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TED 2024: The Brave and the Brilliant for a New AI and Tech World (Part 2)

Image of TED 2024 Stage
TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Thursday, April 18, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

Recently I shared a summary of the talks that inspired and impacted me at TED 2024, outside of the technology world. Click here to read Part One.

Now, I wanted to share a summary of what I learned is happening in the world of AI and technology. 

The AI techno-optimists see AI as the new path for humans, helping us expand our consciousness and our role in the universe with the help of a new digital species. Safety, control, and progress in alternative energy sources could be critical enablers, possibly becoming unlimited with fusion technology. 

Demis Hassabis, the co-founder of Deep Mind, believes that if we get this right, we will find "new abundance, consciousness, and ability to go to the stars." He sees us on a fast path to AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), acknowledging that "to get to AGI, we need giant computers and energy" and that safe architecture will be "the bottleneck that humanity needs to go through."

Mustafa Suleyman, the CEO of Microsoft AI, believes that "we are at an inflection point in the history of humanity" as we build "a new digital species" that will become our digital partner.  While optimistic, he also acknowledged that we need to maintain control over the technology and "be able to describe what we are building clearly."

I found the talk from Vinod Khosla, ex-co-founder of Sun Microsystems, the most optimistic and worrisome as he suggested that "a few entrepreneurs and policies is all we need" to build a better world. 

For me, this was a concerning yet realistic talk. Behind what I perceive as arrogance that a few entrepreneurs could create the future of humanity from a one-sided entrepreneurial perspective that may not leave much space for fairness and embracing multiple perspectives and system thinking, he may well be accurately describing that the future of humanity will be determined by a few entrepreneurs that are defining how AI and soon AGI will be creating and defining our future world. He shared his "12 plausible scenarios" where he sees a new world where:

  1. Expertise will be nearly free

  2. Labor will be free 

  3. Computers will become a utility and programming available to all

  4. AI will play a prominent role in entertainment and design

  5. Internet access will be mainly through an agent

  6. Medicine will transform from sick care to health care,

  7. Better proteins through new food and green fertilizers

  8. Cities with no cars in cities

  9. Flying will be super fast (Mach 5)

  10. Unlimited electric power through fusion boilers

  11. Resources will plentiful

  12. The carbon issue will be solved through better tech, including putting it one kilometer down the sea bed.

What I found missing was a discussion on the impact on nature, people, people's ability to make an income, the effect on traditional ways of life, and the possible extractive nature of the solutions, and how it may create a broader divide with those who still do not have access to the most basics like shelter, water, food or energy and those who already envision living in an Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) driven world.

Ray Kurzweil, who has been making predictions on AI and sciences for 35 years, shared his belief that "by 2045, we will expand our intelligence 30-fold."

"AI is entering a vibrant 3D world," explained Daniela Rus, who leads MIT's Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. She explained how "liquid networks" can create physical intelligence so that AI can be integrated into robots, using an approach that mimics nature and neuron transmission, making it elegant and more straightforward. 

The AI regulators suggest that more control is needed so we can understand how AI works and transparently address issues.

"I don't understand AI, and no one does, including the experts," said Helen Toner, an AI policy expert, in her talk. She encouraged us to have a say in where AI is going because "AI is already happening to us…and we need to put politics in place to get a clear view". She suggested that we should play an active role by demanding more transparency. Her recommendations included measuring what AI can do and having audits and incident reporting (like we do for plane crashes) so issues are open. By mandating disclosure and responsible scaling through government policy, AI technology can be better managed and improved instead of letting the companies self-regulate.

Rumman Chowdhury also sees "the next wave of AI being at a tipping point" when we retain an agency or it makes decisions for us. She suggested "creating a right of repair (already being mandated in some states for electronics and appliances) for AI to ensure that AI is beneficial to all and trustworthy instead of thinking of people" as an afterthought."

While climate change was not discussed much, two researchers offered solutions that may help slow down global warming.

Millie Chu Baird explained how the new MethaneSAT satellite will soon detect methane leaks using a new spectrometer technology. Methane leaks cause as much global warming as CO2 but are easy to fix once detected.

Sarah Doherty explained how she is working on a backup plan in case the new regulations limiting aerosol use create too much global warming (since the current use of aerosols, which are being phased out,  is lowering temperature). Her team is testing whether cloud sea salt aerosols may help temporarily treat the symptoms without adverse side effects.

Fusion is the most significant technology that would give us clean, carbon-free, and safe energy. Tammy Ma described how the Lawrence Livermore National Lab created fusion ignition for the first time in December 2022. While it needs much more work, energy "will not be a limited resource" if we succeed.

Being in the innovation area, I was intrigued by three innovations that may be changing the future of medicine and food for a healthier world.

Vivek Kumbhari, a professor of medicine and GE doctor, and Alex Luebke, who has a background in space exploration, share their new approach of "inner space" exploration using a pillbox you can swallow to diagnose what may be happening in the human stomach (instead of a cumbersome and expensive endoscopy) including a live demo on stage. While the technology is now limited to the human stomach, it may apply to other areas and could soon replace colonoscopy. This will enable testing from home and in remote places where the patient only needs to swallow the pill, and the results are available remotely and possibly analyzed by AI. This game-changer approach in medicine would provide low cost, accessibility to more patients, and less risk than the current tests done in a clinic under anesthesia.

Diabaté Abdoulaye's research focused on using genetic technologies to control malaria (which causes 600,000 deaths a year) by targeting female mosquitoes of the most dangerous species to stop their reproductive capacity, which may stop malaria within a few years. This approach needs to be tested at scale with the cooperation of communities. Still, it seems very promising because the mosquitoes themselves will bring it everywhere they breed, and that would only affect the mosquitoes that are most dangerous to humans.

Hiroki Koga, an entrepreneur, shared his experience developing vertical farming (he already has one farm in the US that sells strawberries) and how close it is to becoming economically viable. Vertical farming allows for five times more revenue per plant (since they are not limited to one yearly harvest) and the ability to control and test all different options (water, temperature, supplements) to optimize and ensure efficiency. They also found a way to have bees cross-pollinate indoors with a 95% success rate, higher than outdoors.

Here is more information about his strawberry vertical farm. One of the benefits of vertical farming is that it can be done anywhere and is not soil—or weather-dependent. 

TED was also about sharing fantastic work from artists (a lot of AI-generated videos) 

The artist Niceaunties uses AI to create fantastic pictures of free older women (aunties are a word to describe older women in Singapore) having fun (while in reality, they may have to hold back on fully expressing their personality), for instance, taking a bath in a ramen bowl or hauling at the moon.

Last year, I left the TED conference scared about AI and the direction of the world. This year, I am still scared, but I also marvel at the new ideas, innovations, thoughts, and possible hopes for a better world that are being presented.

How do you think AI is going to change your world this year?


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