Source of Truth

New York 2017 (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

Ask any teenager what they learned in Mathematics this week and you might receive a look of deep pensiveness followed by some slow head scratching. Now ask that same teenager to name their top five mobile apps, and they will spit them out in less time than it takes you to unlock your phone.

We’re living in a new frontier, a digital landscape that is ever changing, growing exponentially and shaping more than just our technology. Cars, Kitchens, Watches, Security, are just some of the ‘Internet of Things’, and this will evolve rapidly over the next 5 years. Disruption isn’t simply a buzzword that employers and entrepreneurs like to toss around, it is real now in every sense of the word. From innovation to job losses, is disruption becoming the new norm?

How many teenagers are growing up believing that YouTube is the center of all information? There is a part of me that worries about the future landscape from a quality perspective. Some major leaps we’ve made in AI engineering and automation have resulted in quite terrifying results (again I link to Cathy O’Neil’s book ‘Weapons of Math Destruction‘), and I hope that we can regain our humanity in some way, amid such a fast paced revolution.

In order to determine how the world will look like five years, simply observe any teenager right now. How they treat others, how they treat themselves, and how much of their time is spent interacting with their mobile device/ console/ computer, blissfully unaware of the real world around them.

“Whereas before, if I watch this video from a comedian, our recommendations were pretty good at saying, here’s another one just like it. But the Google Brain model figures out other comedians who are similar but not exactly the same — even more adjacent relationships. It’s able to see patterns that are less obvious.”

– Jim McFadden, the Technical Lead for YouTube recommendations

Becoming Sentient

Lake, Auckland NZ 2015 (photo: Christian Espinoza)

Workplace automation, neural networks that can detect heart failure with 100% accuracy, and decision making bots. A decade ago, mentioning the word Skynet would intrigue and excite sci fi and Terminator fanatics, now in 2019 it is likely to leave a cold stare and a shiver inside.

Is it possible that we’re living at the cusp of a new age of cognition? From the dawn of time, humans have sought to explore and improve for the survival of our species. Perhaps an injection of computer power will elevate us into the next realm of our evolution… but I am not seeing androids just yet.

While computer algorithms are learning how to read inputs through repetitive sensory data and recognizing patterns in order to predict many possible outcomes, a large number of practical applications have not tapped into the logical next step: decision making computers.

Fast forward twenty years from now and we may see computers leading complex government projects, or creating university curriculum. They’ve already started to replace the role of the Photographer in studio. This is only the beginning.

In three years, Cyberdyne will become the largest supplier of military computer systems. All stealth bombers are upgraded with Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they fly with a perfect operational record. The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes online on August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 AM, Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

– Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Terminator, 1991

Are you Real?

Cover for short film “Wait” by Yamin Tun (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

What is reality in the first place?

The notion that all humans may in fact be living in a simulated reality was first posed by Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom. If this is true, then you may just be in one yourself.

Ever wonder about all of the people who play as extras in your life? The background talent with no speaking roles who walk past you in the street or stand near you at the crossing. We’ve seen how AI and machine learning can adapt to its environment, perhaps these people are part of a much larger algorithm originating from a much more powerful computer. What if that computer was from the future?

When we play the guitar, the vibration of the strings cause a range of harmonics which delight us with different sounds. In reality however, these range of harmonics are a series of waves causing a physical interference in the atmosphere and are absorbed by our eardrums which in turn render the sensation of sound.

Will any computer of the future be able to calculate super intelligent AI and, if so, how will humans develop it to learn from our own emotions?

Despite what is real and what is not, it is worth appreciating it and all the simulated people around you every day that you’re here.

2039 A.D

Self portrait by the Author, 2002

The Matrix is one of the best and most original films ever made.

Last week while driving, my son asked me if I had seen the movie. I could hardly contain my excitement as I transformed back into my teenage self at the premiere screening, and remembered how this movie totally melted my brain. “Yes, Ethan, have you seen it?” I replied calmly. “I have seen clips of it on You Tube, so pretty much yeah”. Now as an obsessive movie fanatic, this didn’t sit well with me at all. So on the weekend, Ethan and I sat down to watch The Matrix together, and I was excited to see his reaction as he watched this epic for the first time. He was floored.

The idea that the human race could eventually be dominated by its own man made AI (or the machines) is not new, even for 1999, but the Matrix was more than that. It made us think about thinking, it was like a Hollywood meta-learning experiment, and it worked. My reaction however was more troubling, as I reflected on just how AI has affected our real lives, 20 years later. I questioned whether we ourselves are living in a Matrix, or perhaps we each have our own Matrix Eco-system which differs slightly from everyone else’s. Like a bubble.

I can’t imagine how the world will be 20 years from now, when my son is my age. We may all be living under the big tech Filter Bubble, which is really like the Matrix (“there is no spoon”). We may see another Cambridge Analytica use our own data to manipulate us and feed us 3rd party propaganda. Or we may even see the decline of the big tech giants and the internet as we know it will cease to exist, and be rebuilt to fit our needs (not the other way around).

One thing I know is this: if we do nothing and allow the gatekeepers of the internet to decide what is right for us and our children, then 2039 will be a year I don’t want to know.

Ride this Train

Ethan and Charli (Photo Credit: Christian Espinoza)

Ride this train with me, on a journey into the realms of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Cybernetics. Along the way we pass major milestones in technological advances. From palm pilots to virtual assistants, cryptocurrencies replacing cash, automation replacing personnel. It’s a fast ride and we’re not stopping anytime soon.

As we ride into the age of Artificial Consciousness, are we in fear of losing touch with our own humanity ? In order to model synthetic cognition we must have an understanding of our own mortality.

Compassion, patience, and temperance are virtues we may one day see in machines, but I doubt I’ll live to see when that day comes.

Until then we ride this train into the distance and hope for humanity’s sake we reach the place we’re heading. We claim this new frontier for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.