William Hertling, author of the “Singularity Series,” joined Glenn on today’s show to talk about the future of technology and artificial intelligence. They tackled these questions and more:
- What will it look like when humans and smart machines are “coexisting”?
- Will we keep losing jobs to automation?
- When will robots be able to diagnose our illnesses and replace doctors?
- How will the human experience change as technology advances?
- Will we be able to “opt out” of AI?
With every upside there looks to be a downside with the advancements in AI, tell us in the comment section below whether you are excited or ready to pull the plug.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.
ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/Getty Images
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: I have been immersing myself in — in future tech, to try to understand what is coming our way and what the — the moral issues are of the near future.
What it means to each of us in our lives. What it means to be asked the question, am I alive?
Is this life? We have so many questions that we have to answer. And we’re having trouble with just some of the basic things. And no one is really thinking about the future.
When you think about the future, and you think about robots or you think about AI, Americans generally think of the terminator. Well, that’s not necessarily what’s going to happen.
How do we educate our kids?
So I’ve been reading a lot of high-tech stuff. And in my spare time, I’ve been trying to read some novels. And I’m looking for the storytellers, the people who can actually tell a great story that is really based in what is coming. The — the futurist or the — the near future sci-fi authors, that can show us what’s on the horizon.
And I found a series of books. It’s called the — the Singularity series. And I found them over the Christmas vacation. And I just last night finished the fourth one.
And they are really, really well-done. They are — they get a little dark. But it also shows the positive side of what could be. And it was a balanced look, and a way to really understand the future that is coming and is on the horizon.
William Hertling is the author, and he joins us now. William, how are you, sir?
WILLIAM: I’m doing great. Thanks so much for having me on.
GLENN: Congratulations on a really good series.
This is self-published?
WILLIAM: Yep. It is self-published. I could not find a publisher who saw the vision of the series. But I self-published it, and people love it. So it gets the word out there.
GLENN: Yeah. You’ve won several awards for it, and I hope — you know, I don’t know what your sales have been like, but I hope your sales are really good. Because I — I think it — well, let me ask you this: What was the intent of the series for you?
WILLIAM: You know, what happened was, about ten years ago, I read two books back-to-back. One was Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near, which I know you’ve read as well.
WILLIAM: And the other one was Charles Straufman’s (phonetic) Accelerometer, which is a fictional book about the singularity.
And what I really realized at that point in time was that we had the biggest set of changes that were ever going to face humanity. And they were coming. And they were in the very near future. Right? They’re certainly coming in my lifetime. They’re probably coming within the next ten years. And there’s very little out there about that.
And as you said, most of the stories that are in media today are about these terminator-style stories. AI rises up. They take control of the machines. And we fight them in the battle. Which, of course, makes for a great movie. I would love to see the Terminator many times over, but what happens when it’s not like that? What happens when it’s sort of the quiet kind of AI story. And that’s really what I wanted to explore. What happens when there’s this new emergence of the first AI that’s out there, and people realize they’re being manipulated by some entity? And what do they do about it? How do they react?
GLENN: So I find this — first of all, you lay it out so well. And the first book starts with the emergence of AI. And then moves — I think the next book is, what? Ten years later, five years later —
WILLIAM: They’re all ten years apart. Yeah. Basically explore different points of technology in the future.
GLENN: Right. So the last one is in the 2040s or in the 2050s. And it’s a very different thing then than it starts out as.
GLENN: And the thing I wanted to talk to you about is, first of all, can you just define — because most people don’t know the difference between AI, AGI, and ASI, which is really important to understand.
WILLIAM: Sure. So AI is out there today. It’s any time programmers write a piece of software. Yet, instead of having a set of rules, you know, if you see this, then do that. Instead, the AI software is trained to make the decisions on its own. So AI is out there today. It’s how you have self-driving cars. It’s what selects the stories that you read on Facebook. It’s how Google search results come about.
And AGI is the solution that artificial intelligence will become more general, right? All of the things that I mentioned, are very specific problems to be solved. How to drive a car is a very specific problem.
GLENN: So a good — a good explanation of AI would be big blue, the chess-playing IBM robot.
It has no general intelligence. It does that.
WILLIAM: Exactly, right. And we have IBM’s Watson, which is really good at making diagnoses about cancer. But you can’t have a conversation about how you’re feeling.
