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Thirty of the world's top scientists are scheduled to meet at the University of California at San Diego in February to discuss the toughest challenges in robotics and automation, including how to make driverless cars safe for a mass audience. Continue reading
Hanson Robotics’ “Han” is a humanoid robot capable of recognizing someone in front of it, including their voice, and then mimicking that human’s facial expressions while interacting and talking. Wow! Suggested Reading: Related Posts Mayfield Robotics Announces Kuri, a $700 … Continue reading
As we close out 2016, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to take a risk and venture into a topic I’m personally compelled to think about… a topic that will seem far out to most readers.
Today’s extraordinary rate of exponential growth may do much more than just disrupt industries. It may actually give birth to a new species, reinventing humanity over the next 30 years.
I believe we’re rapidly heading towards a human-scale transformation, the next evolutionary step into what I call a “Meta-Intelligence,” a future in which we are all highly connected—brain to brain via the cloud—sharing thoughts, knowledge and actions. In this post, I’m investigating the driving forces behind such an evolutionary step, the historical pattern we are about to repeat, and the implications thereof. Again, I acknowledge that this topic seems far-out, but the forces at play are huge and the implications are vast. Let’s dive in…
A Quick Recap: Evolution of Life on Earth in 4 Steps
About 4.6 billion years ago, our solar system, the sun and the Earth were formed.
Step 1: 3.5 billion years ago, the first simple life forms, called “prokaryotes,” came into existence.These prokaryotes were super-simple, microscopic single-celled organisms, basically a bag of cytoplasm with free-floating DNA. They had neither a distinct nucleus nor specialized organelles.
Step 2: Fast-forwarding one billion years to 2.5 billion years ago, the next step in evolution created what we call “eukaryotes”—life forms that distinguished themselves by incorporating biological ‘technology’ into themselves. Technology that allowed them to manipulate energy (via mitochondria) and information (via chromosomes) far more efficiently. Fast forward another billion years for the next step.
Step 3: 1.5 billion years ago, these early eukaryotes began working collaboratively and formed the first “multi-cellular life,” of which you and I are the ultimate examples (a human is a multicellular creature of 10 trillion cells).
Step 4: The final step I want to highlight happened some 400 million years ago, when lungfish crawled out of the oceans onto the shores, and life evolved from the oceans onto land.
The Next Stages of Human Evolution: 4 Steps
Today, at a massively accelerated rate—some 100 million times faster than the steps I outlined above—life is undergoing a similar evolution. In this next stage of evolution, we are going from evolution by natural selection (Darwinism) to evolution by intelligent direction. Allow me to draw the analogy for you:
Step 1: Simple humans today are analogous to prokaryotes. Simple life, each life form independent of the others, competing and sometimes collaborating.
Step 2: Just as eukaryotes were created by ingesting technology, humans will incorporate technology into our bodies and brains that will allow us to make vastly more efficient use of information (BCI) and energy.
Step 3: Enabled with BCI and AI, humans will become massively connected with each other and billions of AIs (computers) via the cloud, analogous to the first multicellular lifeforms 1.5 billion years ago. Such a massive interconnection will lead to the emergence of a new global consciousness, and a new organism I call the Meta-Intelligence.
Step 4: Finally, humanity is about to crawl out of the gravity well of Earth to become a multiplanetary species. Our journey to the moon, Mars, asteroids and beyond represents the modern-day analogy of the journey made by lungfish climbing out of the oceans some 400 million years ago.
The 4 Forces Driving the Evolution and Transformation of Humanity
Four primary driving forces are leading us towards our transformation of humanity into a meta-intelligence both on and off the Earth:
We’re wiring our planet
Emergence of brain-computer interface
Emergence of AI
Opening of the space frontier
Let’s take a look.
1. Wiring the Planet: Today, there are 2.9 billion people connected online. Within the next six to eight years, that number is expected to increase to nearly 8 billion, with each individual on the planet having access to a megabit-per-second connection or better. The wiring is taking place through the deployment of 5G on the ground, plus networks being deployed by Facebook, Google, Qualcomm, Samsung, Virgin, SpaceX and many others. Within a decade, every single human on the planet will have access to multi-megabit connectivity, the world’s information, and massive computational power on the cloud.
