The Irregular Newsletter of Z/Yen Group Limited
Security Forward Workshop & Dinner - 29 June 2016
His presentation was entitled "ISIL, Then, Now, and Tomorrow…". Richard highlighted the extent to which charismatic leaders of ISIL, (aka Daesh) had used social media to influence their followers across the world. Their PR is extremely effective and, like Al Qaeda, they have a global network. Richard led a most informative interactive session as many in the audience have a security services or military background.
ISIL declared their Caliphate exactly two years ago on 29 June and now control considerable territory in Syria and Iraq. However the ‘Anaconda’ strategy of squeezing them out is working and it is likely that Raqqa, their main base in Syria will fall in the near future. However, this could lead to what is being described as ‘The Raqqa Scatter’ which would disperse their fighters to other ‘ungoverned spaces’, such as Sirte in Libya and other hotspots, such as Afghanistan and Yemen. This fragmentation could prove extremely difficult to contain. ISIL are very strategic and continue to target European cities, particularly in France and Belgium, although Turkey is clearly in their sights for destabilisation as well. The UK has been effective so far in disrupting planned attacks over the last few years and after decades of fighting terrorism has established a good anti-terrorism structure. The security services and the police work much more closely together than their European counterparts and it is more difficult to obtain weapons such as AK47’s in the UK than it is across borderless Europe. There is also more engagement with Muslim communities in the UK. It is interesting to note that there are no soldiers on the streets of Britain whereas Paris is full of them.
Crispin lamented the decline of manners among both politicians and the people during the referendum campaign. He finished by predicting that the British political 'elite' and its allies abroad and in the BBC would attempt to nullify or massage away the result through a campaign to delegitimise the referendum result and demonise Brexit supporters. The aim would be a further referendum or some parliamentary device to 'thwart the will of the people'. Interestingly, since the Security Forward meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry has made it clear that he feels another referendum vote would be appropriate, whereas President Putin has challenged British politicians to live up to their democratic principles. As Crispin said, "We live in interesting times".
Future meetings are scheduled for 28 September and 7 December.
Distributed Futures Forum, “Artificial Intelligence & Blockchain Technology”, Furniture Makers, 2 June 2016
Eighteen forum members decided to take on the machines at this forum. We had a surfeit of researchers, authors and writers on the subject of artificial intelligence (AI) round the table which made for swift and pointed remarks. Some will remember our 2014event with Carl Benedikt Frey, "The Future Of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation", where the machines would take our jobs. This was worse. The machines might take our lives (sic).
First off, on the limits to AI, was James Tagg, speaking on “Ten Things An AI Can’t Do”. James ranged widely, but the gist of his argument was that limits to Turing machines applied to machinery, while humans had proven they could create things, most pointedly proofs of algorithms, that machines couldn’t, solving Diaphantine equations being one good example. James drew heavily and swiftly on his book, “Are the Androids Dreaming Yet?: Amazing Brain. Human Communication, Creativity & Free Will”, which has had excellent reviews.
As a riposte to James, Trent McConaghy led a discussion on “Are We Neuron-Narcissists?”. Trent reminded everyone of the great advances made in several areas of AI recently. He took the whole brain emulation ideas emphasised in “The Age Of Em” as likely, but moved on to consider a range of technologies that held promise for even more rapid advances. An article circulated before the event, “The Empty Brain - Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer”, was roundly criticised as setting up a straw man argument. One wonders what the group would have made of Elon Musk’s announcement the following week that “The chance we are not living in a computer simulation is ‘one in billions’”. The conclusion of the discussion was that mixed model technology (digital and some other substrate, possibly biological) could possibly achieve intelligence while some of the arguments against pure silicon Turing Machines achieving generalised intelligence might be valid. Trent has set out his thoughts out more extensively in, "The AI Existential Threat, and the Bandwidth++ Scenario".
For a flavour of the quality of the conversation – “The halting argument shows that the set of provable statements cannot be a recursive set. The bag of proof argument, however, only assumes that the set is recursively enumerable. The difference is that for a recursive set, there must exist an algorithm that tell you, eventually, whether an element X is in the set or not in the set. A recursively enumerable set, however, only requires that, if X is in the set, there exists an algorithm that tells you it's in the set. If X is not in the set, then the algorithm need tell us nothing about it (in fact, a set is recursive it and only if it's recursively enumerable and its complement is as well). Many interesting sets are recursively enumerable (but not recursive). For instance, the set of Turing machines that halt is recursively enumerable. You can run every possible Turing machine (via interleaving), and keep a list of every one that halts. This will eventually list any Turing machines that halt (hence the set is recursively enumerable), but for the ones that haven't yet halted, you don't know if they will eventually halt or go on forever (hence the set is not recursive). Matiyasevich's theorem is about this as well. It demonstrates that every recursively enumerable set (alternatively called computationally enumerable) is Diophantine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diophantine_set#Matiyasevich.27s_theorem”
It was probably fair to say that the group was about equally divided into believers in strong AI, disbelievers, and undecideds. Along the way, the group touched on some immediate issues in AI, ranging from automated financial advice (robo-advisors) to the limits of smart contracts in mutual distributed ledger (aka blockchain) technology. As the group headed to Furniture Makers for their bank-quet, they took goody-bags with James’s book and our dinner speaker’s book, but also a t-shirt, inspired by Trent, displaying "Recovering Neural Narcissist" in lurid pink scroll with glitter gloss on a black background. Tasteful.
