(You are reading the English original, translations are available here: Deutsch)
Rarely in life things are straightforward. If I only needed to work to develop an advanced AI, up to the point where it clearly shows that it can do things that are not possible so far, life would be easy. But alas life has so many facets, so many tasks that need doing, that it is hard to figure out what needs tackling first, what has the highest priority.
We have a place where we live, which is nothing else than saying that there is a world around us that we need to adapt to. A simple fact, often taken for obvious, but its consequences are profound.
Saying that I relocated to Heidelberg for this and that reason is a simplification. In truth, when you move from one place to live in another, there is one overarching reason: that you believe that you can reach your goals better there. This is a comprehensive assessment, weighing your life in one location in the one hand, and in the other location in the other hand, all before the background of a hugely complex world. Not to mention that it is a strangely complex and difficult time we are currently living through. Moving is a risk and can require a lot of effort.
The way you make your decision is a form of intelligence, whether it is an intuitive decision, focusing on the factors you think most important, or analyzing a multitude of aspects and weighing their impact. There are so many factors to consider: maybe you have a favourite restaurant, perhaps you prefer convenience and having everything you need nearby, or you like it quiet and green, or do a lot of outdoor sports. Maybe it makes you happy to feel the fresh breeze from the North Sea on your face. How and where you work is important. Last but not least, there are places and people you have grown fond of, your friends.
When you are about to move a large distance away, you see things in a different light. You know that you are visiting a place possibly the last time. You say goodbye to people you know. And sometimes you realize that you share a friendly bond with someone you encountered frequently but scarcely talked to. We live in a bigger space than we are aware of, and modern digital communication gives us the chance to make more of our lives, and to build and preserve bonds when we move.
A place to remember
One place in Hamburg deserves special mention: Der Fröhliche Reisball (German for the Happy Rice Ball) is a restaurant that serves macrobiotic food. It is vegan and has a strong focus on natural, organic food. It's regarded as one of the best restaurants of its kind in Germany and it is a special place, with roots that go back 30 years. Like a spot of good soil breeds strong and healthy plants, the people who eat here regularly have developed their own strength and health and their own spirit. You find not only great food here, but also lots of meaningful conversations. A visit is highly recommended.
As Hamburg is a big city it usually took me an hour to get to the Happy Rice Ball, and when you are in the middle of moving your home, it feels like there is an infinite number of tasks left to do. That is time is incredibly scarce. Nevertheless eating a last time there, and hopefully stocking up on supplies for the journey, was not something I was going to miss.
As luck would have it, during my last visits on my last two days in Hamburg a very special group of regulars in the Happy Rice Ball was there for a perfect and unique goodbye, all by chance, mind you. For talks to become more than nice but truly special, it needs special people with an open mind. Some topics, like why do you leave the beautiful city of Hamburg (so true, I have been born there), and why do you think you can realize your plans better in Heidelberg, are what you expect. But as my focus is to develop AI that is far ahead of what Google can do and would truly allow us to move onward to a new society, you reach an interesting point quickly.
One topic we touched is that most problems we have as a society are created by ourselves, and that even an all-powerful AI wouldn't be a solution, because we would just create a new set of problems. Once you understand that AI is a tool, you also realize that to make truly progress with it we have to work on ourselves and to learn to do better. Once you realize this you have made an important step. However, I am sceptical that big data and big brother will ever make this step, so I need to find a way that I can develop the most advanced AI tech without compromising it, without enabling the megacorporations to use it without ethical constraints.
We touched upon the topic that once I have the most advanced AI in the world, that I shouldn't sell out to Google. I am not the type to do this, as masses of money have no meaning for me, money is for me a means to achieve a goal. I am not a fan of Google going around and showing everybody that they can do all kinds of AI applications. They can't, certainly not with the type of tech they have currently in the development pipeline. So they deserve a bit of punishment, some tough and real competition, when someone comes around with an AI that truly can. We will see.
The other thing, which goes back to my scepticism what we currently are doing and are capable of as a society, is that I have indeed a long-term plan for which AI is only a stepping stone. My plan is to build the Great Ark which can preserve entire ecosystems from the rigours of climate change to come. In its center will be an AI that directs the entire effort.
What I am currently doing is just the first step, building a computer game to nurse the AI to become a truly universal and capable tool. Building a concrete application, while keeping the tech under control, and then use it to earn money for the next steps.
Moving up a level
Once our group was down to a scant few guests in the Happy Rice Ball, long past the dining hours, our discussion moved to something else. Well, not entirely, we rather shifted to discuss the question what matters truly.
That we have to adapt to reach our goals, that we have to understand what our goals are, and that in truth we most likely can pursue only one goal truly, as if you have many there are bound to be conflicts.
Likewise goals like 'I just wish to have a nice life with my family' are too narrow and don't acknowledge the world at large. Maybe you have to go through a stretch of hardship before one day you can live in peace with your family in a world that is still intact.
If you truly want to achieve a goal, like my plan to build the Great Ark and save a part of this world, you have to be prepared to make sacrifices and be focused. You can't afford excuses, 'it's raining today', or let yourself become distracted, 'it's so beautiful here'.
There is an excellent TED talk that expresses this much more clearly than I can do here, and is at the same time so much more profound.
Lessons to be learned
The way described here, to recognize your goals, to learn, to understand how the world works and to adapt, to persevere, is not only a way to self-fulfillment.
A truly realized AI works very much around the same principles. It is more technical in the sense that it looks to minimize and maximize aspects. But AI in general has to take into account its environment, the rules that govern its interactions with the world, and to recognize goals and work towards these.
In short working on AI is my own personal vehicle to understand more how the world works. This includes learning about me, about my weaknesses and strengths, and then to make a plan and follow it. Work and life is the same for me.
We as human beings have the intelligence, the means, to make informed decisions and shape our life.