December 1, 2003

December 2003

Tuesday December 30, 2003
- Bailey on chimeras.
- FuturePundit notes that researchers have accidentally created a more virulent strain of TB.

- James Hughes's Betterhumans column from last week, Monsters in the Media, is proving to be one of the most popular BH articles ever. In just over a week Hughes's column has attracted some 5000+ hits, ranking it as the 6th most read article on Betterhumans ever.
- New Sentient Developments article: Scientific Ignorance Dooms Democracy: Increasingly hi-tech nations need informed citizens, making scientific literacy a human right and scientific illiteracy a disability, By George Dvorsky.
- The FBI is urging police to watch for people carrying almanacs, cautioning that "the popular reference books covering everything from abbreviations to weather trends could be used for terrorist planning." Geez, and all this time I've been on the lookout for people carrying thesauruses.
- Jeff Patterson asks Warren Ellis four questions.
- Two regrettable things that we need to get used to having around: SARS and Mad Cow disease.
- I can't even begin to tell you how disappointed I am that the Beagle II appears lost.
- My thoughts go out to all those in Iran who have recently lost loved ones.
- Four cool movies I've seen recently: LOTR:ROTK, The Last Samurai, Whale Rider, Ghost Dog.
- Cool music that I've been listening to lately: anything off the SomaFM station, and especially Groove Salad.
Sunday December 21, 2003
- Lev Navrozov, the Russian weapons expert who believes that China will eventually try to take over the world using nanoweapons, is declaring K. Eric Drexler to be the Einstein of nanotechnology. Specifically, Navrozov is comparing Einstein's famous warning to President Roosevelt about the viability of atomic weapons to Drexler's 1986 book, Engines of Creation, where he warns about the possibility of the development of nanoweapons. Navrozov is concerned, however, that Drexler is not being taken seriously by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), an organization that Navrozov compares to the Manhattan Project. But as Navrozov notes, the irony in all this is that the NNI has denied the military aspects of nanotechnology. "Imagine," says Navrozov, "the U.S. Manhattan Project policy of tacit denial of the military importance of nuclear power, the implication being that the Manhattan Project, with all the money allocated for it, should concentrate on the development of nuclear power as fuel." Disturbingly, while the Chinese have been startlingly open about the potential military uses of molecular assemblers, Navrozov notes that "the current government-NNI policy completely excludes research involved in molecular nano assemblers because of the false non-feasibility argument as put forward by Richard Smalley with peremptory categorical zeal." Ultimately, as the debate between Drexler and Smalley rages, Navrozov sees no harm in assuming that Drexler is right, that we should err on the side of caution. "Now, let us conjecture, for the sake of argument, the opposite," argues Navrozov, "What would be the danger? That the West, including Dr. Smalley and his carbon nanotubes, would be reduced to dust or would surrender unconditionally to become a vast Hong Kong."
- Tech Central Station's Arnold Kling reveals the patent absurdity of Leon Kass's arguments against biotech, "Biotech Ends and Means." Says Kling, "The only way that I can see to definitely rule out the dystopian scenarios is with a radical, worldwide draconian dictatorship. In the absence of totalitarian rule, biotechnology will be developed and all of us will be tempted or pressured into adopting it."
- NASA says that the speed of light remains constant as it travels through the universe. It's been speculated by some that light might actually slow down under certain conditions. NASA's finding reaffirms Einstein's idea that the speed of light is constant. Despite this conclusion, the issue of universal laws and constants intrigues me, particularly as it applies to the ongoing evolution of the Universe. Do the Universe's laws and constants change over time, during the different phases of the Universe's life cycle? If so, which ones, why, and to what degree? Perhaps this will be an area of inquiry for future cosmologists.
- SciAm has an article about how the Milky Way Galaxy is a dynamic, living object.
- Meera Nanda slams postmodernism again, this time as it pertains to India, Hindu nationalism, and Vedic "science."
- Should the state promote marriages because it's in the best interest of the children? Is this 'marriage movement' in the father's best interest? Cathy Young of Reason Online has an excellent column on the subject.
- A RAND study examines the effects of a program that offers laptop computers to children in grades 3—12 and wireless Internet connections at schools and homes. "The findings of this study lead to a set of recommendations for future implementation, and a conceptual framework and research design for use in conducting a more comprehensive future evaluation." It'll only be a matter of time before Internet access is necessary for certain lesson plans.

- My apologies for the lack of postings recently. I've been busy at work, busy with Betterhumans, and busy organizing TV04.
- I've created a new tribe at Betterhumans.
Saturday December 13, 2003
- Nanomedicine hits the Globe & Mail: "Medical Researchers Are Thinking Small"
- The Edge has a talk with string theorist Leonard Susskind: "What we've discovered in the last several years is that string theory has an incredible diversity—a tremendous number of solutions—and allows different kinds of environments. A lot of the practitioners of this kind of mathematical theory have been in a state of denial about it. They didn't want to recognize it. They want to believe the universe is an elegant universe—and it's not so elegant. It's different over here. It's that over here. It's a Rube Goldberg machine over here. And this has created a sort of sense of denial about the facts about the theory. The theory is going to win, and physicists who are trying to deny what's going on are going to lose."
- A couple of recent reports pertaining to the personhood status of non-human animals: A recent study suggests that some animals, such as monkeys and dolphins, may be capable of a sophisticated thought process called metacognition (thinking about thinking), which may mean they have more self-awareness than previously thought, while another study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology reveals that dogs have personalities, and that these character traits can be identified as accurately as similar personality attributes in humans.
- NASA is going to speculate on "weird life" beyond earth, evaluating the possibilities that "non-standard" chemistry may support life in known solar system environments and conceivably in extra-solar settings and to define broad areas that might guide NASA and other agencies to fund efforts to expand knowledge in this area.
- We are but worms: apoptosis (neuronal cell death) is nematode worms is remarkably similar to the same process in humans.
- Italy, in an effort to end the perception that it's the 'Wild West of assisted reproduction" has introduced some pretty strict embryo laws, infuriating a number of scientists.
- Men tend to prefer immediate awards, namely the sight of a pretty face, over long term ones. In other words, attractive women can make men act irrationally.
- Lucid dreamers claim that they can take the horror out of nightmares, inspire new ideas, promote self-healing of physical ailments and unravel mysteries of the psyche that can improve their overall well-being.
- New research suggests that if an Earthlike world with significant water is needed for advanced life to evolve, there could be many candidates. In 44 computer simulations of planet formation near a sun, researchers found that each simulation produced one to four Earthlike planets, including 11 so-called "habitable" planets about the same distance from their stars as Earth is from our sun, suggesting that Earthlike planets might be common. Fermi, Fermi, what does this mean?!?!
Wednesday December 10, 2003
- Apparently Hilbert's 16th problem has not been solved. Well, my day's ruined.
- Some heterosexual couples in the US are refusing to get married to protest the fact that gays still can't.
- 56,800 children were being raised by their grandparents in 2001 in Canada. They were being raised by 56,700 grandparents, about 1 per cent of all grandparents in that year.
Tuesday December 9, 2003
- Get your ass to Mars. Here's 10 reasons why.
- Science fiction author and futurist visionary Sir Arthur C. Clarke is interviewed about the current state of communications technology and the potential for information overload.
- Katharine Mieszkowski has published another article in Salon about the Atkins Diet, this time about how animal-rights activists are claiming that low-carb and meat-heavy diets are killing people. Of course, the fact that animals are being killed to feed people isn't very endearing to animal-rights activists either.
- Simon Blackburn has a review of Richard Dawkins's latest book, A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love.
- Is Prozac so successful because of its placebo effect?

- New Sentient Developments article: Beating Beijing's Big Brother. As authorities fortify the Great Firewall of China, information technology is allowing increasingly modern, high-tech and culturally sophisticated Chinese to slip the grip of totalitarianism, by George Dvorsky
Monday December 8, 2003

- Researchers have recently transplanted modified pig kidneys into baboons. It appears to be working and with no signs of rejection. It is hoped that these types of breakthroughs will eventually lead to animal-to-human organ transplants. While interesting and potentially helpful in the short-term, I can't see this as being a viable alternative to eventual breakthroughs in artificial organs, cybernetics, medical nanotechnology, and improved cellular biology in general.


- Although it's still unofficial, I may have gotten Howard Bloom to speak at TransVision 2004, albeit via pre-taped video.
- John Smart has posted an updated version of his interview with The Speculist's Phil Bowermaster.
- I've got the Fermi Paradox Tribe happening at, and my friend Matt Schulz submitted an interesting entry which I'd like to reprint here:

"I've always felt that a variant of the zoo hypothesis is most likely. Assuming alien civilizations experience a history whose dynamics are broadly similar to ours, they will no doubt be aware that contact between two cultures across a technological divide will almost invariably not end well for the more primitive culture. Contact between an alien civilization - likely a Type II civilization - and ourselves, may be almost certain to result in our destruction. It has been suggested (I can't remember by who) that, if we were to make contact with an alien network, the most likely thing for us to download would be a virus, simply because viruses are the best at replicating. Consider what a virus of modern sophistication would have done to the primitive internet; consider the fact that our internet, only ten years old, is already lousy with viruses, a situation unlikely to change at any point in the future; and, finally, consider how much more sophisticated the viruses dwelling within a Type II civilization's networks would almost certainly be. If such a virus were downloaded, odds are our civilization would be destroyed. Alien civilizations, being aware of this, are thus likely keeping us under quarantine until such time as we reach a level of sophistication that can survive the onslaught of the viruses that they would inevitably spread were they to make contact. We aren't anywhere near that level, yet; chances are, we won't reach it until we've moved a good distance towards constructing our own Type II civilization."

