The naming of Ray Kurzweil as Google’s new director of engineering in late 2012 may not have registered as even a blip on the radar of many digital content companies (DCCs). But this simple hiring announcement concerning the famous futurist, author, and inventor may, in fact, represent a symbolic milestone in the rapidly changing information age. Because it’s yet another sign that smart DCCs-including Google-value the promise and potential of artificial intelligence (AI), which Kurzweil has long preached has the capacity to greatly enhance our lives.
Only a few years ago, the concept of "artificial intelligence"-which computer science pioneer John McCarthy defined as "the science and engineering of making intelligent machines"-was thought of as elusive, fantastically futuristic and relegated to the realm of science fiction. But AI is ubiquitous today across many levels of technology, including electronic content. It’s in the ingredients behind voice recognition and language translation software, search engine aggregation, turn-by-turn instructions on GPS devices, and product recommendations generated from online purchases. And it has the ability to transform the way DCCs do business in the near- and long-term future, say the experts.
It is an early morning of the just-arrived winter. People I can see on the street from my window wear heavy coats, but it’s unclear how cold it is. I can open the window and let my natural skin sensors grab an approximate measurement, but I realize a much more accurate value can be obtained by pressing a button. “Siri, what’s the temperature outside?” I ask, with a Brazilian accent that most Americans think is Russian. “Brr! It is 32 degrees outside,” answers the piece of rectangular glass I hold. It is a female voice, with an accent of her own. Artificial. That’s probably how I would describe it.
The application, whose name is an acronym for Speech Integration and Recognition Interface, has encountered a wave of sarcastic, philosophical, flirtatious and mundane questions, since it was made available to certain Apple iOS devices in October 2011. Countless jokes featuring Siri made their way through the nodes of the social-media graph, and books about her witty personality have been printed. But if you could take Siri in a trip through time to when your grandmother was 10 (fear not, the time travel paradox involves your grandfather), she would definitely qualify your talking device as “magic.” Perhaps she would even call Siri intelligent.
Now you know this is worth visiting. His comments do not disappoint. In an interview with Singularity Hub, which was posted on January 10, he said he wants to build a search engine that would be more sophisticated than ever, that can behave as an all-knowing, learned friend. He said there well could be a time, some years from today, where the majority of search queries will be answered without you actually asking. His thoughts, in brief, are about the deliverance of a cybernetic friend.
Now that inventor Kurzweil is at Google, he is focused on helping his search giant employer to develop the type of artificial intelligence-powered search assistant that could be better than ever. One can easily say that Kurzweil came to the right place to work out his AI dreams. He told his interviewer, "We hope to combine my fifty years of experience in thinking about thinking with Google scale resources (in everything—engineering, computing, communications, data, users) to create truly useful AI that will make all of us smarter." Enormous stores of information from Google’s database can be drawn upon for his research.
Supposing a technological Singularity or something like it does occur later in this century – what’s likely to be the main technology pushing it forward?
Like Ray Kurzweil and many others, I believe the answer is: Artificial General Intelligence. Other technologies will surely play large roles, but what will really push us over the threshold and radically transform our world, will be the emergence of engineered minds with general intelligence significantly greater than our own.
Nobody fully understands AGI yet – but there’s an active community of researchers hammering away at the problem every day. And while this community shares a passion for AGI and a belief in the tractability of the problem, it’s also characterized by a wild diversity of perspectives on nearly every relevant technical and conceptual issue.
Infants spend their first few months learning to find their way around and manipulating objects, and they are very flexible about it: Cups can come in different shapes and sizes, but they all have handles. So do pitchers, so we pick them up the same way.
Similarly, your personal robot in the future will need the ability to generalize — for example, to handle your particular set of dishes and put them in your particular dishwasher.
In Cornell’s Personal Robotics Laboratory, a team led by Ashutosh Saxena, assistant professor of computer science, is teaching robots to manipulate objects and find their way around in new environments. They reported two examples of their work at the 2011 Robotics: Science and Systems Conference June 27 at the University of Southern California.
A common thread running through the research is “machine learning” — programming a computer to observe events and find commonalities. With the right programming, for example, a computer can look at a wide array of cups, find their common characteristics and then be able to identify cups in the future. A similar process can teach a robot to find a cup’s handle and grasp it correctly.
