Singularity News

Monday, September 10, 2007

Is Warren Buffet Betting on The Singularity?

Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder, SIAI benefactor and Principal of Clarium Capital, took the stage at the Singularity Summit Sunday and gave a great talk about considering when and how to lay down bets on The Singularity. His basic premise was that along the bell curve of plausible outcomes, the most likely scenarios eventually migrate toward the tails: very wonderful or very catastrophic. And of these two possible outcomes, either is acceptable to investors.

On the “wonderful” hand, the run-up to AGI creates the biggest investment boom in the history of humanity, and the positive results yield a world of never-ending promise. On the “catastrophic” hand, advanced AGI gone awry causes humanity to disappear in a cloud of [insert your favorite existential risk scenario here] dust. In that scenario, the investor has bigger problems than the lack of return anyway.

Thiel believes that we may already be experiencing economic upheaval that is paving the way for the long boom. He asks, “What if the peak of insanity in March 2000 was really a peak of clarity? But those technologies were not the decisive sets of technologies?” What if the gyrations in the markets since then represent the global investment community lining up behind possible scenarios that they hope will produce “wonderful results”?

To illustrate his point, he discussed the investment strategies of Warren Buffet. He asked the intriguing question: Is Warren Buffet betting on The Singularity? According to Thiel, Buffet’s portfolio was traditionally focused on value stocks. But this has shifted in the last decade toward insurance and catastrophic reinsurance products. Thiel believes this is a classic adoption of the wonderful vs. catastrophic philosophy of Singularity investors. For Buffet, Thiel sees 4 possible outcomes for his investments:

1. Nothing bad happens: Buffet happily collects the premiums from his policy holders and maybe even lives to 1000.

2. A Mild disaster like 9/11 occurs: This helps the insurance industry in that it allows them to raise rates and drives more policy purchases.

3. A big catastrophe happens [Thiel showed a rendering of nukes exploding over Manhattan]: In this scenario, the rules get changed. The Government steps in and makes things whole for the insurance industry.

4. [Again, insert your favorite Existential Risk scenario] – No one is around to collect.

I believe Thiel is onto something here. I have always been a fan of “riskless profit”. That’s why I love investing in investment banks and casino companies and insurance firms. They are as riskless as they come. As long as the people show up, there is profit to be had.

Now Thiel brings a new dimension to this perspective. There is profit to be had in Singularity enabling technologies or there isn’t. Either way, it’s a safe bet.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Revising Asimov’s Three Laws

J. Storrs Hall is a noted scientist and author. He is chief scientist at Nanorex and has published extensively on the subject. His most recent book is titled Beyond AI: Creating the Conscience of the Machine (2007).

Hall spoke at The Singularity Summit this morning on the topic of revising Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. As a refresher, Asimov’s laws follow:

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

With Asimov, the 3 laws were “hardwired into the circuitry.” He envisioned the laws being codified in the circuitry. Alas, according to Hall, the Robotic AGIs (Artificial General Intelligence) of the future will be software and wetware. And “Asimov’s robots didn’t Improve Themselves. Our AIs, we hope, Will.”

So, Hall posed the question, “how can you imagine writing a law that is to govern in an environment you can’t predict. Like Hammurabi writing laws that predict the Enron scandal.” Our new “laws” have to be much more abstract and flexible – more like a conscience. According to Hall, we’ve done this for ages – it’s called raising children.

To punctuate his perspective, Hall predicted “by 2050 – most corporations will be run by their management information systems. Their first law will be ‘make a profit’.”

Hall’s New Laws of Robotics:

  • Law #1 – A Robot shall understand as much as possible.

Hall referenced Socrates – “there is no good but knowledge, and no evil but ignorance” as a basis for morality across cultures. The same should apply to AGI.

o Law 1a – in particular a robot shall understand mimetic evolution.

Mimetic evolution is the reflective or representative of actuality or reality of human experience (derived from Aristotle's concept of mimesis or imitation). This is important because evolution is where morals come from.

  • Law #2 – A robot shall be Open Source.

We live in a world largely run by artificial organizations that have no conscious – Corporations and Governments. But corporations are required by law to have an “open-source motivational system” – Auditing – because Money is their Emotion. Transparency to robot motives and capabilities will be critical with an AGI.

  • Law #3 - A robot shall be Economically Sentient

Our economic environment is the necessary outcome of evolution. We must train our AGIs to understand and appreciate the power of economics so that they will drive toward optimal decisions.

  • Law #4: A robot shall be “Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent” and shall do a good turn daily.

Google and Continuous Improvement

Today’s keynote at the Singularity Summit was Peter Norvig, Director of Research from Google. His talk was titled The History and Future of Technological Change, and he couched his presentation as an analysis of “how to evaluate technical change”.

