Artificial Intelligence is a vast topic, but I’d like to discuss it from just a couple of angles and see where we go from there. Let’s start with Alan Turing.
(Listen to the Retrospectical Podcast Episode 10: Artificial Intelligence and the Kurzweil Singularity)
Now considered to be the father of artificial intelligence, Turing was famously involved with quite a lot of cryptology (specifically cracking codes, not creating them) during World War 2 but had previously studied in and contributed to many other scientific communities as well.
At this time, no one had even come up with the term ‘Artificial Intelligence’. Computers were limited to processing input provided on punch-cards and were still taking up entire buildings and assembled with thousands of vacuum tubes.
Turing thought that – given enough processing power and the inevitable advances of technology - the ability to distinguish between a person and a computer in conversation could become blurred to the point where such a distinction ceased to exist.
The test is based on an old parlour game (“The Imitation Game”, which also happens to be the title of a recently released movie about Alan Turing’s life and death as played by Benedict Cumberbatch that everyone should go see) where a man and a woman are both trying to convince everyone that they are the woman. The woman has to answer honestly, and the man can answer in any way he likes in order to convince the audience that he is, in fact, the woman. Turing’s version of the test puts the computer in the role of the man, trying to convince the audience that it is, in fact, the human.
Although there have been many attempts to pass the Turing test, most have still all failed. Several have recently appeared to either win or comes close to winning (such as the Russian chatbot, Eugene Goostman who successfully got 1 in 3 judges to pick it as a 13-year-old, non-native-speaking Ukrainian boy). Goostman technically won, but it is itself simply a computer program running scripts and playing tricks (like misspelling some words on purpose, etc) in order to fool the judges. Most will argue that no computer has yet passed the Turing test according its original spirit. http://io9.com/a-chatbot-has-passed-the-turing-test-for-the-first-ti-1587834715
Some others working in the field of artificial intelligence submit that the Turing test is inherently flawed and any computer that is able to fool the judge(s) will be doing just that – fooling them with tricks rather than demonstrating actual comprehension and intelligence. These critics have also come up with a series of alternative tests that try to accomplish the same goal without allowing the same loopholes: http://io9.com/8-possible-alternatives-to-the-turing-test-1697983985
Kurzweil is a mad genius. He’s widely recognized as force of intelligence and innovation (which cannot really be refuted in good faith since he invented flatbed scanners, print-to-speech machines, music synthesizers and helped pioneer optical character recognition in general). He has also – sometimes in the same breath – been called crazy. He has borrowed science fiction terms like the ‘Singularity’ (referring to a point – in the near future, according to Kurzweil, where technological progress grows past the point of human comprehension of that same technology) for use in his books and talks.
This ‘Kurzweilian’ view on the future, as it has come to be known, has been popularized recently by a successful science fiction movie called Her, which was specifically about the Singularity and a highly recommended film. Kurzweil himself even reviewed the film, adding his own input to the film’s ending:
In my view, biological humans will not be outpaced by the AIs because they (we) will enhance themselves (ourselves) with AI. It will not be us versus the machines (whether the machines are enemies or lovers), but rather, we will enhance our own capacity by merging with our intelligent creations. We are doing this already. Even though most of our computers — although not all — are not yet physically inside us, I consider that to be an arbitrary distinction.
They are already slipping into our ears and eyes and some, such as Parkinson’s implants, are already connected into our brains. A kid in Africa with a smartphone has instant access to more knowledge than the President of the United States had just 15 years ago. We have always created and used our technology to extend our reach. We couldn’t reach the fruit at that higher branch a thousand years ago, so we fashioned a tool to extend our physical reach. We have already vastly extended our mental reach, and that is going to continue at an exponential pace.
