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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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Aug 21, 2008

Religion, Radicalization and the future of Terrorism

Posted by in categories: cybercrime/malcode, defense, futurism, military

The UK’s Guardian today published details of a report produced by Britain’s Security Service (MI5) entitled, ‘Understanding radicalization and violent extremism in the UK’. The report is from MI5’s internal behavioral analysis unit and contains within it some interesting and surprising conclusions. The Guardian report covers many of these in depth (so no need to go over here) but one point, which is worth highlighting is the claim made within the report that religion is and was not a contributory factor in the radicalization of the home-grown terrorist threat that the UK faces. In fact, the report goes on to state that a strong religious faith protects individuals from the effects of extremism.This viewpoint is one that is gathering strength and coincides with an article written by Martin Amis in the Wall Street Journal, which also argues that ‘terrorism’s new structure’ is about the quest for fame and thirst for power, with religion simply acting as a “means of mobilization”.

All of this also tends to agree with the assertion made by Philip Bobbit in ‘Terror and Consent’, that al-Qaeda is simply version 1.0 of a new type of terrorism for the 21st century. This type of terrorism is attuned to the advantages and pressures of a market based world and acts more like a Silicon Valley start-up company than the Red Brigades — being flexible, fast moving and wired — taking advantage of globalization to pursue a violent agenda.

This all somewhat begs the question of, what next? If al-Qaeda is version 1.0 what is 2.0? This of course is hard to discern but looking at the two certain trends, which will shape humanity over the next 20 years — urbanization and virtualization — throws up some interesting potential opponents who are operating today. The road to mass urbanization is currently being highlighted by the 192021 project (19 cities, 20 million people in the 21st century) and amongst other things, points to the large use of slum areas to grow the cities of the 21st century. Slum areas are today being globally exploited from Delhi to Sao Paulo by Nigerian drug organizations that are able to recruit the indigenous people to build their own cities within cities. This kind of highly profitable criminal activity in areas beyond the vision of government is a disturbing incubator.

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Increased global virtualization complements urbanization as well as standing alone. Virtual environments provide a useful platform for any kind of real-life extremist (as is now widely accepted) but it is the formation of groups within virtual spaces that then spill-out into real-space that could become a significant feature of the 21st century security picture. This is happening with, ‘Project Chanology’ a group that was formed virtually with some elements of the Anonymous movement in order to disrupt the Church of Scientology. While Project Chanology (WhyWeProtest Website)began as a series of cyber actions directed at Scientology’s website, it is now organizing legal protests of Scientology buildings. A shift from the virtual to the real. A more sinister take on this is the alleged actions of the Patriotic Nigras — a group dedicated to the disruption of Second Life, which has reportedly taken to using the tactic of ‘swatting’ — which is the misdirection of armed police officers to a victim’s home address. A disturbing spill-over into real-space. Therefore, whatever pattern future terrorist movements follow, there are signs that religion will play a peripheral rather than central role.

Originally posted on the Counterterrorism blog.

Aug 17, 2008

23 Things Science Can Tell Us about Life, the Universe, and Everything

Posted by in categories: cosmology, futurism

Read our new report 23 Things Science Can Tell Us about Life, the Universe, and Everything and post your comments here!

Jul 31, 2008

SRA Proposal Accepted

Posted by in categories: existential risks, lifeboat

My proposal for the Society for Risk Analysis’s annual meeting in Boston has been accepted, in oral presentation format, for the afternoon of Wednesday, December 10th, 2008. Any Lifeboat members who will be in the area at the time are more than welcome to attend. Any suggestions for content would also be greatly appreciated; speaking time is limited to 15 minutes, with 5 minutes for questions. The abstract for the paper is as follows:

Global Risk: A Quantitative Analysis

The scope and possible impact of global, long-term risks presents a unique challenge to humankind. The analysis and mitigation of such risks is extremely important, as such risks have the potential to affect billions of people worldwide; however, little systematic analysis has been done to determine the best strategies for overall mitigation. Direct, case-by-case analysis can be combined with standard probability theory, particularly Laplace’s rule of succession, to calculate the probability of any given risk, the scope of the risk, and the effectiveness of potential mitigation efforts. This methodology can be applied both to well-known risks, such as global warming, nuclear war, and bio-terrorism, and lesser-known or unknown risks. Although well-known risks are shown to be a significant threat, analysis strongly suggests that avoiding the risks of technologies which have not yet been developed may pose an even greater challenge. Eventually, some type of further quantitative analysis will be necessary for effective apportionment of government resources, as traditional indicators of risk level- such as press coverage and human intuition- can be shown to be inaccurate, often by many orders of magnitude.

More details are available online at the Society for Risk Analysis’s website. James Blodgett will be presenting on the precautionary principle two days earlier (Monday, Dec. 8th).

Jul 30, 2008

30 days to make antibodies to limit Pandemics

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, defense, existential risks, lifeboat

Researchers have devised a rapid and efficient method for generating protein sentinels of the immune system, called monoclonal antibodies, which mark and neutralize foreign invaders.

For both ethical and practical reasons, monoclonals are usually made in mice. And that’s a problem, because the human immune system recognizes the mouse proteins as foreign and sometimes attacks them instead. The result can be an allergic reaction, and sometimes even death.

To get around that problem, researchers now “humanize” the antibodies, replacing some or all of mouse-derived pieces with human ones.

