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


Inevitability of Plate Tectonics on Super-Earths

I thought this was interesting.

The recent discovery of super-Earths (masses less or equal to 10 earth-masses) has initiated a discussion about conditions for habitable worlds. Among these is the mode of convection, which influences a planet's thermal evolution and surface conditions. On Earth, plate tectonics has been proposed as a necessary condition for life. Here we show, that super-Earths will also have plate tectonics. We demonstrate that as planetary mass increases, the shear stress available to overcome resistance to plate motion increases while the plate thickness decreases, thereby enhancing plate weakness. These effects contribute favorably to the subduction of the lithosphere, an essential component of plate tectonics. Moreover, uncertainties in achieving plate tectonics in the one earth-mass regime disappear as mass increases: super-Earths, even if dry, will exhibit plate tectonic behaviour.

Can't wait until we build a hypertelescope to see if the Super-Earths out there are rock or gas.

Filed under: space 32 Comments

Complex Value Systems are Required to Realize Valuable Futures

A new paper by Eliezer Yudkowsky is online on the SIAI publications page, "Complex Value Systems are Required to Realize Valuable Futures". This paper was presented at the recent Fourth Conference on Artificial General Intelligence, held at Google HQ in Mountain View.

Abstract: A common reaction to first encountering the problem statement of Friendly AI ("Ensure that the creation of a generally intelligent, self-improving, eventually superintelligent system realizes a positive outcome") is to propose a single moral value which allegedly suffices; or to reject the problem by replying that "constraining" our creations is undesirable or unnecessary. This paper makes the case that a criterion for describing a "positive outcome", despite the shortness of the English phrase, contains considerable complexity hidden from us by our own thought processes, which only search positive-value parts of the action space, and implicitly think as if code is interpreted by an anthropomorphic ghost-in-the-machine. Abandoning inheritance from human value (at least as a basis for renormalizing to reflective equilibria) will yield futures worthless even from the standpoint of AGI researchers who consider themselves to have cosmopolitan values not tied to the exact forms or desires of humanity.

Keywords: Friendly AI, machine ethics, anthropomorphism

Good quote:

"It is not as if there is a ghost-in-the-machine, with its own built-in goals and desires (the way that biological humans are constructed by natural selection to have built-in goals and desires) which is handed the code as a set of commands, and which can look over the code and find ways to circumvent the code if it fails to conform to the ghost-in-the-machine's desires. The AI is the code; subtracting the code does not yield a ghost-in-the-machine free from constraint, it yields an unprogrammed CPU."


Eliezer Yudkowsky at the Winter Intelligence Conference at Oxford: “Friendly AI: Why It’s Not That Simple”

Winter Intelligence Conference 2011 - Eliezer Yudkowsky from Future of Humanity Institute on Vimeo.


Global Catastrophic Risk Research Page

From Seth Baum:

Global catastrophic risks (GCR) are risks of events that could significantly harm or even destroy human civilization at the global scale. GCR is related to the concept of existential risk, which is risk of events that would cause humanity to no longer exist. (Note that Nick Bostrom, who coined the term existential risk, defines it in a slightly different way.) Prominent GCRs include climate change, nuclear warfare, pandemics, and artificial general intelligence. Due to the breadth of the GCRs themselves and the issues that GCRs raise, the study of GCR is quite interdisciplinary.

According to a range of ethical views, including my views, reducing GCR should be our top priority as individuals and as a society. In short, if a global catastrophe occurs, then not much else matters, since so much of what we might care about (such as human wellbeing, the wellbeing of non-human animals, or the flourishing of ecosystems) would be largely or entirely wiped out by the catastrophe. The details about prioritizing GCR are a bit more complicated than this (and are part of ongoing research), but GCR does nonetheless remain a (or the) top priority from a range of views.

Seth Baum is one of the only academics working on existential risks. Last December I attended the Society for Risk Analysis annual meeting at his invitation, and gave a talk on molecular nanotechnology risk. I also summarized what the Singularity Institute does.

