"Another year, and some of the most important thinkers and scientists of the world have accepted the intellectual challenge." —El Mundo, 2015
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Dedicated to the memory of Frank Schirrmacher (1959-2014).
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK?
But wait! Should we also ask what machines that think, or, "AIs", might be thinking about? Do they want, do they expect civil rights? Do they have feelings? What kind of government (for us) would an AI choose? What kind of society would they want to structure for themselves? Or is "their" society "our" society? Will we, and the AIs, include each other within our respective circles of empathy?
Numerous Edgies have been at the forefront of the science behind the various flavors of AI, either in their research or writings. AI was front and center in conversations between charter members Pamela McCorduck (Machines Who Think) and Isaac Asimov (Machines That Think) at our initial meetings in 1980. And the conversation has continued unabated, as is evident in the recent Edge feature "The Myth of AI", a conversation with Jaron Lanier, that evoked rich and provocative commentaries.
Is AI becoming increasingly real? Are we now in a new era of the "AIs"? To consider this issue, it's time to grow up. Enough already with the science fiction and the movies, Star Maker, Blade Runner, 2001, Her, The Matrix, "The Borg". Also, 80 years after Turing's invention of his Universal Machine, it's time to honor Turing, and other AI pioneers, by giving them a well-deserved rest. We know the history. (See George Dyson's 2004 Edge feature "Turing's Cathedral".) So, once again, this time with rigor, the Edge Question—2015:
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK?
Publisher & Editor, Edge
[186 Responses:] Pamela McCorduck, George Church, James J. O'Donnell, Carlo Rovelli, Nick Bostrom, Daniel C. Dennett, Donald Hoffman, Roger Schank, Mark Pagel, Frank Wilczek, Robert Provine, Susan Blackmore, Haim Harari, Andy Clark, William Poundstone, Peter Norvig, Rodney Brooks, Jonathan Gottschall, Arnold Trehub, Giulio Boccaletti, Michael Shermer, Chris DiBona, Aubrey De Grey, Juan Enriquez, Satyajit Das, Quentin Hardy, Clifford Pickover, Nicholas Humphrey, Ross Anderson, Paul Saffo, Eric J. Topol, M.D., Dylan Evans, Roger Highfield, Gordon Kane, Melanie Swan, Richard Nisbett, Lee Smolin, Scott Atran, Stanislas Dehaene, Stephen Kosslyn, Emanuel Derman, Richard Thaler, Alison Gopnik, Ernst Pöppel, Luca De Biase, Maraget Levi, Terrence Sejnowski, Thomas Metzinger, D.A. Wallach, Leo Chalupa, Bruce Sterling, Kevin Kelly, Martin Seligman, Keith Devlin, S. Abbas Raza, Neil Gershenfeld, Daniel Everett, Douglas Coupland, Joshua Bongard, Ziyad Marar, Thomas Bass, Frank Tipler, Mario Livio, Marti Hearst, Randolph Nesse, Alex (Sandy) Pentland, Samuel Arbesman, Gerald Smallberg, John Mather, Ursula Martin, Kurt Gray, Gerd Gigerenzer, Kevin Slavin, Nicholas Carr, Timo Hannay, Kai Krause, Alun Anderson, Seth Lloyd, Mary Catherine Bateson, Steve Fuller, Virginia Heffernan, Barbara Strauch, Sean Carroll, Sheizaf Rafaeli, Edward Slingerland, Nicholas Christakis, Joichi Ito, David Christian, George Dyson, Paul Davies, Douglas Rushkoff, Tim O'Reilly, Irene Pepperberg, Helen Fisher, Stuart A. Kauffman, Stuart Russell, Tomaso Poggio, Robert Sapolsky, Maria Popova, Martin Rees, Lawrence M. Krauss, Jessica Tracy & Kristin Laurin, Paul Dolan, Kate Jefferey, June Gruber & Raul Saucedo, Bruce Schneier, Rebecca MacKinnon, Antony Garrett Lisi, Thomas Dietterich, John Markoff, Matthew Lieberman, Dimitar Sasselov, Michael Vassar, Gregory Paul, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Andrian Kreye, Andrés Roemer, N.J. Enfield, Rolf Dobelli, Nina Jablonski, Marcelo Gleiser, Gary Klein, Tor Nørretranders, David Gelernter, Cesar Hidalgo, Gary Marcus, Sam Harris, Molly Crockett, Abigail Marsh, Alexander Wissner-Gross, Koo Jeong-A, Sarah Demers, Richard Foreman, Julia Clarke, Georg Diez, Jaan Tallinn, Michael McCullough, Hans