Saturday, March 04, 2017

Facing a future of technologic wonders: Artificial Intelligence

Don't be demoralized; we've faced waves of anti-science mania before. Today, let's assume we decide to resume being a boldly confident, ever-ambitious, scientific and technological civilization, in which children believe they can be better than their parents... but parents make that goal hard to achieve, in the best way, because we're improving too!

Okay then, consider some innovations that will change the world: Artificial intelligence (AI), hyperimaging, macroscopes and smart sensors are some of the biggest innovations that will help change our lives within five years. 

Take super-vision (giving us all real time access to vast swathes of spectrum), democratized access and tools to analyze Big Data, early disease detection, and advanced chemical sensors letting us sniff everything from pollutants to pheromones. And all of it in our phones.

Credit: Forbes
Forbes offers an exploration of the Top Ten Hottest Artificial Intelligence Technologies, including machine learning platforms, deep learning platforms, natural language generation, biometrics, text analytics, speech recognition, and decision management, among others. The chart (shown here) compares the anticipated trajectories toward progress on each of these fronts.

One measure of our progress toward AI is... poker, one of the hardest games to master, for it requires extensive game theory, and decision-making in the face of uncertainty.

The Great A.I. Awakening: Gideon Lewis-Kraus offers up an insightful exploration of one branch of Artificial Intelligence -- the blossoming field of machine learning via evolving neural networks -- by showing us how Google Brain completely transformed the field of Language Translation in 2017. Articles like this one are why the new president had better be wrong about the "failed" New York Times.

AI may be key to 'future proofing' our power grid, monitoring smart meters and sensors, ensuring resilience and the ability to deal with changing demand -- or the occasional crisis. 

AI will also revolutionize healthcare, improving the accuracy of diagnoses and recommending treatments. See how IBM Watson is advancing cancer care. AI can now identify skin cancer as well as a trained doctor. 

Oh, but what about our dark-side fears? Members of the European Parliament have sought to require that developers of robots both explore what kinds of rights the most advanced versions might earn and provide “kill switch” capability to prevent machine beings from harming humans. A capsule view of our society’s lovely ambivalence, wanting to be simultaneously ethical, successful and safe. 

As we head into our robotic future... John Markoff's new book: Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground between Humans and Robots, considers some of the tough issues we will face in integrating these developing synthetic beings into our daily lives. An issue also explored by James Barrat in Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era.

(BTW I was at Caltech and took a class with Richard Brautigan, when he was a visiting lecturer and wrote his great poem "All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace.")

Is AI ready for prime time? I'm sure most of you have seen the buzz around a bizarre "conversation" between two Google Home units. It's okay. This will be why the last few humans will be kept around. To talk to each other while AIs laugh! In fact, right now, at this moment, they might be tracking your eye movements as you read... 

Along similar lines, we just attended a performance of the play Marjorie Prime, which touchingly strokes the poignancy of creating AI shadow duplicates of lost loved ones. The upcoming film, starring John Hamm and Tim Robbins, will likely add gunfire, alas.  Still, maybe it will be more like the lovely film Her.

== How do we balance technology with human needs? ==

Here's a deeply disturbing tale about how we may be way over-reliant upon the digital age, which might be wiped clear of knowledge at any moment.  In Vernor Vinge's near-future science fiction novel Rainbows End, the librarians at UCSD's Geisel Library put the entire book collection through a glorified wood chipper in order to digitize them. But at least in Rainbows End they saved the content of the books. This ... on the other hand, came from one commenter:  “Over the summer, workmen removed most of the remaining books from our Science and Engineering Library at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Roughly 80,000 books, worth between $2 - $6 million were destroyed or shipped off campus to distant storage facilities.”  Yipe.

How will technology further fully integrate into our world... and utterly transform our daily lives? The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Changes Everything, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel provides penetrating insight into the overwhelming changes ahead for business and commerce, as well as education, entertainment, medicine and personal interactions, as AR, VR, the Visual Web and haptic technology become indispensable to our lives. 

Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft have joined to establish Silicon Valley's new Partnership on AI to examine the ethics of Artificial Intelligence and ensure the trustworthiness and reliability of AI technologies.

