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Nov 18, 2008

Aardvark’s and Avatars

Posted by in category: defense

There continues to be some discussion and rejection of the idea that terrorists would be able to exploit new technology platforms such as social networking and virtual worlds. In a recent post the blogger Abu Aardvark (aka Marc Lynch from GW University) goes some way in debunking ideas surrounding terrorist use of social networking, Wiki’s and virtual worlds. He further states that Al Qaeda is now behind the curve in using the area of user-generated content and interactivity. While, the aardvark’s media analysis relating to ‘al-Qaeda outreach’ appears to be sound I think he misses a fundamental point about terrorists and technology.

The defining feature of terrorism and technology is its adaptive quality. It is highly unlikely that individual terrorists or terrorist groups would exactly replicate the mainstream functions of the technology abu aardvark highlights in his post. It is more likely they would take certain elements from the various innovations and mesh them together or otherwise distort them. So an al-Qaeda Facebook isn’t going to happen anytime soon but using the system to identify IDF soldiers for possible assassination already has. Similarly an ‘AQThirdlife’, which replicates the virtual world Second Life seems unlikely but using some of its key features still seems probable. The virtual money transfer aspect continues to be a high on most peoples list of concerns (this is discussed in a recent SSRN paper written by Stephen Landman, Funding Bin Laden’s Avatar: A proposal for the regulation of Virtual Hawalas, which he has kind enough to share with me). Aardvark’s point about an AQThird life also fails to account for phenomena such as the virtual caliphate, which is running in the UK, where users log into areas to see and hear sermons by dead or expelled radical preachers — there continues to be a market for extremism and virtual exposure to it is potentially more powerful than real exposure.

As ever the central point is that given rapid and increasing virtualization flexible thinking and planning is required to conceptualize the next form of terrorist threat — blogs appear to be a great enabler of this practice.

Oct 31, 2008

New IT-security threat: fake and recycled microchips from China

Posted by in categories: cybercrime/malcode, military

Referring to the seizure of more than 400 fake routers so far, Melissa E. Hathaway, head of cyber security in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, says: “Counterfeit products have been linked to the crash of mission-critical networks, and may also contain hidden ‘back doors’ enabling network security to be bypassed and sensitive data accessed [by hackers, thieves, and spies].” She declines to elaborate. In a 50-page presentation for industry audiences, the FBI concurs that the routers could allow Chinese operatives to “gain access to otherwise secure systems” (page 38).

Read the entire report in Business Week. See a TV news report about the problem on YouTube.

Oct 26, 2008

Refuges and bunkers

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, cybercrime/malcode, defense, existential risks, habitats, lifeboat, sustainability, treaties

Here I would like to suggest readers a quotation from my book “Structure of the global catastrophe” ( there I discuss problems of preventing catastrophes.

