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Jan 18, 2010

Filling the Gaps in “Global Trends 2025″

Posted by in categories: futurism, geopolitics, nanotechnology

Because of the election cycle, the United States Congress and Presidency has a tendency to be short-sighted. Therefore it is a welcome relief when an organization such as the U.S. National Intelligence Council gathers many smart people from around the world to do some serious thinking more than a decade into the future. But while the authors of the NIC report Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World[1] understood the political situations of countries around the world extremely well, their report lacked two things:

1. Sufficient knowledge about technology (especially productive nanosystems) and their second order effects.

2. A clear and specific understanding of Islam and the fundamental cause of its problems. More generally, an understanding of the relationship between its theology, technological progress, and cultural success.
These two gaps need to be filled, and this white paper attempts to do so.

Christine Peterson, the co-founder and vice-president of the Foresight Nanotech Institute, has said “If you’re looking ahead long-term, and what you see looks like science fiction, it might be wrong. But if it doesn’t look like science fiction, it’s definitely wrong.” None of Global Trends 2025 predictions look like science fiction, though perhaps 15 years from now is not long-term (on the other hand, 15 years is not short-term either).

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Dec 30, 2009

Ark-starship – too early or too late?

Posted by in categories: existential risks, lifeboat, space

It is interesting to note that the technical possibility to send interstellar Ark appeared in 1960th, and is based on the concept of “Blust-ship” of Ulam. This blast-ship uses the energy of nuclear explosions to move forward. Detailed calculations were carried out under the project “Orion”. In 1968 Dyson published an article “Interstellar Transport”, which shows the upper and lower bounds of the projects. In conservative (ie not imply any technical achievements) valuation it would cost 1 U.S. GDP (600 billion U.S. dollars at the time of writing) to launch the spaceship with mass of 40 million tonnes (of which 5 million tons of payload), and its time of flight to Alpha Centauri would be 1200 years. In a more advanced version the price is 0.1 U.S. GDP, the flight time is 120 years and starting weight 150 000 tons (of which 50 000 tons of payload). In principle, using a two-tier scheme, more advanced thermonuclear bombs and reflectors the flying time to the nearest star can reduce to 40 years.
Of course, the crew of the spaceship is doomed to extinction if they do not find a habitable and fit for human planet in the nearest star system. Another option is that it will colonize uninhabited planet. In 1980, R. Freitas proposed a lunar exploration using self-replicating factory, the original weight of 100 tons, but to control that requires artificial intelligence. “Advanced Automation for Space Missions” Artificial intelligence yet not exist, but the management of such a factory could be implemented by people. The main question is how much technology and equipment should be enough to throw at the moonlike uninhabited planet, so that people could build on it completely self-sustaining and growing civilization. It is about creating something like inhabited von Neumann probe. Modern self-sustaining state includes at least a few million people (like Israel), with hundreds of tons of equipment on each person, mainly in the form of houses, roads. Weight of machines is much smaller. This gives us the upper boundary of the able to replicate human colony in the 1 billion tons. The lower estimate is that there would be about 100 people, each of which accounts for approximately 100 tons (mainly food and shelter), ie 10 000 tons of mass. A realistic assessment should be somewhere in between, and probably in the tens of millions of tons. All this under the assumption that no miraculous nanotechnology is not yet open.
The advantage of a spaceship as Ark is that it is non-specific reaction to a host of different threats with indeterminate probabilities. If you have some specific threat (the asteroid, the epidemic), then there is better to spend money on its removal.
Thus, if such a decision in the 1960th years were taken, now such a ship could be on the road.
But if we ignore the technical side of the issue, there are several trade-offs on strategies for creating such a spaceship.
1. The sooner such a project is started, the lesser technically advanced it would be, the lesser would be its chances of success and higher would be cost. But if it will be initiated later, the greater would be chances that it will not be complete until global catastrophe.
2. The later the project starts, the greater are the chance that it will take “diseases” of mother civilization with it (e.g. ability to create dangerous viruses ).
