A U.S. government intelligence agency develops cutting-edge tech to predict future events.
- The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), a research arm of the U.S. government intelligence community, is focused on predicting the future.
- The organization uses teams of human non-experts and AI machine learning to forecast future events.
- IARPA also conducts advanced research in numerous other fields, funding rotating programs.
As far as secretive government projects go, the objectives of IARPA may be the riskiest and most far-reaching. With its mission to foster "high-risk, high-payoff" programs, this research arm of the U.S. intelligence community literally tries to predict the future. Staffed by spies and Ph.D.s, this organization aims to provide decision makers with real, accurate predictions of geopolitical events, using artificial intelligence and human "forecasters."
IARPA, which stands for Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, was founded in 2006 as part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Some of the projects that it has funded focused on advancements in quantum computing, cryogenic computing, face recognition, universal language translators, and other initiatives that would fit well in a Hollywood action movie plot. But perhaps its main goal is to produce "anticipatory intelligence." It's a spy agency, after all.
"Minority report" pre-cog
Dreamworks/20th Century Fox
In the interest of national security, IARPA wants to identify major world events before they happen, looking for terrorists, hackers or any perceived enemies of the United States. Wouldn't you rather stop a crime before it happens?
Of course, that's when we get into tricky political and sci-fi territory. Much of the research done by IARPA is actually out in the open, utilizing the public and experts in advancing technologies. It is available for "open solicitations," forecasting tournaments, and has prize challenges for the public. You can pretty much send your idea in right now. But what happens to the R&D once it leaves the lab is, of course, often for only the NSA and the CIA to know.
The National Security Agency expert James Bamford wrote that the agency is ultimately looking to create a system where huge amounts of data about people's lives would be mined in real-time, for the purpose of preventing actions detrimental to the nation. In his article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bamford wrote that IARPA's goal is to create very powerful automated computer systems, managed through artificial intelligence, which would be "capable of cataloging the lives of everyone everywhere, 24/ 7." Such programs would be able to instantaneously access data streams belonging to citizens, whether from social media or anywhere else. As Bamford writes, being able to analyze "every Facebook post, tweet and YouTube video; every tollbooth tag number; every GPS download, web search and news feed; every street camera video; every restaurant reservation on Open Table — largely eliminates surprise from the intelligence equation."
Of course, one would suspect much of this is going on already. IARPA's Mercury program, for example, concentrates on data mining millions of private overseas communications that are gathered by the National Security Agency. While it can certainly be argued that such a program is a national security necessity, working to spot terrorists and elements that can lead to social unrest, the potential for misuse and infringement on privacy rights has alerted observers.
A fascinating recent project funded by IARPA is called SAGE, which stands for Synergistic Anticipation of Geopolitical Events. As you may expect from such a lofty title, the researchers involved in this endeavor are looking to predict the future. This project is aimed at utilizing non-experts – humans who would use AI machine learning to make qualified statements about what would happen.
Led by Aram Galstyan, director of the Artificial Intelligence Division at the USC Viterbi Information Sciences Institute (ISI), the project has been successful in making concrete predictions, like knowing when North Korea would launch its missile tests. SAGE works by utilizing large sets of human non-expert predictors, pooling their powers by working together, making them "more accurate and faster than a single human subject expert," as explains a USC press release. However, the information these humans or "forecasters" use to make predictions is gathered through a variety of machine learning technologies.
The topics looked at by the predictors include such questions as "Will any G7 nation engage in an acknowledged national military attack against Syria [by a given date]?" They may also want to figure out exactly how much oil Venezuela might produce in a specific month.
Leaders among the forecasters, or those who make the most accurate predictions, are ranked and highlighted with badges.
This AI-assisted crowd-sourced Nostradamus has worked out quite well, according to Fred Morstatter, a USC computer scientist. "We believe that's the case because the numbers we're seeing indicate we are outpacing a system that uses only humans," he remarked.
SAGE's hybrid model functions by offering humans information derived by the machines in charts that show trends, along with specific predictions by the AI. "SAGE works because humans have one side of the coin, and machines have the other side," said Morstatter. And on yet another side you would have the National Intelligence apparatus.
Do you have a good idea for future-oriented national security research? You can actually apply to be a IARPA program manager. Current managers, who rotate every 3 to 5 years, are working on a vast variety of fields, including forecasting, linguistics, underwater technology, aerospace propulsion, atomic physics, artificial intelligence, biometrics, neuroscience, and optics. Check out the list of existing programs.
Philosopher Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" predicts the future of human societies.
- Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" says that intelligent life on Earth will eventually form a "singleton".
