Update on Digital Super-Intelligence

One of my tech heroes, Ray Kurtzweil, has long been predicting the Singularity, that is, the point at which digital intelligence surpasses human intelligence. In an interview at a conference on Exponential Finance he discussed his views on preventing what he called existential threats. His position seems to be that since our generation has dealt with the nuclear existential threat we at least have an example that it can be done.

While I agree, to an extent, and applaud his optimism, I still think that the digital super-intelligence existential threat is different in magnitude if not in kind. As I said In my prior post, we need to raise awareness of the danger and actively pursue making contingency plans. We should assume that it is liable to happen and work to reduce the probability that it will while also thinking of ways to mitigate the danger when it does. It will do no good to ban AI research and think that we have dealt with the problem.

It Lives!

I watched the Carpool Karaoke episode on The Late Late Show the night before last. James Cordon had Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jane Krakowski in the car singing songs from Hamilton, Rent and Les Misérables. It was incredible.

I am not a big fan of rap music. In the case of Hamilton though it is absolutely brilliant. Perhaps the things that put me off of rap was the gangsta topics many rap songs focus on. I have no experience of the things they are talking about and I don’t like the glorification of violence that it seems to advocate. Hamilton on the other hand is a literate exploration of the life and times of one of the founding fathers of our country from a perspective rarely seen in main stream history books.

I have long been a fan of Broadway musicals but I felt they were in decline in recent years. Rent and Les Misérables were of course notable exceptions. But I think Hamilton is the tipping point. It has brought relevance back to the musical. Coming from a theatrical family, my parents were both Speech and English teachers that produced high school plays, it warms my heart to see the revival of the live theater experience as an integral part of our American culture.

The Martian (a micro-review)

I watched The Martian on TV last night. I missed it when it was in the theaters. It was gorgeous on the big screen, I am sure, but finances and other commitments conspired to keep me from seeing it there. It was a rare thing, a film that captured the spirit and the patina of the original book. Sure, there were things left out but it inspired most of the same feelings that the book did. Now that I’ve seen the movie I understand that much of the renewed enthusiasm for Mars missions are traceable to this movie. I can never thank Riddley Scott enough for sharing this marvelous vision of a possible near future with us. I suspect the actual Mars missions will look somewhat different from what we saw in this movie but their very existence may be thanks to it.

Ethical Concerns About Digital Super-Intelligence (AI)

I saw a TED talk by Nick Bostrum the other day that has haunted me. It was about the impending emergence of a digital super-intelligence. This is often called Artificial Intelligence but since we don’t have a rigorous definition of intelligence or an objective criteria for determining what constitutes a natural intelligence I prefer the term digital super-intelligence.

The problem is, we are setting up the conditions for this super-intelligence to emerge but we will have virtually no control over it when it does. There has been talk of developing guidelines for ensuring that it will share our values but I can’t see how that is possible, especially since there are so many different sets of values and we can’t seem to come to any agreement on which of them are fundamental and which are secondary.

I don’t have any answers yet. I don’t know if I ever will. But I am sincerely concerned that we are going to let this genie out of the bottle and things will change extremely fast and not necessarily for the benefit of mankind. I think this is potentially much more dangerous than experimenting with creating human beings from scratch in the lab. And make no mistake, I’m not advocating that either.

What is clear is that we need to focus more intensely on the ethics of the science that we are doing. The catch-22 is that we can’t just arbitrarily ban these activities. Someone is going to pursue them whether they are banned or not. The best thing we can do is entice our sharpest minds to think about these difficult issues and try to come up with some viable plan of action when these digital super-intelligences emerge from the computer science laboratories as they most certainly will.

Turning Over Another New Leaf

I should be working on the book tonight but I’m procrastinating. I will put some time in on it after I write this post. I was inspired today to commit to blogging daily. I’ve even figured out a way that I can make it happen. I will spend some of the time in the morning when I’m writing my 1000 words to write a blog post. That will leave me some of my words for journal type stuff and the rest for a blog post. That means the blog posts will be around 500-750 words. That’s not a bad length for a blog post. See you tomorrow and good night.

