Blockbuster Science! Tech investors reward ‘Breakthough Science’

Blockbuster Science! Its an awesome approach to incentivizing scientists – it’s great that people are applauding for stuff that really matters! People cheer at most ridiculous and inconsequential things – why not funnel this energy into science?

Next step, create high production shorts for real world advances in science (with a tinge of flair) – much like they do to promote blockbuster movies. NY Times stated : “Scientists don’t have the power of celebrities in American society. The Breakthrough Prize tries to change that”

Anne Wojcicki

Biologist Anne Wojcicki attends the 2016 Breakthrough Prize Ceremony

Yuri Milner

Entrepreneur and Investor Yuri Milner

“Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire, and his high-tech Silicon Valley friends have awarded $29.5 million to seven scientists, a high school student, and a huge team of physics researchers for their varied science achievements.

Milner’s third annual Breakthrough Prizes were financed by his foundation with contributions from Sergey Brin of Google and his wife, 23&Me founder Anne Wojcicki; Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook; and Jack Ma of China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Other prizes went to Ed Boyden, now at MIT, who was Deisseroth’s partner at Stanford developing optogenetics; Helen Hobbs, a University of Texas physician who discovered the roles that variant genes play in cholesterol and lipid levels leading to heart disease; John Hardy, a neuroscientist at University College in London, who discovered genetic mutations in the amyloid genes causing Alzheimer’s disease; and Svante Pääbo, the famed anthropologist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute, who sequenced the genes of Neanderthals and discovered traces of the vanished humans called Denisovans.” said David Perlman at SF Gate.

Yuri Milner did an inspiring interview with New Scientist on the positively huge impacts of fundamental research in science on society. ” If you go far enough into the future, a fundamental discovery leads to some new technology.”, said Yuri Milner.

Ed Boyden develops new strategies for analyzing and engineering brain circuits, using synthetic biology, nanotechnology, chemistry, electrical engineering, and optics to develop broadly applicable methodologies that reveal fundamental mechanisms of complex brain processes. A major goal of his current work is the development of technologies for controlling nerve cells using light – a powerful new technology known as optogenetics that is opening the door to new treatments for conditions such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and mood disorders.

Ed Boyden develops new strategies for analyzing and engineering brain circuits, using synthetic biology, nanotechnology, chemistry, electrical engineering, and optics to develop broadly applicable methodologies that reveal fundamental mechanisms of complex brain processes. A major goal of his current work is the development of technologies for controlling nerve cells using light – a powerful new technology known as optogenetics that is opening the door to new treatments for conditions such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and mood disorders.

Ed Boyden is on the closing Breakthrough Prize Panel Discussion hosted by Yuri Milner.

Will the breakthrough accomplishments in science one day outshine a season winning slam dunk?

Athletic heroes loom large in our imagination – though how often do we stop to think about brilliant scientists and the wonderful things they have achieved that make positive tractable difference in our lives and the world around us?

Elon Musk founder of Tesla and SpaceX said: “It is important to celebrate science and to create role models for science that kids want to emulate.. For the benefit of humanity, we want breakthroughs in science that help us improve standards of living, cure disease, make life better… I’d rather a super-smart, creative kid went into developing breakthrough technologies that improve the world rather than, say, went to Wall Street.”

I see this as a positive sign of a general warming to Enlightenment values and the idea that significant civilizational progress in improving the human condition through science.


Lawrence Krauss – An update on Cosmology – How Big Bang Gravitational Waves Could Revolutionize Physics!

Lawrence Krauss – An update on Cosmology and thoughts on Education – Cosmologist with Attitude

How Big Bang Gravitational Waves Could Revolutionize Physics! Lawrence is well known for his critical thinking and promotion of science. He has appeared on Q & A among other shows. Lawrence Krauss is Director of the ASU Origins Project at Arizona State University and Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Physics.
Described by Scientific American as a unique scientific ‘public intellectual’, Krauss is a renowned theoretical physicist as well as one of the most well-known advocates for science worldwide. In addition to over 300 scientific publications, He has written nine books for a general audience, including the international bestsellers The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe From Nothing, with translations into over 20 languages. His research has focused on the intersection on cosmology and elementary particle physics, including general relativity and quantum gravity, the early universe, the origin of mass, neutrino astrophysics, and the long term future of the universe. He is the winner of numerous international awards, and is the only physicist to have received the major awards from all three US physics societies. In 2012, he was awarded The National Science Board’s Public Service Award for his many contributions. He frequently appears on TV and radio and contributes to newspapers and magazines, and is the subject of a new full-length feature film, The Unbelievers, which follows Krauss and Richard Dawkins around the world as they discuss science and reason.

