Monday, December 31, 2007

Odds of Mars getting plastered by an asteroid lifted to 1 in 25

The red planet could really get smucked in late January.

The chances of asteroid 2007 WD5 striking Mars on January 30 has been raised from 1.3% to 3.9%.

Those odds are astronomically high by, uh, astronomical standards. That's a 1 in 25 chance. The uncertainty region during the Mars encounter now extends over 400,000 km along a very narrow ellipsoid that is only 600 km wide. The time of impact is estimated to be January 30, 2008 at 10:56 UT (5:56 a.m. EST) with an uncertainty of a few minutes.

Asteroid 2007 WD5 measures more than 160 feet in diameter and is traveling towards Mars at a speed of 30,000 miles per hour. Initial calculations show that it may crash in the equatorial region creating a crater more than a kilometer in diameter. The release of energy would be similar to the 1908 Tunguska object that exploded over remote central Siberia and wiped out 60 million trees.

According to Dr Arvind Pranjpe, professor at the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCCA), "If 2007WD5 indeed crashes onto Mars, it will be a big moment for scientists. The impact of the explosion, and the dust storm it will kick up will all be closely studied. It will give us a chance to study a freshly created crater, which is rare."

There would be no effect on Earth should the asteroid hit Mars.

Except, of course, for the impact on our nerves. Asteroid 2007 WD5 was only discovered 2 months ago. Had it been heading towards Earth, we would have been utterly helpless to respond.

The asteroid was discovered on November 20, 2007 by NASA-funded Catlina Sky Survey, an organization that is a part of NASA's Near Earth Program which looks out for astronomical bodies coming close to the Earth.

In the future, should a similar threat face Earth (like Apophis), we might be able to nudge NEOs out of the way.

Friday, December 28, 2007

C-Realm Podcast interview part II

Here's the second part of my recent interview by KMO at C-Realm. In this episode I primarily address the sociological impacts of radical life extension.

Friday, December 21, 2007

'Tis the season to be nominated for a science blogging award

How cool is this? My article, The Fermi Paradox: Back With a Vengeance, is being considered for entry into the Science Blogging Anthology, "Open Laboratory 2007." The annual contest, which is organized by Science Blogs, recognizes the best science writing of the year.

My Fermi post was adapted from the talk I gave at TransVision 2007 back in July. The article was subsequently Slashdotted on August 5.

Fellow IEET member Moheb Costandi also has a pair of articles in the contest, The rise and fall of the prefrontal lobotomy, and An Illustrated history of trepanation.

Here's a list of all the entries.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

C-Realm Podcast interview

I was recently interviewed by KMO for the C-Realm Podcast.

In this episode KMO speaks to Bill McKibben and gets his insight into the "transhumanist agenda" and what it means to remain human in an engineered age. I provide the counterpoint and discuss the ethical and sociological implications of transhumanism.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Grinspoon: Who Speaks for Earth?

There's a provocative new article by David Grinspoon, author of Lonely Planets, about the METI debate in SEED Magazine:
After decades of searching, scientists have found no trace of extraterrestrial intelligence. Now, some of them hope to make contact by broadcasting messages to the stars. Are we prepared for an answer?

Excerpt:
Zaitsev has already sent several powerful messages to nearby, sun-like stars—a practice called "Active SETI." But some scientists feel that he's not only acting out of turn, but also independently speaking for everyone on the entire planet. Moreover, they believe there are possible dangers we may unleash by announcing ourselves to the unknown darkness, and if anyone plans to transmit messages from Earth, they want the rest of the world to be involved. For years the debate over Active SETI versus passive "listening" has mostly been confined to SETI insiders. But late last year the controversy boiled over into public view after the journal Nature published an editorial scolding the SETI community for failing to conduct an open discussion on the remote, but real, risks of unregulated signals to the stars. And in September, two major figures resigned from an elite SETI study group in protest. All this despite the fact that SETI's ongoing quest has so far been largely fruitless. For Active SETI's critics, the potential for alerting dangerous or malevolent entities to our presence is enough to justify their concern.
Interesting quote by Michael Michaud, a former top diplomat within the US State Department and a specialist in technology policy: "Active SETI is not science; it's diplomacy. My personal goal is not to stop all transmissions, but to get the discussion out of a small group of elites."

More on this debate here and here.

Astrosociobiology article on Wikipedia deleted

The astrosociobiology page on Wikipedia has been deleted. For the sake of posterity, I present its final incarnation here:

Astrosociobiology

Astrosociobiology (also referred to as exosociobiology, extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), and xenosociology) is the speculative scientific study of extraterrestrial civilizations and their possible social characteristics and developmental tendencies. The field involves the convergence of astrobiology, sociobiology and evolutionary biology. Hypothesized comparisons between human civilizations and those of extraterrestrials are frequently posited, placing the human situation in the same context as other extraterrestrial intelligences. Whenever possible, astrosociobiologists describe only those social characteristics that are thought to be common (or highly probable) to all civilizations. Since no extraterrestrial civilizations have ever been studied, the subject is entirely hypothetical and necessarily self-referential.

Contents

1 Methodologies
2 Assumptions
2.1 Possible unique aspects of Earth life
2.2 Counter-argument: abundance of alternative sources
3 Possible extraterrestrial characteristics
4 Civilization types
5 Notable astrosociobiologists
6 See also
7 References
8 External links

Methodologies

Sociobiology attempts to explain animal behavior, group behavior and social structure in terms of evolutionary advantage or strategy and using techniques from ethology, evolution and population genetics. Sociobiologists are especially interested in comparative analyses, particularly in studying human social institutions and culture.

Astrobiology is the speculative field within biology that considers the possible varieties and characteristics of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiologists speculate about the possible ways that organic life could come into being in the universe and the potential for artificial and postbiological life.

Astrosociobiologists, like evolutionary biologists and sociobiologists, are concerned with the phenomenon of convergent evolution, the evolutionary process in which organisms not closely related independently acquire some characteristic or characteristics in common, usually (but not necessarily) a reflection of similar responses to similar environmental conditions. Examples include physical traits that have evolved independently (e.g. the eye), ecological niches (e.g. pack predators), and even technological innovations (e.g. language, writing, the domestication of plants and animals, and basic tools and weapons). Astrosociobiologists take the potential for convergent evolution off-planet and speculate that certain ecological and sociological niches may not be Earth-specific or human-specific and are archetypal throughout the universe.

