02 Brewster Kahle: The Entanglement between humans and machines


What you just said provides a really
wonderful arc of actually the early computer days through Thinking Machines
to the future. But you said something right at the beginning that implied that
even before you met Danny and started talking about the Connection Machine – or
what became the Connection Machine is a way of realizing these things that you
had maybe even as a child the view of the Library of Alexandria? Can you
talk about when your interest in Big Data and archiving the world’s
knowledge started? Oh yeah personally it was um I’m in the very
last part of the sixties utopian generation and a friend of mine John
Hurwitz asked okay with your technology what can you do that would be better and
it turned out that this was actually a hard question was it much easier to come
up with dystopian worlds or negative things and so walking across the the
Charles River back and forth to school I pondered and trying to figure out what
would be good thing to do with my life um with a tech background and I could
only come up with two things one that was so obvious I didn’t want to bother
with it and the other was harder which was to protect people’s privacy even
though they’d all want to throw it away and so I wanted to go off and do that
the other was build the Library of Alexandria that we sort of promised the
world the idea of the Library of Congress on everybody’s desk that kind
of thing this 1980 and so I went off to try to figure out how to build the chips
to to make encryption work even though people didn’t want it and I found that
it was be too expensive and so I fell back on Plan B and Danny because I’ve
been learning chips and Danny’s labs somebody said you should talk to Danny
he’s got a pretty good idea that’s Tom Knight he said
Danny’s a Renaissance man he thinks he thinks in all sorts of dimensions and so
I met Danny and he had this wave thinking about me building a machine
could be the Library of Alexandria the way that global brain that we sort of
been thinking of before and I said let’s go off and build this thing I mean let’s
all right we have to go build some chips and computers and you know how hard
could it be and it took a bunch of years later but
we were able to make a machine then machines back then we’re pretty terrible
like they could do a counting you know they could they could make airline
reservations and that was thought of as you know Wow huge yes I mean they
couldn’t even store a book and they couldn’t even think about a book they
couldn’t in there’s all these robots are supposed to be running around being r2d2
and c3po and we were just looking at these things that gosh they have a hard
time not just falling over just keeping a refrigerator or a washing machine
going so Danny had an idea that we could do something much bigger and that was
the dream that I signed on to to try to help build Danny was just amazing it for
seeing changes there are all these noises and all these things that people
said oh this is the way the future is gonna go it’s an ISA it’s gonna go over
here and I think it’s by his taking a big long view of looking backwards in
time and going forwards in time with the technology that was available at the
time to be able to build a brain and so we set out to build a brain and I wanted
the brain so that we could go and fill it with knowledge that we could teach
the machines to be good machines because if we’re going to bring over bring up
our new overlords let’s have them read good books and kind of as Aristotle
taught Alexander let’s do something reasonable well let’s take that a little
bit further than because right now it seems for the last five years or so all
of a sudden a lot of the things that become possible and AI
really more pipe Kings than 30 years ago and this brings back the old
Frankenstein here in people at least at least in the Western world there’s this
whole nother discourse about well different religions have different ideas
about whether it’s okay for human beings to create life or not and the
specifically the Christian religion has really the Frankenstein story as is the
most prominent example in sort of the driving myth behind it if you create
life it will become something more powerful than you and it will destroy
you and that’s the fear that a lot that is being reawakened
in a lot of people by talking about AI and I know that you know back in the 80s
and thinking machines who are talking about we’re going to make a machine
that’s going to be proud of us this is one of Danny’s tag lines yes taglines
and we were all very excited by the idea of being able to create machine
intelligence that’s maybe bigger and better than us but what what is your
take on this fear that artificial intelligence will essentially make
humans useless or slaves or just sort of so unimportant that the world will be
run by machines ends and the human race will essentially be brought to the side
at least in the short and medium term we were wrong that the idea that these
machines were going to sort of take over and that sort of sci-fi sense of bored
machine Skynet a terminator we were wrong they’re much more integrated in
with us I think of Google as sort of our current example of some of the higher
form of what we were striving for where it’s the Google search engine is almost
fun to converse with it knows a lot and by talking
with us it gets better and smarter but it’s only by talking with us so there’s
a symbiotic relationship between our machines and people and the internet and
that’s in quick contrast to sort of those heady sort of it’s going to just
separate off and not have any need for us in slaughterer to come back and
slaughter us sci-fi a thing of the 80’s 90’s and even
more recently but I think that this cyber space of this blur between people
and machines I you see people now glued to their phones in ways that it is them
their memories and it is part of their brain not only the local storage but the
network and the connection with other people that were becoming much more
interconnected through these machines because the machines are augmenting our
relationship structures a I remember answering machines were thought of as a
big boon at that time right that so in 1980 was you know they were answering
machines and that was sort of machines that were starting to help us but
everyone was excited by them I had a vast number of friends who when they got
the answering machines they the next time they saw me and in person or just
yell at me and say you know if I call you it’s because I want to talk to you
and on a machine and how come you’re using this technology you’re cutting
yourself off from me etc so not everyone sees these levels as being positive and
there’s a lot of concern that that people are getting so stuck on their
smartphones that well beyond the fact that they’re not watching where they’re
going and they’re committing the sort of suicide by by my cell phone they are
also not talking with human beings anymore so how do you feel about that I
mean Danny talks about what he’s calling now the in tank
element sort of the next stage after the Enlightenment the entanglement thing
where as you’re talking about machines and and software and humans are entering
into a new symbiosis but there is a there is a tremendous concern that that
are shall we say core humanity will then be diverted into ways that fit better
with the machines and things that don’t fit with machines will be forgotten or
or just underdeveloped especially in in children and growing up with them with
these machines yes we’re becoming entangled symbiotic
and the like but it may there are evidences of life forms other than
people and I would think the I love this photo it’s got a good group of people

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