To round things off, our signature cocktail for the day was chosen by an AI, IBM’s Watson, an interesting vodka tonic with cranberries and olives. Having swiftly downed a couple we were delighted to have a fascinating conversation over dinner about Al(bert) Robertson’s first science-fiction work, Crashing Heaven. Al created four classes of AIs in his book, all interacting with humans in co-creating a future. Best quote?
“You’re a pattern of memories running on a dynamic platform that’s constantly renewing itself. The pattern is all that persists, the self looking back on all it has been and knowing itself from that. That’s what makes you you, Jack, not the passing fact of your flesh. And that’s what makes me me. I may be running on a different platform, but the pattern of me is unchanged and I fight hard to protect it. I am Andrea, Jack, I’m the same person as that different person all those years ago, just as you’re the same person as that different Jack who loved me then.”
We've all read bits of similar stuff here and there - Gibson, Egan, Stephenson - but it’s nice when it really does all come together in a great tale, and with a few new bits thrown in, such as the lares & penates status of Stookie Bill. Those who had read it loved this book and will be buying the sequel when it comes out.
Over dinner, Michael started a conversation on the neighbourhood around Austin Friars with its Dutch connections, but then managed to turn somehow to issues of patterns & parsimony. The conversation turned interestingly to shibboleths that might be needed either to identify or even control (kill switches) AIs. Michael closed with an interesting tale of the shibboleth used in London for centuries around the Stalhof or Steelyard to distinguish German-speakers from English-speakers, “cheese & bread”. Even the word order was part of the shibboleth. At the end of a convivial dinner, members and guests left happily knowing much less about their own intelligence, but much more about each other.
Z/Yen & Long Finance Bid Farewell To The Rogue Plumbers - The Tuttle Club
For five months, from January till the end of May, Z/Yen & Long Finance hosted Lloyd Davis (@LloydDavis) and the ‘Tuttle Club’ (#Tuttle) as our ‘Club in Residence’. The Tuttle Club is a loose association of people finding a way of working better together both online and off-line that has been meeting in London since February 2008, co-creating a Social Media Café for London
The Club is named after Archibald “Harry” Tuttle from the 1985 film, Brazil. You may remember the tagline of Brazil - “It's about flights of fantasy. And the nightmare of reality. Terrorist bombings. And late night shopping. True Love. And creative plumbing.” The hero, Sam Lowry, played by Jonathan Pryce, finds he has become an enemy of the state simply because he takes it into his own hands to correct an administrative error. In the film, Tuttle, played by Robert de Niro, is the rogue heating engineer out to solve people’s real plumbing problems “without filling out a 27b/6... Bloody paperwork.” He explains his motivation, “Why? I came into this game for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there's trouble, a man alone."
Thus, Tuttle is a long-running conversation about interesting stuff with people who aren’t afraid to think about or work on radical new plumbing, such as new user interfaces, mutual distributed ledgers, artificial intelligence, financial innovation, scientific discovery, disaster relief, music, film, art, and where everything meets up in the Great Café that is London. There's no need to sign up - everyone's welcome at the Friday morning meetups which run from 10am to midday. There is no charge - though contributing a bit to the coffee bill is appreciated.
One of Z/Yen’s mottos is “sumus unus” and our simpatico feelings are reflected in another Harry Tuttle quote, “Listen, kid, we're all in it together.”
We loved having them, but success means they've outgrown our space. Tuttle has now moved along, with our assistance, to the London Capital Club, 15 Abchurch Lane, London EC4N 7BW. Follow them - Lloyd Davis (@LloydDavis) and ‘Tuttle Club’ (#Tuttle). We're still going, every Friday from 10:00 till 12:00 (though we're often not there till 10:45 or so). Join us!
Turning the Microscope Upside Down on the Value Web
The context for the morning was delivered in presentations by Gill Ringland, CEO of Sami Consulting and Chairman of an initiative called Unlocking Foresight, and Chris Skinner, author of Digital Bank and acknowledged expert in the field of blockchains.
And it was the result of that different view through the microscope that produced some interesting observations, among them:
- The proliferation of participants in the blockchain space, resulting in added pressure on existing financial service firms, regulators and extant payment channels.
- The need for entirely different thinking by regulators to ensure the soundness of the system.
- The security challenges, primarily the illegal use of blockchain to facilitate the movement of arms, drugs and “dirty money.”
- The positive impact of the rapid movement of money in terms of emerging market remittance flows and micro finance.
- The disruption to the work force. Those currently in back office positions involving payments, clearing and settling will have to be retrained to master the new technologies inherent in these systems.
- Tax. Not only will tax avoidance be made easier, but tax mitigation as practiced by larger corporations will undergo significant changes.
By John Anderson