On the referendum #28: Some interesting stuff on AI/ML with, hopefully, implications for post-May/Hammond decisions

Here are a few interesting recent papers I’ve read over the past few months.

Bear in mind that Shane Legg, co-founder and chief scientist of Deep Mind, said publicly a few years ago that there’s a 50% probability that we will achieve human level AI by 2028 and a 90% probability by 2050. Given all that has happened since, including at Deep Mind, it’s surely unlikely he now thinks this forecast is too optimistic. Also bear in mind that the US-China AI arms race is already underway, the UK lost its main asset before almost any MPs even knew its name, and the EU in general (outside London) is decreasingly relevant as progress at the edge of the field is driven by coastal America and coastal China, spurred by commercial and national security dynamics. This will get worse as the EU Commission and the ECJ use the Charter of Fundamental Rights to grab the power to regulate all high technology fields from AI to genomics — a legal/power dynamic still greatly under-appreciated in London’s technology world. If you think GDPR is a mess, wait for the ECJ to spend three years deciding crucial cases on autonomous drones and genetic engineering before upending research in the field…

Vote Leave argued during the referendum that a Leave victory should deliver the huge changes that the public wanted and the UK should make science and technology the focus of a profound process of national renewal. On this as on everything else, from Article 50 to how to conduct the negotiations to budget priorities to immigration policy, SW1 in general and the Conservative Party in particular did the opposite of what Vote Leave said. They have driven the country into the ditch and the only upside is they have exposed the rottenness of Westminster and Whitehall and forced many who wanted to keep the duvet over their eyes to face reality — the first step in improvement.

After the abysmal May/Hammond interlude is over, hopefully some time between October 2018 — July 2019, its replacement will need to change course on almost every front from the NHS to how SW1 pours billions into the greedy paws of corporate looters via its appallingly managed >£200 BILLION annual contracting/procurement budget — ‘there’s no money’ bleats most of SW1 as it unthinkingly shovels it at the demimonde of Carillion/BaE-like companies that prop up its MPs with donations.

May’s replacement could decide to take seriously the economic and technological forces changing the world. The UK could, with a very different vision of the future to anything now proposed in Whitehall, improve its own security and prosperity and help the world but this will require 1) substantially changing the wiring of power in Whitehall so decisions are better (new people, training, ideas, tools, and institutions), and 2) making scientific research and technology projects important at the apex of power. We could build real assets with much greater real influence than the chimerical ‘influence’ in Brussels meeting rooms that SW1 has used as an excuse to give away power to Brussels where thinking is much closer to the 1970s than to today’s coastal China or Silicon Valley. Brushing aside Corbyn would be child’s play for a government that could focus on important questions and took project management — an undiscussable subject in SW1 — seriously.

The whole country — the whole world — can see our rotten parties have failed us. The parties ally with the civil service to keep new ideas and people excluded. SW1 has tried to resist the revolutionary implications of the referendum but this resistance has to crack: one way or the other the old ways are doomed. The country voted for profound change in 2016. The Tories didn’t understand this hence, partly, the worst campaign in modern history. This dire Cabinet, doomed to merciless judgement in the history books, is visibly falling: let’s ‘push what is falling’…

For specific proposals on improving the appalling science funding system, see below.


The Sam Altman co-founded non-profit, OpenAI, made major progress with its Dota-playing AI last week: follow @gdb for updates. Deep Mind is similarly working on Starcraft. It is a major advance to shift from perfect information games like GO to imperfect strategic games like Dota and Starcraft. If AIs shortly beat the best humans at full versions of such games, then it means they can outperform at least parts of human reasoning in ways that have been assumed to be many years away. As OpenAI says, it is a major step ‘towards advanced AI systems which can handle the complexity and uncertainty of the real world.’


RAND paper on how AI affects the chances of nuclear catastrophe:


The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence:


Defense Science Board: ‘Summer Study on Autonomy’ (2016):


JASON: ‘Perspectives on Research in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence Relevant to DoD’ (2017)


Artificial Intelligence and National Security, Greg Allen Taniel Chan (for IARPA):

Artificial Intelligence and National Security – The Belfer Center for …

Some predictions on driverless cars and other automation milestones: http://rodneybrooks.com/my-dated-predictions/

Project Maven (very relevant to politicians/procurement): https://thebulletin.org/project-maven-brings-ai-fight-against-isis11374

Chris Anderson on drones changing business sectors:


On the trend in AI compute and economic sustainability (NB. I think the author is wrong on the Manhattan Project being a good upper bound for what a country will spend in an arms race, US GDP spent on DoD at the height of the Cold War would be a better metric): https://aiimpacts.org/interpreting-ai-compute-trends/

Read this excellent essay on ‘AI Nationalism’ by Ian Hogarth, directly relevant to arms race arguments and UK policy.

Read ‘Intelligence Explosion Microeconomics’ by Yudkowsky.

Read ‘Autonomous technology and the greater human good’ by Omohundro — one of the best things about the dangers of AGI and ideas about safety I’ve seen by one of the most respected academics working in this field.

Existential Risk: Diplomacy and Governance (Future of Humanity Institute, 2017).

