Will Evolving Minds Delay The AI Apocalypse? – Part I

Stephen Hawking once warned that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” He went on to explain that AI will “take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate,” while “humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.” He is certainly not alone in his thinking, as Elon Musk, for example, cautions that “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.”

In fact, this is a common theme not only in Hollywood, but also between two prominent groups of philosophers and futurists.   One point of view is that Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) will become superintelligent and beyond the control of humans, resulting in all sorts of extinction scenarios (think SkyNet or Grey Goo). The (slightly) more optimistic point of view, held by the transhumanists, is that humanity will merge with advanced AI and form superhumans. So, while biological dumb humanity may go the way of the dodo bird, the new form of human-machine hybrid will continue to advance and rule the universe. By the way, this is supposed to happen around 2045, according to Ray Kurzweil in his 2005 book “The Singularity is Near.”

There are actually plenty of logical and philosophical arguments against these ideas, but this blog is going to focus on something different – the nature of the human mind.

The standard theory is that humans cannot evolve their minds particularly quickly due to the assumption that we are limited by the wiring in our brains. AI, on the other hand, has no such limitations and, via recursive self-improvement, will evolve at a runaway exponential rate, making it inevitable to take over humans at some point in terms of intelligence.

But does this even make sense? Let’s examine both assumptions.

The first assumption is that AI advancements will continue at an exponential pace. This is short-sighted IMHO. Most exponential processes run into negative feedback effects that eventually dampen the acceleration. For example, exponential population growth occurs in bacterial colonies until the environment reaches its carrying capacity and then it levels off. We simply don’t know what the “carrying capacity” is of an AI. In an analogous manner, it has to run in some environment, which may run out of memory, power, or other resources at some point. Moore’s Law, the idea that transistor density doubles every two years, has been applied to many other technology advances, such as CPU speed and networking bit rates, and is the cornerstone of the logic behind the Singularity. However, difficulties in heat dissipation have now slowed down the rate of advances in CPU speed, and Moore’s Law no longer applies. Transistor density is also hitting its limit as transistor junctions are now only a few atoms thick. Paul Allen argues, in his article “The Singularity Isn’t Near,” that the kinds of learning required to move AI ahead do not occur at exponential rates, but rather in an irregular and unpredictable manner. As things get more complex, progress tends to slow, an effect he calls the Complexity Brake.

Let’s look at one example. Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in a game in 1996, the first time a machine beat a world Chess champion. Google’s AlphaGo beat a grandmaster at Go for the first time in 2016. In those 20 years, there are 10 2-year doubling cycles in Moore’s Law, which would imply that, if AI were advancing exponentially, the “intelligence” needed to beat a Go master is 1000 times more than the intelligence needed to beat a Chess master. Obviously this is ridiculous. While Go is theoretically a more complex game than Chess because it has many more possible moves, an argument could be made that the intellect and mastery required to become the world champion at each game is roughly the same. So, while the advances in processing speed and algorithmic development (Deep Blue used a brute force algorithm, while AlphaGo did more pattern recognition) were substantial between 1996 and 2016, they don’t really show much advance in “intelligence.”

It would also be insightful to examine some real estimates of AI trends. For some well-researched data, consider Stanford University’s AI Index. Created and launched as a project at Stanford University, the AI Index is an “open, not-for-profit project to track activity and progress in AI.” In their 2017 report,  they identify metrics for the progress made in several areas of Artificial Intelligence, such as object detection, natural language parsing, language translation, speech recognition, theorem proving, and SAT solving. For each of the categories for which there is at least 8 years of data, I normalized the AI performance and calculated the improvements over time and averaged the results (note: I was even careful to invert the data – for example, for a pattern recognition algorithm to improve from 90% accuracy to 95%, this is not a 5% improvement; it is actually a 100% improvement in the ability to reject false positives). The chart below shows that AI is not advancing nearly as quickly as Moore’s Law.

Advancing Artificial Intelligence

Figure 1 – Advancing Artificial Intelligence

In fact, the doubling period is about 6 years instead of 2, which would suggest that we need 3 times as long before hitting the Singularity as compared to Kurzweil’s prediction. Since the 2045 projection for the Singularity occurred in 2005, this would say that we wouldn’t really see it until 2125. That’s assuming that we keep pace with the current rate of growth of AI, and don’t even hit Paul Allen’s Complexity Brake. So, chances are it is much further off than that. (As an aside, according to some futurists, Ray does not have a particularly great success rate for his predictions, even ones that are only 10 years out.

