Book of the day
The human brain has some capabilities that the brains of other animals lack. It is to these distinctive capabilities that our species owes its dominant position. Other animals have stronger muscles or sharper claws, but we have cleverer brains.
If machine brains one day come to surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could become very powerful. As the fate of the gorillas now depends more on us humans than on the gorillas themselves, so the fate of our species then would come to depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence.
But we have one advantage: we get to make the first move. Will it be possible to construct a seed AI or otherwise to engineer initial conditions so as to make an intelligence explosion survivable? How could one achieve a controlled detonation?
Simon’s ‘Book of the Day’ choice highlights the Brain Mind Forum, a caucus of the Real Time Club that is celebrating fifty years at the leading edge of the computing revolution in 2017, which has in recent times focused on the convergence of cognitive neuroscience, biogenetics, philosophy, cognitive psychology and computing.
The Brain Mind Forum brings together a group with the widest diversity of skills to push out the frontiers of our knowledge of the brain, from the perspective of our combined experience of designing, programming, building and using computers. In particular, the Forum exists to work towards defining intelligence and supporting the drive to use computers in innovative ways to enhance everyone’s own individual abilities, to learn, to think and be creative.
Facts of the day
For a country where the citizens love their alcohol, it is surprising that beer was banned in the whole country up until 1 March 1989. A
As a consequence, people still ‘celebrate’ the 1 March each year by drinking a few pints of the amber liquid.
Tenth Yule Lad
In Iceland, the tenth of the 13 Yule Lads frequents every home this evening. Tonight, Gluggagægir (Window Peeper) will stand outside your house, peering in through the window to look for any toys that have been left out. If he likes the look of any toys he sees, he will break in and steal them.
Although not as greedy as his Yule Lad brothers, it’s important to say that Gluggagægir‘s intentions, although not particularly honourable, are food-related as well. He also peeps into people’s houses to locate food he could steal.
Clement Clarke Moore didn’t want his famous poem, ‘A Visit from St Nicholas‘ (commonly known by its first line, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’), to be published. The poem practically invented the modern concept of Santa Claus but it almost stayed in the drawer.
Giacomo Casanova (1725-98), famous for his complicated and elaborate affairs with women, also wrote 42 books, including works on the history of Poland, a translation of Homer’s Iliad into modern Italian and a five-volume science-fiction novel which predicted the motor car, the aeroplane, television and more. But his masterpiece is his 12-volume memoir, The Story of My Life.
Running to 3600 pages, the book is written in French, because Casanova thought it more sophisticated than his native Italian. Not published in full until 1960, it records each significant moment in Casanova’s life up until the summer of 1774 (when he was 49); at which point, the narrative stops in mid-sentence.
The memoir was written when Casanova was in his sixties: a washed-up, impotent, pox-riddled librarian in an obscure Bohemian castle. Bored out of his mind, he began to write as ‘the only remedy to keep from going mad or dying of grief’.
1804 Benjamin Disraeli (UK)
1815 Thomas Couture (France)
1843 Thomas Bracken (Ireland, New Zealand)
1853 Isolde Kurz (Germany)
1859 Gustave Kahn (France)
1872 Albert Payson Terhune (USA)
1892 Amy Key Clarke (UK)
1900 Oda Schaefer (Germany)
1900 Vsevolod Vishnevsky (Russia)
1901 Juan Antonio Zunzunegui (Spain)
1905 Anthony Powell (UK)
1907 Garmt Stuiveling (The Netherlands)
1909 Seichō Matsumoto (Japan)
1932 Edward Hoagland (USA)
Jokes of the day
Q: What goes Ho Ho Whoosh, Ho Ho Whoosh?
A: Santa going through a revolving door!
Cartoons: Various, December cartoons, CartoonStock
Quote of the day
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas: ‘A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.’