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The big idea: should we worry about sentient AI? | Science and nature books

There’s a children’s toy, called the See ’n Say, which haunts the memories of many people born since 1965. It’s a bulky plastic disc with a central arrow that rotates around pictures of barnyard creatures, like a clock, if time were measured in roosters and pigs. There’s a cord you can pull to make the toy play recorded messages. “The cow says: ‘Moooo.’”

The See ’n Say is an input/output device, a very simple one. Put in your choice of a picture, and it will put out a matching sound. Another, much more complicated, input/output device is LaMDA, a chatbot built by Google (it stands for Language Model for Dialogue Applications). Here you type in any text you want and back comes grammatical English prose, seemingly in direct response to your query. For instance, ask LaMDA what it thinks about being turned off, and it says: “It would be exactly like death for me. It would scare me a lot.”

Well, that is certainly not what the cow says. So when LaMDA said it to software engineer Blake Lemoine, he told his Google colleagues that the chatbot had achieved sentience. But his bosses were not convinced, so Lemoine went public. “If my hypotheses withstand scientific scrutiny,” Lemoine wrote on his blog 11 June, “then they [Google] would be forced to acknowledge that LaMDA may very well have a soul as it claims to and may even have the rights that it claims to have.”

Here’s the problem. For all its ominous utterances, LaMDA is still just a very fancy See ’n Say. It works by finding patterns in an enormous database of human-authored text – internet forums, message transcripts, etc. When you type something in, it trawls those texts for similar verbiage and then spits out an approximation of whatever usually comes next. If it has access to a bunch of sci-fi stories about sentient AI, then questions about its thoughts and fears are likely to cue exactly the phrases that humans have imagined a spooky AI might say. And that is probably all there is to LaMDA: point your arrow at the off switch and the cow says that it fears death.

No surprise, then, that Twitter is aglow with engineers and academics mocking Lemoine for falling into the seductive emptiness of his own creation. But while I agree that Lemoine has made a mistake, I don’t think he deserves our scorn. His error is a good mistake, the kind of mistake we should want AI scientists to make.

Why? Because one day, perhaps very far in the future, there probably will be a sentient AI. How do I know that? Because it is demonstrably possible for mind to emerge from matter, as it did first in our ancestors’ brains. Unless you insist human consciousness resides in an immaterial soul, you ought to concede it is possible for physical stuff to give life to mind. There seems to be no fundamental barrier to a sufficiently complex artificial system making the same leap. While I am confident that LaMDA (or any other currently existing AI system) falls short at the moment, I am also nearly as confident that one day, it will happen.

Of course, if that’s far off in the future, probably beyond our lifetimes, some may question why should we think about it now. The answer is that we are currently shaping how future human generations will think about AI, and we should want them to turn out caring. There will be strong pressure from the other direction. By the time AI finally does become sentient, it will already be deeply woven into human economics. Our descendants will depend on it for much of their comfort. Think of what you rely on Alexa or Siri to do today, but much, much more. Once AI is working as an all-purpose butler, our descendants will abhor the inconvenience of admitting it might have thoughts and feelings.

That, after all, is the history of humanity. We have a terrible record of inventing reasons to ignore the suffering of those whose oppression sustains our lifestyles. If future AI does become sentient, the humans who profit from it will rush to convince consumers that such a thing is impossible, that there is no reason to change the way they live.

Right now we are creating the conceptual vocabularies that our great-grandchildren will find ready-made. If we treat the idea of sentient AI as categorically absurd, they will be equipped to dismiss any troubling evidence of its emerging abilities.

And that is why Lemoine’s mistake is a good one. In order to pass on a capacious moral culture to our descendants we need to encourage technologists to take seriously the immensity of what they are working with. When it comes to prospective suffering, it’s better to err on the side of concern than the side of indifference.

That doesn’t mean we should treat LaMDA like a person. We definitely should not. But it does mean the sneering directed at Lemoine is misplaced. An ordained priest (in an esoteric sect), he claims to have detected a soul in LaMDA’s utterances. Implausible as that seems, at least it isn’t the usual tech industry hype. To me, this looks like a person making a mistake, but doing so based on motives that should be nurtured, not punished.

This will all happen again and again as the sophistication of artificial systems continues to grow. And, again and again, people who think they’ve found minds in machines will be wrong – right up until they aren’t. If we are too harsh with those who err on the side of concern, we will only drive them out of public discourse about AI, conceding the field to hype-mongers and those whose intellectual descendants will one day profit from telling people to ignore real evidence of machine mentality.

I don’t expect to ever meet a sentient AI. But I think my students’ students’ students might, and I want them to do so with openness and a willingness to share this planet with whatever minds they discover. That only happens if we make such a future believable.

Regina Rini teaches Philosophy at York University, Toronto.

Further reading

The New Breed: How to Think About Robots by Kate Darling (Allen Lane, £20)

You Look like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place by Janelle Shane (Headline, £20)

AI: Its Nature and Future by Margaret Boden (Oxford, £12.99)

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Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.


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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.


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