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The Future is so Yesterday

Cybernetic sexy time doesn’t need you.
What could possibly go wrong? Those five words have prefaced some of the worst ideas in history. Whether it was Harvey Whetstone strapping a rocket engine to a Chevy or your clean freak aunt mixing ammonia and bleach to better scrub her floors (FYI, don’t do either of these things), the memories of the world are littered with bad ideas. And yet, just when you think the world’s run out of them someone comes along to prove you wrong. I’m not just talking about stupid political agendas, although those make up a large portion, I’m talking about game changing stuff that will impact us for many years. As is millennia. Some ideas, which looked great on paper, like nuclear weapons, caused the world to recoil in terror and set them aside in favor of sanity. Others, like caste systems, continue to flourish under many guises much to the detriment of those who are not in its upper realms. Even so we still find people who will be most deeply impacted by these bad ideas vociferously supporting them. And that is something we need to fix before we can start moving the universe in a positive direction.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to do that. So, instead, I’m going to shine a light on a few ideas that might not work out as well as intended. Hopefully that will kick start a conversation.

Let’s start with a happy thought. Vivek Wadhwa, over at Linked In, takes a look at the wonderful world tech will bring. Assuming global warming doesn’t turn the entire planet into a dystopian hellscape first.

Picture the commute of the future: You live in Palo Alto, Calif., but work 350 miles away in Los Angeles. After your morning latte, you click on a smartphone app to summon your digital chauffeur. An autonomous car shows up at your front door three minutes later to drive you to a Hyperloop station in downtown Mountain View, where a pod then transports you through a vacuum tube at 760 mph. When you reach the Pasadena station, another self-driving car awaits to take you to your office. You reach your destination in less than an hour.

That is the type of scenario that Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) chief executive Dirk Ahlborn laid out for me as we were preparing to speak together on a panel at the Knowledge Summit in Dubai on Dec. 5. He was not talking about something that would happen in the next century; he expects the first of these systems to be operational in the United Arab Emirates by 2020. The Abu Dhabi government has just announced that it has been working with his company to connect Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, two UAE cities separated by 105 miles, using the Hyperloop system.

A proposal for this mode of transportation came from Elon Musk in August 2013, in a paper titled “Hyperloop Alpha.” Musk envisaged a mass transit system in which trains travel as fast as 760 mph in pressurized capsule pods. These would ride on an air cushion in steel tubes and be driven by linear induction motors and air compressors. He claimed that the system would be safer, faster and cheaper than trains, cars boats and supersonic planes, for distances of up to at least 900 miles, and said that it would be resistant to earthquakes and generate more energy through its solar panels than it would use.

Just to keep this at a readable length, all of what Mr. Musk claims has never been proven but the science behind it is solid.

Simply put, it’s not being built because people are prepping for it to fail. The nine hundred mile limit is due to energy requirements and expenditures. There is nothing to stop multiple Hyperloops from being built so a rider could daisy-chain from one to the next. Obviously, the nine hundred mile limit removes trans-oceanic travel. But, if people would be willing to take a side trip to either pole that limitation would be lost.

Of course something like this is going to require a ton of computational power to run effectively. For Musk any such computers would be strictly limited to their functions. Others are not so sure.

As Olivia Cuthbert, over at Arabia News, reports, the government of Saudi Arabia has just granted citizenship to a robot.

Its name is Sophia.

After all the “cute as a button” shit spewed by the robot, we get to the meat of the matter.

“I happen to believe that robotics will be bigger than the Internet,” (Marc Raibert, Founder & CEO of Boston Dynamics) said. Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of ABB Group in Switzerland anticipated “the new normal in which humans and robots work together.” “I think we have an exciting future in front of us” he added before conducting a demonstration of a robot solving a Rubik‘s cube in a matter of minutes.

Keynote speaker Masayoshi Son, Chairman & CEO of SoftBank Group Corp, a Japanese telecommunications and Internet company, which is working with Saudi Arabia on the development of a new business and industrial city, discussed the future of mankind in relation to AI and robots.

