July 1, 2003

July 2003

July 25, 2003
I saw Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later last night. It wasn't exactly what I expected, especially considering that it's a loose prequel to 12 Monkeys. It's essentially a zombie movie -- think of it as Night of the Living Dead meets The Stand meets Lord of the Flies. A stylistic and good movie if you like getting creeped out, but that's about it.

July 24, 2003
Marshall Brain has published an article claiming that robots will take half the jobs in the U.S. by 2050, titled Robotic Nation. Other predictions: real computer vision systems by 2020, computers with the CPU power and memory of the human brain by 2040, completely robotic fast food restaurants in 2030, etc.

July 24, 2003
Business Week Online has an article about the merits of meditating at work: Zen and the Art of Corporate Productivity: More companies are battling employee stress with meditation

July 24, 2003
This site is now friendly for those Luddites who work at a resolution of 800X600.

July 23, 2003
James Hughes's latest Changesurfer column for Betterhumans addresses those dastardly "human-racists," Saving Human Rights from the Human-racists: We need a global campaign for the right of all people to control their own body and mind.

July 21, 2003
Robert J. Bradbury had this to say about my correspondence with Danielle Egan of Jane Magazine re: the biggest existential risks (we agree on the Big Three threats -- bio, nano, ai):

Regarding your comments to Danielle about the two biggest threats...

The threat from an engineered virus -- or even worse an engineered bacteria is much greater than that posed by nanotech for several reasons.

First, the technology to enable this exists *now* (even I probably have the equipment required). Second the knowledge required for such an effort is becoming increasingly available (microbiology textbooks and archives of journals on CD-ROMs, etc.). Third the costs (in terms of materials) required for this are declining at a fairly rapid pace (inevitably they could reach the point of hundreds to thousands of dollars -- well within the budget of your neighbor next door if he doesn't like the fact that you mow your lawn at 8:00 AM on Sunday mornings....

The nanotech scenario is very very difficult from where we currently stand technologically. And Robert Freitas in his "Ecophagy" paper has gone into great detail for how one would prepare for it. Most people think there is nothing you can do about nanotech "gone-wild" and that's just ca-ca. The same
things that are effective against existing micro-organisms (radiation, temperature extremes, extreme blunt-force trauma, energy or material starvation, etc.) work perfectly well against nanotech (one just may need to apply them in greater amounts or with greater speed).

The "rogue/amoral-AI" risks are probably significantly greater than the nanotech risks at this time. That is because there is probably enough CPU capacity in the Kazaa network to equal a human level intelligence (or beyond). So the only three barriers are (a) hacking into the Kazaa software; (b) the fact that most of the machines are probably connected to the net by relatively slow links; and (c) nobody knows how to create a self-evolving AI.

(a) is unlikely to be a problem for someone determined to solve it -- or it can be solved in other ways, e.g. the sobig virus backdoors that allowed the distribution of large amounts of SPAM; (b) is slowly falling barrier as people get faster links (broadband, DSL, etc.) -- so the only real hurdle is (c). I would not want to place a significant bet that that barrier holds for the decades that it will take for robust nanotech to develop.

So my list:
a) Development of an engineered virus or bacteria (danger *NOW*)
b) Development of a rogue/amoral self-evolving AI (danger - next 1-2 decades)
c) Development of nanotech weapons/grey goo (danger - next 2-4 decades)

Then against that list one has to array everything from Near Earth Objects to Gamma Ray Bursts to North Korea... A very complex equation.

Note that I do not feel the bio threat is quite as bad as some people would propose. The response to the SARS threat seems to suggest we can deal with any low level threats even without more advanced diagnostic equipment.

There seems to be a conflict between the time line for the effects of bioterrorism and the impact that people promoting terrorism would like achieve (e.g. the drama or "pointedness" of the activity). So there may be a negative bias on its use -- at least for a while.

Its kind of like to convince people one has executed a bioterrorist attack one has to disclose the genomic sequence of a novel bioterrorist microorganism (to prove you did it) -- but once one does that one implicitly gives humanity tools that enable us to combat the problem.

With bioweapons it may be harder to claim "authorship" of the threat and so its use may be diminished. (Just thinking out loud).

July 19, 2003
Our universe has a hell of a lot of black holes in it, and this is probably for good reason. Our universe may have actually evolved such that it is essentially a massive black hole generator.

Isn't it interesting how we know about two kinds of cosmological singularities? There's the pre-Big Bang singularity, and then there's the black hole singularity. Cosmologists and wondering if there's a connection. In fact, a growing number of them speculate that black holes actually spawn baby universes. Thus, our own universe may very well be the product of a black hole in a parent universe. Black holes, therefore, are an integral part of the universe's reproductive cycle.

The cosmologist Lee Smolin hypothesizes that our universe is a kind of organism that is subject to the demands of natural selection (as an aside, Murray Gell-Mann was quoted, "Smolin? Oh, is he that young guy with those crazy ideas? He may not be wrong!"). It's a safe bet, argues Smolin, that our universe's characteristics are exactly the way they are due to the pressures of Darwinian selection. As each parent spawns a baby universe (probably through a black hole), the resultant universe varies somewhat from its parent. But ultimately, in order for the universe's "genome" to survive into the next generation, it must create a universe that's capable of reproducing itself. This may explain why our universe may have so many stars, why it is so large, and why it is so complex.

But if the universe does have a genome, where is it stored? When we look at the universe, we are looking at the phenotype. We are unable to see deeper into the mechanism to see where the source code is executed. Still, through our physics and mathematics, we may be able to put together the universe's blueprint.

Another consideration is looking at the singularity as a generator of infinite data streams. If this is the case, then black holes spawn a near infinite number of universe-types. We reside in a biophillic universe where observers exist. Can we conclude anything from this? Are observers epiphenomenon, or are observers integral to the universe's existence? In other words, can a universe exist without observers?

A place to start would be to figure out if a different kind of universe can exist that generates even more black holes than ours, but one that is devoid of life.

July 19, 2003
I was walking through a park in downtown Toronto yesterday when a pigeon started walking around in front of me. As I was looking at it, I asked myself, "What are you really looking at? What really is a pigeon, or any organism for that matter?"

