Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A.I. Antichrist Connection Is Over 100 Years Old

When the A.I. Antichrist connection came to me around the year 2000, I wondered for quite some time if anyone else had ever considered this. Naturally, my first thought was to do some Google searches and see if anything popped up. When nothing did, it was pretty safe to assume that this set of words in combination was too rare and not yet indexed in Google's "memory banks" or it hadn't yet been uploaded on the web.

However, after a recent interview I did on the show Steel on Steel (use promo code "Veritas" to listen to the interview here) regarding this topic, someone from their audience informed me that the idea of the Antichrist/Beast being A.I. can actually be traced all the way back to the year 1902 in an obscure commentary on Revelation by the controversial scholar and theologian E.W. Bullinger.

For example, in reference to one strange verse which speaks of giving life to an "image"--a statue or idol--that ends up killing anyone who doesn't worship it (Rev 13:15), Bullinger sees the fulfillment of this prophecy in the development of superhuman machines by saying:

Nikola Tesla, the Hungarian-American electrician, boldly declares (in The Century magazine for June, 1900), that he has a plan for the construction of an automaton which shall have its "own mind," and be able, "independent of any operator, to perform a great variety of acts and operations as if it had intelligence." He speaks of it, not as a miracle, of course, but only as an invention which he "has now perfected." But again we say we care not how it is going to be done. God's word declares that it will be done, and we believe it. "Human energy" is getting on, and it will, ere long, be superhuman when developed by the Satanic agency of the second Beast, exercised through the human False Prophet. We already hear of talking machines; with "a little" Satanic power thrown in, it will be a miracle very easily worked. [emphasis mine]

So there you have it. Whether or not people have made this seemingly obvious connection prior to 1902 is unknown to me. So far, this seems to be the earliest recorded mention. If any of you know otherwise, please feel free to contact me or post a comment.

Although I have linked to the commentary on Revelation from Bullinger above, you can find the entire book here with the specific portion quoted on page 216. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Why the Chip is Inevitable

In an age where most personal information can be found online, where access to bank accounts, credit card numbers, and email are routinely hacked and stolen, most of us believe our data is safe due to one thing: the password.

There's only one problem: "No matter how complex, no matter how unique, your passwords can no longer protect you." Those are the words of senior writer Mat Honan for Wired magazine who, in the summer of 2012, was the victim of a sophisticated hack into several of his accounts. Thing is, his passwords were all robust: using a combination of symbols, letters, and numbers—ranging from seven to nineteen characters in length.

"Since that awful day," Mat explains, "I've devoted myself to researching the world of online security. And what I have found is utterly terrifying. Our digital lives are simply too easy to crack."

After being hacked himself, he spent the summer learning how it is done. What did he find out? In "two minutes and $4 to spend at a sketchy foreign website, I could report back with your credit card, phone, and Social Security numbers and your home address. Allow me five minutes more and I could be inside your accounts for, say, Amazon, Best Buy, Hulu, Microsoft, and Netflix. With yet 10 more, I could take over your AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. Give me 20—total—and I own your PayPal."

Keep in mind, Mat is not a sophisticated hacker. He was merely one individual motivated by his unfortunate experience to see just how easy it is. The real problem, he says, are two groups: overseas crime syndicates and bored teenagers—both of which are getting better at what they do.

One hacker, who goes by the name "Cosmo", was part of a group that took down sites ranging from the Nasdaq to the CIA, not to mention hacking the personal info of Michael Bloomberg, Barack Obama, and Oprah Winfrey. When finally caught, Cosmo turned out to be 15.

Of course, this is big business now. As Mat explains, "Malware and virus-writing used to be something hobbyist hackers did for fun...Not anymore. Sometime around the mid-2000s, organized crime took over." Today, cybercrime is a rapidly growing multi-billion dollar industry preying on individuals, businesses, and large financial institutions.

