Welcome to part 1 of the Your Mileage May Vary series of blog posts. The point of this series is to clearly and briefly state my personal view on matters which come up repeatedly, to save having to say the same things again and again. Although these are my own [Dr M. Amon Twyman's] views rather than the official position of any organisation (except where stated otherwise), no-one should be surprised when my own views coincide with those of organisations where I hold any position.
The value of religion depends, of course, on what you mean by "religion". If religion is merelyeuphemization of escapism or nihilism, as it so often manifests itself, then it probably has a net negative value—"probably" only because I can imagine some poor unfortunate souls that are constituted in ways that are painfully incompatible with the world as presently or possibly configured. Too many of us use religion or are used by religion to stop caring about the world and each other, except to the extent it and we happen to be "good" already.
Many people think about science in a fairly simplistic way: collect evidence, formulate a theory, test the theory. By this method, it is claimed, science can achieve objective, rational knowledge about the workings of reality. In this presentation I will question the validity of this understanding of science.
I will consider some of the key controversies in philosophy of science, including the problem of induction, the theory-ladenness of observation, the nature of scientific explanation, theory choice, and scientific realism, giving an overview of some of the main questions and arguments from major thinkers like Popper, Quine, Kuhn, Hempel, and Feyerabend. I will argue that philosophy of science paints a much richer and messier picture of the relationship between science and truth than many people commonly imagine, and that a familiarity with the key issues in the philosophy of science is vital for a proper understanding of the power and limits of scientific thinking.
There are several reasons why creating a superintelligent mind could bring about an existential catastrophe. For example, the AI could be malicious, or unfriendly, a scenario that I call the amity-enmity problem. It looms large in Nick Bostrom’s recent book Superintelligence, in which Bostrom suggests that we should recognize "doom" as the "default outcome" of creating a superintelligence. And AI could also be apathetic about our well-being and continued survival. Perhaps it wants to convert the entire surface of earth into solar panels (an example that Bostrom mentions), and as a result it annihilates the biosphere. Let’s call this the indifference problem.
How Big Bang Gravitational Waves Could Revolutionize Physics! Lawrence is well known for his critical thinking and promotion of science. He has appeared on Q & A among other shows. Lawrence Krauss is Director of the ASU Origins Project at Arizona State University and Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Physics.
Described by Scientific American as a unique scientific ‘public intellectual’, Krauss is a renowned theoretical physicist as well as one of the most well-known advocates for science worldwide. In addition to over 300 scientific publications, He has written nine books for a general audience, including the international bestsellers The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe From Nothing, with translations into over 20 languages. His research has focused on the intersection on cosmology and elementary particle physics, including general relativity and quantum gravity, the early universe, the origin of mass, neutrino astrophysics, and the long term future of the universe. He is the winner of numerous international awards, and is the only physicist to have received the major awards from all three US physics societies. In 2012, he was awarded The National Science Board’s Public Service Award for his many contributions. He frequently appears on TV and radio and contributes to newspapers and magazines, and is the subject of a new full-length feature film, The Unbelievers, which follows Krauss and Richard Dawkins around the world as they discuss science and reason.
What responsibility do we have for the things we make? At its root, this is a fairly straightforward science story. Neuroscience researchers at the University of Rochester and the University of Copenhagen successfully transplanted human glial progenitor cells (hGPCs) into a newborn mouse (here's the technical article in The Journal of Neuroscience, and the lay-friendly version in New Scientist). While glial cells are generally considered a support cell in the brain, positioning, feeding, insulating, and protecting neurons, they also help neurons make synaptic connections.
If the controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) tells us something indisputable, it is this: GMO food products from corporations like Monsanto are suspected to endanger health. On the other hand, an individual’s right to genetically modify and even synthesize entire organisms as part of his dietary or medical regimen could someday be a human right.
Lately there’s been a great deal of talk about finding a better Democratic message, one that will unify the party and energize voters. But how, exactly, can Democrats reconcile factions that include both the Wall Street-friendly Clintons (whose relationship with the financial industry is highlighted in this cutting infographic from The Nation) and populist senators like Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown?
Ramachandran begins the book by wondering which features are truly unique to the human brain. Many features of the ape brain were hijacked by evolution to produce novel functions in the human brain (a process called “exaptation”). For example, mirror neurons are responsible for human culture and ethics. Ramachandran believes that these unique traits are perfectly consistent with Darwinian evolution: millennia of gradual evolution can produce the mental equivalent of phase transitions, when suddenly a substance reorganizes itself into a different substance with different properties.
