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


WikiLeaks “Cyberwar” Nonsense from “Security Experts” Who Don’t Understand 4chan or Anonymous

I find it funny how the mainstream security community takes Anonymous so seriously because it doesn't understand it. See this recent CNN article, for instance.

Anonymous did not only "start" with 4chan, Anonymous still easily can be regarded as the cyber army of 4chan and its immediate network. Its not as shadowy, distributed, or effective as it's always made out to be. It really is mostly a bunch of children, and though a bunch of children should not be underestimated, their greatest power is quantity, not quality. The group is easily distracted and needs plenty of morale to keep going. Ideologically, it is fragile. It is more dependent on the directions of central figures than commonly thought.

The security experts being asked for commentary (Bruce Schneier, again and again) do not understand the group. Because he is relatively clueless about it, he just makes general comments on cyberwar which are only tangentially relevant to the current conflict. How can someone make comments on a war knowing so little about the army? Infiltrating the "army" to its core is not at all hard, but it requires days of messing around with the 4chan community, which adults who have day jobs don't have the time to do. There are probably 13 year-olds far more qualified to comment on this "cyber war" than Mr. Schneier, and they are laughing at him and similar "experts" right now.

To even ask the United States if it has been involved in "cyberwar", as CNN did, is somewhat foolish, because the only reported-on effects of the "army" (bunch of distractable children and adults with momentary time on their hands) have been simple DDoS attacks that operate based on quantity, not quality, and that any idiot (or bot) can participate in. This is in contrast to hackers that attack based on nationalist leanings (Russian and Chinese hackers), funded and led by the state -- much more effective. A cyber army that would die if 4chan and Encyclopedia Dramatica were shut down, or if moot made a statement, is only a momentary nuisance, not anything serious.

You can predict the rough effects of any Anonymous "cyber war" by looking at past cases, such as the attack on Scientology. The attack is somewhat of a nuisance while it occurs, but as soon as the community loses interest, everything goes back to normal, and the financial damage is not significant because the "hackers" lack the social engineering skills to do any real damage or get any personal information. They can only harass with faxes, prank calls, protests, DDoS, and the like. In fact, the flood of amateur hacking only causes the targets to reinforce themselves and attain immunity from the possibility of more serious attacks. True "cyber warfare" will involve small groups of highly skilled attackers simultaneously taking actions that individually cause great damage before the target can respond.

Filed under: technology, warfare 9 Comments

The More We Talk, the Less We Might Agree: Study Shows Discussion Can Hurt Consensus-Building on Science/Technology

From Nanowerk News:

When it comes to public issues pertaining to science and technology, "talking it out" doesn't seem to work. A new study from North Carolina State University shows that the more people discuss the risks and benefits associated with scientific endeavors, the more entrenched they become in their viewpoint -- and the less likely they are to see the merit of other viewpoints.

"This research highlights the difficulty facing state and federal policy leaders when it comes to high-profile science and technology issues, such as stem cell research or global warming," says Dr. Andrew Binder, an assistant professor of communication at NC State and lead author of the study. "Government agencies view research on these issues as vital and necessary for the country's future, but building public consensus for that research is becoming increasingly difficult."

The researchers set out to see how people talk about risks associated with unfamiliar science and technology issues, Binder explains. "Most people, when faced with an issue related to science and technology, adopt an initial position of support or opposition," Binder says. "Our results demonstrate very clearly that the more people talk about divisive science and technology issues, the less likely the two camps are to see the issue in the same way. This is problematic because it suggests that individuals are very selective in choosing their discussion partners and hearing only what they want to hear during discussions of controversial issues."

In the study ("Interpersonal Amplification of Risk? Citizen Discussions and Their Impact on Perceptions of Risks and Benefits of a Biological Research Facility"), the researchers focused on public debate related to the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), which the federal government discussed building in one of six sites around the country. Some members of the public opposed building a facility housing highly infectious animal diseases in their community. The six proposed sites were Athens, Ga., Manhattan, Kan., Plum Island, N.Y., Butner, N.C., Flora, Miss., and San Antonio, Texas. Manhattan was ultimately selected as the site for the NBAF.

The researchers conducted surveys of residents living near the proposed sites to collect data on people's perceptions of the potential risks and benefits associated with NBAF. Specifically, the results showed that, among people who opposed the facility, the more an individual discussed the issue with other people in their community, the more firmly entrenched he/she became in his/her perception of greater risks and fewer benefits. Conversely, among those who supported the facility, increased discussion led to an increased perception of benefits and a decreased perception of risks.