Refuges and bunkers

Different sort of a refuge and bunkers can increase chances of survival of the mankind in case of global catastrophe, however the situation with them is not simple. Separate independent refuges can exist for decades, but the more they are independent and long-time, the more efforts are necessary for their preparation in advance. Refuges should provide ability for the mankind to the further self-reproduction. Hence, they should contain not only enough of capable to reproduction people, but also a stock of technologies which will allow to survive and breed in territory which is planned to render habitable after an exit from the refuge. The more this territory will be polluted, the higher level of technologies is required for a reliable survival.
Very big bunker will appear capable to continue in itself development of technologies and after catastrophe. However in this case it will be vulnerable to the same risks, as all terrestrial civilisation — there can be internal terrorists, AI, nanorobots, leaks etc. If the bunker is not capable to continue itself development of technologies it, more likely, is doomed to degradation.
Further, the bunker can be or «civilizational», that is keep the majority of cultural and technological achievements of the civilisation, or “specific”, that is keep only human life. For “long” bunkers (which are prepared for long-term stay) the problem of formation and education of children and risks of degradation will rise. The bunker can or live for the account of the resources which have been saved up before catastrophe, or be engaged in own manufacture. In last case it will be simply underground civilisation on the infected planet.
The more a bunker is constructed on modern technologies and independent cultural and technically, the higher ammount of people should live there (but in the future it will be not so: the bunker on the basis of advanced nanotechnology can be even at all deserted, — only with the frozen human embryos). To provide simple reproduction by means of training to the basic human trades, thousand people are required. These people should be selected and be in the bunker before final catastrophe, and, it is desirable, on a constant basis. However it is improbable, that thousand intellectually and physically excellent people would want to sit in the bunker “just in case”. In this case they can be in the bunker in two or three changes and receive for it a salary. (Now in Russia begins experiment «Mars 500» in which 6 humans will be in completely independent — on water, to meal, air — for 500 days. Possibly, it is the best result which we now have. In the early nineties in the USA there was also a project «Biosphera-2» in which people should live two years on full self-maintenance under a dome in desert. The project has ended with partial failure as oxygen level in system began to fall because of unforeseen reproduction of microorganisms and insects.) As additional risk for bunkers it is necessary to note fact of psychology of the small groups closed in one premise widely known on the Antarctic expeditions — namely, the increase of animosities fraught with destructive actions, reducing survival rate.
The bunker can be either unique, or one of many. In the first case it is vulnerable to different catastrophes, and in the second is possible struggle between different bunkers for the resources which have remained outside. Or is possible war continuation if catastrophe has resulted from war.
The bunker, most likely, will be either underground, or in the sea, or in space. But the space bunker too can be underground of asteroids or the Moon. For the space bunker it will be more difficult to use the rests of resources on the Earth. The bunker can be completely isolated, or to allow “excursion” in the external hostile environment.
As model of the sea bunker can serve the nuclear submarine possessing high reserve, autonomy, manoeuvrability and stability to negative influences. Besides, it can easily be cooled at ocean (the problem of cooling of the underground closed bunkers is not simple), to extract from it water, oxygen and even food. Besides, already there are ready boats and technical decisions. The boat is capable to sustain shock and radiating influence. However the resource of independent swimming of modern submarines makes at the best 1 year, and in them there is no place for storage of stocks.
Modern space station ISS could support independently life of several humans within approximately year though there are problems of independent landing and adaptation. Not clearly, whether the certain dangerous agent, capable to get into all cracks on the Earth could dissipate for so short term.
There is a difference between gaso — and bio — refuges which can be on a surface, but are divided into many sections for maintenance of a mode of quarantine, and refuges which are intended as a shelter from in the slightest degree intelligent opponent (including other people who did not manage to get a place in a refuge). In case of biodanger island with rigid quarantine can be a refuge if illness is not transferred by air.
A bunker can possess different vulnerabilities. For example, in case of biological threat, is enough insignificant penetration to destroy it. Only hi-tech bunker can be the completely independent. Energy and oxygen are necessary to the bunker. The system on a nuclear reactor can give energy, but modern machines hardly can possess durability more than 30–50 years. The bunker cannot be universal — it should assume protection against the certain kinds of threats known in advance — radiating, biological etc.
The more reinforced is a bunker, the smaller number of bunkers can prepare mankind in advance, and it will be more difficult to hide such bunker. If after a certain catastrophe there was a limited number of the bunkers which site is known, the secondary nuclear war can terminate mankind through countable number of strikes in known places.
The larger is the bunker, the less amount of such bunkers is possible to construct. However any bunker is vulnerable to accidental destruction or contamination. Therefore the limited number of bunkers with certain probability of contamination unequivocally defines the maximum survival time of mankind. If bunkers are connected among themselves by trade and other material distribution, contamination between them is more probable. If bunkers are not connected, they will degrade faster. The more powerfully and more expensively is the bunker, the more difficult is to create it imperceptibly for the probable opponent and so it easeir becomes the goal for an attack. The more cheaply the bunker, the less it is durable.
Casual shelters — the people who have escaped in the underground, mines, submarines — are possible. They will suffer from absence of the central power and struggle for resources. The people, in case of exhaustion of resources in one bunker, can undertake the armed attempts to break in other next bunker. Also the people who have escaped casually (or under the threat of the comong catastrophe), can attack those who was locked in the bunker.
Bunkers will suffer from necessity of an exchange of heat, energy, water and air with an external world. The more independent is the bunker, the less time it can exist in full isolation. Bunkers being in the Earth will deeply suffer from an overheating. Any nuclear reactors and other complex machines will demand external cooling. Cooling by external water will unmask them, and it is impossible to have energy sources lost-free in the form of heat, while on depth of earth there are always high temperatures. Temperature growth, in process of deepening in the Earth, limits depth of possible bunkers. (The geothermal gradient on the average makes 30 degrees C/kilometers. It means, that bunkers on depth more than 1 kilometre are impossible — or demand huge cooling installations on a surface, as gold mines in the republic of South Africa. There can be deeper bunkers in ices of Antarctica.)
The more durable, more universal and more effective, should be a bunker, the earlier it is necessary to start to build it. But in this case it is difficult to foresee the future risks. For example, in 1930th years in Russia was constructed many anti-gase bombproof shelters which have appeared useless and vulnerable to bombardments by heavy demolition bombs.
Efficiency of the bunker which can create the civilisation, corresponds to a technological level of development of this civilisation. But it means that it possesses and corresponding means of destruction. So, especially powerful bunker is necessary. The more independently and more absolutely is the bunker (for example, equipped with AI, nanorobots and biotechnologies), the easier it can do without, eventually, people, having given rise to purely computer civilisation.
People from different bunkers will compete for that who first leaves on a surface and who, accordingly, will own it — therefore will develop the temptation for them to go out to still infected sites of the Earth.
There are possible automatic robotic bunkers: in them the frozen human embryos are stored in a certain artificial uterus and through hundreds or thousand years start to be grown up. (Technology of cryonics of embryos already exists, and works on an artificial uterus are forbidden for bioethics reasons, but basically such device is possible.) With embryos it is possible to send such installations in travel to other planets. However, if such bunkers are possible, the Earth hardly remains empty — most likely it will be populated with robots. Besides, if the human cub who has been brought up by wolves, considers itself as a wolf as whom human who has been brought up by robots will consider itself?
So, the idea about a survival in bunkers contains many reefs which reduce its utility and probability of success. It is necessary to build long-term bunkers for many years, but they can become outdated for this time as the situation will change and it is not known to what to prepare. Probably, that there is a number of powerful bunkers which have been constructed in days of cold war. A limit of modern technical possibilities the bunker of an order of a 30-year-old autonomy, however it would take long time for building — decade, and it will demand billions dollars of investments.
Independently there are information bunkers, which are intended to inform to the possible escaped descendants about our knowledge, technologies and achievements. For example, in Norway, on Spitsbergen have been created a stock of samples of seeds and grain with these purposes (Doomsday Vault). Variants with preservation of a genetic variety of people by means of the frozen sperm are possible. Digital carriers steady against long storage, for example, compact discs on which the text which can be read through a magnifier is etched are discussed and implemented by Long Now Foundation. This knowledge can be crucial for not repeating our errors.