However, there may be limits to this kind of speculation, particularly if there is a dearth of comparable habitats to our own across the galaxy. Some thinkers, while acknowledging that biological and social evolution may follow similar patterns across the universe, also note the problem of evidence and the absence of extraterrestrial contact. Simon Conway Morris, in his book, Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe, notes life's "eerie" ability to repeatedly navigate to a single solution. "Eyes, brains, tools, even culture: all are very much on the cards," he writes. "So if these are all evolutionary inevitabilities, where are our counterparts across the galaxy? The tape of life can only run on a suitable planet, and it seems that such Earth-like planets may be much rarer than hoped. Inevitable humans, yes, but in a lonely Universe."[1]

Assumptions

In order for astrosociobiologists to embark on speculations about the condition and characteristics of extraterrestrial civilizations, a number of assumptions are necessarily invoked:
1. Extraterrestrial civilizations exist
2. Extraterrestrial civilizations operate in agreement with the known laws of physics
3. Extraterrestrial civilizations must in some part resemble our own, both in terms of: a) morphological and psychological characteristics, and b) civilizational traits and tendenciesIn other words, astrosociobiologists assume that intelligent life arises from similar environmental conditions and similar evolutionary processes as humanity.
It is currently difficult to tell if these are valid assumptions. For example, the Rare Earth hypothesis and the Fermi Paradox suggests that we might be alone in the galaxy. It's also conceivable that aliens and their civilizations may scarcely resemble our own. Astrosociobiology also involves a fair degree of environmental determinism. Astrosociobiologists counterargue that all of these points can be countered by the Copernican principle and the self-sampling assumption (a variant of the anthropic principle). We shouldn't assume, they argue, that we're unique and we should start from the premise that we are very typical.

Possible unique aspects of Earth life

It is possible that the unique conditions on Earth allow for specific technologies to develop which would take many times longer for a civilization not having these conditions to achieve. The list of possibly unique conditions on Earth, and of related discoveries, is quite long. Some examples:
* The Hall-Héroult process and the Bayer process, if not discovered in the late 19th Century, might have led to a delay in the creation of aluminium-dependent technologies, such as aircraft and rocketry.
* The Moon produces tides, and offers some protection from asteroids, comets, and radiation. [2]
* Many discoveries were essentially accidental, such as the discovery of penicillin. Others were based on a theoretical insight, such as the transistor.
It is possible that the conditions for the creation of hydrocarbons, coal, or natural gas would not exist on other planets. These fuels were essential for us to move past dependence upon wood and animal based energy systems. Although waterwheel, wind, and solar energy technologies existed, they were not developed further until suitable industrial techniques were found to produce better materials. These techniques consume massive amounts of energy, and therefore could not be powered by the unimproved technologies. A similar argument could be made that without fossil fuel technologies, more powerful technologies, such as nuclear reactors, could not develop.

Counter-argument: abundance of alternative sources

Human perception has a natural bias towards the known energy development paths of Human civilization. It must also be noted that during both the 1973 energy crisis and the 1979 energy crisis highly industrialized societies continued to function; many moved towards developing alternative energy technologies on a massive scale under the assumption that these could provide the energy needed to continue industrial and commercial processes should fossil fuel supplies be compromised in some critical way.

Given this development, it is possible that a society could develop without a stage where fossil fuel based energy production occurs. This version of Buckminster Fuller's argument on current solar income conforms with Paul Hawken's idea of restorative economy, stating that fossil fuel based energy production is not essential nor desirable given the effects and alternatives.

Possible extraterrestrial characteristics

Given these assumptions, astrosociobiologists attempt to make predictions about those characteristics that may be common to all extraterrestrial societies. For example, based on human experience, astrosociobiologists conclude very broadly that all civilizations go through similar developmental stages, including stone age and agrarian culture, industrialization, globalization, and an information age. Similar assumptions are made about the development of technological innovations (universal technological archetypes) and scientific breakthroughs (including the rough chronological order in which these advancements are developed). The possibility also exists for the existence of common cultural and meta-ethical characteristics of advanced societies (i.e. the notion that advanced societies will independently reach the same conclusions about ethics, morality and social imperatives).

Astrosociobiologists also theorize about the existence of developmental mechanisms that constrain and give directionality to the evolution of organisms and society itself. One such guiding evolutionary force is the notion of the megatrajectory. Posited by A. H. Knoll and R. K. Bambach in their 2000 collaboration, "Directionality in the History of Life," Knoll and Bamback argue that, in consideration of the problem of progress in evolutionary history, a middle road that encompasses both contingent and convergent features of biological evolution may be attainable through the idea of the megatrajectory:
We believe that six broad megatrajectories capture the essence of vectoral change in the history of life. The megatrajectories for a logical sequence dictated by the necessity for complexity level N to exist before N+1 can evolve...In the view offered here, each megatrajectory adds new and qualitatively distinct dimensions to the way life utilizes ecospace. – [3]
According to Knoll and Bambach, the six megatrajectories outlined by biological evolution thus far are:
1. the origin of life to the "Last Common Ancestor"
2. prokaryote diversification
3. unicellular eukaryote diversification
4. multicellular organisms
5. land organisms
6. appearance of intelligence and technology
Some astrosociobiologists, such as Milan Ćirković and Robert J. Bradbury, have taken the megatrajectory concept one step further by theorizing that a seventh megatrajectory exists: postbiological evolution triggered by the emergence of artificial intelligence at least equivalent to the biologically-evolved one, as well as the invention of several key technologies of the similar level of complexity and environmental impact, such as molecular nanoassembling or stellar uplifting.

Along similar lines, historian of science Steven J. Dick, in his 2003 paper "Cultural Evolution, the Postbiological Universe and SETI," posited a central concept of cultural evolution he called the Intelligence Principle:
The maintenance, improvement and perpetuation of knowledge and intelligence is the central driving force of cultural evolution, and that to the extent intelligence can be improved, it will be improved. [– [4]]
It is through the application of this principle, argues Dick, that speculations about the developmental tendencies of advanced civilizations can be made.

The difficultly of engaging in such speculation, however, is that it is highly theoretical; there is very little empirical evidence. Moreover, humanity hasn't progressed through these later developmental stages. Astrosociobiologists currently have no data to support the idea that human civilization will continue on into the foreseeable future. Indeed, in considering the Fermi Paradox, scientists may actually have a data point suggesting a limitation to how far advanced civilizations can develop.

However, with each advancing step that the human species takes, astrosociobiologists will assume that extraterrestrials--both past and present –will have gone through similar stages.

Civilization types

A method for classifying civilization types was introduced by Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev in 1964. Known as the Kardashev scale, classifications are assigned based on the amount of usable energy a civilization has at its disposal and increasing logarithmically:
* Type I - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available on a single planet, approximately 1016W.
* Type II - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single star, approximately 1026W.
* Type III - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single galaxy, approximately 1036W.
Human civilization has yet to achieve full Type I status, as it is able to harness only a portion of the energy that is available on Earth. Carl Sagan speculated that humanity's current civilization type is around 0.7.

Notable astrosociobiologists
See also
References

1. ^ Morris, Simon Conway (2004). Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-60325-0.
2. ^ Comins, Neil F. (1995). What if the Moon Didn't Exist?: Voyages to Earths That Might Have Been. Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-06-092556-6.
3. ^ Knoll, A. H.; R. K. Bambach (2000). "Directionality in the history of life: diffusion from the left wall or repeated scaling of the right". Paleobiology 26 (4): 1-14.
4. ^ Dick, Steven J. (2003). "Cultural Evolution, the Postbiological Universe and SETI". International Journal of Astrobiology 2: 65-74.

