I got the chance to ask Aubrey de Grey of SENS Foundation the questions for his Reddit AMA – we got some excellent answers coming you way very soon!
The Wheel Of Time is a song I wrote in 2009 while I was renting out a studio by LAX, underneath the flight path of landing 747’s. The studio was your standard 12×10 concrete cell that we outfitted with some tacky green carpet, a couch, and a makeshift desk for my recording gear. It was a great place to escape from everything, and sink into my music.
I soon fell into a very productive routine. I usually got to the studio around 8pm to jam with my band or chat with my friend GG for a bit. His brother is Drew Goddard, writer for Lost and Cabin In The Woods – so I usually nagged him about the ending of Lost most of the time. But GG is also an amazing producer and sound engineer with replicas of every piece of gear Pink Floyd used…ever. (He even once flew to Italy to buy the actual rotary delay David Gilmour used in Live at Pompeii). I learned alot from GG about mixing – which frequencies go where, how to make the perfect kick drum sound, why taking the 500Hz frequency out of a guitar magically makes it sound better, etc. I owe him big time for that.
After social time was over, I would get to work – often moving from instrument to instrument recording ideas. I usually started with a programmed beat and a chord progression and built from there. Once the music was done, I would walk through the vacant streets brainstorming lyrics, and would often record the entire song before sunrise – to avoid the thundering sound of landing aircraft. At around 10am I would lay down on the couch and drift off to sleep, listening to an entirely new song I had just created.
I should probably take a moment to explain something people have been asking me about regarding the name change from Post Human Era to Ancient Lasers. In April of 2010, I had just finished an entire album that was to be the second chapter of a trilogy by Post Human Era. The album was called Echo Corridor, and I was literally days away from releasing it. I had sent the single, Building The Machine, to Daniel Anderson of Idiot Pilot – one of my favorite bands of all time. He decided to remix it, and after I heard the possibilities of what we could both do as a team, I asked if he wanted to do an entire album. We used songs from both To Build A Fire and Echo Corridor as starting points, but ended up with a much more visceral sound. Together, we decided it was too different from Post Human Era to label it as such, and thus, Ancient Lasers was born. Post Human Era, however, is far from dead – I am currently working on something that takes it into very different terrain.
This song in particular, The Wheel Of Time, deals with the insanity of religion. I grew up with a mother that had started out with a Catholic family, but then converted to Judaism; and a Jewish father, so I went to both Church and Synagogue. I remember dreading wednesday night Hebrew school, where I practiced writing an ancient language that was both extremely confusing and downright hard to learn. Yet, there was something mystical about it. When I walked into Beth Israel Synagogue in Bellingham every Wednesday and Sunday, it felt like I was instantly transported to some sacred, distant past. My rabbi was both a Star Trek fan and paleontologist, which was pretty damn awesome to a 10 year old boy – but hilariously ridiculous if you think about it. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the early years I spent learning about Israel, having Seder for Passover, and lighting the candles for Hanukkah.
My mother’s side of the family was pretty faithful about getting together every Easter, Christmas (when we got the ‘good’ presents, as opposed to a book or something for Hannukah), and Thanksgiving (which I consider a Christian holiday). Those holidays, along with the Church experience, felt more commercialized – more ‘American’. They were alot of fun, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world.
Yet up until this point, I hadn’t really questioned either religion. Since I was learning about two separate schools of thought, I hadn’t fully submitted myself to one particular ideology. Everything was going as planned, until the moment arrived that would ultimately open my eyes to the world behind the world.
I was about to turn 13, and it was time for me to start practicing for my Bar Mitzvah. My father opened the study guide, which contained the Hebrew I would need to recite for the ceremony. We both sat down on the couch in the living room, and started to practice. After about twenty minutes, I remember looking up at him and asking why we were doing this. Why are we memorizing words that were written thousands of years ago to recite at a ceremony, just to prove that I was entering adulthood? And most importantly, what if I decided I simply didn’t want to?
In one life-changing sentence, he confessed: “We are doing this because my father wanted me to when I was your age.” We both realized that we were doing something simply because our ancestors before us had. Without questioning why; without deciding for ourselves if it was right – what we truly believed in our hearts. He let me decide for myself, and ultimately I decided that I didn’t believe in what we were doing. And I am eternally grateful for his decision.
