Vernor Vinge on the Turing Test, Artificial Intelligence

Preface

the_imitation_game_bOn the coat-tails of a the blockbuster film “The Imitation Game” I saw quite a bit of buzz on the internet about Alan Turing, and the Turing Test.  The title of the movie refers to the idea of the Turing Test may someday show that machines would ostensibly be (at least in controlled circumstances) indistinguishable from humans.
Vernor Vinge is a mathematician and science fiction author who is well known for many Hugo Award-winning novels and novellas*   and his 1993 essay “The Coming Technological Singularity”, in which he argues that the creation of superhuman artificial intelligence will mark the point at which “the human era will be ended”, such that no current models of reality are sufficient to predict beyond it.

 

Alan Turing and the Computability of Intelligence

Adam Ford: Alan Turing is considered the “Father of Theoretical Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence” – his view about the potential of AI contrasts with much of the skepticism that has subsequently arose.  What is at the root of this skepticism?

Vinge_Singularity_Omni_face250x303Vernor Vinge: The emotional source of the skepticism is the ineffable feeling that many (most?)  people have against the possibility that self-awareness could arise from simple, constructed devices.

 

AF: Many theorists feel that the combined talents of pure machines and humans will always produce more creative and therefore useful output – what are your thoughts?

VV: When it comes to intelligence, biology just doesn’t have legs. _However_ in the near term, teams of people plus machines can be much smarter than either — and this is one of the strongest reasons for being optimistic that we can manage the new era safely, and project that safety into the farther future.

 

AF: Is the human brain essentially a computer?

VV: Probably yes, but if not the lack can very likely be made up for with machine improvements that we humans can devise.

 

AF: Even AI critics John Searle and Hubert Dreyfus (i.e. “What Computers (Still) Can’t Do”) agree that a brain simulation is possible in theory, though they argue that merely mimicking the functioning brain would in itself be an admission of ignorance (concerning intelligence) – what are your thoughts?

VV: The question of whether there is self-awareness behind a mimick may be the most profound issue, but for almost all practical purposes it isn’t relevant: in a few years, I think we will be able to make machines that can run circles around any human mind by all externally measured criteria. So what if no one is really home inside that machine?

Offhand, I can think of only one practical import to the answer, but that _is_ something important: If such minds are self-aware in the human sense, then uploads suddenly become very important to us mortality-challenged beings.

For reductionists interested in _that_ issue, some confidence might be achieved with superintelligence architectures that model those structures in our minds that reductionists come to associate with self-awareness. (I can imagine this argument being carried on by the uploaded supermind children of Searle and Moravec — a trillion years from now when there might not be any biological minds around whatsoever.)

 

AF: Do you think Alan Turing’s reasons for believing in the potential of AI are different from your own and other modern day theorists?  If so in what ways?

VV: My guess is there is not much difference.

 

AF: Has Alan Turing and his work influenced your writing? If it has, how so?

VV: I’m not aware of direct influence. As a child, what chiefly influenced me was the science-fiction I was reading! Of course, those folks were often influenced by what was going in science and math and engineering of the time.

Alan Turing has had a multitude of incarnations in science fiction…   I think that besides being a broadly based math and science genius, Turing created accessible connections between classic philosophical questions and current issues.

 

AF: How do you think Alan Turing would respond to the specific concept of the Technological Singularity as described by you in your paper “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era“?

VV: I’d bet that Turing (and many AI pioneers) had extreme ideas about the consequences of superhuman machine intelligence. I’m not sure if Turing and I would agree about the potential for Intelligence Amplification and human/machine group minds.

I’d be _very_ interested in his reaction to modern analysis such as surveyed in Bostrom’s recent _Superintelligence_ book.

 

AF: In True Names, agents seek to protect their true identity. The guardian of the Coven’s castle is named ‘Alan Turing’ – what was the reason behind this?

It was a tip of the hat in Turing’s direction. By the time I wrote this story I had become quite aware of Alan Turing (contrasting with my childhood ignorance that I mentioned earlier).

 

AF: Your first novella Bookworm Run! was themed around brute forcing simpler-than-human-intelligence to super-intelligence (in it a chimpanzee’s intelligence is amplified).  You also explore the area of intelligence amplification in Marooned in Realtime.
Do you think it is possible for a Singularity to bootstrap from brute forcing simple cognitive models? If so do you think Super-Intelligence will be achieved through brute-forcing simple algorithms?

VV: I view “Intelligence Amplification” (IA) as a finessing of the hardest questions by building on top of what already exists. Thus even UI design lies on the path to the Singularity. One could argue that Intelligence Amplification is the surest way of insuring humanity in the super-intelligence (though some find that a very scary possibility in itself).

 

The Turing Test and Beyond

AF: Is the Turing Test important? If so, why, and how does it’s importance match up to tracking progress in Strong AI?

VV: In its general form, I regard the Turing Test as a marvelous, zen-like, bridge between reductionism and the inner feelings most people have about their own self-awareness.  Bravo Dr. Turing!

 

AF: Is a text conversation is ever a valid test for intelligence? Is blackbox testing enough for a valid test for intelligence?

VV: “Passing the Turing Test” depends very much on the setup:
a) The examining human (child? adult? fixated or afflicted adult? –see Sherry Turkle’s examples of college students who passed a chatbot).
b) The duration of the test.
c) The number of human examiners participating.
d) Restrictions on the examination domain.

In _The Emperor’s New Mind_, Penrose has a (mostly negative) critique of the Turing Test. But at the end he says that if the test was very broad, lasting years, and convincing to him (Penrose), then it might be meaningful to talk about a “pass grade”.

