Sunday, December 23, 2007

Molecular assembler impact on society

A recent post postulated that molecular assembler adoption is not likely to be an overnight roll-out, but more like the S-curve uptake of any technology product (TiVo, iPod, etc.) due as usual to cost, availability (particularly of element canister refills) and application.

Once molecular assembler roll-out starts, how is it likely to impact society?

It is assumed that all items necessary for survival can be made with the molecular assembler: food, shelter, basic medicines, etc.

Does this mean everyone will immediately quit their jobs and the world will turn to chaos?

No. While survival basics will be available from the molecular assembler in its initial form, many items and premium versions of basic items will not. Like the S-curve of assembler roll-out and adoption, the capability of what can be manufactured is also likely to grow over time. Businesses (Ponoko is a current example) and communities will arise to provide product designs for sale and share via the Internet. Expansion cartridges with elements other than the basic CHON stream (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen) may be added or available at a community level for the construction of more exotic items.

How will the structure and activity of society change?

In the first phase, persisting for perhaps five years, society's structure and activity will slowly start changing. The norm is likely that people will continue to work for several reasons discussed below and that together with the static availability of land and locations of schools and universities will probably keep people organized around their traditional activities and groupings for some time.

  • The post-scarcity economy (PSE) has not yet been fully realized. Many things must still be purchased: premium items, services, content, entertainment, non-assemblable items, designs and inputs for assemblable items, land
  • Habit, risk aversion (unclear how the new phenomenon will unfold and whether it will persist), maintaining status quo while creating future plans, emotional reasons (static comfort in the face of great change)
  • Work is a venue for garnering status, participating, engaging in productive activity, actualizing
In fact, professional focus, activities and responsibilities will be shifting in interesting ways to accommodate, create and take advantage of the new ways of controlling matter. The molecular assembler industry will spawn many businesses from the manufacture and distribution of assemblers to element canister supply to design creation and implementation. Information economy businesses will be impacted and all matter based businesses will need on-site reinvention. The service sectors of the economy will explode as even if basic materials become free, if AI and robotics have not evolved similarly, labor will not.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The multi-self team

Can you imagine yourself in competition for resources with ... yourself?

There are several future cases where multiple copies of people may be quite likely and normal. Multiple personal instances could arise to repair medical damage, to make a backup, to have a physical and a digital version, to extend the capability of an individual and because the technology exists, to name a few possibilities. Regulation and legal rights of multiple personal instances are interesting issues but not considered here.

It is likely that there will always be some scarcity of resources whether tangible (matter, energy, processing power, etc.) or intangible (status, reputation, attention, etc.). So it is likely that individuals and groups will always compete for resources.

Whether in the physical domain, digital domain or across domains, if you have copies of yourself, you will be competing with yourself for resources.

Initially, you will know exactly what your other self is thinking and strategizing and you might share resources effectively.

Then, although identical at the outset, any copies, if not mind-synced, will increasingly diverge. In situations of multiple personal instances, regular mind-syncing will probably be desirable but there will be many cases where this will not be possible or desired.

Even if two copies of the same entity are experiencing the same situation, it will not be equal in interpretation by both, the physical experience will not be completely equivalent and the mental experience will be even more different with the randomness of the brain and micro differences in cell chemical states triggering different experiences and interpretations.

Divergence in experience and interpretation could lead to divergence of goals. As with any current or historical examples of resource competition, divergent goals lead to destruction or collaboration.

The multi-self team
An optimal and evolutionarily superior final state would be one's selves coming together in a new entity, a multi-self team, a pool of many nuances of self and abilities, a borg being broader and more capable than any individual.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Virtual world killer apps

Virtual worlds seem to be distinct from the Internet but are really the natural evolution of the web as a communications, commerce, information and computation medium; a move to real-time 3D interaction from 2D text.

Virtual worlds are no longer exclusively recreational, they are becoming increasingly routine for a wide range of professional activities. Will Sun Microsystems be the first to announce their corporate earnings simultaneously in-world as they do now on CEO Jonathan Schwartz's blog?

There are about 50 virtual worlds in various stages of funding, launch and adoption. Linden Lab’s Second Life is the largest and most complex with an economy in excess of $1.5m USD per day. With the surge in activity, killer apps are starting to emerge.

