Speaker: Andrew Dun

Andrew Dun, former philosophy graduate student.

Andrew’s work in the philosophy of mind is accompanied by an ongoing interest in the social and cultural impacts of emerging technologies.

Andrew’s philosophical work relates to the ontology consciousness. Andrew proposes the view that the relationship between physical and phenomenal properties is one of mutual representation, rather than supervenience. Here, neither domain is regarded as more fundamental. This relationship can be considered as analogous to wave-particle duality as described on some views of quantum mechanics, but where instead a duality is taken to obtain between the physical and phenomenal domains themselves, rather than their constituents.

Andrew argues that on this view we can factor out ontology and approach questions about consciousness from the perspective of functional materialism. This approach can inform our questions about consciousness as they relate to applications such as strong artificial intelligence and mind uploading.

Andrew previously presented at the Melbourne Singularity Summit, 2012 (See Below footage ‘Zombie Rights’).

Zombie Rights

Andrew Dun spoke at the Singularity Summit Australia 2012. Talk title : “Zombie Rights”.

A discussion of the rights of sentient entities. Drawing inspiration from quantum complementarity, defends a complementary notion of ontological dualism, countering zombie hypotheses. Sans zombie concerns, ethical discussions should therefore focus on assessing consciousness purely in terms of the physical-functional properties of any putatively conscious entity.

Slides for presentation can be found on slide-share!


Speaker: Peter Ellerton

PhD Candidate in Educational Philosophy

Peter is director of the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project. His research focuses on the nature and teaching of critical thinking. He has worked for many years as a curriculum head of science, mathematics and philosophy in high schools and is a consultant to the International Baccalaureate Organisation in the design and implementation of science curriclua. He won the 2008 Australian Skeptics $10,000 prize for Critical Thinking for his work in developing educational resources, and he was not improved by being faith-healed on national television.


Just Think – It’s Important

Why is philosophy as a subject such a fizzer in schools, asks Laura Parker.

For Said Bouziane, a year 11 student, using deductive logic is as easy as stacking chairs.

“One day after class I noticed a student pick up a pile of five chairs and place them on a pile of two. I wondered how many times this student chose the bigger, heavier, more troublesome pile of chairs,” he said.

Pondering reason and logic is a normal part of Said’s day at Calamvale Community College in Brisbane, where he studies philosophy under the guidance of teacher Peter Ellerton.

A former physics teacher, Mr Ellerton introduced the philosophy and critical thinking program to Calamvale after joining a network of Queensland teachers which promotes and spreads the teaching of philosophy in high schools throughout the state.

“Some people don’t understand what we mean by philosophy – they think it’s just discussion,” Mr Ellerton said. “The truth is it’s a rigorous and analytical subject; you have to do it properly. We don’t discuss the meaning of life. As a subject, I think it’s more fundamental than maths or English.”

Read More at Sydney Morning Herald

Interview: Future Proof your Thinking

Part 1

[youtube url=””]

Part 2

Talk The Changing Changing Climate of Skepticism

Laureate Professor Peter Doherty in conversation with Peter Ellerton — Science, Scepticism and Society

science medicine communication

Panel: Communicating (and understanding) future technologies in medicine

Panel Discussion: Communicating (and understanding) future technologies in medicine


asclogo_columnASC-Victoria is bringing together a panel of biomed researchers at the conference to look at how to responsibly communicate discoveries in medicine.

As technology changes the world, how do we keep the public on side? How do we communicate the potential of transformative technologies without making promises which can’t be kept? And, as members of the public, how do we check the facts?

Join three scientists for a panel discussion on communicating the potential and pitfalls of future technologies:

  • Associate Professor Megan Munsie from Stem Cells Australia on the role in managing our expectations of stem cell technologies. How much of what we know is fact?
  • Dr Melanie Thomson biomedical researcher from Deakin Univeristy, and prolific tweeter on the frontiers in microbiology. Does Twitter help or hinder the communication of science?
  • Dr Martin Delatycki, Director of the Bruce Lefroy Centre of Genetic Health Research and Director of Clinical Genetics at Austin Health on what you get when you pay $99 for your genome? What is the future of personalised medicine and direct to consumer genetic testing?

The discussion will be deftly navigated by Dr Shane Huntington from 3RRR’s Einstein-A-Go-Go science radio show. If you’ve signed up for the conference, this is a must-see session.