 

AF: The essence of Roger Penrose’s argument (in the Emperor’s New Mind)
–  It is impossible for a Turing machine to enumerate all possible Godel sentences. Such a program will always have a Godel sentence derivable from its program which it can never discover
–  Humans have no problem discovering these sentences and seeing the truth of them
And he concludes that humans are not reducible to turing machines.  Do you agree with Roger’s assessment  – Are humans not reducible to turing machines?

VV: This argument depends on comparing a mathematical object (the Turing Machine) with whatever kind of object the speaker considers a “human mind” to be.  As a logical argument, it leaves me dubious.

 

AF: Are there any existing interpretations of the Turing Test that you favour?

VV: I think Penrose’s version (described above) is the most important.

In conversation, the most important thing is that all sides know which flavor of the test they are talking about 🙂

 

AF: You mentioned it has been fun tracking Turing Test contests, what are your thoughts on attempts at passing the Turing Test so far?

VV: So far, it seems to me that the philosophically important thresholds are still far away. Fooling certain people, or fooling people for short periods of time seems to have been accomplished.

 

AF: Is there any specific type of intelligence we should be testing machines for?

VV: There are intelligence tests that would be very interesting to me, but I rather not call them versions of the Turing Test. For instance, I think we’re already in the territory where more and more [forms->sorts] of superhuman forms of creativity and “intuition” are possible.

I think there well also be performance tests for IA and group mind projects.

 

AF: Some argue that testing for ‘machine consciousness’ is more interesting – what are your thoughts?

VV: Again, I’d keep this possibility separate from Turing Test issues, though I do think that a being that could swiftly duplicate itself and ramp intellect up or down per resource and latency constraints would have a vastly different view of reality compared to the severe and static time/space/mortality restrictions that we humans live with.

 

AF: The Turing Test seems like a competitive sport.  Though some interpretations of the Turing Test have conditions which seem to be quite low.  The competitive nature of how the Turing Test is staged seems to me to select for the cheapest and least sophisticated methods to fool judges on a Turing Test panel.

VV: Yes.

 

AF: Should we be focusing on developing more complex and adaptive Turing style tests (more complex measurement criteria? more complex assessment)? What alternatives to a Turing Test competition (if any) would you suggest to motivate regular testing for machine intelligence?

VV: The answers to these questions may grow out of hard engineering necessity more than from the sport metaphor. Going forward, I imagine that different engineering requirements will acquire various tests, but they may look more like classical benchmark tests.

 

Tracking Progress in Artificial Intelligence

AF: Why is tracking progress towards AI important?

VV: Up to a point it could be important for the sort of safety reasons Bostrom discusses in _Superintelligence_. Such tracking could also provide some guidance for machine/human/society teams that might have the power to guide events along safe paths.

 

AF: What do you see as the most useful mechanisms for tracking progress towards a) human equivalence in AI, b) a Technological Singularity?

VV: The approach to human equivalence might be tracked with a broad range of tests. Such would also apply to the Singularity, but for a soft takeoff, I imagine there would be a lot of economic effects that could be tracked. For example:
–  trends in employment of classic humans, augmented humans, and computer/human teams;
–  trends in what particular jobs still have good employment;
–  changes in the personal characteristics of the most successful CEOs.

Direct tests of automation performance (such as we’ve discussed above) are also important, but as we approach the Singularity, the center of gravity shifts from the programmers to the programs and how the programs are gaming the systems.

 

AF: If you had a tardis and you could bring Alan Turing forward into the 21st century, would he be surprised at progress in AI?  What kinds of progress do you think he would be most interested in?

VV: I don’t have any special knowledge of Turing, but my guess is he would be pleased — and he would want to _understand_ by becoming a super himself.

 

AF: If and when the Singularity becomes imminent – is it likely that the majority of people will be surprised?

VV: A hard takeoff would probably be a surprise to most people. I suspect that a soft takeoff would be widely recognized.

 

Implications

AF: What opportunities could we miss if we are not well prepared (This includes opportunities for risk mitigation)?

VV: Really, the risk mitigation is the serious issue. Other categories of missed opportunities will probably be quickly fixed by the improving tech.  For pure AI, some risk mitigation is the sort of thing MIRI is researching.

For pure AI, IA, and group minds, I think risk mitigation involves making use of the human equivalent minds that already exist in great numbers (namely, the human race). If these teams and early enhancements recognized the issues, they can form a bridge across to the more powerful beings to come.

 

AF: You spoke about an AI Hard Takeoff as being potentially very bad – can you elaborate here?

VV: A hard takeoff is too fast for normal humans to react and accommodate to.  To me, a Hard Takeoff would be more like an explosion than like technological progress. Any failure in mitigation planning is suddenly beyond the ability of normal humans to fix.

 

AF: What stood out for you after reading Nick Bostrom’s book ‘Superintelligence – paths, dangers, strategies’?

VV: Yes. I think it’s an excellent discussion especially of the pure AI path to superintelligence. Even people who have no intense interest in these issues would find the first few chapters interesting, as they sketch out the problematic issues of pure AI superintelligence — including some points that may have been missed back in the twentieth century. The book then proceeds to a fascinating analysis of how to cope with these issues.

My only difference with the analysis presented is that while pure AI is likely the long term important issue, there could well be a period (especially in the case of a Soft Takeoff) where the IA and groupmind trajectories are crucial.

vernor_vinge_LosCon

Vernor Vinge at Los Con 2012

Notes:
* Hugo award winning novels & novellas include: A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), A Deepness in the Sky (1999), Rainbows End (2006), Fast Times at Fairmont High (2002), and The Cookie Monster (2004), and The Peace War (1984).

Also see video interview with Vernor Vinge on the Technological Singularity.