"As a corollary, I think that alien civilizations are probably aware of us. Arthur C. Clarke's monolith idea - a limited von Neumann probe that replicates only a small number of times in any given solar system, then goes into a dormant 'watching' mode until something interesting comes up - is probably the most rational way to explore: minimally invasive, with maximal coverage. Odds are, our solar system has one or two such artifacts buried in the asteroid belt, in the Oort Cloud, even on the moon. They could easily be quite small and still be very effective for their tasks (think how much information one could pack into, say a cubic meter of computonium), but their small size, small number, and the vast size of the solar system makes it almost certain that we will not discover them until they want to be discovered. Communications would probably be through a tight-wave radio broadcast, which we would not intercept unless we were right between sender and receiver ... and since the probes know where we are, they would ensure that we never, ever have a chance to eavesdrop." -- Matthew Shultz
Friday December 5, 2003

- What do laughing and cocaine have in common? Both result in the same brain region being triggered. I have always found humour and laughing to be fascinating subjects, and I've often wondered why we even laugh at all. Considering that much of what we find funny is derived from pain, misfortune, the absurd, and surprise, selectional processes probably favoured proto-humans who reacted to those particular observational events with a degree of levity. It might also have something to do with how our brains try to process seemingly 'absurd' data. I once had the opportunity to speak with Eliezer Yudkowsky about this, and he agreed, noting that this behaviour then got caught in an culturo-evolutionary positive feedback loop, where mates were selected for their sense of humour; you want to hang out with people who make you laugh because laughing feels good.
- The Edge has a chat with Samuel Barondes, "New Pills for the Mind." Abstract: "Most of the psychiatric drugs we use today are refinements of drugs whose value for mental disorders was discovered by accident decades ago. Now we can look forward to a more rational way to design psychiatric drugs. It will be guided by the identification of the gene variants that predispose certain people to particular mental disorders such as schizophrenia or severe depression." On a similar note, The Independent has an article about whether or not artists need drugs more than ordinary people.
- Psychiatrist Brian Fallon is interviewed by New Scientist about hypochondria, its similarities to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD, and novel methods of treatment.
- Tech Central Station has a couple of interesting articles: Sydney Smith writes about advances in consciousness studies and how it relates to the Terri Schiavo case, and Edward Fesser wonders if Islam needs its own Protestant Reformation.
- My friend and fellow transhumanist John Smart is being interviewed by The Speculist. John's the kind of guy who will twist and contort the way you look at things; you find yourself resisting and protesting, but you just can't shake it.
- The Chinese government, recognizing the democratizing and individuating effects of information technology, are urging its IT industry to use the country's own encryption standards for wireless networks. Such a move would ensure stronger government control and give domestic manufacturers a slight reprieve from foreign competition.

- Sadly, the hardest part about my fast on Wednesday was not the lack of food, but the lack of coffee. I have got to cut down. Next day to fast: Monday.
- Jeff Patterson is evil because he wants you to watch this Mothra Twins video. I have no good reason for blogging this, so I guess I must be evil, too. I'll blame it on memetic infection. It should be called Japanacheese. To watch the video, click on the pink Watch!! button and then select your desired resolution. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Wednesday December 3, 2003

- Good day, eh, and welcome to today's blog. There seems to be a myth about the Americanization of Canadian culture. Considering recent changes in Canada, including the advent of same-sex marriages and the pending decriminalization of marijuana, and taken in conjunction with declining church attendance, Canada is starting to look more like Europe than the United States. Clifford Krauss of the New York Times elaborates in his recent article, "Canada's View on Social Issues Is Opening Rifts With the U.S." Hey, in what other country could the outgoing Prime Minister safely joke about smoking pot after he retires?
- According to exiled dissident Xu Wenli, China is training "Internet police" to trace political dissidents who are using the Internet to evade state censorship. "Before they used to sentence people because they spoke to a newspaper abroad or spoke to VOA (Voice of America)," Xu said. He claims that Chinese communist authorities are jailing dissidents simply because they were using the Internet to disseminate or read political views. Says Xu, "Lately people who have gotten online have been arrested and sentenced...A lot of students are training as Internet police online to censor articles. This is a very dangerous signal for us."
- The cover story of this month's Chemical & Engineering News features a "Point-Counterpoint" between K. Eric Drexler and Richard Smalley on a fundamental question that will dramatically affect the future development of this field: Are "molecular assemblers"—devices capable of positioning atoms and molecules for precisely defined reactions in almost any environment—physically possible? This exchange is likely to hold some historical importance, and may signify a change in future speculations about Drexlerian-type nanotechnology.
- A 26-year-old American graduate student has made mathematical history by discovering the largest known prime number - a number that is 6,320,430 digits long. Using a distributed network of more than 200,000 computers, it took Michael Shafer just over two years to find. It's been said that from here on in that most new major mathematical discoveries will come about with the help of computers. Mathematical biologist Steven Strogatz, when speculating on what the future holds for research on complex systems, has noted that "we may end up as bystanders, unable to follow along with the machines we've built, flabbergasted by their startling conclusions." That didn't stop Elin Oxenhielm, a 22-year-old student at Stockholm University, who may have cracked part of one of mathematics' greatest unsolved problems: Hilbert's 16th problem.
- In this Tech Central Station article, Michael Fumento examines the explorations of biogerontologists who are working to prolong human lifespan, while contemplating the social and ethical ramifications of greatly extending our lives.

- The Village Voice's Sharon Lerner profiles the latest revolutions in female contraception.
- Check out the excellent array of transhumanist themed books listed by the Speculist in the December 1st blog entry.
- Classic prose is being used to counter powerful Bayesian spam filters.

- I'm fasting today, so feel sorry for me.
Monday December 1, 2003
- RAND has released a "best practices" document for existing human tissue repositories. Abstract: "Case studies of twelve existing human biospecimen repositories performed to evaluate their utility for genomics- and proteomics-based cancer research and to identify “best practices” in collection, processing, annotation, storage, privacy, ethical concerns, informed consent, business plans, operations, intellectual property rights, public relations, marketing, and education that would be useful in designing a national biospecimen network."
- Transgender, gay and feminist groups at the University of Chicago are asking officials to consider creating more gender-neutral bathrooms, saying some people aren't comfortable selecting a gender-specific facility.

- Okay, I've got a handle on being a vegetarian, I'm doing yoga regularly, and I'm meditating daily (I've even joined a group of friends for weekly meditation). Now, there's one more thing I hope to add to the list: fasting. Starting this Wednesday, for health and ascetic reasons, I will be adopting the Ananda Marga method of fasting, which essentially involves fasting one day from dawn-to-dawn twice a month. The days are based on the lunar calendar. Even though it's only one full day of fasting, it's a complete fast where not even water can be ingested. It's claimed that through this method poisons can be better excreted from the body. Exercise and lots of fresh air on the day of the fast is also recommended. But because it's my first fast I have to take it slow, so I will be drinking milk and eating fruit on Wednesday. My second fast (Dec. 19) will include fruit juice and fruits. Eventually I'll be able to do a complete fast. Come back on Thursday to see how I did on my first fast. Oh, and while we're on the topic of my health habits, I'm continuing to take cold showers, and I've started to snort water into my nose to clean out my nasal passages. Yes, that's perhaps more information than you needed, but hey, no one's asking you to read my blog ;-)

November 1, 2003

November 2003

Thursday November 27, 2003
- On May 27, 2003, Mark Pesce, the developer of VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language), delivered a critique of transhumanism in a Stanford University course called "Quantum Theology and Future Mind" The talk was loosely based on the themes explored in Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism. In it, Pesce offers a critique of transhumanism, extropianism, and the technological singularity. Says Pesce, "The battle between 'liberal' and 'totalitarian' cultures is about to be recapitulated in another battle between 'humans' and 'transhumans.' The boundaries between the natural and the artificial are blurring, and with them, any sense of what constitutes our 'God-given' self. The ethical dilemmas bound up in any conception of transhumanism constitute the next wave of reaction; after the war against liberalism will come the war against human evolution." In his hour long talk, which is only available on MP3, he essentially characterizes transhumanism as a quasi-religious totalitarian threat, but really doesn't make a very compelling case. In actuality he seemed more concerned about the containment and management of superweapons and surveillance technologies -- something we democratic transhumanists are extremely concerned about. Interestingly, developmental singularitarian John Smart (who's on the TV04 organizing committee) and nanotechnologist K. Eric Drexler lectured to the same class in the preceding weeks.
- Michael Crichton's "Timeline," a movie based on his writings, is a time-travel story that applies the quantum many worlds theory. The beauty of applying the many worlds hypothesis to a time-travel story is that you don't have to worry about paradoxes. You can kill your grandfather all you want because you're in a different time-line altogether.

- Starting this coming Monday, Dale Carrico will be joining the Betterhumans team as a columnist. His column will be called Progressive Futures, and his debut article will be called "Transformation Not Transcendence."
- I updated the Fermi Paradox article again, this time adding the 'Simulation' hypothesis.
Wednesday November 26, 2003
- A recent study claims that there are currently 1,000 times too many humans on Earth. In this study, human populations were compared with that of other species and where researchers used a statistical device known as "confidence limits" to measure what the sustainable norm should be for species populations. I have some problems with this conclusion, as does William Rees, professor of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia. Rees explained that humanity has been unusually successful, and unlike other species, humans can eat almost anything, adapt to any environment and develop technologies based on knowledge shared through written and spoken language. I believe Rees is on the right track, and I'm not sure we should be comparing our species to other mammals, or any other species for that matter. As a post-Darwinian, post-industrial, and information age society, it's hard to compare what we've accomplished and what we're doing as a species with other organisms that have had their populations regulated by natural selection and ecosystem equilibriums.
- Michael Musto wonders if Michael Jackson is guilty of more than just dysfunction.
- Tamar Lewin of the New York Times wonders about the future of marriage and its future.
- According to Evan Medeiros and M. Taylor Fravel, China's foreign policy is starting to reflect a " more sophisticated, confident and, at times, constructive and proactive approach toward regional and global affairs."

- I created a new tribe today on The Fermi Paradox Tribe. Come join us. The Fermi Paradox refers to the realization that, given our particular time and place in the Universe, we should have evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial life, but we do not. What should we infer from this Great Silence? Why haven't we been visited by aliens? Are we alone? Are we among the very first intelligent creatures to branch out into space? Is this a bad omen for the future of intelligent life? Should we even bother to speculate about such matters? The Fermi Paradox Tribe is a place for inquisitive individuals to meet and to discuss these issues and to speculate about our place in the Universe and the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life. Tribe members are also encouraged to discuss the work at SETI, whether or not we should even be looking for extraterrestrial life, the Drake Equation, the Great Filter, and the future of intelligent life in the Universe. -- GD
- Consequently, I have updated my paper on the topic, "Reconciling the Fermi Paradox." It's nowhere near perfect, but it's a start.
- A very rough day for Betterhumans with the site being down all day. It was strictly a result of high volume, which is a nice reason for the site being down. We're now in the process of upgrading our servers, so hopefully this will never happen again.
Tuesday November 25, 2003
- James Hughes proclaims that it's high time that we reclaimed our utopian tendencies.
- The US led war on drugs has had a negative impact how the chronically ill are be treated with pain relief. The trick has always been managing the delicate balance between pain and addiction.