External links

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The problem with 99.9 % of so-called 'solutions' to the Fermi Paradox

Non-exclusivity.

Sure everyone has a convenient answer to the Fermi Paradox, but nearly all of them fail the non-exclusivity test. While some solutions to the FP may account for many if not most of the reasons why we haven't detected signs of ETI's, they cannot account for all.

For example, take the notion that interstellar travel is too costly or that civs have no interest in embarking on generational space-faring campaigns. Sure, this may account for a fair share of the situation, but in a Universe of a gajillion stars it cannot possibly account for all. There's got to be at least one, if not millions of civs, who for whatever reason decide it just might be worth it.

Moreover, answers like the ‘zoo hypothesis,’ ‘non-interference,’ or ‘they wouldn’t find us interesting,' tend to be projections of the human psyche and a biased interpretation of current events.

Cosmological determinism

Analyses of the FP need to adopt a more rigid and sweeping methodological frame.

We need to take determinism more seriously. The Universe we observe is based on a fixed set of principles -- principles that necessarily invoke cosmological determinism and in all likelihood sociological uniformitarianism. In other words, the laws of the Universe are moulding us on account of selectional pressures beyond our control.

Civilizations that don't conform to adaptive states will simply go extinct. The trouble is, we have no say in what these adaptive states might be like; we are in the business of conforming such that we continue to survive.

The question is, what are these adaptive states?

Strong convergence

Transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom refers to this as the strong convergence hypothesis -- the idea that all sufficiently advanced civilizations converge towards the same optimal state.

This is a hypothesized developmental tendency akin to a Dawkinsian fitness peak -- the suggestion that identical environmental stressors, limitations and attractors will compel intelligences to settle around optimal existential modes. This theory does not favour the diversification of intelligence – at least not outside of a very strict set of living parameters.

The space of all possible minds...that survive

Consequently, our speculations about the characteristics of a post-Singularity machine mind must take deterministic constraints into account. Yes, we can speculate about the space of all possible minds, but this space is dramatically shrunk by adaptationist constraints.

The question thus becomes, what is the space of all possible post-Singularity machine minds that result in a civilization's (or a singleton's) ongoing existence?

And it is here that you will likely begin to find a real and meaningful explanation to the Fermi Paradox and the problem that is non-exclusivity.

moreintelligentlife.com

Friday, December 7, 2007

Best albums of 2007

Time once again for my round-up of the year's top albums.

It was a particularly strong year for music and I was fortunate to be able to listen to a lot of it. Over 125 albums to be exact. My genres of choice included alternative rock, post-rock, experimental, metal, post-metal, industrial, alternative country, electronica and ambient.

This year I rated each album out of 10 stars. A 9+ rating means it's a classic, above 8 is excellent, and anything between 7.0 and 7.9 is still worth your while. Stay away from anything below 6.9.

My album ratings for 2007:

#1. 23 by Blonde Redhead (9.4)
Beautiful, sweeping and melodic dream pop. Stand-out tracks: "23", "Silently," "The Dress," and "Top Ranking." Top ranking indeed.


#2. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga by Spoon (9.3)
Every track shines on this classy, fun and perfectly crafted album; one of the great bands of this decade. Stand-out tracks: "Don't Make Me a Target," "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case," and "Don't You Evah."


#3. Fear of a Blank Planet by Porcupine Tree (9.2)
Best prog album of the year by a long-shot, and one of Porcupine Tree's best albums yet. Stand-out tracks: "Sleep Together," "Anesthetize," and "Sentimental."


#4. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? by Of Montreal (9.1)
Alt-pop, anyone? More fun than anyone should be allowed to have with one album. Stand-out tracks: "Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider," "Faberge Falls for Shuggie," and "Labrinthian Pop."


#5. In Rainbows by Radiohead (9.0)
Unexpected greatness after a 4-year hiatus; Radiohead still matters. Stand-out tracks: "15 Step," "Bodysnatchers," and "House of Cards."

6. Children Running Through by Patty Griffen (8.9)
The only alt-country diva who comes close to Neko Case; unbelievable vocal performances and solid songwriting. Stand-out tracks: "Stay on the Ride," "Getting Ready."

7. Year Zero by Nine Inch Nails (8.9)
Reznor is relevant again. "Survivalism," "The Beginning of the End," "Vessel."

8. Andorra by Caribou (8.8)
Smooth, melodic and organic; sets a new standard for what can be done with samples. "Melody Day," "After Hours."

9. Excellent Italian Greyhound by Shellac (8.8)
This is what happens when you let recording engineers make an album; can you hear me now!!?? "Be Prepared," "The End of Radio," "Steady As She Goes."

10. Neon Bible by Arcade Fire (8.8)
Despite the hype, they deliver; these guys are for real. "Keep the Car Running," "Intervention."

11. Sky Blue Sky by Wilco (8.8)
Bringing that 70s FM sound to the 21st century -- guitar solos and all; Tweedy's melodies slay. "Either Way," "Impossible Germany," "Shake it Off."

12. Mirrored by Battles (8.8)
Four very talented guys who sound like eight very talented guys. "Atlas"

13. White Chalk by PJ Harvey (8.8)
Mmmmm, PJ on the piano. "The Devil"

14. Trees Outside the Academy by Thurston Moore (8.7)
This album is so good. Sweet arrangements, and even sweeter songwriting. "Off Work," "The Shape is in a Trance."

15. Population by The Most Serene Republic (8.7)
Best post-rock release of the year; another excellent addition to the very characteristic Toronto music scene. "Why So Looking Back," "Solipsism Millionaires."

16. Person Pitch by Panda Bear (8.7)
Brian Wilson meets experimental post-rock. And rollercoasters. "I'm Not," "Bros," "Take Pills."

17. Cease to Begin by Band of Horses (8.7)
Not quite up there with My Morning Jacket, but definitely a band that's coming into their own; solid sophomore release. "Islands on the Coast"

18. Beauty and Crimes by Suzanne Vega (8.7)
Yes, Suzanne Vega released an album this year -- and you should be sorry you missed it. "Anniversary," "Ludlow Street."

19. Friend Opportunity by Deerhoof (8.7)
Cute, quirky and sometimes non-sensical; I think these guys might actually be geniuses. "Matchbook Seeks Maniac," "Perfect Me," "+81"

20. Fables from a Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True by Fair to Midland (8.7)
Pop-metal that doesn't offend; dramatic, confident, and solid from start to finish. "Dance of the Manatee," "Walls of Jericho."

21. Death is this Communion by High on Fire (8.7)
A metal purist's delight; this is what thunder would sound like if it formed a band. "Death is this Communion," "Fury Whip."

22. Wincing the Night Away by The Shins (8.7)
Not as dazzling and fresh as their first two releases; maybe I'm starting to take their brilliance for granted. "Sleeping Lessons," "Sea Legs," "A Comet Appears."

23. Cross by Justice (8.6)
Absolutely huge sound design; I'd write more but I have to go dance now. "D.A.N.C.E.," "Phantom," "Genesis," "Tthhee Ppaarrttyy," "Valentine."

