3rd April 2017
The Coincidence of Living at this Time
(Press the red ‘play’ button to hear the audio – 3:20 minutes)
Transcript of the Audio
On April 3rd 1973 Martin Cooper of Motorola made the first handheld mobile phone call to Joel S. Engel of Bell Labs and on 3rd April 2010 Apple release the first iPad. In 2017, as I spend my idle moments researching the latest in science and technology, I can’t help falling over developments that have the most enormous implications for the future of humanity and our morality.
Here are just a few:
- Artificial Intelligence: We have now developed machine learning algorithms to the point where artificial intelligent machines can identify individuals, drive cars, translate speech to text, translate and synthesise speech from text, answer complex quiz questions, play Go and Chess better than any human, transfer knowledge from one domain to another, and anticipate what we want better than we can ourselves. Robots are routinely used in manufacture and work on robot ‘companions’ is advancing.
- Genomics: We have now sequenced the human genome, are proceeding to map from the DNA sequences to human characteristics, and can precisely manipulate the genome in plants, animals and humans in order to produce ‘designer life’.
- The Internet: Much of the planet is connected such that any of its 7.5 billion inhabitants can now, in principle, access almost any information or any person from almost anywhere. The world is already becoming littered with cameras, other sensors, and devices (from toasters to power plants) that can activate (often autonomously) from either local or remote instruction.
- Physics: There are about 500 nuclear power plants and 9 nuclear weapon states. The existence of the Higgs-Boson (the so called ‘God’ particle) was established in 2012, and attempts continue to unify quantum physics and gravity. We are building quantum computers, grappling with ideas like entanglement and the relationship between the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, free will and consciousness. Some physicists speculate that we are living in a simulated reality like in The Matrix.
- Neuroscience: We are now mapping the functions of the brain in great detail, understanding it’s structures and how these change as we learn. We are beginning to understand conscious subjective experience in terms of the activations of neural circuits and have embarked on several projects to model the entire brain. We are using this knowledge to feedback into the design of neural network technology, which brings us back to machine learning and artificial intelligence.
All this has happened in my lifetime (which seems an uncanny coincidence in itself) and is growing at an exponential rate. Soon we will be applying machine learning to individual genomes, implanting devices into our bodies and brains, uploading our minds to the cloud, and generally merging humanity with artificial intelligence as we progress towards omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence.
All this, and at the same time I still have to sit for ages in traffic, argue with my telecoms supplier, and my son is being taught things in school geared to the needs of a Victorian employer poised for the industrial revolution. Who said ‘the future is here, it’s just not very evenly distributed?’.