WILLIAM: But AGI would. AGI would appear to be like a human being, conceivably. In that, it could talk and reason about a wide variety of topics, make decisions. Generally, use its intelligence to solve problems that it hasn’t even seen before.
GLENN: Now, AGI can pass the Turing test?
WILLIAM: Yeah, so the Turing test is this idea that you’ve got a person in one room, chatting with someone in another room, and they have to decide, is that a human being, or is it a computer? And if they can’t figure it out, then that is the Turing test.
And you pass the Turing test, if you can’t distinguish between a computer and a person.
GLENN: How close are we to that?
WILLIAM: Well, I think we probably all have been fooled at least a couple of times when we’ve either gotten a phone call or made a phone call and we think that we’re talking to a human being on the other end. Right? But it actually turns out that we’re talking to a machine that routes our phonecall somewhere.
So, you know, we’re there for a couple of sentences. But we’re still pretty far away if you’re going to have any meaningful conversation.
GLENN: And AGI is when the computer has the computing power of a human brain?
GLENN: Okay. Now, that’s not necessarily a scary thing. But it’s what happens when you go from AGI to ASI, artificial super intelligence. And that can happen within a matter of hours. Correct?
WILLIAM: It can. There’s a couple of different philosophies on that. But if you can imagine that — think about the computer that you have today, versus the computer that you had ten years ago. Right?
It’s vastly more powerful. Vastly more powerful than the one you had 20 years ago. So even if there’s not these super rapid accelerations in — in intelligence. Even if you just today had a computer that was the intelligence of a human being, you would imagine that ten years from now, it’s going to be able to think about vastly more stuff. Much faster. Right?
So we could see even just taking advantage of increasing in computing power, we would get a much smarter machine. But the really dangerous, or not necessarily dangerous, but the part — the really rapid change comes from when the AI can start making changes to itself.
So if you have today, programmers create AI. But in the future, AI can create AI. And the smarter AI gets, then in theory, the smarter the AI it can build. And that’s where you can get this thing that kind of spirals out of control.
GLENN: So you get a handle on how fast this can all change, if you have an Apple i Pad 2, that was one of the top five supercomputers in 1998. Okay?
That was a top five supercomputer.
GLENN: That’s how fast technology is growing on itself.
All right. So, William, I want you to kind of outline what — we’re going to take a break, and I want you to come back and kind of outline why all of this stuff matters. What — what is in the near future, that we’re going to be wrestling with? And why people should care. When we come back.
GLENN: As you know, if you’re a long-time listener of the program, I’m very fascinated with the future and what is coming. The future of tech and artificial intelligence.
William Hertling is an author and a futurist. He is the author of what’s called The Singularity Series. It’s a series of four novels, that kind of break it down and tell you what’s coming. And break it down in an entertaining fashion. I highly recommend The Singularity Series. If you are interested in any of this, you need to start reading that, you will really enjoy that.
STU: William, I know Glenn is a big fan of your work and has been reading a lot about technology. I think a lot of people who are living their daily lives aren’t as involved in this. I think a third or a half of the audience when you hear AI, don’t even connect that to artificial intelligence, until you say it.
I know as a long-term NBA fan, I think Allen Iverson, honestly when I hear AI. Can you make the case, with everything going on in the world, why should people put this at the top of their priority list?
WILLIAM: Well, it’s the scale of the change that’s coming.
And probably the nearest thing that we’re really going to see is over the next five years, we’re going to see a lot more self-driving cars and a lot more automation in the workplace. So I think transportation jobs account for something like 5 percent of all jobs in the United States.
And whether you’re talking about driving a car, a taxi, driving a delivery truck, all of those things are potentially going to be automated. Right? This is one of the first really big problems that AI is tackling. And AI is good at it. So AI can drive a car. And it can do a better job. It doesn’t get tired. It doesn’t just go out and drink before it drives, and it doesn’t make mistakes.
Well, that’s not quite true. They’re going to make less mistakes, but they’re going to make less mistakes than your typical human operator. So you know business likes to save money. And it likes to do things efficiently. And self-driving cars are going to be more cost-effective. They’re going to be more efficient. So what happens to those 5 percent of the people today who have transportation jobs? Right?
