Hugo de Garis – Singularity Skepticism (Produced by Adam Ford)

This is Hugo de Garis talking about why people tend to react with a great deal of skepticism.  To address the skeptics, de Garis explains Moore’s Law and goes into it’s many implications.  Hugo de Garis makes a statement toward the end about how people will begin to come around when they begin to see their household electronics getting smarter and smarter.


Runtime: 12:31


This video can also be found here and here.

Video Info:

Published on Jul 31, 2012

Hugo de Garis speaks about why people are skeptical about the possibility of machine intelligence, and also reasons for believing machine intelligence is possible, and quite probably will be an issue that we will need to face in the coming decades.

If the brain guys can copy how the brain functions closely enough…we will arrive at a machine based on neuroscience ideas and that machine will be intelligent and conscious

 

 

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Sean O’Heigeartaigh – Interview at Oxford Future of Humanity Institute (on Artificial Intelligence)

Here is a video interview with Sean O’Heigeartaigh.  O’Heigeartaigh speaks on the ethics of artificial intelligence, the technological singularity, augmented reality… he covers a lot of ground.  The video is called Sean O’Heigeartaigh – Interview at Oxford Future of Humanity Institute and it’s worth the watch.


 

Runtime: 47:01


This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cY90WIIrrlo 

Video Info:

Published on Jan 24, 2013

Dr Sean O hEigeartaigh
James Martin Academic Project Manager with the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology

Seán has a background in genetics, having recently finished his phD in molecular evolution in Trinity College Dublin where he focused on programmed ribosomal frameshifting and comparative genomic approaches to improve genome annotation. He is also the cofounder of a successful voluntary arts organisation in Ireland that now runs popular monthly events and an annual outdoor festival.

The Future of Humanity Institute is the leading research centre looking at big-picture questions for human civilization. The last few centuries have seen tremendous change, and this century might transform the human condition in even more fundamental ways. Using the tools of mathematics, philosophy, and science, we explore the risks and opportunities that will arise from technological change, weigh ethical dilemmas, and evaluate global priorities. Our goal is to clarify the choices that will shape humanity’s long-term future.

the Future of Humanity Institute: http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/

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

 

From the Human Brain to the Global Brain by Marios Kyriazis

This paper (From the Human Brain to the Global Brain by Marios Kyriazis) talks about brain augmentation and the possible (probable?) emergence of a global brain.  This is actually a concept which is quite familiar to me because it is the backdrop to a science fiction novel (possibly series) I’ve been writing in my spare time – limited as that may be, but more on that another time.  I’d just like to point out (and I know I’m not the first) that we already have the framework (the internet) for a rudimentary global brain.  Really, all it lacks is sophistication.


 

From the Human Brain to the Global Brain

Introduction

Human intelligence (i.e., the ability to consistently solve problems successfully) has evolved through the need to adapt to changing environments. This is not only true of our past but also of our present. Our brain faculties are becoming more sophisticated by cooperating and interacting with technology, specifically digital communication technology (Asaro, 2008).

When we consider the matter of brain function augmentation, we take it for granted that the issue refers to the human brain as a distinct organ. However, as we live in a complex technological society, it is now becoming clear that the issue is much more complicated. Individual brains cannot simply be considered in isolation, and their function is no longer localized or contained within the cranium, as we now know that information may be transmitted directly from one brain to another (Deadwyler et al., 2013; Pais-Vieira et al., 2013). This issue has been discussed in detail and attempts have been made to study the matter within a wider and more global context (Nicolelis and Laporta, 2011). Recent research in the field of brain to brain interfaces has provided the basis for further research and formation of new hypotheses in this respect (Grau et al., 2014; Rao et al., 2014). This concept of rudimentary “brain nets” may be expanded in a more global fashion, and within this framework, it is possible to envisage a much bigger and abstract “meta-entity” of inclusive and distributed capabilities, called the Global Brain (Mayer-Kress and Barczys, 1995;Heylighen and Bollen, 1996;Johnson et al., 1998; Helbing, 2011; Vidal, in press).