3. The project to create a spaceship could lead to the development of technologies that threaten civilization itself. Blast-ship used as fuel hundreds of thousands of hydrogen bombs. Therefore, it can either be used as a weapon, or other party may be afraid of it and respond. In addition, the spaceship can turn around and hit the Earth, as star-hammer — or there maybe fear of it. During construction of the spaceship could happen man-made accidents with enormous consequences, equal as maximum to detonation of all bombs on board. If the project is implementing by one of the countries in time of war, other countries could try to shoot down the spaceship when it launched.
4. The spaceship is a means of protection against Doomsday machine as strategic response in Khan style. Therefore, the creators of such a Doomsday machine can perceive the Ark as a threat to their power.
5. Should we implement a more expensive project, or a few cheaper projects?
6. Is it sufficient to limit the colonization to the Moon, Mars, Jupiter’s moons or objects in the Kuiper belt? At least it can be fallback position at which you can check the technology of autonomous colonies.
7. The sooner the spaceship starts, the less we know about exoplanets. How far and how fast the Ark should fly in order to be in relative safety?
8. Could the spaceship hide itself so that the Earth did not know where it is, and should it do that? Should the spaceship communicate with Earth? Or there is a risk of attack of a hostile AI in this case?
9. Would not the creation of such projects exacerbate the arms race or lead to premature depletion of resources and other undesirable outcomes? Creating of pure hydrogen bombs would simplify the creation of such a spaceship, or at least reduce its costs. But at the same time it would increase global risks, because nuclear non-proliferation will suffer complete failure.
10. Will the Earth in the future compete with its independent colonies or will this lead to Star Wars?
11. If the ship goes off slowly enough, is it possible to destroy it from Earth, by self-propelling missile or with radiation beam?
12. Is this mission a real chance for survival of the mankind? Flown away are likely to be killed, because the chance of success of the mission is no more than 10 per cent. Remaining on the Earth may start to behave more risky, in logic: “Well, if we have protection against global risks, now we can start risky experiments.” As a result of the project total probability of survival decreases.
13. What are the chances that its computer network of the Ark will download the virus, if it will communicate with Earth? And if not, it will reduce the chances of success. It is possible competition for nearby stars, and faster machines would win it. Eventually there are not many nearby stars at distance of about 5 light years — Alpha Centauri, the Barnard star, and the competition can begin for them. It is also possible the existence of dark lonely planets or large asteroids without host-stars. Their density in the surrounding space should be 10 times greater than the density of stars, but to find them is extremely difficult. Also if nearest stars have not any planets or moons it would be a problem. Some stars, including Barnard, are inclined to extreme stellar flares, which could kill the expedition.
14. The spaceship will not protect people from hostile AI that finds a way to catch up. Also in case of war starships may be prestigious, and easily vulnerable targets — unmanned rocket will always be faster than a spaceship. If arks are sent to several nearby stars, it does not ensure their secrecy, as the destination will be known in advance. Phase transition of the vacuum, the explosion of the Sun or Jupiter or other extreme event can also destroy the spaceship. See e.g. A.Bolonkin “Artificial Explosion of Sun. AB-Criterion for Solar Detonation”…Detonation
15. However, the spaceship is too expensive protection from many other risks that do not require such far removal. People could hide from almost any pandemic in the well-isolated islands in the ocean. People can hide on the Moon from gray goo, collision with asteroid, supervolcano, irreversible global warming. The ark-spaceship will carry with it problems of genetic degradation, propensity for violence and self-destruction, as well as problems associated with limited human outlook and cognitive biases. Spaceship would only burden the problem of resource depletion, as well as of wars and of the arms race. Thus, the set of global risks from which the spaceship is the best protection, is quite narrow.
16. And most importantly: does it make sense now to begin this project? Anyway, there is no time to finish it before become real new risks and new ways to create spaceships using nanotech.
Of course it easy to envision nano and AI based Ark – it would be small as grain of sand, carry only one human egg or even DNA information, and could self-replicate. The main problem with it is that it could be created only ARTER the most dangerous period of human existence, which is the period just before Singularity.

