Something is growing exponentially into something that is of great significance.


Recently I have noticed a great deal of news on some of the world’s biggest names in technology have open sourced their artificial intelligence (AI) systems. It’s been happening over a span of just a few months in this bizarre domino effect. I get this sense that something is growing exponentially into something that is of great significance. So I want to know what that something is, why is this happening and what does it mean. I’m writing about it in the hope of getting a true understanding.


A Brief Timeline — The Domino Effect

The titans of Silicon Valley in over the past few months have made some of the most sophisticated AI programs available to anyone. Here is a brief timeline of which major companies have recently open sourced their AI technologies:

  • June last year Amazon open sourced ‘Alexa’ it’s voice command response system inhabiting the company’s Echo device.1
  • November last year Google open sourced the software library for ‘TensorFlow’ which is the perceptual and language program, it’s seen as the heart of its image search technology. 
  • A month later in December last year Facebook released the designs of the GPUs for its AI algorithm system Big Sur. Big Sur is the custom hardware designs that run Facebook’s M personal assistant.
  • A day after Facebook open sourced its AI hardware, OpenAI was launched. OpenAI is a non-profit AI research company that is backed by Elon Musk and Sam Altman. The company is dedicated to “advancing digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole…as broadly and evenly distributed as possible.” It’s vowing to share everything it builds.
  • By the end of the second week of the new year, Chinese Web company Baidu released its key AI software WARP-CTC on GitHub. WARP-CTC was created to improve speech recognition in Baidu’s end-to-end speech recognition program Deep Speech 2.
  • Only weeks apart towards the end of January, Microsoft followed suit and released it’s AI toolkit CNTK (Computational Network Toolkit) on GitHub. Like Baidu, this software also focuses on deep learning and speech recognition.
  • Last month in July, Microsoft released AI system Project Malmo which is the system used to test out AI algorithms using the Minecraft world.
  • Only a couple of days ago, OpenAI released its first toolkit called ‘GYM’. The toolkit is aimed at helping solving the most difficult problem in machine learning path which is unsupervised learning. ‘OpenAI Gym is used for comparing reinforcement learning algorithms and it allows researchers to test their algorithms by having them play games, control a robot simulation, or complete tasks.’6


Reasons for Open Sourcing

It seems unusual that companies would reveal the methods of their core businesses. Why release trade secrets, wouldn’t that undermine these companies’ competitive edges? Well sharing in a sense is a way of competing. By openly sharing software and hardware designs, this can accelerate the progress of AI which ultimately advances these companies own interests. Within the tech industry there is this common view that technology companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are not in the businesses one might assume. Google and Facebook are not really in the business of selling ads and Amazon is not in the business of selling merchandise. They are actually powered by your data, their currency is users. In order to draw and keep users to its products they need to quickly innovate and produce better and more products. These companies open source their AI software because they wish to be the foundations on which other people innovate. AI is central because by design, it learns, adapts and even makes decisions. AI is more than a product, it’s a product generator.’1 In the future, AI will be used to identify and capitalise on new opportunities by innovating new products. Open sourcing AI allows these companies to stay on the cutting edge of technology and helps pave their way to their future.

There is irony in that, for companies to have competitive advantage they need to give away their trade secrets to their competitors and to the community. Open sourcing to a large community of researchers can help accelerate and foster new breakthroughs in AI. “There is a network effect. The platform becomes better as more people use it,” says Yann LeCun, a founding father of deep learning, who now oversees AI work at Facebook. “The more people that rally to a particular platform or standard, the better it becomes — the more people contribute. It’s how they share their thoughts and ideas. In the closed source world, developers don’t have a lot of room to move.”7 Open sourcing also is a way of recruiting serious engineering talent and retaining talent. In the field of deep learning in particular, the community of researchers who excel at deep learning is relatively small. “It is certainly a competitive advantage when it comes to hiring researchers,” says Sam Altman (president of Y Combinator).2 Another reason for open sourcing is it can help reduce the cost of machines. Software and knowledge about algorithms are non-rival goods. Making them freely available would enable more people to use them, at a low marginal cost.8 The more companies start using the designs, manufacturers can build the machines at a lower cost.

Accelerating the evolution of AI has large positive outcomes as well as negative outcomes. There is this belief the more people that look at the code, the more likely bugs and potential negative outcomes can be worked out. Open sourcing of code allows many people to think through the consequences both individually and together. This is the foundation of OpenAI, the non-profit AI research company associated with Elon Musk. Most people have seen or read about Elon Musk and other tech giants concerns over AI and how it could be our biggest existential threat.9

There really isn’t any surprise for Musk’s motive for forming OpenAI. Musk and other top leaders of Silicon Valley such as Peter Thiel and Y Combinator founded the organisation on the premise that any advances in AI should benefit humanity as a whole, “build value for everyone, not just for shareholders”, and be completely transparent to the world. Co-chair Sam Altman reveals, "We think the best way AI can develop is if it’s about individual empowerment and making humans better, and made freely available to everyone, not a single entity that is a million times more powerful than any human. Because we are not a for-profit company, like a Google, we can focus not on trying to enrich our shareholders, but what we believe is the actual best thing for the future of humanity."10

It seems like a win win situation, OpenAI is enormously beneficial for the wider community and it’s also beneficial for Musk and Altman. Musk runs Telsa which are building self-driving cars, which can benefit from deep learning technology in enormous ways. Musk can also create a far more powerful pool of data that can help feed the work. ‘Altman says that Y Combinator companies will share their data with OpenAI, and that’s no small thing. Pair their data with Tesla’s, and you start to rival Google — at least in some ways.’2 There maybe altruistic and selfish motives here but it doesn’t diminish the value of OpenAI.


Image source: backchannel.com

Criticism Against

The ideology of OpenAI is based on the premise that if everyone has access to the capabilities of intelligent machines for their own purposes then no one has the unnecessary advantage over others. There is some criticism against this. Steven Levy a technology journalist brings up an excellent question in an interview with both co-chairs Musk and Altman on Backchannel. Levy asked whether their plan to freely share this technology would actually empower bad actors by giving state of the art AI to the Dr. Evils of this world. “If I’m Dr. Evil and I use it, won’t you be empowering me?”10 Musk and Altman responded by stating that they felt the power of many will outweigh the power of a few. “Just like humans protect against Dr. Evil by the fact that most humans are good, and the collective force of humanity can contain the bad elements,” said Altman, “we think its far more likely that many, many AIs, will work to stop the occasional bad actors.”11 Although, not everyone in the field agrees with this. Nick Bostrom an Oxford philosopher points out that if you share research without restriction, bad actors could grab it before anyone has ensured that it’s safe. Bostrom says “If you have a button that could do bad things to the world, you don’t want to give it to everyone.”12

Another criticism to open sourcing is that faster development and deployment of AI, running at breakneck speeds to win the AI race would make people less inclined to put safety precautions in place. This view is shared by both Bostrom and Miles Brundage an AI Policy Research Fellow at Oxford.Their criticism seems valid and may hold some weight especially in a culture that embraces this ‘fail fast’ mentality.