The first and most obvious answer was that I was looking at a specific organism, in this case a pigeon. Putting it another way, I was looking at a phenotype. And as we know, a phenotype is essentially the material and morphological expression of a genome. In the language of Richard Dawkins, the genome has generated the pigeon as a means of replicating itself.

Okay, so a pigeon is the manifestation of a genome. What, therefore, is a genome? Well, a genome is an organism's blueprint. More accurately, it's an unconsciously intelligent and sophisticated set of instructions that organizes molecules.

And what are instructions? Arranged or systematized directions for a procedure. And a procedure is a linear process, so in order for an instruction to properly execute, time must elapse. Thus, the pigeon is the end result of a discreet self-replicating executed data stream.

I suppose I could stop this slide into reductionism, but why stop now?

What is data? Data is information. But information doesn't exist unto itself, it cannot exist without a medium; data must physically reside somewhere. Our universe is structured in such a way that a) information can exist and b) information can be stored in any number of ways. It can be stored in a book, a mind, or in a genome. In this sense, the universe is infophillic; we live in a universe in which data is easily organized and stored. Thus, due to this infophillic nature of the universe, it is subsequently a biophillic universe.

So, the next time you see a pigeon, just realize that you're witnessing a perfect example of how the universe loves to store, organize, and express data. It reminds me of what Cypher said in The Matrix, "The image translators work for the construct program, but there's way too much information to decode the matrix. You get used to it. I, I don't even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, redhead."

I suppose how you view the universe is a personal choice.

July 19, 2003
James Hughes had another thing to say about the CGS on wta-talk:

One final word about the Center for Genetics and Society.

Perhaps I pay them more attention than they deserve since they and I are very close politically, but on opposite ends of the bioLuddite-transhumanism debate. But I think this piece and their article in TomPaine.com show they are seriously disturbed at the momentum and credibility shown at Transvision, and by the emergence of a broad ideological transhumanism that they can't easily dismiss with a couple of right-wing mysanthropic quotes. They are especially offended by the argument that germline enhancement is a reproductive rights issue. We saw why with George Annas in the debate, when he painted himself into a corner by saying "you can do what you want with your own body, but if you enhance your genes you can't have children." That's authoritarian eugenics, as George Dvorsky points out in Betterhumans, which is why CGS has to yell twice as loud that we are the eugenicists.

Anyway, the more successful we become the quicker and heavier the brickbats will come, and the more subtle and salacious the slurs. Gird your loins, and learn to enjoy rough play. And lets take some lessons from CGS on how to fight.

July 19, 2003
Chet Zar has finally put up his own website highlighting his work. Here's a taste:

July 18, 2003
Latest Ronald Bailey column from Reason Online: Conflicted Science

July 17, 2003
Langdon Winner has written a very readable and interesting critique of Transhumanism called, Are Humans Obsolete? Winner makes some good points and draws out some important issues, namely the transhumanist preoccupation with personal evolution and not societal evolution. As Winner writes, "Asked what they would like to do, perhaps the world's populace might point to more urgent projects long promised but left undone, for example, securing adequate nutrition, sanitation, housing, health care, and education for the three billion among us who are still in desperate need. Better genes and electronic implants? Hell, how about potable water?"

Of course, one can be an advocate of posthumanism and advocate social reform. I know I do. I'm not sure why Winner characterizes transhumanists as being inherently selfish. I've noticed that this is a common assumption amongst our critics.

Another problem with Winner's essay is his rather naive take on the nature of technological change. On the inevitability of certain technologies, Winner protests: "Counsel of this kind is absurd on its face, for it denies what all serious studies of scientific and technological change have shown, namely, that technological changes of any significance involve intense social interaction, competition, conflict, and negotiation in which the eventual outcomes are highly contingent. Within the making and application of new technologies, there are always competing interests, contesting positions on basic principles, and numerous branching points in which people choose among several options, giving form to the instrumentalities finally realized, discarding others that may have seemed attractive." Winner offers some trivial examples to bolster his case: "Modern history is filled with examples of technological developments announced as "inevitable" that never took root -- personal helicopters, atomic airplanes, videophones, and extensive colonies in outer space, among others."

Winner is guilty of some wishful thinking here, possibly even projecting his own hopes for the future in his analysis. Essentially, he believes that once we see the the error of our ways, we'll back down from the path to a posthuman existence. I suppose that he may be right, that some paths will prove less fruitful than others, but not that these avenues won't be exploited to their fullest. Make no mistake: there will be posthumans in our future.

One of the unfortunate realities of existence is the rather Darwinian way in which sci-tech develops and survives the weeding-out process. Of equal import, societies that don't apply the new technologies in beneficial and specific ways tend to lag behind (see Wright, Nonzero). In many respects, we are already slaves to our technologies -- we just have to figure out how to ride the wave without drowning. We know these new technologies are coming, and we know some people and groups are going to use them. The question therefore is how to manage and regulate them.

July 16, 2003
Stacy Robinson of the Center for Genetics and Society just put out a review of TransVision 2003. Readers should understand that Robinson's organization is firmly positioned in the conservative camp. Here are some comments/retorts from the wta-talk list:

Mike Tredder wrote:
I'm disappointed to have our group characterized as consisting of individuals who seek "dominance over others". That depiction is exactly the opposite of the egalitarian humanism that I see espoused by Nick Bostrom, James Hughes, and others. By definition, transhumanists support the opportunity for members of our species to move beyond humanness. Does that make us inhuman? I hardly think so. What this tells us, however, is that we must strive to assert -- and demonstrate -- our essential *humaneness*.

Simon Smith wrote:
My candidates for the most offensive and purposely misleading lines:
1) "Their vision of a world in which atomized individuals use technology and free markets to achieve dominance over others differs in degree, and
not kind, from much of the real world today."
2) "Those committed to social justice, equity, and global inclusion can begin to counter its attractions by exposing the inhumanity of the transhumanist vision."
It's a toss up, and they actually go hand-in-hand: 'Transhumanists want world domination, so fight them the way you fight evil corporations.' Let's just hope that this blatant hate-mongering and misinformation is as transparent to everyone else that reads this so-called report.

