October 31, 2003
- Singles are one of the fastest growing demographics in North America. More than 25 percent of Americans -- compared with 8 percent in 1940 -- are living alone these days.
- Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku wonders what the physics of extraterrestrial civilizations must be like, and argues that alien civilizations may be able to harness the energy of galaxies and travel through the universe using wormholes.
- In addition to this blog, I am now contributing to two other blogs, namely the Around the Web section at Betterhumans (which can be viewed from the front page), and effective today the Cyborg Democracy blog. Other contributors include Dr. James Hughes, the secretary of the WTA and author of Cyborg Democracy (to be released next year), Robin Green, a self-described "vegan transhumanist socialist," Giulio Prisco, a libertarian leftist, member of the WTA Board, editor of the Transhumanity webzine and newsfeed, Justice De Thézier, a Haitian-Canadian, BA in Science, Technology & Society, libertarian socialist, and organizer of NEXUS: the Montreal Transhumanist Association, Dale Carrico, a San Francisco doctoral student, queer feminist and militant defender of democracy on the WTA lists, and Ramez Naam, who is a progressive WTAer and nanotechnologist living in Seattle. Now that is one cool list of contributors -- I hope you'll visit the Cyborg Democracy blog often.
- My kids are going out for Halloween tonight as Thomas the Tank Engine and Spiderman. Get lots of loot, boys, your dad is counting on you ;-)
October 30, 2003
- James Pethokoukis has an article on artificial superintelligence in which he mentions both Nick Bostrom and Eliezer Yudkowsky.
- Glenn Harlan Reynolds discusses robot rights over at TechCentral. Be sure to check out the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots (ASPCR).
- A UC Berkeley study finds that the total amount of new information in the world doubled in the last three years.
- Ronald Bailey wonders if adult stem cells are a bust.
- Are you a fascist? Russell Madden will let you know. Afterwards, should you discover that you're not a fascist, you can read an interview with Karl Marx where he answers his critics.
October 29, 2003
- An historic day for biolegislation in Canada, but the news is both good and bad. Bill C-13 was finally passed yesterday, legalizing the use of human embryos for medical research, while prohibiting human cloning (which is not worth getting upset about until it's safe anyway), criminalizing commercial surrogacy (which is just plain naive and wrong), and regulating fertility clinics. The bill also bans work on human-animal transgenic research.
- Permobil's C2S Aeron Power Wheelchair is the world's most technically advanced personal mobility system. Not only does this wheelchair look exceedingly cool, but you instantly become a cyborg the moment you sit in it.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration alerted doctors on Monday about reports that antidepressants might raise the risk of suicide in children and teen-agers with major depression. The data is inconclusive at this point, but the FDA wants to play it safe. Some of the antidepressants include Prozac and Paxil.
- There is a fuzzy line that separates science from philosophy. Joseph Rowlands elucidates.
- Meera Nanda, a critic of postmodernism (you go, girl), reveals a postmodern or post-foundational apologetics that is emerging in all major religious-political movements. In her essay, Postmodernism, Science and Religious Fundamentalism, she says: "I was not being facetious, nor was I stoking the “science wars” when I suggested that there was a dangerous convergence - unintended, surely, but not entirely coincidental - between the social constructivist views of science routinely taught in science studies, women’s studies, postcolonial studies and allied disciplines, and the views of those who defend creation science, Islamic sciences, or, as in the case of India, Vedic sciences...I wanted to show how the promotion of an anti-secularist, anti-Enlightenment view of the world by well-meaning and largely left-wing scholars in world-renowned centers of learning has ended up affirming a view of the world which constitutes the common sense of the rather malign, authoritarian and largely right-wing fundamentalist movements. I wanted to show that that having invested so deeply in anti-modernist and anti-rationalist philosophies, the academic left has no intellectual resources left with which to engage the religious right."
THINKING OUT LOUD
Speaking of postmodernism....
If you were really paying attention during the first Matrix movie you probably noticed that Neo had a copy of Jean Baudrillard's postmodernist classic, Simulacra and Simulation on his bookshelf. Sure, it was a fiendishly clever and amusing reference considering the existential paradigm shift soon to be revealed to Neo, but it was also extremely insightful considering the futurist and reality-as-illusion tone that coloured the film.
Baudrillard, taking a post-structuralist approach to cultural theory, posited the intriguing notion that modern societies are illusions of sorts, that they are de facto simulations that had constructed realities around themselves that were realer than real, or as he put it, they had created hyperrealities. In Baudrillard's mind, social 'reality' did not exist in the conventional sense, but was displaced by an endless procession of simulacra consisting of familiar cultural symbols and images generated by the news and cultural media. Taking Baudrillard further, postmodernists today argue that new technologies, particularly those that help us redefine and re-create ourselves, extend and exaggerate this 'hyperreality' that defines our sense of the real. From the Buddha and Plato to Jean Baudrillard and The Matrix, people have had difficulty assessing their environment, resulting in fluid perceptions of existence throughout the course of history. -- GD
October 28, 2003
- Campbell Aird's life was transformed when he was given one of the world’s first cybernetic arms, but he had had to give it back to its inventors who have stored the £100,000 revolutionary limb away in a box, calling it nothing more than a "museum piece." Aird will have to wait until early next year when a newer version of the bionic arm is ready for tests.
