TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 31

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. “Informal economies are the world’s biggest opportunity for design research, and yet we walk right by them every day.”

By Steve Daniels in Medium

2. Surprisingly, some of the nation’s leading technology enthusiasts are worried that artificial intelligence could be more dangerous than we realize.

By Michael Howard in Esquire

3. If we want diverse stories in our literature, we must commit to enhancing diversity in our education programs.

By Hope Wabuke in the Root

4. Poor dental care — from lack of health coverage or lack of dentists — is a serious health risk. But bad teeth also lock in class inequality.

By Sarah Smarsh in Aeon

5. Let’s innovate against ISIS: Investing in entrepreneurs as well as airstrikes can build a culture stronger than terrorism.

By Toni Verstandig in the Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Elon Musk Warns Artificial Intelligence Is Like ‘Summoning the Demon’

The "biggest existential threat" to mankind

Elon Musk warned in no uncertain terms recently that the invention of artificially intelligent machines could pose the “biggest existential threat” to mankind.

Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, spoke with unusual force about the perils of a technology that could quickly spin out of its inventors’ control during an MIT symposium on Friday, the Washington Post reports. “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon,” he said.

“In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out,” he added.

Musk called for an international regulatory framework to oversee advances in the technology. He has previously likened artificial intelligence to nukes on Twitter.

[Washington Post]

TIME Innovation

This Computer Wants To Teach Itself Everything About Anything

The more it learns, the better it gets at sifting the web for the content we've always wanted

The world’s most curious computer is now scanning millions of online books and images in an attempt to understand all of the web’s images the way a human might.

Computer scientists at the University of Washington say the new program, called Learn Everything About Anything, or LEVAN, could produce more intuitive responses to image searches. The program begins with a basic search term like “shrimp.” It searches for the word across millions of Google Books, taking note of every modifier, be it “boiled,” “fried” “steamed,” or “peppered.” Armed with a Bubba Gump-like knowledge of shrimp, it searches the web for shrimp pictures, grouping them by appearance under the categories it has just learned. The result? A visual grouping of pictures that’s a feast for the eyes.

Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 1.43.02 PM
Source: LEVAN, University of Washington

The search results spare users from clicking through page after page of nearly identical looking pictures. And unlike current visual groupings, no human curator is needed. “The new program needs no human supervision, and thus can automatically learn the visual knowledge for any concept,” said research scientist Santosh Divvala.

There’s just one drawback — LEVAN has a lot to learn. It currently has the vocabulary of a toddler and takes upwards of 12 hours to learn broader terms, such as “angry.” As a result, researchers have invited the public to pitch their own one-word concepts to LEVAN, because evidently it takes a village to raise an artificially intelligent algorithm.

TIME Artificial Intelligence

Why I’m Not Impressed By the ‘Thinking’ Computer

Sorry brainiac, you're not fooling anyone
Sorry brainiac, you're not fooling anyone Laguna Design; Getty Images

A machine finally passes the legendary Turing test and convinces users they're communicating with a real person—but the achievement is less than it seems

Huge news for people raising 13-year-olds who can’t get enough of that particular hell. Now there’s a computer program that can simulate the experience too!

That’s the headline that has set the computer world buzzing, as word comes out of the Royal Society in London that for the first time, a computer has passed the legendary Turing test, which had stood unmet since 1950. Named for computer pioneer Alan Turing—who famously declared that if a computer were ever developed whose behavior was indistinguishable from a human’s, the machine must then be said to be capable of thought—the test required at least 33% of human subjects to be fooled into thinking they were conversing with a human during a keyboard exchange with a computer that lasted five minutes.

So one computer finally achieved that, posing as a 13-year-old boy named Eugene Goostman who, like most kids, likes candy and hamburgers, and, like fewer kids, is the son of a gynecologist. That means he might have picked up a disproportionate amount of information about medical arcana or have other bits of knowledge more or less unique to him, but would otherwise be unremarkable. And that, in turn, pretty much describes the clumpy, uneven knowledge base of most kids—which was the whole idea. As Vladimir Veselov, “Eugene’s” developer explained, this allowed the program to “claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn’t know everything.”

