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8 April 2010

Video: The case for Artificial General Intelligence

Filed under: AGI, flight, Humanity Plus, Moore's Law, presentation, YouTube — David Wood @ 11:19 am

Here’s another short (<10 minute) video from me, building on one of the topics I’ve listed in the Humanity+ Agenda: the case for artificial general intelligence (AGI).

The discipline of having to fit a set of thoughts into a ten minute video is a good one!

Further reading: I’ve covered some of the same topics, in more depth, in previous blogposts, including:

For anyone who prefers to read the material as text, I append an approximate transcript.

My name is David Wood.  I’m going to cover some reasons for paying more attention to Artificial General Intelligence, AGI, – also known as super-human machine intelligence.  This field deserves significantly more analysis, resourcing, and funding, over the coming decade.

Machines with super-human levels of general intelligence will include hardware and software, as part of a network of connected intelligence.  Their task will be to analyse huge amounts of data, review hypotheses about this data, discern patterns, propose new hypotheses, propose experiments which will provide valuable new data, and in this way, recommend actions to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities.

If that sounds too general, I’ll have some specific examples in a moment, but the point is to create a reasoning system that is, indeed, applicable to a wide range of problems.  That’s why it’s called Artificial General Intelligence.

In this way, these machines will provide a powerful supplement to existing human reasoning.

Here are some of the deep human problems that could benefit from the assistance of enormous silicon super-brains:

  • What uses of nanotechnology can be recommended, to safely boost the creation of healthy food?
  • What are the causes of different diseases – and how can we cure them?
  • Can we predict earthquakes– and even prevent them?
  • Are there safe geo-engineering methods that will head off the threat of global warming, without nasty side effects?
  • What changes, if any, should be made to the systems of regulating the international economy, to prevent dreadful market failures?
  • Which existential risks – risks that could drastically impact human civilisation – deserve the most attention?

You get the idea.  I’m sure you could add some of your own favourite questions to this list.

Some people may say that this is an unrealistic vision.  So, in answer, let me spell out the factors I see as enabling this kind of super-intelligence within the next few decades.  First is the accelerating pace of improvements in computer hardware.

This chart is from University of London researcher Shane Legg.  On a log-axis, it shows the exponentially increasing power of super-computers, all the way from 1960 to the present day and beyond.  It shows FLOPS – the number of floating point operations per second that a computer can do.  It goes all the way from kiloflops through megaflops, gigaflops, teraflops, petaflops, and is pointing towards exaflops.  If this trend continues, we’ll soon have supercomputers with at least as much computational power as a human brain.  Perhaps within less than 20 years.

But will this trend continue?  Of course, there are often slowdowns in technological progress.  Skyscraper heights and the speeds of passenger airlines are two examples.  The slowdown can sometimes be for intrinsic technical difficulties, but is more often because of lack of sufficient customer interest or public interest in even bigger or faster products.  After all, the technical skills that took mankind to the moon in 1969 could have taken us to Mars long before now, if there had been sufficient continuing public interest.

Specifically, in the case of Moore’s Law for exponentially increasing hardware power, industry experts from companies like Intel state that they can foresee at least 10 more years’ continuation of this trend, and there have plenty of ideas for innovative techniques to extend it even further.  It comes down to two things:

  • Is there sufficient public motivation in continuing this work?
  • And can some associated system integration issues be solved?

Mention of system issues brings me back to the list of factors enabling major progress with super-intelligence.  Next is improvement with software.  There’s lots of scope here.  There’s also additional power from networking ever larger numbers of computer together.  Another factor is the ever-increasing number of people with engineering skills, around the world, who are able to contribute to this area.  We have more and more graduates in relevant topics all the time.  Provided they can work together constructively, the rate of progress should increase.  We can also learn more about the structure of intelligence by analysing biological brains at ever finer levels of detail – by scanning and model-building.  Last, but not least, we have the question of motivation.

As an example of the difference that a big surge in motivation can make, consider the example of progress with another grand, historical engineering challenge – powered flight.

