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Jan 15, 2009

What should be at the center of the U.S. stimulus package

Posted by in categories: existential risks, geopolitics, habitats, lifeboat, space, sustainability

The projected size of Barack Obama’s “stimulus package” is heading north, from hundreds of billions of dollars into the trillions. And the Obama program comes, of course, on top of the various Bush administration bailouts and commitments, estimated to run as high as $8.5 trillion.

Will this money be put to good use? That’s an important question for the new President, and an even more important question for America. The metric for all government spending ultimately comes down to a single query: What did you get for it?

If such spending was worth it, that’s great. If the country gets victory in war, or victory over economic catastrophe, well, obviously, it was worthwhile. The national interest should never be sacrificed on the altar of a balanced budget.

So let’s hope we get the most value possible for all that money–and all that red ink. Let’s hope we get a more prosperous nation and a cleaner earth. Let’s also hope we get a more secure population and a clear, strategic margin of safety for the United States. Yet how do we do all that?

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Jan 13, 2009

The New Rise of Online Health Tracking

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

Tracking your health is a growing phenomenon. People have historically measured and recorded their health using simple tools: a pencil, paper, a watch and a scale. But with custom spreadsheets, streaming wifi gadgets, and a new generation of people open to sharing information, this tracking is moving online. Pew Internet reports that 70–80% of Internet users go online for health reasons, and Health 2.0 websites are popping up to meet the demand.

David Shatto, an online health enthusiast, wrote in to CureTogether, a health-tracking website, with a common question: “I’m ‘healthy’ but would be interested in tracking my health online. Not sure what this means, or what a ‘healthy’ person should track. What do you recommend?”

There are probably as many answers to this question as there are people who track themselves. The basic measure that apply to most people are:
- sleep
- weight
- calories
- exercise
People who have an illness or condition will also measure things like pain levels, pain frequency, temperature, blood pressure, day of cycle (for women), and results of blood and other biometric tests. Athletes track heart rate, distance, time, speed, location, reps, and other workout-related measures.

Another answer to this question comes from Karina, who writes on Facebook: “It’s just something I do, and need to do, and it’s part of my life. So, in a nutshell, on most days I write down what I ate and drank, how many steps I walked, when I went to bed and when I woke up, my workouts and my pain/medication/treatments. I also write down various comments about meditative activities and, if it’s extreme, my mood.”

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Dec 30, 2008

Globally Networked Anarchy (#Griot)

Posted by in category: defense

The year 2008 saw the hype fall away from virtual worlds but in contrast social networks are going from strength to strength and are being increasingly used as protest vehicles around the world. While the utility of Facebook and Twitter (using the #griot descriptor to report on the riots in Greece) have been widely reported upon some of the more interesting and interactive information can still be found in Second Life, which bodes well for the future of virtual worlds. Full report and links relating to this phenomena over at the MetaSecurity blog. Whether it be web-forums, Facebook or Second Life, virtual communities will continue to be an increasingly important part of the National Security picture in 2009.

Dec 9, 2008

Why antropic principle stops to defend us

Posted by in categories: existential risks, futurism, space

In the volume “Global catastrophic risks” you could find excellent article of Milan Circovic “Observation selection effects and global catastrophic risks”, where he shows that we can’t use information from past records to estimating future rate of global catastrophes.
This has one more consequence which I investigate in my article: “Why antropic principle stops to defend us. Observation selection, future rate of natural disasters and fragility of our environment” — that is we could be in the end of the long period of stability, and some catastrophes may be long overdue and what is most important we could underestimate fragility of our environment which could be on the verge of bifurcation. It is because origination of intellectual life on the Earth is very rare event and it means that some critical parameters may lay near their bounds of stability and small anthropogenic influences could start catastrophic process in this century.…vironment–

Why antropic principle stops to defend us
Observation selection, future rate of natural disasters and fragility of our environment.

Alexei Turchin,
Russian Transhumanist movement

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Nov 26, 2008

What are the Risks of Failure of Nuclear Deterrence?

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

Nuclear warheads

Martin Hellman is a professor at Stanford, one of the co-inventors of public-key cryptography, and the creator of He has recently published an excellent essay about the risks of failure of nuclear deterrence: Soaring, Cryptography and Nuclear Weapons. (also available on PDF)

I highly recommend that you read it, along with the other resources on, and also subscribe to their newsletter (on the left on the frontpage).

There are also chapters on Nuclear War and Nuclear Terrorism in Global Catastrophic Risks (intro freely available as PDF here).

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Nov 25, 2008

Giant planets ignition

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, existential risks, futurism, geopolitics, nanotechnology, nuclear weapons, rants, space

I wrote an essay on the theme of the possibility of artificial initiation and fusion explosion of giants planets and other objects of Solar system. It is not a scientific article, but an atempt to collect all nesessary information about this existential risk. I conclude that it could not be ruled out as technical possibility, and could be made later as act of space war, which could clean entire Solar system.

Where are some events which are very improbable, but which consequence could be infinitely large (e.g. black holes on LHC.) Possibility of nuclear ignition of self-containing fusion reaction in giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn which could lead to the explosion of the planet, is one of them.

Inside the giant planets is thermonuclear fuel under high pressure and at high density. This density for certain substances is above (except water, perhaps) than the density of these substances on Earth. Large quantities of the substance would not have fly away from reaction zone long enough for large energy relize. This fuel has never been involved in fusion reactions, and it remained easy combustible components, namely, deuterium, helium-3 and lithium, which have burned at all in the stars. In addition, the subsoil giant planets contain fuel for reactions, which may prompt an explosive fire — namely, the tri-helium reaction (3 He 4 = C12) and for reactions to the accession of hydrogen to oxygen, which, however, required to start them much higher temperature. Substance in the bowels of the giant planets is a degenerate form of a metal sea, just as the substance of white dwarfs, which regularly takes place explosive thermonuclear burning in the form of helium flashes and the flashes of the first type of supernova.
The more opaque is environment, the greater are the chances for the reaction to it, as well as less scattering, but in the bowels of the giant planets there are many impurities and can be expected to lower transparency. Gravitational differentiation and chemical reactions can lead to the allocation of areas within the planet that is more suitable to run the reaction in its initial stages.

The stronger will be an explosion of fuse, the greater will be amount of the initial field of burning, and the more likely that the response would be self-sustaining, as the energy loss will be smaller and the number of reaction substances and reaction times greater. It can be assumed that if at sufficiently powerful fuse the reaction will became self-sustaining.

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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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