Don’t Fear Artificial Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil

This is an article from TIME by Ray Kurzweil called Don’t Fear Artificial Intelligence.  Basically, Kurzweil’s stance is that “technology is a double-edged sword” and that it always has been, but that’s no reason to abandon the research.  Kurzweil also states that, “Virtually every­one’s mental capabilities will be enhanced by it within a decade.”  I hope it makes people smarter and not just more intelligent! 


Don’t Fear Artificial Intelligence

Retro toy robot
Getty Images

Kurzweil is the author of five books on artificial ­intelligence, including the recent New York Times best seller “How to Create a Mind.”

Two great thinkers see danger in AI. Here’s how to make it safe.

Stephen Hawking, the pre-eminent physicist, recently warned that artificial intelligence (AI), once it sur­passes human intelligence, could pose a threat to the existence of human civilization. Elon Musk, the pioneer of digital money, private spaceflight and electric cars, has voiced similar concerns.

If AI becomes an existential threat, it won’t be the first one. Humanity was introduced to existential risk when I was a child sitting under my desk during the civil-­defense drills of the 1950s. Since then we have encountered comparable specters, like the possibility of a bioterrorist creating a new virus for which humankind has no defense. Technology has always been a double-edged sword, since fire kept us warm but also burned down our villages.

The typical dystopian futurist movie has one or two individuals or groups fighting for control of “the AI.” Or we see the AI battling the humans for world domination. But this is not how AI is being integrated into the world today. AI is not in one or two hands; it’s in 1 billion or 2 billion hands. A kid in Africa with a smartphone has more intelligent access to knowledge than the President of the United States had 20 years ago. As AI continues to get smarter, its use will only grow. Virtually every­one’s mental capabilities will be enhanced by it within a decade.

We will still have conflicts among groups of people, each enhanced by AI. That is already the case. But we can take some comfort from a profound, exponential decrease in violence, as documented in Steven Pinker’s 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. According to Pinker, although the statistics vary somewhat from location to location, the rate of death in war is down hundredsfold compared with six centuries ago. Since that time, murders have declined tensfold. People are surprised by this. The impression that violence is on the rise results from another trend: exponentially better information about what is wrong with the world—­another development aided by AI.

There are strategies we can deploy to keep emerging technologies like AI safe. Consider biotechnology, which is perhaps a couple of decades ahead of AI. A meeting called the Asilomar ­Conference on Recombinant DNA was organized in 1975 to ­assess its potential dangers and devise a strategy to keep the field safe. The resulting guidelines, which have been revised by the industry since then, have worked very well: there have been no significant problems, accidental or intentional, for the past 39 years. We are now seeing major ad­vances in medical treatments reaching clinical practice and thus far none of the anticipated problems.

Consideration of ethical guidelines for AI goes back to Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, which appeared in his short story “Runaround” in 1942, eight years before Alan Turing introduced the field of AI in his 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” The median view of AI practitioners today is that we are still several decades from achieving human-­level AI. I am more optimistic and put the date at 2029, but either way, we do have time to devise ethical standards.

There are efforts at universities and companies to develop AI safety strategies and guidelines, some of which are already in place. Similar to the Asilomar guidelines, one idea is to clearly define the mission of each AI program and to build in encrypted safeguards to prevent unauthorized uses.

Ultimately, the most important approach we can take to keep AI safe is to work on our human governance and social institutions. We are already a human-­machine civilization. The best way to avoid destructive conflict in the future is to continue the advance of our social ideals, which has already greatly reduced violence.

AI today is advancing the diagnosis of disease, finding cures, developing renewable clean energy, helping to clean up the environment, providing high-­quality education to people all over the world, helping the disabled (including providing Hawking’s voice) and contributing in a myriad of other ways. We have the opportunity in the decades ahead to make major strides in addressing the grand challenges of humanity. AI will be the pivotal technology in achieving this progress. We have a moral imperative to realize this promise while controlling the peril. It won’t be the first time we’ve succeeded in doing this.

Kurzweil is the author of five books on artificial ­intelligence, including the recent New York Times best seller How to Create a Mind.


 

This article can also be found here.
 

 

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A Transhumanist Explores a New Type of Community – Zoltan Istvan Interviews Amon Twyman

In this interview from Psychology Today (entitled A Transhumanist Explores a New Type of Community), Dr. Amon Twyman discusses the Zero State community, the WAVE Network, and transhumanism with Zoltan Istvan.  


 

Dr. Amon Twyman – Photo by Joanna Twyman

Source: Joanna Twyman

Rapid advances in technology are paving the way for new ideas about the future, including those of the communities we live in. I had a chance to catch up with transhumanist, Zero State founder, andcognitive scientist Dr. Amon Twyman, who is a leader of one such community that is exloring new directions for the betterment of humanity.

Q. Dr. Twyman, What is Zero State?

A. Zero State(link is external) (ZS) is a community that grew out of the transhumanist movement back in 2011. It’s now part of a broad coalition of groups and movements that we call WAVE(link is external), referring to a coming wave of radical technological and social change. The basic ZS idea is to create networks of people and resources which could evolve into a distributed, virtual State. Right now there are only a few thousand ZSers (albeit well connected to much larger networks), but in a hypothetical full-blown Zero State there would be tens of millions or more, all supporting each other and being part of a single nation no matter where they live in the world. Our motto is “positive social change through technology.”

Q. How does transhumanism(link is external) relate to ZS?

A. Our core principles and ideas are deliberately compatible with transhumanism. That comes naturally, as ZS grew out of transhumanism and our most active “citizens” tend to self-identify as Transhumanists. That said, it’s important to stress that people don’t have to be transhumanists to join ZS. More generally, we consider ourselves to be a “Social Futurist” community, which is to say that we believe technological breakthroughs don’t happen in a social vacuum. There are social, economic, and political issues which not only stubbornly continue to exist in the face of techno-optimism, but which are sometimes greatly exacerbated by technological change. In short, we believe that technology should be applied to improving the human condition on both physiological and societal levels.

Zero State logo

Source: Dr. Amon Twyman

 

Q. How can ZS help the world?

A. In the first instance, we are focused on helping ZS’ citizens, or more accurately, helping them to help each other. An increasing number of people are finding themselves in need of help of one type or another these days, and we would like to demonstrate that mutual support is made more achievable than ever before thanks to the power of cutting-edge technologies. We tend to focus on bringing together people and ways to access current technologies such as meshnets, cryptocurrency, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence, while exploring ideas such as longevity, super-intelligence & wellbeing, accelerating change, and direct democratic action to circumvent obsolete political institutions. Beyond working to help our own people, we actively work to support the wider network of like-minded groups and believe that compassionately, intelligently applied technology has the potential to improve the lives of everybody in the world.

Q. How did you come to be the founder of ZS?

A. My background is in a combination of psychological research (consciousness anddecision making, Artificial Intelligence) and digital & performing arts. Although I’d read my fair share of science fiction as a kid, I decided I was a transhumanist while studying at university, after reading “Mind Children” by Hans Moravec. Over time, my various interests in art, science, transhumanism, and contemporary social/political issues coalesced into a coherent worldview, and I eventually decided to form an organization to pursue these ideas. The result, Zero State, was heavily informed by my experience as a co-founder of the UK Transhumanist Association, which has since evolved into Humanity+ UK. I started building WAVE, the broader network ZS is part of, two years later. That was once we’d had time to realize that there was a bigger picture emerging; a large number of like-minded groups forming to address a vast array of specific issues with a common outlook. That common outlook is characterized by technological savvy, distaste for old thinking and limits, and a keen awareness of social issues.

A. What does the future hold for ZS?

Q. ZS-affiliated project groups continue to work on developing tools for our members. A lot of these projects are collaborative and many have a distinctly transhumanist flavor, such as experimentation with Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (using electrical charge to help concentration—work being done in collaboration with Dirk Bruere and Andrew Vladimirov). Some of the projects seem more like simple fun than serious experimentation at first glance—such as the ZSers building Minecraft environments in which to test their AI software—but that’s half the point; For people to do something useful and have fun at the same time. Our most vigorous efforts are currently going into WAVE, expanding the wider, networked context in which ZS operates, doing what we can to help out like-minded groups. We’ve been establishing connections with large networks, such as The Zeitgeist Movement and an emerging coalition of online transhumanist organizations. We live in extremely exciting times, with lots of rapid change both good and bad, and it looks like Zero State will soon get its chance to help people help each other in that brave new world. If you believe in the promise of technology, the importance of social justice, and the power of community building then feel free to jump in and join the fun!

Zoltan Istvan is an award-winning journalist, philosopher, and activist. You can find him on Twitter(link is external)Google+(link is external)Facebook(link is external), and LinkedIn(link is external). Zoltan is also the author of the recently published #1 Philosophical bestseller novel The Transhumanist Wager(link is external). Available in ebook or paperback, the controversial novel is a revolutionary reading experience. You can check it out here(link is external).


This interview can also be found here.

 

The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas by Butsugen Chigen

This article (The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas from H+ Magazine) is a Buddhist perspective on transhumanism.  While the idea of Buddhism as a religion still makes me a bit skeptical, I think the idea of Buddhism as a philosophy can be a powerful tool.  In fact, it is a tool (particularly the aspect of meditation) that has greatly shaped my life and I think the idea of a Bodhisattva is, hands down, the most beautiful concept of which I have heard.  Tranhumanist Bodhisattvas would throw good parties, indeed!  Definitely my kind of people…


 

The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas

The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas are group of transhumanists who seek to obtain the goals of transhumanism for the benefit of other sentient beings. Rather than solely for themselves, the Transhumanist Bodhisattvas work to benefit everyone and establish a world of universal and beneficial abundance.The Bodhisattvas base their approach  on the notion of bodhicitta or non-dual compassion and recognize that the universe consists of a series of complex interconnected networks that depend on each other in deep ways. Our illusion of separateness divides us, but it remains an illusion. We are connected.

Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.

While Transhumanist Bodhisattvas may not have literally taken the Bodhisattva Vow, they work towards the benefit of other sentient beings and they base their actions around bodhicitta as well as the proactionary principle. The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas seek to compassionately extend and expand human life, enhance joy, and end suffering. They throw good parties.

Each Transhumanist Bodhisattva performs altruistic activity in the world specifically directed towards the benefit of other sentient beings, but they need not be a scientist or engineer or have any academic training in particular. However, many of the members of this movement have scientific training or other academic credentials and wisdom and knowledge are valued as well as compassion. It is a philosophy born from the dual sources of applied reason and universal compassion.

Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken. Take heed, do not squander your life.

In Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism the aspirant’s goal of practice is to be reborn an infinite numbers of times so that the aspirant can work to liberate other beings still trapped in samsāra. Transhumanist technologies hold out the promise of vastly extending life and potentially through cryonics or future developments unknown today of allowing transhumanists to return to life to continue their work. The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas plan to live a long time so they can help others do the same. They plan to return until they get it right.

The Ten Bulls is a buddhist text that presents a Zen Buddhist interpretation of the ten stages on the path of enlightenment experienced by a Bodhisattva as outlined in various Mahāyāna sūtras, most particularly the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. In the final or tenth stage, the student returns to the marketplace and mingles with humanity. The student returns, bearing a full wineskin and a smile.

“The Laughing Buddha” also known as “Hotei” was a wandering Chinese monk of the Tang Dynasty known for carrying a sack on his back, roaming the countryside, spreading joy and goodwill, especially to children. His sack contained endless treasures which he gave freely, characterizing his virtue of selfless giving. Transhumanist Bodhisattvas engage in DIY or other research efforts to extend and enhance human life. They do research or work with others and promote and communicate beneficial ideas widely. Bearing the fruits of their researches and efforts, they return to the marketplace to share the wine with a smile on their face.

Therefore the Bodhisattvas take the wandering monk Hotei as their patron and symbol. Hotei is also a symbol of the universal benign abundance we seek to achieve through transhumanist technologies for the benefit of all beings.

Recognizing the technical and scientific challenges and obstacles we may face in our most ambitious objectives of extending and enhancing life, we also recognize that we as individuals may not be able to personally benefit from all of these developments. Even if we extend life to several hundred years, millions would continue to die from age related diseases. We most certainly may be among them. The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas work diligently anyway, advancing the state of the art in cryonics, nanotechnology, genetics, robotics, and prosthetic design. If they are non-technical, they use their skills in communication to share the ideas of compassion based transhumanism.

The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas can be found around the fringes of the effective altruism movement, and they are as likely to be found reading Dogen as Kurzweil. Their interests include quantifying altruism, life extension and enhancement technologies, creating abundance, and technological systems which enhance well being and eliminate suffering. They seek to harness the singularity for the benefit of everyone and all beings. The two best known bodhisattvas in the Transhumanist Movement today are David Pearce and the IEET’s James Hughes but they are not alone.

Avalokiteśvara the Buddha of compassion is said to have 1000 arms each with which to reach out to help those who are suffering. The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas however still number much less than 1000. They need your help.

Myriad sentient beings remain trapped in samsāra, suffering, destined to die from aging and disease. No task is too small for a Transhumanist Bodhisattva if it is based in compassion. Seemingly small actions can have large effects, benefit others, and outlast their originators. Compassion starts with those closest to you, right where you are, right now. Reach out to help someone that needs you.

If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?

###

Quotations from Zenji Dogen. Hotei image artist unknown.


This article can also be found at http://hplusmagazine.com/2014/08/20/transhumanist-bodhisattvas/

 

The Hedonistic Imperative – David Pearce

This is a video of David Pearce talking about the Hedonistic Imperative.  In the video (The Hedonistic Imperative – David Pearce), Pearce discusses what he calls “paradise engineering“. I like Pierce’s response to the old myth that we need suffering to appreciate pleasure (about 8 minutes in).  Have a look…


RunTime: 17:57


This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v07VZIQyoMc

Video Info:

Published on Mar 25, 2014

Filmed at the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne Australia
http://hedweb.com – The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how genetic engineering and nanotechnology will abolish suffering in all sentient life. The abolitionist project is hugely ambitious but technically feasible. It is also instrumentally rational and morally urgent. The metabolic pathways of pain and malaise evolved because they served the fitness of our genes in the ancestral environment. They will be replaced by a different sort of neural architecture – a motivational system based on heritable gradients of bliss. States of sublime well-being are destined to become the genetically pre-programmed norm of mental health. It is predicted that the world’s last unpleasant experience will be a precisely dateable event. Two hundred years ago, powerful synthetic pain-killers and surgical anesthetics were unknown. The notion that physical pain could be banished from most people’s lives would have seemed absurd. Today most of us in the technically advanced nations take its routine absence for granted. The prospect that what we describe as psychological pain, too, could ever be banished is equally counter-intuitive. The feasibility of its abolition turns its deliberate retention into an issue of social policy and ethical choice.