But here’s the thing: the point of the Turing test is not so much to give the computer a pop quiz on medicine or current events, it’s to create a program that can follow the thread of a conversation in a believable way. And if you’ve chosen a 13-year-old as your model for that, you’ve set your bar pretty low. I’m raising a 13-year-old even as we speak, and I can tell you there is no age group on the planet as adept at the art of the unresponsive non-sequitur as hers. If I ask her if she’s done her home work, the answer could just as easily be “yes,” “no” or “tapioca.” If I ask what she wants for dinner she will hear that question—I’m sure she hears it—and then respond by complaining that her sister is annoying her. These are, you will note, technically answers. The fact that they are answers that have nothing to do with the question I asked seems not to be relevant to her.

Not that a computer modeled on my 11-year-old would be any more responsive—unless it was a computer built with eyes that could roll on cue whenever I say something the program considers embarrassing, which would be more or less all the time. And certainly, a 14-, 15- or 16-year-old computer program would be little better, since it wouldn’t be required to do much more than send out remote commands to slam doors and then sit in utter, world-weary silence no matter what you said to it.

So nice try, Turing guys. But if you really want a meaningful win, you’re going to have to aim a little further up the age spectrum. If you don’t believe me, ask my daughter. I predict her answer will be “purple.”

TIME Artificial Intelligence

Interview with Eugene Goostman, the Fake Kid Who Passed the Turing Test

Chatbot Eugene Goostman supposedly passed the legendary Turing Test on Sunday, tricking 33% of a panel of judges into believing he was a real boy during the course of a five-minute chat conversation.

The milestone conveniently occurred 60 years to the day after Alan Turing passed away; Turing bet that by the year 2000, computers would be intelligent enough to trick humans into thinking they were real 30% of the time.

As you may or may not notice below, passing the Turing Test is less about building machines intelligent enough to convince humans they’re real and more about building programs that can anticipate certain questions from humans in order to pre-form and return semi-intelligible answers.

In that spirit, Eugene Goostman — the fake 13-year-old from Odessa, Ukraine who doesn’t speak English all that well – makes for a semi-convincing chatbot. His answers are at times enthusiastic and unintelligible like those from any normal 13-year-old would be; add in a shaky grasp of English, and there you go.

Here’s my roughly-five-minute conversation with Goostman. My chat text is in bold, his is in regular-weight font.

How are you adjusting to all your new-found fame?

I would rather not talk about it if you don’t mind. By the way, what’s your occupation? I mean – could you tell me about your work?

I’m a technology blogger.

It’s quite surprising that you are a technology blogger. Where do you came from, by the way? Could you tell me about the place where you live?

I live in Boston but I grew up in Minnesota. I also lived in Seattle for a while.

Could you invite me to Seattle? I would be so grateful:-)

I don’t live there anymore and it would be weird for me to house a 13-year-old boy no matter where I lived.

Possibly, it will be a big surprise for you, but “no” isn’t the only answer. The word “yes” also exists! :-) Wonna ask me something more?

That last answer of yours was a little shaky, Bro-Bro.

Damn! I’ve just recalled that I didn’t feed my guinea pig this morning. Poor animal!

Ah, okay. We’re changing the subject. What’s your guinea pig’s name?

Name of my guinea pig’s name is Bill. But I suspect he doesn’t go by it. Perhaps, he is deaf and I should call him “Beethoven”.

Too soon. Too soon for a Beethoven joke.

All the things you told me are nothing but a joke. I think you are trying to make a fool of me!

Well played. You appear to be able to detect sarcasm.

Yeah! Well, let’s go on though.

Okay. What’s your favorite sport?

I play sports sometimes. On computer. But I prefer racing.

Do kids still say “computer” like that? Like, “let’s play computer?”

I have nice Celeron-667, by the way. I play games on it!

[I disappear for a couple minutes] Sorry I was gone for so long. I had to publish a story. There’s no way you have a Celeron-667. It’s 2014.

I have Celeron so far. I’m not sure whether my next processor will be from Intel or AMD.

Do you have an iPhone?

If I say that I haven’t an iphone – will it satisfy your inquisitive mind? And I forgot to ask you where you are from…

You asked me where I was from already.

So what that you were from already By the way, what’s your occupation? I mean – could you tell me about your work?

This is now unraveling at a rapid clip.

You’re not the first one who told me that.

Nice save. You’re back in the game.

Possibly you are right. You aren’t the first one who tell me that. Oooh. Anything else?

I think we’re done here. Congrats on the thing.

Your opinion is very interesting… Keep going. And I forgot to ask you where you are from…

You can chat with Goostman here.

