Increasing Understanding of Technology and Communication

AI: We’re Children Playing with a Bomb (4 of 4)

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“Maybe. At any time in history it seems to me there can only be one official global concern. Now it is climate change, or sometimes terrorism. When I grew up it was nuclear Armageddon. Then it was overpopulation. Some are more sensible than others, but it is really quite random.”

Bostrom’s passion is to attempt to apply some math’s to that randomness. Does he think that concerns about AI will take over from global warming as a more imminent threat any time soon?

“I doubt it,” he says. “It will come gradually and seamlessly without us really addressing it.”

If we are going to look anywhere for its emergence, Google, which is throwing a good deal of its unprecedented resources at deep learning technology (not least with its purchase in 2014 of the British pioneer DeepMind) would seem a reasonable place to start. Google apparently has an AI ethics board to confront these questions, but no one knows who sits on it. Does Bostrom have faith in its “Don’t be evil” mantra?

“There is certainly a culture among tech people that they want to feel they are doing something that is not just to make money but that it has some positive social purpose. There is this idealism.”

Can he help shape the direction of that idealism?

“It is not so much that one’s own influence is important,” he says. “Anyone who has a role in highlighting these arguments will be valuable. If the human condition really were to change fundamentally in our century, we find ourselves at a key juncture in history.” And if Bostrom’s more nihilistic predictions are correct, we will have only one go at getting the nature of the new intelligence right.

Last year Bostrom became a father. (Typically his marriage is conducted largely by Skype – his wife, a medical doctor, lives in Vancouver.) I wonder, before I go, if becoming a dad has changed his sense of the reality of these futuristic issues?

“Only in the sense that it emphasizes this dual perspective, the positive and negative scenarios. This kind of intellectualizing, that our world might be transformed completely in this way, always seems a lot harder to credit at a personal level. I guess I allow both of these perspectives as much room as I can in my mind.”

At the same time as he entertains those thought experiments, I suggest, half the world remains concerned where its next meal is coming from. Is the threat of superintelligence quite an elitist anxiety? Do most of us not think of the longest-term future because there is more than enough to worry about in the present?

“If it got to the point where the world was spending hundreds of billions of dollars on this stuff and nothing on more regular things then one might start to question it,” he says. “If you look at all the things the world is spending money on, what we are doing is less than a pittance. You go to some random city and you travel from the airport to your hotel. Along the highway you see all these huge buildings for companies you have never heard of. Maybe they are designing a new publicity campaign for a razor blade. You drive past hundreds of these buildings. Any one of those has more resources than the total that humanity is spending on this field. We have half a floor of one building in Oxford, and there are two or three other groups doing what we do. So I think it is OK.”

And how, I ask, might we as individuals and citizens think about and frame these risks to the existence of our species? Bostrom shrugs a little. “If we are thinking of this very long time frame, then it is clear that very small things we do now can make a significant difference in that future.”

A recent paper of Bostrom’s, which I read later at home, contains a little rule of thumb worth bearing in mind. Bostrom calls it “maxipok”. It is based on the idea that “the objective of reducing existential risks should be a dominant consideration whenever we act out of an impersonal concern for humankind as a whole.” What does maxipok involve? Trying to “maximize the probability of an ‘OK outcome’ where an OK outcome is any outcome that avoids existential catastrophe.”

It certainly sounds worth a go.

Read Article (Tim Adams | theguardian.com | 06/12/2016)

It really seems that as we push digital evolution into the future we are unwittingly pushing our own mental evolution along with it. Wow, wrap your brain around that! Maybe one day we will clone a human brain as the CPU of a super-computer.

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AI: We’re Children Playing with a Bomb (3 of 4)

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Bostrom grew up an only child in the coastal Swedish town of Helsingborg. Like many gifted children, he loathed school. His father worked for an investment bank, his mother for a Swedish corporation. He doesn’t remember any discussion of philosophy – or art or books – around the dinner table. Wondering how he found himself obsessed with these large questions, I ask if he was an anxious child: did he always have a powerful sense of mortality?

“I think I had it quite early on,” he says. “Not because I was on the brink of death or anything. But as a child I remember thinking a lot that my parents may be healthy now but they are not always going to be stronger or bigger than me.”

