31 October 2007

Automatic Learning--It Came to Me in a Dream

Jeff Lieberman had a dream about ways of learning skillful physical movements without verbal coaching--pure tactile feedback. He went on to help develop a "haptics feedback suit" to study tactile learning. It is an intriguing idea.
MIT researchers Jeff Lieberman and Cynthia Breazeal have published the results of the study in a recent issue of IEEE Transactions on Robotics. The study presents a proof-of-concept wearable robotic system that provides real-time tactile feedback over every joint simultaneously.

“Oddly enough, the idea for the robot suit initially came from a dream,” Lieberman told PhysOrg.com. “The dream involved people who weren't physically able to express themselves, but who were mentally normal, who used a machine that aided them to get their inner feelings out. This ranged from people with muscular difficulties to even toddlers and 'untrained' people who do not know how to wield a paintbrush. Upon waking and thinking about that idea for about an hour, the idea for this project was born, and I started doing research that day; the overall project was about six months for software and hardware development.”

In experiments with arm motions, the researchers found that the suit increased students’ learning rates by up to 23%, and reduced errors by up to 27%, as well as enabling students to learn movements “more deeply” by affecting their subconscious learning of motor skills. The latter can be especially important for patients with neurological injuries who have lost the ability to form new long-term memories, but can still build new motor skills.

The suit works by optically tracking body markers for the teacher’s movement (or a pre-recorded ideal movement) and the student’s movement with a Vicon motion capture system, which has millimeter accuracy. The tracking data is fed to software that compares the teacher’s and student’s movements, and generates feedback signals to the suit.

Imaginative persons can easily think of many uses for such a tactile feedback learning system. A large part of the widespread incompetence in society comes from the lack of practical skills with the hands and body. A sedentary society--forced to sit inactive for one third of the day from childhood to young adulthood, spending countless hours sitting watching television, texting, chatting, playing video games, etc--learns inactivity early, and neglects the body and the skills the body is capable of exhibiting.

The part of the mind that deals with banal, everyday things, or with abstract ideas, is well exercised by most children, teenagers, and adults. The parts of the mind that guide the body in skilled activities that make life more enjoyable, more workable, or more prosperous, are generally neglected.

Traditionally, fathers taught sons physical/tactile skills, as mothers taught tactile skills to daughters. Modern parents often do not have the time or spend the time to teach children practical skills. Such teaching requires patience and energy that may be lacking--not to mention the required skills that parents may never have been taught themselves. Now, these skills can be taught from tutorials online or on disk.

But the learning opportunities from such tactile feedback suits extends far beyond practical skills of modern life's technologies. Surgeons in training could learn from the deft, precise movements of the best surgeons. Pilots would learn firm, timely responses to unexpected emergencies in simulators.

It is one thing to teach the mind a skill. It is quite another to teach the body. Modern education neglects the body. (it also neglects the mind, but that is another story)

A deeper meaning behind such training is the fact that much of the cognitive strength of the mind derives from being "embodied." Our verbal and pre-verbal conceptual languages rest upon metaphors of embodiment. The sensory feedback from the body, as interpreted through embodiment metaphors, drives much of our thinking. More on this later.

The MIT research discussed in the Physorg article above promises important advances in a field of research that is not exactly brand new. But qualitative improvements in a pre-existing field can make the field seem new again.

Tactile feedback may just hold the conceptual key that has been missing from stonewalled efforts in machine intelligence, cognitive enhancement, and ultimately brain emulation and downloading. Stay tuned.

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30 October 2007

Be Sure to Check Out this New Climate Video from Warren Meyer: What is Normal

Using the same careful, deliberative step-by-step explanatory technique he used in his excellent online book on climate, Meyer looks at the basics of greenhouse gas climate theory. Starting with simple, agreed-upon basics, he builds a more complex and inclusive view of climate that gives viewers with at least a good high school education the rudimentary scientific tools to understand the current climate wars.

With the release of this film, along with his online book, Meyer joins the growing ranks of concerned world citizens who want governments and academics to take a closer and more careful look at climate before joining the lemmings' crusade over the climate cliff.


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Treadmill of Scientific Knowledge--How Can We Ever Keep Up?

Hypothetical: A 15 km asteroid is on course to strike earth earth on May 14, 2011. You have to make a decision on how to allocate resources so as to minimise the destruction caused by the approaching planetoid. What do you do? Hypothetical: Your best intelligence shows that a middle eastern country has developed an airborne strain of HIV that is resistant to all known treatments and 100% fatal within six months of infection. The virus is now in the hands of terrorist groups, and has escaped into the population of the country of development and at least one neighboring country. You are in charge of western counter-bio-terrorism. What do you do?

It is not unlikely that similarly critical scenarios will be put to the decision making wisdom of elected and appointed governmental and inter-governmental officials of modern nations within the next decade or two. But given the current "dumbing down" trends in education arising from political and religious censorship of ideas and research topics, how can the west's next generations face the challenge?

Blog correspondent Conrad presents a provocative introduction to this topic, and suggests that humans may not be able to make some of these hyper-complex decisions before long. The choice between augmenting human intelligence, and developing Machine Intelligences capable of comprehending the growing scientific complexities well enough to guide humans through the approaching hazards, is worth contemplating--although I am convinced we must do both.

For those of us determined to give it our best effort with our currently unaugmented minds, the internet provides many ways to expand our knowledge base--since most government schools are unwilling or unable to accomplish this. Neurophilosopher blog introduces us to a series of "virtual labs" for developing online experimental knowledge. As virtual environments grow more realistic, the ability to provide experimental, hands-on learning experiences will expand quickly.

NASA recently awarded a $600,000 grant to help develop a 3D Simulation authoring tool.
Complex 3D simulations are a powerful tool for training, e-Learning, and real-time operations support. Fortunately, with a new tool under development using Hypercosm's 3D Software suite, they will soon be easier and more economical to create as well.

After a successful prototype demonstration of a new web-based 3D simulation authoring platform, PLANET LLC was awarded a $600,000 Small Business Innovative Research Phase II Grant from NASA to deliver an authoring tool that will allow subject matter experts or graphic designers, and not high-level programmers, to create the logic behind a complex simulation.

NASA is looking to use the Hypercosm 3D simulation platform for web-based astronaut training and just-in-time operations support for tasks like repairs or maintenance. As NASA continues their path toward long-duration space missions, critical simulation tools like Hypercosm will be a requirement for future crews that may have to perform tasks months or years after they received their training.

Note that NASA's grant was to develop a tool for developing simulations--a tool for developing tools. That is the type of meta-development that large funding organisations should encourage. Better tools to make better tools for teaching and learning.

Here at Al Fin Syndicated, we have looked at the possibility of online medical schools and other high level training that requires intensive experiential learning. With the newer tools that are coming, the prospect for excellent online professional, scientific, and technical schools appears bright.

Even so, we humans will need to become smarter, live with our smarter brains longer, and develop ever better machine assistants to help us make the tough decisions we will have to make. The idea of giving complete control to machines over the entire human population of Earth, does not seem very appealing. If it ever becomes necessary to do so, we must hope that Michael Anissimov and his colleagues at The Lifeboat Foundation, the Singularity Institute, and the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology have kept close watch on the development of "Friendly Artificial Intelligence." Because given scenarios such as those above, we will need all the "friends" we can get!

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Sent to Subdue the World, With Minds Full of Hate

Islam is not, strictly speaking, a "religion" as we in the west define religion. It is a totalitarian socio-religio-political system from the middle ages--with grand ambitions of world conquest. The Muslim Council of Britain--financed by UK government grants and contributions from Saudi Arabian Wahabists etc.--is considered a "mainstream" religious organisation, and attempts to maintain a public face of peace and tolerance. But what is really going on behind the benign public face of the MCB, inside the UK's mosques?
Books calling for the beheading of lapsed Muslims, ordering women to remain indoors and forbidding interfaith marriage are being sold inside some of Britain’s leading mosques, according to research seen by The Times.