The evening was put on by the Vic Skeptics & was held at Graduate House Conference Centre, 220 Leicester Street Carlton on Friday 29 August with proceedings beginning at 6:30pm.

Lawrence Krauss Vic Skeptics

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Lawrence Krauss Video Image

Vernor Vinge on the Technological Singularity

What is the Singularity? Vernor Vinge speaks about technological change, offloading cognition from minds into the environment, and the potential of Strong Artificial Intelligence.

Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.” – “The Coming Technological SingularityVernor Vinge 1993

Vernor Vinge popularised and coined the term “Technological Singularity” in 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.

courtesy of the Imaginary Foundation

courtesy of the Imaginary Foundation

Vinge published his first short story, “Bookworm, Run!”, in the March 1966 issue of Analog Science Fiction, then edited by John W. Campbell. The story explores the theme of artificially augmented intelligence by connecting the brain directly to computerised data sources. He became a moderately prolific contributor to SF magazines in the 1960s and early 1970s. In 1969, he expanded two related stories, (“The Barbarian Princess”, Analog, 1966 and “Grimm’s Story”, Orbit 4, 1968) into his first novel, Grimm’s World. His second novel, The Witling, was published in 1975.

Vinge came to prominence in 1981 with his novella True Names, perhaps the first story to present a fully fleshed-out concept of cyberspace, which would later be central to cyberpunk stories by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and others.


Vernor Vinge

Image Courtesy – Long Now Foundation

Automating Science: Panel – Stephen Ames, John Wilkins, Greg Restall, Kevin Korb

A discussion among philosophers, mathematicians and AI experts on whether science can be automated, what it means to automate science, and the implications of automating science – including discussion on the technological singularity.

– implementing science in a computer – Bayesian methods – most promising normative standard for doing inductive inference
– vehicle : causal Bayesian networks – probability distributions over random variables showing causal relationships
– probabilifying relationships – tests whose evidence can raise the probability

05:23 does Bayesianism misrepresent the majority of what people do in science?

07:05 How to automate the generation of new hypotheses?
– Is there a clean dividing line between discovery and justification? (Popper’s view on the difference between the context of discovery and context of justification) Sure we discuss the difference between the concepts – but what is the difference between the implementation?

08:42 Automation of Science from beginning to end: concept formation, discovery of hypotheses, developing experiments, testing hypotheses, making inferences … hypotheses testing has been done – through concept formation is an interestingly difficult problem

Panel---Automating-Science-and-Artificial-Intelligence---Kevin-Korb,-Greg-Restall,-John-Wilkins,-Stephen-Ames-1920x10839:38 – does everyone on the panel agree that automation of science is possible? Stephen Ames: not yet, but the goal is imminent, until it’s done it’s an open question – Kevin/John: logically possible, question is will we do it – Greg Restall: Don’t know, can there be one formal system that can generate anything classed as science? A degree of open-endedness may be required, the system will need to represent itself etc (Godel!=mysticism, automation!=representing something in a formal deductive theory)

13:04 There is a Godel theorem that applies to a formal representation for automating science – that means that the formal representation can’t do everything – therefore what’s the scope of a formal system that can automate science? What will the formal representation and automated science implementation look like?

14:20 Going beyond formal representations to automate science (John Searle objects to AI on the basis of formal representations not being universal problem solvers)

15:45 Abductive inference (inference to the best explanation) – & Popper’s pessimism about a logic of discovery has no foundation – where does it come from? Calling it logic (if logic means deduction) is misleading perhaps – abduction is not deductive, but it can be formalised.

17:10 Some classified systems fall out of neural networks or clustering programs – Google’s concept of a cat is not deductive (IFAIK)

19:29 Map & territory – Turing Test – ‘if you can’t tell the difference between the model and the real system – then in practice there is no difference’ – the behavioural test is probably a pretty good one for intelligence

22:03 Discussion on IBM Watson on Jeopardy – a lot of natural language processing but not natural language generation

24:09 Bayesianism – in mathematics and in humans reasoning probabilistically – it introduced the concept of not seeing everything in black and white. People get statistical problems wrong often when they are asked to answer intuitively. Is the technology likely to have a broad impact?

