Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Alt approaches to AGI

50+ year old attempts at creating AGI have not been successful. It is possible that AGI cannot be generated from current methods and technologies; the wrong tool is being used, sort of like trying to build a 747 with a toothbrush. Electromagnetism, silicon and Von Neumann architectures may not ever have the capacity to achieve AGI even allowing for continued increases in processing, storage and memory and architectural shifts such as parallelism.

Other substrates might work
Getting around the rigidity of Von Neumann, mathematical, logic-based, computational approaches, symbolic approaches and traditional computers, other computational substrates like quantum computing, DNA computing, etc. might work and also those that humans have not yet invented, discovered or exploited for this purpose like light, air, memes and information. There must be other substrates, and other viable approaches that are not constrained by mathematics and logic.

Information as a substrate
Narrowly, the only existing example of general intelligence is the human brain and the basic requirements of AGI are self-replication and self-improvement. Considering self-replication, there are many examples of more effective self-replication than humans, for example, memes, disease and microbes. Considering self-improvement, memes also self-improve more effectively than humans as they are refined through repetition, and have the unbounded ceiling for improvement of true AGI.

Taking advantage of the self-reproducing and self-improving properties and using memes and information as a novel computing substrate might be one way of extending AGI progress.

Information as a substrate could be developed symbiotically with a very broadly applicable new understanding of the laws of physics based on information and entropy as opposed to mass and energy.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Machine creativity

What are the relevant differences between humans and the machines of the future?

The general claim is that the uniqueness of humans is creativity, imagination and fallibility.

Creativity is rationality
Examining and demystifying the concept of creativity suggests that machines can be every bit as creative as humans. Creativity is merely a new idea or approach, a novel solution to a problem, a fresh representation; a process, a personality attribute, a mindset, an approach to life.

Alternative intelligences/machines can use brute force to rationally crunch through the set of all possible answers to a problem and suggest which are best. Much human creativity comes from "out-of-the-box" thinking which is largely applying knowledge, structure or skills from another domain, and also making mistakes (penicillin, 3M's post-its, Nike's waffle soles, painter Apelles' foam depiction, etc.). Machines can easily do all of this and more, testing a wide range of "out-of-the-box" domains and applying inverse or orthogonal analysis to incorporate human creativity by trial and error.

It is not clear that humans have any positive aspect that cannot be replicated or superseded by an alternative intelligence/machine. Therefore, nothing appears to be lost in the potential extinguishment of the human form as intelligence evolves to non-biological substrates.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Reducing US greenhouse emissions

The Kyoto Protocol, the developed world's effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to their 1990 levels, has largely failed. Only the UK and Germany have managed to reduce their emissions, in part due to the implementation of market mechanisms via a cap-and-trade system.

The US has increased emissions 16% since 1990 and China and India, while not precisely covered by the Kyoto Protocol, have been increasing emissions and are together with the US the biggest three polluters. The International Energy Agency predicts that China will surpass the US as the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter in 2009.

What is the lowest handing fruit in the US for reducing emissions?
Petroleum is responsible for the majority of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Of the four energy-using sectors; transportation, industrial, commercial and residential, transportation contributes a disproportionately large share of the US's carbon dioxide emissions. The chart below from the US Department of Energy shows expected emissions by sector and fuel type.

Industrial and Commercial Sectors not appropriate to address
According to Stanford energy economist and policy advisor, James Sweeney, the industrial sector has a complex energy usage mix and is not the best area to address first. Commercial energy use, with an emphasis on fluorescent lighting, is also not an obvious area for initial pursuit since the sector is one of the most efficient.

Transportation restructuring - the biggest impact
The single biggest impact on reducing US carbon dioxide emissions would be a redesign of motor vehicles, in particular, incorporating more stringent fuel efficiency requirements and redefining “truck” to not apply to passenger vehicles such as PT Cruisers, SUVs, etc.

Residential sector - additional gains
In the residential segment, a substantial improvement in energy efficiency can be gained by switching from incandescent bulb lighting to compact fluorescent bulb lighting. It appears likely that California and other forward-thinking states will pass compact fluorescent lighting legislation and that more efficient mercury-free bulbs will be introduced in the next few years.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

End of religion

The positive aspect of religion seems to encompass three things: 1. Offering an explanation for the unknown, the as yet scientifically unproven, 2. (most impactfully) Providing comfort in uncomfortable matters such as death, one's own and the deaths of others and in other unpleasantries; war, pestilence, disease, misfortune, etc. and 3. Providing a moral code of behavioral conduct.

It is easy to see many ways in which religion could become evolutionarily outcompeted, eventually disappearing. First, as science's accelerating advances continue, the unexplained territory shrinks to asymptotically small proportions. Second, if death becomes obsolescent through life extension, there is no longer a need to postulate anything that might occur after death and no need to comfort the non-dying. Third, there are many appropriate moral behavioral norms, particularly those which do not involve religious models or the introduction of artificiality (for example, sinning exonerated by confessing).

It will become increasing difficult for religion to persist in the face of radical life extension and eventual immortality. Everyone is their own Jesus in this new empowered age of agency. Implicit shifts away from religion are codified in the recent publication of books bringing scrutiny and analysis to religion: "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, "The End of Faith" by Sam Harris, "God is not Great" by Christopher Hitchens, "Breaking the Spell" by Daniel Dennett and others.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Cryonics and the art of the long view

How surprising it is that those with a long view in thinking and behavior are not those with traditional religious beliefs but include sponsors and supporters of the Long Now Foundation and cryonicists. The Long Now Foundation has trans-millennial views on the order of 10,000 years, roughly the forward counterbalance to the history to date of human civilization. Cryonicists, in general, have a practical stance, simultaneously acknowledging the unproven nature of reanimation and assessing and focusing on contributing to the key challenges of the next 200-400 years, as opposed to the 20-50 year (or less) timeframe that appears to be implicit in current individual and political thinking.

Erstwhile cryonicists will do well to remain practically absorbed. It is easy to imagine a long-distanced future visit to the Met, where alongside the Egyptian tombs and mummies, dewars have been emptied to display frozen heads, bodies and pets. Excited expedition excavators from the three key sites, Alcor/Arizona, Cryonics Institute/Michigan and Suspended Animation/Florida pose next to their digs.

Stored possessions and artifacts of the time are neatly arranged in an exhibit with terse placards. "Little is known about the belief systems of these peoples. Middle-era Americans carried many nonmalleable gadgets though it is not clear how useful they were to daily life. It was not atypical for one person to carry cell phones, MP3 players, laptops, power cords, PDAs, cameras, recording devices, cords, batteries and recharging units at all times. [Portable lightweight inexhaustible energy source] was not yet available and devices were not yet appropriately nano-miniaturized and physically embedded."