AI: China vs. U.S.

Posted: February 8, 2019 in Uncategorized

Why didn’t communist Russia thrive? There are countless components to the answer to this but one fundamental component is that state pride will never motivate to the same degree as freedom. Freedom us the ultimate genie. It grants wishes, allows for dreams to come true, and it absolutely can never be put back in the bottle. Freedom is the only end state that humanity can thrive in. That is why regardless of how much money and resources China puts into developing its technology and infrastructure it is all built on a house of cards because they have an inevitable revolution coming. A transition to personal freedom. No country can last indefinitely when its neighbors enjoy freedoms that its citizens do not.

This demand for freedom can be offset by personal security and support for a time, but a simple observation of where people are trying to leave, and where people are trying to go, shows a clear picture of the type of nation citizens desire most. By and large the world is progressing towards the freedom model. Anywhere there is a barrier with free citizens on one side and oppressed on the other people are only flowing one direction.

So how does this apply to AI? China has a fighting chance to be the first country to produce whatever the first emergence of Artificial General Intelligence is going to be. If this concept is one you are unfamiliar with here is a great into to the concept. https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-is-artificial-general-intelligence/. China is putting massive amounts of resources towards this goal and are making it a priority on a national level. More so than any other country. China also does not opensource or declare the progress that it is making openly so it is difficult to assess where they are in the creation process.

It is not exactly clear what kind of advantage AGI will offer but there is no doubt that it will be significant and potentially change the world on a larger scale than the emergence of the Internet has. So what kind of actions will they take? How will they leverage this advantage and most importantly how will this impact their citizens? China’s citizens do not have freedom. They do not have free access to travel. They do not have freedom of expression. And they most definitely do not have free access to technology like Google and Twitter. How will this look if a country of 1.4 billion has control of an AGI while the general population does not even have internet access?

More significantly, will the underpinnings of the AGI developed in China have different constraints? A huge multinational discussion is happening around what kind of ethics and intent should be woven into AGI as it is being created. The consensus is that the best and safest strategy for AGI is one where it is open sourced and priority is given to align it with humanities best interest. “Best interests” is incredibly ambiguous but a totalitarian and oppressive government construct is obviously not it. Individual freedom is in my opinion the ultimate expression of humanities best interests. So how will individual freedom factor into the way these systems are designed and used? If China develops an AGI with personal liberty as an underpinning ethic it seems inevitable that they will have created the instrument of their own progression thus dis empowering the control of the state) . The alternative would be that they develop AGI with a focus on enforcing the power of the state. I am not sure if this could be considered “general” as it would be weaponized from inception. General Intelligence implies the capability of self thought and direction and the only intent of an oppressive controlling state is control. Creating an intelligence based on this seems akin to creating a digital dictator. What if the first iterations of this were to enforce the social value program that China is deploying? What if that program begins to place value on humans and realizes that the cost/value is upside down and so declares humans have no value? If the program was attempting to optimize the health of the environment it would be accurate to identify humanity as the root problem.

These questions will find their answers as the pursuit of AGI accelerates and ultimately comes to fruition. A few things are guaranteed. It will definitely emerge in some form because no component of the design is impractical. That is simply the nature of technological progress, but whether it will become a great world unity builder or spark a new “arms” race remains to be scene? Not and arms race in the traditional weaponry sense of the word, but more from the perspective that AGI will be a game changing competitive advantage. Make no mistake this advantage could overshadow anything ever feared from the nuclear arms race. I am hoping this international competition follows the pattern of the space race instead of the nuclear arms race. Granted the nuclear race seems to have resulted in a fragile but functional form of world peace but the space race was the beginning of the biggest international collaboration of the worlds greatest minds and people. An unprecedented cooperative effort that has yielded incalculable benefits for humanity and continues to set the standard for global efforts for good. If any tool is in the pipeline to compound the success of this global ideal AGI is it.

I guess time will tell.

What A Year: 2018 Edition

Posted: December 31, 2018 in Uncategorized

Most beneficial change I made in 2018

Curating the content I consume. My morning ritual at work had long been to log into my computer and begin consuming the news by scrolling through headlines and seeing which ones grabbed my eye. By the end of 2016 I was pretty convinced that life held no long term value because we were at the brink of nuclear war, environmental collapse, and a complete collapse of the world economy. These were not, nor are they now, unreasonable fears.

I would read about the world’s nuclear powers testing each others boundaries and resolve. Russia was flying bombers off the coast of California and North Korea was developing and testing nuclear weaponry. Far less provocative actions sparked the world wars.

The environment is being abused. We have an administration aggressively rolling back protections and increasing and incentivizing the industries that are having the largest impact on the environment. Oil spills are so common that some of the most catastrophic do not make headlines anymore. Even news agencies realize that they are just too common and they do not grab attention anymore (which is a catastrophe in and of itself).