The next sunday, instead of going to Synagogue, we went fishing together and experienced real life in nature, unfiltered by antiquated dogma and human ideologies. It was liberating for our entire family, and though we haven’t really talked about it since, I think they are thankful I spoke up – because everyone else was afraid to.
This is why we have Holy Wars, racism, and hate. People sometimes get scared to raise their hand in class when something doesn’t make sense. “Keep your head down. Do as you are told. Follow the leader. Memorize this. Don’t ask why.” When something doesn’t make sense, scream at the top of your lungs so everyone can hear you. We can’t change the world if we keep ourselves planted in the sands of the past. Refuse to believe what people tell you – until you know it to be true from your own personal experiences. No one knows anything more than you do, and that will never change.
The Wheel Of Time is about the continual habit of recursion we can’t seem to escape from. But I came here to throw a wrench in its gears. And every day thousands of people are waking up, as I did, from the peaceful sleep of herded sheep.
Ancient Lasers – The Wheel Of Time
The wheel of time repeats itself, it turns you into someone else
You’ll fight a war you’ll never win, you’ll make the same mistakes again
And now you finally see so many reasons behind the great confusion
You know the voices of the dead are really voices in your head
You wonder if you’ve lost your mind, you hope you get it back this time
They tell you what you want to hear, you wish they’d all just disappear
And now you finally see so many reasons behind the great confusion
You know the voices of the dead, are really voices in your head
Maybe we are doomed to repeat this, maybe we still haven’t found the way
But no matter what they say, the pattern’s here to stay
And every time you think you’ve reached the end, you watch it start itself again
Every time it repeats itself, it repeats itself, it repeats itself again
Imagine you want to build a new house or office building. In the past, you would have had to hire an architect, a contractor, a construction company…The entire process would take months – if not years – and construction delays were the name of the game.
A man named Enrico Dini is not only about to revolutionize the way we build houses and office buildings – his technology could potentially cause the largest economic revolution in human history.
Inspired by Gaudi’s architecture, he became a Civil Engineer and, later, began building machines. Yet he soon found that his imagination was constrained by the physical limits of modern construction techniques. Concrete and brick buildings require a certain degree of logistics and manpower, and human engineering errors are often rampant.
Tired of these physical constraints, Enrico invented and patented a full-scale 3D printing method that uses a high-tech glue to bind sand. Enrico’s general concept is fairly similar, however: The printer is installed at the construction site, and using a 3D blueprint designed by the architect, it systematically “prints out” a building.
And get this: the 3D printer could soon also be able to print more 3D printers. His company, Shapeways, is already planning a full-scale sculpture in Pisa, Italy. So in other words, this is all actually happening.
Enrico is only one of many emerging visionaries working on Earth-sculpting technologies. Markus Kayser, who studied 3D Furniture and Product Design at London Metropolitan University, is working on another exciting and revolutionary technology. His newest invention, The Sun Cutter, is a solar powered machine that converts sand into glass-like sctructures. In a world increasingly worried about energy production and shortages of raw materials, the Sun Cutter could be installed in a barren desert to build entire structures – all by itself. This would be hugely important for developing nations or refugees left homeless from a natural disaster.
Once these technologies are refined and begin to enter the marketplace, entire economic models will have to be rewritten. What will we do with millions of suddenly-unemployed construction workers when machines effectively render them obsolete? This dilemma requires our immediate attention, as it stretches far beyond the worlds of construction and real estate. As more and more human jobs are replaced by technology, the unemployed masses and the world leaders governing them will most likely be ill-prepared for such changes. The economic fallout could be disastrous.
But there is hope. Companies like Organovo are already printing human organs, and even food-printing technologies are next on the horizon. With these new technologies, the would would have enough infrastructure and natural resources to provide billions a quality of life on-par with the United States. The transition towards a post-scarcity society has begun, wether governments and multi-national corporations like it or not.
To sum it all up, the gap between human imagination and the physical world is shrinking. As the architects become the builders, together we could build a utopia from our collective dreams. And as Enrico builds his modern day Tower of Pisa, hopefully we will all take a moment to remember that every building needs a strong foundation.
