IEET > Rights > HealthLongevity > GlobalDemocracySecurity > Vision > Directors > George Dvorsky > Staff > J. Hughes > Fellows > Aubrey de Grey > Ben Goertzel > David Brin > Jamais Cascio > Linda Glenn > Natasha Vita-More > Ramez Naam > David Pearce > Affiliate Scholar > Andrea Kuszewski > Kris Notaro
Live-Blogging the Morning of Day Two of Humanity+ San Francisco
Kris Notaro   Dec 2, 2012   Ethical Technology  

Its apoco-raining this weekend in San Francisco, proving that the transhumanists neither see the future clear enough to choose a nice weekend nor have magical evil powers over the natural world. But they do put on incredibly fascinating parties at wild warehouse-cum-commune spaces full of smart technophiles. We had to drag ourselves back in to the conference this morning so we wouldn’t miss Andrea Kuscewski, David Pearce, Ben Goertzel, Jamais Cascio, Ramez Naam and the others folks speaking today.

Ben Goertzel, IEET Fellow "Beyond Language: How Minds Will Communicate Once Advanced Transhumanist Technologies are Commonplace"

Abstract: The invention of spoken, and then written, language was one of the major breakthroughs in the evolution of modern human mind and culture. But just as the current “natural human mind” is not the end-all of intelligence, the current form of “natural language” is not the end-all of communication. Communication among advanced AGI systems, or among humans with advanced brain implants, could proceed according to very different principles. Rather than exchanging linear sequences of words drawn from a culturally common vocabulary, minds will be able to exchange networks of ideas/percepts/actions, using AI helper programs to reduce ambiguity and confusion as needed. A specific design for this sort of communication mechanism, called Psynese, has been worked out in the context of the OpenCog AGI software framework, for the purpose of communication between advanced OpenCog systems. The constructed human language Lojban also has potential to be grown into a communication system of this nature. To minds capable of communicating by exchanging mind-stuff more directly, communication using 21st century style “natural language” will seem terribly primitive — much the way we now view communication using gestures, grunts and groans. A final question is: How could we plain old legacy humans communicate more creatively and effectively NOW, using ideas inspired by this likely future mode of communication?

Goertzel talked about language in animals and early cave people. He suggested that cave people could not predict the future when they invented language.

He fast forwarded to modern futurism where he talked about how opencog and sharing / transmitting thoughts from one mind to another. He suggested there would be a universal reference mind that you first upload your thoughts to which then convert them memories and thoughts to another person.

Sharing thoughts between humans would be much more ideal to portray what you really want. What is lost in translation between mind and mind? It is hard to imagine, but perhaps emotions, like that of experiencing a poem might be lost.

I disagree however because if you could share direct thoughts with another human, even if it was filtered you would have access to the information-qualia. And what is the written word? It is information, and information creates emotions. If there is no filter and you can have access to another's emotions and information you can feel what they feel, then learn what it was like for them to experience it. You would then have your own experience if you do your own filtering out of the other's emotions.

David Dalrymple "Project Nemaload"

Abstract: Transhumanists are familiar with the concept of “uploading”: transferring a mind from a biological implementation to a digital one. To most people, uploading still sounds like science fiction, but technical capabilities are rapidly catching up. Given recent advances in optogenetics, optoelectronics, and computational modeling, it has become feasible to upload the simplest nervous system known to science, that of the nematode worm C. elegans. Building an “upload machine” for an engineered strain of this species is my current project. The project also has an explicit publicity mission, with three high-level goals. First: to encourage mainstream thinkers to take uploading seriously, and begin discussions regarding the ethical and societal implications of human uploading in advance of its arrival. Second: to challenge dominant paradigms in neuroscience and inspire other projects to build upon this foundation. Finally: to educate science enthusiasts about the mathematical, physical, and biological ideas that underlie real-world uploading. In this talk, I will give a brief overview of the project, then discuss my efforts to write on it in the service of these goals.