Denis Odinokov – Conquering Cross-Linking for Biomedical Longevity

In order to achieve biomedical longevity, the problem of cross-Linking of the extracellular matrix needs to be addressed. Cells are held together by special linking proteins. When too many cross-links form between cells in a tissue, the tissue can lose its elasticity and cause problems including arteriosclerosis, presbyopia and weakened skin texture. These are chemical bonds between structures that are part of the body, but not within a cell. In senescent people many of these become brittle and weak. Fixing cross-linking may prove more difficult than just removing it – as it may create a vacuum where more waste is pulled in to fill the void left behind. Though some research is being conducted, the problem deserves a lot more hands on deck – and far more funding.
Denis gives a technical explanation of why conquering cross-linking is important, and strategies for addressing this problem in this interview conducted at the Undoing Aging conference in Berlin 2019.

Introduction to Denis’ writing/research here – “The Impact of Extracellular Matrix Proteins Cross-linking on the Aging Process“.

Understanding the consequences of the formation of protein crosslinks requires more attention both from the scientific community and independent researchers who are passionate with regards to the extension of the human lifespan. By doing so, it allows us to level up the playing field where we can create and work on more serious and impactful solutions.

Also see GlycoSENSSENS proposes to further develop small-molecular drugs and enzymes to break links caused by sugar-bonding, known as advanced glycation endproducts, and other common forms of chemical linking.

 

Jim Mellon – Investing in the Age of Longevity

Interview with hugely successful investor Jim Mellon at the Undoing Aging conference in Berlin 2019!
We cover reasons why it’s a good time to invest in Anti-Aging and rejuvenation biotechnology today, the ethical reasons why we should, and effective advocacy: i.e. what one would say to a billionaire to convince them that investing in longevity medicine is a good thing to do now.
Jim raised over $150 Million for his venture Juvenescence recently!

Transcript

My name is Jim Mellon, and I’m the chairman of Juvenescence, which is a company involved in the science of longevity. It is relatively recently formed; it is about a year and a bit old, but we’ve raised a significant amount of funding – nearly $160 million now – in the last year to advance the cause of longevity science. By the end of this year, we’ll have made 18 investments. Most of them are subsidiary companies of ours, so we control those companies. We give both development and financial backing to the scientist-entrepreneurs and institutions that we collaborate with.

I am fortunate to have two partners who have broad experience in the biotech and healthcare area, in particular, Declan Doogan, who was the head of drug development at Pfizer for a long period, and then he became the CEO of Amarin, which, as you know, is a very successful biotech company with a nearly $10 billion market valuation today. About four years ago, the three of us started a company called Biohaven, which is now listed on the New York Stock Exchange and has a valuation of about $2.5 billion. The company has approval for a drug for migraine, which will be on the market in the US next year. There is a good team of veteran drug developers and business entrepreneurs who have come together to create this Juvenescence company, and we’re very, very excited about it. We’re the biggest investors in the company ourselves, on the same terms as other investors. We will take the company public in the first quarter of next year, barring market disasters, and probably on the US stock exchanges.

We’re interested in this field of longevity science and able to raise significant funding because we’ve been in biotech for quite a long period of time, together, and created a number of companies. It seemed to be a natural outgrowth of the great developments that have occurred in the last few years. The unveiling of the human genome identified aging pathways that can now be manipulated. For the first time ever, you and I are in the cohort that is able to be bioengineered to live a healthier and longer life. It is still in a very primitive stage; we’re in the internet dial-up era equivalent, but the science is advancing very quickly.

I always say that I wrote my first book on biotech seven years ago, it was called Cracking the Code, and since then, we’ve had CRISPR/Cas9, which didn’t exist seven years ago, we’ve had the cure for Hepatitis C, we’ve had artificial intelligence for the development of novel compounds. The latter of which is a key part of our strategy, as investors in In Silico Medicine, which I think you are familiar with. Then, of course, you have cancer immunotherapy, which didn’t exist seven years ago, and is now a $100 billion / year industry. So, what’s going to happen in the next seven years? We don’t know, but it’s going to be very, very good. If you want to regard it as a casino table, we’re covering all the markers that we can with the funds that we’ve raised. We hope to raise a substantial further amount on the initial public offering of the company in the first quarter of next year, and that will give us enough firepower to do five Phase 2 trials without partners so that we can get the maximum leverage on the products that we’re developing.

So far, we’ve invested in small molecules, which is the specialization of our team. For instance, we have a senolytic drug in development in that area. We’ve also invested in stem cells; we’re the largest investor in Mike West’s company, AgeX Therapeutics, which is now a public company in the US. We own about 46% of that company. Then, via Lygenesis, we’ve also got our first product going into patients in the first quarter of next year, sick patients in a phase II trial, for organ regeneration, regenerating the liver, using hepatocytes to seed lymph nodes to act as ectopic bioreactors to grow fully functioning liver tissue. The FDA has agreed to the protocol for doing that in sick patients, which is a remarkably fast path to demonstrating successful outcomes in that area. If that is successful, then we will look to regenerate other organs, in particular the thymus, which as you know is related to aging in a big way.

We’re moving very, very quickly. We’ve got great colleagues; Margaret Jackson from Pfizer is on our team. Howard Federoff, ex-Pfizer, is on our team. Annalisa Jenkins, who was head of drug development and research and development at Merck Serono, a very big drug company, is on our team. We’ve put it all together remarkably quickly, but we have experience in doing that, and so we’re full of confidence. This is a remarkable time to be alive, and I want to be alive for at least another 20 or 30 years beyond what would be considered to be my allotted life span. The same is the motivating factor for my cofounders, Declan Doogan and Greg Bailey.

Working to extend life is an ethical cause. No one can argue, successfully at least, that this isn’t a good thing to do. There are some people who say “well, it is for the haves and not for the have-nots” but that is rubbish, because, ultimately, all these drugs will become generally available, and some of them already are. Metformin, which, as you are aware, is a drug that has some anti-aging properties, costs essentially nothing. It is a generic drug. As antibiotics, ulcer drugs, and so forth were once expensive and are now very cheap, the same thing will happen to drugs for longevity. Gene therapy and stem cells are another matter, though, and they will probably be expensive things for some time to come. But, undoubtedly, the cost will come down for those as well.

The other people who argue against work on aging talk about overpopulation; if there are all these old people, will there be enough room on the planet. Well, the answer is, we’re already alive, so we’re not going to be adding to the population. You and I are already here. The big issue on population is how many children does each woman have around the world, and that figure is falling dramatically, to the point where we can see populations actually shrinking. Just as an example, if Japan doesn’t allow immigration, or doesn’t have a baby boom, its population will fall from 126 million today to 50 million by the year 2100. So both those arguments, the haves versus the have-nots, and the overpopulation concern, are nonsensical arguments. In my view, there is absolutely no reason why governments, institutions, the general population, and the voting population shouldn’t be pushing really hard to make this happen.

Regarding the aging of the existing population and how to cope with it, the main point made by Aubrey de Grey, and other eminent scientists as well, is that if you treat the top of the cascade of damage in aging, then you are going to treat the underlying diseases of aging that pharmaceutical companies are trying to address. But for those pharmaceutical companies, it is a whack-a-mole exercise, so if you get one disease and that is cured, then you’ll get another one, and they’ll have to cure that one. Ultimately, we become destabilized and we die, all of us. So, let’s try and treat aging as the central disease, and from that as the unitary disease, we’ll be treating the cascade that follows from that.

Some people say it is hubris to target aging, but I think that this is because until relatively recently, nothing worked. It has been an aspiration of human beings for millennia to find the fountain or elixir of youth, and nothing has worked. So, people are skeptical about the fact that it might be working now: why now rather than 20 years ago or 20 years in the future? But the fact is that it is now, and we need to seize the moment and rise to the challenge. We need much more funding to come into this area, and that funding will drive the science. We need many more advocates for this cause to come to the fore and tp spread the word, that this is going to be monumentally great for human beings.

In my own case, I’ve set up a charity with Andrew Scott, who wrote The 100 Year Life, and we do a Longevity Week in London. We did the first one last year, and we’re doing the next one in November of this year, to spread the word. This will have a big societal impact, on consumption, on the way in which we look at the trajectory of life, but it is also going to have a major impact on us as human beings. In the past, you’d have expected to live to about 85 or 90, the same with me, and now we’re very likely to live to 110 or 120, so let’s do it. Let’s make it happen. I think that all of us, yourself, myself, have relatives, dear friends, and acquaintances who are suffering the indignities of aging as it currently exists. We’d like to relieve that burden of suffering by extending the healthy span of life. The personal motivation is a very big factor. Here in Berlin, there are 300 or 400 people at this conference, and I imagine that all of them, beyond just the business or scientific side of things, have an altruistic motivation for this as well. More people need to do it, so get on to it!

The elevator pitch for high net worth people thinking about investing in this space is that, first of all, we’re at the front end of a huge upward curve. I said earlier on that this was like the internet dial-up phase of longevity biotech. If you’d invested in the internet in the very early days, you’d be more than a billionaire now; you’d be one of the richest people on the planet. We’re at that stage now, so the opportunity for investors is huge, but you could do both. You could invest in something like the SENS Research Foundation or the Buck Institute or one of those wonderful organizations that is trying to advance the cause, and at the same time invest in some of the companies that come out of those institutions. We’ve undertaken two joint ventures with the Buck Institute, and we’ve made a couple of investments as a result of introductions by the SENS Research Foundation, including the organ regeneration program. If you’re a sensible billionaire, you will be putting some of your funds to work in a combination of a charitable enterprise that drives the science and the businesses themselves that come out of those enterprises.

Many thanks to Leaf Science for doing the transcript!

Perhaps one of the most interesting companies in which Juvenescence has invested is Lygenesis, which is developing an approach to address liver failure by creating miniature livers to pick up the slack. Lygenesis is using a technique in which liver cells are delivered to lymph nodes, where they develop and grow into fully working liver tissue, albeit smaller than the organ they replace. If these organs are shown to perform all the functions of a working liver, they could potentially remove the need to replace damaged livers through transplants. Initial work in mice and pigs has been promising, and Lygenesis plans to move to phase 2 clinical trials in early 2020.

Judith Campisi – Senolytics for Healthy Longevity

I had the absolute privilege of interviewing Judith Campisi at the Undoing Aging conference in Berlin.  She was so sweet and kind – it was really a pleasure to spend time with her discussing senolytics, regenerative medicine, and the anti-aging movement.

 

 

 

Judith Campisi was humble, open minded, and careful not to overstate the importance of senolytics, and rejuvenation therapy in general.  Though she really is someone who has made an absolutely huge impact in anti-aging research.  I couldn’t have said it better than Reason at Fight Aging!

As one of the authors of the initial SENS position paper, published many years ago now, Judith Campisi is one of the small number of people who is able to say that she was right all along about the value of targeted removal of senescent cells, and that it would prove to be a viable approach to the treatment of aging as a medical condition. Now that the rest of the research community has been convinced of this point – the evidence from animal studies really is robust and overwhelming – the senescent cell clearance therapies known as senolytics are shaping up to be the first legitimate, real, working, widely available form of rejuvenation therapy.

Cancelling the Apocalypse – Avoiding Civilisational Collapse

Cancelling the Apocalypse – Why do civilizations collapse? And is our own civilization ripe for collapse?

2:19 Are we on the road to civilizational collapse?
11:01 Why we need global governance, not global government
18:20 The double-edged sword of civilizational complexity
24:11 The apocalyptic scenario Bob fears most
42:01 Luke: Not every problem has a technical solution
50:15 Bob: Slower technological change would be a blessing

A discussion between Robert Wright (Bloggingheads.tv, The Evolution of God, Nonzero, Why Buddhism Is True) and Luke Kemp (Centre for the Study of Existential Risk)

Luke Kemp is working on how catastrophic risks are interconnected, how we can better predict them, and how we can translate foresight into action in the present. He is a an honourary lecturer in environmental policy at the Australian National University (ANU), holds a PhD in international relations from the ANU and was a senior economist (at Vivid Economics) for several years.

One interesting concept brought up was the Red Queen Race – is an evolutionary hypothesis which proposes that organisms must constantly adapt, evolve, and proliferate in order to survive while pitted against ever-evolving opposing organisms in a constantly changing environment, as well as to gain reproductive advantage.

The hypothesis intends to explain two different phenomena: the constant extinction rates as observed in the paleontological record caused by co-evolution between competing species, and the advantage of sexual reproduction (as opposed to asexual reproduction) at the level of individuals.

Relatedly, this was a great read:

Civilisational collapse has a bright past – but a dark future

“Is the collapse of a civilisation necessarily calamitous? The failure of the Egyptian Old Kingdom towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE was accompanied by riots, tomb-raids and even cannibalism. ‘The whole of Upper Egypt died of hunger and each individual had reached such a state of hunger that he ate his own children,’ runs an account from 2120 BCE about the life of Ankhtifi, a southern provincial governor of Ancient Egypt.

Many of us are familiar with this historical narrative of how cultures can rapidly – and violently – decline and fall. Recent history appears to bear it out, too. Post-invasion Iraq witnessed 100,000 deaths in the first year and a half, followed by the emergence of ISIS. And the overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011 produced a power vacuum, leading to the re-emergence of the slave trade.

However, there’s a more complicated reality behind this view of collapse. In fact, the end of civilisations rarely involved a sudden cataclysm or apocalypse. Often the process is protracted, mild, and leaves people and culture continuing for many years.”

[…]

“Collapse, then, is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it’s a boon for subjects and a chance to restart decaying institutions. Yet it can also lead to the loss of population, culture and hardwon political structures. What comes from collapse depends, in part, on how people navigate the ensuing tumult, and how easily and safely citizens can return to alternative forms of society. Unfortunately, these features suggest that while collapse has a mixed track record, in the modern world it might have only a dark future.” .. [read more at aeon]


Also see this thread on Quora : “How does a civilization collapse? Will modern civilization collapse like the ancient ones?”

“Biomimicry”, a Documentary

Biomimicry is a 20 minute long documentary film, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio (film producer, and environmentalist), on the topic of how life and biology can be the mentors for our own innovation in the world.

Janine Benyus, the founder of the Biomimicry Institute, describes how biomimicry has been applied to different problems successfully, from designing forms that capture carbon to replacing toxic solvents we use.

Benyus believes that there is much to be learned in terms of sustainability and success in innovation from the organisms that compose the history of life in our planet. Biomimicry is brought to us by Leonardo DiCaprio, Executive Producer Oliver Stanton, and directed by Leila Conners, produced by Mathew Schmid and Bryony Schwan, with Executive Producers Roee Sharon Peled and George DiCaprio.

Biomimicry, the practice of looking deeply into nature for solutions to engineering, design and other challenges, has inspired a film about it’s ground-breaking vision for creating a long-term, sustainable world. This film covers how mimicking nature solves some of our most pressing problems, from reducing carbon emissions to saving water. The film, titled “Biomimicry” features Janine Benyus, is brought to you by Leonardo DiCaprio, Executive Producers Oliver Stanton, directed by Leila Conners, produced by Mathew Schmid and Bryony Schwan, created by Tree Media with Executive Producers Roee Sharon Peled and George DiCaprio.

For more on the film: http://www.treemedia.com

Why did Sam Altman join OpenAI as CEO?

Sam Altman leaves role as president at YCombinator and joins OpenAI as CEO – why?

Elon Musk created OpenAI to to ensure that artificial intelligence, especially powerful artificial general intelligence (AGI), is “developed in a way that is safe and is beneficial to humanity,” – it’s an interesting bet – because AGI doesn’t exist yet – and the tech industries forecasts about when AGI will be realised spans across a wide spectrum of relatively soon to perhaps never.

We are trying to build safe artificial general intelligence. So it is my belief that in the next few decades, someone; some group of humans, will build a software system that is smarter and more capable than humans in every way. And so it will very quickly go from being a little bit more capable than humans, to something that is like a million, or a billion times more capable than humans… So we’re trying to figure out how to do that technically, make it safe and equitable, share the benefits of it – the decision making of it – over the world…Sam Altman

Sam and others believe that developing AGI is a large project, and won’t be cheap – and could require upwards of billions of dollars “in upcoming years into large-scale cloud compute, attracting and retaining talented people, and building AI supercomputers”. OpenAI was once a non-profit org, but recently it restructred as a for-profit with caveats.. Sam tells investors that it isn’t clear on the specifics of how return on investment will work in the short term, though ‘Once we build a generally intelligent system, that basically we will ask it to figure out a way to make an investment return for you.’

So, first create AGI and then use it to money… But how much money?

