By: Thomas Lewton and Alice McCool
“I DON’T think Homo sapiens-type people will exist in 10 or 20 years’ time,” Getnet Assefa, 31, speculates as he gazes into the reconstructed eye sockets of Lucy, one of the oldest and most famous hominid skeletons known, at the National Museum of Ethiopia. “Slowly the biological species will disappear and then we will become a fully synthetic species,” Assefa says.
“Perception, memory, emotion, intelligence, dreams — everything that we value now — will not be there,” he adds.
Assefa is a computer scientist, a futurist, and a utopian — but a pragmatic one at that. He is founder and chief executive of iCog, the first artificial intelligence (AI) lab in Ethiopia, and a stone’s throw from the home of Lucy. iCog Labs launched in 2013 with $50,000 and just four programmers. Today, halfway up an unassuming tower block, dozens of software developers type in silence. Their desks are cluttered with electronic components and dismembered robot body parts, from a soccer-playing bot called Abebe to a miniature robo-Einstein. An earlier prototype of Sophia, a widely recognized humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics (she appeared with late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon last year) is here too. Arguably the world’s most famous robot of her kind, Sophia’s software was partly developed here in Ethiopia’s capital.
By: Hruy Tsegaye
For thousands of years, social inequality has been arguably the most important question in need of an immediate answer. Ironically the question that needs an immediate answer has been with us, unanswered, since the dawn of history. It is one of the major causes of humanity’s integral problems like war, crime, disease, racism, irrationality, etc. Name the problem and you will find inequality either at the root of it, or the fertilizer.
The inequality question is difficult not because of its ideological complexity, rather it becomes the headache of our time, just as it was for our predecessors, because of its impracticability.
By: Yoseph Berhanu
One can easily argue humanity’s primary mission on earth is to learn, discover what is hidden, and make life a little bit easier than it was before. Moreover, sharing of what
one has learned has been at the heart of this learning endeavor.
The advent of electronic computer and the Internet has helped in both the discovery and sharing efforts significantly. It has also changed the way people acquire, analyze and disseminate information. Starting from the use of search-engines to fully automated class rooms experiences and even artificial intelligence tutors; the teaching learning world has changed considerably.
This impact of computing has been felt beyond the world of academics and research. From agriculture to military applications, from healthcare to finance, one can hardly find an industry not leveraging the powers of computing.
By: Eskender Tamerat
At first, it was all about creating illusions. Asking questions endlessly was the golden trick back when a computer parody by the name of Eliza kick-started the era of computers conversing with human beings in the 1960s. With a restricted set of scripted rules, the bot had no clues to grasp the user input, let alone being a good friend of a human.
The next few decades saw the rise of a meaning-based human text interaction. It reduced the trouble of indulging in a heartfelt communication for mere machines responding to a set of choices waiting for human instructions. This facet evolved to what we could see in the modern video games, in which a user gets visual feedbacks by controlling an avatar using a mouse or joystick.
Returning to the topic on hand, more than half a century later, illusion still fits the bill to describe the current state of chatbots. The domain of knowledge base showed rapid progress – with all the data out there via internet, sentence parsers using natural language processing, and changes in hardware causing machines to be faster and massive in storage – but we are still lagging behind in achieving the grand goal of simulating intelligent conversation between a machine and a human.
Instantiated by the Turing Test, the Loebner competition takes place annually with four finalists battling for the big prize. Unlike the strict requirements of fooling the judges set by Alan Turing all those years ago, the judges will look for the “most human” from the participants, who make it into the final round after dealing with a set of human knowledge questions in the qualifiers.
By: Taika Alemu
The long awaited grand event for the Makers Initiative was underway at the premises of Ministry of Science and Technology on March 3, 2017. While I was watching the little cute toys on the pitch, it occurred to me that they never get tired; lifeless expressions! Then I saw the competing students and ah and I saw the familiar signs, weary, worried, but determined. How did we get here?
The organizers of this event have spent a couple of weeks perfecting all the small details for the event. Yet, nothing is ever perfect my friends, especially when it is the event of the year; the single most important defining moment that can place iCog Makers and iCog Labs on the map.
by: Ben Goertzel
The commercial value of artificial intelligence technology is now increasingly obvious across the board, with large companies in multiple sectors investing billions upon billions. But the importance of AI goes well beyond its direct financial value; there is a fundamental transformative potential here, which cuts at the core of human society, human life and human values.
