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Facing a future of technologic wonders: Artificial Intelligence
David Brin   Mar 26, 2017   Contrary Brin  

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.
 

Forbes offers an exploration of theTop 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 careAI 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 ofrights 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 newPartnership 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. 
 
Now all pretense is dropped, as the Trumpists slash NOAA and every other agency doing climate research, while ordering NASA never again to look downward at our home planet.  
 
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.
David Brin Ph.D. is a scientist and best-selling author whose future-oriented novels include Earth, The Postman, and Hugo Award winners Startide Rising and The Uplift War. David's newest novel - Existence - is now available, published by Tor Books."



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