- The "singleton" could be a single government or an artificial intelligence that runs everything.
- Whether the singleton will be positive or negative depends on numerous factors and is not certain.
Does history have a goal? Is it possible that all the human societies that existed are ultimately a prelude to establishing a system where one entity will govern everything the world over? The Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom proposes the "singleton hypothesis," maintaining that intelligent life on Earth will at some point organize itself into a so-called "singleton" – one organization that will take the form of either a world government, a super-intelligent machine (an AI) or, regrettably, a dictatorship that would control all affairs.
Other forms of a singleton may exist, and, ultimately, Bostrom believes one of them will come into existence. The philosopher argues that historically there's been a trend for our societies to converge in "higher levels of social organization". We went from bands of hunter gatherers to chiefdoms, city-states, nation states and now multi-national corporations, the United Nations and so forth, all the way to globalization – one of President Donald Trump's favorite targets for attack. One view of that trend sees increased power going to multi-national businesses and world government bodies, making globalization somewhat of a punching bag concept, often seen not as a needed re-organization of societies around the world, leading to increased cooperation and a peaceful international order, but rather for its potential to bring about the loss of jobs and undermine the sovereignties of individual countries, making citizens beholden to faceless totalitarian bureaucrats from foreign lands.
But a singleton doesn't have to result in a bad outcome, argues Bostrom. In fact, he thinks it could also be a good thing or at least something that's neither obviously positive or negative – just neutral. One way to get to a singleton, according to the philosopher, is through technology. Improved surveillance and communication, mind-control tech, molecular nanotechnology and artificial intelligence could all bring about a singleton.
While some aspects of such technologies could certainly be unwanted and infringe upon individual freedoms, Bostrom thinks that there are situations in which there could be broad support for either a technological solution or a single government agency to take control of the society. As the world grows more complex, it's harder to achieve efficient coordination between countries and individuals within them. Tech solutions in conjunction with converging moral values and a democratic worldwide government could facilitate that.
Other scenarios, like catastrophic events, could also hasten the creation of singletons. The League of Nations, for example, came out of World War I, while the creation of the United Nations was a byproduct of World War 2.
Some may view the current political trends of rising nationalism, tariff wars and anti-immigration platforms to mean that globalization and an overall unification of people the world over is not coming any time soon. In fact, it feels like we are going backwards on such a path.
In an email exchange with Big Think, Bostrom cautioned us to not only look at what is happening over the course of a decade or maybe even a few decades. There are much larger, historic trends at work, which may see the current times as a blip rather than a change in the overall direction.
"I don't think there's much evidence in the year-to-year (or even decade-to-decade) political jitters for the question of the long-term fate of Earth-originating civilization," writes Bostrom, while adding "Still, it seems a bit sad whenever the world is moving in the direction of fragmentation and unilateralism."
He would rather see relationships between nations like the United States and China to be cordial rather than the "tussles and tensions" that we get now, with the added risk of a further breakdown in communication leading to even worse outcomes.
"I fear that people have forgotten how bad the Cold War was or have learned the wrong lesson - "well we survived it so it wasn't so bad," warns the philosopher. "But I think it's more like somebody played a round of Russian Roulette and survived and then they say "hey that wasn't so bad, let's play another round!" With the opening of the nuclear archives, we can see how close the world came to the brink on several different occasions. Allowing ourselves to slide into another situation even remotely like that of the Cold War would be a huge mistake."
Political tides certainly can come and go. It might be long until we can definitively tell which era we are living in now. Either advanced technology and a spreading democratic order will create a global techno-utopia of the future or we will be enslaved by corporate hegemony and international oligarchs. There are also options in between. It's important to remember that once created, a singleton could become the way of life for the foreseeable future as it will take measures to stay in existence and to keep away threats.
"Earth-originating intelligent life will (eventually) form a singleton," writes Bostrom.
Before you get set for your life to be dominated by a single agency, Bostrom's classic paper on the subject lays out some specific pros and cons of a singleton.
- avoiding dangerous arms races – these are costly and potentially disastrous. Without many competing world powers, arms races would be unnecessary.
- avoiding a space colonization race, again leading to potential war and extreme expenses.
- avoiding inequality - a singleton could distribute wealth.
- avoiding evolutionary outcomes we don't want - a singleton (especially an AI) could better keep track of dystopian scenarios, like epidemics, and work towards the survival of the population as a whole.
Want to Retain American Jobs? Stop Blaming Globalization
- having one entity control everything could lead to less control over decision-making and things could go bad for us humans. "All the eggs are in one basket" under this scenario, points out Bostrom.
