STLR Link Roundup – November 25, 2017

Diverging Perspectives on Artificial Intelligence

Carlos Moedas, the EU Research Commissioner, recently gave a speech in which he censured the overwhelming pessimism of contemporary artificial intelligence scholarship. He warned that sensational headlines warning of apocalyptic scenarios resulting from the development of super-intelligent machines are likely to stoke fears that could impede the adoption of new beneficial technologies.

Many prominent figures in the technology community have begun making public comments warning of the cataclysmic potential of super-intelligent machines. In a recent talk, Elon Musk suggested that it is highly likely artificial intelligence will be a threat to humanity and that Google and other technology giants working on developing such systems should proceed with prudence. He also indicated his unease at the prospect of the power accorded to whichever company is the first to succeed in developing sophisticated artificial intelligence.

The Future of Life Institute, an organization funded in part by Elon Musk, recently released a short film titled “Slaughterbots.” The film depicts a dystopian near future in which a Silicon Valley firm develops an army of killer robots which fall into the wrong hands. The Future of Life Institute developed the film with the express purpose of trying to convince the UN to adopt a resolution banning autonomous weaponry.

 

Solutions to Disappearing Bee Populations

A team of researchers at Cornell University recently published a study in which they concluded that, contrary to common belief, fungicides may be playing a role in the precipitous decline in bee population worldwide. The disappearance of bee populations is a critical problem to solve, as bees are one of the most important pollinators of crops, contributing $170 billion globally to agribusiness. While fungicides are only one of many contributors to disappearing bee populations, they represent a threat that has, until now, been critically overlooked.

It has long been understood that many insecticides contribute to the collapse of bee colonies. A team of researchers recently announced the possibility of developing “selective insecticides,” which target pests but spare bees. Commentators were optimistic about the possibility, though warned that such insecticides would not be a panacea, as they would likely still damage other insects, such as flies, which also serve as crucial pollinators.

 

Combating Rhino Poaching with 3D Printing and Economic Principles 

As procedural irregularities delay the trial of Dumisani Gwala, the South African poaching kingpin, an innovative startup is developing an alternative approach to combating the illegal rhino horn trade. Pembient, a Seattle-based biotech firm, has begun 3D printing fake rhino horns using keratin. The fake horns are indistinguishable from real ones, even on a molecular level. They plan to flood the black market for rhino horns with their substitutes, which they are able to produce at a cheaper cost than poachers are for genuine horns. They anticipate that this will depress market prices unilaterally, further reducing the incentives of poachers to engage in their trade.

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