David is working on worms to understand the brain. He discussed laser technology that can effect photons and change the way a neuron works. He is using hypertext to explain to people what his research is about.

When we write about the future we shouldn't be afraid to be very concrete. The worm has 302 neurons and is sensitive to light, touch, temperature, etc. The very simplistic of brains have a mass complexity to them which we don't fully understand but will in the next few years.

He wants to show how there are different ways of research. He took a break from working on cellular automata – and worked at the Singularity University. He wondered why people still didn't understand the 302 neurons. So people started to build 3d maps of the worms brain. He wrote a computer program with 302 neurons, with all the connections, but he didn't know what they exactly do. He thinks we have to look at the worm as it is alive.

Ramez Naam, IEET Fellow "Changing Worlds and Minds with Words"

Abstract: The power of writing is the change it creates in the minds of the readers, and thus the world. But very different strategies apply for alternative topics and types of readers (i.e. fiction vs. non-fiction, entertainment vs. inspiration vs. persuasion). This talk is a break down of ways in which writing can be used to affect others, to make a career for oneself – and give pointed advice to potential writers.

Naam did a talk on “Bad Futurism”. What do we do wrong as transhumanist writers? Even though futurist writing helps us understand where things are going, there are many issues. A lot of futurism is based in space instead of on earth. We are rather far away from moving people into space. Words change the world and we can do a better job as futurists preparing to understand the future but also the troubling present.

Naam showed a graph that showed in fact the amount of people who have gone to space has either dropped or stayed the same since the 1960s. He argues that smartphones and gene sequencing are much more reality based. He claims that the future of genetics is less dealt with in futurism then space travel is.

Ignoring economics is another trend in futurism. For example compare the money that goes into space travel technology and things that are far more useful for humans like pharmaceutical drugs.

Ignoring planetary challenges. Humans have been doing negative geoengeering for many years now without looking forward. For example climate change and the draining of lakes. Climate change is starting to not only kill many animals but many people from droughts. Over 100,000 people have died from global warming directly related to droughts in the last few years.

Underestimating time.

He noted that the space elevator would cost around 70 trillion dollars to build, and we don't know if it would collide with satalites, etc.

Human X2 X3 etc... Most futurists think that posthuman intelligence would create a newer posthuman.

Ignoring uncertainty: Naam stated that futurists tend to have certainty about how fast things will change. Even scientists assume things about the projection of climate change and its effects. Moving on, he started talking about uploading, and the fact that 302 neurons in a worm cant even be simulated on a supercomputer. While futurists may think uploading will come in the next 30 years, it seems very grim today if you look at the facts. The computational power is simply not there.

“Going Fringe” The term singularity is just ridiculous to Naam because of several reasons including what a singularity is.... something going from infinity to 0, etc. He then talked about the word “transhumanism” but like other speakers at this conference he thinks this term is redundant, alienating, and that we are already transhumanists anyway. He talked about the vast poverty in the world, but says that technology can help, but is not the cure right now.

Christine Peterson "Inspiring the Future: Nanotechnology & Longevity"

Abstract: To get where we want to go faster, we’ll need to bring as much of the public along with us as possible. Fortunately they want to come—they just don’t realize it yet. To build the powerful research effort needed for a true nanotech revolution, we want to trigger major enthusiasm for the long-term goals it will bring. The great news is that this is not hard, because we can promise—and eventually, deliver—what virtually every human on the planet today wants: absolutely excellent health. It’s a fallacy that the general public is not interested in extreme longevity—they just have trouble picturing healthy longevity. It’s our job to bring this picture to life for them, using any and all media. Today, the great majority of those able to vividly envision a greatly different world learned this skill through reading pro-future “hard” science fiction. For those generations who read, we need to bring back this kind of story; for the younger generations who find it difficult to read, let’s implement these same themes in the media they use. Let’s find, fund, and encourage the Heinleins of today to portray the future we want to happen. They in turn will inspire the researchers and entrepreneurs needed to build nanotechnology, safe artificial intelligence, space colonies, and clean molecular nanotechnologies, in a world of freedom, liberty, and abundance for all.

Who does the predictions? Think-tanks, visionaries and sci-fi writers. “Pure” scientists do not really predict the future. Their predictions tend to be far too conservative because they base their predictions on current tools and the rigid scientific method.

The laws of physics don't change but our understanding of them changes. We can use what we know about the laws of physics to predict the future.

She did a survey about health extension and longevity. The survey found that most people want to live till 80 or 90. But when you ask people how long would you want to live if you where as healthy as a 20 year old people then respond by saying they want to live until 150 to forever.

So when we look at the future and predictions we should push scientists to think ahead as well. We also need to help reach out to younger people through movies and videos on the web. Many young people have stopped reading sci-fi and have switched to the internet and movies.

It helps to know science when you watch a sci-fi movie or read a sci-fi book so you can see through ideas that violate the laws of physics as well. But this does not mean writers can't have great futurist sci-fi concepts.

For more info go to

David Pearce, IEET Fellow "Prophetic Narratives: Will Humanity’s Successors Also Be Our Decendants?"

Abstract: Accelerating technological progress leads some futurists to predict the imminent end of the transhuman era and the dawn of posthuman superintelligence. But what is superintelligence? How does intelligence relate to sentience? What is the Explanatory Gap, Moravec’s Paradox, and the Binding Problem? Will nonbiological machines ever be more than zombies? This talk explores three different narratives for the major evolutionary transition in prospect. In the first narrative, biological humans will rewrite their genetic source code, recursively self-edit their own minds, and bootstrap their way to full-spectrum superintelligence. Mastery of our reward circuitry will deliver life based on information-sensitive gradients of bliss. In the second ‘Kurzweilian’ narrative, cybernetic brain implants will enable humans to fuse our minds with artificial intelligence; and also allow humans to scan, digitize and “upload” ourselves onto less perishable substrates. In digital nirvana, the distinction between biological and non-biological machines will effectively disappear. In the third scenario, most closely associated with mathematician I.J. Good, is a combination of Moore’s law and the advent of recursively self-improving software-based minds will culminate in an ultra-rapid “Intelligence Explosion” and an era of non-biological superintelligence. Posthuman superintelligence may or may not be human-friendly. How strong is the supporting evidence for each of these prophecies?

Pearce suggested that humans will weed out suffering through designer babies and germline manipulation.

Over the past decade or so singularitians have dominated the debate of how to manipulate the mind and brain. Subjectivity inside a computer, according to Pearce is far off in the future. He talked about the “hard problem of consciousness” and the “binding problem”.

He does agree that minduploading will become reality, however he is skeptical of unfriendly and friendly AI. A posthuman super intelligence according to Pearce will probably grasp moral theories.

Germline engineering and somatic gene enhancement and AI will improve upon themselves.

He talked about how any animal with a central nervous system is susceptible to pain. He noted that consciousness is a very old aspect of evolution, and suggested that most animals will be conscious of pain and suffering. 

Randal Koene "Bringing the unusual concepts of substrate-independent minds to the world"

Abstract: Ideas and proposals are rarely weighed by rational metrics; especially in the media and the public eye. When a concept is brand new, largely unheard of, and not part of every day life then it is only natural that it is viewed with great skepticism. This can lead to some strange and often contradictory common sense assumptions. For example: Every child should have their teeth straightened – because sometimes nature needs a helping hand. It is not good for someone to die at age 20 – but they should not live to be 500, because that would be “unnatural”. A machine cannot be conscious or have feelings – but there may be angels or ghosts. Introducing something that seems unusual (even if scientifically rational and eliciting support) demands a lot of communication. Domain experts (such as scientists) want to know that an idea makes physical and technical sense; they want to hear about feasibility, possible problems and applications. The public wants to know about motivations, why this matters to them and what they can expect from you. I methodically build the case for substrate-independent minds and whole brain emulation. Every occasion to communicate deserves a specific message tailored to a particular audience. Ultimately, communication is personal and involves our rational mind, our feelings and all of our senses. The message can only travel and become familiar if the messenger manages to connect.