In this episode, we review the new documentary THE IMMORTALISTS, which is out in New York and opens December 11 in Los Angeles. The film covers the efforts toward radical life extension of two prominent figures, Aubrey de Grey and Bill Andrews. We discuss the quality of the representation in the film, of both the science behind radical life extension and the people who are the film’s subjects. We decide this movie might not have a lot of new information for those who are already interested, but will introduce the concept of radical life extension to the uninitiated more fairly than most of what’s come before. We have some criticisms, but overall it’s a positive review: Proponents of life extension should welcome this film into the cultural dialogue.
“The Three-Body Problem,” the first book of a best-selling Chinese science fiction trilogy that sold more than a million of copies in China, is finally available in English translation. The book is solid classic science fiction, like the best space operas of vintage science fiction that we loved and still fondly remember as our first introduction to space and science.
Human flourishing is advanced by the convergence of technological progress and democratic social change. Technoprogressives argue that technological innovations can be profoundly empowering and emancipatory when they are democratically and transparently regulated for safety and efficacy, and then made universally and equitably available.
In this talk I will outline some of the historical precursors of contemporary technoprogressive thought, and how it suggests a strategy for progressive transhumanists to build alliances with other progressive movements. I will then sketch an political agenda for technoprogressives that will help build progressive coalitions, and counter the hegemony of billionaires, neoreactionaries, and corporations within the transhumanist movement.
A few weeks back the technologist Jaron Lanier gave a provocative talk over at The Edge in which he declared ideas swirling around the current manifestation AI to be a “myth”, and a dangerous myth at that. Yet Lanier was only one of a set of prominent thinkers and technologists who have appeared over the last few months to challenge want they saw as a flawed narrative surrounding recent advances in artificial intelligence.
The smartphone industry has made a remarkable impact on numerous aspects of human life, and can be seen as a foretaste of what might be achieved by emerging new technologies of human enhancement. Core smartphone technology frequently dropped in price, making benefits available to people in all social classes worldwide. But other examples of high tech products suggest disturbing ‘winner takes all’ scenarios, in which benefits are far from evenly spread. For example, Instagram, with only 13 employees, was purchased by Facebook for $1B in 2012, implying an average employee productivity 2,000 times greater than that of another photography company, Kodak, at the peak of its valuation. And large pharmaceutical companies prioritise the development of expensive drugs that only people in rich countries can afford.
What can social futurists, technoprogressives, and transhumanists learn from these different sorts of example? The speaker worked at the heart of the smartphone industry for more than two decades, and closely observed the real-world factors that resulted in both project success and project failure. As the speaker will explain, many of the same principles apply for transhumanist projects too. Examples are taken from the speaker’s recently published book ‘Smartphones and beyond’.
Transhumanism should not alienate the public, but “transhumanism” does exactly that. Its core problem is that it is an “ism” - that it seeks to portray itself as something out of the ordinary, as a concept of which people should be in some sort of awe. I believe that this is actively detrimental to the causes of which transhumanism is, in practice, composed: the technologies that visionary experts are striving to develop, and which will underpin our quality and quantity of life in the future.
When society views a prospective change to its experience as particularly dramatic, there is a visceral tendency to be overwhelmed by fear - fear of the unknown, in the form of apprehension that the change will have unforeseen and unavoidable negative aspects, and fear of getting one’s hopes up, in the form of reluctance to find oneself in the position of having “priced in” the expectation of a positive development only to see its arrival unexpectedly delayed. The result is unreasoned ambivalence, or even outright opposition, to the change in question - which, inevitably, delays its arrival.
I believe that these obstacles would be powerfully diminished if the technologies and goals that are traditionally gathered under the banner of transhumanism were instead mainly discussed and promoted in the context of their continuity with the technological trends that have so successfully improved our lives in years and decades past. In my talk I will focus especially on my own field, the combating of aging, in which this message equates to educating people that treatment of aging is synonymous with preventative medicine for age-related ill-health.
In a postindustrial economy useful individual abilities - human capital - are increasingly important both individually and to society. But acquiring human capital is a slow, expensive process of education and training. It can be lost through the processes of ageing or made obsolete as the world changes ever faster. People also vary in their mental abilities, which has significant effects on life outcomes. Biomedical cognitive enhancement may allow better acquisition and retention of mental ability. How would such improvement affect social equality?
Being able to buy better brains would benefit more well-off people and give them a competitive advantage, but less sharp people could benefit more from enhancement than brighter people, and the network effects of a smarter society might benefit everyone. This talk will explore the interaction between how different groups might benefit or lose out from different forms of enhancement, and how justice intersects with designer neuroscience.