This entity reciprocally feeds information back to its components—the individual human brains. As a result, novel and hitherto unknown consequences may materialize such as, for instance, the emergence of rudimentary global “emotion” (Garcia and Tanase, 2013; Garcia et al., 2013; Kramera et al., 2014), and the appearance of decision-making faculties (Rodriguez et al., 2007). These characteristics may have direct impact upon our biology (Kyriazis, 2014a). This has been long discussed in futuristic and sociology literature (Engelbart, 1988), but now it also becomes more relevant to systems neuroscience partly because of the very promising research in brain-to-brain interfaces. The concept is grounded on scientific principles (Last, 2014a) and mathematical modeling (Heylighen et al., 2012).

Augmenting Brain Function on a Global Scale

It can be argued that the continual enhancement of brain function in humans, i.e., the tendency to an increasing intellectual sophistication, broadly aligns well with the main direction of evolution (Steward, 2014). This tendency to an increasing intellectual sophistication also obeys Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety (Ashby, 1958) which essentially states that, for any system to be stable, the number of states of its control mechanisms must be greater than the number of states in the system being controlled. This means that, within an ever-increasing technological environment, we must continue to increase our brain function (mostly through using, or merging with, technology such as in the example of brain to brain communication mentioned above), in order to improve integration and maintain stability of the wider system. Several other authors (Maynard Smith and Szathmáry, 1997;Woolley et al., 2010; Last, 2014a) have expanded on this point, which seems to underpin our continual search for brain enrichment.

The tendency to enrich our brain is an innate characteristic of humans. We have been trying to augment our mental abilities, either intentionally or unintentionally, for millennia through the use of botanicals and custom-made medicaments, herbs and remedies, and, more recently, synthetic nootropics and improved ways to assimilate information. Many of these methods are not only useful in healthy people but are invaluable in age-related neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease (Kumar and Khanum, 2012). Other neuroscience-based methods such as transcranial laser treatments and physical implants (such as neural dust nanoparticles) are useful in enhancing cognition and modulate other brain functions (Gonzalez-Lima and Barrett, 2014).

However, these approaches are limited to the biological human brain as a distinct agent. As shown by the increased research interest in brain to brain communication (Trimper et al., 2014), I argue that the issue of brain augmentation is now embracing a more global aspect. The reason is the continual developments in technology which are changing our society and culture (Long, 2010). Certain brain faculties that were originally evolved for solving practical physical problems have been co-opted and exapted for solving more abstract metaphors, making humans adopt a better position within a technological niche.

The line between human brain function and digital information technologies is progressively becoming indistinct and less well-defined. This blurring is possible through the development of new technologies which enable more efficient brain-computer interfaces (Pfurtscheller and Neuper, 2002), and recently, brain-to-brain interfaces (Grau et al., 2014).

We are now in a position expand on this emergent worldview and examine what trends of systems neuroscience are likely in the near-term future. Technology has been the main drive which brought us to the position we are in today (Henry, 2014). This position is the merging of the physical human brain abilities with virtual domains and automated web services (Kurzweil, 2009). Modern humans cannot purely be defined by their biological brain function. Instead, we are now becoming an amalgam of biological and virtual/digital characteristics, a discrete unit, or autonomous agent, forming part of a wider and more global entity (Figure 1).

global brain

Figure 1. Computer-generated image of internet connections world-wide (Global Brain). The conceptual similarities with the human brain are remarkable. Both networks exhibit a scale-free, fractal distribution, with some weakly-connected units, and some strongly-connected ones which are arranged in hubs of increasing functional complexity. This helps protect the constituents of the network against stresses. Both networks are “small worlds” which means that information can reach any given unit within the network by passing through only a small number of other units. This assists in the global propagation of information within the network, and gives each and every unit the functional potential to be directly connected to all others. Source: The Opte Project/Barrett Lyon. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.

Large Scale Networks and the Global Brain

The Global Brain (Heylighen, 2007; Iandoli et al., 2009; Bernstein et al., 2012) is a self-organizing system which encompasses all those humans who are connected with communication technologies, as well as the emergent properties of these connections. Its intelligence and information-processing characteristics are distributed, in contrast to that of individuals whose intelligence is localized. Its characteristics emerge from the dynamic networks and global interactions between its individual agents. These individual agents are not merely the biological humans but are something more complex. In order to describe this relationship further, I have introduced the notion of the noeme, an emergent agent, which helps formalize the relationships involved (Kyriazis, 2014a). The noeme is a combination of a distinct physical brain function and that of an “outsourced” virtual one. It is the intellectual “networked presence” of an individual within the GB, a meaningful synergy between each individual human, their social interactions and artificial agents, globally connected to other noemes through digital communications technology (and, perhaps soon, through direct brain to brain interfaces). A comparison can be made with neurons which, as individual discrete agents, form part of the human brain. In this comparison, the noemes act as the individual, information-sharing discrete agents which form the GB (Gershenson, 2011). The modeling of noemes helps us define ourselves in a way that strengthens our rational presence in the digital world. By trying to enhance our information-sharing capabilities we become better integrated within the GB and so become a valuable component of it, encouraging mechanisms active in all complex adaptive systems to operate in a way that prolongs our retention within this system (Gershenson and Fernández, 2012), i.e., prolongs our biological lifespan (Kyriazis, 2014b; Last, 2014b).

