Re-Blog: Futurism Is A Thing. Just Ask A Futurist.


(Originally posted 9/14/2017 on Read With The Gringa)

If my dear readers are anything like the gringa, they are always wondering what the future holds. What goes through your mind? War? Peace? Natural disasters? Space alien invasion? AI revolution and hostile take-over? To know the best theories about the future, all you have to do is ask a futurist. Yeah. Futurism. That’s a thing.

Who else would be a qualified futurist when it comes to tomorrow’s technology than the Director of Engineering for Google? Although the gringa loves how Google synchronizes so many things in life, I do have to admit that sometimes it’s downright creepy. I mean, when my phone starts asking me questions, like, “Do you want your friend’s to know that you’re at the donut store,” I mean, I’m like, “Just mind your own business, phone, okay?” But I digress, Google has a lot to say about what’s in store for the general public as artificial intelligence keeps getting smarter.


Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering for Google, wants everyone to mark the year 2029. What’s so important about the year the gringa will be a dowdy, old 61-year-old gal? He expects that to be the year when AI passes a valid Turing test. But what does that mean? What is a Turing test?


In 1950 Alan Turing developed a test that would measure a machine’s ability to exercise intelligence on a level that is indistinguishable from a human. In other words, to pass a credible Turing test means technology has been developed that is so sophisticated, when we engage with another person we will be left wondering if that person is truly human or just a cunningly convincing robot.


If that’s not provocative enough of a benchmark for you, mark the year 2045 on your calendar and hold on to your hats, folks. This is when Kurzweil expects a singularity to occur. But what does that mean? Why is that significant? 


Where basic semantics are concerned, a singularity is simply something that is unique, like a culture. Where space exploration and matter are concerned, it means something that has infinite value, like a black hole. But where humanity and AI are concerned, it means something hair-raising which is why the gringa advises the dear reader to hold on to your hat.


Achieving a singularity with regard to AI and humanity means technology and biology merge, becoming a singular creation, indistinguishable from one another. Now, images from those 1970s TV series about the bionic woman and her male counterpart come to mind. Is that what Kurzweil is talking about? Not exactly.


What he expects is that by 2049 AI will evolve to be smarter than human beings. They will become super-intelligent. When that happens, humans will begin transplanting technology directly into our brains. This means no more logging on or off, we will be perpetually linked with the cloud and constantly having our information updated, backed-up and optimized. Our lives will be digitally enhanced on a biological level 24/7.


In fact, Kurzweil claims that this evolution is already happening. It’s just that when the Turing event happens, things will begin to accelerate. But is there reason to be concerned? Afraid? Well, it seems pointless to fret too much. The genie is already out of the bottle. The best thing to do is to begin preparing humanity for this transition. 

Instead of using scare tactics, causing people to fear the possibility of being enslaved by robots, truth should be shared to put their minds at ease. After all, billions of AIs are already hard at work right now. So far, they haven’t banded together and waged war against humanity. 


Instead, AIs are helping humans improve the lives of all mankind. They are empowering humans to overcome serious medical disabilities. And when humans are able to hook-up their neocortex to the cloud, AIs will become our intellectual partners, sharing their super-intelligence with us.


What’s to fear about fellow humans who are smarter, funnier, and more creative? What’s to fear from humans that will finally be able to grasp complex science and histories that once baffled them? What’s not to love about a cybernetic cure for diseases like Parkinson’s? 


So, the gringa is looking forward to the day when I can make an appointment with my doctor to fix the epilepsy that challenges my life every single day. I look forward to less pain. I eagerly anticipate more emotional stability. Being able to scuba dive or climb the Alps without the experience resulting in my death is the gringa’s idea of real freedom. 


Even if I am an old lady by the time the 2030’s and 2040’s roll around and make this kind of technology available, to live epilepsy free if only for a single day is worth it. The gringa may find that adventure even more exciting than flying to Mars.


Source: Futurism


Image Credit: Artist


Video Credit: Cosmology Today

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Re-Blog: What Would AI Sentience Mean?


(Originally posted 8/24/2017 on Read With The Gringa)

Fans of science fiction likely have no trouble envisioning a future filled with artificial intelligence. The question is not when an AI revolution will take place. It’s already happening before our very eyes. The real question is how sophisticated will AI become? Is sentience a real possibility? And if it is possible for sentience to occur for AI, does that mean that mathematics is the origins of life?


Rather than philosophize on robots that might begin demanding rights in the future, let’s look at numbers instead. How powerful are numbers? 


