Over the past few weeks, I spoke with some of the world's leading experts in technology information and robotics. As usual, there was an air of contagious optimism. But I also heard a lot of worries and doubts.
As far as we know, there is no cure for death, no ingenious algorithm that can program the mysterious breath which at first gives life its form and then corrodes and withers it. It is in this breathing space between womb and tomb that we love, long and become human.
"The wall between machines and humans, between computer science and biology, is collapsing and I think the next century and probably the future of life itself will be shaped by this algorithmic view of the world."
The Berggruen Philosophy and Culture Center recently brought a diverse group of neuroscientists and philosophers together with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and programmers to answer this question: As developments in artificial intelligence extend or surpass human intelligence, do they challenge the traditional definition of what it means to be human? Here's what five of them had to say.
We fret unduly about small risks -- air crashes, carcinogens in food, low radiation doses, etc. But we're in denial about some newly emergent threats, which may seem improbable but whose consequences could be globally devastating. Some of these are environmental, others are the potential downsides of novel technologies. We mustn't forget an important maxim: the unfamiliar is not the same as the improbable.
Even though we may wish to regulate genetic and cyborg technology on Earth, we should surely wish space pioneers good luck in using all available resources to adapt themselves and their progeny to alien conditions.
Our world increasingly depends on elaborate networks like electric power grids and globally dispersed manufacturing. Unless these networks are highly resilient, their benefits could be outweighed by catastrophic breakdowns.
Alec Ross served as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's senior advisor for innovation. During that role, he earned unique insight into the changing nature of technology. In his new book, "The Industries of the Future," Ross not only lays out the key industries that will shape the 21st century, but also provides the geopolitical, cultural and generational contexts out of which they are emerging. Berggruen Institute's Dawn Nakagawa sat down with Ross to discuss the book.
The world has entered a new geological era, the Anthropocene, and over the last few generations humanity has witnessed revolutionary changes in our biosphere. But what about the next few generations? What will happen for human life on Earth?
It may be 100 years before history can assess the role that this one human being called Marvin Minsky played in transforming our world. The impact of artificial intelligence -- so pervasive, so woven into the fabric of all that we do and think -- would not be as it is had Marvin not been among us.
As global elites gathered in Davos this week, the World Economic Forum released a daunting survey that estimates that 5 million jobs will be lost across the world in coming years to robotic automation. Oxfam also reported this week that 62 ultra-rich individuals held as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people on the planet -- inequality too vast to last. While globalization and rapid technological advance empower some with unprecedented possibilities, they dispossess others, causing growing gaps in power and wealth that lead in turn to fear, resentment and violence. In this one world a race is on between the two consequences of change. As Jo Confino writes from Davos, "rapid advances in technology are pulling the world in opposite directions."(continued)
Even before the "Night of Shame" on New Year's Eve in Cologne further fueled an already fervent anti-foreigner backlash, German leaders were desperately looking to Turkey to stem the flow of refugees headed to Europe from the war-torn Mideast. Now 10 German tourists have lost their lives at the foot of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. They are the victims of yet another suicide bombing by the self-proclaimed Islamic State in the wake of Turkey's decision last July to allow U.S. warplanes to fly from its soil to attack militant positions in Syria. Along the old route of the Orient Express, violence and disorder are weaving an interrelated and self-reinforcing pattern of crises that will be hard to unravel. (continued)
What lurks behind the incapacity to resolve the destabilizing crises of North Korea's latest nuclear test and Saudi Arabia's frontal clash with Iran are the realpolitik considerations of Russia, China and the United States. (continued)
This week marked an historic milestone: More than 1 million refugees and migrants fleeing the global disorder of civil war, poverty and persecution this year landed on Europe's doorstep. It is the largest crisis of displaced people since world war ravaged the European continent seven decades ago. (continued)
Google and Facebook would love to operate in China, especially now that it has an officially confirmed netizen population of 668 million. One man stands in their way: China's all-powerful Internet czar, Lu Wei, whose official title is Minister of Cyberspace Administration. But standing behind Lu is 3000 years of Chinese political culture that is diametrically opposed to the libertarian ethos of Silicon Valley. The ideology encoded in the technological innovations of California's software engineers -- to empower the individual and dispense with governing intermediaries -- contrasts sharply with the long history of China's "institutional civilization" that, for centuries, has empowered state authorities to rule on behalf of the people. Chinese President Xi Jinping is surely right when he told the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen this week that "freedom and order are both necessary in cyberspace." But where that line is drawn makes all the difference. (continued)
To become a self-conscious "global thinking circuit," the virtual territory of the Internet needs a map that charts the currents and connects the dots of the worldwide conversation. Who are the most influential voices, and how do their ideas spread? This week, The WorldPost joined with the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute in Zurich to produce such a map, the 2015 Global Thought Leaders Index, which, for the first time, analyzes not only the dominant English-language infosphere, but also the other top language areas of Spanish and Chinese, as well as German. One notable result, as I report in my summary of the project, is that The WorldPost, as the global portal of the Huffington Post, has emerged in the two years since we launched as a top platform for the cross-pollination of ideas beyond borders. (continued)