June 28, 2004

Amazing new ultrasound technique

The BBC is reporting on a new type of ultrasound scan that has produced vivid pictures of complex fetal behavior, including a 12 week-old fetus "walking" in the womb, yawning and rubbing his eyes. The technique has important implications from a scientific and medical perspective. The technique was developed by Stuart Campbell at London's Create Health Clinic who had this to say:
"This is a new science for understanding and mapping out the behaviour of the baby...Maybe in the future it will help us understand and diagnose genetic disease, maybe even conditions like cerebral palsy which puzzles the medical profession as to why it occurs."

Longevity Uncorked?

We published an important report about resveratrol at Betterhumans today, "Longevity Uncorked?" by Shannon Klie. A press release was issued to accompany the report:
Longevity Uncorked?
Found in red wine, resveratrol may be the first real antiaging drug -- but don't drink to your health just yet

It seems too good to be true: A drug that would let you eat all the bread, cheese, cream sauce and red meat you wanted without risking coronary disease, while at the same time decreasing insulin levels, decreasing blood pressure, increasing good cholesterol and extending your lifespan to a degree normally achieved through strict dieting.

New research suggests that resveratrol, a compound in red wine, could do all this and possibly more. Writer Shannon Klie explores the research in an extensive report on resveratrol published this week on Betterhumans.com.

Resveratrol first gained recognition for its possible role in the French Paradox -- the fact that the fatty food-consuming French have low levels of heart disease. It is now gaining attention as an antiaging compound that could have the same impact as an extremely low-calorie diet.

"We hope we will be able to mimic the effects of caloric restriction," says researcher David Sinclair of Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, who along with researcher Konrad Howitz first identified resveratrol's ability to extend lifespan. Mimicking caloric restriction, says Sinclair, "would mean that people would be much healthier in their old age and could possibly live many years longer, free of disease."

Resveratrol is a polyphenol and phytoalexin. Polyphenols act like antioxidants and protect the body against free radicals, which contribute to tissue damage. Phytoalexins are a type of antibiotic that protects plants against disease.

A 1992 study found that resveratrol protects against heart disease and other aging-related illnesses. In 1997, researchers found that it fights cancer. Such studies have led to an explosion of resveratrol supplements on the market.

But the compound isn't without controversy. This April, for example, researchers found that it doesn't appear to enter the bloodstream. And since there haven't been any clinical trials done in mice or humans with resveratrol pills, it's too early to tell whether or not they actually work and what their long-term effects on humans might be.

So is this another supplement scam? Not necessarily. As Klie reports, evidence continues to mount that resveratrol pills -- at least, some of them -- may extend lifespan. This includes evidence from new studies showing that the longevity enzyme Sirt1, activated by a low-calorie diet, is also activated by resveratrol.

But while such studies are promising, they're just the beginning. "While I can show with little or no room for doubt that pure resveratrol is an effective activator of Sirt1 enzyme," says Howitz, "getting an answer on whether resveratrol has an antiaging effect in mice will take several years."

Getting an answer in humans will take even longer. So for now, it's buyer beware.


Black Hole Eschatology

I've been conversing with cosmologist Milan Cirkovic about the fate of black holes. Here's his latest response to me (you can find out more about Milan at his Website):
Dear George,

Great to hear from you! The answer to your question is not known with any certainty at present -- I'll just sketch major ideas and am attaching my resource letter on physical eschatology, where (in Sec. III C) you may find pretty close to exhaustive list of references on this, very difficult issue [Milan emailed me a Resource Letter on physcial eschatology]

First of all, let us separate two issues: (1) the fate of an ideal, isolated black hole, and (2) the fate of realistic black holes in specific universe such as ours. Obviously, we would like to have a firm idea on (1) in order to try to answer (2), but this is not the case. Due to the tough problem of information loss in black holes, which was first raised by Stephen Hawking, there are basically three options for a fate of an isolated black hole (in asymptotically flat background spacetime):
i. it may evaporate completely, leaving nothing but blackbody (incoherent) radiation (this is Hawking's personal favorite, the trouble is it violates unitarity, which is the reason it is widely disliked among physicists)

ii. it may evaporate completely, leaving a mixture of blackbody radiation emitted in early phases of evaporation and COHERENT (i.e. information-rich) radiation from the later phases of evaporation (many people believe this, say t'Hooft and other bigshots)

iii. it may leave a stable remnant, amusingly called cornucopion, of several Planck masses. The remnant contains all relevant information, thus presenting an ideal memory chip ;o))))
At present, I would judge that option ii. is the most supported one, but nobody really knows.