Discussion

This concept is a helpful way of interpreting the developing cognitive relationship between humans and artificial agents as we evolve and adapt to our changing technological environment. The concept of the noeme provides insights with regards to future problems and opportunities. For instance, the study of the function of the noeme may provide answers useful to biomedicine, by coopting laws applicable to any artificial intelligence medium and using these to enhance human health (Kyriazis, 2014a). Just as certain physical or pharmacological therapies for brain augmentation are useful in neurodegeneration in individuals, so global ways of brain enhancement are useful in a global sense, improving the function and adaptive capabilities of humanity as a whole. One way to augment global brain function is to increase the information content of our environment by constructing smart cities (Caragliu et al., 2009), expanding the notion of the Web of Things (Kamilaris et al., 2011), and by developing new concepts in educational domains (Veletsianos, 2010). This improves the information exchange between us and our surroundings and helps augment brain function, not just physically in individuals, but also virtually in society.

Practical ways for enhancing our noeme (i.e., our digital presence) include:

• Cultivate a robust social media base, in different forums.

• Aim for respect, esteem and value within your virtual environment.

• Increase the number of your connections both in virtual and in real terms.

• Stay consistently visible online.

• Share meaningful information that requires action.

• Avoid the use of meaningless, trivial or outdated platforms.

• Increase the unity of your connections by using only one (user) name for all online and physical platforms.

These methods can help increase information sharing and facilitate our integration within the GB (Kyriazis, 2014a). In a practical sense, these actions are easy to perform and can encompass a wide section of modern communities. Although the benefits of these actions are not well studied, nevertheless some initial findings appear promising (Griffiths, 2002; Granic et al., 2014).

Concluding Remarks

With regards to improving brain function, we are gradually moving away from the realms of science fiction and into the realms of reality (Kurzweil, 2005). It is now possible to suggest ways to enhance our brain function, based on novel concepts dependent not only on neuroscience but also on digital and other technology. The result of such augmentation does not only benefit the individual brain but can also improve all humanity in a more abstract sense. It improves human evolution and adaptation to new technological environments, and this, in turn, may have positive impact upon our health and thus longevity (Solman, 2012; Kyriazis, 2014c).

In a more philosophical sense, our progressive and distributed brain function amplification has begun to lead us toward attaining “god-like” characteristics (Heylighen, in press) particularly “omniscience” (through Google, Wikipedia, the semantic web, Massively Online Open Courses MOOCs—which dramatically enhance our knowledge base), and “omnipresence” (cloud and fog computing, Twitter, YouTube, Internet of Things, Internet of Everything). These are the result of the outsourcing of our brain capabilities to the cloud in a distributed and universal manner, which is an ideal global neural augmentation. The first steps have already been taken through brain to brain communication research. The concept of systems neuroscience is thus expanded to encompass not only the human nervous network but also a global network with societal and cultural elements.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Acknowledgment

I thank the help and input of the reviewers, particularly the first one who has dedicated a lot of time into improving the paper.

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Keywords: global brain, complex adaptive systems, human longevity, techno-cultural society, noeme, systems neuroscience

Citation: Kyriazis M (2015) Systems neuroscience in focus: from the human brain to the global brain? Front. Syst. Neurosci. 9:7. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2015.00007

Received: 14 October 2014; Accepted: 14 January 2015;
Published online: 06 February 2015.