- It had to happen eventually, and I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner than it did: spam rage.

- Matrix: Devolutions: What began as promising and profound ended in disappointing and formulaic, highlighting Hollywood's reluctance to explore the cutting-edge in speculative fiction, by George Dvorsky
Monday November 24, 2003
- Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is on the rampage again, this time arguing that religion is not an adaptive evolutionary vestige, but in fact a cultural virus. Dawkins, who coined the term 'meme' back in the 1970s, has argued in the past that religions are viral-like, preying and adapting to human psychology in order to replicate themselves from person to person and from generation to generation. Some cultural anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists have speculated that religions were once adaptive cultural memeplexes, a theory that Dawkins is putting to task. Instead, Dawkins believes that religion has not helped people to adapt or to survive, and that beyond acting as a source of solace, religion provides no protection against diseases or physical threats. "A person who is faced with a lion is not put at ease when he’s told that it’s a rabbit," says Dawkins. And reminiscent of Sigmund Freud before him, who contended that religion was an infantile need for protection in the place of a parent, Dawkins is arguing that religion is a societal norm that stems from children’s psychological tendencies. "It is their unique obedience that makes them vulnerable to viruses and worms," says Dawkins.
- China is quickly losing control of Internet usage, says Guo Liang, deputy director of the Research Center for Social Development at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government-supported think tank in Beijing. China established its own Internet a few years ago and was quickly dubbed the 'Great Firewall of China.' The Chinese government is trying to isolate its citizens from sites it deems offensive or politically incorrect, including sites that express dissenting political opinions, sexually suggestive material and gambling. In addition, the Chinese government has blocked users from accessing the Google search engine, and its version of Yahoo! excludes links to an array of content, including content relating to the spiritual movement Falun Gong. "You cannot control [the] Internet." said Guo, "People can receive all sorts of information. The filters cannot scan a graphic." If Guo Liang is right, and I suspect he is, it adds credence to my pet theory that totalitarianism is impossible in post-industrial and Information Age societies, and possibly even next stage societies.
- David Naiditch analyzes and scrutinizes David Wolfram's A New Kind of Science for Skeptic Magazine. According to Wolfram, the discovery that simple rules can generate complexity is "one of the more important single discoveries in the whole history of theoretical science." The reason, says Wolfram, is that it applies to everything in the universe. Computations are not just performed by the chips in our computers, but rather, every physical process, from exploding stars to water swirling down a drain, can be viewed as a series of computations or programs in which the process moves, moment by moment, from some initial state to some outcome. So instead of using equations to describe some of the regularities seen in nature’s programs, we need to examine the programs themselves. As an aside, I love the first illustration that appears with this article.
- Canadian transhumanist and friend Mark Walker has issued the first draft of his latest think-piece, "Genetic Virtue," in which he argues that we should strongly consider promoting genes that influence behavior in a manner that will encourage virtue. To boldly go where no ethicist has gone before, but to where Dr. Walker believes they should be going.
Saturday November 22, 2003
- Wired has a report about how autistic savants can offer scientists a glimpse into the remarkable potential for the human brain, including numerical and calendar calculation, artistic and musical proficiency, mechanical aptitude, and feats of memorization.
- NASA has recently outlined some of its long term plans, which includes a new orbital space plane and missions to both the moon and mars.
- MoJo on how conservatives' arguments against same-sex marriage don't cut it.
- The Village Voice has posted an absurd article by Nat Hentoff who uses a slippery slope argument to suggest that the Terri Schiavo euthanasia case sets a dangerous precedent for disabled peoples. The disabled community should be worried about the return of negative eugenics, says Hentoff, because the Schiavo incident has helped to erode the barriers to killing. "So this isn't only about Terri Schiavo," he concludes, "It could be about you."
- CSCIOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, believes that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is exercising pseudoscience and illegitimately drawing millions of dollars, while ethics and the public interest are being compromised. Among some questionable medical practices, NCCAM has convinced some that "Naessens Serum" can cure prostate cancer, that cow colostrum can cure his Lyme disease, and that bee pollen can cure hay fever.

- Reason Online's Hit 'N Run section logged the Cyborg Democracy blog today.
Thursday November 20, 2003
- A wonderful debate/discussion has been going on over at wta-talk between the WTA's James Hughes and the Extropy Institute's Max More on the politics of transhumanism, and related to Max's article on democracy and transhumanism.
- A great moment at TransVision 2003 came during the Q&A period when quantum consciousness theorist Stuart Hameroff slowly leaned into the microphone and quietly stated four simple words: "Intelligence is not consciousness." Indeed, the two concepts are often equated, and incorrectly so. To right these misconceptions Hameroff and company are organizing a conference, Toward a Science of Consciousness 2004. Check out the impressive list of speakers which includes Pinker, Dennett, and Alexander Shulgin, the developer of Ecstasy.
- Most people have heard of the precautionary principle, but how about the technological imperative? Andrew Apel spells out the various virtues of innovation in this Butterflies and Wheels article.
- Bill Joy is still worried about reckless scientists and runaway technology.
- Face transplants are just around the corner. I can already visualize the commercials: Who do you want to be today? Orlan will be jealous, but I hear that she's given up on the practice and now exclusively using CG to alter her appearance. Boring.
Wednesday November 19, 2003
- A tip of the hat to brave new Massachusetts today for legalizing same-sex marriage. Josh Levin wonders just how radical the ruling is. Excellent, our Canadian memes are infecting the Americans right on schedule.
- The GRACE Factory Farm Project has released a very cool piece of agitprop animation called "The Meatrix." Using a Matrix motif, the GRACE Flash presentation showcases the poor living conditions that factory farm livestock have to endure, while revealing questionable practices of the industry. Those involved with the GRACE project are working to eliminate factory farms in favour of "a sustainable food production system which is healthful and humane, economically viable and environmentally sound."
- The Edge has a new talk with virtual reality pioneer and transhumanist critic Jaron Lanier, "Why Gordian Software Has Convinced Me To Believe In The Reality Of Cats And Apples."
- Amartya Sen believes that democratization is not the same as westernization.
Tuesday November 18, 2003
- Wow, Gary Kasparov dominated a match against X3D Fritz on Sunday, bringing the series to one win, one loss, and a tie. My brother recently told me that grand masters are employing a new kind of strategy against The Machines: alternating meaningful moves with inexplicable ones. Apparently it throws the supercomputers off a bit. This is something computers don't have quite yet: human cunning and ingenuity. Essentially, the chess-playing computers are nothing more than number crunching behemoths who overpower their human opponents. It's like trying to have a math skills contest with a calculator. We're just not wired that way, but we do have other intelligence skills, namely self-conception and the ability to project ourselves over time which helps us to adapt to unpredictable situations. That being said, in consideration of accelerating advances in computing power, I look at each human chess victory at the championship level as possibly being the last. We live in a remarkable time in history.
- Can science go open source? Harold Varmus thinks so in a New Scientist interview.
- The Raelians are claiming that they're actively using stem cells to reverse the effects of aging. My disdain for this group grows with each passing day -- they feed off people who suffer from scientific illiteracy and those who are desperate for some hope. Speaking of dangerous cults, Simon Smith has a new column on Betterhumans about Keith Henson, a transhumanist who was driven to leave California for fear of the Scientologists. He claims that he would most likely be killed by a Scientologist bounty hunter should he dare return to the United States.
- Beware of the cyber-bullies. Come on guys, play nice.

- Jeff Patterson caught this exciting bit of news: According to a new map on prominent display at the new CBC building, Alaska is now a Canadian province. Who knew? I think this is how Canada should go about global domination: just redraw all the maps showing the world as Canada. After a few years no one will be the wiser ;-)
Monday November 17, 2003
- Max More of the Extropy Institute has written a critique of Democratic Transhumanism, which I read to be a mild and short critique of both James Hughes and the World Transhumanist Association, both of which advocate democratic and pluralistic visions of transhumanism. Hughes is the moderator of the Cyborg Democracy blog, the author of the essay, "Democratic Transhumanism," and a vocal critic of the libertarian streak that often characterizes the Extropians. After reading More's piece, I was struck with how myopic and constrained his interpretation and vision was of both democracy and transhumanism. He has completely failed to recognize the normative, self-regulating, and self-correcting aspects of functional and institutional liberal democracy, while fixating on the problem of voting and the limitations of representative democracies. For example, here in Canada, a slight majority of Canadians are opposed to same-sex marriage. Despite this, the supreme court has ruled that same-sex marriages must be honoured. Why? Because to do otherwise would be a violation of the spirit and word of the Canadian constitution. Moreover, More underestimates how democracy evolves and how its scope will continue to change as we move into posthuman form. I'm sure there will be lots more said on this particular matter in the days and weeks to come.
- Earlier this month the CIA released an unclassified document, The Darker Bioweapons Future, warning about the potential for the nefarious development of unprecedented viruses in the coming decades. A panel of outside experts told the CIA that advances in technology due to genomic research could produce the worst known diseases and the "most frightening" biological weapons. "The effects of some of these engineered biological agents could be worse than any disease known to man," the panel told the CIA. An interesting unreferenced quote from the article claimed that, "In the life sciences, we now are where information technology was in the 1960s; more than any other science, it will revolutionize the 21st century."