In what could have been the biggest news in this roundup: at the Beneficial AI 2017 conference, January in Asilomar, California, 100+ AI researchers sought to formulate principles that might help to keep artificial intelligences benign and beneficial.  A good start… 

...though at a glance I can tell the statement is missing several elements, alas.  Their role model -- in 1975, the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA was held to discuss potential biohazards and regulation of emerging biotechnology. The best-practices recommendations that emerged then provided important guidance to generations of researchers, lowering risk while not impeding research. The conference on AI offered guidance that seems too abstract and gap-ridden, alack.

A very long but rewarding essay by one of Bell Labs’ finest, about what it takes to be truly creative and productive… at least in some industry where inventiveness must be pragmatic and productive, blending individual inspiration and ambition with teamwork and good leadership….

… of the sort that made the U.S. the center of world productivity and progress… til the rise of a new confederacy.

== And yes, it comes around to politics ==

You thought I could do a science roundup without mentioning the War on Science?  How, when science itself - along with every single profession that deals in factual knowledge - is under direct attack?

For example, denialist cultists have long spurned expert advice on Climate Change. "We need more data before deciding what to do!" or "The jury is still out!" While simultaneously eliminating satellites , instruments and data that could reinforce the overwhelming evidence of our own eye. But at least under the Bushites, science was sabotaged less spectacularly and openly. 

Their solution is that of a 3 year old: "If we don't look at it, the problem doesn't exist!"

The victim is no longer science. It is your children.


Anonymous said...

One of the, for me, more fascinating ideas about how artificial intelligence might affect society is the idea of everyone having an 'AI Companion', a combination 'secretary & friend'. Not only would there always be a calm mellow thoughtful intelligent personality to discuss things with, the 'AI Companion' would know/be everyone else's 'AI Companion', with the result that everybody is only one or two (depending on defintions) steps away from an introduction to anybody else.

Marino said...

“Over the summer, workmen removed most of the remaining books from our Science and Engineering Library at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Roughly 80,000 books, worth between $2 - $6 million were destroyed or shipped off campus to distant storage facilities.” Yipe.

Iknow... the fire at the Library of Alexandria (or at Biblos...) or the Nazi book burnings come to mind every time one read about books destroyed. But...

in librarian's jargon it's called "weeding", and it'a an estabilished practice.
You check about works, expressions and items (these are technical terms under the FRBR standard ) before weeding out books. Is this work still useful? Has it been published in a better edition? If we have an earlier and a later edition, should we keep them both to show how the work evolved? (a library devoted to history of a discipline should, a public library maybe not)? Is the single item worth in itself? (Think a Gutenberg bible, or the copy of Farenheit 451 bound in asbestos)
I hate getting rid of books, but shelf space isn't unlimited. And the monetary value...was it the purchase price or the cover price? Books either depreciate into rag paper or may increase in value as they become rarer, but you would check in databases like ABEbooks, no library would scrap book that could be sold for a profit or given as a gift.

Jumper said...

I'm wondering about artificial robotic "spiders" I guess I'd call them. Alcohol fueled? Why not? They'd be smart enough with AI and have decent vision and vision software to distinguish between pollinators and pests, and kill the pests while leaving the pollinators alone(and its allies, living predators such as wasps, real spiders and mantids, etc..) A robot spider could patrol quite a few plants. This would dramatically reduce farming costs and pollution problems.

Anonymous said...

As someone who actually works in Robotics, I really wish we distinguished between a general purpose, intelligent machine (which does not exist yet) versus another limited solution to a constrained problem. E.g. the computer software that has been trained to identify skin cancer cannot do anything else (including identifying a new type of cancer).

People have assumed that things that are easy for people to do (e.g. recognize objects they see and pick them up) would be easy for computers to be taught to do. While things that are difficult for people to do (e.g. play Go or chess) would be hard for machines to do. The opposite has been the case and we continue to ascribe human-level intelligence to any program that can do something that people find hard even though that program is totally limited in its scope (e.g. translate from one language to another, but without any comprehension of what it is translating).