There is also another criticism that this rapid development of AI will lead to the birth of ‘a super-intelligence that recursively improves itself, that will eventually reach an escape velocity and become orders of magnitude smarter than any human.’Bostrom in his book ‘Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies’ argues that if machine brains surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new super intelligence could replace humans as the dominant lifeform on Earth.13 Open sourcing AI will lead to the shortening of the path to this super-intelligence.

Image source: chuckmanrobots.blogspot.com.au
Although digital visionary Kevin Kelly argues that this view that intelligence is single dimensional of IQ is fundamentally wrong and describes that our own intelligence is a symphony of cognitive notes and instruments.14 We have different kinds of intelligence like deductive, spatial reasoning and emotional intelligence. There are hundreds of different varieties of types of notes that make up our intelligence. AI is going to be very similar in that there will be combinations of different intelligence. We cannot put AIs on a linear map because it’s going to be multi-dimensional. “It’s not going to be this intelligence explosion of AIs bootstrapping themselves into higher orders.”14

Kelly describes the origins of technology as relating to Darwin’s theory of evolution and the big bang. He defines evolution as more than a philosophy it’s a theory where there is a cosmic force. This cosmic force does not have a single direction, it has this outward radiation of many different dimensions. The directions of evolution and technology are not converging to a specific omega point, they are radiating outward in many directions.14 Echoes of Darwin’s beautiful and elegant theory of evolution still continues to reverberate everywhere.

“The Darwinian revolution is unfinished, like relativity, the theory of evolution should be considered a ‘special theory, applicable only in the limited sphere of biological change. It needs to be extended to a ‘general theory’, which also applies to the human world” expressed by science writer Matt Ridley in his book ‘The Evolution of Everything.’15

Image source: evolutionposters.com


Thoughts and the Profoundness

Here are my personal thoughts that I have arrived at in this point in time, I’m sure these thoughts will change and evolve as I continue on this journey for more knowledge. I believe that the Googles and the Facebooks are already rapidly pushing AI, it seems as though that it is inevitable that AI is going to continuously advance whether we like it or not. Technological development of AI will continue to advance however, I believe that leaving the advancement of AI to the major players may result in outcomes that may not be as humanistic. Although Google has it’s ‘no evil mantra’ and Mark Zuckerburg is not focusing on earnings, I believe having a non-profit organisation like OpenAI to act as a counterbalance and keep the big tech companies in check is overall beneficial. If there’s this constant prominence on safety and AI being nudged in the direction with the greater good for humanity in mind, then hopefully this will steer AI development in a good direction. By embracing and engaging in AI technology we can steer it, we can have much more of a chance of optimising the benefits and minimising the harm. Prohibition of the sharing of AI technology is not the answer. Open sourcing endorses democratisation and transparency. I believe that the democratisation and transparency of AI technology and information in general is very powerful and significant. It encourages more efficient and informed decision making, it also fights against corruption and levels out the playing field. More importantly, it drives honesty, cultivates accountability and instills trust.

This democratised access to AI technology and resources in today’s sharing and creation economy is very profound as it is the foundation of this oncoming technological innovation explosion that is unfolding. Kelly describes “Cognification and Artificial Intelligence is by far the most profound and altering thing. I suspect it’s going to produce change on the level of the industrial revolution and go beyond touching every aspect of our lives.”14 Many other visionaries share this idea that this technological revolution has very profound impacts. Economist and political advisor Jeremy Rifkin describes it greatly in his books ‘The Empathic Civilization’16 and ‘The Third Industrial Revolution’.17 Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson both academics at the MIT Center for Digital Business also liken this incredible boom in technologies to that of The Industrial Revolution. “The Industrial Revolution ushered in humanity’s first machine age — the first time our progress was driven primarily by technological innovation — and it was the most profound time of transformation our world has even seen”. They describe that we are now entering another technological revolution, ‘the second machine age,’18 Albert Wenger venture capitalist and partner at Union Square Ventures also mentions in his interview on the Singularity podcast that “A change is a foot that is deeply profound as when we went from bringing agrarians to the industrial society. Everything will change, it will have to change.”19 History tells us that technological innovation has lead to great progress to humanity and I believe it is accelerating human evolution. I like Albert Wenger’s world view that ‘knowledge is the foundational human project’.19 My view is I think the exploration and discovery of new realms of meaning is what progresses human evolution and ‘knowledge’ is key to that. If we want to keep progressing and evolving we need to embrace exploration and discovery in new technologies.

With going forward to embracing and engaging in this technological revolution there needs to be this balance between optimism and realism. There seems to be this resurgence of this kind of unbridled optimism about the possibilities of the future and how we are creating a world of increasing abundance. Engineer and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis constantly conveys this techno-inspired optimist view that we are in this radical new era of increasing abundance in his podcasts and book ‘Abundance’.22 Matt Ridley in his book ‘Rational Optimist’ debunks apocalyptic thinking 20, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker asserts that violence has been decreasing through history in his book ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature.’21 Although I have this feeling that excessive optimism can sometimes be a negative and can lead to complacency. It can cause us to look at the world through rose tinted glasses consequently blinding us from potential harms and leads us to being unprepared to threats. Although I also see the other side of the coin where too much pessimism can be damaging, it can lead to the feeling of powerlessness and then to inaction. Noam Chomsky, the founder of modern linguistics, one of the founders of the field of cognitive science, states:

“We have two choices. We can be pessimistic, give up and help ensure that the worst will happen. Or we can be optimistic, grasp the opportunities that surely exist and maybe help make the world a better place. Not much of a choice.”23 

I want to be optimistic about the future but instill realism into that optimism, be mindful of the true problems that lie ahead and recognise the duality that this technological revolution will create. Technological progress makes the world better but it also brings new challenges which we should acknowledge and hold with the highest regard.




Bibliography

1) Shafto, Patrick. “Why Big Tech Companies Are Open-sourcing Their AI Systems.” The Conversation. N.p., 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. http://theconversation.com/why-big-tech-companies-are-open-sourcing-their-ai-systems-54437/.

2) “Can Open AI Project Protect Humanity from Future’s Skynets?” Daily Star Albany. California Turkish Times Daily News & Headlines, n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. http://www.albanydailystar.com/science/can-open-ai-project-protect-humanity-from-futures-skynets-mesquite-daily-news-14116.html/

3) Novet, Jordan. “Baidu Open-sources Its WARP-CTC Artificial Intelligence software.” VentureBeat. N.p., 14 Jan. 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. http://venturebeat.com/2016/01/14/baidu-open-sources-its-warp-ctc-artificial-intelligence-software/

4) Furness, Dyllan. “Top Tech Companies Open Source Their AI “Secrets”.”TechEmergence. N.p., 02 Feb. 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. http://techemergence.com/top-tech-companies-open-source-their-ai-secrets/

5) Osborne, Charlie. “Microsoft’s Project Malmo AI Platform Goes Open Source | ZDNet.” ZDNet. N.p., 8 July 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. http://www.zdnet.com/article/microsofts-project-malmo-goes-open-source