The world economy is overextended at every possible angle approaching a debt crisis that will potentially rewrite the international story in a way that no war ever has before.

So we are all gonna die in a nuclear war sparked by financial collapse and resource scarcity right???

Maybe.

In the meantime however,

One thing I do know is that I am not in the game to any degree that justifies the amount of stress I was experiencing by looking at the world through those lenses. I am aware that things are changing quickly, and that the world is an intense and scary place with incompetent people occupying the most powerful positions. So until I get my exploratory committee together to see how best I can have a positive impact on the world I see no value in drowning in doom and gloom.

A cursory study of history shows a few important realizations. First off, the world has always been big and scary. Imagine being the person who discovered the giraffe? Out for a walk and what is that noise? Oh a 20 ft. tall camel that eats the tree tops, why would that be freaky to walk up on? More importantly the more that we look back at history the more we see that very little has changed, and more importantly very little has regressed. People may be at each others throats politically but there has not been a dual, lynching, or highly attended public execution in the developed world for the better part of 70 years. So the first major change I made in the content I consumed was to look to history and see what kind of trends emerge. Accompanied with books like Factfulness and Enlightenment Now and it becomes much easier to wrap my mind around the fact that the world is trending the right direction.

Next I began consuming futurist and scientific content. This has had by far the most profound impact on my psyche. Sites like futurism.com and su.org are are treasure troves of fascinating stories of progress and discovery. Science fiction is reaching a point where the supernatural must be invoked to make it fascinating because reality is overtaking it. Old movies like The Running Man show things like online travel booking, autonomous taxis, and hand help GPS. These technologies were considered to be so far away that they would coincide with colonization of mars!!! More importantly the technology to implant or remove memories is being developed and tested as I write this. Regardless of your level of interest in science and technology the takeaway is that there is a miraculous amount of amazing things happening in the world and it is a simple life hack to concentrate your focus there. Forces of good are doing incredible things. Consume stories of people doing amazing things. Of people having massive impact or simply being very very kind, patient, and compassionate.

It has been an entire year where I dedicate less than 15 minutes per day to current events and the results have been comforting. The world did not get consumed in nuclear war. The environment is being taken seriously by those intelligent enough to take a stand. The Paris Accord was the first agreement that I am aware of that the entire world signed on to. Every singe country!! (for a while). That is a good sign. The world looks different to me now, and I see it in many ways. The decisions that I make and the level of reaction that I have to bad news are more optimistic. My efforts have less resistance because they are not weighed down with a gloomy outlook on life. Gone are the days where the gatekeepers of information control the tone. We are in the driver seat and we get to chose what we see and consume. Please choose wisely.

 

I love Christmas. It is amazing in a million ways. In my 4 decades on the planet Christmas has been awesome. It was a time of the year most likely for getting  to see all my favorite people that I did not normally get to see. People make a huge effort to be generous and the best versions of themselves around Christmas. The whole country celebrates it and it is exciting. It has its own genre of movies and music. It is a BIG deal.

One of my absolute favorite things about the Christmas season is the time is celebrated globally. Not with the Santa and folklore of Christmas but with a variety of different customs and imagery. Traditions unique in many ways, but also a remarkable amount of similarities. For the northern hemisphere it is the end of winter, and time to get ready for the yearly cycle to repeat. I guess any transition could be celebrated, especially if that transition of season has more significance to a particular people. The shortest day of the year is a pretty universal starting point in many cultures annual cycle. How great is it that so many cultures celebrate this one particular point of the year so intensely? I think it is one of my favorite things about being an Earthling.

Honestly I am even a fan of expanding the range of ways that we celebrate the season. Nothing wrong with upping the game. One of my favorite things about my family is if we do something we have not done before and we like it, we will immediately declare it a tradition. Vocally. The moment someone voices the recognition of enjoyment it is a done deal and will be a Christmas tradition until we find a suitable improvement. Games, dishes, movies, songs. Everything is fair game. I see this the more I indulge curiosity into other peoples celebrations.

The wondrous variety around the world but consistency where it counts. Celebrations of family. Celebrations of life and the things we admire most like generosity, community, and new beginnings. Oh yeah! I didn’t forget about ya New Years! Fireworks and countdowns and then lets do it again. A worthy celebration to launch into a new year of possibility.

There are more than 25 different variations of end of year celebrations that I found with a single internet search. Representing many cultures and religions and even just some general beliefs. I recently learned of one called HumanLight. A Humanist holiday listing its focus of celebration as:

Reason
Compassion
Hope
Humanity

I see no problem here. It even lists its date as “on or around Dec 23rd” just to be as little a pain in the ass as possible. I am of the belief that the reasoning behind a celebration of the previously listed principles is less important than the act of celebrating. I do not care why. I care that! That as many people as possible are trying to make kindness and empathy louder. Celebrating family, community, and everything that is the best of us.

