The Lede, Monday, March 12, 2018
By David Royse
Elon Musk was at South By Southwest over the weekend and nicely summed up one of the main reasons I try to find interesting new things about where we’re all going and try to write about them for broader consumption.
“There are lots of problems that need to get solved. Lots of things that are miserable, and can kind of get you down. But life cannot just be about solving one miserable problem after another. That can’t be the only thing. We need things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be part of humanity,” Musk said.
Musk does just that. He inspires – whether his crazy ideas are successful or not.
That little bit, in which Musk was explaining the Space-X project, was during a panel that Musk was an unexpected speaker on.
But during another SXSW event where Musk sat down and answered some questions, he talked more directly about his interests in getting humans to Mars – it’s a bid to preserve the human race in the event of a catastrophe that makes Earth uninhabitable.
(Musk notes he’s not predicting any such thing in the immediate term, but just in case. – And he does also talk about what he thinks is a major threat, some sort of out-of-control artificial intelligence event, which he says is a much bigger threat than nuclear weapons – more on that in a bit).
Musk says the biggest challenge to getting people to Mars is not as much our technological capabilities, it’s mostly the cost of rocketry. Also, he says it will be dangerous at first – some of the first people to go just might die early in the process. But then so did the first American colonists.
But once we do get there and get settled – it’s commerce baby! Kind of like with the earth-bound age of exploration. In addition to building power plants and domes for growing crops, Musk is also optimistic about the chances for people to go to Mars and make some money – entrepreneurs will be in demand, he believes.
“Mars will need everything from iron foundries to pizza joints to nightclubs,” Musk noted. “Mars should really have great bars.” Then, unfortunately, he called them “Mars Bars.”
You can read more from CNET here
Now, Musk’s cautionary note on the whole artificial intelligence thing.
“I’m really quite close to – very close – to the cutting edge in AI and it scares the hell out of me,” Musk said. “It’s capable of vastly more than almost anyone knows and the rate of improvement is exponential.” He uses a program called Alpha Go that learned the ancient Chinese game of Go as an example. It went from knowing nothing to being European champion very quickly, then beating the current world champion, “then beating everyone while playing simultaneously.” Then, also very quickly after that came Alpha Zero, which learned just by playing itself, and very soon was able to beat Alpha Go.
“We have to figure out some way to ensure that the advent of digital superintelligence is one which is symbiotic with humanity,” Musk said. “I think that’s the single biggest existential crisis that we face, and the most pressing one.”
If you want to see some highlights of the Q&A with Musk, you can watch an annotated version below. You have to get past the fact that, for no reason I can discern, Musk is wearing a bomber jacket on stage. When you’re a genius, I guess you do what you want, sartorially.
Musk’s foreboding warning notwithstanding, that learning ability of machines isn’t all bad.
Musk talked briefly at SXSW about self-driving technology, and said he thinks the tech, at some level, will be in “all driving” within the next couple of years “and be at least 100 percent to 200 percent safer than a person, by the end of next year.”
Along those lines, the latest unveiling in the world of autonomous vehicles strikes me as perhaps, not very well thought-out, or at least not made by engineers who have young kids.
At the Geneva Auto Show last week, Volkswagen showed up with an idea for its autonomous shuttle vehicle, known as SEDRIC (short for SElf DRIving Car).
The vehicle’s been in the concept stage for a while, and VW actually introduced it last year. But now, it’s suggesting a potential use – as a small school bus.
Aside from the fact that it only seats four, making it a very loose use of the word “bus,” I have some questions.
I don’t know about you but, as the father of an elementary school age kid, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable sending him, in the company of some of his friends, across the city in a vehicle without adult supervision. I’m not worried about the bus malfunctioning – I’m sure it would be fine. I’m worried about the kids malfunctioning – or rather functioning as they often do, seeing what kind of things they can do that might be interesting. Most would probably be harmless, but hacking into a driverless bus sounds like just the kind of thing that might interest a bunch of third or fourth graders. Had that been a possibility for me at that age, having it go to the park instead of school might have seemed like a good idea.
Maybe German kids are better behaved.
My nomination for good idea of the day: New York’s Mayor of Nightlife.
One day, maybe they’ll need one of these on Mars.
For this week’s look at the ongoing Cryptocurrency story, I’m just going to turn it over to John Oliver, who has a good basic explanation, of the whole idea, including a comparison of blockchain security to chicken McNuggets. It’s 25 minutes long – so save it for later if you don’t have time. Hat tip to reader Jessi Bishop-Royse, (whose name is similar to mine because she happens to be my wife), for pointing out this gem.
NOTES FROM THE AGE OF DISRUPTION:
Has agreed to buy Texture, an online magazine subscription service. CNBC
Wants to make online shopping safer. Digiday
IPO could value company at more than $7 billion. NYT
As always, I welcome your thoughts. @daveroyse on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org
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