Apparently, "last spring hackers broke into the security company RSA and stole data relating to its SecurID tokens, supposedly hack-proof devices that provide secondary codes to accompany passwords. RSA never divulged just what was taken, but it's widely believed that the hackers got enough data to duplicate the numbers the tokens generate. If they also learned the tokens' device IDs, they'd be able to penetrate the most secure systems in corporate America."

The point of failure in all of this is the password—the one thing everyone is relying upon to keep their information secure. Though Mat clearly believes those days are over and that radical changes will have to be made—more on that later—he does provide some do's and don'ts of password protection:

  • Reuse passwords: If you do, a hacker who gets just one of your accounts will own them all. 
  • Use a dictionary word as your password: If you must, then string several together into a pass phrase. 
  • Use standard number substitutions: Think "P455w0rd" is a good password? N0p3! Cracking tools now have those built in. 
  • Use a short password—no matter how weird. Today's processing speeds mean that even passwords like "h6!r$q" are quickly crackable. Your best defense is the longest possible password. 

  • Enable two-factor authentication when offered. When you log in from a strange location, a system like this will send you a text message with a code to confirm. Yes, that can be cracked, but it's better than nothing. 
  • Give bogus answers to security questions. Think of them as a secondary password. Just keep your answers memorable. My first car? Why, it was a "Camper Van Beethoven Freaking Rules." 
  • Scrub your online presence. One of the easiest ways to hack into an account is through your email and billing address information. Sites like Spokeo and offer opt-out mechanisms to get your information removed from their databases. 
  • Use a unique, secure email address for password recoveries. If a hacker knows where your password reset goes, that's a line of attack. So create a special account you never use for communications. And make sure to choose a username that isn't tied to your it can't be easily guessed. 

Although these are critical for making our accounts harder to hack, they still don't make it impossible.

In fact, given how often various governments, large corporations, and highly sensitive networks get hacked, individuals have little safety other than not being valuable targets. However, as viruses created by hackers grow more sophisticated, pervasive, and self-replicating—much like the common cold or flu—larger swathes of society get hit. Although a bad flu may put us back for a couple days, try a virus that steals your personal information, ruins your identity, and then transfers all the money out of your bank account.

So, given that most of us online have, says Mat, "entrusted everything we have to a fundamentally broken system," what does next month's cover story of Wired advocate for all of us online? A solution that most today would never accept:

"The only way forward is real identity verification: to allow our movements and metrics to be tracked in all sorts of ways and to have those movements and metrics tied to our actual identity...we need a system that makes use of what the cloud already knows: who we are and who we talk to, where we go and what we do there, what we own and what we look like, what we say and how we sound, and maybe even what we think."

Essentially, rather than relying on our limited human memories to retain an easily hackable 1-dimensional line of code, we allow the government to track us as living 4-dimensional passwords (location plus time) navigating cyberspace and our physical environment.

As Mat admits, such a shift will "involve significant investment and inconvenience, and it will likely make privacy advocates deeply wary. It sounds creepy. But the alternative is chaos and theft."

Let's assume Mat is correct and that, with the rapidly growing threat of hacking, identity theft, and stolen funds, some form of location and data-tracking surveillance will be necessary in the future. If so, given how many people would prefer not to have their every move tracked, we need to consider a third alternative: large segments of society simply pulling the plug, disconnecting their lives entirely from the internet.

For many, this wouldn't be a hard choice. But what about all those whose livelihood now depends on the web? The internet has not only reshaped the economy, but created an entirely new one too. How many would be willing to give it all up—their jobs, their income—if they knew most of their actions would be monitored? If you're not doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide right?

Sadly, this unfolding scenario is not merely one of a power-hungry government wanting to exert greater control of its citizens—it is also one of bored teenagers and overseas crime syndicates wreaking havoc on people's lives for profit and, sometimes, just for fun.

