuclear, chemical, viral or bacteriological agents, the new technologies threaten dangers of a different order altogether. Nanotechnology, for example, could pose a terrible threat to our existence if obtained by some terrorist group before adequate defense systems have been developed. It is not even certain that adequate defense is possible. Perhaps in a nanotechnological world offense has a decisive intrinsic advantage over defense. Nor is it farfetched to assume that there are other risks that we haven’t yet been able to imagine.
bullet The interconnected world. Even in its present form, the Internet has an immense impact on some people’s lives. And its ramifications are just beginning to unfold. This is one area where radical change is quite widely perceived, and where media discussion has been extensive.
bullet Uploading of our consciousness into a virtual reality. If we could scan the synaptic matrix of a human brain and simulate it on a computer then it would be possible for us to migrate from our biological embodiments to a purely digital substrate (given certain philosophical assumptions about the nature of consciousness and personal identity). By making sure we always had back-up copies, we might then enjoy effectively unlimited life-spans. By directing the activation flow in the simulated neural networks, we could engineer totally new types of experience. Uploading, in this sense, would probably require mature nanotechnology. But there are less extreme ways of fusing the human mind with computers. Work is being done today on developing neuro/chip interfaces. The technology is still in its early stages; but it might one day enable us to build neuroprostheses whereby we could “plug in” to cyberspace. Even less speculative are various schemes for immersive virtual reality – for instance using head-mounted displays – that communicate with the brain via our natural sense organs.
bullet Reanimation of cryogenically-suspended patients. Persons frozen with today’s procedure can probably not be brought back to life with anything less than mature nanotechnology. Even if we could be absolutely sure that mature nanotechnology will one day be developed, there would still be no guarantee that the cryonics customer’s gamble would succeed – perhaps the beings of the future won’t be interested in reanimating present-day humans. Still, even a 5% or 10% chance of success could make anAlcor contract a rational option for people who can afford it and who place a great value on their continued personal existence. If reanimated, they might look forward to aeons of subjective life time under conditions of their own choosing.

These prospects might seem remote. Yet transhumanists think there is reason to believe that they might not be so far off as is commonly supposed. The Technology Postulate denotes the hypothesis that several of the items listed, or other changes that are equally profound, will become feasible within, say, seventy years (possibly much sooner). This is the antithesis of the assumption that the human condition is a constant. The Technology Postulate is often presupposed in transhumanist discussion. But it is not an article of blind faith; it’s a falsifiable hypothesis that is argued for on specific scientific and technological grounds.

If we come to believe that there are good grounds for believing that Technology Postulate is true, what consequences does that have for how we perceive the world and for how we spend our time? Once we start reflecting on the matter and become aware of its ramifications, the implications are profound.

From this awareness springs the transhumanist philosophy – and “movement”. For transhumanism is more than just an abstract belief that we are about to transcend our biological limitations by means of technology; it is also an attempt to re-evaluate the entire human predicament as traditionally conceived. And it is a bid to take a far-sighted and constructive approach to our new situation. A primary task is to provoke the widest possible discussion of these topics and to promote a better public understanding. The set of skills and competencies that are needed to drive the transhumanist agenda extend far beyond those of computer scientists, neuroscientists, software-designers and other high-tech gurus. Transhumanism is not just for brains accustomed to hard-core futurism. It should be a concern for our whole society.

The Foresight Institute is an excellent source of information about nanotechnology-related issues. They organize annual conferences and have built up a substantial infrastructure of expertise in nanotechnology. The Extropy Institute has organized several international conferences on general transhumanist themes, and its president Max More has done much to get extropian memes out into the mass media. (Extropianism is a distinctive type transhumanism, defined by the Extropian Principles.) In 1997, the World Transhumanist Association was founded, with the aim of turning transhumanism into a mainstream academic discipline and also to facilitate networking between different transhumanist groups and local chapters and among individual transhumanists, both academic and non-academic. The WTA publishes the electronic Journal of Transhumanism, featuring leading-edge research papers by scholars working in transhumanist-related disciplines. The WTA web pages are one good starting place to find out more about transhumanism.