- Betterhumans' James Hughes evaluates the US presidential candidates on their transhumanist tendencies. Dr. J likes Howard Dean and Wesley Clark (the good general who's hell-bent on going faster than the speed of light).
- Stem cell researchers predict that clinical trials in humans will start within five years.
- 95% of Americans believe in life after death, and nearly two-third of those believe they're going to heaven. I suppose I could say something really sarcastic at this point, but I'm going to choose restraint instead.
- Severe obesity is on the rise in the US. A RAND study discovers that the fastest increasing group of obese Americans are people 100 or more pounds overweight. I wonder if these are the same Americans who think they're going to heaven.
- According to Helen Cordes of Mother Jones, as pharmaceutical companies push their products, some children are being treated with powerful and untested adult drugs.
- A number of studies are showing that couples are having less sex these days. According to Esther Perel, this is because couples are busy and because of changing perceptions of eroticism.
- In his new book, Thinking Without Words, José Luis Bermúdez reveals a link between thinking and inferring and offers a new theory of the nature of non-linguistic thought. Jerry Fodor of the Guardian Unlimited offers a review.
- Catalin Sandu, editor of Net SF, recently translated my "And the Disabled Shall Inherit the Earth" column into Romanian, called "Ferici?i cei handicapa?i, c?ci al lor va fi P?mantul".
- Natasha Vita-More gave me the good news today that the Extropy Institute will be an official sponsor of TransVision 2004 to be held in Toronto.
LATEST SENTIENT DEVELOPMENTS ARTICLE
- From Third World to Brave New World: China's embrace of state-driven eugenics should be of concern to bioconservatives and bioliberals alike, by George Dvorsky
October 27, 2003
- The World Transhumanist Association's journal for academic papers, the Journal of Evolution and Technology (JET), has released a slew of new articles (I can't wait to read them): " Design of a Primitive Nanofactory" by Chris Phoenix, " Be Very Afraid: Cyborg Athletes, Transhuman Ideals & Posthumanity" by Andy Miah, " Religious Opposition to Cloning" by William Sims Bainbridge, " The Turing Ratio: A Framework for Open-Ended Task Metrics" (PDF) by Hassan Masum, Steffen Chistensen and Franz Oppacher, and " On the Importance of SETI for Transhumanism" by Milan M. ?irkovi?.
- A record number of US women are childless. A recent survey reveals that 44% of women (26.7 million) in the United States do not have biological children. It seems that more women are willing to adopt, or just not willing to have children at all. I completely suspect that if and when the rest of world catches up with the developed nations in terms of economic affluence and lifestyles that they too while exercise this type of procreative restraint. Fears of global overpopulation, I believe, are unfounded. The survey also revealed that just over half of Asian women were childless, which can probably be attributed to affluent Japan, Korea, Taiwan, etc. The revolution started by The Pill never ceases to amaze.
- Postmodernism is, like, so yesterday. The time has come for some critical realism.
- Scientists at UCSD have better explained and improved upon the same probability formula that was used during WWII to crack the German Enigma code. The findings could have implications for speech recognition, machine learning, and information retrieval.
- The Berlin Declaration asserts that there should be open access to knowledge in the sciences and humanities. The declaration states, "In accordance with the spirit of the Declaration of the Budapest Open Acess Initiative, the ECHO Charter and the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing, we have drafted the Berlin Declaration to promote the Internet as a functional instrument for a global scientific knowledge base and human reflection and to specify measures which research policy makers, research institutions, funding agencies, libraries, archives and museums need to consider." The signatorees intend to make progress by: "encouraging our researchers/grant recipients to publish their work according to the principles of the open access paradigm; encouraging the holders of cultural heritage to support open access by providing their resources on the Internet; developing means and ways to evaluate open access contributions and online-journals in order to maintain the standards of quality assurance and good scientific practice; advocating that open access publication be recognized in promotion and tenure evaluation; advocating the intrinsic merit of contributions to an open access infrastructure by software tool development, content provision, metadata creation, or the publication of individual articles."
- MIT scientists have developed glasses that improve memory by projecting information from a tiny built-in computer onto a mini screen on the lenses.
- In a medical first, doctors in Sweden have successfully used artificial blood to treat patients.
- Peter Lurie has written a book about Sexual Rights in America, wondering if sexual rights are privacy rights, natural rights, neither, or both. He concludes that there is a need for a stronger basis for sexual rights than currently exists.