Those of you who’ve read my novel Ventus may recognize “The Successor to Science” as the title of a fictional paper referred to in that book. The paper introduces the reader to the concept of thalience. As originally intended, thalience was an attempt to look past science to see what discipline would come after it–hence the title “A Successor to Science.”
You’re forgiven if you’re bewildered–after science? How does that make sense? Am I saying that science is just a cultural phenomenon, a fashion? No. But it is something that exists in a particular historical context, and the question I was asking with thalience was whether science might produce some new kind of activity that, while not replacing it, could be viewed as an offspring of equal value to us.
Let’s back up a bit. In Ventus I invented a new word, and gave several definitions for it–quite deliberately, because I believe that ambiguity is the life-force of words. The word is acutally defined now on Wikipedia, but the two definitions given there are only half-right. Vinge asked me whether the word has to do with distributed sensor nets–because the Winds of Ventus are a system of massively parallel nanotech AIs–and I said yes at the time, but didn’t expand on what that implied. If your eyes haven’t glazed over yet, bear with me; you may find what follows interesting.
What if you could separate the activity of science from the human researchers who conduct it?Automate it, in fact? Imagine creating a bot that does physics experiments and builds an internal model of the world based on those experiments. It could start out as something simple that stacked blocks and knocked them over again. Later models could get quite sophisticated; and let’s say we combine this ability with the technology of self-reproducing machines (von Neumann machines). Seed the moon with our pocket-protector-brandishing AIs and let them go nuts. Let them share their findings and refine their models.
So far so good. Here’s the question that leads to the notion of thalience: if they were allowed to freely invent their own semantics, would their physical model of the universe end up resembling ours? –I don’t mean would it produce the same results given the same inputs, because it would. But would it be a humanly-accessible theory?
This is a better question than it might at first appear, because even we can produce mutually irreconcilable theories that successfully describe the same things: quantum mechanics and relativity, for instance. Their worldviews are incompatible, despite the fact that together they appear to accurately describe the real world. So it’s at least possible that non-human intelligences would come to different conclusions about what the universe was like, even if their theory produced results compatible with our models.
This little thought-experiment asks whether we can turn metaphysics into a hard science; and this becomes the first interesting meaning of the world thalience: it is an attempt to give the physical world itself a voice so that rather than us asking what reality is, reality itself can tell us. It is possible that thalient systems will always converge on a model of the universe that is comprehensible to humans; if so, then we will actually have a means of solving what were once considered philosophically imponderable questions–such as, what is the world really made of? How much of our understanding of the universe is subjective, and is truely objective knowledge even possible? A thalient system could tell us.
In Ventus, of course, the thalient system has lost the ability to communicate with humans; but the end of the novel holds out the hope that some sort of bridge can be constructed. Strangely, this bridge appears in the form of politics, rather than as a meeting of minds through Reason or Mathematics.
But there’s a further meaning to the term. If you were to automate science, and reap the rewards, what would you be left doing? Twiddling your thumbs while the AIs solve all the big problems? Well, not necessarily. The last definition of thalience involves the exciting possibility that, yes, multiple equally valid physical models of the universe are possible. Not one true “theory of everything” but many, perhaps an endless number of them. In this case, the conclusions we reach about our place in the universe when we understand quantum mechanics and relativity–or, for that matter, Newtonian physics–are accidental, by-products of the subjective side of objective research. So here is the grandest definition of thalience: it is the discipline that chooses among multiple successful scientific models based on which ones best satisfy our human, aesthetic/moral/personal needs. In other words, given two or more equally valid models of the universe, thalience is the art of choosing the one with the most human face. It is the recovery of the natural in our understanding of the Natural.
The ability to create non-human intelligences that can ask the same questions we ask leads to the possibility not just of answering ancient questions, but of turning science into the precursor of a new human activity. If thalient entities can create accurate models of the world that are different from our own, you may no longer be faced with the dilemma of taking either a religious, comforting view of the universe, or an objective and scientific–but not humanly satisfying–view. Thalience would consist in taking science’s results as raw material for building new mythologies–and possibly religions–which would differ from all previous ones in that they would all be scientifically, objectively true.