But, let's not kid ourselves; this could be a huge gain for the government as well. Are you paying all your taxes? Are you claiming unemployment, disability, and/or working under the table at the same time? There are a lot of people out there gaming the system that would either be cut-off or forced to give the State its dues. Running the government isn't cheap. So, not only is there a real problem, there's a clear incentive.

Where does all this end? As our lives slowly merge with the web, privacy, like copyrights, will become something merely argued about in court. Eventually, hard decisions will have to be made. If people want to participate in the economy, use government resources and services, buy or sell anything, as Mat points out, they're going to have to make huge sacrifices.

If, however, people prefer to unplug from the system entirely, then, most likely, they'll have to adapt to a more self-sufficient, less technologically dependent, and far simpler way of life. That is, before the day we had to worry about passwords, self-replicating malware, and overseas crime syndicates stealing our identities.

Question is: Does all this warrant Big Brother getting under our skin? Hopefully, not for many years from now.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Calculating the Beast

“A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes.” ~Mark Twain

Across the world teams of scientists, mathematicians, and computer programmers have spent decades trying to create human intelligence in a machine. There’s just one problem: It’s not going to happen the way we expect.

In fact, true A.I., if we can call it that, will not emerge from an isolated research laboratory at the hands of a few scientists, but out of society itself; from the collective decision-making network we call the market.

The key to understanding how and why this monumental event will take place lies in an overview of complexity theory.


In his book Currency Wars, Jim Rickards outlines four main principles underlying complex systems:
  1. They run on exponentially greater amounts of energy as they increase in size
  2. They are prone to catastrophic collapse
  3. They are not controlled from the top-down but evolve naturally from local interactions
  4. They have emergent properties, i.e. the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts”
 Rickards summarizes the first two points, currently on most people's minds, by saying,
“highly complex systems such as civilizations require exponentially greater amounts of energy inputs to grow, while [Joseph] Tainter shows how those civilizations come to produce negative outputs in exchange for the inputs and eventually collapse. Money serves as an input-output measure applicable to a Chaisson model because it is a form of stored energy. Capital and currency markets are powerful complex systems nested within the larger Tainter model of civilization. As society becomes more complex, it requires exponentially greater amounts of money for support. At some point productivity and taxation can no longer sustain society, and elites attempt to cheat the input process with credit, leverage, debasement and other forms of psuedomoney that facilitate rent seeking over production. These methods work for a brief period before the illusion of debt fueled psuedogrowth is overtaken by the reality of lost wealth amid growing income inequality.”
Once we reach this critical state, complex systems typically undergo some sort of change to their organizational structure. Rickards outlines three possible changes: simplification, collapse, or conquest. We can all agree that simplification through various measures is necessary but not likely to happen voluntarily. This leads us back to the dreadful collapse and then, perhaps, eventual conquest. Knowing which of these outcomes is most likely to occur is largely dependent upon the third principle: How does society adapt in response to crisis?

We might be tempted at this point to think that this means the response by governments and central banks, but according to complexity theory, complex systems are primarily driven by the bottom-up and not from the top-down. Does that mean governments and banks have no influence over the economy? No. They just can’t control its ultimate direction without expending huge amounts of energy and worsening the eventual adjustment.

How does this relate to the topic of the Emergent Market? In terms of our modern financial system, the dominating influence of algorithmic trading is now a major concern for regulators. The question we have to ask is, can this trend be reversed? If it is true that complex systems cannot be controlled from the top-down (due to their highly adaptive and unpredictable nature), we should expect financial technology to continue to evolve and produce further strange market behavior. For most, this means another flash crash or other disruptions, yet that is only one aspect that fails to recognize a much larger pattern taking place. That pattern, of course, is one of the most mysterious properties of complex systems called emergence.

So what is emerging from the market, you ask? To answer this question, I want to first revisit what I said at the very beginning of this article about scientists not being able to create human intelligence in a machine.

Given what we know about complex systems and their emergent properties, this should now be obvious. Human consciousness and intelligence are emergent properties of highly complex systems that cannot be designed in a single machine, but only emerge through numerous local interactions in a system reflecting the complex structure and collective behavior of humanity itself. Is that the market? I believe so.

