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Here is how we could coexist with a superintelligence

superintelligence 2The idea of a superintelligence might be frightening. I have touched the subject before and I also discussed why human values (hopefully) might be important to a superintelligence.

But we don’t know. Professor Nick Bostrom at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University believes that superintelligence could put all humanity at risk, and he’s doing research on how we could prepare for such a technology and make it inherently safe, before we build it. Because, as some think, we will only get one chance.

The assumption is that intelligence is more powerful than anything else, and that human intellect can never compete with a superintelligence — an entity that might be to us like we are to a rabbit. Or an ant.

But there’s a small possibility that humans will be able to match the capabilities of something far more intelligent. Not being the way we are today, naturally. Let’s see.

I’ve been thinking about what entrepreneur and research director at Google, Ray Kurzweil, usually predicts — that humans probably will integrate with technology to increase our cognitive capacity. I discussed this recently also with Danica Kragic Jensfelt, professor in robotics and computer science at the Royal Institute of Technology.

She thinks that it will be difficult for humans to accept that we might merge with different kinds of technology, since we will not longer know for sure what a human is.

“It’s frightening,” she says. “We have been humans for so long.” Yet she finds this perspective more likely than the classic science fiction they-will-fight-us-scenario.

I also considered what Ergun Ekici, VP for emerging technologies at IP Soft that develops the AI system Amelia, told me — that machines won’t take jobs from humans. His view on technology such as artificial intelligence is that it helps humans, moving the bar upwards on what is possible for people to do, alone or in a group, all the way from those least trained to those who are real experts in an area.

My concern though, has always been that when machines reach the intelligence level of humans, there’s nowhere to push that bar upwards. Machines will simply replace us.

Which is not that bad, sincerely. I sometimes think it’s bad luck belonging to the last generation that had to work…! And I believe there are lots of good aspects of this, if automation and AI can provide good conditions for everyone to lead a good life at low cost. Humans could then concentrate on developing their skills and passions, and share them with others.

But… if we return to the concept of superintelligence — the hypothesis is that an intelligence explosion might lead to entities that are not at all interested in humans, and might not consider us important to preserve. Which is bad.

It struck me however, that I would be quite happy if I could integrate with a system that would enhance my cognitive capacities, helping me to sift through enormous amounts of information at no effort and also to write pieces like this or other stories — which is my daily work — in a few seconds.

Now, what would this let me do?

Well, if the hard work is done in seconds, I might be able to grasp concepts at a higher abstraction level.

Ray Kurzweil, who has a theory on how to create a mind, describes our mental system as a hierarchical structure of abstraction levels, where we apply pattern recognition at each level, all the way from dots and lines to abstract concepts such as irony.

And here’s what struck me: There’s an obvious limit to the human brain’s level of intelligence, but I can see no immediate limit to its possible level of abstraction, provided that the underlying information process at lower abstraction levels is taken care of.

So this is the trick: If we integrate with cognitive systems that efficiently take care of abstraction levels up to a certain point, the human brain might be able to climb on top, using its creative capacity, developing a new level of abstraction, no matter how high. And match any superintelligence.

Also, this might be one possible way in which a superintelligence could emerge for the first time.

There are a few catches however.

You could compare this idea to how our mind works today. It’s not very different since vast portions of the information processes that support our conscious mind are unknown to us. Building a higher level mind on top of a machine intelligence would not be inherently distinct.

The main difference is that we are quite sure that we can trust our unconscious mind, since we’ve grown up with it for a life time, and since methods for manipulating it, e.g. those pictured in the movie Inception, are not yet well developed, even though research on how to eliminate targeted memories in the brain is going on.

Trusting an artificial mind, which undoubtedly would be connected to the Internet, is quite another thing. To reach sufficiently fast levels of interaction with our mind it will most probably have to be directly integrated with our brain. And even though trust could be built, as it often is with new technologies, by seeing that it works and is safe, the security issue cannot be underestimated.

It can reach all the way from the risk of malicious manipulation to commercial offerings of tuning your thoughts, in exchange of some free stuff, just like today. But kind of different…

Another question is the time needed to train people to interact with such a mind, learning to reach new levels of abstraction, which is difficulty to assess.

Yet I believe that we could see this as a possible way of building a superintelligence, with humans in the loop, hopefully limiting the intrinsic dangers in the power of an intelligence explosion.