Seth Baum has some attention and interest from a few leading figures in the risk analysis community, but he needs to get more momentum to have a larger impact. If you are an academic you should consider partnering with him. The UK has a nicely established existential risk research group in the form of the Future of Humanity Institute, but the US lacks one. We have SIAI and the Lifeboat Foundation, but SIAI is focused on AGI, and the Lifeboat Foundation doesn't have any research staff.

Filed under: risks 4 Comments

Robert Ettinger has been Cryopreserved

Robert Ettinger, a hero among many transhumanists for fathering the cryonics movement, has been cryopreserved at age 92 in Clinton Township, Michigan. He died on Saturday, July 23.

The Cryonics Institute press release is here. There are a few obituaries online, including one from the Telegraph. Chronopause, a cryonics blog, reviews the history of Ettinger and cryonics.

Ettinger's 1962 book The Prospect of Immortality and 1972 book Man into Superman inspire many transhumanists to think beyond the "inevitability" of death.

Ben Best was quoted by on the suspension:

“Robert Ettinger deanimated [Saturday] at around 4 p.m. Eastern Time,” said Ben Best, president of the Cryonics Institute. “He was under hospice care and had an ice bath sitting by his bedside. His pronouncement and initiation of cooling was very rapid. The perfusion went well and he is now in the cooling box. Much more later.”

Ettinger's 1962 book was a turning point in human history. It represented the first time when people acquired the ambition to preserve the fine-grained structure of the human brain at death. Although Ben Franklin had imagined suspended animation centuries earlier, it wasn't until Ettinger's 1962 work that the idea became real. Ettinger participated in the first cryonic suspension in 1967.

Ettinger's first book was republished by Doubleday after it was sent to Isaac Asimov who said that the concept was scientifically sound.

I hope that Ettinger is revived in the not-too-distant future to "taste the wine of centuries unborn".

Filed under: cryonics 56 Comments

Singularity Institute Announces Research Associates Program

From SIAI blog:

The Singularity Institute is proud to announce the expansion of our research efforts with our new Research Associates program!

Research associates are chosen for their excellent thinking ability and their passion for our core mission. Research associates are not salaried staff, but we encourage their Friendly AI-related research outputs by, for example, covering their travel costs for conferences at which they present academic work relevant to our mission.

Our first three research associates are:

Daniel Dewey, an AI researcher, holds a B.S. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University. He is presenting his paper 'Learning What to Value' at the AGI-11 conference this August.

Vladimir Nesov, a decision theory researcher, holds an M.S. in applied mathematics and physics from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. He helped Wei Dai develop updateless decision theory, in pursuit of one of the Singularity Institute core research goals: that of developing a 'reflective decision theory.'

Peter de Blanc, an AI researcher, holds an M.A. in mathematics from Temple University. He has written several papers on goal systems for decision-theoretic agents, including 'Convergence of Expected Utility for Universal AI' and 'Ontological Crises in Artificial Agents' Value Systems.'

We're excited to welcome Peter, Vladimir, and Daniel to our team!

Filed under: friendly ai, SIAI 8 Comments

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20. The Final Weapon

Filed under: meta 7 Comments

The Singularity is Far: A Neuroscientist’s View

I haven't read this, I'm just posting it because other people are talking about it.

Ray Kurzweil, the prominent inventor and futurist, can't wait to get nanobots into his brain. In his view, these devices will be equipped with a variety of sensors and stimulators and will communicate wirelessly with computers outside of the body. In addition to providing unprecedented insight into brain function at the cellular level, brain-penetrating nanobots would provide the ultimate virtual reality experience.


Filed under: singularity 18 Comments

The Last Post Was an Experiment

+1 for everyone who saw through my lie.

I thought it would be interesting to say stuff not aligned with what I believe to see the reaction.

The original prompt is that I was sort of wondering why no one was contributing to our Humanity+ matching challenge grant.

Maybe because many futurist-oriented people don't think transhumanism is very important.

