Nick Bostrom Elon Musk Nick Bostrom Elon Musk

OMG can anyone write an article on the simulation hypothesis without focusing on Nick Bostrom and Elon Musk? It’s like writing an article about climate change and only mentioning Al Gore.

Dear journalists who are trying to be edgy and write about cool fringe theories, please pay attention. The idea that we might be living in an illusory world is not novel. Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi wrote about it with his butterfly dream in 369 BC. Plato discussed his cave allegory in 380 BC. The other aspect of simulation theory, the idea that the world is discrete or digital, is equally ancient. Plato and Democritous considered atoms, and therefore the fundamental constructs of reality, to be discrete.

I’m not taking anything away from Nick Bostrom, who is a very intelligent modern philosopher. His 2001 Simulation Argument is certainly thought provoking and deserves its place in the annals of digital philosophy. But it was predated by “The Matrix”. Which was predated by Philip K. Dick’s pronouncement in 1977 that we might be living in a computer-programmed reality. Which was predated by Konrad Zuse’s 1969 work on discrete reality, “Calculating Space.”

And as interesting as Bostrom’s Simulation Argument is, it was a 12-page paper on a single idea. Since then, he has not really evolved his thinking on digital philosophy, preferring instead to concentrate on existential risk and the future of humanity.

Nor am I taking anything away from Elon Musk, a brilliant entrepreneur who latched onto Bostrom’s idea for a few minutes, generated a couple sound bites, and then it was back to solar panels and hyperloops.

But Bostrom, Musk, and the tired old posthuman-generated simulation hypothesis is all that the rank and file of journalists seem to know to write about. It is really sad, considering that Tom Campbell wrote an 800-page treatise on the computational nature of reality. I have written two books on the subject. Both of our material is largely consistent and has evolved the thinking far beyond the idea that we live in a posthuman-generated simulation. In fact, I provide a great deal of evidence that the Bostrom-esque possibility is actually not very likely. And Brian Whitworth has a 10-year legacy of provocative scientific papers on evidence for a programmed reality that are far beyond the speculations of Musk and Bostrom.

The world need to know about these things and Campbell, Whitworth, and I can’t force people to read our books, blogs, and papers. So journalists, with all due respect, please up your simulation game.

Transhumanism and Immortality – 21st Century Snake Oil

Before I start my rant, I recognize that the Transhumanism movement is chock full of cool ideas, many of which make complete sense, even though they are perhaps obvious and inevitable.  The application of science and technology to the betterment of the human body ranges from current practices like prosthetics and Lasik to genetic modification and curing diseases through nanotech.  It is happening and there’s nothing anyone can to to stop it, so enjoy the ride as you uplift your biology to posthumanism.

However, part of the Transhumanist dogma is the idea that we can “live long enough to live forever.”  Live long enough to be able to take advantage of future technologies like genetic manipulation  which could end the aging process and YOU TOO can be immortal!

The problem with this mentality is that we are already immortal!  And there is a reason why our corporeal bodies die.  Simply put, we live our lives in this reality in order to evolve our consciousness, one life instance at a time.  If we didn’t die, our consciousness evolution would come to a grinding halt, as we spend the rest of eternity playing solitaire and standing in line at the buffet.  The “Universe” or “All That There Is” appears to evolve through our collective individuated consciousnesses.  Therefore, deciding to be physically immortal could be the end of the evolution of the Universe itself.  Underlying this unfortunate and misguided direction of Transhumanism is the belief (and, I can’t stress this enough, it is ONLY that – a belief) that it is lights out when we die.  Following the train of logic, if this were true, consciousness only emerges from brain function, we have zero free will, the entire universe is a deterministic machine, and even investigative science doesn’t make sense any more.  So why even bother with Transhumanism if everything is predetermined?  It is logically inconsistent.  Materialism, the denial of the duality of mind and body, is a dogmatic Religion.  Its more vocal adherents (just head on over to the JREF Forum to find these knuckleheads) are as ignorant to the evidence and as blind to what true science is as the most bass-ackward fundamentalist religious zealots.

OK, to be fair, no one can be 100% certain of anything.  But, there is FAR more evidence for consciousness driven reality than for deterministic materialism.  This blog contains a lot of it, as does my first book, “The Universe-Solved!“, with much more in my upcoming book.

The spokesman for transhumanistic immortality is the self-professed “Transcendent Man“, Ray Kurzweil.  Really Ray?  Did you seriously NOT fight the producers of this movie about you to change the title to something a little less self-aggrandizing, like “Modern Messiah”? #LRonHubbard

So I came across this article about the 77 supplements that Ray takes every day.  From the accompanying video clip, he believes that they are already reversing his aging process: “I’m 65. On many biological aging tests I come out a lot younger. I expect to be in my 40s 15 years from now.”

He has been on this regimen for years.  So let’s see how well those supplements are doing.  Picking an objective tool from one of Ray’s own favorite technologies – Artificial Intelligence – the website how-old.net has an AI bot that automatically estimates your age from an uploaded photo.  I took a screen shot from the video clip (Ray is 65 in the clip) and uploaded it:

Ray Kurzweil Age

85!  Uh oh.  Hmmm, maybe the bot overestimates everyone’s age. I’m 10 years younger than Ray.  Let’s see how I fare, using a shot taken the same year at a ski resort – you know, one of those sports Ray says to avoid (Ray also claims that his kids will probably be immortal as long as they don’t take up extreme sports):

JimHowOld

I don’t know if it is the supplements that make Ray look 20 years older than he is, or the extreme skiing that makes me look 13 years younger than I am.  But I’m thinking maybe I’m onto something. [Note: I do realize that the choice of pictures could result in different outcomes.  I just thought it was ironic that the first two that I tried had these results]

Yes, I’m fairly confident that these supplements have some value in improving the function of various organs and benefiting a person’s overall health and well being.  I’m also fairly certain that much of traditional medical community would disagree and point to the lack of rigorous scientific studies supporting these supposed benefits as they always do.  On the whole, I suspect that, on the average, supplements might extend one’s lifetime somewhat.  But I doubt that they will reverse aging.  The human body is far too complex to hope that adding a few organic compounds would be sufficient to modify and synchronize all of the complex cellular and systemic metabolic chemical reactions toward a reversal of the aging process.  Kurzweil is obviously a very bright man who has had a significant entrepreneurial legacy in the high tech world.  However I think he and the rest of the materialist transhumanists are way over their heads on the topic of immortality and our place and purpose in the Universe.

My suggestion, Ray… skip the supplements, skip the self-promotion, skip the Google plugs, drive your goddamn car, and don’t be afraid to be active.  Stick with high tech, leave the evolution of the universe to its own devices, and enjoy the rest of this life.

Embracing Virtuality

In 2009, a Japanese man married a woman named Nene Anegasaki on the island of Guam.  The curious thing was that Nene was a virtual character in the Nintendo videogame LovePlus.

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In 2013, Spike Jonze directed the highly acclaimed (and Academy Award nominated) film “Her”, in which the protagonist falls in love with an OS (operating system) AI (artificial intelligence).

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Outrageous you say?

Consider that for centuries people have been falling in love sight unseen via snail mail.  Today, with online dating, this is even more prevalent.  Philosophy professor Aaron Ben-Ze’ev notes that online technology “enables having a connection that is faster and more direct.”

So it got me thinking that these types of relationships aren’t that different from the virtual ones that are depicted in “Her” and are going to occur with increasing frequency as AI progresses.  The interactions are exactly the same; it is just that the entity at the end of the communication channel is either real or artificial.

But wait, what is artificial and what is real?  As Morpheus said in “The Matrix,” “What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”  This is not just philosophy; this is as factual as you can get.

As a growing number of researchers, physicists, and philosophers come to terms with the supporting evidence that we already live in a virtual reality, we realize that there is no distinction between a virtual entity that we think is virtual (such as a game character) and a virtual entity that we think is real (such as the person you are in a relationship with).  Your consciousness does not emerge from your brain; its seat is elsewhere.  Your lover’s consciousness therefore is also elsewhere.  You are interacting with it via the transfer of data and your emotions are part of your core consciousness.  Does it matter whether that data transfer is between two conscious entities outside of physical reality or between a conscious entity and another somewhat less conscious entity?

As technology progresses, AI advances, and gaming and simulations become more immersive, falling in love or having any other kind of emotional experience will be occurring more and more frequently with what we today think of as virtual entities.

Now, it seems shocking.  Tomorrow it will be curious.  Eventually it will be the norm.

Things We Can’t Feel – The Mystery Deepens

In my last blog “Things We Can’t See”, we explored the many different ways that our eyes, brains, and/or technology can fool us into seeing something that isn’t there or not seeing something that is.

So apparently, our sense of sight is not necessarily the most reliable sense in terms of identifying what is and isn’t in our objective reality.  We would probably suspect that our sense of touch is fairly foolproof; that is, if an object is “there”, we can “feel” it, right?

Not so fast.

First of all, we have a lot of the same problems with the brain as we did with the sense of sight.  The brain processes all of that sensory data from our nerve endings.  How do we know what the brain really does with that information?  Research shows that sometimes your brain can think that you are touching something that you aren’t or vice versa.  People who have lost limbs still have sensations in their missing extremities.  Hypnosis has been shown to have a significant effect in terms of pain control, which seems to indicate the mind’s capacity to override one’s tactile senses.  And virtual reality experiments have demonstrated the ability for the mind to be fooled into feeling something that isn’t there.

In addition, technology can be made to create havoc with our sense of touch, although the most dramatic of such effects are dozens of years into the future.  Let me explain…

Computer Scientist J. Storrs Hall developed the concept of a “Utility Fog.”  Imagine a “nanoscopic” object called a Foglet, which is an intelligent nanobot, capable of communicating with its peers and having arms that can hook together to form larger structures.  Trillions of these Foglets could conceivably fill a room and not be at all noticeable as long as they were in “invisible mode.”  In fact, not only might they be programmed to appear transparent to the sight, but they may be imperceptible to the touch.  This is not hard to imagine, if you allow that they could have sensors that detect your presence.  For example, if you punch your fist into a swarm of nanobots programmed to be imperceptible, they would sense your motion and move aside as you swung your fist through the air.  But at any point, they could conspire to form a structure – an impenetrable wall, for example.  And then your fist would be well aware of their existence.  In this way, technology may be able to have a dramatic effect on our complete ability to determine what is really “there.”

nanobot

But even now, long before nanobot swarms are possible, the mystery really begins, as we have to dive deeply into what is meant by “feeling” something.

Feeling is the result of a part of our body coming in contact with another object.  That contact is “felt” by the interaction between the molecules of the body and the molecules of the object.

Even solid objects are mostly empty space.  If subatomic particles, such as neutrons, are made of solid mass, like little billiard balls, then 99.999999999999% of normal matter would still be empty space.  That is, of course, unless those particles themselves are not really solid matter, in which case, even more of space is truly empty, more about which in a bit.

So why don’t solid objects like your fist slide right through other solid objects like bricks?  Because of the repulsive effect that the electromagnetic force from the electrons in the fist apply against the electromagnetic force from the electrons in the brick.

But what about that neutron?  What is it made of?  Is it solid?  Is it made of the same stuff as all other subatomic particles?

The leading theories of matter do not favor the idea that subatomic particles are like little billiard balls of differing masses.  For example, string theorists speculate that all particles are made of the same stuff; namely, vibrating bits of string.  Except that they each vibrate at different frequencies.  Problem is, string theory is purely theoretical and really falls more in the mathematical domain than the scientific domain, inasmuch as there is no supporting evidence for the theory.  If it does turn out to be true, even the neutron is mostly empty space because the string is supposedly one-dimensional, with a theoretical cross section of a Planck length.

Here’s where it gets really interesting…

Neutrinos are an extremely common yet extremely elusive particle of matter.  About 100 trillion neutrinos generated in the sun pass through our bodies every second.  Yet they barely interact at all with ordinary matter.  Neutrino capture experiments consist of configurations such as a huge underground tank containing 100,000 gallons of tetrachloroethylene buried nearly a mile below the surface of the earth.  100 billion neutrinos strike every square centimeter of the tank per second.  Yet, any particular molecule of tetrachloroethylene is likely to interact with a neutrino only once every 10E36 seconds (which is 10 billion billion times the age of the universe).