- 150 years after he wrote Origin of Species, and despite a mountain of evidence to support the breakthrough, Darwin's theory of natural selection is still under attack. And now, so Mary Wakefield tells us, it's actually fashionable in some circles to pooh-pooh Darwinism.
October 24, 2003
.: already dead.
.: Peter Plantec on how to build a virtual human. (KurzweilAI)
.: Transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom on the ethical issues in advanced artificial intelligence. This article is a slightly revised version of a paper published in Cognitive, Emotive and Ethical Aspects of Decision Making in Humans and in Artificial Intelligence. The abstract reads: "The ethical issues related to the possible future creation of machines with general intellectual capabilities far outstripping those of humans are quite distinct from any ethical problems arising in current automation and information systems. Such superintelligence would not be just another technological development; it would be the most important invention ever made, and would lead to explosive progress in all scientific and technological fields, as the superintelligence would conduct research with superhuman efficiency. To the extent that ethics is a cognitive pursuit, a superintelligence could also easily surpass humans in the quality of its moral thinking. However, it would be up to the designers of the superintelligence to specify its original motivations. Since the superintelligence may become unstoppably powerful because of its intellectual superiority and the technologies it could develop, it is crucial that it be provided with human-friendly motivations. This paper surveys some of the unique ethical issues in creating superintelligence, and discusses what motivations we ought to give a superintelligence, and introduces some cost-benefit considerations relating to whether the development of superintelligent machines ought to be accelerated or retarded."
October 23, 2003
.: In light of China's recent entrance into the space faring community, Wil McCarthy of SciFi worries that the West has lost its enthusiasm for sending people into space.
.: Several prominent experts, including Marvin Minsky and K. Eric Drexler, say surviving cryonics is not only possible, it's probable. The debate, they insist, is in the details.
.: The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology has outlined three systems of ethics in a proposal for the effective administration of molecular nanotechnology: guardian ethics to provide security, commercial ethics to optimize trade, and information ethics (i.e. open source, open licensing) to promote abundance.
.: Computer graphics that simulate the human form are becoming more and more sophisticated, particularly in its representation of women. (BBC)
.: A moment of silence for singer-songwriter Elliot Smith. A real shame.
October 22, 2003
.: Toshiba wants to build a small nuclear reactor about the size of a mature spruce tree in an Alaskan village. It would light and heat the village for 30 years without any pollution. My first thought is that these energy sources could help the poor in largely rural areas in developing countries, namely India and across Africa.
.: reviews Bill McKibben's Enough and declares that he's just about had enough with that guy.
.: A model United Nations set in 2032 (PDF or HTML) was recently conducted at Yale University to simulate the security council's response to genetic engineering, bioweapons, and bioethics in the next 30 years.
.: A new study suggests that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa reached its peak in 2002. (New Scientist)
.: Artificial proteins can be assembled from scratch. Eventually, designer proteins could deliver drugs to ailing cells, form the basis of "smart" materials, or serve as superior catalysts. (Scientific American)
.: Robert Freitas has released volume II of his nanomedicine series, this one on biocompatibility.
.: Small Times news editor and Nanobot blogger Howard Lovy reports on how some nanotechnology entrepreneurs consider Drexlerian nanotechnology too sci-fi and its development led by "crackpots."
.: Organically grown milk has more toxins than GM milk. (Tech Central Station)
.: I learned a cool thing about Google today: if you key in the word 'define' before a one-word query, Google will provide you with a definition. In Red Hat, I've placed the dictionary in my quicklaunch bar, so I've already got something similar. I've also got a dictionary add-on in my Palm Pilot. I have this obsession with ultra-quick access to dictionaries and thesauruses. I swear, my first cyber-implant is going to be a cognitive on-demand dictionary. Of course, we'll eventually have instantaneous access to encyclopedic knowledge and eventually a cognitive link-up with the Web itself. The mind boggles at the scope of those types of enhancements to our cognitive processes and what it will mean to human intelligence. Education will no longer be memorization and rote learning; the key to future education will be on how to better formulate questions, opinions and answers in consideration of instant access to copious amounts information.
October 21, 2003
.: Some comatose and permanently vegetative patients with no hope of being revived are having their deaths hastened through starvation and dehydration. Since they are already brain dead, these individuals are experiencing no discomfort. Yet, it all begs the question: why not just facilitate death in a more dignified manner?
.: In Seattle, a federal animal-research official suggests that the day might come when experimentation on chimpanzees is ended. "I think what it signals is that there are changes of the sort that people in the animal-rights movement have been talking about for 30 years," says Princeton's Peter Singer. "It's not going to be an all or nothing thing. It's a matter of making steady progress in changing peoples views."
.: Grade 11 students in Canada are doing what their parliamentarians cannot: draft legislation on the cloning issue. Bill C-13 -- the bill that no politician seems to want to touch -- has essentially been sitting idle for the past 10 years. Thanks the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics and the Ontario Genomics Institute, at least some students are getting a taste of law and bioethics.