James Hughes wrote:
I was just annoyed that they said there were only boys at the Friday debate, when it was pretty balanced so far as I remember, and that they didn't mention that the head of the National Transgender Action Coalition announced that transgenders were the first transhumanists.

Here's the report:


For three days in June, scholars, computer programmers, scientists, social theorists, and bioethicists gathered at Yale University for Transvision USA, a conference sponsored by the World Transhumanist Association (WTA). This year's event, the first Transvision conference to be held in North America, was an attempt to promote transhumanism among mainstream scholars and scientists in the United States. Approximately 130 people from around the world attended.

What is transhumanism and why all the fuss?

Transhumanism is a recent intellectual and cultural movement that argues that technology can and should be used to overcome the limitations of the human body. The term "transhuman"—short for "transitional human"—typically refers to an intermediary form between human and "posthuman." Since posthumanity has yet to be achieved, it's difficult to define exactly what a posthuman is, although the term is loosely defined as an entity whose capabilities so radically exceed those of humans that they constitute a new being. According to the WTA website, a posthuman could be a completely synthetic artificial intelligence or even an information pattern.

The transhumanist movement grew out of the predominantly male Internet culture of the 1990s, and was initially closely associated with extreme libertarian political and social values. This is especially true for one subset of transhumanists—called extropians—who are opposed to any authoritarian social control.

In the late 1980s, two graduate students at the University of Southern California—Max More and T.O. Morrow (it's common for extropians to change their names)—developed the term "extropy" to identify their futurist philosophy. Extropy (the opposite of "entropy") was said to represent the expansion of human powers, intelligent technology, and spontaneous order. Extropianism is one form of transhumanism—all extropians are transhumanists, but not all transhumanists are extropians.

In the early 1990s, during the expansion of the Internet, More and Morrow formed the Extropy Institute, which held its first conference in Silicon Valley, California in 1994. A subsequent write-up on the conference and the Extropians in Wired magazine significantly increased transhumanism's popularity among scientists, academics, and futurist philosophers. More recent extropian conferences have featured scientists and business figures including UC San Francisco geneticist Cynthia Kenyon and Calvin Harley, chief scientific officer at Geron, as keynote speakers.

In 1997 the World Transhumanist Association was formed by Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom in reaction to growing dissatisfaction with the extropians' extreme libertarian-capitalist views. The WTA sees itself as the liberal-democratic wing of the transhumanist movement. (The Extropy Institute eventually affiliated with the WTA.)

All transhumanists embrace a variety of technologies including cryonics (freezing corpses in hopes that they will one day be reanimated after medical technology has progressed), uploading (transferring an intellect from a human brain to a computer), virtual reality, artificial intelligence, smart drugs, genetic enhancement, and nanotechnology (manipulating matter at the molecular level).

The conference

This year's Transvision USA conference, titled "The Adaptable Human Body: Transhumanism and Bioethics in the 21st Century," included sessions on topics such as "Why Not Re-Invent Humans? Is This the Best We Can Do?" The program notes that this year's conference is an attempt to begin the discussion between the transhumanists and "communities with which transhumanists have rarely been in dialogue"—namely bioethicists and critical social theorists. The program opened with a debate between George Annas, professor of health law Boston University, and Gregory Stock, director of UCLA's Program on Medicine, Technology and Society.

Annas argued in favor of applying the Precautionary Principle to human genetic technologies, particularly those with the potential to alter or endanger the human species. Stock's response? "I don't care about the species, I care about individual people," he told the almost entirely male crowd. (Bailey, Reason online, 7/2/2003)

Ron Bailey, the libertarian science editor at Reason magazine, was the conference's closing keynote speaker. His column on the conference, which doesn't mention his role there, relies on an extended metaphor inspired by an Australian bioethicist who told the participants that "the job of bioethics is to be the French letter [condom] on the prick of progress." Bailey's summary comment: "[W]hile insisting on the maintenance of standards for safety and efficacy, in most cases transhumanists are happy to ride the prick of progress pretty much bareback." (Bailey, Reason online, 7/2/2003)

Transhumanists explicitly reject the racialist and classist assumptions associated with eugenics. But they also argue that parents have a "moral responsibility" to make use of embryonic screening and genetic technology to increase the probability of a healthy and "multiply talented" child. Transhumanists believe society should not be neutral as to whether a child is born healthy or disabled. They strongly advocate the use of germline manipulation, asserting that "some degree of uniformity is desirable and expected if we are to make everyone congenitally healthy, strong, intelligent, and attractive." (The Transhumanist FAQ)

In a conversation with CGS, George Annas noted that the transhumanists' "rhetoric is self-control, but their argument is first, that they cannot control themselves (the technology is 'inevitable') and second, that they really want to control not only their bodies, but the bodies of their children as well."

Philosopher Evelyne Shuster, another of the few critics of transhumanism who spoke at the Transvision conference, told CGS that the participants represent "a group in search of a philosophy to support their views."

The WTA goes so far as to acknowledge that biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence are potentially dangerous, and that the ethical, social, and cultural implications of these technologies are huge. But, Shuster commented, most transhumanists "reject any government regulations, treaties, or laws that may prevent them from doing whatever they want to do to achieve transhumanistic goals." According to Gregory Stock in the opening debate, "the least likelihood of abusing this technology and protecting ourselves is to allow individual choice."

Many transhumanist ideas—such as cryo-preserving one's head or uploading one's neural networks to achieve immortality—are difficult to take seriously. But it may be a mistake to dismiss the transhumanists as a harmless group of under-socialized techno-geeks. Their vision of a world in which atomized individuals use technology and free markets to achieve dominance over others differs in degree, and not kind, from much of the real world today. At a time when many people feel powerless to influence social conditions, their message—don't worry about society; technology will make you smart, strong, and attractive—could seem compelling. Those committed to social justice, equity, and global inclusion can begin to counter its attractions by exposing the inhumanity of the transhumanist vision.

