October 31, 2011

New podcast episode for the week of October 31, 2011

The latest episode of the Sentient Developments podcast is up.

This week I discuss primal transhumanism and the seemingly contradictory trend towards ancestral health that's happening in the futurist community. To that end I address the paleo diet, functional fitness, and the importance of sleep. In the second half of the episode I discuss the recent lawsuit launched by PETA in which they accuse SeaWorld of enslaving orca whales. In this suit, PETA claims that the US Constitution backs up their claim as the 13th mention makes no mention of the kinds of persons it's set up to protect.

iTunes people can subscribe here. Or you can just subscribe to the RSS. You can download the episode directly here (mp3).

October 28, 2011

PETA to sue SeaWorld under US slavery law

I tend to have a love/hate relationship with PETA. The hate part, I'd say, stems from their often outlandish, sensationalistic and highly inappropriate campaigns.Their tactics often hint at a rather underdeveloped and unsophisticated approach to animal welfare. Can it truly be said that PETA has made a difference to animals?

Regardless, every once in a while PETA does something that makes me realize that I can't stay mad at them for long, and this is one of those times: PETA is accusing SeaWorld of enslaving orca whales—and they're using the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution to enforce their claim. According to the PETA website:
In the first case of its kind, PETA, three marine-mammal experts, and two former orca trainers are filing a lawsuit asking a federal court to declare that five wild-caught orcas forced to perform at SeaWorld are being held as slaves in violation of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The filing—the first ever seeking to apply the 13th Amendment to nonhuman animals—names the five orcas as plaintiffs and also seeks their release to their natural habitats or seaside sanctuaries.

The suit is based on the plain text of the 13th Amendment, which prohibits the condition of slavery without reference to "person" or any particular class of victim. "Slavery is slavery, and it does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on gender, race, or religion," says general counsel to PETA, Jeffrey Kerr.

The five wild-captured orca plaintiffs are Tilikum and Katina (both confined at SeaWorld Orlando) and Kasatka, Corky, and Ulises (all three confined at SeaWorld San Diego).

"All five of these orcas were violently seized from the ocean and taken from their families as babies. They are denied freedom and everything else that is natural and important to them while kept in small concrete tanks and reduced to performing stupid tricks," says PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk. "The 13th Amendment prohibits slavery, and these orcas are, by definition, slaves."
This is all sorts of awesome, particularly the language being used—namely the language of nonhuman personhood. I am absolutely on board with this suit. The orca whale, along with other cetaceans, are most certainly persons (see What is a person?). Furthermore, I'd say the same consideration should be given to other nonhuman persons, including elephants and all the great apes (which would have implications for zoos and circuses).

I'm also excited to see that the US Constitution is being interpreted and applied in this way. Because the 13th Amendment makes no mention of human persons per se, it can be assumed that all persons, regardless of species, should be included. Personally, I don't think this is a trick of language or omission; I believe it's within the spirit of the law.

And at the heart of the matter, of course, is the issue of animal exploitation—the suggestion that highly sapient and emotional creatures are being used as slaves. As I've written before (see Putting an end to dolphin exploitation at aquatic theme parks), these nonhuman animals are capable of exhibiting their discontent and dissatisfaction with their conditions—whether it be through their body language, disobedience, or the expression of sheer emotional defeat. That an animal rights group is working to protect their interests with an existing body of law is exciting. It's exactly what we're trying to do at the Rights of Non-Human Persons Program, which is to give these nonhuman persons the same legal protections that humans have.

Now all this said, PETA and company have their work cut out for them. Just because I agree with their interpretation of the Constitution doesn't mean that the courts will. In fact, the courts will likely err on the side of prejudice and ignorance, and proclaim that PETA's claim is not within the "spirit" of the Constitution, or some other unimaginative drivel like that.

Indeed, a quick scan of the media's coverage of PETA's lawsuit is discouraging. Most outlets are using disparaging language to describe PETA's efforts and are lumping it in with their other "outrageous stunts" (see TIME's coverage).

It's also obvious that the lucrative aquatic theme park industry will not go down without a fight. As highlighted in the documentary, The Cove, this is big business with global reach.