This research was done as part of an overarching grant project funded by the National Science Foundation, which is aimed at understanding the public opinion and policy dynamics surrounding site-selections for federal research facilities.

"This work will likely inform future decision-making on how federal agencies engage the public in regard to large-scale research initiatives," Binder says.

Source: North Carolina State University

Want to be an effective technology activist? If this study is right, maybe you should only talk to people strongly predisposed to agreeing with you from the start, or just develop the technology and forget about talking about it all day. (Some readers may be shocked to hear that this is the default with most companies, which don't actually require your explicit permission to develop and commercialize novel technologies. Amazing, I know.)

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University of Michigan Researchers Use Capillary Action to Create Beautiful Shapes Out of Carbon Nanotubes

From Nanowerk News:

Twisting spires, concentric rings, and gracefully bending petals are a few of the new three-dimensional shapes that University of Michigan engineers can make from carbon nanotubes using a new manufacturing process.

The process is called "capillary forming," and it takes advantage of capillary action, the phenomenon at work when liquids seem to defy gravity and travel up a drinking straw of their own accord.

The new miniature shapes, which are difficult if not impossible to build using any material, have the potential to harness the exceptional mechanical, thermal, electrical, and chemical properties of carbon nanotubes in a scalable fashion, said A. John Hart, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and in the School of Art & Design.

They could lead to probes that can interface with individual cells and tissues, novel microfluidic devices, and new materials with a custom patchwork of surface textures and properties.

A paper on the research is published in the October edition of Advanced Materials, and is featured on the cover.

"It's easy to make carbon nanotubes straight and vertical like buildings," Hart said. "It hasn't been possible to make them into more complex shapes. Assembling nanostructures into three-dimensional shapes is one of the major goals of nanotechnology. The method of capillary forming could be applied to many types of nanotubes and nanowires, and its scalability is very attractive for manufacturing."

Nanotubes are among the strongest and most versatile materials possible given the laws of nature. Exploiting their full potential will be a key element of taking technology to an entirely new level.

Filed under: technology 26 Comments

Link Assortment 10/29/10

Raising giant insects of unravel ancient oxygen
The electronics for smart implants
SENS Foundation post on how resveratrol does not extend lifespan
Brian Wang reports on Zyvex progress in nanotechnology
How 3-D printing is transforming the toy industry
"Skin printer" could help heal battlefield wounds
Self-assembly revolutionizes metamaterial manufacture
Transgenic worms make tough fibers
Magnetic test reveals hyperactive brain network responsible for involuntary flashbacks
Controlling individual cortical nerve cells by human thought
Learning the truth not effective in battling rumors about NYC mosque, study finds
Fingers detect typos even when conscious brain doesn't
'Wireless' humans could form backbone of new mobile networks
Optical technique reveals unnexpected complexity in mammalian olfactory coding
Carbon nanotube thermopower achieving high specific power over seven times higher than lithium batteries
George Dvorsky: Why life extensionists need to be concerned about neurological diseases

Filed under: BCI, random, technology 1 Comment

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

Nanowerk Links Selection 9/10/10

Nanowerk always has interesting news items closely related to the subject matter of this blog. Here's some recent ones.

Gene-silencing nanoparticles may put end to mosquito pest

iGEM team helps prevent rogue use of synthetic biology

Nanotechnology coatings produce 20 times more electricity from sewage

Team designs artificial cells that communicate and cooperate like biological cells

NanoRidge Materials Signs Contract for New Defense Armor

Wear-a-BAN - Unobtrusive wearable human to machine wireless interface

Toward a new generation of superplastics

Scientists discover a way to use a gallium arsenide nanodevice as a signal processor at terahertz speeds


Open Source Ecology: Replicable, Resilient, Post-Scarcity “Viral Villages”

Marcin Jakubowski talks about Factor E Farm, Open Farm Tech, the Global Village Construction Set.

Filed under: technology, videos 5 Comments

Martine Rothblatt in Forbes Magazine

There is a story on Martine Rothblatt, a prominent transhumanist, in the most recent issue of Forbes magazine. It tells the story of how Martine transitioned from being a satellite company executive to a pharmaceutical executive to save her daughter from a rare disease.