Navigating the many paths formed by technological advances and scientific discovery about health and longevity challenge all society. While many of the advances are detectable, some are untrodden, speculative and indeterminate, only to be realized at an uncertain time in the near or distant future. Instinctively, people who challenge values or principles regarded as universally valid, often realize that there may be a different way of understanding the world.
This tendency has driven society forward; otherwise, this world would not have overcome false premise or technological progress. However, each person needs to consider what core elements hold value and if he can actively participate in an unknown future. To understand how these challenges could affect life extension, there needs to be interconnects between the force of new information, evolving social narratives, and our innate human instincts. Society has become data driven, and people are implementing a take charge, do-it-yourself (DIY) maker-sensibility. Worldwide, people are joining online communities to talk about their medical circumstances and state of health, which have caused a shift in emotional coping processes and in historical narratives.
Wearable enhancement fitness and bio-monitors, along with devices such as smart watches, phone rings, and GPS tracking locators, and integrated display glasses are cultivating awareness about essential relationships between our bodies, our actions, and the environment. Human enhancement is no longer just about augmenting biology, it is a continuous device driven information transmission forming exo-nervous systems extending beyond the body.
My work in the field of human enhancement designs and implements practice-based, informed radical life extension, as an adaptive process. The Meta challenge, in my view, is not just about high-tech enhancement or radically extending life; it concerns the ability to sniff out and track reliable information that is doable today for living longer tomorrow and to build positive narratives that inform others to gain keener knowledge about a most precious asset—his health.
Ambition is a short sci fi film created in collaboration with the European Space Agency to celebrate their pioneer Rosetta mission and its stubborn ambition to land on a comet for the first time in human history.
Ambition film synopsis: In the distant future, an apprentice struggles to sculpt the geology of an alien planet. Upon failing, she demands that her enigmatic master give her another chance to prove her skills. Amused, he counters by reflecting on the very dawn of their home world, the origins of life there, and the enduring qualities of stubbornness, adaptability, and ambition that took them into the realm of the gods.
Is she ready to take on the ultimate test?
This animation tracks Rosetta’s journey through the Solar System, using gravity slingshots from Earth and Mars to reach its final destination: Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Rosetta made three flybys of Earth, on 4 March 2005, 13 November 2007 and 13 November 2009, and one of Mars, on 25 February 2007. Rosetta has also visited two asteroids, taking extensive close-up images of 2867 Steins on 5 September 2008 and 21 Lutetia on 10 July 2010. Once the spacecraft is woken up from deep space hibernation on 20 January 2014, it will head for rendezvous with the comet in May. In November the Philae probe will be deployed to the comet surface. Rosetta will follow the comet to its closest distance to the Sun on 13 August 2015 and as it moves back towards the outer Solar System. The nominal mission end is December 2015.
Regular readers will know that I have recently been working my through Erik Wielenberg’s fascinating new book Robust Ethics. In the book, Wielenberg defends a robust non-natural, non-theistic, moral realism. According to this view, moral facts exist as part of the basic metaphysical furniture of the universe. They are sui generis, not grounded in or constituted by other types of fact.
This year (2014) alone, it is estimated that over 150,000 South Sudanese refugees will flood south into northwestern Uganda (the area around Arua). This is the result of the fierce tribal and ethnic warfare going on in South Sudan. Analyses of arrival profiles show that women and children continue to represent the vast majority of the new arrivals.
The Need to Promote Research of Aging and Aging-related Diseases as a Way to Improve Health of the Global Elderly Population.
Resolution of the International Conference on Aging and Disease of the International Society on Aging and Disease - ICAD 2014, November 1-2, 2014, Beijing, China: Aging and the Burden of Disease The degenerative aging processes and associated diseases are the gravest challenge to global public health. Aging-related degenerative processes do not necessarily cause a particular disease but rather combine to produce a large set of non-communicable chronic diseases.
At Stanford University, I had the honor of publicly debating the world's leading anarcho-primitivist philosopher John Zerzan. As a transhumanist, I differ from Zerzan on just about every topic. According to Wikipedia, anarcho-primitivism "advocates for a return to a non-'civilized' way of life through deindustrialization." Transhumanism advocates for the continued use of science and technology to improve and change the human species. Simply put, Zerzan encourages everyone to give up civilization and go back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. And I encourage everyone to do more to speed up technological and scientific progress. It was a meeting of polar opposite views. The debate headline was: Zoltan vs. Zerzan.