The argument usually given for the neutrino’s elusiveness is that they are massless (and therefore not easily captured by a nucleus) and charge-less (and therefore not subject to the electromagnetic force).  Then again, photons are massless and charge-less and are easily captured, to which anyone who has spent too much time in the sun can attest.  So there has to be some other reason that we can’t detect neutrinos.  Unfortunately, given the current understanding of particle physics, no good answer is forthcoming.

And then there is dark matter.  This concept is the current favorite explanation for some anomalies around orbital speeds of galaxies.  Gravity can’t explain the anomalies, so dark matter is inferred.  If it really exists, it represents about 83% of the mass in the universe, but doesn’t interact again with any of the known forces with the exception of gravity.  This means that dark matter is all around us; we just can’t see it or feel it.

So it seems that modern physics allows for all sorts of types of matter that we can’t see or feel.  When you get down to it, the reason for this is that we don’t understand what matter is at all.  According to the standard model of physics, particles should have no mass, unless there is a special quantum field that pervades the universe and gives rise to mass upon interacting with those particles.  Unfortunately, for that to have any credibility, the signature particle, the Higgs boson, would have to exist.  Thus far, it seems to be eluding even the most powerful of particle colliders.  One alternative theory of matter has it being an emergent property of particle fluctuations in the quantum vacuum.

For a variety of reasons, some of which are outlined in “The Universe – Solved!” and many others which have come to light since I wrote that book, I suspect that ultimately matter is simply a property of an entity that is described purely by data and a set of rules, driven by a complex computational mechanism.  Our attempt to discover the nature of matter is synonymous with our attempt to discover those rules and associated fundamental constants (data).

In terms of other things that we can’t perceive, new age enthusiasts might call out ghosts, spirits, auras, and all sorts of other mysterious invisible and tenuous entities.

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Given that we know that things exist that we can’t perceive, one has to wonder if it might be possible for macroscopic objects, or even macroscopic entities that are driven by similar energies as humans, to be made from stuff that we can only tenuously detect, not unlike neutrinos or dark matter.  Scientists speculate about multiple dimensions and parallel universes via Hilbert Space and other such constructs.  If such things exist (and wouldn’t it be hypocritical of anyone to speculate or work out the math for such things if it weren’t possible for them to exist?), the rules that govern our interaction with them, across the dimensions, are clearly not at all understood.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t possible.

In fact, the scientific world is filled with trends leading toward the implication of an information-based reality.

In which almost anything is possible.

Yesterday’s Sci-Fi is Tomorrow’s Technology

It is the end of 2011 and it has been an exciting year for science and technology.  Announcements about artificial life, earthlike worlds, faster-than-light particles, clones, teleportation, memory implants, and tractor beams have captured our imagination.  Most of these things would have been unthinkable just 30 years ago.

So, what better way to close out the year than to take stock of yesterday’s science fiction in light of today’s reality and tomorrow’s technology.  Here is my take:

yesterdaysscifi

Is LIDA, the Software Bot, Really Conscious?

Researchers from the Cognitive Computing Research Group (CCRG) at the University of Memphis are developing a software bot known as LIDA (Learning Intelligent Distribution Agent) with what they believe to be cognition or conscious processes.  That belief rests on the idea that LIDA is modeled on a software architecture that mirrors what some believe to be the process of consciousness, called GWT, or Global Workspace Theory.  For example, LIDA follows a repetitive looping process that consists of taking in sensory input, writing it to memory, kicking off a process that scans this data store for recognizable events or artifacts, and, if something is recognized, it is broadcast to the global workspace of the system in a similar manner to the GWT model.  Timings are even tuned to more or less match human reaction times and processing delays.

I’m sorry guys, but just because you have designed a system to model the latest theory of how sensory processing works in the brain does not automatically make it conscious.  I could write an Excel macro with forced delays and process flows that resemble GWT.  Would that make my spreadsheet conscious?  I don’t THINK so.  Years ago I wrote a trading program that utilized the brain model du jour, known as neural networks.  Too bad it didn’t learn how to trade successfully, or I would be golfing tomorrow instead of going to work.  The fact is, it was entirely deterministic, as is LIDA, and there is no more reason to suspect that it was conscious than an assembly line at an automobile factory.

