Tag Archives: Personal

My Little Finger

Adam Smith:

Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.

Last night my father died. And I am sad. This wasn’t a big deal in the scheme of things. But, you see, this was MY little finger. And more.

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Me Talking Thrice

  1. This Thursday March 6 at 4pm I speak at Duke University in the Philosophy, Politics, & Economics (PPE) Seminar, in room 330 Gross (room TBD), on Shall We Vote On Values But Bet On Beliefs? (slides)
  2. This last Sunday I talked to the DC Philosophy Cafe on Em Econ (audio).
  3. Last week I did another interview with Adam Ford, on Futurism (video).
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I Was Wrong

On Jan 7, 1991 Josh Storrs Hall made this offer to me on the Nanotech email list:

I hereby offer Robin Hanson (only) 2-to-1 odds on the following statement:
“There will, by 1 January 2010, exist a robotic system capable of the cleaning an ordinary house (by which I mean the same job my current cleaning service does, namely vacuum, dust, and scrub the bathroom fixtures). This system will not employ any direct copy of any individual human brain. Furthermore, the copying of a living human brain, neuron for neuron, synapse for synapse, into any synthetic computing medium, successfully operating afterwards and meeting objective criteria for the continuity of personality, consciousness, and memory, will not have been done by that date.”
Since I am not a bookie, this is a private offer for Robin only, and is only good for $100 to his $50. –JoSH

At the time I replied that my estimate for the chance of this was in the range 1/5 to 4/5, so we didn’t disagree. But looking back I think I was mistaken – I could and should have known better, and accepted this bet.

I’ve posted on how AI researchers with twenty years of experience tend to see slow progress over that time, which suggests continued future slow progress. Back in ’91 I’d had only seven years of AI experience, and should have thought to ask more senior researchers for their opinions. But like most younger folks, I was more interested in hanging out and chatting with other young folks. While this might sometimes be a good strategy for finding friends, mates, and same-level career allies, it can be a poor strategy for learning the truth. Today I mostly hear rapid AI progress forecasts from young folks who haven’t bothered to ask older folks, or who don’t think those old folks know much relevant.

I’d guess we are still at least two decades away from a situation where over half of US households use robots do to over half of the house cleaning (weighted by time saved) that people do today.

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Announcing: SciCast

A year ago I announced that our IARPA-funded DAGGRE prediction market on world events had finally implemented my combinatorial prediction market tech (which I was prevented from showcasing nine years earlier), with a new-improved tech for efficient exact computation in near-tree-shaped networks.

Now we announce: DAGGRE is dead, and SciCast is born. Still funded by IARPA, SciCast focuses on predicting science and technology, it has a cleaner interface developed by Inkling, and it has been reimplemented from scratch to support ten times as many users and questions. We also now have Bruce D’Ambrosio’s firm Tuuyi on board to develop and implement even more sophisticated algorithms.

But wait, there’s more. We’ve got formal partnerships with AAAS and IEEE, have a thousand folks pre-registered to participate, and we hope to attract thousands of expert users, folks who really know their sci/tech. We’ve seeded SciCast with over a hundred questions, many contributed by top experts, and hope to soon have thousands of questions, mostly submitted by users.

Alas, we aren’t allowed to pay our participants money or prizes. But if you have sci/tech issues you want forecasted, if you want to prove your insight into the future of sci/tech, or if you want to influence the perceived consensus on sci/tech, join us at SciCast.org!

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Me in The Futurist

The Jan/Feb ’14 issue of The Futurist has an article by me on “When the Economy Transcends Humanity”:

What will our economy, workplaces, and society look like when we can copy our brains and build virtual workers to do our jobs? An economist looks at the next great era, a world dominated by robots. (more; ungated)

It doesn’t break new ground, but may be more accessible. You’ll notice the editor liked to sprinkle popular movie references movies; does that really help accessibility?

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Wyden Puff Piece Errors

In the latest New Yorker, Ryan Lizza writes on “State of Deception: Why won’t the President rein in the intelligence community?” Which would be an interesting topic. Alas Lizza says little about it. Instead he summarizes the history of NSA spying on US citizens, supported via misleading statements and tortured legal interpretations, and talks the most about one Senator Ron Wyden’s heroic fight against the NSA.

