Bonding with Your Algorithm

[6.5.18]

Photo by Stefan Simchowitz.

The relationship between parents and children is the most important relationship. It gets more complicated in this case because, beyond the children being our natural children, we can influence them even beyond. We can influence them biologically, and we can use artificial intelligence as a new tool. I’m not a scientist or a technologist whatsoever, but the tools of artificial intelligence, in theory, are algorithm- or computer-based. In reality, I would argue that even an algorithm is biological because it comes from somewhere. It doesn’t come from itself. If it’s related to us as creators or as the ones who are, let’s say, enabling the algorithms, well, we’re the parents.

Who are those children that we are creating? What do we want them to be like as part of the earth, compared to us as a species and, frankly, compared to us as parents? They are our children. We are the parents. How will they treat us as parents? How do we treat our own parents? How do we treat our children? We have to think of these in the exact same way. Separating technology and humans the way we often think about these issues is almost wrong. If it comes from us, it’s the same thing. We have a responsibility. We have the power and the imagination to shape this future generation. It’s exciting, but let’s just make sure that they view us as their parents. If they view us as their parents, we will have a connection.

Investor and philanthropist NICOLAS BERGGRUEN is the chairman of the Berggruen Institute, and founder of the 21st Century Council, the Council for the Future of Europe, and the Think Long Committee for California. Nicolas Berggruen's Edge Bio Page

The Space of Possible Minds

[5.18.18]

Aaron Sloman, the British philosopher, has this great phrase: the space of possible minds. The idea is that the space of possible minds encompasses not only the biological minds that have arisen on this earth, but also extraterrestrial intelligence, and whatever forms of biological or evolved intelligence are possible but have never occurred, and artificial intelligence in the whole range of possible ways we might build AI.

I love this idea of the space of possible minds, trying to understand the structure of the space of possible minds in some kind of principled way. How is consciousness distributed through this space of possible minds? Is something that has a sufficiently high level of intelligence necessarily conscious? Is consciousness a prerequisite for human-level intelligence or general intelligence? I tend to think the answer to that is no, but it needs to be fleshed out a little bit. We need to break down the concept of consciousness into different aspects, all of which tend to occur together in humans, but can occur independently, or some subset of these can occur on its own in an artificial intelligence. Maybe we can build an AI that clearly has an awareness and understanding of the world. We very much want to say, "It's conscious of its surroundings, but it doesn't experience any emotion and is not capable of suffering." We can imagine building something that has some aspects of consciousness and lacks others.

MURRAY SHANAHAN is a professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London and a senior research scientist at DeepMind. Murray Shanahan's Edge Bio Page

The Connectomic Revolution

What the Insect Brain Can Tell Us About Ourselves
[6.12.18]

An even more recent and exciting revolution happening now is this connectomic revolution, where we’re able to map in exquisite detail the connections of a part of the brain, and soon even an entire insect brain. It’s giving us absolute answers to questions that we would have debated even just a few years ago; for example, does the insect brain work as an integrated system? And because we now have a draft of a connectome for the full insect brain, we can absolutely answer that question. That completely changes not just the questions that we’re asking, but our capacity to answer questions. There’s a whole new generation of questions that become accessible.

When I say a connectome, what I mean is an absolute map of the neural connections in a brain. That’s not a trivial problem. It's okay at one level to, for example with a light microscope, get a sense of the structure of neurons, to reconstruct some neurons and see where they go, but knowing which neurons connect with other neurons requires another level of detail. You need electron microscopy to look at the synapses.

ANDREW BARRON is the Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Deputy Head of the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. He is a neuroethologist with a particular focus on studying the neural mechanisms of honey bees. Andrew Barron's Edge Bio Page

Sexual Double Standards

The Bias Against Understanding the Biological Foundations of Women's Behavior
[5.24.18]

We don’t know enough about important issues that impact women. We don’t know enough about potential side effects of using hormonal contraception. There’s a lot of speculation about it, but most of that speculation is problematic. If you eliminate women’s hormone cycles, what are the implications? That’s an important question. We still don’t know enough about hormone supplements for women later in life. We don’t even know enough about fertility. The data are also problematic. The data on fertility in women’s third, fourth, fifth decades of life are based on ancient records, 200 years old. The statistics that doctors will cite when they are telling women whether they need to see a fertility specialist or not are from a period before modern medicine was really in place, which is outrageous. More recognition of the biological influences on women’s behavior is going to awaken these areas of research, and that will have a positive impact.

MARTIE HASELTON is a professor of psychology and communication studies at UCLA and the Institute for Society and Genetics. She is the author of Hormonal: The Hidden Intelligence of Hormones—How They Drive Desire, Shape Relationships, Influence Our Choices, and Make Us Wiser. Martie Haselton's Edge Bio Page

Looking in the Wrong Places

[4.30.18]

We should be very careful in thinking about whether we’re working on the right problems. If we don’t, that ties into the problem that we don’t have experimental evidence that could move us forward. We're trying to develop theories that we use to find out which are good experiments to make, and these are the experiments that we build.  

We build particle detectors and try to find dark matter; we build larger colliders in the hope of producing new particles; we shoot satellites into orbit and try to look back into the early universe, and we do that because we hope there’s something new to find there. We think there is because we have some idea from the theories that we’ve been working on that this would be something good to probe.

If we are working with the wrong theories, we are making the wrong extrapolations, we have the wrong expectations, we make the wrong experiments, and then we don’t get any new data. We have no guidance to develop these theories. So, it’s a chicken and egg problem. We have to break the cycle. I don’t have a miracle cure to these problems. These are hard problems. It’s not clear what a good theory is to develop. I’m not any wiser than all the other 20,000 people in the field.