And regrettably, there is already a segment of the population that is taking great offence to this issue. Take the response of David Steinberg, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, who called the suit "patently, absolutely frivolous":
The 13th Amendment abolished the abhorrent, despicable practice of the slavery of human beings. PETA is demeaning the integrity and humanity of people who were owned as slaves. That is outrageous.
Steinberg's contention, that we shouldn't recognize nonhuman persons as slaves because it would demean those whose ancestors were once held as slaves, is deeply problematic. It is this exact sentiment that must be addressed, combated, and ultimately destroyed if the supporters of this issue wish to succeed. Nothing is preventing the furthering of animal rights more than this idea—and it's the same idea that has prevented the broadening of rights throughout human history. It's the seemingly endless reprise of the situation in which the "in" group, for whatever reason, is reluctant to expand the circle of rights and include the "out" group because it would somehow lessen or threaten what it means to be in the "in" group. What it is is patent nonsense.

Steinberg's comment is particularly pernicious for three reasons.

First, it's the seductive and easy response—the one that appeals to most people's conservative nature and their reluctance to think too deeply about instigating change. Most people don't like to upset the apple cart.

Second, it represents the exact opposite of what would actually happen. Protecting and broadening the rights of minority groups can only increase the dignity and integrity of both those who grant them and those who would benefit from them. It's what makes an enlightened and progressive society exactly that—it's what endows our species with the integrity and humanity that Steinberg claims is under threat.

Third, the claim that some people might feel lessened or demeaned by the suggestion that some nonhuman persons are slaves still doesn't make it right or invalid. People get offended all the time. We can't let that stop the correct course of action. Taking offence to something, or feeling "demeaned" by a piece of legislation, is not the fault of the legislation. Rather, it's the fault of the person allowing themselves to feel that way. It's a kind of "yuck factor ethics", which is not really ethics at all. Furthermore, granting rights to nonhuman persons would in no real or tangible way lessen what it means to be human. We'll retain our humanity and our rights regardless of whether or not we grant them outside the species.

My suspicion is that the fear driving this sentiment is that we'd lose our exalted human place on top of the food chain. Well, to that I say: Too bad. Rights and protections need to be granted to those who both deserve and need them.

Best of luck to PETA as they move to push this law suit forward.

October 27, 2011

Automation Nation: Will Robots Take Our Jobs? [video]

Check out this conversation between Robin Hanson and Martin Ford on the future of the American economy and the role of intelligent computers and robots. The primary question tackled: Will rapid technological innovations aid American workers, or will it render large numbers of American workers obsolete?

Nice quote from Hanson:
"When machines are really powerful and can do lots of things you only need to own a few machines to be able to own a lot and survive and be prosperous and wealthy. So, once machines are so good that people can't compete with them we will have a vastly [more] prosperous world where we have all these productive machines and owning some of these machines will be enough. We need to make a smooth transition so that people start to buy capital so that they can own these machines and be productive and wealthy."
The episode is from the PBS show, "Ideas in Action", which in this segment features a half hour discussion about information technology -- in particular robots/AI -- and its impact on the future job market and economy. The show will air on PBS stations beginning this Sunday, but is available online now.

October 24, 2011

NYT: More Jobs Predicted for Machines, Not People

The New York Times has published an article about how robotics, automation and information technologies are increasingly impacting on the dwindling job market. The article was posted in consideration of a new book titled Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Excerpt from the NYT article:
Technology has always displaced some work and jobs. Over the years, many experts have warned — mistakenly — that machines were gaining the upper hand. In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes warned of a “new disease” that he termed “technological unemployment,” the inability of the economy to create new jobs faster than jobs were lost to automation.

But Mr. Brynjolfsson and Mr. McAfee argue that the pace of automation has picked up in recent years because of a combination of technologies including robotics, numerically controlled machines, computerized inventory control, voice recognition and online commerce.

Faster, cheaper computers and increasingly clever software, the authors say, are giving machines capabilities that were once thought to be distinctively human, like understanding speech, translating from one language to another and recognizing patterns. So automation is rapidly moving beyond factories to jobs in call centers, marketing and sales — parts of the services sector, which provides most jobs in the economy.
Here's a description of the book:
Why has median income stopped rising in the US?

Why is the share of population that is working falling so rapidly?

Why are our economy and society are becoming more unequal?

A popular explanation right now is that the root cause underlying these symptoms is technological stagnation-- a slowdown in the kinds of ideas and inventions that bring progress and prosperity.

In Race Against the Machine, MIT's Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee present a very different explanation. Drawing on research by their team at the Center for Digital Business, they show that there's been no stagnation in technology -- in fact, the digital revolution is accelerating. Recent advances are the stuff of science fiction: computers now drive cars in traffic, translate between human languages effectively, and beat the best human Jeopardy! players.

