The Speculist: FastForward Radio Live at Convergence 08!


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FastForward Radio Live at Convergence 08!

This weekend we presented not one, but two editions of FastForward Radio, both coming to you live from the Convergence '08 Unconference in Mountain View, California. Phil traveled to the event to report on developments and talk with the participants, while Stephen held down the fort in the FFR International Command Center in Shreveport, LA.

For those of you who didn't make the Unconference, this is a chance to hear some of the participants and get a flavor of the event. We caught up with old friends and made some new ones as we discussed technologies and ideas that are shaping our world. Some of the things talked about at the conference included:

  • Neurotechnology
  • Artificial general intelligence
  • Synthetic biology
  • Human enhancement
  • Space tourism
  • Social software
  • Prediction markets
  • Nanotechnology
  • Smart drugs
  • Bioethics
  • Cleantech
  • NBIC startup tips
  • Reputation systems
  • Life extension / anti-aging
  • Accelerating change
  • Biotechnology
  • Open source everything
  • Surveillance / privacy
Saturday's show started at 5:30 pm (Pacific). Sunday's show was at 12:00 pm (Pacific).

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Click "Continue Reading" for the show notes from both the Saturday and Sunday shows:

The Sunday Show Lineup:

  • brianlittle.jpgBrian L. Wang, M.B.A. is the Director of Research for the Lifeboat Foundation. Brian is a long time futurist who has been involved with nanotechnology associations since 1994. He is now a member of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) Task Force where he moderates the technology sub-task force. He is also on the Nanoethics Group Advisory Board. He is also the mastermind behind Next Big Future.
    • Brian talked with us primarily about energy. The world uses about 15 Terrawatts of energy annually, the U.S. uses abot 4 Terrawatts annually. Brian argues that in order to have an abundant energy future, improved efficiency is only a small part of the answer. Even if we double efficiency it won't be enough. We need to produce more energy.

      The alternatives for abundant power include deep burn fission, fusion, and (the dark horse) black light power.

    • Nuclear waste from standard nuclear fission plants is actually unspent fuel. In deep burn fission plants more of these material used - four times more efficient with much less waste produced.

    • Brian also sees promise in the small Hyperion reactors in part because they are melt-down proof.

    • Brian is less enthused with the standard Tokamak fussion plans. It seems perpetually out in the future, incredibly expensive, and it still produces radioactive waste. Bussard's path to fusion seems more attainable today, especially with the latest results.

    • Phil and Brian agreed that if Blacklight power turns out to be real, then it would change the game.

    • Brian thinks that deep burn fission holds the most promise now, but he's glad that the developed world is pursuing multiple alternatives.

  • michael.anissimov.jpgMichael Anissimov writes and speaks on futurist issues, especially the relationships between accelerating change, nanotechnology, existential risk, transhumanism, and the Singularity. His popular blog Accelerating Future discusses these issues regularly. Michael is a member of the Board of Directors of the World Transhumanist Association and is the North American fundraising director for the Lifeboat Foundation.

  • bradtempletonface.jpgBrad Templeton is the chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He is a director at Foresight Institute. He was the founder of the world's first ever ".com" company ClariNet Communications Corp. in 1989. Brad is one of the few Internet pioneers that still take an active role in the Internet today. He joined his first Arpanet mailing list in 1979, and started reading USENET in the spring of 1981. Later that year he made one of USENET's first international links bringing the net into Canada. He wrote some of the software that made the early Internet possible. He blogs at "Brad Ideas."

    • Brad talked to us about how robot cars could save the world.

      Here's a robot car demonstration that was given at CeBIT 2008.

  • gb-official-small.jpgGregory Benford -- physicist, educator, author -- was born in Mobile, Alabama, on January 30, 1941. Benford is a professor of physics at the University of California, Irvine, where he has been a faculty member since 1971. Benford conducts research in plasma turbulence theory and experiment, and in astrophysics. He has published well over a hundred papers in fields of physics from condensed matter, particle physics, plasmas and mathematical physics, and several in biological conservation. He has served as an advisor to the Department of Energy, NASA and the White House Council on Space Policy. In 1995 he received the Lord Foundation Award for contributions to science and the public comprehension of it. In 1989 Benford was host and scriptwriter for the television series A Galactic Odyssey, which described modern physics and astronomy from the perspective of the evolution of the galaxy. Benford is the author of over twenty novels, including Jupiter Project, Artifact, Against Infinity, Eater, and Timescape. A two-time winner of the Nebula Award, Benford has also won the John W. Campbell Award, the Australian Ditmar Award, the 1995 Lord Foundation Award for achievement in the sciences, and the 1990 United Nations Medal in Literature. He has served as scientific consultant to the NHK Network and for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

    • Benford has done it all. He's been a sci-fi author, physcist, and now he's working on smart suppliments. His path to the production of smart suppliments is remarkable. He purchased specially bred long lived flies, did the genomics on the flies, cross referenced it with the human genome and found all the known diseases of aging that we humans suffer - except cancer - in flies. He then tests suppliments on the flies to determine if it helps with certain problems like diabetes and heart disease.