It is extremely hard to anticipate the long-term consequences of our present actions. But rather than sticking our heads in the sand, transhumanists reckon we should at least try to plan for them as best we can. In doing so, it becomes necessary to confront some of the notorious “big questions”, such the so-called Fermi paradox (“Why haven’t we seen any signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life?”). This problem requires delving into a number of different scientific disciplines. The Fermi paradox is not only intellectually stimulating, it is also potentially practically important since it could turn out to have consequences for whether we should expect to survive and colonize the universe (Hanson [1996]). At the present, though, it appears that the state of evolutionary biology is insufficiently advanced to allow us to draw any firm conclusions about our own future from this type of consideration. Another purported indirect source of information about our own future is the highly controversial Carter-Leslie Doomsday argument. This attempts to prove from basic principles of probability theory together with some trivial empirical assumptions that human extinction in the next century is much more likely than has previously been thought. The argument, which uses a version of the Anthropic Principle, was first conceived by astrophysicist Brandon Carter and was later developed by philosopher John Leslie [1996] and others. So far, nobody has been able to explain to general satisfaction what, if anything, is wrong with it (Bostrom [1998]).

While the wider perspective and the bigger questions are essential to transhumanism, that does not mean that transhumanists do not take an intense interest in what goes in our world today. On the contrary! Recent topical themes that have been the subject of wide and lively debate in transhumanist forums include such diverse issues as cloning; proliferation of weapons of mass-destruction; neuro/chip interfaces; psychological tools such as critical thinking skills, NLP, and memetics; processor technology and Moore’s law; gender roles and sexuality; neural networks and neuromorphic engineering; life-extension techniques such as caloric restriction; PET, MRI and other brain-scanning methods; evidence(?) for life on Mars; transhumanist fiction and films; quantum cryptography and “teleportation”; the Digital Citizen; atomic force microscopy as a possible enabling technology for nanotechnology; electronic commerce… Not all participants are equally at home in all of these fields, of course, but many like the experience of taking part in a joint exploration of unfamiliar ideas, facts and standpoints.

An important transhumanist goal is to improve the functioning of human society as an epistemic community. In addition to trying to figure out what is happening, we can try to figure out ways of making ourselves better at figuring out what is happening. We can create institutions that increase the efficiency of the academic- and other knowledge-communities. More and more people are gaining access to the Internet. Programmers, software designers, IT consultants and others are involved in projects that are constantly increasing the quality and quantity of advantages of being connected. Hypertext publishing and the collaborative information filtering paradigm (Chislenko [1997]) have the potential to accelerate the propagation of valuable information and aid the demolition of what transpire to be misconceptions and crackpot claims. The people working in information technology are only the latest reinforcement to the body of educators, scientists, humanists, teachers and responsible journalists who have been striving throughout the ages to decrease ignorance and make humankind as a whole more rational.

One simple but brilliant idea, developed by Robin Hanson [1990], is that we create a market of “idea futures”. Basically, this means that it would be possible to place bets on all sorts of claims about controversial scientific and technological issues. One of the many benefits of such an institution is that it would provide policy-makers and others with consensus estimates of the probabilities of uncertain hypotheses about projected future events, such as when a certain technological breakthrough will occur. It would also offer a decentralized way of providing financial incentives for people to make an effort to be right in what they think. And it could promote intellectual sincerity in that persons making strong claims would be encouraged to put their money where their mouth is. At present, the idea is embodied in an experimental set-up, the Foresight Exchange, where people can stake “credibility points” on a variety of claims. But for its potential advantages to materialize, a market has to be created that deals in real money and is as integrated in the established economic structure as are current stock exchanges. (Present anti-gambling regulations are one impediment to this; in many countries betting on anything other than sport and horses is prohibited.)

