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

21Aug/1126

Fullerenes are Long-Lasting

I am fascinated by the possibility of using fullerenes to build eternal structures. If not eternal, extremely long-lasting. Fullerenes already exist today. See?

Above are aggregated diamond nanorods (ADNRs). The name "hyperdiamond" recently appeared to describe this material.

ADNRs, a type of fullerene (any molecule made entirely out of carbon), is the hardest and least compressible known material. Its bulk modulus, meaning resistance to compression, is 491 gigapascals (GPa), beating diamond which is only about 445 GPa. For comparison, the bulk modulus of steel is 160 GPa, glass is 30 GPa, and bone is just 15 GPa.

What else? This black stuff:

Look how dark it is. Something made out of that would be hard to see at night. Also, its melting point would be several thousand degrees.

The image above shows one of the longest nanotube forests ever created. The nanotubes are about 8 mm long.

Filed under: science 26 Comments
11Jan/114

Josh Tenenbaum Video Again: Bayesian Models of Human Inductive Learning

I posted this only a month ago, but here's the link to the video again. People sometimes say there's been no progress in AI, but the kind of results obtained by Tenenbaum are amazing and open up a whole approach to AI that uses fast and frugal heuristics for reasoning and requires very minimal inspiration from the human brain.

Abstract:

In everyday learning and reasoning, people routinely draw successful generalizations from very limited evidence. Even young children can infer the meanings of words, hidden properties of objects, or the existence of causal relations from just one or a few relevant observations -- far outstripping the capabilities of conventional learning machines. How do they do it? And how can we bring machines closer to these human-like learning abilities? I will argue that people's everyday inductive leaps can be understood as approximations to Bayesian computations operating over structured representations of the world, what cognitive scientists have called "intuitive theories" or "schemas". For each of several everyday learning tasks, I will consider how appropriate knowledge representations are structured and used, and how these representations could themselves be learned via Bayesian methods. The key challenge is to balance the need for strongly constrained inductive biases -- critical for generalization from very few examples -- with the flexibility to learn about the structure of new domains, to learn new inductive biases suitable for environments which we could not have been pre-programmed to perform in. The models I discuss will connect to several directions in contemporary machine learning, such as semi-supervised learning, structure learning in graphical models, hierarchical Bayesian modeling, and nonparametric Bayes.

Filed under: AI, science, videos 4 Comments
15Dec/101

Singularity Summit 2010 Videos: Michael Vassar on The Darwinian Method

Michael Vassar at Singularity Summit 2010 -- The Darwinian Method from Singularity Institute on Vimeo.

2Dec/103

Josh Tenenbaum: Bayesian Models of Human Inductive Learning

Here's the link. Abstract:

In everyday learning and reasoning, people routinely draw successful generalizations from very limited evidence. Even young children can infer the meanings of words, hidden properties of objects, or the existence of causal relations from just one or a few relevant observations -- far outstripping the capabilities of conventional learning machines. How do they do it? And how can we bring machines closer to these human-like learning abilities? I will argue that people's everyday inductive leaps can be understood as approximations to Bayesian computations operating over structured representations of the world, what cognitive scientists have called "intuitive theories" or "schemas". For each of several everyday learning tasks, I will consider how appropriate knowledge representations are structured and used, and how these representations could themselves be learned via Bayesian methods. The key challenge is to balance the need for strongly constrained inductive biases -- critical for generalization from very few examples -- with the flexibility to learn about the structure of new domains, to learn new inductive biases suitable for environments which we could not have been pre-programmed to perform in. The models I discuss will connect to several directions in contemporary machine learning, such as semi-supervised learning, structure learning in graphical models, hierarchical Bayesian modeling, and nonparametric Bayes.

Filed under: AI, science, videos 3 Comments
28Nov/1040

2013 Solar Maximum Resources

2008 report from US National Academies of Sciences' Space Studies Board:

Severe Space Weather Events -- Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report

NASA Science News, June 4, 2010, "As the Sun Awakens, NASA Keeps a Wary Eye on Space Weather"

Richard Fisher, head of NASA's Heliophysics Division, explains what it's all about:

"The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we're getting together to discuss."

The National Academy of Sciences framed the problem two years ago in a landmark report entitled "Severe Space Weather Events—Societal and Economic Impacts." It noted how people of the 21st-century rely on high-tech systems for the basics of daily life. Smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications can all be knocked out by intense solar activity. A century-class solar storm, the Academy warned, could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.

(Hurricane Katrina caused $81 billion in damage, so 20 times that would be $1.6 trillion in damage.)

Media articles

It is difficult to come to any conclusion because the experts disagree.

Discovery: Is a Devastating Solar Flare Coming to a City Near You? -- pessimistic analysis from an astrophysicist:

In the case of space weather, wouldn't it be great if, as a civilization, we could look at the sun and get advanced notice of a solar eruption? All we'd need is a few hours lead-time and we could reduce the output of national power grids (to avoid overload) and switch our satellites into "safe mode." Once the storm has passed, we'd continue our lives as normal. Disaster averted.

