Talking machines promise to revolutionize our lives in the future

June 14 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 13

By Futuretalk

Imagine a machine that can not only understand what you say, but can act on it; one that actually learns through experience, and knows you well enough to anticipate your needs.

Now further imagine that this voice-interactive machine will appear as an avatar – an on-screen image resembling your favorite movie character or loved one. On command, it will materialize on any TV screen and computer monitor in your home, or on display screens in your car radio and cell phone, addressing you by name and asking, “How can I help you.”

Poised at the cutting edge of this fast growing industry, Fair Isaac’s Robert Hecht-Nielsen believes his company will soon market a machine called Chancellor that could bring the vision of true conversational machines closer to reality.

“We see Chancellor as a small, cylindrical device, several of which can be placed around the home,” says Hecht-Nielsen. It is wireless and gets its power from the Internet. In addition to handling daily family tasks, such as answering phones, making appointments, and maintaining schedules, this futuristic device also becomes a portal to the world of automated commerce.”

Unlike most artificial intelligence systems, the Fair Isaac machine does not use algorithms or software, or adhere to standard grammar rules. Instead, it utilizes computer simulations of brain tissues which enable it to process information and acquire knowledge similar to the way that we do; and it communicates using perfect human speech. (cont.)

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Omohundro: There's No Slowing AI

February 28 2008 / by Venessa Posavec / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: Beyond   Rating: 10

If anyone’s cut out to build intelligent machines, it’s Steve Omohundro, President of AI Company Self-Aware systems. He’s worn the hats of scientist, university professor, software architect, and author, giving him a solid intellectual foundation. But, it’s all tempered by a spiritual core. He embraces practices that encourage him to journey inward for guidance, creativity, and transformation, and has participated in numerous workshops where he plays the role of teacher and life coach. If an AI is running the show one day, I for one could only hope that kind of compassion and humanity be built in!

A few weeks ago I had the pleasant opportunity to interview Steve (full audio transcript here). He began our phone chat with an explanation of what artificial intelligence is, and the consequences of a self-improving AI:

Omohundro: It’s a discipline where we try and understand the fundamental nature of human intelligence and build machines which can solve the same kinds of problems that people can. The particular approach to artificial intelligence that my company is taking is to try and build systems that understand their own behavior and watch themselves as they work and solve problems; notice what things are working well and which things aren’t working well, and then change themselves, improve themselves, so that they work better.

Sounds good, right? We’ll only have to build version 1.0, and the program will take it from there.

Omohundro: When a human programmer just writes a program, he understands what he wants it to do, and sometimes there are bugs, but basically the system behaves the way you expect it to. When you have a system that can change itself, basically it writes its own program, then you may understand the first version of it, but unless you’ve done a lot of analysis, it may change itself into something that you no longer understand. And so, these systems are quite a bit more unpredictable than the kinds of software we’ve been used to, so it’s very powerful, but there’s also potential dangers.

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Avatars and AI

May 29 2008 / by randalc / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: 2010   Rating: 10 Hot

Recently Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute created an artificial intelligence program to run within the platform of Second Life. The researchers are studying the interactions that occur with real people through their avatars. The RPI students created the program to maneuver the avatar and understand some fairly straight forward questions, asked in English.

Operators of Second Life don’t seem concerned about synthetic agents lurking in their world. John Lester, Boston operations manager for Linden Lab, said the San Francisco-based company sees a fascinating opportunity for AI to evolve. “I think the real future for this is when people take these AI-controlled avatars and let them free in ‘Second Life,’” Lester said, ” ... let them randomly walk the grid.”

With AI characters within a grid of tens of thousands of active users the social experimentation is nearly limitless. Social scientists can examine certain behaviors and even provoke them through the AI interface. Most interesting is if the AI can recognize and then smoothly translate languages the program could create cultural bridges and even examine cultural behavior proclivities.

AI: Getting Better All the Time

June 02 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Business & Work   Year: 2020   Rating: 9 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

A couple of newsworthy piece have gotten me to thinking about the Beatles’ hit song, “It’s getting better all the time.” The two articles that triggered the connection to the songs’ lyrics are both related to rapidly emerging field of artificial intelligence and I think the saying “getting better all the time” is a phrase we all need to keep in mind as we move into the future.

The first article discusses how intelligent computers can now “see” human traits with an impressive success rate of 82%. In other words, a computer can, with a good degree of confidence, now tell if you are happy, sad, angry or confused. (By way of comparison, I can only wish I was half as accurate in assessing my wife’s many moods.)

At a minimum this suggests that artifical intelligence will become an even more integral component in a host of daily activities, including customer service, computer games and educational software, than it already is. Imagine, for instance, if an educational computer system could tell if a child was confused about a certain concept in biology and then reexplain it to him or her in a way that the child could understand. This compelling future is on the way because such computers are, in fact, “getting better all the time.” (cont.)