The transhumanist outlook can appear cold and alien at first. Many people are frightened by the rapid changes they are witnessing and respond with denial or by calling for bans on new technologies. It’s worth recalling how pain relief at childbirth through the use of anesthetics was once deplored as unnatural. More recently, the idea of “test-tube babies” has been viewed with abhorrence. Genetic engineering is widely seen as interfering with God’s designs. Right now, the biggest moral panic is cloning. We have today a whole breed of well-meaning biofundamentalists, religious leaders and so-called ethical experts who see it as their duty to protect us from whatever “unnatural” possibilities that don’t fit into their preconceived world-view. The transhumanist philosophy is a positive alternative to this ban-the-new approach to coping with a changing world. Instead of rejecting the unprecedented opportunities on offer, it invites us to embrace them as vigorously as we can. Transhumanists view technological progress as a joint human effort to invent new tools that we can use to reshape the human condition and overcome our biological limitations, making it possible for those who so want to become “post-humans”. Whether the tools are “natural” or “unnatural” is entirely irrelevant.

Transhumanism is not a philosophy with a fixed set of dogmas. What distinguishes transhumanists, in addition to their broadly technophiliac values, is the sort of problems they explore. These include subject matter as far-reaching as the future of intelligent life, as well as much more narrow questions about present-day scientific, technological or social developments. In addressing these problems, transhumanists aim to take a fact-driven, scientific, problem-solving approach. They also make a point of challenging holy cows and questioning purported impossibilities. No principle is beyond doubt, not the necessity of death, not our confinement to the finite resources of planet Earth, not even transhumanism itself is held to be too good for constant critical reassessment. The ideology is meant to evolve and be reshaped as we move along, in response to new experiences and new challenges. Transhumanists are prepared to be shown wrong and to learn from their mistakes.

Transhumanism can also be very practical and down-to-earth. Many transhumanists find ways of applying their philosophy to their own lives, ranging from the use of diet and exercise to improve health and life-expectancy; to signing up for cryonic suspension; making money from investing in technology stocks; creating transhumanist art; using clinical drugs to adjust parameters of mood and personality; applying various psychological self-improvement techniques; and in general taking steps to live richer and more responsible lives. An empowering mind-set that is common among transhumanists is dynamic optimism: the attitude that desirable results can in general be accomplished, but only through hard effort and smart choices (More [1997]).

Are you a transhumanist? If so, then you can look forward to increasingly seeing your own views reflected in the media and in society. For it is clear that transhumanism is an idea whose time has come.

Nick Bostrom
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific method
London School of Economics
nick@nickbostrom.com

References

Bostrom, N. 1998. “How long before superintelligence?” International Journal of Futures Studies, 2. (Also available at http://www.hedweb.com/nickb/superintelligence.htm)

Bostrom, N. 1998. “Investigations into the Doomsday Argument”
http://www.anthropic-principle.com/preprints/inv/investigations.html

Bostrom, N. 1997. “The Fermi Paradox”
http://www.ndirect.co.uk/~transhumanism/Fermi.htm

Chislenko, A. 1997. “Collaborative Information Filtering” http://www.lucifer.com/~sasha/articles/ACF.html

Drexler, E. 1992. Nanosystems. John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Drexler, E. 1988. Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology. Fourth Estate. London. http://www.foresight.org/EOC/index.html

Hanson, R. 1996. “The Great Filter: Are we almost past it?”
http://hanson.berkeley.edu/

Kramer, P. 1994. Listning to Prozac. Penguin. U.S.A.

Leslie, J. 1996. The End of the World: The Ethics and Science of Human Extinction. Routledge, New York.

More, M. 1997. “The Extropian Principles”
http://www.extropy.com/~exi/extprn26.htm

More, M. 1995. “Dynamic optimism: Epistemological Psychology for Extropians”
http://www.primenet.com/~maxmore/optimism.htm

Moravec, H. 1998. Robot, Being: mere machine to transcendent mind. Oxford Univ. Press.

