Friday, October 23, 2015

I don't fear AI

In a recent debate on artificial intelligence, one that I was part of while in Frankfurt's B3 Biennale 2015, I faced an existential question on whether humans should fear AI or hail its forthcoming. At the moment I was more supportive of the acceptance and welcoming of the rise of AI as a 'natural' evolution in robotics and science. After all, as a futurist, I do not impose my likings on the future I see us heading to; I try to simplify a sophisticated network of most probable scenarios that will result from past and current trends and developments. Now, after reviewing my testimony, I would like to infuse some subjectivity into my judgement and say, not as a futurist but as a scientist, that I do not think AI is the "singularity" that will usher the end of human domination, like some xenophobes have lately been warning. I would go one step further and say that I do not fear artificial intelligence at all.

I recall a philosophical rule I learned, can't recall where from, that the attributes of the whole are the sum of the attributes of all the parts, and that the attributes of any part are some of the attributes of the whole. The part cannot have all the attributes of the whole, or else it becomes the whole and there can't be two "whole"s. From that philosophy, I go to the point of what collective humanity is capable of : the sum of the capabilities of all humans, dead and alive, put together, and other capabilities that emerge from when all humans come together, at any moment. Thus, no single human or any part of humanity could be capable of what collective humanity could be capable of.

Knowledge is no exception.

Since our senses are physical we are limited to the world of physical. Our abilities, even if they sound incalculable, are basically dependent on biological limitations, or biological potentials. Humans, as primates, have proven intelligence from their ability to extend their potential beyond their biological potential. Creating and utilizing tools had given primates an edge over other creatures. Humans used tools to create better tools; with fire we reshaped metal, with better shaped metallic instruments we built stronger machines, with more accurate machines we built smarter computers, and with super computers we have extended our biological potential to become space invaders.

No group of humans could ever claim to have solely achieved anything grand; they must have read a book they have not written themselves, thus, knowledge was transferred.

Now, "singularity" as a concept, in principle, is not only improbable, but also impossible. It requires the infinite knowledge of what humans haven't yet known, using superior instruments that they have not yet created nor imagined with an imagination they have not yet reached, using unlimited physical potential that they have not yet possessed. That is what singularity requires.

The starting point for singularity has not yet come into existence because, basically, civilization is way too primitive to offer the grounds for singularity to exist.

Having said that, if and when artificial intelligence comes into existence, it will be similar to, in some ways, and different than, in other ways, any intelligent biological being or biological system. It will have limitations imposed partially by civilization and partially by planet Earth, and the best it could reach is to have access to resources without being able to fully utilize them. Much like humans, collectively, have managed to utilize resources without being able to reach singularity. Artificial intelligence will have access to all information that humans have stored within reach, that is digitally, yet still, AI will not possess the hardware capable of saving and processing that sum of information, nor will it possess the ability to generate the necessary power to run itself. We still can't generate enough power from renewable energy resources, nor will AI. That is not singularity.

Now, having removed the possibility of AI with the potential of singularity, I don't see why we need to fear AI anyway. Fearing AI is just another form of xenophobia. Any average adult person from the 1950s wouldn't have believed in nanotechnology. Someone born in 1950 would still not trust 3D printing of human organs. AI is another technology that today's people can't fathom and can't trust, but in the future will become a common feature amongst advanced tools that were created by humans.

Singularity, if ever achieved, should not be feared. It should be worshiped because that is what singularity is; it is the incarnation of the most powerful idea that humans have ever created: God.

by Nael Gharzeddine

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Consumerism vs. Innovation: Where Do Arabs Stand?

Plato said, "necessity is the mother of invention." But what is necessity today?

In a time when the most populous nation on earth has morphed into producing and exporting every patented idea that ever existed, what needs could there still be unsatisfied? It is obvious to all now that we live in an age of tool-abundance. Even the poorest or the least privileged have access to affordable instruments; African tribes and rural communities in Asia and Latin America use plastic utensils and toys, manufactured fabrics and clothes, and two-generations-old communication devices.  While in less needy societies, the abundance of tools and products has turned people into consumers whose hardest choice would be to choose one of many similar or better alternatives to any product they 'need' to substitute.

