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Day 1 Morning of H+ Summit: Rise of the Citizen Scientist
Ben Scarlato   Jun 12, 2010   Ethical Technology  

The IEET will be providing coverage of the H+ Summit today. We’re a few minutes away from Alex Lightman’s opening speech. I’m here with James Hughes and we’ll posting updates after every few talks. The first day is packed with exciting speakers. [Watch the conference live]

The slides for the presentations are here

Introduction and Alex Lightman’s opening speech:

David Orban says we’re about to start and everyone’s taking their seats. We have good seats in the second row. After Lightman’s talk there will be the neuroscience block, which should be particularly good.

But first David Orban’s talking about logistics. The questions will be coming in via Twitter so that the global audience can participate. Now Alex Lightman.

Alex say’s he got the theme for the conference from Joseph Jackson. He says we’ll have to worry a lot about existential risks now that we live longer.

We’ll be in the century of peak everything. Moreover, once in a century disasters matter a lot when you live for centuries. There was a boom of citizen science in the 16th or 18th centuries, and reputation was the currency. If you were the best mathematician, you could get sponsorship.

Four examples of citizen scientists: Sir Isaac Newton, he came up with calculus and gravity from home. Benjamin Franklin measured ocean temperatures and mapped out the Gulf stream. Albert Einstein developed special relativity as a hobby. And Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple) got started in a computer club that was meant for trading science fiction books.

The basic science budget of the US is billions. For citizen scientists, there’s a new kind of Moore’s Law. Instruments follow this. Ray Kurzweil has shown this goes back through last century.

The falling cost of equipment is falling rapidly. Modeling and simulations are now key parts of the scientific process, and they’re much cheaper. The first human genome cost three billion, and this year we might have the $1000 complete genome sequence, and next year we might be doing it in our basement.

Individual inventors outnumbered corporations until the 1920’s. That’s changed, but now it’s changing back.

There’s a great book, The Measure of the World, that shows how advances in measurement and precision drive science and technology. The simulations enabled by measurements let visions turn into reality.

With eversmarter networks, there is unprecedented freedom for like minds to meet. He polls the audience on how many people are friends on Facebook with him (a lot of folks are). He’s extended job offers based on people’s comments on Facebook.

The future of reputation is whuffie, reputation capital, which you develop by doing things like going to conferences such as this, or Facebook.

The entry cost of science is going on things, so if you’re interested in something you should do it.

Ed Boyden is the Benesse Career Development Professor at the MIT Media Lab, assistant professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, and leader of the Synthetic Neurobiology Group.

Ed Boyden

Ed is talking about controlling brain circuits with light, and treating brain disorders with targeted neuromodulation.

Earlier this year, they publish a study where they found very powerful gene silencers in neurons. Different classes of molecules are sensitive to different kinds of light.

Synthetic neurobiology: a lot of their work is on creating brain co-processors. Eventually, we could find ways for AI and human intelligence to work together.

They did a preclinical studies to, and didn’t find any serious adverse reactions. One example is choosing blindness. They’ve modeled blindness in mice, which is very similar to blindness in humans.

Time’s up.

Ed Boyden’s slides

Lauren Silbert is a PhD candidate in Neuroscience from Princeton University

Laurent Silbert: Do we Click?

We’re always interacting with different brains and communication is really complex, so to properly assess it we need new experimental paradigms.

First they test the brain responses of someone listening to a story. They played it back for 11 listeners, and recorded both the speaker and listeners. They measure the entire brain.

This is beneficial because it bypasses the need to specify any formal model of linguistics in the brain.

In order to capture what’s going on, they need a dynamic temporal model. Shifted forward up to six seconds.

She asks if neural responses during speech production are linked to the neural responses of the listeners. She’s found that indeed they are. Check out her slides to see some graphs and pretty pictures of brains.

A whole bunch of different brain areas have linked responses between the speakers and the listeners.

There’s no coupling for different language speaker/listeners, which shows the correlation is due to the content.

