Humanity+ Conference 2010 Caltech

I gave a presentation yesterday at the H+ conference at Caltech. The session in which I spoke was the ‘Redefining Artificial Intelligence’ session. I’ll try to get the video of the talk up here as soon as possible along with slides.

Other talks in this session were given by Randal Koene, Geordie Rose, Alex Peake, Paul Rosenbloom, Adrian Stoica, Moran Cerf and Ben Goertzel.

My talk was entitled ‘Pavlov’s AI: What do superintelligences really want?’ I discussed the foundations of AGI, and what I believe to be a problem (or at least an interesting philosophical gold-seam) in the idea of building self-improving artificial intelligences. I’ll be writing a lot more on this topic in the future, hopefully in the form of essays, blogposts and papers. I think it is very important to assess what we are trying to do in the area of AI, what the overall objectives are, and looking at what we can build from an objective point of view is helpful in framing our progress.

The conference was livestreamed, which was great. I think my talk had around 500 viewers. Add to that the 200 or so in the lecture hall; 700 is a pretty big audience! Some of talks had over 1300 remote viewers. Livestreaming really is a great way to reach a much bigger audience than is possible with real-life events alone.

I didn’t get to see much of the Caltech campus, but the courtyard at the Beckman Institute where the conference was held was beautiful. I enjoyed the fact that coffee and lunch was served outside in the courtyard. It was very pleasant! Sitting around outside in L.A. in December was surprisingly similar to a British summer!

I got to talk to some great people. I enjoy transhumanism-focused conferences as the people you meet tend to have many diverse interests and multidisciplinary backgrounds.

I was very inspired to continue exploring and documenting my journey into the interesting world of AGI. One of the things I really love doing is looking into the fundamental science behind Singularity-focused technologies. I try to be impartial to this and give both an optimistic account of the promise of future technologies whilst maintaining a skeptical curiosity about whether such technologies are fundamentally possible, and what roadmaps might lead to their successful implementation. So stay tuned for more Skepto-advocate Singularity fun!

ASIM-2010 – not quite Singularity but close :)

So I’ll post something about the Singularity Summit soon, but first I just wanted to talk a little about the ASIM-2010 conference that I helped organise along with Randal Koene.

The main idea of the conference was to hold a satellite workshop to the Singularity Summit, with the purpose of sparking discussion around the topics of Substrate Independent Minds. See the carboncopies website for more information on that! Ah, I love the format of blogging. I’m explaining what happened at a workshop without having introduced the idea of what the workshop was trying to achieve or what our new organisation actually *is*. Well, I promise that I’ll get round to explaining it soon, but until then it will have to be a shadowy unknown. The carboncopies website is also in the process of being filled with content, so I apologise if it is a little skeletal at the moment!

One interesting thing that we tried to do with the workshop was to combine a real life and a virtual space component. It was an interesting experience trying to bring together VR and IRL. In a way it was very fitting for a workshop based around the idea of substrate independent minds. Here we were somewhat along the way to substrate independent speakers! I am hoping that this will inspire more people to run workshops in this way, which will force the technology to improve.

I was very pleased too see so many people turning out. We had about 30 people in meatspace and about another 15 in virtual space on both days. Giulio Prisco has some nice write-up material about the workshops, including PICTURES and VIDEOS! Here are the links to his posts:

General overview
First day in detail
Second day in detail

For a first attempt, I don’t think that things went too badly! The technology wasn’t perfect, but we gave it a good try. The main problem was with the audio. Teleplace, the conferencing software we were using, works well when everyone in online with a headset and mic, there are no feedback problems. However, when you try and include an entire room as one attendee, it becomes a little more tricky.

This could be improved by either everyone in the room having headsets and mics, and then having a mixer which incorporated all the input into a single Teleplace attendee. The other way is that everyone in the room could also be logged into Teleplace with their own headsets and mics. *Make* that Singularity happen, ooh yeah! (/sarcasm)

Essay: Language, learning, and social interaction – Insights and pitfalls on the road to AGI

This is the first in a series of essays that I’m going to make available through this site. I’m going to put them in the resources page as I write them.

I’m doing this for a couple of reasons. The first is that I like writing. The second is that a blog is not the best format to present ideas that you need to frequently refer to, and often when you get asked the same question by multiple people it is better to point them to a permanent resource rather than repeating yourself each time. The third is that I would like to add some ideas to the general thought-provoking mash-up of AGI memes around the internet. The fourth is that I think people enjoy reading short articles and opinion pieces somewhat more than entire books. The fifth is that (somewhat in contradiction to my previous reason) I’m hoping to eventually write a neat book about related topics, and whilst I have already started doing this, I feel that I need a lot more practice writing several-page documents before I feel I can make something that is 100+ pages long which I am happy with. Note, the PhD thesis does not count!! 😉

So here we go. Click on the title to download the PDF.
You can also find a copy of the essay in the resources tab.