There are no more needs for the day; no reason to think hard for a solution; no minds trained to innovate; no motivation to create. So much fresh grass to chew, no point in thinking far.

Sorry, Plato. Necessity has gone menopausal and invention needs a new parent.

In our Arab world, consumerism is on the rise. With the rise of a shy middle class and the increase in the wealth of millionaires, people have willingly enslaved their aspirations to world renowned brands that, for no good reason, have become synonymous to rare commodities. In the past, to secure their future, people used to stock up on gold and silver, each to their financial abilities. Now, to sedate their insecurities, people buy iPhones and Vertu phones.

The elephant in the room is, why don't Arabs have a hand in creating the future when they posses abilities just like any other nation on Earth, especially those who plan to colonize space in the near future? Why is it enough for Arabs to stay consumers when that was never enough for their neighboring Europeans and Asians?

Westerners of Arab origin are of the most productive among their fellow citizens, so why do Arab societies who live in Arab countries decide to compensate their sociopolitical failures with sedating their insecurities instead of facing their problems head on and standing up to the challenges of their future and the future of humanity? (hint: religion)

So if necessity is a parent of invention, and the Arab world much like everyone else has ceased to have unsatisfied needs, then meet the other parent of invention: the "inquisitive mind". While Arab youth run to stock up on designer products when they go on sale, other nations' youth invest their days in laboratories and deep jungles looking for solutions for problems that have not yet occurred. These are the minds that bring inventions.

People who could imagine the future, can imagine the needs of the future. If today's necessity has gone menopausal, future's necessity is yet to be born. Arabs must use their resources not to sedate their minds, but to build instruments that could fly them away from their past failures and stagnant present.

by Nael Gharzeddine

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

science fiction or scientific reality?

What do Google, Apple, Samsung, SpaceX, Sony, Honda, and Tesla have in common?

At first, any of us would easily identify few of these brands as multi-billion-dollar-companies, but it is not just the money that brings these brands together. These brands are pioneers in progressive technology and represent the twenty-first-century world of scientific economy. I call it scientific economy because these companies do not simply employ advanced science in their processes to boost their balance sheets, like replacing a dirty-expensive source of power with a cheap-cleaner source or replacing an old manual system by one that is advanced and automated, but they evolve science as part of what they do, they create science as a product, they are in the business of innovation of systems. Their domain is technological innovation.

Unlike those that employ scientific progress to enhance their processes that produce conventional products (Lego employs the latest software and hardware to produce the same plastic building blocks), these companies innovate progressive technology as products that ordinary people around the world adopt in everyday life. They are lifting humanity to a different level not through the marketing illusion that portrays ordinary products as necessary, but through technological advancements that make life better.

And the future is promising...

Autonomous vehicles, global internet beamed from space, wearable technology, the internet of things and intelligent residences, colonizing planets, artificial intelligence and humanoids, and cleaner, cheaper advanced power sources and power storages, are only some of what these companies will offer in the very near future... these brands stand for a better life on Earth and beyond, for a better future. They simply stand for the future.

I am not trying to promote the brands here. I am not trying to promote their products either. I am not a follower of most, nor I use all their products. I am turning your attention to one point: technological innovation is the bottom line in the twenty first century. If you want a better future, don't just consume products and services, but ask your children to participate in creating them. Encourage your children on being creative, innovative, imaginative and unordinary. Encourage them to imagine a solution. Encourage them to imagine something different.

Now more than any time before, science fiction is not fiction anymore. Lines are blurry and what seemed impossible is happening. Do not stick to what you know, push your ideas over the edge and force them to fly. Now more than ever, dreaming makes business sense.

by Nael Gharzeddine

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

An Arab Nightmare

The great make history.
Imbeciles worship it.

It is distinguished about the cultures of the orient that they highly praise humility and modesty, to an extent that they shame individuality. They promote hard work, perseverance and sacrifice only if it follows social guidelines and norms under a steel, low-ceiling of traditions.
Divergence is a sin.

