Feelin’ Smart

By Paul Syers

In most Sci-Fi movies, artificial intelligence comes in the form of a scary, emotionless entity that intends to destroy humanity. A small number of movies, however, such as D.A.R.Y.L., Her, and arguably even Toy Story and Ted 2 (they’re certainly intelligent, non-human beings, even though there is no explanation as to how they’re intelligent) have A.I. characters as endearing protagonists. What makes the audience like these particular A.I.s is that they express emotions: they can feel. Expressing complex emotions is something we use to define the human experience, but what if it’s more than the key to humanity, what if it’s the key to human level intelligence?

Emotions stem from the innate drive for self-preservation, but the complex range emotions that we see in humanity is so much more than that. A being with our intelligence but without our emotions is a major cause of fear towards A.I. Without emotions, the more intelligent being would either enslave or eradicate humanity, or so goes the argument. Would the ability to empathize, sympathize, even hope and regret not be able to prevent such actions?

Some groups are working on programs that can recognize human emotions (Apple just bought a company), which is a good start. In fact, such efforts highlight how little understanding we currently possess regarding human emotion. We need to do more on both fronts. We need to put more efforts into harnessing neurotechnology to deepen our understanding of human emotion, while at the same time dive into creating programs that actually produce emotions.

With a greater understanding of emotions, intelligence, and the relationship between the two we can not only create new beings that both think and feel, but we can better control and govern ourselves. In the process, we will hopefully see that the fundamental rights we hold so dear should extend to all beings with our level of intelligence or above. That’s how we create a future that looks like A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and avoid one that looks like Terminator: Salvation.

S&T is our future, isn’t it time we paid for it!

by Rebecca McCauley Rench

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the core agency that funds our nation’s basic research, which is the lifeblood of our science and technology development that fuel our national security and economic future. For many decades, the U.S. has led the world in science and technology as a nation that supported scientists and was prideful of their accomplishments. We benefited from national policies that supported a robust S&T environment that valued basic research. U.S. leadership in S&T should not be taken for granted.

The FY2017 budget request announced by the NSF on Monday shows less than a 2% growth in discretionary spending with nearly half for “Agency Operations and Award Management,” which may be necessary, but leaves little increase for true research funding. By allocating such a small amount to S&T, we shortchange our future and fail to inspire our scientists to imagine and innovate.

We support the NSF Director Córdova’s vision to invest in basic research in all fields of science and engineering to advance the American science and technology enterprise, developing the workforce, and advancing areas that are vital to a clean energy economy. We believe that Congress should increase the proposed budget in a way that gives the NSF the ability to assure scientists and engineers of our Nation’s commitment to science and technology leadership.

Old Ideas That Just Won’t Die

by Rebecca McCauley Rench

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

-Max Planck

As our decision makers are put into powerful positions and then live longer, how will the younger generations make their voices heard and ensure that new ideas are implemented? Dr. Aubrey De Grey, a British scientist, believes that the first person to live to 150 years old has already been born. While that may or may not be true, human lifespan has been increasing steadily and a great deal of research is being done on ways to increase lifespan and the quality of life in those years. However, our current system of governance and business was established when life expectancy was much lower. In fact, a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that it takes the death of prominent scientists before new directions in a field can take hold. Did our forefathers expect a lifetime position in the Supreme Court to last 40 years? As we continue to expand our lifespans through genetic engineering and new advances in medical treatments, we must consider the impact this will have on continuing to advance forward with new ideas that are put forth by the younger and less jaded members of our society.