Peter Voss Interview on Artificial General Intelligence

This is an interview with Peter Voss of Optimal talking about artificial general intelligence.  One of the things Voss talks about is the skepticism which is a common reaction when talking about creating strong AI and why (as Tony Robbins always says) the past does not equal the future.  He also talks about why he thinks that Ray Kurzweil’s predictions that AGI won’t be achieved for another 20 is wrong – (and I gotta say, he makes a good point).  If you are interested in artificial intelligence or ethics in technology then you’ll want to watch this one…  

And don’t worry, the line drawing effect at the beginning of the video only lasts a minute.


Runtime: 39:55


This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4W_vtlSjNk0

Video Info:

Published on Jan 8, 2013

Peter Voss is the founder and CEO of Adaptive A.I. Inc, an R&D company developing a high-level general intelligence (AGI) engine. He is also founder and CTO of Smart Action Company LLC, which builds and supplies AGI-based virtual contact-center agents — intelligent, automated phone operators.

Peter started his career as an entrepreneur, inventor, engineer and scientist at age 16. After several years of experience in electronics engineering, at age 25 he started a company to provide advanced custom hardware and software solutions. Seven years later the company employed several hundred people and was successfully listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

After selling his interest in the company in 1993, he worked on a broad range of disciplines — cognitive science, philosophy and theory of knowledge, psychology, intelligence and learning theory, and computer science — which served as the foundation for achieving new breakthroughs in artificial general intelligence. In 2001 he started Adaptive AI Inc., and last year founded Smart Action Company as its commercialization division.

Peter considers himself a free-minds-and-markets Extropian, and often writes and presents on philosophical topics including rational ethics, freewill and artificial minds. He is also deeply involved with futurism and life-extension.


http://www.optimal.org/peter/peter.htm

My main occupation is research in high-level, general (domain independent, autonomous) Artificial Intelligence — “Adaptive A.I. Inc.”

I believe that integrating insights from the following areas of cognitive science are crucial for rapid progress in this field:

Philosophy/ epistemology – understanding the true nature of knowledge
Cognitive psychology (incl. developmental & psychometric) for analysis of cognition – and especially – general conceptual intelligence.
Computer science – self-modifying systems, combining new connectionist pattern manipulation techniques with ‘traditional’ AI engineering.
Anyone who shares my passion – and/ or concerns – for this field is welcome to contact me for brainstorming and possible collaboration.

My other big passion is for exploring what I call Optimal Living: Maximizing both the quantity & quality of life. I see personal responsibility and optimizing knowledge acquisition as key. Specific interests include:

Rationality, as a means for knowledge. I’m largely sympathetic to the philosophy of Objectivism, and have done quite a bit of work on developing a rational approach to (personal & social) ethics.
Health (quality): physical, financial, cognitive, and emotional (passions, meaningful relationships, appreciation of art, etc.). Psychology: IQ & EQ.
Longevity (quantity): general research, CRON (calorie restriction), cryonics
Environment: economic, social, political systems conducive to Optimal Living.
These interests logically lead to an interest in Futurism , in technology for improving life – overcoming limits to personal growth & improvement. The transhumanist philosophy of Extropianism best embodies this quest. Specific technologies that seem to hold most promise include AI, Nanotechnology, & various health & longevity approaches mentioned above.

I always enjoy meeting new people to explore ideas, and to have my views critiqued. To this end I am involved in a number of discussion groups and salons (e.g. ‘Kifune’ futurist dinner/discussion group). Along the way I’m trying to develop and learn the complex art of constructive dialog.

Interview done at SENS party LA 20th Dec 2012.

 

 

What is Transhumanism? by Nick Bostrom at the World Transhumanist Association

What is transhumanism?  This part definition, part article on transhumanity is from the World Transhumanist Association website and was written by Nick Bostrom.


 

What is Transhumanism?

Over the past few years, a new paradigm for thinking about humankind’s future has begun to take shape among some leading computer scientists, neuroscientists, nanotechnologists and researchers at the forefront of technological development. The new paradigm rejects a crucial assumption that is implicit in both traditional futurology and practically all of today’s political thinking. This is the assumption that the “human condition” is at root a constant. Present-day processes can be fine-tuned; wealth can be increased and redistributed; tools can be developed and refined; culture can change, sometimes drastically; but human nature itself is not up for grabs.

This assumption no longer holds true. Arguably it has never been true. Such innovations as speech, written language, printing, engines, modern medicine and computers have had a profound impact not just on how people live their lives, but on who and what they are. Compared to what might happen in the next few decades, these changes may have been slow and even relatively tame. But note that even a single additional innovation as important as any of the above would be enough to invalidate orthodox projections of the future of our world.

“Transhumanism” has gained currency as the name for a new way of thinking that challenges the premiss that the human condition is and will remain essentially unalterable. Clearing away that mental block allows one to see a dazzling landscape of radical possibilities, ranging from unlimited bliss to the extinction of intelligent life. In general, the future by present lights looks very weird – but perhaps very wonderful – indeed.

Some of the possibilities that you will no doubt hear discussed in the coming years are quite extreme and sound like science-fiction. Consider the following:

bullet Superintelligent machines. Superintelligence means any form of artificial intelligence, maybe based on “self-taught” neural networks, that is capable of outclassing the best human brains in practically every discipline, including scientific creativity, practical wisdom, and social skills. Several commentators have argued that both the hardware and the software required for superintelligence might be developed in the first few decades of the next century. (See Moravec [1998] and Bostrom [1998].)
bullet Lifelong emotional well-being through re-calibration of the pleasure-centers. Even today, mild variants of sustainable euphoria are possible for a minority of people who respond especially well to clinical mood-brighteners (“antidepressants”). Pharmaceuticals currently under development promise to give an increasing number of “normal” people the choice of drastically reducing the incidence of negative emotions in their lives. In some cases, the adverse side-effects of the new agents are negligible. Whereas street drugs typically wreak havoc on the brain’s neurochemistry, producing a brief emotional “high” followed by a crash, modern clinical drugs may target with high specificity a given neurotransmitter or receptor subtype, thereby avoiding any negative effect on the subject’s cognitive faculties – (s)he won’t feel “drugged” – and enables a constant, indefinitely sustainable mood-elevation without being addictive. David Pearce [1997] advocates and predicts a post-Darwinian era in which all aversive experience will be replaced by gradients of pleasure beyond the bounds of normal human experience. As cleaner and safer mood-brighteners and gene-therapies become available, paradise-engineering may become a practicable possibility.
bullet Personality pills. Drugs and gene therapy will yield far more than shallow one-dimensional pleasure. They can also modify personality. They can help overcome shyness, eliminate jealousy (Kramer [1994]), increase creativity and enhance the capacity for empathy and emotional depth. Think of all the preaching, fasting and self-discipline that people have subjected themselves to throughout the ages in attempts to ennoble their character. Shortly it may become possible to achieve the same goals much more thoroughly by swallowing a daily cocktail pill.
bullet Space colonization. Today, space colonization is technologically feasible but prohibitively expensive. As costs decrease, it will become economically and politically possible to begin to colonize space. The thing to note is that once a single self-sustaining colony has been established, capable of sending out its own colonization probes, then an exponentially self-replicating process has been set in motion that is capable – without any further input from the planet Earth – of spreading out across the millions of stars in our galaxy and then to millions of other galaxies as well. Of course, this sequence of events will take an extremely long time on a human time-scale. But is interesting to notice how near we are to being able to initiate a chain of events that will have such momentous consequences as filling the observable universe with our descendants.
bullet Molecular nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is the hypothetical design and manufacture of machines to atomic-scale precision, including general-purpose “assemblers”, devices that can position atoms individually in order to build almost any chemically permitted matter-configuration for which we can give a detailed specification – including exact copies of themselves. An existence-proof of a limited form of nanotechnology is given by biology: the cell is a molecular self-replicator that can produce a broad range of proteins. But the part of design space that is accessible to present biological organisms is restricted by their evolutionary history, and is mostly confined to non-rigid carbon structures. Eric Drexler ([1988], [1992]) was the first person to analyze in detail the physical possibility of a practically universal molecular assembler. Once such a gadget exists, it would make possible dirt-cheap (but perfectly clean) production of almost any commodity, given a design-specification and the requisite input of energy and atoms. The bootstrap problem for nanotechnology – how to build this first assembler – is very hard to solve. Two approaches are currently pursued. One of them builds on what nature has achieved and seeks to use biochemistry to engineer new proteins that can serve as tools in further engineering efforts. The other attempts to build atomic structures from scratch, using proximal probes such as atomic-force microscopes to position atoms one-by-one on a surface. The two methods can potentially be used in conjunction. Much research is required before the physical possibility of Drexlerian nanotechnology can be turned into an actuality; it will certainly not happen in the next couple of years, but it might come about in the first few decades of the next century.
bullet Vastly extended life spans. It may prove feasible to use radical gene-therapy and other biological methods to block normal aging processes, and to stimulate rejuvenation and repair mechanisms indefinitely. It is also possible that nothing short of nanotechnology will do the trick. Meanwhile there are unproven and in some cases expensive hormone treatments that seem to have some effect on general vitality in elderly people, although as yet nothing has been shown to be more effective at life-extension than controlled caloric restriction.
bullet Extinction of intelligent life. The risks are as enormous as the potential benefits. In addition to dangers that are already recognized (though perhaps inadequately counteracted?), such as a major military, terrorist or accidental disaster involving nuclear, chemical, viral or bacteriological agents, the new technologies threaten dangers of a different order altogether. Nanotechnology, for example, could pose a terrible threat to our existence if obtained by some terrorist group before adequate defense systems have been developed. It is not even certain that adequate defense is possible. Perhaps in a nanotechnological world offense has a decisive intrinsic advantage over defense. Nor is it farfetched to assume that there are other risks that we haven’t yet been able to imagine.
bullet The interconnected world. Even in its present form, the Internet has an immense impact on some people’s lives. And its ramifications are just beginning to unfold. This is one area where radical change is quite widely perceived, and where media discussion has been extensive.
bullet Uploading of our consciousness into a virtual reality. If we could scan the synaptic matrix of a human brain and simulate it on a computer then it would be possible for us to migrate from our biological embodiments to a purely digital substrate (given certain philosophical assumptions about the nature of consciousness and personal identity). By making sure we always had back-up copies, we might then enjoy effectively unlimited life-spans. By directing the activation flow in the simulated neural networks, we could engineer totally new types of experience. Uploading, in this sense, would probably require mature nanotechnology. But there are less extreme ways of fusing the human mind with computers. Work is being done today on developing neuro/chip interfaces. The technology is still in its early stages; but it might one day enable us to build neuroprostheses whereby we could “plug in” to cyberspace. Even less speculative are various schemes for immersive virtual reality – for instance using head-mounted displays – that communicate with the brain via our natural sense organs.
bullet Reanimation of cryogenically-suspended patients. Persons frozen with today’s procedure can probably not be brought back to life with anything less than mature nanotechnology. Even if we could be absolutely sure that mature nanotechnology will one day be developed, there would still be no guarantee that the cryonics customer’s gamble would succeed – perhaps the beings of the future won’t be interested in reanimating present-day humans. Still, even a 5% or 10% chance of success could make anAlcor contract a rational option for people who can afford it and who place a great value on their continued personal existence. If reanimated, they might look forward to aeons of subjective life time under conditions of their own choosing.

These prospects might seem remote. Yet transhumanists think there is reason to believe that they might not be so far off as is commonly supposed. The Technology Postulate denotes the hypothesis that several of the items listed, or other changes that are equally profound, will become feasible within, say, seventy years (possibly much sooner). This is the antithesis of the assumption that the human condition is a constant. The Technology Postulate is often presupposed in transhumanist discussion. But it is not an article of blind faith; it’s a falsifiable hypothesis that is argued for on specific scientific and technological grounds.

If we come to believe that there are good grounds for believing that Technology Postulate is true, what consequences does that have for how we perceive the world and for how we spend our time? Once we start reflecting on the matter and become aware of its ramifications, the implications are profound.

From this awareness springs the transhumanist philosophy – and “movement”. For transhumanism is more than just an abstract belief that we are about to transcend our biological limitations by means of technology; it is also an attempt to re-evaluate the entire human predicament as traditionally conceived. And it is a bid to take a far-sighted and constructive approach to our new situation. A primary task is to provoke the widest possible discussion of these topics and to promote a better public understanding. The set of skills and competencies that are needed to drive the transhumanist agenda extend far beyond those of computer scientists, neuroscientists, software-designers and other high-tech gurus. Transhumanism is not just for brains accustomed to hard-core futurism. It should be a concern for our whole society.

The Foresight Institute is an excellent source of information about nanotechnology-related issues. They organize annual conferences and have built up a substantial infrastructure of expertise in nanotechnology. The Extropy Institute has organized several international conferences on general transhumanist themes, and its president Max More has done much to get extropian memes out into the mass media. (Extropianism is a distinctive type transhumanism, defined by the Extropian Principles.) In 1997, the World Transhumanist Association was founded, with the aim of turning transhumanism into a mainstream academic discipline and also to facilitate networking between different transhumanist groups and local chapters and among individual transhumanists, both academic and non-academic. The WTA publishes the electronic Journal of Transhumanism, featuring leading-edge research papers by scholars working in transhumanist-related disciplines. The WTA web pages are one good starting place to find out more about transhumanism.

It is extremely hard to anticipate the long-term consequences of our present actions. But rather than sticking our heads in the sand, transhumanists reckon we should at least try to plan for them as best we can. In doing so, it becomes necessary to confront some of the notorious “big questions”, such the so-called Fermi paradox (“Why haven’t we seen any signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life?”). This problem requires delving into a number of different scientific disciplines. The Fermi paradox is not only intellectually stimulating, it is also potentially practically important since it could turn out to have consequences for whether we should expect to survive and colonize the universe (Hanson [1996]). At the present, though, it appears that the state of evolutionary biology is insufficiently advanced to allow us to draw any firm conclusions about our own future from this type of consideration. Another purported indirect source of information about our own future is the highly controversial Carter-Leslie Doomsday argument. This attempts to prove from basic principles of probability theory together with some trivial empirical assumptions that human extinction in the next century is much more likely than has previously been thought. The argument, which uses a version of the Anthropic Principle, was first conceived by astrophysicist Brandon Carter and was later developed by philosopher John Leslie [1996] and others. So far, nobody has been able to explain to general satisfaction what, if anything, is wrong with it (Bostrom [1998]).

While the wider perspective and the bigger questions are essential to transhumanism, that does not mean that transhumanists do not take an intense interest in what goes in our world today. On the contrary! Recent topical themes that have been the subject of wide and lively debate in transhumanist forums include such diverse issues as cloning; proliferation of weapons of mass-destruction; neuro/chip interfaces; psychological tools such as critical thinking skills, NLP, and memetics; processor technology and Moore’s law; gender roles and sexuality; neural networks and neuromorphic engineering; life-extension techniques such as caloric restriction; PET, MRI and other brain-scanning methods; evidence(?) for life on Mars; transhumanist fiction and films; quantum cryptography and “teleportation”; the Digital Citizen; atomic force microscopy as a possible enabling technology for nanotechnology; electronic commerce… Not all participants are equally at home in all of these fields, of course, but many like the experience of taking part in a joint exploration of unfamiliar ideas, facts and standpoints.

An important transhumanist goal is to improve the functioning of human society as an epistemic community. In addition to trying to figure out what is happening, we can try to figure out ways of making ourselves better at figuring out what is happening. We can create institutions that increase the efficiency of the academic- and other knowledge-communities. More and more people are gaining access to the Internet. Programmers, software designers, IT consultants and others are involved in projects that are constantly increasing the quality and quantity of advantages of being connected. Hypertext publishing and the collaborative information filtering paradigm (Chislenko [1997]) have the potential to accelerate the propagation of valuable information and aid the demolition of what transpire to be misconceptions and crackpot claims. The people working in information technology are only the latest reinforcement to the body of educators, scientists, humanists, teachers and responsible journalists who have been striving throughout the ages to decrease ignorance and make humankind as a whole more rational.

One simple but brilliant idea, developed by Robin Hanson [1990], is that we create a market of “idea futures”. Basically, this means that it would be possible to place bets on all sorts of claims about controversial scientific and technological issues. One of the many benefits of such an institution is that it would provide policy-makers and others with consensus estimates of the probabilities of uncertain hypotheses about projected future events, such as when a certain technological breakthrough will occur. It would also offer a decentralized way of providing financial incentives for people to make an effort to be right in what they think. And it could promote intellectual sincerity in that persons making strong claims would be encouraged to put their money where their mouth is. At present, the idea is embodied in an experimental set-up, the Foresight Exchange, where people can stake “credibility points” on a variety of claims. But for its potential advantages to materialize, a market has to be created that deals in real money and is as integrated in the established economic structure as are current stock exchanges. (Present anti-gambling regulations are one impediment to this; in many countries betting on anything other than sport and horses is prohibited.)

The transhumanist outlook can appear cold and alien at first. Many people are frightened by the rapid changes they are witnessing and respond with denial or by calling for bans on new technologies. It’s worth recalling how pain relief at childbirth through the use of anesthetics was once deplored as unnatural. More recently, the idea of “test-tube babies” has been viewed with abhorrence. Genetic engineering is widely seen as interfering with God’s designs. Right now, the biggest moral panic is cloning. We have today a whole breed of well-meaning biofundamentalists, religious leaders and so-called ethical experts who see it as their duty to protect us from whatever “unnatural” possibilities that don’t fit into their preconceived world-view. The transhumanist philosophy is a positive alternative to this ban-the-new approach to coping with a changing world. Instead of rejecting the unprecedented opportunities on offer, it invites us to embrace them as vigorously as we can. Transhumanists view technological progress as a joint human effort to invent new tools that we can use to reshape the human condition and overcome our biological limitations, making it possible for those who so want to become “post-humans”. Whether the tools are “natural” or “unnatural” is entirely irrelevant.

Transhumanism is not a philosophy with a fixed set of dogmas. What distinguishes transhumanists, in addition to their broadly technophiliac values, is the sort of problems they explore. These include subject matter as far-reaching as the future of intelligent life, as well as much more narrow questions about present-day scientific, technological or social developments. In addressing these problems, transhumanists aim to take a fact-driven, scientific, problem-solving approach. They also make a point of challenging holy cows and questioning purported impossibilities. No principle is beyond doubt, not the necessity of death, not our confinement to the finite resources of planet Earth, not even transhumanism itself is held to be too good for constant critical reassessment. The ideology is meant to evolve and be reshaped as we move along, in response to new experiences and new challenges. Transhumanists are prepared to be shown wrong and to learn from their mistakes.

Transhumanism can also be very practical and down-to-earth. Many transhumanists find ways of applying their philosophy to their own lives, ranging from the use of diet and exercise to improve health and life-expectancy; to signing up for cryonic suspension; making money from investing in technology stocks; creating transhumanist art; using clinical drugs to adjust parameters of mood and personality; applying various psychological self-improvement techniques; and in general taking steps to live richer and more responsible lives. An empowering mind-set that is common among transhumanists is dynamic optimism: the attitude that desirable results can in general be accomplished, but only through hard effort and smart choices (More [1997]).

Are you a transhumanist? If so, then you can look forward to increasingly seeing your own views reflected in the media and in society. For it is clear that transhumanism is an idea whose time has come.

Nick Bostrom
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific method
London School of Economics
nick@nickbostrom.com

References

Bostrom, N. 1998. “How long before superintelligence?” International Journal of Futures Studies, 2. (Also available at http://www.hedweb.com/nickb/superintelligence.htm)

Bostrom, N. 1998. “Investigations into the Doomsday Argument”
http://www.anthropic-principle.com/preprints/inv/investigations.html

Bostrom, N. 1997. “The Fermi Paradox”
http://www.ndirect.co.uk/~transhumanism/Fermi.htm

Chislenko, A. 1997. “Collaborative Information Filtering” http://www.lucifer.com/~sasha/articles/ACF.html

Drexler, E. 1992. Nanosystems. John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Drexler, E. 1988. Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology. Fourth Estate. London. http://www.foresight.org/EOC/index.html

Hanson, R. 1996. “The Great Filter: Are we almost past it?”
http://hanson.berkeley.edu/

Kramer, P. 1994. Listning to Prozac. Penguin. U.S.A.

Leslie, J. 1996. The End of the World: The Ethics and Science of Human Extinction. Routledge, New York.

More, M. 1997. “The Extropian Principles”
http://www.extropy.com/~exi/extprn26.htm

More, M. 1995. “Dynamic optimism: Epistemological Psychology for Extropians”
http://www.primenet.com/~maxmore/optimism.htm

Moravec, H. 1998. Robot, Being: mere machine to transcendent mind. Oxford Univ. Press.

Pearce, D. 1997. “The Hedonistic Imperative”.
http://www.hedweb.com/hedab.htm

Institutes

Extropy Institute
http://www.extropy.org/

Foresight Exchange
http://www.ideosphere.com/fx/main.html

Foresight Institute
http://www.foresight.org/

World Transhumanist Association
http://www.transhumanism.com/

I am grateful to David Pearce and Anders Sandberg for extensive comments on earlier versions of this text. N. B.

 


This article can also be found here.

 

Bitcoin Pioneer Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof on Bitnation and M+ (H+ Magazine)

This is an article from H+ Magazine called Interview: Bitcoin Pioneer Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof on Bitnation and M+.  In it, Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof discusses transhumanism her brain child, BitNation.

Interview: Bitcoin Pioneer Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof on Bitnation and M+

Q1 Susanne, h+ Magazine readers may not be familiar with you or your background. Can you give us a brief history of you, a summary of your background with bitcoin and transhumanism and a short intro to what you are currently doing?

1522929_10151799161606417_1370639217_oI grew up in Sweden, my parents where Polish and French immigrants. My father was stateless for many years, which made me question the point of the nation state construct altogether. My passion was politics, and I wanted to make the world more borderless. I started writing about competing non-geographic nations at the age of 20. However, I thought the best way to change things was to work ‘within the system’. Hence to that end, I started working as a contractor for the most powerful government I could find, the US Government. I spent nearly 7 years working as a contractor in various conflict zones, from Afghanistan and Pakistan, to Egypt and Libya — assisting with building and overthrowing governments. However, as time went by, I believed less and less in what the government did, and I started sympathizing more and more with the ‘ungoverned’ societies.  The civil war in Libya was quite a wake up call. When I first came to the rebel controlled territories there was de-facto no government at all (the rebel council were about 10 guys hiding out in a basement, and their sole job was to speak with foreign media to gain recognition for the territories), but yet — everything worked amazingly well. Volunteers were doing everything from trash collection to traffic policing, neighborhood watch and cell tower engineering. But as layers of government got added, security deteriorated.

Around the same time a friend of mine was conducting a study in villages in Southern Afghanistan and South Sudan, measuring the difference between villages with the same socioeconomic and ethnic composition, but different amounts of points of social interaction — like wells, schools, etc. As one would intuitively assume — the study showed that villages with many points of interactions were less prone to violence, than those with few, because even if people – different tribes and ethnicities didn’t get along – just the fact of having to interact on a day to day level over simple things like ‘who should clean the well?’ reduced the level of violence. Fostering collaboration on small, seemingly insignificant tasks also been a common strategy in diplomacy between countries hostile towards each other. Hence, I thought, if we assume this theory to be correct, then wouldn’t Facebook be the biggest experiment for peace in the world ever? The fact of liking someone’s Instagram of their lunch, regardless of political or geographical differences? That would make sense.

10288784_10152094338981417_9031971903898307065_nHence, I went through a brief period of great self-doubt, where I thought what I had done for most of my 20’s was pretty much either not very significant in terms of impact, or even at times straight out harmful — while Zuckerberg, through a computer in a dorm, had done more of a positive impact than I could ever have dreamt of. I felt depressed, because I didn’t know how to impact things without working with the government, but I started spending more time around tech people, travelling to San Francisco, hanging out with the Burning Man crowd, going to libertarian meetups, etc. I had a feeling that the answer where somewhere in the technology sphere. Then, enter Bitcoin. The day I discovered Bitcoin my worldview changed forever — I realized that it was possible to not ‘change things from the inside’ but to actually totally reinvent something, and compete heads on with the current paradigm. It wasn’t impossible. Bitcoin did, and succeeded with it. That inspired me to leave my work as a contractor, and follow my initial dream of creating virtual competing nations. I travelled the world while writing about it, went to various anarchist communities and crypto startups, and then it suddenly dawned on me: why write about it? The blockchain technology — as a distributed public ledger — have all the functions I need to actually start it, without very much investment at all. Hence, I started Bitnation.

I got into Transhumanism through Biohacking. I operated in a magnet in one of my fingers, to see what it would be like. I posted the photos of the operation on Facebook which got me a lot of attention from the Transhumanist community, so I started to look deeper into all things connected with Transhumanism, and really fell in love with the field. I guess being able to to control your destiny, through cryonics, downloading brains, modifying the body, etc is the ultimate frontier for liberty, once the violent global oligopoly on governance is gone. Immortality!

10590444_10152283179491417_4185145039086534748_n-1Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 6.59.49 AMQ2 Tell me about Bitnation some more and explain to h+ Magazine readers what it is about. Let’s say I want to start my own transhumanist nation.Can Bitnation help me? I’m also interested in the notion of services that use the blockchain technology but are not properly involved with bitcoin per se. Can you comment?

If you break Bitnation down to its very essence, it can be described as a peer-to-peer platform with a set of Do-It-Yourself governance (D)Apps (like the Apple app store, as an example), backed by encrypted communication, ID and reputation, and dispute resolution.

Bitnation is the first ever Virtual Nation which provides actual governance services. Many of those services are based on the Bitcoin blockchain technology – a decentralized public ledger – which we use for all kind of records. From insurance, to dispute resolution, to family contracts like wills and marriages, to education, and more. Later on we’ll also add non-technology powered services, like security and diplomacy.

There are many metaprotocols on top of the Bitcoin blockchain, that can be used for things like crypto token creation, timestamping, etc. This year – 2015 – I expect smart contracts to really take off. These sounds like simple tools, but they offer such an extraordinary broad range of applications that it’s nothing short of breathtaking.

Everything Bitnation do is open source, and we encourage people to fork it, and create their own nation. If you would want to start your own transhumanist nation, the easiest way to get us onboard rather than just forking the idea straight out, would be to either work with us for a while, and see what you could make different, to better adapt it to your community, or engage us as partners to help you set it up. Forks are both inevitable, and healthy. I, personally, set out on this path, because I wanted to see a world of thousands or millions of competing borderless governance providers, competing through offering better services, rather than through the threat of violence within imaginary lines called borders. But someone had to be the first to do it, to demonstrate the virtual nation model in practice, and clear the path for others – just like Bitcoin did for cryptocurrency — so that’s what I did.

Q3 Bitcoin has a long history in the transhumanist world and some of the early adopters were transhumanists and the idea of “cryp” was a frequent topic on theExtropian Email List. Hal Finney was recently cryopreserved and was one of the first owners of bitcoins. as well as an Extropian. Ralph Merkle invented some of the core mathematics (Merkle trees) used in bitcoin and is a transhumanist who also has done a lot of work in nanotechnology. What’s the connection from your perspective between transhumanism and cryptocurrencies? Cryp was envisioned as an anonymous and untraceable method of payment, but bitcoin hasn’t quite gotten us there. What’s next for truly anonymous and untraceable crypto currencies?

Many questions to answer here at once!

From my perspective the similarity between the two is twofold: 1. that technology empowers superior innovative solutions than an outdated dinosaur of a centralized administrative structure, and b. that technology inherently defeats things as borders, because it connects people throughout time and space, irrelevant of where they were born, or what laws an irrelevant piece of paper (like a passport) claims they’re subject to. In essence, transhumanism, as well as Bitcoin, recognise that we’re much more than our physical flesh and blood, but that we’re also sensitive, thinking, feeling individuals who may or may not operate within forced upon (geographical) frameworks. That our mind and spirit stands above, and defeats, arbitrary lines in the sand — to a great extent via the beauty of the ever evolving technology freed from bureaucratic red tape.

Anonymity is important now, as we’re in the strange middle ground between the nation state world, and the post nation state world, where many visionaries still need to keep a low profile. Over time, however, identity and reputation will be more important. Though, lets keep in mind that for various reasons, it will remain essential for a person to be able to have multiple identities at the same time (like if being haunted by a homicidal ex husband or living a double life as gay/ hetero or human/ cyborg) etc. But at the same time, limiting Cybil attacks will also be crucial.

Another area where crypto meets transhumanism seems to be Basic Income. We have a Bitnation 3rd Party DApp, called basicincome.co developed by the Swedish prodigy Johan Nyberg, using p2p cryptoledgers to create a voluntary basic income system. Zoltan Istvan recently wrote about Transhumanism in VICE where Bitnation was quoted.

Q4 You recent joined the Advisory Board of Människa+, the Swedish chapter Humanity+. What’s happening with transhumanism in Sweden right now and the M+ group in particular? What next?

skc3a4rmavbild-2014-04-23-kl-20-42-16Sweden has always been a playground for new technologies, because – for better or for worse – it’s a fairly small and homogenous population —- meaning that if a concept catches on, pretty much everyone will adapt it rapidly. Swedes are also, generally speaking, very tech-savvy people who loves emerging ideas. Hence, because of rapid adoption rates, and Swedes natural love for everything seemingly empirically rational and scientific, I believe Sweden is ideally suited to be one of the leading geographical areas for transhumanism.

Q5 I notice that you are one of the few transhumanists that seems to understand Africa. Humanity+ board member Ben Goertzel also maintains an office in Ethiopia. And I think Africa is going to play a huge role in the future of transhumanism. Africa was first to widely adopt digital payments systems outside of mainstream banking with M-PESA and now seems hot on bitcoin. What’s the future of bitcoin in Africa and beyond? What is your view on the future of Africa and Africa’s role in creating the global future?

I don’t feel like I understand Africa particularly well. I spent roughly a year in North Africa (Egypt and Libya, throughout the Arab Spring), and some time now in West Africa, Ghana – which is an entirely different animal. Frankly, the more time I spend around here, the less I understand it. I do think, through cell phone adaption, remittance payments from abroad, and the natural ease of using digital money m-pesa style, Bitcoin will have quick adaption rates here, as you mentioned in your question. Frontier markets like this is also where it’s most needed of course — we’re speaking of billions of unbanked people who can’t access normal banking systems, etc.

Students for Liberty, Ghana

For Bitnation, that’s huge – naturally. Billions of people who need our services really bad, because their local governments are to slow, to corrupt, and too expensive to deal with. Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the last frontiers of development (with perhaps the exception of places like Afghanistan and North Korea, etc). While we can expect steep rises in productivity, GDP, etc — it’s also very clear that there’s a very long way to go over here. For instance, in Ghana (which is by no means one of the poorest countries in this region) only 40% of the population have toilets (and the definition of toilets also includes holes in the ground) – just to illustrate average middle class living conditions. While they’re definitively leap frogging on some technological levels, the average life expectancy, life quality (like electricity, running water, etc) remains extremely low — and that will take much longer to fix. So while it’s overall getting better, don’t expect it to be the next ‘tiger economies’ any time soon — apart from a few expectations like Kenya, Nigeria, etc of course.

 

 

Q6 2015 may be noted as the year transhumanism became political. With a lot of activity around the Transhumanist Parties in the EU and UK recently. What’s your view on transhumanism and politics generally? How can Bitnation help transhumanists who are politically active? How can or should the TP interact with the Pirate Party, Green Party, etc.?

First of all, from my personal perspective, technology change politics much quicker than politics change politics. Point in case: it’s more efficient to create a better alternative, like Bitcoin, who just outcompetes the old bad system, rather than to get a job at the FED, and try to change politics from the inside.

If people really do want to interact with the dinosaur political system however, I suppose it can be useful, in a Ron Paul type of way; where they use political channels as platform to spread ideas. It has some merit to it. Concerning what parties to engage with, I’ll always vouch for the pirate party – they’re willing to break norms, and think forward. The green party really varies from one country to another. While I do believe in the importance of preserving the environment, I would never engage with the Green Parties I’ve seen so far, because in my view they’re old left-wing reactionaries who mainly want to back-peddle development. I may be wrong, but that’s what I’ve seen so far. Libertarian parties are sort of an oxymoron, if you come from the anarchist spectrum of it. I don’t personally vote, because I believe it’s immoral to show consent to a geographical monopoly on violence through participating in its illusion of ‘it’s all okay, because we can vote every now and then on who will be our front slave master’. But hey, each to their own.

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This article can also be found on the H+ Magazine website here.