But a lot can happen in 120 years. Unexpected, discontinuous jumps in technology can accelerate the process. Social, economic, and political factors can severely slow it down. Recall how in just 10 years in the 1960s, we figured out how to land a man on the moon. Given the rate at which we were advancing our space technology and applying Moore’s Law (which was in effect at that time), it would not have been unreasonable to expect a manned mission to Mars by 1980. In fact Werner von Braun, the leader of the American rocket team, predicted after the moon landing that we would be on Mars in the early 1980s. But in the wake of the Vietnam debacle, public support for additional investment in NASA waned and the entire space program took a drastic turn. Such factors are probably even more impactful to the future of AI than the limitations of Moore’s Law.

The second assumption we need to examine is that the capacity of the human mind is limited by the complexity of the human brain, and is therefore relatively fixed. We will do that in Part II of this article.

Disproving the Claim that the LHC Disproves the Existence of Ghosts

Recent articles in dozens of online magazines shout things like: “The LHC Disproves the Existence of Ghosts and the Paranormal.”

To which I respond: LOLOLOLOLOL

There are so many things wrong with this backwards scientific thinking, I almost don’t know where to start.  But here are a few…

1. The word “disproves” doesn’t belong here. It is unscientific at best. Maybe use “evidence against one possible explanation for ghosts” – I can even begin to appreciate that. But if I can demonstrate even one potential mechanism for the paranormal that the LHC couldn’t detect, you cannot use the word “disprove.” And here is one potential mechanism – an unknown force that the LHC can’t explore because its experiments are designed to only measure interactions in the 4 forces physicists are aware of.

The smoking gun is Brian Cox’s statement “If we want some sort of pattern that carries information about our living cells to persist then we must specify precisely what medium carries that pattern and how it interacts with the matter particles out of which our bodies are made. We must, in other words, invent an extension to the Standard Model of Particle Physics that has escaped detection at the Large Hadron Collider. That’s almost inconceivable at the energy scales typical of the particle interactions in our bodies.” So, based on that statement, here are a few more problems…

2. “almost inconceivable” is logically inconsistent with the term “disproves.”

3. “If we want some sort of pattern that carries information about our living cells to persist…” is an invalid assumption. We do not need information about our cells to persist in a traditional physical medium for paranormal effects to have a way to propagate. They can propagate by a non-traditional (unknown) medium, such as an information storage mechanism operating outside of our classically observable means. Imagine telling a couple of scientists just 200 years ago about how people can communicate instantaneously via radio waves. Their response would be “no, that is impossible because our greatest measurement equipment has not revealed any mechanism that allows information to be transmitted in that manner.” Isn’t that the same thing Brian Cox is saying?

4. The underlying assumption is that we live in a materialist reality. Aside from the fact that Quantum Mechanics experiments have disproven this (and yes, I am comfortable using that word), a REAL scientist should allow for the possibility that consciousness is independent of grey matter and create experiments to support or invalidate such hypotheses. One clear possibility is the simulation argument. Out of band signaling is an obvious and easy mechanism for paranormal effects.  Unfortunately, the REAL scientists (such as Anton Zeilinger) are not the ones who get most of the press.

5. “That’s almost inconceivable at the energy scales typical of the particle interactions in our bodies” is also bad logic. It assumes that we fully understand the energy scales typical of the particle interactions in our bodies. If scientific history has shown us anything, it is that there is more that we don’t understand than there is that we do.

lhcghosts

Transhumanism and Immortality – 21st Century Snake Oil

Before I start my rant, I recognize that the Transhumanism movement is chock full of cool ideas, many of which make complete sense, even though they are perhaps obvious and inevitable.  The application of science and technology to the betterment of the human body ranges from current practices like prosthetics and Lasik to genetic modification and curing diseases through nanotech.  It is happening and there’s nothing anyone can to to stop it, so enjoy the ride as you uplift your biology to posthumanism.

However, part of the Transhumanist dogma is the idea that we can “live long enough to live forever.”  Live long enough to be able to take advantage of future technologies like genetic manipulation  which could end the aging process and YOU TOO can be immortal!