If your hard work makes you shine, if your perseverance makes you ascend above your personal weaknesses and challenges, if your sacrifice makes you personally fulfilled and happy... none of that counts because you have sinned by focusing on yourself and perhaps weakening the group pride. Others would look at you with awe, undermining what you have achieved in every way possible, yet deep inside envying your courage.
Your hard work must bring on the growth of the group the way they have been taught is necessary to grow... your perseverance must not, under any circumstance, break the norms or destabilize the inherited roles... your sacrifice must only make society pleased because your happiness will come from being content, and to be content you should be a sheep, a white one or maybe one of a blemish here or there, but not too unique.

In the Arab world, sheep make a prestigious feast, not history.
Arabs need great minds to plan a future as "great" as our past, a past which, for so long, there was no mission more divine than transforming it into legends closer to mythologies. The steel strong ceiling of traditions we live under had made it impossible to look up for new heroes. Arabs born in the twentieth century have had little choice but to glorify historic figures predating the Ottomans, the latest era of defeat alive in Arab memory. From our history, heroes revived were two kinds, the one that had a brain and the other that had a sword. In the absence of vision, tolerance, and ambitions, the former found few followers while the latter seems to have occupied the imagination of the imbeciles between us. We, who export a wealth of human and natural resources, are facing the surreality of becoming victims of our worshipped traditions and glorified legends.

It is time we admit that humility will not save us. Modesty will not defeat the psychopaths who threaten our future in the name of tradition and religion. It is time we admit that our Arab history is not the beacon to be followed in the twenty first century. There are more highly distinguished people of Arab origin alive today than there was ever in history, only most live in the West in places that respect individuality and individual choices.

The Arab society today is living a nightmare. Our pride-rich-dreams of reclaiming an esteemed position among the nations, blaming everyone for what we are, brainwashing ourselves with bloody fantasies predating the fifteenth century, and living in total denial to the kind of sheep we have become and pretending to be wolves, was all magically turned to reality in the form of a Caliphate; an army of hooded criminals committing genocides in the name of religious and historic duties.

How do we plan on ending the nightmare? With weapons and armies?
By definition, a nightmare ends when a person wakes up, so wake up.

In addition to modern laws, we have enough collective wisdom in our culture with no need for divine obligations that hold our afterlife to ransom. We need a brighter future. We need new sources of inspiration for young generations. We need to create modern heroes. It is time we get rid of the carrot and stick of heaven and hell. Let us imagine what would life be in two centuries, not what it was ten centuries ago. Let us fantasize about science, about space and galaxies, and not rule our lives by quotes of a warlord or a clergyman that died a thousand years ago.

Allow yourself to dream and be the great one that makes history.

by Nael Gharzeddine

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Seeing The Future

In an attempt to understand the rise and fall of civilizations, I found lots of literature boiling the subject down to two factors: war and economy. I can't argue against that; most research is written by historians supporting their theories by examples from Babylonians to the Colonialists of Europe. However, while most analysts had agreed to one general recipe, I believe there is a hidden ingredient that proves to be decisive in the developmental trajectory of human civilizations. Whether a civilization crumbles after its first military coup and another develops because of a sudden economic growth, is a trajectory developed not by war and economy but by the strength of a society's pillar, an ingredient so important to the complexity of a society that it acts like a body's immune system: technological supremacy. With technological supremacy, a society could flourish economically, withstand threats, and quickly recover from hard hits. Yes, barbarians have repeatedly crushed civil societies, social decay could have been a reason Rome collapsed and disintegrated, and the economy was the main reason for the creation of the European Union, but without technological supremacy, there wouldn't have been a civil society for barbarians to invade, nor Rome would have become the Roman Empire, nor a united Europe would have had any weight globally more than a united Africa does.

What is tomorrow's technological supremacy if I am to define it today? It is laser weapons, not nuclear or chemical. It is robots, not human, soldiers, astronauts, doctors, mathematicians and physicists. It is genetically modified creatures, not natural selection. It is solar power, not any other earth based fuel.

Laser weapons installed on US warships today, once installed on satellites would easily eliminate targets on Earth in as fast as the speed of light and as precise as a laser beam. No missile would be airborne for long before being hit by a laser equipped satellite. No more mass casualties; this is as precise as targeted weapons could get in this century.

Robots are already performing long distance operations; surgeries in hospitals, landing on comets and traveling to planets, mapping the deepest oceans, and targeting 'enemy' camps from the air or cleaning minefields. With robots, loss from human error would be closer to zero. With robots, discoveries, inventions, and dreams would become much larger.

