Recently appointed Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAI) President Michael Vassar, a hardcore proponent of science and reason, emphasizes the importance of "human rationality" when discussing the future, making clear that SIAI is an "analytical think tank and research organization, not an advocacy group". Vassar says he's apprehensive about a "possible decrease in the quality of debate as the [Singularity] goes mainstream" and that he would find a public backlash against intelligent debate of a Singularity "odd".
Enjoy the candid and insightful interview.
FB: What are your main near-term goals at SIAI?
Put on a 2009 summit and establish a regular schedule of summits on alternating coasts and with a regular format.
Develop a body of technical and popular position papers and analysis that reflect our current views.
Develop software to help interested people to explore the future forecasting consequences of a range of assumptions.
Organize, probably with the Future of Humanity Institute, an essay contest in order to identify novel global catastrophic risks deserving of more serious analysis and drawing attention to the idea of rational treatment of catastrophic possibilities.
Reinvent Enlightenment values by building a better forum than currently exists for rational deliberation and cooperative analysis and decision making.
Most critically, as always, identify and train potential friendly AI researchers.
FB: Has the organization undergone any significant strategic or tactical shifts since you assumed the Executive Director position?
MV: Our efforts to develop a rigorous theory of Friendly Artificial Intelligence will continue, but our public outreach efforts will focus less narrowly on AI and more on the Singularity more generally and on promoting human rationality.
60 Minutes recently aired a program on the future of coal power featuring Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers (an advocate of longer term 'Cathedral Thinking' carbon reduction) and leading climate scientist James Hansen (an advocate of a moratorium on building coal plants).
The CBS report was solidly mainstream in framing coal as central to the conversation on energy, environment and global economic development- but it failed to move the conversation beyond ideas that have existed for several decades.
Time for Big Ideas, not Big Battles Coal is the world's fastest growing source of energy due largely to growth outside the United States. And despite all the rapid growth rates expected with wind and solar, coal is likely to gain global market share in the years ahead.
So this is not just a conversation about US policy and US-based utilities! And there is no way to just 'wish' coal away. We must develop low cost carbon solutions that can be applied around the world within existing power plants. And everyone agrees - these low cost solutions do not exist today!
CBS Producers missed an opportunity to introduce more advanced non-geoengineering strategies to carbon neutralization and left viewers stuck at ringside watching the same old 'pro' vs 'anti' battle.
Carbon's Molecular Dance between Oxygen and Hydrogen Carbon is a 'sticky' molecule that interchangeably binds with oxygen and hydrogen based on its journey through biochemical pathways or via human induced energy conversion (e.g. power plants and combustion engine).
Human beings have a choice to approach carbon solutions through geo-engineering (shoving it underground), or as bio-engineers who can bind carbon with hydrogen for use as a hydrocarbon fuel (for transportation or onsite electricity generation) or a bio-feestock for industrial applications. CBS viewers would have been better off understanding the long-term view of carbon rather than watch a debate without a viable solution. (Continue Reading Below).
Since the recent appearance by Jeff, Garry and Alvis on The Speculist Blog Talk Radio program (click on Speculist meets MemeBox), I thought they and other Future Bloggers might find the below discussion stemming from a subsequent program of interest.
Phil Bowermaster has a post up at The Speculist examining the state of the progression of human society from it's present structure to one more closely tracking the various expectations stemming from the concept of The Singularity:
[The following is an expanded version of an e-mail I sent to Stephen in response to some reflections he had on our most recent FastForward Radio -- that show with guest Joseph Jackson discussing the possibility of a post-scarcity world. I think Stephen was going to post some additional thoughts, too -- to which I would have added comments -- but time's up!] ...
My issue is more practical. By what means could we possibly get to the kind of society he's describing? The assumption seems to be that it would be the federal government (or the Earth government or -- my fav -- the Committee of Robot Overlords) doing the distributing. But we don't have a working model of how a government can guarantee the material welfare of its population without ripping its economy to shreds and putting individual rights on the back burner. That doesn't mean it can't happen, but Joseph doesn't have a model of how we would get there, or at least he didn't articulate one Wednesday night.