Consumer Killer App: 3D Immersive Shopping
Shopping could be the killer app of virtual worlds for consumers, just like email drew people to the Internet. Shopping, not in the sense of avatar couture, coiffeur and custom animation, although this is an important sector of the virtual world economy, but in the sense of physical-world retailers having virtual showrooms for customers to review and potentially purchase their products in a 3D visual immersive way, everything from cars to furniture to electronics to tax services to books and music.

Steelcase furniture showroom
Click here to teleport

EOLUS/SAP experimental shop
Click here to teleport

Business Killer App: the Interface
For businesses, it is not about the application but the interface, the interface is the application. Virtual worlds are the modern functionality-extending overlay for any existing application, a 3D real-time information-rich collaboration environment. Some examples include IBM's virtual NOC business, constructing VNOCs for their own and client operations, Intel's in-world Dev Zone developer network meetings and Coke's "Virtual Thirst," Cisco's "Connected Life" and Osram Lighting's "One Million Dollar Idea" virtual world creativity campaigns.

IBM Watson's VNOC (Virtual Network Operations Center)
Click here to teleport

Due to resource consumption, virtual worlds are not yet used pervasively by most people; they are an application to log into intermittently, just like the Internet was before broadband. It could be in five years that computer processing power and broadband speeds, including on the mobile platform, make virtual world pervasiveness possible. Even before then, it will probably be as natural to book an airline ticket in-world via a travel sim as it would be to go to Orbitz.

How could progress not be underway in an evolution from users to residents?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Molecular assembler adoption

What would the technology adoption curve for the molecular assembler look like? A molecular assembler is a home appliance which would sit on a countertop supplied by water, element canisters and electricity and make items on demand such as food, clothing or other objects personally created or generated from designs found on the Internet.

Molecular Assembler,
As with other technologies like the personal computer, cell phone, Internet, TIVO/DVR, iPod, etc., there would likely be a gap between launch and widespread adoption. Not everyone wants to or can be an early adopter. People watch new technologies as their friends and other people buy and use them; they assess the price point for value and killer app-ability and adopt when it becomes personally relevant and possible. Although the time curves are increasingly compressed, it is still taking a few years for technologies to reach mainstream penetration.

Theoretically, the molecular assembler adoption curve could be much quicker than with other technologies because the dream of a machine that can make anything is of course that it can make copies of itself so that everyone can have one. While this may be the ultimate result, it is unlikely in the first phase since the intricate nanoscale molecular machinery components of the molecular assembler will need to be manufactured and assembled at special nanotechnology facilities. The first molecular assemblers will likely quite expensive.

Even when molecular assemblers can be manufactured or copied with ease, the supply canisters need to be considered. The element cartridges for the main CHON stream, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, plus specialty element cartridges are conceptually similar to laser printer ink cartridges. The element cartridges will need to be manufactured and distributed (e.g.; head over to Fry’s for a hydrogen cartridge) or there will need to be local refilling stations, possible via the existing gas or food distribution channels. Eventually, there could be utility feeds into communities or houses with measured usage.

Governments, having every interest in a stable transition to the molecular assembler and the post-scarcity economy (PSE), would likely regulate or otherwise attempt to control the distribution and refilling of element cartridges and possibly the assemblers themselves. Providing assemblers and element cartridges would be big business, attracting corporate and entrepreneurial activity to find effective ways to supply the demand.

Another factor inhibiting the immediate widespread adoption of molecular assemblers would be the need to have a fully developed value chain or offering ecosystem, particularly having some sort of recycling mechanism for unwanted or waste material from the assembler.

In summary, the factors influencing molecular assembler adoption would be like those of any technology adoption: cost, availability and application.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ethics of an Advanced Civilization

What kinds of policies is an advanced civilization likely to have regarding interacting with other societies it encounters?

Thinking of the most interesting case, a discretionary interaction, a more advanced society could probably easily identify ways of preventing pain or hardship in a less advanced society with their more advanced technology, spreading the smallpox vaccine would be an example in the human case.

If there were no existential risk to either civilization, and the more advanced society could adequately communicate with the lesser advanced society, to what degree if any should an advanced society be morally obligated to share their advanced technology with a less advanced society?

