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Project Vision 21

Transforming lives, renewing minds, cocreating the future


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How will you communicate with an artificial intelligence 100 times smarter than you?

This is a real, serious question: How are you planning to communicate with an artificial intelligence 100 times smarter than you? And that difference will last only up to the moment the artificial intelligence 100 times smarter than you develops or builds a new artificial intelligence hundreds of times more intelligent than the previous one.

I must say I am not talking here about science fiction or, much less, about a conspiracy theory. Too bad I have to clarify that. Also, I am not talking about a distant future or about research happening inside a dark, unknown laboratory. In fact, this is something happening right here, in Colorado, where I live.

During a recent presentation at the Da Vinci Institute (near Denver), Steve Kommrusch, a PhD candidate at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and local coordinator of the Institute for Research of Intelligent Machines, said the IQ of the new artificial intelligence will be several times the average IQ of today’s human beings.

So, how big will that difference be? The new artificial intelligence, said Kommrusch, could achieve an IQ of around 10,000, while the average IQ in the United States is around 100. In other words, the new artificial intelligence will be 100 times more intelligent than we are.

Of course, we are just talking about IQ level here and not about the ability to access and process information, which, by the way, it is also higher in artificial intelligence than in humans.

It is good to mention that the IQ of some of the modern geniuses, including Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, varies from 160 to 190. It seems just a handful of people reach an IQ of 200, with some reports of very few people above that number, but still below 300.

According Kommrusch, the new artificial intelligence will be as distant from as regarding intelligence as we, humans, are from the ants.

The issue of different levels of intelligence was explored the movie Forbidden Planet (1956), where the most intelligent human was just a “moron” (the word used in the movie) compared with the (fictitious) Krell, who, in turn, were unable to understand the super intelligent machine, of planetary size, they created.

So, how are we going to community with that kind of artificial intelligence? Perhaps a better question is: how will that super artificial intelligence communicate with us? Perhaps we will be seen as a pest, just as we see ants as a pest.

Half a century ago, this debate was a theoretical one, presented to the people in the context of science fiction. Today, it is debate happening in an academic context and presented to us by scientists and philosophers.

In the meantime, we ignore the issue, in the same way ants ignore everything about space travel. I am not suggesting we will crush like we crush ants. I am saying we don’t even know what is actually happening to us. And, we are honest to ourselves, we really don’t care to know.

The better the question, the better the answer

When I was still a college student, my mentor (Dr. Armando Vivante) consistently decided not to answer my questions, saying I didn’t know what I was asking because, had I known it, I would never asked what I asked. It took me many years to understand the wisdom of that approach.

That memory came back to my mind when I recently read (where?) that the size of answers we get in our lives is determined by the size of the questions we ask. If we ask irrelevant questions, we are going to receive irrelevant answers, if we get an answer at all.

Contrary to that, if we ask significant and comprehensive questions, then we will receive significant and comprehensive answers. Unfortunately, I think we live at a time when questions are no longer asked to receive answers, but precisely to prevent answers. However, that doesn’t mean we should not ask questions.

One of the best examples of asking questions for the purpose of advancing knowledge (and not just to confirm what we already know or to point out mistakes in what others say) is, of course, the questions Socrates used to ask, causing consternation, and rightly so, among those talking with Socrates.

Those were honest, multidimensional questions forcing those talking to each other to discover aspects not yet discovered in what we say or believe, as well as becoming aware of unanticipated consequences of the ideas and beliefs we blindly follow.

It is interesting to know that, after questioning so many people, Socrates concluded that wisdom consisted in acknowledging his own ignorance. Today, however, we openly confuse wisdom and ignorance and arrogant ignorance is proclaimed as wisdom.

For that reason, our questions are smaller and smaller regarding expectations and reach. Those are questions no looking for answers, much less unanticipated options. The questions are now unidimensional and therefore all the answers are only “Yes” or “No”, “correct” or “incorrect”, acceptable or unacceptable, with nothing in between.

So, what would happen if we were to stop “downloading information” and decide to be open to true dialogue, refusing to participate in alternating monologues where nobody has any intention of listening to the other person?

What would happen if we could once again ask questions of such a size that the answers could not be anticipated or calculated, but they need to be created in the context of the same dialogue that created the questions?

Perhaps we will then understand something my mentor told me many years ago and that only later understood: the question is more important that the answer, and if you know what you are asking, then you already have the answer. But we don’t even know what to ask.