.: Luis von Ahn wants to steal your brain. Well, your brain cycles anyway. A graduate student in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, von Ahn has created a giant special-purpose supercomputer that uses human brains to do the computing. Mmmmm, computonium.
.: Virtual reality is being used to help those who suffer from various phobias. I wonder if it can help people who are afraid of virtual reality and computers in general.
.: Chris Mooney, an expert on how Washington manages scientific research, says that current and pending geopolitical and environmental realities demand that more money be put into science. And shame on the Republicans for cutting funds in the first place.
.: Harold Fromm of the Hudson Review discusses the ongoing Darwinian revolution in the humanities, focusing significantly on the work of Steven Pinker and the ramifications of neuroscience.
.: Revolutionary popes need not apply: Totalitarian Pope. He's quite right, of course, as the Catholic Church looks to remain a static and orthodox entity for the foreseeable future.
.: There is now a Czech Transhumanist Association.
.: My Betterhumans column, "Brights Generate More Heat than Light" has been reprinted at BrightRights.
October 20, 2003
.: An implanted male hormonal contraceptive that works in much the same way that female contraceptives work is now being tested in men. In women, the hormones estrogen and progestin are used to shut off the release of eggs to prevent pregnancy. In the male version, testosterone and progestin are used to turn off sperm production. (Wired)
.: I've actually always been worried about this: A recent study has found that microwaving destroys nutrients in some foods, including and especially broccoli. After microwaving, almost all flavonoids disappear (as much as 97%) -- the substances often found in many brightly coloured fruits and vegetables that help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. Microwaving also reduces similarly desirable chemicals in broccoli from 74% to 87% per cent -- including some substances that have been associated with slowing the effects of aging, reducing the risk of heart disease and preventing Alzheimer's, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. (Globe & Mail)
.: Whoa, now that's bandwidth: The European Organization for Nuclear Research claims to have sent data across the Internet at 5.44 gigabits a second (Gbps). In other words, the entire contents of a CD-ROM can be transferred in about a second. (Reuters)
.: FuturePundit caught this interesting Weekly Standard article that discusses the growing gender ratio imbalances in Taiwan where abortions have skewed the country's demographics to the point where only two girls are born for every three boys. I'm very much in favour of gender selection, but part of that is based on my observations of gender preferences here in the West. Virtually all couples in Canada and the United States desire two children: a boy and a girl. I believe that a significant part of this attitude is the result of a more mature and enlightened social culture that discriminates between gender less and less. I can only hope that citizens in other countries that have legalized gender selection quickly get their act to together and follow suit. But even still, I don't think it's a big deal if the ratios are off a bit. Again, it's not one of those things that, for me anyway, qualifies as a social catastrophe. Moreover, the state can always move in and offer such things as tax breaks and other benefits to those couples who choose to have a child in the demographically deficient sex. Take a deep breath, everybody, and relax.
.: Expert witnesses at a US House Science Committee hearing have been critical of NASA's current human space flight program. Specifically, they complained that the current program "is not moving us toward any compelling objective, and we should make a transition out of it as soon as possible." Witnesses called for a renewed sense of purpose and a more focused vision for NASA's programs, claiming that the Space Station and Space Shuttle do not merit the risks that they entail: "[I]f space explorers are to risk their lives it should be for extraordinarily challenging reasons - such as exploration of the Moon, Mars, and asteroids, and for construction and servicing space telescopes - not for making 90 minute trips around the Earth. The whole point of leaving home is to go somewhere, not to endlessly circle the block." (SpaceRef)
.: Nick Gillespie of Reason explains why existentialism is so deeply appealing and enduring.
.: My Betterhumans column, "Brights Generate More Heat than Light" is going to be reprinted in the Humanist Network News.
.: I've added this site to the Transhumanist Link Exchange.
October 17, 2003
.: Leon Kass believes that biotechnology is great -- but we mustn't go too far lest we 'cheapen' life (Washington Post). This is Kass's introduction to the latest document issued by the anti-transhumanist U.S. , called Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness.
.: According to Skeptic Magazine, even atheists hate being called 'brights.' Accordingly to survey results, only 9% of e-Skeptic respondents like the term. Not good. But 69% thought that 'Freethinkers' was more acceptable.
.: Libertarian Free State Project members (which includes some Extropians) have pin-pointed New Hampshire as the most promising state for future libertarianization (geez, is that a word? Well, it is now). I can't say I'm entirely surprised -- they are the state after all whose license plate reads, "Live Free or Die." This is an interesting project in consideration of the suggestion that states which disengage from strategic economic planning are more likely to stimulate economic growth and hasten poverty reduction (ID21).
.: Biogerontologist Cynthia Kenyon reveals in New Scientist that she wants to live forever and that she's working on it. You go, girl.