- A few months ago I started the agnostics tribe on We've currently got 48 members with a number of active and lively discussions at any given time.
Friday November 14, 2003
- According to a new report by the Hastings Center, called "Reprogenetics and Public Policy," the United States should begin a public process leading to broader regulation of “reprogenetics,” which involves the creation, use, manipulation, or storage of gametes or embryos. The authors of the report, in addition to putting forth legitimate health concerns, are apprehensive about having the realm of human reproduction driven by market forces and influences. Reading further, however, it becomes obvious that the authors are just plain apprehensive about pending reproductive technologies in general. The report makes three recommendations: 1) that embryo research be brought out into the open by lifting the ban on federal funding, 2) that a federal commission begin a public process leading to legislative recommendations to Congress, and 3) that Congress consider creating a permanent regulatory board to oversee reprogenetic technology. As an interesting aside, Lee M. Silver, who coined the term "reprogenetics" and is a professor of molecular biology and public affairs at Princeton University, commented that the authors of the report confused issues of safety and morality. “It looks like they are chasing a problem that doesn't exist,” he said. “We can all agree on the safety issue, and we can treat it like we treat any other experimental medical technology, but once you get beyond that, they are talking about something very, very different.”
- Eugenic China has passed a law banning single women from getting pregnant through in vitro fertilization.
- Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh is teaching mindfulness meditation to police officers in Madison, Wisconsin to help them cope with their work. However, members of Americans United for the Separation Between Church and State are taking issue with the retreats, claiming that the practice of mindfulness is 'Buddhist religion' and noting that the retreat was led by a Buddhist monk.
- Controversial personhood ethicist and animal rights activist, Peter Singer, recently addressed students at Princeton and told them that they should re-evaluate their ethical stances, including eating meat. Singer asked the Princeton students, "What is it that entitles us to treat nonhuman animals as badly as we do?" He also acknowledged that, while we all know that we have to eat something, "there are organically produced alternatives available to us."
- Transsexual Deirdre McCloskey beautifully rips apart J. Michael Bailey and his stunningly irresponsible and misguided book on transsexuals, The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. You go, girl. While McCloskey combats the myopic Christian sex ethic on Reason, the Village Voice discusses Catholic gays who are acting up.
- The U.S. National Research Council report recommends that scientists self-censor. This type of self-policing is intended to prevent terrorists from learning cutting-edge biotech information, putting life scientists face-to-face with the prospect that the broad freedoms they've traditionally enjoyed could be constricted. The report: "Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism: Confronting the "Dual Use" Dilemma, Committee on Research Standards and Practices to Prevent the Destructive Application of Biotechnology," the National Research Council, Washington DC: National Academies Press, Oct. 8, 2003.
- Nature is reporting a new survey that revises down the likelihood of a massive asteroid hitting the Earth by 20 to 30%. We're only due to collide with rocks larger than one kilometer across roughly once every 600,000 years. This is interesting from a developmental singularitarian perspective, some of whose proponents contend that a characteristic of a mature universe, or one that's close to the singularity point, has settled down to the point where celestial collisions happen with great infrequency, allowing intelligence to evolve across the universe in a uniform fashion and at a similar phase in the universe's history.
- Kenneth Silber of Tech Central Station has an article about our lonely planet and echo's Fermi's question about where are the aliens are. Silber's article primarily focuses on the work of planetary scientist David Grinspoon, who delves into some funky and problematic Gaia thinking and conveniently chooses to ignore some of the more profound issues brought up by the Fermi Paradox. Also over at TCS, Glen Harlan Reynolds ponders the age of robotic automation and the burgeoning unemployment issue. Relax, says Reynolds, we have nothing to fear; in fact, he says we should -- to paraphrase Kent Brockman of The Simpsons -- welcome our new robotic employees.
- Richard Carrigan, Jr., a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois contends that we should think about decontaminating potential SETI signals for risk of computer-like viruses. This "SETI Hacker" hypothesis is "an issue of interstellar discourse that should be taken seriously. We should exercise caution when handling SETI downloads."
- Professor David Christian's History 100 course starts at the very beginning. No, not the beginning of recorded human history, but at the Big Bang itself. David Vakoch of SETI discusses Christian's course in his article, "Our Place in the Cosmos: Big History and the Stories of Science."
- It's possible that global warming could actually trigger an ice age.
- Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian declares that Michael Moore is the opiate of the (left-wing) masses, who really says nothing on behalf of the progressives. Hear, hear. Says Freedland: "First, it may come naturally to the right wing to have guru figures such as American shock-jock Rush Limbaugh, with his legions of "dittohead" followers. But the bow-down homage to Moore that precedes each audience question, coupled with Moore's own bragging about his phenomenal book sales and website traffic, feels incongruous for a gathering of the left. Second, what Moore serves up is political comfort food. There's no shame in that: he's trying to reach the masses turned off by politics. But the audience, lapping up a black-and-white view of the world in which lefties like them are goodies and everyone else is stupid, cannot let themselves off so easily."
- David Wesel wonders about the paradox of progress and why the U.S. is such a "Sad Little Rich Country" in Washington Monthly.
- A RAND study finds that entertainment TV can help teach teens responsible sex messages.

- Hysterically funny Onion article: "Mom Finds Out About Blog." As usual, the Onion hits the nail on the head. What's funny is that my mom reads my blog. Hi mom! Sorry, no personal information on this site ;-)
Wednesday November 12, 2003
- The UK is poised to ban parents from choosing the gender of their children for social reasons in consideration of a report from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) which advises the government. A spokeswoman for the HFEA said, "We are not persuaded that the likely benefits of permitting sex selection for social reasons are strong enough to outweigh the possible harm that might be done."
- As part of that New York Times anniversary special, Gina Kolata wonders if we can live forever.
- Richard Smith, a Democrat from Buffalo, is pushing for legislation to be passed in the state of New York that could define certain animal rights and environmental groups as terrorist organizations. New York is one of several states considering similar legislation.
- A Canadian fathers' rights activist has been arrested after protesting near the home of his three children in Burlington, Ontario. The man is a member of a group called Ex-Fathers that advocates for changes to custody and child support laws and feel that current regulations unfairly benefit mothers in custody issues where the parents are separated or divorced.
- Should we be worried about microbial invaders from space? NASA seems to think so.
Tuesday November 11, 2003
- The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States has launched a program called Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health, or REACH, as part of a plan to help eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities in six key areas of health by the year 2010. The first phase of the REACH plan involves community coalitions throughout the country that have been awarded one-year planning grants " to support the development of science-based community interventions." Organizers are hoping to prevent and treat six primary conditions: infant mortality, breast and cervical cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke, diabetes, HIV disease, and immunizations. The social hardships and inequities that contribute to variances in the overall health of different racial and ethnic groups is interesting in light of a recent Scientific American article that asks if race even exists.
- In a New York Times anniversary special, George Johnson wonders if science will ever prove the existence of God, Carol Kaesuk Yoon wonders if evolution is truly random, and Nicholas Wade wonders if we should improve upon our genome. My answers: maybe, no -- only mutations are random, and yes.
- The United Nations voted 80-79 to defer for two years a US-led campaign for a comprehensive ban on human cloning, including therapeutic cloning. Interestingly, the deferment motion was introduced by Iran on behalf of 57 Islamic nations, who do not recognize that personhood begins at conception and therefore are willing to permit the use of embryos for research.
- About 100 Harvard administrators gathered on November 4 to discuss cloning, genetic engineering, and sex selection of children. In answer to the question of should we or shouldn't we, they answered with a resounding "maybe."
- Jesse Walker of Reason Online compares Matrix: Revolutions to "an over-the-hill pop star recycling someone else's material—the sort of music you'd hear on a Michelob commercial, circa 1987." I guess he didn't like it. Well, did anybody? At least his review is interesting. And over at TCS, James Pinkerton believes that technology is ruining movies.
- Rabies has killed 312 people in the Guangxi region of south China since January, according to the regional department of health. My father once told me a story about how in the old days in what is now Slovakia it was not uncommon to hear of a rabid man going berserk in his village, sometimes with an axe. I can only imagine the terrible scenes that might have taken place in China with people suffering from something as horrible as rabies.

- New Sentient Developments article: Better Living Through Transhumanism: More than just a philosophy and social movement, transhumanism is for many a way of life, by George Dvorsky
- Betterhumans' columns and features are now being indexed by Google News.
- The lunar eclipse on Saturday night was unbelievably cool.
Monday November 10, 2003
My apologies for the brief hiatus. I've been extremely busy these days and a little under the weather.
- It's becoming increasingly obvious that people want more control over their reproductive processes. More and more people are taking advantage of what new fertility technologies have to offer. The Daily Telegraph is reporting that the use of fertility treatment to help parents select the sex of their child is on the increase. Their statistics reveal that couples are prepared to pay up to $14,000 for the chance of having pre-selected babies. In Sydney, one clinic noted that the number of parents being offered IVF to screen the sex of their unborn child increased four-fold in three years, while last year alone 120 couples used Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) at Sydney IVF to select the gender of their child for what are being called purely social reasons.
- Howard Lovy of NanoBot caught this new book, Nanotechnology and Homeland Security: New Weapons for New Wars. This book, says R. Stanley Williams, HP Senior Fellow, Hewlett-Packard Labs "is as much a blow against ignorance and hype as it is a primer for how real nanotechnology should contribute to our future society."
- Brain signals from paralyzed or injured people can be captured by a computer and the resultant gains in communication and movement may soon become a reality for these patients in their daily lives.
- Ronald Bailey wonders if eating cloned beef is good for you.
- You can now do Google searches without opening a Web browser. Check out the new Google Deskbar.
- I picked up a great CD last weekend, Deloused In The Comatorium by The Mars Volta.
- I saw Matrix: Revolutions on opening night, and yes, it disappointed. It was visually spectacular, however.
Wednesday November 05, 2003
- James Hughes posted a rather disturbing item on the Cyborg Democracy blog today: Lev Navarov, a Russian futurist interested in military affairs, in an interview from late September predicted that a future totalitarian China will seek world domination through nanowarfare, which he categorizes as post-nuclear superweapons. I'm not sure China can maintain its authoritarian/totalitarian grip as it heads deeper into the Information Age, so I'm a little skeptical. However, I am quite sure that a race to develop these weapons will transpire. I also predict a race to develop to the first artificial superintelligence. Unless, of course, we put an end to this nonsense of nation-states and work on creating a democratic global governance. End of history, my butt.
- Nigerians are suspicious of getting their polio shots. Apparently, there's an insidious meme going around about how the polio shots are actually a way for the United States government to sterilize a significant portion of the country's citizens to prevent overpopulation. The article goes into some detail about this, and while I'm largely skeptical, it's a bizarre thought.
- A recent study has revealed that 40% of Canadian women with breast implants want them out because of complications. Obviously, that's pretty high, a figure that surprised even the researchers. The study also found that women who had breast implants were also more likely to visit doctors and specialists and were four times more likely to be hospitalized than women without the devices. It's estimated that over 200,000 women in Canada have breast implants, of which about 80% are performed for cosmetic augmentation, the remainder for reconstruction following breast-cancer surgery. As an enhancement technology, these procedures are not covered by Canadian healthcare. However, resultant complications can be covered by the health plan; as enhancement and cosmetic technologies increase in popularity over the next few years and decades, look for this to become a major issue in Canada.
- Marek Rejman-Greene, a senior consultant at BTexact's security technologies group, warns that companies and organizations that are keen to implement biometric systems may face opposition from some users who are afraid that they could be a health risk.
- Nutrigenomics is a way to help people tailor their diets to emphasize certain nutrients and food combinations in a more personalized way than the standard food pyramid.
- Individuals who have a high income are less likely of getting mentally sick than individuals who have a low income. In a study conducted by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the numbers indicate that among people who have low income, 17% of the men and 16% of the women have psychological health problems, while the corresponding numbers for people who have a high income are six and ten percent.
- Skeptic Michael Sherman is interviewed about his upcoming book on conceptions of good and evil.