Oct 8, 2008

Global Catastrophic Risks: Building a Resilient Civilization

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, chemistry, cybercrime/malcode, defense, events, futurism, geopolitics, lifeboat, military, nanotechnology, nuclear weapons, robotics/AI

November 14, 2008
Computer History Museum, Mountain View, CA

Organized by: Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology and the Lifeboat Foundation

A day-long seminar on threats to the future of humanity, natural and man-made, and the pro-active steps we can take to reduce these risks and build a more resilient civilization. Seminar participants are strongly encouraged to pre-order and review the Global Catastrophic Risks volume edited by Nick Bostrom and Milan Cirkovic, and contributed to by some of the faculty for this seminar.

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Oct 1, 2008

SpaceX Falcon 1 Rocket Reaches Orbit on 4th Try

Posted by in categories: habitats, lifeboat, space

This is cross-posted from my blog. This milestone by SpaceX is directly relevant to programs by Lifeboat such as the AsteroidShield and SpaceHabitat, and possibly also (eventually) to Space-Based Solar Power.

SpaceX Falcon 1 Rocket Launch photo

Stars My Destination
After the third try, Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, co-founder of Paypal, chairman of SolarCity and chairman of Tesla Motors (beat that resumé!) was interviewed by WIRED about the difficulties of making his space rockets reach orbit: How do you maintain your optimism?

