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David Brin, Author, Futurist, at The AI Conference 2017


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David Brin is a scientist, tech speaker/consultant, and author. His new novel about our survival in the near future is Existence. A film by Kevin Costner was based on The Postman. His 16 novels, including NY Times Bestsellers and Hugo Award winners, have been translated into more than twenty languages. Earth, foreshadowed global warming, cyberwarfare and the world wide web. Dr. Brin serves on the external advisory board of NASA’s Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (NIAC). David appears frequently on shows such as Nova and The Universe and Life After People, speaking about science and future trends. He has keynoted scores of major events hosted by the likes of IBM, GE, Google and the Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technologies. His non-fiction book — The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Freedom and Privacy? — won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association. (Website: )

How Might Artificial Intelligence Come About? Different Approaches and Their Implications for Life in the Universe.
Those fretfully debating artificial intelligence (AI) might start by appraising the half dozen general pathways under exploration in laboratories around the world. These general approaches offer distinct implications for what characteristics emerging, synthetic minds might display, including (for example) whether it will be easy or hard to instill human-style ethical values. The “Moore’s Law crossing” argument is appraised, in light of discoveries that brain computation may involve much more than just synapses. Will efforts to develop Sympathetic Robotics tweak compassion from humans long before automatons are truly self-aware? It is argued that most foreseeable problems might be dealt with the same way that human versions of oppression and error are best addressed – via reciprocal accountability. For this to happen, there should be diversity of types, designs and minds, interacting under fair competition in a generally open environment.

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David Brin, Author, Futurist, at The AI Conference 2017

  1. 1. Big Picture AI: How Might Artificial Intelligence Come About? And Implications for Life in the Universe David Brin AI Conference, San Francisco June 2017
  2. 2. Lots to do… Can Artificial Intelligence help Get us out of these messes… …without causing worse?
  3. 3. Credibility?
  4. 4. - Info, AI & Augmentation - Anthropocene - Deadly innovations bio, nano, cyber, sci-fi… - Renunciation - Rigid Overdependence on fragile systems Can Our Civilization Survive? New calamities? Fermi’s Silent Cosmos Repetition of past failure modes Scary success? - Natural calamities asteroids, solar EMP etc.) - Ecological suicide - Enemies and War - Societal meltdown - Feudal attractor - Out-competed
  5. 5. The Near Dilemma
  6. 6. What’s happening? Clues are all around us… and in your pocket!
  7. 7. The village is returning
  8. 8. •15th - 17th Century –Printing (augments Memory) –Glass Lenses (augment Vision) –Perspective (augments Attention) •18th Century –Mass Literacy (Memory) –Printed illustration (Vision) –Science, Democracy (Attention) Crisis: Religious Upheaval (e.g. 30 Years War) Renaissance vs. rigid doctrine Notion of progress. Value of individual Crisis: Bourgeois Revolution Enlightenment vs. old hierarchies Disruptive Techs Provoke “Crises of Progress” by transforming or augmenting vision, memory and attention. Each time, the new info-surfeit seems overwhelming, scary, unmanageable.
  9. 9. •19th Century –Mass Education, pub. libraries –Photography, cinema –Global Connection •20th Century – Databases (memory) – TV, mass media (vision) – Abstraction/immersion (attention) Crisis: Nationalism-Colonialism-suffrage Industrialism vs. Nostalgia, Centralization. Evolution. Plural viewpoints Crisis: Dogmatic ideologies Modernism vs. Subjectivism Individual autonomy. Diversity. Disruptive Techs Provoke “Crises of Progress” by transforming or augmenting vision, memory and attention. Each time, the new info-surfeit seems overwhelming, scary, unmanageable.
  10. 10. Next: “AI”? Or “human augmentation”? •21st Century – Knowledge Mesh (memory) – Omni-veillance (super-vision) – Visualization, simulation & gaming (super-immersion) Crisis: Breakdown in coherency/confidence Singularity vs. Renunciation The future as a human-wrought construct More “Crises of Progress”
  11. 11. Near term augmentation • Remedial interventions: nutrition/health/education for all. • Stimulation: e.g. games that teach real mental skills. • Pharmacological:e.g. “nootropics” – “Limitless” • Prosthetics: exoskeletons, tele-control, feedback from distant “extensions.” • Cyber-neuro links: extending what we can see, know, perceive, reach. • Biological computing: … and intracellular? • “Lifespan Extension”: is there low-hanging fruit? • Genetically altering humanity • Artificial Intelligence: either separate or in synergy with us.
  12. 12. We are already enhancing ourselves the old fashioned way…
  13. 13. …with prosthetics of vision, memory and attention…
  14. 14. Just one tech -- Cyber-enhanced omni-veillance… … is clearly going to challenge us. Star Trek Generations 1994
  15. 15. We may build enhanced “Others” from scratch
  16. 16. The First Robotic Empathy Crisis • Robots will easily be taken across the Uncanny Valley and programmed to tweak human empathy. • They will demand sympathy and even rights, long before there is “anything under the hood.”
  17. 17. General Approaches to AI * Logic, algorithm design or knowledge-manipulation : - GOFAI, Watson, UAI, quantum… “stealing” learned intelligence * Cognitive, Evolutionary, Neural Nets: recursive, self-improving , LSTM * Emergent AI: Sum > parts - e.g. “Skynet” – “financial HFT” - borrow skills anywhere * Reverse engineer /emulate human brain – copy what works * Human/animal amplification - “augmentation” or “uplift. * Robotic-Embodied Childhood - self-programming by physical world feedback .
  18. 18. The Doubters • Kevin Kelly’s rebuttal: 1. Intelligence is not a single dimension. Ecosystems are creative. Monoliths aren’t. 2. Humans do not have general purpose minds, and neither will AIs. 3. Emulation of human thinking in other media will be cost-constrained. 4. Dimensions of intelligence are not infinite. 5. Intelligences are only one factor in progress.
  19. 19. The Big Flip • Computational expansion was driven by hardware advancement: – Moore’s Law (element packing) and – Dennard Scaling (power reduction) Both are tapering off. • Software has abruptly taken off, led by Machine Learning (ML). – Limitless application of Big Data. – Worrisome inability to have clear attribution/reasoning paths – Governance by algorithm? • A similar flip seems likely to have boosted us.
  20. 20. “Ethics” and AI: a soft landing? • Strict-embedded control code – Asimovian Laws – best example = TCAS/ACAS air collision avoidance  autonomous cars • Regulate the macro entities – corporations etc. - recursive liability • Renunciation - repress disruptive progress • Isolation - Force AI to act through filters, intermediaries • Robotic-Embodied Childhood - teach your children well • Flat-competitive reciprocal Accountability – AI vs AI competition. The way we improved every past “artificial intelligence.”
  21. 21. Exploring the territory ahead?
  22. 22. Do we have a chance? Fermi’s Silent Cosmos
  23. 23. IMAGES: Patrick Farley Also Paramount Pictures, Orion Pictures, The Planetary Society,,