Interview about the Singularity

I’ll be speaking at a conference in the Italian city of Roverero about the Technological Singularity and I have been interviewed for a local newspaper L’Adige. The following is a slightly edited translation of the interview.

“Artificial Intelligence, the New Renaissance”
By Laura Modena

David Orban will be the special guest at the festival “Informatici senza frontiere” with a conference on Artificial Intelligence and its applications in a future that, he says, is already present. A global leader in technological thought and one of the leading gurus in Blockchain technologies, he has been an active Bitcoin investor since 2010. He has given lectures on the subject around the world and was the main speaker at the first Ethereal Summit in May 2017 in New York. He is a professor at Singularity University in the heart of Silicon Valley and is the author of the book “Singularity. How Fast Will the Future Arrive,” considered the bible of artificial intelligence.

Mr. Orban, it is said that you have had a chip implanted under your skin since 2016. Is that so?

Yes, certainly. When I had the implant, it seemed perhaps a somewhat exotic thing. The chip had functionalities that we now have in all cell phones. My action was a provocation to demonstrate the possibilities of technology. But think about those who have a pacemaker. They should thank technology for a life that might otherwise be cut short. Likewise, people suffering from Parkinson’s can have implants to regulate the brain.

Some see extraordinary potential in artificial intelligence, while others fear its uncontrollable effects. Will machines surpass human intelligence?

They already have. A car runs faster than a human, a plane faster than any bird, and my calculator does calculations much better than me. AI can be applied to the treatment of any problem, potentially with agility and skills that surpass human ones. If Adige readers are anguished to hear this, they are right.

What do you mean?

Today we need a huge collective effort to map the features of this new technology that we have not yet fully explored but are already employing. Therefore, our responsibility is to study it to understand its consequences on the lives of individuals, but also on society as a whole and on global human civilization, because it will have disruptive consequences.

In which fields is AI already applied today?

In the scientific field, research is being carried out that was thought to require decades or even centuries. A couple of years ago, a database of 100 million proteins and how they fold was published, incredibly accelerating the work of scientists who create new drugs based on this data. Another example? The Covid vaccine. Once the virus was identified and mapped, creating the drug took only a few days thanks to AI.

What do you think of ChatGPT?

It’s an application revolutionizing more advanced intellectual work. In the field of marketing, writing, financial analysis, but also in artistic fields. For instance, illustrators can train the AI to produce the images they want.

And the ethical implications of using AI?

No one is capable of issuing an ethical dictate. We are all responsible for how we employ the tools at our disposal. Just as we use a knife to cut salami or to kill. Similarly, artificial intelligence can help me in my professional work, or it can be used to discard an election candidate because they have an unacceptable bias.

You have described our era as “a new Renaissance”…

There are unique and particular times and places. Like living in Florence between the 15th and 16th centuries. Today’s new Renaissance is the belief that we are living in a unique moment, full of consequences. In thousands or millions of years, those who will live will look back and say, “I wonder if they realized how exceptional that moment was.”

Some time ago, Vallagarina was called the “Bitcoin Valley,” but today the enthusiasm seems to have cooled…

Bitcoin is the engine of a technology that is Blockchain. Its value fluctuates and has high volatility. People who don’t realize the underlying technology get excited about the rising value. Then, when it drops, they prematurely declare its death. These are waves that occur every three or four years. But let’s ask ourselves this: when in 100 years, a smart swarm of robots will make financial transactions, will they use paper money, bank transfers? I say they will use an instrument suitable for the ambitions of a hybrid human and robotic civilization that will be conquering the frontiers of the solar system.

Is this the future?

Those of us who get excited about these prospects study to prepare for a world that is coming rather than lamenting the good old days when everyone lived according to nature.