Now, as to the fate of black holes in the real universe, we have two interesting complications here. The first, and rather obvious one, is that black holes, whatever their final fate is, are the most durable objects larger than elementary particles. That is, they are going to increase in mass, generally speaking, until at least 10^35 yrs from now. This is especially important if, as almost all particle theories suggest, proton is unstable and will eventually decay, destroying any other physical object but black holes in at least 10^34-35 yrs. Only then can they begin to really evaporate, leading to evaporation of Solar-mass black holes (or at least cornucopion formation) in further 10^65 or close yrs. The most massive black holes in galactic centers will evaporate (according to the basic picture) in about 10^98 yrs.

This basic picture is complicated and possibly disrupted by the second major issue, which is the cosmological constant (or dark energy, as it is sometimes called; people claim that "dark energy" is more general than "cosmological constant", although I do find this hair-splicing rather shallow; we should honor Einstein and retain the classical name, even if it turns out to be variable -- after all, Hubble "constant" is also changing with time!). In itself it creates an incredibly weak radiation field permeating the entire universe, which is many, many (really MANY) times order of magnitude weaker than any known source at present, and is like energy your body receives from somebody reading with 40W bulb somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy).

However, at one point in deep future time, this emission will become dominant, since all other sources will be extinct long ago. The idea -- which is still VERY controversial, see the references of Griest, Adams, Shiromizu, etc. in the attached -- is that this weak emission (of photons with wavelengths equal to the size of cosmological horizon!) limits the evaporation of black holes, since black holes will at some point absorb this energy at exactly the same rate as they lose energy by Hawking evaporation, thus making themselves eternal. Of course, this is possible only with the largest black holes, if at all. Some people find this argument false -- the question is still not settled. But again, this happens so far in the future, that it is almost irrelevant by definition: any traces of intelligent life will have to migrate to another universe (or to create one) or become extinct loooooong before it becomes an issue.

You mention the Big Rip idea. Well, this is an interesting speculation, by Bob Caldwell and some other theorists, that if the cosmological constant possesses a particular equation of state, characterizing what is called "phantom matter" -- which there is absolutely no observational, or even compelling theoretical reason to believe! -- matter could become subject to infinite repulsive forces in a finite amount of proper time and hence be obliterated. Frankly speaking, I don't know how the black holes will behave in such a scenario -- I'll do some research in literature (the entire "phantom matter" thing is just a few years old idea) and tell you. But, for the moment I won't bother too much about this, since the entire idea is just possible, but still completely unsupported speculation!

OK, I hope that this helps a bit! I'll certainly be glad to discuss these things any time! (And if you invite me to give a talk on this or some other eschatological topic, I could help even better... ;o))) )


June 24, 2004

New Book Review: The New Humanists

My latest book review for Betterhumans has been posted. It's for John Brockman's book, The New Humanists: Science at the Edge:
Cutting Edge Science as a Candle in the Dark: The New Humanists brings together leading scientists to show how their work contributes to the humanities

June 23, 2004

More Wiki entries

I created three more entries in Wikipedia today that I couldn't believe weren't there already:
Aubrey de Grey
Methuselah Mouse Prize

Articles on the Fermi Paradox

Here are a several interesting articles that address the Fermi Paradox:
The Fermi Paradox: An Approach Based on Percolation Theory by Geoffrey A. Landis
Fermi's Paradox (i.e. Where are They?) by James Schombert
Answering the Fermi Paradox: Exploring the Mechanisms of Universal Transcension by John Smart
Our Galaxy Should Be Teeming With Civilizations, But Where Are They? by Seth Shostak
The Possibilities of FTL: Or Fermi's Paradox Reconsidered by F.E. Freiheit IV
And peripherally related:
On the Importance of SETI for Transhumanism by Milan M.Cirkovic

My TV04 Talk

I've settled on a theme and title for my TransVision 2004 talk: "Art and Recreation in the Age of Cognitive Self-Modification."

Ooookay, now all I have to do is write the damn thing. And no, it's not going to be about psychedelics. It'll be more about identity and psychology modification through things like simulations, virtual and augmented reality experiences, etc.

June 22, 2004

Max More coming to TransVision

This happened unbelievably suddenly (like, in the last 24 hours), but Max More is coming to TransVision 04. He'll likely be sharing the closing address on the morning of Sunday August 8 with WTA chair Nick Bostrom. Wow.

