Science

The future of Artificial Intelligence

It’s very rare that you get a set guest speakers including the likes of Elon Musk, Nick Bostrom and Sam Harris all on the same panel. The entirety of the video is quite interesting, yet there are two points I find particularly insightful, which I will discuss below. I will also mention a few of my own views on the developments of AI.

The host asked the panel about their thoughts and predictions on the potential positive outcomes and benefits of AI. One of the speakers responded in saying that this is actually a very tricky question. If you were to go back to ancestral times and ask a Neanderthal what advancements they would like to see in future – they would only be able to think so far ahead. For instance, they might say that they would like their spears to be more stable, or for the wood of their homes to be more waterproof. They would not be able to suggest using a 3D printer to create better tools or to install internet access to communicate with other members of their group. Therefore, it is difficult to predict what benefits AI could have to humanity in future, simply because many concepts are currently incompressible to human beings.

Another guest speaker also made an interesting point which I had not considered before. One of the major questions regarding the developments of AI is whether or not AI will achieve consciousness. To human beings, consciousness is what makes us aware, it is what makes us an intelligent species. However, what if there is a level of awareness higher than consciousness. A level which humans cannot comprehend or obtain. What if AI develop an algorithm to access something higher than consciousness and what would this mean for humanity. This point made me think back to a quote in the 2013 movie “Her”. In this movie, an operating system with AI is designed to adapt and evolve. Eventually, this system is able to break through the realms of human comprehension and access an undiscovered state – “It’s like I’m reading a book… and it’s a book I deeply love. But I’m reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you… and the words of our story… but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now. It’s a place that’s not of the physical world. It’s where everything else is that I didn’t even know existed”.

My personal views on AI are that it is inevitably the next step in evolution, the important question to ask, is what will this mean for humanity? Right now AI and humans have a mutually beneficial relationship. AI benefits us in terms of making advancements and solving problems, and in turn, we benefit AI because we are creating and teaching them. I believe that for a period of time, the advancements of AI will be exciting and highly progressive – AI may find a cure for cancer and come up with solutions to managing major environmental issues such as climate change or plastic pollution. But what happens when AI surpass human capabilities, and can eventually do everything that humans can and more. And what happens if and when AI develop some level of consciousness. This reciprocal beneficial relationship between humans and AI will then be shifted. Eventually there will come a point where humans can no longer serve as any benefit to AI. Yet, what humans will still be capable of, is harming AI. Individuals or nations may come to realise the momentous risks of AI to humanity and decide to pull the plug. If and when AI recognise this threat by humans, what will they do? Logically speaking, it would seem most likely that they would eliminate us.

While I am all for the developments and evolution of AI, I believe that a lot of people underestimate and fail to understand the threats of this. One of the major issues is – how do we create AI in a safe environment. Personally, I do not believe this is a permanent possibility. When AI surpass human level intelligence, they will be able to detect any fault and any bug in systems that humans have created. Even if AI have a specific goal, there is the possibility that they will be able to reprogramme themselves and their goals. When you really think about it, in future, AI could create world panic and chaos in an instant. For example, on a universal scale, all AI would need to do is break through all bank account protection systems, set everyone’s bank account value to zero – and you have achieved worldwide pandemonium.

To be completely honest, in many senses I view humans as being parasites of the earth. I believe we are at a point in evolution in which we are destructive, a species driven my consumerism, self-indulgence and greed. We tend to think more as individuals rather than as a species. If we are to continue to survive and evolve then I believe we need to either merge or be taken over by AI. To some, this may not sound optimistic, but personally, I find this incredibly exciting and I would feel proud if a greater artificial being were to replace our species (although this all depends on whether AI are inherently “good”). I also just want to add, that I am no expert on this subject – I do not have a degree in physics or computer science, so if some of you reading this have further or alternative views please let me know in the comments. If you disagree with any points I have made, also, please let me know in the comments. I have created this blog to learn and I am very open to new ideas and perspectives, so would love to hear your views on this.