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Shots of Awe: To Be Human Is To Be Transhuman by Jason Silva

Here’s another Shots of Awe video from Jason Silva called To Be Human Is To Be Transhuman.  I just love these videos!  Silva has an exuberance and enthusiasm that I find refreshing.  


Runtime: 2:22


This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FN57u7-x75w

Video Info:

Published on Mar 25, 2014

Check out Second Chance Subaru at http://www.revision3.com/subaru

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PostHuman: An Introduction to Transhumanism from the British Institute of Posthuman Studies

This video by the British Institute of Posthuman Studies explores three factors of transhumanism; super longevity, super intelligence, and super well-being.  Its called PostHuman: An Introduction to Transhumanism and it’s a great video to show your friends who have never heard of transhumanism or the technological singularity.  


Runtime: 11:11


This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTMS9y8OVuY

Video Info:

Published on Nov 5, 2013

We investigate three dominant areas of transhumanism: super longevity, super intelligence and super wellbeing, and briefly cover the ideas of thinkers Aubrey de Grey, Ray Kurzweil and David Pearce.

Official Website: http://biops.co.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/biopsuk
Twitter: https://twitter.com/biopsuk
Google+: http://gplus.to/biops

Written by: Peter Brietbart and Marco Vega
Animation & Design Lead: Many Artists Who Do One Thing (Mihai Badic)
Animation Script: Mihai Badic and Peter Brietbart
Narrated by: Holly Hagan-Walker
Music and SFX: Steven Gamble
Design Assistant: Melita Pupsaite
Additional Animation: Nicholas Temple
Other Contributors: Callum Round, Asifuzzaman Ahmed, Steffan Dafydd, Ben Kokolas, Cristopher Rosales
Special Thanks: David Pearce, Dino Kazamia, Ana Sandoiu, Dave Gamble, Tom Davis, Aidan Walker, Hani Abusamra, Keita Lynch

 

The coming transhuman era: Jason Sosa at TEDxGrandRapids [Transhumanism]

Dawn of Giants Favorite…

This video from TEDx Grand Rapids is probably one of the best introductions to transhumanism. The video is called The coming transhuman era: Jason Sosa at TEDxGrandRapids. Jason Sosa is a tech entrepreneur and I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’ll be hearing more about him in the near future. This one is an absolute must see!


Runtime: 15:37

This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ugo2KEV2XQ


Video Info:

Published on Jun 24, 2014

Sosa is the founder and CEO of IMRSV, a computer vision and artificial intelligence company and was named one of “10 Startups to Watch in NYC” by Time Inc., and one of “25 Hot and New Startups to Watch in NYC” by Business Insider. He has been featured by Forbes, CNN, New York Times, Fast Company, Bloomberg and Business Insider, among others.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

DARPA and Transhumanism – Biology is Technology

This is an article by Peter Rothman at H+ Magazine called Biology is Technology — DARPA is Back in the Game With A Big Vision and It Is H+.  DARPA, the world’s most technologically advanced organization is pursuing transhuman technologies and supporting the transhumanism/singularity movement.  Just a thought to keep in mind while reading this; DARPA doesn’t do science fiction…


 

Biology is Technology — DARPA is Back in the Game With A Big Vision and It Is H+

Peter Rothman

Introduction

DARPA, the Defense Research Projects Agency, is perhaps best known for its role as progenitors of the computer networking and the Internet. Formed in the wake of the Soviet Union’s surprise launch of Sputnik, DARPA’s objective was to ensure that the United States would avoid technological surprises in the future. This role was later expanded to causing technological surprises as well.

And although DARPA is and has been the leading source of funding for artificial intelligence and a number of other transhumanist projects, they’ve been missing in action for a while. Nothing DARPA has worked on since seems to have had the societal impact of the invention of the Internet. But that is about to change.

The current director of DARPA is Dr. Arati Prabhakar. She is the second female director of the organization, following the previous and controversial director Regina Dugan who left the government to work at Google. The return to big visions and big adventures was apparent and in stark contrast to Dugan’s leadership of the organization.

Quoted in WIRED, Dugan had, for example, stated that “There is a time and a place for daydreaming. But it is not at DARPA,” and she told a congressional panel in March 2011, “Darpa is not the place of dreamlike musings or fantasies, not a place for self-indulging in wishes and hopes. DARPA is a place of doing.”

Those days are gone. DARPA’s new vision is simply to revolutionize the human situation and it is fully transhumanist in its approach.

The Biological Technologies Office or BTO was announced with little fanfare in the spring of 2014. This announcement didn’t get that much attention, perhaps because the press release announcing the BTO was published on April Fool’s Day.

But DARPA is determined to turn that around, and to help make that happen, they held a two day event in the SIlicon Valley area to facilitate and communicate about radical changes ahead in the area of biotechnologies. Invitees included some of the top biotechnology scientists in the world. And the audience was a mixed group of scientists, engineers, inventors, investors, futurists, along with a handful of government contractors and military personnel.

Biology is Technology

I was lucky to be invited to this event because although I spend a large amount of time researching technology and science as related to the future, nothing prepared me for the scope of the DARPA vision. The ostensible purpose of the two day meeting was to introduce the DARPA Biotechnology Program Office and to connect program managers with innovators, investors, and scientists working in biotechnology and related disciplines. But really they were here to shake things up.

darpa bit01

Opening the Biology Is Technology (BiT) event was DARPA Director Dr. Arati Prabhakar. Dr. Prabhakar’s presence at this meeting demonstrates how serious DARPA is about this effort, and one imagines that she was also in California to support President Obama’s Cybersecurity Summit with top leaders of the computer industry.

Dr. Prabhakar interviewed GE’s Sue Siegel about innovation and GE’s role in creating the future. This was a freewheeling conversation in which Ms. Siegel turned the tables and interviewed Dr. Prabhakar instead. What followed was an outstanding introduction to the proactionary approach to research and development, or in DARPA’s language, preventing surprises by creating your own.

Dr. Prabhakar clearly set up the DARPA’s latest incarnation as a return to the big vision, swing for the fences approach. She discussed DARPA’s approach to managing risks while creating high impact technologies. In this vision, DARPA’s role is to help scientists and innovators to “remove early risk” which might prevent them from obtaining investment and bringing novel ideas to market. DARPA was described by one presenter as a “always friendly, but somewhat crazy rich uncle” and they made it clear that they were going to put a fair bit of money behind these ideas.

darpa bit04

This meeting was focused around the launch of the new program office, the Biotechnology Program Office, although other program managers were present. The BTO is headed Dr. Geoff Ling who is a practicing Army medical doctor. Dr. Ling is an energetic spokesman for the DARPA vision and the BTO. And it is notable that it is an M.D. that is in charge of this effort because many of the developments being undertaken by the BTO are simply going to revolutionize the practice of medicine as we know it today. With the energetic Dr. Ling in charge, you can imagine it getting done.

Dr. Ling portrayed DARPA’s ambitious goals and set out what was one of the clearest presentations of the proactionary principle which I have heard. But that was just the opening volley; DARPA is going full on H+.

Following the inspirational presentation by Dr. Ling, the individual program managers had a chance to present their projects.

The first Program Manager to present, Phillip Alvelda, opened the event with his mind blowing project to develop a working “cortical modem”. What is a cortical modem you ask? Quite simply it is a direct neural interface that will allow for the visual display of information without the use of glasses or goggles. I was largely at this event to learn about this project and I wasn’t disappointed.

Leveraging the work of Karl Deisseroth in the area of optogenetics, the cortical modem project aims to build a low cost neural interface based display device. The short term goal of the project is the development of a device about the size of two stacked nickels with a cost of goods on the order of $10 which would enable a simple visual display via a direct interface to the visual cortex with the visual fidelity of something like an early LED digital clock.

The implications of this project are astounding.

Consider a more advanced version of the device capable of high fidelity visual display. First, this technology could be used to restore sensory function to individuals who simply can’t be treated with current approaches. Second, the device could replace all virtual reality and augmented reality displays. Bypassing the visual sensory system entirely, a cortical modem can directly display into the visual cortex enabling a sort of virtual overlay on the real world. Moreover, the optogenetics approach allows both reading and writing of information. So we can imagine at least a device in which virtual objects appear well integrated into our perceived world. Beyond this, a working cortical modem would enable electronic telepathy and telekinesis. The cortical modem is a real world version of the science fiction neural interfaces envisioned by writers such as William Gibson and more recently Ramez Naam.

To the extent that it is real, the cortical modem is still a crude device. This isn’t going to give you a high fidelity augmented reality display soon. And since the current approach is based in optogenetics, it requires a  genetic alteration of the DNA in your neurons. The health implications are unknown, and this research is currently limited to work with animal models. Specifically discussed was a real time imaging of the zebrafish brain with about 85,000 neurons.

Notably, while i was live blogging the event one h+ Magazine reader volunteered to undergo this possibly dangerous genetic procedure in exchange for early access to a cortical modem. A fact which I later got to mention directly to Dr. Prabhakar at the reception afterwards.

darpa bit18

Following the astounding cortical modem presentation, Dr. Dan Wattendorf presented DARPA’s efforts to get in front of and prevent disease outbreaks such as the recent crisis with ebola in Africa. This was a repeated theme throughout the event. DARPA is clearly recognizing the need to avoid “technological surprises” from nature as well as from nations. It is widely recognized that the current technology for dealing with novel disease outbreaks, the so called “post antibiotic” era, and bioweapons requires entirely new strategies for detection and rapid response to communicable illnesses. As an example, the ebola vaccine currently being considered for use has been in development for decades. Moreover, only a small number of vaccines exists even for known diseases. A novel threat might provide only weeks or months to respond however. Clearly new approaches are needed in both detection of disease outbreaks and response to them. Perhaps most interesting to me here was the discussion of transient gene therapies where an intervention that alters an organism’s DNA but which “turn off” after some time period or event.