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AI Pioneer Peter Voss: Human Level AI in 5-10 Years

March 03 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: 2013   Rating: 8

For the better part of two decades Peter Voss has been hard at work developing what he hopes will be the world’s first funtional Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). His company, Adaptive AI, believes that with the right amount of man-power this goal is well within reach, and far earlier than you may think is possible.

“Personally, I would be surprised if it’s more than ten years before we have human level, or effective AGI, and I think it could be quite a bit less than that, as little as five years,” predicts Voss in his recent audio interview with Future Blogger.

Any such breakthrough would indeed be a game changer, transforming almost every existing industry. Voss is particularly excited about just this sort of cascade.

“AGI will allow us to accelerate nanotech development, medical research, that will allow us to deal much better with all sorts of problems, of course disease and aging, but also just reduce the cost of production of all sorts of goods and foods very dramatically and also helped with environmental issues so there will be a snowballing effect started by AGI development,” he argues, then qualifies as any careful futurist should, “In terms of what will happen and in what year and what chain of events, I have no way of really putting any more numbers on that.

“Once we have machines that are as smart as humans and we can employ them to help us develop other technologies I think things will happen quite quickly. ... You can do a lot of simulations but ultimately they have to be tested in real humans and that takes time. So it’s very difficult to predict the interaction between those various dynamics.”

When asked if he sees this as an industry that can produce a trillion dollar company inside of 10 years, Voss’ unhesitating response is a simple, “Yes.”

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"Magical Future" promises radical changes to how we view life

March 04 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 7

By Dick Pelletier

Since the dawn of humanity and the advent of civilized life, humans have depended on technology to carry them into the future. Now, from genetics to artificial intelligence to nanotechnology, science is on the brink of extraordinary mega-revolutions that will soon change how we view human life.

In the pre-industrial age, raw materials were locally grown, chopped, or quarried, then produced by local craftsmen, and consumed by local villagers. The Industrial Revolution and the creation of the assembly line changed all that. Consumer goods could now be mass produced and distributed worldwide. Today, a global civilization tied together by trade is rising, which economists believe will one day turn Earth into a “global village.”

Today’s information technologies enable businesses to produce goods and services more efficiently. With the Internet, ideas are shared instantly worldwide allowing employees to work away from the office. This is producing a series of development stages that futurists believe will revolutionize our commerce world.

The first stage of this revolution was the formation of international corporations that outsource production to where it is cheapest, such as clothes designed in the U.S. and stitched together in Mexico. The second stage was the creation of multinational firms that distribute design teams across the globe to wherever the talent lies.

The third stage focuses on design and manufacture; for example, electronic firms now buy all the parts from different companies and just add packaging to the finished product. The fourth stage, expected to advance rapidly in the next decade, allows three-dimensional objects to be emailed and printed on any inkjet-based printer. This enables consumers to build products themselves, without labor costs. (cont.)

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Norvig, Omohundro, Goertzel and Pell Say How They'd Advise Obama's if Appointed U.S. CTO

November 15 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

Live-blogging from Convergence 2008.

Moderator Jonas Lamis just asked the distinguished AI Panel what they would advise the new Obama administration to do if, by chance, each was appointed national CTO?

Google’s Peter Norvig: First advice, “Don’t choose me.” (Audience laughs.) Most important advice is to do what the President-Elect is already doing. #1: Believe in reality. The next thing is to invest in R&D. It’s important to re-establish the United States as a leader there. We’ve slipped over the last 8 years or so interms of funding research.

Steve Omohundro: Imprtant to use tech to make better decisions in our society. This is a huge opportunity for aggregating beliefs and desires of voters. Through semantic consensus we could better express nuances. The bailout is the perfect example – 99 to 1 against bailout, ended up passing it. Morphing as we speak… Potential pathways as we move to the future – now a smattering of diff orgs – better to have country-wide analysis of this future pathway.

Ben Goertzel of SIAI:

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Interview: Mac Tonnies

February 29 2008 / by memebox / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: General   Rating: 6

This interview was conducted by Venessa Posavec 1/10/08

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Fearless Futurist Mac Tonnies Goes Off On Mars

February 29 2008 / by Venessa Posavec / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: 2008   Rating: 6

“A futurist is someone who can take a look at a strip-mall and experience instinctual fear.”

Exemplifying that role is Mac Tonnies, a futurist and sci-fi author who enjoys exploring everything from post-humanity to the paranormal. Armed with zingers like the quote at top and a keen sense of wit, Mac enjoys walking the line between reality and science fiction, much like contemporary Vernor Vinge (who also happens to be featured on the site today).

“A futurist’s job is to live in the future, to experience it,” points out Mac, “That can sometimes make the present a lonely place, but it can also make it exhilarating.”