24. Drums and Guns by Low (8.6)
Sadcore that actually uplifts. "Hatchet," "Pretty People."

25. The Apostasy by Behemoth (8.6)
Polish blackened death metal brutality. "Slaying the Prophets Ov Isa," "Be Without Fear."

26. City of Echos by Pelican (8.6)
Consistently excellent instrumental post-rock that comes oh so close to post-metal. "A Delicate Sense of Balance," "Spaceship Broken Need Parts," "City of Echoes."

27. Challengers by New Pornographers, The (8.6)
Proving that they are in fact mortal, it's their weakest album yet, but the Neko tracks shine; still better than most bands. "Go Places," "Myriad Harbour," "All the Old Showstoppers."

28. Kala by M.I.A. (8.6)
Crank this sucker; brilliant use of samples and crazy beats. "Bird Flu," "Bamboo Banga," "Boyz," "Hussel."

The rest:

29. West by Lucinda Williams (8.5)
30. Liars by Liars (8.5)
31. Friend and Foe by Menomena (8.5)
32. Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth (8.5)
33. Harvest by Naglfar (8.5)
34. Conqueror by Jesu (8.5)
35. Nil Recurring by Porcupine Tree (8.5)
36. Make Another World by Idlewild (8.5)
37. The Boy With No Name by Travis (8.4)
38. Send Away the Tigers by The Manic Street Preachers (8.4)
39. The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse by The Besnard Lakes (8.4)
40. The Shepherd's Dog by Iron and Wine (8.4)
41. Night Falls Over Kortedala by Jens Lekman (8.4)
42. Amoeba by Hacride (8.4)
43. Snakes and Arrows by Rush (8.4)
44. Fort Nightly by White Rabbits (8.4)
45. Armchair Apocrypha by Andrew Bird (8.3)
46. Ithyphallic by Nile (8.3)
47. Ongiara by Great Lake Swimmers (8.3)
48. Here We Go Sublime by The Field (8.3)
49. Boxer by The National (8.3)
50. Grinderman by Grinderman (8.3)
51. Saltbreakers by Laura Veirs (8.2)
52. The Fragile Army by Polyphonic Spree (8.2)
53. Serpent Saints by Entombed (8.2)
54. Untrue by Burial (8.2)
55. Down Below It's Chaos by Kinski (8.1)
56. Passenger by Mnemic (8.1)
57. We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank by Modest Mouse (8.1)
58. Grindstone by Shining (8.1)
59. Drastic Fantastic by KT Tunstall (8.0)
60. Grindhouse - Deathproof by Various Artists (8.0)
61. The Good the Bad and the Queen (8.0)
62. Oh, Perilous World by Rasputina (7.9)
63. Rapid Eye Movement by Riverside (7.9)
64. Ire Works by Dillinger Escape Plan, The (7.9)
65. Cassadaga by Bright Eyes (7.8)
66. For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver (7.8)
67. Strawberry Jam by Animal Collective (7.8)
68. No Shouts No Calls by Electrelane (7.8)
69. The Last Sucker by Ministry (7.7)
70. The Blackening by Machine Head (7.7)
71. Samus Octology by Irepress (7.6)
72. Songs III Bird on the Water by Marissa Nadler (7.6)
73. Ghosts Will Come and Kiss Our Eyes by Hrsta (7.6)
74. The Stage Names by Okkervil River (7.5)
75. The Sun by Fridge (7.5)
76. Ordo Ad Chao by Mayhem (7.5)
77. Widow City by Fiery Furnaces (7.4)
78. Pocket Symphony by Air (7.4)
79. With Oden on Our Side by Amon Amarth (7.4)
80. Visitations by Clinic (7.3)
81. The Reminder by Feist (7.3)
82. The Mix-Up by The Beastie Boys (7.3)
83. Favourite Worst Nighmare by Arctic Monkeys (7.2)
84. And Your City Needs Swallowing by I Am the Ocean (7.2)
85. Release the Stars by Rufus Wainwright (7.2)
86. Restless in the Tides by Forever in Terror (7.2)
87. Copia by Eluvium (7.2)
88. The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn by CocoRosie (7.2)
89. Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem (7.2)
90. Family Tree by Nick Drake (7.1)
91. Country Mouse, City House by Josh Rouse (7.1)
92. The Con by Tegan & Sara (7.1)
93. La Cucaracha by Ween (7.1)
94. From Beale Street to Obliveon by Clutch (7.1)
95. The Marrow of a Bone by Dir En Grey (7.1)
96. An Ocean Between Us by As I Lay Dying (7.1)
97. Astronomy for Dogs by The Aliens (7.0)
98. Icons, Abstracts Thee [EP] by Of Montreal (7.0)
99. Deliver Us by Darkest Hour (7.0)
100. Shadows in the Light by Immolation (7.0)
101. In Stormy Nights by Ghost (7.0)
102. A Weekend in the City by Bloc Party (7.0)
103. Icky Thump by White Stripes (6.9)
104. Yours to Keep by Albert Hammond Jr. (6.9)
105. Tears of the Valedictorian by Frog Eyes (6.8)
106. New Wave by Against Me! (6.8)
107. In Sorte Diaboli by Dimmu Borgir (6.7)
108. Yours Truly, Angry Mob by Kaiser Chiefs (6.6)
109. Elect the Dead by Serj Tankian (6.6)
110. The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter (6.5)
111. Foley Room by Amon Tobin (6.5)
112. This Age of Silence by Anterior (6.5)
113. Xenosapien by Cephallic Carnage (6.5)
114. Places Like This by Architecture In Helsinki (6.4)
115. It's A Bit Complicated by Art Brut (6.4)
116. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend by Miranda Lambert (6.4)
117. Living With The Living by Ted Leo & The Pharmacists (6.3)
118. Volta by Bjork (6.3)
119. Under the Blacklight by Rilo Kiley (5.9)
120. Some Loud Thunder by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (5.8)
121. Never Hear the End of It by Sloan (5.8)
122. Punch by Sondre Lerche & the Faces Down (5.7)
123. Vena Sera by Chevelle (5.6)
124. Era Vulgaris by Queens of the Stoneage (5.6)
125. Our Love to Admire by Interpol (5.2)
126. Chrome Dreams II by Neil Young (4.9)
127. United Abominations by Megadeth (4.6)
128. One Man Revolution by The Nightwatchman (4.2)

Comments welcome! Please feel free to submit your own top five.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Aubrey: Old people are still people

Aubrey de Grey in Cato Unbound: Old People Are People Too: Why It Is Our Duty to Fight Aging to the Death:
It has been obvious to me since my earliest days that the eventually fatal physiological decline associated with getting older is both tragic and potentially preventable by medical intervention. It was, therefore, a matter of some consternation to me to discover in my late twenties that my view on this matter was not universally shared. In this essay I explode various myths and illogicalities that surround the effort to combat (and especially to defeat) aging, with an emphasis on some that are often perpetrated by currently influential commentators.