Capped profit at 100x investment – then excess profit goes to the rest of the world. 100x is quite a high bar no? The thought is that AGI could be so powerful it could..

“maybe capture the light cone of all future value in the universe, and that’s for sure not okay for one group of investors to have.”

If we take the high standards of Future of Humanity Institute* for due diligence in perusing safe AI – are these standards being met at OpenAI? While Sam seems to have some sympathy for the arguments for these standards, he seems to believe it’s more important to focus on societal consequences of superintelligent AI. Perhaps convincing key players of this in the short term will help incubate an environment where it’s easier to pursue strict safety standards for AGI development.

I really do believe that the work we are doing at OpenAI will not only far eclipse the work I did at YC, but any of the work anyone in the tech industry does…Sam Altman

See this video (at approx 25.30 minute mark and onwards)

 

* See Nick Bostrom’s book ‘Superintelligence

Reason – Philosophy Of Anti Aging: Ethics, Research & Advocacy

Reason was interviewed at the Undoing Aging conference in Berlin 2019 by Adam Ford – focusing on philosophy of anti-aging, ethics, research & advocacy. Here is the audio!

And the video:

Topics include philosophical reasons to support anti-aging, high impact research (senolytics etc), convincing existence proofs that further research is worth doing, how AI can help and how human research (bench-work) isn’t being replaced by AI atm or in the foreseeable future, suffering mitigation and cause prioritization in Effective Altruism – how the EA movement sees anti-aging and why it should advocate for it, population effects (financial & public health) of an aging population and the ethics of solving aging as a problem…and more.

Reason is the founder and primary blogger at FightAging.org

Jerry Shay – The Telomere Theory of Ageing – Interview At Undoing Ageing, Berlin, 2019

“When telomeres get really short that could lead to a dna damage signal and cause cells to undergo a phenomenon called ‘replicative senescence’…where cells can secrete things that are not necessarily very good for you..”

Why is it that immune cells don’t work as well in older age?

Listen to the interview here

Jerry and his team compared a homogeneous group of centenarians in northern Italy to 80 year olds and 30 year olds – and tested their immune cells (T-Cells) for function (through RNA sequencing) – what was observed was all the young people clustered apart from most of the old people clustered.. but the centenarians didn’t cluster in any one spot.  It was found that the centenarians clustered along side the younger cohorts had better telomere length.

Out of 7 billion people on earth, there is only about ~ half a million centenarians – most of them are frail – though the ones with longer telomeres and more robust T-Cell physiology seem to be quite different to the frail centenarians.   What usually happens is when telomeres wear down the DNA in the cell gets damaged, triggering a DNA damage response. From this, Jerry and his team made a jump in logic – maybe there are genes (i.e. telomere [telomere expression genes?]) that when the telomeres are long these genes are repressed, and when the telomeres short the genes get activated – circumventing the need for a DNA damage response.  What is interesting is that they found genes that are really close to the telomere genes (cytokines – inflammatory gene responses – TNF Alpha, Ennalucan 1 etc) – are being activated in humans – a process called ‘Telomere Looping’. As we grow and develop our telomeres get longer, and at a certain length they start silencing certain inflammation genes, then as we age some of these genes get activated – this is sometimes referred to as the ‘Telomere Clock’.  Centenarians who are healthy maintain longer telomeres and don’t have these inflammation genes activated.

 

During early fetal development (12-18 weeks) telomerase gets silenced – it’s always been thought that this was to stop early onset of cancer – but Dr Shay asked, ‘why is it that all newborns have about the same length of telomeres?’ – and it’s not just in humans, it’s in other animals like whales, elephants, and many large long-lived mammal – this doesn’t occur in smaller mammals like mice, rats or rabbits.   The concept is that when the telomere is long enough, it loops over and silences its own gene, which stays silent until we are older (and in need of it again to help prevent cancer).

This Telomere Looping probably evolved as part of Antagonistic Pleiotropy – where things that may have a protection or advantage early in life may have unpredicted negative consequences later in life. This is what telomerase is for – we as humans need it in very early development, as do large long-lived mammals, and  a mechanism to shut it off – then at a later older age it can be activated again to fight against cancer.

 

There is a fair amount of evidence for accumulated damage as hallmarks for ageing – can we take a damage repair approach to rejuvenation medicine?

Telomere spectrum disorders or telomeropathies – human diseases of telomere disfunction – diseases like idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in adults and dyskeratosis congenita in young children who are born with reduced amounts of telomeres and telomerase – they get age related diseases very early in life.  Can they be treated? Perhaps through gene therapy or by transiently elongating their telomeres. But can this be applied for the general population too?  People don’t lose their telomeres at the same rate – we know it’s possible for people to keep their telomeres long for 100 years or more – it’s just not yet known how.  It could be luck, likely it has a lot to do with genetics.

 

Ageing is complex – no one theory is going to explain everything about ageing – the telomere hypothesis of ageing perhaps makes up for about on average 5% or 10% of aging – though understanding it enough might give people an extra 10% of healthy life.   Eventually it will be all about personalised medicine – with genotyping we will be able to say you have about a 50% chance of bone marrow failure when you’re 80 years old – then if so you may be a candidate for bone marrow rejuvenation.

What is possible in the next 10 years?

 

Inflammation is highly central to causing age related disease.  Chronic inflammation can lead to a whole spectrum of diseases. The big difference between the subtle low grade inflammation that we have drugs for – like TNF blockers (like Humira and Enbrel) which subtly reduce inflammation – people can go into remission from many diseases after taking this.

