Your Artificially Intelligent Agent

The moment that Watson became the Jeopardy champion will be remembered as a watershed moment in human history. It is the Gutenburg Bible of our time.

Media interest in Watson seems to have reawakened this month, with IBM now talking about how exactly Watson is being implemented to help make difficult medical diagnoses. In this area where humans just can’t process the amount of data necessary to make the best decision possible, Watson could be truly revolutionary. For now, Watson’s work will still need to be checked by meatspace doctors to make sure he doesn’t send some poor soul off to have a limb amputated unnecessarily, but this does not take away from the awesome power of data processing this will be putting into the hands of doctors.

This got me thinking about how life is going to change when we all have access to our own Watson. This raises important questions about how much control over our lives these intelligent agents will have. If you could have a hyper-connected computer intelligence which could monitor everything you say and do to check for errors and help you to consistently come to the best decisions, wouldn’t you want it? It is not only the high level decisions of doctors that could benefit from more data integration, but every decision we make as individuals could really benefit from a little more intelligence.

Lets take a simple example – the run of the mill job search in 2025

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Instead of writing a resume, you task your artificially intelligent agent (AIA) to investigate job opportunities. Under your direction, AIA will explore the internet for available job opportunities which might mesh well with your specific skills and knowledge. The stored knowledge base of your AIA might also play into the decision, as you two are really a team at this point and that should be taken into account. Other factors your AIA might take into account, are your interests or willingness to move, where your family and friends live, how much time you have available, how much money you want to make etc…

The beauty of getting your AIA to do all of this work is that it can make a decision which balances all of the many factors involved with a finesse that a lone human would never hope to achieve. So in just under an hour, AIA brings up 7 draft emails to companies she proposes she proposes would be a good fit for you.

You see that one job is in Sydney, Australia. Your ex-wife lives in Sydney. Do you really want to open that can of worms again? Does AIA have an eye on your romantic life with that option? Maybe AIA just wanted you to consider whether you are interested in rekindling some connection there… maybe if you decide against this it will lower AIAs ranking of putting you in a situation possibility of reconnecting you with youjr ex-wife… You have been down this road before, there is no point spending time trying to figure out what AIA is thinking… Scratch Sydney.

So of the remaining 6 emails: 4 are applying to open job postings that might be interesting to you, 1 is an email reaching out to an old friend at a company you used to work for to see if they are looking for anyone, and the last email is to a company that doesn’t have an open posting but that AIA inferred from public financial data that it could improve its profitability by 112% by hiring you. In short order, you look over all the emails with the attached optimized resumes and send them off.

The companies all have much more powerful AIA helping their decisions, so within a day or two you have heard back from all of those places you applied. Two of the applications were turned down flat, including the hail mary AIA sent to the company with no official posting. AIA is aware of the emotional impact that such a rejection might have on you, so she softens the blow by pointing out that there is no way to know what crazy strategy their corporate AIA has come up with.

AIA prioritizes what she thinks is the best offer and shows it to you. Its a short contract in San Francisco, the pay is good, and they only need 3 hours a day (under the normal 4-5 expected in many offices these days). AIA also shows you the better salary and work agreement she thinks she can negotiate for you.

“People used to do all this themselves, what a headache that must have been” you think to yourself, shaking your head in nostalgic disbelief. You go ahead and tell AIA that you’ll accept the job in San Francisco.

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Having an intelligence like Watson in your pocket will change every facet of your life; from something as mundane as submitting tax forms or figuring out what to have for dinner, to the highest level social and medical decisions. You cannot overestimate how significant of a change it will be to have a powerful artificial intelligence agent looking over your interests. Ultimately, the power of decision will still rest in your hands, but an AIA lets you better see the map of where those decisions lead. 

In the end, with the emergence of AIAs we will address something we hate to admit to ourselves. We are shitty decision makers.  We do our best to weigh the relevant factors and come up with what we think will be the best plan, but we can really only take into account a fraction of what we should. How many ills of the world come about from bad decision making compounded upon mistakes? Some people might fear the loss of control associated with having an AIA help in your decision making, but at the end of the day the AIAs will make us smarter, and a smarter world is a better world.

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Capitalizing on Wasted Cycles of Creativity

I had a great dream last night. It was one of those long winded dreams where I was traversing the globe doing amazing things that I might never get the chance to do, or might even be impossible in real life. As soon as I woke up, I knew I had experienced something amazing, and I needed to tell others about it.

There is one problem… I can’t remember any of it.

No doubt you have had dreams like this, in one moment you are part of a complete and amazing story with all the depth of a classic novel and all the action of a hollywood blockbuster, and in the next moment it all shatters away as you smash into consciousness. Everything, lost in a moment. A whole universe just flushed down the drain.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In the future, we will connect our dreams directly to the world wide web. If you have heard of the blog, sleep talkin’ man then you’ll know that the internet has already made some hilarious forays into the world of dreams. But the ability to capture your dreams and communicate them to the world need not be restricted to those few blessed with sleep cinema disorder.

In this video of the reconstructed brain activity of someone watching another video you can see that science has also come close to being able to visualize the activity of someone’s brain. Yes, it was a fairly limited experiment, using a restricted subset of input  that the researchers were drawing on, but it still represents a window into the world of the mind (albeit a blurry one).

What will this technology look like in a decade or two? It may never be an exact high-fidelity movie of your dreams, but even if computers can tap into this vein of creativity in a somewhat fuzzy way, it could be very interesting. Imagine for instance, a movie or a video game wherein a computer uses the creative impetus of a dream to reconstruct a living story. Even if it is not perfect, it still might provide an fascinating conduit for us to finally be able to re-experience our own dreams or maybe experience the dreams of others.

This might also open up new avenues for artificial intelligence. Much as distributed computing projects like SETI at home make use of wasted computing cycles available on the computers around the globe, computers could capitalize on the wasted cycles of creativity used in dreaming. Just as teams of humans and computers working together make the best chess players, combining the ability of computers to distil vast amounts of information with the raw creative power of a dreaming brain might make for a powerful storyteller.

Now what if in addition to connecting our dreams to the world, we could connect the world to our dreams? The Remee lucid dreaming mask is a programmable sleep mask that allows you to program a light pattern that will be activated during your REM sleep. Apparently, you can train yourself to recognize the lights and take control of your dreams from within (a process known as lucid dreaming). Now, what if you were to add some level of connectivity to the sleep mask? Maybe you could play sounds from the internet  during your dream.

Combining this technology with the dream conduit, you could envision a person, experiencing your dream and actually interacting with you in real time. As brain computer interfaces advance, in the future we may spend more time in a dreamy internet existence, then we spend truly awake.

The inevitable intrusion of technology into our dreams, has long been predicted in science fiction. As you can see from what I have described, this possibility may not remain science fiction for long. It seems that some level of interaction with dreams might be actually (almost) feasible with today’s technology. The idea that we would connect our dreams to the internet might be shocking to someone of today (Is no space sacred?). But, the total inundation of media that we live with today probably would have been equally shocking to someone of the past.

Interacting directly with each other’s dreams could actually be healthy for our acceptance of ourselves. We can’t always control the way we think, sometimes we all have thoughts and desires that might be socially unacceptable. In waking life we feel that our thoughts must be acceptable because we are somehow responsible for what we think. But, putting our dreams out there is a way to be totally honest with the world in such a way that we don’t have to feel responsible for what we think. We aren’t expected to control our dreams.

By connecting the totally free creative space that is the dream-world to the world, maybe we will finally know each other, and know ourselves.