Amelia understands what you say, and acts

Ip_Soft_Amelia_cutAmelia is a new hire at a call center. She answers in two seconds, solves the problem in four minutes instead of an average of 15 minutes, and customers are quite happy. Amelia never goes home.

Amelia is what might be the most advance artificial intelligence so far on Earth. Developed by US based Ip Soft that normally sells autonomous systems for management of large it systems — you know, replacing human intervention.

For 15 years Ip Soft has been working on a secret side project, developing a cognitive system with the aim that it must:
1. understand natural language
2. learn through natural language
3. leverage what it has learnt to solve problems

The system was presented last month, and a few days ago Ip Soft visited Stockholm to show the technology to some 50 potential customers.

Proof of concept has already been performed with Amelia working in customer service or internal help desk at a handful of large American companies during the last year.

Gartner was allowed to talk to these companies and states that Amelia is the next level up from IBM Watson, the system that won over humans in Jeopardy in 2011 and now works, helping doctors to diagnose cancer. In the report Gartner says:

Gartner verified over 10 direct examples of IPsoft client references that all unanimously supported productivity benefits of a much higher magnitude (consistently over 50%) than any other managed services offerings in the industry. It’s rare to find a unanimous endorsement of this type. One client example had 56% of its client incidents resolved without human intervention and a 60% reduction in the mean time to resolution for its IT service desk.

One client — an oil and gas company — wanted to verify that Amelia could handle a helpdesk situation on an oil rig and let her digest a manual for a centrifugal pump for a few seconds. They then asked her questions.

“Which are the parts of the pump? What could a ticking sound be a sign of?”

I got a demonstration of the same test, and Amelia answered promptly without hesitating — short and concise answers.

Most impressive though is maybe how she learns. When she first started to work in call centers she often had to pass questions on to a human agent. But Amelia then stayed on the line, listening to the conversation, learning from it. And after 30 days she reached the efficiency levels Gartner reports.

“The best method for Amelia to learn is like for you, by doing things yourself. Amelia learns from interaction with people. During the first 30 days her learning is exponential as compared to the lab,” Ergun Ekici, co-founder and VP of emerging technologies at Ip Soft, told me.

The funny thing is that Ekici says he has a hard time believing that machines could one day become as intelligent as humans. He sure has a point though, saying that after 15 years of research in this field, he has grown a tremendous appreciation of human intelligence.

IP Soft says Amelia will be introduced commercially within a month or so.

CEO of the company is Chetan Dube. It’s privately financed by Dube’s family.

Interview on radio show Free Energy Quest tonight

Tonight, Thursday October 9, I’ll be interviewed by Sterling Allan on his radio show Free Energy Quest, at 3 pm PST, midnight Central European Time (CET). You can listen live here. We will be talking about my book An Impossible Invention, and about the recent third party report on the E-Cat.

The show will be available for listening also afterwards.

New scientific report on the E-Cat shows excess heat and nuclear process

This blog post was originally published on

The reactor used in the test is made of alumina and is significantly thinner than earlier hot E-Cat reactors.

The reactor used in the test is made of alumina and is significantly thinner than earlier hot E-Cat reactors.

A new scientific report on the E-Cat has been released, providing two important findings from a 32-day testrun of the reactor — together leading to the clear conclusion that the E-Cat is an energy source based on some kind of nuclear reaction, without radiation outside the reactor.

The first is an energy release which puts the reactor way beyond conventional (chemical) sources of energy.

The second is a dramatic shift in isotopic composition in the fuel after the testrun, meaning changes have occurred in the atomic nuclei of the elements present in the fuel.

The report is entitled “Observation of abundant heat production from a reactor device and of isotopic changes in the fuel” (Download here) and is written by Giuseppe Levi, Evelyn Foschi, Bo Höistad, Roland Pettersson, Lars Tegnér and Hanno Essén, all of whom also wrote an earlier third party report on the E-Cat.

In the concluding remarks they write:

“In summary, the performance of the E-Cat reactor is remarkable. We have a device giving heat energy compatible with nuclear transformations, but it operates at low energy and gives neither nuclear radioactive waste nor emits radiation. From basic general knowledge in nuclear physics this should not be possible. Nevertheless we have to relate to the fact that the experimental results from our test show heat production beyond chemical burning, and that the E-Cat fuel undergoes nuclear transformations. It is certainly most unsatisfying that these results so far have no convincing theoretical explanation, but the experimental results cannot be dismissed or ignored just because of lack of theoretical understanding.”

The authors are very careful not to make any decisive conclusions on how the reaction occurs. Yet, they make some interesting remarks, among them considerations on similarities with observations in astrophysics.

Without any optimization with regard to input power, the reactor produced between 3.2 and 3.6 times the input power, and a total energy of 1.5 MWh from about 1 gram of fuel. The reactor was switched off according to plan, with no signs of the reaction slowing down. As I point out in my book An Impossible Invention — an energy source of this kind will have huge consequences for humanity, possibly solving a series of global issues.

In order to avoid doubts that were presented with regard to their earlier report, several things have been changed: The measurement was performed during 32 days in a neutral laboratory in Switzerland, electric measurment on the input power has been improved, a 23-hour test of the reactor without charge was done in order to calibrate the measurement set-up, and chemical analysis of the fuel before and after the run has been performed with five different methods.

The report has been uploaded to which, however has put it on hold, without specifying any motive for this. It has also been sent to Journal of Physics D. I got the report sent to me by Hanno Essén who said that he now considers it to be public, although not supposed to be published in any commercial journal until further notice from Journal of Physics D.

I asked Professor Bo Höistad, one of the authors, a few questions on the report:

Mats: What do you consider to be the most important take-away of the report?

Höistad: That we have been able to do an isotopic analysis of the fuel before and after running the process, and that the results indicate the presence of nuclear reactions in the process.

Mats: What have you done differently this time, based on the experiences from your last measurement and report?

Höistad: An accurate measurement, particularly the control of energy balance without fuel in the reactor, and a isotopic analysis of the fuel.

Mats: What reactions do you expect on the report?

Höistad: Hopefully that the interest in the possibility of achieving LENR reactors get a decent boost, and that critical overtones in the debate are downplayed in favor of scientific discussions.

Mats: What do you personally feel facing the inexplicable observations you have made?

Höistad: As pointed out in our paper, we face a phenomenon without explanation. However, we can not categorically reject the clear experimental results just because a credible theory is currently lacking. We need to relate to the actual experimental results and continue the investigations to gain more knowledge about the LENR phenomenon.

An Impossible Invention on Amazon — second edition upcoming

(This blog post was originally published on


Lots of people have asked me to make ‘An Impossible Invention’ available on Amazon in order to reach a broader audience. So I did — now there’s an e-book version in Amazon’s Kindle format listed here.

The paperback version will get there later for a simple reason:

I’m now working on a second edition of the book with minor updates and corrections. A more detailed examination of the legal saga of Andrea Rossi will be added, as well as an update reflecting the findings about the company Defkalion’s technology, revealed in early 2014.

I’m also waiting for the upcoming third party report on Rossi’s E-Cat, which is expected to be published shortly, in order to include this report and comments on it in the second edition.

As soon as the new edition is ready it will be available on Amazon, initially as an e-book, and later also as a paperback through a print-on-demand service.

The support I have received from all those who have ordered the book so far, and through all emails, phone calls and overwhelming reviews, has meant a lot to me, and I’d like to offer everyone who has read the first edition a free download of the second edition as an e-book. If you ordered the book through you will receive an email with this offer, once the second edition is published.

Thank you all!

Artificial baby mind learns to talk

In the last months I have been immersed in exciting projects, while also keeping up with how the story told in my book An Impossible Invention continues to evolve.

There’s been so much on the theme of The Biggest Shift Ever that I would have liked to share in blog posts, so much fascinating science and tech news flowing towards me every day in the newsroom, depicting a world in accelerating innovation and change. But I just haven’t had the time.

Meanwhile I try to share parts of this flow on Twitter, so please follow me there if you would like updates more often. Hopefully I will be able to be more active here in a few months.

Today I just wanted to share one of the most intriguing pieces of research I’ve come across lately — an artificial simulated toddler learning to talk while interacting with its ‘caregiver’. Just watch this amazing video:

The project which involves computational models of the face and brain, combining Bioengineering, Computational and Theoretical Neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Computer Graphics Research, is being developed at the Laboratory for Animate Technologies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

I wouldn’t claim that AI has reached the point of a human baby mind just yet, but I think this is another clear sign that we’re on our way to get there.

Swedish National Radio paints it black

(This blog post was originally posted on

Sveriges Radio logoThe scientific newsroom of Sveriges Radio, the national Swedish Radio, has dedicated four months of research and a whole week of its air time to the story of Andrea Rossi, the E-Cat and cold fusion (part 1234), and I’m honored that it has made me one of its main targets.

The result, however, is not impressive.

Ulrika Björkstén, head of the scientific editorial staff, has chosen freelance journalist Marcus Hansson to do the investigation.

Hansson apparently likes easy solutions. Black or white. I won’t go into detail of his analysis of Rossi’s background since I have no reason to defend Rossi. I’m just noting that Hansson believes he can sort out the truth in the twinkling of an eye in Italy, which is known as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe where the mix of powerful interests, politics and the judiciary is not always easy to penetrate.

I’m also noting tendentious conclusions such as being sentenced to prison implies being an imposter, and non-proven claims such as storing toxic waste in leaking cisterns equals the Mafia’s way of dumping such waste in secret pits.

After his analysis of Rossi, Hansson adds a group of Swedish researchers and the Swedish power industry’s research entity Elforsk, depicting them all as a bunch of gullible fools being used by Rossi for his purposes, and pointing at me as the one who got them involved in the first place. I’m flattered.

Hanson considers all this obvious, basing large parts of his report on the testimonials and opinions of Italian-French writer Sylvie Coyaud, scientific blogger for the weekly Italian style magazine D-La Repubblica.

But all this is only half of the problem.

Hansson starts his reportage by stating that the famous claim by Fleischmann and Pons in 1989, of excess heat compatible with a nuclear reaction, was wrong and later explained by erroneous measurements.

I believe he’ll find that hard to prove, given that there in 2009 were 153 peer-reviewed papers describing excess heat in experimental set-ups such as the one used by Fleischmann and Pons. And that’s only one of many reasons.

I discuss this in the beginning of my book. Hansson says he read the book and found it to be a tribute to Rossi. Coyaud says it’s a story where Rossi is Messiah and I am the Prophet. That’s poetic, but it’s an opinion.

Among those hundreds who have read it, about fifty persons have written reviews, most of them giving it the highest vote. A series of highly competent people with insight in the story thought it was well balanced.

I do discuss Rossi’s problematic background in the book, and when that’s done I discuss his problematic personality.

But the main focus I have chosen is another, reflecting the title of the book, discussing what is considered to be impossible and asking why more resources aren’t dedicated to investigating this strange phenomenon that could possibly change the world, providing clean water and clean air, saving millions of lives and solve the climate crisis.

Not because I wish this to be true, but because there are abundant scientific results indicating that the phenomenon might be real.

It’s insane that curious researchers are hesitating to enter this field for fear of ruining their careers (yes Björkstén, this is why most of them are old), and it’s insane that poorly researched media reports like this help scientific critics to continue attacking those researchers.

Marcus Hansson says he has read my book, but maybe he hasn’t understood what he read. In fact I’m worried that neither he nor Coyaud have the competence to evaluate this complex story from a scientific perspective. I might be wrong, but from Hansson’s reportage I’m not convinced.

What I find more problematic though is the position of Ulrika Björkstén, head of the scientific editorial staff at Sveriges Radio, holding a Ph.D. in physical chemistry. I agree with most observers that it’s not proven whether Rossi’s E-Cat works or not, and Björkstén might of course be convinced that it’s not working.

But in a concluding comment Björkstén discards the whole area of cold fusion/LENR as pseudo-science, stating that it is based on belief and group thinking, and that university researchers should discern such research from real science and stay away from it.

I find this alarming both from a journalistic and a scientific point of view. Such opinions have often been expressed regarding disruptive discoveries, and if we took advice only from people like Björkstén we would probably not have any airplanes or semiconductors today.

I welcome serious critic of my reports and of my book, but this reportage does not qualify. I’m not impressed, and I hope that the next scientific news team that decides to evaluate this story and my book will set the bar higher.

You might agree with me or not. If you have an opinion, I would suggest that you write an email to Ulrika Björkstén who oversaw the production of this reportage. Marcus Hansson probably just did his best.

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N.B. This is my personal opinion and not a statement from Ny Teknik. UPDATE: Here’s an official op-ed by Ny Teknik’s chief-editor Susanna Baltscheffsky. And here’s a piece by the Swedish researchers who have been involved in tests.


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