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IBM Distinguished Speaker Series – AI, Robotics, and Smart Contracts

On March 26, 2015 Steve Omohundro gave a talk in the IBM Research 2015 Distinguished Speaker Series at the Accelerated Discovery Lab, IBM Research, Almaden. Here are the slides as a pdf file.

AI, Robotics, and Smart Contracts

Google, IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Baidu, Foxconn, and others have recently made multi-billion dollar investments in artificial intelligence and robotics. Some of these investments are aimed at increasing productivity and enhancing coordination and cooperation. Others are aimed at creating strategic gains in competitive interactions. This is creating “arms races” in high-frequency trading, cyber warfare, drone warfare, stealth technology, surveillance systems, and missile warfare. Recently, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and others have issued strong cautionary statements about the safety of intelligent technologies. We describe the potentially antisocial “rational drives” of self-preservation, resource acquisition, replication, and self-improvement that uncontrolled autonomous systems naturally exhibit. We describe the “Safe-AI Scaffolding Strategy” for developing these systems with a high confidence of safety based on the insight that even superintelligences are constrained by the laws of physics, mathematical proof, and cryptographic complexity. “Smart contracts” are a promising decentralized cryptographic technology used in Ethereum and other second-generation cryptocurrencies. They can express economic, legal, and political rules and will be a key component in governing autonomous technologies. If we are able to meet the challenges, AI and robotics have the potential to dramatically improve every aspect of human life.


Steve Omohundro has been a scientist, professor, author, software architect, and entrepreneur doing research that explores the interface between mind and matter. He has degrees in Physics and Mathematics from Stanford and a Ph.D. in Physics from U.C. Berkeley. He was a computer science professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and cofounded the Center for Complex Systems Research. He published the book “Geometric Perturbation Theory in Physics”, designed the programming languages StarLisp and Sather, wrote the 3D graphics system for Mathematica, and built systems which learn to read lips, control robots, and induce grammars. He is president of both Possibility Research and Self-Aware Systems, a think tank working to ensure that intelligent technologies have a positive impact. His work on positive intelligent technologies was featured in James Barrat’s book “Our Final Invention” and has generated international interest. He serves on the advisory boards of the Cryptocurrency Research Group, the Institute for Blockchain Studies, and Pebble Cryptocurrency.


Ontario television discussion of the “Rise of the Machines?”

On February 26, 2015, the Ontario television station TVO broadcast a discussion entitled “Rise of the Machines?” on the show “The Agenda with Steve Paikin”. The discussion explored the risks and benefits of AI and whether the recent concerns expressed by Stephen Hawking, Elong Musk, Bill Gates, and others are warranted. The participants were Yoshua Bengio, Manuela Veloso, James Barrat, and Steve Omohundro:

The video can be watched here: