There are few more damning responses to a new study or book or proposal than to say that it relies on “anecdotal” evidence — implying not just that the underlying idea lacks seriousness and objectivity, but that the author is lazy or even untrustworthy. Editors also tend to recoil from anecdotal openings for news stories (in part because most anecdotal ledes are awful), and book critics love to display their smartypants-ness by dissing some new volume as anecdotal.
Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” (2010), wants to rehabilitate the anecdote. So when Edge.org asked him and other thinkers to answer the question “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” he had his answer. In “This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress,” a collection of 175 short essays from top thinkers, Carr makes his case against anti-anecdotalism in two sharp paragraphs: ...
“This Idea Must Die,” edited by John Brockman, is forthcoming from Harper Perennial on Feb. 17.
Stephen Hawking famously warned in 2010 that based on the history of humankind, an alien, more-advanced civilization would probably destroy us. "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet," he said. Hawking expressed a similar fear of advanced artificial intelligence (AI) machines. In 2014 he pronounced, "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." Taken seriously, these two statements could even imply that we should neither search for extrasolar advanced civilizations nor strive for superior AI machines.
I was contemplating these issues when I received the annual EDGE question from "intellectual impresario" John Brockman. Every year Brockman sends to about 200 thinkers a single question, and he posts all the answers on his website, edge.org. The question for 2015 was "What do you think about machines that think?"... I strongly recommend reading all the answers, since they are quite fascinating. ...
It’s difficult to deny that humans began as Homo sapiens, an evolutionary offshoot of the primates. Nevertheless, for most of what is properly called "human history" (that is, the history starting with the invention of writing), most of Homo sapiens have not qualified as "human"—and not simply because they were too young or too disabled.
In sociology, we routinely invoke a trinity of shame—race, class, and gender—to characterize the gap that remains between the normal existence of Homo sapiens and the normative ideal of full humanity. Much of the history of social science can be understood as either directly or indirectly aimed at extending the attribution of humanity to as much of Homo sapiens as possible. It’s for this reason that the welfare state is reasonably touted as social science’s great contribution to politics in the modern era. But perhaps membership in Homo sapiens is neither sufficient nor even necessary to qualify a being as "human." What happens then? ...
Excerpted from This Idea Must Die, edited by John Brockman. Used with permission.
UVM robotics expert contributes essay to world-famous Edge conversation
John Brockman's Edge Question is a major event in the intellectual calendar each year—its roots go back to talks he had with Isaac Asimov and others in 1980. This year's question, "What do you think about machines that think?" drew essays from Daniel C. Dennett, Nicholas Carr, Steven Pinker, Freeman Dyson, George Church and nearly two hundred other luminaries and Nobel Prize winners.
UVM computer scientist and robotics expert Joshua Bongard was asked to weigh in, too. ...
...[R]ead the whole essay. It’s online now and will appear in a printed book as each of the Edge questions—like “What will change everything?” (2009) and “What is your dangerous idea?” (2006)—has for the last decade.
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.
— Oh, to have lived in the age of the Parisian salons of the Enlightenment and been privy to some of the great intellectual discussions that went on there between writers, artists, philosophers, politicians and perhaps some budding scientists. Then again, I'm rather fond of the 21st century ands its modern medicine, indoor plumbing and smart websites. On the subject of clever websites, I give you Edge.org, which is a place where brilliant minds from many disciplines gather to mull a big annual question. In 2014, the annual question was "What scientific idea is ready for retirement?"
The responses covered things like the concept of race, barriers of scientific understanding, Moore's Law and the robustness (or lack thereof) of large studies. There's a lot to wade through there, but if you're into science, it's worth a peek.
Domingo 25, de enero do 2015 | lanacion.com (Buenos Aires)
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.
[Translation:] The young stars of the new culture and a very optimistic vision of changing the world. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, said: "My goal was never to just create a company ... but that something to do with that creates a very large change in the world ... a social mission, our goal was to make the world a more open place and one that brings people closer together...
