Hannu Rajaniemi is a Ph. D. in string theory and fellow SU alumni best known for his popular science fiction trilogy The Quantum Thief [Jean Le Flambeur]. His work has risen to prominence both because of its own merits but also because of the legend surrounding his signing up with a major book publisher. Rajaniemi has been suggested numerous times as a strong guest-candidate for my Singularity 1 on 1 podcast and I am extremely happy to have had the opportunity to finally fulfill those requests.
I have to admit that I enjoyed immensely reading Hannu’s Jean Le Flambeur trilogy and took that as an excuse to interview him on a variety of topics for over 90 min. During our conversation with Rajaniemi we cover: his math background, writing passion and entrepreneurial ventures; ethics, science and science fiction; the Higgs Boson, the multiverse and other cosmological models; the definition of science fiction and the distinction between sci fi and fantasy; the importance of “constraints and suffering” for creativity; how he sold the Quantum Thief trilogy to a major publisher; tips and tools for novice sci fi writers; determinism, free will and the quest for self-knowledge; his take on transhumanism and the technological singularity…
Please note that the first 3 people who share the most interesting quotes from this interview with Hannu [on twitter or within the comments section of either this blog post or on YouTube] will receive a free copy of his latest book – The Causal Angel!
As always you can listen to or download the audio file above or scroll down and watch the video interview in full.
Hannu Rajaniemi is the author of science fiction novels The Quantum Thief (Jean Le Flambeur), The Fractal Prince and The Causal Angel, as well as several short stories. He holds a Ph.D. in string theory from the University of Edinburgh and co-founded a mathematics company whose clients included the UK Ministry of Defence and the European Space Agency. Currently, he divides his time between writing fiction and working as a co-founder at Helix Nanotechnologies, a biotechnology startup.
Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics
The Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk) presents new works for electronic chamber music, by members of the SLOrk ensemble and seminar. You are cordially invited to an evening of new music crafted for laptops, humans, and hemispherical speaker arrays!
Douglas Hofstadter talks at the Stanford Symbolic Systems Distinguished Speaker Lecture about “The Nature of Categories and Concepts” and cognitive science.
Douglas Hofstadter, College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Comparative Literature. Indiana University What is a quintessential category? Bird, perhaps? Or maybe chair? And what is a quintessential concept? Two? Number? Prime number? I’m not trying to put words into your mouth—I’m just trying to get you to ask yourself these questions. Also, I wonder if by any chance you thought that these are really exactly the same question, in which case you might have wondered why I asked you the same question twice. Or did you perhaps think something along these lines: “A category is a set of objects
out there in the real world, whereas a concept is a mental entity that gets activated whenever one sees a member of the corresponding category”? In that case, you would essentially be equating a category with the extension of a set, and a concept with the intension of a set. (Those are notions borrowed from mathematical logic and set theory.) Actually, none of the notions above is at all close to the viewpoint that I wish to convey to you about concepts and categories. My viewpoint is, I think, quite unorthodox and quite radical, and it claims that concepts and categories include many extremely commonplace, dime-a-dozen notions that you might never have thought of as being categories or concepts. (Sorry—I’m not going to list any of them here; you’ll have to come to the talk to find out what I mean!) I will try to convince you that, despite any initial skepticism, these are primordial, quintessential cases, and I hope that this novel view will have a serious impact on what you think thinking is.
The growth of our empathetic ability may have been key for the growth of civilization, and civilization may have selected for it. Two social policies that we can implement today to further empathy are reducing inequality, and screening and treating autism and psychopathy.
This book offers a colossal synthesis of history, biology, philosophy, psychology and neurophysiology. Surprisingly, the latter is the least plausible region of the book (we still know too little about the book). But by mixing historical facts and evolutionary theories and using a bit of logical thinking, Pinker comes up with great insights into human nature. Pinker synthesizes the work of (literally) hundreds of thinkers and researchers and draws his own original conclusions.
Without clear rules for cyberwarfare, technology workers could find themselves fair game in enemy attacks and counterattacks. If they participate in military cyberoperations—intentionally or not—employees at Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Sprint, AT&T, Vodaphone, and many other companies may find themselves considered “civilians directly participating in hostilities” and therefore legitimate targets of war, according to the legal definitions of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols.
The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the largest since records began. To learn more about how the virus has spread and how it’s mutating, a team of scientists sequenced viral genomes from 78 patients in Sierra Leone.
Jennifer French is the 2012 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, a silver medalist in sailing, and a quadriplegic. She is the first woman to receive the implanted Stand and Transfer system, an experimental device that uses implanted electrodes and an external control device. French injured her spinal cord when snowboarding in 1998, but has since become an advocate for access to neurotechnological therapies, devices, and treatments. She is a co-founder and executive director of Neurotech Network, a non-profit organization focused on education and advocacy. French told her story in her book, On My Feet Again: My Journey Out of the Wheelchair Using Neurotechnology.