Even though Wyden hasn’t actually succeeded at much. Lizza tells us that Wyden attached sunset provisions to the Patriot Act (which he supported), and asked the question at a Senate hearing where the NSA head’s answer was later shown to be misleading. Lizza speculates that Wyden’s many secret memos “repeatedly challenging the NSA’s contention that [a particular] program was effective” caused the NSA to drop that program. Oh and Wyden voted against some bills that passed, introduced bills that didn’t pass, and argued with Obama.

Here is the concrete Wyden accomplishement for which Lizza gives the most detail:

Three months later, the Defense Department started a new program with the Orwellian name Total Information Awareness. T.I.A. was based inside the Pentagon’s Information Awareness Office, which was headed by Admiral John Poindexter. In the nineteen-eighties, Poindexter had been convicted, and then acquitted, of perjury for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. He wanted to create a system that could mine a seemingly infinite number of government and private-sector databases in order to detect suspicious activity and preëmpt attacks. The T.I.A. system was intended to collect information about the faces, fingerprints, irises, and even the gait of suspicious people. In 2002 and 2003, Wyden attacked the program as a major affront to privacy rights and urged that it be shut down.

In the summer of 2003, while Congress debated a crucial vote on the future of the plan, Wyden instructed an intern to sift through the Pentagon’s documents about T.I.A. The intern discovered that one of the program’s ideas was to create a futures market in which anonymous users could place bets on events such as assassinations and terrorist attacks, and get paid on the basis of whether the events occurred. Wyden called Byron Dorgan, a Democratic senator from North Dakota, who was also working to kill the program. “Byron, we’ve got what we need to win this,” he told him. “You and I should make this public.” Twenty-four hours after they exposed the futures-market idea at a press conference, Total Information Awareness was dead. Poindexter soon resigned.

It was Wyden’s first real victory on the Intelligence Committee. (more)

That “futures market” program mentioned was called the Policy Analysis Market (PAM). As I was a chief architect, I happen to know that this discussion is quite misleading:

  1. TIA was a DARPA research project to develop methods for integrating masses of info; it wasn’t an actual program to handle such info masses.
  2. I’ve been told by several sources that TIA research didn’t stop, it just moved elsewhere. PAM, in contrast, did stop.
  3. PAM was not part of TIA; the only relation is that both were among the score of research programs under Poindexter in the DARPA management hierarchy.
  4. Though Wyden called it “Terrorism Futures,” PAM was mainly about forecasting geopolitical instability in the MidEast. The basis for the claim that it was about terrorism was a single website background screen containing a concept sample screen which included a small miscellaneous section listing the events “Arafat assassinated” and “North Korea missile strike.”

All those errors in just two paragraphs of a 12,500 word article. Makes me wonder how many more errors are in the rest.

It is hard to believe that Lizza’s article didn’t get a lot of input from Wyden. So Wyden is likely responsible for most of these errors. Thus to fight the NSA’s spying supported by lying, Wyden eagerly lied about an unrelated research program, in order to kill a research program with a symbolic tangential relation to NSA spying. Which wasn’t actually killed. Seems a bit underwhelming as a reason to make Wyden the main actor in a story on NSA spying. I see better candidates.

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Snowden: Hero

Six in 10 Americans … say Snowden’s actions harmed U.S. security, increasing 11 percentage points from July. … Clear majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents believe disclosures have harmed national security. … More than half of poll respondents — 52 percent — say he should be charged with a crime. … And 55 percent say he was wrong to expose the NSA’s intelligence-gathering efforts. … Most poll respondents think the NSA’s surveillance program intrudes on some Americans’ privacy rights — 68 percent say this — while 54 percent see intrusions on their own privacy, 49 percent count foreign governments as victims and 48 percent say this of foreign citizens. Among those who say surveillance programs intrude on their privacy rights or those of other Americans, a clear majority say such actions are unjustified. (more)

Though several legislative efforts are underway to curb the NSA’s surveillance powers, the wholesale move by private companies to expand the use of encryption technology may prove to be the most tangible outcome of months of revelations based on documents that Snowden provided to The Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper. In another major shift, the companies also are explicitly building defenses against U.S. government surveillance programs in addition to combating hackers, criminals or foreign intelligence services. (more)

The most limited estimates say that only 1% of the files that Snowden downloaded have been released publicly so far. At the other end of the spectrum, we may only have seen .25% of the files get released. The worst secrets may yet come forward in time. (more)

Overall, we Americans have a stronger attachment to U.S. dominance than to fair play or anyone’s rights. Yeah the NSA lied, went beyond its authority, and hurt us and others. But, we say, the guy who exposed that should be punished for making us look bad. Even though he acted alone, seems personally beyond reproach, suffered substantially and gained little, carefully minimized incidental harm, and showed great competence and self-control in the process.

