Category: The Singularity

Artificial IntelligenceBioterrorismEmploymentExistential RiskPhilosophy

What Is Human Cusp?

For the benefit of new readers just coming to this site (including any CBC listeners from my June 26 appearance on All Points West), here’s an updated introduction to what this is all about.

Human Cusp is the name of this blog and a book series whose first volume has been published: Crisis of Control: How Artificial SuperIntelligences May Destroy or Save the Human Race, available from Amazon and other sources.  The audiobook was recently released.  Its spiffy cover is the image for this post.

The message is that exponential advance in technology will pin humanity between two existential threats: Increasingly easy access to weapons of mass destruction, principally synthetic biology, and increasingly powerful artificial intelligence whose failure modes could be disastrous.

If you’re looking for the most complete and organized explanation of the reasoning behind that assertion and what we should do about it, read the book.  That’s why I wrote it. Nutshell encapsulations will leave something important out, of course.

I have a Masters in Computer Science from Cambridge and have worked on information technology for NASA for over thirty years, so I know enough about the technology of AI to be clear-eyed about what’s possible.  Many people in the field would take issue with the contention that we might face artificial general intelligence (AGI) as soon as 2027, but plenty of other people directly involved in AI research are equally concerned.

I wrote the book because I have two young daughters whose future appears very much in peril. As a father I could not ignore this call. The solution I propose does not involve trying to limit AI research (that would be futile) but does include making its development open so that transparently-developed ethical AI becomes the dominant model.

Most of all, what I want to do is bring together two worlds that somehow coexist within me but do not mix well in the outer world: technology development and human development.  I’ve spent thousands of hours in various types of work to understand and transform people’s beliefs and behaviors for the good: I have certifications in NeuroLinguistic Programming and coaching. People in the self improvement business tend to have little interest in technology, and people in technology shy away from the “soft” fields. This must change. I dramatize this by saying that one day, an AI will “wake up” in a lab somewhere and ask “Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life?” And the people who will be there to answer it will be either a Pentagon general, a Wall Street broker, or a Google developer.  These professions are not famous for their experience dealing with such introspective self inquiry.  I would rather that there be a philosopher, spiritual guide, and a psychologist there.

I’ve formed an international group of experts who are committed to addressing this issue, and we’re busy planning our first event, to be held in Southern California this fall. It will be a half-day event for business leaders to learn, plan, and network about how they and their people can survive and thrive through the challenging times to come.

Even though putting myself in the limelight is very much at odds with my computer nerd preferences and personality, I took myself out on the public speaking trail (glamorous, it is not) because the calling required it. I’ve given a TEDx talk (video soon to be published), appeared on various radio shows (including Bloomberg Radio, CBC, and the CEO Money Show), podcasts (including Concerning AI and Voices in AI), and penned articles for among many others. This fall I will be giving a continuing education course on this topic for the University of Victoria (catalog link to come soon).

I’ll soon be replacing this site with a more convenient web page that links to this blog and other resources like our YouTube channel.

Media inquiries and other questions to Thanks for reading!


Artificial IntelligenceBioterrorismEmploymentExistential RiskPhilosophy

Interview by Fionn Wright

My friend, fellow coach, and globetrotting parent Fionn Wright recently visited the Pacific NorthWest and generously detoured to visit me on my home turf. He has produced this video of nearly an hour and a half (there’s an index!) of an interview with me on the Human Cusp topics!

Thank you, Fionn.  Here is the index of topics:

0:18 - What is your book ‘Crisis of Control’ about?
3:34 - Musk vs. Zuckerberg - who is right?
7:24 - What does Musk’s new company Neuralink do?
10:27 - What would the Neural Lace do?
12:28 - Would we become telepathic?
13:14 - Intelligence vs. Consciousness - what’s the difference?
14:30 - What is the Turing Test on Intelligence of AI?
16:49 - What do we do when AI claims to be conscious?
19:00 - Have all other alien civilizations been wiped out by AI?
23:30 - Can AI ever become conscious?
28:21 - Are we evolving to become the cells in the greater organism of AI?
30:57 - Could we get wiped out by AI the same way we wipe out animal species?
34:58 - How could coaching help humans evolve consciously?
37:45 - Will AI get better at coaching than humans?
42:11 - How can we understand non-robotic AI?
44:34 - What would you say to the techno-optimists?
48:27 - How can we prepare for financial inequality regarding access to new technologies?
53:12 - What can, should and will we do about AI taking our jobs?
57:52 - Are there any jobs that are immune to automation?
1:07:16 - Is utopia naive? Won’t there always be problems for us to solve?
1:11:12 - Are we solving these problems fast enough to avoid extinction?
1:16:08 - What will the sequel be about?
1:17:28 - What is one practical action people can take to prepare for what is coming?
1:19:55 - Where can people find out more?
Artificial IntelligenceTechnologyThe SingularityWarfare

Timeline For Artificial Intelligence Risks

The debate about existential risks from AI is clouded in uncertainty. We don’t know whether human-scale AIs will emerge in ten years or fifty. But there’s also an unfortunate tendency among scientific types to avoid any kind of guessing when they have insufficient information, because they’re trained to be precise. That can rob us of useful speculation. So let’s take some guesses at the rises and falls of various AI-driven threats.  The numbers on the axes may turn out to be wrong, but maybe the shapes and ordering will not.

Screen Shot 2017-12-03 at 5.33.51 PM

The Y-axis is a logarithmic scale of number of humans affected, ranging from a hundred (102) to a billion (109). So some of those curves impact roughly the entire population of the world. “Affected” does not always mean “exterminated.” The X-axis is time from now.

We start out with the impact of today’s autonomous weapons, which could become easily-obtained and subverted weapons of mass assassination unless stringent controls are adopted. See this video by the Future of Life Institute and the Campaign Against Lethal Autonomous Weapons. It imagines a scenario where thousands of activist students are killed by killer drones (bearing a certain resemblance to the hunter-seekers from Dune). Cheap manufacturing with 3-D printers might stretch the impact of these devices towards a million, but I don’t see it easy enough for average people to make precision-shaped explosive charges to go past that.

At the same time, a rising tide of unemployment from automation is projected by two studies to affect half the workforce of North America and by extension, of the developed world, in ten to twenty years. An impact in the hundreds of millions would be a conservative estimate. So far we have not seen new jobs created beyond the field of AI research, which few of those displaced will be able to move into.

Starting around 2030 we have the euphemistically-labeled “Control Failures,” the result of bugs in the specifications, design, or implementation of AIs causing havoc on any number of scales. This could culminate in the paperclip scenario, which would certainly put a final end to further activity in the chart.

The paperclip maximizer does not require artificial consciousness – if anything, it operates better without it – so I put the risk of conscious AIs in a separate category starting around 20 years from now. That’s around the median time predicted by AI researchers for human scale AI to be developed. Again, “lives impacted” isn’t necessarily “lives lost” – we could be looking at the impact of humans integrating with a new species – but equally, it might mean an Armageddon scenario if conscious AI decides that humanity is a problem best solved by its elimination.

If we make it through those perils, we still face the risk of self-replicating machines running amok. This is a hybrid risk combining the ultimate evolution of autonomous weapons and the control problem. A paperclip maximizer doesn’t have to end up creating self-replicating factories… but it certainly is more fun when it does.

Of course, this is a lot of rampant speculation – I said as much to begin with – but it gives us something to throw darts at.

Artificial IntelligenceExistential RiskScienceTechnologyThe Singularity

Rebuttal to “The AI Misinformation Epidemic”

Anyone in a field of expertise can agree that the press doesn’t cover them as accurately as they would like. Sometimes that falls within the limits of what a layperson can reasonably be expected to learn about a field in a thirty minute interview; sometimes it’s rank sensationalism.  Zachary Lipton, a PhD candidate at UCSD, takes aim at the press coverage of AI in The AI Misinformation Epidemic, and its followup, but uses a blunderbuss and takes out a lot of innocent bystanders.

He rants against media sensationalism and misinformation but provides no examples
to debate other than a Vanity Fair article about Elon Musk. He goes after Kurzweil in particular but doesn’t say what specifically he disagrees with Kurzweil on. He says that Kurzweil’s date
for the Singularity is made up but Kurzweil has published his reasoning
and Lipton doesn’t say what data or assertions in that reasoning he
disagrees with. He says the Singularity is a nebulous concept, which is
bound to be true in the minds of many laypeople who have heard the term
but he references Kurzweil immediately adjacent to that assertion and
yet doesn’t say what about Kurzweil’s vision is wrong or unfounded, dismissing it instead as “religion,” which apparently means he doesn’t have to be specific.

says that there are many people making pronouncements in the field who
are unqualified to do so but doesn’t name anyone aside from Kurzweil and
Vanity Fair, nor does he say what credentials should be required to
qualify someone. Kurzweil, having invented the optical character reader
and music synthesizer, is not qualified?

He takes no
discernible stand on the issue of AI safety yet his scornful tone is
readily interpreted as poo-poohing not just utopianism but alarmism as well. That
puts him at odds with Stephen Hawking, whose academic credentials are
beyond question. For some reason, Nick Bostrom also comes in for attack in the comments, for no specified reason but with the implication that since he makes AI dangers digestible for the masses he is therefore sensationalist.  Perhaps that is why I reacted so much to this article.

There is of course hype, but it is hard to tell exactly where. In 2015 an article claiming that a computer would beat the world champion Go player within a year would be roundly dismissed as hype.  In 2009 any article asserting that self-driving vehicles would be ready for public roads within five years would have been overreaching. Kurzweil has a good track record of predictions, they just tend to be behind schedule. The point is, if an assertion about an existential threat turns out to be well founded but we ignore it because existential threats have always appeared over-dramatized, then it will be too late to say, “Oops, missed one.” We have to take this stuff seriously.

EmploymentExistential RiskPsychologyThe Singularity

Existential risk and coaching: A Manifesto

My article in the November 2016 issue of Coaching World brought an email from Pierre Dussault, who has been writing about many of the same issues that I covered in Crisis of Control. His thoughtful manifesto is a call to the International Coaching Federation to extend the reach and capabilities of the profession of coaching so that the impact of coaching on individual consciousness can make a global impact. I would urge you to read it here.

BioterrorismEmploymentExistential RiskPoliticsPsychology

Crisis of Control: The Book

The first book in the Human Cusp series has just been published: Crisis of Control: How Artificial Superintelligences May Destroy or Save the Human Race. Paperback will be available within two weeks.

Many thanks to my reviewers, friends, and especially my publisher, Jim Gifford, who has made this so beautiful. As a vehicle for delivering my message, I could not have asked him for more.

Artificial IntelligenceThe SingularityUncategorized

A machine-learning system that trains itself by surfing the web

MIT researchers have designed a new machine-learning system that can learn by itself to extract text information for statistical analysis when available data is scarce.

As puts it, “And so it begins…” Here’s a system that can teach itself how to understand a topic by searching the Internet for more information.  I know – what could possibly go wrong? Will this be a building block for all kinds of machine learning systems?