- New Sentient Developments article: a book review of Robert Pepperell's the Posthuman Condition: Consciousness Beyond the Brain, reviewed by George Dvorsky
Tuesday November 04, 2003
- A Stascan study released today revealed that teens who have at least one obese parent are at a greater risk of obesity themselves. In a study of more than 9,700 Canadian youths, it was discovered that children mirror the actions of their parents and that "aside from weight, other parental habits were associated with that of their children," including "physical activity, smoking and eating habits." Among girls ages 12 to 19 who lived with an obese parent, 18% were overweight, and 10% were obese. In boys of the same age group, 22% were overweight and 12% were obese. It also found that youths ages 12 to 19 whose parents reported that they were inactive, were often inactive themselves. In another Stascan release today, it was revealed that cigarette sales were down 10% from last year. That's a significant decrease, and partly due to stricter laws regulating where people can and cannot smoke.
- A study conducted by RAND and UCLA discovered that Americans aged 65 and older with health problems that make them vulnerable to losing their independence and ability to carry out daily activities fail to receive recommended medical care for age-related conditions about two-thirds of the time.
- Theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman is interviewed by the Edge this month. Kauffman has some interesting ideas about life, how it should be defined, and how it came about in the first place. One of his big things is that life, by his standards, as an "autonomous agent" must both reproduce itself and do at least one thermodynamic work cycle. "It turns out," says Kauffman, "that this is true of all free-living cells, excepting weird special cases. They all do work cycles, just like the bacterium spinning its flagellum as it swims up the glucose gradient. The cells in your body are busy doing work cycles all the time."
- Nick Sagan, son of Carl Sagan, has released a cyberpunk Sci-Fi novel called Idlewild.
- Leading experts in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence at the SETI Institute recently completed the most systematic calculations ever performed on when the human race is likely to contact intelligent alien life. They concluded that the discovery of alien life may be possible within the next 22 years, and it is likely to end up being a form of artificial superintelligence rather than anything biological.
- The Longevity Meme newsletter for November has been posted.
- Denis Dutton has released a new book, Darwin and Political Theory.

- I bought the Rush: Live in Rio DVD on the weekend. Sweet. I got to see them on this particular tour when they kicked it all off in Toronto. Funny, I'm watching the DVD as I'm writing this, and they're currently playing Natural Science.
- Jeff Patterson of Gravity Lens caught this hilarious article by Grant Stoddard who participated in a threesome -- all in the name of science.

October 1, 2003

October 31, 2003
- Singles are one of the fastest growing demographics in North America. More than 25 percent of Americans -- compared with 8 percent in 1940 -- are living alone these days.
- Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku wonders what the physics of extraterrestrial civilizations must be like, and argues that alien civilizations may be able to harness the energy of galaxies and travel through the universe using wormholes.

- In addition to this blog, I am now contributing to two other blogs, namely the Around the Web section at Betterhumans (which can be viewed from the front page), and effective today the Cyborg Democracy blog. Other contributors include Dr. James Hughes, the secretary of the WTA and author of Cyborg Democracy (to be released next year), Robin Green, a self-described "vegan transhumanist socialist," Giulio Prisco, a libertarian leftist, member of the WTA Board, editor of the Transhumanity webzine and newsfeed, Justice De Thézier, a Haitian-Canadian, BA in Science, Technology & Society, libertarian socialist, and organizer of NEXUS: the Montreal Transhumanist Association, Dale Carrico, a San Francisco doctoral student, queer feminist and militant defender of democracy on the WTA lists, and Ramez Naam, who is a progressive WTAer and nanotechnologist living in Seattle. Now that is one cool list of contributors -- I hope you'll visit the Cyborg Democracy blog often.
- My kids are going out for Halloween tonight as Thomas the Tank Engine and Spiderman. Get lots of loot, boys, your dad is counting on you ;-)
October 30, 2003
- James Pethokoukis has an article on artificial superintelligence in which he mentions both Nick Bostrom and Eliezer Yudkowsky.
- Glenn Harlan Reynolds discusses robot rights over at TechCentral. Be sure to check out the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots (ASPCR).
- A UC Berkeley study finds that the total amount of new information in the world doubled in the last three years.
- Ronald Bailey wonders if adult stem cells are a bust.
- Are you a fascist? Russell Madden will let you know. Afterwards, should you discover that you're not a fascist, you can read an interview with Karl Marx where he answers his critics.
October 29, 2003
- An historic day for biolegislation in Canada, but the news is both good and bad. Bill C-13 was finally passed yesterday, legalizing the use of human embryos for medical research, while prohibiting human cloning (which is not worth getting upset about until it's safe anyway), criminalizing commercial surrogacy (which is just plain naive and wrong), and regulating fertility clinics. The bill also bans work on human-animal transgenic research.
- Permobil's C2S Aeron Power Wheelchair is the world's most technically advanced personal mobility system. Not only does this wheelchair look exceedingly cool, but you instantly become a cyborg the moment you sit in it.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration alerted doctors on Monday about reports that antidepressants might raise the risk of suicide in children and teen-agers with major depression. The data is inconclusive at this point, but the FDA wants to play it safe. Some of the antidepressants include Prozac and Paxil.
- There is a fuzzy line that separates science from philosophy. Joseph Rowlands elucidates.
- Meera Nanda, a critic of postmodernism (you go, girl), reveals a postmodern or post-foundational apologetics that is emerging in all major religious-political movements. In her essay, Postmodernism, Science and Religious Fundamentalism, she says: "I was not being facetious, nor was I stoking the “science wars” when I suggested that there was a dangerous convergence - unintended, surely, but not entirely coincidental - between the social constructivist views of science routinely taught in science studies, women’s studies, postcolonial studies and allied disciplines, and the views of those who defend creation science, Islamic sciences, or, as in the case of India, Vedic sciences...I wanted to show how the promotion of an anti-secularist, anti-Enlightenment view of the world by well-meaning and largely left-wing scholars in world-renowned centers of learning has ended up affirming a view of the world which constitutes the common sense of the rather malign, authoritarian and largely right-wing fundamentalist movements. I wanted to show that that having invested so deeply in anti-modernist and anti-rationalist philosophies, the academic left has no intellectual resources left with which to engage the religious right."

Speaking of postmodernism....
If you were really paying attention during the first Matrix movie you probably noticed that Neo had a copy of Jean Baudrillard's postmodernist classic, Simulacra and Simulation on his bookshelf. Sure, it was a fiendishly clever and amusing reference considering the existential paradigm shift soon to be revealed to Neo, but it was also extremely insightful considering the futurist and reality-as-illusion tone that coloured the film.

Baudrillard, taking a post-structuralist approach to cultural theory, posited the intriguing notion that modern societies are illusions of sorts, that they are de facto simulations that had constructed realities around themselves that were realer than real, or as he put it, they had created hyperrealities. In Baudrillard's mind, social 'reality' did not exist in the conventional sense, but was displaced by an endless procession of simulacra consisting of familiar cultural symbols and images generated by the news and cultural media. Taking Baudrillard further, postmodernists today argue that new technologies, particularly those that help us redefine and re-create ourselves, extend and exaggerate this 'hyperreality' that defines our sense of the real. From the Buddha and Plato to Jean Baudrillard and The Matrix, people have had difficulty assessing their environment, resulting in fluid perceptions of existence throughout the course of history. -- GD
October 28, 2003
- Campbell Aird's life was transformed when he was given one of the world’s first cybernetic arms, but he had had to give it back to its inventors who have stored the £100,000 revolutionary limb away in a box, calling it nothing more than a "museum piece." Aird will have to wait until early next year when a newer version of the bionic arm is ready for tests.
- Betterhumans' James Hughes evaluates the US presidential candidates on their transhumanist tendencies. Dr. J likes Howard Dean and Wesley Clark (the good general who's hell-bent on going faster than the speed of light).
- Stem cell researchers predict that clinical trials in humans will start within five years.
- 95% of Americans believe in life after death, and nearly two-third of those believe they're going to heaven. I suppose I could say something really sarcastic at this point, but I'm going to choose restraint instead.
- Severe obesity is on the rise in the US. A RAND study discovers that the fastest increasing group of obese Americans are people 100 or more pounds overweight. I wonder if these are the same Americans who think they're going to heaven.
- According to Helen Cordes of Mother Jones, as pharmaceutical companies push their products, some children are being treated with powerful and untested adult drugs.
- A number of studies are showing that couples are having less sex these days. According to Esther Perel, this is because couples are busy and because of changing perceptions of eroticism.
- In his new book, Thinking Without Words, José Luis Bermúdez reveals a link between thinking and inferring and offers a new theory of the nature of non-linguistic thought. Jerry Fodor of the Guardian Unlimited offers a review.

- Catalin Sandu, editor of Net SF, recently translated my "And the Disabled Shall Inherit the Earth" column into Romanian, called "Fericiţi cei handicapaţi, căci al lor va fi Pământul".
- Natasha Vita-More gave me the good news today that the Extropy Institute will be an official sponsor of TransVision 2004 to be held in Toronto.

