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back in santa cruz

I was on vacation with my parents for about a week, so I got way behind on lj. Finally catching up now, after having been back for a week. On my recent trip, I went into a (partially underground) Nike missle site used during the cold war, as well as hiking deep into a gold mine near the border of Nevada. Both were really neat! If I can figure out how to get my firewire card working again, I'll post a video of the elevator taking a missle from above ground down into the underground storage facility. (I also need to get it working so I can make the 2-hour video of the James Hughes lecture/discussion available online, but that will take longer.)

Recent headlines in the news have been extremely encouraging for transhumanists...

On the AI front:
VW's new self-driving car
"German car giant Volkswagen has turned fiction into reality by unveiling a fully automatic car which really can drive itself - and at speeds of up to 150mph."
..."It can weave with tires screeching around tricky bends and chicanes, and through tightly coned off tracks - without any help or intervention from a human."

A Wired article on Sebastian Thrun, the designer of the self-driving vehicle which won the recent 128-mile robot race across the Mojave desert (and one of the 12 speakers I had the pleasure of listening to at the recent Stanford Singularity Summit):
Stanley, the self-driving car (I think they should have called it K.I.T. personally)
"The message is clear: Autonomous vehicles have arrived, and Stanley is their prophet. 'This is a watershed moment - much more so than Deep Blue versus Kasparov,' says Justin Rattner, Intel's R&D director. 'Deep Blue was just processing power. It didn't think. Stanley thinks. We've moved away from rule-based thinking in artificial intelligence.'"

And on the cybernetic front:
metal that binds with flesh without infection
"A TEAM of British scientists has overcome one of the great challenges of modern medicine by developing technology that allows skin to bind with metal without causing infection, improving the prospect of bionic limbs."
...“ITAP has the potential to play a key role in the next generation of bionic prostheses, working with artificially intelligent powered limbs, under the control of the patient’s own nervous system,” he said.

Some other (older) stuff I've run across recently...

American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Robots: http://www.aspcr.com/

Long Bets, a great site, has a lot of interesting long-term public wagers. The first one being a $10,000 public wager between Ray Kurzweil and Mitchell Kapor on whether a computer will pass the Turing test by 2029. They're going to have judges use instant messaging to administer the test. 52% of people who voted on the site (201 out of 387) agree with Kurzweil that a computer will be able to pass the Turing test by then. I'm not sure I'd commit to a date that soon myself, at least not for real money, but I do think there's a good chance it will happen by then... the main question in my mind would be whether such a test is really a fair and sensible way to measure machine intelligence (I'm not sure it is):
The second most interesting one on the same site is $1000 between John Horgan and Michio Kaku about whether anyone will win a Nobel prize for string theory, M-Theory, or any other unified field theory by 2020. I'm going to have to vote with Kaku on this one, if nothing else to justify all the time I spend trying to learn this stuff :)

IBM's Blue Brain project, designed to simulate the Neo-Cortical Columns in the cerebral cortex (what some would call the "seat" of consciousness):
IBM's Blue Brain Project (pretty pictures included)
Economist article on Blue Brain Project (from a year ago)
"Assuming that the growth of computing power continues to follow Moore's Law, Charles Peck, the leader of IBM's side of the collaboration, reckons it should be feasible to emulate an entire human brain in silico[n] this way in ten to 15 years."

While I was away the Chancellor of my school jumped out of a 42 story building in San Francisco plunging to her death. I am one of many students, faculty, and staff who will miss her. She did a wonderful job for our school, short as her time here may have been. My favorite was her nearly single-handed success in getting the Pentagon to change its policy about spying on college students. (They had previously declared our school a "credible threat" to national security, based on covert observation of protestors here; she not only convinced them to remove us from the list, but also got them to agree to think twice before engaging in similar privacy violations in the future.) Too bad the only one who didn't think she was doing well was herself. :(


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 4th, 2006 09:24 am (UTC)
Your links are golden.

I'm also sorry about Chancellor Denton.
Jul. 5th, 2006 04:47 am (UTC)
Best links eva!

Jumped out huh? You sure NSA goons didnt give her a little nudge? Either way, thats sad.
Jul. 5th, 2006 06:52 am (UTC)
I enjoyed the fire videos, by the way... I should make it a goal to at least try some fire spinning this year at burning man.

You sure NSA goons didnt give her a little nudge?

Her mother testified that she had been feeling seriously depressed, so I doubt it. But it will be interesting to see if this stirs up any new conspiracy theories around campus.
Jul. 5th, 2006 07:10 am (UTC)
Sometimes a suicide is just a suicide. Nobody wants to believe that someone would do such a thing so we like to think that something nefarious is involved. Besides, the NSA is so much more subtle than that.

If you want to try firespinning, start with staff. The only real danger involved is the kinetic energy of the aluminum bar smacking you. Staff is much safer for you and much more dangerous for your audience :)

Poi can get wrapped around your body and who wants a flaming chain tangled around their neck? I've also found that staff is easier to learn than poi.

And if you're a decent hula-hooper, definitely try the flaming hula-hoop.

I wish I could afford to go to burning man. Maybe one day.
Jul. 6th, 2006 08:54 pm (UTC)
While I was away the Chancellor of my school jumped out of a 42 story building in San Francisco

that's a bit weird.

beyond that, yes I'm a pessimist, I don't see AI going anywhere far, quickly.

IBM is ambitious - on all fronts. ...damn I want to work for them someday just to know what they are really up to.
Jul. 7th, 2006 07:50 am (UTC)
Awesome linkage! I'd like one of those self-driving cars (and you'd want me to have one, too, if you ever rode with me!) I wonder how much they can anticipate the behavior of other drivers (i.e know when to change lanes, etc), or if the technology's even at that point.

A silicon brain would be interesting too :)

Sorry about your chancellor :(
Jul. 7th, 2006 11:04 pm (UTC)
Hey, I read about the Blue Brain project; it's brilliant. I'd love to see a computer pass the Turing test. I don't agree with Kurzweil that it's going to be that soon, though. I think that it's going to take a longer time than that personally.

By the way, I love the idea of transhumanism. I consider myself to be rather transhumanist in a lot of my thoughts about the way the world should be.
Jul. 9th, 2006 08:55 pm (UTC)
you seem like a really interesting person.

I think the "soon" part is Kurzweil's weakest link. It might be soon, but then again it might not... he seems way too overconfident about that. Perhaps he's just researched it more thoroughly than I, but yeah... it doesn't look to me like he should be that certain of it happening that soon, without a detailed understanding of the types of obstacles that might come up along the way.

I'm also pretty skeptical about some of the health things he does... he takes an aweful lot of vitamins and weird supplements, most of which have not been through any rigorous scientific testing. Also, in my opinion, leading a happier life is better than living a longer life. Of course, given the choice I'd rather have both. :)
Jul. 9th, 2006 11:29 pm (UTC)

I just think that that kind of statement is a bit farfetched right now. I just don't see any evidence of it right now. I could see it happening in say, a hundred years or so, but not any time soon. People have said this sort of thing about artificial intelligence, saying that truly intelligent computers should exist NOW, but I'm not seeing it.

Yeah...quack cures/supplements put me off as well. I think that life extension is a good idea, but I also think that any long life should be a fulfilled one as well. ^^
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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