As these examples show, digital technologies are rapidly encroaching on skills that used to belong to humans alone. This phenomenon is both broad and deep, and has profound economic implications. Many of these implications are positive; digital innovation increases productivity, reduces prices (sometimes to zero), and grows the overall economic pie.

But digital innovation has also changed how the economic pie is distributed, and here the news is not good for the median worker. As technology races ahead, it can leave many people behind. Workers whose skills have been mastered by computers have less to offer the job market, and see their wages and prospects shrink. Entrepreneurial business models, new organizational structures and different institutions are needed to ensure that the average worker is not left behind by cutting-edge machines.

In Race Against the Machine Brynjolfsson and McAfee bring together a range of statistics, examples, and arguments to show that technological progress is accelerating, and that this trend has deep consequences for skills, wages, and jobs. The book makes the case that employment prospects are grim for many today not because there's been technology has stagnated, but instead because we humans and our organizations aren't keeping up.

New podcast episode available

The latest episode of the Sentient Developments podcast has been posted.

This week I discuss bulletproof coffees, my visit to Occupy Toronto, Propaganda 2.0 and the rise of narrative networks, Ray Kurzweil's response to Paul Allen, and the potential link between ETI's and time travel.

iTunes people can subscribe here. Or you can just subscribe to the RSS. You can download the episode directly here (mp3).

October 20, 2011

Todd Kuiken: A prosthetic arm that "feels" | TED

Surgeon and engineer Todd Kuiken is building a prosthetic arm that connects with the human nervous system -- improving motion, control and even feeling. In this TED talk, Kuiken brings patient Amanda Kitts onstage to help demonstrate this next-gen robotic arm.

Careful now, you may be the 1%

The Occupy Wall Street chant of, "We are the 99%" got me thinking: Where do I stand in terms of wealth from a global perspective? Thankfully, I found an online calculator, the Global Rich List, that helped me find the answer.

To my surprise, I am firmly placed within the top 1% as far as global salaries go--and chances are you are, too. If you make more than USD$47,500 per year, then you are the top 1%. Going down from there, you are in the top 5% if your annual salary is $35,000, and within the top 10% if it's at at least $25,000. This is what happens when you have a planet of 6.8 billion people and 80% of them live on less than $10 a day.

So just keep that in mind when you smugly proclaim that you're one of the have-nots.

Taking a more local perspective, and considering just the United States alone (I unfortunately do not have figures for elsewhere), if your salary is $87,000 you are within the top 10%. You're in the top 5% if you make at least $120,000. Median salary in the U.S. is around $25,000. Further breakdowns are available here.

October 19, 2011

Doctors warming to Paleo diet

A growing number of scientists, medical doctors and nutritionists have argued that a Stone Age lifestyle could benefit human health and even cure chronic diseases. Check out this surprisingly good video series that was recently put together by CBS:

October 18, 2011

Propaganda 2.0 and the rise of 'narrative networks'

DARPA, the Pentagon's advanced concepts think-tank, is looking to take propaganda to the next level and they're hoping to do so by controlling the very way their targets perceive and interpret the flow of incoming information. The Pentagon believes that by engaging in 'narrative control' they can alter an individual's grasp on reality and the way in which they evaluate current events. Simply put, DARPA is looking to shape minds with stories.

Now, this isn't an entirely new concept. The notion of narrative control, or narrative networks, has been bunted around for a few years now.

It's been said that history books are written by the victors. Well, these days hopeful victors are trying to write current events. State actors are increasingly disclosing information in a way that constructs a kind of story. It's through the careful construction of desirable narratives that state actors are hoping to control the beliefs and actions of targeted audiences. It's a classic case of the pen being mightier than the sword -- but in this case it's a pen that digs deep into the very psyche of the individual.

The United States has been engaging in narrative control for quite some time now. Most recently, during the Arab Spring, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weaved a tale that suggested a certain level of inevitability to the events unfolding in the Middle East. One by one, she contended, authoritarian and fundamentalist nations were being overthrown by angry and forward-looking populaces. It'll only be a matter of time, Clinton argued, before the entire Middle East goes through a transformation that sees all its countries embrace democracy, secular institutions, and unprecedented freedoms.

