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


Assorted Links 2/1/2010

Neuroscientists making computers smart enough to see connections between brain's neurons
At Davos, MIT faculty discuss the nature of intelligence
Rotifers avoid sex for millions of years by blowing away
Insectlike 'microids' might walk, run, work in colonies
The Physical Basis of High-Throughput Atomically Precise Manufacturing
Chris Phoenix: Basic Survival Package
Air Force to use artificial intelligence and other advanced data processing to hit the enemy where it hurts
Robin Hanson: AI In Far And Near View
The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting
MIT's Mind-Machine Project: Student Position Paper
Law of probabilities backs hopes for E.T., conference hears (what a banal claim.)
NEC's Facial Recognition Technology Achieves First Place in the Still-Face Dataset
Cube Spawn -- Open Source, Flexible Manufacturing System
Mondo 1995: Up and Down With the Next Millennium's First Magazine
Dale Carrico: Futurological Brickbats
The Onion: God's Wrath According to Pat Robinson

Thanks to everyone who sent me links in the last week.

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Quick Links

Here are some quick links I've been meaning to post.

Video: Julian Savulescu: "Genetically Enhance Humanity or Face Extinction"
Nanowerk: A nanocomposite for electronic skin
Nanowerk: Bacteria make the artificial blood vessels of the future
LiveScience: New Device Prints Human Tissue
Alan Darwst: The Importance of Wild Animal Suffering
Science Daily: CR: Scientists Take Important Step Toward 'Fountain of Youth'
Call for Papers: Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference on Consciousness
UK Telegraph: Alcohol substitute that avoids hangovers in development
UK Telegraph: Toby Ord's philosophy is one we all could learn from
Technology Review: The Year in Biomedicine
Michael Crichton: Complexity Theory and Environmental Management
Mark Gubrud: Nanotechnology in Warfare
Fabbaloo: O'Reilly Names 3D Printing Best Tech of The Decade, Sorta
Weird Things: Taking Brain Mapping to the Next Level
East Bay Express: Berkeley High May Cut Science Labs
The New Republic takes apart Malcolm Gladwell: Mr. Lucky
Eliezer Yudkowsky: Darwinian dynamics unlikely to apply to superintelligence

Have a Happy New Year!

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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. How come so many of the "smart people" we all know are so focused on activities organized for them by other people?

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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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Thiel Foundation Website Online

Check out the website for the brand-new Thiel Foundation:

The spotlight effort right now is the Oslo Freedom Forum, which looks interesting. Here's a quote from the 33-year old founder, Thor Halvorssen:

"We all should want freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom from torture, freedom to travel, due process and freedom to keep what belongs to you." Unfortunately, he explains, "the human-rights establishment at the United Nations is limited to pretty words because so many member countries kill or imprison or torture their opponents."

Ambient pressure like this can help encourage the UN to better advance human rights.

The projects of the Thiel Foundation can be broken down into 3 general areas -- anti-violence, freedom, and science and technology. Anti-violence projects include Imitatio and the Oslo Freedom Forum. Freedom projects include the Committee to Protect Journalists, The Human Rights Foundation, and the Seasteading Institute. The science and technology projects include funding Cynthia Kenyon (who studies the biology of aging), Aubrey de Grey (SENS Foundation), and the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Looks like a pretty well-rounded philanthropy portfolio to me.

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Kurzweil in a Professorial Gown, TSIN Trailer, UMass Students Levying Semantic Abuse Upon the Word “Singularity”

Kurzweil got another honorary degree, this time from Clarkson University. I am mainly linking this for the novelty value of Ray in one of those professorial gowns. He's got that thoughtfully gazing into the future look down pat.

According to this web page, it looks like Kurzweil will be revealing the first trailer for The Singularity is Near tonight, in the midst of much anticipation.

Also, UMass students are pushing the envelope, abusing the word "singularity" in new and silly ways:

Invoking a bit of Ray Kurzweil-futurist talk (for which I am a sucker, by the way), Bercovich noted further miniaturization is necessary.

"We are right on the singularity of not being able to do it (miniaturize personal HUDs) and being able to do it," he said.

I am right on the singularity of being proven right that the word singularity has lost all meaning. We may be stuck with it, but that doesn't mean I can't complain.

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Major history tonight. Obama has acquired enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomation, becoming the first African-American to head the ticket of a major political party in the United States.

He said, "Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States."

Next stop: the White House.