.: Physicist Brian Greene tries to demystify string theory in this Scientific American interview. Easier said than done; I think this article actually set me back in regards to my comprehension of string theory. Actually, his insight into the multiverse and the anthropic principle is quite interesting.
.: Combat sleepiness with drugs (Wired).
.: Mozilla has been updated to version 1.5.
October 16, 2003
.: Tech Cental Station's Sonia Arrison writes about radical body modification transhuman style.
.: Catholic Brazil has spoken out against the Vatican's stance on condoms and HIV transmission. Good for them, especially in consideration of the work they've been doing to prevent the spread of AIDS in that country. "The policy of free distribution of condoms was one of the big reasons for our success," minister Humberto Costa said. "Brazil's program is an international success and ensured that instead of the predictions that we would now have 1.2 million (AIDS cases), we have half that number."
.: A neophile is someone who loves new things. NeoFile is R. U. Sirius's new Website that helps neophiles get information and ideas on how to apply enhancement technologies to themselves. You say neophile, I say transhumanist, let's call the whole thing off.
.: Should cloned meat be labeled a la GM foods? (Wired)
.: Scaffold may help stem cells grow into organs. (Scientific American)
.: More signs that a space elevator will go up in the relatively near future.
.: Only the Japanese could have developed a martial arts robot. I think I could take him.
.: Jonathon Keats, a 32-year-old conceptual artist and novelist, has announced plans to auction off futures contracts on 6 billion neurons in his brain, which he copyrighted this spring. This is the same guy who tried to get the city of Berkeley, California, to pass an unbreakable law, A=A.
.: My Betterhumans column, "Brights Generate More Heat than Light" is going to be reprinted in the New York City Atheists' members' newsletter.
October 15, 2003
.: An historic day: China becomes only the third country to send a man into space (Globe & Mail). It took them 4 decades longer than the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., but it goes to show that the cumulative and inexorable nature of technological progress should not be understated. Today's policy makers should take note: Just because a country doesn't have the technology today doesn't mean that it won't have it tomorrow. It was (and is) this kind of mentality that has caused so much chaos leading to the international proliferation of nuclear weapons.
.: RAND has issued a new report, "The National Bioethics Advisory Commission: Contributing to Public Policy." Abstract: The National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) was established in 1995 to advise various government entities on issues arising from research on human biology and behavior. During its five-year tenure, NBAC submitted six reports to the White House containing 120 recommendations on several complex bioethical issues including the cloning of human beings and embryonic stem cell research. This study assesses NBAC's contribution to policymaking by tracking the response to NBAC's recommendations from the president, Congress, government, societies and foundations, other countries, and international groups.
.: This, I'm afraid, is a sign of things to come: terrorism and violence directed against biotechnologies (Yahoo! News).
.: Articles like this make we wish I had become an evolutionary biologist: "Evolving by Accident, Not Fitness" (NY Times).
.: A new font has been developed specifically for people suffering from dyslexia. Called Read Regular, the characters in the font are simple, super-legible, and they're given breathing room in the words themselves.
.: Another article about Kevin Warwick (StarTech Central). Yawn. Produced any meaningful data recently? Produced any meaningful data ever? Apparently, it costs £600,000 to create a cyborg these days. Now you know. Gimme a break.
.: The nuclear family is an endangered species. Married couples are a drastically shrinking demographic in the U.S., and singles are poised to become the majority.
.: FirstScience has a neat article on the history of the concept of infinity.
.: A German article about Ed. John Brockman's new book, The New Humanists, has been translated to English and posted on the Edge. It features dialogue and discussion from an evening with Marvin Minsky and Daniel Dennett. Minsky opened the discussion saying, "I don’t believe that the universe exists." I have a pre-release copy of this book and I'll be reviewing it shortly for Betterhumans.
October 14, 2003
.: Immoralist BJ Klein is interviewed by Devon Fowler on Betterhumans.
.: It appears that the controversial lo-carb Atkins diet works (Yahoo! News). Fellow transhumanist and friend James Hughes is currently on this diet, and he also claims that it's working for him. Speaking of Dr. J, he's got a new column on The High-tech Path to Development."
.: Canadian Transsexual videomaker, performer and a long-time prostitute and sex workers’ rights activist Mirha-Soleil speaks up on animal rights (Vegan Voice courtesy of Disinformation).
.: BioLuddites conveniently tend to forget that life can be chronically painful for many (Yahoo! News).
.: There is a wearables fashion show for those people who want to remain cyborgs on the outside (Scotsman).
.: Scientists are helping to model complexity with artificial agents (Economist).
.: I don't know why I link to these things, but the Baroness and neuroscientist Susan Greenfield has put out a book called warning of a dystopic future (Economist).
.: Zach Lynch of Corrante on accelerating innovation with neuroceuticals.
.: Updated the quotes section. Added quotes from James Hughes, Robert Goddard, Willy Ley, Carl Sagan, Don Hirschberg, Clarence Darrow & Wyn Wachhorst.