What can be done with this information? We should be able to predict success of communication by assessing the correlation between speaker and listener brain activity. Degree of neural coupling does indeed predict success of communication.

Do We Click? slides 

Alexandra Elbakyan is a neurotechnology researcher and advocate, and a software developery

Alexandra Elbakyan: Brain-Computer Interfacing, Consciousness, and the Global Brain

Is it possible for artificial devices to create consciousness? How do we integrate synthetic qualia with those produced by the brain?

There are currently some theories about what makes systems conscious, such as information integration theory, by Tononi and Edelman. This involve differentation and integration of different specialized modules. She shows some pictures titled integrated information and neuroanatomy.

Global Neuronal Workspace Theory involves neural mechanisms for access to consciousness.

What about the hardware? How do you make a brain implant broadcast?  An electrode grid only works with surface neurons, but a deep brain stimulation electrode allows many connections. DBS is also more cumbersome and dangerous.

What about “sprouting” BCIs? Neurons would be grown on a chip, and have axons grow to reach throughout the brain.

Could it be possible to join with the consciousness of others?

End of the talk, I would have loved to hear her go on for another half hour, but there are many other exciting speakers.

Noah D. Goodman is a research scientist in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, and a member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

Noah Goodman

A near infinite numbers of thoughts can be formed, “the infinte use of finite means.”

Cognitive scientists have used the principle of probabilistic inference. There are degrees of certainty for different beliefs.

Compositional representations and probabilistic inference have been used in AI, but not together much until now.

Lambda calculus is a probabilistic language that takes functions and add them together. A lot of cool math and some graphs I can’t adequately summarize. You put functions together to build up bigger functions. This is precise for engineering and they’ve developed their own language called Church.

People are able to make inferences that they couldn’t if they only used causality.

We can do the same thing to make a social and causal model that does the same thing with computers.

We can now explain really complicated aspects of human cognition. We can explain complex, flexible thinking, and then we’ll be able to engineer flexible computer systems.

Andrea is a Behavior Therapist and Consultant for children on the autism spectrum in Boston, MA

Andrea Kuszewski: Intellectual Enhancement—Maximizing Your Cognitive Potential

Several years ago, she’d been told that you couldn’t increase intelligence, that it was fixed at birth. But she disagrees. She worked with a kid who had an IQ of 80 and he increased to over 100 and achieved things she never thought he would.

There was a study on improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory, which was a big deal because it wasn’t known this was possible before.

Why is this important? It shows that fluid intelligence is trainable, the more you train the better you get, but most importantly the practice they did increased their performance on an unrelated test.

We can increase our intelligence by seeking novelty, challenging yourself, think creatively, doing things the hard way, and networking.

There’s been a lot of press about brain training like Soduko, but after you learn a game the brain gets lazy. There was a study on Tetris. People who’d never played Tetris they had brain growth, but after they were experts the brain growth stopped. This means you need to keep pushing yourself to new things and higher levels.

In one experiment with a creative teaching style, students not only learned the material, but transferred that learning style.

You need to do things the hard way. She has a terrible sense of direction, but forces herself to avoid GPS.

When you network with other people, you get new perspectives on problems and can see new solutions to different problems.

How can you put this all together? She has a short test for us to compare our intelligence now and at the end of the summit.

Andrew Hessel is an outspoken advocate and champion of DNA technologies

Andrew Hessel

This talk’s all about carbon. Even though some of us may think it’s all about silicon, it’s all about carbon in our world.

It’s essential that we balance the carbon cycle this century. Deforestation is a huge part of the problem, and plastic is also polluting a great deal.

Hessel didn’t know how he could influence the carbon cycle, but he got a phone call from massive oil companies about working on sustainable development.  These companies worked with some of the messiest oil, extracting it from sand.

He suggested that people use the carbon in the air as a resource. Capture and storage doesn’t work.

Carbon economics will change because of the Gulf oil spill. Every single energy company in the world is looking at this, and it could be one of the largest drivers for alternative energy.

