With This Idea Must Die (2015) barely off the presses, Brockman, editor of the online science salon Edge.org, asked the world's intellectuals for another opinion. They deliver in the latest of the editor's thick compendiums.
Occasionally turgid academic prose rarely mars the nearly 200 lively essays (few of which go beyond five pages) on the future of artificial intelligence. Every contributor—scholars, philosophers, artists, scientists, and journalists, including stars such as Freeman Dyson, Stephen Pinker, Brian Eno, and Daniel Dennett—knows that humans can already make a thinking machine in less than a year. Since the process obeys the laws of nature, a thinking computer is possible and, therefore, inevitable. Some observers—but none in this book—predict that Armageddon will follow. Computers only compute. They have no aspirations, and they won't consider eternal questions or their own self-interests unless programmers design them to do so. Most believe that as computers grow smarter, so will humans. That they will enslave us is less likely than that we will internalize their functions. This is already happening—e.g., if we forget our cellphones or the Internet is down, we feel bereft. The oldest contributor, Dyson, grumbles that AI is a trendy subject that receives more attention than it deserves. He points out (and few contributors disagree) that true thinking machines will not appear in the foreseeable future. "If I am wrong, as I often am, any thoughts I might have on the question are irrelevant," he writes. "If I am right, then the whole question is irrelevant." Other contributors include Mario Livio, Sean Carroll, Douglas Coupland, Nicholas Carr, Nina Jablonski, and Maria Popova.
A satisfying experience for readers looking for thoughtful answers to big questions.
We used to think that the sun revolved around the earth and that the earth was flat. These ideas have been thrown into the trash. But who throws outdated ideas like IQ, free will and essentialism in the bin?
Scientific Weed (***)
The book "Scientific Weed" collects 179 Edge.org persistent ideas that block progress. A book full of interesting observations from top scientists about their field. ...
Jean Pigozzi, the venture capitalist and art collector, was lounging by the pool at his villa in Cap d’Antibes early this month, enjoying a rare break from what he calls “the circuit.”
After attending the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, he flew to the TED ideas conference in Vancouver, mingling with the likes of Yuri Milner, the tech investor, and Larry Page of Google at the “billionaires’ dinner.” Next came the art auctions in New York and the Cannes Film Festival, where he threw a pool party attended by Woody Allen, Uma Thurman and the billionaire Paul Allen. ...
“We go all around the world to see some of the same people,” Mr. Pigozzi said. “It’s a circuit. There are a lot of parties, sure. But you’d be surprised at how much business gets done.”
The new rich have developed their own annual migration pattern. While the wealthy of the past traveled mainly for leisure and climate — the ocean breezes of New England in the summer and the sunny golf greens of Palm Beach in winter — today’s rich crisscross the globe almost monthly in search of access, entertainment and intellectual status. Traveling in flocks of private G5 and Citation jets, they have created a new social calendar of economic conferences, entertainment events, exclusive parties and art auctions. And in the separate nation of the rich, citizens no longer speak in terms of countries. They simply say, “We’ll see you at Art Basel.” ...
...The calendar is a closed loop of access because the rich want to be seen, he said, but only by one another. With outrage over inequality driving more wealth underground, flashy spending and public hedonism have become less fashionable in very wealthy circles. Yet the competition for status among newly minted billionaires has never been stronger. ...
“It’s the ‘birds of a feather’ phenomenon,” said Patrick Gallagher, head of sales for NetJets. “These events give them a sense of security and of belonging. It’s people of similar tastes and similar interests.”
In fact, so many rich people have been joining the circuit that Mr. Pigozzi said a new “supercircuit” is emerging, one that has V.I.P. events within the V.I.P. events. At the TED conference, the aptly named “billionaires’ dinner” held nearby has become the most sought-after ticket."
Translation: Veronica Puertollano
Machines can imitate perfectly some of the ways humans think all of the time, and can consistently outperform humans on certain thinking tasks all of the time, but computing machines, as usually envisioned, will not get right human thinking all of the time because they actually process information in ways opposite to humans in domains commonly associated with human creativity. ...