October 13, 2003
NEW SENT.DEV ARTICLE
Brights Generate More Heat than Light
Aiming to legitimize and popularize atheism, the brights offer little for living or relating to others and are already guilty of tribalism characteristic of their religious rivals, by George Dvorsky
.: New feature on Betterhumans: search news articles by topic. Sweet.
.: Jake Horsley of Divine Virus Productions has put out a handbook to help you unplug from the Matrix. Called Matrix Warrior, it is a philosophical guide to The Matrix and based on the premise: What if everything in the movie is absolutely true? But before you go out and buy this book, you should probably ask yourself, what if Cypher was right?
.: Closer to Truth recently held a panel on the topic, Does Sex Have a Future? Panelists included transhumanist bioethicist Gregory Stock. And over at Forbes they're asking if sex is even necessary.
.: There's a discussion currently going on at Kuro5hin on ectogenesis, the development of an organism in an artificial environment, including artificial wombs.
.: Some experts believe that GM hybrids are inevitable (BBC).
.: A Mexican company has launched a service to implant microchips in children as an anti-kidnapping device (Wired). Currently in the United States, the only FDA sanctioned augmentative cybernetic implant is the VeriChip (check out the ChipMobile, coming to your town: resistance is futile).
.: Apparently we can't over-generalize about the religious right: How Prayers Poll: Debunking myths about the religious right (Slate).
.: Marc Geddes of Prometheus Crack passes on this link to Eliezer Yudkowsky's humorous Friendly AI Critical Failure Table. My personal favourites (or is that worst fears?) are #7 and #10.
.: An implanted device allows a monkey to play a video game with its thoughts (IOL). Lab monkeys have all the fun.
.: Looks like the universe is infinite again and not shaped like a soccer ball (Bozeman Daily Chronicle).
.: I saw Tarantino's Kill Bill on the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. The gore, however, was unbelievable and absolutely ridiculous. Essentially, Tarantino decided to create the quintessential tough-girl flick filled with an extreme and stylistic over-the-top flair -- for which it's evident that he makes no apologies. It could probably be considered a chicksploitation film, even though there's a bizarre pseudo-feminist theme that runs through the movie. At one point I had to sit back and assess what I was seeing: essentially, it's a classic 1970s Hong Kong style martial arts film that's set (mostly) in the West, it includes an excellent anime sequence, with Spaghetti Western music playing in the background. Yup, pure Tarantino. And of course, the linearity's all screwed up. If you like Tarantino, go see it. If you like martial arts films, go see it. If you like neither, stay home. -- GD
October 10, 2003
.: Ronald Bailey asks the age old question, Does Shortness Need a Cure? (Reason)
.: Yet another addiction to be concerned about: excessive text messaging (Reuters). Somehow, I'm left undisturbed.
.: Beware the cyberstalkers (NY Times).
.: Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope: I need a heliodisplay that projects full color streaming video into thin air using a revolutionary technology that produces a 27-inch image and is Plug-and-Play compatible with most video sources.
.: In their never-ending quest to ruin lives and promote suffering, the Catholic Church is now telling people in countries stricken by AIDS not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which the HIV virus can pass (Guardian). There oughta be a law.
.: The Supreme Court of Canada is refusing to let several religious and family groups appeal an Ontario ruling that approved gay marriage (Globe & Mail).
.: First we thought the universe was finite, then we thought it might be infinite, and now we think it might be finite again -- and that the universe may actually be a massive hall of mirrors just screwing with us (New Scientist).
.: An interview with Neal Stephenson about his new book, Quicksilver (Tech Central Station).
THINKING OUT LOUD
.: Today I found myself asking the question, "can the universe be considered technology?" I decided that, yes, it can be considered technology so long as we use a very liberal definition of the term. Technology can be defined as a system or a construct that is organized or intelligent (i.e. non-random). BTW, I'm referring to intelligence here without the presence of consciousness. I think it's pretty obvious that the universe we observe is highly intelligent in terms of its organization, therefore it can be regarded as a type of technology. Furthermore, if we could ever replicate a universe, then it most certainly would qualify as a form of technology. Of course, if we're living in a simulation, or even if we're living in some kind of deistic creation, then we can also conclude that the universe is a type of technology -- god as a software coder.
However, if one looks at the cosmos through the Hilbert/Heisenberg/Everett lens, and in conjunction with the anthropic principle, then the universe we observe is really just one moment-slice followed by a steady progression of moment-slices, with each moment-slice that we observe having to take place in what we perceive as a singular and coherent universe. If we could actually gaze at the Hilbert Space, we would see that at each moment-slice we are copied into a massive set of probable 'other worlds.' But not only that, we would see ourselves copied into "incoherent" and unobservable realms as well. Thus, to say that our universe 'exists' is strange. It only exists insofar that at any given moment that it is observed, it is forced to exhibit only those characteristics we would ascribe to our universe by virtue of the presence of observers, and that is why, of course, the universe appears biophilic (i.e. the universe is not what it appears -- we're only seeing a very small part of it, the part that must exist from moment to moment so that an observer can exist from moment to moment). Thus, there is a very distinct possibility that our particular universe is not reproduceable. -- GD
October 9, 2003
.: New Zealand transhumanist Marc Geddes announced today that he's starting a new blog, Prometheus Crack.