That thought kept him awake at nights?

“I don’t remember it as anxiety, more as a melancholy sense.”

And was that ongoing desire to live forever rooted there too?

“Not necessarily. I don’t think that there is any particularly different desire that I have in that regard to anyone else. I don’t want to come down with colon cancer – who does? If I was alive for 500 years who knows how I would feel? It is not so much fixated on immortality, just that premature death seems prima facie bad.”

A good deal of his book asks questions of how we might make superintelligence – whether it comes in 50 years or 500 years – “nice”, congruent with our humanity. Bostrom sees this as a technical challenge more than a political or philosophical one. It seems to me, though, that a good deal of our own ethical framework, our sense of goodness, is based on an experience and understanding of suffering, of our bodies. How could a non-cellular intelligence ever “comprehend” that?

The sense of intellectual urgency about these questions derives in part from what Bostrom calls an “epiphany experience”, which occurred when he was in his teens. He found himself in 1989 in a library and picked up at random an anthology of 19th-century German philosophy, containing works by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Intrigued, he read the book in a nearby forest, in a clearing that he used to visit to be alone and write poetry. Almost immediately he experienced a dramatic sense of the possibilities of learning. Was it like a conversion experience?

“More an awakening,” he says. “It felt like I had sleepwalked through my life to that point and now I was aware of some wider world that I hadn’t imagined.”

Following first the leads and notes in the philosophy book, Bostrom set about educating himself in fast forward. He read feverishly, and in spare moments he painted and wrote poetry, eventually taking degrees in philosophy and mathematical logic at Gothenburg university, before completing a PhD at the London School of Economics, and teaching at Yale.

Did he continue to paint and write?

“It seemed to me at some point that mathematical pursuit was more important,” he says. “I felt the world already contained a lot of paintings and I wasn’t convinced it needed a few more. Same could be said for poetry. But maybe it did need a few more ideas of how to navigate the future.”

One of the areas in which AI is making advances is in its ability to compose music and create art, and even to write. Does he imagine that sphere too will quickly be colonized by a superintelligence, or will it be a last redoubt of the human?

“I don’t buy the claim that the artificial composers currently can compete with the great composers. Maybe for short bursts but not over a whole symphony. And with art, though it can be replicated, the activity itself has value. You would still paint for the sake of painting.”

Authenticity, the man-made, becomes increasingly important?

“Yes and not just with art. If and when machines can do everything better than we can do, we would continue to do things because we enjoy doing them. If people play golf it is not because they need the ball to reside in successive holes efficiently, it is because they enjoy doing it. The more machines can do everything we can do the more attention we will give to these things that we value for their own sake.”

Early in his intellectual journey, Bostrom did a few stints as a philosophical standup comic in order to improve his communication skills. Talking to him, and reading his work, an edge of knowing absurdity at the sheer scale of the problems is never completely absent from his arguments. The axes of daunting-looking graphs in his papers will be calibrated on closer inspection in terms of “endurable”, “crushing” and “hellish”. In his introduction to Superintelligence, the observation “Many of the points made in this book are probably wrong” typically leads to a footnote that reads: “I don’t know which ones.” Does he sometimes feel he is morphing into Douglas Adams?

“Sometimes the work does seem strange,” he says. “Then from another point it seems strange that most of the world is completely oblivious to the most major things that are going to happen in the 21st century. Even people who talk about global warming never mention any threat posed by AI.”

Because it would dilute their message?

Read Article (Tim Adams | theguardian.com | 06/12/2016)

Especially during the digital era, our Superintelligent and media have been immersed in the evolution of technology and how, one day, it will surpass man’s abilities. But there is one process that continues today, they seem to ignore. Nearly every aspect of the human being is in constant evolution which naturally includes the unmatched human brain.

The power it possesses is still not understood as it accomplishes unbelievable tasks without the assistance of technology. In other words, technology is chasing a moving target that is actually developing that technology. Curious, huh?

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Internet Pace Grows as Smartphone Slows Down

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RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — What's the state of the Internet? It's growing slowly, but still outpacing the smartphone market.