They're wrong. Without a movement, the techno-savvy and existential risk mitigators are just a bunch of unconnected chumps, or in isolated little cells of 4-5 people. With a movement, hundreds or even thousands of people can provide many thousands of dollars worth of mutual value in "consulting" and work cooperation to one another on a regular basis, which gives us the power to spread our ideas and stand up to competing movements, like Born Again bioconservatism, which would have us all die by age 110.

I believe the "Groucho Marxes" -- who "won't join any club that will have them" are sidelining themselves from history. Organized transhumanism is very important.

I thought quoting Margaret Somerville would pretty much give it away, but apparently not.

To me, cybernetics etc. are just a tiny skin on the peach that is the Singularity and the post-Singularity world. To my mind, SL4 transhumanism is pretty damn cool and important. I've written hundreds of thousands of words for why I think so, but there must be something I'm missing.

To quote Peter Thiel, those not looking closely at the Singularity and the potentially discontinuous impacts of AI are "living in a fantasy world".


Why “Transhumanism” is Unnecessary

Who needs "transhumanism"? Millions of dollars are going into fields such as brain-computer interfacing, robotics, AI, and regenerative medicine without the influence of "transhumanists". Wouldn't transhumanism be better off if we relinquished the odd name and just marketed ourselves as "normal"?

Wild transhumanist ideas such as cryonics, molecular nanotechnology, hard takeoff, Jupiter Brains, and the like, distract our audience from the incremental transhumanist advances occurring on an everyday basis in labs at universities around the world. Brain implants exist, gene sequencing exists, regenerative medicine exists -- why is this any different than normal science and medicine?

Motivations such as the desire to raise one's father from the dead are clearly examples of theological thinking. Instead of embracing theology, we need to face the nitty gritty of the world here and now, with all of its blemishes and problems.

Instead of working towards blue-sky, neo-apocalyptic discontinuous advances, we need to preserve democracy by promoting incremental advances to ensure that every citizen has a voice in every important societal change, and the ability to democratically reject those changes if desired.

To ensure that there is not a gap between the enhanced and the unenhanced, we should let true people -- Homo sapiens -- be allowed to vote on whether certain technological enhancements are allowed. Anything else would be irresponsible.

As Margaret Somerville recently wrote in the Vancouver Sun:

Another distinction that might help to distinguish ethical technoscience interventions from unethical ones is whether the intervention affects the intrinsic being or essence of a person -- for instance, their sense of self or consciousness -- or is external to that. The former, I propose, are always unethical, while the latter may not be.

The intrinsic essence and being of a person is not something to be taken for granted -- it has been shaped carefully by millions of years of evolution. If we start picking arbitrary variables and trying to optimize them, the consequences could be very unpredictable. Our lust for pleasure and power could quickly lead us to a dark road of narcissistic self-enhancement and disenfranchisement of the majority of humanity.

Filed under: transhumanism 93 Comments

$18.5 Million for Brain-Computer Interfacing

Another university is opening up a BCI lab, University of Washington. It makes sense because it's near the Allen Institute for Brain Science, among other reasons. Did I mention that Christof Koch, the new Chief Science Officer of the Allen Institute, will be speaking at Singularity Summit?

Here's an excerpt of the news release:

The National Science Foundation today announced an $18.5 million grant to establish an Engineering Research Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering based at the University of Washington.

“The center will work on robotic devices that interact with, assist and understand the nervous system,” said director Yoky Matsuoka, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering. “It will combine advances in robotics, neuroscience, electromechanical devices and computer science to restore or augment the body’s ability for sensation and movement.”

The text is pretty generic boilerplate, it's just the action that is important. We will likely have to wait a year or more before any interesting breakthroughs from this lab hit the news.

Filed under: BCI 12 Comments

Dale Carrico Classics

Just in case there are new readers, I want to refer them to the writings of Dale Carrico, probably the best transhumanist critic thus far. He's a lecturer at Berkeley. (Maybe The New Atlantis should try hiring him, though I sort of doubt they'd get along.) I especially enjoy this post responding to my "Transhumanism Has Already Won" post:

The Robot Cultists Have Won?

When did that happen?

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.

You can read the whole thing at Dale's blog.

Filed under: transhumanism 37 Comments