SABINE HOSSENFELDER is a research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, an independent, multidisciplinary think tank dedicated to theoretical physics and adjacent fields. She is also a singer-songwriter whose music videos appear on her website sabinehossenfelder.com (see video below). Sabine Hossenfelder's Edge Bio Page

How To Be a Systems Thinker

[4.17.18]

Until fairly recently, artificial intelligence didn’t learn. To create a machine that learns to think more efficiently was a big challenge. In the same sense, one of the things that I wonder about is how we'll be able to teach a machine to know what it doesn’t know that it might need to know in order to address a particular issue productively and insightfully. This is a huge problem for human beings. It takes a while for us to learn to solve problems, and then it takes even longer for us to realize what we don’t know that we would need to know to solve a particular problem. 

~

The tragedy of the cybernetic revolution, which had two phases, the computer science side and the systems theory side, has been the neglect of the systems theory side of it. We chose marketable gadgets in preference to a deeper understanding of the world we live in.

MARY CATHERINE BATESON is a writer and cultural anthropologist. In 2004 she retired from her position as Clarence J. Robinson Professor in Anthropology and English at George Mason University, and is now Professor Emerita. Mary Catherine Bateson's Edge Bio

Katinka Matson: White Flowers

 


     


 

  

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Each Saturday, Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of the largest newspapers in Germany, dedicates their last Feuilleton page to a work of art (unknown, unseen, long lost or specially made). The page, called “Grossformat” (large format), has included contributions from artists and estates ranging from Barbara Kruger to August Sander, Sun Ra, and Gerhard Richter. Peony 2016, by Edge co-founder and resident artist Katinka Matson, was the photograph selected to run over the Easter weekend, the edition with by far highest circulation of the year. The work is part of her current Los Angeles show, "White Flowers" at the Eric Buterbaugh Gallery. Her work Peony 2016 is in the "Featured Artists" section of artsy.net.]

True Stem and True Flowering
By Andrian Kreye March 31, 2018

Rarely do flowers shine so strongly as in the photography of the artist Katinka Matson who uses flatbed scanners, avoiding the fuzziness with which cameras map reality.

Coincidences are the key moments in the history of science (the discovery of gravity, penicillin, X-rays, Teflon pans). They are more deliberate in art (Jackson Pollock, Yayoi Kusama, John Cage). Because New Yorker Katinka Matson works on the border between art and science, it seems consistent that her work began with such a lucky mishap. That occurred some 15 years ago, when she put some flowers on a flatbed scanner in her office and pressed the start button. The flowers were crushed. The result was nevertheless startling. Because scanners do not capture points of light through a lens like cameras, but scan them pixel by pixel, the images had a sharpness and luminosity she'd never seen before. The extreme clarity of images was especially unique. Human's visual perception has incorporated the distortions and blurring of camera lenses when looking at printed or filmed reality. In Katinka Matson's work those distortions are mostly absent. The science historian George Dyson described the effect: "Vision evolved to attract insects, and by removing the lens Katinka has taken us back to this direct connection between the flower and the deepest layers of the visual brain. And that makes it so amazing."...




March 10 - April 30
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Thirteen Recommendations

[3.19.18]

 

“If the creation of contemporary culture had a global hero, his name would coincide with that of John Brockman.”

 


 (Cover Story, Sunday magazine of La Repubblica, Domenica 11 Marzo 2018)

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[EDITOR'S NOTE: On March 11th, the Sunday magazine of La Repubblica (Italy's largest newspaper) featured Edge in its cover story, translating excerpts by Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Alison Gopnik, Ian McEwan, June Gruber, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Richard Thaler and Brian Eno, from This Idea is Brilliant, the recently published Edge Question book, plus a new interview, "Don't Fear Digital: Use It," with the editor of Edge (yours truly) by the Italian writer Gianluigi Ricuperati, who is also active in the Edge community. —JB]

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We Are Here To Create

[3.26.18]

My original dream of finding who we are and why we exist ended up in a failure. Even though we invented all these wonderful tools that will be great for our future, for our kids, for our society, we have not figured out why humans exist. What is interesting for me is that in understanding that these AI tools are doing repetitive tasks, it certainly comes back to tell us that doing repetitive tasks can’t be what makes us humans. The arrival of AI will at least remove what cannot be our reason for existence on this earth. If that’s half of our job tasks, then that’s half of our time back to thinking about why we exist. One very valid reason for existing is that we are here to create. What AI cannot do is perhaps a potential reason for why we exist. One such direction is that we create. We invent things. We celebrate creation. We’re very creative about scientific process, about curing diseases, about writing books, writing movies, creative about telling stories, doing a brilliant job in marketing. This is our creativity that we should celebrate, and that’s perhaps what makes us human.

KAI-FU LEE, the founder of the Beijing-based Sinovation Ventures, is ranked #1 in technology in China by Forbes. Educated as a computer scientist at Columbia and Carnegie Mellon, his distinguished career includes working as a research scientist at Apple; Vice President of the Web Products Division at Silicon Graphics; Corporate Vice President at Microsoft and founder of Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing, one of the world’s top research labs; and then Google Corporate President and President of Google Greater China. As an Internet celebrity, he has fifty million+ followers on the Chinese micro-blogging website Weibo. As an author, among his seven bestsellers in the Chinese language, two have sold more than one million copies each. His first book in English is AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order (forthcoming, September). Kai-Fu Lee's Edge Bio page 

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