- world without competition between states could be more vulnerable to systemic breakdowns than a world that is less arranged, in which "there are some processes that limit the destructiveness of certain kinds of failures," writes the philosopher.
- some singletons could lead to terrible bureaucracy and inefficiency – it's not certain whether that would outweigh the gains from such a coordinated society. That would depend on the "severity" of the problems.
- some singletons could be created by force - think Ghenghis Khan, Napoleon, Nazis and whatever new dictator is waiting in the wings.
Check out Nick Bostrom's paper "What is a Singleton?" here.
Musican. Actor. Fashion Icon. Internet Visionary?
- David Bowie was well known as a rock star, but somehow his other interests and accomplishments remain obscure.
- In this 1999 interview, he explains why he knows the internet is more than just a tool and why it was destined to change the world.
- He launched his own internet service provider in 1998, BowieNet. It ceased operations in 2006.
David Bowie’s vision of the internet yet to come
In a 1999 BBC interview, Bowie tells a skeptical Jeremy Paxman, "I don't think we've even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable." When Paxman retorts that the internet is merely a tool, Bowie calls it "an alien life form" and expresses his belief that "it is going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about."
He knew what he was talking about. The year before this interview he had launched his own internet service provider called BowieNet. More than an ISP, the service also provided access to a dedicated website with exclusive content, including photos of Bowie, a blog, and a news feed. Users were encouraged to create their own websites with the free 5MB of space they were paying for and to participate in live chats with each other and Bowie himself. In effect, it was an early attempt at a social networking site.
His enthusiasm for the internet was so great that he once claimed, "If I was 19 again, I'd bypass music and go right to the internet." Thank the Starman it only came around after he had a chance to be a musician.
You can see the entire interview below. The portion where he discusses the internet starts around the nine-minute mark, though he builds up to the discussion before then while expressing his postmodern understanding of how technology, audience participation, and new ideas about what an artist does were changing music.
David Bowie speaks to Jeremy Paxman on BBC Newsnight (1999)In this BBC Newsnight interview from 1999 David Bowie talks to Jeremy Paxman about going to meet Tony Blair in stilettos, his alter egos - and makes some inc...
The most valuable college majors will prepare students for a world right out a science fiction novel.
- The future of work is going to require a range of skills learned that take into account cutting edge advancements in technology and science.
- The most valuable college majors in the future will prepare students for new economies and areas of commerce.
- Mathematics, engineering and science related educational majors will become an ubiqitous feature of the new job market.
The future of work is going to be something beyond our wildest dreams. Our universities and future crop of students cannot afford to fall behind in this incredibly new and competitive environment. While fears of automation taking away all our jobs are largely unfounded and overhyped, many professions will cease to exist. But the foundations for entire new spectrums of commerce and education are already being laid.
We may be in the infancy of a new space age, where we'll need structural engineers to build Moon buildings and lawyers who can fight for their clients in new land domains outside of Earth. Personalized medicine may turn a regular old trip to the doctor more akin to a cosmetic enhancement appointment.
The students and citizens of the future world need to be prepared. These seven most valuable college majors take into account short-term job growth prospects, future relevance and need for problems we've yet to face.
Aerospace & Aeronautical Engineering
Bill Ingalls NASA via Getty Images
Aeronautics and aviation technology is a major area of growth both on this planet and off of it.
In the nearterm, expected employment rate is estimated to grow 5 percent by 2020. These degree programs focus mostly on aerodynamics and mechanics, preparing their students to either become pilots or focus on applied engineering.
Most aerospace programs have a rigorous curriculum designed to produce only the best engineers and weed out those that can't hack it. Students will be learning about thermodynamics, flight mechanics and on the space side – spacecraft design, orbital mechanics and more.New heavy hitters like billionaires Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk are all funnelling billions into rocket companies intent on exploring and colonizing our closest celestial neighbors. That's not even taking into account the booming drone business taking to the skies here on Earth and established institutions and companies like NASA and Boeing advancing into space.
The underpinnings of our greatest technology is written in the language of math. While Americans in primary schools may not be faring that well in the subject, it's still vitally important to understand as a precedent for a multitude of scientific disciplines. With an unemployment rate of only two percent and high paying salaries right out the gate, applied mathematics is a necessity in almost every field.
Someone highly skilled in mathematics can take established techniques and apply them in new ways in emerging fields. Mathematicians are highly prized in research institutes, chemical manufacturers and within start-ups.