This is the first time I have heard Norvig speak, and I found his talk to be extremely pragmatic. His trek through the art of predicting the future, to demonstrations of narrow AI to his list of AGI prerequisites pointed toward a technologist with a perspective firmly grounded in continuous improvement, averse to making high-risk, long-shot bets. If Norvig speaks from a place of authority on Google product direction, it seems to me that we should expect continued evolutionary innovation from GOOG, but they will leave the breakthrough innovation of AGI to others. This is an important observation for the investment community that has put Google on pedestal related to the continued release of major breakthroughs.

Norvig began his talk discussing how the predictions he was used to making are about incremental advancements in technology. A 1% improvement here, a 2% improvement there. He pointed out that predictions about AGI are 100% “or greater” improvement ruminations. He pointed out the dichotomy between other prognosticators. “We will all be dead in 100 years” vs. “We will live to be 1000 years old”. “AGI can’t happen for another 100 years” vs. “within the next 10 years”.

From there, Norvig took a detour through other concepts of “Artificial General”. He postulated about “Artificial General Space Exploration”, “Artificial General Materials Science”, and “Artificial General Culture” – equating these concepts to the emergence of AGI.

Here Norvig was at his most pragmatic. He sees continuous innovation in these areas bringing about a more advanced capability, but certainly no “rapture”, no “big bang”. He commented that “the Singularity is a period, not a point”. He sees a date in the future when we look back at the progress and say – wow that was a big change.

In preparation for this presentation Norvig used Google Scholar to query papers presenting breakthroughs in AI. His keywords were “AI” and “unlike previous”. From 1968 – present, Norvig can’t tell the difference in breakthrough claims, with claims of novelty repeating in the data set. This indicates to him that we are not on the verge of discovering something major in AI.

To bring about an AGI, Norvig offered his list of prerequisites:

  • Probabilistic First-Order Logic
  • Hierarchical Representation and Problem Solving
  • Learning over the data from above
  • With lots of data
  • Online
  • Efficiently

I think the recursive thinking nature of Norvig’s AGI underpins his continuous improvement philosophy, and also presents a very Googlian view of success. Let an algorithm loose on lots of data, and eventually it might get there.

Rodney Brooks asked Norvig a question during the Q&A session:

Brooks – Any emergent property of Google materializing within the massive systems that has been a surprise?

Norvig’s best answer was that he was surprised at how Game theoretic Google’s role in the internet is. Initially, he thought Google would be an observer of the internet – just serving up search results. Now Google is co-evolving with the web.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Revisiting Ben Goertzel

Almost a year ago, I did a podcast with Ben Goertzel. His presentation today was just as fiery and mind-bending as that discussion. His thoughts of using virtual worlds as habits for evolving AGI has continued to mature. Enjoy a refresh of the podcast below:

Singularity University Podcast with Ben Goertzel - The Promise and The Peril of AGI

All Watched Over...

All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace
- by Richard Brautigan, 1967

(and read by Paul Saffo at the Singularity Summit)

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

All Watched Over...

Singularity, Inc.

There is a big change at this year’s Singularity Summit as opposed to the inaugural event last year at Stanford. Besides charging $50 to get in, the event has stretched to two full days, from one jam-packed day last year. The addition of that second day has brought about a profound shift in the agenda – the inclusion of speakers from many corporations pursing Singularity enabling technologies.

At last year’s event, the theorist presentations outnumbered the corporations’ 10-4. And the 4 were Ray Kurzweil, K. Eric Drexler (father of nanotech), Steve Jurvetson (VC), and Peter Thiel (SIAI underwriter).

This time around, the ratio has shifted to 50% of the speakers. Representing or talking about their companies on stage this year are:

· Sam Adams (IBM Distinguished Engineer)

· Rodney Brooks (iRobot)

· Neil Jacobstein (CEO, Teknowledge)

· Steve Jurvetson (Partner at DFJ)

· Peter Norvig (Director of Research, Google)

· Stephen Omohundro (Founder, Self-Aware Systems)

· Barney Pell (CEO, Powerset)

· Peter Thiel (Clarium Capital)

· Peter Voss (CEO, Adaptive AI)

There was even a "special" post-lunch presentation by Artificial Development, Inc. one of the show's sponsors. The event also has to be more transparent regarding why these corporations have speaking slots. Powerset, for example, is funded by Peter Thiel.

I think this is an interesting shift, but I am not sure that the majority of the audience is along for the ride. I think this event is at a cross-roads this year. It will either evolve into a business-centric confab with big-thinker keynotes (which I think will happen) or it will morph into a think-fest retreat – a mini TED. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing the evolution.

Singularity Summit Talk: Openness and the Metaverse Singularity

Jamais Cascio, co-founder of just finished his talk at the Summit. Without powerpoint, Cascio told us a fascinating tale about 4 different scenarios as to how the Singularity metaverse might materialize.

He riffs on virtual worlds, mirror worlds, augmented reality, and lifelogging. The full text of his talk is available at the link below:

Open the Future: Singularity Summit Talk: Openness and the Metaverse Singularity

[Exclusive] Rodney Brooks Keynote at Singularity Summit

September 8th, 2007 Jonas Lamis

The Singularity Summit is a two day event happening this weekend in San Francisco. The event is being hosted by SIAI, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. This event is follow-on to last year’s Singularity Summit I conducted at Stanford.

