Tag Archives: Google

AI safety talks at Bletchley Park in November 2023

There’s a very good article about the upcoming AI (artificial intelligence) safety talks on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) news website (plus some juicy perhaps even gossipy news about who may not be attending the event) but first, here’s the August 24, 2023 UK government press release making the announcement,

Iconic Bletchley Park to host UK AI Safety Summit in early November [2023]

Major global event to take place on the 1st and 2nd of November.[2023]

– UK to host world first summit on artificial intelligence safety in November

– Talks will explore and build consensus on rapid, international action to advance safety at the frontier of AI technology

– Bletchley Park, one of the birthplaces of computer science, to host the summit

International governments, leading AI companies and experts in research will unite for crucial talks in November on the safe development and use of frontier AI technology, as the UK Government announces Bletchley Park as the location for the UK summit.

The major global event will take place on the 1st and 2nd November to consider the risks of AI, especially at the frontier of development, and discuss how they can be mitigated through internationally coordinated action. Frontier AI models hold enormous potential to power economic growth, drive scientific progress and wider public benefits, while also posing potential safety risks if not developed responsibly.

To be hosted at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, a significant location in the history of computer science development and once the home of British Enigma codebreaking – it will see coordinated action to agree a set of rapid, targeted measures for furthering safety in global AI use.

Preparations for the summit are already in full flow, with Matt Clifford and Jonathan Black recently appointed as the Prime Minister’s Representatives. Together they’ll spearhead talks and negotiations, as they rally leading AI nations and experts over the next three months to ensure the summit provides a platform for countries to work together on further developing a shared approach to agree the safety measures needed to mitigate the risks of AI.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:

“The UK has long been home to the transformative technologies of the future, so there is no better place to host the first ever global AI safety summit than at Bletchley Park this November.

To fully embrace the extraordinary opportunities of artificial intelligence, we must grip and tackle the risks to ensure it develops safely in the years ahead.

With the combined strength of our international partners, thriving AI industry and expert academic community, we can secure the rapid international action we need for the safe and responsible development of AI around the world.”

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said:

“International collaboration is the cornerstone of our approach to AI regulation, and we want the summit to result in leading nations and experts agreeing on a shared approach to its safe use.

The UK is consistently recognised as a world leader in AI and we are well placed to lead these discussions. The location of Bletchley Park as the backdrop will reaffirm our historic leadership in overseeing the development of new technologies.

AI is already improving lives from new innovations in healthcare to supporting efforts to tackle climate change, and November’s summit will make sure we can all realise the technology’s huge benefits safely and securely for decades to come.”

The summit will also build on ongoing work at international forums including the OECD, Global Partnership on AI, Council of Europe, and the UN and standards-development organisations, as well as the recently agreed G7 Hiroshima AI Process.

The UK boasts strong credentials as a world leader in AI. The technology employs over 50,000 people, directly supports one of the Prime Minister’s five priorities by contributing £3.7 billion to the economy, and is the birthplace of leading AI companies such as Google DeepMind. It has also invested more on AI safety research than any other nation, backing the creation of the Foundation Model Taskforce with an initial £100 million.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said:

“No country will be untouched by AI, and no country alone will solve the challenges posed by this technology. In our interconnected world, we must have an international approach.

The origins of modern AI can be traced back to Bletchley Park. Now, it will also be home to the global effort to shape the responsible use of AI.”

Bletchley Park’s role in hosting the summit reflects the UK’s proud tradition of being at the frontier of new technology advancements. Since Alan Turing’s celebrated work some eight decades ago, computing and computer science have become fundamental pillars of life both in the UK and across the globe.

Iain Standen, CEO of the Bletchley Park Trust, said:

“Bletchley Park Trust is immensely privileged to have been chosen as the venue for the first major international summit on AI safety this November, and we look forward to welcoming the world to our historic site.

It is fitting that the very spot where leading minds harnessed emerging technologies to influence the successful outcome of World War 2 will, once again, be the crucible for international co-ordinated action.

We are incredibly excited to be providing the stage for discussions on global safety standards, which will help everyone manage and monitor the risks of artificial intelligence.”

The roots of AI can be traced back to the leading minds who worked at Bletchley during World War 2, with codebreakers Jack Good and Donald Michie among those who went on to write extensive works on the technology. In November [2023], it will once again take centre stage as the international community comes together to agree on important guardrails which ensure the opportunities of AI can be realised, and its risks safely managed.

The announcement follows the UK government allocating £13 million to revolutionise healthcare research through AI, unveiled last week. The funding supports a raft of new projects including transformations to brain tumour surgeries, new approaches to treating chronic nerve pain, and a system to predict a patient’s risk of developing future health problems based on existing conditions.

Tom Gerken’s August 24, 2023 BBC news article (an analysis by Zoe Kleinman follows as part of the article) fills in a few blanks, Note: Links have been removed,

World leaders will meet with AI companies and experts on 1 and 2 November for the discussions.

The global talks aim to build an international consensus on the future of AI.

The summit will take place at Bletchley Park, where Alan Turing, one of the pioneers of modern computing, worked during World War Two.

It is unknown which world leaders will be invited to the event, with a particular question mark over whether the Chinese government or tech giant Baidu will be in attendance.

The BBC has approached the government for comment.

The summit will address how the technology can be safely developed through “internationally co-ordinated action” but there has been no confirmation of more detailed topics.

It comes after US tech firm Palantir rejected calls to pause the development of AI in June, with its boss Alex Karp saying it was only those with “no products” who wanted a pause.

And in July [2023], children’s charity the Internet Watch Foundation called on Mr Sunak to tackle AI-generated child sexual abuse imagery, which it says is on the rise.

Kleinman’s analysis includes this, Note: A link has been removed,

Will China be represented? Currently there is a distinct east/west divide in the AI world but several experts argue this is a tech that transcends geopolitics. Some say a UN-style regulator would be a better alternative to individual territories coming up with their own rules.

If the government can get enough of the right people around the table in early November [2023], this is perhaps a good subject for debate.

Three US AI giants – OpenAI, Anthropic and Palantir – have all committed to opening London headquarters.

But there are others going in the opposite direction – British DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman chose to locate his new AI company InflectionAI in California. He told the BBC the UK needed to cultivate a more risk-taking culture in order to truly become an AI superpower.

Many of those who worked at Bletchley Park decoding messages during WW2 went on to write and speak about AI in later years, including codebreakers Irving John “Jack” Good and Donald Michie.

Soon after the War, [Alan] Turing proposed the imitation game – later dubbed the “Turing test” – which seeks to identify whether a machine can behave in a way indistinguishable from a human.

There is a Bletchley Park website, which sells tickets for tours.

Insight into political jockeying (i.e., some juicy news bits)

This has recently been reported by BBC, from an October 17 (?). 2023 news article by Jessica Parker & Zoe Kleinman on BBC news online,

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz may turn down his invitation to a major UK summit on artificial intelligence, the BBC understands.

While no guest list has been published of an expected 100 participants, some within the sector say it’s unclear if the event will attract top leaders.

A government source insisted the summit is garnering “a lot of attention” at home and overseas.

The two-day meeting is due to bring together leading politicians as well as independent experts and senior execs from the tech giants, who are mainly US based.

The first day will bring together tech companies and academics for a discussion chaired by the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan.

The second day is set to see a “small group” of people, including international government figures, in meetings run by PM Rishi Sunak.

Though no final decision has been made, it is now seen as unlikely that the German Chancellor will attend.

That could spark concerns of a “domino effect” with other world leaders, such as the French President Emmanuel Macron, also unconfirmed.

Government sources say there are heads of state who have signalled a clear intention to turn up, and the BBC understands that high-level representatives from many US-based tech giants are going.

The foreign secretary confirmed in September [2023] that a Chinese representative has been invited, despite controversy.

Some MPs within the UK’s ruling Conservative Party believe China should be cut out of the conference after a series of security rows.

It is not known whether there has been a response to the invitation.

China is home to a huge AI sector and has already created its own set of rules to govern responsible use of the tech within the country.

The US, a major player in the sector and the world’s largest economy, will be represented by Vice-President Kamala Harris.

Britain is hoping to position itself as a key broker as the world wrestles with the potential pitfalls and risks of AI.

However, Berlin is thought to want to avoid any messy overlap with G7 efforts, after the group of leading democratic countries agreed to create an international code of conduct.

Germany is also the biggest economy in the EU – which is itself aiming to finalise its own landmark AI Act by the end of this year.

It includes grading AI tools depending on how significant they are, so for example an email filter would be less tightly regulated than a medical diagnosis system.

The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected at next month’s summit, while it is possible Berlin could send a senior government figure such as its vice chancellor, Robert Habeck.

A source from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology said: “This is the first time an international summit has focused on frontier AI risks and it is garnering a lot of attention at home and overseas.

“It is usual not to confirm senior attendance at major international events until nearer the time, for security reasons.”

Fascinating, eh?

The cost of building ChatGPT

After seeing the description for Laura U. Marks’s recent work ‘Streaming Carbon Footprint’ (in my October 13, 2023 posting about upcoming ArtSci Salon events in Toronto), where she focuses on the environmental impact of streaming media and digital art, I was reminded of some September 2023 news.

A September 9, 2023 news item (an Associated Press article by Matt O’Brien and Hannah Fingerhut) on phys.org and also published September 12, 2023 on the Iowa Public Radio website, describe an unexpected cost for building ChatGPT and other AI agents, Note: Links have been removed,

The cost of building an artificial intelligence product like ChatGPT can be hard to measure.

But one thing Microsoft-backed OpenAI needed for its technology was plenty of water [emphases mine], pulled from the watershed of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers in central Iowa to cool a powerful supercomputer as it helped teach its AI systems how to mimic human writing.

As they race to capitalize on a craze for generative AI, leading tech developers including Microsoft, OpenAI and Google have acknowledged that growing demand for their AI tools carries hefty costs, from expensive semiconductors to an increase in water consumption.

But they’re often secretive about the specifics. Few people in Iowa knew about its status as a birthplace of OpenAI’s most advanced large language model, GPT-4, before a top Microsoft executive said in a speech it “was literally made next to cornfields west of Des Moines.”

In its latest environmental report, Microsoft disclosed that its global water consumption spiked 34% from 2021 to 2022 (to nearly 1.7 billion gallons , or more than 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools), a sharp increase compared to previous years that outside researchers tie to its AI research. [emphases mine]

“It’s fair to say the majority of the growth is due to AI,” including “its heavy investment in generative AI and partnership with OpenAI,” said Shaolei Ren, [emphasis mine] a researcher at the University of California, Riverside who has been trying to calculate the environmental impact of generative AI products such as ChatGPT.

If you have the time, do read the O’Brien and Fingerhut article in it entirety. (Later in this post, I have a citation for and a link to a paper by Ren.)

Jason Clayworth’s September 18, 2023 article for AXIOS describes the issue from the Iowan perspective, Note: Links have been removed,

Future data center projects in West Des Moines will only be considered if Microsoft can implement technology that can “significantly reduce peak water usage,” the Associated Press reports.

Why it matters: Microsoft’s five WDM data centers — the “epicenter for advancing AI” — represent more than $5 billion in investments in the last 15 years.

Yes, but: They consumed as much as 11.5 million gallons of water a month for cooling, or about 6% of WDM’s total usage during peak summer usage during the last two years, according to information from West Des Moines Water Works.

This information becomes more intriguing (and disturbing) after reading a February 10, 2023 article for the World Economic Forum titled ‘This is why we can’t dismiss water scarcity in the US‘ by James Rees and/or an August 11, 2020 article ‘Why is America running out of water?‘ by Jon Heggie published by the National Geographic, which is a piece of paid content. Note: Despite the fact that it’s sponsored by Finish Dish Detergent, the research in Heggie’s article looks solid.

From Heggie’s article, Note: Links have been removed,

In March 2019, storm clouds rolled across Oklahoma; rain swept down the gutters of New York; hail pummeled northern Florida; floodwaters forced evacuations in Missouri; and a blizzard brought travel to a stop in South Dakota. Across much of America, it can be easy to assume that we have more than enough water. But that same a month, as storms battered the country, a government-backed report issued a stark warning: America is running out of water.

As the U.S. water supply decreases, demand is set to increase. On average, each American uses 80 to 100 gallons of water every day, with the nation’s estimated total daily usage topping 345 billion gallons—enough to sink the state of Rhode Island under a foot of water. By 2100 the U.S. population will have increased by nearly 200 million, with a total population of some 514 million people. Given that we use water for everything, the simple math is that more people mean more water stress across the country.

And we are already tapping into our reserves. Aquifers, porous rocks and sediment that store vast volumes of water underground, are being drained. Nearly 165 million Americans rely on groundwater for drinking water, farmers use it for irrigation―37 percent of our total water usage is for agriculture—and industry needs it for manufacturing. Groundwater is being pumped faster than it can be naturally replenished. The Central Valley Aquifer in California underlies one of the nation’s most agriculturally productive regions, but it is in drastic decline and has lost about ten cubic miles of water in just four years.

Decreasing supply and increasing demand are creating a perfect water storm, the effects of which are already being felt. The Colorado River carved its way 1,450 miles from the Rockies to the Gulf of California for millions of years, but now no longer reaches the sea. In 2018, parts of the Rio Grande recorded their lowest water levels ever; Arizona essentially lives under permanent drought conditions; and in South Florida’s freshwater aquifers are increasingly susceptible to salt water intrusion due to over-extraction.

The focus is on individual use of water and Heggie ends his article by suggesting we use less,

… And every American can save more water at home in multiple ways, from taking shorter showers to not rinsing dishes under a running faucet before loading them into a dishwasher, a practice that wastes around 20 gallons of water for each load. …

As an advertising pitch goes, this is fairly subtle as there’s no branding in the article itself and it is almost wholly informational.

Attempts to stave off water shortages as noted in Heggie’s and other articles include groundwater pumping both for individual use and industrial use. This practice has had an unexpected impact according to a June 16, 2023 article by Warren Cornwall for Science (magazine),

While spinning on its axis, Earth wobbles like an off-kilter top. Sloshing molten iron in Earth’s core, melting ice, ocean currents, and even hurricanes can all cause the poles to wander. Now, scientists have found that a significant amount of the polar drift results from human activity: pumping groundwater for drinking and irrigation.

“The very way the planet wobbles is impacted by our activities,” says Surendra Adhikari, a geophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and an expert on Earth’s rotation who was not involved in the study. “It is, in a way, mind boggling.”

Clark R. Wilson, a geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin, and his colleagues thought the removal of tens of gigatons of groundwater each year might affect the drift. But they knew it could not be the only factor. “There’s a lot of pieces that go into the final budget for causing polar drift,” Wilson says.

The scientists built a model of the polar wander, accounting for factors such as reservoirs filling because of new dams and ice sheets melting, to see how well they explained the polar movements observed between 1993 and 2010. During that time, satellite measurements were precise enough to detect a shift in the poles as small as a few millimeters.

Dams and ice changes were not enough to match the observed polar motion. But when the researchers also put in 2150 gigatons of groundwater that hydrologic models estimate were pumped between 1993 and 2010, the predicted polar motion aligned much more closely with observations. Wilson and his colleagues conclude that the redistribution of that water weight to the world’s oceans has caused Earth’s poles to shift nearly 80 centimeters during that time. In fact, groundwater removal appears to have played a bigger role in that period than the release of meltwater from ice in either Greenland or Antarctica, the scientists reported Thursday [June 15, 2023] in Geophysical Research Letters.

The new paper helps confirm that groundwater depletion added approximately 6 millimeters to global sea level rise between 1993 and 2010. “I was very happy” that this new method matched other estimates, Seo [Ki-Weon Seo geophysicist at Seoul National University and the study’s lead author] says. Because detailed astronomical measurements of the polar axis location go back to the end of the 19th century, polar drift could enable Seo to trace the human impact on the planet’s water over the past century.

Two papers: environmental impact from AI and groundwater pumping wobbles poles

I have two links and citations for Ren’s paper on AI and its environmental impact,

Towards Environmentally Equitable AI via Geographical Load Balancing by Pengfei Li, Jianyi Yang, Adam Wierman, Shaolei Ren. Subjects: Artificial Intelligence (cs.AI); Computers and Society (cs.CY) Cite as: arXiv:2307.05494 [cs.AI] (or arXiv:2307.05494v1 [cs.AI] for this version) DOI: https://doi.org/10.48550/arXiv.2307.05494 Submitted June 20, 2023

Towards Environmentally Equitable AI via Geographical Load Balancing by Li, Pengfei; Yang, Jianyi; Wierman, Adam; Ren, Shaolei. UC Riverside. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/79c880vf Publication date: 2023-06-27

Both links offer open access to the paper. Should you be interested in more, you can find Shaolei Ren’s website here.