- From Third World to Brave New World: China's embrace of state-driven eugenics should be of concern to bioconservatives and bioliberals alike, by George Dvorsky
October 27, 2003
- The World Transhumanist Association's journal for academic papers, the Journal of Evolution and Technology (JET), has released a slew of new articles (I can't wait to read them): " Design of a Primitive Nanofactory" by Chris Phoenix, " Be Very Afraid: Cyborg Athletes, Transhuman Ideals & Posthumanity" by Andy Miah, " Religious Opposition to Cloning" by William Sims Bainbridge, " The Turing Ratio: A Framework for Open-Ended Task Metrics" (PDF) by Hassan Masum, Steffen Chistensen and Franz Oppacher, and " On the Importance of SETI for Transhumanism" by Milan M. Ćirković.
- A record number of US women are childless. A recent survey reveals that 44% of women (26.7 million) in the United States do not have biological children. It seems that more women are willing to adopt, or just not willing to have children at all. I completely suspect that if and when the rest of world catches up with the developed nations in terms of economic affluence and lifestyles that they too while exercise this type of procreative restraint. Fears of global overpopulation, I believe, are unfounded. The survey also revealed that just over half of Asian women were childless, which can probably be attributed to affluent Japan, Korea, Taiwan, etc. The revolution started by The Pill never ceases to amaze.
- Postmodernism is, like, so yesterday. The time has come for some critical realism.
- Scientists at UCSD have better explained and improved upon the same probability formula that was used during WWII to crack the German Enigma code. The findings could have implications for speech recognition, machine learning, and information retrieval.
- The Berlin Declaration asserts that there should be open access to knowledge in the sciences and humanities. The declaration states, "In accordance with the spirit of the Declaration of the Budapest Open Acess Initiative, the ECHO Charter and the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing, we have drafted the Berlin Declaration to promote the Internet as a functional instrument for a global scientific knowledge base and human reflection and to specify measures which research policy makers, research institutions, funding agencies, libraries, archives and museums need to consider." The signatorees intend to make progress by: "encouraging our researchers/grant recipients to publish their work according to the principles of the open access paradigm; encouraging the holders of cultural heritage to support open access by providing their resources on the Internet; developing means and ways to evaluate open access contributions and online-journals in order to maintain the standards of quality assurance and good scientific practice; advocating that open access publication be recognized in promotion and tenure evaluation; advocating the intrinsic merit of contributions to an open access infrastructure by software tool development, content provision, metadata creation, or the publication of individual articles."
- MIT scientists have developed glasses that improve memory by projecting information from a tiny built-in computer onto a mini screen on the lenses.
- In a medical first, doctors in Sweden have successfully used artificial blood to treat patients.
- Peter Lurie has written a book about Sexual Rights in America, wondering if sexual rights are privacy rights, natural rights, neither, or both. He concludes that there is a need for a stronger basis for sexual rights than currently exists.
- 150 years after he wrote Origin of Species, and despite a mountain of evidence to support the breakthrough, Darwin's theory of natural selection is still under attack. And now, so Mary Wakefield tells us, it's actually fashionable in some circles to pooh-pooh Darwinism.
October 24, 2003
.: Reason's Ronald Bailey wonders if Terri Schiavo is already dead.
.: Peter Plantec on how to build a virtual human. (KurzweilAI)
.: Transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom on the ethical issues in advanced artificial intelligence. This article is a slightly revised version of a paper published in Cognitive, Emotive and Ethical Aspects of Decision Making in Humans and in Artificial Intelligence. The abstract reads: "The ethical issues related to the possible future creation of machines with general intellectual capabilities far outstripping those of humans are quite distinct from any ethical problems arising in current automation and information systems. Such superintelligence would not be just another technological development; it would be the most important invention ever made, and would lead to explosive progress in all scientific and technological fields, as the superintelligence would conduct research with superhuman efficiency. To the extent that ethics is a cognitive pursuit, a superintelligence could also easily surpass humans in the quality of its moral thinking. However, it would be up to the designers of the superintelligence to specify its original motivations. Since the superintelligence may become unstoppably powerful because of its intellectual superiority and the technologies it could develop, it is crucial that it be provided with human-friendly motivations. This paper surveys some of the unique ethical issues in creating superintelligence, and discusses what motivations we ought to give a superintelligence, and introduces some cost-benefit considerations relating to whether the development of superintelligent machines ought to be accelerated or retarded."
October 23, 2003
.: In light of China's recent entrance into the space faring community, Wil McCarthy of SciFi worries that the West has lost its enthusiasm for sending people into space.
.: Several prominent experts, including Marvin Minsky and K. Eric Drexler, say surviving cryonics is not only possible, it's probable. The debate, they insist, is in the details.
.: The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology has outlined three systems of ethics in a proposal for the effective administration of molecular nanotechnology: guardian ethics to provide security, commercial ethics to optimize trade, and information ethics (i.e. open source, open licensing) to promote abundance.
.: Computer graphics that simulate the human form are becoming more and more sophisticated, particularly in its representation of women. (BBC)

.: A moment of silence for singer-songwriter Elliot Smith. A real shame.
October 22, 2003
.: Toshiba wants to build a small nuclear reactor about the size of a mature spruce tree in an Alaskan village. It would light and heat the village for 30 years without any pollution. My first thought is that these energy sources could help the poor in largely rural areas in developing countries, namely India and across Africa.
.: Reason's Ronald Bailey reviews Bill McKibben's Enough and declares that he's just about had enough with that guy.
.: A model United Nations set in 2032 (PDF or HTML) was recently conducted at Yale University to simulate the security council's response to genetic engineering, bioweapons, and bioethics in the next 30 years.
.: A new study suggests that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa reached its peak in 2002. (New Scientist)
.: Artificial proteins can be assembled from scratch. Eventually, designer proteins could deliver drugs to ailing cells, form the basis of "smart" materials, or serve as superior catalysts. (Scientific American)
.: Robert Freitas has released volume II of his nanomedicine series, this one on biocompatibility.
.: Small Times news editor and Nanobot blogger Howard Lovy reports on how some nanotechnology entrepreneurs consider Drexlerian nanotechnology too sci-fi and its development led by "crackpots."
.: Organically grown milk has more toxins than GM milk. (Tech Central Station)

.: I learned a cool thing about Google today: if you key in the word 'define' before a one-word query, Google will provide you with a definition. In Red Hat, I've placed the dictionary in my quicklaunch bar, so I've already got something similar. I've also got a dictionary add-on in my Palm Pilot. I have this obsession with ultra-quick access to dictionaries and thesauruses. I swear, my first cyber-implant is going to be a cognitive on-demand dictionary. Of course, we'll eventually have instantaneous access to encyclopedic knowledge and eventually a cognitive link-up with the Web itself. The mind boggles at the scope of those types of enhancements to our cognitive processes and what it will mean to human intelligence. Education will no longer be memorization and rote learning; the key to future education will be on how to better formulate questions, opinions and answers in consideration of instant access to copious amounts information.
October 21, 2003
.: Some comatose and permanently vegetative patients with no hope of being revived are having their deaths hastened through starvation and dehydration. Since they are already brain dead, these individuals are experiencing no discomfort. Yet, it all begs the question: why not just facilitate death in a more dignified manner?
.: In Seattle, a federal animal-research official suggests that the day might come when experimentation on chimpanzees is ended. "I think what it signals is that there are changes of the sort that people in the animal-rights movement have been talking about for 30 years," says Princeton's Peter Singer. "It's not going to be an all or nothing thing. It's a matter of making steady progress in changing peoples views."
.: Grade 11 students in Canada are doing what their parliamentarians cannot: draft legislation on the cloning issue. Bill C-13 -- the bill that no politician seems to want to touch -- has essentially been sitting idle for the past 10 years. Thanks the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics and the Ontario Genomics Institute, at least some students are getting a taste of law and bioethics.
.: Luis von Ahn wants to steal your brain. Well, your brain cycles anyway. A graduate student in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, von Ahn has created a giant special-purpose supercomputer that uses human brains to do the computing. Mmmmm, computonium.
.: Virtual reality is being used to help those who suffer from various phobias. I wonder if it can help people who are afraid of virtual reality and computers in general.
.: Chris Mooney, an expert on how Washington manages scientific research, says that current and pending geopolitical and environmental realities demand that more money be put into science. And shame on the Republicans for cutting funds in the first place.
.: Harold Fromm of the Hudson Review discusses the ongoing Darwinian revolution in the humanities, focusing significantly on the work of Steven Pinker and the ramifications of neuroscience.
.: Revolutionary popes need not apply: AlterNet's David Morris on the Totalitarian Pope. He's quite right, of course, as the Catholic Church looks to remain a static and orthodox entity for the foreseeable future.

.: There is now a Czech Transhumanist Association.
.: My Betterhumans column, "Brights Generate More Heat than Light" has been reprinted at BrightRights.
October 20, 2003
.: An implanted male hormonal contraceptive that works in much the same way that female contraceptives work is now being tested in men. In women, the hormones estrogen and progestin are used to shut off the release of eggs to prevent pregnancy. In the male version, testosterone and progestin are used to turn off sperm production. (Wired)
.: I've actually always been worried about this: A recent study has found that microwaving destroys nutrients in some foods, including and especially broccoli. After microwaving, almost all flavonoids disappear (as much as 97%) -- the substances often found in many brightly coloured fruits and vegetables that help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. Microwaving also reduces similarly desirable chemicals in broccoli from 74% to 87% per cent -- including some substances that have been associated with slowing the effects of aging, reducing the risk of heart disease and preventing Alzheimer's, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. (Globe & Mail)
.: Whoa, now that's bandwidth: The European Organization for Nuclear Research claims to have sent data across the Internet at 5.44 gigabits a second (Gbps). In other words, the entire contents of a CD-ROM can be transferred in about a second. (Reuters)
.: FuturePundit caught this interesting Weekly Standard article that discusses the growing gender ratio imbalances in Taiwan where abortions have skewed the country's demographics to the point where only two girls are born for every three boys. I'm very much in favour of gender selection, but part of that is based on my observations of gender preferences here in the West. Virtually all couples in Canada and the United States desire two children: a boy and a girl. I believe that a significant part of this attitude is the result of a more mature and enlightened social culture that discriminates between gender less and less. I can only hope that citizens in other countries that have legalized gender selection quickly get their act to together and follow suit. But even still, I don't think it's a big deal if the ratios are off a bit. Again, it's not one of those things that, for me anyway, qualifies as a social catastrophe. Moreover, the state can always move in and offer such things as tax breaks and other benefits to those couples who choose to have a child in the demographically deficient sex. Take a deep breath, everybody, and relax.
.: Expert witnesses at a US House Science Committee hearing have been critical of NASA's current human space flight program. Specifically, they complained that the current program "is not moving us toward any compelling objective, and we should make a transition out of it as soon as possible." Witnesses called for a renewed sense of purpose and a more focused vision for NASA's programs, claiming that the Space Station and Space Shuttle do not merit the risks that they entail: "[I]f space explorers are to risk their lives it should be for extraordinarily challenging reasons - such as exploration of the Moon, Mars, and asteroids, and for construction and servicing space telescopes - not for making 90 minute trips around the Earth. The whole point of leaving home is to go somewhere, not to endlessly circle the block." (SpaceRef)
.: Nick Gillespie of Reason explains why existentialism is so deeply appealing and enduring.