Some of the fundamentalist works were found at the bookshop in the London Central mosque in Regent’s Park, which is funded by the Saudi regime and is regularly visited by government ministers. Its director, Ahmad al-Dubayan, is also a Saudi diplomat and was among those greeting King Abdullah when he arrived in Britain last night for his official state visit.

Extremist literature, including passages supporting the stoning of adulterers and waging violent jihad, was also found on sale at many other mosques regarded as mainstream institutions.
Times Online

While some scholars claim that Wahabism is marginalised as a force within Islam, the Wahabi money trail tells a different story. It is not only in Britain and Australia that Saudi oil money is used to finance the warping of young minds toward fanatical violence and destruction. The trail of blood leads back to the primitive sands from virtually every western and third world country with an appreciable population or strategic location.

Islam has bloody borders, and the responsibility for that blood lies mainly with Wahabi supporters in the Sunni gulf states, and with the oil sponsored theocracy of Iran.

When otherwise intelligent people attack non-violent Christianity and Judaism, while giving the bloody, violent Islamist movement a free pass, the message sent to Islamist fanatics is that the west is so involved in attacking its own weakened belief systems that it has no time or energy to defend itself from an outside attack.

When Osama bin Laden confidently predicted that the Americans would be quick and easy to defeat in Afghanistan, should the US ever think to attack Al Qaeda in its Taliban protected stronghold, he was expressing the timeless view of the primitive and vital toward the sophisticated and decadent. When a more advanced nation or civilisation becomes so decadent as to continuously attack itself without regard for dangers from the outside, it makes itself appear to be easy prey.

The western world has achieved a momentum in world affairs that cannot be completely explained by natural resources, geography, national cultures, relative intelligence, exploitation of the primitive world, tropical diseases, or just luck. The pre-eminence of the western world can certainly not be explained by divine guidance, genocidal mania, or alien intervention.

Just a few more decades and humans will have the keys to significantly longer and healthier lives. We will stand at the doorway of augmented minds and senses. The universe itself appears to wait on the decisions of humans, for the future. Can we hold off the wolves that are nipping at our heels (from within and without) long enough to achieve the level that allows us to begin our long journey?

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28 October 2007

The Debate is the Important Thing--Without Debate it is not Science

This NPR interview with Phillipe Rushton, intelligence researcher, is audio only, but that is probably just as well. The discomfiture of the NPR interviewer was quite palpable without showing her face as well.

Does anyone have an idea as to why NPR actually broadcast this very atypical "shining of the media spotlight" on such an un-PC topic--even in the context of the James Watson lynching?

I criticised Watson myself for applying statistical means to individuals in the general public, but all in all, I suspect the "piling on" has been quite gratuitously egregious. [ed: redundancy alert!]

The Q&A session from this Google Talk by Watson on DNA and the Brain reveals the normal effect of aging on the brain. Particularly disturbing was watching the Google employees who seemed to take pleasure in Watson's stumbling for words, repetitions, and occasional non sequiturs.

I recently helped celebrate the 98th birthday of a long time friend, whose mind is still remarkably sharp. But long life is not kind to any brain--simply less unkind to some than others. With research into human cognition, and ways to reverse neurodegenerative changes from age and disease, perhaps some of us can look forward to 198th year birthdays with minds as clear or clearer than we currently possess.

The important thing about science is to allow debate even if the issue is a bit ticklish for most people's tastes. When looking at controversial ideas, it is particularly important to provide public avenues for debate and dissent--while at the same time maintaining high standards of rigour for evidence and argument.

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Real Scientists Tolerate Religion

Just as "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche," real scientists don't get preoccupied with refuting religious ideas. While Dan Dennet, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Vic Stenger, and Richard Dawkins logically refute the tenets of religious belief, real scientists who know better are working quietly in their labs, doing real science. Real scientists understand that important things need to be done, and they are going about doing them.

Born into a religious family, I was forced to find my own way to a more logical, atheo-agnostic view of the universe. Over a period of adolescent time, I was able to build a dynamic view of the world and the cosmos that did not require an omnipotent, ever-present deity. As I was establishing my own independent perspective, it was necessary to debate the issue of religion with friends and family members. I understood how important religion was to these people that I cared for, so I did not resort to cheap shots or arguments designed to make them feel stupid.

Dan Dennet, Sam Harris, and Chris Hitchens are not scientists by any stretch of the imagination. Vic Stenger is no longer a working scientist, so he is off the hook. And if Rich Dawkins ever did anything other than writing books and appearing on talk shows and at book signings, the evidence is sparse. By a strict definition of "real scientist", these authors who have jumped on the recent anti-religion bandwagon are innocent of the charge.

Religion and Politics are the two topics almost certain to generate heated arguments at virtually any cocktail party where the attendees are honest with each other. Hundreds of millions of people were killed over political ideologies in the past 150 years. The bloodiest, guiltiest ideology of recent decades has been communism--a totalitarian, quasi-religious political belief system based upon mythical socio-economic constructs. But Islamism--a totalitarian religious based system--is on track to plow just as bloody a furrow through the earth of history.

Religion has not been a topic to trifle with, through the ages. People will too often compromise their politics before they will openly compromise their religion. As deadly as political arguments can become, religious arguments lie even closer to the heart, cut deeper to the quick.

Religion is dangerous. So why would a real scientist tolerate religion? I am not saying that real scientists tolerate violence. If a religion (or political system) turns prodigally violent, scientists--like all good people--should oppose it.

Scientists tolerate religion because in secular western societies the threat from homegrown religions (Judaism, Christianity) has run its course. These religions are tamed, and not the source of violence and oppression as they were in the middle ages and earlier. But real scientists understand the moderating role that these seasoned religions have on the natural turmoil of individuals. (Islam is a different story, for another posting)

Ideally, religions serve as moderators and absorbers of violent instincts that might otherwise lead to chain-reaction, out of control impulsiveness. Religions serve as simple explanations for complex phenomena, and allow ordinary, non-reflective people to focus on other issues. Religion is not a problem for society unless it is violent and publicly insistent, like Islamism or the more violent anti-abortion movements.

By focusing on the rather obvious logical fallacies inherent in religion and god belief, these authors put themselves on a pedestrian, didactic level that does them no credit. What is worse, the true believers in the religions they attack (generally the old and quiet religions) are completely turned off by their aggressive, and at the same time, patronizing approach. In other words, if they are trying to change people's minds, they are wasting their time. Instead, they seem to be preaching to a rather dim, off-key choir.

While it may be amusing to feel superior to others whom you feel to be living on a lower plane of thought, in reality the joke may be on you. In fact, you should probably assume that the joke is on you--that way you will be right more often than wrong. Religion is certainly a crutch. But the crutches leaned on by those in contempt of religion are not exactly invisible.

My attitude toward the toothless religions of today is to let sleeping dogs lie. If the "evangelicals" were bombing schoolbuses and airliners full of children and travelers, I would understand this recent faddish craze of anti-religion. I feel quite anti-Islamist myself, everytime I read about another Islamist inspired atrocity. But I do not attack the many muslims that I know and work with. I tolerate their religion--even as I disagree with it.

Modern leftism--which unfortunately has largely taken over the US Democratic Party--has become a quasi-religion. It can tolerate no other religions--except under the banner of multi-culturalism, which is a highly patronizing form of "tolerance." Much of the current anti-religion bandwagon is based upon this peculiar "religious competition" ongoing in the west.

