Tag Archives: Larry Niven

Singularity lacking in motivation

motivationMIT neuroengineer Edward Boyden has been speculating as to whether the singularity requires the machine-equivalent of what humans call “motivation”:

I think that focusing solely on intelligence augmentation as the driver of the future is leaving out a critical part of the analysis–namely, the changes in motivation that might arise as intelligence amplifies. Call it the need for “machine leadership skills” or “machine philosophy”–without it, such a feedback loop might quickly sputter out.

We all know that intelligence, as commonly defined, isn’t enough to impact the world all by itself. The ability to pursue a goal doggedly against obstacles, ignoring the grimness of reality (sometimes even to the point of delusion–i.e., against intelligence), is also important.

This brings us back to another Larry Niven trope. In the Known Space series the Pak Protector species (sans spoilers) is superintelligent, but utterly dedicated to the goal of protecting their young. As such Protectors are incapable of long-term co-operation because individual protectors will always seek advantage only for their own gene-line. As such the Pak homeworld is in a state of permanent warfare.

This ties in with artificial intelligence: what good is being superintelligent if you aren’t motivated to do anything, or if you are motivated solely to one, specific task? This highlights one of the basic problems with rationality itself: Humean intrumental rationality implies that our intellect is always the slave of the passions, meaning that we use our intelligence to achieve our desires, which are predetermined and beyond our control.

But as economist Chris Dillow points out in this review of the book Animal Spirits, irrational behaviour can be valuable. Artists, inventors, entrepreneurs, and writers may create things with little rational hope of reward but – thankfully for the rest of society – they do it anyway.

And what if it turns out that any prospective superintelligent AIs wake up and work out that it isn’t worth ever trying to do anything, ever?

[via Slashdot, from Technology Review][image from spaceshipbeebe on flickr]

Magnetic monopoles spotted for the first time

1-magneticmonoThat staple of Larry Niven‘s Known Space series – magnetic monopoles – have finally been isolated in the laboratory:

Magnetic monopoles are hypothetical particles proposed by physicists that carry a single magnetic pole, either a magnetic North pole or South pole. In the material world this is quite exceptional because magnetic particles are usually observed as dipoles, north and south combined. However there are several theories that predict the existence of monopoles. Among others, in 1931 the physicist Paul Dirac was led by his calculations to the conclusion that magnetic monopoles can exist at the end of tubes – called Dirac strings – that carry magnetic field. Until now they have remained undetected.

[from Physorg][image from Physorg]

Scriths and legends: hidden portals a possibility

hiddenResearchers in Hong Kong are developing technologies that could one day lead to hidden portals [1]:

In the research paper, the researchers from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Fudan University in Shanghai describe the concept of a “a gateway that can block electromagnetic waves but that allows the passage of other entities”

The gateway, which is now much closer to reality, uses transformation optics and an amplified scattering effect from an arrangement of ferrite materials called single-crystal yttrium-iron-garnet that force light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation in complicated directions to create a hidden portal.

Previous attempts at an electromagnetic gateway were hindered by their narrow bandwidth, only capturing a small range of visible light or other forms of electromagnetic radiation. This new configuration of metamaterials however can be manipulated to have optimum permittivity and permeability – able to insulate the electromagnetic field that encounters it with an appropriate magnetic reaction.

Whilst I’m not entirely sure how this metamaterial in supposed to behave, or what is meant by “other entities” in this context, such a substance has overtones of the Ringworld construction material described in Larry Niven‘s Ringworld series, which IIRC was impermeable to 40% of neutrino emissions, and under the application of a particular instrument would allow people to walk through it.

[1]: The article is somewhat vague on how exactly this portal will work in reality, but I gather that it works either like a perfected “holographic mirror” that you can walk through, or else simply a glass-like sheet that can become reflective when required to. In any case

[from h+ Magazine][image from fdecomite on flickr]