Dr. Jack Newman Chief Science Officer at Amyris and board member of the Biobricks Foundation followed. Jack has recently joined DARPA as a program manager himself and he talked about Amyris’ work with producing useful materials from bio-engineered yeast. This project funded under DARPA’s Living Foundries program is just one of a number of efforts seeking to create novel materials and production processes. Dr. Newman presented a view into the programming of living systems using Amyris software that was quite interesting.

This provided a natural segue to program manager Alicia Jackson’s presentation on the broader Living Foundries program which promises to leverage the synthetic and functional capabilities of biology to create biologically-based manufacturing platforms to provide access to new materials, capabilities and manufacturing paradigms based in biology and synthetic biology. Imagine materials that self assemble, heal, and adapt to their changing environment as biological systems do. The program currently focuses on compressing the biological design-build-test-learn cycle by at least 10 times in both time and cost, while simultaneously increasing the complexity of systems that are created. The second phase of the program builds on these advancements and tools to create a scalable, integrated, rapid design and prototyping infrastructure for the engineering of biology.

Following this, a more casual presentation, a “fireside” chat between famed geneticist Dr. George Church and technology historian George Dyson. This chat rambled a bit and started off slowly. But once it got going, Church laid out his vision of engineering ecosystems using “gene drives” and throughout a variety of remarks that were of interest. For example, he expressed skepticism about “longevity” research as compared with “age reversal” techniques. GDF 11 got a mention. He also discussed the observation of genetic changes in cells grown outside of the body for example in so called “printed” organs, and discussed his alternative approach of growing human donor organs in transgenic pigs. He suggested the real possibility of enhancing human intelligence through genetic techniques and pointed to the complete molecular description of living systems as a goal.

This led into another amazing presentation from new DARPA program manager Julian Sanchez who is leading DARPA’s Human-machine symbiosis group which is developing many of the groundbreaking prosthetics such as mind controlled limbs which have recently been in the news. DARPA’s investment in advanced limb prosthetics has already delivered an FDA-approved device but “cognitive prosthetics” are next. DARPA is developing hardware and software to overcome the memory deficits and neuropsychiatric illnesses afflicting returning veterans for example.

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While there wasn’t much shown regarding applying these ideas to healthy individuals or combat systems, we can assume that this work is underway. One patient was shown employing a neural interface to fly a simulated aircraft for example. And DARPA is supposedly working towards a system that would allow one person to pilot multiple vehicles by thought alone. The approach is bigger than just thought controlled drones however, because it focuses on creating symbiosis which is to ensure a mutual benefit to both partners in a relationship. The potential of this idea is often overlooked and misunderstood in conversations about machine intelligence for example.

Together with the cortical modem, these devices promise to revolutionize human abilities to repair ourselves, extend ourselves, communicate and indeed they will eventually and inevitably alter what it means to be human. Where is the boundary between self and other if we can directly share thoughts, dreams, emotions, and ideas? When we can experience not only the thoughts but feelings of someone else? How will direct neural access to knowledge change education and work? These technologies raise many questions for which we do not yet have answers.

Dr. Sanchez closed by calling on members of the audience to “come to DARPA and change the world” a call which didn’t ring hollow by this point. And things were just getting started.

This statement was made repeatedly. DARPA is open for business and looking for collaborators to work with. They’re building teams that work across subjects, disciplines and communities. They seek to build a community of interest aimed at tackling some of mankind’s greatest challenges, including things like curing communicable diseases and reversing ecosystem collapse. DARPA has some unique instruments and capabilities to offer anyone developing radical technological ideas and they want you to know about them. They openly invited the audience to submit abstracts for research ideas and promised that every email they receive would be answered “at least once”.

Several different DARPA performers also gave presentations. These are the people that DARPA has hired under contract to actually do the work and the presentations were a pretty heady and eclectic mix ranging from deep science to the unusual and on to the profound. Dr.Michel M. Maharbiz of UC Berkeley who is developing “neural dust” and has done controversial work with insect cyborgs. Saul Griffith of Otherlab presented the farthest ranging talk including his work with computer controlled inflatables which includes development of exoskeleton concepts, pneumatic sun trackers for low cost solar power applications, and a life sized robotic inflatable elephant he made for his daughter. I was also intrigued by a toy they had designed that was a universal constructor. He also had some very interesting analysis of the world’s energy production and utilization, showing areas where DARPA (and anyone else interested) could make the biggest difference to slow climate change.

How about curing all known and even unknown communicable diseases? Exploring “post pathogen medicine” is an effort in which DARPA is working to identify “unlikely heros”, those individuals with surprising  resilience or resistance to dangerous diseases. The idea is to apply big data analytics to analyze data from a large number of existing scientific analyses that might hide data indicating genetic markers for immunity or disease resistance in individuals.

Karl Deisseroth presented his work with optogenetics and his newer techniques for transforming neural tissue into a clear gel that can be imaged. He presented some impressive images from this work and his new unpublished imaging technique called “Swift 3D”. The resulting images are real-time maps of neural events. For example, Dr. Deisseroth presented visual representations of mouse thoughts from one controlled experiment.