Tonnies’ imagination stretches far indeed, frequently frolicking into the realm of outer space:

“We’re already seeing some exciting new thinking about democratized space travel,” say Tonnies, “for example: this could lead to a large-scale colonization of space and, ultimately, the effective end of the nation-state. As William Burroughs said, ‘we’re here to go.’ I’d personally like to see humanity become a space-faring species.”

Tonnies’ most recent book, After the Martian Apocalypse , focuses on intelligence on Mars. So, I asked him, “Where are all the extra terrestrials?”

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Exponential Human IQ Increase, Are We Living It?

March 06 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 6

The Flynn Effect is a fascinating observation that average human IQ has been rising steadily since the invention of tests that measure it. It’s possible that it has been caused directly or indirectly by increased access to information, technology and human networks. If that’s the case, and the trend in human IQ is pegged to trends in these areas, then it’s also possible that we’re about to get a heck of a lot smarter in a very short span of time. Perhaps even exponentially smarter.

Ray Kurzweil has shown that technology is increasing at an exponential, or even double-exponential rate. A Berkeley study and a report by IDC both have confirmed that the amount of information on Earth is growing at an exponential rate. It is clear that advances in communication technology are facilitating an explosion in the rate of communication between people, thus increasing the value of the whole according to Metcalfe’s Network Law .

It’s undeniable that these accelerating trends have had a profound impact on social behavior, in particular our ability to solve ever more complex problems. If you don’t believe me, simply take a look at how quickly a person or a group can locate information, bounce it off of others and output that as a rich white paper, business strategy or more advanced technology—then imagine how difficult that same task would have been minus the internet, huge bodies of amassed knowledge and an environment chock full of complex and inspirational solutions to diverse problem sets.

Human brains are not closed systems. They are constantly learning better ways to input, sort and output information (ultimately this manifests as culture). In order to increase their intelligence, they must encounter information, technology and interact with other humans. It has been shown that children raised sans society are beyond dysfunctional, and that humans who miss critical periods for learning things as simple as counting from 1 to 10 or certain ways of looking at time cannot regain those abilities once the developmental windows close. This indicates that there is a strong relationship between access to information + technology and human intelligence.

But just how strong is the link? Will humans get smarter faster or is there a cut-off point after which technology and information systems speed off into a phase place where we cannot follow? Obviously, these are questions with far reaching consequences. The answers will determine how we evolve, the likelihood of our survival and/or expansion, whether AI or IA is the future, and if a singularity is possible, impossible or desirable.

The more critical the human-tech-info symbiosis, the more likely it is that the Flynn Effect will continue and translate into exponential growth of our own intelligence parallel to these other trends (auto-catalytically), rather than subsequently and as a by-product of them.

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Gadgets that Nag

September 05 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

To what extent are we going to let technology run our lives? I can understand wanting the Internet, a cellphone, even a bazillion-inch flat screen TV. But this latest gadget to come on the market, the iPosture, which screams at you whenever you sit in a hunched position, well, it’s just plain silly.

If you thought your parents were nagging you pretty hard at the dinner table, imagine a device that watches your every move (“beep I saw you hide your spinach in the napkin, eat it or no dessert beep“) without the ability to judge when it’s over-stretching its boundaries. Scores of children would grow up hating both the device and their parents, wishing they had received more attention from them, swearing not to raise their kids the same way.

Sure, most people won’t buy these products (at least in the near-future) since it seems so insane and counter-natural, but what about those few who will? For example, parents who think their own parenting techniques are faulty may well wish for a family butler that can help teach their children proper manners. Just imagine if Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes had his own personal assistant, or had been forced to do his homework by an ever-watching guardian…

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Nova Spivack on the Future of the Semantic Web and Machine Intelligence

April 16 2008 / by Marisa Vitols / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: 2008   Rating: 5 Hot

A friend forwarded me this awesome short interview of Nova Spivack, founder of EarthWeb in 1994 and Radar Networks in 2003 (which just launched the much-hyped app Twine), in which he discusses predictions for the coming year and the longer term.

Spivack’s prognostications largely focus on widespread adoption of the semantic web. He believes the semantic web will enable the broader web’s evolution to one big database via linked metadata, and that Facebook is slowly becoming a search engine to compete with Google, while Google is becoming a social network to compete with Facebook.

In the longer term, by 2020, “[W]e will move toward an intelligent web where the web moves from a just knowledge base to a kind of global mind – an intelligent entity comprised of billions of pieces of software and billions of people working together to make some new form of intelligence that transcends human or machine intelligence on its own.”

Spivack also points out that he disagrees with Ray Kurzweil on the fundamental roles humans and machines will play in the coming decades.

Learning from the Future with Nova Spivack from Maarten on Vimeo.

(via RapidStage by Maarten Lens-FitzGerald and shout-out to David for forwarding me the awesome video!)

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