I sympathise with Phil's dilemma, unfortunately Mr. Jackson's lack of specific insight isn't unique to him; nobody really knows how we get to "there" because we still haven't really articulated the starting point for the needed change(s) to progress from with any sort of degree of engineering specificity. It's all well and good to simply proclaim the need for a systemic advancement, but what specific mechanism achieves that to actual advantage - and to whom? It seems a bit solipsistic perhaps, but market pressures actually are the least disruptive mechanism to stimulating that process. This doesn't make for speedy adoption of course, but does assure wide-spread acceptance of the process within the production industry(s) generally once the never-ending search for competitive advantage resorts to such comparatively radical technological innovation. Until business profitability (with it's concomitant influence on tax collections) forces executives and governmental legislators to commit to some technology there will remain resistance to doing so. Despite the potential for individual developments altering the current production structure and economy, the likelihood of such a development actually forcing early change is slight for a variety of reasons - only some of them technologic in nature.
This week Garry Golden, Jeff Hilford and I had the pleasure to participate in the latest of The Speculist's outstanding Fast Forward Radio series (audio below the fold). Hosts Phil Bowermaster and Stephen Gordon led us through a comprehensive exploration of the year ahead of us and then (of course) encourage a bit of speculation about events 10-30 years out.
Garry shared his energy and transportation policy insights and predictions for 2009 (a must listen), and ventured some suppositions for the future including the possibility of converging on a space-based Dyson Sphere.
Jeff discussed the ongoing rise of social media and the future meme, then offered up a longer-term prediction concerning Actuarial Escape Velocity, aka the point in time that medicine becomes capable of extending the average lifespan quicker than nature can take it from us.
After kindly facilitating our output :), the hosts also got into the speculation game, with Phil tackiling issues including Global Quantification and Cancer Containment (very cool conept), and Stephen venturing the prediction that the first generation of life extension technologies are much closer to reality that we may suppose.
All in all, it was a wonderful brain-fest that I encourage you check out whenever you've got a spare hour on your hands. And be sure to add The Speculist to your RSS as they've got a steady stream of great future content, including their weekly podcast, flowing through regularly. -- (Audio is below the fold.)
Improving the delivery of healthcare is arguably the greatest challenge facing the United States and the global community particularly with regards to aging populations. Next generation healthcare services also represent one of the largest growth sectors for applied information and communication technologies that improve access and quality while reducing costs for patients and healthcare institution.
Is Healthcare 2.0 preparing for prime time?
This notion of applying advanced technology systems is not new, but widespread applications might be much closer to mainstream adoption than is currently reported.
This notion of next generation healthcare services has been explored by a number of forward looking physicians such as Dr. S. Vincent Grasso who organized a recent symposium at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey titled: ‘Enhancing the Delivery of Healthcare Services to an Aging U.S. Population.
Among the many topics explored by experts were: forecasts of diseases common to aging populations, and solution platforms based on low cost video conferencing to connect Doctors, patients and families, commercialization of easy to use imaging and sensing systems for remotely based diagnosis equipment, standards for patient records, and healthcare facilities management.
Moderator Jonas Lamis just asked the distinguished AI Panel what they would advise the new Obama administration to do if, by chance, each was appointed national CTO?
Google’s Peter Norvig: First advice, “Don’t choose me.” (Audience laughs.) Most important advice is to do what the President-Elect is already doing. #1: Believe in reality. The next thing is to invest in R&D. It’s important to re-establish the United States as a leader there. We’ve slipped over the last 8 years or so interms of funding research.
Steve Omohundro: Imprtant to use tech to make better decisions in our society. This is a huge opportunity for aggregating beliefs and desires of voters. Through semantic consensus we could better express nuances. The bailout is the perfect example – 99 to 1 against bailout, ended up passing it. Morphing as we speak… Potential pathways as we move to the future – now a smattering of diff orgs – better to have country-wide analysis of this future pathway.
Do you feel the Singularity has become its own religious movement inside the science community?
Kurzweil began his response by acknowledging that though there are some people who seek the rapture according to their own preferences, that “the idea of the Singularity did not start from religion.” Instead the concept sprang from “over 30 years of technology trends research.”