Now I'm not suggesting that this isn't a valid interpretation of events. It very well may be. But what's important to understand here is that the U.S. is presenting this narrative in a very overt and calculated way. For many of those in the Middle East, the story is most certainly compelling and potentially inspiring. And for those sitting on the fence or considering radical action, this story of apparent inevitability may compel them to join the "winning team." It's through this kind of narrative control and reality building that the U.S. hopes to fight terrorism and the spread of radical Islam.

But now DARPA wants to take this further and make it more scientific and systematic. They recently put out a request for research proposals in the areas of:
  • Quantitative analysis of narratives
  • Understanding the effects narratives have on human psychology and its affiliated neurobiology
  • Modeling, simulating, and sensing-especially in stand-off modalities-these narrative influences
DARPA would like to revolutionize the study of narrative influence by "advancing narrative analysis and neuroscience so as to create new narrative influence sensors, doubling status quo capacity to forecast narrative influence."

This is pretty heavy stuff. They're asking scientists to "take narratives and make them quantitatively analyzable in a rigorous, transparent and repeatable fashion." Once such a system is put into place, the Pentagon will be able to detect terrorists or other non-state actors who have been indoctrinated with a particular ideology or worldview, and then respond with a counter-message of its own. As Dawn Lim notes in Wired, "They can also target groups vulnerable to terrorists’ recruiting tactics with their own counter-messaging."

Lim describes how the project will unfold:
In the first 18-month phase of the program, the Pentagon wants researchers to study how stories infiltrate social networks and alter our brain circuits. One of the stipulated research goals: to “explore the function narratives serve in the process of political radicalization and how they can influence a person or group’s choice of means (such as indiscriminate violence) to achieve political ends.”

Once scientists have perfected the science of how stories affect our neurochemistry, they will develop tools to “detect narrative influence.” These tools will enable “prevention of negative behavioral outcomes … and generation of positive behavioral outcomes, such as building trust.” In other words, the tools will be used to detect who’s been controlled by subversive ideologies, better allowing the military to drown out that message and win people onto their side.

“The government is already trying to control the message, so why not have the science to do it in a systematic way?” said the researcher familiar with the project.

When the project enters into a second 18-month phase, it’ll use the research gathered to build “optimized prototype technologies in the form of documents, software, hardware and devices.” What will these be? Existing technology can carry out micro-facial feature analysis, and measure the dilation of blood vessels and eye pupils. MRI machines can determine which parts of your brain is lighting up when it responds to stories. Darpa wants to do even better.
DARPA is even calling for devices that detect the influence of stories in unseen ways: “Efforts that rely solely on standoff/non-invasive/non-detectable sensors are highly encouraged."

"Stories are important in security contexts," DARPA argues, "[stories] change the course of insurgencies, frame negotiations, play a role in political radicalization, influence the methods and goals of violent social movements." Indeed, they've been thinking a lot about this recently, as indicated by their April workshop to discuss the neurobiology of narratives.

When it comes to security, little consideration is given to ethics. Now, while I'm somewhat partial to this approach on account of its bloodlessness, I have to admit that the potential for abuse is astonishing. Once these narrative networks reach full maturity they could be used to indoctrinate not just enemy populations, but more familiar ones as well. The very ways in which domestic affairs are perceived could be colored by a security department hoping to create a docile and abiding population.

That said, the efficacy of narrative networks has yet to be determined. The Internet and other communications networks may serve as a kind of prophylactic against narrow bands of information. Moreover, populations may become primed against such efforts in the same way current societies are (relatively) immune to traditional and obvious methods of propaganda.

As a final word, this topic interests me greatly as it relates to memetics, memetic engineering, and the whole concept of cultural health. In this context, the struggle against religious fundamentalism is a struggle against the onset and dissemination of bad memes. Fundamentalist memeplexes can be interpreted as information viruses that are running amok in the human population. Perhaps it's not too outrageous to suggest that we should counter bad ideas with good ideas -- or at least better ideas that lead to more rational thinking, criticality and independent thought.

The best defense against religious extremism is a mind primed to reject those ideas in the first place.

October 17, 2011

The Sentient Developments podcast is back!

It's been three years since my last podcast, but I'm back in the saddle and looking to produce a steady stream of new episodes. Those of you on iTunes can subscribe here. Or you can just subscribe directly to the RSS. Or visit the podcast blog. And please help to get the word out!