Keynoting the event this morning was Rodney Brooks , of CSAIL and iRobot fame. Brooks spent his presentation discussing his perspective on the Singularity, and how Robotics (in particular the robots of iRobot and MIT) are advancing the science of Singularity enabling technologies.

Several times, Brooks referenced Arthur C. Clarke. He referenced Clarke’s quote of how technology capability is generally over estimated in the short-term, and underestimated in the long-term. This, Brooks believes is the most accurate perspective of what the Singularity is, and when it will come about.

Regardless of The Singularity, Brooks makes a persuasive case that “the future needs AI and robotics”. He referenced demographic trends – the aging global population, as the primary driver for a coming explosion in personal robotics. Brooks sees a near term future filled with venture financing and government funding to backfill the workforce of an aging and wealthy populous.

Brooks makes the case for applying exponential growth models to robotics. He used the iPod as a metaphor for exponential growth – forecasting that the iPod will hold the contents of the Library of Congress by 2013 and all movies ever made by 2020. In fact Brooks postulated the price / performance ratio for the iPod is calculated as:

$400 = 2 ^(year-2003) x 10 gigabytes

Brooks applied the model to autonomous robotic vehicles and referenced Stanford. He showed a video of a 1978 Robot cart that autonomously navigated 20 meters in 6 hours. Then noted that Stanley drove itself the length of the race in 6 hours in the Darpa Grand Challenge. He indicated that this means that the distance of autonomous guidance has doubled every 2 years.

Regarding iRobot:

  • Brooks confirmed that there more than 2.5 million IRBT consumer robots have be purchased.
  • Confirmed that there are 1000 Packbots in the field. He mentioned that this is out of a total of 5000 robots in the theaters of Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • He clarified that there are no armed Packbots in the field. He referenced the Talon as the primary platform currently being used for armament. He asked a rhetorical question about “when should robots have autonomous weapon targeting”?
  • He showed a set of pictures of a destroyed Packbot named “Scooby Doo” by its handler that was credited with over 15 disarmaments of IEDs.
  • He responded to a question about whether it was an ethically good idea to be developing AI and advanced robot platforms for the US Government. He deflected the question and stated that scientists must be mindful of the impact of their inventions.
  • Brooks was asked about why IRBT stock took a hit when it was announced that they are raising their R&D spending on commercial applications. He again deferred to comment specifically, but did note that he believes that there is a crisis in spending in R&D in the US. “This is a real issue, as companies get beaten down for putting money into R&D”. He notes that he has an article on this topic being published on on Monday.
  • Regarding emotional attachment to iRobot robots: Emotional attachment not a factor in military space. But is in home space. Where is Facebook for Robots? “Projection onto these devices that they don’t really deserve from a rational point of view, but we are not rational human beings.”

Regarding CSAIL Robots:

  • He spent time showing off the various emotional responses of Kismet. He discussed the visual attention system and illustrated the 3D emotional matrix used by the bot.
  • He also showed videos of Domo, a thesis project from Aaron Edsinger. Ednger has a new company in San Francisco called Meka Robotics, based on Domo research. A key concept is awareness of forces. Many movies of Domo are available on YouTube.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Harvard Makes Progress on “Biohybrid Materials for Soft Robotics”

[Cross Posted from our sister site: RobotCentral]

A team of scientists in the Disease Biophysics Group at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has been working on interfacing biological material such as heart muscle tissue with man-made polymers. The team has figured out how to grow muscle tissue in a structured way so as to be able to begin applying it. Their method allows them to simply cut pieces of a thin film coated with microscopic stripes of living muscle tissue into whatever shape they want.

In a video published on their site yesterday, the team shows a successful micro-scale biomechanical muscle twitching semi-autonomously. They can control the kinematics by shaping the piece of the material in some deliberate way. The same video shows pieces of the material that were cut into triangular strips “swimming.” Another portion of the video shows a microscopic gripper opening and closing.

This technology certainly begets interesting conversation regarding the continued convergence of humans with technology.

Principal investigators on the Harvard Team are Kevin Kit Parker and George M. Whitesides. Co-Investigators are Adam W. Feinberg, Alex Feigel, Sergey S. Shevkoplyas and Sean Sheehy. The video was made by Adam W. Feinberg

Sources: Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (video), Additional material: NewScientistTech

Full Article: Harvard Makes Progress on “Biohybrid Materials for Soft Robotics”

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

World's greatest android projects

While doing research for our sister site, RobotCentral, I came across an interesting "Top 91" list asserting the world's greatest android projects.

According to the authors at Android World, of the top projects, 40 are in Japan, 10 from the US, 10 in Korea, 9 in Germany, 4 in the UK 2 in Sweden and 1 in a variety of companies.

World's greatest android projects

Enjoy the list!