How do you capture carbon? The easiest way to capture it is to grow it. It matters what you grow though.

Synthetic biology is an important solution for this. We’ll have a new IT industry based around carbon.

Last year, the 5 oil companies Hessel works with met with 30 genetic engineers.

We’re learning to shape carbon into entirely new forms, like nanotubes and much more, which makes a simple compound very valuable. Graphene could form the next generation of DNA sequences.

Don’t forget diamond. We’re entering a new diamond age. We now manufacture it on industrial scales.

The new branch of evolution that Craig Venter opened up means we can get carbon into structures that are much more durable.

Last year, Hessel watched Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room (great documentary, by the way). Now there’s a ton of carbon trading. There’s going to be trillions of dollars of trading in the world. This could be one of the largest economies for biotech R&D.

Bryan Bishop is working on an eBay for carbon, which you’ll be able to use without leaving Facebook.

We need to clean up the carbon balance. It’s not just Humanity Plus, it’s food plus, water plus, etc.

Hessel’s slides

Melanie Swan is a genomics researcher, hedge fund manager, and leader in the Health 2.0 movement.

Melanie Swan: DIYgenomics

We are standing in a new era, genome sequencing has fallen in cost at the rate of 10 times per year.

There’s a new construct of biocitizen identity.

A confluence of factors are shaping DIYgenomics: big data era, rapid decline in cost of DNA sequencing, social movements, and Web 2.0 social networking.

25+ DIYgenomics studies have been outlined. They have a suite of personal genome analysis tools, web and moblie apps.

Consider participating by being in a study, organizing a study on your own platform, contributing your data, or becoming an ecosystem partner.

Ramez Naam, author of More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Human Enhancement and Fellow of the IEET

IEET’s Ramez Naam: The next ten years of human enhancement

[Ari Schulman’s snarky take on Mez’s talk]

Why would we enhance humans? The motivation for a lot of the world is medical. It’s considered completely acceptable in most societies to bring sick people back up to baseline. But bringing people at baseline beyond it is much more questionable.

The power to heal is generally the power to enhance.

Our population is aging. It’s not just in the US or the developed world, but the world as a whole is getting older. Medical expenditures rise as people get older. A huge fractions of expenditures are on the old, as people get a lot of disabilities as they age.

This is bad for old people, but it’s good for transhumanism because the same tech that can bring these people up to baseline can also be used to enhance people beyond baseline.

There’ll be trillions and trillions of more dollars of medical spending in future years.

George Church has a goal of sequencing 20,000 genomes by human genomes by 2020, but that goal is too easy since by then it will cost under $100.

What if we sequence every mammalian genome? We’d have a have a ton of data to mine, and we can correlate genes with different phenotypes.

Right now, in the US we can see what percent of traits like height, longevity, introversion, etc. are due to genetics.

Even going from wolves to dogs was very quick, and that’s not even talking about trans genes.

Viruses are machines in nature that carry information into living cells. They inspired gene therapy, which hasn’t gone perfectly but is now starting to work. There are recent examples of successes on treating heart conditions etc.

The same genetic changes that can help with muscle distrophy, can also strengthen people and make them stronger.

Genes involved in Alzheimer’s can also boost memory.

And these are just genes already present humans.

In summary, we’re approaching the day of the editable genome.

Ron Bailey writes for Reason magazine

Ronald Bailey: The Democratic Threat to Transhumanism

This will be interesting.

He says liberal democracy protects the minority from the will of the majority.

He quotes James Hughes: “We need a strong democratic state that protects the right of avantgarde minorities to innovate and experiment with their own bodies and minds…”

Bailey thinks that this would be great if it were true. But recently, for example, the Ohio senate voted to ban introducing a human nucleus into a nonhuman egg, and ban nonhumans containing organs derived from humans. A bunch of states already “ban minotaurs.”

In 1873, birth control was outlawed in the Comstock act. Several other examples. In 2003, gay sex was still illegal in 14 states.