The mind-boggling thing is just how many people out there trust and respect his work and his many predictions. In fact, Kurzweil was recently hired as Google’s Director of Engineering and is directly in charge of all Google’s artificial intelligence efforts. Google has spent billions of dollars in the past few years, picking up companies like Boston Dynamics (develops and manufactures life-like military robots) for an undisclosed sum, Nest Labs (smart thermostats) for 3.2 billion and last year they acquired British artificial intelligence startup DeepMind (who recently demonstrated a computer system that was capable of learning how to play video games from scratch with no prior programming - as opposed to a system like Deep Blue that was designed specifically to play one game - and routinely beat professional human players at those games) and many others. What is currently being assembled via Google acquisitions and the installation of Kurzweil at the helm has been referred to more than a few times as the ‘Manhattan project of AI’.
Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak have all said that artificial intelligence is one of humanity’s biggest existential risks. Hundreds of artificial intelligence experts recently signed a letter put together by the Future of Life Institute that prompted Elon Musk to donate $10 million to the institute. "We recommend expanded research aimed at ensuring that increasingly capable AI systems are robust and beneficial: our A.I. systems must do what we want them to do," the letter read.
But who does “we” refer to? Surely, the idea being put forth here is for humanity to somehow collectively decide the direction going forward – but that is never the case in these kinds of situations. Who decides what sort of ethics will be programmed into or even taught to these new systems of the future? Is consciousness uniquely human (e.g. could something be built that was defined as ‘intelligent’ but didn’t have a consciousness)? What sort of consequences will the development of high level artificial intelligences have on the deeply religious people throughout the world?
Musk once tweeted, "We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes." Stephen Hawking has also spoken up against speeding ahead with AI development without careful consideration: "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race," he said.
As so often happens, the real world may take cues from science fiction before it. Years ago, Isaac Asimov thought up the 3 rules of robotics (rules that he thought should be programmed into the very basic code of any sort of artificial intelligence): (1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. (2) A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. (3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Knowing all of the possibilities, the question becomes: will that impending technology be controllable? Assuming we succeed in creating something that can think, make decisions and act on those decisions will the world end up looking like Kurzweil envisions it to be (a place where death and poverty no longer exist and we merge ourselves with the technology that we have created), or will it be more decidedly dystopian with intelligent war machines that could easily turn on humanity all together?
NASA no longer has a shuttle to access space, as of 2011. Space Shuttle Atlantis was the last one (Columbia exploded in 2003 and was not replaced). NASA's budget has declined (as a % of the overall federal budget) since the early 90's (1.05% in 1991), though it peaked in the years leading up to the moon landing (4.41% in 1966). In 2014, it was only 0.5% of the total budget. The projected budget for 2015 is around 18 billion. (For a quick lesson on taxes, check this out.)
In 2010, President Obama gave a speech and proposed that NASA essentially leave the business of sending men to space and instead contract with private companies to do it instead (ideally to do it cheaper).
Recently, there has been a push to increase the NASA funding. The Penny4NASA campaign started in 2012, inspired by Neil deGrasse Tyson's testimony before congress. In it, Tyson advocated spending a penny on the dollar, rather than the 0.5 that we currently spend (moving the budget from 0.5% to 1.0%, like in the early 90's. Check out this infographic on NASA's benefits to everyday life.
(Listen to the Retrospectical Podcast Episode 9: NASA and the Rise of Private Space Exploration)
A 1997 poll indicated that Americans estimated we spend about 20% of our budget on NASA. A far cry from the 0.9% we did spend that year. There's also a website that NASA runs called Spinoff that tracks all of the things NASA has developed that are in use in commercial businesses today. To see what our actual return on investment is estimated at, check out this page on Investopedia.
NASA still works with the ISS, but the Russians send shuttles there. Crew members must fly on the Soyuz shuttle from Russia. The ISS is managed by NASA, Russia, Japan, European space agency and Canada. ISS has been inhabited for over 14 years continuously. You can see the ISS from earth with the naked eye (though not in light-polluted Chicago).
Contracts for commercial resupply missions to the ISS were first awarded in 2008 to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation. SpaceX was the first up there, with the first Dragon resupply mission going up in May 2012, followed by Cygnus (from Orbital) in September 2013. This CRS (commercial resupply services) provides all of the American cargo for the ISS (with a few exceptions).