Halvorson, Kevin Hand, Christine Finn, Tom Griffiths, Dirk Helbing, Brian Knutson, John Tooby, Maximilian Schich, Athena Vouloumanos, Brian Christian, Timothy Taylor, Bruce Parker, Benjamin Bergen, Laurence Smith, Ian Bogost, W. Tecumseh Fitch, Michael Norton, Scott Draves, Gregory Benford, Chris Anderson, Matthew Ritchie, Raphael Bousso, Christopher Chabris, James Croak, Beatrice Golomb, Moshe Hoffman, John Naughton, Matt Ridley, Eduardo Salcedo-Albaran, Eldar Shafir, Maria Spiropulu, Noga Arikha, Rory Sutherland, Tania Lombrozo, Bart Kosko, Joscha Bach, Esther Dyson, Anthony Aguirre, Steve Omohundro, Murray Shanahan, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Steven Pinker, Max Tegmark, Jon Kleinberg & Senhil Mullainathan, Freeman Dyson, Brian Eno, W. Daniel Hillis, Demis Hassabis & Shane Legg & Mustafa Suleyman, Katinka Matson
Thinking machines are consistently in the news these days, and often a topic of discussion here at 13.7. Last week, Alva Noë came out as a singularity skeptic, and three of us contributed to Edge.org's annual question for 2015: What do you think about machines that think?
In response to the Edge.org question, I argued that we shouldn't be chauvinists when it comes to defining thinking — that is, we should resist the temptation to restrict what counts as thinking to "thinking like adult humans" or "thinking like contemporary computers." Marcelo Gleiser suggested that we're already living as transhumans, enhanced by our technogadgets and medical improvements. And Stuart Kauffman considered Turing machines, the quantum and human choice.
In addressing the relationship between humans and thinking machines, all three of our responses — and those by many others — raised questions about what (if anything) makes us uniquely human. Part of what's fascinating about the idea of thinking machines, after all, is that they seem to approach and encroach on a uniquely human niche, homo sapiens — the wise.
More than 180 scientists, philosophers, writers and technicians responded to the annual call Edge.org website with original reflections on the scope, risks and possibilities of artificial intelligence, a field-edge science that is already bringing the future to present
Artificial intelligence, is one of the most promising developments of modern science, or risk to humanity? Between these two poles, with irony, optimism and caution, the 186 scientists, writers and thinkers convened this year by Edge.org-a website associated with a publisher that promotes thinking and discussion of the art in science, arts and moved literature- to meet its annual question. The collaborators wrote brief essays available on the web ( www.edge.org ) and, like every year, will soon have its publication on paper. Here a selection of their responses.
Pamela McCorduck, Steven Pinker, Irene Pepperberg, Thomas A. Bass, Paul Davies, Nicholas G. Carr.
By Sheizaf Rafaeli 22:01:15, 07:14
180 intellectuals responded to this Edge annual question - "What do you think about computers that think?" Soon this question may become an issue for all of us
"What do you think about computers that think?" The question for 2015 on the prestigious Edge.org site. Each year the site gives the same question to more than 180 intellectuals and publishes their answers in one sequence, later published as a thick book. Respondents ranged from columnists in The New York Times, Nobel Prize winners, best-selling authors, and heroes of the technology world, many of them close friends of the site's colorful editor, literary agent John Brockman. Previously published questions: "What scientific concept has to retire?", "What tools will improve everyone's thinking?" and "What should we be worried about? ". This year, as mentioned, Brockman called 180 intellectuals to express an opinion on the question Hawking has been talking about. And Disclosure: I was delighted to receive an invitation to participate this year in most of this dialogue, and my response, ordered to be short - even short of this column - for the annual anthology published.