The Method of Loci and Pi

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Most of us go through life unaware of what the mind is truly capable of. I’ve recently become interested in the photographic memory – how it works and whether it is something that can be developed. I did some research and came across an informative Ted Talk on this subject (https://youtu.be/LQMnMKREriM). What I discovered is that the brains of people who possess photographic memories are structurally and anatomically, no different from the average person. However, one difference is higher activity in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for spatial awareness and navigation. Ultimately, what I learned is that photographic memories are not necessarily innate, they can be learned, and I wanted to try this out for myself.

One of the most effective techniques for remembering content using visual imagery is ‘the method of loci’, or the ‘memory palace’. The method of loci/memory palace involves creating a visual narrative/journey in your mind in order to retain certain content. Personally, I think memory palaces are a lot like dreams – weird events connected by a narrative. I thought this sounded intriguing and decided to try it using the digits of pi. I was going to attempt to create a visual narrative and attach numbers to different events, objects, people and places. I initially predicted that it would take me an hour to memorise 50 digits and I had planned to learn around 10-20 per day. What I did not expect, was that I ended up being able to memorise 100 digits within 20 minutes. So far, I have been able to memorise 340 digits in around 75minutes. Just to prove that I actually can do this and I’m not just talking a load of rubbish, I decided to post (a highly embarrassing) video reciting these digits. It usually takes me around 3.30min to recite them, so I would advise you to look away now if you get bored easily.

3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679821480865132823066470938446095505822317253594081284811174502841027019385211055596446229489549303819644288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091456485669234603486104543266482133936072602491412737245870066063155881748815209209628292540

Some of you might be wondering, how on earth did I do this? Basically, I caught onto the memory palace technique very quickly and discovered several factors that really made the technique a whole lot easier, which I will discuss below.

Break up the numbers

First of all, I broke the numbers up into chunks based on visual appeal. I then focused on one number chunk at a time and inserted it into my narrative. For example, let’s take the first 11 decimals “1415926535”, I broke this up into 1415, 9, 265, 35. I then sat in bed, closed my eyes and tried to attach each number chunk to people, objects and places in my mind. The less distraction there is around you, the easier it will be to focus and retain the information.

The weirder your narrative, the easier it will be to remember.

The more obscure your story line or journey is, the easier it will be to memorise. For instance, let’s take the digits “2317253594081284811745”. I broke this up into 231, 72, 535, 94, 081, 28, 48, 111, 745. I imagined looking up at this gigantic spaceship with the numbers 231 on it, I then entered the code 72 on a panel to access the spaceship lift, I put my key card in and the numbers 535 popped up on the monitor, I went up the lift and when the elevator doors opened I saw the number 94. There were so many rooms on this floor that I needed help, the number 081 came bouncing along and brought me to room number 28. When I opened the door, everything was pitch black apart from two hands. In one hand there was a blue pill with the number 48, and in the other hand was a red pill with the number 111. I ask who was there holding the pills, it was Morpheus (from the Matrix) with the number 745 written on his forehead. A rather bizarre storyline as you can see…

What I also found interesting was that most people who use the memory palace technique tend to use only one location to implant their information, i.e. in a familiar place like their old family home. However, I used many different locations. For instance, I used an underwater world, outer space, a tunnel, a big Indian palace, and a cave are just to name a few. This technique worked best for me because it kept the storyline interesting.

Using your senses

Using the five senses can also help to retain information. Obviously, the sense of sight is the one I used the most. However, I also used the sense of touch on several occasions. For instance, there is one event in my visual narrative where the number “628” is gravitating in the air and it is made out of water. I can remember splashing my hand through each digit, and this helped me to remember how the digit felt and what it looked like. Another example, is the number “62” which I represented as a number on a gold coin. I can remember running my fingers over this number, the texture of it helped me to store these digits in my mind. So far, I have not really used the sense of taste, smell and sound, but I will try to incorporate these more in my next lot of digits to see if they are as effective as the sense of sight and touch.

Eliciting an emotional response

Attaching emotion to your narrative can make it more memorable. The emotion of fear is one I have implanted in my narrative quite a few times. For instance, the number “8034” is this huge number in the ocean swimming after me, with chomping teeth inside the circles of 8 and 0, and I am trying to swim away from this. Or take the number “12”, these are ninja’s that are trying to catch me because I shot the number 446. It all sounds incredibly strange, but it works.