Major governments and corporations around the world, alongside academic scientists and philosophers, are beginning to ask questions like: Will AIs eventually be more generally intelligent than humans? Will AIs eventually be conscious in the same sense as humans? Will AIs and robots eventually take over all, or nearly all, human jobs? And will this “eventually” perhaps be, not centuries but only decades ahead?
And if we do have powerful, intelligent, self-aware AIs taking on most or all of the tasks now carried out by humans– what values will these AIs use to guide their actions? Will these values be human values, or something different? And if human values– what variety of human values?
High-profile conferences have been convened to address these issues, e.g. the Asilomar AI conference held in California in early 2017 (organized by leaders of the US and UK tech and academic communities), and the UN conference on Beneficial AI, to be held in Europe in mid-2017. All this attention has not provided any definitive answers to these complex and thorny matters, but it has sharpened the issues involved and brought a wider variety of voices into the discussion.
By Ben Goertzel, Bill Hibard, Nick Baladis, Hruy Tsegaye, and David Hanson
Recent dramatic progress in artificial intelligence (AI) leads us to believe that Ray Kurzweil’s prediction of human level AI by 2029 may be roughly accurate. Even if reality proves to be a bit different, still it seems very likely that today’s young people will spend most of their lives in a world largely shaped by AI.
The rapid advent of increasingly advanced AI has led many people to worry about the balance of positive and negative consequences AI will bring. While there is a limit to the degree anyone can predict or control revolutionary developments, nevertheless, there are some things we can do now to maximize the odds that the future development of AI is broadly positive, and the potential for amazing benefits outweighs the potential risks.
One thing we can do now is to advocate for the development of AI technology to be as open and transparent as possible — so that AI is something the whole human race is doing for itself, rather than something being foisted on the rest of the world by one or another small groups. The creation and rollout of new forms of general intelligence is a huge deal and it’s something that can benefit from the full intelligence and wisdom of the whole human race. Specifically we need transparency about what AI is used for and how it works.
For this reason we are gathering signatures on a petition in support of Transparent AI. Please sign if you agree!
By Sanders Olson
African researchers have recently launched the YaNetu teaching tablet crowdfunding project. This effort aims to bring an AI based educational tablet to African children. The researchers hope to create:
– An Android-based teaching tablet for primary school age children in the developing world, with both offline and online applications
– A built-in curriculum, customized with local languages, designed to grow and develop over the years along with the child
– Artificial Intelligence systems, represented by human-like avatars, designed in collaboration with leading American AI researcher Dr. Ben Goertzel. Our AI avatars offer the student not only information and coaching, but also emotional and motivational feedback.
In an interview for Next Big Future with Sander Olson, iCOG researcher Hruy Tsegave describes why he believes that teaching tablets could be an effective and efficient method for providing large numbers of African children with a versatile and compelling teaching tool.
By: Marie Karas-Delcourt
ADDIS ABABA — The black-and-white robot stopped and its eyes, two small red lights, suddenly lit up. Rotating about 90 degrees, it recognized the blue plastic ball a few centimeters away, came forward and kicked it.
“The robot is Chinese, but the processor is made in Ethiopia,” Getnet Aseffa explains. “A student developed it, and within a few months we will organize the first national football competition between robots, in the same vein as the International RoboCup tournament!”
Welcome to the iCog Labs experiment room in the heart of Addis Ababa’s university district. Getnet Aseffa, 28, is one of the brains behind the operation. After graduating in computer science in 2012, this avid reader of futurist author Ray Kurzweil co-created iCog with the help of American researcher Ben Goertzel. It is the first Ethiopian research and development laboratory specializing in artificial intelligence.
By: Erick Vateta
Artificial Intelligence is the next big thing because human beings want most of their thinking done by machines. Ethiopia known for its strong army and beautiful women, but the country is also a home of innovators. The country has placed much emphasis on computer science. However, as the country celebrates their achievement in tech, an artificial intelligence R&D caught fire in Addis Ababa.
The country has many universities and polytechnics that place high emphasis on technology. Over 30 official universities and 130 polytechnics have tech related units. Ministry of Science and Technology established its own university and a $250 million dollar tech park in 2012. Techonomy reports that about 2% of its citizens can access the internet, 4% of Ethiopian children get as far as the equivalent of 9th grade, child labor is at 27% and early marriages is 41%.