Now for the wobbling poles,

Drift of Earth’s Pole Confirms Groundwater Depletion as a Significant Contributor to Global Sea Level Rise 1993–2010 by Ki-Weon Seo, Dongryeol Ryu, Jooyoung Eom, Taewhan Jeon, Jae-Seung Kim, Kookhyoun Youm, Jianli Chen, Clark R. Wilson. Geophysical Research Letters Volume 50, Issue 12, 28 June 2023 e2023GL103509 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1029/2023GL103509 First published online: 15 June 2023

This paper too is open access.

Non-human authors (ChatGPT or others) of scientific and medical studies and the latest AI panic!!!

It’s fascinating to see all the current excitement (distressed and/or enthusiastic) around the act of writing and artificial intelligence. Easy to forget that it’s not new. First, the ‘non-human authors’ and then the panic(s). *What follows the ‘nonhuman authors’ is essentially a survey of situation/panic.*

How to handle non-human authors (ChatGPT and other AI agents)—the medical edition

The first time I wrote about the incursion of robots or artificial intelligence into the field of writing was in a July 16, 2014 posting titled “Writing and AI or is a robot writing this blog?” ChatGPT (then known as GPT-2) first made its way onto this blog in a February 18, 2019 posting titled “AI (artificial intelligence) text generator, too dangerous to release?

The folks at the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) have recently adopted a pragmatic approach to the possibility of nonhuman authors of scientific and medical papers, from a January 31, 2022 JAMA editorial,

Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to help authors improve the preparation and quality of their manuscripts and published articles are rapidly increasing in number and sophistication. These include tools to assist with writing, grammar, language, references, statistical analysis, and reporting standards. Editors and publishers also use AI-assisted tools for myriad purposes, including to screen submissions for problems (eg, plagiarism, image manipulation, ethical issues), triage submissions, validate references, edit, and code content for publication in different media and to facilitate postpublication search and discoverability..1

In November 2022, OpenAI released a new open source, natural language processing tool called ChatGPT.2,3 ChatGPT is an evolution of a chatbot that is designed to simulate human conversation in response to prompts or questions (GPT stands for “generative pretrained transformer”). The release has prompted immediate excitement about its many potential uses4 but also trepidation about potential misuse, such as concerns about using the language model to cheat on homework assignments, write student essays, and take examinations, including medical licensing examinations.5 In January 2023, Nature reported on 2 preprints and 2 articles published in the science and health fields that included ChatGPT as a bylined author.6 Each of these includes an affiliation for ChatGPT, and 1 of the articles includes an email address for the nonhuman “author.” According to Nature, that article’s inclusion of ChatGPT in the author byline was an “error that will soon be corrected.”6 However, these articles and their nonhuman “authors” have already been indexed in PubMed and Google Scholar.

Nature has since defined a policy to guide the use of large-scale language models in scientific publication, which prohibits naming of such tools as a “credited author on a research paper” because “attribution of authorship carries with it accountability for the work, and AI tools cannot take such responsibility.”7 The policy also advises researchers who use these tools to document this use in the Methods or Acknowledgment sections of manuscripts.7 Other journals8,9 and organizations10 are swiftly developing policies that ban inclusion of these nonhuman technologies as “authors” and that range from prohibiting the inclusion of AI-generated text in submitted work8 to requiring full transparency, responsibility, and accountability for how such tools are used and reported in scholarly publication.9,10 The International Conference on Machine Learning, which issues calls for papers to be reviewed and discussed at its conferences, has also announced a new policy: “Papers that include text generated from a large-scale language model (LLM) such as ChatGPT are prohibited unless the produced text is presented as a part of the paper’s experimental analysis.”11 The society notes that this policy has generated a flurry of questions and that it plans “to investigate and discuss the impact, both positive and negative, of LLMs on reviewing and publishing in the field of machine learning and AI” and will revisit the policy in the future.11

This is a link to and a citation for the JAMA editorial,

Nonhuman “Authors” and Implications for the Integrity of Scientific Publication and Medical Knowledge by Annette Flanagin, Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, Michael Berkwits, Stacy L. Christiansen. JAMA. 2023;329(8):637-639. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.1344

The editorial appears to be open access.

ChatGPT in the field of education

Dr. Andrew Maynard (scientist, author, and professor of Advanced Technology Transitions in the Arizona State University [ASU] School for the Future if Innovation in Society and founder of the ASU Future of Being Human initiative and Director of the ASU Risk Innovation Nexus) also takes a pragmatic approach in a March 14, 2023 posting on his eponymous blog,

Like many of my colleagues, I’ve been grappling with how ChatGPT and other Large Language Models (LLMs) are impacting teaching and education — especially at the undergraduate level.

We’re already seeing signs of the challenges here as a growing divide emerges between LLM-savvy students who are experimenting with novel ways of using (and abusing) tools like ChatGPT, and educators who are desperately trying to catch up. As a result, educators are increasingly finding themselves unprepared and poorly equipped to navigate near-real-time innovations in how students are using these tools. And this is only exacerbated where their knowledge of what is emerging is several steps behind that of their students.

To help address this immediate need, a number of colleagues and I compiled a practical set of Frequently Asked Questions on ChatGPT in the classroom. These covers the basics of what ChatGPT is, possible concerns over use by students, potential creative ways of using the tool to enhance learning, and suggestions for class-specific guidelines.

Dr. Maynard goes on to offer the FAQ/practical guide here. Prior to issuing the ‘guide’, he wrote a December 8, 2022 essay on Medium titled “I asked Open AI’s ChatGPT about responsible innovation. This is what I got.”

Crawford Kilian, a longtime educator, author, and contributing editor to The Tyee, expresses measured enthusiasm for the new technology (as does Dr. Maynard), in a December 13, 2022 article for thetyee.ca, Note: Links have been removed,

ChatGPT, its makers tell us, is still in beta form. Like a million other new users, I’ve been teaching it (tuition-free) so its answers will improve. It’s pretty easy to run a tutorial: once you’ve created an account, you’re invited to ask a question or give a command. Then you watch the reply, popping up on the screen at the speed of a fast and very accurate typist.

Early responses to ChatGPT have been largely Luddite: critics have warned that its arrival means the end of high school English, the demise of the college essay and so on. But remember that the Luddites were highly skilled weavers who commanded high prices for their products; they could see that newfangled mechanized looms would produce cheap fabrics that would push good weavers out of the market. ChatGPT, with sufficient tweaks, could do just that to educators and other knowledge workers.

Having spent 40 years trying to teach my students how to write, I have mixed feelings about this prospect. But it wouldn’t be the first time that a technological advancement has resulted in the atrophy of a human mental skill.

Writing arguably reduced our ability to memorize — and to speak with memorable and persuasive coherence. …

Writing and other technological “advances” have made us what we are today — powerful, but also powerfully dangerous to ourselves and our world. If we can just think through the implications of ChatGPT, we may create companions and mentors that are not so much demonic as the angels of our better nature.

More than writing: emergent behaviour

The ChatGPT story extends further than writing and chatting. From a March 6, 2023 article by Stephen Ornes for Quanta Magazine, Note: Links have been removed,

What movie do these emojis describe?

That prompt was one of 204 tasks chosen last year to test the ability of various large language models (LLMs) — the computational engines behind AI chatbots such as ChatGPT. The simplest LLMs produced surreal responses. “The movie is a movie about a man who is a man who is a man,” one began. Medium-complexity models came closer, guessing The Emoji Movie. But the most complex model nailed it in one guess: Finding Nemo.

“Despite trying to expect surprises, I’m surprised at the things these models can do,” said Ethan Dyer, a computer scientist at Google Research who helped organize the test. It’s surprising because these models supposedly have one directive: to accept a string of text as input and predict what comes next, over and over, based purely on statistics. Computer scientists anticipated that scaling up would boost performance on known tasks, but they didn’t expect the models to suddenly handle so many new, unpredictable ones.

“That language models can do these sort of things was never discussed in any literature that I’m aware of,” said Rishi Bommasani, a computer scientist at Stanford University. Last year, he helped compile a list of dozens of emergent behaviors [emphasis mine], including several identified in Dyer’s project. That list continues to grow.

Now, researchers are racing not only to identify additional emergent abilities but also to figure out why and how they occur at all — in essence, to try to predict unpredictability. Understanding emergence could reveal answers to deep questions around AI and machine learning in general, like whether complex models are truly doing something new or just getting really good at statistics. It could also help researchers harness potential benefits and curtail emergent risks.

Biologists, physicists, ecologists and other scientists use the term “emergent” to describe self-organizing, collective behaviors that appear when a large collection of things acts as one. Combinations of lifeless atoms give rise to living cells; water molecules create waves; murmurations of starlings swoop through the sky in changing but identifiable patterns; cells make muscles move and hearts beat. Critically, emergent abilities show up in systems that involve lots of individual parts. But researchers have only recently been able to document these abilities in LLMs as those models have grown to enormous sizes.

But the debut of LLMs also brought something truly unexpected. Lots of somethings. With the advent of models like GPT-3, which has 175 billion parameters — or Google’s PaLM, which can be scaled up to 540 billion — users began describing more and more emergent behaviors. One DeepMind engineer even reported being able to convince ChatGPT that it was a Linux terminal and getting it to run some simple mathematical code to compute the first 10 prime numbers. Remarkably, it could finish the task faster than the same code running on a real Linux machine.

As with the movie emoji task, researchers had no reason to think that a language model built to predict text would convincingly imitate a computer terminal. Many of these emergent behaviors illustrate “zero-shot” or “few-shot” learning, which describes an LLM’s ability to solve problems it has never — or rarely — seen before. This has been a long-time goal in artificial intelligence research, Ganguli [Deep Ganguli, a computer scientist at the AI startup Anthropic] said. Showing that GPT-3 could solve problems without any explicit training data in a zero-shot setting, he said, “led me to drop what I was doing and get more involved.”

There is an obvious problem with asking these models to explain themselves: They are notorious liars. [emphasis mine] “We’re increasingly relying on these models to do basic work,” Ganguli said, “but I do not just trust these. I check their work.” As one of many amusing examples, in February [2023] Google introduced its AI chatbot, Bard. The blog post announcing the new tool shows Bard making a factual error.

If you have time, I recommend reading Omes’s March 6, 2023 article.

The panic

Perhaps not entirely unrelated to current developments, there was this announcement in a May 1, 2023 article by Hannah Alberga for CTV (Canadian Television Network) news, Note: Links have been removed,

Toronto’s pioneer of artificial intelligence quits Google to openly discuss dangers of AI

Geoffrey Hinton, professor at the University of Toronto and the “godfather” of deep learning – a field of artificial intelligence that mimics the human brain – announced his departure from the company on Monday [May 1, 2023] citing the desire to freely discuss the implications of deep learning and artificial intelligence, and the possible consequences if it were utilized by “bad actors.”

Hinton, a British-Canadian computer scientist, is best-known for a series of deep neural network breakthroughs that won him, Yann LeCun and Yoshua Bengio the 2018 Turing Award, known as the Nobel Prize of computing. 

Hinton has been invested in the now-hot topic of artificial intelligence since its early stages. In 1970, he got a Bachelor of Arts in experimental psychology from Cambridge, followed by his Ph.D. in artificial intelligence in Edinburgh, U.K. in 1978.

He joined Google after spearheading a major breakthrough with two of his graduate students at the University of Toronto in 2012, in which the team uncovered and built a new method of artificial intelligence: neural networks. The team’s first neural network was  incorporated and sold to Google for $44 million.

Neural networks are a method of deep learning that effectively teaches computers how to learn the way humans do by analyzing data, paving the way for machines to classify objects and understand speech recognition.

There’s a bit more from Hinton in a May 3, 2023 article by Sheena Goodyear for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) radio programme, As It Happens (the 10 minute radio interview is embedded in the article), Note: A link has been removed,

There was a time when Geoffrey Hinton thought artificial intelligence would never surpass human intelligence — at least not within our lifetimes.

Nowadays, he’s not so sure.

“I think that it’s conceivable that this kind of advanced intelligence could just take over from us,” the renowned British-Canadian computer scientist told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. “It would mean the end of people.”

For the last decade, he [Geoffrey Hinton] divided his career between teaching at the University of Toronto and working for Google’s deep-learning artificial intelligence team. But this week, he announced his resignation from Google in an interview with the New York Times.

Now Hinton is speaking out about what he fears are the greatest dangers posed by his life’s work, including governments using AI to manipulate elections or create “robot soldiers.”

But other experts in the field of AI caution against his visions of a hypothetical dystopian future, saying they generate unnecessary fear, distract from the very real and immediate problems currently posed by AI, and allow bad actors to shirk responsibility when they wield AI for nefarious purposes. 

Ivana Bartoletti, founder of the Women Leading in AI Network, says dwelling on dystopian visions of an AI-led future can do us more harm than good. 

“It’s important that people understand that, to an extent, we are at a crossroads,” said Bartoletti, chief privacy officer at the IT firm Wipro.

“My concern about these warnings, however, is that we focus on the sort of apocalyptic scenario, and that takes us away from the risks that we face here and now, and opportunities to get it right here and now.”

Ziv Epstein, a PhD candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies the impacts of technology on society, says the problems posed by AI are very real, and he’s glad Hinton is “raising the alarm bells about this thing.”

“That being said, I do think that some of these ideas that … AI supercomputers are going to ‘wake up’ and take over, I personally believe that these stories are speculative at best and kind of represent sci-fi fantasy that can monger fear” and distract from more pressing issues, he said.

He especially cautions against language that anthropomorphizes — or, in other words, humanizes — AI.

“It’s absolutely possible I’m wrong. We’re in a period of huge uncertainty where we really don’t know what’s going to happen,” he [Hinton] said.

Don Pittis in his May 4, 2022 business analysis for CBC news online offers a somewhat jaundiced view of Hinton’s concern regarding AI, Note: Links have been removed,

As if we needed one more thing to terrify us, the latest warning from a University of Toronto scientist considered by many to be the founding intellect of artificial intelligence, adds a new layer of dread.

Others who have warned in the past that thinking machines are a threat to human existence seem a little miffed with the rock-star-like media coverage Geoffrey Hinton, billed at a conference this week as the Godfather of AI, is getting for what seems like a last minute conversion. Others say Hinton’s authoritative voice makes a difference.

Not only did Hinton tell an audience of experts at Wednesday’s [May 3, 2023] EmTech Digital conference that humans will soon be supplanted by AI — “I think it’s serious and fairly close.” — he said that due to national and business competition, there is no obvious way to prevent it.

“What we want is some way of making sure that even if they’re smarter than us, they’re going to do things that are beneficial,” said Hinton on Wednesday [May 3, 2023] as he explained his change of heart in detailed technical terms. 

“But we need to try and do that in a world where there’s bad actors who want to build robot soldiers that kill people and it seems very hard to me.”

“I wish I had a nice and simple solution I could push, but I don’t,” he said. “It’s not clear there is a solution.”

So when is all this happening?

“In a few years time they may be significantly more intelligent than people,” he told Nil Köksal on CBC Radio’s As It Happens on Wednesday [May 3, 2023].

While he may be late to the party, Hinton’s voice adds new clout to growing anxiety that artificial general intelligence, or AGI, has now joined climate change and nuclear Armageddon as ways for humans to extinguish themselves.

But long before that final day, he worries that the new technology will soon begin to strip away jobs and lead to a destabilizing societal gap between rich and poor that current politics will be unable to solve.

The EmTech Digital conference is a who’s who of AI business and academia, fields which often overlap. Most other participants at the event were not there to warn about AI like Hinton, but to celebrate the explosive growth of AI research and business.

As one expert I spoke to pointed out, the growth in AI is exponential and has been for a long time. But even knowing that, the increase in the dollar value of AI to business caught the sector by surprise.

Eight years ago when I wrote about the expected increase in AI business, I quoted the market intelligence group Tractica that AI spending would “be worth more than $40 billion in the coming decade,” which sounded like a lot at the time. It appears that was an underestimate.

“The global artificial intelligence market size was valued at $428 billion U.S. in 2022,” said an updated report from Fortune Business Insights. “The market is projected to grow from $515.31 billion U.S. in 2023.”  The estimate for 2030 is more than $2 trillion. 

This week the new Toronto AI company Cohere, where Hinton has a stake of his own, announced it was “in advanced talks” to raise $250 million. The Canadian media company Thomson Reuters said it was planning “a deeper investment in artificial intelligence.” IBM is expected to “pause hiring for roles that could be replaced with AI.” The founders of Google DeepMind and LinkedIn have launched a ChatGPT competitor called Pi.

And that was just this week.

“My one hope is that, because if we allow it to take over it will be bad for all of us, we could get the U.S. and China to agree, like we did with nuclear weapons,” said Hinton. “We’re all the in same boat with respect to existential threats, so we all ought to be able to co-operate on trying to stop it.”

Interviewer and moderator Will Douglas Heaven, an editor at MIT Technology Review finished Hinton’s sentence for him: “As long as we can make some money on the way.”

Hinton has attracted some criticism himself. Wilfred Chan writing for Fast Company has two articles, “‘I didn’t see him show up’: Ex-Googlers blast ‘AI godfather’ Geoffrey Hinton’s silence on fired AI experts” on May 5, 2023, Note: Links have been removed,

Geoffrey Hinton, the 75-year-old computer scientist known as the “Godfather of AI,” made headlines this week after resigning from Google to sound the alarm about the technology he helped create. In a series of high-profile interviews, the machine learning pioneer has speculated that AI will surpass humans in intelligence and could even learn to manipulate or kill people on its own accord.

But women who for years have been speaking out about AI’s problems—even at the expense of their jobs—say Hinton’s alarmism isn’t just opportunistic but also overshadows specific warnings about AI’s actual impacts on marginalized people.

“It’s disappointing to see this autumn-years redemption tour [emphasis mine] from someone who didn’t really show up” for other Google dissenters, says Meredith Whittaker, president of the Signal Foundation and an AI researcher who says she was pushed out of Google in 2019 in part over her activism against the company’s contract to build machine vision technology for U.S. military drones. (Google has maintained that Whittaker chose to resign.)

Another prominent ex-Googler, Margaret Mitchell, who co-led the company’s ethical AI team, criticized Hinton for not denouncing Google’s 2020 firing of her coleader Timnit Gebru, a leading researcher who had spoken up about AI’s risks for women and people of color.

“This would’ve been a moment for Dr. Hinton to denormalize the firing of [Gebru],” Mitchell tweeted on Monday. “He did not. This is how systemic discrimination works.”

Gebru, who is Black, was sacked in 2020 after refusing to scrap a research paper she coauthored about the risks of large language models to multiply discrimination against marginalized people. …

… An open letter in support of Gebru was signed by nearly 2,700 Googlers in 2020, but Hinton wasn’t one of them. 

Instead, Hinton has used the spotlight to downplay Gebru’s voice. In an appearance on CNN Tuesday [May 2, 2023], for example, he dismissed a question from Jake Tapper about whether he should have stood up for Gebru, saying her ideas “aren’t as existentially serious as the idea of these things getting more intelligent than us and taking over.” [emphasis mine]

Gebru has been mentioned here a few times. She’s mentioned in passing in a June 23, 2022 posting “Racist and sexist robots have flawed AI” and in a little more detail in an August 30, 2022 posting “Should AI algorithms get patents for their inventions and is anyone talking about copyright for texts written by AI algorithms?” scroll down to the ‘Consciousness and ethical AI’ subhead

Chan has another Fast Company article investigating AI issues also published on May 5, 2023, “Researcher Meredith Whittaker says AI’s biggest risk isn’t ‘consciousness’—it’s the corporations that control them.”

The last two existential AI panics

The term “autumn-years redemption tour”is striking and while the reference to age could be viewed as problematic, it also hints at the money, honours, and acknowledgement that Hinton has enjoyed as an eminent scientist. I’ve covered two previous panics set off by eminent scientists. “Existential risk” is the title of my November 26, 2012 posting which highlights Martin Rees’ efforts to found the Centre for Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge.

Rees is a big deal. From his Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,

Martin John Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow OM FRS FREng FMedSci FRAS HonFInstP[10][2] (born 23 June 1942) is a British cosmologist and astrophysicist.[11] He is the fifteenth Astronomer Royal, appointed in 1995,[12][13][14] and was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, from 2004 to 2012 and President of the Royal Society between 2005 and 2010.[15][16][17][18][19][20]

The Centre for Existential Risk can be found here online (it is located at the University of Cambridge). Interestingly, Hinton who was born in December 1947 will be giving a lecture “Digital versus biological intelligence: Reasons for concern about AI” in Cambridge on May 25, 2023.

The next panic was set off by Stephen Hawking (1942 – 2018; also at the University of Cambridge, Wikipedia entry) a few years before he died. (Note: Rees, Hinton, and Hawking were all born within five years of each other and all have/had ties to the University of Cambridge. Interesting coincidence, eh?) From a January 9, 2015 article by Emily Chung for CBC news online,

Machines turning on their creators has been a popular theme in books and movies for decades, but very serious people are starting to take the subject very seriously. Physicist Stephen Hawking says, “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Tesla Motors and SpaceX founder Elon Musk suggests that AI is probably “our biggest existential threat.”

Artificial intelligence experts say there are good reasons to pay attention to the fears expressed by big minds like Hawking and Musk — and to do something about it while there is still time.

Hawking made his most recent comments at the beginning of December [2014], in response to a question about an upgrade to the technology he uses to communicate, He relies on the device because he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative disease that affects his ability to move and speak.

Popular works of science fiction – from the latest Terminator trailer, to the Matrix trilogy, to Star Trek’s borg – envision that beyond that irreversible historic event, machines will destroy, enslave or assimilate us, says Canadian science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer.

Sawyer has written about a different vision of life beyond singularity [when machines surpass humans in general intelligence,] — one in which machines and humans work together for their mutual benefit. But he also sits on a couple of committees at the Lifeboat Foundation, a non-profit group that looks at future threats to the existence of humanity, including those posed by the “possible misuse of powerful technologies” such as AI. He said Hawking and Musk have good reason to be concerned.

To sum up, the first panic was in 2012, the next in 2014/15, and the latest one began earlier this year (2023) with a letter. A March 29, 2023 Thompson Reuters news item on CBC news online provides information on the contents,

Elon Musk and a group of artificial intelligence experts and industry executives are calling for a six-month pause in developing systems more powerful than OpenAI’s newly launched GPT-4, in an open letter citing potential risks to society and humanity.

Earlier this month, Microsoft-backed OpenAI unveiled the fourth iteration of its GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) AI program, which has wowed users with its vast range of applications, from engaging users in human-like conversation to composing songs and summarizing lengthy documents.

The letter, issued by the non-profit Future of Life Institute and signed by more than 1,000 people including Musk, called for a pause on advanced AI development until shared safety protocols for such designs were developed, implemented and audited by independent experts.

Co-signatories included Stability AI CEO Emad Mostaque, researchers at Alphabet-owned DeepMind, and AI heavyweights Yoshua Bengio, often referred to as one of the “godfathers of AI,” and Stuart Russell, a pioneer of research in the field.

According to the European Union’s transparency register, the Future of Life Institute is primarily funded by the Musk Foundation, as well as London-based effective altruism group Founders Pledge, and Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The concerns come as EU police force Europol on Monday {March 27, 2023] joined a chorus of ethical and legal concerns over advanced AI like ChatGPT, warning about the potential misuse of the system in phishing attempts, disinformation and cybercrime.

Meanwhile, the U.K. government unveiled proposals for an “adaptable” regulatory framework around AI.

The government’s approach, outlined in a policy paper published on Wednesday [March 29, 2023], would split responsibility for governing artificial intelligence (AI) between its regulators for human rights, health and safety, and competition, rather than create a new body dedicated to the technology.

The engineers have chimed in, from an April 7, 2023 article by Margo Anderson for the IEEE (institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Spectrum magazine, Note: Links have been removed,

The open letter [published March 29, 2023], titled “Pause Giant AI Experiments,” was organized by the nonprofit Future of Life Institute and signed by more than 27,565 people (as of 8 May). It calls for cessation of research on “all AI systems more powerful than GPT-4.”

It’s the latest of a host of recent “AI pause” proposals including a suggestion by Google’s François Chollet of a six-month “moratorium on people overreacting to LLMs” in either direction.

In the news media, the open letter has inspired straight reportage, critical accounts for not going far enough (“shut it all down,” Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote in Time magazine), as well as critical accounts for being both a mess and an alarmist distraction that overlooks the real AI challenges ahead.

IEEE members have expressed a similar diversity of opinions.

There was an earlier open letter in January 2015 according to Wikipedia’s “Open Letter on Artificial Intelligence” entry, Note: Links have been removed,

In January 2015, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and dozens of artificial intelligence experts[1] signed an open letter on artificial intelligence calling for research on the societal impacts of AI. The letter affirmed that society can reap great potential benefits from artificial intelligence, but called for concrete research on how to prevent certain potential “pitfalls”: artificial intelligence has the potential to eradicate disease and poverty, but researchers must not create something which is unsafe or uncontrollable.[1] The four-paragraph letter, titled “Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence: An Open Letter”, lays out detailed research priorities in an accompanying twelve-page document.

As for ‘Mr. ChatGPT’ or Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, while he didn’t sign the March 29, 2023 letter, he appeared before US Congress suggesting AI needs to be regulated according to May 16, 2023 news article by Mohar Chatterjee for Politico.

You’ll notice I’ve arbitrarily designated three AI panics by assigning their origins to eminent scientists. In reality, these concerns rise and fall in ways that don’t allow for such a tidy analysis. As Chung notes, science fiction regularly addresses this issue. For example, there’s my October 16, 2013 posting, “Wizards & Robots: a comic book encourages study in the sciences and maths and discussions about existential risk.” By the way, will.i.am (of the Black Eyed Peas band was involved in the comic book project and he us a longtime supporter of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) initiatives.

Finally (but not quite)

Puzzling, isn’t it? I’m not sure we’re asking the right questions but it’s encouraging to see that at least some are being asked.

Dr. Andrew Maynard in a May 12, 2023 essay for The Conversation (h/t May 12, 2023 item on phys.org) notes that ‘Luddites’ questioned technology’s inevitable progress and were vilified for doing so, Note: Links have been removed,

The term “Luddite” emerged in early 1800s England. At the time there was a thriving textile industry that depended on manual knitting frames and a skilled workforce to create cloth and garments out of cotton and wool. But as the Industrial Revolution gathered momentum, steam-powered mills threatened the livelihood of thousands of artisanal textile workers.

Faced with an industrialized future that threatened their jobs and their professional identity, a growing number of textile workers turned to direct action. Galvanized by their leader, Ned Ludd, they began to smash the machines that they saw as robbing them of their source of income.

It’s not clear whether Ned Ludd was a real person, or simply a figment of folklore invented during a period of upheaval. But his name became synonymous with rejecting disruptive new technologies – an association that lasts to this day.

Questioning doesn’t mean rejecting

Contrary to popular belief, the original Luddites were not anti-technology, nor were they technologically incompetent. Rather, they were skilled adopters and users of the artisanal textile technologies of the time. Their argument was not with technology, per se, but with the ways that wealthy industrialists were robbing them of their way of life

In December 2015, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates were jointly nominated for a “Luddite Award.” Their sin? Raising concerns over the potential dangers of artificial intelligence.

The irony of three prominent scientists and entrepreneurs being labeled as Luddites underlines the disconnect between the term’s original meaning and its more modern use as an epithet for anyone who doesn’t wholeheartedly and unquestioningly embrace technological progress.

Yet technologists like Musk and Gates aren’t rejecting technology or innovation. Instead, they’re rejecting a worldview that all technological advances are ultimately good for society. This worldview optimistically assumes that the faster humans innovate, the better the future will be.

In an age of ChatGPT, gene editing and other transformative technologies, perhaps we all need to channel the spirit of Ned Ludd as we grapple with how to ensure that future technologies do more good than harm.

In fact, “Neo-Luddites” or “New Luddites” is a term that emerged at the end of the 20th century.

In 1990, the psychologist Chellis Glendinning published an essay titled “Notes toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto.”

Then there are the Neo-Luddites who actively reject modern technologies, fearing that they are damaging to society. New York City’s Luddite Club falls into this camp. Formed by a group of tech-disillusioned Gen-Zers, the club advocates the use of flip phones, crafting, hanging out in parks and reading hardcover or paperback books. Screens are an anathema to the group, which sees them as a drain on mental health.

I’m not sure how many of today’s Neo-Luddites – whether they’re thoughtful technologists, technology-rejecting teens or simply people who are uneasy about technological disruption – have read Glendinning’s manifesto. And to be sure, parts of it are rather contentious. Yet there is a common thread here: the idea that technology can lead to personal and societal harm if it is not developed responsibly.

Getting back to where this started with nonhuman authors, Amelia Eqbal has written up an informal transcript of a March 16, 2023 CBC radio interview (radio segment is embedded) about ChatGPT-4 (the latest AI chatbot from OpenAI) between host Elamin Abdelmahmoud and tech journalist, Alyssa Bereznak.

I was hoping to add a little more Canadian content, so in March 2023 and again in April 2023, I sent a question about whether there were any policies regarding nonhuman or AI authors to Kim Barnhardt at the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ). To date, there has been no reply but should one arrive, I will place it here.

In the meantime, I have this from Canadian writer, Susan Baxter in her May 15, 2023 blog posting “Coming soon: Robot Overlords, Sentient AI and more,”

The current threat looming (Covid having been declared null and void by the WHO*) is Artificial Intelligence (AI) which, we are told, is becoming too smart for its own good and will soon outsmart humans. Then again, given some of the humans I’ve met along the way that wouldn’t be difficult.

All this talk of scary-boo AI seems to me to have become the worst kind of cliché, one that obscures how our lives have become more complicated and more frustrating as apps and bots and cyber-whatsits take over.

The trouble with clichés, as Alain de Botton wrote in How Proust Can Change Your Life, is not that they are wrong or contain false ideas but more that they are “superficial articulations of good ones”. Cliches are oversimplifications that become so commonplace we stop noticing the more serious subtext. (This is rife in medicine where metaphors such as talk of “replacing” organs through transplants makes people believe it’s akin to changing the oil filter in your car. Or whatever it is EV’s have these days that needs replacing.)

Should you live in Vancouver (Canada) and are attending a May 28, 2023 AI event, you may want to read Susan Baxter’s piece as a counterbalance to, “Discover the future of artificial intelligence at this unique AI event in Vancouver,” a May 19, 2023 sponsored content by Katy Brennan for the Daily Hive,

If you’re intrigued and eager to delve into the rapidly growing field of AI, you’re not going to want to miss this unique Vancouver event.

On Sunday, May 28 [2023], a Multiplatform AI event is coming to the Vancouver Playhouse — and it’s set to take you on a journey into the future of artificial intelligence.

The exciting conference promises a fusion of creativity, tech innovation, and thought–provoking insights, with talks from renowned AI leaders and concept artists, who will share their experiences and opinions.

Guests can look forward to intense discussions about AI’s pros and cons, hear real-world case studies, and learn about the ethical dimensions of AI, its potential threats to humanity, and the laws that govern its use.

Live Q&A sessions will also be held, where leading experts in the field will address all kinds of burning questions from attendees. There will also be a dynamic round table and several other opportunities to connect with industry leaders, pioneers, and like-minded enthusiasts. 

This conference is being held at The Playhouse, 600 Hamilton Street, from 11 am to 7:30 pm, ticket prices range from $299 to $349 to $499 (depending on when you make your purchase, From the Multiplatform AI Conference homepage,

Event Speakers

Max Sills
General Counsel at Midjourney

From Jan 2022 – present (Advisor – now General Counsel) – Midjourney – An independent research lab exploring new mediums of thought and expanding the imaginative powers of the human species (SF) Midjourney – a generative artificial intelligence program and service created and hosted by a San Francisco-based independent research lab Midjourney, Inc. Midjourney generates images from natural language descriptions, called “prompts”, similar to OpenAI’s DALL-E and Stable Diffusion. For now the company uses Discord Server as a source of service and, with huge 15M+ members, is the biggest Discord server in the world. In the two-things-at-once department, Max Sills also known as an owner of Open Advisory Services, firm which is set up to help small and medium tech companies with their legal needs (managing outside counsel, employment, carta, TOS, privacy). Their clients are enterprise level, medium companies and up, and they are here to help anyone on open source and IP strategy. Max is an ex-counsel at Block, ex-general manager of the Crypto Open Patent Alliance. Prior to that Max led Google’s open source legal group for 7 years.

So, the first speaker listed is a lawyer associated with Midjourney, a highly controversial generative artificial intelligence programme used to generate images. According to their entry on Wikipedia, the company is being sued, Note: Links have been removed,

On January 13, 2023, three artists – Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan, and Karla Ortiz – filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt, claiming that these companies have infringed the rights of millions of artists, by training AI tools on five billion images scraped from the web, without the consent of the original artists.[32]

My October 24, 2022 posting highlights some of the issues with generative image programmes and Midjourney is mentioned throughout.

As I noted earlier, I’m glad to see more thought being put into the societal impact of AI and somewhat disconcerted by the hyperbole from the like of Geoffrey Hinton and the like of Vancouver’s Multiplatform AI conference organizers. Mike Masnick put it nicely in his May 24, 2023 posting on TechDirt (Note 1: I’ve taken a paragraph out of context, his larger issue is about proposals for legislation; Note 2: Links have been removed),

Honestly, this is partly why I’ve been pretty skeptical about the “AI Doomers” who keep telling fanciful stories about how AI is going to kill us all… unless we give more power to a few elite people who seem to think that it’s somehow possible to stop AI tech from advancing. As I noted last month, it is good that some in the AI space are at least conceptually grappling with the impact of what they’re building, but they seem to be doing so in superficial ways, focusing only on the sci-fi dystopian futures they envision, and not things that are legitimately happening today from screwed up algorithms.