Beyond reading mids, DARPA’s BiT programs are also looking to revolutionize the practice of biology and science in general. Dr. Stephen Friend presented Sage Networks a science oriented social sharing and collaboration platform which radically realigns the practices of scientific publication and data sharing. Apart from providing a standardized platform for publishing annotated bioscience datasets, the system requires users to make their data available to other researchers while still preserving their ability to get credit for original ideas and work. This project is important and could see application elsewhere outside of the biosciences. One member of the audience was so impressed with this idea she was compelled to comment.

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More directly, DARPA seeks to revolutionize the day to day practice of biotechnology and drug development. A series of “organs on a chip” was presented. These devices allow cultures of cells from an individual’s organs to be grown and treated with medications to assess effectiveness and possible side effects without the need to use an animal model or test on a live human subject. While they haven’t replicated every human organ, they did have a “gut on a chip” shown here. These little chips are flexible and kind of artistic actually. The company Emulate had a representative explaining the technology at the reception after the first day of the event. This is just one of several projects in which DARPA is seeking to understand the effects of drugs including adverse side effects in novel ways. The eventual hope is to shorten time to market while also radically lowering the costs of new medications.

Microfluidics — making tiny droplets

Another impressive series of developments was presented in the area of microfluidics. These developments consist of a set of technologies for creating very small droplets, and various mechanisms for manipulating, and experimenting on these tiny drops. Currently the practice of bioscience experimentation is largely performed by human postdocs who spend thousands of hours pipetting, mixing, and carefully measuring results. But using microfluidics and a series of intricate valves, nozzles, and so on, many of these procedures can be automated and radically sped up.

The audience got a chance to mix with the DARPA program managers after the event at a reception where some of DARPA’s projects were presented in a hands on environment. I had a brief conversation with Dr. Prabhakar who mentioned that she was aware of Humanity+ and transhumanism more generally. She was excited to have us involved, but also expressed some dismay at the political aspect of the transhumanist movement.

Well known Silicon Valley venture capitalist, rocketeer, transhumanist, and super guy Steve Jurvetson was spotted “high fiving” a DARPA funded telepresence robot developed at Johns Hopkins APL at the reception.

The robot operates via a head mounted display which places the wearer into the robot’s “head” and two instrumented gloves which give the wearer control over the robot’s dexterous human like hands. The hands get a bit hot due to the motors that move them however, so a fist bump is going to be prefered over a handshake with this guy.

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DARPA’s Inner Buddha

a photo of a child holding hands with a prosthetic hand

AT the two day BiT event, it was revealed that DARPA hasn’t just gone full on transhumanist, they’re full Buddha.

The goal of his project as presented by one of the project investigators, Dr. Eddie Chang of the University of California at San Francisco, during day two’s “Lightning Round” , was nothing less than eliminating human suffering.

Curing communicable diseases and prosthetics were the top of the list day one.

But Dr. Chang was talking about curing a deeper inner injury, the sort of thing that causes mental illness, depression, and intractable PTSD;  problems which military veterans notably suffer disproportionately.

The first stage of the project is underway and working with patients who are already undergoing brain surgery for intractable epilepsy. Four individuals so far have had their detailed neural patterns recorded 24 hours a day for ten days using an implanted device. The resulting neural map is at the millimeter and millisecond level and is correlated with other information about the patient’s mood and physiological state.

In another program, ElectRX, DARPA is investigating the use of similar neural stimulation techniques to promote healing of the body from injuries and disease. In both cases the emphasis isn’t  on working around or bypassing damage, but using electrical stimulation to promote healing and repair. DARPA wants to heal you. Dr. Chang stated, for example, that the success of his project wouldn’t be marked by the date of the first implanted device, but rather the date of the first removal.

Summary

Creating novel industrial processes to reduce climate change? DARPA had that covered too. So while Dr. Ling made sure to remind the audience up front that this was all about supporting warfighters, it was impossible to not consider the deeper implications of what was being presented as the event proceeeded.

The reality is that the true DARPA mission isn’t just about war. A happier, more secure and sustainable world is the best possible security for the United States, a fact that DARPA’s leaders seemingly recognize at the moment.  And so DARPA is developing technologies for rapid identification of communicable diseases, restoring lost biological functions, producing materials and developing novel industrial processes to prevent slow and reverse climate change, save ecosystems and more.

And DARPA’s next revolution, biology is technology, is something even bigger than the Internet. They’re out to revolutionize the practice and products of bio-science and along the way they are re-defining what it will mean to be human. Will we alter our biology to enable direct mind to mind communication? Can we extend our immune system into the world to cure all communicable diseases? Can we cure and repair the most damaging and persistent mental illnesses?

In this amazing two day event, DARPA opened the door to a wider public collaboration and conversation about these amazing ideas.

A second event is planned for New York City in June and video of the February presentations will be available online according to DARPA representatives at the event. I will update this story with videos when they are available.