Photo by Thierry Falise/LightRocket via Getty Images
Advertising is a dynamic field that is continually changing as new media mediums emerge into the fold. Writing ad copy once reserved for print advertisements now flows out from our smartphones and pervades the digital realm as we explore virtual worlds.
The future of augmented and virtual realities will bring about a multi-trillion dollar industry run off the back of advertising dollars.There is an expected ten percent growth by 2022. Massive companies like Alphabet and Facebook solely exist because they've created a new need and space for companies and customers alike to connect. Commerce will never tire of the marketing or ad executive.
Future electronic Mad Men will sell you trips to orbital resorts. Holographic screens will advertise the best place to get a genomic tune up. There will always be a need to advertise.
The robotics field has been active nearly since the early 20th century. Myths and the history of automatons is as old as human civilization. But the field has never more exciting than it is now. While some universities offer standalone robotics degrees – skills needed to enter the robotics field usually come from a number of different engineering degrees.
The robotics field is so vast with specialized niches growing in number everyday. Skillsets range from programming to mechanical engineering. A good background in computer science or engineering is a plus. But it really depends on what type of aspect of robotics you want to study. Even psychologists could be useful in the event our robotics become conscious, we'll need every skill set and variety of human expertise involved for our new silicon creations.
Many scientists believe that the next best programming language to learn has been with us forever – at least as far as the biosphere is concerned. DNA is the language of life and it's something we're realizing can be programmed, augmented and made greater than it already is. The future of medicine and how we view ourselves will be dependent on the next great artists… Biological artists will use the minutatie of DNA as their new pastels and paint brushes, the body as the ultimate canvas.
We may be a long way from tweaking the genomes of our new children and one day genetically engineering full grown adults, but with tools like CRISPR-Cas9 – we're on our way there. Currently bioengineers work in hospitals and build medical devices among other things. The field is as broad and varied as life's genome itself. Within the next ten years the job market is expected to grow by 7 percent.
Some people liken understanding how to code nowadays as being on par with literacy a thousand or so years ago. While we won't all need to be proficient in writing C++ and querying databases, the computer wizzes who can are the ones speaking the language of the computational zeitgeist.
There is a large need for information technology and software engineering related jobs. The foundations of our society are all online and connected. Core computational knowledge will be a necessity as we build new super computers and delve into the exciting world of quantum computing. Employment of software developers alone is projected to increase by 24 percent to the mid 2020s.
Signing of the Outerspace Treaty
As long as humanity exists there will be disputes. Lawyers are the ultimate arbiters of dispute between individuals, nationstates, and corporations. Space law is an exciting and growing new field. Diplomatic policy between the many new actors in space is a must if we're to live in a peaceful and prosperous new era.Right now the Space Treaty is our piece of old legislation that governs the great beyond. That was also written in a time when we knew nothing of our capabilities and desires to spread through the stars. These problems were reserved for far out science fiction writers, but not any longer. With NASA giving out space law grants to universities and Ronald Reagan-esque proclamations about the new Space Force coming from President Donald Trump, people are seriously thinking about our future in space. And for that, we'll always need more lawyers.
Nissan is developing technology that controls the car by reading the driver's brain waves.
It’s easy to see that the days of autonomous cars are nearly upon us, with a number of manufacturers making great strides in taking that wheel-turning and pedal-pushing away from error-prone and bored humans. But what if you could drive the car just by thinking about it? This is the promise of cutting-edge technology being developed by Nissan, which is unveiling the world’s first brain-to-vehicle tech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Nissan’s system “decodes” what the driver is thinking, anticipating turns and reactions to road conditions to improve the driving experience. The “B2V” system has the driver wear a skullcap that’s reading activity in the brain while transmitting instructions to steering, acceleration and braking systems.
Lucian Gheorghe, the researcher who leads the project for Nissan, explained that while the driver is still in control of the car, turning the wheel and hitting gas, the car uses readings combined with artificial intelligence to predict such movements, starting action 0.2 to 0.5 seconds earlier.
“We imagine a future where manual driving is still a value of society,” said Gheorghe. “Driving pleasure is something as humans we should not lose.”
Georghe, who has a doctorate in applied neural technology, sees this system as an enhancement of the driving experience. It will be relevant in a future where even with autonomous vehicles taking over, there will be situations when people will want to drive themselves.
“You are feeling either that you are a better driver or the car is more sporty and more responsive,” expounded Georghe. “Even in autonomous driving, we are not building boxes in which you are sleeping. We are building a positive-experience delivering vehicle.”
The tech should take another 5 to 10 years to become fully developed.
Want to learn more about Nissan’s brain-to-vehicle technology? Check out this video: