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Aug 17, 2009

A lifeboat for consciousness

Posted by in category: neuroscience

I recently began to worry that something/someone, some field, force, disease, prion, virus, bad luck and/or natural causes could threaten and perhaps destroy the most valuable entity in the universe, an entity more valuable than life itself. Consciousness. What good is life extension without conscious awareness? What is consciousness?

We know the brain works a lot like a computer, with neuron firings and synapses acting like bit states and switches. Brain-as-computer works very well to account for sensory processing, control of behavior, learning and other cognitive functions. These functions may in some cases be non-conscious, and other times associated with conscious experience and control. Scientists seek the distinction – the essential feature, or trick for consciousness.

Some suggest there is no trick, consciousness emerges as a by-product of cognitive computation among neurons. Others say we don’t know, that consciousness may indeed require some feature related to, but not quite the same as neuron-to-neuron cognition.

In either case, humans and other creatures could in principle become devoid of consciousness while maintaining cognitive behaviors, appearing more-or-less normal to outside observers. Such hypothetical non-conscious behaving entities are referred to in literature, films and philosophical texts as ‘zombies’. Philosopher David Chalmers introduced the philosophical zombie, a test case for whether or not consciousness is distinct from cognitive neurocomputation.

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Jul 26, 2009

Herman Khan about Doomsday Machine

Posted by in categories: defense, geopolitics, military, nuclear weapons, policy

50 years ago Herman Khan coined the term in his book “On thermonuclear war”. His ideas are still important. Now we can read what he really said online. His main ideas are that DM is feasable, that it will cost around 10–100 billion USD, it will be much cheaper in the future and there are good rational reasons to built it as ultimate mean of defence, but better not to built it, because it will lead to DM-race between states with more and more dangerous and effective DM as outcome. And this race will not be stable, but provoking one side to strike first. This book and especially this chapter inspired “Dr. Strangelove” movie of Kubrick.
Herman Khan. On Doomsday machine.

Jul 26, 2009

Bioethics and the End of Discussion

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, ethics

Abstract:

President Obama disbanded the President’s Council on Bioethics after it questioned his policy on embryonic stem cell research. White House press officer Reid Cherlin said that this was because the Council favored discussion over developing a shared consensus. This column lists a number of problems with Obama’s decision, and with his position on the most controversial bioethical issue of our time.

Bioethics and the End of Discussion

In early June, President Obama disbanded the President’s Council on Bioethics. According to White House press officer Reid Cherlin, this was because the Council was designed by the Bush administration to be “a philosophically leaning advisory group” that favored discussion over developing a shared consensus. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/18/us/politics/18ethics.html?_r=2

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Jul 23, 2009

Artificial brain ’10 years away’

Posted by in categories: engineering, human trajectories, information science, neuroscience, robotics/AI, supercomputing

Artificial brain ’10 years away’

By Jonathan Fildes
Technology reporter, BBC News, Oxford

A detailed, functional artificial human brain can be built within the next 10 years, a leading scientist has claimed.

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Jul 17, 2009

Ray Kurzweil and David Chalmers to Headline Singularity Summit 2009 in New York

Posted by in category: events

The Singularity Institute will be holding the fourth annual Singularity Summit in New York in October, featuring talks by Ray Kurzweil, David Chalmers, and Peter Thiel.

New York, NY (PRWEB) July 17, 2009 — The fourth annual Singularity Summit, a conference devoted to the better understanding of increasing intelligence and accelerating change, will be held in New York on October 3–4 in Kaufmann Hall at the historic 92nd St Y. The Summit brings together a visionary community to further dialogue and action on complex, long-term issues that are transforming the world.

Participants will hear talks from cutting-edge researchers and network with strategic business leaders. The world’s most eminent experts on forecasting, venture capital, emerging technologies, consciousness and life extension will present their unique perspectives on the future and how to get there. “The Singularity Summit is the premier conference on the Singularity,” says Ray Kurzweil, inventor of the CCD flatbed scanner and author of The Singularity is Near. “As we get closer to the Singularity, each year’s conference is better than the last.”

The Singularity Summit has previously been held in the San Francisco Bay Area, where it has been featured in numerous publications including the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. It is hosted by the Singularity Institute, a 501©(3) nonprofit devoted to studying the benefits and risks of advanced technologies.

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Jul 12, 2009

Stanford MediaX: Semantic Integration, New Media, Data Visualization

Posted by in categories: business, education, events, information science

MediaX at Stanford University is a collaboration between the university’s top technology researchers and companies innovating in today’s leading industries.

Starting next week, MediaX is putting on an exciting series of courses in The Summer Institute at Wallenberg Hall, on Stanford’s campus.

Course titles that are still open are listed below, and you can register and see the full list here. See you there!

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Jul 6, 2009

Unique opportunity to sponsor research investigating an infectious cause and potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, neuroscience

Unique opportunity to sponsor research investigating an infectious cause and potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease



Alzheimer’s disease afflicts some 20 million people world-wide, over 5 million people of whom reside in the United States. It is currently the seventh-leading cause of death in the US. The number of people with the disease is predicted to increase by over 50% by 2030. The economic as well as emotional costs are huge, the costs being estimated as more than $148 billion each year (direct and indirect, for of all types of dementia, to Medicare, Medicaid and businesses).

