September 2012 Newsletter

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Greetings from the Executive Director

August was a busy month for the Machine Intelligence Research Institute. Thanks to our successful summer fundraiser, we are running full steam ahead on all fronts: Singularity Summit 2012, the launch of CFAR, increased research output (see below), and improving organizational efficiency in literally dozens of ways.

Thank you for your continued support as we work toward a positive Singularity.

Luke Muehlhauser

Register Now for Singularity Summit 2012

Our annual conference, the Singularity Summit, is back on the west coast this year! The Summit is October 13-14 at the Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco. Thought leaders from all over the world converge on this event, the leading conference on transformative emerging technologies, providing fantastic opportunities for networking.

The full schedule of events for Singularity Summit was recently announced. Featured presenters include futurist Ray Kurzweil, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, co-founder of genomics company 23andMe Linda Avey, animal welfare and autism advocate Temple Grandin, mathematician and sci-fi great Vernor Vinge, Google Director of Research Peter Norvig, and other thought leaders.

For regular updates on the Summit as it approaches, follow the Singularity Summit blog. There are still discounted rooms available at the Mark Hopkins hotel, a two minute walk from the Summit.

SI Hires Two New Researchers

The Machine Intelligence Research Institute has hired two new full-time Research Fellows. Alex Altair, based out of our Berkeley headquarters, is focused on making the investigation of Friendly Artificial Intelligence more mathematically rigorous. He recently wrote “An Intuitive Explanation of Solomonoff Induction” with Luke Muehlhauser, and is now working on a paper on timeless decision theory. Kaj Sotala, based in Helsinki, Finland, is developing several papers on AI risk strategy. Kaj co-authored two SI papers this year, on the advantages of artificial intelligences, uploads, and digital minds and brain uploading-related group mind scenarios. We congratulate Alex and Kaj on their new positions and look forward to encouraging their future efforts.

New Evidence About AI Predictions

Kaj Sotala, our new Research Fellow, recently analyzed a large set of AI predictions (compiled previously by other SI researchers). The results are summarized in the Less Wrong post “AI timeline predictions: are we getting better?” Kaj collaborated with Stuart Armstrong of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford for this project. 257 predictions were retained, and the key results are summarized in the graph above.

Of particular interest was whether predictions had a tendency of falling within the lifetime of the predictor — an alleged phenomenon coined as the “Maes-Garreau law” by Kevin Kelly. This study revealed, for the first time in a scientific way, that there is no substantial tendency for predictions to expect AI within their own lifetimes. The clustering effect you would expect if this tendency existed is nowhere to be found.

Anders Sandberg, a researcher at the Future of Humanity Institute, blogged about the study, writing, “Stuart Armstrong and Kaj Sotala… produced an excellent post analyzing a set of predictions about the future of AI. Among other things, they looked for evidence of the Maes-Garreau law, that people predict AI somewhere about when they retire. Somewhat surprisingly, they found that this was not true. Instead, over a third of predictors claim AI will happen 16-25 years in the future, irrespective of age. There was no strong correlation between age and expected distance into the future.”

Machine Intelligence Research Institute Upgrades Its Research Output

The Machine Intelligence Research Institute’s research fellows and research associates have more peer-reviewed publications forthcoming in 2012 than they had published in all past years combined.

We thank Eliezer Yudkowsky, Daniel Dewey, Luke Muehlhauser, Anna Salamon, Louie Helm, Joshua Fox, Carl Shulman, and Kaj Sotala for their recent research efforts and encourage them to continue this valuable work.

Press Kit Published

In anticipation of the upcoming Singularity Summit, we have published an online press kit here. This press kit compiles a letter from our executive director, a quick overview of our research, essential bios of staff and supporters, and a selection of media articles. Journalists interested in writing about the Machine Intelligence Research Institute or Singularity Summit are encouraged to get in touch with our Media Director Michael Anissimov at

Summer Program on Rationality and Cognition

In early August, SI co-sponsored the Summer Program on Rationality and Cognition (SPARC), a week-long summer camp for young mathematicians held at UC Berkeley. The Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR), a non-profit currently in the process is spinning off from SI, also sponsored the program. Paul Christiano, a primary organizer of the program, said, “SPARC drew many of the very best high school mathematicians, and introduced them to a roughly even mix of LessWrong-style rationality and technical foundations for probabilistic reasoning. Students were enthusiastic and the program was very well received (comparable to other CFAR programs). The apparent success of SPARC will facilitate similar programs in future years, helping CFAR understand how to reach a wider audience and establishing a positive reputation in a wider community.”

Luke Muehlhauser’s Reddit AMA a Success

Luke Muehlhauser conducted an “Ask Me Anything” on the social media website, under /r/Futurology. He said “I am Luke Muehlhauser, CEO of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute. Ask me anything about the Singularity, AI progress, technological forecasting, and researching Friendly AI!” The result was a total of 2,150 comments and 1,329 upvotes! For a selection of Luke’s responses, read the feed for his Reddit account. There was also coverage at WIRED.

Featured Singularity Summit Video: Max Tegmark

In this presentation at Singularity Summit 2011, cosmologist and MIT professor Max Tegmark explores what could happen to us billions of years in the future. Entitled “The Future of Life: a Cosmic Perspective”, Tegmark summarizes what direction cosmologists currently believe the universe will take in coming billions of years and analyzes the implications for the future of life and civilization. He questions the common perception of humans as being the pinnacle of life and foresees beings “as far ahead of us as we are from bacteria”.

Featured Volunteer: Alton Sun

Alton Sun, a photographer from the San Francisco Bay Area, has volunteered for the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) and our sponsored organization CFAR (Center for Applied Rationality) on many occasions now. Alton likes orchestrating photo shoots in some cool warehouses with shadows and orange light, or a grassy field with bright sun and beautiful trees. Alton finds, however, that the component of beauty normally found in the physical surroundings of his work is found in the minds of the people who work here, where their ethically oriented and intellectual personalities hold new sources of inspiration.

Since to Alton “inaction is inexcusable”, it simply becomes a question of upon what one should act. For him, his contribution of photography to SI is a means of addressing some of the world’s most challenging problems and answering some of the largest questions for what is coming in the future of humanity.

To get to know his work, find his portfolio here:

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