I even love the fact that culture is merging certain holidays. What do you do when people from two different cultures marry? One example is Chrismukkah. Feast your eyes here. https://www.etsy.com/market/chrismukkah. My life is brighter knowing that a YamaClaus is a thing.

I am actually pretty excited to think of a time where they all just keep blending together. Where the essence of each is maintained but the entire world does some global version of an exchange student program but we all just share our traditions with one another and use it as a time to come together on the scale that really matters. All of us!

I will always say Merry Christmas when celebrating Christmas but I leaned before Kindergarten that everything is better when its shared. That is why the more I think about it, the more I find myself using Happy Holidays.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays Everyone!!

https://thehumanist.com/arts_entertainment/culture/how-to-celebrate-humanlight-a-december-holiday-for-humanists-2

Dangerous Conversations

Posted: December 19, 2018 in Uncategorized

There are things that need to be discussed. Important things that are critical to smoothing out the road ahead. These topics are often dangerous. By that I mean uncomfortable, prone to incite emotional reactions. The old adage about never discuss politics and religion at a family function is accurate, but incomplete. There are tons of topics that are off-limits and it can be a risk to your career and social status to breach these boundaries. I am not going to use up space here by listing examples of these but a quick internet search will show a variety of examples. In all fairness many of these are the result of the presenter being insensitive or even tone-deaf, but many are also over reactions to information presented with good intentions. The bigot and the social justice warrior can often be as far from rationality as the other. Even when arguing for the side of “right” straying too far is as poisonous as those at the far other end of the spectrum.

That being said these conversations need to happen. People like Sam Harris and the Weinsteins and a host of others, sometimes referred to as the intellectual dark web are attempting to hack through this jungle paving the way for many to follow. Introduce topics of discussion based off of race or gender and you are likely to find yourself at the risk of being attacked, protested, and possibly fired and/or deplatformed.

This is dangerous. I am all for improving the sensitivity of how these conversations occur, as it will inevitably increase their social value and participation rate, but it cannot be done at the expense of extracting maximum value from the topic. Nothing swept under the rug has ever improved the world. We have to be able to discuss uncomfortable topics and situations so we can all improve the way that we handle uncomfortable topics and situations! Words are easier to engage with and have less impact than actions do, so lets talk about these things with a little more openness.

Recent explosions have come from interpretations about things like race and I.Q. The fact of the matter is science is cold and indifferent, and we cannot take things personally when data strikes a nerve. The most powerful antidote to this is the realization that science is uncaring, and that data does not mean ANYTHING in and of itself. It is simply the results of experiment. The best use of data is to ask better questions not to validate opinions or to be used as a political tool. It is simply ingredients into an expanding soup of knowledge that we can all draw from to live more informed lives. Informed lives leave no room for things like isms. Isms thrive in ignorance. There are way too many bad actions occurring for any resources to be wasted on stifling constructive conversations regardless of how uncomfortable they are.

Being brave enough to engage in uncomfortable topics and engaged enough to avoid the traps so common in today’s hyper sensitive landscape is critical. It is the only way we can learn these lessons without the aforementioned pains of trial and error. Conversation cannot be off-limits if we are to succeed.

We are all just trying to figure out how to understand and get along with one another in a world that is changing at breakneck speed while experiencing exponential population growth. How hard can it be?

Government 2.0

Posted: December 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

Recently a very public testimony was given in front of congress with Mark Zuckerburg and the results were nothing short of meme worthy. Fast forward to Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s testimony and a grim realization emerges. Our elected officials have never been much for inspiring confidence or displaying competence but as more and more technology based issues find their way under the microscope in D.C. the situation is deteriorating rapidly. It is painfully obvious that the people entrenched in power have no idea the scope or significance of the problems that they are inquiring about. They cannot even formulate questions of any real value to ask. When congress does not realize that Facebook generates revenue through selling Ads or that Google search engine functions on a hierarchical algorithm and not people manually aligning ads and results with search queries or targeting mobile gaming we have a serious problem.

Science and technology are in a state of advancement being referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. ” It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres, collectively referred to as cyber-physical systems” -Wiki. These technologies have completely restructured modern society in less than 15 years and will continue to do so at an accelerating pace. Entrenched lawmakers who cannot grasp the scope and significance of these changes, and are prone to attempts at leveraging anything and everything possible for personal power and gain, is a most dangerous mix indeed.

The danger we face from a political climate in conflict with science and reason can not be taken lightly. History is littered with cautionary tales began with this exact introduction. Money and influence have dictated policy for far too long and it is time that we mature as a society. People who do not understand something CANNOT be tasked with its regulation. We need to empower people in a capacity that is transparent, independent,  and aligned with expertise. I can think of no bigger disconnect then the amount of power given to politicians who are blatantly unqualified to deal with modern issues. Pair this with the fact that there is little sign of their actions aligning with the best interests of the people they represent and we find ourselves in a situation where ignorance is prevailing. All of this in the face of destructive weather events, unacceptable miscarriages of justice, and a rapid degradation of the institutions that improved life for so many more quickly than at any other time in history.