Oct 16, 2009

Productive Nanosystems and the 2009 Financial Meltdown

Posted by in categories: economics, nanotechnology

At a fundamental level, real wealth is the ability to fulfill human needs and desires. These ephemeral motivators are responsible for the creation of money, bank ledgers, and financial instruments that drive the world—caveat the fact that the monetary system can’t buy us love (and a few other necessities). Technologies have always provided us with tools that enable us to fulfill more needs and desires for more people with less effort. The exponential nanomanufacturing capabilities of Productive Nanosystems will simply enable us to do it better. Much better.

Productive Nanosystems
The National Nanotechnology Initiative defines nanotechnology as technologies that control matter at dimensions between one and a hundred nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. For particles and structures, reducing dimensions to the nanoscale primarily affects surface area to volume ratios and surface energies. For active structures and devices, the significant design parameters become exciton distances, quantum effects, and photon interactions. Connecting many different nanodevices into complex systems will multiply their power, leading some experts to predict that a particular kind of nanosystem—Productive Nanosystems that produces atomically precise products—will dramatically change the world.

Productive Nanosystems are programmable mechanoelectrochemical systems that are expected to rearrange bulk quantities numbers of atoms with atomic precision under programmatical control. There are currently four approaches that are expected to lead to Productive Nanosystems: DNA Origami[1], Bis-Peptide Synthesis[2], Patterned Atomic Layer Epitaxy[3], and Diamondoid Mechanosynthesis[4]. The first two are biomimetic bottom-up approaches that struggle to achieve long-range order and to increase complexity despite using chaotic thermodynamic processes. The second two are scanning-probe-based top-down approaches that struggle to increase productivity to a few hundred atoms per hour while reducing error rate.[5]

For the bottom-up approaches, the tipping point will be reached when researchers build the first nanosystem complex enough to do error correction. For the top-down approaches that can do error correction fairly easily, the tipping point will be reached when subsequent generations of tip arrays no longer need to be redesigned for speed and size improvements while using control algorithms that scale well (i.e. they only need generational time, synthesized inputs, and expansion room). When these milestones are reached, nanosystems will grow exponentially—unnoticeably for a few weeks, but suddenly they will become overwhelmingly powerful. There are many significant applications foreseen for mature Productive Nanosystems, ranging from aerospace and transportation to medicine and manufacturing—but what may affect us the hardest may be those applications that we can’t foresee.