26:26 Human thinking, subjective statistical reasoning – and the mismatch between the public communicative act often sounding like Boolean logic – a mismatch between our internal representation and the tools we have for externally representing likelihoods
29:08 Low hanging fruit in human communication probabilistic reasoning – Bayesian nets and argument maps (Bayesian nets strengths between premises and conclusions)

29:41 Human inquiry, wondering and asking questions – how do we automate asking questions (as distinct from making statements)? Scientific abduction is connected to asking questions – there is no reason why asking questions can’t be automated – there is contrasted explanations and conceptual space theory where you can characterise a question – causal explanation using causal Bayesian networks (and when proposing an explanation it must be supported some explanatory context)

32:29 Automating Philosophy – if you can automate science you can automate philosophy –

34:02 Stanford Computational Metaphysics project (colleagues with Greg Restall) – Stanford Computational Metaphysics project – formalization of representations of relationships between concepts – going back to Leibniz – complex notions can be boiled down to simpler primitive notions and grinding out these primitive notions computationally – they are making genuine discoveries
Weak Reading: can some philosophy be automated – yes
Strong Reading of q: can All of philosophy be automated? – there seem to be some things that count as philosophy that don’t look like they will be automated in the next 10 years

35:41 If what we’re is interested in is to represent and automate the production of reasoning formally (not only to evaluate), as long as the domain is such that we are making claims and we are interested in the inferential connections between the claims, then a lot of the properties of reasoning are subject matter agnostic.

36:46 (Rohan McLeod) Regarding Creationism is it better to think of it as a poor hypothesis or non-science? – not an exclusive disjunct, can start as a poor hypothesis and later become not-science or science – it depends on the stage at the time – science rules things out of contention – and at some point creationism had not been ruled out

38:16 (Rohan McLeod) Is economics a science or does it have the potential to be (or is it intrinsically not possible for it to be a science) and why?
Are there value judgements in science? And if there are how do you falsify a hypothesis that conveys a value judgement? physicists make value judgements on hypothesis “h1 is good, h2 is bad” – economics may have reducible normative components but physics doesn’t (electrons aren’t the kinds of things that economies are) – Michael ??? paper on value judgements – “there is no such thing as a factual judgement that does not involve value” – while there are normative components to economics, it is studied from at least one remove – problem is economists try to make normative judgements like “a good economy/market/corporation will do X”

42:22 Problems with economics – incredibly complex, it’s hard to model, without a model exists a vacuum that gets filled with ideology – (are ideologies normative?)

42:56 One of the problems with economics is it gets treated like a natural system (in physics or chemistry) which hides all the values which are getting smuggled in – commitments and values which are operative and contribute to the configuration of the system – a contention is whether economics should be a science (Kevin: Yes, Stephen: No) – perhaps economics could be called a nascent science (in the process of being born)

44:28 (James Fodor) Well known scientists have thought that their theories were implicit in nature before they found them – what’s the role of intuition in automating science & philosophy? – need intuitions to drive things forward – intuition in the abduction area – to drive inspiration for generating hypothesis – though a lot of what get’s called intuition is really the unconscious processing of a trained mind (an experienced driver doesn’t have to process how to drive a car) – Louis Pasteur’s prepared mind – trained prior probabilities

46:55 The Singularity – disagreement? John Wilkins suspects it’s not physically possible – Where does Moore’s Law (or its equivalents in other hardware paradigms) peter out? The software problem could be solved near or far. Kevin agrees with I.J. Good – recursively improving abilities without (obvious) end (within thermodynamic limits). Kevin Korb explains the intelligence explosion.

50:31 Stephen Ames discusses his view of the singularity – but disagrees with uploading on the grounds of needing to commit to philosophical naturalism

51:52 Greg Restall mistrusts IT corporations to get uploading right – Kevin expresses concerns about using star-trek transporters – the lack of physical continuity. Greg discusses theories of intelligence – planes fly as do birds, but planes are not birds – they are differing

54:07 John Wilkins – way too much emphasis is put on propositional knowledge and communication in describing intelligence – each human has roughly the same amount of processing power – too much rests on academic pretense and conceit.