July 16, 2003
Dr. Goertzel is a Transhumanist thinker and singularitarian (he's unsure, however, if a technological singularity will be good or bad). His currently exploring how greater-than-human artificial intelligence can best benefit humanity.

He has been involved in AI research and application development since the late 1980’s and was the founder of Webmind Inc. and served that firm as CTO and Chairman from 1997-2001. He holds a PhD in mathematics from Temple University, and over the period 1989-1997 he held several university faculty positions in mathematics, computer science, and psychology, in the US, New Zealand and Australia.

I highly recommend the following links and articles that pertain to Dr. Goertzel and his work:
- The Path to Posthumanity: Computing, Bioscience and Ethics at the Dawn of the Transhuman Age, by Ben Goertzel
- AGIRI: Artificial General Intelligence Research Institute
- Biomind: A revolutionary approach to analyzing microarray data
- Dr. Goertzel is a board member of the Singularity Action Group
- Ben Goertzel on Changesurfer Radio with Dr. J
- Linus Pauling: A Life in Science and Politics
- The Evolving Mind
- Creating Internet Intelligence: Wild Computing, Distributed Digital Consciousness, and the Emerging Global Brain

July 14, 2003
This study is wonderfully apropos of my Ending Biblical Brainwash column, although I think they're on the wrong track by studying Buddhist monks (meditation is a form of scientific cognitive introspection and psychological discipline, not delusion): Studying the mechanisms of religious belief could lead to a better understanding of what goes on in the minds of people with psychiatric delusions.

July 14, 2003
It's about Reproductive Rights, Stupid
Just who, exactly, are the eugenicists? Bioconservatives say that transhumanists have no business co-opting the reproductive rights movement while they explicitly advocate state control over procreation

July 14, 2003
There's now a mta-talk group on Yahoo! groups.

July 12, 2003
Dr. J interviews Slate journalist David Plotz this week on Changesurfer Radio, Building Better Bodies.

July 12, 2003
William Bainbridge of the NSF is working on what he calls "Personality Capture." Essentially, it's a soft, prototypical, and practical precursor to what is hoped will eventually become consciousness uploading. Bainbridge hopes to get an accurate snap-shot of a person's personality by having them answer a massive questionnaire. How massive? Uh, well, 20,000 questions to be exact. Yeah, that's gonna take a while ;-) Here's Bainbridge's abstract:

Contemporary information technology facilitates the creation and administration of much longer questionnaires than traditionally was feasible, and people may be motivated to respond to them as a means of capturing significant aspects of their personalities. This can be useful in designing sociable technology - computer avatars, software agents, and robots with simulated personalities - and in creating personality archives for research or memorial purposes. This article illustrates how personality capture can be accomplished through 20,000 questionnaire items culled from responses to open-ended online questions, content analysis of existing verbal or textual material, and using words from dictionaries, encyclopedias, and thesauri. This approach enables detailed idiographic study of a single individual, based on fresh measurement items and scales derived from the ambient culture.

July 12, 2003
Several months ago at the "Can Cryonics Save Your Life?" talk hosted by the TTA, I got to meet John McCluskey who came all the way down from Montreal to attend. Simon Smith and I filled him in on our chapter and its relation to the WTA. We encouraged him to find like-minded Montrealers and start up a Montreal Transhumanist Association. Well, it appears that John's had some luck. A number of Montreal-based Transhumanists will be getting together soon for their first meeting. Good luck to all.

For those who may be interested, there's now an mta-announce group on Yahoo! groups.

July 12, 2003
WTA Chair Nick Bostrom has posted the speech he gave at TransVision, titled "In Defense of Human Dignity."

July 12, 2003
I just finished reading Martin Rees's Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning (to be reviewed for Betterhumans in a couple of weeks), and I'm currently reading Robert Wright's Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny.

I'm back in a metal mood again; Jeff Patterson of Bad Day Studios (who I got to meet at TV03 and is one hell of a cool dude) turned me on to Swedish death metalists, Opeth. How in blazes did I miss these guys? And what is it with Swedes and metal? There are currently no less than three killer metal acts from Sweden, including Meshuggah and Entombed. I'm also listening to Neurosis, Deftones, Isis, and Today Is The Day. In the non-metal category, I'm listening to Toronto's Broken Social Scene and Vancouver's New Pornographers. And I'm still listening to a ton of Groove Salad, a streaming MP3 channel off of Shoutcast. I'm also enjoying Talvin Singh, Mono, µ-Ziq, and Higher Intelligence Agency.

I'm a huge fan of Orson Welles, and I just watched the documentary, Battle Over Citizen Kane. I also recently watched the Animatrix, which I loved (adored the animation in The Program, Kid's Story & World Record, loved the bizarre and vivid Beyond, and my head was left spinning after Matriculated).

July 11, 2003
Danielle Egan from Jane Magazine is currently writing an article about TransVision 2003, Transhumanism in general, and possibly even Betterhumans. She came out to Yale and hung out with us during the conference. We've been corresponding, and she had some questions for me. Here's the email (Danielle is in blue, I'm in black):

DE: "Hi George, Danielle Egan here, writing the Jane piece. I read your article about colonizing space. I am wondering if maybe we should send all the scientists into space to work on genetic engineering and nanotechnology in the hopes that any potential early stage accidents don't wreak havoc on earth. People I've interviewed talk about uploading and how their VI would be like earth. Well no surprise there, earth is a nice spot comparatively speaking."

GD: "Yes, the early stages of any new technology can be dangerous, but the real issue here is the potential for deliberate misuse of technology. Developing nanobots or GM crops in space or in a strong simulation may someday be feasible, but eventually we will want to put these things to use in the real world. For example, nanotech assemblers will be used for mass production, nanomedicine (see Robert Freitas) and remedial ecology (see Douglas Mulhall). Also, the advent of the type of virtual reality talked about will probably follow the development of Drexlerian nanotechnology, which may be only 20-40 years away."

DE: "I like betterhumans content because you do seem to explore the cons. Could you elaborate for me your two biggest fears with potential future technologies? I understand there could be positive benefits but we don't know that for sure now. I think much more tests are needed before we start tinkering with human genetic engineering."