Genetically modified life is not more a threat to people than current genetic illnesses that people carry from one generation to the other. With genetically modified creatures, humans guarantee optimal nutritional sources of food. With genetically modified humans, humanity rids itself of carried diseases that have devastated almost all societies, and have drained families emotionally and financially. Natural selection will not take us any further. If it was not for the unnatural interference by humans, less creatures would have gone extinct and less would have been brought back from extinction. Humans were a natural force of change in the life of this planet, and genetic engineering is the natural development of humans' power to control life on Earth.

Solar power is the ultimate source of energy in our Solar System and we are getting better at collecting it. From powering homes, businesses, streets, vehicles and transportation, solar energy is the only free energy that has no negative residual on environment. Collecting it in space is much more efficient than collecting it on Earth but transporting the power from space to earth is still a mystery. Once people master a way to beam the energy to ground-based-batteries, there will be no more power generation on any of the planets we live on.

This is the future I can see being defined today.

Step 30 years back in recent history and ask who would have believed laser weapons would become a reality in 2013, landing on a comet would be possible in 2014, or announcing a multi-national plan in 2015 to colonize Mars by 2023 could be even a sane thing to speak of? Then, if no one could have believed it, who made it possible?

The scientists, visionaries and leaders of today are the young people who dared to dream 30 years ago. They are those who had the mind to create and the mind to believe in science fiction.

For the sake of humanity, the civilizations whose developmental trajectory would arch farther are the ones technologically superior. For the sake of humanity globalization could bridge the gap and bond people beyond political borders and spoken languages to eliminate the need for wars and increase the need for collaboration.

Today, science fiction is not a luxury nor entertainment. It is a need for any civilization in the third millennia to arch farther. Those who embrace it will ensure their language lives on and their ideas survive on Mars. Those who don't will watch their culture become buried relics.

Where are the Arabs from all this?

by Nael Gharzeddine

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Free Minds

Everything started when we started dreaming. Imagination has become faster than reality. That twinkling glimmer that was until the recent past ignored and dismayed as an impossibility, has become a lighthouse that all decisions follow. Science fiction is no longer fiction, it has become the epicenter of a fast developing world.
Science fiction is not new. In the 15th century, Leonardo Da Vinci designed and sketched machines that were impossible to create until the 20th century, much like visionaries of the 20th century imagined inventions that seem today impossible to co-exist with the laws of physics. We know that laws of physics mirror the human understanding of how the world works, they are what the human mind could explain and not what lies beyond the human understanding.

Imagination is the act of ignoring the laws of physics.

Why we as children excel in imagination is because, as children, we have little to no regard to laws in general. As we grow up we are "socialized' and our minds get tamed. Civilized society depends on law abiding individuals to flourish; breaking rules leads to chaos and decline. Yet, imagination is a key factor in progress and development on any level and in any field of life. Creative individuals find solutions. Creative individuals outperform their colleagues. Creative individuals ignore the rules and thus have the ability to imagine. Creativity which was for millennia pigeon-holed in arts, has become a necessity in the information age, a.k.a. digital age.

Creativity is freedom.

It takes a free mind to create an idea that goes against the laws and every person is somehow creative. Have you never imagined yourself somewhere else? How many times have you closed your eyes and imagined yourself on a beach or with people you wanted to be with? It may come as a surprise to many that the smallest, simplest act of imagination that every human being must have done so many times in a lifetime, that of imagining yourself somewhere else, is in fact a very complex theory either of time bending or of multiverse; i.e. a very advanced vision in the world of physics that assumes we could travel across time and be in two places at the same moment, or that there exists infinite parallel universes where every possibility is certain.
This is the core of science fiction: imagining what would become if the limitations were stretched or if possibilities became certain. It is imagining the future to be your present and creating a vision of what might have happened if the impossible was possible. Without the minds that could stretch limitations there would have been no technology and none of what we have today could have existed.
People must embrace science fiction just like they embrace technology and modernity. It is not a sane choice to consider the present to be the climax of civilization. The climax will always be the future. The future will always be a vision. The vision will aways be imagined by free minds.

by Nael Gharzeddine