With the Russian Progress resupply ship spinning out of control on 4/28/15, this leaves only the Japanese cargo ship and SpaceX’s dragon left to deliver supplies to the ISS. SpaceX is scheduled to make another delivery on June 15th (along with another attempt at landing the first stage). Orbital’s resupply vehicle suffered a catastrophic failure in October of 2014.
In 2014, SpaceX and Boeing were awarded contracts to build vehicles to transport humans to the ISS. NASA expects this to begin in 2017.
SpaceX was founded by tech mogul (and probably secret superhero) Elon Musk. Musk's vision was to build an inexpensive reusable rocket, ala modern airliners. Started with some of his Paypal fortune in 2002, he had invested 100 million by 2006. As of 2013, they employed over 3000 people. In 2015, Google & Fidelity spent $1 billion in exchange for 8.333% of the company, valuing it at approximately $12 billion.
SpaceX was the first private company to launch and return a spacecraft from orbit, in December of 2012. A big part of SpaceX is the re-usability of all of this stuff in order to make it very cheap. This can greatly undercut existing commercial satellite launch companies.
To date, SpaceX has had 18 successful missions (one secondary mission on the 4th launch failed). This has been a mix of governments and private companies, resupplying the ISS and launching satellites into orbit.
The 18th launch on April 27th. Just last month, SpaceX had its 18th successful launch, sending a communications satellite for Turkmenistan into low earth orbit. The satellite was carried by SpaceX's Falcon9. This time around, they did not try to land the rocket in a controlled-descent test, as they have done with several of their recent launches.
SpaceX has been working on controlled descents for its first stage rockets. In several of their recent launches, they have attempted landing the first stage on a platform about 300 x 160 feet in the ocean. On their last try, earlier this month, they landed on their ship, but it tipped over after it landed because it was still moving too fast.
With almost 50 future launches planned, it's clear that SpaceX has been quite a success. They are on the cutting edge of current private space travel and should be putting astronauts into space as early as 2016.
The private sector has always benefited from NASA and the space industry (there were over 350,000 people employed as contractors at the peak of the Apollo program). Now, the private sector is taking over with SpaceX, Boeing and Orbital ATK (formerly Orbital Sciences Corporation).
Orbital is a company started way back in 1982 (ancient in the aeronautics industry). They are also a defense contractor for the US, providing missile defense systems. They construct launch vehicles and satellites, in addition to the missile defense systems. They, in addition to SpaceX, supply the ISS using their Cygnus spacecraft.
In order to actually qualify for spaceflight, you have to exceed the karaman line, about 100km above the surface of the earth. Private spaceflight includes communications satellites, satellite tv, satellite radio and space tourism.
Private space flight was essentially kept illegal by NASA until 2004, even though one of the requirements in the founding charter is to maximize commercial space ventures. They certainly contributed to commercial ventures, but until 2004, private flights were effectively illegal. It's still technically illegal to send people into space in a commercial venture, though like most of these previous rules, they will likely be granted permission to do this when the time comes.
Virgin Galactic is another private space flight company, but unlike SpaceX and Orbital, which are focused on resupply, satellites and eventual mars exploration, Virgin is in it for the space tourism. Founded by another eccentric billionaire, Richard Branson started virgin galactic in 2004.
Virgin Galactic uses a different style of aircraft. The “space ship” – SpaceShipTwo, piggybacks on a mother ship (white knight II) which carries it to an altitude of about 50,000 ft before it’s released. SpaceShipTwo then flies to a height of 110 KM, about 10km above the boundary of space (essentially in low earth orbit). The flight would last about 2.5 hours, with about 6 minutes of that being weightless.
Virgin’s program has been plagued by delays, though perhaps Branson’s initial prediction in 2008 that the maiden voyage would take place in only 18 months was a bit too ambitious. In October of 2014, disaster struck the VSS enterprise (virgin named their vessels Enterprise and Voyager). The craft broke up mid-air shortly after being released from the mother ship. Amazingly, only one of the two pilots aboard was killed.
