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Jun 9, 2009

Hack-Jet: Losing a commercial airliner in a networked world

Posted by in categories: complex systems, counterterrorism, futurism


When there is a catastrophic loss of an aircraft in any circumstances, there are inevitably a host of questions raised about the safety and security of the aviation operation. The loss of Air France flight 447 off the coast of Brazil with little evidence upon which to work inevitably raises the level of speculation surrounding the fate of the flight. Large-scale incidents such as this create an enormous cloud of data, which has to be investigated in order to discover the pattern of events, which led to the loss (not helped when some of it may be two miles under the ocean surface). So far French authorities have been quick to rule out terrorism it has however, emerged that a bomb hoax against an Air France flight had been made the previous week flying a different route from Argentina. This currently does not seem to be linked and no terrorist group has claimed responsibility. Much of the speculation regarding the fate of the aircraft has focused on the effects of bad weather or a glitch in the fly-by-wire systemthat could have caused the plane to dive uncontrollably. There is however another theory, which while currently unlikely, if true would change the global aviation security situation overnight. A Hacked-Jet.

Given the plethora of software modern jets rely on it seems reasonable to assume that these systems could be compromised by code designed to trigger catastrophic systemic events within the aircraft’s navigation or other critical electronic systems. Just as aircraft have a physical presence they increasingly have a virtual footprint and this changes their vulnerability. A systemic software corruption may account for the mysterious absence of a Mayday call — the communications system may have been offline. Designing airport and aviation security to keep lethal code off civilian aircraft would in the short-term, be beyond any government civil security regime. A malicious code attack of this kind against any civilian airliner would, therefore be catastrophic not only for the airline industry but also for the wider global economy until security caught up with this new threat. The technical ability to conduct an attack of this kind remains highly specialized (for now) but the knowledge to conduct attacks in this mold would be as deadly as WMD and easier to spread through our networked world. Electronic systems on aircraft are designed for safety not security, they therefore do not account for malicious internal actions.

While this may seem the stuff of fiction in January 2008 this broad topic was discussed due to the planned arrival of the Boeing 787, which is designed to be more ‘wired’ –offering greater passenger connectivity. Air Safety regulations have not been designed to accommodate the idea of an attack against on-board electronic systems and the FAA proposed special conditions , which were subsequently commented upon by the Air Line Pilots Association and Airbus. There is some interesting back and forth in the proposed special conditions, which are after all only to apply to the Boeing 787. In one section, Airbus rightly pointed out that making it a safety condition that the internal design of civilian aircraft should ‘prevent all inadvertent or malicious changes to [the electronic system]’ would be impossible during the life cycle of the aircraft because ‘security threats evolve very rapidly’.Boeing responded to these reports in an AP article stating that there were sufficient safeguards to shut out the Internet from internal aircraft systems a conclusion the FAA broadly agreed with - Wired Magazine covered much of the ground. During the press surrounding this the security writer Bruce Schneier commented that, “The odds of this being perfect are zero. It’s possible Boeing can make their connection to the Internet secure. If they do, it will be the first time in the history of mankind anyone’s done that.” Of course securing the airborne aircraft isn’t the only concern when maintenance and diagnostic systems constantly refresh while the aircraft is on the ground. Malicious action could infect any part of this process. While a combination of factors probably led to the tragic loss of flight AF447 the current uncertainty serves to highlight a potential game-changing aviation security scenario that no airline or government is equipped to face.

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Jun 9, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

Posted by in category: nanotechnology

People have been worried about nanotechnology for quite some time now; nano-asbestos, advanced nano-enabled weapons, and self-replicating “gray goo” nanobots that accidentally go out of control. But what if everything goes right? What if nanotubes and nanoparticles are functionalized to stay out of the ecosystem? What if there are no major wars? What if nanoreplicators are never built, or if they are, they use modern error correction software to never mutate? What happens if nanotechnology fulfills humanity’s desires perfectly?

In the next decade or so, a new type of desktop appliance will be developed—a nanofactory that consists of very many productive nanosystems—atomically precise nanoscale machines that work together to build bulk amounts of atomically precise products.

The Foresight Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems has identified a number of different approaches for building these atomically precise systems of machines that can produce other nanosystems These approaches include Paul Rothemund’s DNA Origami, Christopher Schafmeister’s Bis-proteins, Joe Lynden’s Patterned Atomic Layer Epitaxy, and Robert Freitas and Ralph Merkle’s Diamondoid Mechanosynthesis,, and Each of these approaches has the potential of building the numerous nanoscale electronic, mechanical, and structural components that comprise productive nanosystems.

The ultimate result will be a nanofactory that can build virtually anything—limited only by the laws of physics, the properties of the input feedstock, and the software that controls the device.

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Jun 4, 2009

Ripsaw Tank Delivers Death at 60MPH — Popular Science

Posted by in categories: counterterrorism, defense, engineering, military, robotics/AI
An unmanned beast that cruises over any terrain at speeds that leave an M1A Abrams in the dust
Mean Machine: Troops could use the Ripsaw as an advance scout, sending it a mile or two ahead of a convoy, and use its cameras and new sensor technology to sniff out roadside bombs or ambushes John B. Carnett

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May 30, 2009

Create an AI on Your Computer

Posted by in categories: complex systems, human trajectories, information science, neuroscience, robotics/AI, supercomputing

Singularity Hub

Create an AI on Your Computer

Written on May 28, 2009 – 11:48 am | by Aaron Saenz |

If many hands make light work, then maybe many computers can make an artificial brain. That’s the basic reasoning behind Intelligence Realm’s Artificial Intelligence project. By reverse engineering the brain through a simulation spread out over many different personal computers, Intelligence Realm hopes to create an AI from the ground-up, one neuron at a time. The first waves of simulation are already proving successful, with over 14,000 computers used and 740 billion neurons modeled. Singularity Hub managed to snag the project’s leader, Ovidiu Anghelidi, for an interview: see the full text at the end of this article.

The ultimate goal of Intelligence Realm is to create an AI or multiple AIs, and use these intelligences in scientific endeavors. By focusing on the human brain as a prototype, they can create an intelligence that solves problems and “thinks” like a human. This is akin to the work done at FACETS that Singularity Hub highlighted some weeks ago. The largest difference between Intelligence Realm and FACETS is that Intelligence Realm is relying on a purely simulated/software approach.

Which sort of makes Intelligence Realm similar to the Blue Brain Project that Singularity Hub also discussed. Both are computer simulations of neurons in the brain, but Blue Brain’s ultimate goal is to better understand neurological functions, while Intelligence Realm is seeking to eventually create an AI. In either case, to successfully simulate the brain in software alone, you need a lot of computing power. Blue Brain runs off a high-tech supercomputer, a resource that’s pretty much exclusive to that project. Even with that impressive commodity, Blue Brain is hitting the limit of what it can simulate. There’s too much to model for just one computer alone, no matter how powerful. Intelligence Realm is using a distributed computing solution. Where one computer cluster alone may fail, many working together may succeed. Which is why Intelligence Realm is looking for help.

The AI system project is actively recruiting, with more than 6700 volunteers answering the call. Each volunteer runs a small portion of the larger simulation on their computer(s) and then ships the results back to the main server. BOINC, the Berkeley built distributed computing software that makes it all possible, manages the flow of data back and forth. It’s the same software used for SETI’s distributed computing processing. Joining the project is pretty simple: you just download BOINC, some other data files, and you’re good to go. You can run the simulation as an application, or as part of your screen saver.

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May 18, 2009

Top 6 Upcoming Health Events

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, events, futurism

The air is buzzing. People are talking about health more than ever before, and it’s good news for patients. Technology is making it possible for patients to take an active role in “participatory medicine”, partnering with their doctors to decide on the best course of action for their health.