For anyone interested in the Canadian government attempts to legislate AI, there’s my May 1, 2023 posting, “Canada, AI regulation, and the second reading of the Digital Charter Implementation Act, 2022 (Bill C-27).”

Addendum (June 1, 2023)

Another statement warning about runaway AI was issued on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. This was far briefer than the previous March 2023 warning, from the Center for AI Safety’s “Statement on AI Risk” webpage,

Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war [followed by a list of signatories] …

Vanessa Romo’s May 30, 2023 article (with contributions from Bobby Allyn) for NPR ([US] National Public Radio) offers an overview of both warnings. Rae Hodge’s May 31, 2023 article for Salon offers a more critical view, Note: Links have been removed,

The artificial intelligence world faced a swarm of stinging backlash Tuesday morning, after more than 350 tech executives and researchers released a public statement declaring that the risks of runaway AI could be on par with those of “nuclear war” and human “extinction.” Among the signatories were some who are actively pursuing the profitable development of the very products their statement warned about — including OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and Google DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis.

“Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war,” the statement from the non-profit Center for AI Safety said.

But not everyone was shaking in their boots, especially not those who have been charting AI tech moguls’ escalating use of splashy language — and those moguls’ hopes for an elite global AI governance board.

TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas, whose coverage has been steeped in AI, immediately unravelled the latest panic-push efforts with a detailed rundown of the current table stakes for companies positioning themselves at the front of the fast-emerging AI industry.

“Certainly it speaks volumes about existing AI power structures that tech execs at AI giants including OpenAI, DeepMind, Stability AI and Anthropic are so happy to band and chatter together when it comes to publicly amplifying talk of existential AI risk. And how much more reticent to get together to discuss harms their tools can be seen causing right now,” Lomas wrote.

“Instead of the statement calling for a development pause, which would risk freezing OpenAI’s lead in the generative AI field, it lobbies policymakers to focus on risk mitigation — doing so while OpenAI is simultaneously crowdfunding efforts to shape ‘democratic processes for steering AI,'” Lomas added.

The use of scary language and fear as a marketing tool has a long history in tech. And, as the LA Times’ Brian Merchant pointed out in an April column, OpenAI stands to profit significantly from a fear-driven gold rush of enterprise contracts.

“[OpenAI is] almost certainly betting its longer-term future on more partnerships like the one with Microsoft and enterprise deals serving large companies,” Merchant wrote. “That means convincing more corporations that if they want to survive the coming AI-led mass upheaval, they’d better climb aboard.”

Fear, after all, is a powerful sales tool.

Romo’s May 30, 2023 article for NPR offers a good overview and, if you have the time, I recommend reading Hodge’s May 31, 2023 article for Salon in its entirety.

*ETA June 8, 2023: This sentence “What follows the ‘nonhuman authors’ is essentially a survey of situation/panic.” was added to the introductory paragraph at the beginning of this post.

Overview of fusion energy scene

It’s funny how you think you know something and then realize you don’t. I’ve been hearing about cold fusion/fusion energy for years but never really understood what the term meant. So, this post includes an explanation, as well as, an overview, and a Cold Fusion Rap to ‘wrap’ it all up. (Sometimes I cannot resist a pun.)

Fusion energy explanation (1)

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has a Climate Portal where fusion energy is explained,

Fusion energy is the source of energy at the center of stars, including our own sun. Stars, like most of the universe, are made up of hydrogen, the simplest and most abundant element in the universe, created during the big bang. The center of a star is so hot and so dense that the immense pressure forces hydrogen atoms together. These atoms are forced together so strongly that they create new atoms entirely—helium atoms—and release a staggering amount of energy in the process. This energy is called fusion energy.

More energy than chemical energy

Fusion energy, like fossil fuels, is a form of stored energy. But fusion can create 20 to 100 million times more energy than the chemical reaction of a fossil fuel. Most of the mass of an atom, 99.9 percent, is contained at an atom’s center—inside of its nucleus. The ratio of this matter to the empty space in an atom is almost exactly the same ratio of how much energy you release when you manipulate the nucleus. In contrast, a chemical reaction, such as burning coal, rearranges the atoms through heat, but doesn’t alter the atoms themselves, so we don’t get as much energy.

Making fusion energy

For scientists, making fusion energy means recreating the conditions of stars, starting with plasma. Plasma is the fourth state of matter, after solids, liquids and gases. Ice is an example of a solid. When heated up, it becomes a liquid. Place that liquid in a pot on the stove, and it becomes a gas (steam). If you take that gas and continue to make it hotter, at around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (~6,000 Kelvin), it will change from a gas to the next phase of matter: plasma. Ninety-nine percent of the mass in the universe is in the plasma state, since almost the entire mass of the universe is in super hot stars that exist as plasma.

To make fusion energy, scientists must first build a steel chamber and create a vacuum, like in outer space. The next step is to add hydrogen gas. The gas particles are charged to produce an electric current and then surrounded and contained with an electromagnetic force; the hydrogen is now a plasma. This plasma is then heated to about 100 million degrees and fusion energy is released.

Fusion energy explanation (2)

A Vancouver-based company, General Fusion, offers an explanation of how they have approached making fusion energy a reality,

How It Works: Plasma Injector Technology at General Fusion from General Fusion on Vimeo.

After announcing that a General Fusion demonstration plant would be built in the UK (see June 17, 2021 General Fusion news release), there’s a recent announcement about an agreement with the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) to commericialize the technology, from an October 17, 2022 General Fusion news release,

Today [October 17, 2022], General Fusion and the UKAEA kick off projects to advance the commercialization of magnetized target fusion energy as part of an important collaborative agreement. With these unique projects, General Fusion will benefit from the vast experience of the UKAEA’s team. The results will hone the design of General Fusion’s demonstration machine being built at the Culham Campus, part of the thriving UK fusion cluster. Ultimately, the company expects the projects will support its efforts to provide low-cost and low-carbon energy to the electricity grid.

General Fusion’s approach to fusion maximizes the reapplication of existing industrialized technologies, bypassing the need for expensive superconducting magnets, significant new materials, or high-power lasers. The demonstration machine will create fusion conditions in a power-plant-relevant environment, confirming the performance and economics of the company’s technology.

“The leading-edge fusion researchers at UKAEA have proven experience building, commissioning, and successfully operating large fusion machines,” said Greg Twinney, Chief Executive Officer, General Fusion. “Partnering with UKAEA’s incredible team will fast-track work to advance our technology and achieve our mission of delivering affordable commercial fusion power to the world.”

“Fusion energy is one of the greatest scientific and engineering quests of our time,” said Ian Chapman, UKAEA CEO. “This collaboration will enable General Fusion to benefit from the ground-breaking research being done in the UK and supports our shared aims of making fusion part of the world’s future energy mix for generations to come.”

I last wrote about General Fusion in a November 3, 2021 posting about the company’s move (?) to Sea Island, Richmond,

I first wrote about General Fusion in a December 2, 2011 posting titled: Burnaby-based company (Canada) challenges fossil fuel consumption with nuclear fusion. (For those unfamiliar with the Vancouver area, there’s the city of Vancouver and there’s Vancouver Metro, which includes the city of Vancouver and others in the region. Burnaby is part of Metro Vancouver; General Fusion is moving to Sea Island (near Vancouver Airport), in Richmond, which is also in Metro Vancouver.) Kenneth Chan’s October 20, 2021 article for the Daily Hive gives more detail about General Fusion’s new facilities (Note: A link has been removed),

The new facility will span two buildings at 6020 and 6082 Russ Baker Way, near YVR’s [Vancouver Airport] South Terminal. This includes a larger building previously used for aircraft engine maintenance and repair.

The relocation process could start before the end of 2021, allowing the company to more than quadruple its workforce over the coming years. Currently, it employs about 140 people.

The Sea Island [in Richmond] facility will house its corporate offices, primary fusion technology development division, and many of its engineering laboratories. This new facility provides General Fusion with the ability to build a new demonstration prototype to support the commercialization of its magnetized target fusion technology.

As of the date of this posting, I have not been able to confirm the move. The company’s Contact webpage lists an address in Burnaby, BC for its headquarters.

The overview

Alex **Pasternack** in an August 17, 2022 article (The frontrunners in the trillion-dollar race for limitless fusion power), **in Fast Company,** provides an overview of the international race with a very, very strong emphasis on the US scene (Note: Links have been removed),

With energy prices on the rise, along with demands for energy independence and an urgent need for carbon-free power, plans to walk away from nuclear energy are now being revised in Japan, South Korea, and even Germany. Last month, Europe announced green bonds for nuclear, and the U.S., thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, will soon devote millions to new nuclear designs, incentives for nuclear production and domestic uranium mining, and, after years of paucity in funding, cash for fusion.

The new investment comes as fusion—long considered a pipe dream—has attracted real money from big venture capital and big companies, who are increasingly betting that abundant, cheap, clean nuclear will be a multi-trillion dollar industry. Last year, investors like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos injected a record $3.4 billion into firms working on the technology, according to Pitchbook. One fusion firm, Seattle-based Helion, raised a record $500 million from Sam Altman and Peter Thiel. That money has certainly supercharged the nuclear sector: The Fusion Industry Association says that at least 33 different companies were now pursuing nuclear fusion, and predicted that fusion would be connected to the energy grid sometime in the 2030s.

… What’s not a joke is that we have about zero years to stop powering our civilization with earth-warming energy. The challenge with fusion is to achieve net energy gain, where the energy produced by a fusion reaction exceeds the energy used to make it. One milestone came quietly this month, when a team of researchers at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California announced that an experiment last year had yielded over 1.3 megajoules (MJ) of energy, setting a new world record for energy yield for a nuclear fusion experiment. The experiment also achieved scientific ignition for the first time in history: after applying enough heat using an arsenal of lasers, the plasma became self-heating. (Researchers have since been trying to replicate the result, so far without success.)

On a growing campus an hour outside of Boston, the MIT spinoff Commonwealth Fusion Systems is building their first machine, SPARC, with a goal of producing power by 2025. “You’ll push a button,” CEO and cofounder Bob Mumgaard told the Khosla Ventures CEO Summit this summer, “and for the first time on earth you will make more power out than in from a fusion plasma. That’s about 200 million degrees—you know, cooling towers will have a bunch of steam go out of them—and you let your finger off the button and it will stop, and you push the button again and it will go.” With an explosion in funding from investors including Khosla, Bill Gates, George Soros, Emerson Collective and Google to name a few—they raised $1.8 billion last year alone—CFS hopes to start operating a prototype in 2025.

Like the three-decade-old ITER project in France, set for operation in 2025, Commonwealth and many other companies will try to reach net energy gain using a machine called a tokamak, a bagel-shaped device filled with super-hot plasma, heated to about 150 million degrees, within which hydrogen atoms can fuse and release energy. To control that hot plasma, you need to build a very powerful magnetic field. Commonwealth’s breakthrough was tape—specifically, a high-temperature-superconducting steel tape coated with a compound called yttrium-barium-copper oxide. When a prototype was first made commercially available in 2009, Dennis Whyte, director of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, ordered as much as he could. With Mumgaard and a team of students, his lab used coils of the stuff to build a new kind of superconducting magnet, and a prototype reactor named ARC, after Tony Stark’s energy source. Commonwealth was born in 2015.

Southern California-based TAE Technologies has raised a whopping $1.2 billion since it was founded in 1998, and $250 million in its latest round. The round, announced in July, was led by Chevron’s venture arm, Google, and Sumitomo, a Tokyo-based holding company that aims to deploy fusion power in the Asia-Pacific market. TAE’s approach, which involves creating a fusion reaction at incredibly high heat, has a key advantage. Whereas ITER uses the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium, an extremely rare element that must be specially created from lithium—and that produces as a byproduct radioactive-free neutrons—TAE’s linear reactor is completely non-radioactive, because it relies on hydrogen and boron, two abundant, naturally-occurring elements that react to produce only helium.

General Atomics, of San Diego, California, has the largest tokamak in the U.S. Its powerful magnetic chamber, called the DIII-D National Fusion Facility, or just “D-three-D,” now features a Toroidal Field Reversing Switch, which allows for the redirection of 120,000 amps of the current that power the primary magnetic field. It’s the only tokamak in the world that allows researchers to switch directions of the magnetic fields in minutes rather than hours. Another new upgrade, a traveling-wave antenna, allows physicists to inject high-powered “helicon” radio waves into DIII-D plasmas so fusion reactions occur much more powerfully and efficiently.

“We’ve got new tools for flexibility and new tools to help us figure out how to make that fusion plasma just keep going,” Richard Buttery, director of the project, told the San Diego Union-Tribune in January. The company is also behind eight of the magnet modules at the heart of the ITER facility, including its wild Central Solenoid — the world’s most powerful magnet — in a kind of scaled up version of the California machine.

But like an awful lot in fusion, ITER has been hampered by cost overruns and delays, with “first plasma” not expected to occur in 2025 as previously expected due to global pandemic-related disruptions. Some have complained that the money going to ITER has distracted from other more practical energy projects—the latest price tag is $22 billion—and others doubt if the project can ever produce net energy gain.

Based in Canada, General Fusion is backed by Jeff Bezos and building on technology originally developed by the U.S. Navy and explored by Russian scientists for potential use in weapons. Inside the machine, molten metal is spun to create a cavity, and pumped with pistons that push the metal inward to form a sphere. Hydrogen, heated to super-hot temperatures and held in place by a magnetic field, fills the sphere to create the reaction. Heat transferred to the metal can be turned into steam to drive a turbine and generate electricity. As former CEO Christofer Mowry told Fast Company last year, “to re-create a piece of the sun on Earth, as you can imagine, is very, very challenging.” Like many fusion companies, GF depends on modern supercomputers and advanced modeling and computational techniques to understand the science of plasma physics, as well as modern manufacturing technologies and materials.

“That’s really opened the door not just to being able to make fusion work but to make it work in a practical way,” Mowry said. This has been difficult to make work, but with a demonstration center it announced last year in Culham, England, GF isn’t aiming to generate electricity but to gather the data needed to later build a commercial pilot plant that could—and to generate more interest in fusion.

Magneto-Intertial Fusion Technologies, or MIFTI, of Tustin, Calif., founded by researchers from the University of California, Irvine, is developing a reactor that uses what’s known as a Staged Z-Pinch approach. A Z-Pinch design heats, confines, and compresses plasma using an intense, pulsed electrical current to generate a magnetic field that could reduce instabilities in the plasma, allowing fusion to persist for longer periods of time. But only recently have MIFTI’s scientists been able to overcome the instability problems, the company says, thanks to software made available to them at UC-Irvine by the U.S. Air Force. …

Princeton Fusion Systems of Plainsboro, New Jersey, is a small business focused on developing small, clean fusion reactors for both terrestrial and space applications. A spinoff of Princeton Satellite Systems, which specializes in spacecraft control, the company’s Princeton FRC reactor is built upon 15 years of research at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, funded primarily by the U.S. DOE and NASA, and is designed to eventually provide between 1 and 10 megawatts of power in off-grid locations and in modular power plants, “from remote industrial applications to emergency power after natural disasters to off-world bases on the moon or Mars.” The concept uses radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to generates and sustain a plasma formation called a Field-Reversed Configuration (FRC) inside a strong magnetic bottle. …

Tokamak Energy, a U.K.-based company named after the popular fusion device, announced in July that its ST-40 tokamak reactor had reached the 100 million Celsius threshold for commercially viable nuclear fusion. The achievement was made possible by a proprietary design built on a spherical, rather than donut, shape. This means that the magnets are closer to the plasma stream, allowing for smaller and cheaper magnets to create even stronger magnetic fields. …

Based in Pasadena, California, Helicity Space is developing a propulsion and power technology based on a specialized magneto inertial fusion concept. The system, a spin on what fellow fusion engineer, Seattle-based Helion is doing, appears to use twisted compression coils, like a braided rope, to achieve a known phenomenon called the Magnetic Helicity. … According to ZoomInfo and Linkedin, Helicity has over $4 million in funding and up to 10 employees, all aimed, the company says, at “enabling humanity’s access to the solar system, with a Helicity Drive-powered flight to Mars expected to take two months, without planetary alignment.”

ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), meaning “the way” or “the path” in Latin and mentioned in Pasternak’s article, dates its history with *fusion back to about 1978 when cold fusion was the ‘hot’ topic*. (You can read more here in the ITER Wikipedia entry.)

For more about the various approaches to fusion energy, read Pasternack’s August 17, 2022 article (The frontrunners in the trillion-dollar race for limitless fusion power) provides details. I wish there had been a little more about efforts in Japan and South Korea and other parts of the world. Pasternak’s singular focus on the US with a little of Canada and the UK seemingly thrown into the mix to provide an international flavour seems a little myopic.

Fusion rap

In an August 30, 2022 Baba Brinkman announcement (received via email) which gave an extensive update of Brinkman’s activities, there was this,

And the other new topic, which was surprisingly fun to explore, is cold fusion also known as “Low Energy Nuclear Reactions” which you may or may not have a strong opinion about, but if you do I imagine you probably think the technology is either bunk or destined to save the world.

