H+ Weekly — 2017 — A Year in Review
It’s this time again when we look back at the last year and see what has happened in the last 12 months.
A lot of interesting things happened in 2017 in technology, so without further ado, let’s start!
We will start with artificial intelligence. AI was one of the biggest topics in 2017 for various reasons, both good and bad.
DeepMind was in the news with AlphaZero, a more generalised version of AlphaGo, which defeated the best human Go player and later went to master chess in just four hours. Meanwhile, OpenAI’s bot beat the world’s top professionals at 1v1 matches of Dota 2.
Artificial intelligence was still a controversial topic just like it was in 2016. Ethics of AI is becoming as important as research itself. DeepMind created its own research group focusing on ethics of AI and Apple joined Partnership on AI (another research group for ethical AI founded by such companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and IBM).
Mid-year we had the big “AI is going to kill us all” vs “AI is the best thing ever” drama. Elon Musk being Elon Musk said AI is more dangerous than nuclear weapons, warned that AI was the “biggest risk we face as a civilization” and urged the US government to adopt AI legislation. And then Mark Zuckerberg showed up and downplayed AI fear mongering, reigning once again the bad AI vs good AI debate.
In other news, Vladimir Putin said that the country that leads in AI will be the ruler of the world. That country might be China which is investing heavily in AI and robotics and it’s on a good track to match or even overcome US as a leader in AI research.
Boston Dynamics showed two new robots this year. First one was Handle — a robot with wheels that can do crazy jumps. The second robot was the new SpotMini, the newest addition to Boston Dynamics menagerie of four-legged robots. They also taught Atlas (their humanoid robot) how to jump and do backflips.
Just like AI, robotics had also its fair share of controversy this year. Mainly for two reason — job automation and weaponising robots.
Job taking robots were still a hot topic. From time to time, a new article or research showed up which jobs will be automated. Someone even made a website where you can check how likely your current job will be taken by a robot.
Autonomous cars are destined to take the most jobs. And they are just around the corner. Waymo (Google’s self-driving car company) was testing fully autonomous cars on streets in Phoenix and soon will be offering taxi services. Other manufacturers should catch up quickly.
The fear of autonomous cars changing the economy is so great that India plans to ban autonomous cars to protect jobs.
The second area where robotics got controversial was the issue of autonomous weapons. Every country that has resources to work on autonomous weapon systems do so. It went to the point where United Nations started to consider a possible ban on “killer robots” and a campaign against such robots went viral.
Delivery drones become a thing. Not in Silicon Valley, but in Africa where drones deliver blood to remote hospitals and may become a backbone for a general purpose drone delivery system.
Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley, robots are used to deliver food.
Saudi Arabia gave citizenship to a female humanoid robot named Sophia. Some people were eager to point out that a female robot has more rights than women in Saudi Arabia.
And Jeff Bezos piloted a giant mech. Welcome to the future.
Some biohackers reached the news with experiments they performed on themselves, like injecting untested genetic therapy to cure HIV. Josiah Zayner became an online sensation by conducting DIY gene therapy on himself. And when Brian Hanley set out to test a gene therapy, he started with himself.
These stories will probably inspire other people (maybe even you) to become a biohacker. But be warned that authorities like FDA in USA might not approve what you are doing. Germany went even further with threatening biohackers with prison.
Meanwhile, more socially acceptable researchers from US and UK announced successful gene editing of human embryos, while Chinese researchers were able to modify single letters of DNA in a human embryo.
Lab-grown meat is becoming a reality and attracts interest of investors such as Richard Branson.
In 2017, brain augmentation started to be taken seriously. Couple months after Bryan Johnson announced Kernel, Elon Musk presented his idea for humanity to keep up with AI — Neuralink. Those companies are basically solving the same problem — how to build a brain-computer interface to boost human performance. They aren’t the only ones working on this. Facebook also wants to connect our brains to the computer. And when it comes to crazy sci-fi technologies, you can always count on DARPA to have some team researching the topic.
In Sweden, the population of cyborgs grew tenfold.
There were two interesting cases of immortalising people — a son trying to immortalise his father and immortalising a dead friend. Both projects share the same idea — take a lot of chat logs and recorded conversations with the now dead person and make a chatbot that mimics that person.
I noticed this year that the transhumanism ideas started to find their way into mainstream discussion. We live in a world where science fiction stops being just fiction. Many things we saw in sci-fi novels, movies or games are becoming a reality. Machines become smarter every month. Genetic engineering promises the cure for diseases we can’t cure today. We started to seriously take the idea of radically extending human’s life.
And people started to talk about these things. Knowingly or not, they were discussing ideas the transhumanists were discussing for years. Which is a good thing. It provides a new perspective in the discussion. I hope more and more people engage in the discussion how can we become better by using technology.
To finish this summary, here are some stats about the newsletter.
In 2017, I shared with you 750 links about transhumanism, robotics, AI and biotech in 52 issues. That gives around 14 hand-picked links sent to you every Friday.
I’d like to say thank you reading the newsletter every week. It motivates me to go through thousands (I’m not exaggerating!) links in my feed to find the ones worth sharing with you.
Happy New Year and all the best in 2018!
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