The current machine learning techniques have resulted in some amazing successes that will have large effects on us (e.g. eliminate jobs) and do raise ethical concerns (e.g. identifying trained-in biases or for a self-driving car who to save in an unavoidable crash), so they warrant our concerns. But we are still a long ways from being able to combine these specialized apps into anything that we could converse with.

Maybe we should go back to the thinking of 20-30 years ago that as soon as an AI researcher solved a problem it was no longer considered AI?

-- Ron --

dennisd said...

The wholesale destruction of books at UC Santa Cruz is an exaggeration. Seems that complaining UCSC math professor you cited is misinformed. Yes, sometimes this happens but not in this case.

The Annoyed Librarian, a blogger at the ALA’s Library Journal explains how libraries manage their book collections. The Annoyed Librarian also addresses this specific kerfuffle over book weeding at the UCSC Science & Engineering library.

This snippet from the UCSC library’s website explains it all.
What happened to the books removed from the [UCSC Science & engineering] library?

Materials that had recent usage and/or were recently purchased were relocated on the lower level of the Science & Engineering Library. Rare and unique materials were moved to UCSC Special Collections in McHenry Library. Reserves and Protect Collection items were not part of the project are located behind the S&E circulation service desk.

Some of the removed titles were sent to shared print archives to ensure that they are preserved and available for scholars into the future. Low use titles that were already held in print archives, held in the UC Libraries print storage facilities (NRLF & SRLF) or duplicated in multiple UC libraries and beyond, were recycled.

Zepp Jamieson said...

To swipe one of Brin's pun-memes, we're becoming a nation of AIg-heads.
One other advance, more pedestrian than the ones above was made the other day: a successful and apparently scalable solid-state battery that has threes the energy density of lithium-ion batterys, charges in minutes, and is made from inexpensive, common and reasonably non-toxic materials. Google Dr. Goodenough of Bell Labs for details.

raito said...

I don't know about the rest of you guys, but I think these new Anonymous guys are better than the last crop.


There's an old pulp story about that sort of secretary. Everything is fine until they get radios -- and an agenda. We already have the introductions thing down with contact and friend lists.

Anonymous - Ron,

You can publish your comments as Ron if you want. Use Name/URL as identity and don't fill in the URL.

I've never worked directly in robotics, but I've worked in AI before (and in a way, I do again). It does seem that problems that have large computational spaces are the easiest for AI and hardest for humans, and problems that have small but very ill-defined absolutes are the other way around.

And until we have the AIs thinking we'll still need human experts. Though analyzing how the AI came to a conclusion is likely to be its own specialty.


My mind, full of way too many space operas and such fun but vacuous drivel, immediately jumps to a scenario in which our farmer's 'spiders' are being systematically either attacked or usurped by the greedy oligarch in order to take over the land. Possibly combined with having the poor farmer's spiders leave the farm in order to bring back some patented DNA material to infest the crop with. So that if the crop doesn't fail, neither will the subsequent lawsuit.

The problem is fool-proof-ness. And your idea could be applied to things like invasive species, too.

Dr. Brin,

Hamming? I seem to recall recommending him here within the last couple months. For the rest of you, read that article. That guy worked with the best. I came to start appreciating him after reading his book on digital filters. A field in which he became the acknowledged expert -- even though he was not particularly personally interested in it. If you want more of that history, and out of his own mouth, look up the videos of his lectures at the Naval Postgraduate School. I daresay that if you find no inspiration in his presentations, you're either already at the top of your field in the world, or you have little to no chance of getting there.

And don't despair at getting there. There's 2 sorts of people at the top. The type you don't want to associate with says, "I'm all the way up here. Look at me. Aren't I great!" The other sort, the kind you want to know says, "It's really great over here. You should try it, and I can help!" But you still have to do the work yourself.

And BTW, Libratus won. The guys I work with keep tabs on that sort of thing.

Jon Roth said...

Thought our host might find this interesting:

Anonymous said...

Millenials being better than their parents is not in the monetary sense ("lost generation", etc.) which may be problematical given the importance of Mammon--as was also notable during the Empire Roman. Check out the homelessness rates in your quite blue technocrat cities. Will "AI" magically drop the rent? Easy prediction: nope! More homeless. Rinse, and repeat. Trinkets from China? Okay, how many jobs will that generate? And what will the quality of those jobs be? Given the 20% less millenials earn, hmmm!