    • Benford hopes to have the first Genescient product available in a couple of months.

    • Benford told us the story of how some of these smart flies got loose in his house and how they were hard to kill. They are fast and vigorious even in old age.

  • natashavm small.JPGNatasha Vita-More has been called by the New York Times the first female transhumanist philosopher. Her affiliations, past and present, include Extropy Institute, Transhumanist Arts & Culture, H+ Laboratory, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, World Transhumanist Association, Alcor Foundation, Zero Gravity Arts Consortium, and Foresight Institute. Her talks and writings include "Talent for Living: Cracking the Myths of Mortality" - talk presented at Alcor 4th Technology Conference, 2000; "Sensorial Mix - The Future of the Senses" - talk presented at EXTRO4, Berkeley, California, 1999; and "Ageless Thinking" - Resources for Independent Thinking, Oakland, CA 1996.

    • Natasha is interested in the progress of synthetic biology and how that would influence radical life extension and human enhancement. Synthetic biology holds great promise from the artistic design point-of-view: imagine a dynamic tattoo that can change and move.

    • She and Phil agreed that getting to met these people face-to-face is, perhaps the best part of Convergence '08.

    • Natasha made the point that artists always use the tools of her time. Today those tools are NBIC - nano, bio, info, and cognic. Artists have freedom that scientists don't have - artistic freedom.

    • Natasha was involved in creating the primo post human design.

      There are cutting edge artists that are working with biotechnology. Eduardo Kac has developed a florescent rabbit. Other artists are working with butterfly wings and flowers.

  • anders_sandberg.jpgAnders Sandberg has described himself as "a symbiotic entity consisting of a website, user account and internet activity linked with a humanoid being approximately located in Stockholm, Sweden, most of the time." He holds a Ph.D. in computer science. His talks include "Friendly Superintelligence" and "Amplifying Cognition: Extending Memory and Intelligence." His interests include neuroscience and cognitive science, complex and distributed systems, computer graphics, information visualization, intelligence amplification technologies, and the philosophy and politics of human enhancement.

      Anders is a computational neuroscientist. That means that he "takes models of nerve cells and simulates how they interact on a computer." Scaled up they model complete brains.

    • Computational neuroscientists are not anywhere close, yet, to modeling a human brain. Anders says that we could probably emulate the brain of a nematode worm on a laptop today.

    • Anders, with Nick Bostrom, has created a "Whole Brain Emulation Roadmap" (pdf link). In the introduction they gave the following reasons for doing this research:

      • Brain emulation is the logical endpoint of computational neuroscience's attempts to accurately model neurons and brain systems.
      • Brain emulation would help us to understand the brain, both in the lead-up to successful emulation and afterwards by providing an ideal test bed for neuroscientific experimentation and study.
      • Neuromorphic engineering based on partial results would be useful in a number of applications such as pattern recognition, AI and brain-computer interfaces.
      • As a long-term research goal it might be a strong vision to stimulate computational neuroscience.
      • As a case of future studies it represents a case where a radical future possibility can be examined in the light of current knowledge.
      • The economic impact of copyable brains could be immense, and could have profound societal consequences (Hanson, 1994, 2008b). Even low probability events of such magnitude merit investigation.
      • If emulation of particular brains is possible and affordable, and if concerns about individual identity can be met, such emulation would enable back-up copies and "digital immortality".
      • Brain emulation would itself be a test of many ideas in the philosophy of mind and philosophy of identity, or provide a novel context for thinking about such ideas.
      • It may represent a radical new form of human enhancement.

The Sunday Show Music:

Our front bumper is a sample of Marginal Prophets' "The Difficult Song."

Our exit music this week is from Odd Austin. The song is "That 70s Song."

The Saturday Show Topics:

  • After a small technical problem at the beginning, Phil described the event: "There are people interested in a number of disciplines: cognitive tech, nanotech, biotech, artificial intelligence. It is very much an organic do-it-yourself convention. People put together their own programs, you look on the board and find out what you'd like to hear, or if you have something to say you put it on the board."

    The remarkable thing is that (with this group of people at least) this actually works.

  • Convergence '08 is being held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Front and center at the museum is a working Babbage Difference Engine. Phil and Stephen talked about whether the Difference Engine would have launched the world into the computer age 100 years sooner.