6) Muoio, Danielle. “We Just Got Our First Glimpse of What Elon Musk’s AI Company Is Working on.” Tech Insider. Business Insider, 27 Apr. 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. http://www.techinsider.io/elon-musks-openai-released-its-first-toolkit-2016-4

7) Metz, Cade. “Facebook Open Sources Its AI Hardware as It Races Google.”Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 12 Oct. 2015. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. http://www.wired.com/2015/12/facebook-open-source-ai-big-sur/

8) Bostrom, Nick. “Strategic Implications of Openness in AI Development.” (2016): 155–73. Nick Bostrom. 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. http://www.nickbostrom.com/papers/openness.pdf

9) Muoio, Danielle. “Here’s What Elon Musk’s Secretive AI Company Is Working on.” Tech Insider. Business Insider, 12 Apr. 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. http://www.techinsider.io/what-elon-musks-openai-is-working-on-2016-4

10) Levy, Steven. 2015. “How Elon Musk and Y Combinator Plan to Stop Computers From Taking Over.” Backchannel (blog), December 11. Available at: https://backchannel.com/how-elon-musk-and-y-combinator-plan-to-stop-computers-from-taking -over-17e0e27dd02a

11) Metz, Cade. “Elon Musk’s Billion-Dollar AI Plan Is About Far More Than Saving the World.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. http://www.wired.com/2015/12/elon-musks-billion-dollar-ai-plan-is-about-far-more-than-saving-the-world/

12) Metz, Cade. “Inside OpenAI, Elon Musk’s Wild Plan to Set Artificial Intelligence Free.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 27 Apr. 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. http://www.wired.com/2016/04/openai-elon-musk-sam-altman-plan-to-set-artificial-intelligence-free/

13) Bostrom, Nick. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. UK: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.

14) Kevin Kelly on The Inevitable: 12 Forces That Will Shape Our Future. Dir. Nikola Danaylov. Perf. Kevin Kelly and Nikola Danaylov. Singularity Weblog. Nikola Danaylov, 25 July 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. https://www.singularityweblog.com/kevin-kelly-on-the-inevitable-12-technological-forces-that-will-shape-our-future/

15) Ridley, Matt. The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge. N.p.: HarperCollins, 2015. Print.

16) Rifkin, Jeremy. The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis. New York: J.P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2009. Print.

17) Rifkin, Jeremy. The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.

18) Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Andrew McAfee. The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. New York: W. W. Norton, 2014. Print.

19) VC Albert Wenger on Basic Income and World After Capital. Dir. Nikola Danaylov. Perf. Albert Wenger and Nikola Danaylov. Singularity Weblog. Nikola Danaylov, 17 June 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. https://www.singularityweblog.com/albert-wenger-world-after-capital/

20) Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010. Print.

21) Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Viking, 2011. Print.

22) Diamandis, Peter. “Peter Diamandis.” Peter Diamandis. N.p., 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. http://www.diamandis.com/

23) Stafforini, Pablo. “Why I Choose Optimism Over Despair.” Chomsky.info. Roam Agency, 14 Feb. 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. https://chomsky.info/why-i-choose-optimism-over-despair/

24) Wallpaper Zone. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2016. http://wallpaper.zone/img/4042141.jpg
Image source: Blastr article

Lately I’ve been noticing a fair bit of commotion about Artificial Intelligence (AI), in particular the fears towards AI and the possibility of it being the greatest existential threat to humanity. These fears have not been made by some crackpot doomsday sayers but by very prominent intellectual figures, figures such as a notable theoretical physicist, cosmologist, a space-age entrepreneur and a founder of the personal computer industry. It’s hard not to be concerned when prominent, technologically savvy people like Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates are alarmed.

A fair amount of people working in the field of AI believe that human-level artificial intelligence, or sometimes known as singularity is only two to three decades away.1 It is also common thought that according to Moore’s law singularity may be reached sooner than expected. Some predict that what we are going to see is AI systems starting to self-replicate and update their own systems. It will eventually reach to this true deep artificial intelligent system that can learn on its own and have autonomous feelings and will have awareness of itself, liken to human consciousness.2 Much of the commotion has been caused by the field of ‘deep learning’ or ‘machine learning’ in which computers teach themselves tasks by crunching large sets of data and has given rise to extreme concerns.3

Current Concerns

Some of the concerns include the danger that artificial intelligence could overtake humans. Hawking explained this in an interview with the BBC.4

“The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have, have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Once humans develop artificial intelligence it would take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”


Musk also shares similar concerns and has said

“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.”5


Musk recently pledged $10 million to the Future of Life Institute, to fund research grants investigating potentially negative implications. Both Musk and Hawking, as well as, other groups of scientists and entrepreneurs have signed an open letter promising to ensure AI research benefits humanity. The letter warns that without safeguards on intelligent machines, mankind could be heading for a dark future. The document, drafted by the Future of Life Institute, said scientists should seek to head off risks that could wipe out mankind.6

Gates has revealed that he doesn’t believe AI will bring trouble in the near future however, there is reason to have concern.

“I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence,” Gates wrote. “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”5

Thoughts

I always thought that if AI or even humans were to reach that super intelligence level, I’d hope that this intelligence wouldn’t be reduced to animalistic, primitive actions of ridding those that we saw as inferior to us in order for survival.  If this action was deemed as a form of intelligence which I believe is the opposite, then humans would have already wiped out all other species in this world. However, we know that the existence of other organisms whether we believe them to have a lower mental capacity to ours, serves to benefit us. We know that when there’s disruption with a certain species it in turn disrupts our complex ecosystem, consequently affecting our existence. Also, we know that there’s more loss than gain when we venture into wars. There are major losses in both human and technological resources and it leaves a scar in the human psyche that breeds distrust, paranoia and hinders growth and progress.  

I agree with author Edith Cobb’s notion that ‘there is a force inherent in the human biology itself that is even more powerful than the classic Darwinian idea of self-reproduction. She writes that,

the need to extend the self in time and space – the need to create in order to live, to breathe, and to be – precedes, indeed, of necessity exceeds, the need for self-reproduction as a personal survival function.’7

 If AI were to kill off our species and then migrate to another planet or universe acting as a parasite and terminating every other organism they encounter, this would be a fruitless endeavor that would eventually lead to their demise as other organisms would retaliate. A far more superior, intelligent notion would be to endorse cooperation as it forms cohesion. As found in ‘Tit for Tat’ a strategy in game theory for the iterated prisoner’s dilemma, cooperation is found to be the most evolutionary stable strategy.8 I would hope that any form of super intelligence would have reached to that conclusion. Wouldn’t exploration into the mystery of existence and the discovery of new realms of meaning is a far nobler pursuit than to just merely consume and exist?