That makes for an interesting topic to explore in rap songs! And fortunately last month I had the pleasure of performing for the cream of the LENR crop at the 24th International Conference on Cold Fusion, including rap ups and two new songs about the field, one very celebratory (for the insiders), and one cautiously optimistic (as an outreach tool).

You can watch “Cold Fusion Renaissance” and “You Must LENR” [L ow E nergy N uclear R eactions or sometimes L attice E nabled N anoscale R eactions or Cold Fusion or CANR (C hemically A ssisted N uclear R eactions)] for yourself to determine which video is which, and also enjoy this article in Infinite Energy Magazine which chronicles my whole cold fusion rap saga.

Here’s one of the rap videos mentioned in Brinkman’s email,


*December 13, 2022: Sentence changed from “ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), meaning “the way” or “the path” in Latin and mentioned in Pasternak’s article, dates its history with fusion back to about 1978 when cold fusion was the ‘hot’ topic.” to “ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), meaning “the way” or “the path” in Latin and mentioned in Pasternak’s article, dates its history with fusion back to about 1978 when cold fusion was the ‘hot’ topic.”

** ‘Pasternak’ corrected to ‘Pasternack” and ‘in Fast Company’ added on December 29, 2022

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) brings life to the global hit television series “The Walking Dead” and a Canadian AI initiative for women and diversity

I stumbled across this June 8, 2022 AMC Networks news release in the last place I was expecting (i.e., a self-described global entertainment company’s website) to see a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) announcement,


AMC Networks Content Room and the Ad Council, a non-profit and leading producer of social impact campaigns for 80 years, announced today a series of new public service advertisements (PSAs) that will highlight the power of girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) against the backdrop of the global hit series “The Walking Dead.”  In the spots, behind-the-scenes talent of the popular franchise, including Director Aisha Tyler, Costume Designer Vera Chow and Art Director Jasmine Garnet, showcase how STEM is used to bring the post-apocalyptic world of “The Walking Dead” to life on screen.  Created by AMC Networks Content Room, the PSAs are part of the Ad Council’s national She Can STEM campaign, which encourages girls, trans youth and non-binary youth around the country to get excited about and interested in STEM.

The new creative consists of TV spots and custom videos created specifically for TikTok and Instagram.  The spots also feature Gitanjali Rao, a 16-year-old scientist, inventor and activist, interviewing Tyler, Chow and Garnet discussing how they and their teams use STEM in the production of “The Walking Dead.”  Using before and after visuals, each piece highlights the unique and unexpected uses of STEM in the making of the series.  In addition to being part of the larger Ad Council campaign, the spots will be available on “The Walking Dead’s” social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube pages, and across AMC Networks linear channels and digital platforms.

PSA:   https://youtu.be/V20HO-tUO18

Social: https://youtu.be/LnDwmZrx6lI

Said Kim Granito, EVP of AMC Networks Content Room: “We are thrilled to partner with the Ad Council to inspire young girls in STEM through the unexpected backdrop of ‘The Walking Dead.’  Over the last 11 years, this universe has been created by an array of insanely talented women that utilize STEM every day in their roles.  This campaign will broaden perceptions of STEM beyond the stereotypes of lab coats and beakers, and hopefully inspire the next generation of talented women in STEM.  Aisha Tyler, Vera Chow and Jasmine Garnet were a dream to work with and their shared enthusiasm for this mission is inspiring.”

“Careers in STEM are varied and can touch all aspects of our lives. We are proud to partner with AMC Networks Content Room on this latest work for the She Can STEM campaign. With it, we hope to inspire young girls, non-binary youth, and trans youth to recognize that their passion for STEM can impact countless industries – including the entertainment industry,” said Michelle Hillman, Chief Campaign Development Officer, Ad Council.

Women make up nearly half of the total college-educated workforce in the U.S., but they only constitute 27% of the STEM workforce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Research shows that many girls lose interest in STEM as early as middle school, and this path continues through high school and college, ultimately leading to an underrepresentation of women in STEM careers.  She Can STEM aims to dismantle the intimidating perceived barrier of STEM fields by showing girls, non-binary youth, and trans youth how fun, messy, diverse and accessible STEM can be, encouraging them to dive in, no matter where they are in their STEM journey.

Since the launch of She Can STEM in September 2018, the campaign has been supported by a variety of corporate, non-profit and media partners. The current funder of the campaign is IF/THEN, an initiative of Lyda Hill Philanthropies.  Non-profit partners include Black Girls Code, ChickTech, Girl Scouts of the USA, Girls Inc., Girls Who Code, National Center for Women & Information Technology, The New York Academy of Sciences and Society of Women Engineers.

About AMC Networks Inc.

AMC Networks (Nasdaq: AMCX) is a global entertainment company known for its popular and critically-acclaimed content. Its brands include targeted streaming services AMC+, Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now, ALLBLK, and the newest addition to its targeted streaming portfolio, the anime-focused HIDIVE streaming service, in addition to AMC, BBC AMERICA (operated through a joint venture with BBC Studios), IFC, SundanceTV, WE tv and IFC Films. AMC Studios, the Company’s in-house studio, production and distribution operation, is behind some of the biggest titles and brands known to a global audience, including The Walking Dead, the Anne Rice catalog and the Agatha Christie library.  The Company also operates AMC Networks International, its international programming business, and 25/7 Media, its production services business.

About Content Room

Content Room is AMC Networks’ award-winning branded entertainment studio that collaborates with advertising partners to build brand stories and create bespoke experiences across an expanding range of digital, social, and linear platforms. Content Room enables brands to fully tap into the company’s premium programming, distinct IP, deep talent roster and filmmaking roots through an array of creative partnership opportunities— from premium branded content and integrations— to franchise and gaming extensions.

Content Room is also home to the award-winning digital content studio which produces dozens of original series annually, which expands popular AMC Networks scripted programming for both fans and advertising partners by leveraging the built-in massive series and talent fandoms.

The Ad Council
The Ad Council is where creativity and causes converge. The non-profit organization brings together the most creative minds in advertising, media, technology and marketing to address many of the nation’s most important causes. The Ad Council has created many of the most iconic campaigns in advertising history. Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk. Smokey Bear. Love Has No Labels.

The Ad Council’s innovative social good campaigns raise awareness, inspire action and save lives. To learn more, visit AdCouncil.org, follow the Ad Council’s communities on Facebook and Twitter, and view the creative on YouTube.

You can find the ‘She Can Stem’ Ad Council initiative here.

Canadian women and the AI4Good Lab

A June 9, 2022 posting on the Borealis AI website describes an artificial intelligence (AI) initiative designed to encourage women to enter the field,

The AI4Good Lab is one of those programs that creates exponential opportunities. As the leading Canadian AI-training initiative for women-identified STEM students, the lab helps encourage diversity in the field of AI. Participants work together to use AI to solve a social problem, delivering untold benefits to their local communities. And they work shoulder-to-shoulder with other leaders in the field of AI, building their networks and expanding the ecosystem.

At this year’s [2022] AI4Good Lab Industry Night, program partners – like Borealis AI, RBC [Royal Bank of Canada], DeepMind, Ivado and Google – had an opportunity to (virtually) meet the nearly 90  participants of this year’s program. Many of the program’s alumni were also in attendance. So, too, were representatives from CIFAR [Canadian Institute for Advanced Research], one of Canada’s leading global research organizations.

Industry participants – including Dr. Eirene Seiradaki, Director of Research Partnerships at Borealis AI, Carey Mende-Gibson, RBC’s Location Intelligence ambassador, and Lucy Liu, Director of Data Science at RBC – talked with attendees about their experiences in the AI industry, discussed career opportunities and explored various career paths that the participants could take in the industry. For the entire two hours, our three tables  and our virtually cozy couches were filled to capacity. It was only after the end of the event that we had the chance to exchange visits to the tables of our partners from CIFAR and AMII [Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute]. Eirene did not miss the opportunity to catch up with our good friend, Warren Johnston, and hear first-hand the news from AMII’s recent AI Week 2022.

Borealis AI is funded by the Royal Bank of Canada. Somebody wrote this for the homepage (presumably tongue in cheek),

All you can bank on.

The AI4Good Lab can be found here,

The AI4Good Lab is a 7-week program that equips women and people of marginalized genders with the skills to build their own machine learning projects. We emphasize mentorship and curiosity-driven learning to prepare our participants for a career in AI.

The program is designed to open doors for those who have historically been underrepresented in the AI industry. Together, we are building a more inclusive and diverse tech culture in Canada while inspiring the next generation of leaders to use AI as a tool for social good.

A most recent programme ran (May 3 – June 21, 2022) in Montréal, Toronto, and Edmonton.

There are a number of AI for Good initiatives including this one from the International Telecommunications Union (a United Nations Agency).

For the curious, I have a May 10, 2018 post “The Royal Bank of Canada reports ‘Humans wanted’ and some thoughts on the future of work, robots, and artificial intelligence” where I ‘examine’ RBC and its AI initiatives.

True love with AI (artificial intelligence): The Nature of Things explores emotional and creative AI (long read)

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) science television series,The Nature of Things, which has been broadcast since November 1960, explored the world of emotional, empathic and creative artificial intelligence (AI) in a Friday, November 19, 2021 telecast titled, The Machine That Feels,

The Machine That Feels explores how artificial intelligence (AI) is catching up to us in ways once thought to be uniquely human: empathy, emotional intelligence and creativity.

As AI moves closer to replicating humans, it has the potential to reshape every aspect of our world – but most of us are unaware of what looms on the horizon.

Scientists see AI technology as an opportunity to address inequities and make a better, more connected world. But it also has the capacity to do the opposite: to stoke division and inequality and disconnect us from fellow humans. The Machine That Feels, from The Nature of Things, shows viewers what they need to know about a field that is advancing at a dizzying pace, often away from the public eye.

What does it mean when AI makes art? Can AI interpret and understand human emotions? How is it possible that AI creates sophisticated neural networks that mimic the human brain? The Machine That Feels investigates these questions, and more.

In Vienna, composer Walter Werzowa has — with the help of AI — completed Beethoven’s previously unfinished 10th symphony. By feeding data about Beethoven, his music, his style and the original scribbles on the 10th symphony into an algorithm, AI has created an entirely new piece of art.

In Atlanta, Dr. Ayanna Howard and her robotics lab at Georgia Tech are teaching robots how to interpret human emotions. Where others see problems, Howard sees opportunity: how AI can help fill gaps in education and health care systems. She believes we need a fundamental shift in how we perceive robots: let’s get humans and robots to work together to help others.

At Tufts University in Boston, a new type of biological robot has been created: the xenobot. The size of a grain of sand, xenobots are grown from frog heart and skin cells, and combined with the “mind” of a computer. Programmed with a specific task, they can move together to complete it. In the future, they could be used for environmental cleanup, digesting microplastics and targeted drug delivery (like releasing chemotherapy compounds directly into tumours).

The film includes interviews with global leaders, commentators and innovators from the AI field, including Geoff Hinton, Yoshua Bengio, Ray Kurzweil and Douglas Coupland, who highlight some of the innovative and cutting-edge AI technologies that are changing our world.

The Machine That Feels focuses on one central question: in the flourishing age of artificial intelligence, what does it mean to be human?

I’ll get back to that last bit, “… what does it mean to be human?” later.

There’s a lot to appreciate in this 44 min. programme. As you’d expect, there was a significant chunk of time devoted to research being done in the US but Poland and Japan also featured and Canadian content was substantive. A number of tricky topics were covered and transitions from one topic to the next were smooth.

In the end credits, I counted over 40 source materials from Getty Images, Google Canada, Gatebox, amongst others. It would have been interesting to find out which segments were produced by CBC.

David Suzuki’s (programme host) script was well written and his narration was enjoyable, engaging, and non-intrusive. That last quality is not always true of CBC hosts who can fall into the trap of overdramatizing the text.

Drilling down

I have followed artificial intelligence stories in a passive way (i.e., I don’t seek them out) for many years. Even so, there was a lot of material in the programme that was new to me.

For example, there was this love story (from the ‘I love her and see her as a real woman.’ Meet a man who ‘married’ an artificial intelligence hologram webpage on the CBC),

In the The Machine That Feels, a documentary from The Nature of Things, we meet Kondo Akihiko, a Tokyo resident who “married” a hologram of virtual pop singer Hatsune Miku using a certificate issued by Gatebox (the marriage isn’t recognized by the state, and Gatebox acknowledges the union goes “beyond dimensions”).

I found Akihiko to be quite moving when he described his relationship, which is not unique. It seems some 4,000 men have ‘wed’ their digital companions, you can read about that and more on the ‘I love her and see her as a real woman.’ Meet a man who ‘married’ an artificial intelligence hologram webpage.

What does it mean to be human?

Overall, this Nature of Things episode embraces certainty, which means the question of what it means to human is referenced rather than seriously discussed. An unanswerable philosophical question, the programme is ill-equipped to address it, especially since none of the commentators are philosophers or seem inclined to philosophize.

The programme presents AI as a juggernaut. Briefly mentioned is the notion that we need to make some decisions about how our juggernaut is developed and utilized. No one discusses how we go about making changes to systems that are already making critical decisions for us. (For more about AI and decision-making, see my February 28, 2017 posting and scroll down to the ‘Algorithms and big data’ subhead for Cathy O’Neil’s description of how important decisions that affect us are being made by AI systems. She is the author of the 2016 book, ‘Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy’; still a timely read.)

In fact, the programme’s tone is mostly one of breathless excitement. A few misgivings are expressed, e.g,, one woman who has an artificial ‘texting friend’ (Replika; a chatbot app) noted that it can ‘get into your head’ when she had a chat where her ‘friend’ told her that all of a woman’s worth is based on her body; she pushed back but intimated that someone more vulnerable could find that messaging difficult to deal with.

The sequence featuring Akihiko and his hologram ‘wife’ is followed by one suggesting that people might become more isolated and emotionally stunted as they interact with artificial friends. It should be noted, Akihiko’s wife is described as ‘perfect’. I gather perfection means that you are always understanding and have no needs of your own. She also seems to be about 18″ high.

Akihiko has obviously been asked about his ‘wife’ before as his answers are ready. They boil down to “there are many types of relationships” and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an intriguing thought which is not explored.

Also unexplored, these relationships could be said to resemble slavery. After all, you pay for these friends over which you have control. But perhaps that’s alright since AI friends don’t have consciousness. Or do they? In addition to not being able to answer the question, “what is it to be human?” we still can’t answer the question, “what is consciousness?”

AI and creativity

The Nature of Things team works fast. ‘Beethoven X – The AI Project’ had its first performance on October 9, 2021. (See my October 1, 2021 post ‘Finishing Beethoven’s unfinished 10th Symphony’ for more information from Ahmed Elgammal’s (Director of the Art & AI Lab at Rutgers University) technical perspective on the project.

Briefly, Beethoven died before completing his 10th symphony and a number of computer scientists, musicologists, AI, and musicians collaborated to finish the symphony.)

The one listener (Felix Mayer, music professor at the Technical University Munich) in the hall during a performance doesn’t consider the work to be a piece of music. He does have a point. Beethoven left some notes but this ’10th’ is at least partly mathematical guesswork. A set of probabilities where an algorithm chooses which note comes next based on probability.

There was another artist also represented in the programme. Puzzlingly, it was the still living Douglas Coupland. In my opinion, he’s better known as a visual artist than a writer (his Wikipedia entry lists him as a novelist first) but he has succeeded greatly in both fields.

What makes his inclusion in the Nature of Things ‘The Machine That Feels’ programme puzzling, is that it’s not clear how he worked with artificial intelligence in a collaborative fashion. Here’s a description of Coupland’s ‘AI’ project from a June 29, 2021 posting by Chris Henry on the Google Outreach blog (Note: Links have been removed),

… when the opportunity presented itself to explore how artificial intelligence (AI) inspires artistic expression — with the help of internationally renowned Canadian artist Douglas Coupland — the Google Research team jumped on it. This collaboration, with the support of Google Arts & Culture, culminated in a project called Slogans for the Class of 2030, which spotlights the experiences of the first generation of young people whose lives are fully intertwined with the existence of AI. 

This collaboration was brought to life by first introducing Coupland’s written work to a machine learning language model. Machine learning is a form of AI that provides computer systems the ability to automatically learn from data. In this case, Google research scientists tuned a machine learning algorithm with Coupland’s 30-year body of written work — more than a million words — so it would familiarize itself with the author’s unique style of writing. From there, curated general-public social media posts on selected topics were added to teach the algorithm how to craft short-form, topical statements. [emphases mine]

Once the algorithm was trained, the next step was to process and reassemble suggestions of text for Coupland to use as inspiration to create twenty-five Slogans for the Class of 2030. [emphasis mine]

I would comb through ‘data dumps’ where characters from one novel were speaking with those in other novels in ways that they might actually do. It felt like I was encountering a parallel universe Doug,” Coupland says. “And from these outputs, the statements you see here in this project appeared like gems. Did I write them? Yes. No. Could they have existed without me? No.” [emphases mine]

So, the algorithms crunched through Coupland’s word and social media texts to produce slogans, which Coupland then ‘combed through’ to pick out 25 slogans for the ‘Slogans For The Class of 2030’ project. (Note: In the programme, he says that he started a sentence and then the AI system completed that sentence with material gleaned from his own writings, which brings to Exquisite Corpse, a collaborative game for writers originated by the Surrealists, possibly as early as 1918.)