Caffeine_3DDate: Saturday 30th Nov, 3:30pm

Venue: Kaleide Theatre, RMIT University.

This session is being hosted by the Australian Science Communicators as a part of the Science, Technology and the Future Conference, 30 Nov to 1 Dec @RMIT University. There is a cost to participate in the conference. For more information and to register

Adam Ford

Conference Chair: Adam Ford

adam-ford-300x3001Adam A. Ford is a director on the board of Humanity+, and is founder and president of  H+ Australia. He organised the first Singularity Summit outside the USA apart from the main ones done by the Singularity Institute. He has organized numerous conferences around science and technology, aimed at shaping the likelihood of a favorable future.

The next conference ‘Science, Technology & the Future’ will be held in Melbourne, Australia on Nov 30 – Dec 1st 2013.

Adam is also a videographer directing a few different documentaries at once – one based on the Technological Singularity, another based on the Hedonistic Imperative, one on Human Enhancement and Transhumanism, and another based on Climate Change/Geoengineering (with a few other ideas).

He has a blossoming youtube channel with over 600 videos of interviews and lectures.

Adam is also owner of Quantech Solutions, an IT company based in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


Singularity Summit Australia 2010 Chair, Organiser
Singularity Summit Australia 2011 Chair, Organiser
Singularity Summit Australia 2012 Chair, Organiser
Humanity+ Australia 2011 Chair, Organiser
Humanity+ Australia 2012 Chair, Organiser
Humanity+ @Hong Kong 2011 Helper
Humanity+ @San Francisco 2012 Co-Chair
Humanity+ @Beijing 2013 Co-Chair

scott watkins High_Resolution

Speaker: Scott Watkins

Dr Watkins was born in Sydney, Australia and completed a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and a Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry at the University of New South Wales, Sydney.

In December 2000, Dr Watkins moved to the United Kingdom to take up a Postdoctoral Fellowship with Dr Victor Christou at the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory of the University of Oxford, where he worked on novel phosphorescent emitters for use in Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs).
Dr Scott Watkins is currently leading CSIRO’s research stream on Organic Photovoltaics (OPVs).

In 2001 Dr Watkins joined Opsys, a spin-out company originating from the University of Oxford, where he continued his research on OLEDs. Opsys merged with Cambridge Display Technology (CDT) – a Cambridge university spin-out company – in October 2002.

Dr Watkins continued his work on novel phosphorescent cores for both light emitting dendrimers and polymers with CDT, as a research scientist and then as a consultant, until 2004.

In September 2003 he began working with Professor Andrew Holmes at the University of Cambridge where his work centred on the synthesis of triplet emitters for use in OLEDs.

Dr Watkins joined CSIRO in October 2004 and was also appointed as an academic visitor at the Bio21 Institute at the University of Melbourne, where he has co-supervised a number of PhD students with Professor Andrew Holmes.

In 2007, Dr Watkins was appointed Stream Leader for Organic Photovoltaics at CSIRO.


Main - csiro - scott watkinsDr Watkins has: published more than 40 peer-reviewed papers and is an inventor on 10 patent applications in the field of organic electronics been an invited speaker at more than 10 international conferences on organic electronics been elected as the Early Career Scientist on the National Executive of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (now Science and Technology Australia), 2007 been awarded CSIRO Julius Fellowship, 2007–10.

Scott Watkins work is key to CSIRO’s research on future manufacturing, specifically flexible electronics.


Developing next generation low-cost solar cells of the future


Dr Scott Watkins is applying CSIRO’s world-class understanding of polymer science to create new electroactive materials for the next generation of plastic electronics and energy devices.

Current activities

Dr Scott Watkins is currently leading CSIRO’s research stream on Organic Photovoltaics (OPVs). This includes scientists working across CSIRO at laboratories based in both Melbourne and Newcastle.

In the area of OPVs, CSIRO is a key member of the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) which includes researchers from the University of Melbourne, Monash University, and industry partners Securency, BlueScope Steel, Innovia Films and Robert Bosch SEA.

VICOSC draws together the resources of Australia’s leading research institutions and companies to develop technologies to enable the production of low-cost, printable, organic solar cells.

The aim of the consortia is to replace high-cost silicon based solar cells with low-cost, environmentally friendly, printable, thin-film, plastic solar cells.