GD: "Two biggest threats:
1) deliberately engineered virus (imagine AIDS, but communicable by air)
2) nanotechnology run amok or deliberately misused as a weapon

A possible #3 would be a badly programmed artificial superintelligence -- the kind that Eliezer Yudkowsky et al are trying to anticipate & avoid.

As for genetic engineering, I don't believe that's an existential threat. Yes, it'll be a learning process, but we'll stop hammering nails into ourselves once we discover it hurts. Moreover, we will always be able to undo any wide scale damage that may have been done."

DE: "And what do you make of grey goo?"

GD: "Grey goo scenarios are still speculative and controversial at this point, but it appears the threat is real. It's conceivable that we could wipe out the atmosphere in a matter of days."

DE: "And uploading? Would you upload?"

GD: "Well, let me put it this way: I will not be the first to upload :)

But yes, if I could be convinvced that a) there is a continuity of consciousness, and b) that it was safe, I would probably do it.

It's possible, for example, to "upload" your consciousness through the process of cyborgization. It's conceivable that at some point in the future -- maybe even within our own lifetimes -- we will no longer be endowed with any original biological components. As our failing and aging components fail, we will replace them with prosthetics, including the brain. Imagine nanobots slowly replacing each neuron in your brain with a synthetic analog, so that eventually all the biological substrate has been replaced by something artificial (btw, this happens already -- every single atom in your brain gets replaced over the course of your lifetime). This is a form of uploading, and one of the most plausible.

As for uploading into a supercomputer and living as an avatar in a virtual reality -- perhaps eventually."

July 11, 2003
My favourite contemporary graphic artist is Alex Grey (I'm constantly using his images as my desktop wallpaper). His work is vivid, transcendent, and bursting with colour and energy. Because I meditate, practice yoga, and engage in Buddhist philosophy, his work particularly appeals to me. Many of his figures appear transparent (it's like Gray's Anatomy meets the Far East); we get to see and explore the inner universe (both the physical, cognitive, and spiritual) that the Eastern philosophies describe to us.

Also, Alex Grey is an advisor for the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics. He also did the artwork for Tool's last album, Lateralus:

July 10, 2003
Mmmmm. New look.

July 10, 2003

July 10, 2003
Okay, yet more refinements to our "scientific breakthrough metric." I took out sociology, and added semiotics (Umberto Eco) to the memetics entry. Michael Vasser also informed me that meditation was developed before the advent of Buddhism -- as much as 500 years before. Moreover, some Indus Valley dolls/figurines from 2500 BC depict the lotus sitting position, evidence of possible meditation.

The interesting thing about science is its relation to technology. It would be oversimplistic to suggest that science leads to technological breakthroughs, or vice versa. What happens is a sort of synergy: the development of science causes technological breakthroughs, and technological breakthroughs result in scientific developments. Essentially, it's a positive feedback loop that we're still engaged in; our science appears to be slowing down, but certainly not our technology -- and this bodes well for the future of science (at least it better).

For example, the invention of telescopes launched modern astronomy, and the invention of microscopes launched the microbiological revolution. Newtonian mechanics caused us to think about the universe as a kind of clockwork mechanism. The advent of machines in the Industrial Age caused us to think about our bodies as a type of machine. Computers have caused us to think about our brains as kinds of computers -- computers are also causing us to think about the universe as a kind of computer.

And scientific breakthroughs in the 19th century fueled a number of inventions, particularly electronics. Today, computers do math that humans cannot, and quantum physics is fueling the development of quantum computers. Who knows what sorts of insights quantum computers will bring to science. As Michael Vasser notes, "Now we have a new super-tool, the computer, but we haven't figured out how to take full advantage of it yet."

Okay, here's the latest list:

- Advent of religion as primitive metaphysics (100,000 to 45,000 years ago)
- Meditation - Pantojoli, Forest Vedas (1000 BC)
- Advent of science in Ancient Greece (350 BC)
- Arabic Mathematics (800 AD)
- Revival of Ptolemaic Astronomy (early 1500s)
- Copernican Astronomy/Heliocentrism (1543)
- Advent of Mechanistic Dynamics (17th century)
- Statistics & Probability - Bayes, Pascal, Fermat, etc. (17th century)
- Calculus - Huygens, Newton & Leibniz (late 17th century)
- Newtonian Dynamics (1680s)
- Optics - Newton, etc. (1680s)
- Idea of Progress/Enlightenment (18th century)
- Thermodynamics (early 19th century)
- Biochemistry (early 19th century)
- Non-Euclidean Geometry - Lobachevsky, Bolyai, Gauss, Riemann, etc. (early 19th century)
- Electro-Magnetic Induction - Faraday (1821)
- Natural Selection - Darwin (1858)
- Geological Uniformitarianism (mid to late 19th century)
- Mendelian Inheritance (1866)
- Maxwell's Equations (1884)
- Periodic Table of the Chemical Elements (mid to late 19th century)
- Microeconomics (mid to late 19th century)
- Germ Theory of Disease - Pasteur (late 19th century)
- Advent of Speculative Science Fiction, Futurology (late 19th century)
- Unification of Chemistry and Physics (late 19th, early 20th century)
- Experimental Psychology (early 20th century)
- Undecidability (early 20th century)
- Einsteinian Relativity (1905)
- Quantum Physics (1909) - Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Schrödinger
- Universal Computing - Turing, Gödel, Hilbert (1928)
- Advent of Cosmology (early to mid 20th century)
- Idea of force carrier - Einstein, Bose, Higgs (mid 20th century)
- Standard Model of Particle Physics (mid to late 20th century)
- Neo-Darwinian synthesis with Mendelian Genetics - Williams, Dawkins, etc. (mid to late 20th century)
- Chaos Theory or Complex Systems Theory (1960s)
- Memetics/Semiotics - Dawkins, Eco (1970s)
- Sociobiology - Wilson (1970s)

July 10, 2003
While in line registering for TransVision 2003 at Yale last month, I entered into a conversation with Jose Cordeiro and an older gentleman whose name wasn't familiar to me, William Bainbridge (but by the end of the conference, I was confident that it would be a name I'd never forget -- he's quite a remarkable individual). However, his name-tag did note that he worked for the National Science Foundation. Desperately looking for some kind of commonality or reference, I asked him if he had anything to do with the NSF's paper, Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance (last year I helped review this paper for Transhumanity). Well, as it turns out, he had a lot to do with it -- he edited it along with Mihail C. Roco. I complemented him on the paper, particularly the section on the social aspects of future technologies. He grinned and noted that he wrote that section. Nice.

