Next Big Future’s Roundup of Tech Items

Read Next Big Future‘s overview of technological advancements in weeks 7-12 of 2009.

To my mind, what is most interesting here? The nuclear space cannon, an original invention of the blog’s author, Brian Wang. This idea has changed the way I think about space, but I still think that the political obstacles to nuclear explosions of any kind are too great for it to be viable.

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The Danger of Space

Lots of people are into the idea of space travel, but as I’ve remarked before, space is relatively boring and dangerous. Many have an irrational emotional attachment to space, due to Star Trek and other fictional material which many have over-consumed. A glance at the Lifeboat Foundation’s website makes it look like the organization’s primary goal is to create space arks, but this would cost billions of dollars, which I can fairly say our organization will never raise. Instead, the LF’s primary value consists in networking together scientists and thought leaders concerned about extinction risk and occasionally getting them to publish reports.

I was reminded of the great danger of space yesterday when I read about Charles Simonyi, that creepy software developer who recently married someone 32 years younger than him (my age) after his 15-year relationship with Martha Stewart disintegrated, and his latest exploits visiting the International Space Station. What happened?

Officials said the crew, a US astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut, had overridden the spacecraft’s automatic pilots to dock manually …

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The Daily Mail Tackles Cryonics

The Daily Mail, a UK tabloid legendary on the Internet for its dense celebrity reporting, has finally taken on the coolest topic of all — cryonics. Like many articles about freezing yourself solid to be revived in the future, this one is negative, and the question is not what exactly they will say (I’ve heard all the criticisms a hundred times), but whether there will be any funny/juicy quotes along the lines of Smalley’s “You and people around you have scared our children” (directed towards Eric Drexler) or from that time Aubrey went on some talk show and the hosts were worried about Christmas being ruined by life extension. The Daily Mail has frequently proven itself to be one of the most giggle-worthy tabloids on the Internet in the last decade, so I hope they don’t let us down.

The first thing I notice with this article is a good thing — they point out that cryonics costs no more than a slice of pizza per day! The title of the article is,

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James Martin Mentions Singularity as a Reason for his £36m Donation to Oxford

This is from an article in the Guardian reporting on the donation, which is among the top 5 largest that Oxford has ever received:

“My view is that while we may be distracted by today’s credit crunch, we must not forget the bigger picture,” he said.

“We need to safeguard a future for the generations that follow us. We urgently have to work towards solutions to critical global challenges like climate change, world population growth and the impact of the singularity in computing.”

Singularity is when machines surpass human intellect.

“That’s why I want to inspire further financial support and new kinds of collaboration with my offer of matching funds,” Martin said.

John Hood, the vice-chancellor of Oxford, said Martin’s generosity showed that “despite the global economic downturn, there are philanthropists willing to support the world’s leading universities”.

I do hope that he inspires further financial support for Singularity efforts, and not just at Oxford!

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Technological Singularity Overview for Journalists

I wrote a Technological Singularity Overview for Journalists. It reviews the Singularity concept, the Singularity Institute, Singularity Summit, Artificial General Intelligence Research Institute, Conference on AGI, and Ray Kurzweil. All in short summary form for journalists on the run.

Articles on the Singularity idea have a proven history of getting people interested and prompting mass feedback. When the IEEE Spectrum did a special issue on the Singularity, this got them more than twice the feedback from a typical issue. Also witness the recent media attention and blog buzz around Singularity University.

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First Live Action Movie of Individual Carbon Atoms

The world’s most powerful transmission electron microscope, TEAM 0.5, is being put to awesome use! Via Nanowerk, the article says, “Viewers can observe how chemical bonds break and form as the suddenly volatile atoms are driven to find a stable configuration. This is the first ever live recording of the dynamics of carbon atoms in graphene.”

Next, we do the most obvious thing one can do while reading an article on Nanowerk: look at the pictures.