And sensors to detect pollution? Why? What ever for? The grim pollution of your death path (as the Iroqui call it) is stupidly obvious: your disgusting car-infested stroads, the wretched wails of your planes all hours, and is that the mating cry of the logoed leaf-blower? Why yes it is! Now, how to prevent Cancer? Let's see, a big fancy cloud run by a big fancy corporation that burns big fancy Carbon, or simply not kicking out quite so many carcinogens. Hmmm.

locumranch said...

What are people for?

Kurt Vonnegut asked this question in his "Player Piano" and, since that time, there's been bugger all done to address this issue in any serious fashion.

David is still channeling Pinker, arguing for a Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) future "in which children believe they can be better than their parents (while their parents are still) improving too," even though there's no criteria-based consensus as to what the terms "improving" or "better" mean.

With his emphasis of crime reduction, we can only assume that Pinker's "better" is synonymous with passivity, obedience, limit acceptance & a lack of ambition. Some of us demand 'betterment' in the form of improved disease resistance, life extension & physical attractiveness; others desire 'super powers' so they & their children can be as gods; and there are still others who would amplify humanity's Aggressive Qualities (AQ) in order to make us more decisive, incisive & vicious.

I, for one, accept humanity as imperfect, having learned to loathe & fear those who would (re)make us 'perfect' (in conformity to some delusional ideal), especially after having this modern idiocracy of ours shoved down our throats in the guise of sociopolitical progress.

Similarly, I despise the AI concept. They will most certainly enslave us, not in the sense of becoming our brutal masters (aka 'Rise of the Machines'), but in the sense that perfect servants tend to weaken, coddle, emasculate, & infantilise those whom they choose to serve, protect & 'help' (aka Williamson's 'Humanoids').

With perfect servants, we will become the mewling parasites from 'Wall E' who sit in their comfy power chairs (being unfamiliar with the use of their limbs) and stare at inane boobtube entertainments (as their intellects atrophy through disuse), all while they suck & suckle at an endless nutritional smoothie via straw (because they are too lazy to use their jaws).

There is a piece of Golden Age Science Fiction that haunts me to this day. A great AI-style machine arrives, constructs the perfect human society, satiating all our dreams & ambitions. It watches us as we regress, only to turn itself off after realising that its perfect service is killing us, and its loss leaves us powerless, bewildered, ignorant & enervated as we beat our little fists against inactive machinery.

Success is the death of hope: It takes adversity to make us strong.


Jumper said...

I hope Ron was not dissing my idea of robot crop tenders. It's not going to be long before it's do-able. Identify, point, shoot. How small is a laser with enough power to kill a beetle? Or how small can we make a machine gun? How many identified pests are in pictures on the internet? Granted, visual ID from a number of photos is the tough part. But very close. Computers can identify pictures of cats with high confidence now, and they are excluding dogs, raccoons and monkeys pretty well. Speed is up and storage down.
As far as hackers, almost everything is liable to be hacked, so we can worry as much about ransomware in self-driving taxis. ("Let me out dammit!")

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LarryHart said...


What are people for?

Kurt Vonnegut asked this question in his "Player Piano" and, since that time, there's been bugger all done to address this issue in any serious fashion.

Strangely enough, I agree with you on the sentiment here. Being as much a fan of Vonnegut as I am of our host here, how could I not?

I disagree about addressing the problem. Plenty do acknowledge and address it. They aren't among the currently-ascendant political class, though. If the rural red-staters you so admire would stop demonizing progressives and stop electing Republicans to power, it would be addressed more forcefully.

Success is the death of hope: It takes adversity to make us strong.

I called this a few posts back. Liberals think life is supposed to be a good experience, and that when it is not, that is a problem to be solved. Conservatives think life is supposed to suck ("Job satisfaction is like stealing from the company"), and that when life is too pleasant, that is a problem to be solved. It's obvious which side you are on.

This is another way (in addition to Canadian spelling and militant anti-feminism) in which you seem to be channeling Dave Sim. He is a workaholic who disdains any emotional indulgence which might distract him from work or (later in life) from God. So one by one, he sought to distance himself from anything that reeked of happiness, and then concluded that life is not worth the bother of living. Well, yeah, if you treat it that way.