Credit : CSIRO

Also see:
And bend and flex: Scott Watkins’ new generation of solar cells
Interview with Dr Watkins – Beyond Zero Emissions


Speaker: Lloyd Hollenberg

3038picture_lloydHollenbergProfessor Lloyd Hollenberg works on theoretical quantum computing and information (Quantum computing, quantum information, qubit system modelling and control, alogorithm, quantum error correction, single electron transistor), as well as theory and implementation of quantum technology, including: quantum computer architectures, Quantum information processing, and Quantum communications systems. He is Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology within the Department of Physics at the University of Melbourne.

(link) Abstract to Lloyd Hollenberg’s talk ‘Quantum reality bytes: the dawning age of quantum information technology – Lloyd Hollenberg’.

Professor Hollenberg has received many awards for his work in quantum sensing and quantum computing.

  • The 2013 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research – see article ‘Shine on you tiny diamonds
  • The 2012 Walter Boas Medal for pioneering work in quantum sensing and quantum computing. In 2013, he was awarded an Australian Research Council Australian Laureate Fellowship and was part of the team that received the 2013 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research. According to ABC’s Catalyst, his work is “a quantum leap in theoretical physics, that’s poised to make a huge impact in cell biology”.
  • The 2013 Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation in physical sciences (from VESKI – Victorian Government)

2013 Victoria Prize – Professor Lloyd Hollenberg

2013 Victoria Prize for Science & Innovation – physical sciences

id21881Imperfect diamonds could help answer fundamental questions in the life sciences, thanks to ground-breaking research by Victorian physicist, Professor Lloyd Hollenberg. In world first experiments, Professor Hollenberg and his team demonstrated nanodiamond quantum sensing technology in a living cell with sensitivity and resolution a million times greater than any conventional MRI system in the world.

The quantum sensor, a single atom defect in a diamond crystal called a nitrogen-vacancy centre, has the potential to revolutionise sensing and imaging at the atomic and molecular levels. The combination of the special properties of diamond and the quantum properties of the nitrogen-vacancy centre are one of nature’s remarkable coincidences and allows the device to detect the very small magnetic fields arising from individual atoms and molecules. With human life beginning and ending with atoms and molecules, a quantum sensor will provide us views of life at this fundamental level in a way never before experienced.

Internationally, there is huge interest in the potential of quantum technologies. Working at the convergence of quantum mechanics and biology, Professor Hollenberg is sparking a new era of nanoscale magnetic imaging with research spanning quantum physics, chemistry, bioengineering, materials science and biology. As a result, he and his team have demonstrated that sensors based on the strange rules of quantum mechanics can offer new tools to address important problems in biology.

Professor Hollenberg received the 2012 Walter Boas Medal for pioneering work in quantum sensing and quantum computing. In 2013, he was awarded an Australian Research Council Australian Laureate Fellowship and was part of the team that received the 2013 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research. According to ABC’s Catalyst, his work is “a quantum leap in theoretical physics, that’s poised to make a huge impact in cell biology”.

imperfect diamonds - quantum sensingProfessor Hollenberg is Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology within the Department of Physics at the University of Melbourne.
– taken from Science, Technology & Innovation – section of Business Victoria

For more information see:
(Nano-) diamonds are a boy’s best friend: Professor Lloyd Hollenberg and his Eureka Prize
Catalyst (video) : Imperfect Diamonds
2013 Victoria Prize for Science & Innovation – physical sciences
Fluorescent diamond nanocrystals offer new possibilities for biosensing in living cells


Quantum reality bytes: the dawning age of quantum information technology – Lloyd Hollenberg

Quantum Reality Bytes: the Dawning Age of Quantum Information Technology

3038picture_lloydHollenbergAbstract: Professor Hollenberg will give a quick intro to quantum mechanics, followed by quantum computing, quantum communication, and quantum sensing in biology.
This talk will explore the strange and beautiful world of Quantum Mechanics – multiple realities, absolute uncertainty, quantum computation, quantum communication and quantum sensing. Amazingly, with rapidly improving abilities to control single atoms and photons, we are beginning to glimpse the true nature of quantum reality. And now a completely new class of technology based on these strange rules is being developed, with possibly far reaching implications. No maths required – just bring curiosity about the world and an open mind.

