technology

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 the 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 mutual 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.

Social Media – should I disconnect?

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A couple of months ago I decided to completely minimise my social media profiles, which you can read about here https://thebranchingmind.com/2017/04/19/breaking-away-from-social-media/. So far, I have been incredibly happy with this decision because it has allowed me to live in the present – to live for myself and to view the world through my own lens rather than living for the online world and perceiving life through the lens of a camera. However, even though I have minimised my profiles, I still have social media and I still browse through it. What I find interesting is that I never used to be the type of person to compare myself to others because I knew social media was fake; it’s a place where only the altered versions of people’s lives are presented rather than the real versions. Since moving back to New Zealand, I have suddenly started comparing my life to the lives of others. I believe the reason for this is simply because I am bored. When I was living in Hong Kong and Brisbane, I could walk out of my door and I would be met with vibrancy, excitement, architecture, nature and a whole range of different sights and activities. Now, I walk outside of my door and I basically just have two options of things to do; go to Takapuna beach or into the city. There are a few other things I could do/places I could visit, however, these places are quite inconvenient to get to (especially without a car). Therefore, I usually end up spending far more time in my flat, on my computer, pointlessly browsing through social media.

I’m starting to find that with each day that passes, the more disgusted I become with the online world. One reasons for this is because social media is based on materialism and superficiality. Above are some screenshots I took from my Instagram a few days before I deleted it. Let’s just depict some of these images. What do you see? I see several girls looking fulfilled and refreshed on their extravagant and luxurious holidays, numerous Kodak milestone moments, people in expensive designer clothes, and oh look someone’s posted a picture of their new, flashy car. Everyone looks so flawless, so happy and their lives seem so…perfect. Is this real, everyday life? No it’s not. This definitely isn’t my everyday life. Therefore, processing and internalising images like the ones above are obviously going to make my life seem insignificant.

Another reason I am feeling increasingly repulsed by social media is because I am becoming more and more interested in world problems and environmental issues. I’m fascinated with topics regarding climate change, ocean acidification, plastic pollution and overpopulation. When I become aware of all the damage and destruction that humanity has caused and continues to cause the world – and then browse through the narcissistic and self-indulgent world of social media, it genuinely revolts me. It basically signifies why all of these issues have occurred in the first place – because the vast majority of humans are driven by greed.

For these reasons, I decided to delete my Instagram account and I am also considering removing my Facebook profile. The only problem with this, is that I could end up completely isolating myself from the online world and reducing a significant part of my social life. There are several people I only communicate with on Facebook. If I delete my Facebook account then I will be cutting ties with these people and will most likely lose contact with them. This is the sole only reason as to why I may consider keeping this social media platform, along with using it as an educational platform to keep up with world events and scientific/technological advances.

I also just want to add that I haven’t created this post as a means of ranting my frustrations. More so, I am looking for advice. If any of you have experienced what I am experiencing, what have you done about it? And if you have completely disconnected from the online world, did this help or did it hinder your life? At the end of the day, social media is a strange and sad phenomenon. It’s a place where we are connected to others, most of which we don’t speak to, haven’t seen in years, or in some cases, have never met at all. Yet, we continuously observe their lives and they observe ours. I do not want to look back on my life in future and regret spending so much time in a fake reality on an online world.  It’s bizarre and it is pointless. What do any of us actually gain from this? If you have any advice, please let me know by leaving a comment or posting a message on the ‘contact’ page. I would really appreciate pointers from others on this!

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 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. The 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 terrible 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 much 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.

Breaking away from social media

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Social media or social manipulation? Today, most of us spend a significant amount of time living in a fake reality on an online world. A skewed society where people present the best versions of themselves, instead of the real versions. Pointlessly browsing through Facebook or Instagram rarely results in positive feelings about yourself and your life. If you skim through people’s profiles, you will see countless pictures of people looking flawless, attending noteworthy events, jetting of on extravagant holidays, staying in luxurious hotels, getting engaged, getting married, buying a house! All of these life events are positive. People scarcely post about the negative life events they go through. So many people encounter the same struggles, yet so little people open up about them on social media. How people portray their lives is not real and it’s not authentic. This unauthentic portrayal ultimately gives people an unhealthy and warped perception of life. The reality is, this roller coaster of life is full of both positive and negative events. The ups and downs of our individual journey’s are part of the natural human experience.