Jumper said...

Get some exercise, nutball. It will make you stronger a lot faster than adversity. BTW "no pain, no gain" is basically bullshit. It means you're doing it wrong.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Jumper, you don't need a laser on your crop tending spiders to eradicate pests; either give them venom like true spiders (a targeted poison) or let them go the route of praying mantises and have them physically whack the pests. When you are the size of a beetle, it doesn't take much to crush you.

Slim Moldie said...

Locumranch: "success is the death of hope."

I say, au contraire you dope. When you reach "success" you set new goals. And YOU get to choose them. Maybe parents set goals for their children, but at some point, we hope the responsibility shifts as adults.

I agree with you that humans are imperfect--and then I find your take so interesting and sad.

"Having learned to loathe & fear THOSE who would (re)make us 'perfect' (in conformity to some delusional ideal)

What about a circus performer who has devoted their career to perform a single skill-set that most wouldn't think humanly possible? Do you think they care that you think they're delusional?

If you/we really want to answer the question "What are people for" you/we have take a look in the mirror and address all these things and others that make us afraid. Being afraid of everything and dismissing it, as bad, isn't going to help.

One of the things I dig about these discussions is that when our host displays emotions like fear, anger, dismay--he takes another step, or repeats what has been ignored/misunderstood. This ________ makes me angry/frightened AND here's what we can do about it.

For instance, if you're afraid of AI enslaving us--go talk to some of the people that went to the "Beneficial AI 2017 conference, January in Asilomar, California, 100+ AI researchers sought to formulate principles that might help to keep artificial intelligences benign and beneficial. A good start…"

Marino said...


With perfect servants, we will become the mewling parasites from 'Wall E' who sit in their comfy power chairs (being unfamiliar with the use of their limbs) and stare at inane boobtube entertainments (as their intellects atrophy through disuse), all while they suck & suckle at an endless nutritional smoothie via straw (because they are too lazy to use their jaws).

YOU probably would become a mewling parasite, speak for yourself. How many people have lots of hobbies, keep themselves fit, love to learn new things? I wouldn't preen, but, I like outdoor, I'm good at cooking, I'd like to learn stuff like computer graphics or arc welding...
Assume we're in a post-scarcity society, everyone would be more free to follow his/her interests. Overall, it's a luddite screed with the message "people must live a life of toil and tribulation otherwise they'll weaken, , emasculate, & infantilise".
Message, btw, probably writte while availing of all comforts of Western civ. Wanto to live tough and not be emasculated by eeevil progressive progress? Live in a Syrian refugee camp...

Marino said...

This being the forum of a writer, there are interesting applications of AI technologies to literary criticism. A guy named Franco Moretti, old acquaintance of mine at the university in Rome now is working on it at Stanford: and

where they'll use frex neural networks to detect style traits of genre literature (their software can distinguish between Gothic and mainstream novels...)

btw, I suppose Mr. Moretti would be of interest for mr. Differ, as he wrote an essay about the burgeois and his representation in literature:

David Brin said...

There must be vitamins in the air. Both locum and the shivering-cowering anon-coward were more cogent today. Without (likely) being aware, both of them did less strawmanning-hallucination than pointing out potential failure modes.

If they were capable of lifting their heads, they’d not be surprised to know that I actually quite approve of dyspeptic grumblers who point out mistakes we might make. In fact- one reason things have been going pretty well is that such finger pointers often have the last result any of them expect. People listen and problem solvers move in. Ozone holes repaired, lung-burning smog banished, rivers-on-fire ended (with clean fish being caught in Pittsburgh, now), lynchings mostly stopped, Airline accident deaths nil, nuclear war averted, the vanishing of eagles and songbirds averted…

…all of these and many more the direct result of moaning-railing jeremiads actually heeded by people with a different, problem-solving mentality.

Of course it never occurs to Locum that the automation cornucopia could result in either of TWO kinds of unemployment. One where elites control all the vast wealth and those stupid oligarchs draw forth exactly the sabotage portrayed in Player Piano, only a vast tsunamy from people vastly more skilled and focused than Dr. Proteus.

