If you’re interested in Artificial Intelligence, several of the news items that follow should catch your attention.
In case your interests are more general, feel free to skip down to the items later in this newsletter.
1.) The Rule of the Robots – Sat 16th Oct (tomorrow)
I’ve just finished listening to the audio version of Rule of the Robots: Why Artificial Intelligence will Transform Everything by Martin Ford.
In a crowded field of large numbers of books published on AI, Rule of the Robots is currently probably the best single survey of the state of this technology, how it is evolving, and the implications arising.
Martin is very well informed, and clearly understands what he is writing about. He highlights the real opportunities and, yes, the real risks, that exist beyond the hype that often distorts an understanding of AI. The assessments he provides are admirably clear and balanced. In almost all cases, I found myself being convinced by his arguments.
I particularly valued his analysis of UBI and of China.
Tomorrow, in the London Futurists webinar starting at 4pm UK time, you’ll have a chance to listen to Martin’s latest thoughts about AI, and to raise questions in Zoom’s Q&A window.
Note: Most London Futurists nowadays transition after 90 minutes into a more informal Zoom-hosted general discussion, lasting another 40-60 minutes. But that won’t happen tomorrow. To understand why, read on.
2.) AGI-21 15th-18th Oct
AGI conferences have been held since 2006. The latest in the series has just got started. It’s happening over four days:
- Today (Friday) it’s mainly short technical papers
- Tomorrow (Saturday) is aimed at a general audience
- Sunday and Monday are more technical again, with a series of keynotes from luminaries in the field.
If you’re unsure about the term “AGI”, this is from the conference website:
“Artificial General Intelligence”
To understand the meaning and importance of the AGI conference series, recall that the original goal of the AI field, when it was founded in the middle of the previous century, was the construction of “thinking machines” – computer systems with human-like general intelligence. Due to the difficulty of this task, for the last few decades the majority of AI researchers have focused on what has been called “narrow AI” – the production of AI systems displaying intelligence regarding specific, highly constrained tasks.
In recent years, however, more and more researchers have recognized the necessity – and feasibility – of returning to the original goals of the field by treating intelligence as a whole. Increasingly, there is a call for a transition back to confronting the more difficult issues of “human-level intelligence” and more broadly artificial general intelligence. AGI research differs from the ordinary AI research by stressing on the versatility and wholeness of intelligence, and by carrying out the engineering practice according to an outline of a system comparable to the human mind in a certain sense.
The AGI conference series has played, and continues to play, a significant role in this resurgence of research on artificial intelligence in the deeper, original sense of the term of “artificial intelligence”. The conferences encourage interdisciplinary research based on different understandings of intelligence, and exploring different approaches. As the AI field becomes increasingly commercialized and well accepted, maintaining and emphasizing a coherent focus on the AGI goals at the heart of the field remains more critical than ever.
The talks on Saturday start at 10am PDT, that is, 6pm UK time. (That’s why I’ll be shutting down tomorrow’s London Futurists webinar well ahead of 6pm, so that attendees – and me – can transition to watching the AGI-21 stream.)
Here’s the schedule for Saturday (all times in PDT):
- 10:00-10:30: Ben Goertzel: “The Unfolding AGI Revolution”
- 10:30-11:30: Randal Koene: “AGI, Brain-Computer Interfacing and Whole-Brain Emulation”
- 11:30-11:45: Break
- 11:45 -12:15: James Boyd: “The Singularity Index”
- 12:15-1:15: Lunch Break
- 1:15-2:15: Joscha Bach: “Cognitive Science and the Path to AGI”
- 2:15-3:15: Panel on Approaches to AGI
(Randal Koene, Matt Ikle, Ben Goertzel, Josef Urban, Joscha Bach)
- 3:15-3:30: Break
- 3:30-4:00: Julia Mossbridge: “Building What we Struggle to Be: Loving and Emotionally-Aware AI”
- 4:00-5:00: Ben Goertzel, Introducing Grace — An Intelligent Humanoid Robot for Eldercare and Nursing Support
- 5:00-6:00: Panel on Transparency, Decentralization and AGI Ethics
(Ben Goertzel, Randal Koene, James Boyd, Janet Adams, Nichol Bradford, Julia Mossbridge, Amara Angelica)
The schedule for Sunday and Monday contains many outstanding speakers too.
It’s free to watch the live stream from AGI-21. But you’ll need to register your interest via the link at the top of this registration page.
These sessions will be continuing until the small hours of the morning, UK time, but I anticipate it will be well worth staying up late to catch them!
3.) WAIs and SAIs: Machinehood
A different way of thinking about the future of AI is to make a distinction between WAIs (weak AIs) and SAIs (sentient AIs).
That’s a major theme in the science fiction novel Machinehood to which I listened a few days ago.
The book is set toward the end of the 21st century, and looks back at various developments in preceding decades. The underlying question is what might happen when WAIs (pronounced, in the book, as “whys”) are joined by SAIs (“sighs”).
There’s plenty of action but also plenty of nuance. I found the book to be a creative, provocative imagining of the interactions in the decades ahead of breakthroughs in nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognotech – with major repercussions for society and philosophy as a result.
There are some rocket ships and space satellites too. And neo-Buddhism.
If you think big corporations can do no wrong, this may not be the book for you. Stay away, likewise, if you prefer the main characters of a narrative to be male. Instead, in this book, at least four of the leading characters are female – and several others are non-binary.
The author of Machinehood, S.B. Divya, will be in the same “fireside chat” as me on Thursday, 21st October (see next news item). In my preparation for that discussion, I thought I should at least dip into Machinehood, to sample some of its flavour. I started at the beginning and was soon drawn deeply in. 36 hours later, I had listened to the entire audiobook, and was glad to have spent my time on it.