Several respondents, including the writer Pamela McCorduck, Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli, Professor Margaret Levi of Stanford University and the Israel Prize laureate and former president of the Weizmann Institute Haim Harari, refer to machines that think as inevitable, and in large measure daily. Interest in human responsibility and proper management like any other field, and material nightmares. More than the machines thinking like people, I am concerned about people who think like machines, writes Harari.
Others relate to the very dismissive forecast: Vice President for Research of the George Washington University, Neurobiologist, Leo Chalupa doubts machines will be capable of abstract thought. Science fiction writer Bruce Sterling writes that computers may be major players in the future, but the script will never write people. They further emphasize emotion and will remain forever confined to human beings.
By Alison Gopnik Jan. 22, 2015 10:58 a.m.
Every January the intellectual impresario and literary agent John Brockman (who represents me, I should disclose) asks a large group of thinkers a single question on his website, edge.org. This year it is: “What do you think about machines that think?” There are lots of interesting answers, ranging from the skeptical to the apocalyptic.
I’m not sure that asking whether machines can think is the right question, though. As someone once said, it’s like asking whether submarines can swim. But we can ask whether machines can learn, and especially, whether they can learn as well as 3-year-olds. ...
By David Pescovitz at 6:40 am Wed, Jan 21, 2015
Over at BB pal John Brockman's Edge.org, nearly 200 very smart people, like Daniel C. Dennett, Brian Eno, Alison Gopnik, Nina Jablonski, Peter Norvig, and Rodney Brooks, ponder the EDGE Annual Question of 2015: What do you think about machines that think?
This week's Nova magazine features contributions from
Frank Tipler, Paul Saffo, Tomaso Poggio, Nicholas Carr, Kevin Kelly,
Juan Enriquez, Peter Norvig, Jochi Ito, Julio Boccaletti, Carlo Rovelli,
Douglas Coupland, and Haim Harari
"What do you think about machines think?" This is the annual question that the digital magazine Edge launches every year around this time, and which it presents to some of the brightest minds on the planet. Just over a month ago, in early December, Stephen Hawking warned of the potentially apocalyptic consequences of artificial intelligence, which in his opinion could eventually lead to "the end of the human species". But really, should we fear the danger of a future army of humanoids out of control? Or rather we should celebrate the extraordinary opportunities that could give us the development of thinking machines, and even sentient beings? Do such beings along with ourselves pose new ethical dilemmas? Would they be part of our "society"? Should we grant them civil rights? Would we feel empathy for them? Another year, and some of the most important thinkers and scientists of the world have accepted the intellectual challenge posed by the editor of Edge, John Brockman. This is just a selection of some of the most interesting responses.
Nick Bostrom, Daniel C. Dennett, Frank Wilczek, Steven Pinker
EDGE / EL MUNDO MADRID
Was denken Sie über Maschinen, die denken?
Nr. 12, Freitag 16, Januar 16
Once a year, the literary agent John Brockman presents a question to scientists on the website edge.org.. This year it's about artificial intelligence. Here is a selection of responses [three parts on Süddeutsche.de online):
Responses by David Gelernter, Peter Norvig and Douglas Coupland, Alison Gopnik, Brian Eno and Daniel L. Everett, Seth Lloyd, Thomas Metsinger, Susan Blackmore
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Following January's publication of the Edge Question—2014, "What Scientific Idea Is Ready for Retirement?", the director Jesse Dylan approached Edge with regard putting together a documentary film on the project.
The result:Edgeis pleased to present the world premiere of Dylan's interesting and engaging four-minute impressionistic montage, featuring appearences by a number of Edgies: Jerry Coyne, Daniel C. Dennett, George Dyson, David Gelernter, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Alison Gopnik, Kevin Kelly, Alex Pentland, Irene Pepperberg, Steven Pinker, Lee Smolin, Paul Steinhardt, and Frank Wilczek.