From the age of seventeen to twenty-four, like many others, I was somewhat consumed by the narcissistic world of social media; posting posing selfies, photos of my holidays, tagging friends, places and social events. It’s only been very recently, that I had an “aha” moment and realised, what is the point? While I still have social media, I decided to completely minimise my profiles for several reasons:

  • I started comparing myself to others. In the past, I had never been the type of person to compare myself to others on social media, because I knew it wasn’t real. However, being back in New Zealand, where there’s not a whole lot to do and see and life is seemingly basic and mundane, I found that my mind wasn’t overly preoccupied. Therefore, I ended up spending exceedingly more time on social media than usual. Another problem living in New Zealand, is that everyone here does the same thing. Everyone lives very similar lives. People are very eager to settle down, and settle down young. There isn’t a great deal of variety in how people choose to live their lives, as opposed to a more modern and liberal place like Hong Kong where I previously lived. There is nothing wrong with this, but it can create a sense of pressure. I started seeing repeated posts on Facebook of people getting married, engaged, having kids which began triggering feelings of inferiority; that I was behind in my life and so far from the stage that so many people seemed to be at. Subconsciously, I began to believe that I should be adopting this life script, that this mainstream lifestyle is the norm and is the life path I should be following. Yet in reality, I’m not sure I want this sort of life at all. We only have a very short time on this planet and a large part of me wants to spend it in a way that is unique; travelling and working overseas, growing as a person and learning about the world. I’m not sure I want to comply to the norm just because it’s what everyone else does. For this reason, I felt the need to break away from social media in order to maintain an authentic mindset.
  • Witnessing others consumed by their social media profiles. A few weeks ago, I was in a night club and ended up hanging out with a group of rather pretentious people, a group I suppose you would deem the “wannabe socialites of Auckland”. Even though I found this experience to be rather unnerving, I also found it to be incredibly eye opening. I remember watching a few of the girls; they were standoffish and moody, yet as soon as they got their phones out to take a snapchat video, their whole demeanours changed. They suddenly became lively, bubbly and acted as though they were having the time of their life. When they put their phones away, they quickly resorted back to their solemn selves. It was in this moment that I realised I never wanted to be like this. I never want to become so utterly engrossed by social media that it affects my actions and behaviours. Our existence is limited and it would be such a shame to spend such a large proportion of this time being so concerned about self-images and perceptions. It was for this reason, I decided to break away from the influences social media.
  • I realised, what is the point? I used to post dozens of photos of my holidays and the majestic places I visited, photos of inebriated nights out with friends and drunken selfies. Then one day I realised, what is the point? What is the point of showing people my life? How does it benefit other people’s lives and how does it benefit my life? Why am I actually doing this? I know that social media is fake, so why am I contributing to it?

Breaking away from social media has been a good decision, I no longer get the urge to post about where I am, what I’m doing or who I’m with. I now live my life more in the moment. I still believe there are some benefits to social media – staying in contact with friends and keeping up with social events. However, minimising my profiles has been a huge refreshment. While I dislike social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, there are still some domains I appreciate because they are authentic, real and relatable. One of these platforms are self blogs – I love reading people’s honest posts about their lives and experiences. A lot of bloggers aren’t afraid to talk about challenges they go through or negative emotions they feel. Another platform I really enjoy browsing through at the moment is reddit – this is a forum where no topic is off limits. Any topic that is taboo is discussed somewhere on this forum. It’s a place where people state their genuine thoughts and I find a lot of the posts very insightful. Finally, I enjoy watching certain YouTube vloggers. My favourite Youtuber’s are the ones that openly and honestly articulate their thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative. If you are interested to know, one of these YouTuber’s is ‘Mum to Millionaire” – while I cannot necessarily relate to her videos because I am not a Mother, what I do like is that she’s not reluctant to touch on a rather taboo topic – the struggles and regrets of parenthood (a subject I am weirdly fascinated with at the moment). My current favourite YouTuber, is a girl living in Singapore called Brianna Degasaton – in several of her videos she vents to the camera and openly talks about the struggles she goes through. In actuality, the struggles most of us go through. She is authentically herself, and her videos are highly refreshing to watch, you can find her channel here https://www.youtube.com/user/briannadeg.

If you are someone that is fed up with social media, tired of how it makes you feel, I hope some of these pointers are of help. I think disconnecting from the unauthentic platforms of social and connecting with more authentic platforms provides some solution – you’re still part of the online world, but the content you are viewing is more raw, real and relatable. As I mention repeatedly on this blog, we only live one very short and precious life, so make the decisions that will lead you to the best possible life – if social media is making you unhappy, change that and break away from it.

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!