Edited by:

Manuel Fernando Casanova, University of Louisville, USA

Reviewed by:

Mikhail Lebedev, Duke University, USA
Andrea Stocco, University of Washington, USA

Copyright © 2015 Kyriazis. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: drmarios@live.it


 

This article can also be found at http://hplusmagazine.com/2015/02/10/human-brain-global-brain/

Ray Kurzweil – How to Create a Mind

This is one of the longer presentations I’ve seen by Ray Kurzweil.  In the video, Kurzweil discusses some of the concepts behind his latest book, How to Create a Mind.  This talk covers a lot of ground; everywhere from the Kurzweil’s Law (Law of Accelerating Returns), merging with technology, pattern recognizing technology, the effects of economy on life expectancy, solar energy, medical technology, education…  Well, you get the picture.  Check it out.


Runtime: 1:01:00

This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iT2i9dGYjkg


Video info:

Published on Jun 17, 2014

 

 

The Telegraph: What has Singularity University brought the world?

This is an article (with a short video) from The Telegraph website.  The article is called What has Singularity University brought the world? The research and education taking place at Singularity University promises (quite literally) to help in making our world a better place and they’re already delivering.  It’s an exciting time to be alive!


What has Singularity University brought the world?

In short… privately owned cars which anyone can rent, 3D printers for astronauts, meat that does not kill animals, drones that can deliver aid to disaster zones and the world’s first DNA laser printer

A test of the 3-D printer in a microgravity-like environment simulated on an airplane that flies parabolas. Credit: Made in Space Welcome to one of the most elite institutions: Singularity University

A test of the 3-D printer in a microgravity-like environment simulated on an airplane that flies parabola Photo: Made in Space

• Getaround – graduate year 2009

Getaround is a car sharing marketplace where people can offer their own cars for rent to make some extra money. The renter uses an app to unlock the car door without ever having to see its owner.

It won one of the biggest technology competitions in the world, TechCrunch Disrupt NYC, in 2011, and is now the largest peer-to-peer car-sharing service. It has raised more than $20 million in funding.

• Made in Space – graduate year 2010

The team has developed a 3D printer which allows astronauts to design and build their own tools and shuttle parts on the International Space Station.

They received $125,000 from Nasa and its approval to send the printer up to ISS this month aboard the SpaceX CRS-4

• Matternet – graduate year 2012

The company is building unmanned aerial drones to deliver aid and medicine to developing countries, congested cities and places difficult to reach by car. These can range from a Haitian earthquake zone to a remote African village. It received $500,000 investment from venture capitalist firm Andreessen Horowitz.

• Modern Meadow – graduate year 2012

The environmentally-conscious company is producing meat and leather without killing animals. It uses 3D printers and tissue engineering to grow meat in a laboratory, in an answer to the world’s unsustainable meat consumption.

The firm plans to sell lab-grown “leather” – and eventually meat – to consumers within the next few years. In June it received $10million in funding from a billionaire investor based in Hong Kong.

• Cambrian Genomics – graduate year 2012

A genetics startup created the world’s first DNA laser printer which in turn produced the world’s first synthetic genome. Rather than printing with traditional ink, it custom-prints with genetic code using lasers.

This enable scientists to make corrections and fixes to ensure a child does not receive a gene for breast cancer, cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, or any other single-gene disorders.

Clients include the US military, which wants DNA to create new types of biomaterials.

 

This article can also be found here.

 

NASA and Singularity University

This isn’t an article so much as it is a memo posted on the NASA website.  Basically, the ‘article’ states that NASA supports the Singularity University endeavor.  This is actually kind of old news (from 2009), but part of the mission of Dawn of Giants is to convince people of the need to take transhumanism and the idea of the technological singularity seriously.  Maybe the support of government agencies like NASA and DARPA will help to this end.  


NASA Ames Becomes Home To Newly Launched Singularity University

Rachel Prucey – Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Denise Vardakas – Singularity University, Moffett Field, Calif.

Feb. 03, 2009

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif., — Technology experts and entrepreneurs with a passion for solving humanity’s grand challenges, will soon have a new place to exchange ideas and facilitate the use of rapidly developing technologies.

NASA Ames Research Center today announced an Enhanced Use Lease Agreement with Singularity University (SU) to house a new academic program at Ames’ NASA Research Park. The university will open its doors this June and begin offering a nine-week graduate studies program, as well as three-day chief executive officer-level and 10-day management-level programs. The SU curriculum provides a broad, interdisciplinary exposure to ten fields of study: future studies and forecasting; networks and computing systems; biotechnology and bioinformatics; nanotechnology; medicine, neuroscience and human enhancement; artificial intelligence, robotics, and cognitive computing; energy and ecological systems; space and physical sciences; policy, law and ethics; and finance and entrepreneurship.

