Five Important Things from the Last Week

There’s so much relevant news from the past week, I can’t just focus on any one thing… so here are five of the most significant things to hit my radar in past week: In ascending order of importance. 5. On Marginal Revolution: What are some unknown but incredibly important inventors? Why can’t we get rid of the penny? And what is the moral basis of capitalism?

4. Lawrence Berkeley lab and Oxford University researchers developed a particle accelerator that takes electron beams and powers them up to a billion electron volts (1 GeV) in only 3.3 centimeters using a technology called laser wakefield acceleration. If these particle accelerators become popular and start to edge out conventional accelerators, then we’ll both learn a lot more about …

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Astronauts Collapsing, Space Hotels Launching

From CNN: No sooner does Astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper return from 12 days at zero gravity on the space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station than she starts collapsing repeatedly at the podium while giving a speech, and has to be escorted out. This highlights what we should have known all along: humans weren’t built for space. In fact, it may be impossible to grow up in a zero-g environment, because gravity is necessary for the formation of healthy bones and organs.

In Marshall Savage’s book The Millenial Project, he argues that we’ll all live in 3D space bubbles because it’s such a better use of space than a 2D space station. In principle, he’s correct – but in practice – our bodies just can’t stand it, if we want to transition gracefully from space life to earth life, anyway. Therefore, it’s best to build rotating space stations, like the O’Neill cylinders of yore, which unfortunately are very resource-hungry. I’m partial to the Lifeboat Foundation’s Ark I

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SL Callgirl Interested in the Singularity

In a display of knowledge that eclipses that displayed by many transhumanists, Khannea Suntzu, a “high-priced and highly-desired call girl” in SecondLife, speaks with Wagner James Au of New World Notes, the most widely read blog on SecondLife. Khannea is apparently fairly well-known, even outside of SL, as has been interviewed or profiled on the popular gaming portal 1 Up, and even the prestigious French publication Le Monde. When she contacted Wagner James Au, it was not to give an interview (which she’s done many times before), but to merely use him as a loudspeaker to talk about the Singularity:

“What does interest me is of an entirely different nature,” she continued. “The fact is, I have a bit obsessed with the idea of a singularity. You may have heard of it. Not everybody believes such a thing may actually happen, but after having read Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near, I …

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Lifeboat Foundation on

The Lifeboat Foundation has been mentioned on a recent article on

Scientists could generate a black hole as often as every second when the world’s most powerful particle accelerator comes online in 2007.

This potential “black hole factory” has raised fears that a stray black hole could devour our planet whole. The Lifeboat Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to safeguarding humanity from what it considers threats to our existence, has stated that artificial black holes could “threaten all life on Earth” and so it proposes to set up “self-sustaining colonies elsewhere.”

But the chance of planetary annihilation by this means “is totally miniscule,” experimental physicist Greg Landsberg at Brown University in Providence, R.I., told LiveScience.

The point of this is not whether or not there really is an immediate risk from nuclear accelerators (which is debatable), but that an organization focused exclusively on existential risk is getting this kind of coverage from a top-tier science website.

Existential risk is a pretty big deal. To quote

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AGI Workshop in Palo Alto

Here are my messy notes from Sunday… and here are the powerpoints.

Here at the Crown Plaza in Palo Alto for the Artificial General Intelligence Research Institute’s AGI Workshop… people are just starting to show up, and it’s almost 2:00PM. The audience appears to be a balanced mix of AI researchers and general transhumanists/futurists, with very substantial overlap, of course. The first presenter is Ari Heljakka, a programmer with Novamente LLC and the CEO of Finnish AGI company GenMind Ltd. His talk is entitled “AGI & the Singularity”. It’s a general overview of Singularity ideas from Vernor Vinge, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Ben Goertzel, and Ray Kurwzweil… Eliezer walks in while a slide of his is being shown, he’s wearing the same shirt as in the slide, everybody laughs.

AGI vs. Narrow AGI is the second segment, it a short talk by Ben. Look at the powerpoint if you’re interested.