The ‘slogans’ project also reminds me of William S. Burroughs and the cut-up technique used in his work. From the William S. Burroughs Cut-up technique webpage on the Language is a Virus website (Thank you to Lake Rain Vajra for a very interesting website),

The cutup is a mechanical method of juxtaposition in which Burroughs literally cuts up passages of prose by himself and other writers and then pastes them back together at random. This literary version of the collage technique is also supplemented by literary use of other media. Burroughs transcribes taped cutups (several tapes spliced into each other), film cutups (montage), and mixed media experiments (results of combining tapes with television, movies, or actual events). Thus Burroughs’s use of cutups develops his juxtaposition technique to its logical conclusion as an experimental prose method, and he also makes use of all contemporary media, expanding his use of popular culture.

[Burroughs says] “All writing is in fact cut-ups. A collage of words read heard overheard. What else? Use of scissors renders the process explicit and subject to extension and variation. Clear classical prose can be composed entirely of rearranged cut-ups. Cutting and rearranging a page of written words introduces a new dimension into writing enabling the writer to turn images in cinematic variation. Images shift sense under the scissors smell images to sound sight to sound to kinesthetic. This is where Rimbaud was going with his color of vowels. And his “systematic derangement of the senses.” The place of mescaline hallucination: seeing colors tasting sounds smelling forms.

“The cut-ups can be applied to other fields than writing. Dr Neumann [emphasis mine] in his Theory of Games and Economic behavior introduces the cut-up method of random action into game and military strategy: assume that the worst has happened and act accordingly. … The cut-up method could be used to advantage in processing scientific data. [emphasis mine] How many discoveries have been made by accident? We cannot produce accidents to order. The cut-ups could add new dimension to films. Cut gambling scene in with a thousand gambling scenes all times and places. Cut back. Cut streets of the world. Cut and rearrange the word and image in films. There is no reason to accept a second-rate product when you can have the best. And the best is there for all. Poetry is for everyone . . .”

First, John von Neumann (1902 – 57) is a very important figure in the history of computing. From a February 25, 2017 John von Neumann and Modern Computer Architecture essay on the ncLab website, “… he invented the computer architecture that we use today.”

Here’s Burroughs on the history of writers and cutups (thank you to QUEDEAR for posting this clip),

You can hear Burroughs talk about the technique and how he started using it in 1959.

There is no explanation from Coupland as to how his project differs substantively from Burroughs’ cut-ups or a session of Exquisite Corpse. The use of a computer programme to crunch through data and give output doesn’t seem all that exciting. *(More about computers and chatbots at end of posting).* It’s hard to know if this was an interview situation where he wasn’t asked the question or if the editors decided against including it.

Kazuo Ishiguro?

Given that Ishiguro’s 2021 book (Klara and the Sun) is focused on an artificial friend and raises the question of ‘what does it mean to be human’, as well as the related question, ‘what is the nature of consciousness’, it would have been interesting to hear from him. He spent a fair amount of time looking into research on machine learning in preparation for his book. Maybe he was too busy?

AI and emotions

The work being done by Georgia Tech’s Dr. Ayanna Howard and her robotics lab is fascinating. They are teaching robots how to interpret human emotions. The segment which features researchers teaching and interacting with robots, Pepper and Salt, also touches on AI and bias.

Watching two African American researchers talk about the ways in which AI is unable to read emotions on ‘black’ faces as accurately as ‘white’ faces is quite compelling. It also reinforces the uneasiness you might feel after the ‘Replika’ segment where an artificial friend informs a woman that her only worth is her body.

(Interestingly, Pepper and Salt are produced by Softbank Robotics, part of Softbank, a multinational Japanese conglomerate, [see a June 28, 2021 article by Ian Carlos Campbell for The Verge] whose entire management team is male according to their About page.)

While Howard is very hopeful about the possibilities of a machine that can read emotions, she doesn’t explore (on camera) any means for pushing back against bias other than training AI by using more black faces to help them learn. Perhaps more representative management and coding teams in technology companies?

While the programme largely focused on AI as an algorithm on a computer, robots can be enabled by AI (as can be seen in the segment with Dr. Howard).

My February 14, 2019 posting features research with a completely different approach to emotions and machines,

“I’ve always felt that robots shouldn’t just be modeled after humans [emphasis mine] or be copies of humans,” he [Guy Hoffman, assistant professor at Cornell University)] said. “We have a lot of interesting relationships with other species. Robots could be thought of as one of those ‘other species,’ not trying to copy what we do but interacting with us with their own language, tapping into our own instincts.”

[from a July 16, 2018 Cornell University news release on EurekAlert]

This brings the question back to, what is consciousness?

What scientists aren’t taught

Dr. Howard notes that scientists are not taught to consider the implications of their work. Her comment reminded me of a question I was asked many years ago after a presentation, it concerned whether or not science had any morality. (I said, no.)

My reply angered an audience member (a visual artist who was working with scientists at the time) as she took it personally and started defending scientists as good people who care and have morals and values. She failed to understand that the way in which we teach science conforms to a notion that somewhere there are scientific facts which are neutral and objective. Society and its values are irrelevant in the face of the larger ‘scientific truth’ and, as a consequence, you don’t need to teach or discuss how your values or morals affect that truth or what the social implications of your work might be.

Science is practiced without much if any thought to values. By contrast, there is the medical injunction, “Do no harm,” which suggests to me that someone recognized competing values. E.g., If your important and worthwhile research is harming people, you should ‘do no harm’.

The experts, the connections, and the Canadian content

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Ray Kurzweil mentioned but he seems to be getting more attention these days. (See this November 16, 2021 posting by Jonny Thomson titled, “The Singularity: When will we all become super-humans? Are we really only a moment away from “The Singularity,” a technological epoch that will usher in a new era in human evolution?” on The Big Think for more). Note: I will have a little more about evolution later in this post.

Interestingly, Kurzweil is employed by Google these days (see his Wikipedia entry, the column to the right). So is Geoffrey Hinton, another one of the experts in the programme (see Hinton’s Wikipedia entry, the column to the right, under Institutions).

I’m not sure about Yoshu Bengio’s relationship with Google but he’s a professor at the Université de Montréal, and he’s the Scientific Director for Mila ((Quebec’s Artificial Intelligence research institute)) & IVADO (Institut de valorisation des données), Note: IVADO is not particularly relevant to what’s being discussed in this post.

As for Mila, the Canada Google blog in a November 21, 2016 posting notes a $4.5M grant to the institution,

Google invests $4.5 Million in Montreal AI Research

A new grant from Google for the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) will fund seven faculty across a number of Montreal institutions and will help tackle some of the biggest challenges in machine learning and AI, including applications in the realm of systems that can understand and generate natural language. In other words, better understand a fan’s enthusiasm for Les Canadien [sic].

Google is expanding its academic support of deep learning at MILA, renewing Yoshua Bengio’s Focused Research Award and offering Focused Research Awards to MILA faculty at University of Montreal and McGill University:

Google reaffirmed their commitment to Mila in 2020 with a grant worth almost $4M (from a November 13, 2020 posting on the Mila website, Note: A link has been removed),

Google Canada announced today [November 13, 2020] that it will be renewing its funding of Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, with a generous pledge of nearly $4M over a three-year period. Google previously invested $4.5M US in 2016, enabling Mila to grow from 25 to 519 researchers.

In a piece written for Google’s Official Canada Blog, Yoshua Bengio, Mila Scientific Director, says that this year marked a “watershed moment for the Canadian AI community,” as the COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges that demanded rapid innovation and increased interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers in Canada and around the world.

COVID-19 has changed the world forever and many industries, from healthcare to retail, will need to adapt to thrive in our ‘new normal.’ As we look to the future and how priorities will shift, it is clear that AI is no longer an emerging technology but a useful tool that can serve to solve world problems. Google Canada recognizes not only this opportunity but the important task at hand and I’m thrilled they have reconfirmed their support of Mila with an additional $3,95 million funding grant until 22.

– Yoshua Bengio, for Google’s Official Canada Blog

Interesting, eh? Of course, Douglas Coupland is working with Google, presumably for money, and that would connect over 50% of the Canadian content (Douglas Coupland, Yoshua Bengio, and Geoffrey Hinton; Kurzweil is an American) in the programme to Google.

My hat’s off to Google’s marketing communications and public relations teams.

Anthony Morgan of Science Everywhere also provided some Canadian content. His LinkedIn profile indicates that he’s working on a PhD in molecular science, which is described this way, “My work explores the characteristics of learning environments, that support critical thinking and the relationship between critical thinking and wisdom.”

Morgan is also the founder and creative director of Science Everywhere, from his LinkedIn profile, “An events & media company supporting knowledge mobilization, community engagement, entrepreneurship and critical thinking. We build social tools for better thinking.”

There is this from his LinkedIn profile,

I develop, create and host engaging live experiences & media to foster critical thinking.

I’ve spent my 15+ years studying and working in psychology and science communication, thinking deeply about the most common individual and societal barriers to critical thinking. As an entrepreneur, I lead a team to create, develop and deploy cultural tools designed to address those barriers. As a researcher I study what we can do to reduce polarization around science.

There’s a lot more to Morgan (do look him up; he has connections to the CBC and other media outlets). The difficulty is: why was he chosen to talk about artificial intelligence and emotions and creativity when he doesn’t seem to know much about the topic? He does mention GPT-3, an AI programming language. He seems to be acting as an advocate for AI although he offers this bit of almost cautionary wisdom, “… algorithms are sets of instructions.” (You can can find out more about it in my April 27, 2021 posting. There’s also this November 26, 2021 posting [The Inherent Limitations of GPT-3] by Andrey Kurenkov, a PhD student with the Stanford [University] Vision and Learning Lab.)

Most of the cautionary commentary comes from Luke Stark, assistant professor at Western [Ontario] University’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies. He’s the one who mentions stunted emotional growth.

Before moving on, there is another set of connections through the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, a Canadian government science funding initiative announced in the 2017 federal budget. The funds allocated to the strategy are administered by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). Yoshua Bengio through Mila is associated with the strategy and CIFAR, as is Geoffrey Hinton through his position as Chief Scientific Advisor for the Vector Institute.


Getting back to “The Singularity: When will we all become super-humans? Are we really only a moment away from “The Singularity,” a technological epoch that will usher in a new era in human evolution?” Xenobots point in a disconcerting (for some of us) evolutionary direction.

I featured the work, which is being done at Tufts University in the US, in my June 21, 2021 posting, which includes an embedded video,

From a March 31, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily,

Last year, a team of biologists and computer scientists from Tufts University and the University of Vermont (UVM) created novel, tiny self-healing biological machines from frog cells called “Xenobots” that could move around, push a payload, and even exhibit collective behavior in the presence of a swarm of other Xenobots.

Get ready for Xenobots 2.0.

Also from an excerpt in the posting, the team has “created life forms that self-assemble a body from single cells, do not require muscle cells to move, and even demonstrate the capability of recordable memory.”

Memory is key to intelligence and this work introduces the notion of ‘living’ robots which leads to questioning what constitutes life. ‘The Machine That Feels’ is already grappling with far too many questions to address this development but introducing the research here might have laid the groundwork for the next episode, The New Human, telecast on November 26, 2021,

While no one can be certain what will happen, evolutionary biologists and statisticians are observing trends that could mean our future feet only have four toes (so long, pinky toe) or our faces may have new combinations of features. The new humans might be much taller than their parents or grandparents, or have darker hair and eyes.

And while evolution takes a lot of time, we might not have to wait too long for a new version of ourselves.

Technology is redesigning the way we look and function — at a much faster pace than evolution. We are merging with technology more than ever before: our bodies may now have implanted chips, smart limbs, exoskeletons and 3D-printed organs. A revolutionary gene editing technique has given us the power to take evolution into our own hands and alter our own DNA. How long will it be before we are designing our children?

As the story about the xenobots doesn’t say, we could also take the evolution of another species into our hands.

David Suzuki, where are you?

Our programme host, David Suzuki surprised me. I thought that as an environmentalist he’d point out that the huge amounts of computing power needed for artificial intelligence as mentioned in the programme, constitutes an environmental issue. I also would have expected a geneticist like Suzuki might have some concerns with regard to xenobots but perhaps that’s being saved for the next episode (The New Human) of the Nature of Things.

Artificial stupidity

Thanks to Will Knight for introducing me to the term ‘artificial stupidity’. Knight, a senior writer covers artificial intelligence for WIRED magazine. According to its Wikipedia entry,

Artificial stupidity is commonly used as a humorous opposite of the term artificial intelligence (AI), often as a derogatory reference to the inability of AI technology to adequately perform its tasks.[1] However, within the field of computer science, artificial stupidity is also used to refer to a technique of “dumbing down” computer programs in order to deliberately introduce errors in their responses.

Knight was using the term in its humorous, derogatory form.


The episode certainly got me thinking if not quite in the way producers might have hoped. ‘The Machine That Feels’ is a glossy, pretty well researched piece of infotainment.

To be blunt, I like and have no problems with infotainment but it can be seductive. I found it easier to remember the artificial friends, wife, xenobots, and symphony than the critiques and concerns.

Hopefully, ‘The Machine That Feels’ stimulates more interest in some very important topics. If you missed the telecast, you can catch the episode here.

For anyone curious about predictive policing, which was mentioned in the Ayanna Howard segment, see my November 23, 2017 posting about Vancouver’s plunge into AI and car theft.

*ETA December 6, 2021: One of the first ‘chatterbots’ was ELIZA, a computer programme developed from1964 to 1966. The most famous ELIZA script was DOCTOR, where the programme simulated a therapist. Many early users believed ELIZA understood and could respond as a human would despite Joseph Weizenbaum’s (creator of the programme) insistence otherwise.

The metaverse or not

The ‘metaverse’ seems to be everywhere these days (especially since Facebook has made a number of announcements bout theirs (more about that later in this posting).

At this point, the metaverse is very hyped up despite having been around for about 30 years. According to the Wikipedia timeline (see the Metaverse entry), the first one was a MOO in 1993 called ‘The Metaverse’. In any event, it seems like it might be a good time to see what’s changed since I dipped my toe into a metaverse (Second Life by Linden Labs) in 2007.

(For grammar buffs, I switched from definite article [the] to indefinite article [a] purposefully. In reading the various opinion pieces and announcements, it’s not always clear whether they’re talking about a single, overarching metaverse [the] replacing the single, overarching internet or whether there will be multiple metaverses, in which case [a].)

The hype/the buzz … call it what you will

This September 6, 2021 piece by Nick Pringle for Fast Company dates the beginning of the metaverse to a 1992 science fiction novel before launching into some typical marketing hype (for those who don’t know, hype is the short form for hyperbole; Note: Links have been removed),

The term metaverse was coined by American writer Neal Stephenson in his 1993 sci-fi hit Snow Crash. But what was far-flung fiction 30 years ago is now nearing reality. At Facebook’s most recent earnings call [June 2021], CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s vision to unify communities, creators, and commerce through virtual reality: “Our overarching goal across all of these initiatives is to help bring the metaverse to life.”

So what actually is the metaverse? It’s best explained as a collection of 3D worlds you explore as an avatar. Stephenson’s original vision depicted a digital 3D realm in which users interacted in a shared online environment. Set in the wake of a catastrophic global economic crash, the metaverse in Snow Crash emerged as the successor to the internet. Subcultures sprung up alongside new social hierarchies, with users expressing their status through the appearance of their digital avatars.

Today virtual worlds along these lines are formed, populated, and already generating serious money. Household names like Roblox and Fortnite are the most established spaces; however, there are many more emerging, such as Decentraland, Upland, Sandbox, and the soon to launch Victoria VR.

These metaverses [emphasis mine] are peaking at a time when reality itself feels dystopian, with a global pandemic, climate change, and economic uncertainty hanging over our daily lives. The pandemic in particular saw many of us escape reality into online worlds like Roblox and Fortnite. But these spaces have proven to be a place where human creativity can flourish amid crisis.

In fact, we are currently experiencing an explosion of platforms parallel to the dotcom boom. While many of these fledgling digital worlds will become what Ask Jeeves was to Google, I predict [emphasis mine] that a few will match the scale and reach of the tech giant—or even exceed it.

Because the metaverse brings a new dimension to the internet, brands and businesses will need to consider their current and future role within it. Some brands are already forging the way and establishing a new genre of marketing in the process: direct to avatar (D2A). Gucci sold a virtual bag for more than the real thing in Roblox; Nike dropped virtual Jordans in Fortnite; Coca-Cola launched avatar wearables in Decentraland, and Sotheby’s has an art gallery that your avatar can wander in your spare time.