June 20, 2004

Simulation clock speed issues

Yesterday at our Toronto Transhumanist Association event I was debating the Simulation Argument with local physicist Matt Schultz. We were discussing the processing power required to run a sufficiently complex simulation and I noted that even the most sophisticated simulation could be expressed simply by slowing down the clock speed to give the computer time to crunch the numbers. Schultz complained that at some point a massively reduced clock speed would defeat the purpose of the simulation for those running it.

True, that's an interesting limitation. If you're running a simulation for the purpose of observing the results, and if you have to slow it down so much that it runs at an unacceptably slow rate, it would simply not be worth it. That being said, if the simulation is for the benefit of the simulated agents or participants inside the simulation (where clock speed is irrelevant -- time elapsement will still feel "real time"), then the external clock speed of the supercomputer is a non-issue.

Moreover, with the potential for quantum computing, the whole issue of processing power may be a moot point anyway. But as Schultz told me, "Simulating everything with qubits might indeed make it a moot point, but that's assuming a way can be found to actually stabilize that many qubits. Keep in mind that qubits are formed by entangling every subatomic particle in the system, and then protecting them from any outside disturbance until the compution is complete and computers' wavefunction can be collapsed. Every qubit added to the system makes the whole thing essentially exponentially more difficult to maintain. Not that I'm saying it's impossible, simply far more difficult than anything we could possibly contemplate today."

June 15, 2004

TV04: Sneak Preview

Check out this preliminary schedule for TransVision 2004. It does not get much cooler than this:

Friday August 6, 2004
8:00 PM to 9:30 PM
Keynote address by Steve Mann (JJR McLeod Auditorium)

Saturday August 7, 2004
9:30 AM to 10:30 AM
Opening Keynote Address: Aubrey de Grey “The feasibility and desirability of indefinite youth: recent advances from unexpected quarters”

10:45 AM to 11:45 AM
Mike Deering: “Telluris of Cyborgs: Safety Passage through Great Filter of Evolution” (with Pavel Vassiliev)
Michael Vassar: “Nanotech Safety is AI Safety”
Mark Walker: "The Ship of Fools: An Argument for Surviving Apocalyptic Risks through Cognitive and Ethical Enhancements"

Jende Huang: “Humanism and The Culture Wars”
Kip Werking: “The Transhuman Condition”

Anders Sandberg: “Transformative Technology, Patient Culture and Health Policy”
Robin Hanson: “The Future of Debate”
Simon Smith: “Automatic for the People: How Humans Can Benefit from the Rise of Machines”

12:00 PM 1:00 PM
JBS Haldane Award Banquet
Address by Ron Bailey

1:15 PM to 2:45 PM
Mike Treder: “Making a Safe Transition into the Nano Era”
Nano Tihamer Toth-Fejel: "Self-Replicating NanoMachines: A Kinematic Cellular Automata Approach"

Ramez Naam, author of More than Human
Ron Bailey, author of Liberation Biology
James Hughes, author of Citizen Cyborg

Linda MacDonald Glenn: “Vexation of Viability: Arbitrary or Valid? (Legal and Ethical Issues in ARTs)”
Jeff Medina: “Transpuppyism? The Status of Non-Humans in Transhumanist Ethics”

3:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Phil Goetz: “Calibrating Accelerating Change”
Mark Hopkins: “The Fourth Wave”

Linda Wallace: "Female Infertility and Reproductive Technology: An Artist's Perspective”
Monica Bock: “Art and the Maternal Experience”


Tihamer Toth-Fejel: "A Critical Look at Leon Kass and Transhumanists on Ageless Bodies: Enhancement and Degradation of the Human Person”
Natasha Vita-More: “Entertainment Tomorrow: Cover Story 'Debating Leon Kass'”

8:00 PM to 9:30 PM
Keynote presentation by Stelarc (JJR McLeod Auditorium)

Sunday August 8, 2004

9:30 AM to 10:30 AM

Joao Pedro de Magalhães: “The genetic network of human ageing: a system-level approach”
Rafal Smigrodski: “How to buy new mitochondria for your old body”
Aubrey de Grey: "Removing toxic aggregates that our cells can't break down"

Michael Anissimov: “Enhancing Intelligence; from Neurohackers to Self-Improving Ais”
Sean Kearney: “Can Social Software Increase Human Intelligence?”
Stelarc: "Avatar and Machine Intelligence"

