Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates have all issued warnings about the increasing capabilities of artificial intelligence. Yet how real is the threat? Is it something we need to worry about in the short to medium term or something that’s so far away that we can’t even begin to prepare for it?
Many popular sci-fi movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator, The Matrix, Transcendence and Ex Machina have played on our deeply rooted fears about the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence and how it may threaten the survival of humans. Yet the reality is that it’s very difficult to decipher how artificial intelligence is developing, and where we are at with current breakthroughs and applications of artificial intelligence.
This is why the perspective offered by Dr. Michio Kaiu is so interesting. Uniquely, he is both a theoretical physicist and futurist and has turned his attention to focusing on the future of the human mind. He not only understands the latest developments in artificial intelligence, but also has a deep understanding of human intelligence and what it would require for AI to develop to the point of threatening humans.
In a phone interview, Dr. Kaku was asked for his thoughts on the current state of artificial intelligence:
“The potential of A.I. is real in the sense that if artificially intelligent robots leave the laboratory it could signal the end of the human race, however let’s be practical.”
For the time being, Dr. Kaku believes we have little to fear from AI:
“Our most advanced robots have the intelligence of a cockroach; a retarded lobotomized cockroach. You put one of our robots in Fukushima, for instance, instead of cleaning up the mess they just fall over, they can barely walk correctly.
“The pentagon even sponsored a challenge, the DARPA challenge, to create a robot that could clean up the Fukushima nuclear disaster. All the robots failed except one. They failed to do simple things like use a broom or turn a valve. That’s how primitive we are.”
Dr. Kaku foresees advances over the next few decades, but also believes we have enough time to prepare:
“However, in the coming decades I expect robots to become as smart as a mouse, then a rabbit, then a dog, and finally a monkey. At that point who knows? Perhaps by the end of the century, it could be dangerous. Not now. In which case, I think we should put a chip in their brains to shut them off. The conclusion is we have time, we have time in which to deal with robots as they gradually, slowly become more intelligent.”
He has a valuable analogy to share with anyone thinking the danger is already here:
“I think it’s good to alert people that this is happening, but the time frame is not years, the time frame is decades, or as one scientist said, ‘the probability that a sentient robot will be built soon is similar to the probability a 747 jetliner is assembled spontaneously by a hurricane,’ so we’re still children when it comes to harnessing artificial intelligence, not that it can’t happen.”
Despite the fears surrounding the evolution of artificial intelligence, Dr. Kaku believes our main concerns as a civilization should be focused on making the rapid technological growth seen in the past few decades sustainable.
Moore’s Law is a computing term which originated in 1970 that states the processing power for computers overall will double every two years. The term was coined by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, who predicted the pace of the modern digital world would exponentially increase every six months. Yet Dr. Kaku warns that we are reaching the limits of how much further we can go with the silicon-based technologies that launched the computer revolution.
“Moore’s law is one of the pillars of modern civilization. It is the reason why we have such prosperity, and why we have such dazzling household electronic appliances, but it can’t last forever. Sooner or later Silicon Valley could become a rust belt, just like rust belt in Pennsylvania.
“That’s because components inside a silicon chip are going down to the size of atoms. In your Pentium chip, in your laptop, there is a layer that is about 20 atoms across, tucked into some of the layers that are in a Pentium chip, we’re talking about atomic scale.”
At this point, the major challenge is how we’ll get to the next level. As Dr. Kaku says:
“However, in the coming decades it’ll go down to maybe 5 atoms across, and at that point two things happen; you have enormous heat being generated and second is leakage, electrons leak out because of the certainty principle.
“In other words, the quantum theory kills you. The quantum theory giveth and the quantum theory taketh away. The quantum theory makes possible the transistor to begin with, so it also spells the doom of the age of silicon.”
Although it’s almost impossible to predict what’s going to emerge as the next big technological breakthrough, Dr. Maku is certain that Silicon-based processors will go the way of vacuum tubes:
“One day the age of silicon will end just like the age of vacuum tubes. When I was a kid I remember TV sets all had vacuum tubes. That era is long gone. Historians today look at this age of silicon and wonder what’s next. The short answer is we don’t know. There are no viable candidates, none of them ready for prime time, to replace silicon power.
“So what this means is that in the future, we could see a slowing down of Moore’s Law. That at Christmas time, computers may not be twice as powerful as the previous Christmas, so we physicists are desperately looking for replacements like quantum computers or I personally think molecular computers will eventually replace silicon, but they’re not ready yet. I think that in principle, we could be in trouble.”
Very bad news for all of us: We will not survive another 1,000 years on Earth, says Stephen Hawking. One of the most brilliant minds warns that ‘we must continue to go into space for the future of humanity.’
‘Humans will not survive another 1,000 years on ‘fragile’ Earth.’
Professor Hawking at a talk at the Oxford University Union also insisted in space travel.
“I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space, and I have been getting my training in early.
I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as a sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers. I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go to space.”
High above the surface, Earth’s magnetic field constantly deflects incoming supersonic particles from the sun. These particles are disturbed in regions just outside of Earth’s magnetic field – and some are reflected into a turbulent region called the foreshock.