This example comes from Artificial Intelligence researcher J Storr Halls in his book “Beyond AI”.  People who had ideas about powered flight were, for centuries, regarded as cranks and madmen – a bit like people who, in our present day, have ideas about superhuman machine intelligence.  Finally, after many false starts, the Wright brothers made the necessary engineering breakthroughs at the start of the last century.  But even after they first flew, the field of aircraft engineering remained a sleepy backwater for five more years, while the Wright brothers kept quiet about their work and secured patent protection.  They did some sensational public demos in 1908, in Paris and in America.  Overnight, aviation went from a screwball hobby to the rage of the age and kept that status for decades.  Huge public interest drove remarkable developments.  It will be the same with demonstrated breakthroughs with artificial general intelligence.

Indeed, the motivation for studying artificial intelligence is growing all the time.  In addition to the deep human problems I mentioned earlier, we have a range of commercially-significant motivations that will drive business interest in this area.  This includes ongoing improvements in search, language translation, intelligent user interfaces, games design, and spam detection systems – where there’s already a rapid “arms race” between writers of ever more intelligent “bots” and people who seek to detect and neutralise these bots.

AGI is also commercially important to reduce costs from support call systems, and to make robots more appealing in a wide variety of contexts.  Some people will be motivated to study AGI for more philosophical reasons, such as to research ideas about minds and consciousness, to explore the possibility of uploading human consciousness into computer systems, and for the sheer joy of creating new life forms.  Last, there’s also the powerful driver that if you think a competitor may be near to a breakthrough in this area, you’re more likely to redouble your efforts.  That adds up to a lot of motivation.

To put this on a diagram:

  • We have increasing awareness of human-level reasons for developing AGI.
  • We also have maturing sub-components for AGI, including improved algorithms, improved models of the mind, and improved hardware.
  • With the Internet and open collaboration, we have an improved support infrastructure for AGI research.
  • Then, as mentioned before, we have powerful commercial motivations.
  • Adding everything up, we should see more and more people working in this space.
  • And it should see rapid progress in the coming decade.

An increased focus on Artificial General Intelligence is part of what I’m calling the Humanity+ Agenda.  This is a set of 20 inter-linked priority areas for the next decade, spread over five themes: Health+, Education+, Technology+, Society+, and Humanity+.  Progress in the various areas should reinforce and support progress in other areas.

I’ve listed Artificial General Intelligence as part of the project to substantially improve our ability to reason and learn: Education+.  One factor that strongly feeds into AGI is improvements with ICT – including improvements in both ongoing hardware and software.  If you’re not sure what to study or which field to work in, ICT should be high on your list of fields to consider.  You can also consider the broader topic of helping to publicise information about accelerating technology – so that more and more people become aware of the associated opportunities, risks, context, and options.  To be clear, there are risks as well as opportunities in all these areas.  Artificial General Intelligence could have huge downsides as well as huge upsides, if not managed wisely.  But that’s a topic for another day.

In the meantime, I eagerly look forward to working with AGIs to help address all of the top priorities listed as part of the Humanity+ Agenda.

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31 March 2010

Shorter and sharper: improved video on priorities

Filed under: communications, futurist, Humanity Plus, presentation, YouTube — David Wood @ 1:06 pm

The above video provides context for the Humanity+ UK2010 event happening on 24th April.

It’s the second version of this video.  In the spirit of continuous improvement, this version:

  • Has better audio (I found out how to get my laptop to accept input from a jack mic);
  • Is shorter (it needs to be under 10 minutes in length to be accepted onto YouTube);
  • Has some improved layout and logic.

As a video, it’s still far from perfect!  As you can see, my video creation skills are still rudimentary.  But hopefully people will find the contents interesting.

It’s probably foolhardy of me to try to cover so much material in just 10 minutes.  I’m considering creating a short book on this topic, in order to do fuller justice to these ideas.

Video transcript

In case anyone would prefer a written version of what I said, I append a transcript.  Everyone else can stop reading now.

(Note: this transcript doesn’t match the video exactly, since I ad-libbed here and there.)

My name is David Wood.  I’m going to briefly describe the Humanity+ UK2010 event that will be taking place in London on Saturday 24th April.

As context, let me outline what I’m calling “The Humanity+ Agenda”:

  • This is a proposed set of 20 priorities – 20 items that in my view deserve significantly more attention, analysis, resourcing, and funding, over the coming decade.
  • These priorities are proposed responses to an interlinked set of major challenges that confront society.