Then again, the standard scientific view (at least that held by most neuroscientists and biologists) is that our brain processing is also deterministic, meaning that, given the exact set of circumstances two different times (same state of memories in the brain, same set of external stimuli), the resulting thought process would also be exactly the same.  As such, so they would say, consciousness is nothing more than an artifact of the complexity of our brain.  An artifact?  I’m an ARTIFACT?

Following this reasoning from a logical standpoint, one would have to conclude that every living thing, including bacteria, has consciousness. In that view of the world, it simply doesn’t make sense to assert that there might be some threshold of nervous system complexity, above which an entity is conscious and below which it is not.  It is just a matter of degree and you can only argue about aspects of consciousness in a purely probabilistic sense; e.g. “most cats probably do not ponder their own existence.”  Taking this thought process a step further, one has to conclude that if consciousness is simply a by-product of neural complexity, then a computer that is equivalent to our brains in complexity must also be conscious.  Indeed, this is the position of many technologists who ponder artificial intelligence, and futurists, such as Ray Kurzweil.  And if this is the case, by logical extension, the simplest of electronic circuits is also conscious, in proportion to the degree in which bacteria is conscious in relation to human consciousness.  So, even an electronic circuit known as a flip-flop (or bi-stable multivibrator), which consists of a few transistors and stores a single bit of information, is conscious.  I wonder what it feels like to be a flip-flop?

Evidence abounds that there is more to consciousness than a complex system.  For one particular and very well research data point, check out Pim van Lommel’s book “Consciousness Beyond Life.”  Or my book “The Universe – Solved!”

My guess is that consciousness consists of the combination of a soul and a processing component, like a brain, that allows that soul to experience the world.  This view is very consistent with that of many philosophers, mystics, and shamans throughout history and throughout the world (which confluence of consistent yet independent thought is in itself very striking).  If true, a soul may someday make a decision to occupy a machine of sufficient complexity and design to experience what it is like to be the “soul in a machine”.  When that happens, we can truly say that the bot is conscious.  But it does not make sense to consider consciousness a purely deterministic emergent property.

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WikiLeaks, Denial of Service Attacks, and Nanobot Clouds

The recent firestorm surrounding WikiLeaks reminds me of one of Neal Stephenson’s visions of the future, “Diamond Age,” written back in 1995.  The web was only at its infancy, but Stephenson had already envisioned massive clouds of networked nanobots, some under control of the government, some under control of other entities.  Such nanobot swarms, also known as Utility Fogs, could be made to do pretty much anything; form a sphere of protection, gather information, inspect people and report back to a central server, or be commanded to attack each other.  One swarm under control of one organization may be at war with another swarm under the control of another organization.  That is our future.  Nanoterrorism.

A distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) is a network attack on a particular server or internet node.  It is often carried out by having thousands of computers saturate the target machine with packet requests, making it impossible for the machine to respond to normal HTTP requests, effectively bringing it to its knees, inaccessible on the internet.  The attacks are often coordinated by a central source who takes advantage of networks of already compromised computers (aka zombie computers, usually unknown to their owners) via malware inflections.  On command, these botnets initiate their attack with clever techniques called Smurf attacks, Ping floods, SYN floods, and other scary sounding events.  An entire underground industry has built up around botnets, some of which can number in the millions.  Botnets can be leased by anyone who knows how to access them and has a few hundred dollars.  As a result, an indignant group can launch an attack on, say, the WikiLeaks site.  And, in response, a WikiLeak support group can launch a counter attack on its enemies, like MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal for their plans to terminate service for WikiLeaks.  That is our present.  Cyberterrorism.

Doesn’t it sound a lot like the nanoterrorism envisioned by Stephenson?  Except it is still grounded in the hardware.  As I see it, the equation of the future is:

Nanoterrorism = Cyberterrorism + Microrobotics + Moore’s Law + 20 years.

Can’t wait!

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