“The NASA Ames campus has a proud history of supporting ground-breaking innovation, and Singularity University fits into that tradition,” said S. Pete Worden, Ames Center Director and one of Singularity University’s founders. “We’re proud to help launch this unique graduate university program and are looking forward to the new ideas, technologies and social applications that result.”

Singularity University was founded Sept. 20, 2008 by a group of leaders, including Worden; Ray Kurzweil, author and futurist; Peter Diamandis, space entrepreneur and chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation; Robert Richards, co-founder of the International Space University; Michael Simpson, president of the International Space University; and a group of SU associate founders who have contributed time and capital.

“With its strong focus on interdisciplinary learning, Singularity University is poised to foster the leaders who will create a uniquely creative and productive future world,” said Kurzweil.

CLARIFICATION:

NASA Ames would like to eliminate confusion that might have arisen concerning NASA personnel as “Founders” of Singularity University in the Feb. 3, 2009 news release, “NASA Ames Becomes Home To Newly Launched Singularity University.”

NASA Ames Center Director S. Pete Worden hosted SU’s Founders Conference on Sept. 20, 2008 at NASA Ames. On NASA’s behalf he and other Ames personnel provided input to SU’s founders and encouraged the scientific and technical discussions. Neither Dr. Worden nor any other NASA employee is otherwise engaged in the University’s operation nor do any NASA Ames employees have personal or financial interests in Singularity University. As with other educational institutions, NASA employees may support educational activities of SU through lectures, discussions and interactions with students and staff. NASA employees may also attend SU as students.

For more information about Singularity University, visit:

http://www.singularityu.org

For more information about NASA programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/


 

This can also be found at http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/releases/2009/09-11AR.html

Transcendance with Johnny Depp – Transhuman Movies

I thought the film Transcendence with Johnny Depp would be a good start form my new Transhuman Movies category because it is based on technology that some of the greatest thinkers and organizations (like DARPA and Google) are working on even as I type (Don’t believe me?  Just have a look around Dawn of Giants and then tell me what you think.).

Transcendence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Spoiler Alert!  Read no further until you have seen the movie…

This movie got terrible reviews, but I loved it.  I only had one problem with the movie itself; the typical Hollywood ending.  Do you really think a human, no matter how smart, would be able to write a virus that could stop a god-like, post-singularity consciousness?  The idea is absurd, however I also understand how hard it would be to write a realistic ending for Transcendence because a post-biological entity would be intelligent past our current ability to understand.  I remedied this little imaginative hiccup by actively suspending my disbelief (the same thing religious people subconsciously do in order to keep their faith*).

Here’s my other problem and it’s actually not with the actual movie at all.  I read several reviews for Transcendence and they all say something like “a cautionary tale” or I read one review which called the movie “Hollywood’s bizarre techno-idiocy” (the reviewer who wrote this is Andrew O’Hehir).  While the latter is just technological ignorance** by someone who is obviously oblivious to what is going on in the tech world, the former just struck me as out of context.  To whom is this a cautionary tale?  Anyone who ‘transcends’ – especially if they have already mastered nanotechnology – would basically be untouchable by unaugmented humans.  On the flip side, William Caster (played by Johnny Depp) was actually acting as a benefactor to humanity and what do us primitive, ape-people do?  We attack without provocation.

I think the ‘cautionary tale’ for us should be that we need to evolve passed our petty, small-minded, ego-centric, dull-witted meat-minds before we decide to lay judgement on an entity who’s only crime was to be smarter and adherent to higher ethical standards that the rest of humanity.

All in all, Transcendence is definitely a ‘must see’ for anyone interested in Transhumanism (and we all should be because it sure looks like that’s where we’re headed).  With names like Johnny Depp, Morgan FreemanRebecca HallPaul BettanyCillian Murphy, and Kate Mara, you know it’s going to be well acted.  Transcendence had a (mostly) well-written plot and the special effects were visually appealing.  I would like to see more movies like this.  If you haven’t seen Transcendence, check out the trailer below.

*I just couldn’t resist…

**Maybe techno-idiocy would be a better description?  Seriously though, O’Hehir’s review reads like a mixture of suppressed jealousy for Johnny Depp (as an actor, mainly, but maybe for the Depp’s character as well) and small-minded conservative paranoia.  Andrew, if you read this, you had better open you eyes to what is happening in the world right now or you’re going to be in for a nasty shock.  The only person you are hurting by staying in the dark is yourself.