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Oct 8, 2009

Fermi Paradox and global catastrophes

Posted by in category: existential risks

The main ways of solving the Fermi Paradox are:
1) They are already here (at least in the form of their signals)
2) They do not disseminate in the universe, do not leave traces, and not send signals. That is, they do not start a shock wave of intelligence.
3) The civilizations are extremely rare.
Additional way of thinking is 4): we are unique civilization because of observation selection
All of them have a sad outlook for global risk:
In the first case, we are under threat of conflict with superior aliens.
1A) If they are already here, we can do something that will encourage them to destroy us, or restrict us. For example, turn off the simulation. Or start the program of probes-berserkers. This probes cold be nanobots. In fact it could be something like “Space gray goo” with low intelligence but very wide spreading. It could even be in my room. The only goal of it could be to destroy other nanobots (like our Nanoshield would do). And so we will see it until we create our own nanobots.
1b) If they open up our star system right now and, moreover, focused on total colonization of all systems, we are also will fight with them and are likely to lose. Not probable.
1c) If a large portion of civilization is infected with SETI-virus and distributes signals, specially designed to infect naive civilizations — that is, encourage them to create a computer with AI, aimed at the further replication by SETI channels. This is what I write in the article Is SETI dangerous?
1d) By the means of METI signal we attract attention of dangerous civilization and it will send to the solar system a beam of death (probably commonly known as gamma-ray burst). This scenario seems unlikely, since for the time until they receive the signal and have time to react, we have time to fly away from the solar system — if they are far away. And if they are close, it is not clear why they were not here. However, this risk was intensely discussed, for example by D. Brin.
2. They do not disseminate in space. This means that either:
2a) Civilizations are very likely to destroy themselves in very early stages, before it could start wave of robots replicators and we are not exception. This is reinforced by the Doomsday argument – namely the fact that I’m discovering myself in a young civilization suggests that they are much more common than the old. However, based on the expected rate of development of nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, we can start a wave of replicators have in 10–20 years, and even if we die then, this wave will continue to spread throughout the universe. Given the uneven development of civilizations, it is difficult to assume that none of them do not have time to launch a wave of replicators before their death. This is possible only if we a) do not see an inevitable and universal threat looming directly on us in the near future, b) significantly underestimate the difficulty of creating artificial intelligence and nanoreplicators. с) The energy of the inevitable destruction is so great that it manages to destroy all replicators, which were launched by civilization — that is it is of the order of a supernova explosion.
2b) Every civilization sharply limit itself — and this limitation is very hard and long as it is simple enough to run at least one probe-replicator. This restriction may be based either on a powerful totalitarianism, or the extreme depletion of resources. Again in this case, our prospects are quite unpleasant. Bur this solution is not very plausible.
3) If civilization are rare, it means that the universe is much less friendly place to live, and we are on an island of stability, which is likely to be an exception from the rule. This may mean that we underestimate the time of the future sustainability of the important processes for us (the solar luminosity, the earth’s crust), and most importantly, the sustainability of these processes to small influences, that is their fragility. I mean that we can inadvertently break their levels of resistance, carrying out geo-engineering activities, the complex physics experiments and mastering space. More I speak about this in the article: “Why antropic principle stopped to defend us. Observation selection and fragility of our environment”.…vironment– See also the works of M.Circovic on the same subject.
However, this fragility is not inevitable and depends on what factors were critical in the Great filter. In addition, we are not necessarily would pressure on this fragile, even if it exist.
4) Observation selection makes us unique civilization.
4a. We are the first civilization, because any civilization which is the first captures the whole galaxy. Likewise, the earthly life is the first life on Earth, because it would require all swimming pools with a nutrient broth, in which could appear another life. In any case, sooner or later we will face another first civilization.
4b. Vast majority of civilizations are being destroyed in the process of colonization of the galaxy, and so we can find ourselves only in the civilization which is not destroyed by chance. Here the obvious risk is that those who made this error, would try to correct it.
4c. We wonder about the absence of contact, because we are not in contact. That is, we are in a unique position, which does not allow any conclusions about the nature of the universe. This clearly contradicts the Copernican principle.
The worst variant for us here is 2a — imminent self-destruction, which, however, has independent confirmation through the Doomsday Argument, but is undermine by the fact that we do not see alien von Neuman probes. I still believe that the most likely scenario is a Rare earth.

Oct 1, 2009

Post-human Earth: How the planet will recover from us

Posted by in categories: existential risks, futurism, human trajectories, policy, sustainability

Paul J. Crutzen

Although this is the scenario we all hope (and work hard) to avoid — the consequences should be of interest to all who are interested in mitigation of the risk of mass extinction:

“WHEN Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen coined the word Anthropocene around 10 years ago, he gave birth to a powerful idea: that human activity is now affecting the Earth so profoundly that we are entering a new geological epoch.

The Anthropocene has yet to be accepted as a geological time period, but if it is, it may turn out to be the shortest — and the last. It is not hard to imagine the epoch ending just a few hundred years after it started, in an orgy of global warming and overconsumption.

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Sep 25, 2009

Asteroid attack: Putting Earth’s defences to the test

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

Peter Garretson from the Lifeboat Advisory Board appears in the latest edition of New Scientist:

“IT LOOKS inconsequential enough, the faint little spot moving leisurely across the sky. The mountain-top telescope that just detected it is taking it very seriously, though. It is an asteroid, one never seen before. Rapid-survey telescopes discover thousands of asteroids every year, but there’s something very particular about this one. The telescope’s software decides to wake several human astronomers with a text message they hoped they would never receive. The asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. It is the size of a skyscraper and it’s big enough to raze a city to the ground. Oh, and it will be here in three days.

Far-fetched it might seem, but this scenario is all too plausible. Certainly it is realistic enough that the US air force recently brought together scientists, military officers and emergency-response officials for the first time to assess the nation’s ability to cope, should it come to pass.

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Sep 1, 2009

Keeping genes out of terrorists’ hands

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, chemistry, counterterrorism, existential risks, policy

Nature News reports of a growing concern over different standards for DNA screening and biosecurity:

“A standards war is brewing in the gene-synthesis industry. At stake is the way that the industry screens orders for hazardous toxins and genes, such as pieces of deadly viruses and bacteria. Two competing groups of companies are now proposing different sets of screening standards, and the results could be crucial for global biosecurity.

“If you have a company that persists with a lower standard, you can drag the industry down to a lower level,” says lawyer Stephen Maurer of the University of California, Berkeley, who is studying how the industry is developing responsible practices. “Now we have a standards war that is a race to the bottom.”

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Aug 17, 2009

A lifeboat for consciousness

Posted by in category: neuroscience

I recently began to worry that something/someone, some field, force, disease, prion, virus, bad luck and/or natural causes could threaten and perhaps destroy the most valuable entity in the universe, an entity more valuable than life itself. Consciousness. What good is life extension without conscious awareness? What is consciousness?

We know the brain works a lot like a computer, with neuron firings and synapses acting like bit states and switches. Brain-as-computer works very well to account for sensory processing, control of behavior, learning and other cognitive functions. These functions may in some cases be non-conscious, and other times associated with conscious experience and control. Scientists seek the distinction – the essential feature, or trick for consciousness.

Some suggest there is no trick, consciousness emerges as a by-product of cognitive computation among neurons. Others say we don’t know, that consciousness may indeed require some feature related to, but not quite the same as neuron-to-neuron cognition.

In either case, humans and other creatures could in principle become devoid of consciousness while maintaining cognitive behaviors, appearing more-or-less normal to outside observers. Such hypothetical non-conscious behaving entities are referred to in literature, films and philosophical texts as ‘zombies’. Philosopher David Chalmers introduced the philosophical zombie, a test case for whether or not consciousness is distinct from cognitive neurocomputation.

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Jul 26, 2009

Herman Khan about Doomsday Machine

Posted by in categories: defense, geopolitics, military, nuclear weapons, policy

50 years ago Herman Khan coined the term in his book “On thermonuclear war”. His ideas are still important. Now we can read what he really said online. His main ideas are that DM is feasable, that it will cost around 10–100 billion USD, it will be much cheaper in the future and there are good rational reasons to built it as ultimate mean of defence, but better not to built it, because it will lead to DM-race between states with more and more dangerous and effective DM as outcome. And this race will not be stable, but provoking one side to strike first. This book and especially this chapter inspired “Dr. Strangelove” movie of Kubrick.
Herman Khan. On Doomsday machine.

Jul 26, 2009

Bioethics and the End of Discussion

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, ethics


President Obama disbanded the President’s Council on Bioethics after it questioned his policy on embryonic stem cell research. White House press officer Reid Cherlin said that this was because the Council favored discussion over developing a shared consensus. This column lists a number of problems with Obama’s decision, and with his position on the most controversial bioethical issue of our time.

Bioethics and the End of Discussion

In early June, President Obama disbanded the President’s Council on Bioethics. According to White House press officer Reid Cherlin, this was because the Council was designed by the Bush administration to be “a philosophically leaning advisory group” that favored discussion over developing a shared consensus.

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