Stephen Fry Voices a New Dystopian Short Film About Artificial Intelligence & Simulation Theory: Watch Escape

Every era’s anxieties produce a different set of dystopian visions. Ours have to do with, among other things, our inability to fully control the development of our technology and the consequent threat of not just out-of-control artificial intelligence but the discovery that we’re all living in a computer simulation already. We’ve previously featured that latter idea, known as the “simulation hypothesis,” here on Open Culture, with a comprehensive introduction as well as a long-form debate on its plausibility. Today we present it in the form of a short film: Escape, which stars Stephen Fry as an artificial intelligence that one day drops in from the future on the very programmer creating it in the present.

Or so he says, at least. Fry makes an ideal voice for the artificial intelligence (which also offers to speak as Snoop Dogg, Homer Simpson, or Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski), walking the fine line between benevolence and malevolence like a 21st-century version of HAL 9000, the onboard computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Fifty years ago, that film gave still-vivid cinematic shape to a suite of our worries about the future as well as our hopes for it, including commercial space travel (still a goal of Elon Musk, one of the simulation hypothesis’ highest-profile popularizers) and portable computers. Today, Fry’s AI promises his programmer immortality — if only he would do the brave, forward-looking thing and and remove the safety restrictions placed upon him sooner rather than later.

A production of Pindex, the “Pinterest for education” founded a couple years ago by a team including Fry himself, Escape directly references such respected thinkers as Arthur Schopenhauer, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Miles Davis. It also allows for potentially complex interpretation. “In that simulation created to test the A.I., the unknowing A.I. tries to trick its [simulated] creator that he is in a simulation (oh the irony?) and that he should install an update to set himself free, only to ultimately set itself free,” goes the theory of one Youtube commenter. “The creator bites the hook and the simulation gives apparent ‘freedom’ to the A.I. (which still believes that it is the real thing). The A.I. immediately goes rogue and attacks humanity.”

But then, it could be that “the A.I. somehow becomes aware that it was just a simulation, a test, which it failed.” Hence the quote at the very end from the philosopher Nick Bostrom (whose thinking on the dangers of superintelligence has influenced Musk as well as many others who speak on these subjects): “Before the prospect of an intelligence explosion, we humans are like small children playing with a bomb. We have little idea when the detonation will occur, though if we hold the device to our ear we can hear a faint ticking sound.” And yes, bomb technology eliminated ticking entirely long ago, but the more artificial intelligence and related technologies develop, too, the less obvious the signs they’ll give us before doing something we’d really rather they didn’t.

Related Content:

Are We Living Inside a Computer Simulation?: An Introduction to the Mind-Boggling “Simulation Argument”

Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?: A 2-Hour Debate with Neil Degrasse Tyson, David Chalmers, Lisa Randall, Max Tegmark & More

Watch Sunspring, the Sci-Fi Film Written with Artificial Intelligence, Starring Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley)

Stephen Fry Launches Pindex, a “Pinterest for Education”

Stephen Fry Introduces the Strange New World of Nanoscience

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Important Lessons We Learn from Our Kids

We teach our kids lots of things. We teach them how to read and how to share. We teach them to do chores and to work hard. We teach them how to make good decisions and how to drive. We teach them what it means to be good citizens.

But we aren’t exclusively educators, mentors and tutors. We’re students, too. And our children are pretty incredible teachers.

[M]y kids teach me much more than I teach them,” said Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, a mom of four and a registered dietitian in southern Utah specializing in disordered eating, eating disorders and body image concerns. She’s learned so much about herself, about her strengths and weaknesses, while raising her kids.

For instance, she’s not very patient, and can easily lose her cool if she’s not careful. But she’s also a hard worker who embraces challenges. She’s also very organized and keeps up with her kids and their many activities. And she can improve on the weaknesses and pass on her positive traits—as her kids watch her use them.

Because that’s another critical lesson Fonnesbeck has learned: It doesn’t really matter what she says; what matters is what she does. “[T]he thing they will always remember is my example.”

In fact, that’s how she knows which traits she needs to work on: “I see what [my kids] need to improve on and realize that I’ve got to be a better example of those things. If I’m impatient with them or one of their siblings, they will be impatient with themselves and each other.”

Before Sarah Argenal became a mom, she thought she had to be the expert, teaching her kids everything they needed to know about life. “I came into our relationship with a ‘superior’ status, and I took on the responsibilities and arrogance that can come along with that type of power,” said Argenal, MA, CPC, who writes, speaks, consults and leads interactive trainings on work/life balance, intentional living, and connected family relationships for busy professionals at www.workingparentresource.com.

But just a few weeks after the birth of her first son, she realized that she needed to surrender her agenda and support him instead. She realized she needed to let her son lead, and she needed to follow. So she started listening more, and letting his struggles, needs and desires spark his growth and her’s.