This article can also be found at http://hplusmagazine.com/2015/02/15/biology-technology-darpa-back-game-big-vision-h/

Cyborg Science: Ultrathin Nanowires can Monitor and Influence What Goes on Inside Your Brain

This is a short article from the humanity+ website called Cyborg Science: Ultrathin Nanowires can Monitor and Influence What Goes on Inside Your Brain.  This is some revolutionary brain science.  It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that this kind of tech will open worlds of possibilities in brain science.

Cyborg Science: Ultrathin Nanowires can Monitor and Influence What Goes on Inside Your Brain

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No longer just fantastical fodder for sci-fi buffs, cyborg technology is bringing us tangible progress toward real-life electronic skin, prosthetics and ultra-flexible circuits. Now taking this human-machine concept to an unprecedented level, pioneering scientists are working on the seamless marriage between electronics and brain signaling with the potential to transform our understanding of how the brain works — and how to treat its most devastating diseases.

“By focusing on the nanoelectronic connections between cells, we can do things no one has done before,” says Charles M. Lieber, Ph.D. “We’re really going into a new size regime for not only the device that records or stimulates cellular activity, but also for the whole circuit. We can make it really look and behave like smart, soft biological material, and integrate it with cells and cellular networks at the whole-tissue level. This could get around a lot of serious health problems in neurodegenerative diseases in the future.”

These disorders, such as Parkinson’s, that involve malfunctioning nerve cells can lead to difficulty with the most mundane and essential movements that most of us take for granted: walking, talking, eating and swallowing.

Scientists are working furiously to get to the bottom of neurological disorders. But they involve the body’s most complex organ — the brain — which is largely inaccessible to detailed, real-time scrutiny. This inability to see what’s happening in the body’s command center hinders the development of effective treatments for diseases that stem from it.

By using nanoelectronics, it could become possible for scientists to peer for the first time inside cells, see what’s going wrong in real time and ideally set them on a functional path again.

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For the past several years, Lieber has been working to dramatically shrink cyborg science to a level that’s thousands of times smaller and more flexible than other bioelectronic research efforts. His team has made ultrathin nanowires that can monitor and influence what goes on inside cells. Using these wires, they have built ultra-flexible, 3-D mesh scaffolding with hundreds of addressable electronic units, and they have grown living tissue on it. They have also developed the tiniest electronic probe ever that can record even the fastest signaling between cells.

Rapid-fire cell signaling controls all of the body’s movements, including breathing and swallowing, which are affected in some neurodegenerative diseases. And it’s at this level where the promise of Lieber’s most recent work enters the picture.

In one of the lab’s latest directions, Lieber’s team is figuring out how to inject their tiny, ultraflexible electronics into the brain and allow them to become fully integrated with the existing biological web of neurons. They’re currently in the early stages of the project and are working with rat models.

“It’s hard to say where this work will take us,” he says. “But in the end, I believe our unique approach will take us on a path to do something really revolutionary.”

Their presentation is taking place at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society. The meeting features nearly 12,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics and is being held here through Thursday.

Lieber acknowledges funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Air Force.

 

This article can also be found here.

Interview with Transhumanist Zoltan Istvan

Here is an interview from Reason.tv with Zoltan Istvan called What If You Could Live for 10,000 years? Q&A with Transhumanist Zoltan Istvan.  

Zoltan is the transhumanist party’s candidate for US presidency in 2016.  Even though I am not a religious person, I like how Zoltan reconciles transhumanism with religion*.  The interview also covers various other transhumanist ideas and themes.  I still don’t think this will be our next president, but I’m curious to see where his campaign leads us.  At very least, I’m hoping Zoltan’s campaign will bring the transhumanist debate to the forefront of our cultural awareness.

*Personally, I often wonder how many religious people there would be if the concept of hell had never been fabricated (because, really, how evil would you have to be to even allow a hell to exist in the first place?).  

Runtime: 9:58

This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Pi52PNL_c0

Video Info:

Published on Feb 6, 2015

“I’m not saying let’s live forever,” says Zoltan Istvan, transhumanist author, philosopher, and political candidate. “I think what we want is the choice to be able to live indefinitely. That might be 10,000 years; that might only be 170 years.”

Istvan devoted his life to transhumanism after nearly stepping on an old landmine while reporting for National Geographic channel in Vietnam’s demilitarized zone.

“I’d say the number one goal of transhumanism is trying to conquer death,” says Istvan.

Reason TV’s Zach Weissmueller interviewed Istvan about real-world life-extension technology ranging from robotic hearts to cryogenic stasis, Istvan’s plan to run for president under the banner of the Transhumanist party, the overlap between the LGBT movement and transhumanism, and the role that governments play in both aiding and impeding transhumanist goals.

Approximately 10 minutes. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Justin Monticello and Paul Detrick. Music by Anix Gleo and nthnl.

Visit http://reason.com/reasontv for downloadable versions of this interview, and subscribe to Reason TV’s YouTube channel for daily content like this.