10:45 AM to 11:45 AM

Dale Carrico: "Vulgar Biocentrism Among the Technophiles"
Kenneth Evans: "Random Feed Switch Every Twenty Five: Gender and Technology in Transmetropolitan"
Robin Zebrowski: “Posthuman AI: How Recognizing the Importance of the Body Will Change Things”

Ben Hyink: “Toward Non-Fatal Uploading: A New Framework”
Allen Randall: “Quantum Miracles and Immortality”
Peter Passaro: “Reimagining Uploading”

Simon Levy: “The Fractal Beauty of Emergence : Re-envisioning Intelligent Behavior in Man and Machine”
George Dvorsky: "The Impact of Enhanced Humans on the Future of Art and Expression."

12:00 PM 1:15 PM
Closing Address: Nick Bostrom "Human Enhancement: Answering the Why Question"

1:15 PM to 1:30 PM
Final Announcements & Acknowledgments

Here's how the Faith, Transhumanism and Hope Seminar will look:

Thursday August 5, 2004
9:15 AM to 10:45 AM
Atheism, Rationalism and Transhumanism: Are Transhumanism and Religious Faith Compatible?
Jende Huang “Humanism and Transhumanism”
Tihamer Toth-Fejel “Is Catholic Transhumanism Possible?”
Patrick Hopkins “Transcending the Animal: How Transhumanism and Religion Are and Are Not Alike”

11:00 AM to 12:00 PM
The Future of Religion
Peter Addy “Mutant Religious Impulses of the Future”
Michael LaTorra “Trans-Spirit: Religion, Spirituality and Transhumanism”

12:00 PM to 1:00 PM
Box Lunch - Lunch Speaker (box lunch included with registration)
Nick Bostrom “Transhumanism and Religion”

1:00 PM to 2:15 PM
Neurotheology and the Moral Duty of Self-improvement
Mark Walker “Becoming Godlike”
James Hughes “Buddhism and Transhumanism: The Technologies of Self-Perfection”

2:30 PM to 3:45 PM
Immortalism: Sublimated Religious Impulse?
Andrei Chiril Istrati “On the Correlation between Religion and Immortality”
Jose Cordeiro “Religion, Science and Immortality”

4:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Closing Panel: Advancing the Religious Transhumanism Conversation

Go here to register.

The Scary Future of Pro-Death Bioethics

Reason from Longevity Meme had some interesting insight into my "Deathist Nation" column.

June 10, 2004

New Transitory Human column: Deathist Nation

My latest column for Betterhumans has been posted: Deathist Nation: Critics of life extension fear the risks of longer lives but don't acknowledge the danger and difficulty of enforcing death.

Good Quotes

Good quotes I've read recently:
"I would define the human species as that species that inherently seeks to extend our own horizons. We didn’t stay on the ground, we didn’t stay on the planet, we’re not staying with the limitations of our biology." -- Ray Kurzweil

"Science with technology together with human affection will be constructive." -- Dalai Lama

"For me, the essence of individual life is to use one's complexity in the matrix in which it was born. Attempts to transmit it more than a short distance away from that environment are bound to be exercises in frustration, missing one of the basic motives of life, to do great things with your contemporaries." John Smart

"Modern science fiction is the only form of literature that consistently considers the nature of the changes that face us, the possible consequences, and the possible solutions." -- Isaac Asimov

"It is impossible to calculate in detail the long-range future of the Universe without including the effects of life and intelligence. It is impossible to calculate the capabilities of life and intelligence without touching, at least peripherally, philosophical questions. If we are to examine how intelligent life may be able to guide the physical development of the Universe for its own purposes, we cannot altogether avoid considering what the values and purposes of intelligent life may be. But, as soon as we mention the words value and purpose, we run into one of the most firmly entrenched taboos of twentieth-century science." -- Freeman Dyson

June 9, 2004

Has the Riemann Hypothesis been solved?

A Purdue University mathematician who goes by the name de Branges claims that he's proven the Riemann hypothesis.

The Riemann hypothesis, first formulated by Bernhard Riemann in 1859, is a highly complex theory about the nature of prime numbers - those numbers divisible only by 1 and themselves. More technically, it's a conjecture about the distribution of the zeros of Riemann's zeta function ζ(s). It's considered to be one of the most important open problems of contemporary mathematics; a $1,000,000 prize has been offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute for a proof.