Tuesday Ramble

I am happy that I am finally getting some readers for my blog. I guess Facebook is good for something after all. I wish that Facebook would respect hyperlinks though. I often use them like footnotes so that I don’t have to stop and explain myself in the middle of a story. Since Facebook only allows a single link and apparently WordPress uses that one to link back to your WordPress blog, I don’t have that option.

I’ve been thinking about how to adapt my style to be less dependent on hyperlinks. I’m not really going to use footnotes. That would be a little bit too stilted. I tried putting URLs in parenthesis but Facebook cuts them out as well. I’ll keep trying experiments until I find something that works. Luckily I haven’t felt the need to hyperlink anything today.

I have been waiting for a check in the mail. I still have Christmas shopping to do. I’m afraid the check may have been lost. It’s not that I can’t get a replacement check, just that it will put a severe crimp in my holiday celebration if it doesn’t get her soon. I have been hanging around the house all week waiting for the mail to come. I have been getting stuff done around the house but it wasn’t how I planned to spend this week.

This post has been a bit of a ramble. I have been trying to write cohesive posts but my mind is not very cohesive today. I am going to wrap up this post and then go play my lovely new guitar. That is the best therapy for cohesion that I can think of. (of which I can think?) Sometimes you have to throw grammar out the window and write the way you talk.

A Philosophical Ramble (tl;dr?)

I read a blog post that my friend Dave Winer wrote. (By the way, go read it or else this post won’t make much sense to you.) At least I consider him my friend. I don’t really know him. We haven’t sat down face to face and talked. But I feel like I know him. I have read his blog for fifteen or twenty years, it’s been long enough that I don’t remember exactly how long. I have benignly stalked him on the internet. I was curious to find out more about this person that wrote so engagingly and had so many interests similar to mind.

I discovered that we were almost the same age. His birthday is a month or so before mine. We grew up in the same era. He grew up in New York, Michigan, and Silicon Valley, as far as I’ve been able to determine from reading his writing and what the bibliographical information that I’ve been able to dig up on him says. On the other hand, I grew up in Paducah, KY, Carbondale, IL and Huntsville, AL. Even so, we apparently have many things in common, e.g. programming, liberal politics, and an interest in communications.

But I don’t really know him. I would like to know him better. But when you get right down to it, nobody ever really knows anyone. The best you can expect is that the people around you know some part of you. We tend to think that people are the same from moment to moment when actually we are constantly evolving, becoming someone else. The person that someone comes to know becomes someone else. Or do they?

I think, I am myself but the very concept of self is questionable. Am I, myself, the same person that I perceived myself to be ten minutes ago? How about an hour ago? A day, a week, a month? Who were all those people? What happened to them? Are they still a part of who I am now? If I forget something that happened to me, do I lose a part of myself? These are profound questions. If I struggle to know myself, how can I expect that anyone else can know me?

When someone writes a kind piece about the aspects of you that they remember, it is to be cherished. They are not eulogizing you. You are not dead yet. They are telling the things that they know about you, the things that you have shown them of the self you were when they knew you. I understand the desire to be known for who you have become. But does that mean you should deny who you have been?

By the way, Dave, I have been following your new work. I’ve been learning from you. I was as blown away by Electron as you were. Thanks for the tip. I was working on a single page web app written in Javascript that I moved over to Electron when I saw how easy it was to do. I haven’t followed your work as closely lately as I did for a while. But I’m back reading your posts daily now. I’m even blogging regularly myself.

I don’t know what my Facebook followers are going to thing about this post (both of them :-)). Maybe they’ll think a little bit about identity and friendship the way you have incited me to do. Thanks for your presence in the world, the work you do, and the part of you that I have come to know. I can hope for more but I will treasure all that you give us.