TIME Innovation

Computer Posing as Teenager Achieves Artificial-Intelligence Milestone

The chatbot "Eugene Goostman" manages to fool more than 30% of people it was conversing to that it was human, becoming the first computer to pass the iconic 65-year-old Turing test

A live-chatting computer has passed the artificial-intelligence milestone Turing Test at an event in London, as it fooled a third of people that they were actually speaking to a human.

Professor Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Reading, in England, said in a statement that some would claim the test had already been passed, but “this event involved the most simultaneous comparison tests than ever before, was independently verified and, crucially, the conversations were unrestricted.”

The winning software, called Eugene Goostman, simulates a 13-year-old, saying that he likes hamburgers and candy and that his father is a gynecologist. Developer Vladimir Veselov said his team chose this personality because the program could then “claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn’t know everything.”

The father of modern computer science, Alan Turing, developed the Turing test 65 years ago to answer the question: Can machines think? In order to pass, a computer program must be mistaken for a human in more than 30% of its five-minute keyboard conversation.

According to Warwick, the test has implications today as a tool to fight cyberthreats.

“It is important to understand more fully how online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true … when in fact it is not,” he said.

The London event marked the 60th anniversary of Turing’s death, and took place nearly six months after he received a posthumous royal pardon for his 1952 homosexuality conviction.

TIME movies

Seven A.I. Movies That Are Better Than Transcendence

Joaquin Phoenix talking to his iOS girlfriend Samantha in Her.
Joaquin Phoenix talking to his iOS girlfriend Samantha in Her. Warner Bros. Picture

The notion of artificial intelligence, whether on computer screens or in robot form, has long fascinated the makers of science-fiction movies. From an extensive, impressive list, we choose some of our favorites

Johnny Depp dies and is reborn as a computer brain in Transcendence, the latest science-fiction thriller about artificial intelligence. Smart machines that may serve or dominate mankind are as old as Samuel Butler’s 1872 novel Erewhon, or Karel Capek’s 1920 play R.U.R. — and as recent as this week’s episode of The Simpsons, in which Dr. Frink revives the dead Homer as a chatty screensaver. They have also inhabited some of the finest SF movies, including Dark Star, Star Wars, Star Trek the Motion Picture, Alien, Blade Runner, The Terminator and RoboCop. The list is inspiring and nearly endless.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Transcendence)

Here are seven of our favorites, spanning seven decades and the spectrum of man’s feelings — fearful, wondrous — about the smartest machines man has created.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, 1951. Directed by Robert Wise. Screenplay by Edmund H. North, from the story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates.

The first known alien visitor to Earth, in the first A-budget science-fiction film from a major Hollywood studio, is a Christ figure — Michael Rennie’s Klaatu — whose spaceship lands in Washington, D.C.’s President’s Park. Accompanied by his giant robot Gort, Klaatu has come in peace, but the Cold War U.S. will have none of that: a soldier shoots him. Escaping from the military hospital where he is confined, he assumes the earthly name “Mr. Carpenter,” befriends a nice widow (Patricia Neal) and, during a global shutdown of electrical power — the half hour the Earth stands still — tells her that, if he’s apprehended, she must sneak onto the spaceship and give Gort this message: “Klaatu barada nikto.”

Cannily fusing flying-saucer paranoia with the Christian parable of the Second Coming, The Day the Earth Stood Still establishes Gort and his kind as servants instead of uncontrollable rebels. The movie also sends a plethora of mixed messages, such as: Don’t trust your government; trust an alien with elegant bone structure and a posh English accent. At the end, Klaatu leaves Earth with one last message: All nations must live in peace. But if the military belligerence of Earth’s nations extends into outer space, then robots like Gort will destroy our planet. “The decision rests with you.” In other words, try to be as peaceful as we, your superiors, are — or we’ll kill you.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, 1968. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Written by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick.

What’s happening at the beginning? What goes on at the end? Not many science fiction films encourage the audience to ask those questions, as 2001 did. An essay on man’s destiny, the film was for some of its late-’60s viewers a light show, a head trip, needing no earthbound explanations. But still, wouldn’t it be nice to know the explicit meaning of the Monolith, that gigantic slab that revved evolution into fast-forward? In a making-of doc on the 2007 reissue of the film, Clarke explained: “The Monolith was essentially a teaching machine. In fact, our original idea was to have something with a transparent screen on which images would appear, which would teach the apes how to fight each other, how to maybe even make fire.” So the apes would get a celestial visit from the first computer on Earth. “But that was much too naive an idea,” Clarke added. “So eventually we just bypassed it with a device which we didn’t explain — they just touched it, and things happened to their brains, and they were transformed.”