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Sep 19, 2008

Open Source Health Research Plan

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, lifeboat, open access, open source

Open source has emerged as a powerful set of principles for solving complex problems in fields as diverse as education and physical security. With roughly 60 million Americans suffering from a chronic health condition, traditional research progressing slowly, and personalized medicine on the horizon, the time is right to apply open source to health research. Advances in technology enabling cheap, massive data collection combined with the emerging phenomena of self quantification and crowdsourcing make this plan feasible today. We can all work together to cure disease, and here’s how.

Read more…

Sep 10, 2008

Global risk researches in Russia

Posted by in categories: defense, existential risks, geopolitics, military, nuclear weapons

1. Language and cultural isolation lead to the situation then Russian researches are not known in West and vice versa. I spent a lot of time translating into Russian and promoting works of Bostrom, Yudkowsky, Circovic, D.Brin, Freitas, A.Kent and other writers on global risks. Here I would like to tell you about some Russian researchers. Though I can’t prove validity of their ideas I think they should be checked internationally in order to roll out them or to take preventive measures. A. V. Karnauhov created a theory of “green house” catastrophe. He shows that climate is non linear system this many positive feedbacks and one of them is often missed – it is that water vapor is also greenhouse gas and growing temperatures would lead to injection of more and more water vapor into atmosphere. Also current level of carbon dioxid should lead to much more temperature increase, but inertia of ocean temperature makes current temperature smaller. But ocean temperature will rise, especially in Arctic, where large amounts of methane stored under seebed on the low shallow waters. This would lead to clarhat gun explosion of metane. Cumulative effect of water vapor, CO2, Metane and surmounting of ocean inertia will lead to very quick exponential global warming, which could have devastating effects as early as in 2020th and make global temperature higher not on 6 degrees but on several tens to the end of the century – which would mean human extinction, and after 200 years all life extinction on Earth Some his ideas you could see in the article: Karnaukhov A.V. Role of the biosphere in the formation of the Earth’s Climate: The Greenhouse Catastrophe, Biophysics, Vol.46, No 6, 2001, pp. 1078–1088. Also I should mention works of Drobishevsky “Danger of the explosion of Callisto and the priority of space missions” He thinks that Jovian satellite Callisto could soon explode because of H and O reaction in its ice. Such explosion will lead to bombardment of the earth by comets and “nuclear winter” for 60 years. He suggested to send there a space mission. But I wrote him that, if he is write, it is very dangerous to send where mission, because it could trigger the explosion by drilling the ice crust. And the last man, about whom I would like to tell you, is a reviewer of my book “the Structure of the global catastrophe” Aranowich, who told me by way that his group has created much more effective way to penetrate the earth crust the Stevenson’s probe. Stevenson’s probe require 10 million ton of melted iron. His probe will weight only 10 tons and will use an energy of radioactive decay. It could reach 1000 km depth by one month – and the main danger is creation of supervolcano. Then I asked him, was any safety analysis done – he said not. But this is only theoretical work and no practical realization is planned.
2. I have wrote a book “The structure of global catastrophe” which aim was to investigate how different scenarios of global risks could interact in time, because all of them could realize in the XXI century. This book is sponsored by Russian Transhumanist movemet. Nick Bostrom wrote short preface to it. The book is mostly ready, but some editorial and organizational problems still persists. I hope it will be published by the end of the year.
3. I am started to translate this book into English. I have translated it by computer and then edit the result – now I am on the page 27 of 390. I need someone with native English who could help me to edit this translation. The book is here: I hope to finish English translation (in readable, but not high literature quality:) of the book until winter.
4. The shorter version of this book is already published on the name “War and 25 other scenarios of the End of the world”. This name was suggested by editorial house, the original name was: “Gnoseology of catastrophes”. The main idea of the book is that our inability to predict the future is equal to the end of the world.
5. I have translated the most part of Lifeboat site on Russian and I expect it will appear in the Net soon.
6. I have wrote several articles on the theme of global catastrophe: “Is SETI dangerous? English translation —, “Atrophic principle and natural catastrophes” and “About possibilities of manmade ignition of giant planets and other objects of Solar system” which are in Russian.
7. I have created “Global catastrophic risks and human extinction library” there you could find many interesting literature on English and Russian.
8. I think that it is provable that if humanity will unite, it will have a chance to resist global risks, but if it will be divided on military competing parts, it almost doomed. Resent events on Caucasus put again in agenda the question of New cold war. Here we should ask what is the worst outcome of possible Cold war? Common answer is that Nuclear war is that worst outcome. But Nuclear war will not terminate all human population in most realistic scenarios. Much worse outcome is, I think, new arm race, which could lead to quick creation of much more destructive weapons, than nuclear. And the worst outcome of arm race is creation of Doomsday machine. Doomsday machine (DM) is ultimate defense weaponry. The example of such strategy was depicted by Kubrick in his genius movie “Dr. Strangelove”. Here we should say that DM-strategy is more suitable for a weaker state, which is in danger of aggression (or feels so). Quality of Russian nuclear forces is continue to deteriorating and minimum is expected around the year 2010 then most of old soviets rockets should be out of order. Simultaneously after the year 2010 US will rich a peak of their supremacy (because of thousand non nuclear cruise missiles, unique GPS system and antimissile shield it will have ability to make first strike without answer.), but later could lose supremacy because of economic crisis in US and growing arsenal of new Russian missiles. This situation looks dangerous, because from chess we know the principle: “Someone must attack under threat of losing his supremacy”. And antiballistic missile shield (ABM), which is developing now by NATO is very dangerous because it makes direct way to the creation of Doomsday Machine. Before ABM rockets were good as a mean of defense. But now only large underground bomb (gigaton order and with cobalt shield) could be a strategic defense. Such ideas is not only my creation but they are circulating in the air. Of course nobody is going to actually use such weapon, but it could be lunched accidentally. It should not be nuclear – it could be also large stockpile of anthrax, manmade supervulcano-threat or something more sophisticated. DM also could be used as a offensive mean. If Osama get it, he could say: everybody should convert in Islam, or I detonate it. The really big problem arise if in answer someone Catholic say: if anyone convert in Islam I will detonate my own Doomsday machine. In this case we finally doomed. But worst case scenarios are low probability ones, so I hope we have a chance to unite.