De Branges has posted a 23-page paper detailing his attempt at a proof on his university Webpage. Called, "Apology For The Proof of the Riemann Hypothesis," it's actually an interesting read, even for those of us who are mathematically hopeless.

June 8, 2004

...and we're supposed to take these guys seriously why?

I don't know whether to laugh or cry about these GMO protesters who mistakenly targeted a pharmaceutical conference in San Francisco today. As one conference attendee noted, "This is a protest rooted in ignorance.” You got that right, buddy -- in more ways than you know.

WTA Candidacy Statement

I'm running for a seat on the WTA's Board of Directors. Vote for me and I'll set you free :-)

Here's my candidacy statement:

I'm single, 34, and the father of two boys. I have a BA (Hons) in history from the University of Western Ontario, specializing in the history of political thought, religion and science, and minoring in political science and philosophy. I'm also an accomplished electronic music composer with formal training in recorded audio production and digital audio editing. My current paying job is as the operations manager and office administrator for an information technology and communication design firm in downtown Toronto.

Over the past several years I have made a number of significant contributions to the WTA and to the transhumanist movement in general.

In 2002 I co-founded the Toronto Transhumanist Association. I am currently the President of the TTA, an organization that has turned out to be one of the WTA's most influential, dynamic and socially active chapters.

I am also the Deputy-Editor of Betterhumans, the popular Webzine and editorial production company that openly and progressively deals with issues surrounding human enhancement. My bi-weekly opinion column, Transitory Human, appears on Betterhumans in which I comment on the latest in transhumanist thought and culture, science, technology, philosophy and bioethics.

My articles have been published around the world and translated into several languages. My works have appeared in Transhumanity, The Humanist and even university texts. I am also a regular contributor to two popular transhumanist blogs, Sentient Developments, my personal blog, and Cyborg Democracy, a collaborative blog for leading transhumanist thinkers.

In addition, I am on the Institute for Accelerating Change's Civic, Humanist, and Transhumanist Advisory Board.

I have been a member of the WTA in good standing since 2002. In addition to my work with the TTA, I have contributed to the WTA through my work as a contributing editor for Transhumanity, I helped with the recent WTA FAQ update, and most significantly, I am contributing as Chair of the Organizing Committee for TransVision 2004, the annual WTA conference to be held in Toronto later this summer.

Values and Goals

My primary motivation and concern as a transhumanist involves the promotion and protection of what I consider to be the tripod of human enhancement, namely our procreative, morphological and cognitive liberties. As a transhumanist social activist, I am particularly driven to ensure that these freedoms are respected and upheld. To that end, I have published various opinion editorials and press releases here in Canada commenting on what I see as overly restrictive laws against such things as stem cell research, therapeutic cloning and gender selection. My efforts tend toward real-world concerns that are of direct consequence to humanist and transhumanist values, as well as the non-anthropocentric personhood ethic.

My interest in transhumanism also stems from my convictions as a secular humanist. I am becoming increasingly concerned by the faux bioethics frequently espoused and popularized by the various bio-Luddites and the religious right. Consequently, I have made an extra effort to reach out and offer people alternative and accessible perspectives on science, technology, bioethics and issues of human enhancement.

At the same time I have raised my voice when it has come time for me to be critical of the transhumanist movement itself. In the past I've gone toe-to-toe with a number of transhumanists, questioning what I see as inconsistent, poorly thought out or dangerous perspectives, including such things as overly enthusiastic techno-optimism, utopianism, and varying forms of determinism.

If I am to make any contribution to the WTA, it will be to keep it tempered, focused, stable and rooted firmly in reality. Further, as a member of the WTA Board, it would be my intention to see a concerted effort put into the recent initiatives put forth at the recent WTA Board meeting. It's time to see the WTA evolve to the next level.

Outside of transhumanism my interests include spending time with my kids, Hatha yoga, Vipassana meditation, jogging, secular Buddhism, vegetarianism, music history and criticism, science fictions films, and drinking fine beers.

June 7, 2004

50th anniversary of Alan Turing's death

It was 50 years ago today that Alan Turing passed away. He is indisputably one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th Century, who's life included such accomplishments as the development of the Church-Turing Thesis and the Turing Test. He is considered the father of the modern computer and cognitive computationalism. He was also the guy who successfully hacked the Nazi's Enigma code during WWII -- one the first ever real-world situations in which a computer was utilized.