Over the next few months, these 6 events will bring together patients, researchers, doctors, and health enthusiasts. Discussions, partnerships, and innovations will emerge. Keep your eye on these, and attend if you can!

1. TEDMED — October 27–30,
The medical version of the legendary TED conferences. From the TEDMED site: “The fifth in a series created by Marc Hodosh and Richard Saul Wurman, TEDMED celebrates conversations that demonstrate the intersection and connections between all things medical and healthcare related: from personal health to public health, devices to design and Hollywood to the hospital.” This year’s speakers include Dean Kamen, Craig Venter, Sanjay Gupta and Goldie Hawn..

2. Transform — September 13–15,
A collaborative symposium at The Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation. From the Transform site: “Transform brings together a dynamic group of speakers and participants from inside and outside the health care industry to explore the intersections between human experience, health care delivery and new business models. Join us to imagine and create innovative ways to deliver a better health care experience in a 21st century world.”

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May 17, 2009

Dr. Moreau outlawed in LA — Panel Votes to Outlaw Human-Animal Hybrids

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, human trajectories

U.S. News and World Report — May 12, 2009, by KEVIN McGILL

BATON ROUGE, La.—Combining human and animal cells to create what are sometimes called “human-animal hybrids” would be a crime in Louisiana, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, under legislation approved Tuesday by a state Senate panel.

Scientific researchers in some areas have tried to create human embryonic stem cells, which scientists say could be used to develop treatment for a variety of human ailments, by placing human DNA into animal cells. But such practices are controversial for a number of reasons.

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May 4, 2009

Forever Young

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, futurism, human trajectories, media & arts, space

(Crossposted on the blog of Starship Reckless)

Eleven years ago, Random House published my book To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek. With the occasion of the premiere of the Star Trek reboot film and with my mind still bruised from the turgid awfulness of Battlestar Galactica, I decided to post the epilogue of my book, very lightly updated — as an antidote to blasé pseudo-sophistication and a reminder that Prometheus is humanity’s best embodiment. My major hope for the new film is that Uhura does more than answer phones and/or smooch Kirk.

Coda: The Infinite Frontier

star-trekA younger science than physics, biology is more linear and less exotic than its older sibling. Whereas physics is (mostly) elegant and symmetric, biology is lunging and ungainly, bound to the material and macroscopic. Its predictions are more specific, its theories less sweeping. And yet, in the end, the exploration of life is the frontier that matters the most. Life gives meaning to all elegant theories and contraptions, life is where the worlds of cosmology and ethics intersect.

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May 3, 2009

Unknown internet 2: Could the net become self-aware?

Posted by in category: robotics/AI

New Scientist

30 April 2009 by Michael Brooks

Yes, if we play our cards right — or wrong, depending on your perspective.

In engineering terms, it is easy to see qualitative similarities between the human brain and the internet’s complex network of nodes, as they both hold, process, recall and transmit information. “The internet behaves a fair bit like a mind,” says Ben Goertzel, chair of the Artificial General Intelligence Research Institute, an organisation inevitably based in cyberspace. “It might already have a degree of consciousness”.

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May 3, 2009

Swine Flu Update: are we entering an Age of Pandemics?

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, existential risks, futurism, geopolitics, nanotechnology, space, sustainability

May 2: Many U.S. emergency rooms and hospitals crammed with people… ”Walking well” flood hospitals… Clinics double their traffic in major cities … ER rooms turn away EMT cases. — CNN

Update May 4: Confirmed cases of H1N1 virus now at 985 in 20 countries (Mexico: 590, 25 deaths) — WHO. In U.S.: 245 confirmed U.S. cases in 35 states. — CDC.

