Like it or not, we’re entering an era where we may not be the most intelligent beings on this planet. No, I’m not talking about aliens, rather the emergence of artificial intelligence.
The use of the term artificial in this term is a bit out of context. We really should consider this a new form of intelligence. It is not fake, it is very real. It might not have a body but the output of the intelligence is the same output that we have as humans (and other animals).
We are at the crux for this transition into a new form of intelligence. We have spent decades creating all the tools necessary to make this evolution. The intersection of biology, computers, nanoscience, and neuroscience have brought about a new intelligence. Each of these technology areas have had their own revolutions in past decades and we are entering the neuroscience revolution as we speak. Multiple revolutions over the past decade(s) have led us to have the ability to create the next form of intelligence – artificial or not. Biological revolution provided advances in genetic manipulation. Computer science revolution led to faster chips, less power, and sophisticated programming; humans do less work because of computers. Nanoscience allows us to create new materials from the bottom up – both in biology and electronics. Current advances in neuroscience afford us insight into the human brain, taking advantage of the past revolutions’ technologies and developing new methods of increased performance. The strengths of each of these revolutions are accumulating to provide us the capabilities to build intelligent forms.
The next form of intelligence will arrive in one of four ways building on the past revolutions:
Emerging from machines linked together
This is how many describe an artificial intelligence. Connect enough computing power with enough information and an intelligent being will emerge. Of the four options, this is the least likely for us to see in our lifetime. (more on this in the next blog)
Computer simulated human behavior
Society is collecting enough information on each person where it is possible to know how a person speaks, the clothes they wear, the food they eat, and their favorite pastimes. Knowing all of the “big data” information will allow a computer program to simulate every individual’s behavior. This program can act like their human, it will have its own intelligence. We will not be able to distinguish between the human and the clone.
A learning computer program
Humans have been creating technology from the very beginning to make our lives easier. We are at the very beginning of creating programs that can do things for us – personal assistant, automated protocols, robots, etc. we are creating these programs to learn as they go and correct themselves for optimization. These programs will be able to learn faster than any human and work at the speed of the internet. They won’t ever need sleep and will generate their own personalities.
The last frontier in biology is focused on the human brain. Industry is creating technologies to enhance human performance. Genetic research is providing new techniques to manipulate human appearance and behavior. We will soon be able to increase the baseline human intelligence through advanced neurotechnology devices. The first humans to adopt the technology will have a significant advantage over others. Each day we are seeing significant developments in new neurotechnology; the day when humans have chips in their heads are not far away.
The next intelligence brings excitement and apprehension. Each form of intelligence will exist and arrive differently. We need to be aware that these four types of new intelligence are simultaneously being researched and tested leading us into unchartered territory. We have the power to determine what we want this to become. The questions are: what do we want and how do we get there?
The United States needs a new way forward or it is going to collapse.
This isn’t one of those hollow, bold claims that is meant to create gossip, this is a claim meant to excite action. We need a new way forward because without one, we will be written into the history books the same way all world powers of the past have been. Our current path forward is leading us to an inevitable failure. Leaders are meant to lead and when they can no longer lead they are replaced by those that believe they can. The United States is the world’s only real leader and today, if we want to remain as this, we need a new way forward.
There are times when it is okay to remain static and times when you must be dynamic. The environment of the world and its challenges control this, not the beliefs of man. The world is a more integrated and complex beast than at any other point in human history. As a result, we need to lead on the fronts of tomorrow, today. The world is in a transition state to a higher place and advancements in S&T are catalyzing this transition exponentially. Everyday we move closer to fully unlocking the secrets of the brain, to developing machines that can learn and to being able to engineer ourselves into the beings we “want” to be. We cannot continue to lead in a world the way we have traditionally done. Being a leader in this new world dominated by S&T issues requires a new way forward.
