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Louie Helm is the Executive Editor of Rockstar Research, Deputy Director of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, MIRI and also a Guest writer at Singularity Hub
In this podcast Louie talks about what is happening in Artificial Intelligence today, has the inside scoop on why Google might need an ethic board for non-biologics, reviews James Barrat’s Book "Our Final Invention", discusses the advantages of future systems, talks about the autonomy of AI and much more…
A Design Fiction Evening, with Julian Bleecker, James Bridle, Nick Foster, Cliff Kuang and Scott Paterson
Last October we gathered for a Laboratory day retreat and decided — so long as we’re all together — why don’t we make a thing of it. So, we arranged to do an evening’s gathering with our friends at IDEO. Scott Paterson from IDEO facilitated our way into IDEO’s splendid waterfront facility. We brought beer, IDEO brought beer, we had lots of beer and, most importantly, we shared with our audience some perspectives on Design Fiction. Our friend Ed Finn from Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination helped us set the metaphorical table. Sharing thoughts were Julian Bleecker, James Bridle, Nick Foster and Cliff Kuang from Wired facilitated the conversation.
It was “delightful”, as the kids are fond of saying nowadays. But, more delightful than the most delightful UX. Properly delightful in the way that a gathering of humans in a room can be delightful. A gathering to think, debate, discuss and laugh. Like a salon. We will be hosting more of these around the globe, as our Bureau of Delightful Design Fiction Evening Events spins-up and makes it Napoleonic plans.
Audio rip, original here: https://vimeo.com/84826827
Mac Email Apps
Recorded on 19 February 2014
I’ve been noticing more and more troubles with using Mail on Mavericks, and so I’ve been looking into a few alternatives. Also, I’m reminded at just how pathetic my “email habits” are.
Download here. (11:47)
(P.S. Have a question or topic suggestion for a future episode? Email email@example.com.)
Finessing the future
Instead of one podium there were four chairs on the stage of Wednesday’s seminar. In three seats, three Dysons: Esther, George and Freeman. They were appearing together on stage for the first time. The fourth held Stewart Brand who led the three through an evening of queries. The questions came from Stewart himself, from the audience, and from one Dyson to another Dyson — a first for this format in a Long Now seminar.
George introduced his dad with an exquisite slideshow of Freeman’s prime documents. He began with a scan of a first grade school paper Freeman wrote on “Astronimy.” Besides the forgivable misspellings, the essay was full of fantasy. Freeman did not just copy material from an encyclopedia. He imagined what should be and wrote it as fact. George then showed a later blue-book essay of Freeman’s fiction, but it was studded with numbers and calculations. Right there was the pattern for Freeman’s many other publications (first pages shown by George): speculations built upon calculations. We saw one paper inscribed by Freeman with the note: “From one crackpot to another!” His most famous speculation is for a solar system-sized enclosure around a sun now called a Dyson Sphere. George’s presentation on Freeman ended with a video clip of a Star Trek episode where the befuddle Captain Piccard ponders a mysterious hollow solar-sized ball blocking their way and gasps, “Could it be a dyson-sphere?!!”
Freeman followed this with a few minutes of musing on the difficulty of long term predictions. When Von Neumann and others were working on the first computers, none of them could imagine they would be used in toys for 3-year olds. In a theme that he would return to the rest of the evening, Freeman compared that surprise with the coming surprises we’ll see in biotech. He said, “It is unfortunate that Von Neumann used the first computers to build nuclear weapons, because computers became associated with institutional destruction. The same thing is happening now with biotech. It is unfortunate that the first biotech is being used for institutional destruction of weeds, but soon biotech will become smaller scale, user-friendly, and employed by gardeners, naturalists, and kids to make their own creations. People’s feelings about biotech will also change.”
“I misjudged a lot of things. Like nuclear power took much longer than I thought. We also thought we had a wonderful spaceship that was going to take us to Saturn (we were really going to go ourselves). The hardest thing to foresee is how long things take.” Freeman sang the praises of science fiction as hugely important for science. “It’s where the most radical ideas come from first.” He wishes he read more of it, a sentiment echoed by George and Esther.
Esther chimed in with her interpretation of future study. Freeman, she said, tried to understand things now by speculating on their future, while George mined the past to try to understand the future. She, on the contrary, wasn’t interested in understanding the future. She chiefly wanted to affect it. “What good is it to have a conference about future technologies unless you can in some way make things happen?”
What won’t change? That was a question from the audience. George told about spying inhabited islands off the coast of the northwest 30 years ago and expecting that technology would transform them into places full of humans. But they are still deserted; cities are ever more enticing. The early native tribes he studied would have 12 good friends and 30 close acquaintances. He says that if you check people’s cell phones they have on average 12 intimate friends always allowed to ring and 30 names to call out. We haven’t changed much.
Freeman continued that thread saying he is a skeptic of the singularity notion. “My mother saw more change in her life than I have. She went from traveling in a pony cart to flying across the ocean in a jet. I don’t see things going faster. It is an illusion.”
