What Went Wrong With AI?

David Eagleman: When I was a child growing up, I expected that we would have robots by this point, C-3P0, and we still don't. In fact, the smartest thing that we have is the Roomba vacuum cleaner, so that means that something went terribly wrong with AI. And it forces us to ask what went wrong because, essentially, we’ve been throwing the smartest people on the planet at that problem since the ‘60s and it’s been a failed problem. The answer, I think, clearly, is that we have to listen to what Mother Nature is doing. So since the ‘60s, people have thought, okay, look, there's all this wet biological gushy stuff, let’s put that aside and just figure out what would intelligence take, how could we just do this from scratch, and that hasn't gotten us anywhere. The game now is shifting to saying, "All right, how is Mother Nature accomplishing it?"

The reason AI got stuck is because programmers have been saying, "Look, how can we solve this part of the problem and then solve this little part of the problem and then this part of the problem?" So if you have a robot and you want it to pick up wooden blocks and stack them, programmers have traditionally tried, okay, let’s solve the, find the block problem, and then let’s, once we’ve done that, solve the pick up the block problem and then the stack the block problem and so on. And this sort of division of labor seems like a pretty good idea, but it’s never really gotten us anywhere. The difference with what Mother Nature does is she doesn't come up with solutions to problems and then check the box. The brain is an end product of a chronic process of reinvention that Mother Nature always does, so there's no single solution to anything. Instead, the brain is this collection of subpopulations that all solve problems in overlapping ways. There's no single solution. So, for example, the detection of motion by the visual system, there's not just one way that the brain does that. There are multiple ways that were invented at different points in evolutionary history and they all weigh in on the same problem using different mechanisms. The same with memory, we don't have a single memory system. There are lots of ways that memories get written in the brain.

 
If we want to solve the AI we have to do it the same that Mother Nature did, which is build a machine that runs on conflict, that runs on reinventing solutions and having overlapping solutions of the problem space. And that, I think, is our best hope for un-logjamming the field of artificial intelligence.

 
Directed/Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

We've been throwing the smartest people on the planet at the problem of artificial intelligence since the 1960s, and all we have to show for it is the Roomba vacuum cleaner.

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Public health crisis: Facebook ads misinform about HIV prevention drug

Facebook's misinformation isn't just a threat to democracy. It's endangering lives.

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  • Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada.
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LGBT groups are saying that Facebook is endangering lives by advertising misleading medical information pertaining to HIV patients.

The tech giant's laissez-faire ad policy has already been accused of threatening democracy by providing a platform for false political ads, and now policy could be fostering a major public-health concern.

LGBT groups take on Facebook’s ad policy

According to LGBT advocates, for the past six months Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada. The ads, which The Washington Post reports appear to have been purchased by personal-injury lawyers, claim that these medications threaten patients with serious side effects. According to LGBT organizations led by GLAAD, the ads have left some patients who are potentially at risk of contracting HIV scared to take preventative drugs, even though health officials and federal regulators say the drugs are safe.

LGBT groups like GLAAD, which regularly advises Facebook on LGBT issues, reached out to the company to have the ads taken down, saying they are false. Yet, the tech titan has refused to remove the content claiming that the ads fall within the parameters of its policy. Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns told The Post that the ads had not been rated false by independent fact-checkers, which include the Associated Press. But others are saying that Facebook's controversial approach to ads is creating a public-health crisis.

In an open letter to Facebook sent on Monday, GLAAD joined over 50 well-known LGBTQ groups including the Human Rights Campaign, the American Academy of HIV Medicine and the National Coalition for LGBT Health to publicly condemn the company for putting "real people's lives in imminent danger" by "convincing at-risk individuals to avoid PrEP, invariably leading to avoidable HIV infections."

What Facebook’s policy risks 

Of course, this is not the first time Facebook's policy has faced scrutiny when it comes to false or ambiguous information in its ads. Social media has been both a catalyst and conduit for the rapid-fire spread of misinformation to the world wide web. As lawmakers struggle to enforce order to cyberspace and its creations, Facebook has become a symbol of the threat the internet poses to our institutions and to public safety. For example, the company has refused to take down 2020 election ads, largely funded by the Trump campaign, that spew false information. For this reason, Facebook and other social media platforms present a serious risk to a fundamental necessity of American democracy, public access to truth.

But this latest scandal underlines how the misconstrued information that plagues the web can infect other, more intimate aspects of American lives. Facebook's handling of paid-for claims about the potential health risks of taking Truvada and other HIV medications threatens lives.

"Almost immediately we started hearing reports from front-line PrEP prescribers, clinics and public health officials around the country, saying we're beginning to hear from potential clients that they're scared of trying Truvada because they're seeing all these ads on their Facebook and Instagram feeds," said Peter Staley, a long-time AIDS activist who works with the PrEP4All Collaboration, to The Post.

Unregulated Surveillance Capitalism

To be fair, the distinction between true and false information can be muddy territory. Personal injury lawyers who represent HIV patients claim that the numbers show that the potential risks of medications such as Turvada and others that contain the ingredient antiretroviral tenofovir may exist. This is particularly of note when the medication is used as a treatment for those that already have HIV rather than prevention for those that do not. But the life-saving potential of the HIV medications are unequivocally real. The problem, as some LGBT advocates are claiming, is that the ads lacked vital nuance.

It also should be pointed out that Facebook has taken action against anti-vaccine content and other ads that pose threats to users. Still, the company's dubious policies clearly pose a big problem, and it has shown no signs of adjusting. But perhaps the underlying issue is the failure to regulate what social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff calls "surveillance capitalism" by which people's experiences, personal information, and characteristics become commodities. In this case, paid-for personal-injury legal ads that target users with certain, undisclosed characteristics. It's been said that you should be wary of what you get for free, because it means you've become the product. Facebook, after all, is a business with an end goal to maximize profits.

But why does a company have this kind of power over our lives? Americans and their legislators are ensnared in an existential predicament. Figure out how to regulate Facebook and be accused with endangering free speech, or leave the cyber business alone and risk the public's health going up for sale along with its government.