Mark Zuckerberg wrote about how he plans to personally work on artificial intelligence in the next year. It’s a nice article that lays out the landscape of AI developments. But he ends with a statement that misrepresents the relevance of Moore’s Law to future AI development. He wrote (with my added bold for emphasis):

Since no one understands how general unsupervised learning actually works, we’re quite a ways off from building the general AIs you see in movies. Some people claim this is just a matter of getting more computing power — and that as Moore’s law continues and computing becomes cheaper we’ll naturally have AIs that surpass human intelligence. This is incorrect. We fundamentally do not understand how general learning works. This is an unsolved problem — maybe the most important problem of this century or even millennium. Until we solve this problem, throwing all the machine power in the world at it cannot create an AI that can do everything a person can.

I don’t believe anyone knowledge about AI argues that Moore’s Law is going to spontaneously create AI. I’ll give Mark the benefit of the doubt, and assume he was trying to be succinct. But it’s important to understand exactly why Moore’s Law is important to AI.

We don’t understand how general unsupervised learning works, nor do we understand how much of human intelligence works. But we do have working examples in the form of human brains. We do not today have the computer parts necessary to simulate a human brain. The best brain simulations by the largest supercomputing clusters have been able to approximate 1% of the brain at 1/10,000th of the normal cognitive speeds. In other words, current computer processors are 1,000,000 times too slow to simulate a human brain.

The Wright Brothers succeeded in making the first controlled, powered, and sustained heavier-than-air human flight not because of some massive breakthrough in the principles of aerodynamics (which were well understood at the time), but because engines were growing more powerful, and powered flight was feasible for the first time around the point at which they were working. They made some breakthroughs in aircraft controls, but even if the Wright Brothers had never flown, someone else would have within a period of a few years. It was breakthroughs in engine technology, specifically, the power-to-weight ratio, that enabled powered flight around the turn of the century.

AI proponents who talk about Moore’s Law are not saying AI will spontaneously erupt from nowhere, but that increasing computing processing power will make AI possible, in the same way that more powerful engines made flight possible.

Those same AI proponents who believe in the significance of Moore’s Law can be subdivided into two categories. One group argues we’ll never understand intelligence fully. Our best hope of creating it is with a brute force biological simulation. In other words, recreate the human brain structure, and tweak it to make it better or faster. The second group argues we may invent our own techniques for implementing intelligence (just as we implemented our own approach to flight that differs from birds), but the underlying computational needs will be roughly equal: certainly, we won’t be able to do it when we’re a million times deficient in processing power.

Moore’s Law gives us an important cadence to the progress in AI development. When naysayers argue AI can’t be created, they’re looking at historical progress in AI, which is a bit like looking at powered flight prior to 1850: pretty laughable. The rate of AI progress will increase as computer processing speeds approach that of the human brain. When other groups argue we should already have AI, they’re being hopelessly optimistic about our ability to recreate intelligence a million times more efficiently than nature was able to evolve.

The increasing speed of computer processors as predicted by Moore’s Law, and the crossover point where processing power aligns with the complexity of the human brain tells us a great deal about the timing of when we’ll see advanced AI on par with human intelligence.

In my day job as a software developer, we’ve recently resurrected a two year old project and started using it again. I’m fairly proud of the application because when we developed it, we really took the time to do everything right. The REST interfaces are logical and consistent, there is good object oriented design, great test coverage, a full set of integration tests that can also perform load testing, and it’s scalable and fault tolerant.

When we first built it, we had only a small team of developers, but we also ensured that we automated everything, tested everything, and kept everything DRY and efficient, so that even though the team was small, we were able to accomplish a lot.

When we resurrected the project, we weren’t sure how many people would be working on it or for how long. In our rush to demo something to management, we abandoned our principles of “do it right” and settled for “get something done fast”. But a few weeks later, we were mired in a morass, unable to reliably get a dev stack working, or get two new components reliably integrated, or even to have repeatable results of any kind. Pressure was mounting as we were overdue to demo to management.

Finally I came into work this past Tuesday (with the big demo scheduled for the next day). I’d completely had it with the ongoing game of whack-a-mole that we were playing with new bugs cropping up. I decided that I wouldn’t try to fix any bugs at all. Instead, I would spend the day DRYing up our error handling code so that all errors were captured and logged in a consistent way. I didn’t even care about whether we made the demo or not, I was just so sick of how we were working.

A couple of hours later, the error handling code was vastly improved with just a little work, and suddenly all of the errors we were facing were abundantly obvious and easy to trace back to their origin within a few minutes. I was able to fix those errors before we left for the day, and we were back on track to deliver our demo to management on Wednesday.