This is probably going to be the biggest thing that affects us.
GLENN: I think, William, you know, that Silicon Valley had better start telling the story in a better fashion. Because as these things hit, we all know politicians on both sides, they’ll just — they’ll blame somebody. They’re telling everybody that I’m going to bring the jobs back.
The jobs aren’t coming back. In fact, many, many more are going to be lost. Not to China, but by robotics and AI. And when that happens, you know, I can see, you know, politicians turning and saying, “It’s these robot makers. It’s these AI people.”
WILLIAM: Yeah. Naturally. And yet, unfortunately, the AI genie is out of the bottle, right? Because we’re investing in it. China is investing in it. Tech companies around the world are investing in it.
If we stop investing in it, even if we said, hey, we don’t want AI, we don’t like it, all that’s going to do is put us at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the world. So it’s not like we can simply opt out. It’s not really — we don’t have that option. It’s moving forward. So we need to participate in it. And we need to shape where it’s going. And I think this is the reason why it’s so important to me that more people understand what is AI and why it matters. Because we need to be involved in a public conversation about what we want society to look like in the future.
As we go out, if even more jobs are eliminated by AI, what does that mean? What if we don’t have meaningful work for people?
GLENN: I think the thing I like about your book series is it starts out really hopeful. And it shows that, you know, this technology is not going to be something that we really are likely to refuse. Because it’s going to make our life incredibly stable and easy in some ways.
And I kind of would like you to talk about a little about, you know, the stock market and the economy and war and everything else. Something that you talk about in your first novel. And show you when we come back, the good side, and then what it could turn into.
STU: So Allen Iverson is taking our transportation jobs?
GLENN: Yes, yes.
STU: Okay. That’s what I got from that.
GLENN: We’re talking to William Hertling. He is the author and futurist. The author of many books. His latest is The Kill Process. I’m talking to him about The Singularity Series. And the first one in there is the Avagadro Corp. And it starts out around this time. And it starts out with a tech center in Portland. And a guy is working on a program that will help everybody with their email. And all of a sudden he makes a couple of changes. And unbeknownst to him, it grows into something that is thinking and acting and changing on its own.
And, William, I would like you to take us through this. Because the first book starts out really kind of positive. Where you’re looking at this — and there’s some spooky consequences — but you’re looking at it going, you know, I could see us — I’d kind of like that. And by the end, in the fourth book, we’ve all been digitized. And we’re in a missile, leaving the solar system because earth is lost.
A, do you think this is — is this your prediction, or you just think this is a really kind of good story?
WILLIAM: Well, you know, I think a lot of it has the potential to be real. And I think one of the things you probably know from my reading is that I’m fairly balanced. What I see are the risks and the benefits. I think there’s both.
WILLIAM: I get very upset. There are so many people that are very dogmatic about artificial intelligence and the future. And they either say, hey, it’s all benefits and there are no risks. Or they only talk about the risks without the benefits.
And, you know, there’s a mix of both. And it’s like any other technology. Right?
GLENN: We don’t know.
WILLIAM: All of our smartphones — we all find our smartphones to be indispensable. And at the same point in time, they affect us. Right? And they have negative affects. And society is different today than it was years ago, at the cost of our smartphones.
GLENN: But this is different though than anything else that we’ve seen like a smartphone. Because this is — this is like, you know, an alien intelligence.
We don’t have any way to predict what it’s going to be like, or what it’s going to do. Because it will be thinking. And it most likely will not be thinking like a human.
But can we start at the beginning, where, just give me some of the benefits that will be coming in the next, let’s say, ten years that people will have a hard time saying no to.
WILLIAM: Sure. I mean, first of all, we already talked about self-driving cars, right? I think we all like to get into our car and be able to do whatever we want to do and not have to think about driving. That’s going to free us up from a mundane task.
We’re going to see a lot more automation in the workplace. Which means that the cost of goods and services will go down. So we’ll be able to get more from less. So that will seem like an economic boom, to those of us that will afford it. Right? We will be able to enjoy more things. We’ll have better experiences when we interact with AI. So today, if you have to go to the doctor, you’ll wait to get a doctor’s appointment. You’ll go in. You’ll have this rushed experience, more than likely, if you’re here in the US. You’ll get five minutes of their time, and you’re hoping they will make the right diagnosis in the five minutes they’re with you. That’s going to be I think one of the really big changes over the five, ten years from now is we’ll see a lot more AI-driven diagnosis.