The first of these challenges is the threat of environmental catastrophe – lack of clean, sustainable energy and other critical resources.  Second is the threat of economic collapse.  We’re still in the midst of the most serious economic crisis of the last 60 years.  Third is the risk of some fundamentalist terrorists getting their hands on fearsome weapons of mass destruction.  Fourth is a more subtle point: the growing sense of alienation and discontent as individuals all over the world increasingly realise that their own share of possible peak experiences is very limited and transitory.  All this adds up to a radically uncertain future, made all the more challenging due to the need to drastically cut back activities to pay for the ongoing economic crisis.

The single thing that will make the biggest difference to whether we overcome these deep challenges is technology.  Accelerating technology can supply many far-reaching solutions.  But technology cannot stand alone.  Improved technology depends on improved education and improved rationality.  The relationship goes both ways.  There’s another two-way relation with improved health and improved vitality.  Likewise for improved social structure; and for the full expression of human potential.

The 20 priorities fall into these five themes.  These are five areas where there’s already a lot of expenditure – from both government and industry.  But we have to raise our game in each of these areas.  We need to become smarter and more effective in each area.  Rather than “health” I’d like to talk about “super health”, or “health plus”.  Similarly, we need substantially improved education and reasoning ability, substantially improved technology, and substantially improved social structure.  All this will take human experience and capability to a significantly higher level – “Humanity plus”.

So let’s start listing the 20 priorities.  You’ll notice many interconnections.

In the field of Health+, we need to accelerate the progress of preventive medicine.  Fixing medical problems at early stages can be a much more cost effective way of spending a limited health budget.  Healthy individuals contribute to society more, rather than being a drain on its resources.  Going further, the slogan “better than well” should also become a priority.  People with exceptional levels of fitness, strength, perseverance, and vitality, can contribute even more to society.

Anti-aging treatments are an important special case of the previous priorities.  Many diseases are exacerbated because our bodies have accumulated different kinds of damage over the years – which we call “aging”.  Systematically removing or repairing this damage will have many benefits.

Education+ refers to people improving their skillsets and reasoning ability, all throughout their lives.  Behavioural psychology is pointing out many kinds of irrational bias in how all of us reach decisions.  We all need help in identifying and overcoming these biases.

One example is the undue influence that fundamentalist thinking can hold over people – when dogma from “scripture” or “tradition” or a “prophet” overrides the conclusions of rational debate.  The world is, today, too dangerous a place to allow dogma-driven people to hold positions of great power.

An important part of freeing people from limited thinking is to boost education about the status of accelerating technology – covering the opportunities, risks, context, and options.

Another way we can become smarter – and more sociable – is via cognitive enhancement and intelligence augmentation.  This includes drugs that improve our thinking and/or our mood, and silicon accompaniments to our biological brains.  Being connected to the Internet, via the likes of Google and Wikipedia, already boosts our knowledge significantly.

Before long, we could have at our fingertips access to Artificial General Intelligence, whereby computers can provide first class answers to tough questions that previously eluded even the smartest teams of people.  For example, I expect that many cures for diseases will be developed in collaboration with increasingly intelligent silicon super-brains.

That takes us to Technology+, the set of technologies underpinning the other changes I am describing.  Improved robots could provide unmatched precision and manual dexterity, as well as great diligence and power.

Nanotechnology could enable the creation of highly useful new materials, compounds, and tools.  Synthetic biology, in turn, could apply techniques from manufacturing and software to create new biological forms, with huge benefits for health, food, energy, and more.  Research into large-scale clean energy could finally solve our energy sustainability issues.  And underpinning all these technologies should be new generations of ICT – information and communications technologies, especially improvements in software.

But technology requires support from society in order to advance quickly and wisely.  Under the heading “Society+” I identify four priority areas: patent system reform, smart market regulation, the expansion of the domain of collaborative voluntary enterprise, and vibrant democratic involvement and oversight, which enables an inclusive open discussion on the best way to manage the future.

Finally, under the heading “Humanity+” we have three priorities: expansion of human choice and autonomy, developing new ways of measuring human accomplishment – that avoid the well-known drawbacks of purely economic measurements – and “geo-engineering capability”.  I’m reminded of the recent statement by veteran ecologist Stewart Brand: “We are as gods, and HAVE to get good at it”.  It’s a frightening responsibility, but there is no alternative.