Of course I understand the issues of stem cell research, abortion rights, secular public education free of religious indoctrination, etc. These are all issues that can be dealt with as we go. There is no need to obliterate the deep, non-violent faiths of hundreds of millions of people in order to finance stem cell lines, or to safeguard anyone's rights. The overkill resorted to by Hitchens, Harris, et al has taken on the appearance of a fashionable public statement of non-faith, which has snowballed somewhat within particular pseudo-intellectual circles.

Personally, I could not care less. The arguments I constructed in my own personal journey from religious faith to atheo-agnosticism are more compelling and reasonable than most of what I have read from the above authors. Had I read one of their books at the time I was evolving intellectually, I would probably still be a religious believer. Fortunately, I found my own way out of the cave.

For me, life without "God" is far more interesting, with far greater potential for personal satisfaction in work, accomplishment, and spiritual/intellectual striving. But that is for me. For others that I know, much of their satisfaction in life and reason for living, lies in their religious faith. I would not take that away from them--why would I want to?

There are far more important things to do than to waste time correcting some of the less destructive delusions littering the landscape.

Personally, I think much of this compulsion to wipe out religion--besides coming from the jealous "religion" of leftism--comes from an immature need to publicly appear "enlightened" in comparison to another group. In the modern "PC/Multicultural" world, certain groups are off-limits, and other groups are declared "in season." In North America, white males and christians are definitely "in season." You can bag all of them that you want, with no limits on cruel or unusual punishments or collateral damage.

But these excesses of the PC/Multicult establishment in the media and academia have their consequences later. This declared war on religion will probably result in an energizing of the evangelical zeal, just as the PC oppressiveness in universities is resulting in more resistance, and reflexive anti-PC ideas.

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27 October 2007

Global Warming Doomsday Called Off

This is the full unsegmented version of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation production taking a critical look at the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) alarmist bandwagon and religious revival crusade.

The above video provides an interesting counterpoint to Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."

Personally, I have no objection to the showing of Al Gore's video to schoolchildren of age 10 and above, as long as equal minutes from videos such as the two I present here, are also shown to the developing young minds. Not that I expect government school teachers to expose their pre-teen and early teen minds to contradictory ideas. Private school teachers may care enough about the development of young minds to do so, but for parents of government school students--it's up to you. You have to make sure your kids are provided with the "grist" for mind development. If you don't, you're where the buck stops when the consequences start to roll in.

An interview with Martin Durkin, producer of "The Great Global Warming Swindle"--another great antidote to Al Gore's sloppy bombast--is below. Availability of Durkin's film online is a bit spotty, although it is available in segments online and on CD.

Intelligent minds need to be taught how to resolve contradiction. Modern universities go to great lengths to avoid exposing late teen and early adult aged minds to a diversity of ideas. Such an approach guarantees a society where educated adults are unable to intelligently debate multiple approaches to controversial ideas. That is called academic lobotomy.

I assert that ten year olds are capable of learning how to resolve contradictory ideas, and should be taught how to do so without delay. Until most of the active players in society are capable of intelligently resolving contradictions that are rampant in cultural and civilisational "warfare", we will continue to be stuck in the current round of societal "dumbing down."

Of course, I have other ideas on how to do an "end-around" to bypass the stupid societal obstacles to the next level. But we must be discreet about such discussions, nicht wahr?

Hat tip Reference Frame

As an added bonus (and another alternative view for schoolchildren), check out Glenn Beck's HeadlinePrime production of "Exposed: The Climate of Fear."

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25 October 2007

Climate Sensitivity and Feedbacks Make Accurate Climate Modeling Virtually Impossible

Is it possible that climate is so chaotic--with so many unexamined variables--that this baby science will never be able to provide clear answers to policymakers?
Uncertainties in projections of future climate change have not lessened substantially in past decades. Both models and observations yield broad probability distributions for long-term increases in global mean temperature expected from the doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide, with small but finite probabilities of very large increases.

This means that the broad range of possible climate scenarios (uncertainty) resulting from a doubling of atmospheric CO2 will not likely be lessened in the near future.

...they found that better computer models or observational data will not do much to reduce that uncertainty.

...Ultimately, the papers also illustrate the limits to which models, even those produced by powerful supercomputers, can help politicians make decisions.

"This finding reinforces not only that climate policies will necessarily be made in the face of deep, irreducible uncertainties," says Roger Pielke, a climate policy expert at the University of Colorado at Boulder, US. "But also the uncomfortable reality – for climate modellers – that finite research dollars invested in ever more sophisticated climate models offer very little marginal benefit to decision makers."

Journal reference: Science (vol 318, p 582)
New Scientist

Given that the current crop of climate models have ignored many potentially relevant climate forcings and negative feedbacks that will almost certainly eclipse the effect of CO2 doubling on climate, expect some very serious modeling revisions in the near future.

Over the past 30 years, climate models have not appreciably narrowed down the precise relationship between greenhouse gases and the planet's temperature — despite huge advances in computing power, climate observations and the number of scientists studying the problem, say Gerard Roe and Marcia Baker. The researchers now argue that this is because the uncertainty simply cannot be reduced.

That is just about all they can say on the matter. While alarmists in the environmental and political camps will trumpet the extreme scenarios to high heaven--in an attempt to inflame public opinion and elect sympathetic legislators and government executives--the actual state of the climate continues to be obscured by the multiple agendas and concomitant propaganda output (An Inconvenient Truth etc).

In the meantime, Steve McIntyre, Anthony Watts, and other sharp-eyed and concerned world citizens will continue to inform the open minds of the many excesses of climate alarmists and enthusiasts.

Hat tip American Thinker


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Optimism and the Brain

A recent study in Nature suggests that a sense of optimism about the future may depend upon at least two brain centers--the amygdyla and the rostral Anterior Cinculate Cortex (rACC).
Brain scans obtained using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) revealed that reflecting on both past and future events activated the amygdala and the (rACC) areas, both of which sit deep in the middle of the brain. However, positive events – and particularly those imagined in the future – elicited a significantly bigger brain response in these regions than reflecting on negative events.

Tali Sharot, a co-author of the new study now based at the University College London, UK, notes that the more pessimistic subjects in the trial had less activation of these brain areas than their optimistic counterparts when imagining happy events.

All this has led the researchers to suspect that the amygdala and rACC play an important role in signalling cheerful thoughts.

Wayne Drevets, a scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, US, says that the results represent a departure from "a long-term fad where people would only talk about the amgydala [and rACC] in terms of negative emotions".

"What's striking is that these appear to be the same areas implicated in depression," says Phelps. Previous research has suggested that patients with depression have decreased nerve signalling in the rACC and amygdala.

Drevets notes that autopsies performed on severely depressed patients found fewer cells than normal in the rACC and amygdala. He says the new findings from Phelps’s study could perhaps explain why people with depression often have an absence of positive thoughts.
New Scientist

Intriguingly, the size of this region of ACC seems to be associated with the sense of personal social status and, also, health and lifespan.
In their paper, Gianaros and colleagues (2007) used structural neuroimaging techniques to investigate, whether certain neural regions vary in size as a function of "perceived social standing," a self-report measure that captures the subjective perception of being lower in social status. Participants were shown an image of a 10-rung ladder and were asked to mark the rung that corresponds to where they think, they ‘stand’ compared to others in the United States based on income, education and occupational status. The authors found that self-reported social status correlated with gray matter volume in only one region in the entire brain, the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC). Specifically, low perceived social status was associated with reduced gray matter volume in the pACC. These findings remained significant after controlling for demographic, psychological (e.g. depressive symptoms, recent life stress) and conventional SES measures (e.g. income, education).

It is logical to expect someone with high self-perceived social status to feel relatively optimistic about life, and to reap whatever health benefits derive from that optimism.

Certainly the role played by the amygdyla and the rACC in both depression and optimism will require more clarification and elaboration. At this stage in development, neural imaging techniques are more seminal in the generation of excellent questions and hypotheses, than in the answering of questions and conclusive testing of hypotheses. With time, imaging will become better at doing both.

Next question: If a person with low self-perceived status experiences unexpected success--to the point that his self-assessment of status becomes quite high--will his rACC gray matter grow as large as the person who had always self-assessed "high" in status?

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An Early Merry Christmas From My Friend Annika

Well, she could be my friend if she wanted. (Annika, see email address in profile)
Hat tip Atheist Jew


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24 October 2007

Augmented Minds

This 20 minute film was commissioned by DARPA, and made by TV director Alexander Singer (Hill Street Blues, Star Trek: Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, etc). It tells the story of a command center in 2030 monitoring cyberspace activity for anomalies that suggest large scale illegal or terrorist activities. The technologies described in the film are certainly within the next decade of technology development.

Hat tip Neurophilosopher

More info from the Augmented Cognition International Society, and a chapter on cognition augmentation from William Calvin's Brief History of the Mind.

This more moderate view of intelligence enhancement is meant to contrast with the more radical views as presented by Ray Kurzweil and others.

These developments will require significant advancement in neuropharmacology, brain implant technologies and mind-machine interfaces, genetic therapies, computer hardware/software technologies and user interfaces, neuroscientific conceptual theories of consciousness and intelligence, machine intelligence theory, and other fields impinging upon the idea of augmented intelligence.

Mind/consciousness augmentation has had many false starts, but the importance of this field of research cannot be overstated. It will happen--in many ways--and bystander humans would be best advised to make themselves ready.

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Egalitarianism: An Ideological Fallacy?


[From French egalite: equality.]

(politics) The view that equality is the most important societal (and even ethical) value. Egalitarians usually focus on equality of results, rather than equality of opportunity or equality before the law, which are ideas usually associated with classical liberalism or libertarianism. In practice, egalitarian policies usually focus on the equal distribution [ed: redistribution] of wealth, sometimes verging on socialism.
the ism book
The type of egalitarianism defined above is the basis for most counter-productive leftist social policies. As the curve above shows, the closer society tries to get to the leftist ideal of egalitarianism, the more it falls into the characteristic "traps" that bedevil all attempts to implement socialism on the scale of large populations--particularly those with heterogeneous populations such as the US, New Zealand, and Australia.

The likelihood that different population groups can be characterized by different "Bell Curves of natural ability" makes it particularly difficult to achieve an ideal "Gini-curve" placement of a heterogeneous society, while simultaneously avoiding the traps above.

Ideological leftists tend to deny all scientifically measurable differences between population intellectual aptitudes. Physical aptitude differences between populations appear beyond dispute, and are generally ignored by egalitarian theorists and acolytes. But where population differences in physical aptitudes and characteristics exist, it is not unreasonable to also expect population differences in mental and intellectual (as well as emotional) characteristics and aptitudes.The blogger Half Sigma looks at an interesting way to study possible genetic contributors to IQ differences between populations:
There exists a publicly available gene database, The HapMap Project, that contains random samples of genetic sequences from people in China, Japan, Nigeria, and people in the United States with European ancestry. It’s now possible to search the HapMap database for genes that have been linked with intelligence in published scientific studies. In this manner, we can determine if high intelligence genes occur with greater or lesser frequency in the various races.

Now, here’s an interesting point. If even a single gene correlated with intelligence occurs with different frequencies in the different races, this alone proves that there are racial differences in intelligence. How is that? Well, the egalitarian theory holds that every race has identical intelligence. Therefore, whatever genes there are that affect intelligence, they must be distributed exactly equally in all human races. Once even a small race difference is proven, the egalitarian theory is proven false. At that point, it’s only a matter of determining which race has the higher average intelligence based on the genetic evidence.
Half Sigma

Of course it is really far too early to use the HapMap for a definitive demonstration of population genetic differences that may lead to IQ differences in populations. Only a few of the genes that contribute to IQ have been found, and far too few genomes have been sampled to provide representative comparisons of populations. Even so, the idea is promising, and within the next decade should begin providing results that go beyond twins studies, IQ test studies of schoolchildren, adoptees, and military members, and other methods currently used to compare population IQs.

True genomic and hapmap studies of population IQ and aptitude differences lie in the future. But they will be done, and there is no use for ideologues to attempt to stop them. And whether the race bigots and lobotomised ideologues like it or not some of the findings that emerge will make them all unhappy.

It is quite easy to get caught up in lazy arguments on this (and most any complex controversial) argument. One one extreme you find bitter and bigoted people with their minds made up, and on the other extreme you find people completely disassociated from reality with their minds made up. Anyone who uses either racially charged language, or ideologically charged language should not be trusted here. Their biases are already showing, even before touching on the substance.

Eventually the laws that force society into regressive, leftward positions on the Gini Curve will have to be changed. Reality, rather than ideology, will have to guide society into the future.

Among the blogs that follow these issues, GNXP, Audacious Epigone, and ISteve are among the best.

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23 October 2007

If This is Truly Science, Why Don't the Monkeys Archive and Share Their Data?

Computer models and computer data analysis can tell you just about anything you want. All you have to do is tweak the data here, adjust it there, and voila! QED. Or so you might think. But science must be reproducible for it to be valid. Too often the climate rock stars--relied upon by Al Gore and the IPCC for Nobel Prizes, Oscars and such--"misplace" their data or "forget where it is", or otherwise make it unavailable for analysis by independent researchers.
Readers of this site are aware of my attempts to get paleoclimate data properly archived. Many climate researchers are pretty good about archiving their data; the problem is that there are some who aren’t and those that aren’t all too often are the studies that are relied on. For example, Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth shows a Hockey Stick made from Lonnie Thompson’s ice core data. So let’s consider that as a type case. Readers of this site are aware that “grey” versions of Thompson’s data are inconsistent, that Thompson has grudgingly archived only a few cursory summaries (which are themselves often inconsistent) and that Thompson has refused to archive original sample data, a refusal that has been acquiesced in by the NSF, National Academy of Sciences and by Sciencemag.

...the general grant guidance materials for researchers applying for DOE, NASA, and NOAA climate change grants do not explicitly instruct them to include data-sharing plans in their proposals. Nevertheless, some program managers encourage researchers to do so in practice.

The extent to which federal climate change research agencies use various aspects of the grant review process to encourage data sharing varies, depending on the initiative of the program manager, in part because there are no requirements for them to do so. For example, an NSF official stated that the consideration of past data-sharing activities is not a discrete factor that the agencies require program managers to use in making award decisions.
Climate Audit

What a joke, right? Except billions of dollars misspent on unreproducible "climate research" can throw trillions of dollars of investment and production right off the rails. That is not funny to the millions of people laid off work, or the "resource wars" that a significant recession around the world might trigger. But it's all okay as long as the climate rock stars get their research grants and get their appearances on 60 Minutes etc. Al Gore is certainly not complaining about the sloppy science that has propelled him to fame, greater wealth, and sainthood.

Most academics and university students are completely lobotomised or well on the way to academic lobotomy, so do not expect any rigor or research discipline from that quarter. But as corporations and commercial ventures start to understand how they are being sold down the river--including the labour unions that depend upon their economic output--expect more pressure to be put upon the US Congress to demand that US government sponsored research, at least, practises the bare minimum of accepted scientific protocols. James Hansen may have trouble swallowing that particular requirement, as may Mann et al.

Stay tuned.


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21 October 2007

Is the Debate Really Over?

Science does not solve problems by closing debate. Premature closure of scientific debate is a good way to "dumb down" the public. Heaven knows the public cannot stand very much more dumbing down before the infrastructure itself starts shutting down.

Climate Audit is a good site for people who are statistically proficient. Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit has forced the more honest climate scientists to revise many of their procedures in data archiving, access, and analysis. Icecap is a good site for the general public interested in less alarmist views of climate trends.

Climate science is an infant field of study. A young science should properly look at the full range of natural and artificial influences on the subject of study. In the case of climate (climate forcings), a large raft of climate forcings is being ignored in order to focus upon anthropogenic CO2 as the "prime forcer." It is far too early in the scientific study of climate to discard every influence on climate except one, then claim that only the one climate forcing is important.


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20 October 2007

Arab World Plans Large Science Infrastructure: What Are The Odds?

the Arab world has stagnated. Per capita income in Arab countries grew at an annual rate of just 0.5% during the last quarter century - less than half the global average. Despite being blessed with massive quantities of "black gold," Arabs have seen their average standard of living decline relative to the rest of the world. The combined GDP of all Arab countries ($531.2 billion) is today less than that of Spain (a country that Arabs once ruled).
SourceAccording to the best studies by intelligence researchers, the mean IQ for the arab world is near 85--exactly that of the african-american population in the US. While the Arab world reaps many billions of dollars yearly from oil and gas revenues, the scientific and educational levels of the Arab world are dismally low. Is it theoretically likely that a larger monetary investment in a Science Education/Research infrastructure could raise scientific achievement in the arab world up to western levels?
Earlier this year, the 22 nations of the Arab League approved a 10-year plan to boost scientific research. It calls for member states to raise their allocation to science twelvefold to 2.5 percent of GDP—more than the average 2.3 percent spent by developed nations.

...Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates recently launched a new pan-Arab foundation with a monumental endowment of $10 billion—one of the largest charitable donations in history. The foundation's stated mission is to "develop world-class knowledge" in the Arab region, and many are hoping it will foster broad-based scientific research.

...With a $1.5 billion annual allocation to science in a country with a population of less than a million, Qatar is intent on reform. Education City is Qatar's new university system—a 2,500-acre campus that is home to branches of five of the world's top universities, including Cornell and Carnegie Mellon. The Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) has enticed foreign labs and international companies by offering top-notch research facilities. The country is bringing in foreign expertise to achieve a long-term vision—to make Qatar a knowledge-based society. "QSTP is a 20-year program," says director Eulian Roberts, "but we're working hard now so that we can achieve a change in culture, a change in mentality."

Oman and Saudi Arabia plan to join Qatar and the Emirates in their aggressive thrust to build large new scientific infrastructures for education and research. We know that the Arab world is proficient at "bringing in foreign expertise." That is how the oil and gas fields were developed, how the modern urban infrastructures were constructed and maintained, how the entire Arab civilisation keeps from falling apart. But the key question that any knowledgeable person is forced to ask in connection with this new putsch for Arab science is: Where will they get all the promising young math, physics, chemistry, biology students?

Good science, math, and engineering students at the university level do not spring up from thin air. They come from good programs at lower levels of education. They come from families that typically encourage curious young minds to explore. Where will they find this type of family, this type of K-12 education and top notch undergrad training? In the muslim world--particularly the arab muslim world--curiosity is too often beaten out of young minds, and too many questions are forbidden to children and youth. Women are seen as second-rate minds and third-rate citizens, which eliminates half of youth intelligent enough to pursue a scientific career. Much of science conflicts with rigid Islamic teaching. Where will the religious police be during all of this buildup?

The chart above comparing a population with mean IQ of 85 with a population with a mean IQ of 100 (SD 15) indicates the relative portions of the two populations with enough intelligence for the different careers. While this type of chart has its limitations, it is useful as a broad guide.

Is this type of promotional thrust yet another example of "cargo cult science and education?" I suspect so. "If you build it, they will come . . ." If you build the huge and expensive universities and science/engineering labs, the students and professors will come, the researchers will come, the international regard for homegrown science and technology will come . . . or will it?

While the faculty and researchers for these new institutions can be imported from abroad, the students will have to come from home turf--if the program is to have any meaning at all. And once you do train world class Arab youth in science and technology, how do you keep them from emigrating to Europe and the Anglosphere? That is always a perennial problem for the third world.

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Toward a Better Virtual Reality

For a virtual reality environment to be convincing, it should simulate as many of the human senses as possible. Tactile feedback, known as haptics, is a key component of realistic virtual reality. Physician Mark Ombrellaro has designed a vest that transmits the sense of physical blows to the gamer wearing it.
A vest designed by doctor Mark Ombrellaro uses air pressure and feedback from computer games to deliver pneumatic thumps to the spots on players' torsos where they would have been struck were they actually on the battlefields.

The "3rd Space" vest will make its US debut in November at a price of 189 dollars. It will be launched with the first-person shooter game "Call of Duty" and a custom-made title.

"It was originally designed as a medical device," Ombrellaro told AFP while letting gamers try the vest at the E for All video game exposition in Los Angeles.

"To give medical exams via the Internet to prisoners, the elderly, those in rural communities and other isolated people."

The medical version of the vest is more sophisticated, enabling doctors sitting at their computers to prod, poke and press patients' bodies from afar and get feedback on what they are virtually feeling, according to Ombrellaro.

That model is pending approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, which wants to be assured that diagnosis made using the vests are reliable.

"You can teleconference with patients but you are missing the hands-on," the vascular surgeon said. "Being able to do that is the last step to tele-health."

A 3rd Space vest that mimics the feeling of G-forces and turning pressures for flight and car games is to be launched early next year, after Ombrellaro's company TN Games finds exciting titles to match it with.

A total body haptics suit would be even more convincing than simple vests, gloves etc. Combining total body haptics with environments that allow the player to walk in any direction--including up and down--add even more realistic sensation to games that require ambulation.

It is no accident that such gaming technology can occur as a spinoff from medical research. The pressing need for accurate telepresence for remote medical diagnosis offers similar challenges as the goal to achieve realistic game simulations.

Eventually, the combination of remote telepresence with robotic surgeons will allow complex surgeries to be done by surgeons located a significant distance from the patient. Such fine hand--machine control, with haptics technology, would have many spinoffs for not only gaming, but many areas of industry and recreation. (think of the "world's oldest profession", for example)

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18 October 2007

High Technology Equipment for Low Technology Countries

Third world countries often attempt to buy their way into first world credibility through advanced weaponry. Given the well-known perennial lack of maintenance in third world countries, this sort of accident should not be surprising.
The South African National Defence Force "is probing whether a software glitch led to an antiaircraft cannon malfunction that killed nine soldiers and seriously injured 14 others during a shooting exercise on Friday."

SA National Defence Force spokesman brigadier general Kwena Mangope says the cause of the malfunction is not yet known...

Media reports say the shooting exercise, using live ammunition, took place at the SA Army's Combat Training Centre, at Lohatlha, in the Northern Cape, as part of an annual force preparation endeavour.

Mangope told The Star that it “is assumed that there was a mechanical problem, which led to the accident. The gun, which was fully loaded, did not fire as it normally should have," he said. "It appears as though the gun, which is computerised, jammed before there was some sort of explosion, and then it opened fire uncontrollably, killing and injuring the soldiers."

High tech weapons and low tech culture makes for a dangerous combination. Yet, so many third world leaders feel they will have more world-class clout if they possess the most sophisticated and powerful weapons available. It is a "cargo-cult" psychology that will only lead to more tragedy.

The same neglect of maintenance is seen in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The first world can supply many third world nations with the most sophisticated infrastructure for health care, agriculture, transportation, and other means to modern living--but if the machines simply break down for lack of maintenance, what is the use?

Part of the problem is a near-universal aversion to hard and dirty work, even in the third world. Part of the problem is the lack of knowledge skills needed to understand maintenance manuals and proper maintenance procedures. And a large part of the problem is allocation of funds geared toward acquisition of technology, but not maintenance or training.

If you listen to IQ researchers, you may begin to believe that the human capital--the number of people with >90 IQ needed to do rudimentary maintenance, and with >110 IQ needed to do more complex maintenace, is not available. That is a matter of debate.

What is clear, is that this type of weapons catastrophe is likely to happen wherever such sophisticated weapons are sold to third world nations, and entrusted to third world militaries.

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Are You Hearing Voices You Think Are Not Really There?

Perhaps those voices really are being "beamed" inside your head! At least now we know one way it could be done.
The “carbon nanotube radio” device is thousands of times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. The development marks an important step in the evolution of nano-electronics and could lead to the production of the world’s smallest radio, the scientists say. Their findings appeared online today and are scheduled for publication in the Nov. 14 print edition of ACS’ Nano Letters.

Peter Burke and Chris Rutherglen developed a carbon nanotube “demodulator” that is capable of translating AM radio waves into sound. In a laboratory demonstration, the researchers incorporated the detector into a complete radio system and used it to successfully transmit classical music wirelessly from an iPod to a speaker several feet away from the music player.

With the new nanotube radios, there is no practical limit to the number of radio receivers we could be carrying around.

These nano-implantable radios should enjoy heavy use in facilities such as the Guantanamo detention facility, and other facilities where terror suspects are questioned. Imagine the surprise of a pious jihadi, when Muhammed himself begins telling him to spill the goods!

Putin's Russia is sliding back into USSR style authoritarianism--with enemies of the state committed to mental institutions. Imagine the utility of the nano-implants for maintaining order in Putin's Brave New Russia? As for Kim's North Korea, well, fuggidabowdit!

One of the more practical uses of this technology might be for "pseudo-telepathy", used by small squads of workers engaged in intense, dangerous teamwork--where close communication is vital.

Of course, machine to machine communication is almost certain to be the initial and primary use of this technology, but you will forgive me I hope, for engaging in a bit of silly speculation.


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17 October 2007

Executive Brain Function 99% Genetic?

Chris Chatham of Developing Intelligence reports on a recent twins study of "executive function" of the human brain.
Your ability to control thought and behavior relative to your peers - a set of capacities known as "executive functions" - is almost entirely genetic in origin, according to a new paper from Friedman et al. (newly in press at JEP:G.) Executive functions are highly correlated with IQ, but are thought to represent a more isolated and controlled measure of cognitive processing. Over 420 twins completed tests to measure fundamental components of these executive functions, and the results were analyzed in terms of how similar identical twins performed to one another relative to fraternal twins (all twins in the study were reared together). Astonishingly, the results show that the variance common to all executive functions is correlated roughly twice as much between identical twins as between fraternal twins - indicating that individual variance in executive function falls directly in line with what would be expected from a nearly perfectly heritable trait.

...Friedman et al. integrated measures of general intelligence ("g", estimated through the WAIS IQ test) and perceptual speed (essentially the speed with which subjects can complete very simple tasks) to show that the genetic contribution to executive function is not completely explained by genetic contributions to those more commonly-studied abilities. This is consistent with previous work showing that IQ is only moderately heritable (with 50-70% of variance explained due to genetic factors, far short of the 99% explained here).
Developing Intelligence

As Chris points out, the study did not rule out a significant contribution of environment to gene expression. Any attempt to do so should be viewed very skeptically.

Twins studies remain highly useful in the study of genetic differences contributing to mental attributes. Currently no other research tool even comes close in utility for that purpose.

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Living Longer in Our Bodies vs. Uploading Our Minds

My natural preference between mind uploading and SENS/mental augment is to go with Aubrey de Grey. Anders' approach appears far too naive, neglecting many necessary details of brain to mind emergence. But--if I did want to convert a "wetware mind" to a "hardware mind," how would I do it?

There is only one approach that I consider even slightly plausible--the gradual replacing of wetware modules with hardware modules. Rudimentary mindware chips are able to act as "neural language relays" to bypass damaged/infarcted brain in animal studies. Such chips appear to facilitate neural recovery after infarct. Other chips may act to translate brain wave activity to electronic commands for robots or computer software--as in "Second Life" avatar or video game control.

These are only very crude beginnings in the path to eventually replacing wetware with hardware. Clearly, it will be necessary to utilise advanced nanotechnology methods that have not been invented yet. Hardware will have to be able to accurately emulate wetware over both time and space. The brain is an asynchronous device that at the same time is exquisitely sensitive to the timing and sequence of signals received.

The highly significant difference between an electronic computing device and an electrochemical brain anchored in a lifetime's experience of gain/loss, emotions, physical drives, etc. appears to be lost on many commentators on mind uploading.

Rodney Brooks and Jeff Hawkins are two of the more realistic researchers in the field of AI. I would be interested to know either of their positions on the possibility of mind uploading within the next century. My prognostication is significantly less hopeful than that of Anders Sandberg, Ray Kurzweil, or others who place this achievement well in the middle of the 21st centure--or sooner.

Contrast my pessimism on that front, with my optimism regarding Aubrey de Grey's SENS project--which I expect to yield many dividends before 2020. We are learning to manipulate the machinery of life to our own benefit. Through biological means, we will be able to live longer and think better. Longer life and clearer, more powerful thinking will allow us to better emulate human intelligence and consciousness in machines.

Hat tip Kurzweilai.net

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16 October 2007

WingSuit Flying Just for the Thrill of It

This video is pretty startling. You may have to watch it 2 or 3 times before you actually believe it.

Hat tip Fat Knowledge


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Is The Sun Preparing to Enter Hibernation?

The Earth's star, Sol, passes through natural cycles of magnetic activity. During a particularly slow sunspot cycle known as the Maunder Minimum, the Earth experienced the Little Ice Age.

There is talk about of an extended solar minimum occurring, or perhaps a recurrence of a Dalton or Maunder type minimum. There are signs that the sun’s activity is slowing. The solar wind has been decreasing in speed, and this is yet another indicator of a slowing in the suns magnetic dynamo.

...One thing is certain, based on past climate history and solar history, if in fact the suns magnetic activity slows, or collapses and we enter a prolonged period of little or no sunspot activity, we’ll see a global cooling trend.

The climate of Earth is subject to many influences. While many climate scientists have won big-money research grants and considerable public fame by emphasizing the influence of anthropogenic CO2 on climate, in reality it is likely that many influences largely ignored by contemporary climate modelers will easily eclipse the effect of anthropogenic CO2 on world climate. Current climate modelers have a serious case of "tunnel vision." Time and continued observations are likely to cure this malady, although the subsequent weaning from big-money research grants is likely to be painful for them--unless they can dream up another "crisis-du-jour."

Hat tip Hall of Record

An interesting question: Does the Southern Hemisphere's exceptionally cold winter predict a coming cold winter for the Northern Hemisphere?

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13 October 2007

Al Gore in Deadly Peril of Nasty Splinters from Riding His Magic Hockey Stick

Anyone who watched "An Inconvenient Truth" may recall Al Gore's death-defying stunt on the hydraulic lift, where he rides up into the sky tracing the curve of Michael Mann's famous hockey stick. This same hockey stick had been proven wrong years before Gore's film was released, but Al Gore has never allowed inconvenient truths to stand in the way of a good stunt.

Here is a fascinating addendum to the "magic hockey stick" tale: Steve McIntyre, one of the Canadians who demolished Michael Mann's CAGW hockey stick, has gone into the field to collect tree ring samples from some of the same bristlecone pines that Mann and others based their hockey stick research on--the wood that Michael Mann used to build his hockey stick. Michael Mann and his friends claim that updating their proxies of bristlecones to compare with 1980--2006 temperatures would be too expensive--prohibitively expensive! But is that the truth?

If you care about sorting out the huge mess that Michael Mann and his unscrupulous climate modeling friends have made, that Al Gore has unscrupulously ridden to sainthood, check out McIntyre's posting describing his "massively expensive" field trip.
To make a long story short, last summer, when my wife and I visited my sister in Colorado Springs and I thought that it would be rather fun to test the Starbucks Hypothesis and I gave a bit of a teaser report in late July, promising some further reports in a few weeks, but I got distracted by the Hansen stuff. At the time, I mentioned that, together with CA reader Pete Holzmann and his wife Leslie, we visited some bristlecones in the Mt Almagre area west of Colorado Springs.

But I have a little secret which I’ll share with you as long as you promise not to tell anyone: our objective was to locate the precise site sampled by Graybill. Not just that. Prior to the trip, I obtained a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to take dendrochronological samples from bristlecones on Mount Almagre and we did more than look at pretty views; we obtained up-to-date bristlecone samples. I only went up Almagre on the first day. Our permit lasted a month and Pete and Leslie spent two more days on Almagre, finally locating and sampling tagged Graybill trees on the third day.

Altogether (and primarily through the efforts of Pete and Leslie), our project collected 64 cores from 45 different trees at 5 different locations on Mount Almagre. 17 Graybill trees were identified, of which 9 were resampled.
Climate Audit

Please read the entire posting above, if you are at all interested in how climate science should be done, rather than the sleazy, high priced way it is actually done. Michael Mann, James Hansen, and others have a great deal to answer for. No doubt they wish that all the skeptics, heretics, and court jesters would simply go away. That is not going to happen.

For those of you who think global warming alarmism is the best way to clean up the environment--regardless of truth or falsity of its claims, regardless of the soundness of its methodology--shame on you. Bad science helps no one. The backlash will be far worse than simply trying to find the truth in the first place.

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Amory Lovins Calls Al Gore A Total Moron

Well, indirectly. And the brainy environmentalist also claims that peak oil and global warming are irrelevant!
Saved money is earned money, which is why Lovins works with corporations to improve their bottom lines by radically improving energy efficiency with simple, and very available, technology and techniques. Once one company has converted, others follow.

In the case of Wal-Mart, the largest corporation in the world’s “demand pull” is inspiring its suppliers to improve their energy efficiency — by virtue of that age-old motivation, the economic survival instinct. In the case of microchip manufacturers, when one learns to make a chip more cheaply by saving energy in production, the others must follow.

Which is why peak oil doesn’t matter. If oil runs out next year, or in the next decade, that will matter less than the rise of competitive sources of energy in the marketplace. Petroleum will go the way of whale oil, which in 1850 was the world’s fifth largest industry, Lovins said. That powerful industry lasted precisely until coal-based oils provided a cheaper alternative to the common lighting fuel. You don’t hear much about whale oil anymore.

“Whalers were astounded,” Lovins said, “when they ran out of customers before they ran out of whales.”

He sees the same irrelevance in global warming, at least as a catalyst to inspire a change in the fuels burned by the world’s economic engine. He sees efforts to persuade federal governments and international bodies to set limits on carbon dioxide as misguided. China, currently the world’s top polluter of greenhouse gases, will persuade itself to go green because it makes economic sense, and provides a competitive advantage, he said.

Unless, that is, U.S. business, with a little help from Lovins, does first.

The dirtiest, most polluted countries tend to be communist countries, and those with centrally planned economies. East Germany was the foul polluter of Europe before the liberation. North Korea is a nation-sized dead zone, and appears even worse when compared with capitalist South Korea. Lovins understands market forces far better than most people who call themselves environmentalists. Al Gore will never learn--perhaps because he stands to make billions of dollars leading the world's population down the carbon path.

My favourite environmentalists are Bjorn Lomborg and Patrick Moore, but Amory Lovins is another green-minded person who understands the central role of economics in caring for the earth.

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12 October 2007

Academic Monkeys Defend Their Turf

Nothing is funnier than sinecured monkeys defending their turf. Greg Mankiw comments on Larry Summers' observations about the lack of ideological diversity on campus.
Question to think about: If right-wingers are underrepresented in universities relative to the population and discriminated against by the left-wing majority, as Larry suggests, should there be affirmative action for right-leaning academics? It seems that, on principle, those on the left (who favor affirmative action to promote diversity and correct past injustice) should endorse such a university policy, and those on the right (who more often oppose affirmative action) would be against.

I am against affirmative action discrimination whether in hires, school admissions, government contracts, or whatever, and I am a libertarian leaning independent. But Greg is wrong about leftists. They are militantly against any process or procedure that would force them to release their monkey's grip on any peanut of power whatsoever. If you do not believe me, go and read the comments here.

The comments illustrate a point I have made many times: if students do not grow up with experience dealing with diverse ideologies and points of view, they become incompetent parrots repeating a single tedious point of view. Larger numbers of university graduates are becoming incompetent to argue simple points, beyond repeating rote phrases. This is disheartening to anyone who was hoping to see education raising the general state of thinking in the western world.

Rather than calling for affirmative action for conservative and libertarian professors, simply requiring that academic hires and tenure be based upon merit rather than good old boy and girl insiderism, would probably be sufficient.

Political Orientation of Faculty Members — 7 Categories

  • Extremely liberal 9.4%
  • Liberal 34.7%
  • Slightly liberal 18.1%
  • Middle of the road 18.0%
  • Slightly conservative 10.5%
  • Conservative 8.0%
  • Very conservative 1.2%
But there is hope for the future in this table:

Percentage of Faculty Members, by Age, Identifying as Left Radicals or Activists


Left Radicals

Left Activists










from The Social and Political Views of American Professors

The dying out of the extremists may eventually allow more thoughtful and inclusive hiring to take place. Students who go directly from their parents authority to today's campuses will need time to find themselves. They do not need to be pressed into autocratic classrooms presenting carbon-copy talking points regardless of the professor.

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10 October 2007

Would You Ride This Giant Slingshot?

Will this be the start of a new thrill sport? It reminds me of the old "human cannonball" circus attraction. Except with this human projectile, you absolutely must wear a parachute!

Will we soon have competing human slingshots, vying for the most altitude gain for a human "pebble?" G-forces may be the limiting factor.

One very cool stunt would be to ground launch with a giant catapult, then fly off on rocket wings.


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Losing Robert Bussard, Pioneering Space Scientist,

Here is the Google Talk by Robert Bussard on his inertial electrostatic fusion research. Dr. Bussard died of cancer a few days ago. He is the creator of the Bussard Interstellar Ramjet concept, and various nuclear fission rocket designs. Most recently, he was working on the nuclear fusion concept that he discusses in the video above.

You can find much more information from Brian Wang, M. Simon, and Centauri Dreams.

Bussard came from an earlier generation of space scientists who believed that anything was possible, and that the destiny of humanity lies in the greater universe beyond this planet and solar system.

Those of us who are able to escape our more cynical generation's lowered expectations will have large shoes to fill, with the loss of Robert W. Bussard.

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09 October 2007

Tissue Engineering of Blood Vessels and Other Tissue

Tissue engineering is beginning to yield some useful products. Using skin tissue, scientists and bio-engineers can grow blood vessels for replacement and bypass surgeries.
From a snippet of a patient’s skin, researchers have grown blood vessels in a laboratory and then implanted them to restore blood flow around the patient’s damaged arteries and veins.

It is the first time blood vessels created entirely from a patient’s own tissues have been used for this purpose, the researchers report in the current issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Cytograft Tissue Engineering of Novato, Calif., made the vessels, in a process that takes six to nine months. Because they are derived from patients’ own cells, they eliminate the need for antirejection drugs. And because they are devoid of any synthetic materials or a scaffolding, they avoid complications from inflammatory reactions.
Better scaffolds for growing tissues in the lab are being developed. The gel scaffold pictured above incorporates microchannels for nutrient fluid supply to the growing tissues--an artificial "blood" vessel.
The researchers have engineered tiny channels within a water-based gel that mimic a vascular system at the cellular scale and can supply oxygen, essential nutrients and growth factors to feed individual cells. The so-called gel scaffold can hold tens of millions of living cells per milliliter in a 3-D arrangement, such as in the shape of a knee meniscus, to create a template for tissue to form.

In theory, the system could accommodate many kinds of tissue.

"A significant impediment to building engineered tissues is that you can't feed the core," said Abraham Stroock, Cornell assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and one of the paper's senior authors. "Simply embedding this mimic of a microvascular system allows you to maintain the core of the tissue during culture." Gel scaffolds, he said, "are the culture flasks of the future."

The embedded microchannels allow fluid with oxygen, sugar and proteins to travel through the system. The researchers can control the distributions of these solutes over both time and space within the developing tissue, allowing the fine-tuning of the biochemical environment of the cells while the tissue develops. For example, the tissue may need to develop into bone on one side and cartilage on the other. Now the researchers can supply the right nutrients and proteins to certain parts of the growing tissue to ensure an intended outcome.

As scientists and bio-engineers learn to mimic normal in vivo tissue growth processes in the lab, we will have more and better tissue and organ replacements available for transplant and regenerative purposes. Eventually, we will be able to grow better tissues and organs than the originals. Tissues more resistant to wear and degradation. Stronger muscles. More efficient nerves that are resistant to degenerative influences. Blood vessels that resist occlusive processes. Bones less prone to breaking etc.

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08 October 2007

Unusual Luxury Getaway Vehicles for Air and Sea

This luxury airship is a rigid design that gets 70% of its lift via helium and 30% of its lift from its unique wing design. It should perform better in bad weather than typical lighter than air ships, with better maneuverability.
The Aeroscraft ML866 is a buoyancy assisted air vehicle with a rigid structure and gas cells. It uses Aeros’ proprietary Full Authority Direct Organic Lift Control (FADOLC) - a dynamic buoyancy management system that provides the low speed control capability. While 70% of the aerodynamic lift comes from helium, the remaining 30% is derived from its innovative “wing” shape. As well as being able to hover the aircraft will be capable of speeds up to 138 mph (0-222 kmh) and will operate at altitudes of up to 12,000 ft (3,657 m). and the massive 210 ft (64 m) long by 118 ft (36 m) wide by 56 ft (17 m) high structure will deliver a roomy 5000+ square feet of cabin space.

This floating habitat features multiple levels connected by spiral staircase. The lowest level features panoramic undersea views.
The top level is 5.6 metres above the sea level and has been kept for study rooms. The next lower level is situated at 3.5 metres above the sea level and contains the night time zone while the next lower level at 1.4 metres contains the daytime zone with a kitchen and bathrooms. The lowest living level at 0.8 metres above the sea level is semi-submerged and has been kept for the guest room, bathroom and technical spaces.

The acrylic viewport globe situated at -3.00 mts above the sea level allows the occupants conmplete enjoyment of the submarine world.
Powered by solar panels, presumably the Jellyfish would have the ability to move about on the water's surface using either a tugboat or optional self-power, such as sail or electric motor.

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Mixed News and Thoughts

Here are the Top Ten Forecasts for 2008 from the editors of The Futurist. Interesting, but like Wired magazine, The Futurist often seems a bit "retro" to people who actually have imaginations. ;-)

This fascinating SciAm
article looks at what happens in the brains of mystics, when they "see God." The article goes far beyond previous speculations and claims for the temporal lobe as the seat of the mystical impulse. Must reading for anyone with an interest in both neuroscience and the human mystic.

What happens when you insert human nuclear material into animal eggs? Read this Technology Review article to learn more about this fascinating "end run" around limitations in the supply of human eggs for embryonic stem cell research.

Craig Venter has gone beyond all of the human--animal cell controversy. No, Venter is going to make his own living cells from scratch, thanks. While this venture holds many hidden hazards, it also holds great promise for teasing out the very basic mysteries of life. I hope these labs have excellent bio-containment, although at these early stages the danger is probably minimal.

A new form of plastic that is not only transparent, but "strong as steel" is described in this physorg.com article. Materials science keeps chugging along, whether you pay attention to it or not.

Hat tip for above links to KurzweilAI.net

Here is yet another way that medical scientists may be able to stop cancer cells from multiplying. Hat tip Brian Wang.

Finally, here is an information packed look at the different ways that science may significantly raise the average IQ of the human population of Earth. As Brian Wang says, it is not just about selecting the genome.


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04 October 2007

Portable Cell Cultures to Portable Embryo Incubator to Portable Artificial Womb

A recent story about the grandmother in Brasil who gave birth to her own twin grandchildren suggests that there would be a strong demand for an artificial womb, should such a thing ever be perfected. This grandmother was apparently happy to perform this vital service for her daughter. After all, she was able to walk away from the primary responsibilities of childraising when she left the hospital. But how would the dynamics of the same situation have changed in the context of safe and efficacious artificial wombs?

You may remember the microfluidic chip developed by Teruo Fujii of the University of Tokyo, designed to nourish an embryo in its early stages of development before final transplantation into a human womb. And the recent microfluidic cell culture incubator developed at Johns Hopkins is an impressive development along the same lines.
In a recent edition of the journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems, the Johns Hopkins researchers reported that they had successfully used the micro-incubator to culture baby hamster kidney cells over a three-day period. They said their system represents a significant advance over traditional incubation equipment that has been used in biology labs for the past 100 years.

...In contrast, the thumb-size system developed by the Johns Hopkins engineers is self-contained and requires no external heating source. A drop of liquid containing living cells is injected into a port and flows through one of the microfluidic channels. A nutrient solution — the cells’ food – is also added in this manner.

The cells gravitate toward and stick to the surface of the microchip. The chip contains a simple heating unit – a miniature version of the type found in a common toaster – and is equipped with a sensor that continually checks to make sure the proper temperature is maintained. For human cells, this is usually 37 degrees Celsius or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The chip is connected to a computer that controls the sensing and heating process. The prototype is connected to a computer via a hard wire, but the inventors say a wireless version would be the next step.

A gas-permeable membrane on the incubator allows the microsystem to exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen but keeps out bacteria that could contaminate the cell culture. If a cell colony grows too large, an enzyme can be injected into one of the microfluidic ports to detach and flush away surplus cells without destroying the primary cell culture.

Quite clever indeed. From such microfluidic culture devices, it is not such a stretch to imagine a staged device with graduated chambers (or a single expandable chamber) that accepts an IVF embryo at one end, and nine months later delivers a fully developed neonate out the other.

Bioethicists will no doubt agonize over the concept from now until the next millenium, but the fact is there is a demand for such devices. Where there is a demand, human ingenuity will usually created a supply.

A previous Al Fin article discussed two of the most famous would-be developers of artificial wombs, scientists Kuwabara in Tokyo, and Liu at the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility. Other researchers are working in the background, developing the necessary techniques, devices, and software that would allow a single cell to develop into a fully developed neonate in vitro.

One step at a time, largely unnoticed by the public. That is how most science advances.

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