So when you’re having medical issues, you can go in, and you can talk to an AI that will be more or less indistinguishable than talking to the nurse when you walk into the doctor’s office.
And by the time the doctor’s sees you, there will already be a diagnosis made by the AI. And it likely will be more accurate than what the doctor would have done. And all they’ll do is sign off on it.
GLENN: Yeah, I had a hard time — until I started reading about Watson, I had a hard time believing that people would accept something from a machine. But they are so far ahead of doctors, if they’re fed enough information.
They’re so far ahead on, you know, predicting cancer and diagnosing cancer than people are. I think it’s going to be a quick change. You’re going to want to have the AI diagnose you.
WILLIAM: Right. Because that’s going to be the best. Right? When we go to the doctor, we want the best. We don’t want the second best.
WILLIAM: So we’re going to see a lot of that. And then, you know, ten to 15 years out — you know, it’s funny, I had a conversation with my daughter one day, and she asked, hey, Dad, when am I going to get to drive a car?
And I thought about her age, and I thought about that. And I was like, well, I’m not sure you’re ever going to get to drive a car. Because where you are and when self-driving cars are coming, you may never drive a car.
And so you’ll just get one, and it will take you where you want to go.
So there’s going to be very — they’re both subtle and yet dramatic changes in society when you think about, hey, we’re going to have a generation of people, and they will never have learned how to drive a car. Right? So their time will be free to do other things. They’ll be different than we are.
GLENN: Do you see the — you know, in your first book, you talk about, you know, AI changing, you know, the emails that are being sent and doing things on its own. And really manipulating people.
We are already at the point to where we accept the manipulation of what we see in our Facebook feed. But that’s not — there’s — there’s — that’s not a machine trying to do anything, but give us what we want.
GLENN: Do you see us very far away from, you know, hedge fund computers that can — that can really manipulate the markets in a positive way or computers that can begin to manipulate for peace, as you put in your book, your first one?
WILLIAM: It’s a good question. We’re definitely going to see that. At a minimum, right? We can imagine that if you have an authoritarian government, they’re going to distribute information to pacify people.
And that’s not a good thing often. In some ways, it is. You know, if you have armed unrest, people will die. So there’s a balance there. I think what we’ll see is we’ll just see lots of different people use technology in lots of different ways.
So maybe we don’t have, you know, a hedge fund manipulating the markets in a positive way. Maybe it starts with a bunch of hackers in another country, manipulating the markets to make money. Right?
So I think we are going to see that distribution, that manipulation of information. And it’s hard.
It out there now, right? There is content — a lot of the content that you read on the web, whether it’s a review of a restaurant or a business, a lot of it is generated by AI. And it’s hard to tell what’s AI versus a person writing a genuine review.
GLENN: Talking to William Hertling. He’s an author and futurist. Author of a great series of novels called The Singularity Series. William, the — the idea that intelligent — not AI. Not narrow AI. But, you know, super intelligence or artificial general intelligence just kind of comes out of nowhere, as it does in your first novel, where it wasn’t the intent of the programmer, is interesting to me.
I sat with a — one of — a bigger name from Silicon Valley, just last week. And we were talking about this. And he said, whoever controls AI, whoever gets this first is going to control the world.
He was talking to me privately about a need for almost a Manhattan Project for this. Do you see this as something that is just going to be sprung on us, or will it be taken, you know, in a lab? Intentionally?
WILLIAM: I think the odds are probably strongly biased towards in a lab. Both because they have the kind of deeper knowledge and expertise. You know, because they have the kind of raw computing power, right? So the folks at Google will have millions of times of computing power, than somebody who is outside a company like Google. So that alone — it’s like they have the computers that will have it in 15 to 20 years, right? That kind of computing power. And that makes AI a lot easier of a problem to solve.
So I think it’s most likely to come out of a lab.
GLENN: If you’re looking at, for instance, the lawsuit that was just filed against Google about the way they treat people with different opinions, et cetera, et cetera. My first thought is, good God, what are those people putting into the programming?