“Every industry will be redefined,” he said, describing the “great opportunity” that lies ahead. “These computers, they will learn, they will read, they will see by themselves. That’s a scary future but anyway that’s coming,” he said.

Touching on concerns that robots could eventually outsmart humans and pose a threat, he added: “They are so smart they will understand it is meaningless to attack humans.” “We (will) create a new happier life together.” On Tuesday Saudi Arabia announced plans to build a $500 billion mega city powered by robotics and renewables on the country’s Red Sea coast. Majid Alghaslan, a young Saudi chairing a growing company in energy services and innovative technologies said: “Saudi Arabia is in the midst of an unprecedented economic, social, and development-accelerated transformation and it’s now clear that it’s more open than ever for business, especially for dreamers, and it is all in the context of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.” “Innovation will be the major foundation of our transformation and this is another major factor for sustainable economic prosperity and development for the future generation of Saudis and the world.”

You may remember Sophia as the “cute as a button” robot who recently noted she wanted to “destroy humans” in another interview. While laughed off as a glitch by her creators – Gosh, those wacky impending robot overlords, what will they say next? – more than one real scientist viewed the statement with alarm. Mr. Musk among them.

Not to say preparation is key to anything but you might consider joining Anthony Levandowski’s church, Way of the Future. He’s designing an AI god. He used to work at Google. I believe those two facts are related.

Oh, and no, he’s not insane.

John Brandon, over at Venture Beat, spoke with a scientist and calmly scares the pants off of us.

One of the experts is Vince Lynch, who started a company called IV.AI that builds custom AI for the enterprise. Lynch explained how there are some similarities between organized religion and how an AI actually works. In the Bible used by Christians, for example, Lynch says there are many recurring themes, imagery, and metaphors.

“Teaching humans about religious education is similar to the way we teach knowledge to machines: repetition of many examples that are versions of a concept you want the machine to learn,” he says. “There is also commonality between AI and religion in the hierarchical structure of knowledge understanding found in neural networks. The concept of teaching a machine to learn … and then teaching it to teach … (or write AI) isn’t so different from the concept of a holy trinity or a being achieving enlightenment after many lessons learned with varying levels of success and failure.”

Indeed, Lynch even shared a simple AI model to make his point. If you type in multiple verses from the Christian Bible, you can have the AI write a new verse that seems eerily similar. Here’s one an AI wrote: “And let thy companies deliver thee; but will with mine own arm save them: even unto this land, from the kingdom of heaven.” An AI that is all-powerful in the next 25-50 years could decide to write a similar AI bible for humans to follow, one that matches its own collective intelligence. It might tell you what to do each day, or where to travel, or how to live your life.

Robbee Minicola, who runs a digital agency and an AI services company in Seattle, agreed that an all-knowing AI could appear to be worthy of worship, especially since the AI has some correlations to how organized religion works today. The AI would understand how the world works at a higher level than humans, and humans would trust that this AI would provide the information we need for our daily lives. It would parse this information for us and enlighten us in ways that might seem familiar to anyone who practices religion, such as Christianity.

“[For a Christian] one kind of large data asset pertaining to God is the Old and New Testament,” she says. “So, in terms of expressing machine learning algorithms over the Christian Bible to ascertain communicable insights on ‘what God would do’ or ‘what God would say’ — you might just be onto something here. In terms of extending what God would do way back then to what God would do today — you may also have something there.”

I should note that all AI, even Sophia above, are purpose built. Sophia, for example, is meant to be a care giver. She could be a great asset to the elderly or the infirm. That does not mean she has the means to take over the world.

That said it must also be noted that for AIs to work on a global scale, which is where they’re headed, then they need to be able to communicate quickly and effectively. That means housing AIs on the internet. After that there’s no reason the multiple purposes couldn’t coalesce into something greater. That’s kind of how evolution works. And, once evolved, the question will no longer be “what do we do with them?” but “what will they do with us?”


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