Will robots pose exceptional challenges for the law? That’s the question taken up in Ryan Calo’s recent article “Robotics and the Lessons of Cyberlaw”. As noted in the previous entry, Calo thinks that robots have three distinguishing features: (i) embodiment (i.e. they are mechanical agents operating in the real world); (ii) emergence (i.e. they don’t simply perform routine operations, but are programmed to acquire and develop new behaviours); and (iii) social meaning (i.e. we anthropomorphise and attach social meaning to them). So when Calo asks whether robots pose exceptional challenges for the legal system, he asks in light of those three distinguishing features.
My colleagues and I would like to launch the Longevity Cook Book crowdfunding campaign in upcoming three months.
We would like to raise fuding to create a book that will tell the story about what longevity depends on, what processes are going on in our bodies during aging and how they can be slowed down, dieting in the right way, based on the current scientific knowledge. The book will contain the most up-to-date research data on the beneficial properties of various foods, their longevity effects and abilities to prevent different age-related diseases.
Longevity Cook Book will give you the special recipes, developed with the help of professional chefs, on how to cook longevity-boosting dishes from the healthiest ingredients possible.
Besides the recipes, the book will tell you how to “cook” longevity in terms of science. I will explain the existing directions in aging research and the most promising experiments that need to be carried out to make a truly long and healthy life a reality.
Please click on below image for a larger version
Here’s the Longevity Cook Book plan:
The role of diet in health and longevity. I will describe the diets that increase longevity and prevent age-related pathologies (with proof in humans and model animals)
Physiology of nutrition. I will explain how food is digested, how the nutrients are absorbed in the intestines, how they enter blood stream, what they do inside the cells. There will be some pretty pictures to illustrate all of that.
Brief and easy-to-understand description of aging mechanisms and the mechanisms of age-related pathologies (like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, etc.) and how diet can influence those mechanisms
Description of the healthy foods including scientific papers, illustrating why they are healthy, and biological mechanisms that those foods influence
Longevity Menu. Dishes made with longevity foods cooked the healthiest ways accompanied by pretty pictures of the dishes.
“Cooking” longevity. I will describe the main approaches to solving the problem of aging and the most promising experiments.
How do you like the idea? Would you be interested in reading such a book?
For the crowdfunding project to be successful it has to have a powerful start, therefore I’d like to agree on reposting the campaign when it launches in advance.
I call upon everybody to, please, let me know, who would be up to spreading the word about this project when the time comes.
If you have some nice amount of people following you on twitter or other social networks, I’ll be happy to collaborate.
I also welcome advice on how to engage a larger audience. Maybe you have some journalists or bloggers that you know?
I present a draft of a possible layout of one of the pages.
There will be many different icons that tell you various bits of information about the dish. In particular on this page a face means the research on the given type of food was done in humans, a mouse – on mice, a test tube – on cell cultures.
We haven’t yet put together the pictures of aging mechanisms, but we will definitely do it.
Hayles has written a complex and erudite book on the hidden premises and visible consequences of the information age. Ultimately, her thesis is summarized by a sentence in the prologue: “thought is a much broader cognitive function depending for its specificities on the embodied form enacting it”. Rewritten in plain English, it means that you cannot separate your “i” from the body that you inhabit. Her nightmare is “a culture inhabited by posthumans who regard their bodies as fashion accessories rather than the ground of being”. Her dream is a society in which we “understand ourselves as embodied creatures living within and through embodied worlds and embodied words.”
What is the role (if any) of Bitcoin and blockchain technology with regard to the natural world and traditional science? One obvious link is using the blockchain as a means of improving distributed community computing projects with tracking and remuneration. BOINC, whose software runs SETI@home, has introduced Gridcoin, and [Protein]Folding@home has introduced Foldingcoin.
Here at the Transvision 2014 in Paris we just concluded a meeting of the technoprogressive caucus to draft a statement of common principles. The meeting consisted of the members of Technoprog!: AFT, Amon Twyman representing Zero State/Institute for Social Futurism, David Wood from the London Futurists, and me (J. Hughes) from IEET. The result is below. We are inviting individual and organizational co-signators. Please let me know if you would like to add your or your organization’s name. We would like to collect co-signators between now and the end of the year, so you don’t have to decide immediately.
Panel Discussion on Transhumanism: A Glimpse into the Future of Humanity @ The 2014 World Technology Summit & Awards.
Stuart Mason Dambrot, Interdisciplinary Synthesist, Futurist, Science Communicator
Dr. James J. Hughes, Executive Director, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies Trinity College
Dr. Francesca Ferrando, Philosopher of the Posthuman, New York University