Presumably high up in the most likely example of an advanced society’s goals would be the furthering of knowledge and technology, and presumably this could be better accomplished with additional agents. So an advanced society would be more rather than less likely to share advanced technology, most likely overtly, even if it could adversely impact the culture of the less advanced society.

How the technology would be shared could be an interesting question, if the possessing society were advanced enough presumably it would be shared non-pecuniarily. Identifying which technologies should be shared could also be an interesting question as there will likely still be some competition for status and resources but probably nearly all technology could be shared as lesser advanced societies advanced to parity.

The foresightedness and cohesion required to consider the possibility of encountering other societies and have a universally agreed upon policy for this situation would seem to be one early mark of an advanced civilization.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Prosper reaches $100 million in loan volume

Peer-to-peer lending company Prosper reached a benchmark $100 million in loan volume this week. With the US stock market declines, credit crunch, raising gas prices and ailing economy, borrowers are turning to novel forms of credit such as fledgling peer-to-peer capital platforms offered by Prosper (US), Lending Club (US) and Zopa (UK).

$100 million in loan volume is an important benchmark, however the overall growth rate of new Prosper loans is slowing as the chart below indicates. Prosper's loan volume grew from essentially zero at the beginning of 2006 to $100 million in November 2007 but the S-curve inflected earlier this year at the $50 million loan volume mark.

Source: Prosper performance data. Note: the default view which specifies 0 delinquencies and 0-2 credit checks in the last 6 months should be removed to view the total loan portfolio.

The reason that Prosper loan growth is slowing is the same subprime credit challenge facing large financial institutions and the US economy as a whole. Initially, high interest rates attracted individuals willing to lend to subprime borrowers to the Prosper platform, but many of them have experienced high default rates and withdrawn their capital or curtailed their lending strategies.

Below is Prosper's ROI by credit tier, comparing the annual return for the year ending September 30, 2007 with the year ending August 31, 2007. Negative returns can be expected for credit tiers D, E and HR (high risk), while even the C tier has now slipped to a zero ROI. Prosper continues to be exclusively appropriate for investing in high credit quality, tiers AA, A and B, where the 6-9% ROI is still attractive relative to other investments, however perhaps becoming more risky.

Source: Prosper performance data.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Unregulated stock exchanges in Second Life

A variety of unregulated economic activity has been occurring in the virtual world Second Life. In-world banks sprang up a few years ago and have experienced considerable volatility, mostly closing and reorganizing, for example the high profile collapse of Brazil-based Ginko Financial in September 2007. Some banks have extended their activities into in-world securities. Though eventually repealed in real life, Glass-Steagall provisions could be helpful in preventing conflicts in developing virtual world economies.

There are at least three stock exchanges currently operating in Second Life, the SL Capital Exchange (physically based in Syracuse NY, USA) with 20 listed companies, the World Stock Exchange (physically based in Australia) with 15 listed companies and the recently launched Ancapex (physically based in New Hampshire, USA) with three listed companies. There is even a Second Life Exchange Commission to provide standards of performance, operations and ethics for in-world market participants.

Listed companies have not provided detailed financial statements (much less third-party audited financial statements), have not indicated a dividend policy and do not have RL (real life) professional CFO/CPA personnel. A prospectus is sometimes provided (example) and the RL's CEO name and location may be optionally provided.

Nonexempt issuance
Considering offering and purchasing activity in the U.S., the stocks do not appear to qualify for any U.S. securities registration exemptions. The only nod to RL securities laws is a disclosure at SL Capex, claiming that the securities are a fictitious simulation, however given the easy conversion of Linden$ to USD and legal precedent in this situation, it is likely that the Second Life activity would be deemed securities issuance.

Are the SEC in the U.S. and other corresponding national securities regulators likely to take an interest or is the issuance too small, the venue too novel and the cross border challenges too great? If there is enough $ value of harm incurred by investors, an investor could file a complaint. But to whom? To securities authorities in their country, to Linden Lab, to the securities regulator of the exchange or listed company, to the Second Life Business Bureau or other in-world adjudication bodies?