JESSE DYLAN is a filmmaker and founder, Creative Director and CEO of Wondros, a production company based in LA. He has created media projects for a diverse group of organizations, including George Soros and the Open Society Foundations, Clinton Global Initiative, Council on Foreign Relations, MIT Media Lab, the Columbia Journalism School, and Harvard Medical School. Among his best known works is in the Emmy Award-winning "Yes We Can—Barack Obama Music Video".
Jesse Dylan's Edge Bio Page.
The book version of Edge Question—2014 is being published in February by HarperCollins, retitled as This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress. Available for pre-order:
It turns out that in the constructor theoretic view, humans, as knowledge creating systems, are quite central to fundamental physics in an objective, non-anthropocentric, way. This is a very deep change in perspective. One of the ideas that will be dropped if constructor theory turns out to be effective is that the only fundamental entities in physics are laws of motion and initial conditions. In order for physics to accommodate more of physical reality, there needs to be a switch to this new mode of explanation, which accepts that scientific explanation is more than just predictions. Predictions will be supplemented with statements about what tasks are possible, what are impossible and why.
CHIARA MARLETTO is a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College and Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the Materials Department, University of Oxford; Currently working with David Deutsch.
FORMULATING SCIENCE IN TERMS OF POSSIBLE AND IMPOSSIBLE TASKS
I’ve been thinking about constructor theory a lot in the past few years. Constructor theory is this theory that David Deutsch proposed—a proposal for a new fundamental theory to formulate science in a completely different way from the prevailing conception of fundamental physics. It has the potential to change the way we formulate science because it’s a new mode of explanation.
When you think about physics, you usually describe things in terms of initial conditions and laws of motion; so what you say is, for example, where a comet goes given that it started in a certain place and time. In constructor theory, what you say is what transformations are possible, what are impossible, and why. The idea is that you can formulate the whole of fundamental physics this way; so, not only do you say where the comet goes, you say where it can go. This incorporates a lot more than what it is possible to incorporate now in fundamental physics.
THE ÉMINENCE GRISE
As a New York agent, John Brockman manages the star authors of science, as a visionary behind the scenes, he creates a new image of man for the 21st century. By Georg Diez
Who is John Brockman? Even in New York, the world capital of people who know just about everybody, they are uncertain.
"Brockman, Brockman?" Shake of the head. "I don't know", says the reporter from the New Yorker. Says the colleague of the New York Review of Books. Says the young writer who cofounded the magazine n + 1.
In the literary milieu where he is ignored more than despised, John Brockman is about as well known as the first three digits of the number Pi.
"This crowd sees everything through the lenses of culture and politics," he says. "But an understanding of life, of the world, can only come through biology, through science."
Ebola, stem cells, brain research—Who needs the new David Foster Wallace, the new Philip Roth?
"The great questions of the world concern scientific news," says Brockman. "We are at the beginning of a revolution. And what we hear from the mainstream is: "Please make it go away."
"He is a key figure of the late 20th and early 21st century, the éminence grise and major source of inspiration for the globally dominant culture, which he himself named as the 'third culture'."
And there you are—this is how it goes with John Brockman who doesn’t like to waste time in the midst of the contradictions of the present. "Come, let's start," he says in a good mood and puts a recording device on his desk. "I'm turning it on, you don't mind?"
He is charming, without hiding his own interests. He is proud of his life, his intelligence, without that he would have to apologize for it. He is a key figure of the late 20th and early 21st century, the éminence grise and major source of inspiration for the globally dominant culture, which he himself named as the "third culture".
It is not Brockman, but his authors, who are well-known: Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Daniel C. Dennett, Jared Diamond, Daniel Kahneman. Physicists, neuroscientists, geneticists, evolutionary biologists, fixed stars of the science age, superstars of nonfiction bestseller lists, the reason for Brockman's financial success and good mood.
We keep coming back to the issue of a community of fate: can it be for good or for bad, right? We can imagine the beer hall in Munich and what happened there that created a community of fate, and we can imagine the left-wing union organizers developing a different kind of community of fate. The real distinction between them is not just the ethical principles that inform them—that's clearly an important distinction—but what kind of community of fate it is. The terminology that I use there, and I keep repeating and want to get that through, is between an inclusive and an expansive community of fate versus an exclusive and narrowing community of fate. That's the difference.