Now maybe you can see how science could have a successor: thalience would use objective truth as an artistic medium and merge subjectivity and objectivity in a creative activity whose purpose is the re-sanctification of the natural world. To believe in an uplifting and satisfying vision of your place in the universe, and to know that this vision is true (or as true as anything can be) would be sublime. Thalience would be an activity worthy of post-scientific humanity, or our own biological or post-biological successors.
At the dawn of life on this planet, evolutionary changes happened slow. Billions of years slow. One microbe took billions of years to evolve the DNA necessary to replicate itself from simple amino acids. But that first copying mechanism, DNA, allowed information to be transmitted that much faster. Then, evolution only took millions of years to create multi-cellular creatures. Good information was kept, and bad information was discarded. The wheel of time continued until evolution presented the planet Earth with a new species – human beings. Except this species was different – this was the first intelligence on the planet.
This is where the evolutionary process of life really began to accelerate. Instead of millions of years to the next paradigm shift, it was only 50,000 years until Man began to talk. And then, only 10,000 to develop agriculture, written language, society, and government. Another 5,000 elapsed, and we had constructed Pyramids, developed theological and monetary systems, and had begun colonizing the planet. This led to the development of Science a few thousand years later. Science, after a few mere centuries, gave rise to the Industrial Revolution, which after only 50 years gave us the Computer Revolution. Notice the trend? Evolution is a feedback loop.
“Moore’s law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware, in which the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.”
When Moore made this prediction at CalTech in the 1970’s, computers were the size of buildings. Now one fits in your pocket, and a particle accelerator in CERN is capable of achieving the coldest temperature in the universe and a magnetic field thousands of times more powerful than the Earth’s- all to find the God Particle that allowed the universe to be created. Forty years ago a machine that sized could barely run Pong.
This is only the beginning, however – imagine the things we will achieve with computers the size of red-blood cells floating inside the body. Nanobots will soon be integrating themselves into our biological structure, repairing broken synapses in the brain, cleaning out arteries and creating a virtual-reality interface within your visual cortex. Don’t believe me? Ask Ray Kurzweil, who this year co-founded the Singularity University in Palo Alto with Google and NASA. Their sole mission is to create a human-computer hybrid that will allow us to live forever.
Why a hybrid? Why not simply create a smarter-than-human computer and have it solve all our problems? Because that computer might decide that keeping us humans on Planet Earth would hinder its own progress in evolution – that we pose a threat to its survival. Or, the computer might even convert the entire solar system into a bigger version of itself to solve the problem. In Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question”, scientists keep building bigger and bigger computers; while constantly asking the meaning of life. It is not until the very end, when, after the entire universe has been converted into a computer that the final answer is given.
The UN even recently passed a law banning “self-replicating nanobots” to prevent the planet from being covered in a “gray goo” of robotic microbes. This only supports how real this is all becoming. Six years ago, Facebook was being invented. Now, 500 million people have moved parts of their lives “online”, and could not imagine life without it. Ten years ago, cell phones and laptops were only just becoming commonplace within the societal lexicon. Now, having a desktop or even laptop computer is viewed as being a nuisance and hassle. In the next ten years, however, the change will be faster. We know this because it’s been speeding up this entire time.
Every day, more things happen than the day before- because today we have better tools for communicating, working, living, and replicating information than we did yesterday. The move from analog to digital will be almost too gradual to notice, but one thing is certain: Humanity is uploading itself onto the internet, which now appears to have turned Planet Earth into a collective brain; every human being a neuron in the system. This collective brain will soon abandon the mortal problems we face today, but it will face problems on a universal scale. Like how to prevent its collapsing, parent star from dying, how to exist in multiple dimensions, or even how to better allocate intelligence throughout the universe.
Maybe then it will even send out tiny seeds to land on distant planets…just like the amino acids that landed on Earth.
First off, there were more people in attendance. I believe we clocked in at over 800(!) people. It seems our message is truly beginning to spread and pick up speed, which is no surprise – alot has happened since March of 2011.