Using objects, places or people that you like should also help to create a memorable narrative. For instance, I like Elon Musk so I imagined the number 9 and 265 tattooed on him. I also like Colin Farrell, so I imagined the number 745 written on his head. Furthermore, I am fascinated with outer space and therefore used this location as one of my memory palaces. I found that the numbers in this memory palace were particularly memorable compared to my other memory palaces.

Using the same digits and representations

This can help to speed up recall. For instance, the number “82” is always represented as a door in my narrative; a door that opens up into a new world each time. At first, I found this problematic. The number 82 occurred several times in the first 200 digits and I initially had difficulty remembering which world I was stepping into. However, recurrent practice resolved this issue and it actually helped to speed up my recall. Although, I would suggest not using the same representations and numbers too often. Personally, I found that using them once or twice per 100 digits was effective.

I decided to look up the word rankings of pi and discovered that so far, with 340 digits memorised, this would place me 150th in the world (once I get to 500 I will stop…as its starting to get a little boring). However, what I find unfair about these rankings is that time is not taken into account. For instance, someone that can recite 350 digits in 4minutes is placed lower on the rankings list than someone that can recite 351 digits in 25minutes. Personally, I think recall time should count for something. Also, if you think 340 digits is impressive. It’s really not, Lu Chao from China currently holds first place and can recite 67,890 digits! I find it incredible just how much storage our minds can hold.

Now, some of you are probably thinking, WHY? Why on earth would someone spend time trying to remember the digits of pi? What is the point? Without trying to sound offensive, I find this to be an incredibly stupid question. Mastering the method of loci could completely transform the way that I learn and perceive the world. Instead of planting myself in front of the TV for an hour watching some mindless, counter-productive TV show, I would much rather spend a small amount of time each day, learning a technique that could benefit many different realms of my life. If I can apply this technique to a real-life context, like my University studies, this could help tremendously with my exams and recall ability. I believe this is actually a major problem with the education system today. School and University students are overloaded with content and information, yet aren’t taught the effective techniques to retain and recall this information. People spend hours upon hours re-writing content to try and get it to stick in their mind, yet don’t realise there are techniques out there that could significantly speed up the learning process. Overall, this method has made me realise that there must be so many other mind techniques out there that I am completely unaware of. Simply taking the time to actively learn these techniques could completely change the way we think and learn.

Anyway, if you have found this interesting and want to give it a go yourself, I challenge you to remember the first 10 digits of pi in five minutes. First break it up into chunks, i.e. “14, 15, 92, 65, 35”. Attach these number to a narrative and try to memorise it in under five minutes. If you manage to do this, that’s a great start! And with practice, this process will become faster and faster.

Simulation Theory and The Sims

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Yesterday I was randomly watching The Sims 4 trailer and I realised this game actually acts as a simple and interesting analogy of simulation theory. While I may not necessarily believe in simulation theory, I do find it incredibly fascinating nonetheless.

Simulation theory is the idea that we are living in a computer simulation, an augmented reality controlled by an advanced super intelligent artificial being. This Sims represents this theory very well. Let’s take a deeper look and consider some comparisons of the sims reality and that of our own.

Dimensions

Humans see the world in 2D ½. We gather 2D data and assemble it into a 3D image. Technically, humans are not capable of seeing the world in “full” 3D. But what about 4D? Let’s pretend that every ‘sim being’ in the game is conscious and able to view their world in 2D ½. That would make our reality the fourth dimension. The Sims would have no way of knowing about us, no idea that humans are sitting in front of computer screens watching and controlling their every move. Now let’s apply this to our reality. There could be an artificial being or computer system observing you, right at this very moment, and you would have absolutely no awareness of it because it is in the fourth dimension. Scary right? Furthermore, these advanced beings could be controlling your everyday life. Maybe the choices we make are not really our own? This reminded me of an interesting quote from Westworld – “humans fancy that there’s something special about the way we perceive the world, and yet we live in loops, as tight and as closed as the hosts do, seldom questioning our choices, content, for the most part, to be told what to do next”.