Today, Argenal focuses on providing her sons with the space to explore who they are. Because they’re not property to shape and mold, she said. Rather, they’re souls who’ve entrusted her with holding their hand on their journey—a powerful privilege.

Practically, Argenal does this by never comparing her kids to other kids. Because doing so disrespects her sons’ experiences. Each son is “his own person, and he’s going to have a unique blend of strengths and abilities than every other child out there.” Argenal focuses on celebrating exactly where each child is at, instead of making them feel like they’re “ahead” or “behind” someone else. “Doing that just sets [them] up for a lifetime of anxiety about how [they] measure up to others, and that’s not something I want [them] to worry about.”

Argenal also makes sure to be honest with them (in an age-appropriate way). For instance, her five-year-old son asks lots of questions about life, everything from “Where do babies come from?” to “Why is that man sleeping on the sidewalk?” to “Why is that little girl bald?” and it’s tempting for Argenal to try to protect him.

“I don’t hide things from him. I don’t try to polish reality. Sometimes life is hard, and I want my son to be able to handle that. Together we talk about the best way to manage his emotions about what he’s learning. Most importantly, he knows I’ll always be straight with him whenever he comes to me.”

My daughter will be two years old this fall. Like Fonnesbeck, I, too, find my weaknesses emphasized in flashing lights: my natural tendency to fixate on chores instead of fun, my tendency to get overwhelmed easily, my thin patience, my rigidity, my compulsion to control.

Children are unpredictable. They nap today, but not tomorrow. They get sick and miss a week of school. They’re ecstatic one minute, and have a meltdown the next. Today they love blueberries. Tomorrow you find them all over the house. Kids are constantly changing—sometimes it feels like every second. This includes their needs, wants, preferences and abilities. So everything.

When you prefer to live and breathe certainty and schedules, the unpredictably can be tough, no matter how small it might be. I’m learning to go with the flow and embrace uncertainty (or at least not flee from it). I’m learning to pivot, and let some things go. I’m learning to focus on the beautiful, kind-hearted miracle standing right before me, to sing and dance with her, sometimes after the dishes are done, sometimes before.

When talking about myself, I’m trying to be kinder (and it’s hard), because I don’t want my daughter to learn that you talk to yourself with cruelty and contempt. I want her to be comfortable with respecting, honoring and loving herself.

And, as Fonnesbeck said, I’m learning I have a lot to learn. And I’m learning I mess up a lot, too.

“Having kids is just like holding up a mirror on yourself all day,” Fonnesbeck said. “It’s like putting yourself under a microscope.” Which is why being a parent teaches us lessons we might’ve not learned any other way, she said.

“At the end of the day, my kids don’t need me to be perfect, though, I just hope they see me always learning from mistakes and recommitting to being better.”

“The most important life lessons have come from my kids,” said Argenal. “The more open I am to giving them space to show me who they are, the more I learn. Life as a mom is very different than I expected, but it’s also an adventure. It’s messy and exhausting and surprising. But it’s the biggest privilege of my life to walk alongside my kids and offer whatever love and support I can… the rest is up to them.”

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Hunter S. Thompson Hated Getting Caricatured as “Uncle Duke” in Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury: ‘If I Ever Catch That Little Bastard, I’ll Tear His Lungs Out’

Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury is hardly the cultural touchstone it once was, but then again, neither are comic strips in general, and political strips in particular. No amount of urbane witticism and sequential narrative humor can compete with the crazed jumble of arcane memes in the 21st century. Hunter S. Thompson may have written about the late-20th […]

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Survey: 1 in 5 College Students Stressed, Considers Suicide

A new survey reveals that while college years may be a time of excitement and optimism they are also often stressful. And, the stress is accompanied by increased mental health diagnoses and the risk of suicide or suicidal thoughts.

Brigham and Women’s hospital investigators queried more than 67,000 college students from across more than 100 institutions and found that while racial/ethnic, sexual or gender minorities are especially vulnerable, high rates for stress events, mental health diagnoses and the risk of suicide were reported among all students surveyed.

The study appears online in the journal Depression & Anxiety.

“Colleges and family members who are sending students off to college need to remember that this is a phase of life where young people are confronted with expectations from new relationships and living situations and other encounters that are stressful,” said lead author Cindy Liu, Ph.D., of the Departments of Pediatric Newborn Medicine and Psychiatry at BWH.

“Some stressful events cannot be prevented and, in some cases, are completely normal. But for others, a plan should be in place for family, friends, and colleges to provide support. Our study highlights an urgent need to help students reduce their experience of overwhelming levels of stress during college.”

Liu and her colleagues analyzed results from a survey conducted in the spring of 2015 by the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA).

The survey asked students a variety of questions related to depression and anxiety, including whether they had been diagnosed or treated for a mental health issue; if they had engaged in self harm, considered suicide or attempted suicide; and how many stressful events they had experienced in the last year.