We are finally seeing the rise of the “Internet voice”, as made evident by the huge amount of activism by Twitter, Anonymous, Occupy Wall Street, and many more connectivity-based movements. People are starting to step away from the computer (with iPhone or Droid still firmly in hand) and take to the streets. Information technologies are making people realize how much work there is to do to fix the problems our society still faces. Yet, many people that want and can do something to help don’t know where to turn. I didn’t. Before connecting with the people at BIL, I had motivation and knew what I wanted to do, but didn’t know there were thousands of other people that had the same ideas.
BIL, by nature, is a very geeky event. As a counter-culture shadow conference that not-so-coincidentally occurs right around TED, you would expect this. And by nature, these people don’t have alot of free time for social interaction – and most find the usual “club and bar scene” to be trite and superficial (myself included). The beauty in BIL is that it gives the nerdy, quirky, subversive, think-way-the-fuck-outside-the-box types a singular event to come and talk about all the insanely cool projects they’ve been working on in the past year.
New additions this year included:
- Space Stage, where SpaceX and XCOR showed off some very cool, privately funded space vehicles. A
- Burning-Man-esque….dodecahedron? (It’s a geometric shape I can’t describe in human language). People were relaxing and singing karaoke when they needed a mind-rest from talks.
- Massage/Cupping station.
- Speed Dating and Relationship Discussions in the Red Room.
- College Of Lockpicking
- Crashspace 3D Printing Demonstration
- Halcyon Molecular DNA microscope
- BIL2012 Anthem!
- Performances by Max Lugavere and Ancient Lasers
At the closing ceremony, Reichart auctioned off a chance to sit in on a live reading of Futurama, with the full cast (as well as himself and Simone for dates). Their combined sexiness helped put a deposit for BIL2013! Maria Entraigues and myself also performed the first ever “BIL Anthem” – and we got Aubrey de Grey to jump on stage and bust out a smooth 16 bar rap verse about “biology, nanotechnology, quantum computing, more biology…” That was definitely a fitting way to end the conference. Special thanks to Reichart, Maria, Aubrey and Simone for making that happen with 4 days notice!
In conclusion, BIL expanded my mind and now I have a thirst for knowledge – and meeting the people who possess it. I know I’m leaving out tons of amazing people I met, and I apologize in advance. More posts coming! I have a big list of similar conferences, concerts, and events like BIL in my Google Docs, and I hope to check a few dozen off the list by the time 2012 is over.
As the world transitions towards a completely digital, globalized network, one thing that has continued to be rather consistent has been currency. Many people don’t stop to question the current monetary system, or its relevance to such a rapidly changing landscape of business. Yet, a few people have been rethinking the role of currency as we transition towards a truly digital age. We don’t actually trade gold for scarce goods anymore, so why should we still trade dollars and coins? Aren’t those simply arbitrary placeholders for value? We are relying on physical goods less and less, and their scarcity is also decreasing.
Advancements in 3D printing technologies will completely redesign the business models for future societies and economies, forcing us to find value in non-physical, often intangible products. In Pandora’s Millions, by George O. Smith, a ‘matter duplicator’ creates an economic collapse and creates a new form of barter economy for the only scarce product left: skilled human labor. In this scenario, one would need to develop a new, digital currency.
Simone Syed is a futurist and consultant for Bitcoin.com, a new startup technology that could revolutionize the way we do business. I got to ask her a few questions about Bitcoin and find out why it might be a good idea to pay attention to this new form of currency.
- What is Bitcoin, and how does it work?
“Bitcoin is technology that makes it possible to transfer value across a normal Internet connection. This is much cheaper and more secure than using something like a credit card.
For example, every time you pay with a credit card, there’s a risk that the other person copies your card and starts spending your money. With Bitcoin, you’re never giving out the keys to your entire vault – you only transfer exactly the amount you want to pay. This virtually eliminates fraud and thus reduces fees. And with the additional revenue, merchants can lower prices and spend their profit on quality and service.”
- Why should people use it?
“This is really two questions; the first being: “why should merchants use it?” The obvious answer is lower fees, reduced setup cost and ease of use. With Bitcoin payments, the only thing required is a computer or mobile phone with an Internet connection. Additionally, the payments can’t be reversed, which is a major source of lost revenue for many businesses.
Second: “why should the customer use it?” It gives the user the ability to pay quickly without putting their account and identity at risk. When you pay with a credit card, check or other classical payment method, you are placing yourself at risk for identity theft and fraudulent charges.”