For all his successes he led a very tragic life, living at a time when homosexuality was considered both a crime and a mental disorder. At one point he had to take estrogen to curb his libido. He eventually killed himself with an apple laced with cyanide.

The BBC has a good retrospective of his life and accomplishments. Here's a great site dedicated to Alan Turing.

Running for a seat on the WTA Board of Directors

Tomorrow I will be making a formal announcement that I am running for a seat on the World Transhumanist Association's Board of Directors. Look for my candidacy statement to be posted here tomorrow.

June 6, 2004

R.U. Sirius in conversation with Brian Alexander

R. U. Sirius talks to Brian Alexander about his most recent book, Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion. Says Alexander:
Medicine is changing. In our increasingly secular world, it is shifting from only trying to cure obvious disease to making us better than we might otherwise be. Most people don’t really believe in paradise after death and we never have, no matter what we might say or what church we might attend. If we did, why would we try to stave off death at all? If we have raised our children, and have no more responsibility to our offspring, why not accept death with gratitude, a speedy way to enter a better place?

Instead, we rail against it. We fight to achieve more and better. We’d like to have sex into our 90s. We’d like to not just stay sharp, but to be smarter. We want more understanding, more wisdom, more strength. Given the lack of any real evidence for another source for those things, we have pinned our hopes on religions to show us the way toward them. Biotech is now saying “Hey! Maybe we can make it this way. Maybe there is a new alternative.” It is a profoundly disruptive idea.

Quotes about Buddhism's influence and place in the West

I'm currently reading Lama Surya Das's "Awakening the Buddha" and it's got some great quotes in it:
"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description....If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism." -- Albert Einstein

"The coming of Buddhism to the West may well prove to be the most important event of the Twentieth Century." -- Arnold Toynbee, Historian

"Buddhism has transformed every culture it has entered, and Buddhism has been transformed by its entry into that culture." -- Arnold Toynbee

"The Dalai Lama seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the foreigners who had recently come to Buddhism; he said he thought Americans and other Westerners had an affinity for Buddhism because they didn't believe anything until it was proven. The Buddha, he reminded me, told people not to follow anything blindly, for Buddhism is not based on belief so much as rational experiment. If, like a scientist, you replicated the Buddha's experiment, you should get the same good results -- enlightenment." -- Lama Surya Das, "Awakening the Buddha," 33.

June 5, 2004

Protests now flourish in China

Wow, the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre passed yesterday. In some respects it feels like it was just yesterday, and in others, because of its indelible mark on culture and society, it feels much longer than that. I certainly remember it very clearly. I was getting ready for my highschool graduation when I heard the news. I was devastated, particularly after the seemingly encouraging news of student protests. For me personally the moment marked a kind of political loss of innocence, and I my take on many things have never been the same since.

But 15 years later, it would appear that the grassroots urge to democratize China is still strong.

Murray Scot Tanner reports in the International Herald Tribune that Beijing is again confronting a growing volume of popular protest. Interestingly, reports of this widespread protest are being confirmed by China's own police forces, which used to routinely deny permission for most protest demonstrations. Tanner writes:
Recent official police statistics are striking. The number of demonstrations increased from 8,700 to 32,000 from 1993 to 1999 - an increase of 268 percent. The number probably swelled past 40,000 in 2000. In no year during this period did protests increase by less than 9 percent, and in the financial crisis years of 1997 and 1998 they spiked by 25 and 67 percent, respectively.

Though we lack nationwide data for the years since 2000, Chinese government reports indicate that the number of public protests has probably risen each of the last three years. Sichuan, China's largest province, apparently saw an increase in protests of almost 20 percent last year, to nearly 1,500.
In particular, the Chinese are protesting a number of things, including the undemocratic communist regime, "grievances against rapacious managers and corrupt local officials," and unfair working and economic conditions.

Tanner shows how Chinese protesters are getting more sophisticated in their tactics, showing a brave kind of maturity in the face of severe reprimands.

June 4, 2004

Transhumanism continues to spread as a cultural phenomenon

There's an article in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune about transhumanist Matthew Gress, 34, an independent computer contractor and a member of the World Transhumanist Association. Here's an excerpt from the article, "Minneapolis Transhumanist Hungers for Eternal Life."
"People are very afraid of technology. They're afraid they're going to break it, do something wrong or seem stupid," Gress said. "We're a nation full of people who want the neat, fast thing, but we all have 12 flashing on our VCRs."

That will change as we develop computers that we operate just by talking and that talk back in the languages our minds use.