Bill is a veteran sociologist and computer scientist who manages AI funding at the NSF, and has a long interest in transhumanism and “personality capture.” He is central to the NSF initiative to mobilize the converging technologies of nano, bio, AI and cognitive science to “improve human performance.” He delivered a remarkable speech at TransVision which was recently posted on Transhumanity.

July 10, 2003
Retired the My Predictions section. It was lame anyway.

July 9, 2003
I had the opportunity to meet singer/songwriter Elaine Walker at TransVision 2003. Aside from being a very talented musician and performer (her band is Zia), she is an accomplished futurist, organizer, and all round space freak. Oh, and she's painfully gorgeous (speaking of which, there weren't too many women at TV03, but those that did attend were all stunners; I wouldn't have thought that, but there you go).

I'm helping to organize TransVision 2004 which will be held here in Toronto. It's going to be more arts and culture oriented, so I invited Elaine to perform at TV04. Here's an encouraging email I received from her yesterday:

It was nice seeing you at the TransVision Conference. Please keep me posted about the Toronto conference next year. I'd love to show up and entertain!

I'm sending out some notices about my upcoming trip to the Arctic which is happening July 20-30. I was invited to participate in this year's field season with the NASA/SETI Haughton Mars Project to film a pop music video about humans-to-Mars! All of the details are on these websites:

There will be an interactive blog, and a daily journal during those dates as well, so please log on and participate! I'm trying to sneak some transhuman lyrics into this song as well. ;)


July 8, 2003
Do you want to hear something really weird? Well, before I do, enter into a Schrödinger's Cat frame of mind, and prepare for a rather radical other worldly revelation.

A number of months ago, while reading up on some quantum theory, I had a rather bizarre thought: in the infinite spectra of all possible worlds, does a conscious agent ever cease to exist? Put another way, can an observer ever enter into a state of non-observance? It got me thinking that perhaps non-observance is impossible, and thus, as each observer gets copied into the infinite worlds of probable outcomes (a la Everett many-worlds), they always experience existence rather than death. In other words, we will always somehow avoid death and continue to observe our own personal universes. Of course, our quantum copies in other worlds die -- we, as necessary continuing observers, just keep on truckin' -- regardless of how improbable or surprising it may appear. Maybe experiencing a personal death is impossible! Ack!

Okay, I'll admit, that sounds whacked. I could just jump in front of a bus and -- wham! -- so much for my infinite observing, smart ass. And people die all the time, both in the past and in the present, right?

Well, it turns out that I'm not as whacked as I thought. I was browsing through Wikipedia yesterday (yes, praise at the alter of the mighty Wik), and lo and behold, I found a theory on exactly this topic, called Quantum Immortality. It's the speculation that the Everett many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that a conscious being cannot cease to be. Needless to say, the idea is highly controversial.

What a bizarre thought. I'm inclined to reject this theory just out of its sheer ludicrousness. The idea that no existential harm could come to me sounds as absurd as it does dangerous. I'm not about to get lax and not look both ways before I cross the road.

But at the same time, it kind of explains a number of things. It explains why I didn't drown in a lake when I was 2 and was miraculously saved by my father. It also explains why my father caught me as I nearly flew into the windshield when he got into a car accident that same year. It explains why a search party found me when I was lost in the northern Canadian wilderness when I was 3 (okay, yes, I had a rather bizarre childhood -- these stories are all true). It would also explain why there's been no existential disaster to humanity during my tenure here on earth -- I'm thinking nuclear war, specifically.

Okay, so I'm slipping badly into solipsism. I'm aware of that ;-)

Or, am I making too much of my current existence, no matter how improbable it may appear? Are all these just co-incidences? Probably.

But I can't help think: does that mean that I'll get to experience the shift into a posthuman form and achieve an open-ended lifespan? Will I witness some kind of Singularity? Will I become a wave-pattern in a supercomputer? Or become some part of a metaconsciousness?

Why is it that this Shakespeare line comes to mind?:

"To die, to sleep --
To sleep, perchance to dream, ay there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause; there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life."

July 6, 2003
I'm having a very cool email correspondence with John Smart, the Founder and Chair of the Institute for Accelerating Change and author of SingularityWatch.com. John, like some cosmologists these days, are bringing together a number of interesting data points -- namely, accelerating change, systems and emergence theories, the biophilic universe, the anthropic principle, the reproductive universe theory, and a number of other highly convenient happy co-incidences -- and are hypothesizing that the universe is unconsciously but intelligently finely tuned for the existence of intelligent life to assist in the reproductive cycle of the universe. The going theory is that we're heading toward a developmental singularity where we'll venture not into outer space, but into inner space where we'll engineer a basement universe, probably through the re-engineering of a black hole.

Yeah, pretty radical and controversial stuff. Personally, I'm still finding this theory a bit circumstantial. Still, it's a theory that really bugs me -- not because I don't believe it, but because it might actually be true; there are some disturbing facts about this universe and intelligent life that fits so beautifully into this theory.

I had a 2 hour conversation with John at TransVision 2003, and we covered everything from evolution, existential threats, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Fermi Paradox and the Great Filter. Since then, I have been corresponding with John on these matters. Here are some excerpts from our email conversation (John's comments in blue, mine in black):
Critical questions/comments:
GD: "The Developmental Singularity theory, it appears to me, is still largely based on circumstantial evidence. As a result, we need to focus on some hard issues to help us in the empirical realm. Specifically, we need to explore black holes more to discover if they a) spawn basement universes without intelligent intervention, and b) can be engineered to spawn basement universes. Or, if black holes are not the answer to the universe's reproductive cycle, we must find an alternative."

