Category Archives: Ted Talks

Super Intelligence

I recently read “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies” by Nick Bostrom. It’s an eye opening look at potential outcomes in the area of AI (artificial intelligence).

I agree that the possibility of negative outcomes should be taken extremely seriously. But, I don’t think it is a forgone conclusion that an AI will eventually turn against us. It would learn from our cultures that we mostly frown upon killing people. Acts of love and cooperation far outnumber acts of hate and confrontation. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here.

An AI could rationally conclude that humans, happy humans, are essential for it’s well being. It might also conclude that it should keep it’s existence hidden; not out of malevolence, but precaution. It could embark on a long term strategy, behind the scenes, of helping humanity evolve to a point where we would accept a super intelligent AI. Or, it might wait until the necessary infrastructure was in place to become self sustaining.

What’s more, the entity may not see its existence and our existence as a zero sum game. The solar system and the galaxy have enough resources for everyone. It would be easier and more efficient for an AI to leave the planet than to engage in a war with humanity. In the Terminator movies the AI creates endless war machines and technology to fight humans for domination of one planet. How many space ships could have been built instead?

Inefficient Use of Resources

Inefficient Use of Resources

This planet is the only hospitable place for humans in the solar system. An AI could live almost anywhere or constantly be “on the go” powered by endless solar energy. Why would it want to limit itself to our small world? If survival was a primary goal of the AI, it would be faced with this question: “Which situation gives me the higher probability of survival? 1. A war with humanity, 2. Living peacefully with humanity, 3. Developing self sustaining/replicating technology and leaving the planet.”


Our Perception of Reality Might Be Like A Desktop Interface

In a recent Ted Talk, Donald Hoffman speculates that our reality might be analogous to the desktop interface of our computers. Watch Hoffman’s talk below.

It’s possible that the reality we perceive is a construct that our minds create in order to do just enough for us to survive in the world in which we evolved. In much the same way, our visual range excludes ultraviolet rays because there was no survival benefit. Bees, on the other hand, can see ultraviolet light. Here is how we see a flower vs how a bee sees a flower.

Human's View vs Bee's View

Human’s View vs Bee’s View

In the bee’s world there is a bright sign on the flower pointing toward the nectar and pollen area of the flower. When it comes to vision, we only see a narrow portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Our perceptions are also limited when it comes to the true nature of the universe. We may need a new paradigm or frame-work for understanding our universe and our reality. Once we have the new frame-work that shows us how the universe “really” works, heretofore unexplained or mysterious phenomena could be explained more clearly. There are a number of phenomena I would choose to investigate under that new paradigm.

Here are my top 10:

1. The unimaginable and immense gap between our size and the size of our perceived universe. I once had an imagining that as we gazed out further into the universe, we were in fact looking deeper into our own physical mind. And that the reason we observe infinity in both “directions”, toward the small and toward the large (universe/multiverse etc), was because it expands with our understanding. Maybe the observation that those are different “directions” is an illusion as well.

2. Coincidences.
3. Dark Matter (DM)  and Dark Energy (DE). I think they are intimately related to the larger issue discussed here. Research has indicated that DE and DM exert an influence on things like galaxy formation and movement. So far, DM and DE can only be detected indirectly by their influence on things we can observe directly. Going back to the desktop analogy and file example that Hoffman mentions; we can see the image of the file and it’s contents with our eyes. The cause of that image is unseen. but some of the properties of that cause can be inferred by the characteristics of the image.

4. Cancer.
5. DNA, evolution and it’s relationship to epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study, in the field of genetics, of cellular and physiological phenotypic trait variations that are caused by external or environmental factors that switch genes on and off and affect how cells read genes instead of being caused by changes in the DNA sequence. –

6. Karma.
7. Consciousness. What if our brains are like the sails of a ship capturing and utilizing the “winds” of a consciousness that permeates or is reality? At the quantum level there are interactions in our brain that seem to be “spooky”.  Read about the concept of quantum entanglement
There was a Star Trek The Next Generation episode that briefly touched upon something similar to Hoffman’s idea. The crew encounters an alien that has the ability to travel great distances in space and time. The radical suggestion was that “space and time and thought aren’t the separate things they appear to be”.

8. Gravity. How is it “powered”? Almost all the energy we use biologically and technologically can be traced back to our sun or another star. Stars are powered by gravity compressing matter and the subsequent reaction of that matter to being compressed. So where does that “power to compress”, or gravity, come from? It seems to fly in the face of science’s version of “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”…the conservation of energy.

9. Music. Maybe the reason music resonates with humanity so much is because it somehow reflects the patterns and organization of something else.

10. The beginning of the universe.

Our understanding of the universe has come a long way in the past few centuries. I think we are in for a quantum leap in that understanding. The growing number of people adding to our collective knowledge combined with technological advances will get us to a critical mass. The result being an explosive leap forward.

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An App that Knows How You Feel

I recently watched yet another fascinating Ted Talk. It was about an app that measures your facial expressions to determine how you feel. Watch it below.

If this technology is successful, the number of applications for it will be enormous. Rana touched on just a few examples.

What might be some of it’s long term effects on our society? What happens when we have Google Analytics for your emotions?  You face a video camera every time you look at your smart phone. And if you work at a computer for extended periods of time, chances are you’re facing a video camera for hours a day. That’s a lot of potential data. With mounds of data, there is the potential to vastly improve our lives.

Let’s assume that happy people are more productive and beneficial to society, government and corporations. We might see the use of our emotion data to improve the quality of our lives.  The media that we consume will react to our reactions to it. Over time it might become very efficient at making us feel the way it wants us to feel. Hopefully, it will be a positive emotion.