Although a lot of these restrictions have been lifted, it wasn’t because of democratic votes, but because the courts said it was wrong. These restrictions were based on liberal principals.

Despite the hope that liberal democracy will enable emerging technologies, that’s not the case.

There’s the argument for minorities banning together to fight the majority, but for example, the largest group that wants gay marriage banned is black people. There’s a quote from Dale Carrico and now we break.

Mikhail Shapiro is a neuroscientist, engineer and technology entrepreneur focused on building visionary companies.

Mikhail Shapiro: Stepping Stones: Getting to enhancement by focusing on disease

His perspective is both as a scientist and from the commercial side. He’s really excited about enhancements including brain-machine interfaces, enhanced leaning, etc.

But there’s a lot of tech breakthroughs that are needed.The benefit needs to be very high, and they need to be very safe.

From whatever perspective of investment you take, it’s really difficult to see this as a profitable investment.

However, diseases provide a stepping stone like this.

For brain-machine interface: before we get to Robocop, we need to focus on locked in syndrome, ALS, and spinal cord injury.

The problem with spinal cord injury and ALS is the brain generates signals but they don’t reach the arm or whatever the destination. But with brain implants we could reroute these signals.

He points to the familiar example of controlling a mouse with your brain.

They formed a company Cyberkinetics. Paralyzed people could have a lot of control over a computer.

We want to expand to people who are less paralyzed, and ultimately to healthy people. But what’s the benefit for healthy people?

Brain reading and uploading: diseases that require brain imaging, such as Parkinson’s, are relevant to this.

In one experiment, they engineered a molecule to be a sensor of dopamine activity in the brain.

Shapiro’s company has invested in a company that’s working a protein to fix a severe neurodegenerative diseases.

For enhanced learning, we can learn from stroke, Alzheimer’s, etc.

Cures for the blind could lead to some cool augmented reality stuff.

Ideally, you need really high quality science. Whether it’s from Harvard or your garage, you need rigorous science.

See the slides for more.

Shapiro’s slides

Millie (Mridula) is currently a 3rd year graduate student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program at Harvard Medical School. She is also an associate producer at an online media company,

Millie Ray on stem cells

These cells have self-renewal and pluripotency.

Self-renewal means they can copy themselves, and pluripotency means they can turn into any cell in the body.

Induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells are made by taking a virus and disrupting the lethal part. Then replace that with the DNA of your choice. If the virus infects a cell, then that cell will get the DNA you want. But that’s an old technology.

iPS cells confer the self renewal and pluripotency of ES cells.

There are problems in treating diseases in Parkinson’s, because we can’t poke around in living people. Cells from non-living people have a limited life span in the lab.

The iPS solution is to take cells from a diseased patient and generate neural cells from those, which gives a much better model for the disease process.

Live iPS cells are a long way off from being used in patients bodies themselves. Just recently we had the first FDA approved trial.

Your immune can recognize self from non-self.

She lists a lot of current and potential uses of stem cells, and how they could improve if we used IPS cells.

John M. Smart is an evolutionary developmental systems theorist.

John Smart: the Brain Preservation Foundation

He’s talking about the brain preservation prize. 100,000 unique humans die every day.

Medicine has many frontiers today. Although we haven’t made a bunch of progress in preventing biological death, computer scientists have made a lot of progress in their fields.

Anatomists can preserve whole human bodies for later viewing with a lot of detail.

Brain Preservation Prize is like the X prize. They have an anonymous donor who will pay $100k to the first winner.

Cryonics is currently available, but the methods used in cryonics aren’t currently good enough to win our prize.

Vitrification is a possible winner, but plastination is the most promising. It’ll be simple, dependable, and potentially variable.

What would plastination look like? Perfusing the brain with a chemical that fixes the cellular proteins, and hours later perfusing a dangerous and toxic chemical to fix the lipids, and then another chemical.

What are the motivations for this? The human conncetome, biomimicry, and bio-inspired machines. This could eventually lead to humans capable of empathy and morality.

Some people could preserve their brains for the advancement of life.

