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11 March 2020

Might future humans resurrect the dead?

Death is brutal. It extinguishes consciousness. It terminates relationships, dissolves aspirations, and forecloses opportunities. It shatters any chances of us nurturing new skills, visiting new locations, exploring new art, feeling new emotions, keeping up with the developments of friends and family, or actively sharing our personal wisdom.

Or does it? Is death really the end?

Traditionally, such a question has seemed to belong to the field of religion, or, perhaps, to psychical research. However, nowadays, an answer to this existential question is emerging from a different direction. In short, this line of thinking extrapolates from past human progress to suggest what future human progress might accomplish. Much more than we have previously imagined, is the suggestion. We humans may become like Gods, not only with the power to create new life, but also with the power to resurrect the dead.

As centuries have passed, we humans have acquired greater power and capability. We have learned how to handle an increasing number of diseases, and how to repair bodies damaged by accident or injury. As such, average lifespans have been extended. For many people, death has been delayed – as we live on average at least twice as long as our ancestors of just a few centuries back.

Consider what may happen in the decades and centuries to come, as humans acquire even greater power and capability.

Writers Ben Goertzel and Giulio Prisco summarise possible answers, in their visionary 2009 article “Ten Cosmist Convictions”:

Humans will merge with technology, to a rapidly increasing extent. This is a new phase of the evolution of our species, just picking up speed about now. The divide between natural and artificial will blur, then disappear. Some of us will continue to be humans, but with a radically expanded and always growing range of available options, and radically increased diversity and complexity. Others will grow into new forms of intelligence far beyond the human domain…

We will spread to the stars and roam the universe. We will meet and merge with other species out there. We may roam to other dimensions of existence as well, beyond the ones of which we’re currently aware…

We will develop spacetime engineering and scientific “future magic” much beyond our current understanding and imagination.

Spacetime engineering and future magic will permit achieving, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions — and many amazing things that no human religion ever dreamed. Eventually we will be able to resurrect the dead by “copying them to the future”…

There’s much more to the philosophy of cosmism than I can cover in a single blogpost. For now, I want to highlight the remarkable possibility that beings, some time in the future, will somehow be able to reach back through time and extract a copy of human consciousness from the point of death, in order for the deceased to be recreated in a new body in a new world, allowing the continuation of life and consciousness. Families and friends will be reunited, ready to enjoy vast new vistas of experience.

Giulio develops these themes in considerable depth in his book Tales of the Turing Church, of which a second (expanded) edition has just been published.

The opening paragraphs of Giulio’s book set the stage:

This isn’t your grandfather’s religion.

Future science and technology will permit playing with the building blocks of space, time, matter, energy, and life, in ways that we could only call magic and supernatural today.

Someday in the future, you and your loved ones will be resurrected by very advanced science and technology.

Inconceivably advanced intelligences are out there among the stars. Even more God-like beings operate in the fabric of reality underneath spacetime, or beyond spacetime, and control the universe. Future science will allow us to find them, and become like them.

Our descendants in the far future will join the community of God-like beings among the stars and beyond, and use transcendent “divine” technology to resurrect the dead and remake the universe.

Science? Spacetime? Aliens? Future technology? I warned you, this isn’t your grandmother’s religion.

Or isn’t it?

Simplify what I said and reword it as: God exists, controls reality, will resurrect the dead and remake the universe. Sounds familiar? I bet it does. So perhaps this is the religion of our grandparents, in different words…

Giulio’s background is in physics: he was a senior manager in European science and technology centres, including the European Space Agency. I’ve know him since 2006, when we met at the TransVision conference in Helsinki in August that year. He has spoken at a number of London Futurists events over the years, and I’ve always found him to be deeply thoughtful. Since his new book breaks a lot of new ground, I took the opportunity to feature Giulio as the guest on a recent London Futurists video interview:

The video of our discussion lasts 51 minutes, but as you’ll see, the conversation could easily have lasted much longer: we stepped back several times from topics that would have raised many new questions.

