Singularity Summit 2007: The Pell iCan brief

Singularity Summit 2007: The Pell iCan brief

Summary: Guest post: This weekend I am at the Singularity Summit 2007 in San Francisco at the Palace of Fine Arts. About 800 people showed up to hear about the issues related to a future in which humans won't be the driving force in delivering scientific and technological innovations, eclipsed cognitively by "posthumans" or machine intelligences.

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TOPICS: Emerging Tech
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Guest post: This weekend I am at the Singularity Summit 2007 in San Francisco at the Palace of Fine Arts. About 800 people showed up to hear about the issues related to a future in which humans won't be the driving force in delivering scientific and technological innovations, eclipsed cognitively by "posthumans" or machine intelligences. I talked to four of the speakers prior to the event--the podcasts are here.

I am joined by Chris Matyszczyk, who will be offering his views of the Summit. Chris has spent most of his career as an award- winning creative director in the advertising industry. He is perhaps most well known for his advertising campaign against domestic violence in Poland, which had a major impact on cultural behavior. He has also been a journalist, covering the Olympics, SuperBowl and other sporting events. He brings a refreshingly, non-techie, and humorous, perspective to the Singularity Summit. Check out his "Pond Culture" blog.

Barney Pell has no time for village idiots. He is the first speaker wearing a suit and tie. What keeps him awake at night (and, perhaps, who knows, in bars) is what jobs robots can take from high school graduates.

A robot or Kevin Garnett? A robot or that nice girl from Disney’s high school musical who unfortunately discovered naked pictures of herself had made the web this week?

Should we copy human brains? Or should we copy Deep Blue, the computer that beat grandmaster Gary Kasparov so badly that he decided to turn to politics?

Deep Blue didn’t copy a human brain at all. It just had all the possible permutations down better than Gary’s slimy, wet, gray stuff.

It’s hard to copy a human brain. Perhaps our best hope is to create a machine so clever that we leave it to work out what makes the human brain tick, tock and, in Los Angeles, tuck.

It’s a little like creating a shrink who is actually smart, useful and doesn’t make its money off Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

“We have no proof that any of these approaches will actually work.”

Yes, he really said that. So essentially the world, the business, of artificial

general intelligence is one big Vegas race and sports book. There are companies gambling on ideas. And the odds makers aren’t sure who the favorites are, and not much money is being bet. (In business, always back the man in the suit and tie. Unless Mark Cuban is in the room.)

The thought that no one really knows that what they are doing will work almost seems like a dramatic precursor to Mr. Pell’s core excitement.

We are about to encounter one huge revolution. Linguistically capable systems. It is already with us, he reveals. The roots have taken hold and are successful.

And this is where, I am afraid, the fillings that I had put in 30 years ago begin to judder in my jaw like a blade of Wimbledon grass at the sight of an onrushing Serena Williams.

What Mr. Pell is so giddy about, and we in regular humanity would like nuclear armaments to bury, are those soulless electronic voices that try to prevent us from canceling our credit cards, paying our cellphone bills, and getting on with something that resembles living, breathing and smiling.

“Oh! You would like to talk to a representative? I can do that for you. The average wait time is two days, fourteen hours, three minutes and forty-three seconds.”

If that is the future, please, please, Mr. Pell, take us back in time. Or find someone to create machines that have genuine sympathy for a customer, as opposed to computer-generated twaddle designed to make you rage against the machine.

And then comes the kicker. The point after. The human mind, says Mr. Pell, is essentially linear.

He says this as if it is the most obvious thing in the world. I reflect on this as I wonder, in a very linear manner, whether I am ever going to get any lunch. (Oh, no food or drink allowed in the Palace of Fine Arts. Except bottled water. There’s linear thinking, if ever I saw it.)

Here’s where I get to. Has Barney rumbled, inadvertently, the real problem that all AI pioneers embody? Could it possibly be the case that folks who spend their lives studying mathematics, physics, engineering are so used to thinking in a linear manner that they make the natural assumption that everyone is just like them? Which produces these mechanical women on the phone who can cause real humans to slip into an institutionalizable state.

Why do these mechanical corporate guardians never express any humor? “Oh, sorry about this. But you know how it is. We had layoffs last week to satisfy third quarter forecasts. And, well, you know, people are pretty pissed off around here. So we’re all taking longer lunches. Your wait will therefore be two days, fourteen hours and three minutes and forty-three seconds.”

Why have we never heard this? Because no creator of these systems has ever thought of it. Maybe they should. They could put some high school graduates on the case.

Topic: Emerging Tech

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