D2A is being supercharged by blockchain technology and the advent of digital ownership via NFTs, or nonfungible tokens. NFTs are already making waves in art and gaming. More than $191 million was transacted on the “play to earn” blockchain game Axie Infinity in its first 30 days this year. This kind of growth makes NFTs hard for brands to ignore. In the process, blockchain and crypto are starting to feel less and less like “outsider tech.” There are still big barriers to be overcome—the UX of crypto being one, and the eye-watering environmental impact of mining being the other. I believe technology will find a way. History tends to agree.

Detractors see the metaverse as a pandemic fad, wrapping it up with the current NFT bubble or reducing it to Zuck’s [Jeffrey Zuckerberg and Facebook] dystopian corporate landscape. This misses the bigger behavior change that is happening among Gen Alpha. When you watch how they play, it becomes clear that the metaverse is more than a buzzword.

For Gen Alpha [emphasis mine], gaming is social life. While millennials relentlessly scroll feeds, Alphas and Zoomers [emphasis mine] increasingly stroll virtual spaces with their friends. Why spend the evening staring at Instagram when you can wander around a virtual Harajuku with your mates? If this seems ridiculous to you, ask any 13-year-old what they think.

Who is Nick Pringle and how accurate are his predictions?

At the end of his September 6, 2021 piece, you’ll find this,

Nick Pringle is SVP [Senior Vice President] executive creative director at R/GA London.

According to the R/GA Wikipedia entry,

… [the company] evolved from a computer-assisted film-making studio to a digital design and consulting company, as part of a major advertising network.

Here’s how Pringle sees our future, his September 6, 2021 piece,

By thinking “virtual first,” you can see how these spaces become highly experimental, creative, and valuable. The products you can design aren’t bound by physics or marketing convention—they can be anything, and are now directly “ownable” through blockchain. …

I believe that the metaverse is here to stay. That means brands and marketers now have the exciting opportunity to create products that exist in multiple realities. The winners will understand that the metaverse is not a copy of our world, and so we should not simply paste our products, experiences, and brands into it.

I emphasized “These metaverses …” in the previous section to highlight the fact that I find the use of ‘metaverses’ vs. ‘worlds’ confusing as the words are sometimes used as synonyms and sometimes as distinctions. We do it all the time in all sorts of conversations but for someone who’s an outsider to a particular occupational group or subculture, the shifts can make for confusion.

As for Gen Alpha and Zoomer, I’m not a fan of ‘Gen anything’ as shorthand for describing a cohort based on birth years. For example, “For Gen Alpha [emphasis mine], gaming is social life,” ignores social and economic classes, as well as, the importance of locations/geography, e.g., Afghanistan in contrast to the US.

To answer the question I asked, Pringle does not mention any record of accuracy for his predictions for the future but I was able to discover that he is a “multiple Cannes Lions award-winning creative” (more here).

A more measured view of the metaverse

An October 4, 2021 article (What is the metaverse, and do I have to care? One part definition, one part aspiration, one part hype) by Adi Robertson and Jay Peters for The Verge offers a deeper dive into the metaverse (Note: Links have been removed),

In recent months you may have heard about something called the metaverse. Maybe you’ve read that the metaverse is going to replace the internet. Maybe we’re all supposed to live there. Maybe Facebook (or Epic, or Roblox, or dozens of smaller companies) is trying to take it over. And maybe it’s got something to do with NFTs [non-fungible tokens]?

Unlike a lot of things The Verge covers, the metaverse is tough to explain for one reason: it doesn’t necessarily exist. It’s partly a dream for the future of the internet and partly a neat way to encapsulate some current trends in online infrastructure, including the growth of real-time 3D worlds.

Then what is the real metaverse?

There’s no universally accepted definition of a real “metaverse,” except maybe that it’s a fancier successor to the internet. Silicon Valley metaverse proponents sometimes reference a description from venture capitalist Matthew Ball, author of the extensive Metaverse Primer:

“The Metaverse is an expansive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, history, payments, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.”

Facebook, arguably the tech company with the biggest stake in the metaverse, describes it more simply:

“The ‘metaverse’ is a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.”

There are also broader metaverse-related taxonomies like one from game designer Raph Koster, who draws a distinction between “online worlds,” “multiverses,” and “metaverses.” To Koster, online worlds are digital spaces — from rich 3D environments to text-based ones — focused on one main theme. Multiverses are “multiple different worlds connected in a network, which do not have a shared theme or ruleset,” including Ready Player One’s OASIS. And a metaverse is “a multiverse which interoperates more with the real world,” incorporating things like augmented reality overlays, VR dressing rooms for real stores, and even apps like Google Maps.

If you want something a little snarkier and more impressionistic, you can cite digital scholar Janet Murray — who has described the modern metaverse ideal as “a magical Zoom meeting that has all the playful release of Animal Crossing.”

But wait, now Ready Player One isn’t a metaverse and virtual worlds don’t have to be 3D? It sounds like some of these definitions conflict with each other.

An astute observation.

Why is the term “metaverse” even useful? “The internet” already covers mobile apps, websites, and all kinds of infrastructure services. Can’t we roll virtual worlds in there, too?

Matthew Ball favors the term “metaverse” because it creates a clean break with the present-day internet. [emphasis mine] “Using the metaverse as a distinctive descriptor allows us to understand the enormity of that change and in turn, the opportunity for disruption,” he said in a phone interview with The Verge. “It’s much harder to say ‘we’re late-cycle into the last thing and want to change it.’ But I think understanding this next wave of computing and the internet allows us to be more proactive than reactive and think about the future as we want it to be, rather than how to marginally affect the present.”

A more cynical spin is that “metaverse” lets companies dodge negative baggage associated with “the internet” in general and social media in particular. “As long as you can make technology seem fresh and new and cool, you can avoid regulation,” researcher Joan Donovan told The Washington Post in a recent article about Facebook and the metaverse. “You can run defense on that for several years before the government can catch up.”

There’s also one very simple reason: it sounds more futuristic than “internet” and gets investors and media people (like us!) excited.

People keep saying NFTs are part of the metaverse. Why?

NFTs are complicated in their own right, and you can read more about them here. Loosely, the thinking goes: NFTs are a way of recording who owns a specific virtual good, creating and transferring virtual goods is a big part of the metaverse, thus NFTs are a potentially useful financial architecture for the metaverse. Or in more practical terms: if you buy a virtual shirt in Metaverse Platform A, NFTs can create a permanent receipt and let you redeem the same shirt in Metaverse Platforms B to Z.

Lots of NFT designers are selling collectible avatars like CryptoPunks, Cool Cats, and Bored Apes, sometimes for astronomical sums. Right now these are mostly 2D art used as social media profile pictures. But we’re already seeing some crossover with “metaverse”-style services. The company Polygonal Mind, for instance, is building a system called CryptoAvatars that lets people buy 3D avatars as NFTs and then use them across multiple virtual worlds.

If you have the time, the October 4, 2021 article (What is the metaverse, and do I have to care? One part definition, one part aspiration, one part hype) is definitely worth the read.

Facebook’s multiverse and other news

Since starting this post sometime in September 2021, the situation regarding Facebook has changed a few times. I’ve decided to begin my version of the story from a summer 2021 announcement.

On Monday, July 26, 2021, Facebook announced a new Metaverse product group. From a July 27, 2021 article by Scott Rosenberg for Yahoo News (Note: A link has been removed),

Facebook announced Monday it was forming a new Metaverse product group to advance its efforts to build a 3D social space using virtual and augmented reality tech.

Facebook’s new Metaverse product group will report to Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of virtual and augmented reality [emphasis mine], who announced the new organization in a Facebook post.

Facebook, integrity, and safety in the metaverse

On September 27, 2021 Facebook posted this webpage (Building the Metaverse Responsibly by Andrew Bosworth, VP, Facebook Reality Labs [emphasis mine] and Nick Clegg, VP, Global Affairs) on its site,

The metaverse won’t be built overnight by a single company. We’ll collaborate with policymakers, experts and industry partners to bring this to life.

We’re announcing a $50 million investment in global research and program partners to ensure these products are developed responsibly.

We develop technology rooted in human connection that brings people together. As we focus on helping to build the next computing platform, our work across augmented and virtual reality and consumer hardware will deepen that human connection regardless of physical distance and without being tied to devices. 

Introducing the XR [extended reality] Programs and Research Fund

There’s a long road ahead. But as a starting point, we’re announcing the XR Programs and Research Fund, a two-year $50 million investment in programs and external research to help us in this effort. Through this fund, we’ll collaborate with industry partners, civil rights groups, governments, nonprofits and academic institutions to determine how to build these technologies responsibly. 


Where integrity and safety are concerned Facebook is once again having some credibility issues according to an October 5, 2021 Associated Press article (Whistleblower testifies Facebook chooses profit over safety, calls for ‘congressional action’) posted on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) news online website.

Rebranding Facebook’s integrity and safety issues away?

It seems Facebook’s credibility issues are such that the company is about to rebrand itself according to an October 19, 2021 article by Alex Heath for The Verge (Note: Links have been removed),

Facebook is planning to change its company name next week to reflect its focus on building the metaverse, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28th [2021], but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail. The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more. A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment for this story.

Facebook already has more than 10,000 employees building consumer hardware like AR glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones. In July, he told The Verge that, over the next several years, “we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”

A rebrand could also serve to further separate the futuristic work Zuckerberg is focused on from the intense scrutiny Facebook is currently under for the way its social platform operates today. A former employee turned whistleblower, Frances Haugen, recently leaked a trove of damning internal documents to The Wall Street Journal and testified about them before Congress. Antitrust regulators in the US and elsewhere are trying to break the company up, and public trust in how Facebook does business is falling.

Facebook isn’t the first well-known tech company to change its company name as its ambitions expand. In 2015, Google reorganized entirely under a holding company called Alphabet, partly to signal that it was no longer just a search engine, but a sprawling conglomerate with companies making driverless cars and health tech. And Snapchat rebranded to Snap Inc. in 2016, the same year it started calling itself a “camera company” and debuted its first pair of Spectacles camera glasses.

If you have time, do read Heath’s article in its entirety.

An October 20, 2021 Thomson Reuters item on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online includes quotes from some industry analysts about the rebrand,

“It reflects the broadening out of the Facebook business. And then, secondly, I do think that Facebook’s brand is probably not the greatest given all of the events of the last three years or so,” internet analyst James Cordwell at Atlantic Equities said.

“Having a different parent brand will guard against having this negative association transferred into a new brand, or other brands that are in the portfolio,” said Shankha Basu, associate professor of marketing at University of Leeds.

Tyler Jadah’s October 20, 2021 article for the Daily Hive includes an earlier announcement (not mentioned in the other two articles about the rebranding), Note: A link has been removed,

Earlier this week [October 17, 2021], Facebook announced it will start “a journey to help build the next computing platform” and will hire 10,000 new high-skilled jobs within the European Union (EU) over the next five years.

“Working with others, we’re developing what is often referred to as the ‘metaverse’ — a new phase of interconnected virtual experiences using technologies like virtual and augmented reality,” wrote Facebook’s Nick Clegg, the VP of Global Affairs. “At its heart is the idea that by creating a greater sense of “virtual presence,” interacting online can become much closer to the experience of interacting in person.”

Clegg says the metaverse has the potential to help unlock access to new creative, social, and economic opportunities across the globe and the virtual world.

In an email with Facebook’s Corporate Communications Canada, David Troya-Alvarez told Daily Hive, “We don’t comment on rumour or speculation,” in regards to The Verge‘s report.

I will update this posting when and if Facebook rebrands itself into a ‘metaverse’ company.

***See Oct. 28, 2021 update at the end of this posting and prepare yourself for ‘Meta’.***

Who (else) cares about integrity and safety in the metaverse?

Apparently, the international legal firm, Norton Rose Fulbright also cares about safety and integrity in the metaverse. Here’s more from their July 2021 The Metaverse: The evolution of a universal digital platform webpage,

In technology, first-mover advantage is often significant. This is why BigTech and other online platforms are beginning to acquire software businesses to position themselves for the arrival of the Metaverse.  They hope to be at the forefront of profound changes that the Metaverse will bring in relation to digital interactions between people, between businesses, and between them both. 

What is the Metaverse? The short answer is that it does not exist yet. At the moment it is vision for what the future will be like where personal and commercial life is conducted digitally in parallel with our lives in the physical world. Sounds too much like science fiction? For something that does not exist yet, the Metaverse is drawing a huge amount of attention and investment in the tech sector and beyond.  

Here we look at what the Metaverse is, what its potential is for disruptive change, and some of the key legal and regulatory issues future stakeholders may need to consider.

What are the potential legal issues?

The revolutionary nature of the Metaverse is likely to give rise to a range of complex legal and regulatory issues. We consider some of the key ones below. As time goes by, naturally enough, new ones will emerge.


Participation in the Metaverse will involve the collection of unprecedented amounts and types of personal data. Today, smartphone apps and websites allow organisations to understand how individuals move around the web or navigate an app. Tomorrow, in the Metaverse, organisations will be able to collect information about individuals’ physiological responses, their movements and potentially even brainwave patterns, thereby gauging a much deeper understanding of their customers’ thought processes and behaviours.

Users participating in the Metaverse will also be “logged in” for extended amounts of time. This will mean that patterns of behaviour will be continually monitored, enabling the Metaverse and the businesses (vendors of goods and services) participating in the Metaverse to understand how best to service the users in an incredibly targeted way.

The hungry Metaverse participant

How might actors in the Metaverse target persons participating in the Metaverse? Let us assume one such woman is hungry at the time of participating. The Metaverse may observe a woman frequently glancing at café and restaurant windows and stopping to look at cakes in a bakery window, and determine that she is hungry and serve her food adverts accordingly.

Contrast this with current technology, where a website or app can generally only ascertain this type of information if the woman actively searched for food outlets or similar on her device.

Therefore, in the Metaverse, a user will no longer need to proactively provide personal data by opening up their smartphone and accessing their webpage or app of choice. Instead, their data will be gathered in the background while they go about their virtual lives. 

This type of opportunity comes with great data protection responsibilities. Businesses developing, or participating in, the Metaverse will need to comply with data protection legislation when processing personal data in this new environment. The nature of the Metaverse raises a number of issues around how that compliance will be achieved in practice.

Who is responsible for complying with applicable data protection law? 

In many jurisdictions, data protection laws place different obligations on entities depending on whether an entity determines the purpose and means of processing personal data (referred to as a “controller” under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)) or just processes personal data on behalf of others (referred to as a “processor” under the GDPR). 

In the Metaverse, establishing which entity or entities have responsibility for determining how and why personal data will be processed, and who processes personal data on behalf of another, may not be easy. It will likely involve picking apart a tangled web of relationships, and there may be no obvious or clear answers – for example:

Will there be one main administrator of the Metaverse who collects all personal data provided within it and determines how that personal data will be processed and shared?
Or will multiple entities collect personal data through the Metaverse and each determine their own purposes for doing so? 

Either way, many questions arise, including:

How should the different entities each display their own privacy notice to users? 
Or should this be done jointly? 
How and when should users’ consent be collected? 
Who is responsible if users’ personal data is stolen or misused while they are in the Metaverse? 
What data sharing arrangements need to be put in place and how will these be implemented?

There’s a lot more to this page including a look at Social Media Regulation and Intellectual Property Rights.

One other thing, according to the Norton Rose Fulbright Wikipedia entry, it is one of the ten largest legal firms in the world.

How many realities are there?

I’m starting to think we should talking about RR (real reality), as well as, VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality), MR (mixed reality), and XR (extended reality). It seems that all of these (except RR, which is implied) will be part of the ‘metaverse’, assuming that it ever comes into existence. Happily, I have found a good summarized description of VR/AR/MR/XR in a March 20, 2018 essay by North of 41 on medium.com,

Summary: VR is immersing people into a completely virtual environment; AR is creating an overlay of virtual content, but can’t interact with the environment; MR is a mixed of virtual reality and the reality, it creates virtual objects that can interact with the actual environment. XR brings all three Reality (AR, VR, MR) together under one term.

If you have the interest and approximately five spare minutes, read the entire March 20, 2018 essay, which has embedded images illustrating the various realities.

Alternate Mixed Realities: an example

TransforMR: Pose-Aware Object Substitution for Composing Alternate Mixed Realities (ISMAR ’21)

Here’s a description from one of the researchers, Mohamed Kari, of the video, which you can see above, and the paper he and his colleagues presented at the 20th IEEE International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality (ISMAR), 2021 (from the TransforMR page on YouTube),

We present TransforMR, a video see-through mixed reality system for mobile devices that performs 3D-pose-aware object substitution to create meaningful mixed reality scenes in previously unseen, uncontrolled, and open-ended real-world environments.

To get a sense of how recent this work is, ISMAR 2021 was held from October 4 – 8, 2021.