I asked, “What have you changed you mind about?” Esther said she changed her mind about anonymity. She used to think it was hugely important, but now she believes everything works out better when there is transparency, including in people. “We may become more tolerant because everything is visible.”
Freeman admitted he was a skeptic on global warming. His problem was not change in the climate. “In the long view we ARE changing the climate.” He felt that climate was hugely complex, that we understand very little of it and many people are reducing this unknown complexity into one data point — the average temperature somewhere. Until we understand what kind of changes we are making in our “solutions” he says he believes the best action on global climate change right now is inaction.
Of course this is only a sample of the wide-ranging conversation, which lasted 90 minutes. (Like all past talks, this one will be posted for download streaming on the Long Now site.) The agile wit and intelligence of the three Dysons was in full gear by the end of the seminar. This exchange near the end is paraphrased from my rough notes, which I believe captures the tone of the evening:
Stewart: You are 81, Freeman, and pro biotech. What’s your take on bio-engineered longevity?
Freeman: The worst thing that could happen would be if doctors cured death. There would be no room for young people in power. It would be the end of science! For me it is a black cloud on the horizon. But I think it is unavoidable. First we’ll extend life to 100 years, then to 200 years, 300 and so on…
George: Just like copyright!
Freeman: Really. The only solution is to move far far away, to have other worlds, in space or on planets where the young can dominate.
Esther: Even better, send the old guys to Mars!
It was great to have the three Dysons on earth, young and old.
Is the future work going to require diversifying our skill set or becoming masterful at one skill?
No more dumb cars, the Federal government decreed this week. Or at least, no mute cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Monday it will soon require all new cars to talk to one another. Share location, speed, direction and more, electronically. Vehicle-to-vehicle – “V2V” – communication. Right behind that comes the next frontier: self-driving cars. First they talk to one another, next they drive themselves. The auto industry, Google, and the law are all gearing up. This hour On Point: on the road to the world of the self-driving car.
Folks looking for a lighter take on the problems of designing for an imagined future might want to screen “Desk Set,” a romantic comedy from 1957 starring Tracy & Hepburn. It concerns a group of researchers at a national network (a thinly disguised NBC) who fear being replaced by an “electronic brain” named EMERAC. Although its name is very similar to the University of Pennsylvania’s ENIAC, EMERAC is really more like Remington Rand’s UNIVAC—the first widely available mainframe.
Considering the fact that this “sci-fi” is set, not in a world centuries beyond the Eisenhower era, but in a world we can now easily recognize as the mid-1960s, it’s amazing how much the writers, designers and set decorators got wrong. By the late ‘50s, it was already apparent that transistors would make mainframes ever smaller, yet EMERAC is gigantic, easily dwarfing every other element on the set. Granted, the size of EMERAC may have more to do with the idea that technology was a huge threat to the “ladies” of the research department. Its size was merely the physical embodiment of what the electronic revolution would mean to people who earned their livings with pencils and paper.
In spite of the laughable beeps, boops and groans emitted by EMERAC (at one point it actually vents steam), a critical scene absolutely nails what the computer/Internet revolution would mean to clerks and librarians. The president of the network challenges the researchers to retrieve an obscure statistic about damage to U.S. forests caused by the spruce bud worm. We’re informed in an aside that it had taken weeks to find the information with traditional, library-based methods. The nerdy mistress of EMERAC sits down at a keyboard and types in: “How much damage is done annually to American forests by the spruce bud worm?” Almost instantaneously EMERAC spits out the answer.
The original Broadway playwright, William Marchant, clearly saw where the world was headed, because we all do pretty much the same thing every day with Google.
German designer Otl Aicher created the pictograms for the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich. His design has influenced not only future Olympic pictograms but many signs we see on a daily basis.
Alexa FischerDo you realize that all of us are born with a 1000 watt presence?
Somewhere along the way many of us end up blocking that light by getting in our own way.
However, if you have the tools to reconnect with the light and then articulate yourself brilliantly—you’ll be happier, more successful, and in the service of other people.
That is public speaking in a nutshell!
My guest Alexa Fischer, a presentation coach, shares her personal story and uncovers some incredible takeaways that you’ll want to jot down in your notebook for future reference.
• Public speaking skills
• Web video
Push play to watch now:
Podcast: Play in new window
How Alexa Started Speaking
Started acting during high school—then studied it during both undergrad and graduate school. While an actor in Los Angeles realized that she had a gift for training people in the areas of speaking – specifically through online video.
There is an energy exchanged between you and the audience when communicating live. The difference with web video is that there isn’t an exchange of energy. You must practice and imagine the other person through the lens of the camera. It is awkward at first, but through rehearsal can begin to feel more natural.
Resources and Links
• Alexa’s 1000 Watt Presence website
• Visit Alexa on Twitter and Facebook
• All the 1000 Watt Presence courses
• Brand new course on getting over the fear of public speaking
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