A new episode was released yesterday and it can be downloaded here (mp3). I talk about the Technological Singularity (in honour of the recently concluded Singularity Summit 2011 in NYC) and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Get started on the Paleo Diet with these resources

For those interested in getting started on Paleo, here are some good places to start:

October 16, 2011

Shellenberg and Norhaus on 'modernization theology'

From the article, "Evolve: A case for modernization as the road to salvation" by Michael Shellenberg and Ted Norhaus:

The question for humanity, then, is not whether humans and our civilizations will survive, but rather what kind of a planet we will inhabit. Would we like a planet with wild primates, old-growth forests, a living ocean, and modest rather than extreme temperature increases? Of course we would—virtually everybody would. Only continued modernization and technological innovation can make such a world possible.

Putting faith in modernization will require a new secular theology consistent with the reality of human creation and life on Earth, not with some imagined dystopia or utopia. It will require a worldview that sees technology as humane and sacred, rather than inhumane and profane. It will require replacing the antiquated notion that human development is antithetical to the preservation of nature with the view that modernization is the key to saving it. Let’s call this “modernization theology.”

Where ecotheology imagines that our ecological problems are the consequence of human violations of a separate “nature,” modernization theology views environmental problems as an inevitable part of life on Earth. Where the last generation of ecologists saw a natural harmony in Creation, the new ecologists see constant change. Where ecotheologians suggest that the unintended consequences of human development might be avoidable, proponents of modernization view them as inevitable, and positive as often as negative. And where the ecological elites see the powers of humankind as the enemy of Creation, the modernists acknowledge them as central to its salvation.

Modernization theology should thus be grounded in a sense of profound gratitude to Creation—human and nonhuman. It should celebrate, not desecrate, the technologies that led our prehuman ancestors to evolve. Our experience of transcendence in the outdoors should translate into the desire for all humans to benefit from the fruits of modernization and be able to experience similar transcendence. Our valorization of creativity should lead us to care for our cocreation of the planet.

October 14, 2011

XKCD's resolution to the Fermi Paradox

My one sentence response to Paul Allen's claim that the Singularity isn't near

The Singularity has virtually nothing to do with matching or even approximating human cognition, and everything to do with the unpredictable and uncontrollable impacts of superscale computing.

Read more of my perspective, Hear that? It's the Singularity coming.

Read Paul Allen's post, The Singularity Isn't Near.

October 5, 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street ain't no Arab Spring...and other musings

Like many people these days I've been thinking about the Occupy Wall Street movement. My mind's been spinning as I try to figure out what it's all about and what the movement might actually be capable of achieving. My thinking in these early days is equal parts hopefulness to outright cynicism. As I mentioned in a tweet earlier today, corporatism survived 60 years of communist onslaught; it should have no problem weathering this storm.

Or perhaps I'm overstating the whole thing. Maybe it's just about applying fixes to a system that's gone a bit haywire. And if that's the case, then great. I wish the protesters the best of luck.

But part of my concern is that, aside from some mild reforms that may come out of all this, the overriding and highly globalized capitalist system isn't going anywhere anytime soon. It's pretty entrenched and not easily rocked. The 99% are going to have to get comfortable with being a part of the disenfranchised majority for some time to come. This isn't like the situation in the Middle East; there's not going to be an Arab Spring on this side of the ocean any time soon.

Indeed, while there's no question that Occupy Wall Street was inspired by the Arab Spring, there's significant discrepancy in the underlying causes of these two social movements.

The situation in the West stands in stark contrast to recent events in the Middle East in which a number of countries were simply working to overthrow authoritarian regimes and get to democracy in the first place. The Middle East is currently struggling through puberty. It's a part of the world that's still coming to grips with modernity and socio-economic globalization. Religious fundamentalism threatens at every corner while Western influences complicate things by working to further their own interests in a region rich with oil.

And that's another aspect that differs from Occupy Wall Street. New York City protesters are railing against the very forces who helped the Arab Spring along. The success of the Arab Spring was and continues to be driven by the support of NATO and other Western benefactors. The West is diligently working to secure the region and prevent the onset of fundamentalist regimes—and to ensure easy access to oil. All the while claiming that it's working to instil democracy. It's no co-incidence that NATO suddenly cared about the situation in Libya while other oil-poor regions of Africa and the Middle East continued to burn. The whole charade is unabashedly obvious.

