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April 24 2017

20:29

Who Is Marine Le Pen?

Marine Le Pen almost certainly will not become president of France next month. But, simply by reaching the election's second round, she has transformed the face and psyche of France for a long time to come.

18:26
France Against Itself
16:00
Trump’s Travel Bans—Look Beyond the Text
15:12
How fake news does real harm | Stephanie Busari
On April 14, 2014, the terrorist organization Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok, Nigeria. Around the world, the crime became epitomized by the slogan #BringBackOurGirls -- but in Nigeria, government officials called the crime a hoax, confusing and delaying efforts to rescue the girls. In this powerful talk, journalist Stephanie Busari points to the Chibok tragedy to explain the deadly danger of fake news and what we can do to stop it.
14:29

Liberalism in the Trenches

After a dizzying few months, in which Donald Trump’s young presidency threw the entire post-1945 global order into question, the geopolitical status quo appears to have reemerged. But this is no time for complacency: defenders of the liberal international order still need a comprehensive foreign-policy strategy.

13:19

How to Renegotiate NAFTA

With US President Donald Trump’s administration seemingly committed to its campaign promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, it is worth asking how the 23-year-old deal could be improved. In fact, it could be strengthened in several ways.

12:30
The Confidence Man of American Art
11:49

New Life for the SDR?

The rise of anti-globalization political movements and the threat of trade protectionism have led some people to wonder whether a stronger multilateral core for the world economy would reduce the risk of damaging fragmentation. If so, enhancing the role of the IMF's incipient global currency may be the best option.

11:19

The Coming Technology Policy Debate

Technological progress brings far-reaching benefits, but it also poses increasingly serious threats to humankind. With governments and citizens already struggling with the consequences of recent innovations – from job displacement to security risks – technology policy is likely to take center stage in the coming decade.

10:19

Macron’s Mission

The centrist Emmanuel Macron’s success in the first round of the French presidential election is likely to re-energize Europe. But Macron’s plurality of the popular vote was narrow, and a much larger share of French voters showed support for a very different political vision.

April 22 2017

12:00
A Buffet of French History
10:11
The Best Kind of Princess
07:29

The Limits of Economic Optimism

As the annual spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF commence, these institutions, along with many private-sector actors, are projecting significantly faster growth this year than in 2016. Is their buoyant outlook warranted?

April 21 2017

21:22

Elon Musk wants to enhance us as superhuman cyborgs to deal with superintelligent AI

(credit: Neuralink Corp.)

It’s the year 2021. A quadriplegic patient has just had one million “neural lace” microparticles injected into her brain, the world’s first human with an internet communication system using a wireless implanted brain-mind interface — and empowering her as the first superhuman cyborg. …

No, this is not a science-fiction movie plot. It’s the actual first public step — just four years from now — in Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s business plan for his latest new venture, Neuralink. It’s now explained for the first time on Tim Urban’s WaitButWhy blog.

Dealing with the superintelligence existential risk

Such a system would allow for radically improved communication between people, Musk believes. But for Musk, the big concern is AI safety. “AI is obviously going to surpass human intelligence by a lot,” he says. “There’s some risk at that point that something bad happens, something that we can’t control, that humanity can’t control after that point — either a small group of people monopolize AI power, or the AI goes rogue, or something like that.”

“This is what keeps Elon up at night,” says Urban. “He sees it as only a matter of time before superintelligent AI rises up on this planet — and when that happens, he believes that it’s critical that we don’t end up as part of ‘everyone else.’ That’s why, in a future world made up of AI and everyone else, he thinks we have only one good option: To be AI.”

Neural dust: an ultrasonic, low power solution for chronic brain-machine interfaces (credit: Swarm Lab/UC Berkeley)

To achieve his, Neuralink CEO Musk has met with more than 1,000 people, narrowing it down initially to eight experts, such as Paul Merolla, who spent the last seven years as the lead chip designer at IBM on their DARPA-funded SyNAPSE program to design neuromorphic (brain-inspired) chips with 5.4 billion transistors (each with 1 million neurons and 256 million synapses), and Dongjin (DJ) Seo, who while at UC Berkeley designed an ultrasonic backscatter system for powering and communicating with implanted bioelectronics called neural dust for recording brain activity.*

Mesh electronics being injected through sub-100 micrometer inner diameter glass needle into aqueous solution (credit: Lieber Research Group, Harvard University)

Becoming one with AI — a good thing?

Neuralink’s goal its to create a “digital tertiary layer” to augment the brain’s current cortex and limbic layers — a radical high-bandwidth, long-lasting, biocompatible, bidirectional communicative, non-invasively implanted system made up of micron-size (millionth of a meter) particles communicating wirelessly via the cloud and internet to achieve super-fast communication speed and increased bandwidth (carrying more information).

“We’re going to have the choice of either being left behind and being effectively useless or like a pet — you know, like a house cat or something — or eventually figuring out some way to be symbiotic and merge with AI. … A house cat’s a good outcome, by the way.”