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Hanson Podcast on Econtalk

Robin Hanson is one of those people you just have to follow, or you aren't cool.

Check out his Memorial Day podcast with Econtalk on the topic of signaling.

Signaling is one of those amazing concepts, that, when you start to get it, you see everywhere, and witness how it directs huge quadrants of human behavior. As Marshall McLuhan said, the medium is the message. That was him trying to say that signaling matters a shitload.

We automatically signal all the time without even knowing it. Below the threshold of active consciousness our subconscious is making calculations about our signaling all the time. In our active consciousness too, of course. Some people are consumed by the whole thing 24 hours a day. It's human nature.

Back to Hanson, here's his tenure statement (pdf). Yes, the man is clearly a genius, but as I like to say, "how genius?" It's difficult to say, because all human "geniuses" are a lot dumber than what I can vaguely imagine as being just to the right of the Gaussian, but Hanson is definitely in the top five in the transhumanist-oriented community. I wish he would think more directly on how to deal with extinction risk.

Do you see the irony of me signaling how smart I am by listening to Hanson's podcast? Do you see it!?

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Lightning Strike

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Dr. Leary Laughing While Under Arrest

Does anyone have a larger version of this image of Dr. Leary getting arrested? This is precious.

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Dragonball Live Action Movie — Coming April 10, 2009

Normally, I don't give a damn about movies. The last movie I saw in theaters that I really liked was Borat, and before that, it was Episode III. But, for this one, I am totally stoked, and it isn't even coming out for 10 months.

If you're over the age of 25, you may have never heard of the sci-fi/action series Dragonball. But for an entire generation, it's a household word. They may love it or hate it, but most of Generation Y knows about the franchise. It has been highly successful for two decades -- at first in Japan, then in the US and Europe.

Dragonball began as a manga, a freewheeling adaptation of a Chinese legend, mainly meant for children. As its popularity grew, so did the subtlety of the storyline, until it became a full-fledged sci-fi epic with the anime Dragonball Z. This show was my primary introduction to science fiction.

Dragonball Z was one of the first shows to portray cyborgs as socially competent entities with superhuman abilities and intelligence, rather than mechanized caricatures, as in The Terminator and other American franchises of the time. It was among the first to introduce transhuman beings as realistic people with believable personalities, rather than the silly spandex-and-cape appearance of Marvel superheroes, fighting in overly simplistic evil/good plot contexts.

The Japanese lack the odd anxiety that American culture has with transhumanity, robotics, and technology in general, so it can present these topics without constantly second-guessing itself. I don't know how far it will delve into these in the movie, but the series included plots with brain transplants, organic robotics, and much more.

Fundamentally, Dragonball is an integration of the ancient Chinese storytelling tradition of wǔxiá (武侠) with the hyper-modernity of Japanese science fiction anime. This is a really cool mix, and in the early 90s, when I first got into Dragonball, I could never have predicted the degree that both of these would catch on in the US.

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Have an Unspeakably Evil Lovecraft Day

Oh hell yes! Today is the 71st anniversary of the death of H.P. Lovecraft. This genius is one of my favorite authors. He even had his own literary movement, Cosmicism:

"The philosophy of cosmicism states that there is no recognizable divine presence, such as God, in the universe, and that humans are particularly insignificant in the larger scheme of intergalactic existence, and perhaps are just a small species projecting their own mental idolatries onto the vast cosmos, ever susceptible to being wiped from existence at any moment. This also suggested that the majority of undiscerning humanity are creatures with the same significance as insects in a much greater struggle between greater forces which, due to humanity's small, visionless and unimportant nature, it does not recognize."

I don't necessarily agree with Cosmicism, but find it fascinating. Sometimes I see it as a metaphor for human civilization playing with immensely powerful emerging technologies beyond our ability to control, like nanotech and AI. 67 Lovecraft stories are available at the Gutenberg Project. Some of my favorites are The Colour Out of Space, The Dunwich Horror, and Beyond the Wall of Sleep. I've read about half of these and hope to read them all.

Lovecraft was much more than just a horror writer. He was a philosopher, a poet, an occultist. His goal was not merely to scare you, like thousands of trashy horror movies, but to make you think. Some of the concepts he presents are utterly amazing, and he is never afraid to inject his own personal quirks into the characters of his stories. And now, something extremely mysterious, and rarely seen... a picture of H.P. Lovecraft... smiling!!!

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