Runtime:2:31

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Published on Dec 20, 2013

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Transcendence Official Trailer #1 (2014) – Johnny Depp Sci-Fi Movie HD

Two leading computer scientists work toward their goal of Technological Singularity, as a radical anti-technology organization fights to prevent them from creating a world where computers can transcend the abilities of the human brain.

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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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 9.56.11 AM

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.

darpa bit38

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.

darpa bit28 darpa bit32 darpa bit34

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/

Transhumanism and Religion by John G. Messerly

Here is an excellent, bite-sized article from John G. Messerly on the IEET website called simply Transhumanism and Religion.  In the article, Messerly presents a case for why he considers religion to be premature transhumanism.  


 

Transhumanism and Religion

 

By John G. Messerly
The Meaning of Life

Transhumanism is: The intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities … transhumanism is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase.1<sup< p=””>

Transhumanism appears to have nothing in common with religion, defined as: “the belief in and worship of a god or gods, or any such system of belief and worship…”In transhumanism the gods play no role.

Yet the two are not entirely dissimilar. Religious people generally want to overcome the limitations of the body and live forever, just like transhumanists. Arising before transhumanist ideas were conceivable, religions had no other option but to advise their followers to accept death and hope for the best. Religious beliefs provided comfort in the face of death and natural evils before the advent of science and technology. We might think of religion as premature transhumanism. Religion is not the opposite of transhumanism but a seed from which transhumanism can grow.

However today the comfort provided by archaic religious superstitions impedes advancement and therefore should be set aside. We need to grow beyond religion. But must we relinquish religious beliefs now, before science gives us everything we want? Yes. The most important reason to abandon religious belief is religion’s opposition to most forms of progress. For the most part religion has opposed: the elimination of slavery, the use of birth control, women’s and civil rights, stem cell research, genetic engineering, and science in general. Religion is from our past; it opposes the future.

Can humans function without the old religious narratives? They can, they just need new narratives based on a scientific worldview. Such narratives could be transhumanist, of humans playing their role as links in a chain leading to greater forms of being and consciousness; or perhaps they will focus on the idea that cosmic evolution is the story of the universe becoming self-conscious through conscious beings like ourselves. Whatever shape those narratives take, they must be informed by the belief that humans can evolve into something much more than they are now.

But against this seemingly infinite temporal background, what of the significance of a single, finite human life, and what is the significance of all of cosmic evolution? We are significant if we play our part in advancing evolution, if we accept our role as the protagonists of the evolutionary epic. And if we succeed our post-human descendants will understand these ultimate questions, giving our own lives—by then long past—a significance we can now hardly fathom. For the moment we must take solace in the hope that the better world we imagine is indeed possible.

1. This quote is from the Humanity+ website’s FAQ section.

2. From “The Cambridge International Dictionary of English.”

Having introduced transhumanists ideas to university students over the years, I am familiar with typical objections to transhumanist philosophy: if we don’t die the world will become overpopulated; not having a body would be yucky; this is all science fiction; lots of things can go wrong; technology is bad; death makes life meaningful; immortality would be boring; etc.

So I was surprised after yesterday’s post to receive hostile responses of the “we shouldn’t play god,” or “we should let nature take its course” variety. You can find similar critiques at links like : “The Catholic Church Declares War on Transhumanism”  and “Transhumanism: Mankind’s Greatest Threat.” Here is a statement from the latter:

Various organizations desire to use emerging technology to create a human species so enhanced that they cease to be humans. They will be post-humans with the potential of living forever. If these sciences are not closely monitored and regulated, transhumanists’ arrogant quest to create a post-human species will become a direct assault on human dignity and an attack on God’s sovereignty as Creator. We must decide on an unmovable line now, one that upholds human dignity based on Biblical Truth.

It is no longer enough to be pro-life; we have now entered a time when we must be pro-human. Education about the full implications of these emerging sciences is a key to be able to directly confront these assaults on humanity.

If one truly believes that humans should accept their fate, that they were specially designed and created by the gods, and that the divine plans includes evil and death, then the condemnations of transhumanism are justified. But will this opposition succeed? I doubt it. Most do not desire to go back to the middle ages, when believers prayed sincerely and then died miserably.

