Accelerating Future Transhumanism, AI, nanotech, the Singularity, and extinction risk.


h+ Updates

The transhumanist club network, h+, has massively updated their website recently. The site now includes information on starting your own h+ chapter, a blog, gallery (including flyers and posters), and an events page with dynamic content from Google Calendar. This is an excellent site with a clean design.

Filed under: transhumanism 71 Comments

Five Futuristic Forms of Air Travel

1) Very light jets (microjets)

Very light jets (VLJs), small jets that use regional airports and carry only about 10 people -- have already begun to compete with commercial airliners. Two companies, Dayjet and Linear Air, have recently started service in the United States and Canada. Very light jets, having a much lower overhead than major airliners, could decentralize air travel and make it even more widely available. Bypassing crowded airports, microjets could cut 1-3 hours off a typical plane trip.

2) Quiet Supersonic Transport (QSST)

The Quiet Supersonic Transport (QSST) is a supersonic version of the very light jet, with a speed between Mach 1.6 and 1.8 (1,056 to 1,188 mph). The QSST uses a aerodynamically contoured fuselage to create multiple quiet sonic booms rather than a single loud boom, giving it a sonic wake about a hundred times milder the Concorde's. Instead of taking six hours to make it from Los Angeles to New York, a cross-country flight in the QSST would only require a couple hours. The QSST has been under development by Lockheed Martin's famous Skunk Works division under a six-year, $25 million contract. If all goes well, the QSST will reach the market in 2014.

3) Hypersonic airliners

The Reaction Engines A2 hypersonic airliner, the design of which was only announced a couple months ago, is truly impressive. This aircraft would travel at over Mach 5 (4,000 mph), enough to make it from Europe to Australia in under five hours. The plane would use novel air routes, including a path over the North Pole. With a length of 143 m (469 ft), the A2 would be twice as long as most commercial planes, and able to hold 300 passengers. The company that designed the plane, Reaction Engines Limited, claims it could be commercialized by 2030 if there is sufficient market demand. This plane would have a range of 20,000 km (12,500 mi), longer than any current commercial aircraft. Environmentally friendly, the A2 would be powered by liquid hydrogen.

4) Manned Cloud

The Manned Cloud, a concept design for a flying hotel, could make it around the world in three days with 40 guests and 15 staff. The Manned Cloud and other lighter-than-air craft could usher in a Second Golden Age of Airships, not seen since before the Hindenberg disaster in 1937. The Manned Cloud would cruise at 80 mph, with a top speed of 105 mph. It would contain numerous on-board amenities, including a restaurant, a library, a fitness suite, spa, and even a sun deck. Its purpose would be to take passengers to exotic locales while eliminating the need for ecologically damaging hotels. With dimensions of 210 x 82 x 52 m (690 x 270 x 170 ft), the Manned Cloud would be spacious indeed. The craft was designed by Jean-Marie Massaud in cooperation with ONERA, the French aerospace lab. Similar designs include the Strato Cruiser and Aeroscraft ML866.

5) Orbital spaceplanes

If Virgin Galactic's suborbital SpaceShipTwo (pictured above) proves successful, it will be followed soon thereafter by SpaceShipThree, an orbital spaceplane. SpaceShipThree would travel at orbital speeds -- over Mach 20 -- making it far faster than the other craft listed here. The craft could be used merely for a short orbital jaunt, a visit to a space hotel, or even as a jump platform for spacediving. If SpaceShipTwo does well, SpaceShipThree could be rolled out as early as 2010. The craft could take a shot at the $50 million America's Space Prize, sponsored by Bigelow Aerospace, though it would take at least several times that to develop.

Filed under: futurism 133 Comments

Weaponizing the Pentagon’s Cyborg Insects

An interesting article by Nick Terse on the possible weaponization of artificially-controlled insects:

"Biological weapons delivered by cyborg insects. It sounds like a nightmare scenario straight out of the wilder realms of science fiction, but it could be a reality, if a current Pentagon project comes to fruition.

Right now, researchers are already growing insects with electronics inside them. They're creating cyborg moths and flying beetles that can be remotely controlled. One day, the U.S. military may field squadrons of winged insect/machine hybrids with on-board audio, video or chemical sensors. These cyborg insects could conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions on distant battlefields, in far-off caves, or maybe even in cities closer to home, and transmit detailed data back to their handlers at U.S. military bases."


Filed under: risks, robotics 25 Comments

Managing Magic

Read Managing Magic by the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology. Here's how it begins:

"It seems like magic. A small appliance, about the size of a washing machine, that is able to manufacture almost anything. It is called a nanofactory. Fed with simple chemical stocks, this amazing machine breaks down molecules, and then reassembles them into any product you ask for. Packed with nanotechnology and robotics, weighing 200 pounds and standing half as tall as a person, it can produce two tons per day of products. Control is simple: a touch screen selects the type and number of products to produce. It costs very little to operate, just the price of materials fed into it. In one hour, $20 worth of chemicals can be converted into 100 pairs of shoes, or 50 shovels, or 200 cell phones, or even a duplicate nanofactory!"