There are about 40 million people on Metformin in the USA – which may help reduce the consequences of ageing – this and other drugs like it are safe drugs – if we can find further safe drugs to reduce inflammation etc this could go a long way – Aspirin perhaps (it’s complicated) – but it doesn’t take much to get a big bang out of a little intervention – the key to all this is safety – we don’t want to do any harm – so metformin and Asprin have been proven to be safe over time – now we need to learn how to repurpose those to specifically address the ageing problem.

 

Historically we have more or less ignored the fundamental problem of ageing and targeted specific diseases – but by the time you are diagnosed, it’s difficult to treat the disease – by the time you have been diagnosed with cancer, it’s likely so far advanced that it’s difficult to stop the eventual outcomes.   The concept of intervening in the ticking clock of ageing is becoming more popular now. If we can intervene early in the process we may be able to mitigate downstream diseases.

Jerry has been working on what they call a ‘Telomerase Mediated Inhibitor’ (see more about telomerase meditation here) – “it shows amazing efficacy in reducing tumor burden and improving immune cell function at the same time – it gets rid of the bad immune cells in the micro environment, and guess what?  the tumors disappear – so I think there’s ways to take advantage of the new knowledge of ageing research and apply it to diseases – but I think it’s going to be a while before we think about prevention.”

Unfortunately in the USA, and really globally “people want to have their problems their lifestyles the way they want them, and when something goes wrong, they want the doctor to come and and give them a pill to fix the problem instead of taking personal responsibility and saying that what we should be doing is preventing it in the first place.”  We all know that prevention is important, though most don’t want to practise prevention over the long haul.

 

The goal of all this not necessarily to live longer, but to live healthier – we now know that the costs associated with intervening with the pathologies associated with ageing is enormous.  Someone said that the 25% of medicare costs in the USA is in treating people that are on dialysis – that’s huge. If we could compress the number of years of end of life morbidities into a smaller window, it would pay for itself over and over again.   So the goal is to increase healthspan and reduce the long period of chronic diseases associated with ageing. We don’t want this to be a selected subgroup who have access to future regenerative medicine – there are many people in the world without resources or access at this time – we hope that will change.

Jerry’s goal is to take some of the discovered bio-markers of both healthy and less healthy older people – and test them out on larger population numbers – though it’s very difficult to get the funding one needs to conduct large population studies.

Keith Comito on Undoing Ageing

What is the relationship between anti-aging and the reduction of suffering? What are some common objections to the ideas of solving aging? How does Anti-Aging stack up against other cause areas (like climate change, or curing specific diseases)? How can we better convince people of the virtues of undoing the diseases of old age?

Keith Comito, interviewed by Adam Ford at the Undoing Aging 2019 conference in Berlin, discusses why solving the diseases of old age is powerful cause. Note the video of this interview will be available soon. He is a computer programmer and mathematician whose work brings together a variety of disciplines to provoke thought and promote social change. He has created video games, bioinformatics programs, musical applications, and biotechnology projects featured in Forbes and NPR.

In addition to developing high-profile mobile applications such as HBO Now and MLB AtBat, he explores the intersection of technology and biology at the Brooklyn community lab Genspace, where he helped to create games which allow players to direct the motion of microscopic organisms.

Seeing age-related disease as one of the most profound problems facing humanity, he now works to accelerate and democratize longevity research efforts through initiatives such as Lifespan.io.

He earned a B.S. in Mathematics, B.S. in Computer science, and M.S. in Applied Mathematics at Hofstra University, where his work included analysis of the LMNA protein.

Future Day Melbourne 2019

Future Day is nigh – sporting a spectacular line of speakers!

Agenda

5.30Doors open – meet and greet other attendees
5.45Introduction
6.00Drew Berry – “The molecular machines that create your flesh and blood” [abstract]
6.45Brock Bastian – “Happiness, culture, mental illness, and the future self” [abstract]
7.30Lynette Plenderleith: “The future of biodiversity starts now” [abstract]
8.15Panel: Drew Berry, Brock Bastian, Lynette Plenderleith
Join the MeetupFuture Day is on the 21st of March - sporting a spectacular line of speakers ranging from Futurology, Philosophy, Biomedical Animation & Psychology!

Venue: KPMG Melbourne – 727 Collins St [map link] – Collins Square – Level 36 Room 2

Limited seating to about 40, though if there is overflow, there will be standing room.

PLEASE have a snack/drink before you come. Apparently we can’t supply food/drink at KPMG, so eat something beforehand – or work up and appetite…
Afterwards we will sojourn at a local pub for some grub and ale.

I’m looking forward to seeing people I have met before, and some new faces as well.

Drew Berry – Biomedical Animator @ The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
Brock BastianMelbourne School of Psychological Sciences University of Melbourne

Check out the Future Day Facebook Group, and the Twitter account!

Abstracts

The molecular machines that create your flesh and blood

By Drew Berry – Abstract: A profound technological revolution is underway in bio-medical science, accelerating development of new therapies and treatments for the diseases that afflict us and also transforming how we perceive ourselves and the nature of our living bodies. Coupled to the accelerating pace of scientific discovery is an ever expanding need to explain to the public and develop appreciation of our new biomedical capabilities, to prepare the public for the tsunami of new knowledge and medicines that will impact patients, our families and community.
Drew Berry will present the latest visualisation experiments in creating cinematic movies and real-time interactive 3D molecular worlds, that reveal the current state of the art scientific discovery, focusing on the molecular engines that covert the food you eat into the chemical energy that powers your cells and tissues. Leveraging the incredible power of game GPU technology, vast molecular landscapes can be generated for 3D 360 degree cinema for museum and science centre dome theatres, interactive exploration in VR, and Augmented Reality education via student mobile phones.