MARGARET LEVI is the Director of the Center For Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. She is the Jere L. Bacharach Professor Emerita of International Studies at the University of Washington.
The thing that interests me has to do with how we evoke, from people, the ethical commitments that they have, or can be encouraged to have, that make it possible to have better government, that make it possible to produce collective goods, that make it possible to have a better society.
I'm a political scientist, political economist, so I think about this not so much from the perspective of moral reasoning, or philosophy, or psychology for that matter—though all those disciplines come into play in my thinking—but I think about it in terms of the institutional arrangements and contextual arrangements in which people find themselves. It is about those that evoke certain behaviors as opposed to other kinds of behaviors, and certain attitudes as opposed to other kinds of attitudes, that ultimately lead to actions. I'm ultimately interested not just in how the individual's mind works, but how individual minds work together to create an aggregate outcome.
"To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."
In September a group of social scientists gathered for HEADCON '14, an Edge Conference at Eastover Farm. Speakers addressed a range of topics concerning the social (or moral, or emotional) brain: Sarah-Jayne Blakemore: "The Teenager's Sense Of Social Self"; Lawrence Ian Reed: "The Face Of Emotion"; Molly Crockett: "The Neuroscience of Moral Decision Making"; Hugo Mercier: "Toward The Seamless Integration Of The Sciences"; Jennifer Jacquet: "Shaming At Scale"; Simone Schnall: "Moral Intuitions, Replication, and the Scientific Study of Human Nature"; David Rand: "How Do You Change People's Minds About What Is Right And Wrong?"; L.A. Paul: "The Transformative Experience"; Michael McCullough: "Two Cheers For Falsification". Also participating as "kibitzers" were four speakers from HEADCON '13, the previous year's event: Fiery Cushman, Joshua Knobe, David Pizarro, and Laurie Santos.
We are now pleased to present the program in its entirety, nearly six hours of Edge Video and a downloadable PDF of the 55,000-word transcript.
Copyright (c) 2014 by Edge Foundation, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to use for personal, noncommercial use (only).
Related on Edge:
This year's Edge-Serpentine Gallery collaboration took place in London at part of the Serpentine's "Extinction Marathon: Visions of the Future" event, at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery's extension, designed by Zaha Hadid, on Oct. 18, 2014. The 2-hour event, which was live-streamed, is presented, here in its entiretly, on Edge.
The first hour was a converseation between Stewart Brand and Richard Prum on whether of not the prospect of "de-extinction" changes how we think about extinction. For the second hour, Molly Crockett introduced four Edgies—Helena Cronin, Jennifer Jacquet, Steve Jones, and Chiara Marletto, who gave 10-minute talks with their perspectives on the subject of extinction. This was followed by a panel.
NEW—COMPLETE VIDEO AND TEXT
Part I: "DE-EXTINCTION": STEWART BRAND & RICHARD PRUM
With Hans Ulrich Obrist and John Brockman
Does the prospect of "de-extinction" change how we think about extinction? Conservation science is shifting from being species-centric to function-centric, focussing on the overall health of ecosystems. Does the extinction of a species leave a "gap in nature" that can only be filled by returning the species to life and to the wild? Or will a functionally close relative serve? Is a de-extincted species really nothing more than a functionally close relative anyway? If it is too difficult and expensive to revive every extinct species, what are the criteria for deciding which ones to work on? Humans are the ones deciding. What ethics and aesthetics should guide those decisions?
STEWART BRAND is the Founder of the "The Whole Earth Catalog" and Co-founder of The Long Now Foundation and Revive and Restore; Author, Whole Earth Discipline.
Stewart Brand's Edge Bio Page
RICHARD PRUM is an Evolutionary Ornithologist at Yale University, where he is the Curator of Ornithology and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. He is working on a book about duck sex, aesthetic evolution, and the origin of beauty.