Unfortunately, it often takes a disaster to teach us to prepare better in the future. I just hope the next solar maximum doesn't teach us a lesson we can't recover from.

A lot of drama and ink spilled in this post, but ultimately this astrophysicist sounds just as uncertain and confused as your average dude.

Counterpoint to the above: Expert rubbishes solar storm claims:

One report quotes an Australian astronomer as saying "the storm is likely to come sooner rather than later".

But Dr Phil Wilkinson, the assistant director of the Bureau of Meteorology's Ionospheric Prediction Service, says claims that this coming solar maximum will be the most violent in 100 years are not factual.

"All this talk about gloom and doom has selling power, but I'm certain it's overstated," he said.

"[It's] going far beyond what's realistic and could be worrying or concerning for people who don't really understand the underlying science behind it all.

"The real message should be that the coming solar maximum period could be equally as hazardous as any other solar maximum."

Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of explanation as to why this expert believes there isn't a major risk, or what exactly he means by "regional".

Space Weather Enterprise Forum has been meeting for four years to discuss the solar maximum risk.

The Register: NASA: Civilization will end in 2013 (possibly)

Searching for "solar maximum", "power grid" on Google Scholar reveals 13 results. Either this means I'm using the wrong search terms, there's only a minority of scientists qualified to write on this topic and barely any do, or something else disappointing given the scale of the risk. Here's one article from Science:

Are We Ready for the Next Solar Maximum? No Way, Say Scientists
Richard A. Kerr

If the once-in-500-years "solar superstorm" that crippled telegraph systems for a day or two across the United States and Europe in 1859 but otherwise was mainly remembered for its dramatic light show were to happen today, the charged-particle radiation and electromagnetic fury would fry satellites, degrade GPS navigation, disrupt radio communications, and trigger continent-wide blackouts lasting weeks or longer. Even a storm of the century would wreak havoc. That's why space physicists are so anxious to forecast space weather storms accurately. If predicting a hurricane a few days ahead can help people prepare for a terrestrial storm's onslaught, they reason, predicting solar storms should help operators of susceptible systems prepare for an electromagnetic storm. And space weather forecasters' next challenge is coming up soon. The next peak in the 11-year sunspot cycle of solar activity looms in 2012 or 2013. A space weather symposium last month asked, "Are we ready for Solar Max?" The unanimous answer from participants was "No."

So far, the balance of scientific opinion seems to be on the side of very serious concern.

My response to the above abstract is mostly -- in this context, who cares about fried satellites, degraded GPS navigation, and disrupted radio communications in comparison to week-long blackouts? Translated into risks affecting personal health, in my mind that line would read something like this: "the risk could cause a broken toenail, difficulty hearing, an itchy back, and cancer".

Filed under: risks, science 40 Comments
10Oct/104

Assorted Links 10/10/10

Anders Sandberg: What did you learn about the singularity today?
BBC News -- Smart specs unite world and data
First-Ever Immersive Tech Summit to Convene in LA
How to better understand and participate on Less Wrong
Neurons cast votes to guide decision-making
Salk Institute finds neural code used by the retina to relay color information to the brain
Tiny generators turn waste heat into power
Nanotechnology team reports the strongest organic nanomaterial ever developed
Titanium foams replace injured bones
Mapping the Brain on a Massive Scale
Highly Flexible and All-Solid-State Paperlike Polymer Supercapacitors

Filed under: science, technology 4 Comments
9Aug/101

Repairing the Heart

From Eurekalert:

Gladstone scientists discover new method for regenerating heart muscle by direct reprogramming

Next-generation reprogramming of native cells offers therapeutic advantages

Scientists at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease (GICD) have found a new way to make beating heart cells from the body's own cells that could help regenerate damaged hearts. Over 5 million Americans suffer from heart failure because the heart has virtually no ability to repair itself after a heart attack. Only 2,000 hearts become available for heart transplant annually in the United States, leaving limited therapeutic options for the remaining millions. In research published in the current issue of Cell, scientists in the laboratory of GICD director Deepak Srivastava, MD, directly reprogrammed structural cells called fibroblasts in the heart to become beating heart cells called cardiomyocytes. In doing so, they also found the first evidence that unrelated adult cells can be reprogrammed from one cell type to another without having to go all the way back to a stem cell state.

The researchers, led by Masaki Ieda, MD, PhD, started off with 14 genetic factors important for formation of the heart and found that together they could reprogram fibroblasts into cardiomyocyte-like cells. Remarkably, a combination of just three of the factors (Gata4, Mef2c, and Tbx5) was enough to efficiently convert fibroblasts into cells that could beat like cardiomyocytes and turned on most of the same genes expressed in cardiomyocytes. When transplanted into mouse hearts 1 day after the three factors were introduced, fibroblasts turned into cardiomyocyte-like cells within the beating heart.

"Scientists have tried for 20 years to convert nonmuscle cells into heart muscle, but it turns out we just needed the right combination of genes at the right dose," said Dr. Ieda.

Continue.