The problem with this mentality is that we are already immortal!  And there is a reason why our corporeal bodies die.  Simply put, we live our lives in this reality in order to evolve our consciousness, one life instance at a time.  If we didn’t die, our consciousness evolution would come to a grinding halt, as we spend the rest of eternity playing solitaire and standing in line at the buffet.  The “Universe” or “All That There Is” appears to evolve through our collective individuated consciousnesses.  Therefore, deciding to be physically immortal could be the end of the evolution of the Universe itself.  Underlying this unfortunate and misguided direction of Transhumanism is the belief (and, I can’t stress this enough, it is ONLY that – a belief) that it is lights out when we die.  Following the train of logic, if this were true, consciousness only emerges from brain function, we have zero free will, the entire universe is a deterministic machine, and even investigative science doesn’t make sense any more.  So why even bother with Transhumanism if everything is predetermined?  It is logically inconsistent.  Materialism, the denial of the duality of mind and body, is a dogmatic Religion.  Its more vocal adherents (just head on over to the JREF Forum to find these knuckleheads) are as ignorant to the evidence and as blind to what true science is as the most bass-ackward fundamentalist religious zealots.

OK, to be fair, no one can be 100% certain of anything.  But, there is FAR more evidence for consciousness driven reality than for deterministic materialism.  This blog contains a lot of it, as does my first book, “The Universe-Solved!“, with much more in my upcoming book.

The spokesman for transhumanistic immortality is the self-professed “Transcendent Man“, Ray Kurzweil.  Really Ray?  Did you seriously NOT fight the producers of this movie about you to change the title to something a little less self-aggrandizing, like “Modern Messiah”? #LRonHubbard

So I came across this article about the 77 supplements that Ray takes every day.  From the accompanying video clip, he believes that they are already reversing his aging process: “I’m 65. On many biological aging tests I come out a lot younger. I expect to be in my 40s 15 years from now.”

He has been on this regimen for years.  So let’s see how well those supplements are doing.  Picking an objective tool from one of Ray’s own favorite technologies – Artificial Intelligence – the website how-old.net has an AI bot that automatically estimates your age from an uploaded photo.  I took a screen shot from the video clip (Ray is 65 in the clip) and uploaded it:

Ray Kurzweil Age

85!  Uh oh.  Hmmm, maybe the bot overestimates everyone’s age. I’m 10 years younger than Ray.  Let’s see how I fare, using a shot taken the same year at a ski resort – you know, one of those sports Ray says to avoid (Ray also claims that his kids will probably be immortal as long as they don’t take up extreme sports):

JimHowOld

I don’t know if it is the supplements that make Ray look 20 years older than he is, or the extreme skiing that makes me look 13 years younger than I am.  But I’m thinking maybe I’m onto something. [Note: I do realize that the choice of pictures could result in different outcomes.  I just thought it was ironic that the first two that I tried had these results]

Yes, I’m fairly confident that these supplements have some value in improving the function of various organs and benefiting a person’s overall health and well being.  I’m also fairly certain that much of traditional medical community would disagree and point to the lack of rigorous scientific studies supporting these supposed benefits as they always do.  On the whole, I suspect that, on the average, supplements might extend one’s lifetime somewhat.  But I doubt that they will reverse aging.  The human body is far too complex to hope that adding a few organic compounds would be sufficient to modify and synchronize all of the complex cellular and systemic metabolic chemical reactions toward a reversal of the aging process.  Kurzweil is obviously a very bright man who has had a significant entrepreneurial legacy in the high tech world.  However I think he and the rest of the materialist transhumanists are way over their heads on the topic of immortality and our place and purpose in the Universe.

My suggestion, Ray… skip the supplements, skip the self-promotion, skip the Google plugs, drive your goddamn car, and don’t be afraid to be active.  Stick with high tech, leave the evolution of the universe to its own devices, and enjoy the rest of this life.

Materialism BS

<rant>

I have never before used my blog to rant about someone else’s writing. But I came across a rather humorous attempt at scientific reporting that is unfortunately all too common in its tone, inaccuracies, and presumptive style and I just can’t resist.

The article appeared in Gizmodo’s supposedly edgy spinoff blog SPLOID and purports to reveal an amazing new discovery that for the first time explains scientifically how out of body experiences (OBEs) are produced by the brain.

Here is a partial list of logical flaws in this report:

1. “This is the very first time that this type of experience has been analyzed and documented scientifically” – Researcher Celia Green must be having a good chuckle at this considering that she analyzed and documented hundreds of OBE accounts over 45 years ago.

