Naked Mole Rats Return

Naked mole rats — is there anything they can’t do? A University of Illinois at Chicago press release reminds us that mole rats can withstand oxygen deprivation for up to 30 minutes, which may give us clues for protecting the brain from stroke.

Another recent brain-related news item concerned therapeutic hypothermia to minimize trauma to injured brain issue. It seems as if there is a wave of research in this direction.

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Foreign Policy Lists Cascio, Kurzweil, and Bostrom Among Their List of “Top 100 Global Thinkers”

Wow! Congratulations to Nick Bostrom, Ray Kurzweil, and Jamais Cascio for being selected for Foreign Policy‘s first annual list of Top 100 Global Thinkers. Their associated writeups can be found here.

Ray Kurzweil: “for advancing the technology of eternal life”. Jamais Cascio: “for being our moral guide to the future.” Nick Bostrom: “for accepting no limits on human potential.”

Two transhumanists and one “non-transhumanist transhumanist” on the list!

Scanning the list, another notable names are Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Steven Chu, Henry Kissinger, Peter Singer, Linus Torvalds, and Larry Summers.

#19 is Gladwell. He has been keeping his igon values well calibrated, I see. Here’s a quote from his associated write-up:

By making surprising arguments seem obvious, Gladwell has added a serious dose of empiricism to long-form journalism and changed how we think about thought itself.

This sentence causes pain in my mind. I am shocked at how Gladwell is perceived as a scientific writer by the broader public, even intellectuals. His arguments contradict science. This gives me a …

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Good.is: Building the “Everything Machine”

My latest article (#3) in the Singularity series on Good.is is up, a piece that describes exponential manufacturing titled Building “The Everything Machine”. Meanwhile, Roko’s article on “Why the Fuss About Intelligence?” is the 2nd most discussed article on the site in the last week. I will repost my article here for further discussion, but I also encourage you to register on the site and comment there. Here it is:

Building the “Everything Machine”

Nanotechnology and exponential manufacturing could help us make whatever humanity needs, atom by atom.

Part three in a GOOD miniseries on the singularity by Michael Anissimov and Roko. New posts every Monday from November 16 to January 23.

Last week, Roko talked about how human intelligence made civilization possible, and how genuinely smarter-than-human intelligence—what some call “superintelligence”—would change everything, by magnifying nearly all of our capabilities. 

It is important to note that organizations or countries are not smarter-than-human intelligences any more than a tribe of chimps is a smarter-than-chimp intelligence. We are talking about thinkers with …

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Hanson: Philosophy Kills

Robin Hanson found a skeptical Bryan Caplan when the former explained his positions on cryonics to the latter. (“The more I furrowed my brow, the more earnestly he spoke.”) Caplan said:

What disturbed me was when I realized how low he set his threshold for [cryonics] success. Robin didn’t care about biological survival. He didn’t need his brain implanted in a cloned body. He just wanted his neurons preserved well enough to “upload himself” into a computer. To my mind, it was ridiculously easy to prove that “uploading yourself” isn’t life extension. “An upload is merely a simulation. It wouldn’t be you,” I remarked. …

“Suppose we uploaded you while you were still alive. Are you saying that if someone blew your biological head off with a shotgun, you’d still be alive?!” Robin didn’t even blink: “I’d say that I just got smaller.” … I’d like to think that Robin’s an outlier among cryonics advocates, but in my experience, he’s perfectly typical. Fascination with technology crowds out not just philosophy of mind, but common sense.

Hanson responded with …

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On Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences

As somewhat of an aside, Mr. Lynch criticized my critique of Gardner’s theory of “multiple intelligences” as “irreverent”. This is extremely unfair. All I said was that his theory is “something that doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.” I criticize an ad hoc, unscientific theory that has practically no empirical evidence to support it, and the popular appeal of which derives entirely from its egalitarian and inclusive political flavor, and get called irreverent.

Calling Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences unscientific is not even nearly the most irreverent thing I’ve said, by a long shot. It shouldn’t even be considered irreverent, period. Theories of this sort, which have great popular appeal to the public and practically zero appeal to cognitive psychologists, should be regarded as guilty before proven innocent. Skepticism should be our default mode. Rain on as many unscientific parades as you can.

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Dudley Lynch on the Singularity

Dudley Lynch, a self-described “non-scientific observer of what’s being said and written about The Singularity at the moment”, has written up an article on the Singularity. Conclusion: “I suspect it’s still going to be awhile before anyone has an idea about The Singularity worth keeping.”

I get a cameo in his write-up:

Michael Anissimov of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence and one of the movement’s most articulate voices, continues to warn that “a singleton, a Maximillian, an unrivaled superintelligence, a transcending upload–you name it” could arrive very quickly and covertly.

