Category: perimeter institute

Advances Vs. Consequences: What Does The 21st Century Have In Store For Humanity?

“We now live in a time where the actions of a small group of people ⁠— whether through malicious or benign intentions ⁠— are capable of leading to global catastrophe. It’s not just climate change or the threat of nuclear war that hangs over us; it’s a slew of facts.

It matters that a mass extinction is occurring right now: we’re destroying this planet’s proverbial “book of life” before we’ve even read it.

It matters that computers are permeating ever-increasing facets of our life, as humanity’s recently rising electricity use (after a plateau earlier this decade) is almost entirely due to new computational uses, like cryptocurrencies and blockchain.

It matters that the population is greater than ever before, as managing and distributing the edible food and drinkable water we produce is a greater challenge than ever before.”

Do you like big, sweeping conversations that tackle the biggest existential questions facing our species today? Looking to the larger picture, of humanity’s future on Earth, scientist Martin Rees has written a book detailing the challenges facing our civilization in the 21st century, and is about to deliver a public lecture on the topic of navigating the course that could lead us into a true golden age… or to ruin.

I’ll be live-blogging the lecture with many thoughts to add, and I hope you’ll join me in enjoying it!

Could Artificial Intelligence Solve The Problems Einstein Couldn’t?

“There are some things that machines are better at than humans. The number of calculations a machine can perform, along with the speed it can perform them, vastly outstrips what even the most brilliant geniuses among us can do. Computer programs have, for many decades now, been able to solve computationally intensive problems that humans cannot. This isn’t just for brute force problems like calculating ever-more digits of π, but for sophisticated ones that were once unimaginable for a machine.

No top human has defeated a top computer program at chess in over a decade. The technology that Apple’s Siri is based on grew out of a DARPA-funded computer project that could have predicted 9/11. Fully-autonomous vehicles are on track to replace human-driven cars within the next generation. In every case, problems that were once thought best-tackled by a human mind are giving way to an AI that can do the job better.”

We normally conceive of genius as a uniquely human trait. We can forge connections between disparate fields, make analogies and see patterns that are enabled by our experience, and apply what we know in one arena of life to entirely different, unrelated problems. It was this realization that led Einstein to state his now-famous remark that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” Yet here in the 21st century, all these things are no longer unique to humans: artificial intelligence is doing these exact things. In many cases already, from exoplanet hunting to predicting new states of quantum matter, it’s doing them at a level that far outstrips what humans can do alone. Are there any problems at all that humans are absolutely required for, or will AI someday do it all?

There’s a public lecture happening tonight that I’ll be live-blogging on exactly this topic; tune in and don’t miss it!