It was a great reminder that even when you think you’ve just got a couple of short term deliverables, maybe with pressure to get them done fast, that it’s almost always faster to do it the right way than to take shortcuts.

It turns out that Abraham Lincoln didn’t utter the famous quote about spending four of six hours sharpening an ax. That turns out to be from an anonymous woodsman, and the unit of measurement is minutes, not hours. But the general concept goes back about 150 years.

A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.”

 

The Turing Exception, book four in the Singularity series, is now available from Audible and iTunes. Narrated by Jane Cramer, this unabridged audio version of The Turing Exception completes the Singularity series.

In the year 2043, humans and AI coexist in a precarious balance of power enforced by a rigid caste reputation system designed to ensure that only those AI who are trustworthy and contribute to human society increase in power.

Everything changes when a runaway nanotech event leads to the destruction of Miami. In the grim aftermath, a powerful underground collective known as XOR concludes that AI can no longer coexist with humanity.

AI pioneers Catherine Matthews, Leon Tsarev, and Mike Williams believe that mere months are left before XOR starts an extermination war. Can they find a solution before time runs out?

I hope you enjoy it!

Google announced a new analytical AI that analyzes emails to determine their content, then proposes a list of short likely replies for the user to pick from. It’s not exactly ELOPe, but definitely getting closer all the time.

smartreply2

 

Hertling_AVOGADRO_CORP_EbookAvogadro Corp, book one of my Singularity series about artificial intelligence, is on sale for 99 cents in the US from all retailers. Similar sale prices apply in UK, Canada, and India. This is for the ebook, obviously.

If you know someone who might enjoy the book that Wired called “chilling and compelling” and Brad Feld called “a tremendous book that every single person needs to read”, please let them know! Here are US links to the major online retailers where it is already on sale:

These will take effect on November 1st:

It’s on sale through November 7th, 2015.

Thanks,
Will

This was the first Worldcon I attended. For those who have no idea what Worldcon is, it’s a science fiction and fantasy convention that roughly 50% professional conference for writers, artists, and creators, and 50% fan celebration of speculative fiction and geek culture.

One key part of Worldcon is the Hugo awards, which are fan-selected awards for novels, short stories, dramatic presentations, magazines, podcasts, and numerous fan roles. They have long been speculative fiction’s highest honor.

Since I’d never been to Worldcon before, I knew very little of the history behind the awards, or really grokked the significance of them. They were mostly a tool that I used as a reader to help me find good books to read.

Actually being in attendance at the awards was a really amazing, emotional experience. As I’ve gotten to meet people in the spec fiction community over the last two years, I knew many of those who received awards. It was just amazing to see these people get recognized for their contributions. Not only is the award itself an aspiration dream for most of those in the community, it’s obviously very validating for their creative contributions.

There was a huge amount of controversy surrounding the Hugos this year that stemmed from a small percentage of Hugo voters who wanted to push conservative values and conspired to manipulate the nomination process in some categories. Fortunately, the voting process includes an option to choose “no award”, and the voters overwhelming selected no award for those categories where the nomination had been compromised. This was satisfying, but the manipulation still hurt many folks: authors whose eligible work didn’t make the final cut because it was pushed out by the rigged nominations, authors who withdrew to protest the manipulations, and the community at large, who had to suffer with months of stress and conflict because of the actions of a few.

George RR Martin threw a party after the Hugo Awards, and gave out awards of his own creation to those people he thought had been unfairly treated by the whole fiasco. One friend said that meant even more to her than winning the Hugo would have.

All in all, it was an amazing and beautiful experience, including learning about history of Worldcon and the passion and love of the community that surrounds it, seeing the recognition of people and their contributions, and getting to watch friends achieve their dreams. I’m grateful to have gotten this close up viewpoint.