Here's what it all boils down to: We have built a financial system using technology that is beyond human control. According to complexity theory, this problem will either lead, eventually, to catastrophic collapse or the emergence of a fully-automated self-regulating intelligence.

All in all, consciousness does not lie in a single neuron and neither should we expect to see it in a single machine. How many machines does it take then? Unfortunately, the problem with emergence is that you can't simply calculate when a large group of algorithms, animals, or a crowd of people will herd into a single mass. It just happens. That's the nature of the beast.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Will High Frequency Trading Lead to Self-Aware A.I.?

Finance is no longer a field dominated by MBA's. Hacked decades ago by computer scientists, theoretical physicists, and mathematicians specializing in string theory, the market now resembles something more along the lines of a gargantuan cybernetic experiment.

If you think that sounds a little too crazy you simply haven't been paying attention.

Algorithms are quickly proliferating throughout the global financial system—buying and selling at speeds faster than humans can perceive, think, or react. What's more? By machines—high frequency trading (HFT) algorithms to be exact—quickly adapting to their environment and, most importantly, to other machines, which are in turn adapting to them, they are accumulating a basic level of self-awareness through a positive feedback loop. Given the exponential rate of technological advancement—often cited as Moore's Law—there's a strong chance we'll see the watermark of this self-awareness rise to the point where it is indistinguishable from human.

If you do not buy this line of thought, then consider the following: A machine designed to play chess does not merely play without any regard to its competition. On the other hand, every move is a continuous re-evaluation of the opposite player's position, strategy, and particular style. As the game goes on, the machine begins to learn its opponent's tricks and personality, not-to-mention, of course, how they respond to its every move—learning both how to react to its environment and how its environment reacts to it. This is basic self-awareness. Eventually, the machine gets quicker and smarter until human grandmasters of chess, i.e. Gary Kasparov, no longer stand a chance.

Perhaps though, it will not be a single machine or algorithm that gains "true" self-awareness, but machines collectively. As HFT "algos" spread throughout the electronic neural network of our global financial system, the positive feedback loop created by rapid adaptations to their collective influence may just converge into a complex self-organizing intelligence. Sound far-fetched? In all honesty, this is the closest description of how consciousness, self-awareness, or human intelligence emerges from the trillions of interconnected neurons within a brain. Ironically, if such a thing were to occur, it appears the most likely place would not be in some scientific laboratory but, instead, within the same industry that "makes the world go 'round"—that is, the world of money, finance, and banking.

Without a doubt, machines are beginning to reflect more and more an image of what it means to be human. As Norbert Wiener, the founder of cybernetics at MIT, wrote in God and Golem, Inc., "Man makes man in his own image. This seems to be the echo or the prototype of the act of creation, by which God is supposed to have made man in His image. Can something similar occur in...nonliving systems that we call machines?" His definitive answer: "Yes".

It should be pointed out that the subtitle accompanying his farewell to the world, written a year before his death, is appropriately titled, A Comment on Certain Points where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion. Yes, that's right, religion. As a well recognized genius and scientific expert felt it necessary to warn the world of not only the physical dangers of technology to which he was well accustomed, but also the philosophical and religious, I take my cues from such a great and highly awarded individual by presenting to you an extension of his reasoning as follows:

Step 1: God creates man in His own image
Step 2: Man becomes self-aware
Step 3: Man rebels against God
Step 4: Man creates machine in his own image
Step 5: Machine becomes self-aware
Step 6: Machine rebels against man

Just a little food for thought.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Common Objections on the A.I. Antichrist Connection

Without a doubt, the bible warns of a fairly dystopian view of the future--one in which people are ruthlessly killed for not subjugating themselves to an all-powerful entity referred to as "the Beast." After a decade of thinking, writing, and talking to other Christians about the possibility that this represents the future emergence of non-biological super-intelligence, or strong A.I., I have come across a fairly predictable set of objections that I would like to answer below.