Wilson and Ahmed were interested in the immune response to vaccination. Conventional wisdom held that the B-cell response would be dominated by “memory” B cells. But as the study authors monitored individuals vaccinated against influenza, they found that a different population of B cells peaked about one week after vaccination, and then disappeared, before the memory cells kicked in. This population of cells, called antibody-secreting plasma cells (ASCs), is highly enriched for cells that target the vaccine, with vaccine-specific cells accounting for nearly 70 percent of all ASCs.

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Jul 30, 2008

Preventing flu fatalities by stopping immune system overreaction

Posted by in categories: biological, defense, existential risks, futurism, lifeboat

Researchers from Imperial College in London, England, isolated the receptor in the lungs that triggers the immune overreaction to flu.

With the receptor identified, a therapy can be developed that will bind to the receptor, preventing the deadly immune response. Also, by targeting a receptor in humans rather than a particular strain of flu, therapies developed to exploit this discovery would work regardless of the rapid mutations that beguile flu vaccine producers every year.

The flu kills 250,000 to 500,000 people in an average year with epidemics reaching 1 to 2 million deaths (other than the spanish flu which was more severe

This discovery could lead to treatments which turn off the inflammation in the lungs caused by influenza and other infections, according to a study published today in the journal Nature Immunology. The virus is often cleared from the body by the time symptoms appear and yet symptoms can last for many days, because the immune system continues to fight the damaged lung. The immune system is essential for clearing the virus, but it can damage the body when it overreacts if it is not quickly contained.

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Jul 15, 2008

Apophis Asteroid still a risk for 2036

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, defense, existential risks, space

On April 16, 2008, NASA News Release 08–103 reaffirmed that its estimation of a 1 in 45,000 chance of impact in 2036 remains valid.

The B612 Foundation is working towardcs the goal of of significantly altering the orbit of an asteroid in a controlled manner by 2015.

the B612 Foundation made estimates of Apophis path if a 2036 Earth impact were to occur.

The impact result is a narrow corridor called the ‘risk corrider’ which would be a few miles wide. Countries estimated to be in the direct path:

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Jul 11, 2008

Metabolomics Could be Part of a BioShield

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical

What is metabolomics?

Genes are similar to the plans for a house; they show what it looks like, but not what people are getting up to inside. One way of getting a snapshot of their lives would be to rummage through their rubbish, and that is pretty much what metabolomics does. […]

Metabolomics studies metabolites, the by-products of the hundreds of thousands of chemical reactions that continuously go on in every cell of the human body. Because blood and urine are packed with these compounds, it should be possible to detect and analyse them. If, say, a tumour was growing somewhere then, long before any existing methods can detect it, the combination of metabolites from the dividing cancer cells will produce a new pattern, different from that seen in healthy tissue. Such metabolic changes could be picked up by computer programs, adapted from those credit-card companies use to detect crime by spotting sudden and unusual spending patterns amid millions of ordinary transactions.

This could be used for traditional medicine, both to prevent pathologies and to detect those that are already present so they can be treated. But another use would be as part of an early-detection system to defend against pandemics and biological attacks. As mentioned previously, network-theory can help us better use vaccines. But once you have a cure or antidote, you also need to identify people that are already infected but haven’t died yet, and the earlier you can do that after the infection, the more chances they have to live.

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Jul 5, 2008

Using Vaccines more Effectively to Stop Pandemics

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, information science

If a pandemic strikes and hundreds of millions are at risk, we won’t have enough vaccines for everybody, at least not within the time window where vaccines would help. But a new strategy could help use the vaccines we have more effectively:

Researchers are now proposing a new strategy for targeting shots that could, at least in theory, stop a pandemic from spreading along the network of social interactions. Vaccinating selected people is essentially equivalent to cutting out nodes of the social network. As far as the pandemic is concerned, it’s as if those people no longer exist. The team’s idea is to single out people so that immunizing them breaks up the network into smaller parts of roughly equal sizes. Computer simulations show that this strategy could block a pandemic using 5 to 50 percent fewer doses than existing strategies, the researchers write in an upcoming Physical Review Letters.

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So you break up the general social network into sub-networks, and then you target the most important nodes of these sub-networks and so on until you run out of vaccines. The challenge will be to get good information about social networks, something not quite as easy as mapping computer networks, but there is progress on that front.

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Jun 13, 2008

Aging 2008 — an Open Event for Regenerative Medicine

Posted by in category: biotech/medical

There is a strong overlap between those concerned about extinction risk prevention and healthy life extension. Accordingly, many supporters of the Lifeboat Foundation will be attending an open event on regenerative medicine taking place on the UCLA campus on the 27th of June. Here is the blurb:

On Friday, June 27th, leading scientists and thinkers in stem cell research and regenerative medicine will gather in Los Angeles at UCLA for Aging 2008 to explain how their work can combat human aging, and the sociological implications of developing rejuvenation therapies. Aging 2008 is free, with advance registration required.

UCLA Royce Hall
Friday June 27th | Doors open 4pm
405 Hilgard Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90024

This special public event is being organized by the Methuselah Foundation. Dr. Aubrey de Grey, chairman and chief science officer of the Methuselah Foundation, said, “Our organization has raised over $10 million to crack open the logjams in longevity science. With the two-armed strategy of direct investments into key research projects, and a competitive prize to spur on competing scientists’ race to break rejuvenation and longevity records in lab mice, the Foundation is actively accelerating the drive toward a future free of age-related degeneration.” The Methuselah Foundation has been covered by “60 Minutes,” Popular Science, the Wall Street Journal, and other top-flight media outlets.

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