The folly of our preferences.
“It's no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
Stuart Russell is a world-renowned computer scientist. He literally wrote the book on artificial intelligence. In a popular podcast, he pointed out some of the potential dangers of AI, as well as a way to ensure that machines remain beneficial to humans. According to Dr. Russell:
“We should not be giving the AI systems a goal. At least not one that is precisely defined and known to the AI system. Because it’s exactly when the AI system believes that it knows the objective correctly that whatever action it comes up with in furtherance of that objective… it then sort of believes that this is the correct action to do and doesn’t tolerate, necessarily, interference from people who are jumping up and down saying, ‘Stop doing that! You’re destroying the world.’”
And that makes perfect sense to me. In fact, it reminds me of people who steadfastly pursue their goals while ignoring their more intuitive, internal voice that’s saying, “Stop doing that! You’re making yourself, and others, miserable.”
Russell went on to say that AI systems should operate on three principles:
The system’s only objective is to maximize realization of human preferences.
Me: That makes sense.
The system is initially uncertain as to what these preferences are.
Me: Okay, I sort of follow that logic.
The ultimate source of information on human preferences is human behavior.
Yeah, he lost me on that final point because isn’t that the dominant theory of how our economic system works? Human preferences—which drive human behavior—consequently drive marketplace success. It’s called the law of supply and demand. And this system is what has created environmental devastation, an accelerating arms race (with AI-enabled technology), animal suffering, inequality, and emotionally and physically unwell people.
Instead of designing a system to maximize the process, or experience, of living—interdependence, caring, flourishing, and play—we view the economy as a dog-eat-dog, outcome-obsessed struggle. A contest in which we compete for things we think we need to survive—popularity, financial wealth, possessions, and weapons.
Today’s inflection point reveals the folly of those preferences, and the resulting extent of our social, economic and environmental challenges. It will inevitably stimulate the great debate of our time: How do we create a new theory about how the economy, and thus culture, should work? One that prioritizes sustainability, shared prosperity, and the flourishing of all life on the planet.
As Buckminster Fuller made clear years ago:
“It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary and henceforth unrationalizable as mandated by survival.”
He also wrote:
“You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”
So let’s stop fighting and defending the old model, and let’s get to work creating a new world. And it begins at the beginning—with our personal models of reality, with our own minds, perspectives, and preferences.
Random information for August
* In order to prevent Olympians from having sex, and thus risk spreading the Covid virus, beds at the Tokyo Olympic Village are made from cardboard so they collapse if more than one person gets on them.
* Usain Bolt says new running spikes are “weird and unfair.” The fastest person in history’s records could fall to inferior athletes because of the use of technology.
* More than a century after legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku first floated the idea of including surfing in the Olympics the dream has finally crested. Surfing is represented in the Olympic Games for the first time by 20 men and 20 women from 17 countries.
* Before it was an Olympic sport, pole vaulting was just a convenient way for northern Europeans to cross streams and canals.
* A Super Mario 64 cartridge sold for $1.5 million.
* Ride sharing reduced US drunk driving deaths by 6%.
* Netflix has hired a former Electronic Arts executive to lead video game development, with a view to offering games within the next year.
* US pensioners are rolling in it. Older Americans have socked away $35 trillion to give to their kids and charities in the coming years, the equivalent of 157% of US GDP.
* A new urine test can pinpoint cancer. Not just the existence of it—that was already possible—but where it is in the body.
* Tibet’s first bullet train travels at such high altitudes it has to pump in oxygen. It also has special windows to protect passengers from UV rays.
* Dubai is now home to the world’s deepest pool. At 196 feet, Deep Dive Dubai is a veritable theme park for diving enthusiasts.
* The toilet on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will have a 360-degree view. It’s located inside the glass dome at the nose of the spacecraft.
* Peloton is the highest paying music streaming service.
* Russia says its sparkling wine is champagne, and French champagne is sparkling wine. In return, the French champagne industry wants to see how Russia likes going without it.
* Researchers located 14 living relatives of Leonardo da Vinci. They hope to find clues to the Renaissance man’s genius by reconstructing his genealogical profile.
* US police salaries are inching up. Despite the growing movement to defund the police, the job continues to be one of the best-paid professions in the US.
* The M&M stacking world record has been broken. It’s only five of them.
* A skin-like smart foam allows robots to “feel” objects. It’s also self-repairing.
* The road will recharge your car. A German company developing magnetized concrete is working with the US government to test its ability to power heavy trucks.
* Dorothy’s dress was found. What appears to be Judy Garland’s blue gingham number from The Wizard of Oz was lying around in a shoebox at Catholic University in Washington DC.
* Astronomers have seen the back of a black hole for the first time, proving Albert Einstein's 1915 theory of general relativity right.
* Giant pandas are no longer endangered! China says conservation efforts have worked.
Take a look
“G. K. Chesterton once said that it is one thing to be amazed at a gorgon or a griffin, creatures which do not exist; but it is quite another and much higher thing to be amazed at a rhinoceros or a giraffe, creatures which do exist and look as if they don’t.”—Alan W. Watts, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
Don’t get lost in your personal survival story. Wake up and be amazed by reality!
Think about this
“A person's life purpose is nothing more than to rediscover, through the detours of art or love or passionate work, those one or two images in the presence of which his heart first opened.” ~ Albert Camus
“This is the real secret of life—to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” ~ Alan Watts
“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” ~ John Maynard Keynes
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Until next time, stay curious!
P.S. I’m committed to getting the ideas in Your Brain on Story into the world, in the hope that it can help inspire others. Please consider forwarding it to anyone who may benefit from it.