Many of the failures of the future will be predictable and avoidable. The lesson of the past is that good leadership and governance requires wisdom of the people, the environment and the relationship that exists between them. Failure to do this almost guarantees bad policies, bad actors, and bad uses of technologies, all things that set society back. Our forefathers warned us we would face this certainty of failure if we refused to update our way of governance to reflect the current times. We have the ability to understand the world in ways no other people can, we have ways of learning from our people to ensure we get policies right, we can create appropriate boundaries that ensure S&T brings the good and mitigates the bad, but it will require change. It will require a new way forward.
The new way forward will be revolutionary, tumultuous, and difficult, but it will be worth it. Just as the Cold War diverged from traditional notions of geopolitical competition, this new revolution can be achieved without the traditional chaos of change. What is needed are the right leaders and the ability to get those leaders the tools and resources they need to make the hard choices they will have to make. This is why this new way forward must be led by the S&T community, those who not just help make S&T policy, but also create the S&T that pushes humanity forward. Our future leaders need to be fluent in the world of S&T. This new way forward will require us to lead in the ways we have before, but also in ways and in places where leaders have never existed.
The future leaders of the United States have to evolve the United States. They must evolve our form of governance to deal with the new world S&T is creating. We need a new way forward where S&T drives our policy and our policy is driven by S&T. This is the reality of our future and what refuses to evolve with the future inevitably dies. The United States must embrace S&T like it never has before because in all honesty, it is our only way forward.
We need a new Christopher Columbus. The problem is we don’t really have a world where new explorers who want to venture into the unknown easily come about. This is because we lack the ability to truly explore the next great frontier (i.e. space), a consequence of our lack of commitment to creating a culture that is passionate about exploration.
Sure, it is true that we can launch rockets into space and use our telescopes to view our universe like never before. We have the ability to study black holes from the comfort of our own planet and can drive remote control cars around on the surfaces of other planets. In fact, one of those recent joy rides seemed to reveal that our neighbor Mars might be able to support or has supported life as we know it. This isn’t really “exploration” though. This is doing what Galileo and Copernicus did in more sophisticated ways. The great explorers of our past didn’t really care what was out on the horizon as much as they wanted to just see what nobody else had ever seen. We need a new Christopher Columbus today.
The new frontier is (and has been for like 50 years) space and we should be dedicated to exploring it in the same ways we have always explored things: by sending people out in vessels only to send back information about the strange new things they saw on their journey. We aren’t doing this because it is not a national priority. We currently do not see value in reviving what has always been true about the human spirit, reviving our need to explore. This might be because the world only has a small tolerance for global S&T projects. Currently, it would be easy to argue that we would rather spend our dollars and our time trying to figure out a grand unified theory of nature. I am not saying that the 1.1 billion spent on CERN by 21 nations is a bad thing, I am actually saying that it would be great if we were doing more things like this and one of them should be getting people to space.
I felt it was appropriate that on Columbus Day to write about exploring new frontiers. This is something we not only should be doing, this is something we need to be doing. It is in our DNA. The reason we are not is because it is this kind of S&T policy that is not a priority of the United States people and leaders. We are the only true leader in today’s world and if we made this a priority, others would follow. We need a new S&T policy priority dedicated to exploring the new world, to exploring the last frontier. We need a new Christopher Columbus.
Rebecca McCauley Rench
I want what ISIS wants. ISIS wants the smartest and the brightest to be a part of their caliphate. I want the smartest and the brightest fleeing the borders of Syria and Iraq to be on our side, fighting ISIS every step of the way.
Albert Einstein. Sergey Brin. Nikola Tesla. What do these people have in common? They were not Americans at birth, but rather became Americans. We are a great nation because of those that came before us—immigrants. We accepted these great minds and hard workers into the United States because we welcomed all those with the drive and ambition to make it to our country. In the modern era, immigration to the USA has become burdensome and there are many calls to limit the number of immigrants even further.