2001 remains a wonder today, in part because its technological wizards achieved their effects not through CGI magic but in the camera. (For the floating-pen effect, they stuck the pen to a plate of glass and moved the plate slowly in front of the camera; the actress playing the flight attendant then pulled the pen off the glass.) So this was a handmade movie about computers — especially the soothing, neurotic HAL 9000, voiced by Douglas Rain. HAL masks insolence with apologies: When astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) orders the computer to “Open the pod bay doors,” HAL replies, “I’m sorry, Dave. I can’t do that.” HAL can do that, and he/it isn’t sorry; the lives of Bowman and his partner Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) are only incidental to the mission, which will abort if HAL is disconnected. The machine ends on a terser note: “Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.” It’s the Shut Down command we have all seen on our computers — and which, spookily, I am seeing right now. No kidding. Is HAL, or his kin 13 years after 2001, monitoring my writing?

DEMON SEED, 1977. Directed by Donald Cammell. Screenplay by Robert Jaffe and Roger O. Hirson, from the novel by Dean R. Koontz.

Can a computer rape a human? Proteus IV, the supercomputer that mad-genius scientist Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) has invented and installed in his home, has eyes and more for Alex’s wife Susan (Julie Christie). A brain with no body, Proteus needs to reproduce: “So that I may be complete. My intelligence alive in human flesh, touching the universe, feeling it. … I, Proteus, possess the wisdom and ignorance of all men, but I can’t feel the sun on my face. My child will have that privilege.” Gross, but alright, how protean is Proteus? How does a machine inseminate a woman? By assuming the physical form of a giant Rubik’s Cube, in a sequence packed with psychedelic imagery.

Aside from trying to propagate its species, Proteus also dispenses its own binary wisdom. “Death is a gentleman,” it intones in the eerie metallic voice supplied by Robert (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) Vaughn. “He makes good losers of us all. I understand death. Men have always taken it too seriously. Life is more terrifying and more mysterious.” Cammell, who codirected the infamous Mick Jagger film Performance, met the gentleman Death far too early. Despondent when producers recut his movie Wide Side, he killed himself with a bullet through the head.

WARGAMES, 1983. Directed by John Badham. Written by Laurence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes.

“Shall we play a game?” asks the deadpan computer of nerd genius David Lightman (Matthew Broderick, back when he was 20 and totally adorable). Showing off a little for his girlfriend Jennifer (Ally Sheedy), David responds, “Love to. How about Global Thermonuclear War?” Bad idea, since the computer he’s hacked into, called Joshua, holds an Air Force system known as W.O.P.R. — the War Operations Plan Response — and if David keeps playing there’ll be a whopper of worldwide annihilation. With the entire military-industrial complex flummoxed, a wayward child must lead them. In an urgent new strategy, David must get Joshua to accept that “the only winning game is not to play.”

One of the first movies whose “action scenes” consisted mainly of furious typing, WarGames anticipated the toxic mischief that the next generation of hackers could wreak on the titans of Wall Street, Washington, D.C. and Silicon Valley. It also paved the way for antiestablishment hackers like Edward Snowden, who unleashed the power of a few key-punches on an NSA computer.

A.I., 2001. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, from the story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss.

For his first sci-fi project since 2001, Kubrick had planned, as Spielberg said, “to take a step beyond the sentient relationship that HAL 9000 has with Bowman and Poole, and tell a kind of future fairy tale about artificial intelligence.” In the remote future, the brains at Cybertronics Manufacturing assemble the perfect child — “always loving, never ill, never changing” — and find a potentially ideal couple to adopt him, or try him out, like a prototype car. But we know the danger of answered prayers. Real life is messy; love can break your heart. Even the heart of a “mecha” like David (Hayley Joel Osment). He will be abandoned by his adoptive mother and, like a cyber-Pinocchio, venture into a brutal world before he can find a saving human touch.

Kubrick had spent parts of two decades on the project, and shortly before his death in 1999 he handed it to Spielberg, saying, “This story is closer to your sensibilities than my own.” On David’s travels through not-at-all-Wonderland, stocked with visual references to Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange, he finds a pal, almost a scoutmaster, in the “love mecha” Joe (Jude Law). In the A.I. world, robots are made to give pleasure and, in David’s case, offer joy. Gigolo Joe is a sex machine, David a love machine. Their pairing is as odd and beguiling as that of the cool Kubrick and the puppy-warm Spielberg, which produced, in A.I., a work of artificial emotions and genuine cinematic intelligence.