What New Pros Need to Know
Caren Gussoff – Moderator
Wesley Chu
Wendy S. Delmater
Rhiannon Held
Lezli Robyn
Note: This is a panel that would have benefitted strongly from the additional perspective of a self-published author. Lots of things brought up are true for both self and trad pubbed authors, but some are different.
  • Intros
    • RH: Was with Tor, now self-publishing 4th book in series, becoming hybrid author. Day job as historical.
    • LR: short story author first, now writing first novel
    • WC: I wrote novels with Angry Robot and Tor. I’m full-time.
    • WD: 25% of what we publish is new authors, 43% women. Helped launch many careers.
  • WD: You grow your career in stages. You’ve never “made it”. Just keep writing.
  • WC: It never gets easier. You think it’s going to be easier once you get your agent, or your first deal. But the pressure just keeps building. Average first-time novelist mades $5,000 in their first year.
  • LR: You can master the art of the short story, and sell them, and realize you can’t make a living off short stories. So then you have to learn a whole new set of skills to go long-form.
  • RH: On the down side: The publisher doesn’t invest much time into a given book. If it doesn’t sell, they just move on, instead of giving it more time to succeed. On the up side: Poor sales doesn’t mean having to use a new pen name. You can keep writing and submit new books under your same name.
  • WC: Let’s talk about what’s in your control.
  • RH: Learn coping skills so that the emotional toll doesn’t wear you down and defeat. I might not be bankrolling big financial rewards, but I am getting confidence from good reviews, etc.
    • good reviews give you a boost that lasts only 10 minutes.
    • bad reviews are downers that last and last.
  • CG: Reviews and feedback are a comment on a work, not your value as a person. You need to separate your career from your person.
  • WD: It takes a lot of discipline for the first few years, because you have to do two jobs: be a writer and have a day job, and be a parent, etc.
  • WC: You work that day job until you just can’t do it anymore. There are some writers who get that first six-figure deal and think that they’re going to quit their day job, and then the stress arrives: they’re writing to eat. And that’s a tough place to be creative.
  • LR: Learn when you are creative, and protect that creative bubble. e.g. I do creative work in the morning before the day job, then do a bit of editing after work, which is more routine. But I am too tired at night to do creative work.
  • WC: Practice your readings. 90% of writers can’t read for shit. They get up, and bore their fans to death. You will do a reading at some point in your career. Edit your piece ahead of time to take out anything that won’t read well. And then practice and make it a performance.
  • RH: The commonly held wisdom is not to read reviews of your work. But I do. I can always imagine a worse review than what is actually written.
    • CG: Whether you decide to read them or not depends on whether you can be emotionally resilient enough to keep working on the next book.
    • WC: You will read the reviews, regardless of the advice. At some point, you will burn out of reading your reviews.
    • RH: My perspective is that reviews are a private conversation that, through a quirk of the internet, we can eavesdrop on. If you heard a private conversation through an open door, you wouldn’t bust in and interrupt the conversation. People say all sorts of things, including many that aren’t true, in private conversations, and we don’t get to interrupt and correct those conversations. So just treat reviews like that.
  • WC: Author Central on Amazon shows bookscan data, and makes that available to every author. But it can vastly underestimate the real numbers. The bookscan sales data is usually 30% of my actual POS numbers.
  • WC: A writer has several revenue streams. I will make the least amount of money from my hardcover sales. Film options, audio, translations. Keep this in mind. Your agent can offer you a lot of ability to tap into these revenue streams.
  • CG: Contracts are complicated. If you don’t have an agent, you need at least to have a good IP lawyer.
  • WC: Don’t sell your books. Sell yourself. Don’t be an asshole.
  • WD: Everybody knows everyone else in this field, so be nice to people.
  • CG: Write excellent stuff.
  • RH: Play to your strength. If you like being on panels, do that. If you like to be in a bar, do that. If you like to tweet, do that every day.

Trends in Hardware, Software & Wetware
Daniel Dern – Moderator
Greg Bear
Ramez Naam
Allen Baum
Mark Van Name
  • How small can hardware become?
    • RN: The limits of physics are extremely distant: many orders of magnitude improvement left. But we don’t have any idea of how to get down to the level of quarks and stuff like that. Every decade we get a 100x improvement in cost, 100x reduction in energy. If it continues, we will one day have supercomputing grains of sand.
    • AB: One of the limits is batteries. Do you want to carry the equivalent of a nuclear power plant in your pocket?
    • DD: One of the constraints is heat dissipation, brownian motion (randomness interfering with the work you want to get done).
    • RN: Smallest computer someone brought me was smaller than the stem of a wineglass. What was the limiting factor to reduction in size was the USB port.
  • How about jacking into our brain?
    • RN: There’s lots of science going on now, starting with implants for disabled people.
    • GB: Voice recognition is becoming far more effective…80 to 90% of the time you can ask a question and get a useful answer. That’s better than most human communication. Computers don’t have real needs. What if computers become socially aware, and know what your needs and it’s needs are? All of a sudden, the interface to it is much better/easier.
    • GB: Proteins are small computers. Wetware does astonishing stuff. Lots of analogies to human interactions. A protein is more complex than even a giant Boeing factory full of workers.
  • Small things only need to do small tasks. Small, purpose built devices: your toe keeps you balanced, let you know if it gets hurt. Doesn’t do cognitive tasks.
    • GB: cells have their own lives. They don’t know they are part of a bigger organism.
  • GB: Quantum computing has the potential to blow all of these assumptions out of the water.
  • MVN: Even microphones can only get so small before the sound waves don’t fit.
  • RN: I write scifi about people having telepathic abilities via technology. But the thing that excites me the most is the democratization of technology through cell phones: the first phones cost $4,000 and were limited to the rich. Now the average cell phone is owned by someone in India, and it’s providing access to information, it prevents abuse of power through the camera, etc.
  • AB: I hope there are lots of people here supporting EFF. There are democracies, but then there are non-democracies who use these same technologies to control people. The internet of control. It’s governments and corporations. This worries me a lot.
  • RN: When we put a brain implant in someone, there’s two different adaptions that must happen: configuration of software (“when I pulse this neuron where does your vision light up?”) as well as the time for the brain to adapt to the signals: several weeks during which it doesn’t function at all.
    • Current state of implants is that they degrade over time. electrodes erode, break. High voltages cause neurons to retreat. Bleeding in the brain. Today requires very invasive surgery.
    • But advances too: neural mesh implanted in mice was rolled up into a tiny tube, injected with syringe, and then unroll inside brain.
  • Best brain interfaces today are ~256 electrodes. And we have a billion neurons. DARPA program is asking people to tackle 1 million electrodes, and some scientists think that can be done in 5-10 years.