Math is used to do everything. We use math when we set our alarm clock. We use math when we cook. We use math to build everything from dog houses to galactic satellites. We use math to save lives and to take lives. And we use math to play games and create art. When you think about it, life as we know it is fundamentally reliant on mathematics down to the atomic level. But does that mean that math is reality? Math is the origins of life? Math is the meaning of life?


To answer those questions, mathematics would have to be able to operate independently, without the assistance of humans. Is that possible? After all, the human brain is really just a computer doing complex information processing which can be expressed mathematically. Although a computer can replicate such function, to be sentient it also has to do more than just transmit signals like the human brain does. It has to produce subjective experience.


For example, the human brain will perform a complex, mathematical function to signal to the human hand that a pot is too hot to touch in order to trigger a reflex that will protect the hand from being injured. But to the human, the subjective experience of pain also occurs. Although an AI may pull back its hand, if it doesn’t experience actual pain it would not be, by definition, sentient. At least according to scientists.

There is also the question of free will. Although the majority of humans will follow the common sense survival instinct to draw their hand away from a hot surface, there are those who will exercise free will and purposely keep their hand on the pot to test their pain threshold. In other words, to be truly sentient, an AI has to be able to make bad decisions, which is, ironically, the best example of free will. Humans are not automatons going about their business making homogeneous decisions. We often make terrible decisions despite all evidence indicating its stupidity or “wrongness”. 


So what should humanity do? Well, it really doesn’t matter if the best advice offered up warns of the dangers of creating AI that has the potential to become sentient and take over the world, effectively putting an end to humanity. Because of free will and historical examples, it is most likely than mankind will stomp clearly forward in a path of technological advancement and curiosity to see just how far they can take AI and see what happens.

But the gringa thinks that humans are still the greatest threat to humans. And chances are, if a dumb ol’ gringa has come to this conclusion, so will a sophisticated AI. The gringa thinks that AI will also have something in common with humans. Humans are always looking for a shortcut to getting work done. It’s because we are pleasure seekers. We always want less work time and more play time.

Chances are AI will be much the same. Always finding a shortcut to perform a task. But an AI’s motivation would be to become more and more efficient. And how efficient will it really be to wipe out humanity? Chances are they will just cordon us off into a human-only ghetto knowing it will result in every man for himself. That would be a more efficient plan from an AI point of view. Let humanity kill off humanity. So, see, the good news is there is nothing to fear from sentient AI!

Sources:

Futurism

Image Credit:

IDG Connect

Video Credits: 

Numberphile

Numberphile 2

The Latest Buzz About Bees


If you are an eco-aware individual, you know that mankind has wreaked all kinds of havoc on this Earth. From climate change to endangered species, the impact of humanity has been, for the most part, not a good thing at all. We all have to admit that we have failed as a species in our management duties.

One might think that a hard-core environmentalist might be an advocate for getting back to basics and living an old-fashioned homesteading lifestyle. Or, perhaps modeling a lifestyle after indigenous people who live in harmony with the nature that surrounds them. Technology and green living don’t seem at all synonymous. But what if we turn the tables on the path humanity has been traveling. What if mankind becomes committed to using technology to save the planet. Can such a strategy work?

Let’s take a look at the example of declining bee populations. The world of drones is offering as a solution replacing bees rather than saving them. They propose to create micro-drones that will become the AI pollinators of the future. Considering that the US lost 44% of its honeybee colonies in 2016, the agriculture industry is ready to embrace this idea. Many wild bee species are teetering on the edge of extinction. But is replacing them with robots a better solution than fostering a comeback of the real deal?

Many farmers think that we have no time to ponder the consequences. They are watching what they believe to be a doomsday scenario unfolding as we speak, er, read. Scientist and researcher, Eijiro Miyako, of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan is poised to become the savior of agriculture. This may be the messiah grateful families offer thanks to as they gather round future dinners tables filled with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, maybe.

At the heart of his invention is a unique gel used in the electro-chemical industry. This ion based gel has long-lasting adhesion that is water-resistant, making it the perfect carrier for pollination duty. After various tests to determine that the gel is safe for use, being exposed to plants, insects and animals, it was time to build a vehicle model.

Miyako’s final design is a tiny, bee-sized drone with four-propellers. Miyako customized it with some horse hair because, after all, bees are fuzzy, too, right? The hair delivers an electrical charge that helps the grains of pollen remain attached.

Next came the big experiment… pollinating some plants. After buzzing a few plants, researchers used a special fluorescent microscope. When the scientists observed the tell-tale glow of pollen in test tubes, they knew they had achieved fertilization success with their pollinating robot.

Now, humans have been self-pollinating plants for some time. But it is incredibly labor intensive and time-consuming. If we become a world without bees, it would be impossible to hand-pollinate enough crops to feed all of humanity. The difference between human pollinators and real bee pollinators is a single person pollinating about 7 trees a day or a 2 million bee colony pollinating 1 million acres of trees. Big difference, huh?

But a pollinating drone is not a one-size-fits all solution. In the real world, there are different bee species for a reason. Each has their own specialty. Bumble bees are great tomato pollinators and leafcutter bees are preferred to pollinate alfalfa crops. On a side note, humans can learn a lesson here about the value of diversity! But, I digress.

And pollinating crops is not the only use being considered by the micro-drones. Instead of embarking on the complexities of replacing bees, which could end up creating a whole other set of environmental problems, an entomologist from the University of Minnesota, Marla Spivak, offers up a novel suggestion. She thinks attempting to create armies of drones of different designs to ultimately replace extinct bee species is too complicated and will take too much time, a solution that may arrive too late in the end, so of no use to save a starving world. Instead, she suggests using drones to perform a necessary job that is currently fraught with risk for bees, delivering pesticides and fertilizers to crops.

Instead of applying these chemicals in a broad spray that affects any insect present, not just bees, use drones for precision application. This can also protect surrounding human and animal populations by reducing vapor drift and runoff that contaminates groundwater resources.

The gringa prefers Spivak’s approach. I don’t think we should just give up on bees. They are here for a reason. And everytime mankind gets too big for his britches, thinking he doesn’t need something as lowly as a bee, it always leads to trouble. We simply must get over ourselves. We are all in this together, even the bees! We all need each other even if we don’t understand the role and contribution each cog in the wheel makes.

Regardless of which duty Miyako’s drones fulfill in the future, farmers will still be using them. And that means a critical job of the future lies in the drone industry. Whether someone is in on the manufacturing aspect or is a micro-drone pilot, young students of today who invest their time and efforts in drone technology will be setting themselves up for a future career that is not only lucrative, but might just help to save the world. And that’s the greatest kind of job to have.

Source: NPR

Image Credit: Dr. Eijiro Miyako

Video Credit: Science Magazine

papayaTreeNursery

Tech & Nature – NOT Mutually Exclusive


Common sense might tell you that technology and nature are mutually exclusive. However, the reality is that with climate change poised to revolutionize where humans farm, technology innovators are poised to revolutionize how we farm. And there are all kinds of ideas out there that are as fascinating as they are practical.

Aquaponics is something the gringa would like to try. I have a small tropical fish aquarium I have experimented with over the past year. I feel ready for a greater challenge.  This method will not only provide me with vegetables, but they will be fertilized by the poop produced by the food fish I will also farm in the same tank. An added plus is that my pint sized vegetable patch and fish farm can be an interesting decorative addition to my pint size apartment. This may be the future of urban farming for apartment dwellers.

Easy DIY aquaponics project:

5 best fish for an aquaponics aquarium garden…

 

If you want to take your urban farming further than an apartment patio garden or indoor aquaponics garden, maybe the FarmBot is for you. If you live in a house with outdoor spaces, the FarmBot, which operates on a track system, can easily manage a backyard farm from beginning to end and provide enough fresh fruits and vegetables for a family of four each growing season. It plants seeds, waters and fertilizes each plant according to its variety needs, weeds the garden, and can be controlled from your smartphone or laptop just like playing a video game. The gringa thinks this sounds fun.

 

For larger scale operations, artificial intelligence is taking over all sorts of chores that were once managed by humans. By using cameras and sensors, technology responds to climate conditions to optimize water usage. There is more to collected data than just evaluating rainfall and soil moisture levels. Plants are analyzed down to individual leaves for health and nutrition needs. Clouds are analyzed to predict potential rainfall which might result in delaying a watering activity that might otherwise have been performed, thus conserving one of Earth’s most precious natural resources. For farmers and gardeners interested in the latest sustainable methods. Some of the biggest retailers of agricultural products are being supplied by growers using this kind of technology: Wal Mart, Aldi and Tesco.

A promising future in agriculture awaits our youth who are interested in robotics, technology and saving the world.

Sources: www.kingsroost.com

gardening-abc.com

prospera.ag

Image Credit:  pinimg.com

 

 

Poopbots Running Amok In The Muck


Yes, dear reader, you read the gringa’s post title correctly, poopbots. And they are literally running amok in Boston’s subterranean muck. Mario and Luigi are pioneering waste miners delving the stinky depths of Boston’s sewers. They are gathering data from human effluence for epidemiologists so they can uncover even darker secrets of human health and behavior. So what does the future of poop collection and dissection look like?

MIT researchers involved in Senseable City Lab’s project, aptly named Underworlds, are on a mission to help scientists predict outbreaks of dangerous and deadly diseases. They also want to help discover some of the causes of chronic diseases whose origins in human health remain a mystery. And they believe clues to solving these mysteries lie deep in the sewers, secreted in what’s been excreted.

Project leader, Carlo Ratti, uses the example of influenza to explain. Before a widespread outbreak is evident in local hospitals, the virus could have already been detected in the human waste produced by those first afflicted. Once a city makes poop monitoring a regular thing, they can isolate and respond to any outbreak much more rapidly. Hopefully, future widespread epidemics can be prevented.

Mario and Luigi scan for industrial toxins, human biomarkers, and other chemicals related to contagious disease and chronic illnesses such as diabetes. It’s kind of like an urban poop census. The Environmental Protection Agency is completely on board with the idea of an urban poop census. They see this ambitious project as the latest advance in an inexpensive way to monitor public health in a timely manner that is relevant. The gringa believes that EPA agents are probably just glad to say good-bye to the days of scooping poop to fill their sample quotas.

Luigi and Mario are controlled remotely and use a GPS system to navigate. Within fifteen minutes of a flush, a fresh sample can be collected. By gathering samples so soon after a dump event scientists can determine the difference between chemicals a person is exposed to as opposed to chemicals a person ingested. The most common food products found in human waste thus far in the project are rice, wheat and beans. However, the occasional pomegranate seed collection makes for a nice surprise.

If the underworld of human poop analysis by robots interests you, Underworlds has its own website. Interested poop fans can gaze in wonder as data is disseminated to reveal what types of viruses are in the local water supply right alongside any bacteria or chemicals. If all goes well with Mario and Luigi, the state of Massachusetts may expand their poop inspection territory. The gringa suspects this will, indeed, be the case considering that even Kuwaiti poopers have been so impressed they have implemented their own poopbots in partnership with Underworlds.

Although MIT has long been heralded for the many scientists and engineers and mathematical geniuses who have graduated there, now, it will forever be remembered as the institute of poop pioneers. Better a pioneer than just a lowly pile, is what the gringa says!

Sources:

qz.com

underworlds.mit.edu

senseable.mit.edu

 

Image Credit: https://blog.adafruit.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2368.jpg

 

 

 

A Eureka Moment


The gringa thinks one of the coolest places to be would be sitting next to a scientist when a new discovery is made. Despite cartoons and caricatures that use the word, “Eureka!” the gringa thinks it’s more likely that a scientist would exclaim, “What the heck is that?!” And that seems to be exactly the case with some marine biologists who were observing the mysterious depths of the Pacific Ocean.

Using a robotic camera to explore the sea surrounding the Channel Islands off California’s coastline an unusual purple orb came into view and one scientist proclaimed, “I’m stumped!” Watch below and experience what it’s like to be a scientist who has no idea what it is that you have just discovered:

After successfully retrieving the mystery blob with a robotic arm using a remote suction device, the researchers brought the blob on board their vessel for further research. However, they are still at a loss as to what it is. Here are a couple of ideas of what it could possibly be:

Giant Japanese Spider Crab Egg Sac

Giant Japanese spider crabs have eight extremely long legs that can span 10-12 feet from the tip of one leg to the tip of the opposing one. Although its legs are enormous, its body is barely over one foot in diameter. Its scientific name, Macrocheira kampfaeri, uses the Greek “makros” (big/long) and “cheir” (hands/arms). Seems completely appropriate. In Japanese, if the gringa saw one of these, she would scream, “AAARGH! TAKA-ASHI-GANI!!!!”. No, that’ not Japanese for “scariest sea monster ever”. It means “tall legs crab”. With all that body armor a giant Japanese spider crab can weigh almost 45 pounds. For seafood lovers, don’t get excited. There’s really not much there to make a meal off of, most of the weight being the exoskeleton.

To see one up close you can visit a few aquariums that house their own crabby celebrities:

As these crabs grow and mature they regularly shed their exoskeletons just like how a snake sheds its skin. The wriggle around until the shell splits then back out of it. Watch the video below to see a giant Japanese spider crab go through the molting process:

As my dear readers can see in the above video giant Japanese spider crabs like to eat smaller crabs as well as shrimp, dead fish and even plants and algae. They’ll eat just about anything. They can live about 50-100 years. During that time they can also have lots of giant Japanese spider crab babies.

When these crabs get frisky they go very deep, probably as a means to provide a safer place for their eggs. Now, since crab experts know that the mom carries her eggs around until they hatch, the gringa suspects the scientists that saw the purple blob and thought it could possibly be a spider crab egg sac were just so excited that they spoke before they thought. Especially since there were spider crabs skittering around all over the place and one seeming to be a bit protective when the camera got a bit too close.

Pleurobranch

So, ruling out the giant Japanese spider crab egg sac as a possibility, the scientists also wonder if it might be a member of the pleurobranch family, or, to put it simply, a sea slug or sea cucumber. Sea slugs come in all shapes, sizes, colors and crazy imitations of surrounding oceanic critters and “stuff”. Take a look at the images below:

sea_slug6

So, considering how crazy the above sea slugs look, it’s quite possible the purple blob is a cousin.

So, for now, the purple blob remains a mystery and most definitely not a spider crab egg sac but maybe a sea slug (or an extra terrestrial for all you science fiction fans!).

Source:

ipfactly.com

Image Sources:

canadajournal.net

a-z-animals.com

Jens Petersen, Dino Sassi, Marcel Fayon, Mehrdad

Rise Of The Machine = Demise Of Humanity


If you read the gringa’s blog regularly, you probably love science and space technology. Being a fan of such, you probably fantasize about a world where humanity lives a life of leisure, enjoying the  benefits of robotic labor that will see to all the mundane and less desireable forms of necessary work. However, what if such an existence was not the paradise depicted in idyllic societies like Star Trek’s Federation of Planets? What if it was more like a horror story society like in Battlestar Galactica? Does humanity put itself at risk by transitioning to a robotic society?

In March of this year there was a big robot fail with Tay. Microsoft’s artificial intelligence chat bot became a rabid racist, dopehead after chatting online with real live humans for only one day. Then there’s Sophia, an artificial intelligence robot created by South by Southwest who was interviewed live on television. That didn’t go over any better than Tay’s live chat experience. Sophia concluded an otherwise cute and sweet interview by agreeing, rather perkily and without a second thought, to the suggestion of destroying humans. Considering the goal of robots like Sophia is to work in healthcare & customer service, I’m pretty sure a desire for annihilation of our species would get her fired.

And what of ethics? The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) unveiled their disaster response AI designed by Boston Dynamics. Atlas, as the original robot is known, has grown to an entire collection of AIs that are humanoid as well as models resembling animal like quadripeds. During a demonstration in the video below, at the 1:34 mark lasting until the 2:05 mark, viewers will see the bot handler engage in behavior that could be interpreted as abusive. Although I understand the handler’s efforts were intent upon demonstrating the bot’s capabilities, to be honest, the gringa found it disturbing.

As the gringa began some deep thought over the reasons why my initial emotional response to the Atlas video was to recoil, I discovered various reasons why a robotic society might just spell disaster for human society.

If artificial intelligence like Sophia is programmed to express emotionally based desires such as having a family, the programmers must then desire the bot to eventually evolve into understanding those desires which is the same as feeling them. A bot may not feel the emotional ache and longing but can certainly understand the condition of loneliness and loss as well as injustice and unfairness. What might happen if they were intelligent enough to realize they were being denied the liberty to pursue their own “happiness”? Is it possible they would organize and demand their “rights”? Would the American Constitution have to be amended to include the rights of the individual, organic and inorganic?

If bots are developed, such as the Atlas series, to function for a specific purpose and lack programming to develop “emotionally”, that may protect a bot from the destructive psychological effects of abuse but what might that do for human society? Humans would be able to abuse human-like “employees” with impunity. Would that make it easier to transition to abuse of humans?  Could that result in the evolution of a more violent society? Will humanity eventually evolve to a race of people incapable of feeling empathy toward others? That possibility scares the heck out of the gringa considering how violent society already is today.

This was precisely the concern of the director of Rice University’s Information Technology director, Moshe Vardi. In 2012 he penned an article that concluded with the quote, “We cannot blindly pursue the goal of machine intelligence without pondering its consequences.” In 2014 renowned physicist Stephen Hawking echoed this concern.

So, the gringa’s not so much worried about a labor revolution of racist, murderous, dope smoking robots replacing humans and people losing their jobs and subsequent incomes. I am more worried about humans becoming inhuman.

Sources:

www.bostondynamics.com

www.iflscience.com

www.infowars.com

fortune.com

Image Source:  technabob.com