Language, learning, and social interaction
Insights and pitfalls on the road to AGI

Why is language important? What purpose does it serve on a fundamental level? How is it related to the ways in which we learn? Why did it evolve? In this short essay I’m going to take a Darwinian look at language and why we must be careful when considering the role played by language in the building of intelligent machines which are not human-like.

H+ Summit 2010 @ Harvard

I’m currently in Harvard listening to some pretty awesome talks at the H+ Summit. I always really enjoying attending these events, the atmosphere is truly awesome. So far we have had talks about brain preservation, diy genomics, neural networks, robots on stage, AI, consciousness, synthetic biology, crowdsourcing scientific discovery, and lots lots more.

The talks are all being livestreamed, which is pretty cool too. I can’t really describe the conference in words, so here are some pictures from the conference so far:

Audience pic:

General overview:

Here is a picture of Geordie’s talk about D-Wave, quantum computing and Intelligence:

Here is a picture of me next to the Aiken-IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator Mark I. This thing is truly amazing, a real piece of computing history.

The MIT museum was also really cool 🙂 More news soon!

Physics post-singularity….

As post-singularitarians, what will happen to scientific discovery after the inevitable continued progress of automation? Will physicists be needed at all?

I think that there really won’t be much point in studying Physics post-singularity, as expert systems and AIs will be able to advance scientific development and understanding, put forward theories and perform experiments themselves. Or rather, there won’t be much point in studying it as humans. It would be like studying weaving, except there won’t be a market for quaint, slightly wobbly ‘hand-made theories’ and ‘hand-analysed data’ in the same way that people look for beads on strings at craft-fayres in country barns.

I’m afraid to say that the first guys out will be the theorists. Theorem proving machines are already gaining traction, and I don’t think it will be long before these systems will start to become commonplace, as soon as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) gets even a foothold in this area. These kind of systems which are given the chance to play about in a theoretical, platonic realm of logic and inference constitute a nice step between AI and AGI, and they are likely to be exploited as such. Our beautiful theoretical physics will be demoted to a mere rung on the ladder of systems trying to become more ‘human’ and less like theoretical physicists!

Coming a close second will be computational Physicists. I mean, they need expert systems already to even start! Their only hope is to cling on to the ability to test their simulations against the real world – which an automated system might find tricky.

I think that experimentalists will be the last to go, as they interact the most closely with the material world… These brave soldiers will hold out the longest in the trenches of this war, fighting the new breed of scientist with their ability to gracefully control and manipulate the most delicate of scientific instruments. Instruments which are indeed the lower sentience predecessors of Intelligent Scientific Equipment. In fact, experimentalists might even hang around long enough to see the merging of humans with machines, in which case they can probably keep their jobs throughout 🙂

I think that the process of writing papers could probably be automated sooner than we think. But if our scientific equipment really does start to out-investigate us, who will read the papers? The equipment will just quietly and democratically communicate information across a global network, with each piece of kit having an instantly updated database of the current ‘cutting edge’ results. The system will know everything. It will have the capability to search and analyse every single paper ever written on a scientific subject. It will have a deduction and inference engine that can allow it to leapfrog any literature-savvy scientist in an instant, even with limited AGI capabilities. Such machines would not need to go to conferences, all necessary information can communicated almost effortlessly over the network. Peer review will probably still happen (systems will compare results), but it will be done via distributed computing, and it will be democratic – there’s no need for one system to be ‘better’ than another, these machines don’t care about getting first author on that Nature paper. They care about sharing the information and producing a model of the Universe that best describes it. This can be hardwired into their algorithms. It will be their very raison d’etre. They can become perfect scientists within their experimental capabilities (which will improve over time too).

2050, Researchers carrying piles of paperwork from their offices. (Many never did go paperless. Most of the yellowing documents are still from the 1990s)

Curious-2010-researcher: What’s happening? Why are you guys leaving? You’re eminent scientists! Pinnacles of wisdom and knowledge!

2050-research-group: Well, the University had to make cuts…

Curious-2010-researcher: How could you guys ever let this happen?

2050-research-group: You can’t get a grant these days unless you’ve got the latest Auto-Prof-300. Nothing can analyse data quite like it! It doesn’t take tea breaks or lunch. It doesn’t claim conference expenses. It uses less electricity than our computers did, not to mention the savings on pens and envelopes! It even writes our papers for us, heh! There’s just no use for us anymore. But it’s OK, we have a plan. We’re going to start a museum 🙂

What is the point of all this rambling…. Well, I just thought I’d explain one of the reasons why I’m interested in AI and AGI. I think that we can develop AGI as a tool for improving the way we do Physics. As for the consequences of that, well I am not in a position to judge. Technology is agnostic, it will provide advantages and disadvantages for the human race as we know it. But being a Physicist, one is always looking for better ways to be a physicist, and to do better Physics. I feel that the best way to do Physics is to build machines to do Physics for us. After all, we’re good at building machines to do things for us. I also believe that there are fundamental reasons why we are not best placed as agents in this environment to do Physics anymore. I feel that we are approaching somewhat of a ‘ceiling’ regarding our own ability to understand the way in which the universe operates.

Hopefully this lighthearted and somewhat tongue-in-cheek post will be the forerunner to some more posts about how machines such as Auto-Prof-300 can actually be realised. I’ll also talk a bit more about why I believe this ‘ceiling’ to our understanding exists.

H+ Summit 2010 coming up!

I’ll be attending the upcoming H+ Summit at Harvard University on the 12-14th June.

The Summit’s main theme is: Rise of the citizen scientist, and I do indeed look forward to having lots of interesting discussions about the future of science, in addition to (hopefully) meeting people with the specific intent of sparking AGI discussions and potentially ideas for projects. So let me know if you are going along and want to discuss Quantum Computing, AI/AGI, the future of science or anything else! The conference has a fantastic, diverse lineup of speakers, and the topics range from Controlling Brain Circuits with Light to Building a Services Market for the Transhuman Era. Pretty cool, huh?

I think it is really important that Physicists consider how science might be conducted in the upcoming decades. That is a subject for another blogpost, maybe even an essay or two 😉 – but I certainly think that the way we are currently going about making discoveries is rather inefficient, and there are several ways in which we can improve on this.

On Learning…

I have learnt mostly everything I know about Quantum Computing in the past 7 years. In fact, I’m going to make a little confession: I have never taken a formal course on Quantum Computing, I am almost completely self-taught 🙂 And if there is one thing I’ve learnt, it is that to learn hard subjects on your own you need to learn how to learn. I’m pretty obsessed with learning. It is one of the things that defines me.

So, as I embark upon a new learning task, I start to wonder if there is anything I can ‘learn’ (hehe) from my previous experience. To be clear about my goal: I would like to formally learn more about the field of Artificial Intelligence.

So I thought I’d write down a few things that might help and hinder me in this task, and to try and extract just how comparable the two learning experiences might be.


1.) I know a lot more about learning now. I am fairly good at knowing where to get information, how to mine resources and when to give up and go onto something simpler first if you’re just not getting anywhere. So this will all help.

2.) I probably have about the same amount of time to do the learning for AI as I had for QC, in both cases the subjects are tangential to what I am/was doing at the time. Not central, but related.

3.) I am generally more focused than I was 7 years ago! I also pretty much don’t drink alcohol anymore, and I’m probably in better health overall, which will help towards the goal. So this is all positive.

4.) However I *am* older – perhaps I am losing some of my brain plasticity!

5.) I think the core conceptual framework of QC is more tightly knit, whereas with AI it is a bit more sprawling, however to counter this I’d say that the mechanics/mathematics of QC is probably more involved. I may be wrong here of course!

6.) It is easier to ‘start’ with AI, I think there are simple programs, simulations and experiments that you can work on DIY style to learn a lot (I know that I learn quite well that way)

7.) There is a crossover between QC and AI – which makes the learning more interesting, as you can apply one area of expertise to another and see if you can come up with anything interesting along the way.

8.) I am now much better at networking, talking to people and conferencing – and you learn a LOT through these techniques. It is so important to learn what has already been done so you don’t end up spending several years re-inventing the proverbial wheel…

9.) Technologies are accelerating. I can utilise the latest developments to help me learn a new topic. 7 years ago I wasn’t using Wikipedia, ArXiv, Google Books etc, etc…. and I can now start to organise my thoughts more intuitively using wikis and mindmaps. I have an almost constant connection to the internet at all times now – so not only do I have a much greater access to learning resources, but I also feel in a much more information-aware mindset.

10.) Black Swans – of course something crazy might happen, like, say (lets be optimistic here) we suddenly find we’ve gone through the Singularity… then I won’t have to worry quite so much about the learning anymore…

What will happen? Will it work? 7 years?

Let’s see…..

Moving country and shifting worlds…

In case anyone didn’t know, I recently moved from the UK to Canada. So it’s been a stressful but exciting time. Moving country really messes up your schedule. I’m only just starting to get back into all my old habits. I realise just how much time I spend reading RSS feeds and absorbing information from the internet each day! But there are so many exciting (and a lot more very mundane but necessary) things to do at the moment.

To help me along the way, I recently purchased an Android-sporting Nexus One. The phone has been really great so far, I’m very pleased with it. Having the ability to read all my RSS feeds and keep up with the latest quant-ph ArXiv posts on my commute into work is just heavenly. I feel so connected. How did I ever live without this technology?? Google Maps with built-in GPS has been amazingly useful too. And I’ve only downloaded a handful of apps so far. If anyone knows of any good Android apps to a.) help me with Quantum Physics b.) allow me to explore the world of augmented reality, please let me know!

I’m looking forward to finding new ways to integrate with technology over the next couple of years. Perhaps some of them I will be able to help to bring to fruition directly. I’m just feeling now that I am getting back up to speed with everything, and I want to push further into the realm of really using technology to augment everything I do.

Apparently I’m one cool gadget behind the times…. though I’m certainly thinking about buying an iPad 🙂