I host a podcast which takes deep dives into science, tech, and sociological topics. I do this via interviews with world-class experts who have the patience to engage in truly unhurried discussions of their fields. My episodes are untethered from the headlines, as they’re meant to resonate with future as well as present-day listeners, ideally over a span of years.
Occasionally, though, things happen to line up with current events. And was that ever the case this week — as today’s episode is about cryptocurrencies, which have been repeatedly dashing price records, even as Bitcoin debuted on the futures markets this past Sunday.
Francois Chollet argues in his recent essay that an intelligence explosion is very unlikely. So the fast progress we see today is a chimaera, more linear than we think and more likely to slow down, because:
Doing science in a given field gets exponentially harder over time — the founders of the field reap most the low-hanging fruit, and achieving comparable impact later requires exponentially more effort.
And that even the open-source networked approach to research that has driven so much recent progress has limits because:
Robotics will drive untold benefits for humanity. But as we pursue the future, we can’t forget our very real present needs
Robotics are beginning to transform a broad spectrum of industries. But what’s far more exciting is the potential for robotics and AI to drive innovation that alleviates human suffering of many kinds, both directly and indirectly. While we’re excited about the application to autonomous vehicles or manufacturing, what’s potentially more inspiring is the opportunity to scale and dramatically improve disaster relief efforts.
Humanitarian efforts, the world over, will be greatly advanced by the development of these emerging technologies. While we focus on conquering the impossible and transforming the way things work, it is also our imperative to capitalize on the opportunity to create a better society.
We must not eliminate the most important variable in today’s systems — the humans who design, maintain and manage them.
Straight out of defense labs, autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons are already in use, but there’s no overarching agreement among key stakeholders on how to control their implementation and diffusion. Unlike nuclear or biological weapons whose proliferation have been largely controlled, autonomous weapons pose some tricky problems.
The first is the absence of an international treaty. The second is the comparative ease by which autonomous weapons can be developed. Nuclear weapons are hard. The nine countries with nuclear weapons have achieved this with multi-decade projects backed substantially by state resources and administrative capacity.
Holy moly. Elon Musk is really a human being! This in depth profile by Neil Strauss is either an incredible scoop, or a deft bit of PR by Musk himself, who certainly is a master of the public reveal. Either way, it comes off as genuine, and it paints Musk in a very soft light. Money Quote: “There is clearly something Musk wants to share, but he can’t bring himself to utter the words, at least not on the record. “It’s so terrible, you can’t believe it.” The tears run silently down his face. “I can’t remember the last time I cried.” He turns to Teller to confirm this. “You’ve never seen me cry.”
YouTube, Russia, Trump, Facebook…this one has it all.
Well, I was planning on writing a full throated column today, but the unfriendly skies, coupled with a failing laptop, denied us of that outcome. So here are the links I’m reading. It’s an abbreviated version of Money Quote, but it’ll have to do this time. More soon. I’m on the road most of the week, so keep your fingers crossed the Apple Store in Austin or Boulder can help…
Yes, it is. And while this story is about out of control capitalism mixed with uncontrollable algos on YouTube with kids’ programming, it’s essentially the same thing that’s happening with Russian bots.
Two vastly powerful trends are reshaping the world around us. Now, every business must ask itself: Which side of the line do we fall on?
I work in central London and live in the southeast of the city. Almost every night on my way home from work, I stop at the London Bridge outpost of M&S Simply Food (yes, my life is that glamorous). The place is always packed, but the queue moves quickly because there are 12 staffed checkout tills. Or, they were staffed. Last month the 12 conventional tills were replaced by 12 self-checkout touchscreens and two roaming staff members. Overnight, pretty much all the familiar faces were gone.
The unspoken statement could not have been more clear: the future is coming. Technology is eating jobs. No wonder so many books are being dedicated to the question: Are we heading towards a workless future? And what does that mean?
Hate Management books? Me too. But Nadella’s Hit Refresh is a worthy call to arms not only to his troops, but to business overall.
What, exactly, does Microsoft stand for?
I’ve been covering the company for three full decades, and for the first two, that was an easy question to answer. Under Gates the company stood for its core mission: ruthlessly putting a computer on every desk and in every home. That meant cunning domination of profitable, winner-takes-all tech markets. Microsoft under Gates crushed its earnings, took names, and made shareholders rich.
The powerful and often shortsighted ways in which our creations are making our choices for us.
Continuing our partnership with Medium Premium to create series in conjunction with noted authors and journalists, Guidance Systems, by science and tech reporter Jacob Ward, explores the role technology is having in our decision making process. The premise of this series: We’re building technologies and businesses that shape our lives in dramatic and fundamental ways, without throughly analyzing the long-term consequences of these actions. Military robots that have already taken the ethics of war out of human hands. Addiction specialists who are building the neuroscience of habit into apps. Children’s television producers are trying to use their shows to build certain values into their young audience.
Ward refers to these technologies as Guidance Systems, tech that seems to improve our lives by offering us new choices, but also shape or remove our ability to decide things for ourselves. Addictive social media, killer robots, and other systems that can bring out the best and the worst of humanity. Shouldn’t we understand them better?
Smartening up our global auto fleets would required the equivalent of increasing the iPhone industry by at least five-fold.
In one of our Medium Premium series created in conjunction with noted authors and journalists, Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Computing, by AI expert Azeem Azhar, explores the role of society if we ever want to get serious about Artificial Intelligence in our lifetimes. In the first part of the exclusive series (membership is required, but Medium does have a “metered paywall’’), Azhar discusses how artificial intelligence is ramping up the demand for computing cycles.
You can read the first entry here, which discusses the demands machine learning-like applications are going to make on available computing processing. The second entry, found here, explores how the demands of AI will drive two shifts: the resurgence of the processing on the edge, and the arrival of new processing architectures.