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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

PDLBKBR Part II

A little over two years ago, I attended an event and listened to Brad Templeton speaking about the Google driverless car and how hard it would be for society to adapt to this new method of transportation.

I’ve stumbled upon a recording of him lecturing about the topic at “Driving Innovation: A Speaker Series Powered by Nissan Motor Company” (also on iTunes).

Here’s the transcript.

One of the biggest barriers is that for some unknown reason people don’t like being killed by robots… they’d rather be killed by drunks.

They were actually more afraid of possible injuries and accidents that could come from a robot than they would be afraid of it being done by drunks and other human negligence.

And this is a real thing, there is a real fear, and so when these vehicles, because they will not be perfect, and it would be a serious mistake to set a standard that demands that they’d be perfect, that demands that they’d be as good as elevators. I think that would be a serious mistake because we’re looking, outside, at the second most dangerous consumer product that is allowed to be sold in terms of unintentional deaths. To be more dangerous you’d have to light it on fire and breathe it into your lungs, that’s the most dangerous product.

And this is an effort to take that dangerous product and make it safer, make it kill fewer people. And I think that’s a grand effort and I think it’s an effort on par with even curing polio which killed fewer people than cars as of today.
More people have died in car accidents in the United States than in all the wars in the history of the United States going back to the revolutionary war. It’s an astoundingly huge number and to reduce that number I think is a grand goal, and so I think that the standard of care here should be to do better than that. But if the standard of care is more like an elevator, where perfection is demanded, the technology will never be deployed (or almost never, it would take a very long time), and a lot of people will die in the meantime.

PZ Myers does not understand Ray Kurzweil

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PZ Myers wrote an essay claiming that “Ray Kurzweil does not understand the brain”, which has some good points, but is entirely based on the premise that Kurzweil says we will reverse-engineer the brain from the genome, that contains 25 million [relevant] bytes, or a million lines of code (second-hand comments on erroneous press reports, taken out of context).

Kurzweil responded to the claims in a lengthy article, well worth the read. The relevant part regarding the quote that was taken out of context is

I mentioned the genome in a completely different context. I presented a number of arguments as to why the design of the brain is not as complex as some theorists have advocated. This is to respond to the notion that it would require trillions of lines of code to create a comparable system. The argument from the amount of information in the genome is one of several such arguments. It is not a proposed strategy for accomplishing reverse-engineering. It is an argument from information theory, which Myers obviously does not understand.

The reasoning behind the “million lines of code” calculation makes sense if you think about the Kolmogorov complexity of the DNA responsible for coding the design instructions for building the brain.

Trying to reverse engineer a complete brain biologically, in order to have a computer simulate the same principles (only faster) is dumb. I’ve read Kurzweil’s How to Create a Mind, and he knows his shit. He gave specific examples of how his team gained some insights that helped improve speech recognition from reverse engineering several processes.

I completely agree with HuguesT’s Slashdot comment

Mostly I think that in general the human population, myself included, is an incredibly stupid, short sighted, nasty, egotistic species with occasional streaks of artistic, political or scientific brilliance. Hopefully we can do better than simulate that.

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Thermodynamics

Brute-force attacks against 256-bit keys will be infeasible until computers are built from something other than matter and occupy something other than space.

Bruce Schneier

Dr. Aubrey de Grey in Israel

Dr. Aubrey de Grey (Aubrey David Nicholas Jasper de Grey to be exact, age 50) came to Israel for the first time to take part in the 8th European Congress of Biogerontology (fallback link) organized this year by Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

Utopia, the Tel-Aviv International Festival for Science Fiction, Imagination and the Future, organized an informal lecture and Q&A session with de Grey in Tel Aviv, to which I had the privilege to join.

The first part of the lecture was dedicated to a short description of de Grey’s research on regenerative and preventative medicine to thwart the aging process (his work at the SENS Research Foundation). The rest of the lecture was based on questions from the crowd about radical life extension.

Good news, everyone! One day in the future, we will may be allowed to drink and smoke, and go to McDonald’s! de Grey claims that the damage from these unhealthy activities, “a lifestyle that departs from what your mother told you to do…“, is the same damage our bodies accumulate anyway, just by breathing and eating, only faster. This means that we’ll have to get the same preventative treatments and “tune-ups” more often, or more thoroughly.

However… de Grey emphasizes: “Don’t do it yet! We don’t have these therapies yet. I don’ t know how soon we’re going to have them – I think there’s a 50/50 chance of getting them in the next 20-25 years, but at least 10% chance of not having them for 100 years.” It’s kind of hard to predict technological progress. (0:39:25)

One interesting question was “aren’t you trying to fight entropy?”, to which de Grey answered that all of life, all of the living world, is already fighting entropy very successfully just by being alive for as long as it is. Being alive requires exporting entropy – transferring entropy to the environment, all the time. We are trying to improve the comprehensiveness of that process of exporting of entropy. At the moment, there are certain parts of the process of metabolism where entropy is created and is retained in the body, and that is exactly the accumulation of damage. (0:50:50)

Purple Shirt“, that was me, asked a “great question”. Basically, I asked if it’s true that the pharmaceutical industry only develops treatments to diseases, rather than cures, because that’s how they make their money. de Grey rephrased my question to “Won’t the medical industry be opposed to these therapies because they will stop people from getting sick, and the industry makes its money out of sick people?” (0:36:00)

Oded Carmeli wrote an interesting article on Time Out Tel-Aviv (pp. 112-116).

Spring is Coming

I’m hearing of more and more people starting up new businesses with cool, innovative ideas. Spring season in the Start-up Nation is coming.

The differences from the years 2000 and 2008, I think, are:

  1. Crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Headstart)
  2. Affordable IT Infrastructure (AWSGoogle)
  3. Affordable and idiot-proof (read: hackable by software engineers) hardware platforms (Raspberry Pi, Arduino) and sensors (Oculus Rift)
  4. Affordable Manufacturing (3D Printing, CNCPCB)
  5. New, disruptive, open-source software and hardware technologies (Bitcoin, DIY 3D Printing, Flying Machines)

Don’t let the Waze deal fool or blind you – most chances are: you will fail.
But you might just be one of the lucky ones. Starting up is less riskier than ever before. If you’re committing to be the Pig, and you have a solid business model, I say go for it!

PRO TIP: Put your ego aside, and build a team of superstars who complement each other, a team of people who know one another’s strengths and weaknesses.

TED MED: How will nanobots change medicine?

“One word of notice before we begin, all the the technologies you’re going to see here, now, are real…”

Nano-robots that fix tissues and control drugs have been envisioned for over 30 years. Now, using DNA origami and molecular programming, they are reality. These nanobots can seek and kill cancer cells, mimic social insect behaviors, carry out logical operators like a computer in a living animal, and they can be controlled from an Xbox. Ido Bachelet from the bio-design lab at Bar Ilan University explains this technology and how it will change medicine in the near future.

Space-station Oddity

Moments like these make me believe maybe there’s still a chance for humanity after all.

A revised version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, recorded by Commander Chris Hadfield on board the International Space Station.

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Lies, damned lies, and statistics

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

– Benjamin Disraeli Mark Twain