Monday, July 20, 2009

Online events and other coolstuff

My brief essay in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the firsr moon landing is now up on A surprising perspective on art, ambition and the problem of ennui

My recent talk for the USENIX Conference is available for viewing online.  A bit nerdier than my usual speeches about the future, for more general audiences.  This bunch of technies seemed to really get into it! So I went a little long.

H+ asked David Brin, Ben Goertzel, J. Storrs Hall, Vernor Vinge, and others: "Is a Terminator-like scenario possible? And if so, how likely is it?"  Extrapolation! Peering into tomorrow!  What fun.

Here’s the latest compilation of my Five Star Rated You Tube appearances. 



A fascinating look at how your native language alters the way that you think.

See a terrific (and sfnally philosophical) comic strip Dresden Codak

"Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future" is co-authored by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, and is now available in stores across the country and online.

Curtis Wong, a Microsoft researcher I’ve had some cool exchanges with, has brought to life -- partly at Bill Gates’s encouragement -- “project Tuva,” which will now bring you some of the greates, inspirational physics lectures of Richard Feynman.  (Remind me, some time, to tell you some of my own stries about the man, how Feynmen once stole my date at a dance... well, for a while... and how he tricked me into becoming (alas) a physics major.)


Researchers report that rapamycin, a compound first discovered in soil of Easter Island, extended the expected lifespan of middle-aged mice by 28 percent to 38 percent. In human terms, this would be greater than the predicted increase in extra years of life if cancer and heart disease were both cured and prevented.  (BTW “rapa” comes from Rapanui, the island’s real name. See EARTH>) (Thanks Stefan.)

Monkeys that consumed 30 percent less calories than average peers were one third as likely to get a age-related disease and were likely to live longer.   Yeah yeah... I have heard it all before.  So why do we so almost ZERO sign of such an effect in humans? (Putting aside obesity, of course.)  After 4,000 years, we’d know if ascetic monks lived longer, by now.

In fact, everybody has it bass-ackwards!  Semi starvation triggers switches in mammals that say “delay your programmed burnout in case better times may give you a better chance to breed.”  But it doesn’t happen in humans  - because we have ALREADY thrown all those switches!  Our lifespans are already HUGE for mammals.  We get three times as many heartbeats.  Because for a million years it benefited tribes to have some elders around as repositories of lore.  Result?  We are already picking all the low-hanging longevity fruit.  In the case of humans, further increases are gonna need some real sophisticated intervention.

Funny thing.  Not a single researcher in this topic has (to my knowledge) posited this “thrown switches” way of looking at things.  My theory is actually a hybrid of the two big models of ageing -- that it is programmed-in vs that it is an accumulation of genertic and organc errors.  What I am saying is that it is clearly programmed in, for all mammalian species EXCEPT humans, who have already pegged and maxed-out all the dials.  For us, ageing really is about accumulated errors and running out of steam.  Which means that animal analogues and models are of very limited utility.

Watch this one to figure out the joke. Be sure to watch it to the "end" the stewardess walks away.



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