While other media outlets bring you news as it happens, only the Onion News Network has the power to bring you the news before it happens. In the year 2137 a catastrophe has reduced the world to a lawless wasteland — food and water are scarce, social institutions have crumbled, and a screaming, tattooed thug has been installed as the president of what remains of the United States.
The police response to protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri were filled with images that have become commonplace all over the world in the last decade. Police dressed in once futuristic military gear confronting civilian protesters as if they were a rival army. The uniforms themselves put me in mind of nothing so much as the storm-troopers from Star Wars. I guess that would make the rest of us the rebels.
Continuing our series on co-veillance, sousveillance and general citizen empowerment, on our streets… last time we discussed our right and ability to use new instrumentalities to expand our ability to view, record and hold others accountable, with the cameras in our pockets.
Peter Singer on Effective Altruism & Cause Prioritization - this is a short from a longer interview I did recently with Peter Singer - the longer form is forthcoming!
Effective altruism is a philosophy and social movement which applies evidence and reason to working out the most effective ways to improve the world. Effective altruists consider all causes and actions, and then act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact. It is this broad evidence-based approach that distinguishes effective altruism from traditional altruism or charity. Effective altruism sometimes involves taking actions that are less intuitive or emotionally salient. The philosopher Peter Singer is a notable supporter of effective altruism. - Adam Ford
Empathy draws on both mammalian circuits that we share with other animals and cognitive abilities that only appear to be present in our closest relatives, the great apes and and cetaceans, and ourselves. As with happiness and self-control, there is strong evidence that differences in our capacity for compassion and empathy are tied to differences in the brain structures and neurochemistries that they depend on.
Published on Aug 4, 2014
A Panel Discussion for the Public and Healthcare Professionals
Death: Why the Brain Matters
Alex Capron, LL.B Professor, Law and Medicine
James Hynds, Ph.D. Senior Clinical Ethicist, UCLA Health System
Paul Vespa, M.D. Director, Neuro ICU, RRUCLA Medical Center
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Ronald Reagan Medical Center
Our economy is broken. There’s one economy for the wealthy, and another for the rest of us. This division has been worsened by the behavior of corporate executives who manage their corporations for short-term personal gain rather than for long-term fiscal soundness.
This isn’t a complete review of Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence (2014), but a summary of the thoughts that came to my mind while and after reading the book. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (2014) opens with a cautionary fable: a group of sparrows consider finding an owl to assist and protect them. Only the more cautious sparrows see the danger – that the owl may eat them all if they don’t find out how to tame an owl first – and Bostrom dedicates the book to them (and of course to the cautious humans afraid that superintelligent life forms may destroy humanity if we don’t find out how to control them first).
James Randi is Coming to Australia! Yes you heard correctly! http://thinkinc.org.au/jamesrandi/
Wednesday 3 December – Perth | Octagon Theatre
Thursday 4 December – Brisbane | BCEC
Friday 5 December – Melbourne | MCEC
Sunday 7 December – Sydney | Enmore Theatre
Think Inc. is proud to announce that this December, The Amazing Randi will be bringing his unique superheroic brand of sceptic justice to Australia!
Magician James Randi (known as ‘The Amazing Randi’) has spent the bulk of his career debunking the claims of self-proclaimed psychics and paranormalists. Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but he is perhaps best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and de-mystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.
The event is run as the first and exclusive public screening of Randi’s new biographical documentary, ‘An Honest Liar’ followed by a fireside chat and Q&A session to hear the tales of this (de)mystifying 86-year-old.
Those attending the event will have a unique opportunity to learn more about the wonderful world of magic and skepticism in an entertaining light with this mastermind. With a cult following, An evening with James Randi will be another sold-out Think Inc. event.
The Amazing Randi has pursued ‘psychic’ spoon benders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water ‘with a memory,’ and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural. Randi is also starring in his own biographical documentary ‘An Honest Liar,’ which will be screened alongside his fireside chat across four Australian cities.
He has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship (also known as the ‘MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant’) in 1986. He’s the author of numerous books, including Flim-Flam!: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions (1982), The Truth About Uri Geller (1982), The Faith Healers (1987), and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (1995).
In 1996, the James Randi Education Foundation was established to further Randi’s work. Randi’s long-standing challenge to psychics now stands as a $1,000,000 prize administered by the Foundation. It remains unclaimed.
For all media inquires please contact suzi[at]novacane.com.au
Is it possible for us to significantly boost our intelligence within a lifetime? Studies show that changes in our lifestyle like exercise and nutrition can help increase brain power - but these improvements are modest at best. Perhaps the future of intelligence will come in the form of a brain implant? We’ve already seen some amazing research to get computers and brains to communicate more easily - and the future implications are limitless!
If you could boost any part of your mental faculties, what would it be and why? Let us know in the comments below!
Last week, I published a guest post at Wired UK called It's Time to Consider Restricting Human Breeding. It was an opinion article that generated many commentary stories, over a thousand comments across the web, and even a few death threats for me.
“This year alone, there have been 17,000 cases of meningitis in Nigeria, with nearly 1,000 deaths”. It’s a statement that jumped out at me watching a video from this summer’s Aspen Ideas Festival by my former University of Michigan Public Health student Utibe Effiong.