Image source: trendistic.com
Progress can only be achieved through cooperation biologically and artificially. AI will always need humans and they only exist through human experiences and memories. Current AI are built on systems that collects oceans of data collected from human experiences. That data has a rapid search procedure that has algorithms to analyse and discover particular things about that data. An example of this is Deep Blue known as the first piece of AI. Deep Blue is a chess playing computer developed by IBM and was the first AI to win both a chess game and a chess match against a reigning world champion under regular time controls. Deep Blue succeeded in this as its database contained 50 grand masters planning strategies, 700,000 grandmaster games and it had the capability of evaluating 200 million positions per second which is obviously faster than what an average human can process. However, Deep Blue could only achieve this through the existence of those grand masters planning strategies which is only possible through human experience.9

Another example is Jeopardy winning Watson which is an AI computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language. Watson is ‘about Big Data. It is about ingesting vast amounts of information on specific subjects – and allowing a user to query the data to look for patterns, assist in a diagnosis.’ Watson is currently being tested to aid doctors to more quickly and accurately make diagnoses and its library is made up of 23 million medical papers in the National Library of Medicine.10 However, Watson’s diagnoses are only achievable by the past achievements of medical practitioners which makes up this library.

IBM Watson Image: Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence
Deep Blue and Watson are examples of systems that simply accumulate the understanding that has been achieved by humans and using brute force to run through rapidly and comprehensively to discover particular things about this data. There is debate that machines are close to reaching human intelligence and human consciousness. They would eventually have the ability to have human experiences. However, I do have doubts as ‘today’s AI produces the semblance of intelligence through brute number-crunching force, without any great interest in approximating how minds equip humans with autonomy, interests and desires. Computers do not yet have anything approaching the wide, fluid ability to infer, judge and decide that is associated with intelligence in the conventional human sense.’11 Capturing the nature of human intelligence is a colossal problem. It’s not enough to create a neural network, to simulate the brain and hope that some sort of intelligent behavior might emerge. As Gary Marcus nicely depicts,

“Biology isn’t elegant the way physics appears to be. The living world is bursting with variety and unpredictable complexity, because biology is the product of historical accidents, with species solving problems based on happenstance that leads them down one evolutionary road rather than another.”12

Human behavior and intelligence and how it is derived are very complex and is formed from both the evolutionary unpredictability of nature as well as nurture. It’s just difficult to believe that systems that use brute force to crunch large data sets is likened to embodying this biological complexity.

I agree with Noam Chomsky in his talk on the Singularity pod cast that there are far more pressing problems in the world than the coming of Singularity. Chomsky states “Ray’s (Ray Kruzweil) technological singularity is science fiction. I don’t see any particular reason to believe it. We should be more worried about the end of our species. We are very busy dedicating ourselves to destroying the possibility of decent survival. I think we should be worried about that.”13 Chomsky claims we should be more worried about the climate destruction we are carrying out. Musk also stresses this too ‘our oil based, carbon intensive economy as creating a “crazy chemical experiment on the atmosphere” with likely catastrophic consequences.14 "If we don't find a solution to burning oil for transport, when we then run out of oil, the economy will collapse and society will come to an end."15 As we become more technologically intensive there will be an increased need for energy. Our current sources of energy are unsustainable and so there should be more focus on finding and using renewable sources of energy. 

Another pressing issue is the current economic climate is generating a dystopia of socially unsustainable inequality. Before we reach that stage of true deep artificial intelligent systems there will come a point to where we can automate jobs that are highly cognitive and non-routine. As Martin Ford declares in his book ‘Rise of the Robots’ that white-collar jobs are at risk and argues that a bleak jobless future awaits if we don’t take action. Cognitive computing and genetic programming will soon do to even the most dynamic white collar workers what robots are doing to men and women on the assembly line. And it gets worse, according to Ford. "Indeed, because knowledge-based jobs can be automated using only software, these positions may, in many cases, prove to be more vulnerable than lower-skill jobs that involve physical manipulation."16 This automation will displace significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers and will lead to income inequality and a breakdown in social order. Nobody will be immune to this labour reality and hence there should be initiatives to prepare and tackle this. There has been suggestion of adopting a guaranteed basic income where everybody in society has a right of a universal basic income. 

While I hold a similar skeptical view to Chomsky about singularity and a much more optimistic view of AI compared to the techno elites I do believe that there should be safeguard measures taken.  As Anthony Wing Kosner rightly states, we should be more “concerned about the motivations of rogue humans who may misuse these technologies than about the rogue capabilities of the products of these technologies themselves.”17 The creation of AI can take on a life on its own and can do great harm if not set up in a just manner.

Bibliography
1.
Atkins, David. "If Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking Are Worried, Shouldn’t You Be?" The Washington Monthly. The Washington Monthly, 8 Feb. 2015. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2015_02/if_bill_gates_elon_musk_and_st054073.php>.

2.
Casey, Michael. "Maybe Artificial Intelligence Won't Destroy Us after All." CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 14 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/maybe-artificial-intelligence-wont-destroy-us/>.

3.
"Rise of the Machines." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 9 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21650526-artificial-intelligence-scares-peopleexcessively-so-rise-machines?fsrc=rss>.

4.
Cellan-Jones, Rory. "Stephen Hawking Warns Artificial Intelligence Could End Mankind - BBC News." BBC News. BBC News, 2 Dec. 2014. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30290540>.

5.                                                                                                   
Kohli, Sonali. "Bill Gates Joins Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking in Saying Artificial Intelligence Is Scary." Quartz. Quartz, 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://qz.com/335768/bill-gates-joins-elon-musk-and-stephen-hawking-in-saying-artificial-intelligence-is-scary/>.

6.
Zolfagharifard, Ellie. "Newscron." Newscron. Daily Mail, 13 Jan. 2015. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://app.newscron.com/render/3110399/363301627#.VVh2LvmqpBc>.

7.
Rifkin, Jeremy. The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis. New York: J.P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2009. Print.

8.                                                                                                   
Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene 30th Anniversary Edition. Oxford: Oxford UP, UK, 2006. Print.

9.
"Deep Blue (chess Computer)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Mar. 2015. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Blue_(chess_computer)>.

10.
Pisani, Bob. "3 Years after 'Jeopardy,' IBM's Watson Gets Serious." CNBC. CNBC, 8 Oct. 2014. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://www.cnbc.com/id/102069981>.

11.
"The Dawn of Artificial Intelligence." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 9 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21650543-powerful-computers-will-reshape-humanitys-future-how-ensure-promise-outweighs>.

12.
Marcus, Gary. "The Trouble With Brain Science." The New York Times. The New York Times, 11 July 2014. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/12/opinion/the-trouble-with-brain-science.html?_r=0>.

13.
Danaylov, Nikola. "Noam Chomsky on Singularity 1 on 1: The Singularity Is Science Fiction!" Singularity Weblog. Singularity Weblog, 4 Oct. 2013. Web. 26 May 2015. <https://www.singularityweblog.com/noam-chomsky-the-singularity-is-science-fiction/>.

14.
Van Diggelen, Alison. "Elon Musk: On Obama, Climate Change & Government Regulation (Transcript)." Fresh Dialogues. Fresh Dialogues, 11 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://www.freshdialogues.com/2013/02/11/elon-musk-on-obama-climate-change-government-regulation/>.

15.
Kaebler, Jason. "Elon Musk: Burning Fossil Fuels Is the 'Dumbest Experiment in History, By Far'" Motherboard. Motherboard, 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://motherboard.vice.com/read/elon-musk-burning-fossil-fuels-is-the-dumbest-experiment-in-history-by-far>.

