Sunday, April 30, 2017

Neuralink Urban legends, a must Musk read

AI (Artificial Intelligence. But I assume you are aware of this meaning) is a big thing. A mega-big thing. A "we ain't seen nothing yet"-mega big thing. Something that is not easy to wrap your head around.

We have all seen and used AI and related things like ML (Machine Learning). Likely you have also seen and heard about possibilities just around the corner.

But perhaps "we ain't seen nothing yet". We might be at a stage of insight that compares to the future of "AI" the way the first pre-wheel, rolling log, make-it-easier-to-move-stuff, implementation compares to the worldwide systems of logistics of today.

The short version seems to be that AI will happen and will change everything, big time. Hopefully in a good way but the risks are not the usual ones. And if that is the case, what shall (and can) we do to increase the likelihood that the outcome is "positive"?

A man, a plan, a canal - but not Panama

Enter Elon Musk, who is behind both Tesla and SpaceX. Elon Musk has raised concerns around the AI evolution, and also eg  sponsored OpenAI.

The man has a plan. He also has a canal, or rather channel, for the initial announcement and outline of the new venture Neuralink. He chose a blog and a blogger.

Perhaps an unusal channel for an introduction (and, sure, I would not be surprised if more traditional channels was used as well - but I am not aware of any and most coverage refers to the WaitButWhy blog post).

And, make no mistake, this is not a usual blog, nor a usual blog post. It's long. It's good. It's a must read. And again long. It was posted just over a week ago, and it took me five days to get through it. (OK, it is not that long. I did other things as well during these days.)

If you have read earlier posts on the choice by Elon Musk might not be all that surprising. Tim Urban (the blogger at WaitButWhy) already wrote a number of posts on Elon Musk and his earlier ventures, on a direct request from Elon Musk (start here), as well as a two piece blog post on AI which is another great read.

But if you only read one of the posts - read the post on Neuralink and the Brain's Magical Future. It will help you wrap your head around AI and one approach that might prevent a singularity type existential risk.

The Musk Business Canvas

During your reading journey you will come across this image, the Elon Musk Company Formula according to Tim Urban.

Image from by Tim Urban. Used with permission.

You will find the canvas in the fourth chapter of the rad blog post, where this canvas is populated with both the Tesla and the SpaceX rationale.

If you have ever thought about the drivers of Elon Musk, or the concept of Massive Transformative Purposes, you will see how this canvas fits into the puzzle.

Don't get fooled by the lower left blue circle with the words "Starting Point". It is not the starting point. The canvas work starts in the upper right corner. The starting point for the canvas work in the Neuralink case is the "increased chance for a good future" in the context of AI.

In order to find the answers to the "how", "why" and other questions, go ahead and read. The reading will take you through the background and the population of the boxes in the canvas. You will read that "democracy is like escaping from a monster by hiding in a sewer", an you will learn things you didn't know. But take your time, you will need it.

The Risk Management, the Business Case and the Canvas
But sure, the timing or even the "if" of artificial superintelligence is "not known".

There's a great, recent, piece by Kevin Kelly that argues for the opposite standpoint.

However, there's a few aspects of the Musk story that makes the approach interesting "in either case".

* The Risk Management. Even if the probability of superintelligence would be minimal, the impact is (potentially) high. Very high. This makes the risk (as in probability times impact) "high" (or "hard to calculate"..).
It also make the risk mitigation option to be "minimize the impact" (as the probability is already "low"), which is what the central idea of Neuralink seems to be about.

* The Business Case. Note that Neuralink is set up to deliver business value in a future prior to any superintelligence. The business is set up as an (almost?) normal startup business risk scenario, no moonshot needed. Eg delivering BMI devices for medical reasons

* The Canvas. The Musk Business Canvas is the most interesting part to me. A structured way to build businesses with reasonable chance of short term revenue, which at the same time aims at a moonshot situation that will be beneficial for humanity. "Interesting" to say the least.

And at the ending is an interesting way of viewing AI: "in a future world made up of AI and everyone else, he  [Elon Musk] thinks we have only one good option: To be AI."

(The short version of this blog post: Read the post on Neuralink and the Brain's Magical Future. Why? Read this blog post.)


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