Caption: This 3D rendering of a graphene hole imaged on TEAM 0.5 shows that the carbon atoms along the edge assume either a zigzag or an armchair configuration. The zigzag is the more stable configuration and shows promise for future spintronic technologies.

And now, the video itself:

They look like blobby little cells, but they’re about 100,000 times smaller.

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Obama’s Just the Beginning

Some day, probably sooner than you think, someone will figure out (with the aid of experimental cognitive psychology and advanced computer modeling) what charisma is and learn how to custom-tune their behavioral outputs to be super-charismatic to a given target audience. Custom-tuning the outputs alone would likely require some advanced form of brain self-control, perhaps possible with the assistance of brain-computer interfacing. A very good actor wouldn’t be enough because they’d actually need knowledge, spontaneity, and genuineness.

When we have a “grand unified theory of charima” we’ll be able to figure out roughly how charismatic certain historical figures were relative to their reference audiences. Cognitive psychology has already borne out that we empathize with certain faces, like that of Ronald Reagan’s, whether we like him or not. He smiles, we feel slightly happier. He’s angry, we feel a little ticked. The first major internet meme of 2009, boxxy, also demonstrates how certain faces induce strong empathic effects.

I like to call such fascinating investigations “techno-philosophy”.

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Reviewing 20 Months of Daily Yudkowsky Posting on Overcoming Bias

Blogging daily from August 2007 to March 2009, Eliezer Yudkowsky essentially wrote a book on Overcoming Bias about rationality, value, quantum physics, decision theory, cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and lots of other interesting and enlightening topics. Now that book is pretty much done, catalogued via Andrew Hay’s auto-generated post list and the accompanying dependency map, which is amusingly huge. Since everything is pretty much done, now is a good time to go back and explore select sequences, especially if you haven’t before.

The posts are very interconnected and if you start randomly with one’s it’s likely you’ll find it interesting or find easy links to another useful post. (I wish that more posts linked to posts that are dependent on them or follow them in the sequence.) The question, though, is: is there a unified list of the major sequences anywhere? I know there’s Hay’s graph, but the largest dependency cluster is more than one sequence. It has to be pulled apart and classified for getting readers started on sequences they find interesting more easily. I …

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Progress Towards Haptic Suits

On this blog I’ve written about haptic suits before. Particularly, I think that people will use them for cybersex with bots and other people as soon as they are technologically possible. They’ll make martial arts less painful by lowering the strength of impacts via cyber-fighting. Users of advanced haptic suits be able to engage in martial arts tournaments for as long as their stamina holds out, or participate in online RPGs where magic and virtual swords “exist” and can be felt. As I said in the linked post, “I predict that convincing haptic suits will arrive by 2020.” Haptic suits will never be perfect, though. You can’t genuinely simulate getting hit with 100 lbs of weight if the suit itself doesn’t weigh 100 lbs.

Today I saw a press release on a primitive haptic jacket, that “can enable movie viewers to feel movies through a sense of touch, in an attempt to provide full emotional immersion in a film”. This was presented at the IEEE-sponsored World Haptics Conference 2009, in Salt Lake City. Here’s …

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The Brain’s Virtual Reality

The human brain has a fuzzy virtual reality module, which kicks into action during dreams and serious drug trips like LSD and DMT. This VR module can render color 3D scenes, often with physically unrealistic characteristics (unless you’re alexithymic, as we discovered in Ian’s comment in the last post), with objects that can morph and rapidly appear and disappear. It does seem to be difficult to focus on small details in these alternate scenes, however, especially the reading of text, whether real or in a dream.

My guess is that these “VR scenes” are just perturbations of the usual virtual scene which our brain creates that we call “reality”. Based on evolutionary conservation of complexity, this seems like the most likely possibility.

In the future, it might become possible to hijack the way this “personal VR” works with brain-computer interfacing. That’s what I mentioned in the post about brain-computer interfaces for manipulating dreams and what Kurzweil calls “experience beaming” in his books.

From our current vantage point, we call dreams and hallucinogen trips “weird” because they reflect …

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