Evidently, the content of the video isn’t to everyone’s liking. One reviewer expressed his exasperation as follows:

Absurd. I quit at 8:15

At first sight, it may indeed seem absurd that information from long-past events could somehow be re-assembled by beings in the far-distant future. The information will have spread out and degraded due to numerous interactions with the environment. However, in his book, Giulio considers various other possible mechanisms. Here are three of them:

  • Modern physics has the idea that spacetime can be curved or deformed. Future humans might be able to engineer connections between past spacetime locations (for example, someone’s brain at the point of death) and a spacetime location in their own present. This could be similar to what some science fiction explores as “wormholes” that transcend ordinary spacetime connectivity
  • Perhaps indelible records of activity could be stored in aspects of the multi-dimensional space that modern physics also talks about – records that could, again, be accessed by hugely powerful future descendants of present-day humans
  • Perhaps the universe that we perceive and inhabit actually exists as some kind of simulation inside a larger metaverse, with the controllers of the overall simulation being able to copy aspects of information and consciousness from inside the simulation into what we would then perceive as a new world.

Are these possibilities “absurd” too? Giulio argues that we can, and should, keep an open mind.

You can hear some of Giulio’s arguments in the video embedded above. You can explore them at much greater length in his book. It’s a big book, with a comprehensive set of references. Giulio makes lots of interesting points about:

  • Different ideas about physics – including quantum mechanics, the quantum vacuum, and the ultimate fate of the physical universe
  • The ideas featured by a range of different science fiction writers
  • The views of controversial thinkers such as Fred Hoyle, Amit Goswami, and Frank Tipler
  • The simulation argument, developed by Hans Moravec and popularised by Nick Bostrom
  • The history of cosmism, as it developed in Russia and then moved onto the world stage
  • Potential overlaps between Giulio’s conception of cosmism and ideas from diverse traditional religious traditions
  • The difference between the “cosmological” and “geographical” aspects of religions
  • The special significance of free-will, faith, and hope.

Despite covering weighty topics, Giulio’s writing has a light, human touch. But to be clear, this isn’t a book that you can rush through. The ideas will take time to percolate in your mind.

Having let Giulio’s ideas percolate in my own mind for a couple of weeks, here are my reflections.

The idea of future “technological resurrection” is by no means absurd. The probability of it happening is greater than zero. But for it to happen, a number of things must be true:

  1. The physical laws of the universe must support at least one of the range of mechanisms under discussion, for the copying of information
  2. Beings with sufficient capability will eventually come into existence – perhaps as descendants of present-day humans, perhaps as super-powerful aliens from other planets, or perhaps as intelligences operating at a different level of spacetime reality
  3. These beings must care sufficiently about our existence that they wish to resurrect us
  4. The new beings created in this process, containing our memories, will be us, rather than merely copies of us (in other words, this presupposes one type of answer to the question of “what is consciousness”).

Subjectively, this compound probability feels to me like being significantly less than 10%. But I accept that it’s hard to put numbers into this.

Someone else who offers probabilities for different routes to avoiding death is the Russian researcher Alexey Turchin. Alexey gave a fascinating talk at London Futurists back in April 2016 on the subject “Constructing a roadmap to immortality”. The talk was recorded on video (although the audio is far from perfect, sorry):

Alexey describes four plans, with (he says) decreasing probability:

  • “Plan A” – “survive until creation of strong and friendly AI” (which will then be able to keep everyone alive at that time, alive for as long as each person wishes)
  • “Plan B” – “cryonics” – “success chances as 1 – 10 per cent”
  • “Plan C” – “digital immortality” – “recording data about me for my future reconstruction by strong AI” – “even smaller chances of success”
  • “Plan D” – “immortality some how already exists” without needing any special actions by us – but this “is the least probable way to immortality”.

If you’d like to read more analysis from Alexey, see his 39 page essay from 2018, “Classification of Approaches to Technological Resurrection”.

I’m currently preparing a new talk of my own, that aims to draw wider attention to the ideas of thinkers such as Giulio and Alexey.

The talk is being hosted by DSMNTL and is scheduled for the 15th of April. The talk is entitled “Disrupting death: Technology and the future of dying”. Here’s an extract from the description:

Death stalks us all throughout life. We’re painfully aware that our time on earth is short, but the 2020s bring potential new answers to the problem of death.

Thanks to remarkable technologies that are being conceived and created, now may be the time to tackle death as never before. Beyond the old question of whether God created humanity in His image or humanity created gods in our image, it’s time to ask what will happen to humanity once technology gives us the power of Gods over life, death, and resurrection. And what should we be doing, here and now, in anticipation of that profound future transition?