Virgin took a lot of heat after the accident, criticized throughout the industry for not following common practices and not having the standard “two-failure tolerance”. There is a lot of info available on this, though I suppose it’s rather speculative. A full incident report isn’t expected until 1 year after the crash (6 months from now or so).
Virgin is the anchor tenant at Spaceport America. What is this? Well, it’s not as cool as a Cosmodrome, ok, well it’s the same thing, but Russians have a cooler name for it, that’s for sure. Spaceport America is in the New Mexico desert and is the first facility purpose built for commercial space travel. Tenants include Virgin, SpaceX, UP Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace.
The NHL Stanley Cup Playoff is my favorite sporting event to watch. The intensity level reached in the NHL playoffs is unmatched by any other sport. The beards may still be fresh but this post season has already produced several thrilling games.
The Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks suprizingly has been my favorite series to watch so far this post season. With the late starts some of the games might be hard to stay awake til the end. But if you do muster up the courage you will not be disappointed. This series has been probably the most intense of all with both teams showing genuine hatred towards their counterparts. Two of the Three games in the series have featured 5 on 5 full line third period brawls.
The Chicago Blackhawks struggled at the close of the regular season, losing their last four. But there was promise with news of Patrick Kane returning for the playoffs. Game one started off terribly with Chicago goalie Corey Crawford giving up 3 first period goals and being pulled from the game. In came backup Scott Darling who leads the Hawks to a 4-3 double overtime win on the back of a 42 save shutout performance. After another failed Crawford start in a 6-2 Blackhawks loss in game 2, Darling was named the man going forward and delivered again in a 4-2 game 3 win. Kane looking good and Darling standing on his head has this Diehard Blackhawks fan dreaming of another Stanley Cup.
There may not be any football being played right now, but it is one of the best times of the year to be a sports fan! The Baseball season is fresh and Cubs fans still have that hope that this will be “the year”. We all know that April Baseball isn't worth the effort, so we'll just leave that alone for a few months. Baseball tonight and maybe a random drunk day at the park will suffice until, say.. August? Hockey and Basketball have just begun their playoffs, meaning there are multiple playoff games every night of the week.
Listening to Charles Barkley talk provides enough entertainment to justify the very long NBA Finals. We've got thrilling first round match-ups such as the Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies! How could you go wrong? As a Chicago fan, I am excited about the Chicago Bulls post season chances. They finally have a healthy Derrick Rose to pair with surprise superstar Jimmy Butler and are poised to make a deep playoff run in a weak Eastern conference. If the Eastern Conference is not represented by the Chicago Bulls or Cleveland Cavaliers it would be a shock.
The Western Conference is a little more difficult to navigate. The San Antonio Spurs are always tough in the post season, no matter how old they get. However the team I am pulling for is number one seed Golden State Warriors. Stephen Curry has had an MVP caliber year and is my favorite player to watch currently. This year he sank 286 3-pointers to beat his previously held record of 272. Hands down he is the best shooter in the NBA today. The Warriors are involved in one of the more intriguing first round match-ups with the New Orleans Pelicans. Golden state has taken care of business in their two home games but lets see what Anthony Davis and the Pelicans can do in front of what is sure to be a raucous home crowd.
We're joined by fantasy football veteran and former drinkfive.com contributor Vince Foss as we discuss the very best plays moving forward into championship week. We'll analyze the matchups and go over recent NFL news and updates that can impact the production of your players.
For Fantasy Football team managers, playing in week 15 is all about making the right starts to get to the championship. Whether you fought hard to get into the playoffs from the bottom of the league or coasted into a bye spot early on, everyone is on an even playing field and (in most cases) only has one shot.
We'll be paying special attention to the players that you should and shouldn't start in week 15 and what matchups to keep in mind should you make the championship game in Week 16. We're joined by regular guest and drinkfive.com contributor Mike Mocerino.
Welcome back! We're joined this week by fantasy football veteran Matt Ellis to discuss the best starts moving forward into Week 13. This is the last week of the regular season of most fantasy football leagues, so put your best foot forward!