Let me add a qualification to that. I do not think that such an entity could arrive quickly and covertly starting from today as a reference point, unless there are extremely well-funded secret projects that have already been working with brilliant researchers and theoreticians for maybe a decade or more (not likely at all). The point I keep making is just that an entity could go quickly from slightly human-surpassing intelligence to superintelligence, a concept known as a “hard takeoff”. To get from here to slightly human-surpassing …

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Audio and Video of “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”

Audio and video of Richard Feynman’s classic “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” lecture (1959), which presented the vision of molecular nanotechnology for the first time, is available from Photosynthesis.com, an audio site. There are other archival recordings available, including complete audio and video from the 4th Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology, held in 1995. Apple Computer was a key sponsor of the conference.

Back then, it seems to me that a lot of people thought that molecular nanotech would be closer by now (I remember hearing people say “about 20 years”, so roughly 2015), but they were obviously wrong. My guess is that the innovation and economic activity in the tech sector around that time made them overoptimistic about progress in general.

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Hanson: Make More Than GPA

Robin Hanson on how students are too obsessed with GPA and should instead focus on original, independent research:

Students seem overly obsessed with grades and organized activities, both relative to standardized tests and to what I’d most recommend: doing something original. You don’t have to step very far outside scheduled classes and clubs to start to see how very different the world is when you have to organize it yourself.

For example, if you try to study a subject in depth without following a textbook or review, you’ll have to decide for yourself which sources seem how relevant to your topic. If you try to add something to the subject you’ll have to decide what changes are how feasible and interesting. Doing these may feel awkward at first, but they will be very useful skills later in life. Similar skills come from writing your own game or starting your own business or composing your own album.

Along with many other things that Professor Hanson says, this sort of thing should be obvious, but neglecting it is nearly universal. …

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“Futurisms”: Anti-Transhumanist Intellectuals

Futurisms, the anti-transhumanist blog over at The New Atlantis, has been posting regularly with decent content. In the blogosphere, that can be hard to come by.

They posted Roger Holzberg’s “Saying no to aging will require a bold gesture from each of us” image under a post of the title “transhumanist resentment watch”, seemingly expressing confusion over who Roger was flipping off, when it is clearly the aging process that he is directing his anger towards. Here’s a quote:

Beyond the strangeness of that self-loathing, the transhumanists bizarrely seem to be personifying human nature itself in order to antagonize it.

Yes, we do this from time to time.

But, we also glorify parts of humanity that we want to preserve and magnify with transhumanist technologies, like compassion, pleasure, and intelligence. Here is a list of human problems, which we are trying to antagonize and eliminate.

There is another post on the combative rhetoric of transhumanists, which singles out Eliezer Yudkowsky:

The worst example of this was in the stage appearances by …

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Henry Markram of EPFL’s Blue Brain Project: IBM’s Cat Brain Claim is a “HOAX”

Over at Next Big Future, BoingBoing, and many other venues, Henry Markram of the EPFL’s Blue Brain Project has a comment up on the recent IBM cat brain simulation announcement.

IBM’s claim is a HOAX.

This is a mega public relations stunt – a clear case of scientific deception of the public. These simulations do not even come close to the complexity of an ant, let alone that of a cat. IBM allows Mohda to mislead the public into believing that they have simulated a brain with the complexity of a cat – sheer nonsense.

Here are the scientific reasons why it is a hoax:

(Read them.)

He also sent a letter to IBM’s CTO and CCd the media.

New Zealand PC World has an article that summarizes some of the points.

IBM responded by issuing a statement:

IBM stands by the scientific integrity of the announcement on cognitive computing led by IBM in collaboration with Stanford University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell University, Columbia University Medical Center, University of California-Merced …

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Joe Forgas: “When Sad is Better than Happy: Negative Affect Can Improve the Quality and Effectiveness of Persuasive Messages and Social Influence Strategies”

When popular science writers actually reference scientific literature, good things can happen, like this article by Mark Peters: “A Happy Writer Is a Lousy Writer?”

Transhumanists tremendously shocked and dissatisfied with the current state of the world relative to other possibilities can tap into this to improve their writing. Twinkly-eyed techno-utopian transhumanists can continue to produce poor writing.

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Greg Fish: Against Causal Functionalism

Greg Fish, a science writer with a popular blog who contributes to places like Business Week and Discovery News, has lately been advancing a Searleian criticism of causal functionalism. For instance, here and here. Here is an excerpt from the latter:

A Computer Brain is Still Just Code

In the future, if we model an entire brain in real time on the level of every neuron, every signal, and every burst of the neurotransmitter, we’ll just end up with a very complex visualization controlled by a complex set of routines and subroutines.

These models could help neurosurgeons by mimicking what would happen during novel brain surgery, or provide ideas for neuroscientists, but they’re not going to become alive or self aware since as far as a computer is concerned, they live as millions of lines of code based on a multitude of formulas and rules. The real chemistry that makes our brains work will be locked in our heads, far away from the circuitry trying to reproduce its results.

Now, if we built a new generation …

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