Richard Prum's Edge Bio Page
Part II: "EDGIES ON EXTINCTION"
Molly Crockett introduces and moderates an event of four 10-minute talks by Helena Cronin, Jennifer Jacquet, Steve Jones, and Chiara Marletto, followed by a discussion joined by Hans Ulrich Obrist, and John Brockman.
HANS ULRICH OBRIST: When we spoke with John Brockman about the Extinction Marathon he suggested, as a second part—as I mentioned in previous marathons we got the Edge community to realize maps and different formulas, and John thought today it would be wonderful to do a panel with UK based scientists who are part of the Edge community. We are extremely delighted that we now will have four presentations by Helena Cronin, by Chiara Marletto, by Jennifer Jacquet, and by Steve Jones. We welcome Steve Jones back to the Serpentine because he was part of the 2007 Experiment Marathon with Olafur Eliasson. The entire panel will be introduced by Molly Crockett. Molly is an associate professor for experimental psychology and fellow of Jesus college at the University of Oxford. She holds a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Cambridge and a B.S. in neuroscience from UCLA. Dr. Crockett studies the neuroscience and psychology of altruism, of morality, and self-control. Her work has been published in many top academic journals including Science, PNAS, and also Neuron. Molly Crockett will now introduce Helena, Chiara, Jennifer, and Steve. We then, together with Molly and all the speakers and John, give a panel after that.
MOLLY CROCKETT: I'm very, very pleased to introduce Helena Cronin. She's the co-director of the Center for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science and the director of Darwin at LSE at the London School of Economics. She has many notable publications including the edited series, Darwinism Today, and the award winning, The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today, that has been featured in the New York Times' Best Books and Nature's Best Science Books of the Year. Her current research interests focus on the evolutionary understanding of sex differences. Let's give a very warm welcome to Helena and welcome her to the stage. ...
... A strange thing happened on the way to a better world in pursuit of an admirable quest, that is, a world free of sex discrimination where you’re judged on your own qualities and not your sex. Truth and falsity went topsy-turvy. The truth—the silence of sex differences—became dangerous, unmentionable, and in its place the conventional wisdom, which is a ragbag of ideas that have long been extinct but are kept ghoulishly alive by popularity, became the entrenched orthodoxy influencing public thinking, agendas and policy-making, and completely crowding out science and sense.
My aim is to show you why the current orthodoxy should be abandoned and why, if you really care about a fairer world, the science does matter. It matters profoundly. I’m going to take two examples, both about the professions, because they very well epitomize the orthodox litany: how society systematically discriminates against women, and how at work they are victims of pervasive sexism. ...
HELENA CRONIN is the Co-Director of LSE's Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science; Author, The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today. Helena Cronin's Edge Bio Page
There is a new fundamental theory of physics that's called constructor theory, and was proposed by David Deutsch who pioneered the theory of the universe of quantum computer. David and I are working this theory together. The fundamental idea in this theory is that we forumlate all laws of physics in terms of what tasks are possible, what are impossible, and why. In this theory we have an exact physical characterization of an object that has those properties, and we call that knowledge. Note that knowledge here means knowledge without knowing the subject, as in the thoery of knowledge of the philosopher, Karl Popper.
We’ve just come to the conclusion that the fact that extinction is possible means that knowledge can be instantiated in our physical world. In fact, extinction is the very process by which that knowledge is disabled in its ability to remain instantiated in physical systems because there are problems that it cannot solve. With any luck that bit of knowledge can be replaced with a better one. ...
CHIARA MARLETTO is a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College and Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the Materials Department, University of Oxford. Chiara Marletto's Edge Bio Page
I dream about the sea cow or imagine what they would be like to see in the wild, but the case of the Pinta Island giant tortoise was a particularly strange feeling for me personally because I had spent many afternoons in the Galapagos Islands when I was a volunteer with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in Lonesome George’s den with him. If any of you visited the Galapagos, you know that you can even feed the giant tortoises that are in the Charles Darwin Research Station. This is Lonesome George here.