Vernor Vinge on the Singularity

I disagree with Dr. Vinge on the point that a hard takeoff would necessarily be scary. If the people in the bootstrap group care about human welfare, they'd be careful not to disrupt the world too much in too short of a time, as most humans would probably find this disorienting. If a hard takeoff is necessarily objectionable to most humans, the bootstrap group could artificially stretch it into a slow takeoff.

Interview by David Orban.

Thanks to Bob Mottram for initially posting these.

Filed under: singularity 4 Comments

A Brighter, Cleaner Future

"Arizona Bay" by Stefan Morrell

"A Brighter, Cleaner Future" by Stefan Morrell

"Beach Themed Sketch" by Robert Maschke

H/t Extropia.

Filed under: images 27 Comments

Ben Goertzel on the Psychology of AGI Programmers

On the AGI mailing list, Ben Goertzel, CEO of Novamente, got into a discussion with a businessman who claimed that AGI researchers would be more likely to work towards artificial general intelligence if there were more financial gain involved, and that current AI researchers are only in the business for financial gain, as they're only human. Ben's response sheds light on the way that AGI researchers actually think:

"Singularitarian AGI researchers, even if operating largely or partly in the business domain (like myself), value the creation of AGI far more than the obtaining of material profits.

I am very interested in deriving $$ from incremental steps on the path to powerful AGI, because I think this is one of the better methods available for funding AGI R&D work.

But deriving $$ from human-level AGI really is not a big motivator of mine. To me, once human-level AGI is obtained, we have something of dramatically more interest than accumulation of any amount of wealth.

Yes, I assume that if I succeed in creating a human-level AGI, then huge amounts of $$ for research will come my way, along with enough personal $$ to liberate me from needing to manage software development contracts or mop my own floor. That will be very nice. But that's just not the point.

I'm envisioning a population of cockroaches constantly fighting over crumbs of food on the floor. Then a few of the cockroaches -- let's call them the Cockroach Robot Club -- decide to spend their lives focused on creating a superhuman robot which will incidentally allow cockroaches to upload into superhuman form with superhuman intelligence. And the other cockroaches insist that the Cockroach Robot Club's motivation in doing this must be a desire to get more crumbs of food. After all, just **IMAGINE** how many crumbs of food you'll be able to get with that superhuman robot on your side!!! Buckets full of crumbs!!! "

Ben mocks the idea that creating AGI is about money. For him, creating AGI is about finding a pathway to making himself more intelligent, and appreciating the world in entirely novel ways.

Read more about Ben's company, Novamente, at The site links to articles that mention Novamente at and

Filed under: AI 3 Comments


For the second time, my subscribers show they are 1337.

Filed under: meta 25 Comments

Feasibility Arguments for Molecular Nanotechnology

Perhaps you've heard of MEMS, microelectromechanical systems, a field being invested in heavily by governments and corporations. In MEMS, the components are usually between 10 and 100 microns in size. Using MEMS, you can build gear systems smaller than a dust mite. The military is looking into MEMS to build spy-bots the size of the smallest bugs.

Beyond MEMS there is NEMS, nanoelectromechanical systems, an area scientists and engineers are just beginning to investigate. NEMS are about a 1000 times smaller than MEMS, with components between 10 and 100 nanometers in size. With NEMS, you could build a complex machine the size of a red blood cell or smaller. Transhumanists hope to use NEMS to improve our health and expand our sensory and motor capabilities.

The Holy Grail of nanotechnology is designing a NEMS that can build other NEMS. This goal has been called molecular nanotechnology (MNT), and it is a topic of controversy within the nanotechnology community. Some futurists and scientists believe MNT is impossible, while others consider it very likely.

Here are some feasibility arguments for molecular nanotechnology:

1) We already have working examples of molecular nanotechnology: living things. Every organism depends on nanoscale assemblers called ribosomes to synthesize all their parts, including copies of the ribosomes themselves. Specialized organelles, like the Golgi apparatus, may process these proteins further. This is similar to an assembly line in a factory, where a series of tools perform different collaborative functions to achieve a predetermined outcome. Nanotechnologists seek to duplicate this scheme in an inorganic medium.

2) Positional placement of individual atoms has already been demonstrated numerous times. In 1999, researchers at Cornell University synthesized single molecules of iron carbonyl (FeCO) from iron and CO2 precursors using an exceptionally precise STM. What is lacking here is not a proof of principle, but the need to miniaturize the manipulation apparatus and make it more reliable. This is primarily an engineering challenge, albeit a difficult one.

3) At the nanoscale, proteins tend to be floppy, while an inorganic material like diamond can be relatively rigid. In the 1992 book Nanosystems, nanotechnologist Eric Drexler offers numerous designs for a broad range of diamondoid nanoscale machine components, including motors, generators, pistons, rods, interlocking structures, gears, bearings, belt-and-roller systems, rachets, clutches, sorters, and many others. Drexler shows how these systems are physically feasible and could work at acceptable speeds without overheating. In the 16 years since its publication, no one has yet found a mathematical error in Nanosystems.