While creating virtual world analogs to those in the physical world is to some degree laudable, the attempts might be ultimately more successful by incorporating a greater balance of physical world regulation and protection mechanisms to build a sustainable ecosystem.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Future frameworks

When thinking about the future, it is important to consider how technology may change and also how social, political, legal, regulatory and economic regimes may evolve or at least not be static in future periods. For example,

Analysis of the future of security, warfare, freedom, surveillance and privacy generally occurs under the biased assumption that today’s security regime will persist. The current paradigm is that existing controls, rules, regulations and laws are generally accepted, but will always have loopholes, hacks and breaches. In fact, security in the future may include scenarios of both weaker and stronger control regimes.

The current and recent historical economic regime also may not be the only possible future. The current model is some form of capitalism, that resource allocation is uneven per initial standing and ability level; those who start with more resources most often end with more too. If market forces become thousands of times more powerful than today's monopolies, what incentives will be appropriate to employ to create market persistence and effective resource allocation? What about a resource that is essentially free but very powerful (say upload processing power). The future may have a variety of capitalist and socialist market mechanisms.

Marriage is already an outdated religious and political tool which will likely see further scrutiny and reform in the future with immortality and the antiquation of traditional human reproduction. The heterosexual monogamous pair-bond is likely to be enhanced with a variety of other alternatives including multi-person families, polyamory and at minimum short-term customized social contracts. The households of the future are likely to be diverse collections of social groupings

In the future, all manner of current and historical social, political, economic, regulatory, legal, etc. regimes should be considered as continua of greater or lesser rigidity which are likely to be co-existing simultaneously.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Second Life reaches 10 million residents

Exemplifying the electric growth of Web 2.0 companies, the virtual world Second Life has grown from under 1 million residents to over 10 million in a little over one year.

While 10 million residents is perhaps not the best measurement metric for the world’s success (users may have multiple resident accounts and not more than 10% of them so far do anything more than have one quick look around), it is still an important milestone.

Other Second Life indicators reflect vigorous health, for example, a robust economy exceeding $1 million USD per day and a routine concurrency (the number of residents in-world at any time) of 30,000-40,000 with a new peak concurrency of 50,000 reached for the first time in early September 2007. Other statistics are available here.

The virtual world space is itself burgeoning, with 10-20+ worlds now available or about to launch targeted at different age segments (pre-teen, teen and adult). Second Life, There, ActiveWorlds, Multiverse and Kaneva are the best known, several of whom are coming together to develop standards for avatar, object and economic transfer between worlds.

Another growth indicator is the industry gatherings, the second meeting of the Virtual Worlds conference, Oct 10-11 in San Jose CA, attracted over 1,000 attendees, nearly doubling from the first conference. The third annual volunteer-run Second Life Community Convention, Aug 24-26 in Chicago IL, also attracted a crowd of about 1000.

Diverse Participants and Applications
Perhaps most exciting is the broad audience and variety of applications that virtual worlds are attracting; entertainment, enterprise, education, non-profits, governments and individuals are all exploring the medium amidst a flurry of both positive and negative press. Groups of every sort are coming to virtual worlds to collaborate in richer ways than have been possible previously. For example, below is a sim featuring LAX airport traffic data visualization.

Source: Daden Prime

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Some innovative solutions are needed with increasing medical system pressures from aging populations coupled with an elucidated understanding of the medical process, that medical mistakes occur about a third of the time, mainly due to cognitive error.

What about a Web 2.0 company, for example, where patients, having obtained electronic copies of their medical imaging data (X-rays, MRIs, etc.) post the information to the Internet community, appealing to the collective intelligence to seek whatever experienced or inexperienced opinions can be obtained, Wikinomics-style. The community members interpreting the data would probably be in four groups, doctors and medical students, information experts interested in applying their pattern-matching models to novel data sets, other patients with similar conditions and those without any medical expertise.

The patients or site users would post their data anonymously via web handle, entering information that could include current prescriptions, full histories and eventually DNA scans. could become the primary repository of personal electronic medical records, a universal human health database; patients could give new doctors their handle to review and add to their history.

This opt-in patient-driven rather than physician, insurance or medical-system driven mechanism promotes progress toward effective solutions while sidestepping onerous HIPAA and legal, ethical and privacy issues. Those that feel uncomfortable need not participate. A successful example of opt-in handle-anonymized personal data posting exists at Prosper, where 440,000 loan-seekers have agreed to have their credit histories posted publicly.

