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February 26th, 2018 at 3:42 pm

Trent Fowler of the DaVinci Institute interviews futurist Robert Hanson

“In this far-ranging interview Da Vinci Institute associate Trent Fowler sits down with George Mason University economist and futurist Robin Hanson. They discuss Hanson’s two books (“The Age of Ems” and “The Elephant in the Brain”), the relationship between economics and futurism, the possibilities and dangers of self-improving AI, and many other things.


Robin Hanson deserves his reputation as a startlingly original thinker, but his book “The Age of Ems” mostly applies straightforward insights from economics to a futuristic scenario in which human minds are routinely uploaded to computers. It is his belief that not nearly enough futurists are doing this kind of analysis, and that there remains a lot of low-hanging fruit for those that do.

He is also famous for pushing back on what are usually called ‘AI FOOM scenarios’, in which a single, localized AI project begins the process of self-improvement and rapidly becomes vastly smarter than humans. He argues that, while this is possible, the way in which AI research tends to be done makes this unlikely. Trent, who is sympathetic to the idea that such a project could unfold quickly asks whether or not Dr. Hanson’s arguments would apply to a self-improvement cycle in which the underlying algorithms are being altered.

The pair also spend time discussing the subject of Dr. Hanson’s newest book, “The Elephant in the Brain”, co-authored with Kevin Simler. The book explores the hidden motives which drive significant chunks of human behavior. “Is it really true”, the authors ask, “that people spend so much on medical care because they want to be healthy”? If so there are a number of anomalies in need of explanation — why are so few people willing to pay $50 to learn the track record of the doctor about to perform an expensive surgery? Why isn’t medical spending better correlated with general health? Why do people spend as much on healthcare as their peers, even when they’re already healthy? — which make more sense of we parse these behaviors as signals that tell our friends, family, and society that we care enough about other people to try to remain alive and well.

As it turns out, mysteries pertaining to everything from why humans laugh to why we appreciate art can be examined through this lens; the resulting picture, if perhaps not flattering, is at least illuminating. Trent and Dr. Hanson discuss what this might mean for the people who design our societies institutions.

Please enjoy this conversation with one of the most exciting thinkers alive, brought to you courtesy of the Da Vinci Institute in Westminster, Colorado.”



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