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Artificial intelligence and human health

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Re-examining time in economics
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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You know, strangely enough, people didn't do it because they didn't... they weren't engineers and so they didn't make that semiconductor line to measure the proteins. But I think... I think once that line gets built, whether it's from my efforts or somebody else's efforts, then there's lots of people that will step in and learn how to use it for health. And so I think that's a revolution that's coming along that's going to be very exciting. It will be as exciting as genetics has been. Of course, genetics is very exciting right now, too. And so being able to manipulate the genes, that's like changing the order code. That's also going to be a very exciting way. But those two things will work together and we'll get much better control over health. So this may be my halfway-point interview. I'm optimistic. I could live until 120 if some of these techniques work. So that's one area, you know, if I had another lifetime, I'd work on that.

There's another one which I know even less about, but I'm really convinced that there's something great to be done there, which is in the area of economics, trying to understand economic interactions. I think there's a fundamental flaw in the way that it's been formulated. And the flaw is in how time is created. If you think of something as fundamental as, say, an interest rate. Well, the rate assumes something about time. Now time made sense when it was physical time. So let's say in the early days of agriculture, I might borrow money to plant a crop and the crop would take a certain amount of time to grow or buy a cow so that it would have calves, and the calves, or the growth of the crop, was kind of the interest on my capital. And so there was a sort of a natural interest rate that came from the physical processes of time passing. But most of our transactions these days are not like that. So for example, if I'm using money to do arbitrage on trading stocks, well the rate at which I can make money with that money depends on how fast he stocks are trading, how fast I can make trades. That's all controlled by technical things about how computers work and transmission lines work and so on. If I make a faster transmission line between two exchanges, in some sense, the rate of time speeds up. Well, does it make sense for the interest rate to stay the same when the rate of time just speeded up? So in fact, there's many different kinds of time for different purposes that make sense. So I think re-examining time in economics is something that would really change it and hasn't been done yet. So there's a... if I had, you know... if I could clone myself, one of me would go off and sort of reformulate economics with a kind of more relativistic idea of time, not ignoring this concept of time and assuming that it was just a given, that the time is somehow created by the system.

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: George Dyson Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: economics, time, rate, money, transaction, agriculture

Duration: 3 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017