.: Check out the latest newsletter from CRN, the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology.
.: If you plan on becoming a cyborg someday, you're probably going to need a rechargeable battery a lot like this one. (Wired)
.: HIV sucks and it's only going to get worse. (BBC)
.: Either the Raelians are promotional geniuses or they're nuts. Or a little bit of both. In the latest installment of the Sun's exposé on the Raelians, Rael, referring to the human clone claim, is quoted as saying, ""Come my beloved friends and journalists, and ask me if we did all that just to benefit from free publicity ... YESSSS!" he cries and bursts out laughing during a gathering staged in Montreal.
.: Congratulations to Peter Agre and Roderick MacKinnon for winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their research on how key materials enter or leave the cells in the body. (Globe & Mail)
.: Check it out: Mathematician David Hilbert devised an interesting thought experiment about infinity, the Paradox of the Grand Hotel (Wikipedia). One if forced to ask, can a causal chain receeding infinitely into the past exist? It also brings up the concept of supertasks, a task involving an infinite number of steps, completed in a finite amount of time. Hmm -- supertasks sound suspiciously familiar to tasks I'm assigned at work.
October 8, 2003
.: More Sun dirt on the Raelians. As a transhumanist friend wryly noted, "Looks like the Raelians are getting ready to hand out the poisoned Kool-Aid."
.: It's not quite the Matrix, but it's there, a metaverse for all your virtual needs.
.: Here's a classic article from virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier on what he calls the cybernetic totalists, "One Half Of A Manifesto." (Edge.org, 2000)
.: Yale bioethicist Richard Satava says now is the time to face the ethical challenges that technology will bring to medicine. Tell me something every transhumanist doesn't already know.
.: Slashdot has an interesting entry on the proliferation of biological technologies, open source biology, and a paper titled, "The Pace and Proliferation of Biological Technologies" (PDF) in the new journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism.
.: Yes, now you too can have a genome on a chip. (NY Times)
.: Here's a sneak peek at the new TransVision 2004 logo (I'm chairing the organizing committee). This design was the brainchild of Consolidated Media's Benjamin Moogk. Simon Smith is currently working on the TV04 Website, and all I can say is that it's going to look very cool.
.: Correction to the Oct. 6 blog entry re: Brights: Jeremy Stangroom of Butterflies and Wheels is not a theistic intellectual, but rather a secular one.
October 7, 2003
.: Time compressed audio is enabling us to hear and process more information in shorter time-frames (New York Times). Oh, joy -- what this essentially means is that advertisers can now pack 35 seconds worth of material into 30. If you're interested in this kind of stuff, I highly recommend James Gleick's Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything.
.: Sir Isaac Newton is taking a beating these days. First I find out that he may have been wrong about the exact nature of gravity (damn that dark energy!), and then I read that too many modern scientists are supposedly regressing into pseudo-science by ignoring his neat-and-tidy mechanistic vision of the universe (er, sorry, David, but the truth hurts). Oh well, at least he's a hero in Neal Stephenson's new book, Quicksilver.
.: Toronto's tabloidesque rag, the Sun, is running an interesting 5 issue exposé-style series on the Raelians called World of Fear. Sun reporters infiltrated the cult for nine months to gather intelligence and insight. I never thought I'd say this, but, go, Sun!
.: Douglas Rushkoff on open source democracy.
.: In the 'I couldn't have said it better myself' category, David M. Brown beautifully rips apart Dinesh D'Souza's column criticizing the Brights. Moreover, it looks as if the Brights are brighter after all, so there.
.: Robert Leheny, director of the Microsystems Technology Office at DARPA, is skeptical about quantum computing (Wall Street & Tech). I wonder if he's familiar with David Deutsch's work on quantum computing; Deutsch's answer to John Archibald Wheeler's question, "How come quantum? How come existence?" is "It From Qubit" (PDF). The universe, according to Deutsch, is an expression of quantum computation. I'm going to go out on a limb here and side with the world famous quantum physicist.
.: Alexei Abrikosov, Anthony Leggett and Vitaly Ginzburg were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work in quantum physics concerning superconductivity and superfluidity. (Globe & Mail)
October 6, 2003
.: Simon Smith on open-source and open-content.
.: Hey reactionary Luddite environmentalist, genetically modified foods are nothing new!