16.
Ford, Martin. Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. New York, 2015. Print.

17.
Wing Kosner, Anthony. "What Really Scares Tech Leaders About Artificial Intelligence?" Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 20 Apr. 2015. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/anthonykosner/2015/04/20/what-really-scares-tech-leaders-about-artificial-intelligence/>.

18.
Moore, Trent. "Check out This New Ex Machina Trailer to Go along with the Expanded Release." Blastr. Blastr, 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://www.blastr.com/2015-4-22/check-out-new-ex-machina-trailer-go-along-expanded-release>.

19.
Angelica, Amara D. "KurzweilAI | Accelerating Intelligence." KurzweilAI How Watson Works a Conversation with Eric Brown IBM Research Manager Comments. The Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence Newsletter, 31 Jan. 2011. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://www.kurzweilai.net/how-watson-works-a-conversation-with-eric-brown-ibm-research-manager>.

Image source: Gizmodo article
What does a city of the Third Industrial Revolution look like?

Lately I’ve been doing some research which include watching a fair amount of talks, reading articles and books. I’ve recently been reading two books concurrently which are ‘The End of Power’ by Moise`s Naim and ‘The Empathic Civilization’ by Jeremy Rifkins which touch on similar issues that have been troubling me. From all this information I’ve been absorbing, it seems to be amalgamating into something. That something has left me with this inescapable, constant contemplation on technology and how it’s impacting our world. I have extreme optimism but at the same time reservations towards technology and what it holds for our future. I want to write about it in order to gather my thoughts.

I’ve always had optimism towards technology and science and this could be due to my upbringing. I’ve always been immersed in technology, my dad started his career as an engineer and programmer and my mum was an analyst in the telecommunications sector. I ended up following in a similar path and studying engineering, focusing on Location-based services, GIS and spatial analysis. I initially worked at two engineering firms whilst at university, mostly working on location based applications and creating and analysing geodatabases. Then I took a career change working at a digital firm designing user experiences and user interfaces for multi-platform applications. It wasn’t until I started working at a few different agencies, agencies that were inherently traditional that I started to notice a bit of skepticism and pessimism towards technology. This skepticism really took me by surprise and understandably so given my background. I wanted to know where this skepticism and pessimism spanned from as I could observe the discomfiting dynamics between those who embraced new technology and those who had extreme reservations.

Reasons for Skepticism
One reason for this skepticism is this idea that technological change is destroying jobs and generating rising unemployment. Andrew McAfee who is an associate director of the Center for Digital Business at MIT and Guy Standing is an Economist from University of Cambridge both have used the Luddites example which I believe best illustrates the disgruntledness towards technological progress.1 Two centuries ago in 1809, the Luddites in Britain smashed and destroyed the looms which put them out of work. ‘Ever since, their action has been cited as disproving the unemployment effects of technological progress.’2 We could easily remedy this by just prolonging traditional forms of workmanship however, McAfee rightly so puts it, ‘But you can see how short-sighted that would be. This would doom people to a static standard of living.3 It would also stifle innovation because then there would be no incentive for betterment. 

Luddites smashing a power loom in 1812 - source:Industrial Revolution wikipedia

Another reason for this skepticism is as Marco Annunziata chief economist at GE mentions, ‘Lots of people have been going around saying that the new waves of technology is silly games, social media and nothing else.’3 McAfee also adds, ‘community of technologists has been promising the moon to you-all for as long we've had digital technologies. So you could be forgiven for kind of turning a deaf ear to these hyperbolic claims that we all keep making over and over again.’3 I guess you could see it as the case of the boy who cried wolf, and it doesn’t help these hyperbolic claims is further exemplified by the entertainment industry with science fiction. We then see the other side of the coin where the belief that science fiction is now becoming a reality but possibly a bleak reality. More and more people are increasingly worried about the threat that Artificial Intelligence (AI) poses to humanity. Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking have been very open about their reservations. Hawking warned, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race….It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate," he said. "Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded."4

Third Industrial Revolution – The 2nd Machine Age
Should we be worried? What makes this time different to previous technological revolutions? The reason it is different is ‘technological innovation is more rapid and broad-based than in any previous industrial revolution, much of it linked to Silicon Valley and the entrepreneurial dynamism of its denizens.’2 What’s happening now is this third wave which is the bringing together of the first industrial revolution with the internet revolution of the 90s to form the third industrial revolution. Economist and political advisor Jeremy Rifkin I believe first coined the term in his books ‘The Empathic Civilization’5 and ‘The Third Industrial Revolution’.6 However, there are others that share this same vision such as Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson both academics at the MIT Center for Digital Business, they call it the ‘The Second Machine Age.’7

What’s happening now is the internet revolution that first dominated the consumer sector is now getting into industry which is the engine of economic growth. It’s transforming the industry in various ways such as the internet of things (IoT) which is bringing interconnected intelligence into physical essence. Accenture definition of the internet of things is ‘“a universe of intelligent industrial products, processes and services that communicate with each other and with people over a global network”. This connected web is becoming increasingly ubiquitous across a wide range of industries, from oil and gas, utilities and transportation through to the medical field.’8 This is an exciting outcome of the digital revolution and many organisations are focusing on benefiting from it and are extracting maximum value via means of big data, as well as, AI. AI lends a hand to tackling the complex analytical tasks of deciphering these oceans of data, much faster than humans could ever hope to.

Inescapable Reality
So whether we like it or not, technological revolution is inescapably and undeniably changing society in a very profound way. We can see evidence everywhere and observe the effects and changes that have been happening in our world.

Business
We can see it in business, newcomers such as tech companies who are less hierarchical, more nimble, more collaborative both globally and locally are flourishing and displacing those traditional more hierarchical institutions. ‘Now, a simple count of the US and global top five hundred companies that did not exist ten years ago shows how relative newcomers are displacing traditional corporate behemoths.’9 A perfect example is the case of Kodak and Instagram.“At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people.”10

Another good example of this is the effect of the internet and advent of electronic books on Bookstores and the repercussions. Borders Group Inc., the 40-year-old chain that helped define the age of the book superstore, filed for bankruptcy protection and closed down 275 of their stores. Borders the second-biggest U.S. bookstore chain didn’t foresee the rise of e-books and were too late to the web.11

We can see companies pivot or change their strategies. An example of this is the in home video battle between HBO and Netflix, the struggle between the packaged services and the freedoms of broadband web-streaming. The internet is now disrupting the cable business and its ability to attract and hold audiences so HBO has caved in to consumer pressure and is now offering its streaming service, HBO Go as a standalone subscription like Netflix.12

We can also observe social media slowly replacing conventional methods of marketing. Traditional media relies on a one-to-many paradigm, the brand creates a message and transmits it to the masses via broadcast, print, radio or signage. It is a one-way communication system lacking in engagement and doesn’t facilitate word of mouth. Today, people are more skeptical on brands and are more reliant on word of mouth, reviews, recommendations from friends and general public. Social media provides this engagement and creates word of mouth advertising by encouraging reshares to amplify their message, at the same time making brand claims more believable. Most advantageously it provides analytics which is difficult to get from traditional media.

