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Talk. Artificial Intelligence & The Century of Two Singularities

  • The Albany 240 Great Portland Street London, England, W1W 5QU United Kingdom (map)

This event is part of the "We Are Fascinating Project" season of Talks from entertaining experts and insightful individuals. The Talks will each be capped off with a Q&A between the speaker and the audience. It's a social, it's a learning opportunity, it's a little like an interactive book....where the reader gets to ask direct questions to the author.

Speaker Calum Chace is a best-selling author of fiction and non-fiction books about artificial intelligence. They include Surviving AI, a non-fiction book about the promise and the challenges of AI, and Pandora's Brain, a techno-thriller about the first superintelligence. His latest book The Economic Singularity addresses the prospect of widespread technologicalunemployment.

Calum believes the 21st century is the most interesting time to be alive – and the most important. He believes that in this century, our most powerful technology, artificial intelligence, will cause two events so transformative that they deserve the label “singularity”.

In maths and physics, a singularity is a point in a process where a variable becomes infinite, and the normal rules break down. So the word “singularity” is a superlative for disruption and transformation. The most profound one is known as the technological singularity, which will happen when an AI with all the cognitive abilities of an adult human emerges. Because AIs can be expanded and enhanced in ways that our brains cannot, the AI will quickly become a superintelligence.

If we create an entity which becomes a million times smarter than Albert Einstein, it could probably solve all our major problems - like poverty, war, unhappiness, and even death. DeepMind, a team of elite AI researchers in London now owned by Google, has a two-step mission statement: solve AI, then use that to solve everything else.

Before we reach the technological singularity, we will face another stiff challenge. In the next few decades most humans will become unemployable because machines (AI systems plus their peripherals, the robots) will be able to do anything that we can do for money cheaper, faster and better. And unlike us, their capabilities will be improving all the time.

If the economic singularity is coming, we need to figure out how to provide an income for those who aren’t working – and a good income, not subsistence-level welfare. Which may well mean we are going to need a new type of economy. Working out what that looks like, and how to get from here to there is a serious challenge, so we had better start taking it seriously. Soon.

If we navigate these events successfully, Calum thinks that our future will be glorious. If we don’t, extinction is not the worst possible outcome.

Calum studied philosophy at Oxford University, where he discovered that the science fiction he had been reading since boyhood was actually philosophy in fancy dress. Before becoming a full-time writer, Calum had a 30-year career in journalism and business, in which he was a marketer, a strategy consultant and a CEO. In 2000 he co-wrote The Internet Startup Bible, a business best-seller published by Random House.

Tickets are £10 in advance or £15 on the door.