Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era

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Click to visit Barrat’s website.


Updated: 1/29/14:

Per James Barrat ’83 at lunchtime in the Baltimore airport (no delays expected en route to Davidson): fresh talking points for tomorrow’s campus presentations and Charlotte Talks, WFAE at 9 a.m.!

Google’s New A.I. Ethics Board Might Save Humanity From Extinction in the Huffington Post

Updated 1/28/14:

Google has now bought its ninth robotics firm in a year, and that’s just the tip of a titanic iceberg.

Click to enlarge.

This Thursday, Jan. 30, come hear James Barrat ’83, author and filmmaker, talk about his book Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, as well as his take on the value of his liberal arts education in his (much!) broader documentary filmmaking career. See campus calendar for details or click poster at left. Also, members of the campus community can check Inside Davidson announcements for opportunities to share a roundtable meal with James and students, Thursday lunch or Friday breakfast.

And tune in to “Charlotte Talks” on WFAE Thursday at 9 a.m. to hear Barrat live with Davidson’s own Dr. Raghu Ramanujan and Dr. Mary Lou Maher of UNC Charlotte.

Original post, 10/2/13:

Some days it’s hard work being a humanist—or any other kind of human— in a STEM, STEM, STEM world. Already today, I have balked at Excel, pitched a fit at Verizon, and narrowly avoided a nasty Blair Witch Project reaction to a dizzying series of administrative Prezis marked “ACTION REQUIRED.” So I am trying to be easy with myself for being a bit behind in my reading.

I also admit to no small trepidation in getting to the next book on my list: Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, by James Barrat ’83.

Wait, what?


Yes, the title is much. But having interviewed Barrat some years back for the Davidson Journal about his rock-solid career as a globe-trotting documentarian, I knew him to be a thoughtful, reasonable sort not prone to needless hyperbole. So I called him up.

He spoke of the high-tech “intelligence explosion” bearing us ceaselessly into the future.

“Computers can do recursive operations at lightning speed,” he said. “About the time we realize we’ve got something that’s the level of humans, it will be past us.”

Oh, dear. He proceeded to tick off a disconcerting list of possibilities and potentialities.

“Whatever is created,” he said, “will know our history of becoming addicted to our technologies. Its first appearance could be an app. Then it could slip whatever restraints it might have and become autonomous.”

I peeked into the book last night. In it, Barrat offers reassurance of his continuing commitment to thoroughness of inquiry: “My profession rewards critical thinking,” he writes in the foreword. “A documentary filmmaker has to be on the lookout for stories too good to be true. You could waste months or years making a documentary about a hoax, or participate in perpetrating one.”

Click to visit website

Recommended reading! From Barrat’s website:

Our Final Invention explores how the pursuit of Artificial Intelligence challenges our existence with machines that won’t love us or hate us, but whose indifference could spell our doom. Until now, intelligence has been constrained by the physical limits of its human hosts. What will happen when the brakes come off the most powerful force in the universe?



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