What do you think about machines that think? Or should I say machines who think? That is the 2015 EDGE question.
Edge of Knowledge
Edge.org was launched in 1996 as the online version of “The Reality Club” and as a living document on the Web to display the activities of “The Third Culture”. What is the third culture? Oh to put it in their words. ‘the third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are’.
And members (Edgies) have been responding to an annual question now for some time.
What should we be worried about? What is your favourite explanation? How is the Internet changing the way you think? What will change everything? You know, just regular questions. OK big questions.
And this group contains a lot of famous names. Well this group is made up of famous people is a better description, from many walks of life, and so the answers are extremely interesting. Go and check a few out on the website.
As is the preamble on the website:
“In recent years, the 1980s-era philosophical discussions about artificial intelligence (AI)—whether computers can “really” think, refer, be conscious, and so on—have led to new conversations about how we should deal with the forms that many argue actually are implemented. These “AIs”, if they achieve “Superintelligence” (Nick Bostrom), could pose “existential risks” that lead to “Our Final Hour” (Martin Rees). And Stephen Hawking recently made international headlines when he noted “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”
But wait! Should we also ask what machines that think, or, “AIs”, might be thinking about? Do they want, do they expect civil rights? Do they have feelings? What kind of government (for us) would an AI choose? What kind of society would they want to structure for themselves? Or is “their” society “our” society? Will we, and the AIs, include each other within our respective circles of empathy?”
So how close are we to these predictions, dreams and nightmares? There is plenty of stuff on the web to feed the interested, and surely enough developments will surely move in that direction. Last week we learned that a computer can work out aspects of your personality thanks to your social media use (see the post here). But intelligence? Computing variables is not intelligence.
And can we say that learning is intelligence? Computers can certainly learn, but can they think? Can they reason? What does it mean to think? To make a decision based on what? If the decision is based on experience then to some extent it is a calculation, or a computation, and if that is the case then a computer can think.
So back to the question. What Do You Think About Machines That Think?
It’s not often we post on a Sunday. In fact I think this is the first time we ever have. The reason for this post is clearly one of high importance then…
UPDATE: I have since discovered that this is our second post on a Sunday, the first being a warning to potential writers about providing copied content – another (although slightly less) important matter.
Every year (for the past four years) on the 15th of October, there is a global Blog Action Day, where bloggers around the world write about one common problem in the world today, in order to try to raise awareness of a pressing issue.
This year the day have been moved back to the 16th of October (today) as that makes it coincide with World Food Day. Unsurprisingly, this years Blog Action Day theme is on food.
A history of Blog Action Day
The first Blog Action Day was held in 2007. The 2007 theme was the environment. At the time, one of the main global concerns (not that it isn’t even more so now) was regarding the sustainability of our current way of life, and the environmental impact, be it global warming, climate change, ecosystem instability or environmental degradation.
Blog Action Day took off with a bang with around 20,000 blogs taking part, of which, there were around 20 in Technorati’s top 100 blogs – at the time. This proves that from day 1, Blog Action Day had a big influence, giving it a big potential to actually raise awareness and improve things that it petitions for.
2008 saw an equally important matter being raised: poverty. Poverty is a very pressing issue, and is part of the UN’s 8 Millennium Development Goals which it hoped to meet by 2015.
In 2009 the theme changed to climate change. The phrase ‘global warming’ used to be used before we realised that it wasn’t a very good term, as it’s not just warming that is likely to take place.
The world’s climate is so intricate and complex that you couldn’t say that increase in greenhouse gasses via intensive farming of rice, rearing of cows, burning of fossil fuels, cutting down of rainforests etc. would cause global temperatures to rise, as it wouldn’t necessarily do that everywhere, all the time.
Hence the term climate change was born in order to supersed the term ‘global warming’ in describing the likelihood of an increase in extreme and irregular weather/climate patterns.
In 2010 Blog Action Day moved onto stressing the importance (and scarcity) of water. Currently most people in the developed world use far more water than should really be available to them, if all water supplies were equally divided.
Only 3% of the world’s water is freshwater, of which the majority is ‘locked up’ in the form of ice. This means that less than 0.007% of all the worlds water drinkable and accessible. This matched with an exponentially rising global population is why over 20% of the world’s population don’t have access to safe drinking water, and one in three people around the world have inadequate sanitation.
2011 – Food
Now down to matter in hand – Blog Action Day 2011. As I have already mentioned, today is World Food Day, and Blog Action Day’s focus for this year is food.
World Food Day marks the 1945 foundation of the Food and Agriculture Organization, a UN project aimed at achieving food security for all, as well as making sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality, nutritional food, to lead active healthy lives.
Why should we worry about food?
In the words of Blog Action Day’s website:
“We use food to mark times of celebration and sorrow. Lack of access to food causes devastating famines, whilst too much is causing a generation of new health problems. It can cost the world, or be too cheap for farmers to make a living.
The way we companies produce food and drinks can provide important jobs for communities or be completely destructive to habitats and local food producers. Food can give us energy to get through the day or contain ingredients that gives us allergic reactions.
Food can cooked by highly skilled chefs with inventive flair, or mass produced and delivered with speed at the side of road. It can be incredibly healthy or complete junk and bad for your health. It can taste delicious or be a locals only delicacy.
Food is important to our culture, identity and daily sustenance and the team at Blog Action invite you to join us to talk about food.”
Nobody alive today can live without food for more than a month, and a lack of inadequate amounts/types of food can also kill.
Many people don’t realise it, but the greedy ‘Western’ lifestyle is the main reason for food issues around the world. Developed countries are getting too fat, whilst undeveloped ones are not getting enough food. According to the UN, malnutrition kills a child around the world every 15 seconds. That is heart breaking.
Westerners waste so much food, it is disgusting, even more so because of the fact that there are people who don’t have enough of the right foods (or any food at all for that matter) to eat.
How can you help?
If you want to help on a personal level there are two main things you can do.
Try to source as much of your food as locally as you can. This helps local producers, as well as reduced greenhouse emission and water loss from undeveloped countries who use vast amounts of their scarce water to produce food for us. Some global food purchases can be justified, so try to pay attention to where your food is coming from and what the impact of getting it to you is.
Donate to a crisis. There is currently a famine in Eastern Africa, and charities are there to help, but they need your help, be it through voluntary work or capital donations. I an not listing any charities, as it’s often better to decide yourself which ones to support.
You could also blog about the topic. If you have a blog, I wholeheartedly recommend you help to raise awareness yourself. If you read this a day or two late, don’t worry you missed the date, sill write about it and raise awareness. I missed the day last year, but I still blogged about it.
Blog Action Day suggest some topic areas you might like to discuss, which can be helpful if you are not sure where to start.
If you do decide to write about Blog Action Day, you can register your blog with them, on their official list, so that they know roughly how many blogs took part.