He lived to a ripe old age but failed, as they pointed out many times, to reproduce. Just recently, in 2012, he died, and with him the last of his species. He was couriered to the American Museum of Natural History and taxidermied there. A couple weeks ago his body was unveiled. This was the unveiling that I attended, and at this exact moment in time I can say that I was feeling a little like I am now: nervous and kind of nauseous, while everyone else seemed calm. I wasn’t prepared to see Lonesome George. Here he is taxidermied, looking out over Central Park, which was strange as well. At that moment realized that I knew the last individual of this species to go extinct. That presents this strange predicament for us to be in in the 21st century—this idea of conspicuous extinction. ...
JENNIFER JACQUET is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, NYU; Researching cooperation and the tragedy of the commons; Author, Is Shame Necessary? Jennifer Jacquet's Edge Bio Page
What I wanted to talk about is somewhat of a parallel of that in human populations. If you were to go to a textbook on human biology from the time of Darwin or a bit later, you would certainly get an image that looked a bit like this. This is an image of the so-called races of humankind—racial types, as they called them. I’m not going to go into the question of whether there are real races of humankind because there aren’t. It’s interesting to note that until quite recently people assumed, and scientists assumed too, that the human species was divided into distinct groups that were biologically different from each other and had been isolated from each other for a long, long time.
Well, to some extent that was true. Until quite recently, human populations were isolated from each other. That’s changing quite quickly. ...
STEVE JONES is an Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London. Steve Jones's Edge Bio Page
MOLLY CROCKETT is an Associate Professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford; Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellow at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging.
HANS ULRICH OBRIST is the Co-director of the Serpentine Gallery in London; Author, Ways of Curating. Hans Ulrich Obrist's Edge Bio Page
JOHN BROCKMAN is the Editor and Publisher of Edge.org; Chairman of Brockman, Inc.; Author, By the Late John Brockman, The Third Culture. John Brockman's Edge Bio Page
EDGE & SERPENTINE GALLERY
Previous Edge-Serpentine collaborations have included:
SPEAKING OF EXTINCTIONS....
Edge's own contribution to the conversation will be published in February:
The idea that computers are people has a long and storied history. It goes back to the very origins of computers, and even from before. There's always been a question about whether a program is something alive or not since it intrinsically has some kind of autonomy at the very least, or it wouldn't be a program. There has been a domineering subculture—that's been the most wealthy, prolific, and influential subculture in the technical world—that for a long time has not only promoted the idea that there's an equivalence between algorithms and life, and certain algorithms and people, but a historical determinism that we're inevitably making computers that will be smarter and better than us and will take over from us. ...That mythology, in turn, has spurred a reactionary, perpetual spasm from people who are horrified by what they hear. You'll have a figure say, "The computers will take over the Earth, but that's a good thing, because people had their chance and now we should give it to the machines." Then you'll have other people say, "Oh, that's horrible, we must stop these computers." Most recently, some of the most beloved and respected figures in the tech and science world, including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, have taken that position of: "Oh my God, these things are an existential threat. They must be stopped."
In the history of organized religion, it's often been the case that people have been disempowered precisely to serve what was perceived to be the needs of some deity or another, where in fact what they were doing was supporting an elite class that was the priesthood for that deity. ... That looks an awful lot like the new digital economy to me, where you have (natural language) translators and everybody else who contributes to the corpora that allows the data schemes to operate, contributing to the fortunes of whoever runs the computers. You're saying, "Well, but they're helping the AI, it's not us, they're helping the AI." It reminds me of somebody saying, "Oh, build these pyramids, it's in the service of this deity," and, on the ground, it's in the service of an elite. It's an economic effect of the new idea. The new religious idea of AI is a lot like the economic effect of the old idea, religion.
JARON LANIER is a Computer Scientist; Musician; Author of Who Owns the Future?
THE REALITY CLUB: George Church, Peter Diamandis, Lee Smolin, Rodney Brooks, Nathan Myhrvold, George Dyson, Pamela McCorduck, Sendhil Mullainathan, Steven Pinker, Neal Gershenfeld, D.A. Wallach, Michael Shermer, Stuart Kauffman, Kevin Kelly, Lawrence Krauss, Robert Provine, Stuart Russell, Kai Krause
This past weekend, during a trip to San Francisco, Jaron Lanier stopped by to talk to me for an Edge feature. He had something on his mind: news reports about comments by Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, two of the most highly respected and distinguished members of the science and technology communiity, on the dangers of AI. ("Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and fearing the machine" by Alan Wastler, CNBC 6.21.14). He then talked, uninterrupted, for an hour.
