Doc Huston


News — At The Edge — 11/11

Two sets of articles this week —

  • Issues from the future — emerging cognitive planet needs oversight for accelerating AI — present humanity with what is probably its ultimate challenge
  • Issues pressed upon the present — containing social media threat and ignorance of the crowd — require a new type of enlightened era.

Here are articles of mine on these subjects that might be of interest to you:


Issues from the future

Cognitive Planet -

“[With] growing human domination of natural systems…people say we are entering an Anthropocene Epoch…[but] term ‘epoch’ understates the consequence of what is going on….

4 billion years since the Archean Eon began with the origin of simple life…2.5 billions years ago the Proterozoic Eon unleashed ‘the Great Oxygenation Event’…542 million years ago with the Cambrian Explosion of complex life of plants and animals — the Phanerozoic Eon….

Alien astrobiologists could have noticed the Proterozoic Eon transition by detecting the dramatic destabilization of Earth’s atmosphere by the cyanobacteria. The Phanerozoic Eon transition would have been apparent from forest fires glowing on Earth’s night side….

[Now] an equally profound transition…when cognitive processes become planetary processes….’The Anthropocene dilemma…is that we have global influence without global control. So far we’re acting like adolescent planet vandals’….

[T]o choose a constructive role…we have to see ourselves in the very long time scale. If we can develop a mature, long-term, healthy relationship with world-changing technology, and if we proceed with…restraint as well as innovation, our planet could become [wise]….We tend to learn things through exploration, not through imagination.’”

DeepMind has yet to find out how smart its AlphaGo Zero AI could be -

“[AI] company DeepMind…[beat] the best human Go players…[then] beat its own best attempts using an approach based…on a virtual Go player that was totally self-taught…called AlphaGo Zero…to rediscover over 3,000 years of…knowledge around the game in…72 hours….

AlphaGo Zero was an immense achievement…because of its speed [and]…because it [didn’t] use human data…to begin the system’s education…[rather] literally trying out moves on the board at random and working out which were most effective….

[But] didn’t even achieve its full potential…[because] company actually shut down the experiment before it could determine the upper limits of [its]…maximum intelligence….

DeepMind’s whole goal is to build artificial general intelligence [AGI]which can use its smarts to accomplish different tasks”

OpenAI Director Shivon Zilis explains why AI requires oversight now -

“[There’s] confusion around AI’s…rate of progress because ‘it’s moving…more quickly than we’d expect’…[and] that artificial intelligence researchers are, in some ways, ‘basically writing policy in code’ because of how influential the particular perspectives or biases inherent in these systems will be, and…[could] set new cultural norms via their work….

[We] need more crossover discussion between this community and those making policy decisions…[but] currently, there’s ‘no good way for the public…to signal’ what moral choices should be made around the direction of AI development….

[Suggests] three guiding principles…about the future of responsible artificial intelligence development:

Issues pressed upon the present

Do social media threaten democracy?

“[In] democracy, nobody gets exactly what he wants, but everyone broadly has the freedom to lead the life he chooses…[yet] without decent information, civility and conciliation, societies resolve their differences by resorting to coercion….

Far from bringing enlightenment, social media have been spreading poison [and]…politics is getting uglier…spreading untruth and outrage, corroding voters’ judgment and aggravating partisanship….The use of social media does not cause division so much as amplify it.

The financial crisis of 2007–08 stoked popular anger at a wealthy elite…[and] culture wars have split voters by identity rather than class…[and] know just how to get under your skin….

Everyone who [uses]…Facebook knows…[it] tends to reinforce people’s biases…[and] aggravates the politics of contempt…[as] different sides see different facts…[with] no empirical basis for reaching a compromise. Because each side hears…the other lot are…[lying] the system has even less room for empathy…sucked into a maelstrom of pettiness, scandal and outrage…[losing] sight of what matters for the society they share…[and] aggravate Washington gridlock….

[Today] only 37% of Americans trust what they get from social media…. Yet in the time it takes to adapt, bad governments with bad politics could do a lot of harm.

Society has created…libel, and ownership laws, to rein in old media…but they come with trade-offs…[because] politics is not like other kinds of speech; it is dangerous to ask a handful of big firms to deem what is healthy for society….

[A] lot of malign influence comes through people carelessly sharing barely credible news posts. Breaking up social-media giants…would not help with political speechBots are often used to amplify political messages….

Social media are being abused…[and] stakes for liberal democracy could hardly be higher.”

The Ignorance of the Crowd -

“[Humans] make better choices when doing so collectively…[but] collective wisdom is by no means guaranteed…[because] depends on the type of information individuals have, and is very sensitive to the network structure on which they interact….

A few loud, wrong individuals can be amplified and dominate the decision-making process….Globally, the consequence of structures that promote poor decisions is difficult to overstate….

There’s no literature or ethical guidelines for data scientists at…companies to reference to avoid catastrophe when implementing what might seem like a minor change…[or] to identify the types of data science decisions that could lead to collapse. Models need to be tested, evaluated and refined to develop ways to structure our social networks that promote good decisions….

No government or scientific body…has access to the network-altering decisions made in Silicon Valley…[and] profits of companies and shareholders are preventing scientists from asking questions…[that] shapes collective patterns, and issue legislation when necessary to promote effective decision-making….

Collective behavior is…a crisis discipline [and]…key to making progress for all crisis disciplines….[T]he most important battle the scientific community fights.

Covert influence is the new money laundering –

“Social media benefits society by giving a voice and microphone to those who might otherwise be voiceless, but this…becomes a liability [with]…a sophisticated adversary….

If the way to combat money laundering is by shining a light on the source of funds, then the way to combat covert influence may be to shine a light on the source of messages in the media…fake accounts and bots…creating transparency, accountability and an audit trail…to see whether news is being promoted by verified or unverified users

By applying a hybrid approach to know-your-customer rules, being a ‘known’ customer would be voluntary…[but] require advertisers to be identified and require record keeping by media companies for future investigations…[and] report suspicious online activity by foreign entities or unverified accounts….

Today Congress and the courts have the ability to subpoena records from the media, but companies have not been required to know their customers or collect these types of data….

[In] protecting the democratic process from covert foreign influence versus protecting First Amendment rights, Americans should not be forced to choose.”

Find more of my ideas on Medium at, A Passion to Evolve.
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May you live long and prosper!
Doc Huston

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