.: Here's an interesting exchange between Daniel Dennett and Michael C. Rea on the 'brights.' Geez, this whole brights thing seems to have put a number of religious 'intellectuals' in a tizzy -- like this guy and this guy. I'm thinking that my next column for Betterhumans will be on this topic.
.: Ronald Bailey on the new health insurance crisis in the US.
.: Mmmmm, nanosurgery. And very, very small lasers.
.: Libertarians are not right-wing, okay? You got that? As for librarians, let's not go there.
The latest version of the Transhumanist FAQ has been posted by the World Transhumanist Association. This upgrade, the first significant revision since 1998, was an attempt at developing and articulating a broadly based consensus on the basics of responsible transhumanism, while striving to better explain the transhumanist perspective to the world. The document incorporates the comments and editorial assistance of more than 100 members of the WTA over the past year, including yours truly.
October 3, 2003
.: Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey will be speaking at Pop!Tech 2003: Sea/Change.
.: Our transhumanist friend, Robin Hanson, is mentioned in this NY Times article about idea futures.
.: US Presidential candidate Wesley Clark, a retired four-star general and former NATO commander, wants to go faster than the speed of light. Hey, anybody who wants to go that fast can't be all bad.
.: Ray Kuzweil on the promise and perils of the 21st century.
.: A classic article from Bill Joy on the perils, perils, and perils of the 21st century.
The stem cell issue in Canada is about to heat up again as bill C-13 gets debated. Again. This is becoming such a tired issue. The Globe article that I linked to put it well: "Advocates argue that the vocal opposition of a small number of Canadians has hijacked the debate and that studies show that embryonic stem-cell research has strong support from the Canadian public."
The TTA issued a press release about Bill C-13 a few months ago. Here's what we had to say:
Parental Choice, Research Impinged by Bill C-13
Members of parliament must amend Bill C-13 so that it doesn't unjustifiably remove valid reproductive options for Canadians or inhibit important medical research
Proposed Bill C-13 is slated for debate in the House of Commons this week, and many Canadians are concerned that it will be voted into law.
The bill, titled "An Act respecting assisted human reproductive technologies and related research," calls for bans on therapeutic and reproductive cloning, germ-line modifications, gender selection of offspring, the creation of chimeras and animal-human hybrids for reproduction, commercial surrogate mothers and the sale of human reproductive materials or embryos.
Already the target of much criticism, the bill's potential prohibitions have infuriated many individuals and groups, including infertile couples and those people, such as Parkinson's victims, who stand a good chance of reaping the benefits of research into therapeutic cloning.
Under the act, Canadians would be forbidden to pay for sperm, eggs or surrogacy. Health Minister Anne McLellan maintains that these types of reproductive contributions should be limited to acts of altruism.
"How many friends do most of us have who would, out of the goodness of their heart, go through two weeks of injections, nine months of pregnancy and childbirth so that we could have a child?" asks Simon Smith, president of the Toronto Transhumanist Association. "In their reactionary attempt to prevent the commodification of human reproduction, the Liberals are ignoring the realities that Canadian couples face. People without extraordinarily altruistic friends will be doomed to a childless future."
Bill C-13 isn't just unfair to the one in six Canadians who suffer from infertility, says Smith, but also to people suffering from such health conditions as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and paralysis. "Therapeutic cloning has the potential to produce stem cells that could treat or even cure many currently incurable conditions," says Smith. "If Bill C-13 passes, research on therapeutic cloning won't stop, it will just move to more amenable countries. In essence, Canada will be waving goodbye to a significant part of its biotech future."
George Dvorsky, Vice President of the Toronto Transhumanist Association, is concerned that under Bill C-13 Canadians will be denied what he considers to be ethical and viable reproductive options. He is an advocate of commercial surrogacy and gender selection, and believes that consenting adults in a free society should be entitled to use these types of life-giving services. "People should be wary of any attempt by the Canadian government to control the reproductive processes of their bodies," he says. "Canadians couples should be allowed to select something as basic as the gender of their own offspring. People already try to select the gender of their children using all sorts of primitive and ineffective means. Why should new means be made illegal simply because they're more effective?"
Dvorsky also worries that by making commercial surrogacy illegal, couples will seek such services in the United States, or enter into shady and unmonitored underground activities.
"The proposed act claims to ‘respect' assisted reproductive technologies and research, and instead fails to ‘respect' those Canadians who could really use those technologies and services," says Dvorsky. "This is another example of the government prying their way into the bedrooms of the nation and telling us which procreative options are appropriate for us and which are not."
October 1, 2003
.: The Absolute Beginner's Guide to building your own robot.
.: Skeptic Michael Shermer on the science of life extension. He's skeptical about cryonics; I'm shocked.
.: Bruce Sterling outlines 10 obnoxious technologies.
.: Here's an awesome list of neural enhancement resources courtesy of Zach Lynch on Corante.
.: It was one year ago today that I became a vegetarian. It was only supposed to be a 2 week experiment.