23andme.com

"...a web-based service that helps you read and understand your DNA. After providing a saliva sample using an at-home kit, you can use our interactive tools to shed new light on your distant ancestors, your close family and most of all, yourself."
Commentary:

Transhumanist and artificial heart recipient Peter Houghton dies

Sad news in the transhumanist community today: Peter Houghton, the first man in the world to be fitted with a permanent artificial heart, has died at the age of 68.

Houghton, a devout Catholic, frequently talked about how his artificial heart gave him a second lease on life; without the prosthesis he would died seven years ago in 2000. He never blushed at the labels 'cyborg,' 'bionic,' or 'robotic.' For him, this was not some kind of trite science fiction whimsy -- it was a reality that was keeping him alive when he should have been dead.

To that end, he was an avid supporter of the World Transhumanist Association and an advisor to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Peter worked tirelessly on behalf of Britons with heart disease and those needing artificial organs.

We are grateful to Peter Houghton for his contributions over the years. He will be missed.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Buddhism vs Transhumanism? (more)

From the "Buddhism vs Transhumanism?" comments section Casey writes:
Can you amplify your statement about Buddhism being concerned with "the optimization of subjective experience?"

It seems to me that subjectivity, or the idea that there is a discrete "you" to futz with, is the first thing to be transcended through unconditioned acceptance.

Take away the film, the projector and what do yo have? The bulb, which is analogous to the necessarily mysterious, unconditioned mind.

Buddhism is fundamentally against "add-ons" to the individual sphere, as mind is already junked up with the projections of ego as is. The practice, as I understand it, is more about stripping away.

That said, I'm curious about scientific improvements to the biological species, as well as the possible transference of consciousness to a non-bio realm. But for now, I'll continue plodding down the Path.
Indeed, while Buddhists would deny the existence of the self, there is no denying the fact that we observe (what appears to be) reality and are deeply entrenched in the condition that is life. Escape into monastic existence is not in the cards for most of us, and Buddhism is sympathetic to this.

Having a transhumanistically optimized mind is one thing (ie augmented intelligence and memory), having an optimized consciousness is quite another. How we interpret the world and how we internalize moment-to-moment processes (particularly as they are driven by our emotions) is where I think Buddhist discourse is particularly helpful and can work to inform the transhumanist mission.

Working to develop the ideal conditioned mind is the central goal of intrapersonal Buddhist practice, and to this point in history meditation has been the key method in achieving this. Might there be other ways? Imagine a future mod that could immediately rewire a mind to be as disciplined and aware as those of practicing monks.

Sign me up.

Today, a number of Buddhists use the latest in neuroscience to study the make-up of conditioned minds in order to gain an understanding of the neurochemical and cognitive processes behind such functions as happiness and mental acuity. This will not just help to improve meditative and mindfulness practices, but also in the development of the so-called contemplative sciences and advanced neurotechnological interventions.

As for improvements, I do not believe there is anything within Buddhist discourse that forbids human enhancement. Intention is what matters. If we enhance to keep up with social pressures, then that is a problem. If, on the other hand, we work to alleviate human suffering and foster meaningful lives, then I believe modification is in tune with Buddhist values.

The space of all conscious life is likely to be hugely vast, and Buddhists naturally understand the importance of respecting different kinds of sentient life.

On this topic, check out: Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge by B. Alan Wallace and The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality by Dalai Lama.

A sneak peek into the new Betterhumans?

Check out this sexy conceptual front page mock-up for Betterhumans. While it's unlikely that we're going to go with this exact design, it should give you an idea of the direction we have in mind for next phase of Betterhumans (which is slated for re-launch in January).

Click image for larger version

Friday, November 30, 2007

Buddhism vs Transhumanism?


Here's my response to The Contrarian's article, "Buddhism vs Transhumanism."
Hey Casey, great post.

Regarding your statement, "Buddhism seeks to improve conditions not through transcendence, but rather acceptance," one must acknowledge the need to accept things when they are beyond our control.

Consequently, as compassionate Buddhists who are concerned about not just the suffering of all sentient life, but the optimization of subjective experience as well, we are motivated to work to find solutions that put as much control into our hands as possible. Buddhism does not imply passivity.

Also, transhumanism, as a form of applied science and technology, is an epistemological tool whose proponents seek to find the true nature (and alternate modes) of being and existence. That's also the goal of Buddhism -- the seeking of the true nature of reality.

And finally, one of my favourite Dalai Lama quotes (which I'm sure you've already read): "My Tibetan goals are the same as those of Western science: to serve humanity and to make better human beings."

Cheers!
George

Monday, November 19, 2007

I am the very model of a...

Geek bliss found on YouTube:

Singularitarian:



Psychopharmacologist:



Modern Major Googler (audio only):

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Immortality Institute chat on Sunday 17-Nov

I've been invited as a featured guest for this coming Sunday's Immortality Institute chat. It'll all get started tomorrow (Sunday 18-Nov) at 7:30 EST.

I'll be talking about my recent appointment as the editor-in-chief of Betterhumans and the next phase of the site. I'll also be addressing various ethical components of radical life extension. Hope to see you in the chat room.

Sign into the chat here.

Toronto Transhumanist Association appoints Justin Trottier as acting Executive Director

The Toronto Transhumanist Association is proud to announce the appointment of Justin Trottier to the position of acting Executive Director as of November 12, 2007.

Mr. Trottier will work closely with George Dvorsky, the President of the TTA, as he works to manage its operations and oversee its growth. He will also engage in public outreach and collaborate with Mr. Dvorsky to establish a strong leadership base. With the addition of Mr. Trottier, the TTA is in a better position to support transhumanists in the Greater Toronto Area and work to be a powerful, rational, pro-technology force for effecting positive change.

The TTA is an official chapter of the World Transhumanist Association and was founded by Dvorsky and Simon Smith in 2002.

A graduate of Engineering Science (nanoengineering option) from the University of Toronto, Trottier is a long-time organizer and activist whose passion for science and technology has led him to transhumanism and the TTA.

He is the founder and executive director of the Centre for Inquiry Ontario, Canada's first venue promoting reason, science, free inquiry and secular humanism, through which he has had television appearances on CBC, CTS, OMNI, CH and CityTV, as well as dozens of radio appearances and coverage in campus, metropolitan and national newspapers, including The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen and the Toronto Star.

Mr. Trottier is a contributor to Humanist Perspective and Free Inquiry magazines and is on the editorial board of the Canadian Freethinker.

Additionally, as a long-time space sciences and engineering enthusiast, he is External Director of the Canadian Space Society and Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Space Gazette.

For more information about the Toronto Transhumanist Association, please contact Justin Trottier or George Dvorsky.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Symptom of the modern age

The fact that this type of software exists and that I could actually benefit from it is very disturbing to me. How about you guys? Is this a symptom of the modern age where every minute of our lives is accounted for? And then some?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Announcing the next phase of Betterhumans



[Cross-posted from my blog at BH]


We’ve made some changes at Betterhumans.