2. “this may be the first documented case of someone who can get into this state at will” Robert Monroe must be guffawing from one of the remote rings, given that he and William Buhlman each had hundreds of experiences and were able to predictably initiate OBEs decades ago.

3. “This is not an astral trip, like those described by mystics. There’s no paranormal activity of any kind.” – This is where the article really crosses over into fiction.  Really?  No paranormal activity of any kind?  You’re sure about that?  Let’s consider an analogy.  The argument that the author gives for this claim is that since the fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) showed brain activity in regions “associated with kinesthetic imagery” that the experience must come from the brain.  First of all, “associated with” is hardly the kind of phrase that would warrant a definitive conclusion.  Second, science is not about definitive conclusions.  Science is about evidence and theories, not conclusions, facts or proofs.  The most definitive thing the science can provide is falsifiability when an observation negates a particular hypothesis.  However, in this case, it is the opposite – the University of Ottawa study is simply generating evidence that one person’s OBE correlates to some activity in a particular region of the brain – certainly not the stuff of facts, proofs, or even much of a theory.  The referenced paper is appropriately restrained in its conclusions, unlike the Gizmodo article, which takes silly leaps of logic.  So anyway, back to that analogy.  Let’s say that we break open my cell phone and attach some test equipment – an oscilloscope or logic analyzer – to some contact point in the circuitry.  My friend sends me a text message and, lo and behold, the test equipment activates.  Oooh, that must mean that the text was initiated from that part of the cell phone circuitry, rather than from the mind of my BFF.  NOT!

4. “The fact is…scientists believe that these out-of-body experiences are a type of hallucination triggered by some neurological mechanism.”  Sorry, Jordan, not clear where you get this “fact.”  You have made a sweeping generalization of the beliefs of all scientists.  Have you checked with all of the scientists?  Or did you mean to say “some scientists?”  Because most scientists with open minds would argue to the contrary.

</rant>

iphoneinside400

Embracing Virtuality

In 2009, a Japanese man married a woman named Nene Anegasaki on the island of Guam.  The curious thing was that Nene was a virtual character in the Nintendo videogame LovePlus.

OurVirtualFuture1

In 2013, Spike Jonze directed the highly acclaimed (and Academy Award nominated) film “Her”, in which the protagonist falls in love with an OS (operating system) AI (artificial intelligence).

OurVirtualFuture2

Outrageous you say?

Consider that for centuries people have been falling in love sight unseen via snail mail.  Today, with online dating, this is even more prevalent.  Philosophy professor Aaron Ben-Ze’ev notes that online technology “enables having a connection that is faster and more direct.”

So it got me thinking that these types of relationships aren’t that different from the virtual ones that are depicted in “Her” and are going to occur with increasing frequency as AI progresses.  The interactions are exactly the same; it is just that the entity at the end of the communication channel is either real or artificial.

But wait, what is artificial and what is real?  As Morpheus said in “The Matrix,” “What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”  This is not just philosophy; this is as factual as you can get.

As a growing number of researchers, physicists, and philosophers come to terms with the supporting evidence that we already live in a virtual reality, we realize that there is no distinction between a virtual entity that we think is virtual (such as a game character) and a virtual entity that we think is real (such as the person you are in a relationship with).  Your consciousness does not emerge from your brain; its seat is elsewhere.  Your lover’s consciousness therefore is also elsewhere.  You are interacting with it via the transfer of data and your emotions are part of your core consciousness.  Does it matter whether that data transfer is between two conscious entities outside of physical reality or between a conscious entity and another somewhat less conscious entity?

As technology progresses, AI advances, and gaming and simulations become more immersive, falling in love or having any other kind of emotional experience will be occurring more and more frequently with what we today think of as virtual entities.

Now, it seems shocking.  Tomorrow it will be curious.  Eventually it will be the norm.

The Asset-Light Generation – A Sign of Humanity Evolution?

We are moving from an era where it was important to possess everything to an era where it is considered cumbersome.  From racks of CDs and DVDs to music (Spotify) and movies (Netflix) in the cloud, accessible by subscription from a small handheld device.  From bookcases full of books to reading on demand from an iPad.  From stores full of products to eCommerce sites full of data.  From workplaces with cubes and desks to telecommuting and Workforce as a Service (WaaS).  From owning cars to sharing cars (Uber).  From a physical wallet full of cash and credit cards, to digital wallet transactions with just enough bitcoin in the account to satisfy “just in time” needs.

