The Overdue Debate

Front Page

DEFGH Nr. 63, Freitag, 15. März 2019. 

Collage: Stefan Dimitrov

The Ghost in the Machine
Artificial intelligence inspires wild fantasies, but remains hard to imagine. A SZ series creates clarity. 




Artificial intelligence:
A new series brings science and culture together to fathom the inexplicable


Cultural Intelligence

Michele Gelfand [3.12.19]

Getting back to culture being invisible and omnipresent, we think about intelligence or emotional intelligence, but we rarely think about cultivating cultural intelligence. In this ever-increasing global world, we need to understand culture. All of this research has been trying to elucidate not just how we understand other people who are different from us, but how we understand ourselves.

MICHELE GELFAND is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire the WorldMichele Gelfand's Edge Bio Page


Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI

Lightning talks by thirteen “Possible Minders” at the Brattle Theatre—a Harvard Bookstore Event John Brockman [2.21.19]

Thursday, February 21, 2019  — A Harvard Bookstore Event

Lightning talks (1 hour, 28 minutes) from thirteen experts: Mary Catherine Bateson, Kate Darling, Peter Galison, Neil Gershenfeld, Alison Gopnik, Caroline Jones, David Kaiser, Seth Lloyd, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Alex Pentland, Steven Pinker, Max TegmarkStephen Wolfram 


Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI

Chapter 1 - "Wrong, but More Relevant Than Ever" - on Slate Seth Lloyd [2.28.19]

The Human Use of Human Beings, Norbert Wiener’s 1950 popularization of his highly influential book Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (1948)investigates the interplay between human beings and machines in a world in which machines are becoming ever more computationally capable and powerful. It is a remarkably prescient book, and remarkably wrong. Written at the height of the Cold War, it contains a chilling reminder of the dangers of totalitarian organizations and societies, and of the danger to democracy when it tries to combat totalitarianism with totalitarianism’s own weapons.

Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI

Chapter 21 - "AIs Versus Four-Year-Olds" - First Serial on Smithsonian Alison Gopnik [2.22.19]

Everyone’s heard about the new advances in artificial intelligence, and especially machine learning. You’ve also heard utopian or apocalyptic predictions about what those advances mean. They have been taken to presage either immortality or the end of the world, and a lot has been written about both of those possibilities. But the most sophisticated AIs are still far from being able to solve problems that human four-year-olds accomplish with ease. In spite of the impressive name, artificial intelligence largely consists of techniques to detect statistical patterns in large data sets. There is much more to human learning

Biological and Cultural Evolution

Six Characters in Search of an Author Freeman Dyson [2.19.19]


[ ED. NOTE: With the following essay by Freeman Dyson, we're kicking off a regular subscription-based audio feature, EdgeCast. Listen & Subscribe —JB ]

In the near future, we will be in possession of genetic engineering technology which allows us to move genes precisely and massively from one species to another. Careless or commercially driven use of this technology could make the concept of species meaningless, mixing up populations and mating systems so that much of the individuality of species would be lost. Cultural evolution gave us the power to do this. To preserve our wildlife as nature evolved it, the machinery of biological evolution must be protected from the homogenizing effects of cultural evolution.

Unfortunately, the first of our two tasks, the nurture of a brotherhood of man, has been made possible only by the dominant role of cultural evolution in recent centuries. The cultural evolution that damages and endangers natural diversity is the same force that drives human brotherhood through the mutual understanding of diverse societies. Wells's vision of human history as an accumulation of cultures, Dawkins's vision of memes bringing us together by sharing our arts and sciences, Pääbo's vision of our cousins in the cave sharing our language and our genes, show us how cultural evolution has made us what we are. Cultural evolution will be the main force driving our future.

FREEMAN DYSON, emeritus professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, in addition to fundamental contributions ranging from number theory to quantum electrodynamics, has worked on nuclear reactors, solid-state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics, and biology, looking for problems where elegant mathematics could be usefully applied. His books include Disturbing the UniverseWeapons and HopeInfinite in All DirectionsMaker of Patterns, and Origins of LifeFreeman Dyson's Edge Bio Page 


In the Pirandello play, "Six Characters in Search of an Author", the six characters come on stage, one after another, each of them pushing the story in a different unexpected direction. I use Pirandello's title as a metaphor for the pioneers in our understanding of the concept of evolution over the last two centuries. Here are my six characters with their six themes.

1. Charles Darwin (1809-1882): The Diversity Paradox.
2. Motoo Kimura (1924-1994): Smaller Populations Evolve Faster.
3. Ursula Goodenough (1943- ): Nature Plays a High-Risk Game.
4. Herbert Wells (1866-1946): Varieties of Human Experience.
5. Richard Dawkins (1941- ): Genes and Memes.
6. Svante Pääbo (1955- ): Cousins in the Cave.

The story that they are telling is of a grand transition that occurred about fifty thousand years ago, when the driving force of evolution changed from biology to culture, and the direction changed from diversification to unification of species. The understanding of this story can perhaps help us to deal more wisely with our responsibilities as stewards of our planet.

Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI

Chapter 5 - "What Can We Do?" - First Serial on Wired Daniel C. Dennett [2.19.19]

WHEN NORBERT WIENER, the father of cybernetics, wrote his book The Human Use of Human Beings in 1950, vacuum tubes were still the primary electronic building blocks, and there were only a few actual computers in operation.

Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI

Chapter 23 - "The Rights of Machines" - First Serial on Medium George Church [2.12.19]

Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI

Chapter 4 - "The Third Law" - First Serial on Medium George Dyson [2.12.19]

Alzheimer's Prevention

Lisa Mosconi [2.11.19]

Right now, we don’t have therapies that regrow neurons. Alzheimer’s is a disease that kills your neurons over time, so once they’re gone they’re pretty much gone. There are things that one can do pharmaceutically to ameliorate the symptoms. For example, there are FDA-approved drugs such as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors or memantine, which do lessen or stabilize symptoms for a few years, but they can’t stop disease progression. What we’re interested in is disease modification, stopping it before it’s too severe or too advanced.

At the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic, we try to tell people what to do in a preventative way. There are a lot of other people and clinicians that are actively engaging in prevention as well. It’s new in my field, especially in the field of neurology. Until four years ago nobody would dare use the word “prevention” out loud because so many doctors and clinicians would just label you as a quack right away and you would lose credibility overnight. I find scientists are much more open to this now.

LISA MOSCONI is the director of the Women's Brain Initiative and the associate director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College. She is the author of Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive PowerLisa Mosconi's Edge Bio Page


Subscribe to Front page feed