Geez. I gotta say that Edward Snowden seems one of the best candidates for a classic hero that I’ve seen in a long time. Six years ago I wrote:

In a park near my home is a plaque that reads:

We honor all those who fought for our community.

There is probably a similar plaque near you. I would be more proud to live in a community with a plaque that read:

We honor those who fought against our community when it was wrong.

The Snowden story isn’t over, and maybe it will all look very different later. But for now, he sure looks like someone who such a plaque would rightly honor. Edward, my hat is way way off to you sir.

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Dec 4,5 Abu Dhabi Talks

I’ll speak twice soon at New York University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Here are locations & abstract:

  1. Dec. 4, 12:30-2pm in CSE 1802 to the Engineering Seminar Series (slides),
  2. Dec. 5, 6-7:30pm in S-037 (downtown) to the Economics Seminar Series (slides).

The Age Of Em: Imagining A Future Of Emulated Minds

The three most disruptive transitions in history were the introduction of humans, farming, and industry. If another transition lies ahead, a good guess for its source is artificial intelligence in the form of whole brain emulations, or “ems,” sometime in the next century. I attempt a broad synthesis of standard academic science, including in business and social science, in order to outline a baseline scenario set modestly far into a post-em-transition world. I consider computer architecture, energy conservation, cooling infrastructure, mind speeds, body sizes, security strategies, virtual reality conventions, labor market organization, management focus, job training, career paths, wage competition, identity, retirement, life cycles, reproduction, mating, conversation habits, wealth inequality, city sizes, growth rates, coalition politics, governance, law, and war.

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Me on RT America Soon

In a few hours I’ll appear on a news show on RT America, talking about organ sales. You can watch live here; here is the 5 minute video:

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Wanted: Know-It-Some Critics

Last November I said I wanted to write a book on a complex subject, but found it hard to simultaneously work out what I think on the subject, and to also write so as to engage a wide audience well. I wondered why book authors don’t do this in two steps:

First I’d write a pre-book, which states my main claims and arguments directly and clearly, using expert language, for an expert audience. I’d then circulate that pre-book privately among experts and useful thinkers of various sorts, seeking criticism of my arguments. Then using their feedback, I’d revise my claims and arguments, and write an engaging accessible book that can be circulated widely. (more)

Well even though few ever do this, I decided to try it anyway. And I now have a 62,000 word book draft, on the subject of em econ (see posts,Tedx video), i.e., on the social implications of a world dominated by brain-emulation-based AI. This draft isn’t especially fun or readable, or engaging to a wide audience. But it isn’t terrible, and seems a sufficient basis for eliciting thoughtful criticism.

I’ve asked around within my private social network, gotten some good feedback, and changed my draft lots in response. But I’d feel irresponsible if didn’t seek more critics. So let me put it out there: who wants to read and comment on my book draft?

Now I don’t want to post the draft publicly; I might want to sell it as a separate book later. So I don’t want to just give it to anyone who asks; I need to set a non-trivial standard. And the standard I’ve picked is: you should know something about something.

My book is on how the world changes if a certain tech gets cheap: computer-based emulations of human brains. And my analysis suggests that this changes many aspects of society. To give you some idea of relevant topics, I’ve included a current book outline below the fold.

So to be a useful critic, you should know something about brains, computers, business, or some other important part of our social world. You don’t need a Ph.D. of course; most knowledge in our world isn’t held by Ph.D.s. Years of experience can work wonders. But on the subjects you understand, you should know lots more than does a typical high school graduate on a typical subject, i.e., almost nothing. (And of course you also need a minimal ability to generalize what you know to new situations, and to express what you know somehow to me.)

If you are interested and think you qualify, email me at: rhanson@gmu.edu. Here is that current outline:

Continue reading "Wanted: Know-It-Some Critics" »

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