The market does not reward incompetence so neither should our political system.

Technological Morality

Posted: December 6, 2018 in Uncategorized

Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

This iconic line from Jurassic Park uttered by Jeff Goldblum waxing reflective about the de extinction of dinosaurs was recently parroted by Dennis Mckenna on the Joe Rogan podcast in terms of creating Virtual Reality worlds. He implies that technology in and of itself is neither good or bad and I am torn on this.

I completely understand the dangers inherent with the creation of powerful technologies. The most immediate danger is always their weaponization. Nuclear power is humanities most immediate chance at clean sustainable energy for all but it is also the fuel for nuclear weaponry. Biological warfare is not easily separated from medical advancements in treatments for disease. No version of these discussions leads us back to a point where we would have been better off leaving these things undiscovered. If we as humans did stop to answer the question of “just because we can should we?” I cannot reach any other conclusion but an absolute yes. Not excusing the horrors of their misuse but we have powerful tools to fight infections and diseases that we were powerless against in the past. The behaviors of the worst of us cannot offset the victories that these discoveries have afforded us. I am the first to advocate every attempt be made for ethical and measured behaviors in the presence of advancing tech, but if it comes down to a choice between discovery and intentional ignorance the choice, in my humble opinion, needs to always favor discovery. No advancement has a net negative effect be it coal or plastic or virtual reality. Coal and plastics have had tremendous negative impact on the world but I challenge anyone to defend that humanity would be better off if they remained undiscovered. Coal fueled the creation of modern civilization. Plastic has given us a level of hygiene and sanitation that has saved an unthinkable amount of lives. So my position is that discovery and technological advancement is the most moral action we can take. Discovery is the source of knowledge, knowledge is the antidote to ignorance, and the choice to remain in ignorance in my opinion is the single most immoral choice that can be made. Fear is the only perspective that justifies the defense of anti creation and discovery. That cannot be the perspective we begin from. It is always better to know than to not.

The gift of humanity to be able to discover ourselves, and our world, and the universe is our most obvious purpose for being here. Everything that makes us unique is predicated on this ability. It is unforgivable not to discover everything possible about our existence. The earth rewards nothing to the extent it does the acquisition of knowledge. Every increase in our ability to survive and thrive has been the result of pursuing knowledge and the act of creation. An ethical code where significant attention is paid to minimizing or eliminating harm during the process is essential and indeed emerging. You cannot have a conversation about artificial intelligence without considering the potential impact and the necessity of caution and care. This is increasingly critical as the technologies we develop become ever more powerful, but our stride must not be broken. Not when so many still suffer and go without. So to reiterate my answer to the question of if we should I say yes. We absolutely should, and we must.

The Forgotten Muscle

Posted: November 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

Ok it’s not a muscle per se, but spoiler alert your muscles are not the only part of your body that respond to progressive overload. The most critical component of physical prowess is often the least utilized. Have you guessed it yet? I’m talking about the brain. The single most fantastic creation in the cosmos thus far. The tool with which we became aware we exist. It’s aware of itself yet cannot perceive itself and even through the combined efforts of many who use theirs at a very high level. It does not know itself. It works but does not know how. It’s like the ultimate Swiss Army knife in the hands of a child who has not learned what most of the tools are for or what they can ultimately do. It perceives, experiences, remembers, and predicts and has had this capability long before it was used to create the wheel or harness fire. Yet at an accelerating pace we are discovering that brains are capable of doing the *ahem* unthinkable. That is to say we have yet to find the limit of its functional capacity and hardly a day goes by where I do not witness a new achievement attesting to the limitless capabilities these brains afford us humans. Memory competitions where people memorize whole decks of cards faster than I can cook an egg. A spatial memory savant that can recreate entire city scapes after a 20 minute helicopter ride around the city. The show superhumans is a buffet of mental magic attesting to the capacity of the brain that boggles the mind *pun very much intended. Mental phenomenon such as “instant savant” also break linearity with our understanding of how the brain works. Google it. It basically implies that Socrates was right “learning is remembering”. What hypothesis can we form as to how a head injury could result in formed and functional knowledge of skills or languages that have never previously been known? Is all knowledge intrinsic and we are just unblocking it as we perceive ourselves as learning it? Or is there some ancestral link with out DNA that if someone in our lineage could play the piano that a specific occurrence to our brain can resurface this ability? I have no idea but it’s really weird none the less.

The major takeaway here is that we are obviously just scratching the surface of what our operating system can do and considering the potential there in a much larger portion of our time dedicated to exploring and developing these potentials has limitless value.

To be continued…