But he did admit that it can seem similar to some of the concepts contained in religion:
“Some of the ideas look like a way of transcending our limitations. You can argue that’s what technology does in general, and given that it’s exponential it ultimately feels supposedly transcendent, so people use words like rapture.”
To facilitate more efficient interaction with data and services available in the emerging web Cloud, we should build a Web OS or “middle-ware layer developers can write applications to”, says Twine creator Nova Spivack. Ideally, such a layer would be “brand agnostic” and serve as a neutral “marketplace for finding and orchestrating [all] services rather than one company’s services.”
“The middle-ware should be able to handle this without making me subscribe to anyone’s proprietary API,” paints Spivack, “So if I say, ‘I need to store something,’ the middle-ware layer, this Web OS, should say ‘Hmm, where do I get the best deal on storage right now?’ Maybe it’s Amazon, maybe it’s Google, maybe it’s another location.’”
Clearly such middle-ware would save time and generate other efficiencies, especially in the context of exponential information growth, creating “a major commercial opportunity” for the right developer, as Spivack points out.
Here’s the full Web OS scenario as presented by Spivack:
So the question then becomes, which organization will end up building out such a structure?
The usual suspects Google and Microsoft immediately pop into mind. Both have made big browser plays and understand the significance of The Cloud and human attention.
But perhaps it will prove too large or complex an effort or present a fundamental conflict of interest for such companies, in which case open-source efforts facilitated by the likes of the Mozilla Foundation may prove most effective.
In a futurist battle-royal, John Horgan (author of The Undiscovered Mind) and Ray Kurzweil (CEO of Kurzweil Technologies, author of The Singularity is Near) held a debate over the Singularity in front of the assembled audience. What I thought was going to be rather scientific actually turned out to be a very interesting conversation.
John Horgan started off the debate on the attack. “I’m the skunk at Kurzweil’s garden party” he began, warming the audience to his stance. (To be fair, he was going up against the central figure in the Singularity movement in front of a lot of Singularity proponents – tough by any standards.)
He announced that he himself had once believed in the notion of a Singularity. Jovially, he kidded that once he had in fact experienced the Singularity as he tripped on drugs. “I became the Singularity.” What came next was a traditional thorough assault on the Singularity movement.
Intel CTOJustin Rattner acknowledges that “the Singularity is a nice organizing principle” and that Intel will be critical to any future scenario in which runaway technology enables massive intelligence. He says Intel is “responsible for the trench warfare that drives these technologies.”
The preceding video was captured atSS08shortly after Justin’s presentation.
Rattner argues that other Moore’s Law enabled advances in other fields such as Silicon Photonics, Digitial Multi-Radio, Silicon Bio-sensors and Programmable Matter will be instrumental in a possible Singularity.
But could exponentially advancing technologies hit a wall?
“We did hit a wall,” says Rattner, “We reached the point where we could not thin the gate material any more. So, in essence, Silicon Gate CMOS ended last year.”
But engineers were able to develop a work-around: metal gate technology, and they’re also planning subsequent generations that will enable computer speeds to continue their astronomical growth.
This prompts the Rattner’s next question, “How do you define Moore’s Law?”
Indeed. Is Moore’s Law still relevant, or is a broader law of accelerating computation in effect.
Twine creator Nova Spivack believes we are evolving collective consciousness through the web. Here’s a summary of his ruminations on the subject (shot immediately following his thought-provoking presentation at SS08 this morning):
Scientists and engineers are going to develop the solutions to our energy challenges. An obvious fact, but what if we’re not preparing people for those careers in the US? At the recent NanoTX’08 conference, Dr. Zvi Yaniv, CEO of Applied Nanotech, Inc. discusses the challenges of educating scientists and engineers in the US. All is not rosy, but all is not lost.
Dr. Zvi Yaniv is an expert in LCD technology. He received his PhD in Physics at the Kent State Liquid Crystal Institute in 1982. Shortly after he graduated, he was recruited by Energy Conversion Devices to run their LCD laboratory. Three years later, he spun out Optical Imaging Systems, OSI, Inc. “The premier Liquid Crystal Display Company in America, designing displays for our avionics, for F22, phantoms, helicopters,” he says. “And I loved it!”