Tagged With futurism

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In the classic 1966 American science fiction film Fantastic Voyage, a submarine crew was miniaturised and injected into a body to fix a blood clot in the brain. That obviously isn't how future medical science is going to work, but the notion of creating microscopic machines to perform complex tasks is certainly on point. A recent advance, in which robots made from DNA were programmed to sort and deliver molecules to a specified location, now represents an important step in this futuristic direction.

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Last year, two data scientists from security firm ZeroFOX conducted an experiment to see who was better at getting Twitter users to click on malicious links, humans or an artificial intelligence. The researchers taught an AI to study the behaviour of social network users, and then design and implement its own phishing bait. In tests, the artificial hacker was substantially better than its human competitors, composing and distributing more phishing tweets than humans, and with a substantially better conversion rate.

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As we head deeper into the 21st century, the prospect of getting robots to do the dirty business of killing gets closer with each passing day. In Max Tegmark's new book, Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, the MIT physicist and founder of the Future of Life Institute contemplates this seemingly scifi possibility, weighing the potential benefits of autonomous machines in warfare with the tremendous risks. The ultimate challenge, he says, will be convincing world powers to pass on this game-changing technology.

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Homo sapiens have been around for at least a hundred thousand years, and civilisation for maybe a few thousand. These timescales are far longer than your minuscule lifespan, but given our 13 billion-year-old galaxy, they're shorter than a cosmic heartbeat. And unlike galaxies that require a major wallop to tear apart, humans are fragile things susceptible to disease, famine, war, meteors... really, we're quite pathetic.

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The new guy at work invites you over to his house. You feel uneasy. Sure, he's a hard worker, a fast typist, and his intense focus quickly made him an indispensable coworker. But his scarred face seems to betray some violent past. His measured speech seems manufactured. Still, you can't remember the last new friend you made, you have nothing to do, and so you accept the invite.

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Earlier this week, David Kenny, IBM Senior Vice President for Watson and Cloud, told the US Congress that Americans have nothing to fear from artificial intelligence, and that the prospects of technological unemployment and the rise of an "AI overlord" are pernicious myths. The remarks were as self-serving as they were reckless, revealing the startling degree to which IBM is willing to forfeit the future for the sake of the present.

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Rapid developments in brain-machine interfacing and neuroprosthetics are revolutionising the way we treat paralysed people, but the same technologies could eventually be put to more generalised use — a development that will turn many of us into veritable cyborgs. Before we get to that point, however, we'll need to make sure these neural devices are safe, secure, and as hacker-proof as possible.

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Last spring, John Zhang made headlines after his fertility clinic announced that for the first time a baby had been born using a new technique requiring three genetic parents. The baby's mother carried the genes for a fatal nervous system disorder called Leigh syndrome, but Zhang had been able to keep the disease from being inherited by her son by swapping in a donor's mitochondrial DNA, the teeny bit of DNA where Leigh syndrome is housed. Since the technique is illegal in the US, the baby had been born in Mexico, where, as Zhang explained in a comment he might live to regret, "there are no rules."

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According to High Score, the official high score for the Atari 2600 version of Ms Pac-Man belongs to player oyamafamily, with 266,360 points. Or at least it did, before an artificial intelligence developed by Microsoft achieved the maximum possible score for the game, 999,990.

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With each passing breakthrough in artificial intelligence, we're asking our machines to make increasingly complex and weighty decisions. The trouble is, AIs are starting to act beyond our levels of comprehension. In high frequency stock trading, for example, this had led to so-called flash crashes, in which algorithms make lightning-quick decisions for reasons we can't quite grasp. In an effort to bridge the growing gap between man and machine, the Pentagon is launching a new program to create machines that can explain their actions in a way we puny humans can understand.

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Films and TV shows like Blade Runner, Humans and Westworld, where highly advanced robots have no rights, trouble our conscience. They show us that our behaviours are not just harmful to robots — they also demean and diminish us as a species. We like to think we're better than the characters on the screen, and that when the time comes, we'll do the right thing, and treat our intelligent machines with a little more dignity and respect.

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An Italian neuroscientist who says he's planning to perform the world's first head transplant later this year has told a German magazine that he intends to thaw a cryogenically preserved brain and transplant it in a donor body within three years. It's a preposterous claim given the current limitations of medical science, and a complete misreading of how the fledgling cryonics industry works. It's also a significant credibility fail for a doctor who's already struggling to be taken seriously.

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Following a head injury, patients typically undergo a CT scan to rule out brain bleeding. A new head worn device that scans the brain's electrical patterns has shown tremendous promise in clinical trials, presenting an inexpensive way for physicians to make a potentially life-saving diagnosis.