Sep 2, 2008

Threats to humanity – the old and the resurgent

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, geopolitics

Following is a discussion of two potential threats to humanity – one which has existed for eons, the second we have seen recently resurfacing having thought it had been laid to rest.

First, a recent story on PhysOrg describes the work researchers at Vanderbilt University have performed in isolating antibodies from elderly people who had survived the 1918 flu pandemic. This comes three years after researchers at Mount Sinai and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C isolated the same virus which caused this outbreak from the frozen bodies of people in Alaska who had died in the pandemic.

In addition to being an impressive achievement of biomedical science, which involved isolating antibody-secreting B cells from donors and generating “immortalized” cell lines to produce large amounts of antibodies, this research also demonstrates the amazing memory the immune system has (90 years!), as well as the ability scientists have to use tissue samples from people born nearly a century ago and fashion them into a potential weapon against future similar outbreaks. Indeed, these manufactured antibodies proved effective against 1918 flu virus when tested in mice.

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Aug 30, 2008

The Singularity Summit 2008

Posted by in categories: futurism, robotics/AI

The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence has announced the details of The Singularity Summit 2008. The event will be held October 25, 2008 at the Montgomery Theater in San Jose, California. Previous summits have featured Nick Bostrom, Eric Drexler, Douglas Hofstadter, Ray Kurzweil, and Peter Thiel.

Keynote speakers include Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near, and Justin Rattner, CTO of Intel. At the Intel Developer Forum on August 21, 2008, Rattner explained why he thinks the gap between humans and machines will close by 2050. “Rather than look back, we’re going to look forward 40 years,” said Rattner. “It’s in that future where many people think that machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence.”

Other featured speakers include:

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Aug 27, 2008

Vote online for American Express support for life extension

Posted by in categories: biological, futurism

Something to post to your websites and to vote online.

Aubrey de Grey can get $1.5 million for the Methuselah Foundation if enough people vote.

Voting ends September 1st, take a second to vote now.
Any US Amex cardmember or US resident (who makes a guest account) can vote.

Here is the page where you can vote “nominate”

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