Some have already happened, while others are still in the works. More importantly, despite our varied and (at times) inconsistent past, it’s fair to say that the best is yet to come; we are about to embark on an exciting next phase for Betterhumans. And this time, we have the resources to bring some of our wildest ideas to life.

To this end, I have taken on the role of editor-in-chief of Betterhumans. Many of you know me from previous contributions, and from my work with the World Transhumanist Association, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, and Sentient Developments blog. I am now also responsible for the day-to-day management of Betterhumans, working to ensure that we produce quality content that reflects its mission.

As for Simon Smith, Betterhumans' former editor-in-chief, he has moved into the role of publisher. Here, he's working to grow the site, set direction, build partnerships and sponsorships, and generally ensure that we create and achieve long-term goals.

These changes were made possible by the advent of Commune Media, of which Betterhumans is now a wholly owned publication. Commune is a communications agency that helps companies use science and technology for positive change. Simon is the company's principal and I manage its operations. We decided recently that it made sense to bring Betterhumans under Commune, as this would provide greater resources for Betterhumans while in turn helping promote Commune's expertise. And now we have some big plans for Betterhumans over the coming months.

But before I get into the future of Betterhumans, let’s take a quick look at its past.

Simon founded Betterhumans in 2001 and I joined him less than a year later as deputy editor. We quickly developed the site and attracted a loyal following. Regular content featured editorials from key movers and shakers in the various futurist and progressive movements. We regularly published book reviews, interviews, encyclopedic articles and the latest news in human biotechnology and progress.

It was a thing of beauty, but given our volunteer workforce, it couldn't last.

This model, while very effective, proved difficult to manage given limited resources. Consequently, our next focus was on creating a community centered site to which members could contribute a good share of the content, namely through the development of user forums and member blogs. This strategy had its pluses and minuses, and we eventually recalibrated and re-worked the site such that it combined more traditional editorial practices with community driven material.

Which is where we find Betterhumans today. Admittedly, it's less than ideal. We recognize that the site is lacking in dynamic, exciting and cutting-edge content and services. But that's going to change soon in a very big way.

We're proud to announce that we are already working on the next phase of Betterhumans, which we hope to launch in January 2008.

While we’re not ready to give away too many details just quite yet, I can say that the changes aren’t going to be subtle. We’re re-inventing Betterhumans once again. And this time, we have the resources to make and sustain changes that honestly make us howl with excitement.

Stay tuned for more information over the coming weeks.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

What does transhumanism mean to you?

I like the going definition of transhumanism which proclaims that human beings can and should seek biological enhancement, whether it be physical or cognitive traits, and/or the advent of new capacities all together.

I find this definition inadequate, however, in that it does not hint at the developmental inevitability of human enhancement. This is where I and many other thinkers diverge -- and that's fine; it's a locus point for debate. For me, being a transhumanist is not so much about promoting an enhanced or post-biological existence -- it's about raising awareness and working to manage the process such that the outcomes will be both predictable and desirable.

So, what does transhumanism mean to you?

Please use the comments section to share your thoughts.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

My sci-fi DVD collection is coming along nicely

Here's a list of my science fiction film collection (all on DVD):
2001: A Space Odyssey
A Clockwork Orange
A Scanner Darkly
Akira
Alien
Andromeda Strain
Animatrix
Appleseed
Artificial Intelligence
Avalon
Battle Star Galactica (2005-06)
Blade Runner
Castle in the Sky
Children of Dune
Children of Men
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Code 46
Contact
Dark City
Donnie Darko
Forbidden Planet
Frank Herbert's Dune (2000)
Futurama (Seasons 1-4)
Gattaca
Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Johnny Mnemonic
Logan's Run
Matrix
Matrix: Reloaded
Metropolis (1927)
Metropolis (2002)
Minority Report
Planet of the Apes
Return of the Jedi
Robocop
Serial Experiments: Lain
Silent Running
Solaris (1972)
Star Wars
Stargate
Strange Days
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Empire Strikes Back
The Fifth Element
The Thing (From Another World!)
The Thirteenth Floor
THX 1138
Titan AE
Tron
Vanilla Sky
War of the Worlds
Wizards
Any glaring omissions?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Using Jott for hands-free messaging

I am now using Jott for mobile note taking and hands-free messaging. I can now send 30 seconds of speech as text or audio recordings via the Internet to myself, friends and even distribution lists. The service also supports the transmission of messages to Twitter and Blogger.

Brin's position on the METI issue clarified

Science fiction author and futurist David Brin recently contacted me about what he feels was my very poor interpretation of his stance on the METI issue.

David and I have since cleared things up via email, but for the sake of furthering this discussion I thought I'd reproduce parts of our conversation here.

From David,
[RE: Brin's article, "Shouting at the Cosmos: ...Or How SETI has Taken a Worrisome Turn Into Dangerous Territory."]

... you wrote:
"Brin is vehemently opposed to this idea, as he believes it could put humanity in great peril. For all we know, he argues, some malevolent ETI is lurking in the neighborhood waiting for less advanced civilizations to draw attention to themselves."

I would be very interested in the provenance of this lurid and somewhat demeaning quasi-quotation.

My position is simply that narrowly dogmatic communities should not plunge into activities that commit humanity down paths that have low probability but high potential impact outcomes, without at least first engaging the wider world scientific community in eclectic discussion.

The only "vehemence" has been to ask for open discussions, which should be enjoyable and illuminating to all.

There is a general principle here. It is simply wrong to arrogate peremptory moves that bet human posterity, based upon cult-like and unchallenged assumptions.
It appears, much to my surprise, that I made incorrect inferences about his particular position as it pertains to the Active SETI approach and his motives for wanting to generate discussion. In my response to Brin I asked him to be more explicit in the future about what he is and is not saying. To which he responded,
The Lifeboat article, I thought, was clear enough, never once mentioning alien badguys, in any way shape or form, and repeatedly stating the goal of open discussion -- something that the small and increasingly cult-like SETI/METI community has strenuously avoided.
Comments welcome. I'd be curious to know how my readers have interpreted Brin's writings on the subject.

Survival Mosque

Brilliant and scathing commentary-as-art by Azra Akšamija:
Survival Mosque addresses issues of Muslims living in the contemporary USA. The survival kit contains elements for self protection such as the American-flag façade that communicates patriotism, gas-masque, nose filters and an umbrella that surveys one’s back. The mosque is self-sufficient; the prayer rug is supplying its own energy source via photo-voltaic solar cells. It also carries different liturgical and practical features such as washing solution for ablution and for cleaning when a Muslim get spit on, ear plugs against insults, American constitution proofing rights of American Muslims, weapons and amulets, a loud-speaker with speech on tolerance held by President George W. Bush, ablution slippers, Quran, educative books and diverse communication devices. The Survival Mosque can be transformed and camouflaged into interactive bags, which communicate with each other via blue-tooth technology. The bag-speakers reflect paranoia spreading messages regarding terrorism, but they can also function as muezzins; calling for prayer at particular prayer times. Informed by problems many Muslim communities in the USA have been facing after September 11, as well as inspired by the existing flag-burkas developed during protests in France, the design of the Survival Mosque is intended as protective infrastructure. However, the overload of defensive mechanisms transforms the image of a worshiper into a militant figure. Survival Mosque challenges the way how diverse prejudices and fears to Muslims could be reversed.
More.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

J.K. Rowling’s pathetic and disingenuous attempt to retroactively introduce a gay character in Harry Potter

I can’t believe I’m blogging about this now-lingering Harry Potter story, but I suppose anything is possible in an infinite Universe. I’m motivated to write about this because I’m pissed off at what J.K. Rowling has done and how the news of a gay character has been received in some quarters.