Without question, AdBusters—the Canadian activist group that kick-started Occupy Wall Street—took inspiration from the events in the Middle East, particularly the Tahir Square protests in Cairo. In copycat manner, AdBusters organized a peaceful occupation of Wall Street to protest the current U.S. political leadership and its failure to prevent or address the global financial crisis. The movement's auspices have expanded significantly from that starting point and now includes such things as taxing the rich, raising taxes on corporations, ending corporate welfare and personhood status, support for trade unionism, and protecting Medicare and Social Security. Occupy Wall Street, because of its decentralized nature, has become a Rorschach test for lefties who are busily projecting their own hopes and demands onto the movement.

At the most basic level, Occupy Wall Street is a reaction to a whole host of socio-economic problems and the glaringly obvious corruption and indifference of both Wall Street traders and the politicians who back them. At a more conceptual level, however, Occupy Wall Street is a necessary manifestation that has been brought about by two fundamental short-comings of the political system in the United States.

First, the U.S. has no bona fide left wing political presence. It's a country in which the word socialism is routinely spat out as a pejorative. Contrast that with the political situation in Canada in which the country's official opposition, the New Democratic Party, is overtly socialist. And that's not to mention the political climate in Europe and elsewhere in which left wing parties carry much more clout in the political spectrum. Now, I'm not suggesting that left wing parties are the answer to America's woes; but what I am suggesting is that Americans have no political outlet to express their left-of-center demands and desires. As a result, lefties (and even some libertarians and anarchists) have had no choice but to rally around this protest movement in a sheer act of catharsis.

Second, and very much related to the first, the United States is a two party corporatocracy in which the Democrats and Republicans merely trade-off every four years or so. Democracy in the truest sense only exists in the U.S. at a very micro or local scale, while the overarching political structure (or superstructure to borrow a Marxist term), essentially works to serve and further corporate interests. The alienating effect of this two-party teeter-totter has reached a kind of boiling point, particularly now as America is mired in a seemingly endless recession and as Americans have been inspired by social protest movements overseas.

At the same time, Occupy Wall Street can also been as a mirror of the Tea Party Movement—another political spasm that's emerged on account of the rigid two party system. The left and right are clearly polarizing in the United States. The only question is whether or not they can pull the Democrats and Republicans along with them. It doesn't appear that this will be the case.

It's difficult to predict what consequences, if any, these two movements will have on the political makeup of the U.S. and whether or not they'll be able to see their demands come to fruition.

Definitely interesting times.

Singularity Summit 2011: New York (October 15-16)

The Singularity Summit 2011 will be held in New York from October 15-16 at the historic 92nd Street Y:
Speakers include futurist Ray Kurzweil, visionary scientist Stephen Wolfram, IBM manager Dan Cerutti, longevity expert Sonia Arrison, author David Brin, neuroscientist Christof Koch, PayPal founder Peter Thiel, MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark, AI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky, MIT polymath Alexander Wissner-Gross, DARPA challenge winner Riley Crane, Skype founder Jaan Tallinn, Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, economist Tyler Cowen, television personalities Jason Silva and Casey Pieretti, and robotics professors James McLurnkin and Robin Murphy.

In his influential 1993 article The Coming Technological Singularity, Vernor Vinge discussed the possibility that future technology could feed on itself, causing an "exponential runaway" in technological progress: "Developments that before were thought might only happen in 'a million years' (if ever) will likely happen in the next century." In his 2005 book, The Singularity is Near, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil used current exponential trends in technology to predict the arrival of this Singularity in the next few decades. The Singularity Summit was founded as an academic forum for discussing the "big picture" questions in industry, economics, and ethics raised by the prospect of such a profound event.
Be sure to register for the event.

Quantified self + Paleo

Quantified self guru Seth Roberts recently attended the Ancestral Health Symposium. His take-away: The QS and Paleo health communities need each other. He basically argues that Paleo is not persuasive enough and that it desperately requires more data and experimentation to prove efficacy. At the same time, however, Roberts is excited by the prospect and makes the claim that Paleo "could change the world." He says,
The Paleo people are really pretty brainy. I mean, they don't particularly talk that way or show it off, but from a lot of the talks that I heard, I understood that there was a lot of smart thinking going on, and a lot of scholarship, and a lot of critical thinking where they don't just accept something because somebody says it.
Check out Roberts's talk at the Quantified Self Silicon Valley meetup at Stanford’s Calming Technologies lab.

Seth Roberts: QS + Paleo.