New observations from NASA’s THEMIS – short for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms – mission show that this turbulent region can accelerate electrons up to speeds approaching the speed of light. Such extremely fast particles have been observed in near-Earth space and many other places in the universe, but the mechanisms that accelerate them have not yet been concretely understood.
The new results provide the first steps towards an answer, while opening up more questions. The research finds electrons can be accelerated to extremely high speeds in a near-Earth region farther from Earth than previously thought possible – leading to new inquiries about what causes the acceleration. These findings may change the accepted theories on how electrons can be accelerated not only in shocks near Earth, but also throughout the universe. Having a better understanding of how particles are energized will help scientists and engineers better equip spacecraft and astronauts to deal with these particles, which can cause equipment to malfunction and affect space travelers.
“This affects pretty much every field that deals with high-energy particles, from studies of cosmic rays to solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which have the potential to damage satellites and affect astronauts on expeditions to Mars,” said Lynn Wilson, lead author of the paper on these results at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The results, published in Physical Review Letters, on Nov. 14, 2016, describe how such particles may get accelerated in specific regions just beyond Earth’s magnetic field. Typically, a particle streaming toward Earth first encounters a boundary region known as the bow shock, which forms a protective barrier between the solar wind, the continuous and varying stream of charged particles flowing from the sun, and Earth. The magnetic field in the bow shock slows the particles, causing most to be deflected away from Earth, though some are reflected back towards the sun. These reflected particles form a region of electrons and ions called the foreshock region.
This image represents one of the traditional proposed mechanisms for accelerating particles across a shock, called a shock drift acceleration. The electrons (yellow) and protons (blue) can be seen moving in the collision area where two hot plasma bubbles collide (red vertical line). The cyan arrows represent the magnetic field and the light green arrows, the electric field. Credits: NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Tom Bridgman, data visualizer
Some of those particles in the foreshock region are highly energetic, fast moving electrons and ions. Historically, scientists have thought one way these particles get to such high energies is by bouncing back and forth across the bow shock, gaining a little extra energy from each collision. However, the new observations suggest the particles can also gain energy through electromagnetic activity in the foreshock region itself.
The observations that led to this discovery were taken from one of the THEMIS – short for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms – mission satellites. The five THEMIS satellites circled Earth to study how the planet’s magnetosphere captured and released solar wind energy, in order to understand what initiates the geomagnetic substorms that cause aurora. The THEMIS orbits took the spacecraft across the foreshock boundary regions. The primary THEMIS mission concluded successfully in 2010 and now two of the satellites collect data in orbit around the moon.
Operating between the sun and Earth, the spacecraft found electrons accelerated to extremely high energies. The accelerated observations lasted less than a minute, but were much higher than the average energy of particles in the region, and much higher than can be explained by collisions alone. Simultaneous observations from the additional Heliophysics spacecraft, Wind and STEREO, showed no solar radio bursts or interplanetary shocks, so the high-energy electrons did not originate from solar activity.
“This is a puzzling case because we’re seeing energetic electrons where we don’t think they should be, and no model fits them,” said David Sibeck, co-author and THEMIS project scientist at NASA Goddard. “There is a gap in our knowledge, something basic is missing.”
The electrons also could not have originated from the bow shock, as had been previously thought. If the electrons were accelerated in the bow shock, they would have a preferred movement direction and location – in line with the magnetic field and moving away from the bow shock in a small, specific region. However, the observed electrons were moving in all directions, not just along magnetic field lines. Additionally, the bow shock can only produce energies at roughly one tenth of the observed electrons’ energies. Instead, the cause of the electrons’ acceleration was found to be within the foreshock region itself.
“It seems to suggest that incredibly small scale things are doing this because the large scale stuff can’t explain it,” Wilson said.
High-energy particles have been observed in the foreshock region for more than 50 years, but until now, no one had seen the high-energy electrons originate from within the foreshock region. This is partially due to the short timescale on which the electrons are accelerated, as previous observations had averaged over several minutes, which may have hidden any event. THEMIS gathers observations much more quickly, making it uniquely able to see the particles.
Next, the researchers intend to gather more observations from THEMIS to determine the specific mechanism behind the electrons’ acceleration.
Lighting can be rather fascinating and if you ever witness something got struck by lighting in real life you know that nature can also be really badass. And how awesome would it be if you could capture lightning not just on photo but also within a sculpture?
Lichtenberg Figures can capture a lighting bolt in a glass box forever.
Lichtenberg Figures can be created within solid insulating materials, such as acrylic or glass by injecting them with a beam of high speed electrons from a linear electron beam accelerator. Inside the accelerator, electrons are focused and accelerated to form a beam of high speed particles. Electrons emerging from the accelerator have energies up to 10MeV and are moving an appreciable fraction (95 – 99+ percent) of the speed of light (relativistic velocities).
If the electron beam is aimed towards an acrylic specimen, the electrons easily penetrate the surface of the acrylic, rapidly slowing down as they collide with molecules inside the plastic.
And as you can see it’s like you’re trapping a lightning bolt in a glass box forever. The awesome result is that you now have a force of nature on display.