At the same time, in our everyday lives, we keep asking small questions and getting small answers, those answers that pretend than just a few seconds (yes, few seconds) we will understand complex issue. But, our “everyday life” is just a fiction we create precisely to avoid asking big questions.

We forget the past, ignore the present, and distort the future

Last week, for different reason, I spoke with several persons in high positions in their organizations, including CEOs, college professors, community leaders, and religious leaders. During the conversations, it was clear the don’t know the past, they barely understand the present, and they distort the future. Even more worrisome, they are unaware of that.

I must say that, obviously, I do the same thing regarding the past, the present, and the future. Perhaps, only perhaps, I am a little, just a little, more aware of my own ignorance of what already happened, what is happening, and what is about to happen. And I know I filter all reality through that ignorance.

Also, perhaps I am just deceiving myself thinking I am “more aware” than others about our perception of time and reality.

Whatever the case, if the person in charge of community projects know nothing about the community, the person in charge of youth programs is neither young nor connected with young people, and the person in charge of ESL classes barely knows English, you must think you are living in a psychedelic version of the Orwellian world.

Don Quixote was right when he saw giants that nobody else saw. After all, who wants to see windmills when reality is meaningless? At the very least, those imaginary giants move us to a Quixote-like action, to discover new worlds previously closed to us. But, what’s the connection between Don Quixote and ignoring the past, the present, and the future?

There is no connection, or, alternatively, everything is connected. Spanish writer Enrique Santin once said that “You remember the past. You live the present. You think the future.” Unfortunately, we are not doing anything like that.

First, we ignore the past. And what we call “past” is only the present version of what some people think happened before. In most cases, the “past” is a nostalgic reconstruction of what happened used to justify the present. Even worst, we don’t know even that distorter version of the past. We forgot the past and we forgot that we forgot.

Regarding “living the present”, our lives seem to be very similar to the undesirable monster described and anticipated by Kafka in his Metamorphosis. We have reduced “life” to be just an obsolete cog in an increasingly complex machinery. “Life” became a mere accident. In fact, that’s what many people think and feel.

Regarding the future, many people don’t realize that what they perceive to be “the future” is already happening. Based on that unrecognized ignorance, they are sure that “the future” will never arrive, because something or somebody (God, the government, big corporations) will stop it from happening. Yet, that “future” they are so sure it will never happen (artificial intelligence, for example) is already here.

Having forgotten the past, we live in a meaningless present which we want to perpetuate to recreate a past more unreal than Don Quixote’s giants, thus leaving no room in our minds, hearts, and wills to think the future.

What can’t we see when we see what we see?

When I was a child, I wanted to learn how to play chess. I didn’t progress beyond the basic moves, but one day I was playing against another child and suddenly several people gathered around the table. I didn’t know why. They were smiling at me. A few minutes later, the mystery of the gathering was solved.

I lost that chess match, as I did so many other times. Then, one of the spectators came to me and said: “You almost won, but you didn’t see it.”

He explained that I was just one or two moves away from defeating my opponent, but I never saw those movements and, therefore, I never made them.

That story (a true story) came back to me after a recent meeting with a person who wanted my opinion about a certain issue. I was intrigued, not by the request, but by the fact that person assumed I had something of value to say about that issue.

Regardless, I listened to a long presentation of the problem and during the presentation the person said again and again “I see this” or “I see that.”

I didn’t share any opinion. I simply asked him, what do you stop seeing when you see what you see? What can’t you see in seeing what you see?

For example, the light from the sun is so bright that we can’t see the stars. The stars are still there. They don’t “disappear” only to “reappear” when the sun “disappears”. The same light which allows us to see many things causes other things not to be seen. We can only become aware of those other things when the intense light is dimmed or blocked (an eclipse, for example.)

Something similar happens when we focus all our mental “light” on something: we can clearly see whatever the focus of our “light” is, but, at the same time, we stop seeing many other things, a whole universe of things interconnected with whatever we do see.

Perhaps that’s why some of the best solutions and some of the most creative ideas arise precisely when we are not paying attention to the problem. And, on the other hand, focusing all our energy on one issue could be counterproductive.

From a similar perspective, Hegel said that what is known, precisely because it is known, it remains unknown. We all have things in our homes, things we see every day, yet we don’t know what they are. And, of course, we have people in our lives, people we know, but, in a sense, they still remain unknown to us.

So, how many times we were defeated just because we focused all our attention to what we saw (the chess pieces on the board) and not on what we didn’t see (where the chess pieces should have been to win)?