As Lanier was about to depart, John Markoff, the Pulitzer Prize-winning technology correspondent for THE NEW YORK TIMES, arrived. Informed of the topic of the previous hour's conversation, he said, "I have a piece in the paper next week. Read it." A few days later, his article, "Fearing Bombs That Can Pick Whom to Kill" (11.12.14), appeared on the front page. It's one of a continuing series of articles by Markoff pointing to the darker side of the digital revolution.
This is hardly new territory. Cambridge cosmologist Martin Rees, the former Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society, addressed similar topics in his 2004 book, Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning, as did computer scientist, Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, in his highly influential 2000 article in Wired, "Why The Future Doesn't Need Us: Our most powerful 21st-century technologies — robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech — are threatening to make humans an endangered species".
But these topics are back on the table again, and informing the conversation in part is Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, the recently published book by Nick Bostrom, founding director of Oxford University’s Institute for the Future of Humanity. In his book, Bostrom asks questions such as "what happens when machines surpass humans in general intelligence? Will artificial agents save or destroy us?"
I am encouraging, and hope to publish, a Reality Club conversation, with comments (up to 500 words) on, but not limited to, Lanier's piece. This is a very broad topic that involves many different scientific fields and I am sure the Edgies will have lots of interesting things to say.
Related on Edge:
THE MYTH OF AI
A lot of us were appalled a few years ago when the American Supreme Court decided, out of the blue, to decide a question it hadn't been asked to decide, and declare that corporations are people. That's a cover for making it easier for big money to have an influence in politics. But there's another angle to it, which I don't think has been considered as much: the tech companies, which are becoming the most profitable, the fastest rising, the richest companies, with the most cash on hand, are essentially people for a different reason than that. They might be people because the Supreme Court said so, but they're essentially algorithms.
If you look at a company like Google or Amazon and many others, they do a little bit of device manufacture, but the only reason they do is to create a channel between people and algorithms. And the algorithms run on these big cloud computer facilities.
The distinction between a corporation and an algorithm is fading. Does that make an algorithm a person? Here we have this interesting confluence between two totally different worlds. We have the world of money and politics and the so-called conservative Supreme Court, with this other world of what we can call artificial intelligence, which is a movement within the technical culture to find an equivalence between computers and people. In both cases, there's an intellectual tradition that goes back many decades. Previously they'd been separated; they'd been worlds apart. Now, suddenly they've been intertwined.
The idea that computers are people has a long and storied history. It goes back to the very origins of computers, and even from before. There's always been a question about whether a program is something alive or not since it intrinsically has some kind of autonomy at the very least, or it wouldn't be a program. There has been a domineering subculture—that's been the most wealthy, prolific, and influential subculture in the technical world—that for a long time has not only promoted the idea that there's an equivalence between algorithms and life, and certain algorithms and people, but a historical determinism that we're inevitably making computers that will be smarter and better than us and will take over from us.
Despite their intense scientific depth, John Brockman runs these gatherings with the cool of an old school bohemian. A lot of these meetings indeed mark the beginning of a new phase in science history. One such example was a few years back, when he brought together the luminaries on behavioral economics, just before the financial crisis plunged mainstream economics into a massive identity crisis. Or the meeting of researchers on the new science of morality, when it was noted that the widening political divides were signs of the disintegration of American society. Organizing these gatherings over summer weekends at his country farm he assumes a role that actually dates from the 17th and 18th century, when the ladies of the big salons held morning and evening meetings in their living rooms under the guise of sociability, while they were actually fostering the convergence of the key ideas of the Enlightenment.
John Brockman, literary über agent and intellectual arbiter, wrote a trilogy of experimental, divisive books. Then, at age 32, he retired from writing ...more»