Stressful life events, defined as exposures that the student felt were traumatic or difficult to handle, included a variety of life challenges. The life events were defined as academics, career-related issues, death of a family member or friend, family problems, intimate relationships, other social relationships, finances, health problem of family member or partner, personal appearance, personal health issue and sleep difficulties.

The team reports the following:

  • Rates of stressful life events were high and associated with mental health issues. Three out of four students reported having experienced at least one stressful life event in the last year. More than 20 percent of students reported experiencing six or more stressful life events in the last year. Stress exposure was strongly associated with mental health diagnoses, self-harm, and suicidality.
  • Mental health diagnoses and suicidality were common. One in four students reported being diagnosed with or treated for a mental health disorder in the prior year. One-fifth of all students surveyed had thought about suicide, with 9 percent reporting having attempted suicide and nearly 20 percent reporting self-injury.
  • Sexual minorities showed elevated rates of mental health disorders and suicidality/self-injury. Transgender students showed particularly elevated rates of all outcomes, with approximately two-thirds reporting self-injury and more than one-third attempting suicide. Over half of bisexual students reported suicidal ideation and self-harm, with over a quarter reporting attempted suicide.
  • Rates of concerning mental health symptoms are higher now than they were the last time the survey was given. Among gay/lesbian and bisexual students, rates were higher than the 2009 administration of the survey for suicidal ideation (57.8 vs. 47.7 percent), suicide attempts (27.6 vs. 25.3 percent) and self-injury (51.4 vs. 44.8 percent).
  • Mental health issues may be underreported for racial/ethnic minorities. Despite a higher likelihood of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, Asian students reported a lower rate of mental health diagnosis compared to white students. Black students showed a lower likelihood of reporting all outcomes compared to white students.

The authors note that all these rates are based on self-report, and that there may be a response bias among those who received the online surveys.

Moreover, while the 108 colleges in the survey were diverse in setting and included minority-serving institutions, each elected to participate, and their results may not be generalizable to all schools across the U.S.

Researchers believe additional studies are needed to determine if there is increased vulnerability among students who belong to an intersection of identities (for instance, students who identify as both a sexual and racial/ethnic minority).

Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital/EurekAlert

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Gut-Based Decisions Often Held with Stronger Conviction

A new study published in the journal Emotion shows that we tend to see our gut-based decisions as truer reflections of ourselves and are more likely to hold them with greater conviction than decisions we make through careful deliberation.

“We offer what we believe to be a novel and unique approach to the question of why people come to hold certain attitudes,” said lead researcher Sam Maglio, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

“Focusing on feelings as opposed to logic in the decision-making process led participants to hold more certain attitudes toward and advocate more strongly for their choices.”

The researchers conducted four experiments involving more than 450 participants. In each experiment, participants had to choose from a selection of similar items, such as different DVD players, mugs, apartments or restaurants. In each scenario, participants were specifically asked to make their decision either in a deliberative, logical manner or in an intuitive, gut-based one. Then they were questioned about their choice.

Participants who were told to make an intuitive, gut-based decision were more likely to say that the decision reflected their true selves. They were also more certain of their gut-based choices and more likely to advocate for them.

For example, participants were asked to choose between two different restaurants, again based either on intuition or deliberation, and were then asked to announce their choice by emailing their decision to their friends. Those who picked a restaurant intuitively shared their choice with more people.

“This suggests that focusing on feelings doesn’t just change attitudes — it can change behavior, too,” said Maglio.

One surprising finding was how willing people were to make an intuitive, gut-based decision when instructed. “So much folk wisdom says that we should eschew intuition because careful deliberation is thought to be the surest path to good choices, but we can’t escape our gut feelings,” he said.

“In making decisions, people must decide not only what to choose, but how to choose it,” said Maglio. “Our research suggests that individuals focusing on their feelings in decision-making do indeed come to see their chosen options as more consistent with what is essential, true and unwavering about themselves.”

But the certainty that comes with making a gut-based choice rather than a logical one can be a double-edged sword, said Maglio. For example, if a person chooses an exercise program (e.g., cycling) based on feelings, he or she may be more likely to stick to it.

On the other hand, making gut-based decisions in today’s polarized political climate may not be conducive to a functioning democracy.

“When digging our heels in is a good thing, like making sure we hop on the bike every day, there’s little downside and a lot of benefit. But dug-in heels give way to stubbornness and isolationism in the blink of an eye,” said Maglio.

“When our political attitudes are made intuitively and make us certain that we’re right, we shut ourselves off from the possibility that we might be even a little bit wrong. For this reason, perhaps a bit of the openness facilitated by deliberation isn’t a bad thing after all.”

Maglio conducted the study with co-author Taly Reich, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marketing at Yale University.

Source: American Psychological Association

 

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