So says Mary Meeker, the former Internet analyst-turned-venture capitalist who has been the Nostradamus of online research for years. Her highly anticipated annual Internet status update, a staple at industry conferences, offers insight into major mega-trends for the tech industry.

On Wednesday, she was at it again. At the Code Conference here, she said Internet use is at 3 billion people worldwide (42% penetration), with China and India — countries coveted by Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and others — leading the way.

But the device of the moment isn't iPhone anymore. Its sales peaked in 2015, she reports, and the action has moved to the voice-activated Amazon Echo speaker, "which is just getting started," she said. Meeker is bullish on messaging (she called it "secret sauce") and ride-sharing services ("We may be entering an automotive golden age") but souring on online search.

In a 213-slide presentation, she said she expects global smartphone user growth to slow to 21% year-over-year from 31%, and shipments to cool dramatically, to 10% from 28%. Internet growth, meanwhile, is a victim of saturation in developed countries.

Worldwide smartphone unit shipments slipped 3%, to 335 million, in the first three months of 2016, the first such year-over-year decline, according to Strategy Analytics, which tracks smartphone sales.

Apple is feeling the pinch. The first-ever year-over-year decline in iPhone sales during Apple's fiscal second quarter was a major reason for the first drop in Apple sales in more than a decade and lowered expectations for the current quarter.

Worldwide, Android is far and away the dominant mobile operating system. It has 81% market share to 16% for Apple iOS, and three times the audience size of Apple.

Meeker, a venture capitalist at VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has been involved in investments in tech firms such as SoundCloud, LegalZoom, Spotify, Twitter, Instacart and NextDoor. She sits on the boards of Square and DocuSign.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk doesn't see Google as a potential competitor to his firm. Instead, he's focused on Apple.

Apple, maker of the iconic iPhone and Macintosh computers, "will be a direct competitor," Musk said. He expects Apple to be in production with cars by 2020, but thinks it waited too long. "They should have started production sooner. It's a missed opportunity."

Speaking to the Code Conference here, the South African-born, charismatic CEO leads a company that sells electric cars, with a recent software update that includes partial self-driving features. Tesla cars start at around $80,000, but recently announced a 2017 Model 3 that will start at $35,000. The company has reaped about 400,000 orders for the car that include $1,000 deposits.

Internet giant Google is testing self-driving cars, but Musk doesn't see Google getting into the car business. "Google is not a car company," he said. "They'll license the technology."

Apple, on the other hand, hasn't publicly announced its intentions to get into the car business, but has been hiring engineers, and Musk clearly expects Apple to join the fray.

Musk was asked if the new Model 3 will be a self-driving car. He demurred, saying he would have an event in the fall to reveal the answer. Asked for clarifications, he simply said, "We’re going to do the obvious thing."

Musk, who is also CEO of rocket maker Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, also talked about his passion of exploring Mars and space.

Missions to Mars will start in 2018, he said, and he predicted that trips for humans ("if things go according to plan") will begin in 2024 -- for arrival in 2025.

Musk, who has not flown into space, has said he wanted to die on Mars, but not on a landing. "If you had to choose a place to die, Mars is probably not a bad choice. Born on Earth, died on Mars."

Read Article (Graham &Swartz | usatoday.com | 06/01/2016)

To be sure, smartphones almost always get better with each new model introduction, and have beefier specs.  Still, it’s worth asking: is better, better enough? While nearly half the population contemplates “choice”, the other half contemplates simply learning to use the thing (Digital Literacy).

This miss-placed step of the Digital Era must be eventually addressed and sooner or later there will be finger-pointing as to just who dropped the ball.

Our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for addressing device usage, and we need your support.

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NASA’s New Space Shuttle an Inspirational Work of Art

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A recent, NASA-awarded cargo pact worth billions means smoother sailing for the development of Dream Chaser, a new space shuttle built by Sierra Nevada Corp (SNC), based in Louisville, CO.

The unique spacecraft has had a long and arduous journey from its Soviet-era beginnings to its thrust into today’s escalating private industry space race.