This DSMNTL talk shares a radical futurist perspective on eight ways people are trying to put death in its place: acceptance, traditional faith in resurrection, psychic connectivity, rejuvenation biotechnology, becoming a cyborg, cryonic preservation, digital afterlife, and technological resurrection. You’ll hear how the relationship between science and religion could be about to enter a dramatic new phase. But beware: you might even make a life-changing death-defying decision once you hear what’s on offer.

For more information about this talk, and to obtain a ticket, click here.

I’ll give the last word, for now, to Giulio. Actually it’s a phrase from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet that Giulio quotes several times in his book:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

16 November 2017

TransVision 2017: A recommitment to the Technoprogressive Declaration

Filed under: TransVision, YouTube — Tags: , , — David Wood @ 10:30 pm

The organisers of TransVision 2017, which took place in Brussels 9th-11th November, issued a press release after the event concluded. I’m including a copy of the text below, in both English and French versions. Please also find below:

Note that TransVision 2018 will take place in Madrid, Spain, between 19th-21st October. Mark your calendars!

English text of press release

Transhumanists from 20 countries and 4 continents are united around a technoprogressive statement

Meeting in Brussels at the initiative of the French Transhumanist Association – Technoprog for the international conference TransVision, the participants recall that:

The world is unacceptably unequal and dangerous. Emerging technologies could make things dramatically better or worse. Unfortunately, too few people yet understand the dimensions of both the threats and rewards that humanity faces. It is time for technoprogressives, transhumanists and futurists to step up our political engagement and attempt to influence the course of events.

They add

Our vision includes a sustainable abundance of: clean energy, healthy food, material goods and shelter, affordable healthcare, all-round intelligence and mental well-being, and time for creativity – enabled by the application of converging technologies, with no-one left behind.

In this context, they urge that the longevity objective be taken into account by the World Health Organization in the framework of the Thirteenth General Program of Work (2019–2023) (to let it know, react here)

They symbolically offered transhumanist clothes to Manneken Pis, the oldest and rejuvenated citizen of Brussels.

Future activities are being organized. A common calendar will soon be established. The next TransVision conference will be held in Madrid from 19 to 21 October 2018.

Marc Roux, President of the Association Française Transhumaniste – Technoprog
Didier Coeurnelle, Vice President
transhumanistes.com
contact@transhumanistes.com

French text of press release

Transvision 2017: Des Transhumanistes de 20 pays et de 4 continents s’unissent autour d’une déclaration technoprogressiste

Réunis à Bruxelles à l’initiative notamment de l’Association Française Transhumaniste – Technoprog pour le colloque international TransVision, les participants rappellent que:

Le monde est de manière inacceptable inégalitaire et dangereux. Les technologies émergentes pourraient le rendre largement meilleur, ou bien pire. Malheureusement, trop peu de gens comprennent aujourd’hui la dimension des menaces ou des bienfaits auxquels l’humanité doit faire face. Il est temps pour les technoprogressistes, les transhumanistes et les prospectivistes de renforcer leur engagement politique afin de tenter d’influer sur le cours des événements.

Ils ajoutent:

Notre vision inclut une abondance durable d’énergie propre, de nourriture saine, de biens matériels, de soins de santé abordables, d’intelligence globale, de bien-être mental, de temps de créativité – permis par une application des technologies convergentes, sans laisser personne sur le côté.

Dans ce cadre ils invitent notamment à ce que l’objectif de longévité soit pris en compte par l’Organisation mondiale de la santé dans le cadre de son treizième programme général de travail (2019–2023) (pour le faire savoir, réagissez ici).

Ils ont offert des vêtements transhumanistes à Manneken-Pis exprimant le souhait d’une vie beaucoup plus longue en bonne santé pour tous.

Pour les activités à venir, un calendrier commun sera établi. La prochaine conférence TransVision se tiendra à Madrid du 19 au 21 octobre 2018.

Marc Roux, président de l’Association française transhumaniste – Technoprog
Didier Coeurnelle, vice-président
transhumanistes.com
contact@transhumanistes.com

Vlog#1 from TransVision 2017

2017 update to the Technoprogressive Declaration

Attendees at TransVision 2017 recommitted to the Technoprogressive Declaration, as published during TransVision 2014 at https://ieet.org/index.php/IEET2/more/tpdec2014. For convenience, a copy of this Declaration is supplied below.

