Podcast with @jamestagg: Are The Androids Dreaming Yet?

On the Sunday morning at Hacklands, after we’d heard some lovely Chopin, James Tagg got up to speak about his new book “Are The Androids Dreaming Yet?” a popular science look at the history and potential future of Artificial Intelligence.  I sat down with James a few weeks later to talk more about the ideas in the book.

Back in August, listening to the talk, I realised just how strongly ingrained our idea is that machines will just get smarter and smarter until they meet and then exceed human capability but also the implication that we’re advanced machines ourselves.  Many people are resigned to it, accepting that it will happen sometime in the near future.  And we do see machines doing things routinely now that a few years ago would have been impossible – the example I always think of is language translation, I would have argued (even five years ago) that it was just too complex a task for machines to do, and while Google Translate isn’t quite perfect, it does a much better job than I would have predicted.  I was wrong.

But.  I also believe that there are human qualities and activities that machines might mimic well, but that that isn’t the same as them being intelligent.  But what if I’m just wrong (again…)?

In his book and in the conversation we’ve recorded, James moves the argument from beliefs and faith, to the arena of mathematical proof.  He shows how the work of Hilbert, Gödel and Turing (among many others), which formed the basis of digital computing in the last century, also holds the key to understanding its limitations.

The good news is that creativity and free will remain something we can reserve for ourselves – and to prove it, I woke up this morning and decided to write this post, and I made up which words to use and the order in which I put them.  I think.

Download the podcast (21MB)

Buy the book!

PS if you like talking about this stuff and you’re near London, you can join in the conversation at Future of Work: Artificial Intelligence on November 10th.

Walking in the woods

I love walking in the woods. I often go on my own, but I also very much enjoy the experience of walking with a small group with the opportunities to share observations and reflections as well as the chance to be still and silent with other people in a natural environment.

There’s so much exciting stuff happening at Hacklands over the weekend, but I’m going to give some time to pause from the doing, talking and actively thinking and to get away with a small group to breathe and reflect and just be for a short while.

We’ll be doing less, listening to whatever is there in the woods (including our inner voices) and see what miracles we can discover together. If it all sounds a bit mysterious, don’t worry, you’ve understood it completely, you’ll come back refreshed, at peace and renewed, ready to engage again with the hacka-festi-think-athon.

We’ll do sign ups for this at the beginning of Saturday. It’s best to do this sort of thing with a small group, so if there are more than seven people interested, I’ll do more than one trip during the day.

Is White Collar Automation just around the corner (again?)

Going upI shall be holding a discussion in the Open Space on Saturday about how the blockchain technology that brought us bitcoin promises to create even more of a stir in the next few years.

Smart contracts mean that where bitcoin gave us programmable money, platforms like ethereum herald programmable companies. When you can fulfill most of the functions of a bank or an insurance market in code on a peer-to-peer network with no central authority, what happens to all the people who used to work in a) the old central authorities and b) the supporting and participating organisations in financial centres like the City of London?

This is another wave in the long-term trend of automating away inefficient human-beings while trying to maintain high levels of employment but will people in Financial and Professional Services be saved from the disruption that has transformed manufacturing and media or will we soon see the stockbroker-belt version of Boys from the Blackstuff?

A hackathon on a farm

hacklands fb page


WHAT: Hacklands is a new hackathon and festival happening on a farm on the border of Kent and Surrey.

WHEN: From 5pm on Friday 14 August to 5pm on Sunday 16 August 2015

AUDIENCE: We welcome adults and children. Under 18s will need to be accompanied by an adult. You do not have to be a developer to come. We will have sessions and space for both developers and non-developers.

TELL ME MORE: It is a community oriented festival where we will combine elements of a hackathon (you can code and build stuff), an unconference (you can talk about stuff) and a festival (you can chill at our campfire by our stone circle, camp under the stars, talk until the wee hours and enjoy the music.

We actively encourage you to get involved. See more on our Participate page or fill in the form here or buy a ticket here.