 

Happiness, culture, mental illness, and the future self

By Brock Bastian – Abstract: What is the future of human happiness and wellbeing. We are currently treating mental illness at the level of individuals, yet rates of mental illness are not going down, and in some cases continue to rise. I will present research indicating that we need to start to tackle this problem at the level of culture. The cultural values places on particular emotional states may play a role in how people respond to their own emotional worlds. Furthermore, I will present evidence that basic cultural differences in how we explain events, predict the future and understand ourselves may also impact on the effectiveness of our capacity to deal with emotional events. This suggests that we need to begin to take culture seriously in how we treat mental illness. It also provides some important insights into what kind of thinking styles we might seek to promote and how we might seek to understand and shape our future selves. This also has implications for how we might find happiness in a world increasingly characterized by residential mobility, weak ties, and digital rather than face-to-face interaction.

 

The future of biodiversity starts now

By Lynette Plenderleith – Abstract: Biodiversity is vital to our food security, our industries, our health and our progress. Yet never before has the future of biodiversity been so under threat as we modify more land, burn more fossil fuels and transport exotic organisms around the planet. But in the face of catastrophic biodiversity collapse, scientists, community groups and not-for-profits are working to discover new ways to conserve biodiversity, for us and the rest of life on our planet. From techniques as simple as preserving habitat to complex scientific techniques like de-extinction, Lynette will discuss our options for the future to protect biodiversity, how the future of biodiversity could look and why we should start employing conservation techniques now. Our future relies on the conservation of  biodiversity and its future rests in our hands. We have the technology to protect it.

 

Biographies

Dr Drew Berry

Dr Drew Berry is a biomedical animator who creates beautiful, accurate visualisations of the dramatic cellular and molecular action that is going on inside our bodies. He began his career as a cell biologist and is fluent navigating technical reports, research data and models from scientific journals. As an artist, he works as a translator, transforming abstract and complicated scientific concepts into vivid and meaningful visual journeys. Since 1995 he has been a biomedical animator at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Australia. His animations have exhibited at venues such as the Guggenheim Museum, MoMA, the Royal Institute of Great Britain and the University of Geneva. In 2010, he received a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant”.

Recognition and awards

• Doctorate of Technology (hc), Linköping University Sweden, 2016
• MacArthur Fellowship, USA 2010
• New York Times “If there is a Steven Spielberg of molecular animation, it is probably Drew Berry” 2010
• The New Yorker “[Drew Berry’s] animations are astonishingly beautiful” 2008
• American Scientist “The admirers of Drew Berry, at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia, talk about him the way Cellini talked about Michelangelo” 2009
• Nature Niche Prize, UK 2008
• Emmy “DNA” Windfall Films, UK 2005
• BAFTA “DNA Interactive” RGB Co, UK 2004

Animation http://www.wehi.tv
TED http://www.ted.com/talks/drew_berry_animations_of_unseeable_biology
Architectural projection https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9AA5x-qhm8
Björk video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wa1A0pPc-ik
Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drew_Berry

Assoc Prof Brock Bastian

Brock Bastian is a social psychologist whose research focuses on pain, happiness, and morality.

In his search for a new perspective on what makes for the good life, Brock Bastian has studied why promoting happiness may have paradoxical effects; why we need negative and painful experiences in life to build meaning, purpose, resilience, and ultimately greater fulfilment in life; and why behavioural ethics is necessary for understanding how we reason about personal and social issues and resolve conflicts of interest. His first book, The Other Side of Happiness, was published in January 2018.

 

The Other Side of Happiness: Embracing a More Fearless Approach to Living

Our addiction to positivity and the pursuit of pleasure is actually making us miserable. Brock Bastian shows that, without some pain, we have no real way to achieve and appreciate the kind of happiness that is true and transcendent.

Read more about The Other Side of Happiness

Dr. Lynette Plenderleith

Dr. Lynette Plenderleith is a wildlife biologist by training and is now a media science specialist, working mostly in television, with credits including children’s show WAC!
World Animal Championships and Gardening Australia. Lynette is Chair and Founder of Frogs Victoria, President of the Victorian branch of Australian Science Communicators and occasional performer of live science-comedy. Lynette has a Ph.D from Monash University, where she studied the ecology of native Australian frogs, a Master’s degree in the spatial ecology of salamanders from Towson University in the US and a BSc in Natural Sciences from Lancaster University in her homeland – the UK.
Twitter: @lynplen
Website: lynplen.com

 

 

The Future is not a product

It’s more exciting than gadgets with shiny screens and blinking lights.

Future Day is a way of focusing and celebrating the energy that more and more people around the world are directing toward creating a radically better future.

How should Future Day be celebrated? That is for us to decide as the future unfolds!

  • Future Day could be adopted as an official holiday by countries around the world.
  • Children can do Future Day projects at school, exploring their ideas and passions about creating a better future.
  • Future Day costume parties — why not? It makes at least as much sense as dressing up to celebrate halloween!
  • Businesses giving employees a day off from routine concerns, to think creatively about future projects
  • Special Future Day issues in newspapers, magazines and blogs
  • Use your imagination — that’s what the future is all about!

The Future & You

It’s time to create the future together!

Our aspirations are all too often sidetracked in this age of distraction. Lurking behind every unfolding minute is a random tangent with no real benefit for our future selves – so let’s ritualize our commitment to the future by celebrating it! Future Day is here to fill our attention economies with useful ways to solve the problems of arriving at desirable futures, & avoid being distracted by the usual gauntlet of noise we run every other day. Our future is very important – accelerating scientific & technological progress will change the world even more than it already has. While other days of celebration focus on the past – let’s face the future – an editable history of a time to come – a future that is glorious for everyone.

Videos from Previous Future Day Events / Interviews