Third segment is a panel with myself, Christine Peterson, Ben Goertzel, and Eliezer. Christine seems to be unclear on the power of a superintelligent AI, thinking in terms of police rather …

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Major Study on Public Nano-Awareness

From Yahoo news:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 /PRNewswire/ — Research findings released today from the first major national poll on nanotechnology in more than two years indicate that while more Americans are now aware of the emerging science, the majority of the public still has heard little to nothing about it. The poll also finds that the public looks to the federal government and independent parties to oversee nanotechnology research and development. These results, according to experts, necessitate increased education and stronger oversight as a means to increase public confidence in nanotechnology.

The poll, a telephone survey of 1,014 U.S. adults, was commissioned by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and conducted by independent research firm Peter D. Hart Research Associates in August 2006.

Findings reveal that one in 10 Americans have heard a lot about nanotechnology and 20% say they have heard some — nearly double the number of Americans aware of the technology in 2004. But, 42% of Americans have no awareness of it at …

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Peter Thiel Gives Methuselah Foundation $3.5M

From the Methuselah Foundation website:

Peter Thiel puts his weight behind Dr. Aubrey de Grey’s engineering blueprint for alleviating the debilities caused by aging

San Francisco– Peter A. Thiel, co-founder and former CEO of online payments system PayPal, Founder and Managing Member of Clarium Capital Management, a San Francisco-based hedge fund, and angel investor in social networking site Facebook, has announced his pledge of $3.5 Million to support scientific research into the alleviation and eventual reversal of the debilities caused by aging, to be conducted under the auspices of the Methuselah Foundation, a charity co-founded and Chaired by Dr. Aubrey de Grey.

Mr. Thiel commented “Rapid advances in biological science foretell of a treasure trove of discoveries this century, including dramatically improved health and longevity for all. I’m backing Dr. de Grey, because I believe that his revolutionary approach to aging research will accelerate this process, allowing many people alive today to enjoy radically longer and healthier lives for themselves and their loved ones.

Mr. Thiel will donate a total of $500,000 over …

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First-Stage Nanoproducts and Nanoweaponry

By 2020, and potentially as early as 2010, we will know enough about carbon chemistry, kinematic self-replication, and nanoscale positional control to build a desktop nanofactory – a machine that uses many trillions of tiny arms to put together macro-scale products. Because tiny arms can move incredibly fast, they will be radically productive. It has been estimated that a 100 kg nanofactory will be able to manufacture its own weight in product in about three hours, perhaps less.

Nanofactory technology will begin with an assembler – a reprogrammable molecular machine capable of making a copy of itself. An assembler would be extremely small, composed of maybe a couple million atoms. This is about the same as a ribosome. For a reference, see this picture of some nanoparts next to a virus:

An assembler would basically be an artificial ribosome. Ribosomes are the little machines in the cell that manufacture every protein in your body. Its basic design hasn’t changed in over a billion years. …

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Better Ways to Get into Space

When it comes to getting into space, traditional rocketry is the pits. Gigantic tanks that cost millions of dollars, massive fuel requirements, trajectories that fight against the atmosphere instead of using it to their advantage. Out of the five space shuttles built, two have gone boom. If you’re going to build a Lifeboat in orbit, deploy solar power satellites, or visit space hotels, you’re going to need a better way to get into space.

Luckily, there are numerous ideas, including rocket planes, orbital airships, the space elevator, and the space pier. 3/4 of these ideas already have companies putting serious resources towards their realization. Let’s take a look at the details, shall we?

The rocket plane is currently the idea getting the most attention and funding. All current rocket planes are only capable of taking people to the edge of space and back, rather than going into orbit. Thus, trips on rocket …

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Keith Elis on the Financial Future of AGI

Keith Elis’ statement from a discussion on the newly-created Singularity list:

Hi all,

There is a possibility that at some point in the future, government agencies, wealthy foundations, and non-profits will significantly increase expenditures as to AGI development. When the purse-strings open, and the money flows, it will flow like tax dollars, bequests, and donations do — toward politically tenable projects. Yudkowsky’s Friendliness theory, whether you agree with it’s technical feasibility or not, is very effectively positioning the Singularity Institute’s future AGI projects to be Politically Friendly.

In the summer of 2003, the US media reported on an attempt by DARPA to put a futures market in place which would ostensibly be able to forecast certain undesirable events such as terrorist attacks, assassinations and the like. The idea was to find a way to elevate our awareness before a threat materialized, and so DARPA was studying these prediction methods. Now, while the idea itself has theoretical and practical merit, some

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