Pearce, D. 1997. “The Hedonistic Imperative”.
http://www.hedweb.com/hedab.htm

Institutes

Extropy Institute
http://www.extropy.org/

Foresight Exchange
http://www.ideosphere.com/fx/main.html

Foresight Institute
http://www.foresight.org/

World Transhumanist Association
http://www.transhumanism.com/

I am grateful to David Pearce and Anders Sandberg for extensive comments on earlier versions of this text. N. B.

 


This article can also be found here.

 

The coming transhuman era: Jason Sosa at TEDxGrandRapids [Transhumanism]

Dawn of Giants Favorite…

This video from TEDx Grand Rapids is probably one of the best introductions to transhumanism. The video is called The coming transhuman era: Jason Sosa at TEDxGrandRapids. Jason Sosa is a tech entrepreneur and I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’ll be hearing more about him in the near future. This one is an absolute must see!


Runtime: 15:37

This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ugo2KEV2XQ


Video Info:

Published on Jun 24, 2014

Sosa is the founder and CEO of IMRSV, a computer vision and artificial intelligence company and was named one of “10 Startups to Watch in NYC” by Time Inc., and one of “25 Hot and New Startups to Watch in NYC” by Business Insider. He has been featured by Forbes, CNN, New York Times, Fast Company, Bloomberg and Business Insider, among others.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Neuromorphic Chips: MIT Technology Review

This is another article by Robert D. Hof from the MIT Technology Review website and is about how neuromorphic computer chips (modeled on the biological brains) could make computers “aware” of what is going on around them.  This is the kind of technology that we are going to see everywhere.  The practical applications are endless.

Neuromorphic Chips

Microprocessors configured more like brains than traditional chips could soon make computers far more astute about what’s going on around them.

Breakthrough

An alternative design for computer chips that will enhance ­artificial intelligence.

Why It Matters

Traditional chips are reaching fundamental performance limits.

Key Players

  • Qualcomm
  • IBM
  • HRL Laboratories
  • Human Brain Project

A pug-size robot named pioneer slowly rolls up to the Captain America action figure on the carpet. They’re facing off inside a rough model of a child’s bedroom that the wireless-chip maker Qualcomm has set up in a trailer. The robot pauses, almost as if it is evaluating the situation, and then corrals the figure with a snowplow-like implement mounted in front, turns around, and pushes it toward three squat pillars representing toy bins. Qualcomm senior engineer Ilwoo Chang sweeps both arms toward the pillar where the toy should be deposited. Pioneer spots that gesture with its camera and dutifully complies. Then it rolls back and spies another action figure, Spider-Man. This time Pioneer beelines for the toy, ignoring a chessboard nearby, and delivers it to the same pillar with no human guidance.

This demonstration at Qualcomm’s headquarters in San Diego looks modest, but it’s a glimpse of the future of computing. The robot is performing tasks that have typically needed powerful, specially programmed computers that use far more electricity. Powered by only a smartphone chip with specialized software, Pioneer can recognize objects it hasn’t seen before, sort them by their similarity to related objects, and navigate the room to deliver them to the right location—not because of laborious programming but merely by being shown once where they should go. The robot can do all that because it is simulating, albeit in a very limited fashion, the way a brain works.

Later this year, Qualcomm will begin to reveal how the technology can be embedded into the silicon chips that power every manner of electronic device. These “neuromorphic” chips—so named because they are modeled on biological brains—will be designed to process sensory data such as images and sound and to respond to changes in that data in ways not specifically programmed. They promise to accelerate decades of fitful progress in artificial intelligence and lead to machines that are able to understand and interact with the world in humanlike ways. Medical sensors and devices could track individuals’ vital signs and response to treatments over time, learning to adjust dosages or even catch problems early. Your smartphone could learn to anticipate what you want next, such as background on someone you’re about to meet or an alert that it’s time to leave for your next meeting. Those self-driving cars Google is experimenting with might not need your help at all, and more adept Roombas wouldn’t get stuck under your couch. “We’re blurring the boundary between silicon and biological systems,” says Qualcomm’s chief technology officer, Matthew Grob.