In summary, 20 interlinked priority areas in five themes: health+, education+, technology+, society+, and humanity+.  In each case, we must reach new levels of achievement.  Happily, we have in our hands the means to do so.  But let’s not imagine that things will be easy.  The next 10-20 years will probably be the most critical in the history of humanity.

In the midst of great difficulties, we’ll no doubt be sorely tempted by six dangerous distractions.

First is the idea that human progress is somehow inevitable, as if governed by some kind of cosmic law.  Alas, I see nothing pre-determined.  We need to become activists, rather than passive bystanders.

Second is the idea that the free market economy, if set up properly and then left to its own devices, will automatically generate the kinds of improvement in technology and product that I am talking about.  Sorry, although markets have been a powerful force for development over history, they’re far from perfect.

Nature – and evolution by natural selection – is another force which has accomplished a great deal, but which is far from optimal.  Nature is full of horrors as well as beauty.  Humans have been augmenting nature with enhancements from technology from before the beginning of recorded history.  This process absolutely needs to continue.

Risk aversion is another dangerous temptation.  Yet if we do nothing, we’re going to be in significant trouble anyway.  Either way, we can’t avoid risk – we just have to become better at evaluating it and managing it.

Next on this list is religion – any view that all the important answers have already been revealed.  I see religion as akin to several of the other temptations on this list: it has achieved a great deal in the past, but is far from being the sole guide to what we must do next.

Last on this list is humanism – the idea that humans, with our present set of attributes and skills, will be sufficient to build the best possible future environment.  However, present-day humans are no more the end point of progress than were simians – monkeys – or mammals.  In my view, it is only the significantly enhanced humans of the near future who will, collectively, be able to guide society and civilisation to reach our true potential.

We can succeed by progress, not by standing still.  We can succeed by transcending nature with enhanced technology, and by restructuring society in ways more favourable to innovation, collaboration, choice, and participation.

If these ideas strike you as interesting, one way you can continue the discussion is at the Humanity+ UK2010 event, on the 24th of April.  This will be held in Conway Hall, in Holborn, London.  You can register for the event at the website humanityplus dash uk dot com.  There will be 10 speakers, including many of the pioneering thinkers of the modern transhumanist or Humanity+ movement.

  • In the morning, the key speakers are Max More, Anders Sandberg, and Rachel Armstrong.
  • After lunch, the speakers will be Aubrey de Grey, David Pearce, and Amon Twyman.
  • Later in the afternoon, we’ll hear from Natasha Vita-More, David Orban, and Nick Bostrom.

You can find more details on the conference website.  If you’re quick, you may also be able to book one of the few remaining places at the post-event dinner, where all the speakers will be attending.  I hope to see you there.

I look forward to continuing this important discussion!

28 March 2010

A video experiment: 20 priorities

Filed under: communications, futurist, Humanity Plus, presentation, UKH+ — David Wood @ 9:38 am


Video: 20 priorities for the coming decade

The video linked above is my attempt to address several different requirements:

  1. To follow up some ideas about the list of priorities I mentioned previously, tentatively named “The Humanity+ Agenda”;
  2. To find an interesting new way to help publicise the forthcoming (April 24th) “Humanity+ UK2010” event;
  3. To experiment with creating videos, to use for communications purposes, as a complement to textual blog posts.

As you can see, it’s based on Powerpoint – a tool I know well.

What I didn’t appreciate about Powerpoint, before, is the fact that you can embed an audio narrative, to playback automatically as the slides and animations progress.  So that’s what I decided to do.

First time round, I tried to ad lib remarks, as I progressed through the slides, but that didn’t work well.  Next, I wrote down an entire script, and read from that.  The result is a bit flat and jaded in places, and there are a few too many verbal fluffs for my liking.  When I try this again, I’ll set aside more time, and make myself re-do the narration for a slide each time I fluff a few words.