.: My Betterhumans column, "Brights Generate More Heat than Light" is going to be reprinted in the Humanist Network News.
.: I've added this site to the Transhumanist Link Exchange.
October 17, 2003
.: Leon Kass believes that biotechnology is great -- but we mustn't go too far lest we 'cheapen' life (Washington Post). This is Kass's introduction to the latest document issued by the anti-transhumanist U.S. President's Council on Bioethics, called Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness.
.: According to Skeptic Magazine, even atheists hate being called 'brights.' Accordingly to survey results, only 9% of e-Skeptic respondents like the term. Not good. But 69% thought that 'Freethinkers' was more acceptable.
.: Libertarian Free State Project members (which includes some Extropians) have pin-pointed New Hampshire as the most promising state for future libertarianization (geez, is that a word? Well, it is now). I can't say I'm entirely surprised -- they are the state after all whose license plate reads, "Live Free or Die." This is an interesting project in consideration of the suggestion that states which disengage from strategic economic planning are more likely to stimulate economic growth and hasten poverty reduction (ID21).
.: Biogerontologist Cynthia Kenyon reveals in New Scientist that she wants to live forever and that she's working on it. You go, girl.
.: Physicist Brian Greene tries to demystify string theory in this Scientific American interview. Easier said than done; I think this article actually set me back in regards to my comprehension of string theory. Actually, his insight into the multiverse and the anthropic principle is quite interesting.
.: Combat sleepiness with drugs (Wired).

.: Mozilla has been updated to version 1.5.
October 16, 2003
.: Tech Cental Station's Sonia Arrison writes about radical body modification transhuman style.
.: Catholic Brazil has spoken out against the Vatican's stance on condoms and HIV transmission. Good for them, especially in consideration of the work they've been doing to prevent the spread of AIDS in that country. "The policy of free distribution of condoms was one of the big reasons for our success," minister Humberto Costa said. "Brazil's program is an international success and ensured that instead of the predictions that we would now have 1.2 million (AIDS cases), we have half that number."
.: A neophile is someone who loves new things. NeoFile is R. U. Sirius's new Website that helps neophiles get information and ideas on how to apply enhancement technologies to themselves. You say neophile, I say transhumanist, let's call the whole thing off.
.: Should cloned meat be labeled a la GM foods? (Wired)
.: Scaffold may help stem cells grow into organs. (Scientific American)
.: More signs that a space elevator will go up in the relatively near future.
.: Only the Japanese could have developed a martial arts robot. I think I could take him.
.: Jonathon Keats, a 32-year-old conceptual artist and novelist, has announced plans to auction off futures contracts on 6 billion neurons in his brain, which he copyrighted this spring. This is the same guy who tried to get the city of Berkeley, California, to pass an unbreakable law, A=A.

.: My Betterhumans column, "Brights Generate More Heat than Light" is going to be reprinted in the New York City Atheists' members' newsletter.
October 15, 2003
.: An historic day: China becomes only the third country to send a man into space (Globe & Mail). It took them 4 decades longer than the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., but it goes to show that the cumulative and inexorable nature of technological progress should not be understated. Today's policy makers should take note: Just because a country doesn't have the technology today doesn't mean that it won't have it tomorrow. It was (and is) this kind of mentality that has caused so much chaos leading to the international proliferation of nuclear weapons.
.: RAND has issued a new report, "The National Bioethics Advisory Commission: Contributing to Public Policy." Abstract: The National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) was established in 1995 to advise various government entities on issues arising from research on human biology and behavior. During its five-year tenure, NBAC submitted six reports to the White House containing 120 recommendations on several complex bioethical issues including the cloning of human beings and embryonic stem cell research. This study assesses NBAC's contribution to policymaking by tracking the response to NBAC's recommendations from the president, Congress, government, societies and foundations, other countries, and international groups.
.: This, I'm afraid, is a sign of things to come: terrorism and violence directed against biotechnologies (Yahoo! News).
.: Articles like this make we wish I had become an evolutionary biologist: "Evolving by Accident, Not Fitness" (NY Times).
.: A new font has been developed specifically for people suffering from dyslexia. Called Read Regular, the characters in the font are simple, super-legible, and they're given breathing room in the words themselves.
.: Another article about Kevin Warwick (StarTech Central). Yawn. Produced any meaningful data recently? Produced any meaningful data ever? Apparently, it costs £600,000 to create a cyborg these days. Now you know. Gimme a break.
.: The nuclear family is an endangered species. Married couples are a drastically shrinking demographic in the U.S., and singles are poised to become the majority.
.: FirstScience has a neat article on the history of the concept of infinity.
.: A German article about Ed. John Brockman's new book, The New Humanists, has been translated to English and posted on the Edge. It features dialogue and discussion from an evening with Marvin Minsky and Daniel Dennett. Minsky opened the discussion saying, "I don’t believe that the universe exists." I have a pre-release copy of this book and I'll be reviewing it shortly for Betterhumans.
October 14, 2003
.: Immoralist BJ Klein is interviewed by Devon Fowler on Betterhumans.
.: It appears that the controversial lo-carb Atkins diet works (Yahoo! News). Fellow transhumanist and friend James Hughes is currently on this diet, and he also claims that it's working for him. Speaking of Dr. J, he's got a new column on Betterhumans, "The High-tech Path to Development."
.: Canadian Transsexual videomaker, performer and a long-time prostitute and sex workers’ rights activist Mirha-Soleil speaks up on animal rights (Vegan Voice courtesy of Disinformation).
.: BioLuddites conveniently tend to forget that life can be chronically painful for many (Yahoo! News).
.: There is a wearables fashion show for those people who want to remain cyborgs on the outside (Scotsman).
.: Scientists are helping to model complexity with artificial agents (Economist).
.: I don't know why I link to these things, but the Baroness and neuroscientist Susan Greenfield has put out a book called Tomorrow's People warning of a dystopic future (Economist).
.: Zach Lynch of Corrante on accelerating innovation with neuroceuticals.

.: Updated the quotes section. Added quotes from James Hughes, Robert Goddard, Willy Ley, Carl Sagan, Don Hirschberg, Clarence Darrow & Wyn Wachhorst.
October 13, 2003
Brights Generate More Heat than Light
Aiming to legitimize and popularize atheism, the brights offer little for living or relating to others and are already guilty of tribalism characteristic of their religious rivals, by George Dvorsky

.: New feature on Betterhumans: search news articles by topic. Sweet.
.: Jake Horsley of Divine Virus Productions has put out a handbook to help you unplug from the Matrix. Called Matrix Warrior, it is a philosophical guide to The Matrix and based on the premise: What if everything in the movie is absolutely true? But before you go out and buy this book, you should probably ask yourself, what if Cypher was right?
.: Closer to Truth recently held a panel on the topic, Does Sex Have a Future? Panelists included transhumanist bioethicist Gregory Stock. And over at Forbes they're asking if sex is even necessary.
.: There's a discussion currently going on at Kuro5hin on ectogenesis, the development of an organism in an artificial environment, including artificial wombs.
.: Some experts believe that GM hybrids are inevitable (BBC).
.: A Mexican company has launched a service to implant microchips in children as an anti-kidnapping device (Wired). Currently in the United States, the only FDA sanctioned augmentative cybernetic implant is the VeriChip (check out the ChipMobile, coming to your town: resistance is futile).
.: Apparently we can't over-generalize about the religious right: How Prayers Poll: Debunking myths about the religious right (Slate).
.: Marc Geddes of Prometheus Crack passes on this link to Eliezer Yudkowsky's humorous Friendly AI Critical Failure Table. My personal favourites (or is that worst fears?) are #7 and #10.
.: An implanted device allows a monkey to play a video game with its thoughts (IOL). Lab monkeys have all the fun.
.: Looks like the universe is infinite again and not shaped like a soccer ball (Bozeman Daily Chronicle).

.: I saw Tarantino's Kill Bill on the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. The gore, however, was unbelievable and absolutely ridiculous. Essentially, Tarantino decided to create the quintessential tough-girl flick filled with an extreme and stylistic over-the-top flair -- for which it's evident that he makes no apologies. It could probably be considered a chicksploitation film, even though there's a bizarre pseudo-feminist theme that runs through the movie. At one point I had to sit back and assess what I was seeing: essentially, it's a classic 1970s Hong Kong style martial arts film that's set (mostly) in the West, it includes an excellent anime sequence, with Spaghetti Western music playing in the background. Yup, pure Tarantino. And of course, the linearity's all screwed up. If you like Tarantino, go see it. If you like martial arts films, go see it. If you like neither, stay home. -- GD
October 10, 2003
.: Ronald Bailey asks the age old question, Does Shortness Need a Cure? (Reason)
.: Yet another addiction to be concerned about: excessive text messaging (Reuters). Somehow, I'm left undisturbed.
.: Beware the cyberstalkers (NY Times).
.: Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope: I need a heliodisplay that projects full color streaming video into thin air using a revolutionary technology that produces a 27-inch image and is Plug-and-Play compatible with most video sources.
.: In their never-ending quest to ruin lives and promote suffering, the Catholic Church is now telling people in countries stricken by AIDS not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which the HIV virus can pass (Guardian). There oughta be a law.
.: The Supreme Court of Canada is refusing to let several religious and family groups appeal an Ontario ruling that approved gay marriage (Globe & Mail).
.: First we thought the universe was finite, then we thought it might be infinite, and now we think it might be finite again -- and that the universe may actually be a massive hall of mirrors just screwing with us (New Scientist).
.: An interview with Neal Stephenson about his new book, Quicksilver (Tech Central Station).

.: Today I found myself asking the question, "can the universe be considered technology?" I decided that, yes, it can be considered technology so long as we use a very liberal definition of the term. Technology can be defined as a system or a construct that is organized or intelligent (i.e. non-random). BTW, I'm referring to intelligence here without the presence of consciousness. I think it's pretty obvious that the universe we observe is highly intelligent in terms of its organization, therefore it can be regarded as a type of technology. Furthermore, if we could ever replicate a universe, then it most certainly would qualify as a form of technology. Of course, if we're living in a simulation, or even if we're living in some kind of deistic creation, then we can also conclude that the universe is a type of technology -- god as a software coder.