Dawkins is mostly unconcerned by the possible damage he has inflicted on his reputation, but he has moments of self-doubt. “I genuinely don’t know whether I’m going about it the right way,” he said, in the half-resigned tone of someone who probably couldn’t go about it any other way. Recently, there have been some signs of reputational management – in a video interview on his “Vision of Life” for the Edge website [https://edge.org/conversation/richard_dawkins-this-is-my-vision-of-life], he discussed Darwinian natural selection without once mentioning his anti-religious campaigning. His memoirs, he pointed out, bypassed his various online wrangles entirely. In conversation, Dawkins seemed concerned that an article about him would draw disproportionately on his Twitter feed – in his eyes, an insignificant late chapter in the context of his whole career. “I’m a scientist,” he said, as if this fact might be forgotten.
“Ultimately, will his net impact be positive?” Krauss asked. “I think the answer’s yes. For all the intelligentsia and all the people who are offended, I see a much larger audience that I hadn’t appreciated for whom these issues are brand new.” He meant people like Arori Newton, a 24-year-old Kenyan lawyer who thanked Dawkins for his books on Twitter one afternoon. The God Delusion, Newton said in an email, “changed my life completely. It occurred to me, for the first time, that I was a Christian simply because I had been born into a Christian family, not because I had made a conscious choice.” Now Newton was buying copies for all his friends.
Perhaps a culture needs someone like Dawkins: his unswerving commitment to a cause, his enormous capacity to inflame and offend. Daniel Dennett, a keen sailor, described Dawkins as his “sacrificial anode” – the hunk of zinc you bolt to the propeller shaft on a boat to protect the propeller from being eroded by seawater. The zinc is gradually worn away while the propeller remains unscathed. “In life you always want somebody out to the left of you to take the heat.”
A response to the 2015 Edge question.
It seems increasingly likely that we will one day build machines that possess superhuman intelligence. We need only continue to produce better computers—which we will, unless we destroy ourselves or meet our end some other way. We already know that it is possible for mere matter to acquire “general intelligence”—the ability to learn new concepts and employ them in unfamiliar contexts—because the 1,200 cc of salty porridge inside our heads has managed it. There is no reason to believe that a suitably advanced digital computer couldn’t do the same. ...
Over at Edge, John Brockman features British historian David Christian on the need to come up with a new origin story that can serve the global community.
Christian, the author of This Fleeting World: A Short History of Humanity, started his career as a professor of Russian history, and over the years as he refined his lectures on the Cold War, he realized…
…I was giving the subliminal message that humans are divided, at a fundamental level, into competing tribes. Having lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, I remember it vividly. I was a schoolboy in England where this tribalism threatened to blow us all up. That was a very vivid experience for me. I thought, for historians to keep teaching this subliminal message—that we’re divided by tribes—is not a good thing.
So Christian began a program to teach ‘big history’–the story of the whole world, from the Big Bang up to the present day. The goal: to help transcend the tribalisms perpetuated by narrower ethnic and religious histories. ...
We all know that computers can sometimes automate work, taking jobs away from humans. But it can augment human workers as well, making them more effective. In our ongoing research, we’ve found that so far augmentation is far more common, even in the emerging area of “cognitive computing,” in which machines can sense, comprehend, and even act on their own. In this sense, cognitive computing is more about “Person and Machine” than “Person versus Machine.”
But our view grows out of our observations of organizational applications available today. What about in the future?
For well-informed prognostication, it’s helpful to turn to the brain trust at Edge.org. Each year, Edge.org publishes essays from thinkers, scholars, and researchers on a question related to a hot topic in public and academic discourse. This year’s question was, “What do you think about machines that think?” It prompted 186 respondents to write more than 130,000 words total.
While the essays looked at a range of issues, a number of respondents touched on advances in how thinking machines could augment human intelligence. They discussed carefully-considered forms of human-machine interaction, many of which have implications to various businesses and industries including management, health, and creative fields. These answers help us to imagine what the future of computer-augmented work will look like, and what the challenges are to getting there. ...
You've read The News Journal, but have you ever been curious as to what people who put out The News Journal read?
Staffers weigh in with their latest reads
Matt Albright, Education Reporter
What I'm reading: "This Idea Must Die," by John Brockman
Why you should read it: What if you could get some of the world's leading scientists and philosophers in a room and ask them what scientific idea is most inhibiting progress for humanity? This is basically that in book form. I'll admit some of the more highly-technical scientific answers have flown over my head, but this book is really making me think.
Seriously. Writing in the recently published book What Should We Be Worried About?, senior astronomer Dr Seth Shostak admits this "sounds like shabby science fiction, but even if the probability of disaster is low, the stakes are high." ...
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