Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Non-embodied AGI is preferable

The whole point of AGI is its broad flexibility to have many formats both resembling and greatly extending human-level intelligence.

An unfortunate artifact of the human substrate is that so much processing is devoted to the sensory network input and output and other demands of having a body and so little is available for the higher levels of intellectual processing and knowledge extension.

The computer substrate is of tremendous benefit to AGI. Not only does the AGI not have the physical, sensory and processing constraints of a body, neither does it have the time frame constraints of biology; it can evolve at exponential rates that would never be possible in biological substrates. Further, the human sense of identity and consciousness is body-grounded, awareness and control only extends to the barriers of the human body. In a computer network, the domain and locus of control is potentially as broad as the network and can be fluid and changing and distinct by function. This broad and malleable perception and control domain may lead to the development of quite different consciousnesses than human consciousness.

Even the term 'embodiment' is anthropomorphic in that it means a form that can be seen by humans, particularly a human-type form as in a robot; AGIs can theoretically take on many or multiple embodiments but in their highest form do not need any.

Some argue that embodiment is necessary to produce and evolve AGIs and certainly this is one approach, at this early stage of AGI development, all approaches should be tried, including other non-embodiment models.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Seminal Singularity and AGI events

Two recent events, the Singularity Summit on May 13, 2006 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA and the Artificial General Intelligence Research Institute's Workshop on May 20-21, 2006 in North Bethesda, MD featured many of the key people known to be involved with the singularity and artificial general intelligence (AGI) movements respectively in side-by-side presentations and were seminal in crystallizing the progress to date in these areas and the dramatic degree of future progress required. Two of the key challenges appear to be:

1. the siloed thoughts of individuals for the most part completely without collaboration and not sharing a common nomenclature (particularly in the singularity area), and

2. the theoretician's anti-action bias

After decades, it is still the early days where theory not action dominates which suggests that collaborative, open-source models could be most productive for reaching goals. Ongoing focus workshops could help formalize the singularity and AGI movements, attract funding and facilitate collaboration or at minimum discussion of key problems. A technology roadmap could be a key tool developed at these meetings, the meetings being like IEEE technical committees having regular schedules and targeted problem areas, and could help overcome the reticence of theorists, academic and otherwise, to take action in service of achieving singularity/AGI objectives.

In the singularity area, a marketing, outreach and policy organization, perhaps somewhat similar to nanotech's Foresight Institute, could help the movement articulate an agenda and popularize the ideas and offer ways for people to get educated and involved. Seen from a business lens, some simple steps could be taken to move the singularity movement to a broader audience: injecting marketing (e.g.; for starters, identifying the agenda and who is the audience, what is the message and how to position the message to the audience) and facilitating the above-mentioned workshops to demolish ego-heavy siloes and anti-action bias.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Hybrid learning models needed

Continuous education is imperative with the current rate of changing technology to allow one to fully participate in the world of today and the future. Academic models seem outdated and ill-suited to provide the relevant learning to bridge the gap to brain-loaded SkillPaks and KnowledgePaks for many reasons including that academia has not been forced to innovate and adapt, particularly to technological changes, as have other disciplines such as business, law and medicine.

There is a need for hybrid learning models which incorporate the attributes formerly possessed by academia: expertise, thought leadership and comprehensive curricula development and delivery with results and accountability, and the creativity, innovation and sense of what is important attributes of individually-directed pursuits merged with the real needs of the work and project space.

Online courses and even undergraduate universities have high percentages of student drop-outs, so the new hybrid learning models must create implicit incentives for participants to continue their learning, one way to instill accountability would be by creating small learning communities.

An increasing number of people have the time and resources to pursue areas of interest to themselves, both theoretical and applied, and there is a tremendous opportunity to develop learning mechanisms which provide a structured way to learn about a topic comprehensively and validate that knowledge. As a P.A. (Physician's Assistant) is the perfect merger between the required capabilities of a doctor and nurse, there should be some hybrid acknowledged "degree" or other validation of a significant program of study in between a Ph.D. and a continuing education course.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Space elevator quickens reach to Mars

An area of technological advance with some exciting recent results is the space elevator industry. As the X Prize ignited interest in commercial space travel and the jet taxi industry is taking off, the Spaceward Foundation is inciting development of the space elevator and several organizations, including the LiftPort Group, are starting to show some promising results.

As prizes are now de rigueur for competitive technology development (X Prize, Methuselah Mouse Prize, DARPA Grand Challenge, etc.), the Spaceward Foundation has been extending the space elevator development in conjunction with NASA with the Centennial Challenges. In 2005, teams designed climbers to mount a 200 foot tether powered by laser. In the fall of 2006, at the X Prize Games in New Mexico, space elevator innovators will be competing in new tether design (which has a multiplicity of terrestrial civil engineering applications) as well.

The space elevator concept became technically feasible with the advent of carbon nanotubes as a material for tethers that will not snap under it's own weight. Space elevators could replace or supplement space shuttle and other rocket launch of satellites, missions and materials into space at a fraction of the cost. The current estimated cost is $10 billion to put the 62,000 mile long ribbon and 1500 ton space elevator fully in place; this translates to the bargain price of $2-$3 per ton to lift cargo into space.

In addition to improving existing applications, the space elevator can engender a host of new applications such as allowing the raising and positioning of solar energy collectors that beam the energy back to Earth (a concept initially suggested by Gerard O'Neill). Perhaps one of the most interesting and impactful new developments could be the Mars Express; once orbital, once a day, loads could be pushed off in a trajectory towards Mars. A similar space elevator on Mars (working offside the equatorial moon Phobos), could launch daily loads Earthward.