It was agreed to provide some clarifications and explanations:

  1. Our vision includes a sustainable abundance of: clean energy, healthy food, material goods and shelter, affordable healthcare, all-round intelligence and mental well-being, and time for creativity – enabled by application of converging technologies, with no-one left behind
  2. Alongside the well-known transhumanist intentions for superlongevity, superintelligence, and super wellbeing, we additionally emphasise the importance of “super society” – by which term is implied improvements in resilience, solidarity, and democracy, whilst upholding diversity and liberty
  3. We envision a renewal of democracy in which, rather than the loudest and richest voices prevailing, the best insights of the community are elevated and actioned
  4. A vital function of democracy is for political representatives to be periodically held to account, thus ensuring they keep in mind the wellbeing of all citizens rather than just the desires of an elite; also of great importance is that democracy involves peaceful transitions of power
  5. A healthy democracy requires a free press and independent judiciary, and will be assisted by the wise application of technological innovation
  6. Systems for regulation of technology need to be adaptive and agile, rather than heavyweight and anachronistic
  7. We urge education to include, at all ages, skills in bridge-building, emotional intelligence, managing change, and learning how to learn
  8. We reject any hard distinction between “therapies” and “enhancement” as championed by bioconservatives; society benefits not just from interventions that raise individuals to the current average level of health and wellness, but also from interventions that raise the average level higher
  9. Whereas all persons should be liberated from work that is “toil”, we uphold the principle that hard work can bring many benefits, both socially and personally
  10. As technology provides greater levels of sentience and sapience to non-human animals and synthetic life forms, we stand ready to extend the rights of personhood to these enhanced brethren of ours on the journey to greater consciousness and greater enlightenment.

Copy of the Technoprogressive Declaration

The world is unacceptably unequal and dangerous. Emerging technologies could make things dramatically better or worse. Unfortunately too few people yet understand the dimensions of both the threats and rewards that humanity faces. It is time for technoprogressives, transhumanists and futurists to step up our political engagement and attempt to influence the course of events.

Our core commitment is that both technological progress and democracy are required for the ongoing emancipation of humanity from its constraints. Partisans of the promises of the Enlightenment, we have many cousins in other movements for freedom and social justice. We must build solidarity with these movements, even as we intervene to point to the radical possibilities of technologies that they often ignore. With our fellow futurists and transhumanists we must intervene to insist that technologies are well-regulated and made universally accessible in strong and just societies. Technology could exacerbate inequality and catastrophic risks in the coming decades, or especially if democratized and well-regulated, ensure longer, healthy and more enabled lives for growing numbers of people, and a stronger and more secure civilization.

Beginning with our shared commitment to individual self-determination we can build solidarity with

  • Organizations defending workers and the unemployed, as technology transforms work and the economy
  • The movement for reproductive rights, around access to contraception, abortion, assisted reproduction and genomic choice
  • The movement for drug law reform around the defense of cognitive liberty
  • The disability rights movement around access to assistive and curative technologies
  • Sexual and gender minorities around the right to bodily self-determination
  • Digital rights movements around new freedoms and means of expression and organization

We call for dramatically expanded governmental research into anti-aging therapies, and universal access to those therapies as they are developed in order to make much longer and healthier lives accessible to everybody. We believe that there is no distinction between “therapies” and “enhancement.” The regulation of drugs and devices needs reform to speed their approval.

As artificial intelligence, robotics and other technologies increasingly destroy more jobs than they create, and senior citizens live longer, we must join in calling for a radical reform of the economic system. All persons should be liberated from the necessity of the toil of work. Every human being should be guaranteed an income, healthcare, and life-long access to education.

We must join in working for the expansion of rights to all persons, human or not.

We must join with movements working to reduce existential risks, educating them about emerging threats they don’t yet take seriously, and proposing ways that emerging technologies can help reduce those risks. Transnational cooperation can meet the man-made and natural threats that we face.

It is time for technoprogressives to step forward and work together for a brighter future.

 

5 December 2010

How do you cure an E72 with hiccups?