Because we focus only on what we see, we often live “in a future which never becomes present”, German poet and theologian August Niemeyer said two centuries ago.

Sadness, death emerge among the common thoughts of children and teens

A few days ago, I was exiting a local store when two elementary school students, clearly brother and sister, where walking right there and talking to each other. For a few seconds, I heard their conversation before they just walked away.

“I am sad”, said the boy, probably around 10.

“Is that sadness like when somebody does or sadness because something bad is about to happen?”, asked his sister, perhaps only a couple of years older than her brother.

After listening to that conversation, I had to stop for a few minutes and reflect about the question and the answer. Initially, it made no sense to me. Only later, after thinking for a while, I was able to continue with my activities.

I asked myself several times in what context a conversation between two young siblings walking home after school can justifiably focus on sadness, and, even more worrisome, on a recent death or an imminent tragedy.  

The face of the boy, who all the time looked down to the floor, and the tone of voice of the conversation revealed the boy and his sister were having a serious conversation. No laughs. Not even a smile. The conversation was not the prelude to a joke and I didn’t detect any kind of exaggeration in the question asked by the sister.

I must say than when the boy said “I am sad” I immediately thought he had problems at school, perhaps of low grade at a test, or a discipline issue. O perhaps one of his friends move away and he/she is no longer attending that school.

However, when the sister connected what he brother said to a question about death and tragedy, it was clear that the sadness of the boy was unrelated to any school issue, but a kind of existential sadness. He felt his own being was being threatened. Her sister knew and sensed what he was talking about.

What can cause a young boy and a young girl from an elementary school in Colorado, United States, to feel sad because their own being is in danger?

Sad to say, there is a long list of possible causes, from school shootings to the increasing impact of the opioid epidemic, to the uncertainty about employment opportunities, because, regardless how well the economy is doing, almost half of the people in the country can’t make ends meet or are very close to be in that situation.

That may have been the case, but I don’t think the boy was thinking about shootings, opioids, or economy, but about something deeper, more personal, and even more visceral, as his sister understood. Something closer to death than to life.

That was extremely worrisome, because in Colorado suicide, not car accidents, is the main cause of death among children and teenagers. And a growing number of children in this state now decide to take their own lives, even children as young as 6.

My goodness! What kind of horrible social monstrosity have we created?

Whom are you going to believe if you keep lying to yourself?

With his well-known humor, Mark Twain once asked, “Whom are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” That question, with all its hilarity, is not as innocent as it looks because, after all, we see with our brains, not with our eyes.

Anais Nin expressed a similar thought when she said, “We don’t thing as they are. We seem them as we are”. Study after study have shown that indeed we see things as we are, meaning that our daily lives, our circumstances, and our internal processes both limit and modify what we see and understand.

For example, we only see the past, but we live at a time when the future is no longer a continuation of the past. And we see everything through the lenses of our prejudices and ignorance. So, despite our good intentions, true reality escapes us and the reality we created for ourselves becomes, obviously, the only reality.

Twain was right in saying our own eyes deceive us. And Nin was right in saying we only see ourselves, but we think we see things. This is not just idealism or solipsism (but it could well be), but something practical: we put ourselves as the measure of all things, as Protagoras famously said.

Indeed, since ancient times we are urged to reflect about our own ideas and beliefs, to acknowledge the limits or our knowledge, to know that we know nothing (Socrates), to accept that most, if not all, of what we assume we know is just repetition of something we were told or we heard, but not something we have thought or analyzed by ourselves.

As a result, we are trapped in the paradoxical reality of living inside our own “world” and, at the same time, roaming without a destination, as a ship being pushed by the storm in the ocean, or as a blade of grass moving from one side to the other according to the direction of the wind. Living without a purpose is not really living.

Even worst, many studies said that we then pass all those problems and limitations to the next generation, not understanding that the next generation will face a different (transhuman?) future. They will face challenges we never faced, and we can’t even imagine. In other words, our “gift” for future generations is preventing them from being part of the future.

Recent studies done in Scotland say that parents mainly share three “elements” with their children: depression, uncertainty (about one’s future), and poverty (materially and financially speaking.) It is not surprising, then, that in many places in the “civilized” world suicide, not car accidents, is not the main cause of death among children and young adults (10 to 24 years old.)

Our Paleolithic brain and our Medieval institutions are almost useless in the context of God-like technology (Edward Osborn Wilson, American biologist). So, we need to stop believing in our lying eyes and we need to open our internal eyes to see what is really happening.