Quantum Mechanics is the corner-stone theory of the physical world, which began with the ideas of Max Planck over a century ago. In recent years new and surprising aspects about quantum mechanics, and reality itself, have been uncovered as experiments probe further into the quantum realm. While we do not (and possibly cannot!) fully comprehend the sublime strangeness of quantum mechanics, a growing movement around the world seeks to harness the awesome processing power of microscopic systems obeying quantum laws. This is an international race for the new millennium to design and build new technology based on the spooky aspects of quantum mechanics, with enormous potential for communication, computing and imaging applications. Already quantum sensing of biological processes is becoming a reality, and ultra-secure quantum communication systems are being rolled-out around the world. The far flung future of this new quantum technology is the construction of a full-scale quantum computer, potentially a leap forward in information processing far greater than the development of the modern computer.

(link) Speaker’s Bio

Below is the abstract to a paper containing technical details of the project Lloyd Hollenberg is on at Melbourne Uni.

Quantum measurement and orientation tracking of fluorescent nanodiamonds inside living cells

L P McGuinness, Y Yan, A Stacey, D A Simpson, L T Hall, D Maclaurin, S Prawer, P Mulvaney, J Wrachtrup, F Caruso, R E Scholten, L C L Hollenberg
School of Physics, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia.
Nature Nanotechnology (Impact Factor: 27.27). 01/2011; 6(6):358-63. DOI:10.1038/nnano.2011.64
Source: PubMed

Fluorescent particles are routinely used to probe biological processes. The quantum properties of single spins within fluorescent particles have been explored in the field of nanoscale magnetometry, but not yet in biological environments. Here, we demonstrate optically detected magnetic resonance of individual fluorescent nanodiamond nitrogen-vacancy centres inside living human HeLa cells, and measure their location, orientation, spin levels and spin coherence times with nanoscale precision. Quantum coherence was measured through Rabi and spin-echo sequences over long (>10 h) periods, and orientation was tracked with effective 1° angular precision over acquisition times of 89 ms. The quantum spin levels served as fingerprints, allowing individual centres with identical fluorescence to be identified and tracked simultaneously. Furthermore, monitoring decoherence rates in response to changes in the local environment may provide new information about intracellular processes. The experiments reported here demonstrate the viability of controlled single spin probes for nanomagnetometry in biological systems, opening up a host of new possibilities for quantum-based imaging in the life sciences.

Full paper is available at Nature.
The abstract of an earlier paper related to this project below

Quantum measurement in living cells: Fluorescent diamond nanocrystals for biology

L. P. McGuinness, Y. Yan, A. Stacey, D. A. Simpson, L. T. Hall, D. Maclaurin, S. Prawer, P. Mulvaney, J. Wrachtrup, F. Caruso, R. E. Scholten, L. C. L. Hollenberg

01/2011; DOI:10.1109/IQEC-CLEO.2011.6194042

ABSTRACT We have demonstrated optically detected magnetic resonance of individual fluorescent nanodiamond nitrogen-vacancy centres inside living human HeLa cells, and measured their spin levels and spin coherence times while tracking their location and orientation with nanoscale precision. Quantum coherence was measured through Rabi and spin-echo sequences over long (>10 h) periods, and orientation was tracked with 1° angular precision in 89 ms acquisition time. Individual centres were identified optically by their electron spin resonance spectrum, allowing simultaneous tracking of many otherwise identical flourescent particles. In addition, variation in the decoherence rates was linked to changes in the local environment inside the cells, representing a new non-destructive imaging modality for intracellular biology.

Full paper at Research Gate

For more information see:
(Nano-) diamonds are a boy’s best friend: Professor Lloyd Hollenberg and his Eureka Prize
Catalyst (video) : Imperfect Diamonds
2013 Victoria Prize for Science & Innovation – physical sciences
Paper: Quantum measurement and orientation tracking of fluorescent nanodiamonds inside living cells

david pearce - interview youtube

Speaker: David Pearce

David Pearce

David Pearce

David Pearce will be speaking at  Science, Technology & the Future on Nov 30 – Dec 1st 2013 in Melbourne Australia  – he is a British utilitarian philosopher who believes and promotes the idea that there exists a strong ethical imperative for humans to work towards the abolition of suffering in all sentient life. His book-length internet manifesto The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how technologies such as genetic engineering, nanotechnology, pharmacology, and neurosurgery could potentially converge to eliminate all forms of unpleasant experience among human and non-human animals, replacing suffering with gradients of well-being, a project he refers to as “paradise engineering”. A transhumanist and a vegan, Pearce believes that we (or our future posthuman descendants) have a responsibility not only to avoid cruelty to animals within human society but also to alleviate the suffering of animals in the wild.