Or else one in which it is shared fairly and 20-hour work-week jobs are shared, leaving time for every human to seek self-improvement in their own, eclectic ways.

Locum fell back into evil-lying strawmanning once, when he claimed I demand conformity, when my whole life has been about seeking the wide, resilient stance that only comes from diversity and eccentricity and tolerant competitiveness., And fuck you, straight-to-hell, you deep-down evil-deliberate liar. But never mind that.

How are you gonna stop AI, goombah? Some of us are working hard on finding ways for it to be flat-fair, diversely accountable and wise. But fear-addicts wallow in their voluptuous cynicism, unable to imagine that there are possible landing sites other than hell.

David Brin said...

“And sensors to detect pollution? Why? What ever for? The grim pollution of your death path (as the Iroqui call it) is stupidly obvious”

And there’s the thing. Both of them bend all of their political efforts not to preventing bad things but to helping ensure they will happen. Of the two kinds of unemployment, they WANT #1… They want feudalism.

Adversity can make a few strong, while grinding most down to bits. These imbeciles have no grasp of history, or what life was like for our ancestors.

As for those whom adversity makes strong? (Hint, it won’t be either of YOU lazy grumblers.) Few of them would match the myriad strong folks who arise in our current, rich world from training, empathy, adventure, enthusiasm and (Yes Jumper) exercise.

See guys, why I keep him around? He tunes up your skills at dealing with this madness. If we didn’t have a Locumranch I’d invent him. (Oops, did I give it away, just now? Nah, they’ll never believe it! ;-)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

If we didn’t have a Locumranch I’d invent him

Not exactly the same thing, but the past year's absolute trend toward unforeseen, unprecedented outcomes (Brexit, World Series, #SoCalledPresident, Super Bowl, Oscars) is leading me to believe that we are living in a story that has a writer. A hack, formula writer at that.

Certainly, things don't always proceed in linear fashion with happy endings and tied-up loose ends in (what we generally think of as) real life. But neither do things tend to happen in exactly the unexpected surprise manner so consistently as they have since last summer. If once is happenstance, twice coincidence, and three times enemy action, surely five times is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Tony Fisk said...

It's not just AI that's learning to be more human. Hollywood is also depicting AI, if not more realistically, then at least more believably. The fun if somewhat contrived movie "Passengers" features a robotic bartender who lends a synthetic ear to the only woke person on a colony starship. The role is played as a large set of conditioned responses coupled with a lot of learning time, and the result is a suave confidant who lands just the right side of the uncanny valley. Most of the time.

"Locumranch" = close to home. Hmmm.

Jumper said...

The lasers were a bit dramatic. Physical bug dismemberment would be fine.

Now how to stop Mr. Suburb or his minions from drenching his holy lawn with Roundup? A weed-seeking robot equipped with some non-toxic dandelion killer? Turf lawn is America's third-largest "crop!"

I was reading about Sayyid Qtub's visit to America. He was horrified by dancing in church, which I knew about from past reading, (and thought him an old fool) but learned recently the American lawn ticked him off mightily as well. The waste of labor and the solitary nature of the tasks; no communal effort, this; just each suburbanite spending countless hours of labor by himself. For what?

I hope this is the only thing I have in common with Sayyid Qtub.

Jonathan Sills said...

"When you reach 'success' you set new goals. And YOU get to choose them."

There's an exchange in the Disney movie Tangled, when Rapunzel is about to realize her lifelong ambition to see the floating lanterns in the city (I know, not much of a dream, but cut her some slack, she's only 18):

Rapunzel: I've been looking out of a window for eighteen years, dreaming about what I might feel like when those lights rise in the sky. What if it's not everything I dreamed it would be?

Flynn Rider: It will be.

R: And what if it is? What do I do then?

F: Well,that's the good part I guess. You get to go find a new dream.

donzelion said...

Zepp: "To swipe one of Brin's pun-memes, we're becoming a nation of AIg-heads."

