Enlightenment is Complex, Boring, and Expensive

To gain the best possible perspective on any given situation or problem, one must be familiar with as many different views on it as are available. One must be familiar with all the background statistics, and related past cases. Jaynes writes:

You and I form simultaneous judgments not only as to whether it is plausible, but also whether it is desirable, whether it is important, whether it is useful, whether it is interesting, whether it is amusing, whether it is morally right, etc. If we assume that each of these judgments might be represented by a number, then a fully adequate description of a human state of mind would be represented by a vector in a space of a rather large number of dimensions.

Not all propositions require this. For example, the proposition, “the refractive index of water is less than 1.3″ generates no emotions; consequently the state of mind which it produces has very few coordinates. On the other hand, the proposition, “Your mother-in-law just wrecked your new car” generates a state …

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The Simple-as-Possible Universe Hypothesis

It seems that math may be unreasonably effective for understanding the universe. Complex phenomena, simple rules.

The universe may be simpler than it looks. It may in fact contain almost no information. Tegmark and other physicists argue that the universe is isomorphic to a mathematical structure and we are currently uncovering all the information content incrementally. In this view, our mathematics is a mathematical structure approximating another mathematical structure, rather than a mathematical structure approximating a physical structure.

So the universe could be a simple mathematical structure with self-similarity on all scales, like a fractal. In the abstract to an aforelinked paper, Tegmark writes, “In this paper, it is suggested that most of this information is merely apparent, as seen from our subjective viewpoints, and that the algorithmic information content of the universe as a whole is close to zero.” So the universe’s mathematical simplicity can be reconciled with its apparent complexity from our point …

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How Can I Contribute to the Transhumanist Movement?

Many people may wonder how they can contribute to the loose coalition of people and organizations that is the transhumanist movement. Let me make a few suggestions.

1. Order and read transhumanist books, like Engines of Creation and The Singularity is Near. If you try to “get by” in transhumanist discussions having read nothing but magazine articles and news items, it will eventually become evident that your knowledge is relatively shallow and you aren’t contributing as much as you could be. The more everyone is familiar with the standard literature, the sooner enclaves of people can move on into discussing more advanced topics.

2. Join transhumanist organizations. The World Transhumanist Association, Immortality Institute, and Lifeboat Foundation all offer basic membership for yearly fees of $50 – $100. Organizations with more membership have more leverage. If enough people chip in, even a …

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Examining the Feasibility of Molecular Machine Systems

(Image by John Burch of Lizard Fire Studios.)

Some nanotechnologists, such as Eric Drexler, believe molecular nanotechnology (MNT) and nanofactories are physically feasible. Others, such as George Whitesides, are skeptical. The UK’s “nano champion”, Richard Jones, lists six challenges for molecular nanotechnology in a blog post from two years ago:

1. Stability of nanoclusters and surface reconstruction. Surfaces have a tendency to “reconstruct” – seek out stable equilibria in ways not necessarily predicted by molecular dynamics simulations.

2. Thermal noise, Brownian motion and tolerance. Atoms on the nanoscale may be too wobbly to build complex machines out of. Drexler addressed this, but not in thorough detail.

3. Friction and energy dissipation. Surface area becomes much larger as machinery scales down, and high functional densities will give rise to high power densities in molecular machine systems. The friction and heat may be so intense that molecular machine …

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Brown’s Human Universals

Anthropologist Donald E. Brown’s landmark book Human Universals points out over 200 behavioral and cognitive features it is suspected are common to all human beings. The list is very instructive for thinking about this species that we so happen to have been born into, and how it might be different from future species we engineer or otherwise create. Here are a few of the more interesting ones:

tabooed foods childhood fear of loud noises husband older than wife on average anthropomorphization reciprocal exchanges (of labor, goods, or services) dreams, interpretation of statuses on other than sex, age, or kinship bases onomatopoeia magic to win love language, prestige from proficient use of

See the full list here. Human cognitive biases may also be universal. Also related is the search for a list of inductive biases.

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The Longest Word in the English Language

The following, the name of a protein coat used by a certain strain of Tobacco Mosaic Virus, is the longest word used in the English language in a serious context, i.e., published not just for the sake of the length of the word itself:

acetylseryltyrosylserylisoleucylthreonylserylprolylserylglutaminyl- phenylalanylvalylphenylalanylleucylserylserylvalyltryptophylalanyl- aspartylprolylisoleucylglutamylleucylleucylasparaginylvalylcysteinyl- threonylserylserylleucylglycylasparaginylglutaminylphenylalanyl- glutaminylthreonylglutaminylglutaminylalanylarginylthreonylthreonyl- glutaminylvalylglutaminylglutaminylphenylalanylserylglutaminylvalyl- tryptophyllysylprolylphenylalanylprolylglutaminylserylthreonylvalyl- arginylphenylalanylprolylglycylaspartylvalyltyrosyllysylvalyltyrosyl- arginyltyrosylasparaginylalanylvalylleucylaspartylprolylleucylisoleucyl- threonylalanylleucylleucylglycylthreonylphenylalanylaspartylthreonyl- arginylasparaginylarginylisoleucylisoleucylglutamylvalylglutamyl- asparaginylglutaminylglutaminylserylprolylthreonylthreonylalanylglutamyl- threonylleucylaspartylalanylthreonylarginylarginylvalylaspartylaspartyl- alanylthreonylvalylalanylisoleucylarginylserylalanylasparaginylisoleucyl- asparaginylleucylvalylasparaginylglutamylleucylvalylarginylglycyl- threonylglycylleucyltyrosylasparaginylglutaminylasparaginylthreonyl- phenylalanylglutamylserylmethionylserylglycylleucylvalyltryptophyl- threonylserylalanylprolylalanylserine

The Wikipedia entry is here. The word contains 1185 letters. A much longer word is the full chemical name for titin, the longest known protein, weighing in at 189,819 letters. Thanks to our wonderful computer technology, this word could probably be stored on a hard drive the size of a microbe.