If you haven’t you should also read this 1955 essay by von Neumann ‘Can we survive technology?’. It is relevant beyond any specific technology. VN was regarded by the likes of Einstein and Dirac as the smartest person they’d ever met. He was involved in the Manhattan Project, inventing computer science, game theory and much more. This essay explored the essential problem that the scale and speed of technological change suddenly blew up assumptions about political institutions’ ability to cope. Much reads as if it were written yesterday.  ‘For progress there is no cure…’

I blogged on a paper by Judea Pearl a few months ago HERE. He is the leading scholar of causation. He argues that current ML approaches are inherently limited and advance requires giving machines causal reasoning:

‘If we want machines to reason about interventions (“What if we ban cigarettes?”) and introspection (“What if I had finished high school?”), we must invoke causal models. Associations are not enough — and this is a mathematical fact, not opinion.’

I also wrote this recently on science funding which links to a great piece by two young neuroscientists about how post-Brexit Britain should improve science and is also relevant to how the UK could set up an ARPA-like entity to fund AI/ML and other fields:



10 thoughts on “On the referendum #28: Some interesting stuff on AI/ML with, hopefully, implications for post-May/Hammond decisions

  1. Dominic, do you not think that the decision by Vote Leave not to lay out the future relationship in any detail is coming back to bite you? Vote Leave didn’t advocate leaving the single market, for instance. You would surely have seen that leaving defining Brexit in the hands of the incoming administration would have been divisive and messy. May has now rejected CETA and EEA leaving WTO as the only option – if you’d made it clear beforehand that say CETA was the goal, she’d be less able to reject it.


  2. You write: ‘SW1 has tried to resist the revolutionary implications of the referendum but this resistance has to crack: one way or the other the old ways are doomed. The country voted for profound change in 2016.’

    I hope you’re right. But what if the resistance doesn’t crack? I dread to think of how low democracy might sink if SW1 simply ignores the demand for profound change.

    Will people riot? I suspect not, although they should at least demonstrate and increase the electoral opposition. What I think is more likely is that voters will become sullen and angry, withdrawing from the political process and leaving the field open even more to corporatism. I worry where that would leave liberal democracy itself.

    Sorry to appear pessimistic. I personally never give in and I will resist but – the political class clearly calculates that it can face down the public. They are throwing down the gauntlet and we have to pick it up.


  3. What would be your counter-argument to Hogarth’s point about Brexit being a distraction from the pursuit of an AI strategy, out of interest?


  4. Dominic, I would vote in a heartbeat for a party with policies like you describe. But I can’t help but think talk of tearing up the current system in order for real progress to be made seems fanciful. Do you genuinely believe a there is something like this waiting in the wings?

    What, specifically, are the steps on the road to this change? How, drawing on your experience, does one most efficiently effect change?


  5. Hi Dominic,

    I have a BSc. (Hons) (1st class) in Artificial Intelligence. I achieved this back in the 90’s before Blair destroyed standards in our Universities. Anyway, despite this disadvantage I feel I’m somewhat qualified to offer an opinion.

    I definitely do not think “Human level intelligence” will exist in 2028 or 2050. Machines will continue to improve at specific tasks, mostly the kind of tasks we do autonomously in any case and yes, we will still call it “AI” but it’ll be about as clever as a brick (a brick is “clever” because a Human shaped it with a certain intention in mind).

    Human level smarts require something called `understanding’, which computers have absolutely no chance of acquiring now, in 10 years or ever. Understanding requires consciousness and we don’t know how to instantiate consciousness if we ever will (I’m sure at some point we will), let alone feed it the required model to reason about the world. We don’t even agree on a definition of it.

    I have long thought the best “AI” is the one you create yourself, that grows from a child into a man (or woman, though I think we’ll have machines that can do the ironing and make sandwiches by 2050 – joke).

    We should still get ahead of the game in AI though, mostly because one day the robot assigned the task of tidying your room may decide to dispose of the source of the entropy. That would be an extremely bad thing for you and Humanity more broadly, especially if they’re connected to the internet and decide to share this insight.


  6. It’s absolutely brilliant what you discuss, but I can’t help but notice that it has nothing to do with helping those who felt “left behind” and consequently voted Leave as a way to protest the current economic order.

    A similar change has happened in the US, which you indirectly acknowledge by using the term “coastal America”. It is the rest of America – the flyover states – that voted for Mr. Brexit in order to express their resentment for the “coastal elites” and their political and economic system. As our society grows increasingly complex in part due to AI, so will the wealth gap and the number of people feeling left behind.

    I find it surprising that you did such a brilliant job mobilizing those voters, yet now you completely forgot about them and propose policies that will accelerate their sense alienation. As such, how long do you think before the next Brexit/Mr. Brexit comes along and brings out those voters for the next political upheaval?


  7. Pingback: On the referendum #29: Genetics, genomics, predictions & ‘the Gretzky game’ — a chance for Britain to help the world – Dominic Cummings's Blog

  8. Pingback: On the referendum #33: High performance government, ‘cognitive technologies’, Michael Nielsen, Bret Victor, & ‘Seeing Rooms’ – Dominic Cummings's Blog

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