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Jan 13, 2008

Carnegie Mellon study achieves significant results in decoding human thought

Posted by in categories: neuroscience, robotics/AI

Newsweek is reporting the results of a scientific study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon who used MRI technology to scan the brains of human subjects. The subjects were shown a series of images of various tools (hammer, drill, pliers, etc). The subjects were then asked to think about the properties of the tools and the computer was tasked with determining which item the subject was thinking about. To make the computer task even more challenging, the researchers excluded information from the brain’s visual cortex which would have made the problem a simpler pattern recognition exercise in which decoding techniques are already known. Instead, they focused the scanning on higher level cognitive areas.

The computer was able to determine with 78 percent accuracy when a subject was thinking about a hammer, say, instead of a pair of pliers. With one particular subject, the accuracy reached 94 percent.

Jan 10, 2008

Poll: Top 10 Existential Risks

Posted by in category: existential risks

How would you allocate a hypothetical $100 million budget for a Lifeboat Foundation study of the top 10 existential risks… risks that are both global and terminal?

$?? Biological viruses…
$?? Environmental global warming…
$?? Extraterrestrial invasion…
$?? Governments abusive power…
$?? Nanotechnology gray goo…
$?? Nuclear holocaust…
$?? Simulation Shut Down if we live in one…
$?? Space Threats asteroids…
$?? Superintelligent AI un-friendly…
$?? Other
$100 million total

To vote, please reply below.

Results after 80 votes updated: Jan 13, 2008 11 AM EST

Continue reading “Poll: Top 10 Existential Risks” »

Jan 10, 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary, First to Summit Everest Has Died at 88

Posted by in category: habitats


The BBC reports that Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealand native who, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay of Nepal was the first man to successfully summit Mount Everest, had died at 88 years of age. Hillary was apparently injured this past April when he fell while visiting Nepal and the reports state that this injury contributed to a decline in his health that ultimately culminated in his passing.

While his fame was first and foremost as a result of his triumphant effort on Everest in 1953, he was revered in Nepal for his efforts to help the Nepalese Sherpas improve their access to medicine, education and other modern conveniences and his legacy will continue in the form of those edifices in Nepal that exist as a result of his work.

Sir Ed, as he preferred to be called, was also something of an environmentalist. Upon a recent visit to the base of Everest he was so dismayed by the condition of the mountain (as a result of the decades of equipment including things such as spent oxygen bottles and massive amounts of inorganic and thus non-biodegradable gear) that he called for a fifty year moratorium on permits being issued to attempt ascents on the peak. He called upon the climbing community to make an effort to repair the damage to the fabled crag by packing out the detritus that was scarring his beloved mountain.

While the passing of this great man has relatively little to do with the mission of the Lifeboat Foundation, it seemed appropriate to report on his passing simply because he demonstrated that with sufficient will even things that are seemingly impossible are well within the grasp of those for whom failure is not an option.

Continue reading “Sir Edmund Hillary, First to Summit Everest Has Died at 88” »

Jan 8, 2008

First Impressions

Posted by in category: futurism

I was engaged in a conversation the other day with someone about my new association with the Lifeboat Foundation and the opportunity that was presented to me to sit on one of the scientific advisory boards. Let me first point out that the person I was talking with is extremely intelligent, but has a lay person’s knowledge of scientific topics, and is generally unfamiliar with Singularity related concepts in particular.

I immediately realized the opportunity in associating with the organization, but still did some reasonable due diligence research before joining it. During the course of the conversation, I explained the goals of the Lifeboat Foundation. I also showed some of the current work that it is doing, and some of the people associated with it by randomly showing some of their biographies. However, when I presented leading biomedical gerontologist Dr. Aubrey de Grey’s biography, I was confronted with what was essentially an ad hominem argument regarding his trademark beard. I refer to this as an ad hominem argument because this person believed, without having previously seen or met Dr. de Grey, that his long beard was the sign of a large ego and that he was doing his cause a disservice by conveying a negative image to the public.

I do not personally know Dr. de Grey, nor do I know the reasons why he chooses to have a long beard. To me, the issue of his beard length has no bearing on the value of his work, and although I do not choose to wear a beard at the present time, I thrive on living in a world of diversity where one can do so. What I have gathered about Dr. de Grey is that he is a highly respected member of this community who has many important things to say. The situation was ironic because Dr. de Grey does research that relates to a medical condition affecting a member of this person’s family.

I know the point that the person I was speaking with was honestly felt, and that she believed Dr. de Grey could better serve his cause by changing his appearance. But unconscious bias is something that affects all of us to some degree, and it is a subtle, but insidious error in reasoning. Fifty years ago, in the United States, with a different person, this discussion might have been about the color of someone’s skin. Twenty-five years ago, it could have been about someone’s sexual orientation. It’s easy to see the errors in rational thinking of others looking in retrospect, but it’s much harder to find our own biases. I long to know what errors in thinking style and biases that I myself harbor now, and which will only be evident with a clearer perspective in the future. As such, I will continue to follow the Overcoming Bias web site to help me in my journey.