Some of you may recall my liveblogging coverage from the 3rd annual Terasem Colloquium on the Law of Transbeman Persons and the 4th annual Terasem Colloquium on the Law of Futuristic Persons, which were hosted in Satellite Beach, Florida, by Martine and her wife Bina. These intimate gatherings gave me the opportunity to speak one-on-one with memorable characters such as Wendell Wallach, Marvin Minsky, and many others.

H/t to Robert Freitas for the link.


Shiny Robot Bodies, Sentient Devices, “Immortality Pills”, Immersive Holodecks, Desktop Nanofactories, Etc.

My recent post on how the popular zeitgeist has already embraced transhumanism provoked responses from transhumanist Giulio Prisco and anti-transhumanist Dale Carrico, a lecturer at UC Berkeley. Carrico writes:

In something of a surprise move, Singularitarian Transhumanist Robot Cultist Michael Anissimov has declared victory. Apparently, the superlative futurologists have "won." The Robot Cult, it would seem, has prevailed over the ends of the earth.

Usually, when palpable losers declare victory in this manner, the declaration is followed by an exit, either graceful or grumbling, from the stage. But I suspect we will not be so lucky when it comes to Anissimov and his fellow victorious would-be techno-transcendentalizers.

Neither can we expect them "to take their toys and go home," as is usual in such scenes. After all, none of their toys -- none of their shiny robot bodies, none of their sentient devices, none of their immortality pills, none of their immersive holodecks, none of their desktop nanofactories, none of their utility fogs, none of their comic book body or brain enhancement packages, none of their kindly or vengeful superintelligent postbiological Robot Gods -- none of them exist now for them to go home with any more than they ever did, they exist only as they always have done, as wish-fulfillment fancies in their own minds.

Breaking it down, all these "toys" sound great. Desktop nanofactories, especially, in the right hands, could totally decentralize manufacturing and make it much easier for the world's poorest people to gain some measure of material wealth and security.

I'd like to address some of the technologies Dale mentions, because I believe they are worthy goals and that intermediate steps to these goals are incredibly beneficial themselves.

To start with "robot bodies", there are no robot bodies suitable for human occupation today, but there are exoskeletons. For instance, Japan is developing a "Power Assist Suit", which will retail at $10,000 USD, to help elderly farmers in rural regions. If you want to ask how transhumanist-flavored thinking can distinguish a society, look no further than Japan. Japan is also working on developing brain-computer interfaces with cooperation from corporate giants like Toyota, Honda and Hitachi. There's a reason why these initiatives are happening in Japan. Japan's culture is extremely future-friendly and open-minded to transhumanistic visions, which include robotic exoskeletons and brain-computer interfaces.

As for "sentient devices", many of my readers no doubt own iPhones or Android-powered smartphones and use their many useful features on a daily basis, including a variety of applications. This is not like having Einstein in your pocket, but it is certainly an improvement on what we had before. The improvement in sophistication of mobile devices in the last few years is nothing less than remarkable.

Regarding "immortality pills", it makes great sense to look for compounds which have the potential to break up toxic accumulations of molecular junk in the body. That is what Geron and the SENS Foundation are doing, for instance. The Methuselah Foundation, while not working on "immortality pills", has created excellent prizes for mouse rejuvenation and organ printing. These organizations are fueled by the kind of "superlative thinking" that characterizes transhumanism and which is criticized not only by outright anti-transhumanists like Carrico but also insiders like IEET Managing Director Mike Treder.

As for immersive holodecks, I see few other things with the potential to improve our civilizational resilience and save travel money. Companies like Microvision are developing innovative heads-up displays, projectors, and glasses to help bring virtuality into the real world. The computational requirements needed to smoothly update a virtual scene as someone quickly moves their head around to observe it are formidable, but we are moving closer to this milestone. Ray Kurzweil predicts that immersive VR will be the hip thing in the 2020s. I've previously argued that full-body haptic feedback suits would be necessary to truly experience immersive VR, and I predicted that such a suit would be developed by 2020. I still stand by that prediction -- in fact, it could be sooner. Companies have already developed vests that can simulate hugging or combat. Guess where the hug vest was developed? Japan.