Qualcomm’s chips won’t become available until next year at the earliest; the company will spend 2014 signing up researchers to try out the technology. But if it delivers, the project—known as the Zeroth program—would be the first large-scale commercial platform for neuromorphic computing. That’s on top of promising efforts at universities and at corporate labs such as IBM Research and HRL Laboratories, which have each developed neuromorphic chips under a $100 million project for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Likewise, the Human Brain Project in Europe is spending roughly 100 million euros on neuromorphic projects, including efforts at Heidelberg University and the University of Manchester. Another group in Germany recently reported using a neuromorphic chip and software modeled on insects’ odor-processing systems to recognize plant species by their flowers.

Today’s computers all use the so-called von Neumann architecture, which shuttles data back and forth between a central processor and memory chips in linear sequences of calculations. That method is great for crunching numbers and executing precisely written programs, but not for processing images or sound and making sense of it all. It’s telling that in 2012, when Google demonstrated artificial-­intelligence software that learned to recognize cats in videos without being told what a cat was, it needed 16,000 processors to pull it off.

Continuing to improve the performance of such processors requires their manufacturers to pack in ever more, ever faster transistors, silicon memory caches, and data pathways, but the sheer heat generated by all those components is limiting how fast chips can be operated, especially in power-stingy mobile devices. That could halt progress toward devices that effectively process images, sound, and other sensory information and then apply it to tasks such as face recognition and robot or vehicle navigation.

No one is more acutely interested in getting around those physical challenges than Qualcomm, maker of wireless chips used in many phones and tablets. Increasingly, users of mobile devices are demanding more from these machines. But today’s personal-assistant services, such as Apple’s Siri and Google Now, are limited because they must call out to the cloud for more powerful computers to answer or anticipate queries. “We’re running up against walls,” says Jeff Gehlhaar, the Qualcomm vice president of technology who heads the Zeroth engineering team.

Neuromorphic chips attempt to model in silicon the massively parallel way the brain processes information as billions of neurons and trillions of synapses respond to sensory inputs such as visual and auditory stimuli. Those neurons also change how they connect with each other in response to changing images, sounds, and the like. That is the process we call learning. The chips, which incorporate brain-inspired models called neural networks, do the same. That’s why Qualcomm’s robot—even though for now it’s merely running software that simulates a neuromorphic chip—can put Spider-Man in the same location as Captain America without having seen Spider-Man before.

Qualcomm could add a “neural processing unit” to mobile-phone chips to handle sensory data and tasks such as image recognition.

Even if neuromorphic chips are nowhere near as capable as the brain, they should be much faster than current computers at processing sensory data and learning from it. Trying to emulate the brain just by using special software on conventional processors—the way Google did in its cat experiment—is way too inefficient to be the basis of machines with still greater intelligence, says Jeff Hawkins, a leading thinker on AI who created the Palm Pilot before cofounding Numenta, a maker of brain-inspired software. “There’s no way you can build it [only] in software,” he says of effective AI. “You have to build this in silicon.”

Neural Channel

As smartphones have taken off, so has Qualcomm, whose market capitalization now tops Intel’s. That’s thanks in part to the hundreds of wireless-­communications patents that Qualcomm shows off on two levels of a seven-story atrium lobby at its San Diego headquarters. Now it’s looking to break new ground again. First in coöperation with Brain Corp., a neuroscience startup it invested in and that is housed at its headquarters, and more recently with its own growing staff, it has been quietly working for the past five years on algorithms to mimic brain functions as well as hardware to execute them. The Zeroth project has initially focused on robotics applications because the way robots can interact with the real world provides broader lessons about how the brain learns—lessons that can then be applied in smartphones and other products. Its name comes from Isaac Asimov’s “Zeroth Law” of robotics: “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”

The idea of neuromorphic chips dates back decades. Carver Mead, the Caltech professor emeritus who is a legend in integrated-circuit design, coined the term in a 1990 paper, describing how analog chips—those that vary in their output, like real-world phenomena, in contrast to the binary, on-or-off nature of digital chips—could mimic the electrical activity of neurons and synapses in the brain. But he struggled to find ways to reliably build his analog chip designs. Only one arguably neuromorphic processor, a noise suppression chip made by Audience, has sold in the hundreds of millions. The chip, which is based on the human cochlea, has been used in phones from Apple, Samsung, and others.