Apple's former leader, Steve Jobs was equally ambitious: "Everyone has the impression that this is a moment which influence the future ... who is quite foolish to think that they can change the world, they should also be changed! "
Larry Page, Google's co-founder, said: "We want to build a technology that everyone will be using, and which will affect everyone ... I'm trying to focus on the results: What will be the future? And how do we do this we will create the future? ... If you just change the world, it is important things you deal with - and why are you going to get up in the morning your bed excitedly ... "Sergey Brin, Google's other founder is thinking as follows:" We want you to Google the human brain third future of work would ... Eventually I want to see the world as a whole communicates knowledge available to our brain would want ... As a man, to see who has created a great change in the world ... "
Stars and Thinkers
The third culture stars are generally inclined to be gnostics or atheist. But who and what are the authoritative thinkers of this new culture?
The term "third culture" originally comes from American writer John Brockman, who, in 1995* presented this set of ideas in his book The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution. According to Brockman: "The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are."
The book presents the work of 23 scientists and philosophers, who are the central third culture thinkers. In the 1980s and '90s, these thinkers were presented and discussed their views, and Brockman has followed up and created a popular portal (meetings of The Reality Club www.edge.org ), on which the discourse has continued.
"Unlike previous intellectual pursuits, " he writes, the achievements of the third culture are not the marginal disputes of a quarrelsome mandarin class: they will affect the lives of everybody on the planet....
"Unlike previous intellectual pursuits, the achievements of the third culture are not the marginal disputes of a quarrelsome mandarin class: they will affect the lives of everybody on the planet."—insists Brockman. The formation of the universe, the origin of life , of human consciousness are central issues explored by the third culture intellectuals. Scientific topics include molecular biology, artificial intelligence, artificial life, chaos theory, the strong parallelism, artificial neural networks, the inflationary universe, fractals, biodiversity, nanotechnology, virtual reality, cyberspace, quantum computers, cloning and robotics. … The third-culture thinkers are the new public intellectuals."… [MORE]
[* ED. NOTE: My essay "The Emerging Third Culture", was first published by the Los Angeles Times on November 28. 1991 along with an accompanying profile. The essay is reprinted on Edge as is the entire book, The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution (1995). The paperback edition of the book (Simon & Schuster) is in print and availabe. (Amazon | B&N).
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. ...
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.
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?
"Another year, and some of the most important thinkers and scientists of the world have accepted the intellectual challenge." —El Mundo
EL MUNDO. DOMINGO 18 DE ENERO DE 2015
"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 2015
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
I read the book This Will Make You Smarter.
It's an amazing compilation of short essays written by some of the world's most talented scientists, authors, and businessmen, written in a way anyone can understand.
The contributors were asked, "What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?"
Let me tell you, the book lives up to its title.
Here are six passages I found especially smart.
During the year just ended, Edge.org put to discussion the question What scientific idea is ready for retirement? Jerry Coyne pointed out in response to the idea of free will: "When pressed, Nearly all scientists and philosophers most admit this. Determinism and materialism, They agree, win the day. But they're remarkably quiet about it. Instead of spreading the important scientific message que our behaviors are the deterministic results of a physical process, they'd rather invent new "compatibilist" versions of free will: versions que comport with determinism. "Well, When We order strawberry ice cream we really Could Not have ordered vanilla, "They Say," but we still have free will in another sense. And it's the sense only that's important. "" * Essayist, core member of Studies of Science, Technology and Society (ICPD). Writes under the new orthographic agreement...
...In 1996 Egde.org website was made that was designed to put on a virtual room known scientists and philosophers and to ask each other the questions dangerous ideas-or rather the questions that each strives to respond to science.
Since then every year Egde.org publishes a book with the question of the year. For example this year's question is "What scientific concept is ready for retirement." The 2006 question was "What is your own dangerous idea." Will glean some ideas so dangerous for the good of the year 2015. Let me note that the word does not mean dangerous and necessary bad ideas. It means that we will change our lives. ...
Every year, BB pal, legendary book agent, and Edge.org founder John Brockman asks very smart people like Daniel C. Dennett, David Gelernter, Alison Gopnik, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, and Kevin Kelly a big question at the intersection of science and culture. Here's filmmaker Jesse Dylan's impressionistic documentary on last year's Edge Question, "What Scientific Idea Is Ready for Retirement?"