"It turns out that there are several parts of our brain, and they all talk to each other really fast. Because they talk to each other so fast we think we're one person. The question is, 'When my Palm Pilot goes from being able to talk to me in regular language to talking to me via my nervous system in the same language that my brain uses, what happens to my perception of self?' "

Most exciting to Gress is the idea of extending life indefinitely -- restoring people to whatever degree of youth they desire and keeping them there for as long as they want.

"I'd like the option to live as long as I care to," Gress said. "And I believe that if technologies appear to do that, if you are a religious or spiritual person you are morally required to pursue them."

Gress was raised Catholic and educated by Jesuits. While he values that moral code, he's not involved in organized religion. But he believes these changes are consonant with the Christian idea of bringing heaven to Earth. Given the chance, Gress would keep the mind he now has but store it in the body of a 20-year-old.

June 3, 2004

Enforcing death

I'm currently hacking away at my next column for Betterhumans. This one is tentatively titled "Deathist Nation" and it's a critical examination into how death would have to be enforced in the future if the bio-Luddites were to have their way. I surmise that, given the certain inevitability of life extension technologies, it would take a rather authoritarian iron fist to ensure that people die in a timely fashion. I pretty much focus on the US situation, mostly because of its outspoken and prominent Bioethics Council.

And I'm not really exaggerating. The scary part is, Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama seem convinced that this is the way to go. When recently asked by Wired's Brian Alexander if the government has a right to tell its citizens that they have to die, Francis Fukuyama answered, "Yes, absolutely."

Here's a brief excerpt from my article, which should be ready by early next week:
As I consider their arguments and look deeper into what they're saying, I have come to the realization that their propaganda campaign is more than just a battle for hearts and minds. One gets the distinct impression that, should radical life extension technologies start to become available, these detractors would go much farther than just a war of words in their attempts to ensure that we never become an immortal species.

Owing to the grim seriousness of this Bioethics Council, I am forced to consider what it would take to stop the coming anti-aging revolution -- and as I think about this I truly fear the kind of future they have in mind.

June 2, 2004

Aubrey in Fortune Magazine, Slashdotted

There was some excitement today in the transhumanist community arising from a Fortune article about Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey and a subsequent reference on Slashdot. Reason, a life extension advocate and the founder of Longevity Meme, was the man responsible for having the article picked up by Slashdot. Reason's slashdot blurbage:
"Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey has put forward a biological engineering plan to end human aging and co-founded the Methuselah Mouse Prize in recent years. Now he is finally getting some of the public recognition he deserves in an excellent David Stipp article at Fortune Magazine. If you ever wondered exactly how to go about engineering away the 50 million deaths due to aging that occur each and every year - and how to bring about a sea change in the scientific establishment - then this is the place to start. As an added bonus, I don't think you'll find a more succinct (and utterly British) answer to overpopulation objections to life extension than the one at the end of this article!"
I sent off a quick e-mail to Reason congratulating him, to which he slyly responded:
I think the lesson learned here is that if you want to be slashdotted, mention engineering.
Heh, sad but true. Linux geeks. Hey, wait a minute, I'm a Linux geek ;-)

Future Pundit posted an interesting blog entry about the Fortune article:
It is great that a mainstream business magazine is publicizing these ideas. As anyone who has been reading FuturePundit for a while must know by now, I share Aubrey's views about what is possible to achieve in human rejuvenation. Also, he is right to argue that we are not trying anywhere near as hard as we should to develop rejuvenation therapies given the excellent prospects for success within the lifetimes of many people now alive. So big is the potential pay-off that the failure to make the big push for rejuvenation is surely the biggest mistake in science policy now being made by the United States and the other developed countries.

On the bright side, some of the problems being worked on with the goal of treating various diseases are going to contribute toward the set of therapies that Aubrey has outlined as Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. For instance, all the work on stem cells and tissue engineering builds toward the ability to grow replacement organs and to send in stem cells to replace cells lost from the accumulation of damage that comes with aging. Also, the continued development of a large range of technologies that accelerate the rate of advance of biological science and biotechnology are making it easier to develop rejuvenation therapies. So there are rays of hope in spite of the pessimistic and obviously wrong conventional wisdom that still guides biomedical researchg funding policy in the United States and other developed countries.
Aubrey will be joining us at TransVision 2004 later this summer. He'll be launching the conference with a talk on the morning of Saturday August 7.

