Dr. Ben Goertzel after giving a talk at the 2009 Humanity+ Summit in Irvine California
December 8, 1966 |
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Ben Goertzel (born December 8, 1966, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) is Chief Scientist of financial prediction firm Aidyia Holdings; Chairman of AI software company Novamente LLC, which is a privately held software company, and bioinformatics company Biomind LLC, which is a company that provides advanced AI for bioinformatic data analysis (especially microarray and SNP data); Chairman of the Artificial General Intelligence Society and the OpenCog Foundation; Vice Chairman of futurist nonprofit Humanity+; Scientific Advisor of biopharma firm Genescient Corp.; Advisor to the Singularity University; Research Professor in the Fujian Key Lab for Brain-Like Intelligent Systems at Xiamen University, China; and general Chair of the Artificial General Intelligence conference series, an American author and researcher in the field of artificial intelligence. He is an advisor to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (formerly the Singularity Institute) and formerly its Director of Research.
Goertzel is the son of Ted Goertzel, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University. He left high school after the tenth grade to attend Bard College at Simon's Rock, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in Quantitative Studies. Goertzel went on to obtain a Ph.D. in mathematics from Temple University in 1989. Before entering the software industry, he served as a university faculty in several departments of mathematics, computer science and cognitive science, including the University of Nevada, City University of New York, the University of Waikato, and the University of Western Australia. Presently, he spends most of his time at a residence in the New Territories of Hong Kong.
His research work encompasses artificial general intelligence, natural language processing, cognitive science, data mining, machine learning, computational finance, bioinformatics, virtual worlds and gaming and other areas. He has published a dozen scientific books, 100+ technical papers, and numerous journalistic articles.
He actively promotes the OpenCog project that he co-founded, which aims to build an open source artificial general intelligence engine. He is focused on creating benevolent superhuman artificial general intelligence; and applying AI to areas like financial prediction, bioinformatics, robotics and gaming.
Life and career
Ben Goertzel has three children, many pets, and in his spare time enjoys avant-garde fiction, music, philosophy, mathematics, exploring the outdoors, and lots of other stuff. He is panpsychist and agnostic.
In 1966, he was born to Carol and Ted Goertzel, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His parents are both American, and his heritage is mainly Eastern European Jewish, but due to being born in Brazil, Goertzel has a dual US/Brazilian citizenship. In 1968, he moved to Eugene, Oregon and considered it to be an "excellent, hippy-ful place, at that time". In 1973, he moved to suburban South Jersey. In 1982, he left high-school after the 10th grade to start university at age 15 at Simon’s Rock College, which he considered "an outstanding institution that I highly recommend to all bright high-school age people". In 1984, at Simon's Rock College, he met his future wife Gwen Yorgey (later Gwen Goertzel, now Gwendalin Qi Aranya).
In 1985, he graduated from Simon's Rock College with a degree in Quantitative Studies. He then moved to New York City and attended graduate school in applied mathematics at NYU's Courant Institute. During his spare time, he began to do serious research in cognitive science and AI. In 1987, he moved to Philadelphia, attended graduate school in mathematics at Temple University, and got married. In 1989, he received his PhD in math from Temple University, moved to Las Vegas to take his first real job, as a math professor at UNLV.
Late in 1989, Gwen's and his first son, Zarathustra Amadeus, was born. In 1993, his second son, Zebulon Ulysses, was born, he toured around extensively, and moved to New Zealand, where he lectured in the Computer Science department at Waikato University. In 1995, he moved to Perth, Western Australia, where he had a research fellowship in Cognitive Science at the University of Western Australia. He stated that Perth was a "Wonderful place! Of all the places I've lived, I'd rate Perth by far the best. Would be great to move back there one day." In 1996 Goertzel together with Francis Heylighen founded the Global Brain Group to study the global brain emerging from an increasingly intelligent Internet, and in 2011 he joined the scientific board of the newly founded Global Brain Institute at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. In 1997, he left academia, which he said made his life much more interesting, but a lot more stressful. In 1997, he started a software company, and relocated to New York City to launch Intelligenesis Corp. (later known as Webmind Inc.), a company with the mission of creating a truly intelligent AI system and making money along the way by productizing its components. In early 1997, Gwen and Goertzel had their first girl, Scheherazade Okilani Nastasya. He taught at the College of Staten Island, part of the CUNY system, during 1997–98, while Intelligenesis was getting off the ground. From 1997 until 2001 he headed Webmind Inc. (also known as Intelligenesis Corp.). This work was reviewed by the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, explaining the approach as machine learning combined with natural language processing applied to textual information gathered from the internet, in order to predict business risk or to aid in making buying decisions.