- Is it safe?
“Bitcoins are as safe as their storage medium. If you store your Bitcoins in a vault at a reputable Internet bank they can be very secure. On the other hand, if you keep your Bitcoin wallet unprotected, it’s possible that someone steals it from you or that you lose it. This is very similar to physical cash. The biggest risk right now is that Bitcoin is still very new and people are just starting to learn how to securely use and store them.”
- Why couldn’t another copycat come out and make Bitcoin obsolete?
“Bitcoin benefits from something called a network effect. Since a lot of people already use Bitcoin, it’s much more valuable to join and trade with those existing people, than to start a new system and have no one to trade with. Also setting up a network of Bitcoin’s size is expensive: Right now the network ensuring Bitcoin’s security has more computational power than that of the world’s top 500 supercomputer projects combined.”
- Do you think it will encourage criminal transactions, and make it harder for the government to trace illegal purchases (drugs, weapons, etc)?
“Bitcoin transactions are actually more traceable than cash transactions. There’s a public ledger where both participants of every Bitcoin transaction and the amounts sent are recorded. Also, Bitcoin is just a payment technology – all the bits need to be converted back into currency at some point, and all the exchanges are required to strictly comply with the same Anti-Money-Laundering and Know-Your-Customer regulations that banks and other businesses are subject to.”
- Why can’t the Bitcoin go down in value?
“Bitcoin can certainly go down in value. It’s actually been rather volatile lately. But since Bitcoin is mainly used as a transactional medium, the specific exchange rate doesn’t matter to most people. In the end, you are just sending bits across the Internet and at the other end you get the amount of Dollars or Euros that you intended to send.”
- Tell us about your mobile app.
“So far Bitcoins have been mainly used by payment experts and technologists, but we’d like to make Bitcoins useful not just for people who care about the cool tech, but the average person. Over the next few months we’ll roll out our whole suite of merchant and commerce tools on http://bitcoin.com/ and you’re more than welcome to sign up so you can be among the first to give it a spin.”
- Do you fear a crackdown by the Federal Reserve?
“Not at all. I think people are overly worried about such things. When people first started paying using plastic cards, that must have seemed like a crazy idea as well, but after a while people got used to it. It’s quaint that we still use paper checks while the rest of the world has moved on to digital banking, but with Bitcoin we have a chance to leapfrog and truly improve our country’s payment infrastructure, stimulate commerce and create new jobs.”
BILder’s (as we like to call them) come from all around the world to share ideas, give talks, perform live music, teach classes, network, brainstorm ways to fix the world…whatever! That’s the beauty of BIL, what it is and what it will become is completely up to the BILders themselves – theres no concrete agenda. It is what you make it.
Last year was my first BIL experience, and I can honestly say it set the tone for the rest of my year in the most positive way possible. I met BIL co-founders Simone Syed and Reichart Von Wolfsheild when I hosted the after-party for the Los Angeles premiere of Transcendent Man – Ray Kurzweil‘s feature documentary about the Technological Singularity. I was demoing Ancient Lasers tracks for the singularity folks that night and they asked me if I wanted to play at BIL.
Once there I met some of the most fascinating people I have ever been graced to know. I spend alot of time around people that don’t really share the same interests as me in my daily life, so it was so refreshing to hear phrases like “machine learning”, “brain hacking”, and “nanobot foglets” being thrown around in casual conversation. I got to meet Burning Man guru John Halcyon, Life extension author Aubrey De Grey, lifestyle blogger extraordinaire Judd Weiss, the folks from the Singularity University…The list goes on.
After BIL, we all kept in touch and I personally know more than a couple new startups and other projects that were born from the conference and the connections it facilitated. Its incredible to think about how much has happened since last year and how many new friends I made.
This year Ancient Lasers is performing with special guest Max Lugavere from Current TV Saturday, March 3rd at 8pm. Jimmy Delshad, the mayor of Beverly Hills, life extensionist author Aubrey de Grey, CEO of Virgin Galactic George Whitesides, XCOR co-founder Doug Jones, and many many more.
I highly recommend coming to check it out, I promise you wont leave empty-headed.