I sit on the couch with my cat beside me while Pink Floyd guitars howl from the record player. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and in many ways it could be 1977. On the other hand, I’m reading an article on my phone about Google’s new patent for a smart lens that can be injected directly into the eye and replaces the natural lens to correct vision impairment. Sony is developing a contact lens, with a battery that will recharge via an ‘energy-harvesting antenna’ of some kind, that has storage, sensors and the ability to communicate with other devices. In some ways, modern life – and with it the nature of being human – hasn’t changed at all, but in others it has. As time goes on and more technologies are developed: biotechnology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence in particular, I wonder what aspects of being human will change, and what won’t.
Moral Technologies, an initiative of Seed Australia, was born as a project that would proactively explore the impact that these technologies will have on our lives and on what life is. In April, the first Moral Technologies conference convened. Over fifty people spread evenly through ages fourteen to over seventy from all around Australia (and also New Zealand and Japan) attended throughout the four days. Nicanor Perlas lead the conversations with eight lectures on the theme of artificial intelligence, and through workshops, games, conversation over meals and time for personal reflection, we delved deep into the topic.
Now is a particularly auspicious time in the history of artificial intelligence, as just in March, Google’s DeepMind supercomputer used its program AlphaGo to defeat Lee Sedol, who is widely regarded as the best Go player of the last ten years, four games to one in Go. The game of Go is so deeply complex that, unlike Chess, it has been unsolvable with raw processing power. Instead, AlphaGo relies on a mix of artificial neural networks – which tries to copy the structure and workings of a human brain – and deep learning – which is a multi-layered way of processing that evaluates expected outcomes and variables and tries to plan accordingly – to play. During the match both players demonstrated remarkable strategic skill, but also made some moves, which appeared to make no sense to viewers and analysts around the world. Nicanor uses this as a springboard to look into the differences between human and machine thought; will computers be able to intuit?
In any case, it was abundantly clear to me that the Moral Technologies conference was a huge success and, as is always the case with these things, it was the human connections and love that starred that week. Revitalising existing relationships and birthing a new, intergenerational community is one of the primary goals of Moral Technologies and everyone agreed that this has been a great first step. Additionally, four younger people have decided to apply for the International Youth Initiative Program (YIP) in Järna, Sweden, which was the inspiration for Moral Technologies. Seed Australia has planned fundraising to support this opportunity, as we feel that YIP stands to be one of the most important catalysts for future movements in Australia.
For more on Moral Technologies and to see the videos of Nicanor’s lectures, visit moraltechnologies.com.au
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