Continue reading “First Impressions” »

Jan 8, 2008

Accelerating Greenland Melting “Shocks” Scientists

Posted by in categories: biological, sustainability

The New York Times is reporting today that continued acceleration of the rate at which the Greeland ice sheets are melting have scientists scrambling for answers. In particular, a combination of changes have the glaciologists particularly concerned. They say the accumulation of meltwater on the surface of the ice in the form of ponds and streams absorbs as much as four times more heat than the lighter colored ice thereby accelerating the rate at which the surface melts.

Additionally, this meltwater eventually finds its way to bedrock where it appears to ever so slightly lubcricate the surface between ice and rock thereby facilitating more rapid shifting of the ice towards the ocean. A third factor in the trifecta is the breakup of huge semi-submerged clots of ice that typically block narrow fjords. As these blockages are cleared that accelerates the flow of the frozen glacial rivers.

While there is still a tremendous amount about this cycle that remains unknown, what is clear is that the best estimates to date have fallen far short in terms of the speed at which these rare environments are changing. Although questions remain about how much of these changes are cyclical and how much are due specifically to man-originated global warming it is imperative that we gain a more complete understanding of these events so that we can take whatever steps we must to ameliorate any damage we’ve caused before the situation becomes so critical that massive changes come about as a result of our negligent handling of our environment.

Jan 3, 2008

Oil Surpasses $100 Per Barrel

Posted by in categories: geopolitics, sustainability

Peak OilIn an upward spurt that has been long predicted by the more realistic analysts, oil has finally broken through the triple digit threshold. While some experts maintain that this number is little more than a psychological barrier and has little real-world importance it is an inescapable fact that oil prices themselves have actually increased approximately 73% in the past year.

This price increase alone should be a call to action sufficient to bring us to a state of alert yet it appears that the general population remains relatively complacent in the face of this looming crisis. It should be noted by those of us more aware of the ramifications of peak oil and the impending oil supply shock that such a drastic reduction in oil availability represents one of the clearest and most present threats to the stability of a global peace and the longevity of mankind.

As with all threats of a global nature, the Lifeboat Foundation will continue to monitor news related to oil reserves, prices, supply and of course replacement technologies and continue to provide information, perspective and solutions.

Jan 2, 2008

The Enlightenment Strikes Back

Posted by in categories: complex systems, futurism, geopolitics, lifeboat, nanotechnology, open access, sustainability

In a recent conversation on our discussion list, Ben Goertzel, a rising star in artificial intelligence theory, expressed skepticism that we could keep a “modern large-scale capitalist representative democracy cum welfare state cum corporate oligopoly” going for much longer.

Indeed, our complex civilization currently does seem to be under a lot of stress.

Lifeboat Foundation Scientific Advisory Board member and best-selling author David Brin’s reply was quite interesting.

David writes:

Continue reading “The Enlightenment Strikes Back” »

Dec 6, 2007

Aerospaceplanes and space solar power

Posted by in categories: habitats, space


Supplying a substantial percentage of America’s future electrical power supply from space using SBSP (space-based solar power) systems can only be expressed as a giant leap forward in space operations. Each of the hundreds of solar power satellites needed would require 10,000–20,000 tons of components transported to orbit, assembled in orbit, and then moved to geostationary orbit for operations. The scale of logistics operations required is substantially greater than what we have previously undertaken. Periodically, industrial operations experience revolutions in technology and operations. Deep sea oil exploration is an example. Within a couple decades, entirely new industrial operations can start and grow to significant levels of production. The same will happen with space industrialization when—not if—the right product or service is undertaken. SBSP may be the breakthrough product for leading the industrialization of space. This was our assumption in conducting the study. As the cost of oil approaches $100 a barrel, combined with the possibility of the world reaching peak oil production in the near future, this may turn out to be a valid assumption.

Source: The Space Review

Nov 29, 2007

Planning for First Lifeboat Foundation Conference Underway

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, cybercrime/malcode, defense, existential risks, futurism, geopolitics, lifeboat, nanotechnology, robotics/AI, space

Planning for the first Lifeboat Foundation conference has begun. This FREE conference will be held in Second Life to keep costs down and ensure that you won’t have to worry about missing work or school.

While an exact date has not yet been set, we intend to offer you an exciting line up of speakers on a day in the late spring or early summer of 2008.

Several members of Lifeboat’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) have already expressed interest in presenting. However, potential speakers need not be Lifeboat Foundation members.

If you’re interested in speaking, want to help, or you just want to learn more, please contact me at [email protected]

Nov 28, 2007

Help Develop the NanoShield

Posted by in categories: defense, existential risks, geopolitics, lifeboat, military, nanotechnology

What’s the NanoShield you ask? It’s a long-term scientific research project aimed at creating a nanotechnoloigical immune system. You can learn more about it here.

Facebook users — please come join the cause and help fund the Lifeboat Foundation’s NanoShield project.

Not a Facebook user? No worries. By joining the Lifeboat Foundation and making even a small donation you can have a hugely positive impact on humanity’s future well being.

So why not join us?