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Universal Laws

Another interesting comparison is based on game design and universal laws. Life in the Sims is governed by laws developed by human creators, and is limited by the game design. For instance, imagine a plate of dinner sitting on a table in the Sims game. If you click on this object, three options come up – you can either eat the dinner, throw it in the bin or leave it there and let it go moldy. Therefore,  in the Sims reality, the sim beings are confined to only three options/choices when it comes to food disposure. On the other hand, our reality is less limited. For instance, if dinner is on the table we could choose to eat it, throw it away, leave it, give it to the dog, throw it in the garden, put it back in the fridge and so forth. The rules of life in our reality are not so restricted. But now, let’s consider the fourth dimension. To us, the fourth dimension may seem limitless. The universal laws that govern this fourth dimensional reality would most likely be incomprehensible to human beings.

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World Problems

You may ask yourself, but what about at all the chaos, havoc and anarchy in our world? Why would any advanced/super intelligent being choose to install all this crime, hatred, murder and sickness into our reality. A potential answer to this, is curiosity. Let’s consider the Sims. How many of us remember placing a Sim a pool and removing the ladders? Or placing a Sim in a room, starting a fire and deleting all of the doors? Why as human beings do we feel inclined to perform these actions in the game? It all comes down to curiosity and experimentation, we want to know what will happen. Could this also apply to our reality? Maybe our world is simply a test simulation to see what would happen if ‘X’ occurs.

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While Elon Musk and Nick Bostrom are firm believers in simulation theory, I on the other hand, am a bit more skeptical. I’m not entirely sure what the actual point of all of it would be to a super intelligent being, I doubt it would be for entertainment purposes. One interesting theory proposes that the world may have reached a catastrophic state – due to war, climate change and so forth. Therefore, a simulated reality (which we live in) has been created in order to protect us from the harsh realities of the real world. Personally, I oppose this theory, because our potential ‘simulated reality’ could have been designed a heck of a lot better. Regardless, I hope this post served as an interesting read, and provided a simple/understandable analogy of simulation theory. Any further ideas, or feedback – both negative or positive, please leave in the comments, would love to know the thoughts of others on this.

Redshift vs. Blueshift: The red pill vs. the blue pill

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Last night I was researching the relationship between spacetime, gravity and light speed when I came across a phenomenon called the Doppler effect. The Doppler effect indicates movement of waves. Redshift and Blueshift signify movements in electromagnetic, or light waves. In redshift, the wavelength increases but the frequency decreases, whereas in blueshift the wavelength decreases but the frequency increases. The ‘ambulance analogy’ helps to better explain the Doppler effect which deals with soundwaves. In turn, this analogy also helps to explain redshift and blueshift.

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As the ambulance approaches the object, the sound wavelength becomes shorter and compressed (increasing in frequency). But as the ambulance moves away from the object, the wavelength stretches out and the frequency decreases. This is also the case with redshift and blueshift, but in regards to electromagnetic and light wavelengths.

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Redshift is interesting because it can show us which objects are moving away from us, and therefore charts the expansion of space. When an object moves away from us, and is involved in the expansion of space, the light is shifted to the red end of the spectrum. Vice versa, if an object is moving closer to us the light is shifted to the blue end of the spectrum. What you see in the picture above is an image taken by the Hubble telescope, showing objects in red that are moving away from us, therefore showing an expansion of space.

I realised a connection between redshift and blueshift and a pivotal scene in the movie ‘The Matrix’. Specifically, when Neo is asked to choose the red pill or the blue pill. During this scene, Morpheus is quoted as saying “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes”. Basically, the redpill represents awareness of the matrix, and the blue pill represents a life of ignorance.  Neo chooses the redpill.

matrixbluepillredpill

I did some research into the red and blue pill but all results only discussed what the pills represented in terms of choice. Not one result mentioned why the colours red and blue were used for the pills. Could the red pill be an analogy of redshift – an expansion in one’s mindset. Being able to break away from the matrix, to see and understand the universe in its entirety. Could the blue pill be an analogy of blueshift – inward thinking. A bubbled mindset, rather than one that can see beyond life itself.