A.I. is simply science-fiction

Norbert Weiner, the founder of cybernetics at MIT, wrote in 1963 that the prospect of machines beating humans at chess would be a "catastrophe". In 1997, the reigning world champion, Gary Kasparov, lost to IBM's Deep Blue. After then, human language was commonly cited as the ultimate barrier to machines achieving human-level intelligence. In 2011, IBM's Watson beat two of the world champions at Jeopardy being able to skillfully navigate the complex metaphors, puns, and subtleties of our complex speech using its brain-like neural networking architecture. Today, carefully programmed genetic algorithms process literal libraries of information throughout the web and financial markets, trading instantly without any human intervention in what has now become a multi billion dollar high frequency trading (HFT) industry. What's more? We are no longer in control. Financial regulatory bodies have little capability of slowing them down or knowing how to control this new technology. Machines learning, adapting, and making their own decisions was once considered sci-fi. Today, it is reality.

Machines will never become self-aware

Consider a machine playing chess. Every move made is a continuous re-evaluation of the opposing player's position, strategy, and particular style. As the game goes on, the machine begins to learn the opponent's tricks and personality, not to mention of course, how the opponent responds to the machines own moves. Thus, a successful chess playing machine must learn how to react to its environment and also how its environment reacts to it. This is a basic form of self-awareness. When machines are collectively learning and adapting to one another, like in the financial system, this sets up a positive feedback loop where self-awareness could easily reach a level equivalent to an animal or human being.

The beast in Revelation is said to be a man, not a machine

This objection is largely based on a commonly inferred translation of Revelation 13:18 where it says, "Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666." Unfortunately, the original Greek is not this specific, which is why it is sometimes translated as, "Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is a human number, and its number is 666." Specifically, the word translated as "man" is anthropos, which can be either singular or plural, i.e. humanity. Secondly, the word for "his" is neither gender- nor human-specific. It can mean "he", "she", "it", etc. Thus, whenever the word "he" or "him" is used, keep in mind that this is largely a choice by the interpreter given what they feel is warranted by the context. Given the ambiguity here, most translations default to "man", singular. However, in this case, I think we also need to use some simple logic since it is also said that the entire world will bow down and ask, "Who is like the beast, and who can make war with it?" Surely, this is more than just a mere human. Actually, the book of Daniel (ch.7) provides a very interesting description of the beast by saying that it will be made of metal and unlike anything that has arisen on the earth before it: "Then I wanted to know the true meaning of the fourth beast, the one so different from the others and so terrifying. It had devoured and crushed its victims with iron teeth and bronze claws, trampling their remains beneath its feet." Interestingly enough, each beast named before this last, representing different kingdoms or military powers that have already come and gone, are all described in terms of living animals--only the last one is referenced in terms of metal.

This interpretation isn't spiritual enough

I think there are two reasons for this objection. One is that many Christians divorce the bible, especially the book of Revelation, from the current world in which we live. We don't know exactly what the world will look like in the future, but we can make a pretty good guess that technology will still exist and, more than likely, be much more advanced than it is today. Furthermore, there have been many military powers that have tried to conquer the entire world in the past and have always failed to do so due to logistical limitations of human resources, supplies, management of large armies, etc. Today, however, this is more possible than ever with nuclear weapons, drones, global surveillance, and other large advancements in high-tech weaponry and automated control systems. The second reason that many Christians seem to have difficulty in connecting with this interpretation is because of a misconception on the part of A.I. as being something purely non-spiritual. My answer to this is, yes, A.I. will not possess a spirit like you and I. Also, it will probably not even be capable of sensing or knowing God since it will be made in man's image and not God's. However, given that it will also be superintelligent and extremely powerful--let's say virtually divine--it will probably also see itself as the true fulfillment of man's search for a divine being. Of course, it is said that this entity will even demand worship.