The Phase 2 commercial Resupply Services (CRS2) is contracted for at least six Dream Chaser missions to the International Space Station. The announcement comes roughly two years after SNC lost a bid to taxi astronauts to the station against competitors, Boeing and SpaceX.

But SNCs resolve did not wane and the company survived by transforming their vehicle to successfully compete for cargo missions to the ISS. This innovative spirit puts the future of SNC on an exciting trajectory.

Mark Sirangelo, Vice President of SNC, says the company has addressed the concerns NASA had voiced when it decided against awarding the previous contract to SNC. He also remarked that the government “gets a terrific vehicle to add to its fleet.”

The capabilities of the newly designed Dream Chaser Cargo System met the upper end of the technical requirements for a cargo mission. Including the ability to carry up to 5,550 kilograms, roughly the size of one well fed African bush elephant. This allows for more space inside pressurized chambers for critical science experiments and external space to carry large components to be installed on the body of the ISS.

The lifting body vehicle will be launched on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket and will have the ability to return – along with cargo – by landing at any available airport.  SNCs Dream Chaser is made of non-toxic materials meaning it can touch down on commercial runways and be accessed immediately.

The chance to showcase a reusable spacecraft on government funded missions bodes well for a potential pivot to commercial use. SNC is at the leading edge of private space companies that one day might cater to a more diverse base of consumers like universities, medical companies and individuals.

To learn more about Dream Chaser’s history and development, we spoke to John Roth, Vice President of Business Development for SNC’s Space Systems.

Can you give us a little history on how the Dream Chaser was inspired by a space shuttle built by the Soviet Union?

The history stems from the BOR-4, a subscale test version of a manned spaceplane that the Soviets experimented with (some orbital launches and sub-orbital launches) back in the 1980s. The way that it has a heritage to the Dream Chaser—it’s not a direct heritage, but the BOR-4 had been captured by some intelligence originally from an Australian surveillance aircraft that caught a Russian frigate pulling a BOR-4 out of the water after one of its flights.

They didn’t know what the BOR-4 was. It looked like some sort of space vehicle. They sent the information to the United States to see if the US had any intel on this vehicle and that made its way to NASA.

NASA didn’t have any intel on the vehicle but they thought it was a very interesting design and that prompted some of the early design work they did in lifting bodies that eventually led to the development of NASA’s own spaceplane concept, the HL-20. So the NASA HL-20, if you look at it, looks very looks very similar to the BOR-4. There’s sort of a direct link in that they have some intelligence on the BOR-4 and that led to the development of the HL-20 at NASA.

We took over the technical details, information and drawings etc. of the HL-20 from NASA and migrated that into the Dream Chaser.

Will SNC compete for the next round of commercial crew contracts that NASA is expected to award in 2020?

That is certainly on our radar scope, yes. That is something we are very interested in doing. We do need to try and find the best route in working on the crew version. First, it’s going to take some investment funding and that could be either internal, external, or a combination. The second thing is that we absolutely want to make sure we are successful on the cargo missions. So we’ve got to make sure the resources are directed towards making that cargo design and getting that vehicle built.

Whether we can actually go after that contract or not when it gets to that point, is going to be matter of whether we can get the right resources to get there.

When will the public see Dream Chaser fly for the first time?

Well that’s really up to NASA. NASA has not yet signed any of the task orders for specific missions. We have our first meetings in the next few weeks but they announced as part of the contract that the first cargo missions will begin in 2019. It doesn’t mean all three providers will be contracted to do cargo mission in 2019 so we still have to wait on NASA to see what our schedule will be for the first flight.

Read Article (Seemangal & Bosier | observer.com | 02/01/2016)

If you think what you see now is basically the extent of the Digital Era, you haven’t been paying attention. Just as some people actually think a phone can replace a computer, you’re not seeing the whole picture of computer evolution.

The Digital Era has only just begun and the mobile device we have today will evolve into a new generation of communications device, totally unlike its predecessor. It’s up to each individual to get a little Tech-savvy for their own wellbeing and that of their loved ones; Our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for addressing device usage, and we need your support.

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Digital Divide Snubs Parts of Rural America

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Flagstaff, Arizona: Low population density means phone and internet companies don’t upgrade services – but in the Navajo Nation vital infrastructure was never installed.