Genre and the Global Police State
Karl Schroeder
Charles Stross
Annalee Flower Horne
Jim Wright
William Frank (moderator)
  • What are the works dealing with global police state?
    • CS: the snowden leaks broke around 2014. it takes a long time to get a novel out: a year to write, a year for production. Not surprised we’re not seeing much, because of the long lead time. Novels are a terrible vehicle for up to the minute updates.
    • KS: the global police state is so 20th century, and we’ve moved onto new horrors. but if we’re going to write again now about it, we have to write about it in a 21st century update.
    • CS: your credit rating is essential and it goes down if it is queried too often. what happens when I say something online, and someone gets pissed at me and does a massive denial of service attack on my credit rating by querying it hundreds or thousands of times.
    • AFH: my threat model is not the NSA, it’s other actors: mobs taking action because of something I said online. mass surveillance of other people is its own police state.
    • JM: the NSA doesn’t have to drop microphones and cameras in here, you the audience brought it in.
    • CS: Facebook has ghost accounts for people who don’t want to be on Facebook. And they tag you with a given location and time when your friend checks into a restaurant and names you. And with Facebook photo analysis, they can associate a ghost account with a person in a given place and time, which means they can also recognize you, even if you’ve never been on Facebook.
    • AFH: If you’re worried about the NSA, you should be more worried about your local police department, who, when they have a photo of an unknown person, bring it to Facebook and ask them to do image analysis.
    • JW: there is vastly more information than anyone can actually process. the government can’t do mass surveillance in practice because they don’t have the ability to analyze it. the real danger now is that the data isn’t secure, and it’s stored all over the place, and built by the lowest bidders. Somebody can destroy your entire life. It’s not the police state, it’s the mob state.
    • KS: False positives are a huge problem. If you’re scanning a million photographs a day, and have a false error rate of 1 in 10,000…that’s a 100 photos a day. Each one results in some followup action. And those actions all cost money. So the police state is also costing us tons.
  • JW: With Folded Hands, one of the first stories that talks about police state. Nobody is allowed to do anything that might raise a bruise.
  • CS: Ken MacLeod novel, The Execution Channel, about finding influential political bloggers and killing them.
  • JW: One key difference is that information weapons are inherently scalable: you can attack one person, or one aspect of a person’s life, or  the whole population.
  • Book recommendation about surveillance being treated in a positive way: The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shockwave_Rider
  • Q: Recommendations for genre books
    • KB Spangler books: A Girl and her Fed / Digital Divide
    • Clark’s World: translating works from Chinese authors, who know quite a lot about surveillance.
    • Three Body Problem, Ken Liu
  • Closing thoughts
    • JW: The pervasive police state is inevitable. It’s driven by the government, and by corporations, but also by our own voluntary actions (grocery store cards, FitBits, and phones)
    • AFH: A FitBit was recently used as evidence against a victim in rape case to prove she was lying. This isn’t just dystopic fiction, this is happening in the real world. St. Louis is burning right now, and those people are dealing with this. I’m a woman on the internet, and I’m dealing right now with someone trying to threaten my job because of something I said online.
    •  KS: Groups arguing that you should have real ownership of your data. When Facebook wants to use your data, they should have to pay a fee. When that happens, the amount of analysis will go way down.
    • CS: From a few hundred years in the future, and trying to characterize concerns of a given century: In the 20th century the big historical issue was the changing status of women. In the 21st century, the big historical issue was dealing with too much information.