Desktop nanofactories, to me, seem more important and relevant than all the technologies listed above. Why? They would vastly accelerate progress towards all the above, probably so much so that it would actually be a threat to the stability of society. Instead of desktop nanofactories, today we have the explosion of 3D printing, which I follow closely and with great enthusiasm. Each week I wonder what the fabbing community will come up with next. Blogs like Fabbaloo chronicle progress in the field. Groups like open source ecology take it to the next level, making the open source fab lab a central feature of their effort. The success of open source ecology is a testimony to the power of desktop manufacturing units. As these manufacturing devices are improved, they will be able to fabricate an increasingly larger array of products. Their spatial resolution today is about 1 mm, but eventually that will drop to microns and eventually nanometers.

To manufacture true utility fog would require nanofactories, and a number of technological obstacles still remain between today's nanotechnology and the routine synthesis of rigid microscale or macroscale objects from atomic components. Instead, we have Intel and Carnegie Mellon working on "claytronics", what Brian Wang calls "poor man's utility fog". It could even be possible to manufacture early-stage catoms (the "atoms" of a claytronics setup") with current nanoscale manufacturing technologies.

In conclusion, even though the technologies that Dale lists don't exist yet, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't keep working towards them, or that the intermediaries won't be incredibly useful. The vision of far-future possibilities is what inspires some of the projects above to grind forward on a daily basis.


Seasteading Institute Engineering Assessment (Part 1) Released

You can get it on their research page or download the pdf directly. From the preface:

This document is a high-level analysis of the engineering challenges involved in homesteading the high seas. The aim is not to provide a detailed design of a specific seastead, but rather to find answers to general questions, such as the cost per unit area of functional real estate.

H/t to the Seasteading Institute blog for the news.

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The Power of Self-Replication

How can a small group of people have a big impact on the world? Develop a machine or service that is self-replicating or self-amplifying.

In a mundane way, artifacts such as iPhones and even shovels engage in human-catalyzed self-replication. People see them, then want them, then offer their money for them (or build them themselves, in a few cases), which provides the economic juice necessary to increase production and maintain the infrastructure necessary for that self-replication, like the Apple Store.

Self-replication can be relatively easy as long as the substrate is designed to contain components not much less complex than the finished product. For instance, the self-replicating robot built at Cornell self-replicates not from scratch, but rather from a set of pre-engineered blocks not much simpler than the robot itself. Using a hierarchy of such self-replicators, where each step is relatively simple but results in the creation of more complex components used in the next stage of self-replication, could provide a bootstrappable pathway to self-replicating infrastructures. Such a scheme also makes recycling easier -- if a large machine falls apart, perhaps only some of its components need by discarded, and the rest can be reused.

At the root of a substantial number of transhumanists' wild visions appears to be confidence that self-replicating factories will ultimately be produced. Otherwise, it is hard to imagine how society would acquire the necessary wealth to implement changes of the type that transhumanists discuss. In fact, it appears to me that modern transhumanism evolved in large part out of enthusiasm for the idea of molecular nanotechnology in the mid-1990s. The ongoing philosophical connection of transhumanism to other Enlightenment movements is more of a post hoc project designed to make transhumanism palatable and comprehensible to larger groups.

At its core, I believe that transhumanism's greatest accomplishment is identifying self-replicating and self-amplifying processes as humanity's greatest opportunity and hazard of the 21st century -- technology with the potential to allow us to transcend our material, physiological, and psychological limitations or, if handled poorly, cause a reprise of the Permian-Triassic extinction. You don't have to be a transhumanist to appreciate this insight; you only need to be convinced that self-replicating machines are technically plausible at some point in the near or mid-term future. Indeed, a substantial minority of tech-oriented people seem open to the possibility. Here is a poll from a 2005 CNN article on RepRap:

Even more exciting to me than self-replication is the power of self-amplification. I define self-amplification as a growing optimization process that extends its own infrastructure in a diverse way rather than simple self-replication, where "infrastructure" is defined as both core structures and the peripheral structures that support them. Humanity is an interesting edge case here, at the boundary of what I would consider the transition from self-replication to self-amplification. We are able to create diverse artifacts, but our ability to inject diversity into our own bodies and minds through self-transformation or directed evolution is extremely limited.

There is an opportunity here for the development of a mathematical model that quantifies the information and structural content produced by a given self-replicating or self-amplifying entity. Humans like to think that we exhibit nearly infinite variety in the creation of artifacts, but this is untrue. We mostly create artifacts that we have cultural and evolutionary predispositions to create. If we realized how constrained our information-producing tendencies are, it would help us become a more mature species through better self-reflection.


Ten Interesting Futuristic Materials in Korean

My article from 2008, "10 Interesting Futuristic Materials", is now available in Korean.

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