Today some still consult faith healers, but the intelligent go to their physicians. Everything about technology plays god, and letting nature takes its course means that half the people reading this article would have died in childbirth or from childhood diseases before the advent of modern medicine.

Still there are good reasons to be cautious about designing and using future technologies, as Bill Joy outlined more than a decade ago in “Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us.”  (Here is my published criticism of Joy’s argument.) Yes, we should be cautious about the future, but we should not stand still.

​Do we really want to turn the clock back 100 years before computers and modern medicine? Do we really want to freeze technology at its current level? Look before we leap, certainly, but leap we must. If we do nothing, eventually we will go extinct: asteroids will hit the planet, the climate will change irrevocably, bacteria will evolve uncontrollably, and in the far future the sun will burn out. Only advanced technologies give us a chance against such forces.

If we do nothing we will die; if we gain more knowledge and the power that accompanies it, we have a chance. With no risk-free way to proceed, we should be brave and bold, unafraid to guide our own destiny.

Perhaps the best way to illuminate the choice is to consider a previous choice human beings faced in their history. What should they do about disease? Should they pray to the gods and have faith that the gods will cure them, or should they use science and technology to find the cures themselves? In hindsight the answer is clear. Praying to the gods makes no difference, whereas using modern medicine has limited death and disease, and nearly doubled the human lifespan in the last century.

When medieval Europeans contracted the plague they prayed hard … and then died miserably. Other examples also easily come to mind. What is the best way to predict weather, harness energy, capture sound, achieve flight, communicate over great distances, or fly to far off planets? In none of these cases is doing nothing and hoping for the best a good bet. All of the above were achieved through the use of science and technology.

These examples highlight another advantage to making the transhumanist wager—the incremental benefits that accrue as we live longer and better lives as we approach the holy grail of a blissful immortality. Such benefits provide assurance that we are on the right path, which should increase our confidence that we are making the correct wager. In fact, the benefits already bestowed upon us by science and technology in the past confirm that it is the best path toward a better future. (Half the readers of this essay would have died from a childhood disease just a century ago.) As these benefits accumulate, and as we become aware of them, our existence will become increasingly indistinguishable from the most enchanting descriptions of any afterlife.

So we should throw off archaic superstitions and use our technology? Yes Will we do this? Yes. I can say with confidence that when an effective pill that stops or reverses aging becomes available at your local pharmacy—it will be popular. Or if, as you approach death, you are offered the opportunity to have your intact consciousness transferred to your younger cloned body, a genetically engineered body, a robotic body, or a virtual reality, most will use such technologies when they have been shown to be effective. By then almost everyone will prefer the real thing to a leap of faith. At that point there will be no need to make a transhumanist wager. The transhumanist will already have won the be

However at the moment the above is science fiction and subject to trillions of variables. Contingent factors beyond our imagination will lead to some unimaginable future, or no future at all. Thus evolutionary progress is not inevitable, and in no way do our views entail technological optimism—technology can be used for good or ill.

But even if our technology can lead to a glorious future, it could be halted by terrestrial or celestial disasters, or by dogmatists, zealots, religious fanatics, and others who oppose progress. The opponents may have legitimate fears about the repercussions of future technologies, but they may also be guided by ignorance and irrationality.

They may long for a past paradise, fear what they don’t understand, believe they possess a monopoly on the truth, or think humans subservient to super beings. But for whatever reasons they oppose change, preferring stasis and stagnation to dynamic, progressive evolutionism. They prefer to prevent the groundswell of initiative, creativity, inventiveness, perseverance, and hope that drive evolution forward. They are fearful that the new world will render them and their beliefs, anachronistic. They are the enemies of the future.

But if the surge of cosmic longing presses forward, then higher forms of being and consciousness will emerge, and the universe will become increasingly self-consciousness. This is the story of cosmic evolution, of a universe becoming self-conscious through the creation of conscious beings. Humans are not an end, but a beginning. They need not fear imaginary gods, but need instead to have the courage to create minds more powerful than the gods. Let the dark ages not again descend upon us—let our most fantastic longings be realized. Let us have faith in the future.


John G. Messerly is an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET. He received his PhD in philosophy from St. Louis University in 1992. His most recent book is The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific, and Transhumanist Perspectives. He blogs daily on issues of philosophy, evolution, futurism and the meaning of life at his website: reasonandmeaning.com.

This article can also be found at http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/messerly20150118