Artificial general intelligence: The domain of the patient, philosophical coder

Sure, some expert-level knowledge is needed if you want to program artificial intelligence. But AI expert Ben Goertzel posits that you also need something that Guns N' Roses sang about: a lil' patience.

Ben Goertzel: My cousin who lives in Hong Kong is a game programmer, and he loves what I’m doing but he just tells me when we discuss it, “I need immediate gratification.” And he codes something and he sees a game character do something cool, right? And if you need that, if you really need to see something cool happen every day AGI is not for you. In AGI you may work six months and nothing interesting happens. And then something really interesting happens. So I think if someone doesn’t have that kind of stubborn, pigheaded persistence I will tend to employ them doing, for example, data analysis, because that gives immediate gratification. You get a data set from a customer, you run a machine learning algorithm on it and you get a result which is interesting. The customer is happy. Then you go on to the next data set.

And if you explain the different types of work available actually most people are pretty good at choosing what won’t drive them crazy. So some people are like “Yeah, I want to do stuff that seems cool every day.” And other people are like “Well, I really want to understand how thinking works. I want to understand how cognition and vision work together, and that’s much more interesting to me than applying an existing vision algorithm to solve someone’s problem.”

So I tend to throw the issue at the potential employee or volunteer themselves, and sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I trust them to know themselves better than I know them anyway.

There are many different types and levels of problems that one encounters in doing AI work, and there are sort of low-level algorithmic problems or software design problems which are solved via clever tricks. And then there are deeper problems, like how do you architect a perception system? How should perception and cognition work together in an AI system? If a system knows one language how do you leverage that knowledge to help it learn another language? I find personally with these deeper problems this is the kind of thing you solve while you were like walking the dog in the forest or taking a shower or driving down the highway or something.

And it seems to be that the people who make headway on these deeper problems have the personality type that carries the problem in their head all the time. Like you’ll think about this thing when you go to sleep, you’re still thinking about it when you woke up, and you just keep chewing on this issue a hundred times a day. It could be for days or weeks or years, or even decades. And then the solution pops up for you.

And not everyone has the inclination or personality to be obsessive at sort of keeping a problem like an egg in your mind, in your focus, until the solution hatches out. But that’s a particular cognitive style or habit or skill which I see in everyone I know who’s really making headway on the AGI problem.

Sure, some expert-level knowledge is needed if you want to program artificial intelligence. But AI expert Ben Goertzel posits that you also need something that Guns N' Roses sang about: a lil' patience. If you want instant gratification, this isn't the line of work for you. Ben's most recent book is AGI Revolution: An Inside View of the Rise of Artificial General Intelligence.

China's "artificial sun" sets new record for fusion power

China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

Credit: STR via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

The science of sex, love, attraction, and obsession

The symbol for love is the heart, but the brain may be more accurate.

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  • One of the problems with early-stage attraction, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher, is that it activates parts of the brain that are linked to drive, craving, obsession, and motivation, while other regions that deal with decision-making shut down.
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Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
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There never was a male fertility crisis

A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.

Sex & Relationships
  • A new review of a famous study on declining sperm counts finds several flaws.
  • The old report makes unfounded assumptions, has faulty data, and tends toward panic.
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