2. Brain-Computer Interface: A multitude of labs and entrepreneurs are working to create lasting, high-bandwidth connections between the digital world and the human neocortex (I wrote about that in detail here). Ray Kurzweil predicts we’ll see human-cloud connection by the mid-2030s, just 18 years from now. In addition, entrepreneurs like Bryan Johnson (and his company Kernel) are committing hundreds of millions of dollars towards this vision. The end results of connecting your neocortex with the cloud are twofold: first, you’ll have the ability to increase your memory capacity and/or cognitive function millions of fold; second, via a global mesh network, you’ll have the ability to connect your brain to anyone else’s brain and to emerging AIs, just like our cell phones, servers, watches, cars and all devices are becoming connected via the Internet of Things.
3. Artificial Intelligence/Human Intelligence: Next, and perhaps most significantly, we are on the cusp of an AI revolution. Artificial intelligence, powered by deep learning and funded by companies such as Google, Facebook, IBM, Samsung and Alibaba, will continue to rapidly accelerate and drive breakthroughs. Cumulative “intelligence” (both artificial and human) is the single greatest predictor of success for both a company or a nation. For this reason, beside the emerging AI “arms race,” we will soon see a race focused on increasing overall human intelligence. Whatever challenges we might have in creating a vibrant brain-computer interface (e.g., designing long-term biocompatible sensors or nanobots that interface with your neocortex), those challenges will fall quickly over the next couple of decades as AI power tools give us ever-increasing problem-solving capability. It is an exponential atop an exponential. More intelligence gives us the tools to solve connectivity and mesh problems and in turn create greater intelligence.
4. Opening the Space Frontier: Finally, it’s important to note that the human race is on the verge of becoming a multiplanetary species. Thousands of years from now, whatever we’ve evolved into, we will look back at these next few decades as the moment in time when the human race moved off Earth irreversibly. Today, billions of dollars are being invested privately into the commercial space industry. Efforts led by SpaceX are targeting humans on Mars, while efforts by Blue Origin are looking at taking humanity back to the moon, and plans by my own company, Planetary Resources, strive to unlock near-infinite resources from the asteroids.
The rate of human evolution is accelerating as we transition from the slow and random process of “Darwinian natural selection” to a hyper-accelerated and precisely-directed period of “evolution by intelligent direction.” In this post, I chose not to discuss the power being unleashed by such gene-editing techniques as CRISPR-Cas9. Consider this yet another tool able to accelerate evolution by our own hand.
The bottom line is that change is coming, faster than ever considered possible. All of us leaders, entrepreneurs and parents have a huge responsibility to inspire and guide the transformation of humanity on and off the Earth. What we do over the next 30 years—the bridges we build to abundance—will impact the future of the human race for millennia to come. We truly live during the most exciting time ever in human history.
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It can read lips and create new food recipes. It can win at chess, Jeopardy and the game Go. Every major technology company appears to be integrating it into how they organize and operate their business. And it seems like just about every new app in existence claims its software uses some sort of machine learning to make life even better.
Artificial intelligence is splashed across headlines like never before. The AI revolution is here, and the most obvious question to ask as 2016 draws to an end is: what’s next?
We recently asked James Hendler this question. Hendler is director of the Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications and one of the developers of the semantic web. He recently co-wrote, with Alice M. Mulvehill, the book Social Machines: The Coming Collision of Artificial Intelligence, Social Networking, and Humanity.
The book is less about predictions and more about setting expectations about what AI can and can’t do. The problem, as Hendler sees it, is that many people view AI with Terminator trepidation or as a utopian dream, while completely taking humanity out of the equation.
“People want to paint this technology in black and white,” he explains. “It needs humans in the loop, and humans are better at dealing with the grays.”
To borrow a slightly used political slogan: we—humans and AI—are stronger together. That’s Hendler’s a priori when discussing the future of artificial intelligence.
Packaging AI for mass programming
“I think the thing that excites me short-term is how much of AI technology [is being] made accessible at a much simpler level for programmers to use. It’s no longer a specialist thing,” Hendler says.
A class he is currently teaching on AI cognitive computing illustrates this point. Undergraduates are doing projects, like creating a chatbot able to answer questions about the Harry Potter universe, in a matter of weeks. A few years ago, such a feat would have been fodder for a PhD thesis.
It’s no longer necessary to build deep learning, computer vision or natural language components from scratch. Just download an open source package and integrate it into your system with some tweaking. It’s a bit like playing with WordPress, though Hendler prefers to talk about the nascent days of the internet. In the early 1990s, with some basic understanding of HTML, it was possible to build a website thanks to a sort of pre-packaged code that could be installed on a machine.
“AI has been packaged in a usable way,” Hendler says. “[It’s] more like putting the pieces together and finding what works than doing the basic research into what those components are, at least for the more applied side to the technology space.”
Opening the doors to innovation
In the short term, Hendler says, that opens up the game to players of all sizes.
“We’re going to see a huge amount of innovation in small companies using existing techniques for deep learning, vision and language tasks,” he says. “The heavyweights—Microsoft, Google, Facebook—will invest heavily in the technology they do but in new directions.”
Meanwhile, academia and government will continue to play roles in the evolution of AI-related technologies. Hendler uses the example of autonomous vehicles, first developed by universities like Stanford to win the DARPA Grand Challenge. Google then further matured the technology. Now it seems every car company on the planet is working to put robotic cars on the road.
While there is still a need to develop new AI technologies to solve problems, Hendler says the near-term focus will be on the sorts of business cases that can be made with existing tools.
“I think that kind of innovation is where you see entrepreneurs and startups starting to focus now. I think we’re going to see a tremendous amount of that,” Hendler says.
Solving developed and developing world problems
And what might the casual technology user see from AI in 2017 and beyond? In this case, more may mean less, as technology slips seamlessly into the background.
“It’s not going to be as obvious as you buy something and the whole world is different,” Hendler says.
Take Siri, Apple’s ubiquitous virtual assistant. Siri’s competence at performing increasingly complex tasks is constantly improving, but it still (and often) defaults back to a web search for the answer. One day not too far into the future, one could imagine asking Siri or one of her counterparts a question like, “Show me a photo of my kids from lunch today,” and the machine quickly and correctly pulling out the results.
In fact, we see some of the startups Hendler mentions already on the cusp of such achievements. A company called Snips uses an AI technique called "context aware" to build a sort of memory, almost an alter ego, on a user’s mobile device, by sorting through data like contacts, emails, calendars, photos and so on. It learns what is important in the user’s life over time, serving as the single portal to all the apps and information stored on the device.
“It’s about using this artificial intelligence to make technology disappear in a way that you can just go about your day and not care about it anymore,” says Rand Hindi, CEO and founder of Snips, during a TEDx talk in 2015.
Of course, these are developed world problems—making technology disappear. Hendler is optimistic that projects to improve conditions in developing countries will involve the appearance of AI in the near future. In particular, he and others are working with IBM to bring literacy to one billion people in the next five years.
“You’re talking about being able to significantly change the lives of huge amounts of people, especially in countries where literacy rates are currently low,” he says. “That’s where those people will see technology suddenly come into their lives in a way it never has before.”
Education is key
Upheavals and massive disruptions—both good and bad—are ahead in a world increasingly powered by artificial intelligence and related technologies.
On one side of the argument are people like the 1.8 million truck drivers who could feasibly be put out of work in less than a generation by self-driving vehicles. On the flip side are the potential savings in industries like medicine, where AI is already being employed on a large scale with IBM’s Watson, the poster child—computer—for those high-tech services. Consider that health care accounts for 17.5 percent of US GDP, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Hendler says government needs to be involved to help manage these changes without setting up roadblocks to innovation. Education will be key to the AI revolution, he maintains, so people will understand where computers excel and where they struggle.
“That’s where we need people to be smarter, and for technical people to help policy makers to understand those differences and where they lie,” he says. “It’s understanding those differences that will be so important.”
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ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE Big Tech's AI Predictions for 2017 Lolita Taub | The Huffington Post "For the final Cognitive Business post of the year, I asked artificial intelligence centric Fortune 500 leaders for their 2017 enterprise AI predictions. Microsoft, IBM, Baidu, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, GE, SAS, and Oracle responded. What they had to say is exciting…" CYBERSECURITY Artificial […] Continue reading