Filed under: biology, science 1 Comment
13May/102

Gary Marcus at Singularity Summit 2009: The Fallibility and Improvability of the Human Mind

Gary Marcus at Singularity Summit 2009 -- The Fallibility and Improvability of the Human Mind from Singularity Institute on Vimeo.

Gary Marcus Professor of Psychology at New York University, director of the NYU Center for Child Language, and author of The Birth of the Mind and Kludge.

24Feb/108

New Book Examines the Flawed Human Body

From the Genetic Archaeology blog:

Humanity's physical design flaws have long been apparent - we have a blind spot in our vision, for instance, and insufficient room for wisdom teeth - but do the imperfections extend to the genetic level?

In his new book, Inside the Human Genome, John Avise examines why - from the perspectives of biochemistry and molecular genetics - flaws exist in the biological world. He explores the many deficiencies of human DNA while recapping recent findings about the human genome.

Distinguished Professor of ecology & evolutionary biology at UC Irvine, Avise also makes the case that overwhelming scientific evidence of genomic defects provides a compelling counterargument to intelligent design.

Here, Avise discusses human imperfection, the importance of understanding our flaws, and why he believes theologians should embrace evolutionary science.

Our brains and bodies are both full of flaws. According to the pre-transhumanist worldview, the plan is just to sit around for the rest of eternity with these flaws, even as we colonize the Galaxy. According to the transhumanist worldview, the plan is to analyze these flaws, debate whether they are flaws or not, and consider fixing them if it seems practical and desirable. The latter makes sense, the former doesn't.

The New Scientist CultureLab blog has more info on the book.

Filed under: biology, science 8 Comments
30Nov/090

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.

Filed under: science No Comments
13Nov/0912

Praise Luna — “Significant” Water Found on Moon

Holy crap, the Moon has a ton of water. 25 gallons were kicked up by the probe that impacted it a month ago. This is huge, huge news, because everyone thought that the Moon was as dry as a bone. I see that various studies predicted this recently. A pessimistic article from Space.com from a month ago said "one ton of the top layer of the lunar surface would hold about 32 ounces of water", but now it's looking like a lot more.

Now all we need to do is ship nitrogen and other essential nutrients there in huge amounts using mass drivers, a nuclear cannon, or space elevator, put up a few aerogel-insulated domes, and start partyin'! (Well, maybe not exactly, but water does give us huge amounts of oxygen, which we need to breathe, and hydrogen, which can be used as fuel.) This article from LiveScience has more details.

Filed under: science, space 12 Comments
17Aug/096

Robin Hanson on SETI in USA Today

Robin Hanson, economist and author of Overcoming Bias, recently appeared in USA Today talking about SETI. He appears as a counterpoint to Seth Shostak, a guy who I believe is totally out of it. Here's the relevant section:

But researchers such as Robin Hanson of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., wonder whether the big picture really looks so promising when it comes to advanced life. Hanson supports SETI but finds it telling that humans haven’t come across anything yet. “It has been remarkable and somewhat discouraging,” Hanson says, “that the universe is so damn big and so damn dead.”

Great quote, love it. To quote Marshall T. Savage, author of that superlative masterpiece, The Millennial Project:

There is a program to actively search for signals from other civilizations in the galaxy: SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). This is a noble cause, but it seems slightly absurd. Scientists huddle around radio telescopes listening intently to one star at a time for the sound of dripping water, when what they are seeking would sound like Niagara Falls. The most cursory radio snapshot of the sky should reveal K2 civilizations as clearly as the lights of great cities seen from orbit at night. That we don't see any such radio beacons in the skies probably means there are no Kardasahev Level Two civilizations in this galaxy.

Perhaps advanced civilizations don't use radio, or radar, or microwaves. Advanced technology can be invoked as an explanation for the absence of extra terrestrial radio signals. But it seems unlikely that their technology would leave no imprint anywhere in the electromagnetic spectrum. We have been compared to the aborigine who remains blissfully unaware of the storm of radio and TV saturating the airwaves around him. Presumably, the aliens use advanced means of communications which we cannot detect. What these means might be is, by definition, unknown, but they must be extremely exotic. We don't detect K2 signals in the form of laser pulses, gamma rays, cosmic rays, or even neutrinos. Therefore, the aliens must use system that we haven't even imagined.

The argument, appealing thought it is, cannot survive contact with Occam's razor -- in this case Occam's machete. The evidence in hand is simply nothing -- no signals. To explain the absence of signals in the presence of aliens, demands recourse to what is essentially magic. Unfortunately, the iron laws of logic demand that we reject such wishful thinking in favor of the simplest explanation which fits the data: No signals, no aliens.

The skies are thunderous in their silence; the Moon eloquent in its blankness; the aliens are conclusive by their absence. The extraterrestrials aren't here. They've never been here. They're never coming here. They aren't coming because they don't exist. We are alone.

If Dr. Shostak wants to find some aliens, perhaps he should try ingesting some powerful hallucinogens. Then he will be able to see all the aliens he wants.

Filed under: policy, science, space 6 Comments