4) Mechanosynthesis -- the synthesis of chemicals through mechanical action alone -- is a desired capability for a "dry" molecular nanotechnology system that uses NEMS to build NEMS. As mentioned above, researchers have already been able to synthesize individual molecules from atomic constituents. What is needed next is to extend these techniques to carbon. In the next decade, nanotechnologists hope to demonstrate diamondoid mechanosynthesis -- the mechanical synthesis of complex carbon structures. Many thousands of hours of computing time has already been spent simulating diamondoid mechanosynthesis, and experimental work is just beginning.

5) Many rudimentary molecular machines and components have already been built. These include Nadrian Seeman's DNA walker robot (2004) and other nanomechanical devices, the Rice University nanocar (2005), molecular logic gates, and more. Some nanomachine components, like the bacterial flagellar motor, already come pre-built from nature. Many nanotechnologists see inspiration from biology as key. Obviously, there is no lack of available nanoscale machines -- the challenge is putting them together into reliable and reprogrammable systems.

As we can see, we are much closer to the goal of molecular nanotechnology than we were only 10 years ago. Going back further, to 20 years ago, very few scientists could have even imagined what we'd be achieving now. Our goal for the future should be to push the envelope of nanotechnology research, devoting more money to research in molecular nanotechnology, while carefully studying the potential benefits and risks that could arise from a major breakthrough in the area.

See also: Six challenges for molecular nanotechnology, by EPSRC Senior Strategic Advisor Richard Jones.


A Challenger Appears!

There will be no sex in the future.

Or maybe there will be. I just like saying the above phrase to troll people.

It exposes a fallacy in futurist thinking -- that "The Future" is this foreign entity that forces everyone to be a certain way, even if we hate it. This is nonsense.

There are almost seven billion people on this planet, and in principle, they could each react in a different way to any given scientific advance or social movement. They all have the human cognitive architecture in common, and it's important not to underestimate the boundaries this places on our behavioral flexibility, but there is plenty of room for variation within that space.

When a futurist says something about the future -- "robots will become smarter than humans in 2030", for instance -- the listener may take this as a threat, or unquestioningly assume that the futurist is saying something they want to happen rather than just a prediction. They see the futurist as a force trying to push the world in that direction, rather than merely an unbiased educated guesser.

Related point: when futurists take checks for companies for their futurism, think carefully before trusting them. Are they just producing scenarios to interest the people writing them checks? We should take note of the opinions of unbiased guessers, while being skeptical of corporate puppets or people just out to entertain and make money.

Humanity will not embrace transhumanist technologies unless they actually want them. For example, I doubt the first round of cybernetics technologies will be adopted widely, because they will make people look like robots. Future rounds of cybernetics will mimic human appearance perfectly and seamlessly integrate with our biology. When this happens, I predict adoption will be near-universal.

That's just a prediction! I don't want to force adoption to be near-universal. I won't cry if it isn't. I'll just enjoy my cybernetic modifications and coexist with those who lack them. I will ask for the respect from non-modified humans that they grant to other non-modified humans. The equality cuts both ways. And the universe is big enough to hold quadrillions of both modified and unmodified humans.

Ultimately, the future is not about the technical issues facing scientists and engineers, but the impact of enhancements, implants, and new technologies when they intersect with everyday life. Transhumanism today is relatively technical and scientific merely because that is the form these enhancements take before they hit the everyday world. Shortly, transhumanism will be more about everyday life and less about cutting edge work in labs. This is already happening.

Sometimes people form a caricature about futurists or transhumanists that all we care about is obsessing over the future. This, too, is nonsense. Transhumanists are normal people with diverse interests -- music, history, art, and science. I am fascinated by Classical settings, Italian cooking, the evolution of plants, and tetrapod paleontology. I, and many other transhumanists only devote the bulk of our time to writing about transhumanism online because we consider it uniquely relevant. Not all-consuming, just unique and important.

It's necessary to realize these points, and when delving through futurist jargon, realize there are normal human beings with normal motivations and dreams behind it.

Filed under: transhumanism 43 Comments

Summary of Recent Interviews

I have given six interviews in the last year. All are audio except for the most recent.

Changesurfer Radio - May 5, 2007
Existential risks, AI, genetic engineering and space exploration

The RU Sirius Show - May 6, 2007
Immortality or Oblivion?
Give me immortality or give me death!

Podcasting the Singularity - September 18, 2007
A conversation with Michael Anissimov

The Future and You - March 5, 2008
March 5 episode: Michael Anissimov

FastForward Radio - March 16, 2008
Conversation with Michael Anissimov

Future Blogger - March 24, 2008
Interview: Michael Anissimov

Filed under: interviews 6 Comments

Think Rationally

Read Eliezer Yudkowsky's posts on rationality at Overcoming Bias. Our very own Tom McCabe has made a master list here.

Photo by Renee Blodgett.

Filed under: rationality 28 Comments