What would happen when robot teachers replace all human teachers?

Robot teachers are not new, but what is new is the growing number of robot teachers replacing human teachers in many countries. Even more interesting, children relate better to robot teachers than to human teachers.

Whatever that may be, experts say in the next 10 to 15 years robot teachers will be as common in the classrooms as human teachers are in today’s classrooms. So, the question is, what would happen to those children who will be taught only by robots during their formative years?

However, before we try to answer that important question we need to think why robots are replacing human teachers. There are several reasons. First, potential teachers find better paying jobs and less stressful jobs than spending time inside a school. In fact, fewer and fewer college students become teachers.

There is, of course, the issue of school violence, from the horrible massacres that, unfortunately, we are so used to see, to the bullying inside the schools, and to discrimination of parents, students, and teachers of minority groups. Many potential teachers are thus discouraged from teaching.

Of course, technology is part of almost every classroom and, if fact, of every aspect of life. So, teachers are being replaced by technology. I read somewhere (I don’t remember where) that many young college-age students in China don’t attend college because, thanks to technology, they already know more than their college professors.

There is yet another element: low cost. Will, a digital human teaching at schools in Auckland, New Zealand, is free. Kindergarten students can talk with Will from any device, at any time, and they don’t have to wait for the teacher to be free before asking a question. No human teacher can do that.  

And Keeko, a 2-feet tall teaching at 600 pre-K schools in China, costs around US$1500, just a fraction of the annual salary of most teachers in the United States. (Teachers, as we know, are not properly compensated). And, being a robot, Keeko doesn’t need vacations or days off, and it doesn’t get sick.

So, from a technological point of view and from the economic point of view, it makes sense for robots to replace human teachers in the classrooms. But, what will be the real price for such a transition?

I would like to know what Jean Piaget or Paulo Freire would say. Will robots help the cognitive development of the children and will those children go through the four stages of development listed by Piaget? Will we be able to move beyond a “banking” and oppressive pedagogy, as Freire wanted?

We can barely solve any of the current educational problems. Are we trying to delegate on the robot teachers the task of solving our educational challenges? We’ll see.

And one more question, what would happen to us, adults, who were never educated by robots? Perhaps it will be better not to think about it. At the same time, it would be good to prepare ourselves for that future before that future arrives.

Should I teach Spanish or should I be a dishwasher at a restaurant?

Somebody recently sent me an ad from a local municipality in the area where I live looking for a Spanish instructor for adults. I do like to teach Spanish to adults, so I decided to take a closer to the ad.

Basically, they were looking for somebody with experience in adult education and specifically in education of senior citizens. The instructor was required to teach all levels of Spanish (from basic to advanced) and all modalities (writing, listening, and speaking).  

In addition, the instructor was responsible for developing the curriculum and for the material. And there was a requirement to coordinate activities at the center and outside the center for the participants to practice Spanish. Of course, it was expected for the instructor to be available for consultations with the students outside the class time.

Despite the long list of requirements and responsibilities (in my opinion, too long), I keep reading because, after all, it is always good to explore opportunities to bring together people from different cultures and languages, hoping the result would be a respectful, creative dialogue.

I read the section about academic degrees and previous experience and I was happy to see I had all those requirements. I could almost see myself helping a group of older adults to learn Spanish, perhaps to talk with their own grandchildren.

Then, it was time to read the paragraph about compensation. I discovered my delusion of assuming the compensation will be based on the experience and education required. That was not the case. They offer $12 per hour and up to only 15 hours per week.

I thought that was the end of the issue, but because I was at the end of the ad, I instinctively read the next ad. In this case, they were looking for a dishwasher to work at a restaurant in the same city. No language requirements. No previous experience needed. Full time job with benefits. And an initial salary of between $14 to $18 per hour.

A question then came to my mind, and it was not about the difference in compensation (both offers are inadequate), but about the attitude causing a local government to offer better compensation to a person with no experience or studies than to a person with the experience and studies needed to get a job that local government is offering.

What kind of message that attitude sends about our present and our future? The message that you better don’t prepare yourself for the future because that won’t help you?

Again, a few dollars more or a few dollars less make no difference in the context of a society where neither education, nor experience, talent, or honesty guarantee a good income. (I said “good,” not “great”.) Yet, it is alarming that dedication and experience are “officially” less valuable than ignorance and inexperience.

Perhaps they want us to be ignorant and inexperienced, forcing us to fight for a few dollars here and there while the real money flows to other hands.