However, if one looks at the cosmos through the Hilbert/Heisenberg/Everett lens, and in conjunction with the anthropic principle, then the universe we observe is really just one moment-slice followed by a steady progression of moment-slices, with each moment-slice that we observe having to take place in what we perceive as a singular and coherent universe. If we could actually gaze at the Hilbert Space, we would see that at each moment-slice we are copied into a massive set of probable 'other worlds.' But not only that, we would see ourselves copied into "incoherent" and unobservable realms as well. Thus, to say that our universe 'exists' is strange. It only exists insofar that at any given moment that it is observed, it is forced to exhibit only those characteristics we would ascribe to our universe by virtue of the presence of observers, and that is why, of course, the universe appears biophilic (i.e. the universe is not what it appears -- we're only seeing a very small part of it, the part that must exist from moment to moment so that an observer can exist from moment to moment). Thus, there is a very distinct possibility that our particular universe is not reproduceable. -- GD
October 9, 2003
.: New Zealand transhumanist Marc Geddes announced today that he's starting a new blog, Prometheus Crack.
.: Check out the latest newsletter from CRN, the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology.
.: If you plan on becoming a cyborg someday, you're probably going to need a rechargeable battery a lot like this one. (Wired)
.: HIV sucks and it's only going to get worse. (BBC)
.: Either the Raelians are promotional geniuses or they're nuts. Or a little bit of both. In the latest installment of the Sun's exposé on the Raelians, Rael, referring to the human clone claim, is quoted as saying, ""Come my beloved friends and journalists, and ask me if we did all that just to benefit from free publicity ... YESSSS!" he cries and bursts out laughing during a gathering staged in Montreal.
.: Congratulations to Peter Agre and Roderick MacKinnon for winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their research on how key materials enter or leave the cells in the body. (Globe & Mail)

.: Check it out: Mathematician David Hilbert devised an interesting thought experiment about infinity, the Paradox of the Grand Hotel (Wikipedia). One if forced to ask, can a causal chain receeding infinitely into the past exist? It also brings up the concept of supertasks, a task involving an infinite number of steps, completed in a finite amount of time. Hmm -- supertasks sound suspiciously familiar to tasks I'm assigned at work.
October 8, 2003
.: More Sun dirt on the Raelians. As a transhumanist friend wryly noted, "Looks like the Raelians are getting ready to hand out the poisoned Kool-Aid."
.: It's not quite the Matrix, but it's there, a metaverse for all your virtual needs.
.: Here's a classic article from virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier on what he calls the cybernetic totalists, "One Half Of A Manifesto." (, 2000)
.: Yale bioethicist Richard Satava says now is the time to face the ethical challenges that technology will bring to medicine. Tell me something every transhumanist doesn't already know.
.: Slashdot has an interesting entry on the proliferation of biological technologies, open source biology, and a paper titled, "The Pace and Proliferation of Biological Technologies" (PDF) in the new journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism.
.: Yes, now you too can have a genome on a chip. (NY Times)

.: Here's a sneak peek at the new TransVision 2004 logo (I'm chairing the organizing committee). This design was the brainchild of Consolidated Media's Benjamin Moogk. Simon Smith is currently working on the TV04 Website, and all I can say is that it's going to look very cool.


.: Correction to the Oct. 6 blog entry re: Brights: Jeremy Stangroom of Butterflies and Wheels is not a theistic intellectual, but rather a secular one.
October 7, 2003
.: Time compressed audio is enabling us to hear and process more information in shorter time-frames (New York Times). Oh, joy -- what this essentially means is that advertisers can now pack 35 seconds worth of material into 30. If you're interested in this kind of stuff, I highly recommend James Gleick's Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything.
.: Sir Isaac Newton is taking a beating these days. First I find out that he may have been wrong about the exact nature of gravity (damn that dark energy!), and then I read that too many modern scientists are supposedly regressing into pseudo-science by ignoring his neat-and-tidy mechanistic vision of the universe (er, sorry, David, but the truth hurts). Oh well, at least he's a hero in Neal Stephenson's new book, Quicksilver.
.: Toronto's tabloidesque rag, the Sun, is running an interesting 5 issue exposé-style series on the Raelians called World of Fear. Sun reporters infiltrated the cult for nine months to gather intelligence and insight. I never thought I'd say this, but, go, Sun!
.: Douglas Rushkoff on open source democracy.
.: In the 'I couldn't have said it better myself' category, David M. Brown beautifully rips apart Dinesh D'Souza's column criticizing the Brights. Moreover, it looks as if the Brights are brighter after all, so there.
.: Robert Leheny, director of the Microsystems Technology Office at DARPA, is skeptical about quantum computing (Wall Street & Tech). I wonder if he's familiar with David Deutsch's work on quantum computing; Deutsch's answer to John Archibald Wheeler's question, "How come quantum? How come existence?" is "It From Qubit" (PDF). The universe, according to Deutsch, is an expression of quantum computation. I'm going to go out on a limb here and side with the world famous quantum physicist.
.: Alexei Abrikosov, Anthony Leggett and Vitaly Ginzburg were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work in quantum physics concerning superconductivity and superfluidity. (Globe & Mail)
October 6, 2003
.: Simon Smith on open-source and open-content.
.: Hey reactionary Luddite environmentalist, genetically modified foods are nothing new!
.: Here's an interesting exchange between Daniel Dennett and Michael C. Rea on the 'brights.' Geez, this whole brights thing seems to have put a number of religious 'intellectuals' in a tizzy -- like this guy and this guy. I'm thinking that my next column for Betterhumans will be on this topic.
.: Ronald Bailey on the new health insurance crisis in the US.
.: Mmmmm, nanosurgery. And very, very small lasers.
.: Libertarians are not right-wing, okay? You got that? As for librarians, let's not go there.

The latest version of the Transhumanist FAQ has been posted by the World Transhumanist Association. This upgrade, the first significant revision since 1998, was an attempt at developing and articulating a broadly based consensus on the basics of responsible transhumanism, while striving to better explain the transhumanist perspective to the world. The document incorporates the comments and editorial assistance of more than 100 members of the WTA over the past year, including yours truly.
October 3, 2003
.: Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey will be speaking at Pop!Tech 2003: Sea/Change.
.: Our transhumanist friend, Robin Hanson, is mentioned in this NY Times article about idea futures.
.: US Presidential candidate Wesley Clark, a retired four-star general and former NATO commander, wants to go faster than the speed of light. Hey, anybody who wants to go that fast can't be all bad.
.: Ray Kuzweil on the promise and perils of the 21st century.
.: A classic article from Bill Joy on the perils, perils, and perils of the 21st century.

The stem cell issue in Canada is about to heat up again as bill C-13 gets debated. Again. This is becoming such a tired issue. The Globe article that I linked to put it well: "Advocates argue that the vocal opposition of a small number of Canadians has hijacked the debate and that studies show that embryonic stem-cell research has strong support from the Canadian public."

The TTA issued a press release about Bill C-13 a few months ago. Here's what we had to say:

Parental Choice, Research Impinged by Bill C-13
Members of parliament must amend Bill C-13 so that it doesn't unjustifiably remove valid reproductive options for Canadians or inhibit important medical research

Proposed Bill C-13 is slated for debate in the House of Commons this week, and many Canadians are concerned that it will be voted into law.

The bill, titled "An Act respecting assisted human reproductive technologies and related research," calls for bans on therapeutic and reproductive cloning, germ-line modifications, gender selection of offspring, the creation of chimeras and animal-human hybrids for reproduction, commercial surrogate mothers and the sale of human reproductive materials or embryos.

Already the target of much criticism, the bill's potential prohibitions have infuriated many individuals and groups, including infertile couples and those people, such as Parkinson's victims, who stand a good chance of reaping the benefits of research into therapeutic cloning.

Under the act, Canadians would be forbidden to pay for sperm, eggs or surrogacy. Health Minister Anne McLellan maintains that these types of reproductive contributions should be limited to acts of altruism.

"How many friends do most of us have who would, out of the goodness of their heart, go through two weeks of injections, nine months of pregnancy and childbirth so that we could have a child?" asks Simon Smith, president of the Toronto Transhumanist Association. "In their reactionary attempt to prevent the commodification of human reproduction, the Liberals are ignoring the realities that Canadian couples face. People without extraordinarily altruistic friends will be doomed to a childless future."

Bill C-13 isn't just unfair to the one in six Canadians who suffer from infertility, says Smith, but also to people suffering from such health conditions as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and paralysis. "Therapeutic cloning has the potential to produce stem cells that could treat or even cure many currently incurable conditions," says Smith. "If Bill C-13 passes, research on therapeutic cloning won't stop, it will just move to more amenable countries. In essence, Canada will be waving goodbye to a significant part of its biotech future."

George Dvorsky, Vice President of the Toronto Transhumanist Association, is concerned that under Bill C-13 Canadians will be denied what he considers to be ethical and viable reproductive options. He is an advocate of commercial surrogacy and gender selection, and believes that consenting adults in a free society should be entitled to use these types of life-giving services. "People should be wary of any attempt by the Canadian government to control the reproductive processes of their bodies," he says. "Canadians couples should be allowed to select something as basic as the gender of their own offspring. People already try to select the gender of their children using all sorts of primitive and ineffective means. Why should new means be made illegal simply because they're more effective?"

Dvorsky also worries that by making commercial surrogacy illegal, couples will seek such services in the United States, or enter into shady and unmonitored underground activities.

"The proposed act claims to ‘respect' assisted reproductive technologies and research, and instead fails to ‘respect' those Canadians who could really use those technologies and services," says Dvorsky. "This is another example of the government prying their way into the bedrooms of the nation and telling us which procreative options are appropriate for us and which are not."
October 1, 2003
.: The Absolute Beginner's Guide to building your own robot.
.: Skeptic Michael Shermer on the science of life extension. He's skeptical about cryonics; I'm shocked.
.: Bruce Sterling outlines 10 obnoxious technologies.
.: Here's an awesome list of neural enhancement resources courtesy of Zach Lynch on Corante.

.: It was one year ago today that I became a vegetarian. It was only supposed to be a 2 week experiment.