  • Phil said that there are about 300 people are at Convergence 08, and up to half of the people are blogging, twittering, or emailing descriptions of what's going on.

    FastForward Radio might be the only podcast coming from the event.

  • Then we brought on our first guest:

    pjlittle.jpgPJ Manney is a writer and futurist and a leading voice in the H+ movement. She has written extensively on transhumanism and related topics, as well as for television (Xena Warrior Princess and Hercules the Legendary Journeys) , and has a novel under development. PJ is the Chairman of the board of directors of the World Transhumanist Association, she's a senior associate at the Foresight Nanotech Institute, and she is on the scientific advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation.

    PJ pointed out that the opportunity to meet people with similar interests is a big part of why these events are so important.

    PJ really enjoyed Paul Saffo's speech. When looking at the future, don't fall prey to wish fulfillment. Just because you want something to happen in the future (say, a flying car) doesn't mean it will happen. Prognosticate, don't wish on a star.

    Phil says, on the other hand, that ideas have power. We don't wish something into existence, but our expectations influence the future.

    Earlier in the day PJ had done an unconfence session on presenting these ideas to civilians. She had also shown a preview for the movie "Bitchslap."

  • Our next guest was George Dvorsky:

    Canada's leading futurist, activist and award winning blogger, George has written and spoken extensively about the impacts of cutting-edge science and technology. He is the Director of Operations for Commune Media, an advertising and marketing firm that specializes in marketing science. George has more than 10 years' experience in media, arts and communications. With relationships forged across several continents, he has managed international accounts for leading brands. In addition to his work with Commune, George serves on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. He is the co-founder and president of the Toronto Transhumanist Association and has served on the Board of Directors for the World Transhumanist Association. George has been interviewed by such publications as The Guardian, the BBC, Radio Free Europe, and Beliefnet. He made an appearance on the CBC's The Hour and has been profiled in NOW and This Magazine.

    George has enjoyed many presentations at the conference:

    • Keith Henson's talk on extracting solar energy from space. He explained how that would get us to $1/gallon gasoline.

      Interestingly, one of the biggest backers of this program is the military. By reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, we could reduce tensions in the world.

    • Anders Sandberg on "whole brain emulation." How do we emulate a whole human brain? Sandberg has a roadmap.

    • George was involved in a preconference talk on "Building a Resilient Civilization."

      George handled the darker part - what are the risks of not developing a resilient civilization?

  • Our next was Miguel F. Aznar. He is the author of Technology Challenged, Director of Education for the Foresight Nanotech Institute and Advisor to The Nanoethics Group, studies nanotechnology education in middle schools through college. The approach to technological literacy he has been instrumental in developing provides a contextual understanding of nanotechnology. Students as young as 10 years old gain a foundation for making rational, informed decisions by asking questions and recognizing patterns that transcend specific implementations of nanotechnology. Miguel is the leader of the Sustainability Tour (video at link), Miguel's expedition of like-minded people exploring choices about our tools and our environment from the vantage point of bicycles. He's also worked for a number of years with the summer program COSMOS (California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science). There is video at that link as well. Miguel blogs at KnowledgeContext.

    • Miguel loved that you can drift from presentation to presentation in which you would have an interest.

    • Miguel asked the audience what ideas from nanotech should be taught to 12-year-olds. He believes that it is immensely important for a participatory democracy for people to understand these concepts. Europe's reaction to biotech food is an example of what can happen when the public is not informed about technology.

    • He teaches nanotech to exceptional high school students through COSMOS. At the beginning of class he always asks members of the class to teach him something. He tells them to bring back sugar (the most interesting stuff) and bring it back to the hive (the class) that might interest everyone.

      In his classes there are opportunities to see how things really work in the world. "Going to Japan and fishing an extremophile out of a boiling acid bath, bring it back, genetically modify it to produce better storage devices."

    • Michael Darling asked Miguel about Sir Ken Robinson's idea that creativity is as important as literacy. Here's that TED talk:

    • Phil countered that literacy - reading and writing - are obvious prerequisites in the developed world for creative participation.

  • Brian Mallow from joined us.

    • Here's Brian on the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson:

    • Brian has always been a comedian, and so he's used to calling what he does "performances." Now, with the places he goes these performances are called "lectures" or "presentations." He likes that.

    • He's available for off-world gigs if transportation is provided.

  • Phil said that meeting these smart people is so worth the effort to travel to events like Convergence.

The Saturday Show Music:

Our front bumper is a sample of Marginal Prophets' "The Difficult Song."

Our exit music this week is from Jean Synodinos. The song is "Running With Me."

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