I also hit some bugs (and quirks) when using the “Record narration” features of PowerPoint.  Some of these seem to be known features, but not all:

  • A few seconds of the narration often gets truncated from the end of each slide.  The workaround is to wait three seconds after finishing speaking, before advancing to the next slide;
  • The audio quality for the first slide was very crackly every time, not matter what I tried.  The workaround is to insert an extra “dummy” slide at the beginning, and to discard that slide before publishing;
  • There’s a pair of loud audible cracks at the start of each slide.  I don’t know any workaround for that;
  • Some of the timing, during playback, is slightly out of synch with what I recorded: animations on screen sometimes happen a few seconds before the accompanying audio stream is ready for them.

I used authorSTREAM as the site to store the presentation.  They offer the following features:

  • Support for playback of presentations containing audio narration;
  • Support for converting the presentation into video format.

The authorSTREAM service looks promising – I expect to use it again!

Footnote: I’ll update this posting shortly, with a copy of the video embedded, rather than linked.  (I still find video embedding to be a bit of a hit-or-miss process…)

26 November 2009

Forthcoming speaking engagements

Filed under: Bangalore, Cambridge, developer experience, openness, presentation — David Wood @ 8:50 pm

Cambridge Wireless, 3rd December

Next Thursday, 3rd December, I’ll be participating in a meeting of the Software & Open Source SIG (Special Interest Group) of Cambridge Wireless.  Cambridge Wireless is a community of companies in and around Cambridge with the following declared ambition:

Our objective is to establish Cambridge Wireless as the leading wireless community in the world and where we are at the leading edge of thought, leadership and wireless technology discussions

Symbian Software Ltd was one of the founding members of Cambridge Wireless, and the Symbian Software Ltd office on the outskirts of Cambridge hosted several Cambridge Wireless events over the years.  The ones I attended provided excellent networking and stimulating conversation.

Cambridge Wireless organise a series of SIGs – such as the one on Software & Open Source.  Next Thursday, this SIG will be gathering to review a set of presentations addressing the topic,

Open handset ecosystems – can they deliver handsets that consumers want?

My own presentation at this event has the title,

Open Ecosystems – a Good Thing?

Here’s the abstract for my presentation:

David will look at the various ways in which openness is changing the way that handsets are being developed through the use of open ecosystems, how developer ecosystems are transforming the way that applications and services are being created, and give his view on the impact of this on consumers. Openness brings challenges as well as triumphs. Done right, however, the open community approach will (over time) generate better solutions than any system of tight control – and consumers will reap the benefits.

The other speakers at the event will be:

  • Alberto Bonamico of Symsource – talking on “Adapting to the Open Source Ecosystem”
  • Andrew Savory of LiMo Foundation – talking on “Open Apps – Good, Bad or Ugly?”

There will be a panel discussion after the talks, with plenty of opportunity for Q&A from the floor.

Registration for this event is still open, via the Cambridge Wireless website.

Special thanks are due to Peter Montgomery of Ogma Solutions and Phillip Burr of Octymo, the champions of this SIG.

Forum Nokia Developer Conference, Bangalore, 7th December

The following Monday, 7th December, I’ll have the privilege to join another illustrious panel of speakers, at the Forum Nokia Developer ’09 conference in Bangalore, India.  This conference has the theme,

Unlock Star within you

(Anyone familiar with the UI on Nokia phones will appreciate the double significance of this name.)

As stated on the event website:

Unlock possibilities!

A world of infinite possibilities is waiting for you. It opens up when you press the Unlock Star keys of a mobile phone!

Discover the amazing new ways in which Mobiles are simplifying life, helping people to connect, communicate and access information at Forum Nokia Developer Conference ’09, the biggest forum in India for mobile application developers. See how everything anyone can imagine can be possible, at the touch of a fingertip and from the top of the palm.

Unlock Learning!

Get the right inputs, insights and network at Forum Nokia Developer Conference ’09. Access all the resources you will ever need to turn your ideas into reality. Get insights from industry leaders. Learn tricks and tips to create applications, faster. Explore the value OVI store has to offer to you as a developer. And more…

You and your mobile application is all it takes!

Your innovation can play a key role in shaping the future and enabling people. Create it to run on hundreds of millions of mobile phones and transform yourself into a global star.

Keynote speakers at this event include:

D. Shivakumar, Managing Director, Nokia Mobile phones and Vice President, Nokia

Purnima Kochikar, Vice President, Forum Nokia and Developer Community

On this occasion, I’ll be speaking on the topic

Winning habits of star developers

People interested to attend can register via the conference website.

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