Koene started his talk describing the books he read in his childhood including The City and the Stars. He talked about substrate independent minds (SIN), which looks at the brain as a physical system that can be uploaded and manipulated on a computer, etc.

He showed a photo of software he wrote in 1999 to keep track of his life and manage complexity of the self. He has worked with scientists to expand on this ability to manage the self by pushing the concept of minduploading.

Scientists and engineers in the next couple decades have to come together and work on creating minduploading. The public then needs be educated about it so there is no future shock. A lot of money and work will have to be done if Moore's Law continues to be a reality. We still need to figure out the challenge that we will be faced with in creating a minduploading machine.

We pretty much understand the concept of “whole brain emulation” and then we have to move onto organization and grounding the scientific research behind minduploading. They have to be published in journals and books. He then talked about the fact that scientists are indeed working on it, and that transhumanists tend to make the argument that SAIs will have to design the system for us. Koene suggests that humans will be able to create minduploading themselves without the use of SAI.

Jamais Cascio, IEET Senior Fellow "Bad Futurism"

Abstract: Sometimes the best way to figure out how to do something right is to explore all of the ways to do it wrong. In this talk I explore ten ways to create truly awful future scenarios, and then explain why they’re bad — and how to get it right. From “one change at a time” to scenarios as morality plays. The various ways in which foresight can go awry are often tempting shortcuts for writing about the ideas of future-building, but are ultimately traps for the unwary futurist.

Cascio started his talk by implying that there is a lot of horrible futurism out there. He suggests that many futurists resort to sci-fi. He also talked about how futurists dont really consider how people live, instead they focus on technology. For example the “future of the kitchen” slide from the 1950s he showed, was an illustration of women making food in a “futurist” environment.

Some points he made:

  • When it comes to the future people do not care about the company who makes technology
  • Think big, think about the entire world
  • When people do weird things that is not the future of things (like cutting off your arm and replacing it with a cyborg arm)
  • When futurists construct scenarios they should stick with equally seductive, bad, good and middle of futuristic scenarios.
  • Trust your audience and understand that they are intelligent like you are
  • It is very hard to get people to believe in a positive, good, decent future. However if we focus on a positive future, we must respect the audience, ourselves, and the well being of people.

Reese Jones "Many Singularities: Data of Change"

Abstract: There are many singularities, not just one. The singularity is a term from math and physics from over 100 years ago, that predicted something as a singularity point and figured out mathematically and conceived in mathematical model. There are singularities also affect you personally. I will touch on how singularities can affect you and how these changes are not just an abstract theory, but something personal. Audience participation is welcome in furthering the conversation. Reese’s ideas can be viewed in a video clip from METal International conference.

Jones highlighted

  • That life can transcend time (for example adding water to some dry organism)
  • Consciousness is about many different realities
  • Realities to choose from is increasing day by day
  • What we consider a reality is probably not all the realities that are possible
  • We can focus into the internet and meditation and increase our understanding of why we can't see why there's other stuff out there – it might be more stable to be inwardly focused
  • Life is evolution, you make things more complex or simpler
  • Is more intelligence better? 
Kris Notaro served as Managing Director of the IEET from 2012 to 2015. He is currently an IEET Rights of the Person Program Director. He earned his BS in Philosophy from Charter Oak State College in Connecticut. He is currently the Bertrand Russell Society’s Vice-President for Website Technology. He has worked with the Bertrand Russell A/V Project at Central Connecticut State University, producing multimedia materials related to philosophy and ethics for classroom use. His major passions are in the technological advances in the areas of neuroscience, consciousness, brain, and mind.

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