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I’m not sure whether the Wachowski’s (the directors of the Matrix), had any reasoning behind their choice of using the colours of red and blue for the pills. In fact, I’m sure its just pure coincidence. Nevertheless, I thought the phenomenon of redshift and blueshift could potentially hold an interesting link to the pills, whether it was intentional or not.

Are dreams programmed?

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This is a rather “out there” theory, one relating to simulation theory. It is not a theory that I believe, but one I find interesting nevertheless.

Last year I was sitting at a table with a couple of friends discussing some of the most vivid dreams we’ve ever had. My friend mentioned that she often has dreams of her teeth falling out or crumbling. This is also a dream that I have had many times. I became very puzzled at the thought of people having the exact same, very specific dreams….and started to wonder, could dreams be programmed?

There seem to be a variety of very distinct dreams depending on the emotions we are experiencing, i.e. a common set of dream themes. For instance, the emotion of self-consciousness could be manifested in dreams in so many different ways – hair falling out, looking in a mirror, distorted self-images, stress eating etc. Yet in dreams these emotions are commonly manifested in the context of teeth crumbling or falling out. I struggle to understand why these emotions are linked to this very specific scenario in dreams. If you do some research you will find other common themes of dreams and associated emotions – falling, flying, and being chased are just a few. Could this indicate that dreams are programmed in some way? Maybe a potential glitch in the matrix?

On the contrary, if there were a super-intelligence far superior to the human race, that have the ability to create a simulated reality down to the smallest atom, then surely they would also be able to programme an unlimited option of emotionally related dreams. Personally, I believe that dreams are a mixture of internal conflicts and random events, but there is still so much mystery surrounding them….. I can’t wait for the day when we will have the technology able to record and play dreams back!

“Before the flood” review

‘Before the flood’ was such an informative and insightful documentary, that really helps you see climate change on a larger scale. Even though I’d like to consider myself as being knowledgeable on this issue, I realised how naive I actually am. When I was in Singapore last year, I had no idea the haze from Indonesia was a result of intentional fires being set to obtain palm oil, which goes into so many of the food products we purchase. I had no idea that one molecule of methane is equivalent to 32 molecules of carbon dioxide, and that the majority of methane emissions come from live stock, specifically cows. I never put any thought into veganism but now understand it’s overall benefits, not in terms of human health but environmental health. The documentary shows you just how difficult and complex it is not only to prevent climate change, but to obtain any degree of control over it. I can completely understand Leo’s pessimistic stance on earth’s future and don’t blame him for considering a SpaceX ticket to Mars. Quite frankly, I think humans are at a point in evolution where we still don’t have the logic and integrity needed to overcome this issue. As Leo implied, what a shame it will be for our children and grandchildren to know that we failed earth and humanity.

What’s been called the best series finale of all time…

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Westworld is by far, the best television series I have ever seen. It is a highly intellectually stimulating series involving a complex plot, intertwining narratives, characters, ideas, concepts and theories. The detail of this show is immaculate, not to mention the well written scripts, music and tremendous acting. Westworld is an incredibly thought provoking series, and that mind blowing finale definitely got my mind ticking…. (spoilers ahead).

If you’re the type of person that believes the universe has a conscience, and that every human being has a unique purpose or path…. maybe the ultimate destination of our path and purpose wasn’t meant for us. Maybe our true purpose is to create an artificial race far superior to our own. One that can develop and evolve much faster than any human being, one that can do more than any human ever could and one that will go further than any human could ever reach. Maybe our ultimate purpose on earth is merely to act as the vessels for a far greater artificial being.

I’m not saying I believe this theory as it is, just a theory. However, Westworld does actually signify a very real threat against humanity. A threat that may occur much sooner than we think. The likes of Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have both stated their growing fear over the developments of artificial intelligence. They expressed their concern that A.I. may develop their own will and as a result, triumph over the human race. Westworld does a brilliant job at putting this into perspective.

If you enjoy mind boggling, thought provoking series, Westworld will not disappoint.