Are we already beyond the point of no return of human stupidity?

Sometimes people ask me if I believe in intelligent life on other planets. I always answer by saying that my doubts are not about intelligent life on a distant planet, but about the possibility of intelligent life on this planet. After all, there are plenty of indications everywhere that, collectively, we, humans, are not that intelligent.

After tens of thousands of years of evolution and after several millennia of “civilization”, and now with all the technology we have at our disposal, we have not yet solved any of the major problems affecting humanity. Quite the opposite, some of those problems are getting worse. Meanwhile, we are still electing the same politicians (or their clones), watching the same soap operas or sports events, and counting the “Likes” we get to give some meaning to our lives.

For reasons that will become obvious momentarily (because the laws I am about to mention apply perfectly to me), I didn’t know that four decades ago (1976), an Italian professor living the United States, Carlo Cipolla, developed what he called “The five basic laws of human stupidity”. We share here those laws not to irritate anybody, but to become aware of the magnitude of the problem.

The “laws” say that “Inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation”, that “The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person”, that “A stupid person causes losses to another person while himself/herself deriving no gain”, that  “Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals”, and that (paraphrasing), human stupidity is the most dangerous challenge for humanity. (Don’t get mad at me. That’s what Dr. Cipolla said.)

It is easy to find many proofs of those laws. Read the reviews of products or services, for example. Recently, somebody gave a one star to an Italian restaurant because that person went by mistake to a different restaurant and then, when that person arrived at the “right” restaurant, he/she didn’t have time to eat there, so he/she ordered take out. But then, that person was too tired to eat and threw the food into the garbage. Hence, one star.  

And somebody gave one star to a certain brand of interior painting because when he/she opened the can, the can fell from his/her hands, causing “a disaster” and “ruining the experience” because of the time spent in cleaning the spill. Therefore, others should not buy that brand.

In which planet going to the wrong restaurant should be blamed in the “right” restaurant? Or a company should be blamed if somebody is careless handling a can of paint? No doubts, in our planet.

As Milan Kundera well said both in The Unbearable Lightness of Being and in The Art of the Novel, we live in “the planet of the inexperience” where we spend time “fabricating vague fantasies” and never achieving true maturity or wisdom.  

Or, as Isaac Asimov said (paraphrasing Friedrich Schiller), “Against human stupidity, the gods themselves struggle in vain.”

Will “technological fusion” include or exclude humans?

I would like to ask a simple and direct question: Will we, humans, either now or in the near future, be included or excluded from the law of technological fusion?

I must confess I don’t know if such a law exists. Perhaps it does, but it is known by another name. Whatever the case, it should be obvious technologies keep merging with each other to the point that one device can now do the same things that previously were done by many separated devices.

But the “fusion” doesn’t stop there. There is yet another level, the level of the interconnectivity of all those devices.

For example, I still remember the time, just a few short decades ago, when you needed a radio to listen to the radio. TV shows were watched on TV. And movies were watched at the movie theaters. If you needed to find a street, you had to check a big, printed map. And the photography camera was different from a camcorder.

Now, however, a smart phone or a tablet can do all those things and many more. Yesterday, you needed different devices, but today you can carry just one device and do all those things. But, as I said, that’s only the first half of what I call the law of technological fusion.

The second half of that law is intelligent devices talking to each other. A car, for example, can inform the mechanic about a problem. Or a refrigerator can scan what is inside a prepare a shopping list for what is missing. There are, of course, many more examples, including intelligent speakers connected with intelligent lights inside intelligent homes.

In other words, we live in a world where one device can do what in the past was done by many separate devices. And now all those devices are interconnected. So, I ask again, are we, humans, part of these seemingly unstoppable process of technological fusion, or are we going to be excluded from that process?

According to Dr. Toby Walsh, professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales (Australia), we will know the answer in four decades, around 2060, when artificial intelligence will be at least as intelligent as human intelligence.

But according to well-known futurist Ray Kurzweil, now working at Google, we will know the answer in only a decade or so, when “the nonbiological portion of our intelligence will predominate.”

Regardless of when we could have a definitive answer about our relationship with technology, perhaps asking if we are going to be included or excluded of that process is the wrong question to ask.

If we merge with technology, we will no longer be humans, at least not in the same way we are today. If we don’t merge, perhaps we will be replaced or displaced. In either option, the future of humanity will be decided soon, in a generation or two.

The future is no longer a prolongation of the past, yet we live as if it were.  

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