As a commercial company, Qualcomm has opted for pragmatism over sheer performance in its design. That means the neuromorphic chips it’s developing are still digital chips, which are more predictable and easier to manufacture than analog ones. And instead of modeling the chips as closely as possible on actual brain biology, Qualcomm’s project emulates aspects of the brain’s behavior. For instance, the chips encode and transmit data in a way that mimics the electrical spikes generated in the brain as it responds to sensory information. “Even with this digital representation, we can reproduce a huge range of behaviors we see in biology,” says M. Anthony Lewis, the project engineer for Zeroth.

The chips would fit neatly into the existing business of Qualcomm, which dominates the market for mobile-phone chips but has seen revenue growth slow. Its Snapdragon mobile-phone chips include components such as graphics processing units; Qualcomm could add a “neural processing unit” to the chips to handle sensory data and tasks such as image recognition and robot navigation. And given that Qualcomm has a highly profitable business of licensing technologies to other companies, it would be in a position to sell the rights to use algorithms that run on neuromorphic chips. That could lead to sensor chips for vision, motion control, and other applications.

Cognitive Companion

Matthew Grob was startled, then annoyed, when he heard the theme to Sanford and Son start playing in the middle of a recent meeting. It turns out that on a recent trip to Spain, he had set his smartphone to issue a reminder using the tune as an alarm, and the phone thought it was time to play it again. That’s just one small example of how far our personal devices are from being intelligent. Grob dreams of a future when instead of monkeying with the settings of his misbehaving phone, as he did that day, all he would have to do is bark, “Don’t do that!” Then the phone might learn that it should switch off the alarm when he’s in a new time zone.

Qualcomm is especially interested in the possibility that neuromorphic chips could transform smartphones and other mobile devices into cognitive companions that pay attention to your actions and surroundings and learn your habits over time. “If you and your device can perceive the environment in the same way, your device will be better able to understand your intentions and anticipate your needs,” says Samir Kumar, a business development director at Qualcomm’s research lab.

Pressed for examples, Kumar ticks off a litany: If you tag your dog in a photo, your phone’s camera would recognize the pet in every subsequent photo. At a soccer game, you could tell the phone to snap a photo only when your child is near the goal. At bedtime, it would know without your telling it to send calls to voice mail. In short, says Grob, your smartphone would have a digital sixth sense.

Qualcomm executives are reluctant to embark on too many flights of fancy before their chip is even available. But neuromorphic researchers elsewhere don’t mind speculating. According to ­Dharmendra Modha, a top IBM researcher in San Jose, such chips might lead to glasses for the blind that use visual and auditory sensors to recognize objects and provide audio cues; health-care systems that monitor vital signs, provide early warnings of potential problems, and suggest ways to individualize treatments; and computers that draw on wind patterns, tides, and other indicators to predict tsunamis more accurately. At HRL this summer, principal research scientist Narayan Srinivasa plans to test a neuromorphic chip in a bird-size device from AeroVironment that will be flown around a couple of rooms. It will take in data from cameras and other sensors so it can remember which room it’s in and learn to navigate that space more adeptly, which could lead to more capable drones.

It will take programmers time to figure out the best way to exploit the hardware. “It’s not too early for hardware companies to do research,” says Dileep George, cofounder of the artificial-­intelligence startup Vicarious. “The commercial products could take a while.” Qualcomm executives don’t disagree. But they’re betting that the technology they expect to launch this year will bring those products a lot closer to reality.

Robert D. Hof

 

This article can also be found here.