It may be more than coincidence that the NYU Center for Data Science (CDS) chose to hold its Fifth Anniversary Celebration during Brain Awareness Week. The event, held in a well-appointed room at Vanderbilt Hall in New York City, opened with speeches by New York University’s new Vice Provost of Research Staci Grossman Bloom and new CDS Director Julia Kempe that focused on the importance of data science as a vital multi-disciplinary field and the enormous growth of the center in just five years.
If you’re a science fiction lover who can’t get enough of Mr. Robot and Westworld and worry that robots might one day make us their slaves, the good news is that it’s not likely to happen anytime soon, but technology that falls into the wrong hands needs to be considered. That was the consensus of a discussion on artificial intelligence (AI) last Friday at the World Science Festival at New York University (NYU).
The spirited session was aptly named, “Teach Your Robots Well: Will Self-Taught Robots Be the End of Us?” Moderator Tim Urban, a writer on futuristic issues and co-founder of the Wait but Why website, began with: “This is the biggest topic you can take on; relevant to every person in the room.”
The panel of academics included Susan Schneider, director of the AI, Mind and Society (AIMS) Group at the University of Connecticut; Yann LeCun, an AI scientist and a professor at NYU, Peter Tse, a professor at Dartmouth University and author of The Neural Basis of Free Will; and Matt Tegmark, a professor at MIT and president of the Future Life Institute.
The panelists suggested—each in their own way—that AI isn’t as dangerous or potentially harmful as advertised. Tse made the point that Siri, Alexa, and Google are not yet on the same level as human intelligence. He drew a distinction between “artificial narrow intelligence” and “artificial general intelligence,” explaining that narrow AI would be like a robot learning how to fly a plane or drive a car, while general AI would include knowledge on how to do those tasks—but also mow the lawn, babysit children, cook dinner, and still learn new other skills.
Interest in artificial intelligence (AI) seems like it’s at an all-time high, with people both wary and intrigued about how machine learning systems will change, and hopefully improve, our lives. Past discussions we’ve covered have delved into the ethical sphere: Can autonomous robots that (currently) lack consciousness and emotions serve us well as future healthcare aides and soldiers? Can robots be moral? But last week’s World Science Festival in New York City looked at a different side of AI, with a panel discussion on “Computational Creativity: The Art of Ingenuity.”
Focused on the creation of art, music, and culinary arts, the panel was tasked with answering such questions as: Can a robot truly imagine an original masterpiece or just replicate known styles? Is computational creativity a collaborator or a competitor?
Most people first heard the word “avatar” from James Cameron’s Avatar, one of the top grossing films of all time. Some consider avatars an extension of the self that can save the world in the context of virtual reality or a video game. In Hinduism, avatars are considered incarnations of deities or immortals. The Hindu god Vishnu, for example, has many avatars, including the Buddha.
Helping to sort out the avatar conundrum and the fascinating field of artificial intelligence was a Brainwave series program at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC last Wednesday night. The program—“A.I. and Avatar: The New Explorers,”— began with a head-spinning question: “Can machines and other avatars expand the human experience—and perhaps even take our minds to the stars?”
This is the second in a series of Brain Awareness Week (BAW) partner interviews, in which partners share their BAW experiences and tips for planning successful events. Sung-Jin Jeong, Ph.D., is the principal researcher/director of the Neuronal Development and Disease Department/Brain Research Policy Center at the Korea Brain Research Institute.
The Brain Awareness Week effort in Korea is a large coordinated effort by several organizations, including the Korea Brain Research Institute, that has reached around 4,000 people the last several years. How difficult is it to reach consensus among the organizers when planning such a large program? Are there any tips you can give?
Since 2002, the Korean neuroscience community has actively participated in Brain Awareness Week (BAW), enhancing the public understanding on neuroscience and scientific value. Over the years, a series of events hosted by more than 15 universities and research institutes throughout the country have become more dynamic and exciting, attracting over 3,000 participants yearly. Korean Brain Society and Korea Brain Research Institute (KBRI) are co-organizers, playing a central role in gathering national brain research capacity and strengthening the cooperative network for the annual BAW event.
When planning for such a large program, it is indeed challenging to reach consensus among many relevant institutes. It is critical, however, to induce inter-organizational cooperation and reach consensus encompassing organizers’ needs. We try to make things work by weaving together everyone’s best ideas and key concerns before making major decisions on topics and planning programs. Over the last few years, main topics presented during BAW were Brain Navigation (2014); Brain, the universe of our mind (2015); and What is Brain Research? (2016). Fortunately, we have so far had fruitful outcomes and excellent performances by having the earnest discussions on planning each program and efficient role-sharing. We will do our utmost to continue building interactive partnerships with educational and research institutes nationwide, thus engaging the whole neuroscience community with a lively and successful BAW.