“We might be entering an Age of Pandemics… a broad array of dangerous emerging 21st-century diseases, man-made or natural, brand-new or old, newly resistant to our current vaccines and antiviral drugs…. Martin Rees bet $1,000 that bioterror or bioerror would unleash a catastrophic event claiming one million lives in the next two decades…. Why? Less forest, more contact with animals… more meat eating (Africans last year consumed nearly 700 million wild animals… numbers of chickens raised for food in China have increased 1,000-fold over the past few decades)… farmers cut down jungle, creating deforested areas that once served as barriers to the zoonotic viruses…” — Larry Brilliant, Wall Street Journal

May 2, 2009

From financial crisis to global catastrophe

Posted by in categories: economics, existential risks

From financial crisis to global catastrophe

Financial crisis which manifested in the 2008 (but started much earlier) has led to discussion in alarmists circles — is this crisis the beginning of the final sunset of mankind? In this article we will not consider the view that the crisis will suddenly disappear and everything returns to its own as trivial and in my opinion false. Transition of the crisis into the global catastrophe emerged the following perspective:
1) The crisis is the beginning of long slump (E. Yudkowsky term), which gradually lead mankind to a new Middle Ages. This point of view is supported by proponents of Peak Oil theory, who believe that recently was passed peak of production of liquid fuels, and since that time, the number of oil production begins to drop a few percent each year, according to bell curve, and that fossil fuel is a necessary resource for the existence of modern civilization, which will not be able to switch to alternative energy sources. They see the current financial crisis as a direct consequence of high oil prices, which brace immoderate consumption. The maintenance is the point of view is the of «The peak all theory», which shows that not only oil but also the other half of the required resources of modern civilization will be exhausted in the next quarter of century. (Note that the possibility of replacing some of resources with other leads to that peaks of each resource flag to one moment in time.) Finally, there is a theory of the «peak demand» — namely, that in circumstances where the goods produced more then effective demand, the production in general is not fit, which includes the deflationary spiral that could last indefinitely.
2) Another view is that the financial crisis will inevitably lead to a geopolitical crisis, and then to nuclear war. This view can be reinforced by the analogy between the Great Depression and novadays. The Great Depression ended with the start of the Second World War. But this view is considering nuclear war as the inevitable end of human existence, which is not necessarily true.
3) In the article “Scaling law of the biological evolution and the hypothesis of the self-consistent Galaxy origin of life”. (Advances in Space Research V.36 (2005), P.220–225” Russian scientist A. D. Panov showed that the crises in the history of humanity became more frequent in curse of history. Each crisis is linked with the destruction of some old political system, and with the creation principle technological innovation at the exit from the crisis. 1830 technological revolution lead to industrial world (but peak of crisis was of course near 1815 – Waterloo, eruption of Tambora, Byron on the Geneva lake create new genre with Shelly and her Frankeshtain.) One such crisis happened in 1945 (dated 1950 in Panov’s paper – as a date of not the beginning of the crisis, but a date of exit from it and creation of new reality) when the collapse of fascism occurred and arose computers, rockets and atomic bomb, and bipolar world. An important feature of these crises is that they follow a simple law: namely, the next crisis is separated from the preceding interval of time to 2.67+/- 0.15 shorter. The last such crisis occurred in the vicinity of 1991 (1994 if use Panov’s formula from the article), when the USSR broke up and began the march of the Internet. However, the schedule of crisis lies on the hyperbole that comes to the singularity in the region in 2020 (Panov gave estimate 2004+/-15, but information about 1991 crisis allows to sharpen the estimate). If this trend continues to operate, the next crisis must come after 17 years from 1991 , in 2008, and another- even after 6.5 years in 2014 and then the next in 2016 and so on. Naturally it is desirable to compare the Panov’s forecast and the current financial crisis.
Current crisis seems to change world politically and technologically, so it fit to Panov’s theory which predict it with high accuracy long before. (At least at 2005 – but as I now Panov do not compare this crisis with his theory.) But if we agree with Panov’s theory we should not expect global catastrophe now, but only near 2020. So we have long way to it with many crisises which will be painful but not final. (more…)