Thin, flexible electrodes mounted on top of a biodegradable silk substrate could provide a better brain-machine interface, as shown in this model. (credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

But machine intelligence is already vastly superior to human intelligence in specific areas (such as Google’s Alpha Go) and often inexplicable. So how do we know superintelligence has the best interests of humanity in mind?

“Just an engineering problem”

Musk’s answer: “If we achieve tight symbiosis, the AI wouldn’t be ‘other’  — it would be you and with a relationship to your cortex analogous to the relationship your cortex has with your limbic system.” OK, but then how does an inferior intelligence know when it’s achieved full symbiosis with a superior one — or when AI goes rogue?

Brain-to-brain (B2B) internet communication system: EEG signals representing two words were encoded into binary strings (left) by the sender (emitter) and sent via the internet to a receiver. The signal was then encoded as a series of transcranial magnetic stimulation-generated phosphenes detected by the visual occipital cortex, which the receiver then translated to words (credit: Carles Grau et al./PLoS ONE)

And what about experts in neuroethics, psychology, law? Musk says it’s just “an engineering problem. … If we can just use engineering to get neurons to talk to computers, we’ll have done our job, and machine learning can do much of the rest.”

However, it’s not clear how we could be assured our brains aren’t hacked, spied on, and controlled by a repressive government or by other humans — especially those with a more recently updated software version or covert cyborg hardware improvements.

NIRS/EEG brain-computer interface system using non-invasive near-infrared light for sensing “yes” or “no” thoughts, shown on a model (credit: Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering)

In addition, the devices mentioned in WaitButWhy all require some form of neurosurgery, unlike Facebook’s research project to use non-invasive near-infrared light, as shown in this experiment, for example.** And getting implants for non-medical use approved by the FDA will be a challenge, to grossly understate it.

“I think we are about 8 to 10 years away from this being usable by people with no disability,” says Musk, optimistically. However, Musk does not lay out a technology roadmap for going further, as MIT Technology Review notes.

Nonetheless, Neuralink sounds awesome — it should lead to some exciting neuroscience breakthroughs. And Neuralink now has 16 San Francisco job listings here.

* Other experts: Vanessa Tolosa, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of the world’s foremost researchers on biocompatible materials; Max Hodak, who worked on the development of some groundbreaking BMI technology at Miguel Nicolelis’s lab at Duke University, Ben Rapoport, Neuralink’s neurosurgery expert, with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT; Tim Hanson, UC Berkeley post-doc and expert in flexible Electrodes for Stable, Minimally-Invasive Neural Recording; Flip Sabes, professor, UCSF School of Medicine expert in cortical physiology, computational and theoretical modeling, and human psychophysics and physiology; and Tim Gardner, Associate Professor of Biology at Boston University, whose lab works on implanting BMIs in birds, to study “how complex songs are assembled from elementary neural units” and learn about “the relationships between patterns of neural activity on different time scales.”

** This binary experiment and the binary Brain-to-brain (B2B) internet communication system mentioned above are the equivalents of the first binary (dot–dash) telegraph message, sent May 24, 1844: ”What hath God wrought?”

15:00
How I learned to read -- and trade stocks -- in prison | Curtis "Wall Street" Carroll
Financial literacy isn't a skill -- it's a lifestyle. Take it from Curtis "Wall Street" Carroll. As an incarcerated individual, Caroll knows the power of a dollar. While in prison, he taught himself how to read and trade stocks, and now he shares a simple, powerful message: we all need to be more savvy with our money.
13:59

Trump’s Quixotic Energy Policy

April 22, 2017, marks one year since the international community came together and signed the Paris climate agreement. Given the threat to that agreement posed by US President Donald Trump's devotion to fossil-fuel producers, the world must now unite again to ensure a clean-energy future.

12:29

Development Beyond the Numbers

Despite the impressive development gains that many countries have made in recent decades, hundreds of millions of people are still being left behind. Worse, because official statistics are based on national averages, they are now in danger of being forgotten.

11:10

Who Owns History?

When the artist Dana Schutz depicted the murdered teenager Emmett Till’s brutalized body lying in an open casket, she did so in solidarity with the mothers of young African-American men killed by police officers in recent years. The subsequent attack on Schutz and her alleged act of cultural appropriation reflects the decadence of a once-valuable discourse.

09:29

A Practical Agenda for Revolutionary Times

As the world’s financial leaders gather for the IMF and World Bank spring meetings, many working people around the world are demanding radical change, because they sense that their voices are not being heard. By repeatedly making the case for globalization without addressing these concerns, elites may be doing more harm than good.

April 20 2017

15:29

A Bridge to Universal Education

At the World Bank and the IMF’s upcoming annual spring meetings, delegates will reinforce the case for multilateral cooperation. In particular, they will be discussing the International Finance Facility for Education, a bold plan to ensure that all of the world’s 1.6 billion boys and girls are in school and learning.

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