JS: "Certainly. I'd love to see a lot more work on this topic, and I plan to bring together all the best research I've seen. Hawking has suggested everything below the quark scale might not be affected at all by a black hole transition. There are a *lot* of levels between quarks and the Planck scale."

GD: "The system you describe cannot be a perfectly deterministic system - any evolved system needs at least some dynamism built in to it to guarantee a certain degree of mutatability. Therefore, nothing is "guaranteed" in this universe, nor any universe for that matter, especially if one wants to introduce the infinite spectra of variable quantum worlds and multiverses."

JS: "Certainly. An 'evolutionary developmental' system (see singularitywatch.com for more on that concept, or put this word into any biological textbook search) is not perfectly deterministic. It is developmentally (not evolutionarily), highly statistically determined however, in standard development environments. And I don't need to tell you this looks like a very standard development environment."

GD: "Obviously, if you're right, intelligences (like ourselves right now) become self-aware of their deterministic drive towards a developmental singularity. Thus, one could argue that the drive to the singularity may be a conscious one, or even a self-directed one."

JS: "Yes, yes. Rationality being the latest emergent tool for searching the evolutionary phase space, etc. Kind of an interesting and humbling realization, isn't it? Certainly keeps reductionist materialist and rationalist philosophers from sleeping too soundly at night, I'd bet."

GD: "Aren't you really applying the same kind of pre-Copernican human-centric arrogance to assume that we're special? How are we less epiphenomenon than ants or other cosmic phenomenon?"

This perspective isn't anthropomorphic, its infopomorphic, as you point out below. Either the universe is a very efficient massively parallel evolutionary developmental learning system, or there's something major wrong with the model."

GD: "I'm of the mind that this theory still violates Occam's razor."

JS: "Occam's razor is nicely satisfied by this model, which is just one of its many seductions, believe me. It suggests the universe has no properties, in a developmental sense, that are any different from the developmental properties you and I possess. That's amazingly parsimonious."
Supportive questions/comments:

GD: "I don't believe that an Industrial Revolution could have happened before, during, or even shortly after the time of the dinosaurs for one simple reason: no fossil fuel. We should not understate the importance of the presence of fossil fuel in the development of modern society. Therefore, should we choose to be circumstantial in our reasoning, one could conclude that the 250 million year reign of the dinosaurs was a necessary developmental stage for the eventual rise of post-industrial intelligence."

JS: "Fascinating, isn't it? That dead biomass self-organizes to be a tech substrate for our own acceleration. I think your reasoning is essentially
correct. There are counterarguments that we could have progressed to some degree with steam and wood, but nothing like what we've seen. Coal gives cheap steel, etc., etc. All quite nicely linked, it appears."

GD: "The universe is biophilic (i.e. finely tuned for the existence of life), mostly because it is infophilic - data can be organized in the form of a genome, and information can be transferred from mind to mind via language. Our universe seems to love data, and it may be finely tuned for dynamic information storage, replication, & transfer."

JS: "My thoughts exactly. Read James Gardner's Biocosm, 2003 for more on that argument. He'll be a keynote speaker at ACC2003."

GD: "Just one more consideration: hypernovi and supermassive gamma ray bursts -- the kind of explosions that regularly takes out HUGE swaths of complex life in sizeable portions of the galaxy. Where do these suckers fit in?"

JS: "Excellent consideration. I'll have to research this further for my book. If the universe is anthropic to the development of intelligence, all these events would be far more numerous in the early universe. (As you know, supernova construct all the heavy elements, and are a necessary part of the stellar replication cycle). We'd see their frequency when we look out at the light tape, billions of years ago before intelligence existed, but we'd also see that they rapidly decrease statistically in the mature sectors of the universe, in the same manner that the vast majority of asteroids are vacuumed up in the first billion years of planetary formation, prior to emergence of complex life. It's been a few years since my astronomy course, but I'd be willing to bet you $100 that is exactly what happens as predicted by our better simulations. An infopomorphic developmental plan appears to be in operation, everywhere I have looked. Perhaps we can take a "long bet" on this (longbets.org) if the data are still inconclusive, which they might be.

July 4, 2003
The June 21-27 Economist has an article by Lexington called "Philosophers and Kings," but unfortunately it's not available on the Web. The gist of the article, however, is a discussion of the late political philosopher, Leo Strauss, the so-called "Fascist Godfather of the Neo-Cons," and author or "Xenophon's Socratic Discourse."

The reason Strauss is in the news is because he has many important admirers in conservative Washington, including Paul Wolfowitz, Abram Shulsky, John Walters, and, ahem, Leon Kass. Here's an excerpt from the article:

"Straussians such as Mr. Walters and Mr. Kass have helped to clothe Mr. Bush's Christian instincts in the non-religious language of moral philosophy and practical policy."

Indeed, one of the things that Kass excels at is pushing a pro-religious agenda without sounding like he's doing so. But every once in a while, he slips. Here's a rather telling quote from Mr. Kass:

"The promise of immortality and eternity answers rather to a deep truth about the human soul: the human soul yearns for, longs for, aspires to some condition, some state, some goal toward which our earthly activities are directed but which cannot be attained in earthly life. The human taste for immortality, for the imperishable and the eternal, is not a taste that the biomedical conquest of death could satisfy. We would still be incomplete; we would still lack wisdom; we would still lack God's presence and redemption."

July 3, 2003
I've been corresponding with Michael Vasser, and he had some interesting suggestions for the scientific progress metric. Here's a revised list, with my thanks to Michael.

