30 October 2007

Treadmill of Scientific Knowledge--How Can We Ever Keep Up?

Hypothetical: A 15 km asteroid is on course to strike earth earth on May 14, 2011. You have to make a decision on how to allocate resources so as to minimise the destruction caused by the approaching planetoid. What do you do? Hypothetical: Your best intelligence shows that a middle eastern country has developed an airborne strain of HIV that is resistant to all known treatments and 100% fatal within six months of infection. The virus is now in the hands of terrorist groups, and has escaped into the population of the country of development and at least one neighboring country. You are in charge of western counter-bio-terrorism. What do you do?

It is not unlikely that similarly critical scenarios will be put to the decision making wisdom of elected and appointed governmental and inter-governmental officials of modern nations within the next decade or two. But given the current "dumbing down" trends in education arising from political and religious censorship of ideas and research topics, how can the west's next generations face the challenge?

Blog correspondent Conrad presents a provocative introduction to this topic, and suggests that humans may not be able to make some of these hyper-complex decisions before long. The choice between augmenting human intelligence, and developing Machine Intelligences capable of comprehending the growing scientific complexities well enough to guide humans through the approaching hazards, is worth contemplating--although I am convinced we must do both.

For those of us determined to give it our best effort with our currently unaugmented minds, the internet provides many ways to expand our knowledge base--since most government schools are unwilling or unable to accomplish this. Neurophilosopher blog introduces us to a series of "virtual labs" for developing online experimental knowledge. As virtual environments grow more realistic, the ability to provide experimental, hands-on learning experiences will expand quickly.

NASA recently awarded a $600,000 grant to help develop a 3D Simulation authoring tool.
Complex 3D simulations are a powerful tool for training, e-Learning, and real-time operations support. Fortunately, with a new tool under development using Hypercosm's 3D Software suite, they will soon be easier and more economical to create as well.

After a successful prototype demonstration of a new web-based 3D simulation authoring platform, PLANET LLC was awarded a $600,000 Small Business Innovative Research Phase II Grant from NASA to deliver an authoring tool that will allow subject matter experts or graphic designers, and not high-level programmers, to create the logic behind a complex simulation.

NASA is looking to use the Hypercosm 3D simulation platform for web-based astronaut training and just-in-time operations support for tasks like repairs or maintenance. As NASA continues their path toward long-duration space missions, critical simulation tools like Hypercosm will be a requirement for future crews that may have to perform tasks months or years after they received their training.
Source

Note that NASA's grant was to develop a tool for developing simulations--a tool for developing tools. That is the type of meta-development that large funding organisations should encourage. Better tools to make better tools for teaching and learning.

Here at Al Fin Syndicated, we have looked at the possibility of online medical schools and other high level training that requires intensive experiential learning. With the newer tools that are coming, the prospect for excellent online professional, scientific, and technical schools appears bright.

Even so, we humans will need to become smarter, live with our smarter brains longer, and develop ever better machine assistants to help us make the tough decisions we will have to make. The idea of giving complete control to machines over the entire human population of Earth, does not seem very appealing. If it ever becomes necessary to do so, we must hope that Michael Anissimov and his colleagues at The Lifeboat Foundation, the Singularity Institute, and the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology have kept close watch on the development of "Friendly Artificial Intelligence." Because given scenarios such as those above, we will need all the "friends" we can get!

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