Year: 1776 Population: 2.5 million Status: Unstable, rebel colony
From the time our Constitution was drafted until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the U.S.A. had an open door policy for immigration. With a total population that barely exceeded modern-day West Virginia, and the close of the Revolutionary War, it was a no-brainer to let people in. We needed these daring explorers to help us conquer our new country. If you came to the United States before 1882, you were welcome to be here. Ellis Island, opened in 1892, was our government’s call for immigration reform when they asked those entering to simply sign a book and swear an oath. Why do we insist on having a different system in place today? Shouldn’t becoming an American citizen be as easy as getting a birth certificate?
Year: 1924 Population: 114 million Status: Post-WWI
Almost 150 years after the founding of our country, like much of the world, our population has swelled to 45x its Revolutionary War population. This was due both to immigration and advances in health and medicine. Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924 which instituted quotas based on the current percentage of the U.S. population of that nationality. This law was extremely biased towards those of European descent and like so many other immigration laws in our history was based on prejudice. With most of the war refugees coming from Europe in the mid-twentieth century, the USA took in our fair share of refugees. With the prosperity of the US being what it is, why wouldn’t we take in more refugees, often the best and the brightest of their country, today?
Year: 1965 Population: 194 million Status: World Power on the Rise
The U.S. took another turn in its immigration policy by implementing the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This law negated the quota system based per country of origin and allowed immigration on the basis of worldwide quotas and the specific circumstances and career of the immigrant. This is the immigration policy that remains in place today with the addition of the US Patriot Act, which allows for deportation and barred immigration of individuals connected with terrorism. While there are often addendums passed to take in certain numbers of refugees, we lose some of our best minds that come to the USA for higher education. Why send those away that are the best and the brightest when they would rather stay here? Every person we take in is a person that is a person to fight against ISIS and one they can’t recruit.
Year: 2015 Population: 319 million Status: World Power
While bringing cultures together is never easy, immigrants helped build our railroads and skyscrapers. They mined our coal and created a new life for themselves and their families. Most people that call themselves Americans today are the descendants of those people who dared to come to this country. With every individual that we bring into the American fold, the U.S.A. grows stronger economically and socially as we become diverse and expand our knowledge-base. With our abundance of resources and land, we should welcome these explorers just like our own ancestors were enticed by lands and riches.
You will hear Presidential candidates speak about securing our borders as a first step in immigration policy, but you should ask yourself if there is a need to keep these people out. Harkening back to the day of signing the book at Ellis Island, immigrants should simply be required to be documented without the need for quotas or bureaucratic procedures. When we are born in this country, we are registered with a birth certificate and social security number. Shouldn’t the process of being “born” into America be the same regardless of where you came from? Change in our society and culture is inevitable and we should embrace that change with open arms and open doors to the shining city on the hill.
The event in Roseburg, Oregon yesterday has once again shocked this nation. While the actions of the gunman have terrorized an entire community and, arguably, the nation, calling him a terrorist misses an important point: he was mentally ill.
Terrorism is different from mental illness. A terrorist is often someone who has been corrupted by an organization that preys upon his or her grief and frustration to brainwash that person into believing their twisted viewpoint. Examples include the RAF in Germany, the IRA in the 1990’s, Eric Rudolph, Al Quaeda, ISIL, Boko Haram, etc. Terrorists, and the mentally ill, can both commit mass murder atrocities. Preventing both types of people from getting to that point, however, requires two different types of action. Our government has taken action to identify and protect us from one of these types, but it has clearly not done enough with respect to the other type.
I find it a huge and telling problem that there are more people with mental illness in prison than in mental institutions. Our default policy is to react to the actions of untreated mentally ill people, send them to prison, and then give them treatment, which may or may not help. A reactive policy is too late.
In moving forward after this tragedy, we ask the question, what can we do to change things? Enacting common sense gun control laws would address a symptom, but does not get at a major cause of these tragedies. The Roseberg case, as well as other related tragedies, can only be prevented by both providing more resources to identify people with serious mental illness, and ensuring that those people and their families receive the help that they need.