Pattie Maes: “next phase is about intelligence augmentation”

I attended a lecture by professor Pattie Maes of MIT Media Lab. She founded and directs the Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces research group. Some of her main talking points:

– The next phase in computing is about intelligence augmentation, by sensors, Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence.
– AR will “edit” our world in a smart way. For instance it will nudge us away from sugar if that is what we want. It will predict our behavior so that we can rectify it.
– One of the systems she discussed remembers who you shook hands with.
– She sees great future for health (mental and physical) applications – VR and AR. We’ll have tag along therapists.
– Pattie Maes is a big believer in glasses and lenses for later phase Augmented Reality. Apple will probably release a smartphone specially equipped for AR, but finally we’ll wear devices which will keep our hands free.
– People tend to be too optimistic about what exists now. In reality a lot of improvement is possible. Accept the future, we already carry digital augmentation with us but it can be made much better and more natural.
– Many concerns regarding smart glasses and AR can be solved with the right design choices. Which are those concerns? Privacy erosion, dependency, lack of understanding, lack of control, unequal access.

Will we be overtaken by our robotic AI Overlords? Pattie Maes says it was an error to talk about Artificial Intelligence while it’s more correct to talk about Artificial Pattern Recognition. This pattern recognition works increasingly well, but only for very specific activities. This so-called AI can not broaden its scope, generalize or be inspired by very different domains.

Become super-human or have a super-avatar, but can you afford it?

The US National Intelligence Council offers strategic analysis for the American intelligence community. This week they published the Global Trends 2030 report (pdf). They developed various scenarios, taking into account the emergence of a world where not one or two states dominate the world, but various states and non-state entities (a multipolar world). We risk scarcities of water, food and energy. The report also takes into consideration disruptive technological change such as robotics and 3D printing. There are some fascinating ideas about the augmented human – people who become super humans using prostheses, drugs and implants – possibly creating new dimensions of inequality and social tensions.

The report does not suggest one single scenario, but depicts four possible worlds – and the final outcome may very well be some combination of those worlds:
Stalled engines: in the most plausible worst-case scenario, the risks of interstate conflict increase. the Us draws inward and globalization stalls.
Fusion: in the most plausible best-case outcome, China and the Us collaborate on a range of issues, leading to broader global cooperation.
Gini-Out-of-the-Bottle: inequalities explode as some countries become big winners and others fail. inequalities within countries increase social tensions. Without completely disengaging, the Us is no longer the “global policeman.”
Non-state world: driven by new technologies, nonstate actors take the lead in confronting global challenges.

Even though the report does not study the very long term, there is this interesting passage about avatars:

As replacement limb technology advances, people may choose to enhance their physical selves as they do with cosmetic surgery today. Future retinal eye implants could enable night vision, and neuro-enhancements could provide superior memory recall or speed of thought. Neuro-pharmaceuticals will allow people to maintain concentration for longer periods of time or enhance their learning abilities. Augmented reality systems can provide enhanced experiences of real-world situations. Combined with advances in robotics, avatars could provide feedback in the form of sensors providing touch and smell as well as aural and visual information to the operator.

Some social and ethical considerations:

Owing to the high cost of human augmentation, it probably will be available in 15-20 years only to those who are able to pay for it. Such a situation
may lead to a two-tiered society of an enhanced and non-enhanced persons and may require regulation. In addition, the technology must be sufficiently
robust to prevent hacking and interference of human augmentation. Advances in synergistic and enabling technologies are necessary for improved practicality of human augmentation technologies. For example, improvements in battery life will dramatically improve the practicality of exoskeleton use. Progress in understanding human memory and brain functions will be critical to future brain-machine interfaces, while advances in flexible biocompatible electronics will enable better integration with the recipient of augmentations and recreate or enhance sensory experiences. Moral and ethical challenges to human augmentation are inevitable.

Read also: the official blog about the report.