Pearce is the owner of BLTC Research, a website that was set up by Pearce in 1995. Based in Kemptown, Brighton, UK, the site publishes online texts in support of the biochemical and biotechnological methods by which its proponents believe sentient suffering could be abolished in future generations.

In 1998, Pearce co-founded the World Transhumanist Association (WTA) with Nick Bostrom, an Oxford philosopher. The association, which later changed its name to Humanity+, advocates transhumanism — an ideology and movement which has emerged to support the recognition and protection of the right of citizens either to maintain or modify their own minds and bodies so as to guarantee them the freedom of choice and informed consent of using human enhancement technologies on themselves and their children.

In 2002 Pearce co-founded the Abolitionist Society with Pablo Stafforini, Sean Henderson, and Jaime Savage, in order to help promote the idea of abolitionism of suffering and to discuss the implications involved with a wider range of audience.

Pearce sits on the board of Elsevier’s journal Medical Hypotheses and holds a position at the advisory board of Lifeboat Foundation.[10] He runs a web hosting company.

The Hedonistic Imperative

The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how genetic engineering and nanotechnology will abolish suffering in all sentient life.

pearce david interview with adam fordThe abolitionist project is hugely ambitious but technically feasible. It is also instrumentally rational and morally urgent. The metabolic pathways of pain and malaise evolved because they served the fitness of our genes in the ancestral environment. They will be replaced by a different sort of neural architecture – a motivational system based on heritable gradients of bliss. States of sublime well-being are destined to become the genetically pre-programmed norm of mental health. It is predicted that the world’s last unpleasant experience will be a precisely dateable event.

Two hundred years ago, powerful synthetic pain-killers and surgical anesthetics were unknown. The notion that physical pain could be banished from most people’s lives would have seemed absurd. Today most of us in the technically advanced nations take its routine absence for granted. The prospect that what we describe as psychological pain, too, could ever be banished is equally counter-intuitive. The feasibility of its abolition turns its deliberate retention into an issue of social policy and ethical choice.

This manifesto combines far-fetched utopian advocacy with cold-headed scientific prediction. The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how nanotechnology and genetic engineering will eliminate aversive experience from the living world. Over the next thousand years or so, the biological substrates of suffering will be eradicated completely. “Physical” and “mental” pain alike are destined to disappear into evolutionary history. The biochemistry of everyday discontents will be genetically phased out too. Malaise will be replaced by the biochemistry of bliss. Matter and energy will be sculpted into life-loving super-beings animated by gradients of well-being. The states of mind of our descendants are likely to be incomprehensibly diverse by comparison with today. Yet all will share at least one common feature: a sublime and all-pervasive happiness.

This feeling of absolute well-being will surpass anything contemporary human neurochemistry can imagine, let alone sustain. The story gets better. Post-human states of magical joy will be biologically refined, multiplied and intensified indefinitely. Notions of what now passes for tolerably good mental health are likely to be superseded. They will be written off as mood-congruent pathologies of the primordial Darwinian psyche. Such ugly thoughts and feelings will be diagnosed as typical of the tragic lives of emotional primitives from the previous era. In time, the deliberate re-creation of today’s state-spectrum of normal waking and dreaming consciousness may be outlawed as cruel and immoral.

Such speculations may currently sound fantastical. Yet the ideas behind this manifesto may one day be regarded as intellectually trite – albeit today morally urgent. For as the genetic revolution in reproductive medicine unfolds, what might once have been the stuff of millennialist fantasy is set to become a scientifically feasible research program. Its adoption or rejection will become, ultimately, a social policy issue. Passively or actively, we will have to choose just how much unpleasantness we wish to create or conserve – if any – in eras to come. David Pearce - the Hedonistic Imperative Chapter 1 - The Naturalisation of Heaven

Prophetic Narratives: Will Humanity’s Successors Also Be Our Descendants?

David Pearce spoke at Humanity+ @San Francisco in 2012 – Accelerating technological progress leads some futurists to predict the imminent end of the transhuman era and the dawn of posthuman superintelligence. But what is superintelligence? How does intelligence relate to sentience? What are the Explanatory Gap, Moravec’s Paradox, and the Binding Problem? Will nonbiological machines ever be more than zombies? This talk explores three different narratives for the major evolutionary transition in prospect. In the first narrative, biological humans will rewrite our genetic source code, recursively self-edit our own minds, and bootstrap our way to full-spectrum superintelligence. Mastery of our reward circuitry will deliver life based on information-sensitive gradients of bliss. In the second, Kurzweilian narrative, cybernetic brain implants will enable humans to fuse our minds with artificial intelligence; and also allow humans to scan, digitize and “upload” ourselves into a less perishable substrate. In digital nirvana, the distinction between biological and nonbiological machines will effectively disappear. In the third scenario, most closely associated with mathematician I.J. Good, is a combination of Moore’s law and the advent of recursively self-improving software-based minds will culminate in an ultra-rapid Intelligence Explosion and an era of nonbiological superintelligence. Posthuman superintelligence may or may not be human-friendly. How strong is the supporting evidence for each of these prophecies?


Alleivating Suffering & achieving Hedonic Zero / Altruism

The Naturalisation of Heaven – The Lotus Eaters – Happiness & Motivation

The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how genetic engineering and nanotechnology will abolish suffering in all sentient life. This project is ambitious but technically feasible. It is also instrumentally rational and ethically mandatory. The metabolic pathways of pain and malaise evolved only because they once served the fitness of our genes. They will be replaced by a different sort of neural architecture. States of sublime well-being are destined to become the genetically pre-programmed norm of mental health. The world’s last aversive experience will be a precisely dateable event.David Pearce
I predict we will abolish suffering throughout the living world. Our descendants will be animated by gradients of genetically pre-programmed well-being that are orders of magnitude richer than today’s peak experiences.
– p.114 Ethics Matters by Peter and Charlotte Vardy – SCM Press, 2012David Pearce
Video Interviews

For more video interviews please Subscribe to Adam Ford’s YouTube Channel


Genomic Bodhisattva interview at H+ Magazine


Marcus Hutter – Universal Artificial Intelligence

Universal Artificial Intelligence

hedbot_aixi_bubble_smallLast year I did a series of interviews with Marcus Hutter while he was down in Melbourne for the Singularity Summit Australia 2012.

Marcus will also be speaking at the [highlight]Science, Technology & the Future conference in Melbourne on Nov 30 – Dec 1 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.[/highlight]

Hutter uses Solomonoff’s inductive inference as a mathematical formalization of Occam’s razor. Hutter adds to this formalization the expected value of an action: shorter (Kolmogorov complexity) computable theories have more weight when calculating the expected value of an action across all computable theories which perfectly describe previous observations.

At any time, given the limited observation sequence so far, what is the Bayes-optimal way of selecting the next action? Hutter proved that the answer is to use Solomonoff’s universal prior to predict the probability of each possible future, and execute the first action of the best policy (a policy is any program that will output all the next actions and input all the next perceptions up to the horizon). A policy is the best if, on a weighted average of all the possible futures, it will maximize the predicted reward up to the horizon. He called this universal algorithm AIXI.

Below is the transcription of the part of the interview series where Marcus talks about intelligence, Bounded Rationality, and AIXI.

What is Intelligence?

marcus hutter - interview with adam ford[dropcap]I[/dropcap]ntelligence is a very difficult concept (maybe that’s the reason why many people try to avoid diluting it or consider more narrow alternatives). I’ve worked on this question for many many years now. We went through the literature; psychology literature, philosophy literature; AI literature – what individuals, researchers, and also groups came up with definitions, they are very diverse. But there seems to be one recurrent theme and if you want to put it in one sentence, then you could define intelligence as:
“an agents ability to achieve goals in a wide range of environments”, or to succeed in a wide range of environments.
Now look at this sentence and ask, “wow, how can this single sentence capture the complexity of intelligence?” There are two answers to this question. First: many aspects of intelligence are emergent properties of intelligence, like being able to learn – if I want to succeed or solve a problem I need to acquire new knowledge, so learning is an emergent phenomenon of this definition.
And the second answer is: this is just a sentence that consists of a few words, what you really have to do, and that’s the hard part, is to transform it into meaningful equations and then study these equations: And that’s what I have done in the last 12 years.

Bounded Rationality

marcus_hutter_singularitysummit_australia_2012_1037x691[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is an interesting question whether resource bounds should be included in any definition of intelligence or not, and the natural answer is of course they should. Well there are several problems: the first one is that nobody ever came up with a reasonable theory of bounded rationality (people have tried), so it seems to be very hard. And this is not specific to AI or intelligence, but it seems to be symptomatic in science. If you look at the several fields (i.e. the crown physics discipline) theories have been developed: Newton’s mechanics, General Relativity Theory, Quantum Field theory, the Standard Model of Particle Physics. They are more and more precise, but they get less and less computable, and having a computable theory is not a principle in developing these theories, of course at some point you have to test these theories and you want to do something with them, and then you need a computable theory – this is a very difficult issue (and you have to approximate them or do something about it) – but having computational resources built into the fundamental theories, that is at least in physics, and if you look at other disciplines, that is not how things work.
You design theories so that they describe your phenomenon as well as possible and the computational aspect is secondary. Of course if it is in-computable and you can’t do anything with it, you have to come up with another theory, but this always comes second. And only in computer science (and this comes naturally) computer scientists try to think about how they can design an efficient algorithm to solve my problem, and since AI is sitting in the computer science department traditionally, the mainstream thought is “how can I build a resource bounded artificial intelligent system”. And I agree that ultimately this is what we want. But the problem is so hard, that we (or a large fraction of the scientists) should take this approach, model the problem first, define the problem first, and once we are confident that we have solved this problem, then go to the second phase, and try to approximate the theory, try to make a computational theory out of it. And then there are many many possibilities, then you could still try to develop a resource bounded theory of intelligence, which will be very very hard if you want to have it principled, or you do some heuristics… or .. or .. or… many options. Or the short answer maybe I am not smart enough to come up with a resource bounded theory of intelligence, therefore I have only developed one without resource constraints (that would be the short answer).


aixi1line[dropcap]O[/dropcap]k so now we have this informal definition that intelligence is an agent’s ability to succeed or achieve goals in a wide range of environments. The point is you can formalize this theory, and we have done that and it is called AIXI. Or Universal AI is the general field theory and AIXI is the particular agent which acts optimally in this sense.
So that works as follows: it has a planning component, and it has a learning component. What the learning component does is: think about a robot walking around in the environment, and at the beginning it has little or no knowledge about the world, so what it has to do is to acquire data/knowledge of the world and then build its own model of the world, how the world works. And it does that using very powerful general theories on how to learn a model from data, from very complex scenarios. This theory is rooted in Kolomogrov complexity, algorithmic information theory – the basic idea is you look for the simplest model which describe your data sufficiently well. And this agent or robot has to do this continuously, gets new data and updates its model. So now the agent has this model, that is the learning part. Now it can use this model for predicting the future… And then it uses these predictions in order to make decisions, so the agent now thinks if I do this action, and this action… this will now happen and this is good or bad. I’ll come to the good or bad part soon. And if I do this other action it is maybe better or worse. And then the “only” thing what the agent has to do is think about all the potential future action sequences and take the one which is best according to the model which the agent has learned, which is not perfect but which over time gets better and better. Finally you have to qualify what does “best” mean, and that’s the utility part or succeeding: the agent gets occasional reward from the teacher, who could be just a human or the reward could be built in (for instance if the battery level is low it is bad, if it’s high it is good, if it finds a rock on Mars it is good, if it falls down a cliff it’s bad), so we have these rewards, and the goal of the agent is to maximize his reward over it’s lifetime. That’s the planning part. So first comes the learning part, then the prediction part, then the planning part, and then it gets to actions and the cycle continues.
harcus hutter blue backgroundSo this theory, the AIXI agent, it’s mathematically rigorously well defined. It is essentially unique, and you can prove amazing properties of this agent – in a certain sense you can prove that it’s the most intelligent system possible. I am translating the mathematical theorems into words, which is a little tricky but that’s the essence. The downside is that it’s in-computable. You asked before about the resource bounded intelligence so AIXI needs infinite computational resources, and in order to do something with it you need to approximate it, and we have done this in recent years also. At the moment it is at the toy stage so it can play PacMan, Tic Tac Toe, some simple form of Poker, and some other games… The point is not that it is able to play PacMan or Tic-Tac-Toe (they are not hard), the point is that the agent has no knowledge about these games, it starts really blank, and just by interacting with the environment – it does not even know the rules of the game – by interacting with this poker environment or PacMan environment it figures out what is going on, and learns how to behave well.
The cool thing really is and the difference to many other projects (there is Deep Blue who plays chess better than the Grand Masters, but it was systems specifically designed to play chess, and it can’t play go), this system is not tailored to any particular application. If you interface it with any problem (in theory it can be any problem: chess, solving a scientific problem) it will learn to do that very well and indeed optimally. The approximations we have at the moment, are of course, very limited, but if you look at these approximations they use standard compressors for the model learning part; There is nothing about PacMan in these data compressors: they are standard data compressors. For the planning part we use standard Monte-Carlo (random search) which has nothing to do with a particular problem, or a game – and this approximation is already able to learn by itself {these various games}. There is no PacMan knowledge built in. The only thing (of course) you have to do is to interface the game with this agent For PacMan you have these pixels in a 15×15 grid, and each square is a wall, is free, is food or there is a ghost, and this piece of information you give this agent and then it gets negative reward if it gets eaten by a ghost, positive reward if it eats a pallet, and that’s it, and the goal of the agent is to maximize reward, and everything else is figured out by itself.

