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Davos experts warn about future "rogue technology"
Experts caution about the dangers of the current technological revolution at the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
At the recently concluded annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that brought together world leaders and top thinkers in different fields, a panel on the dangers of emerging technology raised some strong alarms.
The January 25th panel “Future Shocks: Rogue Technology” featured the chairman and CEO of Salesforce Marc R. Benioff, the director of Duke University’s Humans and Autonomy Lab Mary Cummings, the MIT professor of neuroscience and creator of CRISPR Feng Zhang, Brazil’s Secretary of Innovation Marcos Souza, as well as Peter Thomson, the UN Special Envoy for the Ocean. The event was moderated by Nick Thompson, Wired Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief.
What technologies of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution are the most exciting and potentially risky? The discussion focused on AI, robotics, and bioengineering.
One innovation Marc Benioff would like to see in the near future are beach-cleaning robots. They could help the environment by making a dent in the “growing problem of plastics in the oceans,” according to Benioff. This same tech can also be adopted into creating autonomous deep-sea robots that mine the ocean’s floor for valuable metals and other materials. One drawback to this tech - there are currently no laws regulating it.
UN’s Peter Thomson agreed that the ocean is the next frontier for exploration that needs a legal framework.
“We know more about the face of Mars than the ocean floor,“ said Thomson. "Seabed mining is definitely coming but it’s not allowed at present. We don’t have regulation, but laws will be ready soon.”
The one government rep on the panel, Brazil’s Souza, acknowledged that lawmakers need to step up because of the sheer speed of technological advancements.
“The characteristic of this fourth industrial revolution is the speed of the technology advancing and, as you know, the government regulation is always behind this […] speed, so it’s a challenge for us,” said Souza. The previous revolutions took longer so we could prepare those regulations properly, but this is going too fast.”
Professor Cummings from Duke leads a tech lab but says “technology is not a panacea”. She thinks we often overestimate what it can do. She is anxious that the tech created for one useful task will acquire a more detrimental purpose in somebody else’s hands - driverless cars or drones can be hijacked, gene editing could lead to eliminating some species. She is also not sure that “a beach-cleaning Roomba robot” is a good idea.
“My concern with deep-sea mining robots is not the intentional malevolent use of technology, it’s the accidental malevolent use,” said Cummings. “AI is definitely opening up a Pandora’s Box. Most applications of AI, particularly when it comes to autonomous vehicles, we do not understand how the algorithms work.”
Cummings is also concerned that some of the technology being developed will be employed before proper testing. She thinks more oversight is needed to figure out which innovations are ready to be used widely and which ones need more development.
“As a researcher, what I worry about is [that] we’re still finding about the emergent properties of these technologies – CRISPR, AI – yet there are many companies and agencies that want to take these technologies and start deploying them in the real world, but it’s still so nascent that we’re not really sure what we’re doing,” explained Cummings. “I do think [there] needs to be more of a collaborative arrangement between academics and government and companies to understand what’s really mature and what’s very experimental.”
MIT’s Professor Zhang, a pioneer of using the gene-editing technique CRISPR, also admonished that we need to take baby steps with some advancements, especially when it comes to altering life’s building blocks.
“When we’re engineering organisms,” said Professor Zhang, ”I think we have to be very careful and proceed with a lot of caution.”
He also thinks it incumbent upon researchers to create “containment mechanisms” that can curb the spread of a technology that turns out to be dangerous after its implementation.
On the other hand, he is excited about the possibility of transferring traits from one organism to another, something he’s working on in his lab. This can help resurrect or protect some species.
“As we sequence more and more organisms, we can now find interesting properties that these organisms evolved to allow them to most optimally survive in their own environment and transfer some of those into other organisms so that we can improve the property...and prevent the extinction of species,” said Zhang.
Saleforce’s Marc Benioff used an example from his own company to illustrate why technology needs to mature before being spread.
“As a CEO I can ask a question of [Salesforce] Einstein, my virtual management team member, and say ‘how is the company doing’, ‘are we going to make our quarter’, ‘how is this product’, ‘what geography should I travel to and have the biggest impact for the company’, said Benioff. “I have this kind of technology, and I want to make it available to all customers. But I don’t want to turn it over and get a call from a CEO that he or she made a bad decision because we didn’t have it exactly right yet.”
One more obstacle to the testing and fast implementation of technology - lack of educated talent that can develop it, said Cummings. She called out a “global AI crisis for talent” as detrimental, with universities unable to graduate enough people for the burgeoning field, while the education model, in general, is woefully “archaic”. Students are still being trained like they were 30 years ago, warned the professor.
You can watch the full panel here:
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.