54:57 The Harvard Rule – under conditions of consistent lighting, feeding etc – the organism will do as it damn well pleases. But biology will defeat simple models.. Also Hulls rule – no matter what the law in biology is there is an exception (inc Hull’s law) – so simulated biology may be difficult. We won’t simulate an entire organism – we can’t simulate a cell. Kevin objects

58:30 Greg R. says simulations and models do give us useful information – even if we isolate certain properties in simulation that are not isolated in the real world – John Wilkins suggests that there will be a point where it works until it doesn’t

1:00:08 One of the biggest differences between humans and mice is 40 million years of evolution in both directions – the problem is in evo biol is your inductive projectability – we’ve observed it in these cases, therefore we expect it in this – it fades out relatively rapidly in direct disproportion to the degree of relatedness

1:01:35 Colin Kline – PSYCHE – and other AI programs making discoveries – David Chalmers have proposed the Hard Problem of Consciousness – pZombies – but we are all pZombies, so we will develop systems that are conscious because there is to such thing as consciousness. Kevin is with Dennet – info processing functioning is what consciousness supervenes upon
Greg – concept formation in systems like PSYCHE – but this milestone might be very early in the development of what we think of as agency – if the machine is worried about being turned off or complains about getting board, then we are onto something

Previous Conference a Success! Science, Technology & the Future

Science, Technology & the Future was held on Nov 30 – Dec 1 2013, Melbourne Australia

What will the future be like?

Right now, the technologies that we use to understand the world are in the process of a major transformation. Almost every field of knowledge is generating vast quantities of data, requiring unprecedented computing power and intelligent algorithms to aid in interpretation. The era of Big Data has well and truly commenced. From predicting future climate, to mapping brain activity, to exploring the universe or simply searching the internet — Big Data, as the name implies, holds massive potential for future research and it’s already here. With immense promise comes great challenges — one of the foremost being how to sift through the deluge of data to garner meaningful insights and translate them into practical innovations. Working out how to advance into personalised medicine from the human genome project, or create massive simulations of the cosmos from satellite and telescope data will occupy many.  We live in extraordinarily exciting times!

Speakers include:

  • Peter Doherty (Nobel Laureate) – Immunologist; named Australian of the Year in 1997 and is listed as an Australian National Treasure,

  • David Pearce – Philosopher and Founder of the World Transhumanist Association who promotes the idea that there exists a strong ethical imperative for humans to work towards the ultimate goal of removing suffering in all sentient life

  • Marcus Hutter – mathematical formalization of Universal Intelligence – known for ‘Universal Intelligence’ a mathematical formalization of general intelligence

  • Scott Watkins – Team Lead of the Organic Photovoltaics project at CSIRO – developing cheaper and faster ways to manufacture flexible solar coatings for many substrates

  • Tim van Gelder – CEO & Founder of Austhink Consulting – worked on augmenting human rationality though refining computer aided design tools like Argument Mapping

  • Drew Berry – 3D Digital Biomedical Visualization at WEHI – has won numerous awards for his amazing biomedical animations

  • Peter Ellerton – director of the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project

With leading scientists and technologists from various disciplines gathered to speak about the future of science and technology, the conference was  a battleground for the science that matters to anyone with a stake in the future. Our society continues to grapple with the ethical implications of developments in science and technology — we aim to bring clarity. At the conference we discussed the promise and perils of machine intelligence, materials science, the future of augmented reality and medicine, and much more.

The Nov 30 – Dec 1 conference took place in a time of great change, and unprecedented risks to global safety and prosperity. Some of these changes may threaten our survival — but let us take solace that great change brings great opportunities. We have the societal framework to deal with increasingly complex problems, harnessing the accumulated weight of thousands of individuals in fields as narrow as a nanotube and as overlapping as the world wide web. Let us take the opportunity to future-proof our efforts and find sustainable and resilient ways forward.


multiple selves

A Conference on Philosophy of Science & Epistemology

Few could predict just how fast and dramatic the social, economic and political impacts of computer technology have been in out lifetimes.

This Summer, leading scientists, inventors and philosophers will gather in Melbourne to discuss philosophy of science & epistemology.
Previous conferences 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2013 each drew over a hundred local, interstate and international enthusiasts to hear first-rate speakers from a range of fields. In 2014, we have again assembled a stellar line-up – Including Tim van Gelder, Philosopher and Founder of WTA David Pearce, Kevin Korb, John Wilkins, Neil Thomason and many others.

The conference will explore the important philosophical dimensions of Science.
There’s simply no better way to glimpse the future of these exciting technologies.

This conference is brought to you by Humanity+ & Science, Technology & the Future

Humanity+ explores how society might use and profit from a variety of creative and innovative thought.

Join in an exciting weekend as we explore the surprising future. See you there!