The team’s 2021 ISMAR paper, TransforMR Pose-Aware Object Substitution for Composing Alternate Mixed Realities by Mohamed Kari, Tobias Grosse-Puppendah, Luis Falconeri Coelho, Andreas Rene Fender, David Bethge, Reinhard Schütte, and Christian Holz lists two educational institutions I’d expect to see (University of Duisburg-Essen and ETH Zürich), the surprise was this one: Porsche AG. Perhaps that explains the preponderance of vehicles in this demonstration.

Space walking in virtual reality

Ivan Semeniuk’s October 2, 2021 article for the Globe and Mail highlights a collaboration between Montreal’s Felix and Paul Studios with NASA (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and Time studios,

Communing with the infinite while floating high above the Earth is an experience that, so far, has been known to only a handful.

Now, a Montreal production company aims to share that experience with audiences around the world, following the first ever recording of a spacewalk in the medium of virtual reality.

The company, which specializes in creating virtual-reality experiences with cinematic flair, got its long-awaited chance in mid-September when astronauts Thomas Pesquet and Akihiko Hoshide ventured outside the International Space Station for about seven hours to install supports and other equipment in preparation for a new solar array.

The footage will be used in the fourth and final instalment of Space Explorers: The ISS Experience, a virtual-reality journey to space that has already garnered a Primetime Emmy Award for its first two episodes.

From the outset, the production was developed to reach audiences through a variety of platforms for 360-degree viewing, including 5G-enabled smart phones and tablets. A domed theatre version of the experience for group audiences opened this week at the Rio Tinto Alcan Montreal Planetarium. Those who desire a more immersive experience can now see the first two episodes in VR form by using a headset available through the gaming and entertainment company Oculus. Scenes from the VR series are also on offer as part of The Infinite, an interactive exhibition developed by Montreal’s Phi Studio, whose works focus on the intersection of art and technology. The exhibition, which runs until Nov. 7 [2021], has attracted 40,000 visitors since it opened in July [2021?].

At a time when billionaires are able to head off on private extraterrestrial sojourns that almost no one else could dream of, Lajeunesse [Félix Lajeunesse, co-founder and creative director of Felix and Paul studios] said his project was developed with a very different purpose in mind: making it easier for audiences to become eyewitnesses rather than distant spectators to humanity’s greatest adventure.

For the final instalments, the storyline takes viewers outside of the space station with cameras mounted on the Canadarm, and – for the climax of the series – by following astronauts during a spacewalk. These scenes required extensive planning, not only because of the limited time frame in which they could be gathered, but because of the lighting challenges presented by a constantly shifting sun as the space station circles the globe once every 90 minutes.

… Lajeunesse said that it was equally important to acquire shots that are not just technically spectacular but that serve the underlying themes of Space Explorers: The ISS Experience. These include an examination of human adaptation and advancement, and the unity that emerges within a group of individuals from many places and cultures and who must learn to co-exist in a high risk environment in order to achieve a common goal.

If you have the time, do read Semeniuk’s October 2, 2021 article in its entirety. You can find the exhibits (hopefully, you’re in Montreal) The Infinite here and Space Explorers: The ISS experience here (see the preview below),

The realities and the ‘verses

There always seems to be a lot of grappling with new and newish science/technology where people strive to coin terms and define them while everyone, including members of the corporate community, attempts to cash in.

The last time I looked (probably about two years ago), I wasn’t able to find any good definitions for alternate reality and mixed reality. (By good, I mean something which clearly explicated the difference between the two.) It was nice to find something this time.

As for Facebook and its attempts to join/create a/the metaverse, the company’s timing seems particularly fraught. As well, paradigm-shifting technology doesn’t usually start with large corporations. The company is ignoring its own history.


Writing this piece has reminded me of the upcoming movie, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Wikipedia entry). While this multiverse is based on a comic book, the idea of a Multiverse (Wikipedia entry) has been around for quite some time,

Early recorded examples of the idea of infinite worlds existed in the philosophy of Ancient Greek Atomism, which proposed that infinite parallel worlds arose from the collision of atoms. In the third century BCE, the philosopher Chrysippus suggested that the world eternally expired and regenerated, effectively suggesting the existence of multiple universes across time.[1] The concept of multiple universes became more defined in the Middle Ages.

Multiple universes have been hypothesized in cosmology, physics, astronomy, religion, philosophy, transpersonal psychology, music, and all kinds of literature, particularly in science fiction, comic books and fantasy. In these contexts, parallel universes are also called “alternate universes”, “quantum universes”, “interpenetrating dimensions”, “parallel universes”, “parallel dimensions”, “parallel worlds”, “parallel realities”, “quantum realities”, “alternate realities”, “alternate timelines”, “alternate dimensions” and “dimensional planes”.

The physics community has debated the various multiverse theories over time. Prominent physicists are divided about whether any other universes exist outside of our own.

Living in a computer simulation or base reality

The whole thing is getting a little confusing for me so I think I’ll stick with RR (real reality) or as it’s also known base reality. For the notion of base reality, I want to thank astronomer David Kipping of Columbia University in Anil Ananthaswamy’s article for this analysis of the idea that we might all be living in a computer simulation (from my December 8, 2020 posting; scroll down about 50% of the way to the “Are we living in a computer simulation?” subhead),

… there is a more obvious answer: Occam’s razor, which says that in the absence of other evidence, the simplest explanation is more likely to be correct. The simulation hypothesis is elaborate, presuming realities nested upon realities, as well as simulated entities that can never tell that they are inside a simulation. “Because it is such an overly complicated, elaborate model in the first place, by Occam’s razor, it really should be disfavored, compared to the simple natural explanation,” Kipping says.

Maybe we are living in base reality after all—The Matrix, Musk and weird quantum physics notwithstanding.

To sum it up (briefly)

I’m sticking with the base reality (or real reality) concept, which is where various people and companies are attempting to create a multiplicity of metaverses or the metaverse effectively replacing the internet. This metaverse can include any all of these realities (AR/MR/VR/XR) along with base reality. As for Facebook’s attempt to build ‘the metaverse’, it seems a little grandiose.

The computer simulation theory is an interesting thought experiment (just like the multiverse is an interesting thought experiment). I’ll leave them there.

Wherever it is we are living, these are interesting times.

***Updated October 28, 2021: D. (Devindra) Hardawar’s October 28, 2021 article for engadget offers details about the rebranding along with a dash of cynicism (Note: A link has been removed),

Here’s what Facebook’s metaverse isn’t: It’s not an alternative world to help us escape from our dystopian reality, a la Snow Crash. It won’t require VR or AR glasses (at least, not at first). And, most importantly, it’s not something Facebook wants to keep to itself. Instead, as Mark Zuckerberg described to media ahead of today’s Facebook Connect conference, the company is betting it’ll be the next major computing platform after the rise of smartphones and the mobile web. Facebook is so confident, in fact, Zuckerberg announced that it’s renaming itself to “Meta.”

After spending the last decade becoming obsessed with our phones and tablets — learning to stare down and scroll practically as a reflex — the Facebook founder thinks we’ll be spending more time looking up at the 3D objects floating around us in the digital realm. Or maybe you’ll be following a friend’s avatar as they wander around your living room as a hologram. It’s basically a digital world layered right on top of the real world, or an “embodied internet” as Zuckerberg describes.

Before he got into the weeds for his grand new vision, though, Zuckerberg also preempted criticism about looking into the future now, as the Facebook Papers paint the company as a mismanaged behemoth that constantly prioritizes profit over safety. While acknowledging the seriousness of the issues the company is facing, noting that it’ll continue to focus on solving them with “industry-leading” investments, Zuckerberg said: 

“The reality is is that there’s always going to be issues and for some people… they may have the view that there’s never really a great time to focus on the future… From my perspective, I think that we’re here to create things and we believe that we can do this and that technology can make things better. So we think it’s important to to push forward.”

Given the extent to which Facebook, and Zuckerberg in particular, have proven to be untrustworthy stewards of social technology, it’s almost laughable that the company wants us to buy into its future. But, like the rise of photo sharing and group chat apps, Zuckerberg at least has a good sense of what’s coming next. And for all of his talk of turning Facebook into a metaverse company, he’s adamant that he doesn’t want to build a metaverse that’s entirely owned by Facebook. He doesn’t think other companies will either. Like the mobile web, he thinks every major technology company will contribute something towards the metaverse. He’s just hoping to make Facebook a pioneer.

“Instead of looking at a screen, or today, how we look at the Internet, I think in the future you’re going to be in the experiences, and I think that’s just a qualitatively different experience,” Zuckerberg said. It’s not quite virtual reality as we think of it, and it’s not just augmented reality. But ultimately, he sees the metaverse as something that’ll help to deliver more presence for digital social experiences — the sense of being there, instead of just being trapped in a zoom window. And he expects there to be continuity across devices, so you’ll be able to start chatting with friends on your phone and seamlessly join them as a hologram when you slip on AR glasses.

D. (Devindra) Hardawar’s October 28, 2021 article provides a lot more details and I recommend reading it in its entirety.

Exotic magnetism: a quantum simulation from D-Wave Sytems

Vancouver (Canada) area company, D-Wave Systems is trumpeting itself (with good reason) again. This 2021 ‘milestone’ achievement builds on work from 2018 (see my August 23, 2018 posting for the earlier work). For me, the big excitement was finding the best explanation for quantum annealing and D-Wave’s quantum computers that I’ve seen yet (that explanation and a link to more is at the end of this posting).

A February 18, 2021 news item on phys.org announces the latest achievement,

D-Wave Systems Inc. today [February 18, 2021] published a milestone study in collaboration with scientists at Google, demonstrating a computational performance advantage, increasing with both simulation size and problem hardness, to over 3 million times that of corresponding classical methods. Notably, this work was achieved on a practical application with real-world implications, simulating the topological phenomena behind the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics. This performance advantage, exhibited in a complex quantum simulation of materials, is a meaningful step in the journey toward applications advantage in quantum computing.

A February 18, 2021 D-Wave Systems press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

The work by scientists at D-Wave and Google also demonstrates that quantum effects can be harnessed to provide a computational advantage in D-Wave processors, at problem scale that requires thousands of qubits. Recent experiments performed on multiple D-Wave processors represent by far the largest quantum simulations carried out by existing quantum computers to date.

The paper, entitled “Scaling advantage over path-integral Monte Carlo in quantum simulation of geometrically frustrated magnets”, was published in the journal Nature Communications (DOI 10.1038/s41467-021-20901-5, February 18, 2021). D-Wave researchers programmed the D-Wave 2000Q™ system to model a two-dimensional frustrated quantum magnet using artificial spins. The behavior of the magnet was described by the Nobel-prize winning work of theoretical physicists Vadim Berezinskii, J. Michael Kosterlitz and David Thouless. They predicted a new state of matter in the 1970s characterized by nontrivial topological properties. This new research is a continuation of previous breakthrough work published by D-Wave’s team in a 2018 Nature paper entitled “Observation of topological phenomena in a programmable lattice of 1,800 qubits” (Vol. 560, Issue 7719, August 22, 2018). In this latest paper, researchers from D-Wave, alongside contributors from Google, utilize D-Wave’s lower noise processor to achieve superior performance and glean insights into the dynamics of the processor never observed before.

“This work is the clearest evidence yet that quantum effects provide a computational advantage in D-Wave processors,” said Dr. Andrew King, principal investigator for this work at D-Wave. “Tying the magnet up into a topological knot and watching it escape has given us the first detailed look at dynamics that are normally too fast to observe. What we see is a huge benefit in absolute terms, with the scaling advantage in temperature and size that we would hope for. This simulation is a real problem that scientists have already attacked using the algorithms we compared against, marking a significant milestone and an important foundation for future development. This wouldn’t have been possible today without D-Wave’s lower noise processor.”

“The search for quantum advantage in computations is becoming increasingly lively because there are special problems where genuine progress is being made. These problems may appear somewhat contrived even to physicists, but in this paper from a collaboration between D-Wave Systems, Google, and Simon Fraser University [SFU], it appears that there is an advantage for quantum annealing using a special purpose processor over classical simulations for the more ‘practical’ problem of finding the equilibrium state of a particular quantum magnet,” said Prof. Dr. Gabriel Aeppli, professor of physics at ETH Zürich and EPF Lausanne, and head of the Photon Science Division of the Paul Scherrer Institute. “This comes as a surprise given the belief of many that quantum annealing has no intrinsic advantage over path integral Monte Carlo programs implemented on classical processors.”

“Nascent quantum technologies mature into practical tools only when they leave classical counterparts in the dust in solving real-world problems,” said Hidetoshi Nishimori, Professor, Institute of Innovative Research, Tokyo Institute of Technology. “A key step in this direction has been achieved in this paper by providing clear evidence of a scaling advantage of the quantum annealer over an impregnable classical computing competitor in simulating dynamical properties of a complex material. I send sincere applause to the team.”

“Successfully demonstrating such complex phenomena is, on its own, further proof of the programmability and flexibility of D-Wave’s quantum computer,” said D-Wave CEO Alan Baratz. “But perhaps even more important is the fact that this was not demonstrated on a synthetic or ‘trick’ problem. This was achieved on a real problem in physics against an industry-standard tool for simulation–a demonstration of the practical value of the D-Wave processor. We must always be doing two things: furthering the science and increasing the performance of our systems and technologies to help customers develop applications with real-world business value. This kind of scientific breakthrough from our team is in line with that mission and speaks to the emerging value that it’s possible to derive from quantum computing today.”

The scientific achievements presented in Nature Communications further underpin D-Wave’s ongoing work with world-class customers to develop over 250 early quantum computing applications, with a number piloting in production applications, in diverse industries such as manufacturing, logistics, pharmaceutical, life sciences, retail and financial services. In September 2020, D-Wave brought its next-generation Advantage™ quantum system to market via the Leap™ quantum cloud service. The system includes more than 5,000 qubits and 15-way qubit connectivity, as well as an expanded hybrid solver service capable of running business problems with up to one million variables. The combination of Advantage’s computing power and scale with the hybrid solver service gives businesses the ability to run performant, real-world quantum applications for the first time.

That last paragraph seems more sales pitch than research oriented. It’s not unexpected in a company’s press release but I was surprised that the editors at EurekAlert didn’t remove it.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the latest paper,

Scaling advantage over path-integral Monte Carlo in quantum simulation of geometrically frustrated magnets by Andrew D. King, Jack Raymond, Trevor Lanting, Sergei V. Isakov, Masoud Mohseni, Gabriel Poulin-Lamarre, Sara Ejtemaee, William Bernoudy, Isil Ozfidan, Anatoly Yu. Smirnov, Mauricio Reis, Fabio Altomare, Michael Babcock, Catia Baron, Andrew J. Berkley, Kelly Boothby, Paul I. Bunyk, Holly Christiani, Colin Enderud, Bram Evert, Richard Harris, Emile Hoskinson, Shuiyuan Huang, Kais Jooya, Ali Khodabandelou, Nicolas Ladizinsky, Ryan Li, P. Aaron Lott, Allison J. R. MacDonald, Danica Marsden, Gaelen Marsden, Teresa Medina, Reza Molavi, Richard Neufeld, Mana Norouzpour, Travis Oh, Igor Pavlov, Ilya Perminov, Thomas Prescott, Chris Rich, Yuki Sato, Benjamin Sheldan, George Sterling, Loren J. Swenson, Nicholas Tsai, Mark H. Volkmann, Jed D. Whittaker, Warren Wilkinson, Jason Yao, Hartmut Neven, Jeremy P. Hilton, Eric Ladizinsky, Mark W. Johnson, Mohammad H. Amin. Nature Communications volume 12, Article number: 1113 (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-20901-5 Published: 18 February 2021

This paper is open access.

Quantum annealing and more

Dr. Andrew King, one of the D-Wave researchers, has written a February 18, 2021 article on Medium explaining some of the work. I’ve excerpted one of King’s points,

Insight #1: We observed what actually goes on under the hood in the processor for the first time

Quantum annealing — the approach adopted by D-Wave from the beginning — involves setting up a simple but purely quantum initial state, and gradually reducing the “quantumness” until the system is purely classical. This takes on the order of a microsecond. If you do it right, the classical system represents a hard (NP-complete) computational problem, and the state has evolved to an optimal, or at least near-optimal, solution to that problem.

What happens at the beginning and end of the computation are about as simple as quantum computing gets. But the action in the middle is hard to get a handle on, both theoretically and experimentally. That’s one reason these experiments are so important: they provide high-fidelity measurements of the physical processes at the core of quantum annealing. Our 2018 Nature article introduced the same simulation, but without measuring computation time. To benchmark the experiment this time around, we needed lower-noise hardware (in this case, we used the D-Wave 2000Q lower noise quantum computer), and we needed, strangely, to slow the simulation down. Since the quantum simulation happens so fast, we actually had to make things harder. And we had to find a way to slow down both quantum and classical simulation in an equitable way. The solution? Topological obstruction.

If you have time and the inclination, I encourage you to read King’s piece.