We can see through ease of dissemination of information through multiple channels can also break multi-billion dollar corporation in just overnight because of brand disasters. ‘Corporations have become much more vulnerable to “brand disasters” that hit their reputations, revenues, and valuations. One study found that the five-year risk of such a disaster for companies that own the most prestigious global brands has risen in the last two decades from 20 percent to a staggering 82 percent. BP, Tiger Woods, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation all saw their fortunes shrink almost overnight as a result of events that scarred their reputations.’9

Politics
The spread of free information through the internet has encouraged freedom and human development. We are seeing it being used to promote human rights, free speech, religion, expression, peaceful assembly, governments accountability, and the right of knowledge and understanding. We are also seeing it in today’s internet generation, more hacktivists, digital dissenters uncovering the deceit and corruption of state power by way of digital medium. Snowden, Manning and Assange are all part of an internet generation that holds that transparency of governments and corporations is a critical check on power.13 These activists carry within them a vision of a new world and a more open and just society.

Socially
Unlike the age of the printing press, when information tended to be centralised, the era of the internet fosters an interactive and direct peer-to-peer form of communication. It offers more open structures and is inherently democratic in nature “there’s no hierarchy and everyone can express themselves” an Anthropologist Paul Jorion noted.13 This is tremendously transformational and is changing the way we think as individuals. It is changing our mentality, it’s training us to be more interconnected and more open. We can see this evidently through social media and the outpour of compassion and concerns when natural disasters have struck. “Frantic tweets and videos have been seeping out of Haiti, pleading for help from the rest of the human race in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that leveled one of the poorest countries on the planet, spreading destruction and death. The response by people all over the world has been immediate.”5 Even more recently with the Nepal Earthquake, tech companies are facilitating the assistance. Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter are pitching in to help survivors of the catastrophic Nepal earthquake. Apple launched a partnership with the American Red Cross, asking iTunes users to donate money through its iTunes Store for the relief efforts. Twitter is helping to raise funds through not-for-profit organisations and Google has launched its Person Finder to help people determine whether those who may have been in the area of the earthquake are safe. Soon after the Nepal earthquake hit, Facebook activated their company's Safety Check feature, allowing those who may have been in the area to let friends and family know they were safe.14 We are seeing this global collective empathicness and democratisation economically, politically and socially.

Being Optimistic but Mindful
This technological revolution brings so much optimism for the future. We are becoming increasingly interconnected, open, transparent and democratic globally as a society. This interconnectedness is changing our mentality and making us more empathic towards each other. I personally believe this is exceptional as empathic behavior endorses cooperation and helps form social cohesion. In addition, it has democratised learning by providing the freedom to access endless amounts of information that is ever evolving.

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” Kofi Annan15

Devices are getting cheaper, access is going up which in turn increases the community of potential innovators out there in the world at ever accelerating rates. This is not just the case in western countries, but also in developing countries.

With this technological revolution there are going to be some negative consequences. Consequences such as, more technology implies more energy consumption and the usage of energy resources generally have an adverse effect on the environment. However, we can help mend this. We can assist in solving wastage and the environmental impact we produce with our living standards by venturing into sustainable energy technologies. Prominence should be given on sustainability rather than consumerism in regards to technological regimes. Our current capitalist economic system is unsustainable and is fuelling this wastage. The system requires the constant growth and the search for new markets which leads to wasteful production and exhausting and unsatisfying consumption.16

Another negative consequence is the current economic climate is generating a dystopia of socially unsustainable inequality. The biggest challenge is as technology exponentially moves ahead; this revolution will leave people behind. It will leave people behind in a sense that those that have the desire to offer their labor to the workforce will find that the economic engine will no longer have any need of it as digital labor is a lot more efficient and effective. What’s currently happening is globalisation and technological change has produced a growing concentration of wealth. It’s developed a class structure with a tiny plutocracy of billionaires coexisting with a dwindling salariat.2 This consequently forms social disparity and economic inequality which breeds detrimental social issues such as poverty, erodes self-esteem promoting social dislocation, unrest and conflict. There is a silver lining, McAfee optimistically states, “Technology is not destiny. We shape our destiny. So even if we are heading into some very tough times for portions of the labor force, there are interventions, there are things we can do.”1 

There has been suggestion of adopting a guaranteed basic income where everybody in society has a right of a universal basic income without imposing arbitrary behavioral conditions and not being dependent on marital, gender or work status. “A basic income would also modestly reduce income inequality. It would strengthen individual bargaining capacities and thus reduce exploitative pressures. Basic security has also been shown to induce a greater sense of altruism and to make people more tolerant of those different from themselves.”2 There have been pilot programmes and similar experiments that have been adopted around the world in Canada, America, Namibia, India and Latin America with general positive outcomes that include decreasing poverty, increased education, health and well-being.17

Although there are arguments that a guaranteed basic income will stifle our drive to succeed and make us more complacent. It could possibly cause depression and lack of purpose, “We need to fit into society and be a cog in the wheel. If we do not have a purpose doesn’t that render us dispensable?”1 However, from the pilot programmes and experiments they have found people with basic security work harder and more productively, not less.2 I can see peoples’ reservations as work is seen as a provider of purpose, without work we resort to boredom, vice and need.

"Work saves a man from three great evils: boredom, vice and need." — Voltaire1

However, I believe that the perception that our purpose in life is reliant on our labor force needs to change. I share the same sentiments as a commenter from McAfee’s talk ‘What Will Future Jobs Look Like?’ I couldn’t have expressed it any better. “Why do you shackle and chain your purpose in life to your labor force? We must de-chain this connection. Your worth and value as a human being and citizen in society is not glued to being a cog in the wheel or being a part of the workforce. Just because you get guaranteed income does not need to make you complacent and without drive.”1 I am optimistic that this technological revolution will free us from the drudgery and toil of monotonous, laborious work and allow us to take on ventures that are more innately satisfying. 