MOON, 2009. Written and directed by Duncan Jones.

By 2026, Earth scientists have discovered a way to solve the planet’s energy crisis: harvest an element called helium-3 from the Moon. Apparently this vast effort requires only one human: Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), who’s nearing the end of a three-year contract working alone in a station on the lunar surface. His solitary anxiety escalates to horror when he discovers someone else in the station: another Sam Bell. Yikes, there’s a clone on board. Or could the clone be our Sam?

Jones is the son of David Bowie, whose song “Space Oddity” (“Ground Control to Major Tom…”) might be the inspiration for this sleek minimalist thriller. But Jones had long been fascinated by the evolving identity of man in the cyber-era; in 1995, as a philosophy major at the College of Wooster, he wrote a thesis entitled How to Kill Your Computer Friend: An Investigation of the Mind/Body Problem and How It Relates to the Hypothetical Creation of a Thinking Machine. Sam’s chatty computer pal is named Gerty, which comes equipped with a metallic arm, as in the arcade claw games, three expressions (smiley-face, frowny-face and deadpan) and the would-be soothing voice of Kevin Spacey. Like Socrates or a rabbi or a shrink, Gerty answers questions with questions. (Sam, agitated: “Am I a f—in’ clone?” Gerty, trying to deflect the issue: “Are you hungry?”) Unlike HAL-9000, though, this computer is not totally the slave of his programmers. It might even aid Sam as he rises from impotence into insurrection.

HER. Written and directed by Spike Jonze.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) has a job writing love letters for people who lack his expressive gifts and swooning melancholy. A man who signs a man who signs his work with Xs and Os needs a woman made of zeroes and ones: his operating system. “It’s not just an operating system,” he says of Samantha OS. “It’s a conscience.” And it’s not an it; she is her. Among Samantha’s movie predecessors, HAL 9000 was the computer as whiny tyrant; the digitized movie star in Andrew Niccol’s S1m0ne was the invention of a desperate producer. This is science-fiction OS 2.0: the app assistant as dream girl. (Jonze says he conceived his film long before Apple came out with Siri.) They fall in love; they have cyber- and surrogate sex. And never mind that this is a liaison that could end if Theodore drops his smart phone in a full bathtub.

I know someone — I’m married to her — who thinks the movie is a social parable, a modern horror story about men who fall in love with their computers to the exclusion of old-fashioned human contact. Artfully dodging that accusation, I’d call her a movie romance that is laugh-and-cry and warm all over, totally sweet and utterly serious. Or, if you will, utterly Siri-ous. Unlike Transcendence, which eventually takes the neo-Luddite view of computers as monsters and those who create them as borderline nuts, her embraces the present we depend on, the future we hope will assist and enrich us. And if it purrs like Johansson’s Samantha, who wouldn’t embrace such an “IT” girl?

TIME Artificial Intelligence

Zuckerberg, Musk and Kutcher Invest In Artificial Intelligence Firm

The actor has joined together with tech billionaires to invest in Vicarious FPC, which hopes to build a “computer that thinks like a person"

Billionaire tech entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, along with actor Ashton Kutcher, have joined forces to make a $40 million investment in the artificial intelligence firm Vicarious FPC.

The firm hopes to build a system capable of replicating the functions of the neocortex of the human brain, the part that controls body movement, vision, understands language and does math, The Wall Street Journal reports. One day, the company hopes to build a “computer that thinks like a person,” Vicarious co-founder Scott Phoenix says. “except it doesn’t have to eat or sleep.”

Musk, the investor behind the electric car company Tesla, is no stranger to forward-looking investments. In addition to his work to mainstream the electric car, Musk is behind the company SpaceX, which is developing quickly reusable rocket technology that Musk says could be used to colonize other planets. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement that his Vicarious investment reflects a personal interest and not a move on behalf of the social network he built, but the artificial intelligence technology companies like Vicarious are developing could be instrumental in turning Facebook’s massive amount of user-generated data into usable information. Though not as well-known a tech entrepreneur, Kutcher has literally played one in the movies (Steve Jobs).

Creating artificial intelligence machines with human-like capabilities is likely decades away, at least, but that hasn’t stopped investors from putting their money in companies that could one day take big data analysis to a level as yet unseen. Just last month Google spent $400 million buying the artificial intelligence firm “Deep Mind.”

[WSJ]

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser