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December 2007

December 31, 2007

Human Brain to be Computer-Simulated in Coming Years

Researchers have created a computer simulation of a neocortical column in a rat's brain. The simulation consisted of 10,000 neurons and 30 million connections between the neurons. Neocortical columns are one of the more advanced parts of a mammal's brain and are the basic building blocks of the neocortex. In humans, the neocortex is involved in higher brain functions such as spatial reasoning, conscious thought, and language.

Scientists with the Blue Brain project, a research initiative between Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and IBM, completed the first phase of the project in November, 2007. They speculated that the simulation could be extended to that of an entire human brain with a decade. Other experts, however, were not as optimistic, pointing out that the increase in scale would be daunting. The human brain contains roughly 5 million times the number of neurons and connections than what was simulated.

You can read a detailed article of the work on MIT's Technology Review website, including some spectacular images of the the simulation.

Chris K. Haley, NestedUniverse.net. Subscribe Get free RSS or email updates here. 


December 30, 2007

Hel's Bet

If you like Science Fiction, you may want to check out the forthcoming Singularity-themed novel entitled Hel's Bet by Doug Sharp:

Hel’s Bet is a fast-paced alternate history of the present. The heroes of Hel’s Bet steal the prototype American space shuttle Enterprise, smuggle it into Russia, and blast into space on an embezzled Energia rocket. NASA launches a mission to hunt them down. The crew think they are launching Channel Zilch – a pirate video space station – but once in orbit the real agenda emerges: to kickstart the Singularity.

Heloise Chin is the hardware tech and brains behind the mission. Hel has engineered herself to be The Pinup Grrrl for the Geek Rapture. She dresses like a centerfold for Wired magazine, runs multiple streams of consciousness, and toys with young men’s psyches. She calls it testosterone surfing. Hel bets her life to midwife the Singularity because she loves her disabled brother.

Heloise broadcasts her singular image to hype her message, an upgraded Pascal’s Wager, Hel’s Bet: “Work for the Singularity to increase your odds of living indefinitely. Don’t bother if you have a taste for dirt.”

HB features a shootout between robots and Russian gangsters, a clandestine Singularity group called The Choir Invisible, and Merzifon Karabuk - a billionaire Turkish Trekkie. The crew’s nemesis is head of NASA security, a washed-out astronaut with a Green Beret complex and a streak of cannibalism.

The first 22 chapters of the novel are available in PDF format. I especially like the quote in the preface from Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence Research Fellow Eleizer Yudkowsky:

"Someday… an awful lot of people are going to look back and kick themselves and say, ‘What on Earth was I doing? Why was I sitting around watching television while the fate of all humankind hung in the balance and almost no one was doing anything?’”

- Eliezer Yudkowsky, Research Fellow,
The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

10% of royalties from Hel’s Bet will be donated to the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, with 5% earmarked for the OpenCog open source AGI project (opencog.org).

Chris K. Haley, NestedUniverse.net. Subscribe here.


December 22, 2007

Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

Listen to this article as a podcast

Recently, I continued my philosophy of active participation in causes that I support by donating to the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAI) at the Associate Donor level. What is the SIAI? Their vision is stated simply and elegantly:

"In the coming decades, humanity will likely create a powerful artificial intelligence. The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence exists to confront this urgent challenge, both the opportunity and the risk."

I spoke with Tyler Emerson, the Executive Director of the Institute, about the Institute's goals and philosophy. To say that I was extremely impressed by what I heard is an understatement. Tyler is a remarkable individual who shares this extraordinary vision of the future, is committed to gathering public support for it, and is taking action because of the immense benefits that it will bring to mankind. It was an extremely satisfying and motivating experience to be able to hear his philosophy.

What will the creation of a superintelligence bring? The best analogies that I know compare that question to asking a group of chimps what the discovery of electricity will lead to. They simply don't have the right resources to be able to even understand the question. This statement is not meant to degrade the human experience in any way. Human history is remarkable and beautiful beyond compare. As humans, we have an instinct that drives us to improve our quality of life, and creating a superintelligence is the next logical step. However, by definition, a superintelligence is more intelligent than us, and we may not be able to fully understand its reasoning, unless we choose to merge with it through various technologies that will make this possible.

SIAI has an excellent article on the benefits, goals, and ways to manage the risks associated with creating a superintelligence. Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:

"A smarter-than-human AI absorbs all unused computing power on the then-existent Internet in a matter of hours; uses this computing power and smarter-than-human design ability to crack the protein folding problem for artificial proteins in a few more hours; emails separate rush orders to a dozen online peptide synthesis labs, and in two days receives via FedEx a set of proteins which, mixed together, self-assemble into an acoustically controlled nanodevice which can build more advanced nanotechnology."

Imagine a smarter-than-human intelligence going on to create cures for cancer, AIDS and other diseases as well as solving a whole host of problems that have vexed us for years.

I strongly encourage you to support SIAI in any way that you can. I was motivated to lend my support because I do not want to watch one of the most important events in human history as a bystander. I want to take an active part in it, and forever be associated with this remarkable journey.

Related Posts

The Singularity Summit 2008
Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
What is the Singularity?
The Singularity Effect
Upcoming Artificial Intelligence Events

Chris K. Haley, NestedUniverse.net. Subscribe here.


December 18, 2007

Past, Present and Future

For the holidays, I thought that I would share with you three books that are the most meaningful books I have ever read in my life.

I believe that people from all walks of life are essentially seeking the same thing - truth. Truth comes to us in a way that makes sense to us individually. People are so very different because they have unique life experiences that have molded how they see the world and how they think about it. For me, science and logic has been the path that has brought me closer to the truth. Others take journeys that are just as valid for them, and that will lead them to the same destination. I connected with these books instantly the first time that I read them and have continued to read them at different stages in my life, each time gleaning a little something new.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

"Past". I first read this book 24 years ago in high school. It was recommended to me by an amazingly talented teacher and it single-handedly transformed the way I look at the world.  It won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize in the General Nonfiction category after it was published in 1979. The author, Douglas Hoftstadter is quite simply a genius and is currently the College Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science Distinguished Professor with Indiana University's Cognitive Science Program. I have read it 5 times in my life, each time peeling back more layers of the onion and extracting more of its exquisite meaning. It is the best book I have ever read, hands down, but a challenging read - you may want to save it for last out of the three.

The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self & Soul

"Present". This is an amazing collection of stories and commentary that will really turn your head upside down and challenge what you think about consciousness, the possibility of other forms of consciousness, how you think, and why you think it. I recommend that you read this book first, to whet your appetite for Douglas Hofstadter's writing.

The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

"Future". Ray Kurzweil's view of the near future is also my view, and he backs up his theories with facts.  Ray does a great job of laying his fantastic predictions out for the near future. What he is predicting will take place is simply mind blowing and earth shattering. I recommend that you read this book second out of the three. 

Related Posts

Speculations on Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems, the Halting Problem, and The Simulation Argument
Gödel's First Incompleteness Theorem and Gödel Numbering

Chris K. Haley, NestedUniverse.net. Subscribe Get free RSS or email updates here. 

Accelerating progress of processor cores analogous to development of 20th century transistors

KurzweilAI.net has a link to an interesting article by John Markoff of the New York Times about the accelerating progress of multi core processors and the parallel programming challenges they are creating. This points to a new paradigm shift - an individual core processor is analogous to the transistor of the 20th century and we will probably see a new "Moore's" Law of the number of processor cores doubling every 18 months from now on.

Synthetic DNA programming boom

Digg.com user guyro found an article about synthetic DNA from Washington Post staff writer Rick Weiss pointing to progress which will create a genetic programming boom in the near future. Click here to read the original article.

December 11, 2007

Emergent Human Intelligence

Emergent Intelligence
© iStockphoto.com / Sergey Shlyaev

The Sum of the Parts

A popular topic lately is the concept of the hive mind. Bees, for example, exhibit this behavior and through their group interaction show a degree of conscious. A similar concept is that of the collective consciousness. I prefer to use the term emergent human intelligence.

Organization Levels

To illustrate this concept, a thought experiment is in order. Imagine for a moment that you were able to shrink yourself down to the size of a human cell inside another human being whose arm is moving. If if were possible to "ask" a cell next to you why it was moving, it would have no concept of the idea that the collection of all cells in the body, including the neurons in the brain, was responsible for coordinating the movement of the body on a large scale. The cell that you were talking to would simply say that it moved because the cell next to it moved. In other words, the behavior of the body as a whole and of the mind that controls it is an emergent behavior which is at a level above what the individual cells in the body can understand. If you were to continue interrogating every cell in the body, none would be able to explain why the arm moved.

Similarly, other organization levels exhibit this behavior. Collections of quarks form subatomic particles such as neutrons and protons. Neutrons, protons and electrons bind tightly together to form atoms. Groups of atoms interact to form molecules, molecules interact to form cells, and collections of cells create animal life such as humans, and humans form societies.


What is important to note is that there are two levels of interaction going on here. For example, a cell is to a limited degree "aware" of its neighbors. It communicates with them through the exchange of various chemicals. However, the cell is not aware of the higher level of activity of the body that is formed by the collection of cells. In the example above, a cell can no more understand the reason that the arm moved any more than it could understand the concept of automobiles.

So what is the emergent behavior that forms from human minds that are interacting? At one level, we communicate with each other, share ideas, form political parties, etc. This behavior is similar to the thought experiment above where the cells communicate through the exchange of chemicals.

However, at a different level, what is the emergent behavior that is analogous to the arm moving in the example above? For the same reasons that the cells in a human body can't understand general relativity, we would most likely not be able to fully understand the collective behavior that "moves an arm". We wouldn't even have an understanding of what an arm is. Is it possible seemingly random events in our lives ("the cell next to me just moved") are the result of an emergent behavior at a level above us?

Accelerating Progress

As we continue to evolve and make technological progress at an accelerating rate, this emergent human intelligence will only continue to sharpen its intelligence and evolve as well. Tools such as cell phones, email, chat, and other means of communicating rapidly will be complemented or even supplanted by other means as a result of human augmentation. Years ago, the concept of anyone being able to communicate with anyone else on the planet within seconds was pure science fiction. Today, this is common place and we don't give it a second thought.

Imagine what will be possible when, through the implantation of computer chips directly into the human brain, or other means, human thought can be directly transmitted in an instant. What form of collective human intelligence will emerge from it?


The Boltzmann Brain Paradox
Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?
Speculations on Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems, the Halting Problem, and The Simulation Argument
What is the Singularity?

Chris K. Haley, NestedUniverse.net. Subscribe Get updates here.


December 06, 2007

Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?

Living in a Computer Simulation
© iStockphoto.com / geopaul

The Matrix

Perhaps you have seen The Matrix trilogy and contemplated the idea that we ourselves may be living inside a computer simulation. In fact, given the current understanding of human consciousness and models of cognition, in theory, it's completely possible.

What is difficult to determine, however, is the actual probability that we are in fact being simulated, given that we have only one representative data point - our own existence.

Oxford University Research

Nick Bostrom, philosopher and Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University has spent some time thinking about exactly this question. He gives a logical argument that comes to the conclusion that at least one of the three following statements is true:

  1. The human species will go extinct before reaching a posthuman stage.
  2. Any posthuman civilization is unlikely to run computer simulations of its history.
  3. There is a high probability that we ourselves are now living in a simulation.

Simulated Humans

Assume that we will not go extinct before acquiring the capability to run simulations. In other words, that item one above is false. Given the fact current predictions of computing technology put us on a course to eventually have the capability to run full computer simulations of humans, then item two is also false.

Since simulations can be run over and over, in multiple environments in parallel, and computing power keeps increasing, then in fact, the number of simulated humans that will ever exist is vastly greater than the number of real humans that have ever existed. Statistically speaking, if you lumped all of these conscious entities together - real and simulated - and picked one at random, your chances of picking a simulated human would be greater than those of picking a real human. Simulated humans can't tell that they are simulated, and this leads to the essential conclusion that there is a greater likelihood that you are actually living in a computer simulation right now than not.

You can read more about the idea, including the original article and popular synopses of it, at www.simulation-argument.com

Related Posts

Why Are We Alone in the Universe? The Fermi Paradox
The Boltzmann Brain Paradox
What is the Singularity?

Chris K. Haley, NestedUniverse.net. Subscribe Get free RSS or email updates here. 

December 04, 2007

Nested Universe update - December 04, 2007

I wanted to give you an update on the Nested Universe blog, and where I would like to take it over the coming weeks and months.

It is my intent to provide the most valuable content that I can on the topics of cosmology, physics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, metaphysics and philosophy. I strongly believe that it is important to thoroughly research each article as much as possible, in order to avoid inaccuracies and present a balanced view, with verifiable sources.

Until now, I have mainly promoted this site through a network of friends and acquaintances that have expressed an interest in receiving this information. I would like to personally thank those people (you're probably one of them if you are reading this article right now) for their support, and for the valuable feedback I have received. It is greatly appreciated. The readership of this site is growing at a rate that is faster than I thought it would, and that has sparked my interest in writing even more.

Since I detest email spam as much as anyone else, I will shortly discontinue sending email updates to anyone unless they have expressed a desire to continue receiving them. Instead, I would like to point out several options that you have to subscribe to the content on this blog. First, you can simply bookmark the main site, nesteduniverse.net and return to it as often as you'd like. If you prefer to receive an email update anytime a new article is posted, or if you have been bitten by the RSS bug and would like to add this site as a feed to your news reader, their are links at the top of this site which allow you to choose either one of those options. I personally like Google's reader since it integrates so well with my Gmail account and other services that I use, but there are quite a number of news readers that you can choose from.

My future plans include moving this site to a commercial blog service. Although Google's blogger service that I am using right now is fantastic to get started for free, I believe their are a number of services such as TypePad that provide additional functionality that I will be looking to add in the near future such as better support for podcasting.

Again, thank you for your support!

Chris K. Haley, NestedUniverse.net. Subscribe Get free RSS or email updates here.