Artificial Times (AT) explores humanity’s rapidly expanding relationship with information technology. Merriam-Webster (online) defines artificial as: “humanly contrived, often on a natural model : man-made <an artificial limb> <artificial diamonds>.”
A primary focus of AT is Artificial Intelligence (AI), but that is only one form of an ever-expanding realm of the artificial in everyday human experience. We are living in the dawn of the Artificial Age, which is characterized by pervasive and complex information technologies that dominate human life to such an extent that they create an artificial reality.
Artificial reality is dependent mainly on computer technology, but also incorporates the ultra-small (nanotechnology), the ultra-large (engineering megaprojects), and a vast and complex set of social, legal, cultural, political, and economic systems. As humanity becomes increasingly dominated by artificial reality, it will be affected in ways that are entirely new and unprecedented. Never before, during the entire span of its evolution, has humanity had to adapt to an environment that is constructed and controlled by artificial forces.
AT’s primary mission is to help develop a world in which humanity can most fully realize the potential benefits of the intertwined technologies that constitute artificial reality by educating, informing, and entertaining a wide, general audience.
Advanced technologies almost invariably bring both benefits and risks; the benefits cannot be completely understood without also recognizing the potential hazards. Although AT often emphasizes the risks, rather than the benefits, this editorial priority does not reflect any inherent pessimism regarding the potential effects of technology. On the contrary, we believe that it is by preparing for and meeting the risks – with critical optimism – that we can best move towards achieving the fullest achievement of the potential benefits promised by advances in science and technology.
AT is created and maintained by Jordan Hughes, a philosopher, software architect and the founder of the Risk Dynamics Research Institute (RDRI). RDRI is a not-for-profit educational organization with a mandate to advance the understanding of risks associated with complex artificial systems and to develop tools and processes to mitigate those risks.
RDRI’s activities have the following goals:
- Analyze the dynamic risks that may pose significant threats to human endeavors
- Research possible strategies for effectively mitigating those risks
- Educate and communicate regarding risk dynamics and the role they play in human activities
- Create better social strategies to manage the risks associated with advanced technologies
- Develop tools and processes that can help to manage and reduce complex risks in a wide range of situations
The mission of RDRI is to advance scientific understanding of the dynamically interacting processes and systems which contribute to risks in complex artificial systems and to develop reliable procedures to minimize the harmful impact of those risks. In particular, RDRI is concerned with the risk-related dynamic causal processes occurring in complex artificial systems.
RDRI aims to understand interacting causal processes that are common to all risks, rather than any specific dangers. Humanity faces many serious risks, some of which involve threats to human survival and are frequently called “existential.” Existential risk is the focus of an international community of researchers and scholars, many of whom are affiliated with leading universities, including Oxford and Cambridge.
The dynamic systems underlying existential risks will be one of RDRI’s main concerns, but they are only part of its broader underlying mandate. In general, RDRI seeks to understand and mitigate the causal regularities that contribute to all types of risks having potentially serious consequences. These causal processes occur in many different domains of human experience, including physical, social, political, economic, and cultural realities.
This can include issues as diverse as environmental dangers, toxic chemicals, and political repression. Risk dynamics have similarities that can be measured and compared, regardless of the specific dangers involved. Measurable features of many different kinds of dynamic risk processes, across a wide range of different kinds of threats in diverse contexts, can reveal common characteristics that show how the risk factors either grow or diminish over time. Through quantifying and analyzing those regularly occurring patterns, RDRI hopes to become better at predicting and reducing their harmful consequences.
Many of the most familiar risks involve human activities with potential environmental impacts, such as global climate change. Other examples include mega-engineering projects, global economics, information technology, and large-scale infrastructure (such as those supporting energy distribution, transportation systems, and telecommunications).
The risk factors themselves differ in each case, but their dynamics share many similarities, as do the computational modeling techniques that can shed light on those common characteristics. RDRI’s research prioritizes identifying and implanting effective strategies for risk mitigation. RDRI’s primary mandate is to equip scientists and policy makers with the knowledge and the tools required to quantify risk dynamics and provide early-warning signals that trigger appropriate, timely responses.