Shame on Rowling for “outing” the character of Dumbledore after the completion of the series. While some are heralding this as a step forward in terms of the growing acceptance of gays and gay characters, it is in reality a step in the opposite direction.

By outing the character in this way -- without any serious intimations in the books that Dumbledore was in fact homosexual (come on, Rowling, who do you think you’re fooling?) -- it comes across as a pathetic attempt to look progressive and tolerant after the fact. By doing this, Rowling has instead created a token gay character for which she can now pretend to herself and lie to her readers that they should have known it all along.

Here's a novel idea: how about having an openly gay character from start to finish? Perhaps Rowling is experiencing an acute case of heterosexual woman's guilt by not doing so. Whatever the reason, this back-peddling is really quite sad and is not helping the cause.

Shame also goes out to all the homophobes who have reacted negatively because it is now known that there is a gay character in this so-called children’s series, or because of their unease with the suggestion that a gay man was permitted to routinely interact with children. The squeamishness that some people have over the idea of gays interacting with kids is abhorrent and unfair; it belies the many misconceptions and unfounded fears that a number of people have about homosexuality.

Thankfully, in my household, where these topics are discussed openly and matter-of-factly, my Harry Potter obsessed children took no issue with the revelation that Dumbledore was gay, nor could they understand what all the fuss was about.

It all starts at home.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence - Scene 4: Coroner Haraway

Transcribed by James Skemp
[4 Coroner Haraway]

(A lab.)

The technician: "You can come here all you want, I'm not sharing this investigation. And if you're too persistent, I'll have you detained."

"I'm Togusa, Public Safety Section 9. This scary-looking fellow ..."

"Blew her apart with double-0 buckshot. A 50 caliber hollow point would've left her easier to reconstruct."

"She wasted 3 people, two of 'em cops."

"She was trying to commit suicide before you shot her. Isn't that right?"

(Long pause amongst them all.)

Togusa: "'Commit suicide' meaning ... Miss ..."

"Haraway."

"Miss Haraway, how exactly would a robot kill itself?"

"By intentionally malfunctioning, these gynoids are capable of self-authorizing attacks against humans. This liberates them from Moral Code #3."

"Which stipulates, 'Maintain existence without injuring humans.' Isn't 'self-destruction' more accurate?"

"If you assume differences between humans and machines are obvious."

"Are such 'suicides' confined to a particular model?"

"Not necessarily. In recent years we've seen a surge of robot related problems, especially among the 'pets'."

"The cause?"

"E-brain contamination from microbes and viruses, human production errors, functional defects from wear-and-tear. Take your pick, but ..."

"But?"

"I say it's because humans discard their robots once they're redundant. When owners trade up to newer models, some of those abandoned become vagrants, and degenerate. Perhaps it's a protest against their own obsolescence."

"Absurd."

"Humans are different from robots. That's an article of faith, like black isn't white. It's no more helpful than the basic fact that humans aren't machines.

"Unlike industrial robots, the androids and gynoids designed as 'pets,' weren't designed along utilitarian or practical models. Instead, we model them on a human image, an idealized one at that. Why are humans so obsessed with recreating themselves?

"Do you have children?"

Togusa: "A daughter."

"Children have always been excluded from the customary standards of human behavior, if you define humans as beings who possess a conventional identify and act out of free will. Then what are children who endure in the chaos preceding maturity? They differ profoundly from 'humans,' but they obviously have human form. The dolls that little girls mother, are not surrogates for real babies. Little girls aren't so much imitating child rearing, as they are experiencing something deeply akin to child rearing."

"What on earth are you talking about?"

"Raising children is the simplest way to achieve the ancient dream of artificial life. At least, that's my hypothesis."

"Children aren't dolls!"

Batou: "Descartes didn't differentitate man from machine, animate from inanimate. He lost his beloved five-year-old daughter and then named a doll after her, Francine. He doted on her. At least that's what they say."

Togusa: "Can we get back to reality here? I'd like your observations with respect to the Hadaly robot, model #2502, manufactured by Locus Solus."

"Right.

"It's very well designed. I understand it's a prototype, but it's intended for particular functions."

"Particular functions?"

"It's equipped with organs unnecessary in service robots."

"Meaning?"

"It's a sexaroid. Nothing to brag about to your neighbors, but hardly illegal."

"I get it. Scandal. No wonder those families settled out of court."

"When it's systems shut down, the electronic brain reformats. That's standard protection for manufacturer's proprietary software. But ..."

"But, what?"

"We found a file in the audio buffer. Care to hear it?"

(She plays the file.)

"Help me." (It repeats 12 and a half times before Batou stops it.)

Batou: "Thanks for your help."

Togusa: "One last question. It's none of my business, but ..."

"No, I've never raised a child. Nothing registered at the ovum bank."

"Thank you, Miss ..."

"Haraway. No need for Miss or Mrs."

(Togusa walks away, and her eyes and part of her face raise out and up from her head.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Kamen's next-gen prosthetic arm

Scott Kirsner has penned an article for The Boston Globe about the latest work being done by DARPA's Dean Kamen to develop the next generation of prosthetic limbs. Excerpt:
When Kamen, one of America's best-known inventors, first spoke with officers at the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, they told him they were looking for a research and development group that could build a prototype of a new prosthetic arm. Kamen was expecting to hear a list of technical specifications, such as how much the arm would need to lift and how many moving joints it would require. Instead, Kamen says, the Pentagon officials told him they wanted to create an arm that could "pick up a raisin or a grape from a table, know the difference without looking at it, and be able to manipulate it into the person's mouth without breaking it or dropping it."

"Wow," Kamen thought, "that is pretty much beyond the capability of current engineering."

Several hundred US soldiers have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan missing an arm, and several dozen have lost both arms, according to Kamen. The numbers are tragic - yet too small to motivate some of the largest makers of medical devices. But Kamen says, "You don't say no to DARPA, and you don't say no to a challenge that can be that much of a life-changer for people who need it."
Read the entire article and be sure to check out the video.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Should SETI break the Great Silence?

Centauri Dreams has more on the SETI/METI controversy: SETI’s Dilemma: Break the Great Silence? Excerpt:
When Alexander Zaitsev presented his recent paper at the International Astronautical Congress in Hyderabad (India) recently, he spoke from the center of a widening controversy. The question is straightforward: Should we broadcast messages intentionally designed to be received by extraterrestrial civilizations, thereby notifying them of our existence? Zaitzev, chief scientist at the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics, addressed the question by seeing a necessary relationship between SETI (the search for ETI) and METI (messaging to other civilizations).