This new era is called the Shared Economy or Collaborative Economy and the individuals who thrive in it are becoming known as the Asset-Light Generation (fka Millennials, or Gen Y).

It strikes me that in many philosophies and spiritual teachings, the suppression of material desires is a crucial step on the road to evolving the spirit.

“All suffering is caused by desire.”
– Buddha

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”
– Jesus Christ

“It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.”
– Bertrand Russell

“When we share – that is poetry in the prose of life.”
– Sigmund Freud

“It ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none.”
– Snoop Dogg

So I wonder – if each generation of humanity is becoming less interested in ownership and increasingly more comfortable with the idea of sharing resources, is that another indication that humanity is evolving spiritually?

Or is it just cool tech?

sharing400

RIP Kardashev Civilization Scale

In 1964, Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev proposed a model for categorizing technological civilizations.  He identified 4 levels or “Types”, simplified as follows:

Type 0 – Civilization that has not yet learned to utilize the full set of resources available to them on their home planet (e.g. oceans, tidal forces, geothermal forces, solar energy impinging upon the planet, etc.)

Type 1 – Civilization that fully harnesses, controls, and utilizes the resources of their planet.

Type 2 – Civilization that fully harnesses, controls, and utilizes the resources of their star system.

Type 3 – Civilization that fully harnesses, controls, and utilizes the resources of their galaxy.

halosphere500

As with philosophical thought, literature, art, music, and other concepts and artifacts generated by humanity, technological and scientific pursuits reflect the culture of the time.  In 1964, we were on the brink of nuclear war.  The space race was in full swing and the TV show “Star Trek” was triggering the imagination of laymen and scientists alike.  We thought in terms of conquering people and ideas, and in terms of controlling resources.  What countries are in the Soviet bloc?  What countries are under US influence?  Who has access to most of the oil?  Who has the most gold, the most uranium?

The idea of dominating the world was evident in our news and our entertainment.  Games like Risk and Monopoly were unapologetically imperialistic.  Every Bond plot was about world domination.

Today, many of us find these ideas offensive.  To start with, imperialism is an outdated concept founded on the assumption of superiority of some cultures over others.  The idea of harnessing all planetary resources is an extension of imperialistic mentality, one that adds all other life forms to the entities that we need to dominate.  Controlling planetary resources for the sake of humanity is tantamount to stealing those same resources from other species that may need them.  Further, our attempt to control resources and technology can lead to some catastrophic outcomes.  Nuclear Armageddon, grey goo, overpopulation, global warming, planetary pollution, and (human-caused) mass extinctions are all examples of potentially disastrous consequences of attempts to dominate nature or technology without fully understanding what we are doing.

I argue in “Alien Hunters Still Thinking Inside The Box (or Dyson Sphere)” that attempting to fully harness all of the energy from the sun is increasingly unnecessary and unlikely to our evolution as a species.  Necessary energy consumption per capita is flattening for developing cultures and declining for mature ones.  Technological advances allow us to get much more useful output from our devices as time goes forward.  And humanity is beginning to de-emphasize raw size and power as a desirable attribute (for example, see right sizing economic initiatives) and instead focus on the value of consciousness.

So, certainly the hallmarks of advanced civilizations are not going to be anachronistic metrics of how much energy they can harness.  So what metrics might be useful?

How about:  Have they gotten off their planet?  Have they gotten out of their solar system?  Have they gotten out of their galaxy?

Somehow, I feel that even this is misleading.  Entanglement shows that everything is interconnected.  The observer effect demonstrates that consciousness transcends matter.  So perhaps the truly advanced civilizations have learned that they do not need to physically travel, but rather mentally travel.

How about: How little of an impact footprint do they leave on their planet?

The assumption here is that advanced civilizations follow a curve like the one below, whereby early in their journey they have a tendency to want to consume resources, but eventually evolve to have less and less of a need to consume or use energy.

wigner

How about: What percentage of their effort is expended upon advancing the individual versus the society, the planetary system, or the galactic system?

or…

How about: Who cares?  Why do we need to assign a level to a civilization anyway?  Is there some value to having a master list of evolutionary stage of advanced life forms?  So that we know who to keep an eye on?  That sounds very imperialistic to me.

Of course, I am as guilty of musing about the idea of measuring the level of evolution of a species through a 2013 cultural lens as Kardashev was doing so through a 1964 cultural lens.  But still, it is 50 years hence and time to either revise or retire an old idea.