The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are unknown, apart from the very small proportion with familial disease. We are investigating the involvement of infectious agents in the disease, with particular emphasis on the virus that causes oral herpes/cold sores/fever blisters. We discovered that most elderly humans harbour this virus in their brains and that in those (and only those) who possess a certain genetic factor, the virus confers a strong risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Also, we found that the virus is directly involved with the characteristic abnormalities seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

There are several treatment possibilities available to combat this virus and all would be suitable candidates as therapies in Alzheimer’s disease. However, much more research is needed before trials of these agents for Alzheimer’s disease in humans can begin.

In these financially difficult times many funding bodies have to prioritise projects based around long established hypotheses. Projects involving new avenues of investigation can receive very positive comments by scientific reviewers, yet are rarely funded, as they almost always appear risky compared with projects largely confirming or expanding existing ideas. Such conservative projects are almost guaranteed to produce useful data, though with modest impact. This situation can mean that research proposals with the potential to transform our understanding of a disease and offer new approaches to its treatment never reach the threshold for funding and are not implemented, even though the potential and quality of the science is acknowledged by reviewers and funding panel.

It appears that our work examining a viral cause for Alzheimer’s disease is in this category. Despite our publishing a large number of potentially very exciting papers on this topic, and despite our research projects being reviewed favourably by scientific referees, few funding panels are prepared to commit resources to fund our work, as by doing so they deny funding to other more straightforward, very low risk projects.

We are therefore actively seeking sponsorship for several projects of varying costs to investigate the interaction of virus and specific genetic factor, the pathways of viral damage in the brain, and the effects of antiviral agents. All the projects would provide significant evidence strengthening the case for trialling antiviral agents in Alzheimer’s disease.

Antiviral agents would inhibit a likely major cause of the disease in contrast to current treatments, which merely inhibit the symptoms.

If any Lifeboat member knows of a company or individual that would be interested in sponsoring some of our research on Alzheimer’s disease then please contact me for further details.

Ruth Itzhaki

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Jul 2, 2009

Alan Turing: Biology, Evolution and Artificial Intelligence

Posted by in categories: biological, robotics/AI

It will probably come as a surprise to those who are not well acquainted with the life and work of Alan Turing that in addition to his renowned pioneering work in computer science and mathematics, he also helped to lay the groundwork in the field of mathematical biology(1). Why would a renowned mathematician and computer scientist find himself drawn to the biosciences?

Interestingly, it appears that Turing’s fascination with this sub-discipline of biology most probably stemmed from the same source as the one that inspired his better known research: at that time all of these fields of knowledge were in a state of flux and development, and all posed challenging fundamental questions. Furthermore, in each of the three disciplines that engaged his interest, the matters to which he applied his uniquely creative vision were directly connected to central questions underlying these disciplines, and indeed to deeper and broader philosophical questions into the nature of humanity, intelligence and the role played by evolution in shaping who we are and how we shape our world.

Central to Turing’s biological work was his interest in mechanisms that shape the development of form and pattern in autonomous biological systems, and which underlie the patterns we see in nature (2), from animal coat markings to leaf arrangement patterns on plant stems (phyllotaxis). This topic of research, which he named “morphogenesis,” (3) had not been previously studied with modeling tools. This was a knowledge gap that beckoned Turing; particularly as such methods of research came naturally to him.

In addition to the diverse reasons that attracted him to the field of pattern formation, a major ulterior motive for his research had to do with a contentious subject which, astonishingly, is still highly controversial in some countries to this day. In studying pattern formation he was seeking to help invalidate the “argument from design(4) concept, which we know today as the hypothesis of “Intelligent Design.

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Jul 1, 2009

Electron Beam Free Form Fabrication process — progress toward self sustaining structures

Posted by in categories: complex systems, engineering, habitats, lifeboat, space, sustainability

For any assembly or structure, whether an isolated bunker or a self sustaining space colony, to be able to function perpetually, the ability to manufacture any of the parts necessary to maintain, or expand, the structure is an obvious necessity. Conventional metal working techniques, consisting of forming, cutting, casting or welding present extreme difficulties in size and complexity that would be difficult to integrate into a self sustaining structure.

Forming requires heavy high powered machinery to press metals into their final desired shapes. Cutting procedures, such as milling and lathing, also require large, heavy, complex machinery, but also waste tremendous amounts of material as large bulk shapes are cut away emerging the final part. Casting metal parts requires a complex mold construction and preparation procedures, not only does a negative mold of the final part need to be constructed, but the mold needs to be prepared, usually by coating in ceramic slurries, before the molten metal is applied. Unless thousands of parts are required, the molds are a waste of energy, resources, and effort. Joining is a flexible process, and usually achieved by welding or brazing and works by melting metal between two fixed parts in order to join them — but the fixed parts present the same manufacturing problems.

Ideally then, in any self sustaining structure, metal parts should be constructed only in the final desired shape but without the need of a mold and very limited need for cutting or joining. In a salient progressive step toward this necessary goal, NASA demonstrates the innovative Electron Beam Free Forming Fabrication (http://www.aeronautics.nasa.gov/electron_beam.htm) Process. A rapid metal fabrication process essentially it “prints” a complex three dimensional object by feeding a molten wire through a computer controlled gun, building the part, layer by layer, and adding metal only where you desire it. It requires no molds and little or no tooling, and material properties are similar to other forming techniques. The complexity of the part is limited only by the imagination of the programmer and the dexterity of the wire feed and heating device.

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Jun 25, 2009

Nuclear saber rattling

Posted by in categories: defense, lifeboat, nuclear weapons

North Korea warns of a “fire shower of nuclear retaliation” in their latest episode of megalomania.
http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=7914048
[note, that site attempts to pop up new windows]

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