Indeed, the Russian scientist, working at the Evpatoria Deep Space Center in the Ukraine, has the experience to discuss METI from a practical standpoint. Evpatoria has already transmitted a number of messages, the so-called ‘Cosmic Call’ signal (1999) being made up of various audio, video, image and data files submitted by people around the world. The later ‘Teen-Age Message,’ aimed at six Sun-like stars, was sent in 2001; another ‘Cosmic Call’ followed in 2003.

Zaitzev has in the interim emerged as a leading spokesman for direct messaging to extraterrestrial civilizations, an idea now hotly debated by a relatively small group of researchers concerned about its implications. I note the size of the debate pointedly — it is remarkable to me that an issue that has the potential of involving the entire human species in what could become a first contact scenario is known only to a limited number of professionals, within whose ranks there is by no means agreement.
Entire article.

My thoughts on the issue.

Friday, October 12, 2007

You either get it or you don't

When it comes to anticipating the future, you either get it or you don't.

Existential risks: You either acknowledge the strong possibility that humanity could go extinct in the coming decades, or you don't.

Singularity: You either recognize the radical potential for greater-than-human artificial superintelligence and its disruptive capacity, or you don't.

Molecular Assembling Nanotechnology: You either subscribe to the Drexlerian vision of nanoscale engineering and its potential to revolutionize society and biology, or you don't.

Global Warming: You either accept the substantive threat of anthropogenic climate change and the dangers of runaway global warming, or you don't.

Transhumanism: You either accept the notion that our species has the capacity to become a self-modifying posthuman and post-corporeal species, or you don't.

Radical Life Extension: You either agree that aging is a disease that can be defeated, or you don't.

So, do you get it?

CBC's The Nature of Things episode on 'Living Forever'


The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's The Nature of Things will be airing a documentary on Thursday October 18 called "Living Forever: The Longevity Revolution." The episode will feature gerontologist Michael Rose and Edmontonian life extensionist Kevin Perrott.

You can watch the one minute promo video here.

Blurbage:

Immortality. Life Extension. The Fountain of Youth. Real science or simply wishful thinking? Is it hope or is it hype?

Find out in Living Forever: The Longevity Revolution. Scientists from around the world are racing to answer one of humanity's chief questions: can we turn back the human clock? Hitch a ride on this controversial roller-coaster with charismatic gerontologist Michael Rose as he leads us to where the cutting-edge science in life extension is happening: biotechnology, genetic research, therapeutic cloning and stem-cell research – fields which have moved to the outer reaches of our wildest imagination.

In Living Forever we also meet the “believers” among us: the colourful characters who refuse to succumb to the grim reaper. And let's not forget the specialists who predict whether their clients have what it takes to live past 100.

Just to be clear, Living Forever is not a documentary about 60-year-olds who want to look like young and sexy 25-year-olds. This is a film about stopping, slowing down – even reversing – human aging. It is about the modern quest to create a longer, healthier old age, or – the Holy Grail – eliminating old age altogether.

So, what happens if humans are able to live for another 100 or 500 years? Should we create a race of immortals, just because we have the know-how? At what evolutionary cost? What about the ethical issues? Given humanity's trajectory thus far, it's likely that most people will say ethics be damned: let The Longevity Revolution begin.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ashley X doctor commits suicide

Shocking news today: Daniel Gunther, the doctor at the center of the Ashley X controversy, has committed suicide. From MSNBC:
Dr. Daniel F. Gunther died from toxic asphyxia from inhaling car exhaust, said Greg Hewett of the King County Medical Examiner's Office. His time of death was listed as 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 30. The 49-year-old was a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington.

In 2004, Gunther and his colleague Dr. Douglas S. Diekema performed a hysterectomy, removed the breast tissue and started hormone treatment to permanently halt the growth of a 6-year-old disabled girl so her parents could continue to care for her at home. The doctors wrote about the procedure, which was performed at Children's Hospital, in the October 2006 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

News of the procedure last fall sparked debate about the ethics of the treatment both online and in the medical community. One poster on MSNBC.com's message boards called the procedure "offensive if not perverse." Others supported the decision: " I feel like everything [the parents] are doing is intended to be in the best interest of their child."

This is particularly upsetting for me, not just because I supported Gunther during the controversy, but because of the possibility that his suicide was wrought by undue pressure exacted on him by overzealous and vocal disability groups.

Back in January when the Ashley controversy was at its peak, Dr. Gunther joined the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies site. In reference to my article, "Helping Families Care for the Helpless," he wrote to us:
[T]he article on the IEET site was one of the first sane and rational responses I came across. All of us here appreciate your support. I am hoping that in time more rational voices will increasingly make themselves heard, while the more reactionary ones fade away.
Evidently this didn't happen. What a shame.

**ADDENDUM: 12-Oct-07
According to this Seattle Times article, friends and family of Dr. Gunther insist that the suicide was not fueled by the Ashley controversy.

New Scientist video featuring de Grey, Bostrom and Sandberg


Check out this New Scientist video featuring Anders Sandberg, Nick Bostrom and Aubrey de Grey. Topics discussed include transhumanism, whole brain emulation and radical life extension.

New Scientist covers TransVision 2007

In the 'better late than never' category comes New Scientist's review of TransVision 2007. The article, titled "Death special: The plan for eternal life," was written by my friend Danielle Egan who I met at Yale during TransVision 2003.

Sadly the entire article is not available online (subscription required), but I can reproduce several paragraphs here for your reading pleasure:
They don't look very threatening, though perhaps not very diverse either. Most WTA members are white, middle-aged men, but WTA secretary and former Buddhist monk James Hughes (see "Essay: The end of death?") hopes to attract a wider range of people by highlighting the organisation's democratic aims. The WTA insists that any new technology is used in a fair and ethical way, he says, with global treaties set up to regulate progress. Some transhumanists campaign for equal access to healthcare and for safeguards on new technology.

AI theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky also believes the movement is driven by an ethical imperative. He sees creating a superhuman AI as humanity's best chance of solving its problems: "Saying AI will save the world or cure cancer sounds better than saying 'I don't know what's going to happen'." Yudkowsky thinks it is crucial to create a "friendly" super-intelligence before someone creates a malevolent one, purposefully or otherwise. "Sooner or later someone is going to create these technologies," he says. "If a self-improving AI is thrown together in a slapdash fashion, we could be in for big trouble."

The theme of saving humanity continues with presentations on cyborgs, cryonics and raising baby AIs in the virtual world of Second Life, as well as surveillance tactics for weeding out techno-terrorists and a suggested solution for the population explosion: uploading 10 million people onto a 50-cent computer chip. More immediate issues facing humanity, such as poverty, pollution and the devastation of war, tend to get ignored.
Danielle is a supporter (she's written about cryonics in the past), and considering the publication I think she did a decent job conveying the nature of the conference.