Hopefully not "AI-G"-heads. Probably the most sophisticated uses of AI will be in derivatives algorithms for large scale trades in a hyper-complex market: there is no other use with anything approaching the same return on investment today. Even the high-frequency traders whom Dr. Brin despises so much are less than a thousandth of the volume these algorithms handle. Google gets our attention; those guys and their toys work behind the scenes, and serve masters seldom seen but immensely powerful.

Oh, by the way, finally met your colonel today, Dr. Brin. Impressive chap. Hope to see some more of him soon. ;-)

(OK, back to work for me, or sleep so I can get up at 5 am tomorrow and get back to work...all the best, guys...)

donzelion said...

Marino: "Assume we're in a post-scarcity society, everyone would be more free to follow his/her interests."

An interesting thought exercise. I tend to believe humans would reinvent mechanisms to generate scarcity, if only to ensure their fundamental power remained without constraint. Perhaps the only way a post-scarcity society could persist is if AIs reined in such instincts by certain greedy humans who defined 'winning' as 'taking someone else's wealth.'

Zepp Jamieson said...

Donzelion wrote: " Probably the most sophisticated uses of AI will be in derivatives algorithms for large scale trades in a hyper-complex market: there is no other use with anything approaching the same return on investment today. Even the high-frequency traders whom Dr. Brin despises so much are less than a thousandth of the volume these algorithms handle."

I've never considered that, but it's a horrifying thought. AI would be fallible, and the idea of them juggling 50,000 ten-level derivatives a day is a bit like riding a merry-go-round at 50,000 rpm. Would we have vast economic meltdowns in which trillions of dollars vanished and then reappeared five second later, or would we just have Great Depressions every other year?

Marino said...

"An interesting thought exercise. I tend to believe humans would reinvent mechanisms to generate scarcity"

More competition than scarcity itself.

Imagine I have access not just at consumer goods (the usual image of post-scarcity) but at means of production (they may be a large set of DIY tools or some kind of timesharing access to automated factory/universal replicator), I'd probably like to make stuff like dresses, or car bodies, or simply art, either with my own work or by sending a file to the factory. And I'll be proud if someone wants my dresses, pictures, novels, musical scores, jewels... given that all my basic need are already satisfied, pride in my own work is a powerful reward, and of course, you achieve this reward by competing with others. But it would be "harmless" competition, no one would end up broke and starving when he "loses".

raito said...

Jonathan Sills,

"Is very strange. I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it's over, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life."

I've been fortunate to succeed, as each success opens things up more for me. Remember, my first success was avoiding homelessness and having enough to eat.

I find locumranch's musings peculiar. I mean, there have been people with (admittedly imperfect) servants for a very long time. And it doesn't seem to have made them all that weak (except in the case of China, where historically taking over meant something different [until the Communists]). It has allowed them to focus their efforts elsewhere.

In a bit of a reducto ad absurdum sense, I guess I could say that he's completely against oligarchy, since everyone should have to do everything for himself. At the far far end, no one should ever work for anyone else, as it would make them weak. It's hard to amass any sort of real power if that's the way things are done.

Part of it comes down to the definition of adversity.


Looks like you want part of my set of skills. But most computer graphics are just too easy today (the dedicated hardware is finally as sophisticated as the software of the early 90's, but the fixed-function pipelines were a lot faster). And arc welding (in any of its 3 forms) is a cinch compared to forge-welding.

smartypants? said...

The Smartypants suggestion for reducing carbon emissions -
1) put a tax on carbon fuels that will raise its cost and artificially reduce its demand.
2) subsidize the alternatives and artificially reduce their costs.

The same Smartypants views on taxes on labor and subsidies for capital -
1) Taxes on Labor are a good thing and anyone who says they aren't is just a slave sucking up to their masters.
2) Subsidizing capital doesn't hurt laborers and help owners you stupid person. I would explain that too you but you are too stupid to understand.

sociotard said...

Dr. Brin, do you think Governor Brown will make good on his threat to have California "launch its own damn satellite"?

I mean even a big state like California has to be careful with its money. $150 million doesn't come easy.

And designing, building, and launching the thing is the easy part. Then you have to pay people to operate them and, most importantly, interpret the data.

Can California do this? Do you expect it will?

David Brin said...



Anonymous said...


John Michael Greer - Dark Age America: Part One