You can read S.B. Divya’s biography here. The final line (to which I say “amen!”) is as follows:
I am currently mortal and full of squishy organs, but I hope to outlive that.
4.) How will we use AI in 20 years? – Thu 21st Oct
MKAI – with its roots in Milton Keynes (MK) but now at the heart of a thriving worldwide community – has the mission “To Integrate Sustainable Human Values into Artificial Intelligence”.
I’ve already had the pleasure to participate in a number of MKAI events and am looking forward to taking part in their event on Thursday, 21st October. Here’s how their website describes it:
This Inclusive MKAI Artificial Intelligence (AI) Forum will discuss the question ‘How will we use Artificial Intelligence in 20 years?’.
We seek to hear from leading global figures about:
1. How will the current AI technologies develop and be scaled by 2041
2. What new AI technologies are on the horizon in this period that will influence our lives, work and communities
3. What AI technologies could blindsight us in this period, and what can we do to prepare for these
Participants will include:
- S.B. Divya, Science Fiction Author
- David Wood, Transhumanist and Author
- Helen Gould, Technology Strategist
- Danilo McGarry, International Keynote Speaker and Head of Automation at Ai
- Andy Riemer, Social Impact Consultant and Associate at SidePorch
5.) The Rise of the Machines – Thu 21st Oct
Thursday 21st October will be a busy day…
Just ahead of the MKAI event mentioned above, a BIG Innovation Centre event will be taking place, from 3.30pm to 5pm, with the title “The Rise of the Machines & The Fusion With Human Bodies”.
Confirmed participants include:
- Dr Ben Goertzel, CEO and founder of SingularityNET. (Known for SingularityNET and as Chief Scientist of Hanson Robotics, the company that created Sophia the Robot) – Hong Kong & USA
- Mr Tom Gruber, American computer scientist, inventor, and entrepreneur with a focus on systems for knowledge sharing and collective intelligence. (Inventor of Siri algorithm for mobile phones, sold to Apple, and algorithm composer for music that writes itself). – USA
- Lord Tim Clement-Jones, Co-chair of APPG AI. (AI ethics and policy leader) – UK
- Dr. Natasha Vita-More, an all-round expert in the field of biohacking, AI, transhumanism and so on. She is the CEO of the transhumanist organization, Humanity Plus.
- Mr James Young, BBC presenter, filmmaker, BBC. (Double amputee, Scientist, Gamer, Technologist. Presenter at BBC programmes as Metal Gear Man and Can Robots Love Us.)
The discussion will be chaired by Professor Birgitte Andersen, CEO Big Innovation Centre.
Questions that are planned to be discussed include:
- A robot is a machine so why do we need to humanise it?
- Is it ok to produce robots that are more clever, more beautiful, and more functional than normal people?
- Do artificial limbs for people with disabilities need to look human or should we aim to ‘upgrade’?
- Are there any ethical considerations we need to address when robots are applied as servants (home, work, education or for pleasure)
- If technological assistance to end life is morally acceptable in some countries, is extending life ‘forever’ also morally acceptable?
- What are the ethical considerations and technology governance that companies and society need to think of, in the context of the rise of machines and the fusion with human bodies?
6.) Navigating the Next Horizon – Sat 30th Oct
The recent new FastFuture book Aftershocks and Opportunities 2: Navigating the Next Horizon brings together 37 writers from 17 countries on 5 continents to explore the forces, developments, emerging ideas, issues, risks, and opportunities that could shape our post-pandemic world.
This book explores key “future defining” themes, critical shifts on the horizon, and diverse scenarios. The topics covered range from geo-political scenarios, the rise and impact of the crypto economy, the reinvention of travel, and the impact of digital eco-systems, through to sustainable food production, generational reactions to the pandemic, and the recovery path for the most hard-hit regions.
In the London Futurists session on Saturday 30th October, several of the book contributors will share key insights from their chapters and discuss the broader themes explored in the book:
- Doaa Alghalban (UAE) – A World Transformed: Political and Socio-Economic Impacts of the Pandemic: How might the economic and political fallout from the pandemic impact international relations and society over the next five years?
- José Cordeiro (Spain) – Crisis (危機) = Danger (危) + Opportunity (機): A New Renaissance: Is the pandemic a source of global danger that also uncovers a great opportunity in the evolution of this planetary crisis?
- Claire A. Nelson (USA) – Reimagining the World Order to Regenerate African, Caribbean, and Pacific Economies: How can nations in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific recover and regenerate their economies?
- Alejandro Repetto (Argentina) – The Day After the Lockdown: Which of the changes that we are experiencing today could define the future?
- Marian Salzman (Switzerland) – Life Next: How Our World Could Change Post-Pandemic: How might this crisis impact businesses, lifestyles, and mindsets?
- Rohit Talwar (UK) – 20 Shifts on the Path to 2030: What are some of the emerging future factors that could turn into influential shifts shaping the next decade and beyond?
Note: there is a 25% discount for members of London Futurists on this book and all the others in the Fast Future bookstore. Use coupon code LF25 at checkout.
7.) Communicating “Vital Foresight”
I’ll finish with a short promotional video kindly created by Roxanne Brousseau-Félio for my book Vital Foresight. Roxanne tells me she was inspired to create it by watching the presentations at TransVision 2021 a few days ago.
The banner text that appears in this video are examples of the section headings that appear in the Table of Contents of Vital Foresight. The music is Predicting Minds by Paul Werner.
The video is quite unlike anything I could have produced by myself. It’s another example of the benefits of cooperation!
// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists