Burning Man, Artificial Intelligence, and Our Glorious Future

I’ve had several special opportunities in the last few weeks to think a bit more about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its future import for us remaining humans. Below I’m using my old-fashioned neurons to draw some non-obvious links.

The cause for reflection is the unexpected parallel between two events I’ve been involved in recently: (1) an interview of Elon Musk which I conducted for a conference in DC; and (2) the grand opening in London of a special art exhibit at the British Library which my wife and I are co-sponsoring. They each have an AI angle and I believe their small lessons demonstrate something intriguingly hopeful about a future of machine superintelligence

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Intelligence, Artificial and Existential

"Not to Be or Not to Be?" artwork by Shuwit, http://shuwit.deviantart.com/

“Not to Be or Not to Be?” artwork by Shuwit, http://shuwit.deviantart.com/

I just published a short piece over at SIGNAL Magazine on an increasingly public debate over artificial intelligence, which the editor gave a great Shakespearean title echoing Hamlet’s timeless question “To be, or not to be”: Continue reading

Contributing to Intelligence Innovation

Below are two ways to contribute to innovation in government, and specifically in intelligence matters. One is for you to consider, the other is a fun new path for me.

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Some say Obama has already chosen Cyber Czar

I’ll wade into the breach again, of analyzing (and trying to anticipate) some national-security appointments for the new Obama Administration.  Today I must admit that I’m taken with the latest reportage from the U.K. Spectator – a quite conservative publication not usually known for its closeness to the Obama inner circle.

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“The Largest Social Network Ever Analyzed”

FACT: According to ComScore data cited in a story in Monday’s FInancial Times, “Facebook, the fast-growing social network, has taken a significant lead over MySpace in visitor numbers for the first time… Facebook attracted more than 123 million unique visitors in May, an increase of 162 per cent over the same period last year… That compared with 114.6 million unique visitors at MySpace, Facebook’s leading rival, whose traffic grew just 5 per cent during the same period… The findings mark the first time that Facebook, launched in 2004, has taken a significant lead in unique visitors, [and] come at a time of change inside Facebook, as the one-time upstart attempts to transform itself into a leading media company.

ANALYSIS:  This week several members of the Microsoft Institute met in Redmond with a visiting friend from government, and among other talks we had a very interesting discussion with Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft Research principal researcher and manager.  Eric’s well known for his work in artificial intelligence and currently serves as president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI).

We talked about one of Eric’s recent projects for quite a while: “Planetary-Scale Views on a Large Instant-Messaging Network,” a project which has been described by his co-author as “the largest social network ever analyzed.” 

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Intriguing Politics – Social Media Discussion

FACT:  The second International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM) wrapped up yesterday in Seattle. It was organized again by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (or AAAI), with co-sponsorship by Microsoft, Google, and several universities and Web 2.0 companies. The papers are already being posted online here, which is great as there were some very interesting topics explored. 

ANALYSIS:   One really thought-provoking theme was proposed by Matthew Hurst, a scientist at Microsoft’s Live Labs (and co-creator of BlogPulse), who was a participant on the “Politics and Social Media” panel.  He’s summarized his points on his own blog, but it’s definitely worth pointing out the key distinction he posed:

Firstly, politics is about scaling social organization. A premier can’t talk to every citizen, so s/he has lieutenant’s. They have their own underlings, and so on in a typical hierarchical/departmental structure. Social media, however, is all about individuals – we read entries in weblogs, etc. So, if a politician wants to connect via social media, isn’t there some sort of fundamental mismatch? Obama may have 20, 000 followers on Twitter, but how many comments has he left on blog posts?

Secondly, there is the issue of social media amplifying the polarization (or homophily) found in any topical community. Thus, individuals look around at their neighbours in the social graph and see much of what they themselves are made of.

This bottom-down, top-up dichotomy has been discussed more generally about social media and social networks (often drawing a sharp distinction between “old-media” and “new-media,” or more colloquially if imprecisely as between “the media” and “the web.”)

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