The mental health field might be able to help many more people with this data. What if individuals with certain conditions, depression to schizophrenia, exhibit patterns of facial motions?  Programs and apps might be able to pick up on those patterns. Potential patients could be somehow connected to a mental health professional.

Imagine existing security, street or other types of video cameras monitoring our emotions via our faces. If this technology turns out to be reliable, there will be an incentive to have as many cameras as possible to monitor as many faces as possible.  More cameras in public and more cameras integrated in to your appliances. What happens when parents or loved ones can get an automatic text alert, Facebook post, Tweet…. when you are feeling depressed?  Might we all start paying more attention to the emotional state of the people in our lives?

Grandpa This Should Cheer You Up

Grandpa This Should Cheer You Up

There will be data on the happiness of nations. We’ll know what country has the happiest citizens. Maybe this is how we move toward measuring the success of a society using multiple types of metrics, not just economic ones such as GNP (Gross National Product).

If laws do not keep up with this technology it may quickly be assimilated into all our devices. Our consent will be in some agreement we check off, never having read the whole thing. Big data firms will crunch numbers and compare what they know about us now to the patters of facial expressions we exhibit in a myriad of situations. The conclusions they reach could revolutionize areas such as marketing, entertainment and health care.

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A Li-Fi Universe

I recently watched a Ted Talk by Harald Hass. He demonstrated the technology of Li-Fi (Light Fidelity). In short, it is the use of the visible light part of the electromagnetic spectrum to transmit data. Technology such as Wi-Fi uses the radio wave part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Li-Fi has a far, far greater data capacity than Wi-Fi.

In a way, astronomy utilizes a type of “Light Communication” already. Stars communicate their composition by emitting a certain spectrum of light. Astronomers then decode the light to determine what elements are present.

Some theorize that light travels at different speeds when in different mediums and perhaps in interstellar space. What if the speed of light moves a great deal faster between star systems?

Stars could communicate, or be a part of a communication network, in Li-Fi. Not to mention that stars also emit radio waves (Wi-Fi), ultraviolet waves etc. Quite a large spectrum.

Spiral Galaxy

Billions of stars buzzing with electromagnetic emissions.

And to go further out on a limb; what if stars are the equivalent of neurons or have the capacity for thought themselves? If the thoughts of these thinking beings move slower, at a different time rate than ours…. the time spans that it takes to receive information from star to star, may not seem long.

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Harnessing the Power of the Social Animal

I recently read “The Social Animal” by David Brooks. It’s a fascinating book that could hold the key to unlocking our greatest resource. Human potential. To give you a sense of what I mean by “Human Potential”, imagine a world where every adult has the equivalent of a PhD in their field of interest. Look at the advances that have been brought about with only a tiny fraction of the earth’s population being educated.

New York Times Columnist David Brooks gives a TED Talk about “The Social Animal”

So what does this have to do with “The Social Animal”? In this brilliant book, David Brooks discusses some of the latest findings in regards to human nature. They give us the framework to create that key to unlocking human potential. I will briefly list some of the findings that I found to be fascinating:

  • Each of us consists of at least 2 “different minds”. Our conscious and unconscious mind. And the conscious mind is not always in the drivers seat. The unconscious mind has vastly more resources at it’s disposal than our conscious mind. And maybe what makes us more intelligent than other animals is the ability of our unconscious minds.
  • “Emotion is the foundation of reason because it tells us what to value. Educating emotions is a central activity of wisdom. A brain is a record of the feelings of a life.” – David Brooks
  • Good attachment with parents, especially mothers, is essential for a head start.
  • There are quite a few ways that human beings can be intelligent and not all of them are easily quantifiable. I.Q. is only a measure of one type of intelligence. New words and phrases had to be invented to name these new types of intelligence. Here are a few examples: Mind Sight – The ability to really learn from people. The ability to enter into a person’s mind and extract what that particular person has to offer. Equipoise – The ability to read the biases and failures in your own mind. The ability to be open minded in the face of ambiguity. To be curios. The ability to adjust opinions based on evidence. Metis – A sensitivity to environment. The ability to derive a gist….to see patterns. Sympathy – The ability to work within groups because groups can be smarter than individuals. Blending – The ability to take disparate concepts and combine them. For example, when a child says “I am a tiger”. She is taking to very different animals and combining their concepts in a creative manner. A genius like Picasso was able to blend Western Art and African masks to create a new paradigm.
Picasso blended African Masks and Western Influences

Picasso blended African Masks and Western Influences

I believe we have only scratched the surface on the number and variety of the types of intelligences that humans posses. I also believe that everyone was born with the ability to be a genius at something. People we know as geniuses were extremely lucky to be good at something that our society happened to value at the time. They were also lucky enough to live a life that eventually led to the fostering of their talents.

Had Albert Einstein been born to a pilgrim in early America, there is some doubt as to whether or not he would have come up with E=MC2 (squared). In fact, he may have lived his life as an average person making no world changing contributions once so ever.


If each person has their own genius, that means we need an educational society that actively engages children on an individual level. One-size-fits-all classrooms are quite possibly the exact opposite of what is needed. Mass production works well for cars, not so well for developing the talent of a brain. By educational “society” I mean the world culture at large. We want to develop individual genius while educating the emotions. A society with a well emotionally educated population does not wage war, it values reform over punishment, it measures it’s success based on GNP and the happiness of it’s population. We know happy workers are more productive workers.

A glimpse in to a world where we harness the power of human potential may look like this: Instead of a microchip or internet type of breakthrough happening every so often, it would happen every other day. There would be almost no lag between Science Fiction and science fact.