Bibliography

1.
McAfee, Andrew. "What Will Future Jobs Look Like?" TED Talk. TED, Feb. 2013. Web. 03 May 2015. <http://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_mcafee_what_will_future_jobs_look_like?language=en>.
 2.
Standing, Guy. "The Growing Precariat: Why We Need a Universal Basic Income." Singularity HUB. N.p., 30 Mar. 2015. Web. 03 May 2015. <http://singularityhub.com/2015/03/30/the-growing-precariat-why-a-basic-income-is-needed/>.
 3.
Harding, Robin, Marco Annunziata, Andrew McAfee, and Daniel M. Price. "Transcript: 2013 Strategic Foresight Forum - The Challenges and Opportunities of the Third Industrial Revolution." Atlantic Council. Atlantic Council, 9 Dec. 2013. Web. 03 May 2015. <http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/news/transcripts/transcript-2013-strategic-foresight-forum-the-challenges-and-opportunities-of-the-third-industrial-revolution>.
 4.
Cellan-Jones, Rory. "Stephen Hawking Warns Artificial Intelligence Could End Mankind - BBC News." BBC News. BBC News, 2 Dec. 2014. Web. 03 May 2015. <http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30290540>.
 5.
Rifkin, Jeremy. The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis. New York: J.P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2009. Print.
 6.
Rifkin, Jeremy. The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.
  7.
Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Andrew McAfee. The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. New York: W. W. Norton, 2014. Print.
 8.
Millman, Nick. "Big Data to Unlock Value from the Industrial Internet of Things." ComputerWeekly.com. ComputerWeekly, Feb. 2015. Web. 03 May 2015. <http://www.computerweekly.com/opinion/Big-data-to-unlock-value-from-the-Industrial-Internet-of-Things>.
 9.
Naím, Moisés. The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be. New York: Basic, 2013. Print.
 10.
Timberg, Scott. "Jaron Lanier: The Internet Destroyed the Middle Class."Saloncom RSS. Salon Media Group, 13 May 2013. Web. 03 May 2015. <http://www.salon.com/2013/05/12/jaron_lanier_the_internet_destroyed_the_middle_class/>.
 11.
Sanburn, Josh. "5 Reasons Borders Went Out of Business (and What Will Take Its Place) | TIME.com." Business Money 5 Reasons Borders Went Out of Business and What Will Take Its Place Comments. TIME, 19 July 2011. Web. 03 May 2015. <http://business.time.com/2011/07/19/5-reasons-borders-went-out-of-business-and-what-will-take-its-place/>.
 12.
Fung, Brian. "HBO’s Taking on Netflix like Never Before. But Now They’ll Share the Same Headaches, Too." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 15 Oct. 2014. Web. 03 May 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/10/15/hbos-taking-on-netflix-like-never-before-but-now-theyll-share-the-same-headaches-too/>.
13.
Hayase, Nozomi. "The Whistleblowers at the Frontier of Digital Liberation."ROAR Magazine RSS. Roar Magazine, 13 Aug. 2013. Web. 03 May 2015. <http://roarmag.org/2013/08/manning-snowden-assange-whistleblowers/>.
 14.
Reisinger, Don. "Nepal Quake Survivors Draw Support from Apple, Google, Facebook and Others - CNET." CNET. CNET, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 03 May 2015. <http://www.cnet.com/au/news/tech-companies-rally-behind-nepal-earthquake-survivors/>.
 15.
Annan, Kofi. "Kofi Annan Quotes." WorldofQuotes. WorldofQuotes, n.d. Web. 03 May 2015. <http://www.worldofquotes.com/author/Kofi+Annan/1/index.html>.
 16.
Cato, Molly Scott. "Why Capitalism Can't Be Sustainable." Why Capitalism Can't Be Sustainable. Green Economist, n.d. Web. 03 May 2015. <http://www.greeneconomist.org/page.php?pageid=capitalism>.
 17.
"Basic Income." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Apr. 2015. Web. 03 May 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income>.







I just re-read the book ‘Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind’ by Gary Marcus. I read this book in 2010 and I remember that it had an impact on me when I initially read it so I wanted to read it again to refresh my memory. The book has been authored by Gary Marcus who is a cognitive scientist, he’s an Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology at New York University and Director of the NYU Infant Language Center which is where he studies evolution, language, and cognitive development. I’ve watched a few interviews with him recently, I really enjoyed his interview conducted by Nikola Danaylov from ‘Singularity’ Youtube channel which I highly recommend (discovering this channel was discovering a gold mine). From the interviews I’ve found Gary Marcus to be charismatic, grounded and brilliant which is evident throughout the book. I believe this is what makes this book such a great read, I love his positive conversational, humorous writing-style, it provides a humanistic aspect which I find is sometimes lacking in non-fictional work.

The title of the book has been derived from Marcus’ analogy of the human mind to that of an engineer’s term ‘Kluge’. Kluge is a ‘clumsy or inelegant – yet surprisingly effective – solution to a problem’. The book advocates that evolution fashioned our brain with a patchwork of traits and attributes based on humanity’s genetic propagation. Evolution has pieced together a hodge podge of these traits that are ‘good enough for survival’ to create a far from perfect being. The book explores and provides examples of the ways in which the human mind, while capable in wondrous feats, still stumbles on certain areas such as in memory, decision making and language.

What I like so much about this book is that it removes man from the pedestal in which we so often put ourselves upon. The theories in this book are not something we should despair, if we know where our pitfalls are we can learn and improve upon them. After reading this book I found myself more consciously aware and control of my mental thoughts and lot more understanding in the actions of others. Being consciously aware of when our primitive, ancestral brain kicks in we can override this mentally with our more deliberative reasoning faculties. Perhaps practicing this, the tendencies that span from our deliberative brain will evolve to become instinctive and automatic which is optimistic and will pave the way to a more evolved mind.

There have been reviews that indicate that this book is “A shot across the bow of intelligent design.” (Kirkus Reviews). The book doesn’t aggressively refute the creationist view and that is evident in the positive and non-prejudice writing style. The title ‘Kluge’ is evidence alone and if it did aggressively preach and refute the creationist view it has created a paradox with the title. Kluge by definition is an inelegant, inefficient, clumsy patchwork that succeeds in solving a specific problem and performing a particular task. In relation to the mind, this definition would contend that makeshift, patchwork biological configurations were created for a particular purpose or reason, this would support the idea of a divine creator. However, I don’t believe we should place too much prominence on the term ‘Kluge’. I highly doubt that the engineering term ‘Kluge’ was meant to be coined and appropriated as a new neurological scientific term. I believe it was meant to be ironic and a humorous analogy to describe the human mind and to provide us with a unique perspective of how we view our mind. Marcus states “recognizing a kluge, and how it might be improved upon sometimes require thinking outside the box.” Perhaps, when we see ourselves in a more humbling light with all our flaws, quirks and eccentricities then can we learn to fully understand our mind and improve upon it. This book is enlightening, engaging and liberating, I highly recommend it.

More Information:



I have been reading a fair bit lately and I have a few books on the go such as ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley,’ Louder Than Words’ by Benjamin K. Bergen and I’ve just finished reading for the second time ‘Super Brain’ by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E.Tanzi. There’s so much more books I want to read. I wish I could have that instant matrix-learning just like when Keanu Reeves’ character Neo utters “I know Kung fu” after martial arts has been uploaded to his brain. If only, perhaps someday.

Since I’ve been reading a great deal I should probably write reviews so I can mentally track back, it will help me retain and learn from what I have read.  I’ve decided to write a review on the book ‘Super Brain’. Super Brain has been described as a book about ‘unleashing the explosive power of your mind’1 and maximising the potential of the human brain in practical and actionable ways. It is co-authored and written by Deepak Chopra a public speaker and licensed physician and Dr Rudolph E. Tanzi a Professor of Neurology at Harvard and one of the world’s foremost experts on the cause of Alzheimer’s.