June 1, 2004

Boards of Canada

Several months ago I discovered the Scottish electronic duo, Boards of Canada. I can't stop listen to these guys. I'd say they're the most interesting electronic music act to come along in the past 5 years, certainly the best since Aphex Twin hit the scene early last decade. If you like bands such as Casino Versus Japan or Marumari you'll totally get into these guys.

I would describe their music as Brian Eno meets Aphex Twin and Autechre. There's a minimalism to their music that I am particularly drawn to. Some Kraftwerk and very early Vangelis can also be heard in their music. But that's not to say that their stuff isn't highly distinctive and original -- which it is in droves.

BoC provide a very lo-fi sonic experience. They mesh beautifully crafted synth melodies with haunting soundscapes. At some times their tracks are earthy and organic, while at other times spacey and other worldly. Never before has 1970s futurism sounded so cool. Listening to their tracks takes me back to a time when I watched Science International and Dr. Who on television.

Another thing that gives their music such a unique flavour is that their music sounds de-tuned with warbling tape effects. It often sounds like their tracks are being played out of a film projector taken directly from my grade 6 geography class. And in some of their tracks I think they might have even sampled some of the dialogue from films shown to me in my grade 6 geography class!

Anyways, if you haven't heard their stuff yet, be sure to check them out.

Current interests

Current playlist includes:
Duane Eddy: Misc
Bob Dylan: Highway 61
Velvet Underground: Misc
Beach Boys: Pet Sounds
Queen: A Night at the Opera
The Who: Who's Next
Doves: Lost Souls & The Last Broadcast
Beta Band: Heroes to Zeros
Tool: Aenima & Lateralus
Ron Sexsmith: Retriever
Sasha: Airdrawndagger
Boards of Canada: Geogaddi, Music Has the Right to Children, Hi Scores, Boc Maxima
Casino Versus Japan: Misc
Marumari: Misc
Koop: Misc
Zero 7: Misc
Movies and videos I've seen recently:
Silent Running
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Logan's Run
Vanilla Sky
Leaving Las Vegas
Shrek 2
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Off the Map
Led Zeppelin: DVD Boxset
Reservoir Dogs
Latest books:
The New Humanists: Science at the Edge, edited by John Brockman [just finished it]
Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion by Brian Alexander [almost finished]
Natural Born Cyborgs by Andy Clark
Children of Choice by John Robertson
Nano by John Robert Marlow

Accelerating Change 2004

Looks like John Smart is busy organizing Accelerating Change 2004, the 2nd annual conference hosted by the Institute for Accelerating Change:
On September 10 to 12 at Stanford University, the Institute for Accelerating Change hosts its second annual conference, Accelerating Change 2004. AC2004 provides a unique opportunity to learn from and network with world-class thinkers discussing today's most important trends in the science, technology, business, and humanism of accelerating change.

This year's theme explores the intersection of three key trends: the accelerating interconnectivity of the physical world, the increasing accuracy of the simulated world, and the growing importance of the physical-virtual, human-machine interface. Each of these trends alone is profoundly impacting society today. Together, they paint a revolutionary picture of the future.

AC2004 features engaging interactive debates, a virtual world demonstration session, a collective intelligence dinner, among other events and activities.

We will continue with last year's successful format of analysis, speculation, and action themes, using both transdisciplinary inquiry and a synthesis of material, ethical, and spiritual dialog.
I'm seriously thinking of attending. We'll have to see how things go for me over the next several months.

Canadian Conservative party would ban embryonic stem cell research for 3 years

With less than four weeks to go before the federal election, the Conservative Party of Canada has announced that if elected it would invoke a 3-year ban on embryonic stem cell research:
"We...call on the federal government to encourage its granting agencies to focus on the more promising adult (post-natal) stem cell research," it says. "This field should be governed by principles that respect human individuality, integrity, dignity and life."
Of course, this would actually be an affront to human dignity and life as the plight of real persons would be set aside in favour of cell clump fetishizing.

A number of the recently announced stances are an amalgamation of the policies of the former Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties; both have a tradition or conservative policies and heavily religious agendas.

The current policy in Canada in regards to stem cell research is that it is allowed under certain conditions, while therapeutic cloning is strictly forbidden. While still very conservative in its approach, the Conservatives would make the Canadian situation potentially stricter than it is the United States (where they're currently debating whether or not to add additional embryo lines) which would an unbelievably disappointing turn of events.

And in typical Canadian fashion, this type of news and election promise goes utterly unnoticed....