Quotable (#64)

Reid Hoffman describes his first meeting with Peter Thiel:

“Peter and I met in a philosophy class at Stanford. We had been told about each other for about a year. He was told that there was this person who was a communist he should meet. I was told that there was this person who was to the right of Attila the Hun …”

About Hoffman’s role at PayPal, Thiel remarks elsewhere: “He was the firefighter in chief at PayPal … Though that diminishes his role because there were many, many fires.”

(Since I find it hard to distinguish between LinkedIn and a computer virus, I confess to some ambivalence about the guy.)

Four Comprehensives

A tradition revives:

Connoisseurs of Chinese political numerology can finally take a breath: After more than two years in office, Chinese President Xi Jinping has uncorked his own ordinal political philosophy.

In the past, Chinese leaders have tended to fall into two camps when expounding their theories of development: those who favor numbered lists, and those who opt for more conventional proclamations. Late Premier Zhou Enlai and former President Jiang Zemin were in the former camp, pushing the “Four Modernizations” and “Three Represents,” respectively. Meanwhile, Deng Xiaoping (“Reform and Opening Up”) and former President Hu Jintao (“Scientific Outlook on Development”) opted to eschew the integers.

Questions have loomed about what slogan Mr. Xi, who replaced Mr. Hu at the helm of the Communist Party in November 2012, would use to represent himself in the party’s theoretical pantheon. For a time, some thought he might follow his non-numeric predecessor and go with the “Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation, a notion he put forward shortly after taking power. It now appears he has decided otherwise.

On Wednesday, the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper People’s Daily and other Chinese media gave blanket coverage to what Mr. Xi has taken to calling the “Four Comprehensives,” a set of principles emphasizing the need to “comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society, comprehensively deepen reform, comprehensively govern the nation according to law and comprehensively be strict in governing the party.”

Raptures of the Nerds

Eliezer Yudkowsky and Scott Aaronson talk Technological Singularity and Many Worlds (from summer 2009). Peculiarly, given the trend of the conversation, it’s aged well.

The Paperclip Maximizer is on its way to becoming the most significant bad argument in existence. EY’s high-intensity rants about how thoroughly one-world theories are busted, however, are truly awesome. You have to hang on to the end to reach Dr Evil (but it’s worth it).

Quotable (#63)

How anthropomorphism distorts AI forecasting:

… a mature A.I. is not necessarily a humanlike intelligence, or one that is at our disposal. If we look for A.I. in the wrong ways, it may emerge in forms that are needlessly difficult to recognize, amplifying its risks and retarding its benefits.

This is not just a concern for the future. A.I. is already out of the lab and deep into the fabric of things. “Soft A.I.,” such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon recommendation engines, along with infrastructural A.I., such as high-speed algorithmic trading, smart vehicles and industrial robotics, are increasingly a part of everyday life — part of how our tools work, how our cities move and how our economy builds and trades things.

Unfortunately, the popular conception of A.I., at least as depicted in countless movies, games and books, still seems to assume that humanlike characteristics (anger, jealousy, confusion, avarice, pride, desire, not to mention cold alienation) are the most important ones to be on the lookout for. This anthropocentric fallacy may contradict the implications of contemporary A.I. research, but it is still a prism through which much of our culture views an encounter with advanced synthetic cognition.

ADDED: Related (from Bruce Sterling). “… we never talk about roboticized cat, an augmented cat, a super intelligent cat. Why? Because we are stuck in this metaphysical trench where we think it is all about humanity’s states of mind. It is not! We humans do not always have conscious states of mind: we sleep at night. Computers don’t have these behaviors. We are elderly, we forget what is going on. We are young, we do not know how to speak yet. That is cognition. You never see a computer that is so young it cannot speak.”