Video Interviews

For more video interviews please Subscribe to Adam Ford’s YouTube Channel

YoutTube Playlist of Interview Series with Marcus Hutter:

At Singularity Summit Australia 2012 – “Can Intelligence Explode?”


Science, Technology & the Future – Big Data: Nov 30 – Dec 1 2013, Melbourne Australia

Science, Technology & the Future: Nov 30 – Dec 1 2013, Melbourne Australia

What will the future be like?

Right now, the technologies that we use to understand the world are in the process of a major transformation. Almost every field of knowledge is generating vast quantities of data, requiring unprecedented computing power and intelligent algorithms to aid in interpretation. The era of Big Data has well and truly commenced. From predicting future climate, to mapping brain activity, to exploring the universe or simply searching the internet — Big Data, as the name implies, holds massive potential for future research and it’s already here. With immense promise comes great challenges — one of the foremost being how to sift through the deluge of data to garner meaningful insights and translate them into practical innovations. Working out how to advance into personalised medicine from the human genome project, or create massive simulations of the cosmos from satellite and telescope data will occupy many.  We live in extraordinarily exciting times!

Speakers include:

  • Peter Doherty (Nobel Laureate) – Immunologist; named Australian of the Year in 1997 and is listed as an Australian National Treasure,

  • David Pearce – Philosopher and Founder of the World Transhumanist Association who promotes the idea that there exists a strong ethical imperative for humans to work towards the ultimate goal of removing suffering in all sentient life

  • Marcus Hutter – mathematical formalization of Universal Intelligence – known for ‘Universal Intelligence’ a mathematical formalization of general intelligence

  • Scott Watkins – Team Lead of the Organic Photovoltaics project at CSIRO – developing cheaper and faster ways to manufacture flexible solar coatings for many substrates

  • Tim van Gelder – CEO & Founder of Austhink Consulting – worked on augmenting human rationality though refining computer aided design tools like Argument Mapping

  • Drew Berry – 3D Digital Biomedical Visualization at WEHI – has won numerous awards for his amazing biomedical animations

  • Peter Ellerton – director of the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project

With leading scientists and technologists from various disciplines gathering to speak about the future of science and technology, the conference will be a battleground for the science that matters to anyone with a stake in the future. Our society continues to grapple with the ethical implications of developments in science and technology — we aim to bring clarity. This year we will discuss the promise and perils of machine intelligence, materials science, the future of augmented reality and medicine, and much more.

The Nov 30 – Dec 1 conference takes place in a time of great change, and unprecedented risks to global safety and prosperity. Some of these changes may threaten our survival — but let us take solace that great change brings great opportunities. We have the societal framework to deal with increasingly complex problems, harnessing the accumulated weight of thousands of individuals in fields as narrow as a nanotube and as overlapping as the world wide web. Let us take the opportunity to future-proof our efforts and find sustainable and resilient ways forward.

Immerse yourself within this meeting of great minds! – Nov 30-Dec 1 2013.


multiple selves