KEY POINTS

  • Computer scientists worry about the social impacts of AI, which can invade privacy or write fake news.
  • Many think peer review should consider such risks alongside scientific merit.
  • Others believe scientists and engineers should spread information freely.

Recently The New Yorker published a feature I wrote on AI ethics, specifically about whether peer review at artificial intelligence conferences (the main venues for publication in the field) should consider social impact in addition to scientific and technical merit. Its risks include invading privacy and producing fake content. Some of what I wrote was trimmed for space. …


People are weird with prepositions. Here’s a list of offenses that irk me. Granted, many are idiomatic and likely escape your definition of “mistake,” but why use an idiomatic preposition when a plainly sensical one will do?

  • “different than” -> “different from” (or “different to” in England)
  • “based around” or “centered around” an idea -> “based on” or “centered on” (If one idea is the base or location for another, the other idea and its center are “on” it.)
  • “based off of” an idea -> “based on”
  • “based out of” a city -> “based in”
  • “on this view” -> “in…

Neuroscience is a humbling enterprise. As a wise person once said, if the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t. But still, we make progress, with implications for medicine, artificial intelligence, education, and philosophy. So what is the future of the study of the brain, and what is the future of the brain itself?

In November, I traveled to Madrid to join about 30 neuroscientists, entrepreneurs, and computer scientists (and a former head of NASA) in a two-day discussion about the future of the brain. (The summit was an…


According to the UN, more than half the world’s population lives in cities, and by 2050 that number will exceed two-thirds. Cities will increasingly define our futures, so what’s the future of cities?

Artificial intelligence will certainly play a role. Last month I attended the Smart City Expo World Congress, in Barcelona, where David Gregory, a manager at Milestone Systems, a video management software company, listed what he saw as the greatest opportunities for AI (particularly machine vision) in city management: traffic monitoring, public safety, incident response, operational efficiency, and crime and terrorism prevention. …


Illustration by May Hill Design with support from Templeton World Charity Foundation and Now You Know Media

In discussions of AI ethics, there’s a lot of talk of designing “ethical” algorithms, those that produce behaviors we like. People have variously called for software that treats people fairly, that avoids violating privacy, that cedes to humanity decisions about who should live and die. But what about AI that benefits humans’ morality, our own capacity to behave virtuously?

That’s the subject of a talk on “AI and Moral Self-Cultivation” given last week by Shannon Vallor, a philosopher at Santa Clara University who studies technology and ethics. The talk was part of a meeting on “Character, Social Connections and Flourishing…


By 2022, the demand for qualified cybersecurity personnel will outstrip supply by 1.8 million workers. What can the industry do to reduce this global threat? According to Richard Buckland, a computer scientist at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, the answer is education. He’s been experimenting with ways to train budding defenders for two decades. In 2016, he and Commonwealth Bank also launched SecEDU, a program to strengthen the university’s curriculum, spread their practices to other universities and high schools, and make all their security courses freely available online. I met with Buckland at UNSW to discuss…


Forget chess. OpenAI Five wants to beat humanity at a far more complex challenge.

VANCOUVER, BC — Aug. 22, 2018: A general view of a match on day 3 of The International 2018 Dota 2 Championships. Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty

Competition between humans and artificial intelligence (A.I.) usually plays out in research papers. Occasionally, there’s a public performance of a game of chess or Go in front of a staid crowd.

Last month in Vancouver, British Columbia, however, I saw something entirely different.

The Canadian city was playing host to The International, an annual tournament for the video game Dota 2 boasting a $25 million prize pool — the largest in esports history. The event was raucous, tribal. Screaming fans sent vibrations through Vancouver’s hockey arena as teams of professional video game players defended humanity’s honor against game-playing software, each…


In 1950, the computer scientist Alan Turing asked “Can machines think?” and proposed a test: Could a computer convincingly imitate a human in written conversation? Now two cognitive scientists have proposed a simplified version of the test, not to challenge artificial intelligence but to explore what we humans think makes us special.

In their “Minimal Turing Test,” people and machines get only one word to convince a human judge that they’re alive. What would you say? They conducted an online survey, described in the November issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, which I also cover for Science. About…


We love to categorize ourselves and others into personality types. Maybe you’re a “Type A.” Or maybe the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, versions of which many have taken on Facebook, labels you a “Protector” (ISFJ). But how distinct are these types? Is everyone clearly Type A or Type B, with no one in between? Or do people fall on a spectrum? If there’s a spectrum, are there two clumps with a few people between, or one clump in the middle with a few people at the extremes? Or something else? A paper published today in Nature Human Behavior finds “robust evidence…

Matthew Hutson

Science writer, fire dancer, guy on the Internet.

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