World - PEOPLE INNOVATION TECHNOLOGY & LIFE
A Pirelli magazine issue 1 / 2018

SMART DREAMS.
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The editorial by Peter Cochrane that opens the last issue of World Magazine reveals the fil rouge that links interviews, articles: “Smart dreams” – intelligent dreams to view technology as an essential tool for a new interpretation of the present and the future, leaving to human beings the task and the excitement of playing the starring role in their time.

As scientists, our dreams of the future have always been inspired by the latest technology and understanding – they are “smart dreams”.

It’s no wonder that these dreams are the stuff of science fiction; indeed, at many of the research centres I’ve worked in, science-fiction writers have come to talk to the engineers and scientists about the projects they are working on and how they see the future. The writers would put those ideas in their stories, which would then become best-selling books and movies that – in an interesting feedback loop – would fire up the engineers and scientists to pursue those dreams with even greater urgency and certainty.

But science fiction-writers are now facing the same challenge as scientists; things are getting increasingly complex as our knowledge and technological capabilities explode in new directions. Amid the flurry of new ideas, it is no longer possible for one person to bring all the components and originality together to realise a “smart dream” of the future. This is why collaboration is essential – and ultimately where artificial intelligence (AI) can help us.

A friend of mine, the pioneering American computer scientist Alan Kay, whose ideas were adopted by Apple and others, always says the best way to forecast the future is to build it. During my career I’ve tried lots of experiments that have put some of our wilder dreams into practice. Ever thought what it would be like to have eyes on the ends of your fingers? We once tried putting cameras on our hands and blocking out our eyes, and that gave us an entirely different view of reality – and there are many jobs where having a view from your fingertips is actually quite useful.

When I was head of research at the telecommunications company BT, we dreamed of positioning surgeons at the scene of a medical emergency in the full knowledge that the first half-hour after being shot, stabbed or hit in a road-traffic accident usually determines whether you live or die. So back in 1995, on the streets of Ipswich in eastern England, we worked with ambulance crews to assist injured people with the help of a surgeon based in the main hospital. We fed back images from the scene and the surgeon had cameras above his eyes to demonstrate to the paramedics what to do. It was Google Glass 20 years early.

Both these experiments involved teams – and today’s smart dreams come from collaboration. There was a time when one person would write a scientific paper, then teams of two or three; now the physics teams working on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN claim to have set a record with 5,154 authors of a single paper.

In a world of such complexity we need AI to help us. I think of it as an intellect amplifier. AI opens our brains to the reality around us in the same way that other technological developments have helped us. Microscopes, for example, aided our knowledge of the solid world because we could suddenly see the atoms rather than just pontificate about them.

In a world of such complexity we need AI to help us. I think of it as an intellect amplifier. AI opens our brains to the reality around us in the same way that other technological developments have helped us. Microscopes, for example, aided our knowledge of the solid world because we could suddenly see the atoms rather than just pontificate about them.

In this way the intelligence of machines enhances our thinking and our ability. It actually opens the door to a different kind of dream, because now we can dream in the company of machines; and that’s a future I would really like to see.

Peter Cochrane

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