I look forward to a day when superintelligent agents will toss words like these back and forth in microseconds, comprehending their full significance and cross-referencing them effortlessly. I’m excited about this not merely for the sake of grandiosity or hubris, but in anticipation of the new ideas that would become accessible through engaging in discourse …

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Facing Power Asymmetry

Transhumanism is about embracing the prospect of using technology to modify our bodies and minds. Even using the Internet is a weak form of transhumanism, because it takes advantage of technologically magnified communications to expose us to viewpoints and cultures which we would have never been exposed to otherwise. If it weren’t for the Internet, would you even have a clue who I am, or what I have to say? Probably not.

An inevitability associated with technological magnification of human capacities is some degree of asymmetry. Some people have Internet access and some don’t. Many hope for a day when Internet access to available to all who want it, and that day is rapidly approaching. Australia recently announced a national broadband plan, for instance, which aims to bring fast and affordable Internet access to 99% of their population in two years time. For a country as diffuse as Australia, with only 20 million people in a space the size of the contiguous United States, this will be a big accomplishment.

When the …

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James Miller’s Cryonics Agreement

James D. Miller, an Accelerating Future reader and associate professor of economics at Smith College, just came up with a really interesting hypothetical economic agreement about cryonics, reproduced here for your convenience:

“Some people are planning to have their head frozen just after they die. These believers in cryonics think that freezing the head preserves brain patterns. They also believe that there is a reasonably high chance that someday humanity will have the technology to restore life to those who have undergone cryonic head freezing.

If the price of cryonics becomes low enough then a cryonics believer and unbeliever should try to come to the following three part agreement:

(1) The believer will immediately pay the unbeliever some amount of money.

(2) The believer will pay for the unbeliever to undergo cryonic freezing shortly after death.

(3) If the unbeliever is ever brought back to life he will owe a huge debt to the believer. It is hard to know what will be valued in the far …

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AI-Related Poll at IEET

There is an AI-related poll at the site for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, the transhumanist think tank manned by our friends George Dvorsky, Anne Corwin, James Hughes et al. The question is:

Is building a “friendly” super-AI a way to protect against a hostile super-AI?

The choices:

1. Yes, nothing else could stop it 2. Maybe, but super-AIs are unlikely 3. Guaranteed friendly AI is impossible 4. Let’s prevent super-AIs of any type

Go vote yourself.

Update: Here are the final poll results.

It looks like we broke it. After the link to this poll was posted on this site, the number of votes for #1 skyrocketed from about 15 to 95. #3 also grew from about 10 to 44. Since nothing in reality is guaranteed, #3 is true… and since permanent nano-dictatorship enforcing technological stasis could also stop unFriendly AI, #1 is not quite true… but I admit I did vote #1 anyway. The linkage issue necessitated a …

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Intelligence Augmentation vs. Artificial Intelligence

To some, it seems “obvious” that significant human intelligence augmentation will come before human-level AI. To others, it’s the reverse that’s obvious. I don’t think either is obvious, but I believe there’s a strong likelihood AI will come first.

In the IA camp, one of the arguments goes, [Brain+Computer] will always be more intelligent than [Computer] alone. But this is untrue, as the I/O channels between brain and computer make all the difference, and with today’s technology, these channels are quite limited. Even if we had million-electrode brain-computer interfaces, it would be a cybernetics problem to ask which outputs to plug into which inputs, and what changes might need to be made to the central executive to handle the new cognitive architecture without information overload or psychosis. Reprogramming the executive center of the human brain would require advanced neurosurgery and extensive knowledge of the brain, knowledge that could take decades of research and advanced experimental techniques to uncover.

Other cons for IA, in my view:

Experimentation on the human brain is likely to be made illegal globally The design-and-test cycle …

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“The Rapids of Progress”, by Mitchell Howe

From our earliest days as an intelligent species, it has always been more difficult to create than to destroy. From fire to fission, forces of great constructive potential have invariably been used as weapons against innocent people with tragic results. The cumulative losses to individuals, nations – and indeed, the whole human family – can never be fully understood.

Despite a pervasive – and in many ways false – sense of security that came with the end of the Cold War, we are far from being past the threat of technologically facilitated global ruin. The rise of trans-national terrorism may not on the surface seem nearly as dangerous as a full-scale atomic conflict. But the bold acts of hatred performed by those who place no value on their own lives remind us daily of the fact that, among billions, there will always be a few who would destroy civilization itself if they had the capacity to do so.

The day is approaching when this awful power will be all too abundant. Technological progress, that relentless engine that has refined …

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