Overall I did think it was a good read and it is a good book that reminds us how powerful our brains could be. I enjoyed the first half of the book which describes the science and origins of our most ingrained reactions, I also enjoyed the dispelling of long held myths such as “aging in the brain is irreversible” and “the brain’s hard wiring cannot be changed”. I particularly liked the stories of geniuses, polyglots, savants and how their stories offer reasons to reject these long held myths. This reminded me of Oliver Sacks' work and his recounts of case histories of patients lost in the bizarre neurological disorders. Oliver Sacks is considered “one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth century” (The New York Times) and if you get a chance read “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” It’s an extremely fascinating read and a humbling meditation on the beauty of imperfection.

I did find that the Super Brain at times lacks cohesion and this is most likely because it is co-authored. Twice upon reading I’ve struggled to read the last third of the book as I believe it descends to a typical self help book. I find the abstract mindfulness and meditation mantras do not cohere well with the scientific examples. It felt at times that the neurological theories, especially the quantum mechanics theories were included purposefully to provide more validity to abstract spirituality concepts. However, validity is dispelled when scientific research is not backed with citations or references. This is a little leery for this book especially when it claims in the blurb that is draws “upon the very latest findings of neuroscience”.  All legitimate scientific works provide citations and references. I particularly disliked the arguing and the blatant distaste towards atheism and attacks on certain professionals and their beliefs. I find it highly hypocritical for a book that advocates open mindedness throughout, there’s a lack of open mindedness and respect of others’ beliefs.

In conclusion, this is not an essential read however it is an excellent reminder that when we are an active observer of our mind we have the ability to control our mind and when we take full control we can achieve amazing things. 

[1. Sub title of Super Brain]


Fairly recently, Harald Jezek commenced a discussion about the definition of reality on TED debates which I participated a great deal in. The debate included the statements:

What is reality?

Did you ever think about what it is that makes reality real?

How is our reality created ? Isn't it the perceptions our brain creates based on our sensory inputs?

But what if we lack a sense ? How does reality change for somebody who cannot hear or see? Or take it even a step further, assume you are deprived of all your senses, What would reality mean in such a case? And last but not least, let's assume you are born without any senses. What would that mean to your reality ? So what is reality and what are we as part of this reality?


Debate:
http://www.ted.com/conversations/21159/what_is_reality_2.html

My responses:
http://www.ted.com/profiles/2227000

Towards the end of the debate, those who participated were asked to provide a final post summarising our own view on the topic. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to provide my final post so I thought I would post it here. I generally agreed with Harald’s closing statement however, I wanted to elaborate on my reasoning.

Shared Reality
I’m definitely in agreement with “there are different aspects to reality.” One aspect is a ‘shared reality’. Harald nicely describes it as, “the reality we deal with on a daily basis and which we share to a large degree. For example we agree upon common things, such as when we see a car we all agree it’s a car, a tree and a house if a house.” I do follow parts of Copenhagen interpretation where reality is described as “our senses are constituted to give us an impression of a material world, but that this reality is a reflection of something of a different nature.” I believe our physical senses each have a spectrum, these senses perceives the sea of energy from a certain limited standpoint and makes up an image from that. This image is just an interpretation. Our interpretations are solely based on the ‘internal map’ of reality which is a result of our collective experiences. Copenhagen interpretation also states, “There is no deep reality.” Initially I was in accordance to this statement however; Harald Jezek and Esteban Trevino made me realize that “our universe will still be here regardless of us being around to observe it or not. Best proof for that is probably that the universe is much older than we are. So, obviously it was around long before we showed up to observe it.” I also came to the realisation that it is a very narcissistic view to believe that one particular state of space time (i.e. the occurrence of consciousness during the big bang) was chosen purely so it could inhabit material bodies simply so we could exist. Such mentality would not have formed the great theory of evolution or disprove that the earth was not the center of the universe. This reality may not be considered a deep reality however, it is a reality nonetheless. One could even dispute it maybe a deep reality because it is a collective reality, it is something that is shared amongst a large number of conscious entities.

Inner Reality

Another aspect to reality is ‘inner reality’. Inner reality is our individual reality and “this can be something simple like the perception of a taste, odor or a color.” The debate questions reality for those with limited or without senses. I believe that ‘shared’ and ‘inner reality’ would still apply to those without or with limited senses and my reasoning would be, take cellular life or plant cells for instance. If we believe that consciousness is an ability to be aware of external forces then cellular life and plant cells would still fall in this category. Their awareness is still considered very rudimentary, but cells do sense in a chemical way light, heat, foreign cells, pH condition in liquids and other states of matter than can be good or bad for their survival. Awareness (consciousness) can be reduced to very minimal states. In addition, I do believe that those without any senses still experience a ‘shared’ and ‘inner reality’. There was a study published in 2011 in Frontiers in Human Neurosciences, Tristan Bekinschtein which found that people in vegetative coma states (i.e. absence of awareness of self or environment, but where autonomic functions such as respiration are preserved), where patients showed signs of brain activity in response to linguistic stimuli. Patients still had consciousness, despite not having the means to express it.

Objective Reality

Lastly, another aspect to reality is ‘objective reality’, which includes the laws of nature. These may include Newtonian laws, Quantum physics and other laws which have not been discovered. It is a reality that exists regardless of whether we are here or not to contemplate on it. Objective reality starts to become complex when you start to think of the singularity event. As the beginning of real time, would have been a singularity, at which the laws of physics would have broken down. Stephen Hawking contends that time began with the big bang, assuming by time he means physical time, since you can’t have physical time before the existence of physical reality. However, Hawking does not preclude the existence of a metaphysical time prior to singularity. Complexity is further added when taking in consideration the possibility of Multiverses. Brian Greene’s system classification of the Landscape Multiverse describes that the laws of physics in these universes are fundamentally different than the universe we inhabit. Subjective and Objective reality is established by Newtonian and Quantum laws however, these laws may not apply in these universes hence, other physical/metaphysical or unknown laws would apply to these other universes’ realities.

Duality of Map-or-Territory

There was also talk about another possible aspect to reality that includes the three dimensions of mind, body and spirit, “duality of map-or-territory”, the “simultaneous distinctive cohesive structure between the territory and map”. In truth, I was struggling to fully understand the correlation to reality however, I could see possible connection to quantum entanglement. An example of what I believed that best describes this connection was Stuart Hammeroff’s description of these dimensions during outer body experiences occurring during near death experiences. He describes how when quantum coherence and quantum computations driven by metabolism ends (when the blood stops flowing), quantum information leaks out to the universe at large because it exists in the Planck scale (it exists in the most fundamental level). Coherence is lost and it leaks out to the universe at large. He states it doesn’t dissipates entirely because of entanglement and plus the universe is holographic. It remains in the phase relationship and can persist in the subconscious dreamlike level outside the body. Hammeroff also describes when an individual dies, quantum information/consciousness or protoconsciousness is not destroyed it, it may sort of dissipate or hang together due to quantum entanglement and can exist in some sort of afterlife hence, the possibility of reincarnation. Esteban mentioned in the debate that “Humans even have the capacity to create stuff or rearrange the existing stuff.” This was in regards to humans having the ability to create their own reality. Joe Dispenza nicely describes this notion with the correlation of mirror neurons, neuroplasticity and quantum entanglement. Hammeroff's and Dispenza’s theories are appealing notions however, I’m yet to fully understand it or believe it.

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