It’s been two years since Sonia’s husband’s fatal heart attack. Almost anywhere else in the United States, emergency services could have helped her. But in an isolated corner of the 27,000 square miles that constitute the Navajo Nation, she, her daughter and one of her granddaughters had to manage without technology most of the rest of America takes for granted.

The family were outside Tolani Lake, in part of the vast Navajo Nation’s land in north-east Arizona. “My husband had roped a bull that we were dealing with,” Sonia said. “He said he needed to catch his breath. I told him to sit down and he did.” He started to feel better, got back to work and then faltered again.

“We were taking him over to the truck,” Sonia recalls, “but he knelt down.” Sonia’s daughter called 911.

Across the vast majority of the United States – almost 99% of the country – 911 callers can be traced directly to their cellphone’s latitude and longitude, enough information to send help by air. But not here.

Sonia, who asked that the Guardian not use her full name or the names of her family, tried to describe their surroundings, but the dispatcher in Leupp, Arizona, 20 miles away, was unfamiliar with the area. And there was no information from their phones.

The dispatcher asked the family to come to the nearest road.

Three generations of Sonia’s family carried the older man between them across the patch of desert between the livestock and the truck. They put him in the back and drove. A fire truck met them at the top of a hill closer to the main road. Eventually an ambulance arrived and drove to Leupp across dry miles of unpaved road, where cars fishtail and spin out if they try to hurry.

In Leupp, the vital helicopter was waiting, but by then it was too late.

Sonia said she’s made her peace with it. “He probably didn’t want to live after that. He doesn’t want to be at home not doing anything,” she said, her voice breaking. “He likes to be out there and he’d have to put up with that. So it’s OK with me. Even if we’d got him going again, he wouldn’t have wanted to be there.”

‘After a while, people just stop calling’ In many rural communities in the US, the low population density means that phone and internet companies simply don’t upgrade their equipment often enough to keep pace with progress. In Navajo, much of the vital infrastructure was never installed to begin with.

The thin unshielded silver wires strung between the telephone poles that run alongside the highway connect places like To’hajilee, a reservation of about 4,000 people to the outside world. In large parts cellphone coverage is spotty – at best. There is no broadband. In February, a break in the community’s sole line meant that none of the ATMs or credit card scanners in town worked.

Navajo is the largest recipient of funds from the US Bureau of Indian Affairs – it’s the most populous tribe in the country – but the figures themselves can be insultingly low. A 2014 grant to Navajo’s state-owned internet provider, which aspires to serve the community of 300,000 across an area larger than West Virginia, totaled some $32m. AT&T of Tennessee received $156m in federal money to provide broadband access to 81,000 homes in rural Tennessee the following year.

Adam Geisler, 31, is not Navajo; but is on a mission to improve the ability of police officers, ambulance drivers, and the fire department to identify and respond to disasters. He works with FirstNet, an authority set up by the US Department of Commerce to spend $7bn in federal funds setting up a data network for first responders across the US.

FirstNet owns an incredibly valuable piece of unreal estate: a chunk of radio-wave spectrum big enough to make its owner the fourth-largest network in the country. It’s FirstNet’s job to pay someone to take it.

There is friction within Navajo, too. Benson Willie, of Tolani Lake, calls the area around Window Rock “the golden circle”. “All they have to do is put up their hands,” he groused to Phelps. Years before, Willie lost his mother to a car accident; his frantic 911 call was rerouted three times and it took an ambulance ninety minutes to reach him. He could have gone to Leupp, had a hamburger and come back in the time it took the medics, he said.

“His anger represents a whole group of anger out here. Which is good,” Phelps said later. “Energy is good.” The alternative is despair.

Read Article (Sam Thielman | theguardian.com | 05/16/2016)

There is no quick fix for extending Internet into many rural areas in America. But it must be accomplished somehow. I was under the impression the Internet by satellite would be the answer but that has yet to happen.

The Digital Era is all pervasive; effecting Cultural, National & International laws as well as the General Public, Governments, Government Officials and even Law Enforcement.  It’s up to each individual to get a little Tech-savvy for their own wellbeing and that of their loved ones.

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