- Advent of religion as primitive metaphysics (100,000 to 45,000 years ago)
- Meditation - Gautama Siddhartha (500 BC)
- Advent of science in Ancient Greece (350 BC)
- Arabic Mathematics (800 AD)
- Revival of Ptolemaic Astronomy (early 1500s)
- Copernican Astronomy/Heliocentrism (1543)
- Advent of Mechanistic Dynamics (17th century)
- Statistics & Probability - Bayes, Pascal, Fermat, etc. (17th century)
- Calculus - Huygens, Newton & Leibniz (late 17th century)
- Newtonian Dynamics (1680s)
- Optics - Newton, etc. (1680s)
- Idea of Progress/Enlightenment (18th century)
- Thermodynamics (early 19th century)
- Biochemistry (early 19th century)
- Non-Euclidean Geometry - Lobachevsky, Bolyai, Gauss, Riemann, etc. (early 19th century)
- Electro-Magnetic Induction - Faraday (1821)
- Natural Selection - Darwin (1858)
- Geological Uniformitarianism (mid to late 19th century)
- Mendelian Inheritance (1866)
- Maxwell's Equations (1884)
- Periodic Table of the Chemical Elements (mid to late 19th century)
- Microeconomics (mid to late 19th century)
- Sociology - Compte, Hegel, Marx, Weber, etc. (19th century)
- Germ Theory of Disease - Pasteur (late 19th century)
- Advent of Speculative Science Fiction, Futurology (late 19th century)
- Unification of Chemistry and Physics (late 19th, early 20th century)
- Experimental Psychology (early 20th century)
- Undecidability (early 20th century)
- Einsteinian Relativity (1905)
- Quantum Physics (1909) - Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Schrödinger
- Universal Computing - Turing, Gödel, Hilbert (1928)
- Advent of Cosmology (early to mid 20th century)
- Idea of force carrier - Einstein, Bose, Higgs (mid 20th century)
- Standard Model of Particle Physics (mid to late 20th century)
- Neo-Darwinian synthesis with Mendelian Genetics - Williams, Dawkins, etc. (mid to late 20th century)
- Chaos Theory or Complex Systems Theory (1960s)
- Memetics - Dawkins (1970s)
- Sociobiology - Wilson (1970s)

When I have a chance, I'll graph it. But it would appear that, based on these items, that scientific progress reached an apex in the 19th century, and we're currently leveling off.

July 2, 2003
With all this talk about accelerating change, we should probably ask ourselves what we mean by change. Is it more technological gadgetry? A stronger economy? More science? Or newer science?

One possible metric for change could be the Great Scientific Discovery, or Paradigm Shift. These are the sorts of discoveries that come rarely, but when they do, they change nearly everything that come after it. Here's a starting list (I welcome comments and suggestions):

- Advent of science in Ancient Greece (350 BC)
- Arabic Mathematics (800 AD)
- Revival of Ptolemaic Astronomy (early 1500s)
- Copernican Astronomy/Heliocentrism (1543)
- Advent of Mechanistic Dynamics (17th century)
- Newtonian Dynamics (1680s)
- Darwinian Natural Selection (1858)
- Einsteinian Relativity (1905)
- Quantum Physics (1909) - thanks to Planck, Einstein, and Bohr
- Everett Many Worlds Interpretation (1957)
- Superstring Theory (1990s) aka String Theory, M-Theory
- Quantum Consciousness Theory, or Quantum Panpsychism (late 20th century)
- Multiverse Theories, including varying forms of the anthropic principle (early 21st century)
- Simulationism, aka digital physics (early 21st century)
- Developmental Singularity (early 21st century)

So, are these discoveries coming quicker and with greater frequency? It would appear so. But past reward is no promise of future gain. It's possible that we could hit a conceptual ceiling -- we're already having a hell of a time creating a theory that accounts for both quantum and macroscale phenomenon. Actually, we really don't have a clue about quantum physics. We can predict results, but we can't explain them.

However, technological change -- which has undoubtedly not hit the ceiling, will enable us to advance our science as it always has. Telescopes and microscopes opened up entirely new realms to scientists before the Enlightenment, and computers are doing the same today. And unlike telescopes and microscopes, computers will actually help us devise and simulate our theories.

July 1, 2003
Humanity faces the threat of annihilation this century through the deliberate or accidental misuse of nanotechnology. In addition to actively working to prevent this, we should work on sending a contingent of humans to space.

July 1, 2003
I just returned from TransVision 2003, the first official Transhumanist conference. I spoke on reproductive rights, designer babies, and the consent of the unborn. Gregory Stock was in the audience for my talk, which was an incredible honour. I was also fortunate to meet and speak with Stuart Hameroff (I actually had the nerve to ask him about my Quantum Turing Test Theory to which he responded, "I'll have to think about that one."), Nick Bostrom, William Bainbridge, Ronald Bailey, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Jose Cordeiro, Mike Tredder, John Smart, and so, so many other remarkable people. Everyone I met -- whether speakers or attendees -- were incredible. It was truly a life experience for me.

Here's the editor's blog I posted on Betterhumans yesterday:

Transhumanism Gains Exposure, Credibility at Stimulating TranVision 2003 Conference
Posted by George Dvorsky

Monday, June 30, 2003, 12:51:34 PM CT

The World Transhumanist Association's recently completed TransVision 2003 conference, which ran from June 26 to June 29, marked an important milestone in the history of the transhumanist movement and signified the emergence of transhuman bioethics as a legitimate and important viewpoint within the academic community. And it was damn fun and exciting to boot.

Highlights of the conference included the opening debate between Gregory Stock and George Annas, the opening keynote speech by Greg Pence, and closing comments by Ronald Bailey. Other notable speakers included consciousness theorist Stuart Hameroff, William Bainbridge of the National Science Foundation, WTA chair Nick Bostrom and biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey.

Betterhumans, an official sponsor of TransVision 2003, was well represented at the conference. Betterhumans attendees included me, Editor-in-chief Simon Smith and Associate Editor Shannon Foskett. Both Simon and I gave talks that were well-received, mine on reproductive rights and Simon's on mainstreaming transhumanism.

It was also announced that Toronto will be the host city for TransVision 2004, and Betterhumans aims to be heavily involved once again. Based on this year's conference, it will no doubt be incredibly stimulating and exciting. So do your best to be there!

July 1, 2003
Betterhumans is organizing a bioethics debate between James Hughes and Margaret Somerville. It's called 'Debating the Future,' and topics to be discussed include human cloning and applied human genomics, radical life extension, and nanotechnology. The debate will be held in Toronto on August 29 at J.J.R. MacLeod Auditorium, Medical Sciences Building, University of Toronto, 1 King's College Circle from 8:00 PM to 10:30 PM. Hope to see you there.