Other researchers have gone this far, but Saxena’s team has found that placing objects is harder than picking them up, because there are many options. A cup is placed upright on a table, but upside down in a dishwasher, so the robot must be trained to make those decisions.
“We just show the robot some examples and it learns to generalize the placing strategies and applies them to objects that were not seen before,” Saxena explained. “It learns about stability and other criteria for good placing for plates and cups, and when it sees a new object — a bowl — it applies them.”
In early tests they placed a plate, mug, martini glass, bowl, candy cane, disc, spoon and tuning fork on a flat surface, on a hook, in a stemware holder, in a pen holder and on several different dish racks.
Let’s not be silly here, robots don’t want to kill all humans…they just want to take all their jobs. The accelerating rise in robot labor of the past decade, and its expansion into all areas of production, have led many to worry about the future of human workers. Yet how extensive is the robotic take over of labor? Our friends at Mezzmer Eyeglasses did some impressive research and created an even more impressive infographic explaining the present and future of robots in the workplace. Check out the Singularity Hub exclusive image below. With 9 million robots working in the world, and 4 million+ more scheduled to arrive next year, we’re clearly entering into a new age of automation. But will it bring a new era of unemployment with it?
WASHINGTON — A new study warns that the U.S. must develop cyber intelligence as a new and better coordinated government discipline that can predict computer-related threats and deter them.
The report by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance says the dramatic expansion of sophisticated cyber-attacks has moved beyond acceptable losses for government and businesses that simply threaten finances or intellectual property.
"The impact has increased in magnitude, and the potential for catastrophic collapse of a company has grown," said the report, which is slated to be released later this month. It adds that it is not clear that the business community understands or accepts that.
The report comes amid growing worries the U.S. is not prepared for a major cyberattack, even as hackers, criminals and nation states continue to probe and infiltrate government and critical business networks millions of times a day.
Instead of requiring the type of programming that computers have needed for the past half-century, the experimental chip will let a new generation of computers, called “cognitive computers,” learn through their experiences and form their own theories about what those experiences mean…
Enrollment is now open and will be open until September,10th. Even if you don’t want to take the course, I suggest reading this Spectrum IEEE article about it. I’m amazed at how many folks have already signed up and how many more are projected to do so…
Interview with Hugo in Melbourne after the Singularity Summit Australia 2010, conducted by Aam A. Ford.
Bio: Prof. Dr. Hugo de Garis, 63, has lived in 7 countries. He recently retired from his role of Director of the Artificial Brain Lab (ABL) at Xiamen University, China, where he was building China’s first artificial brain. He and his friend Prof. Dr. Ben Goertzel have just finished guest editing a special issue on artificial brains for Neurocomputing journal (December 2010), the first of its kind on the planet.
He continues to live in China, where his U.S. savings go 7 times further, given China’s much lower cost of living. He spends his afternoons in his favorite (beautiful) park, and his nights in his apartment, intensively studying PhD-level pure math and mathematical physics to be able to write books on topics such as femtometer scale technology (“femtotech”), topological quantum computing (TQC), as well as other technical and sociopolitical themes.
He labels his new lifestyle “ARCing” (After-Retirement Careering), feeling freed from wage slavery, spending (probably) the remaining 30 years of his life pursuing with passion those deep and interesting topics that truly fascinate him, without having to waste huge amounts of time writing an endless stream of relatively unread, un-meaningful, short-horizon scientific papers or research grant proposals just to receive a salary. He feels liberated from all that, and can recommend ARCing to anyone with sufficient savings (i.e.. to take up “wage free careering in the third of life”).
That’s the future according to one of the smartest geeks on the planet, Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple Computers and is convinced that in his lifetime he will see computer intelligence equal that of humans…
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Blogging the Singularity Bloggers:
Chris Williamson: Filmmaker, science enthusiast, and futurist concerned with the accelerating nature of technological growth and where it's headed. He is currently studying for his MFA in Film Production.
Frank Whittemore: As an IT professional since 1961, the accelerating change of technology is not news to him but the wonder will never cease! Be sure check out Frank's blog about Life Extension!