I mean, that — that doesn’t — that doesn’t work out well for people. Is there enough — are there enough people that are concerned about what this can do and what this can be, that we have the safeguards with people?
WILLIAM: You know, I — I really think we don’t. I mean, think about the transportation system we have today and the robust set of safety mechanisms we have around it. Right?
So we want to drive from one place to another. We have a system of streets. We have laws that govern how you drive on those streets. We have traffic lights. Cars have antilock brakes. They have traction control. All these things are designed to prevent an accident.
If you get into an accident, we have all these harm reduction things. Right? We have seatbelts and airbags. After the fact, we have all this — we have a whole system of litigation, right? We have ambulances and paramedics in the hospitals to take care of those damage results. In the future, we’ll need that same sort of very robust system for AI. And we don’t have anything like that today.
GLENN: And nobody is really thinking about it. Which is —
WILLIAM: Yeah, nobody is thinking about it comprehensively. And one thing you can imagine is, well, we’ll wait until we have a problem, and then we’ll put those safety mechanisms in place.
Well, the problem, of course, is that AI works at the speed of computers, not at the speed of people. And there’s this scene in one of my books — I’m sure you remember reading it — where there’s a character who witnesses a battle between two different AI factions.
WILLIAM: And the whole battle takes place, a lot of things happen between the two different AI factions, all in the time it takes the human character’s adrenaline to get pumping.
And by the time he is primed and ready to fight, the battle is over. And they’re into negotiations and how to resolve it, right?
GLENN: It’s remarkable in reading that. That’s a great understanding of — of how fast this will — things will move.
It’s like one of the best action novels of war scenes I’ve ever seen. Really, really good. You know, page after page after page of stuff happening. And you get to the end, and you realize, “Oh, my gosh, this — the human hasn’t even hardly moved. He hasn’t even had a chance to think about the first step that happened.” And it’s already over.
WILLIAM: Exactly. So this is why we need to be thinking about, how are we going to control AI? How are we going to safeguard ahead of time? We have to have these things in place, long before we actually have AI.
STU: Isn’t it true though, William, that eventually some bad actor is going to be able to develop this and not put those safeguards in? And we’re not going to have a choice. Eventually, the downside of this is going to affect everybody.
WILLIAM: You know, it’s very true. And part of the reason why, I say, right? We can’t opt out of AI. We can’t not develop it. Because then we’re just at a disadvantage of someone who does. And it gets even scarier as you move out. So one of the things I talk about in my third book, which is set around 2035. And I talk about neural implants. I think neural implants — so basically a computer implanted in your brain, the purpose of which is mostly to get information in and out. Right? Both having a smartphone in our hands where we’re trying to read information on the screen. We can get it directly in our head. It makes interaction much smoother, easier. And — but it can also help tailor your brain chemistry. Right? So if you can imagine if you’re someone who has depression or anxiety or a severe mental disability, that a neural implant could correct those things. You basically would be able to flip a switch and turn off depression or turn off anxiety.
GLENN: So, William, I’m unfortunately out of time. Could I ask you to come back tomorrow and talk and start there? Because that’s really the third book. Start with the neuroimplants and where it kind of ends up with technology. Because it is remarkable. And in reading the real science behind it, it’s real. It’s real.
WILLIAM: It sure is. It’s coming.
GLENN: Yeah. Could you come back maybe tomorrow?
WILLIAM: Sure. I would be happy too.
GLENN: Okay. Thank you so much, William. William, author and futurist. He is the author of The Singularity Series.
STU: You should get one of those things, Glenn. That thing logical alter your brain. William Hertling is the author of all these books. There’s four of them in this series, The Singularity Series. Plus, Kill Process just came out. That’s WilliamHertling.com.
Let me ask you this, Glenn, is this the write way to think about it? This comes in from Twitter, @worldofStu. To understand the difference between AI, artificial intelligence, and AGI, Artificial General Intelligence.
So if there’s a self-driving car, and it’s AI, you say, take me to the bar, and it says calculating route. Beginning travel.
Okay? If you say it to AGI, take me to the bar, it responds, your wife says you drink too much and my sensors say you put on a few pounds, routing to the gym.
GLENN: I have a feeling, you’re exactly right.
STU: That’s terrible.