In 2001, he moved to New Mexico where he had a research professorship in the Computer Science department of UNM. During this time, he lived in Zuzax, in the mountains east of Albuquerque, which he considered to be the second best place he ever lived, after Perth. In 2001, he also founded Novamente LLC, Webmind's successor; and also Biomind LLC, a company specifically intended to apply Novamente technology to bioinformatics. In 2002, he relocated to the Washington DC metro area because he found a small amount of funding for Biomind from an investor near there, and he wanted the company based near him. Shortly after moving to the DC area, Gwen and Goertzel split up.
In 2004, Goertzel married Izabela Lyon Freire. In 2005–2007, while operating Novamente and Biomind as companies and developing his AI (and other) research projects, he started putting time into developing AGI as a research community: organizing the AGI conference series, a few edited volumes, etc. In May 2007, he spoke at a Google Tech talk about his approach to creating Artificial General Intelligence. He defines intelligence as the ability to detect patterns in the world and in the agent itself. He tries to create a "baby-like" artificial intelligence first, and then raise and train this agent in a simulated or virtual world such as Second Life to produce a more powerful intelligence. Knowledge is represented in a network whose nodes and links carry probabilistic truth values as well as "attention values", with the attention values resembling the weights in a neural network. Several algorithms operate on this network, the central one being a combination of a probabilistic inference engine and a custom version of evolutionary programming. He claimed that this combination is able to avoid the combinatorial explosions that both these algorithms suffer from when exposed to large problems. In 2008, he founded OpenCog, which was an open-source AGI software project. In an August 2008 audio interview, Goertzel stated that he is a founding member of the transhumanist Order of Cosmic Engineers and that he has signed up with Alcor to have his body frozen after his death, and that he expects to live essentially indefinitely barring some catastrophic accident.
In 2009, he became a Visiting Faculty member in the Artificial Brain Lab in Xiamen University in China, and began a project there using OpenCog to control a humanoid robot. In 2009, Izabela and Goertzel (amicably) split up. In 2010, he began a collaborative project with Hong Kong Poly University aimed at applying OpenCog to control intelligent game characters. In 2011, he got an apartment in Hong Kong, together with Ruiting Lian, and started spending a lot of time in HK working on various AI & AGI projects. In 2011, he also co-founded Aidyia Holdings, a startup focused on HK stock prediction. In 2012, he got married to Ruiting Lian, and split his time between Hong Kong and Maryland. As of 2013, he is living full-time in Hong Kong, in a village north of Tai Po in the New Territories.
He also worked for Genescient, a company that applied bioinformatics and other tools to exploit the genomes of long-lived flies to create therapeutics to combat age-associated disease. He also worked for Igenesis, a consulting/R&D firm based in Belo Horizonte, Brazil that is involved in AI and other advanced software development.
In 2009, Ben Goertzel and Hugo DeGaris starred in a 45-minute documentary called Singularity or Bust. In 2014, Goertzel appeared on the American science documentary television series, Through the Wormhole, in episode 1 of season 5.
The feature-length documentary film The Singularity by independent filmmaker Doug Wolens (released at the end of 2012), showcasing Goertzel's deep vision and understanding of making general AI general thinking, has been acclaimed as "a large-scale achievement in its documentation of futurist and counter-futurist ideas" and "the best documentary on the Singularity to date." 
- "The Singularity Institute's Scary Idea (and Why I Don't Buy It)", The Multiverse According to Ben, 29 October 2010
- Pauling's Prizes, The New York Times, 5 November 1995
- Goertzel, Benjamin (1985). Nonclassical Arithmetics and Calculi. Simon's Rock of Bard College.
- "Mathematician Sees The Mind as a Model For Company Intranets", The Wall Street Journal, 22 May 1998
- Can a computer program figure out the market? A former analyst and a mathematician are betting that theirs can, The New York Times, 8 February 1999
- Google Tech Talk by Ben Goertzel, 30 May 2007
- "Online worlds to be AI incubators", BBC News, 13 September 2007
- "Virtual worlds making artificial intelligence apps 'smarter'", Computerworld, 13 September 2007
- "Patterns, Hypergraphs and Embodied General Intelligence", Ben Goertzel, WCCI Panel Discussion: "A Roadmap to Human-Level Intelligence", July 2006
- The Future and You, 13 August 2008
- "The Singularity: A Documentary by Doug Wolens". Ieet.org. Retrieved 2013-10-22.
- "Pondering Our Cyborg Future in a Documentary About the Singularity - Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg". The Atlantic. 2013-01-08. Retrieved 2013-10-22.
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