Filed under: Nokia, YouTube — David Wood @ 1:28 am

This video isn’t going to win any awards.  It’s only 13 seconds long, and is hyper-grainy.  But if you peer closely, you can see my Nokia E72 displaying a bizarre kind of visual hiccups.

A brief bit of history: the E72 unfortunately became waterlogged.  (Ahem.  Old habits die hard.)  I took out the battery immediately, and left everything to dry out in an airing cupboard.  After putting the battery back in and restarting the E72, things initially looked fine.  The device booted OK, and I could start navigating around the applications.

But about one minute after booting up, the display starts doing the kind of weird vertical jitter you can see in the video.

This display malfunction reminds me of my childhood days, when TVs would sometimes experience problems with their “vertical hold”.  In that bygone era, there was usually a “vertical hold” button you could twiddle on the back of the set, to fix that problem.  (Note to younger readers: this was before the advent of TV remote controllers.)  However, although the E72 has lots of keys and buttons, none of them is labelled “vertical hold”.

It also reminds me of one more thing.  This kind of vertical jitter is, sometimes, part of the normal display on my E72.  But it usually only happens once at a time, rather than getting stuck in a loop.

Does anyone have any idea what causes this vertical jitter?

I’m hoping for a more precise answer than “water damage”.  I think there must be at least some software aspect to it:

  • The jittering doesn’t start immediately when the device boots, but only after a delay.  It looks like it’s triggered by some of background software process, which eventually kicks in
  • The speed of the jitter changes, depending on what else you do with the device.  For example, if you start a new app, the jittering temporarily stops, but then restarts
  • Whenever the jitter is occurring, the multi-coloured Nokia rotating “busy indicator” icon (I think that’s what it’s called) is just about visible on the title bar, suggesting that the device is trying to do something.

I wondered if there was anything in my own phone’s setup (e.g. the apps I had installed) that might, somehow, be causing this behaviour.  So I went back to the factory settings.  However, this didn’t cure the hiccups.

Almost certainly, I’m going to have to give up on using this particular device, but before I reach that outcome, I’m hoping to find a way to stop this behaviour!

In the meantime, I’ve been struggling to use an N900 as my primary smartphone.  It’s an interesting experimental devices, but it’s miles away from being ready for main-time usage.

Added later: Thanks to @taike_hk for suggesting the use of a microscope, distilled water, alcohol, and a hairdrier. (But I don’t particularly relish the thought of disassembling my E72…)

16 April 2010

Mobile Developer TV: riffs on the future of technology

Filed under: Barcelona, futurist, Humanity Plus, YouTube — David Wood @ 3:03 pm

On the last day of  the Mobile World Congress (MWC) industry tradeshow in Barcelona a few weeks ago, Ewan MacLeod of Mobile Industry Review and Rafe Blandford of AllAboutSymbian caught up with me.  They explained:

We’re asking people what they see as the highlights of Mobile World Congress.  Would you mind saying a few words to camera?

I have lots of respect for both Ewan and Rafe, so I was happy to respond.  I expressed a few top-of-mind thoughts about Microsoft Windows Phone 7, the networking opportunities at the event itself, and about the growing interest in embedded connectivity (also known as “machine to machine” communications).  The result is here, as Episode 148 of MobileDeveloperTV.com: “David Wood’s take on MWC“:

As you can see, I had the opportunity to say a few words at the end of the clip about the Humanity+ UK2010 event I’ve been organising.  Once the filming stopped, the three of us continued chatting informally about this topic – which is (of course) a big and fascinating topic.  Never someone to miss an opportunity, Ewan started filming again. The first question this time was “What films about the future do you like?”  One answer led on to “just one more question” and then to “a final question” and even “a really final question”…

This became episode 149 of  MobileDeveloperTV.com: “David Wood speculates on the future of (mobile) technology“.  Ewan explains:

I grabbed the opportunity to ask David what his top 3 sci-fi movies were. What follows is an absolutely fascinating ‘real-time’ riff from David on where he sees the future going — in terms of technology augmentation — and what to do about the human race becoming far too reliant on technology that may well turn against us. Or that we simply couldn’t do without.

Many thanks to Ewan and Rafe for taking the time to edit and publish this second video, even though it’s some way outside their normal field of coverage!

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.

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!

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