In the future, we should be able to extract whole memories and experiences from a static brain.

And of course, some people will preserve their brains so that their minds could be uploaded or transferred to enhanced/robotic bodies in the future.

And some who are deeply uncertain about the future may choose to preserve their brains in a kind of Pascal’s Wager.

What can you do? One step a lot of people forget is to be happy. Science and technology are magical, and we’re incredibly lucky to be alive right here, right now.

Kenneth Hayworth, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, is the inventor of several technologies for high-throughput volume imaging of neural circuits at the nanometer scale.

Ken Hayworth: Can we extract a mind from a plastic-embedded brain?

He show some increasing thin sections of brains. Eventually, we get enough information to reconstruct the precise structure of each neuronal structure. Not only that, but things like amino structures of receptor proteins are preserved.

They’re multiple techniques that can do this kind of things. One of them he’s talking about could be made 100% accurate.

Using a heated-knife subdivsion, we could image an entire brain at the synapse level with that kind of reliability, but we have a long way to go to scale it up that much.

They’re incredibly detailed computational theories of the human mind, he recommends the books Unified Theories of Cognition by Allen Newelll, and How Can the Human Mind Occur in the Physical Universe? by John R. Anderson. He also recommends two books on consciousness.

He says as a transhumanist he can put 2 and 2 together, and see how this could relatively quickly to uploading.

Whose mind could be extracted? Your mind. The only thing that’s stopping that is the lack of reliable brain preservation.

Sign the petition to make this a reality.

M.A. Greenstein founded The Greenstein Institute.

M. A Greenstein: Bodies in Space

She asks us to pay attention to our breathing. And then if we can shift our attention to a sticky substance.

She asks a bunch of weird questions like whether the substance is like bubblegum or velcro, and then we can open our eyes.

How do we bring art and science together? Stickiness is what happens when “neurons that fire together…wire together.”

She’s talking about Sticky Systems Polemics.

The Schwartz formula for cognitive restructuring: relabel, reattribtue, refocus, revalue.

Now she has a slide on current diagnostics devices in sticky neurotech.

Can we measure social bonding, fear, etc.?

She brings up the Brain Paint group,

If we’re really interested in this medical path of pushing forward biologically and technologically, we need to look not just at the measurement, but the representation of the measurement.

She shows several slides on other cool projects, and now there’s a chart of Sticky S.I.T neurotech.

Tim Marzullo received his B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Texas at Austin in 2001 and his Ph.D. in Neuroscience in 2008 working with Daryl Kipke studying cortical neurophysiology for neuroprosthetics.

Timothy Marzullo: Backyard Brains: Neuroscience for Everyone!

There’s a great slide with an image of the brain saying it doesn’t equal magic.

They designed a lot of neuroscience toys for kids, which was great, but were they really learning neuroscience?

You used to have to go to school’s and after several years you could see graphs of spikes (action potentials). But he’s designed a kit to bring that out to the whole world, called the SpikerBox.

He’s showing an early prototype and brought his own cockroaches to demonstrate with. We get to hear signals from the brain cells of the cockroaches. He’s showing another model but there’s interference from the 3G network.

He thought it’d be cool to record your neural signals to your laptop, but he’s old fashioned. They have an app for the iPad and iPhone to record your spikes. He demonstrates with an iPad and his cockroaches.

It turns out, most people listening to the spiking activity of their own brain think it’s really cool.

They’re now going to production with their kits, so teachers can use them unassisted in their classrooms.

You can go online to their store and order them now.

They’re also working on a product to remote control insects.

He disagrees that this is a magical time. Our lives now are like the Dark Ages when it comes to neuroscience.

If students can get started on neuroscience a decade earlier, perhaps we’ll move into the next century of neuroscience.


Ben Scarlato, a former IEET intern, studied Computer Science at Rochester Institute of Technology and works as a software engineer focused on security.


This live blog is aweseome, great to be able to check in on the conf and get a quick summary of what I’ve missed as I go through the day here in Europe.

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