The paper tries to fuse traditional concerns about the problem of evil with recent work in population ethics. The result is an interesting, and somewhat novel, atheological argument. As is the case with every journal club, I will try to kick start the discussion by providing an overview of the paper’s main arguments, along with some questions you might like to ponder about its effectiveness.
If one hates a woman and wants to get rid of her; if a person dislikes particularly an elderly female member of the family and wants to destroy her socially, one of the most effective ways of getting rid of her is accusing her of witchcraft. This is the case in Northern Ghana as in other parts of the African continent.
Professor Christopher Peacocke, Visiting Professor at the New College of Humanities, delivers a lecture about what we hear in music and why it matters to us. Published on May 6, 2014
Professor Peacocke was Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy in the University of Oxford, and held a Leverhulme Personal Research Professorship. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has taught at Berkeley, NYU and UCLA, and has been a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford. He was President of the Mind Association in 1986-7. In 2001, he delivered the Whitehead lectures at Harvard University, and in 2003 he gave the Immanuel Kant Lectures at Stanford. His books include Sense and Content (Oxford, 1983), Thoughts: An Essay on Content (Blackwell, 1986) and A Study of Concepts (MIT, 1992).
His book, Being Known (Oxford, 1999) is on the integration of metaphysics and epistemology. The Realm of Reason (Oxford, 2003) develops a theory of the relations between entitlement, truth, and the a priori, and proposes a generalized rationalism. His book Truly Understood (Oxford, 2008) proposes a substantive theory of understanding, and applies it to some central issues in the philosophy of mind, including the nature of first-person thought, the general conception of many minds, the ability to think about one’s own and others’ conscious states, and the ability to think about intentional contents. His most recent book is The Mirror of the World: Subjects, Consciousness, and Self-Consciousness (Oxford, 2014), which develops a new metaphysics of subjects, integrates it with a theory of first person representation, and applies the resulting theory to some classical and recent problems involving first person thought.
In 2010 he gave the Evans Memorial Lecture at Oxford, and the ‘Context and Content’ Lectures at the Jean Nicod Institute, in the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. He delivered the Kohut Lectures at the University of Chicago in 2011, under the title ‘Subjects, Consciousness and Self-Consciousness’. In Columbia, he has taught for the Core Curriculum, in Music Humanities. In 2011-13, he served as Chair of the Promotions and Tenure Committee in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. He is currently Chair of the Philosophy Department.
Professor Simon Blackburn talks about Science and Human Nature. What does science tell us about the human mind? What can we learn about human nature in the context of philosophy?
Simon Blackburn (born 12 July 1944) is a British academic philosopher known for his work in quasi-realism and his efforts to popularise philosophy. He retired as professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge in 2011, but remains a distinguished research professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, teaching every fall semester. He is also a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and a member of the professoriate of New College of the Humanities. He was previously a Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford and has also taught full-time at the University of North Carolina as an Edna J. Koury Professor. He is a former president of the Aristotelian Society, having served the 2009-2010 term.
In philosophy, he is best known as the proponent of quasi-realism in meta-ethics and as a defender of neo-Humean views on a variety of topics. He is a former editor of the journal Mind. He makes occasional appearances in the British media, such as on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze. Blackburn was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007.
Professor Peter Singer lectures; Animals and Ethics: Published on Jul 24, 2014
Peter Albert David Singer, AC (born 6 July 1946) is an Australian moral philosopher. He is currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and a Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. He specialises in applied ethics and approaches ethical issues from a secular, preference utilitarian perspective. He is known in particular for his book, Animal Liberation (1975), a canonical text in animal rights/liberation theory.
On two occasions Singer served as chair of the philosophy department at Monash University, where he founded its Centre for Human Bioethics. In 1996 he stood unsuccessfully as a Greens candidate for the Australian Senate. In 2004 he was recognised as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies, and in June 2012 was named a Companion of the Order of Australia for his services to philosophy and bioethics. He serves on the Advisory Board of Incentives for Global Health, the NGO formed to develop the Health Impact Fund proposal. He was voted one of Australia’s ten most influential public intellectuals in 2006. Singer currently serves on the advisory board of Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP).
I'm back from the first Climate Engineering Conference, held in Berlin. Quite a good trip, but in many ways the highlight was the talk I gave at the Berlin Natural History Museum. The gathering took place in the dinosaur room, which holds (among other treasures) the "Berlin Specimen" Archaeopteryx fossil, among the most famous and most important fossils ever discovered.
If you push long and hard enough for something that is logical and needed, a time may come when it finally happens! At which point – pretty often – you may have no idea whether your efforts made a difference. Perhaps other, influential people saw the same facts and drew similar, logical conclusions!
“This is an economic revolution,” a new online video says about automation. The premise of “Humans Need Not Apply” is that human work will soon be all but obsolete. “You may think we’ve been here before, but we haven’t,” says CGP Grey, the video’s creator. “This time is different.” The video has gone viral, with nearly two million YouTube views in one week. But is it true?