Interview on Singularity Weblog

[embed][/embed] This week I interviewed with Nikola Danaylov, the creator of Singularity Weblog.  It was great fun, and quite an honour to follow in the footsteps of his 160-plus previous guests. We talked about hope and optimism as a useful bias, about the promise and peril of AGI, about whether automation will end work and force the introduction of universal basic income ... and of course about Pandora's Brain.
Science fiction gives us metaphors to think about our biggest problems

Science fiction gives us metaphors to think about our biggest problems

Science fiction, it has been said, tells you less about what will happen in the future than it tells you about the predominant concerns of the age when it was written. The 1940s and 50s is known as the golden age of science fiction: short story magazines ruled, and John Campbell, editor of Astounding Stories, demanded better standards of writing than the genre had seen before. Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, AE van Vogt, and Robert Heinlein all got started in this period. The Cold War was building up, but the West was emerging from the destruction and austerity of...

It’s that man again!

OK, I know some people have had enough of Mr Musk lately, but he does keep saying and doing interesting things. In a wide-ranging and intriguing 8-minute interview with Max Tegmark (leading physicist and a founder of the Future of Life Institute), Musk lists the five technologies which will impact society the most.  He doesn't specify the timeframe. His list of five is (not verbatim - it appears at 4 minutes in): Making life multi-planetary Efficient energy sources Growing the footprint of the internet Re-programming human genetics Artificial Intelligence A pretty good list, IMHO. What is very cool is that he...
Movie review: “Transcendence”

Movie review: “Transcendence”

It was keenly awaited by people interested in the possible near-term arrival of super-intelligence, but Transcendence has opened to half-empty cinemas and terrible reviews - at the time of writing it has a 20% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The distributors kept changing the release date, which might indicate they realised the film wouldn't open with a splash, but that they hope it could grow to become a cult classic.  Sadly, I doubt it.  Sadly, because in some ways Transcendence is a fine film with great ambitions.  For me it is one of the best science fiction films of recent...

"Transcendence": 2-minute mini-feature

The director, writer, producer and stars of "Transcendence" talk here about the movie and the ideas behind it.  They all seem to think that uploading a human mind into a supercomputer is a serious possibility.  Paul Bettany reports neuroscientists at CalTech telling him that it may be only 30 years away. Of course this may just be movie hype.

The Guardian asks: Are the robots about to rise?

The Guardian has a detailed article (here) about Ray Kurzweil, and the prospects for artificial general intelligence.  It's by Carole Cadwalladr, a feature writer and novelist who has produced a series of speculative pieces about the impact of technology. Presumably it was the sub-editor who added the obligatory Terminator photo, but it's still worth a read. In 2004 Andrew Marr wrote that the default answer to questions like this in newspaper headlines is "No".  (The observation was later named Betteridge's Law of Headlines.)  Phew.

Our Final Invention – Panel Discussion

A couple of days ago I took part in an online panel discussion of James Barrat's book, "Our Final Invention".  The session was organised by David Wood, chair of the estimable London Futurist Group.  Apart from David, James and me, the other panel members were Jaan Tallinn (co-founder of Skype), and William Hertling (author of the very good "Avogadro Corp.").   Here's the video:

Startling progress in brain simulation

Researchers claim to have modelled one percent of a human brain, taking 40 minutes to replicate one second of brain activity.  If this is true it is startling, and should be making much bigger headlines than it is. You might wonder why, given that it was only 1% of a brain, and it took so long to model just one second.  But that would be to ignore the power of exponential increase, as recorded in Moore's Law.  As a comment on Reddit pointed out, applying Moore's Law generates this forecast: Jan 2015 - 20 minutes for 1 second of 1%...


The trailer for an intriguing movie has just been released.  Transcendence, which opens in April 2014, stars Johnny Depp, and is directed by Wally Pfister, long-time cameraman and collaborator for Chris Nolan, the director of Inception, and the hugely successful Dark Knight trilogy.  As well as Depp, the strong cast includes Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara (House of Cards) and Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3). This quote from the trailer explains why the movie is causing excitement among those who think that a conscious machine may be created within the next few decades. "Imagine a machine with...

Automation or liberation?

People get worried about automation.  Every time Google's driverless cars hit the headlines, journalists fret that the people who drive lorries, taxis, buses and so on - will soon be out of a job.  It's probably not true.  Trains have drivers even though they can't be steered.  Planes have pilots even though much of the flying process is automated.  Lorries, taxis and buses are likely to have humans in charge of them for many years to come, even if only to sort out the problem when they break down, or when passengers or cargo create an unexpected situation.  With any...

Light pollution

During a family holiday (a California road trip) we have been enjoying the stunning beauty of starry nights above the Grand Canyon and elsewhere.  (Not my photo, I hasten to admit.)  This wonderful sight was available to everyone since the dawn of human history up until very recently.  In the late eighteenth century, the industrial revolution began to place an umbrella of smog above the minority of humans who lived in cities.  Then, between the world wars, the great blessing of electric light brought light pollution, and now hides the stars from most of us.  It is an extraordinary irony...