Another positioning of the concept is the serious video game,, where players (medical students and the general public) could go through a learning module and then be rewarded for correct diagnoses. The most accurate and top reputationed Xray interpreters might not be medically trained professionals, or perhaps even human.

The quality of the interpreted results would be interesting to see, the assumption is that many eyes, other skilled professionals and the wisdom of crowds might spot something important or bring a consistency of interpretation. Of course and would not immediately replace traditional medicine but supplement it as a second opinion resource and mechanism for patient education.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Prime investing with Prosper

Leading P2P lender Prosper has executed an impressive $90 million in loans through its marketplace but continues to remain appropriate only for those wishing to invest in high prime credit quality consumer debt.

10% of the roughly 2,500 loans listed on the site at any time are in the high prime tier (credit ratings AA, A and B), in fact, most of the listed loans do not fund. About a third of the loans that fund and become active and billed are in the high prime credit tier.

The graph below shows an ROI comparison of Prosper's total loan portfolio by credit rating in two time snapshots, August 30, 2005 - August 30, 3006 in blue and August 30, 2006 - August 30, 3007 in yellow. In the last year, AA, A and B loans funded at 11-15% and have an ROI of 6.5-9.5% once adjusted for default.

Source: Prosper performance data. Note: the default view which specifies 0 delinquencies and 0-2 credit checks in the last 6 months should be removed to view the total loan portfolio.

Acceptable Returns?
Is 6.5-9.5% an appropriate return? It depends on a full consideration of the risk and return profile of the investment. Theoretically, high prime consumer credit loans are low risk; the historical default rate for Prosper loans has been 2% for AA and A loans and 4% for B loans. As compared with the stock market, which has on average for the last 80 years delivered a pre-tax return of 8% with a higher level of risk, Prosper loans look more attractive. 6.5-9.5% also provides a healthy risk premium over risk-free t-bills or money market funds and CDs which are currently yielding about 4.5%.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Many human characteristics are normally distributed including height, weight, intelligence, nose size, irritability, friendliness, compassion and hormone levels.

If people could choose…
If individuals were given the ability to choose the settings of their personal characteristics and analytes by using an analog of the Edit Preferences menu slider, either on a one-time or ongoing basis, what would they be likely to do? Would most people opt to stay the same, move closer to the median or experiment by selecting an outlier position?

The drive to normalize, people choose brown…

Despite the current demonizing and illegality of human enhancement in athletics, the practice is widespread. In other venues, there are also observable examples of the embracement of mindmodding and Stephen Jay Gould seems to be wrong again, this time in the claim that the median is not the message. Where selection possibilities exist, so far individuals have been reaching for the deep herd in the middle of the bell curve, often acquiescing unthinkingly to corporate marketing.

1. Hormone replacement therapy
Prescriptions continue to increase for both estrogen replacement therapy and testosterone replacement therapy despite medical studies indicating increased heart disease and other risks for women and no realized physical benefit of testosterone therapies for men. As they have for eons, people will pay for and take health risks to “enhance” their physical state to some perceived ideal, even when contradictory medical evidence exists.

It seems likely that more hormone management therapies with improved risk and efficacy profiles will be offered over time. One example is those of Dr. Louann Brizendine’s Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic at UCSF which are focused on ongoing state management for all ages. Hormone management such as continually suppressed menstruation can be useful in normalizing personal levels during the course of the day, week or month, diminishing rather than enhancing the effects of hormones.

Distinctly different flavors of anti-aging can be envisioned: the disastrous scenario of senescent male heads of state running around with the testosterone levels of 20 year olds hastening existential risk for all of humanity contrasted against the beneficent scenario of Aubrey de Grey’s mitochondrial DNA mutation restoration, Alzheimer’s plaque remediation biotechnology and other SENS approaches.

2. Virtual Worlds
Another example of what people actually do when given the opportunity to modify physical characteristics is visible in the thousands of avatars residing in the virtual world Second Life. All aspects of avatar representation can be modified, however, a huge cluster of brown (e.g.; average) can be seen in the age, height and muscle tone of avatars, with a much smaller cluster for furries and a few longtail outliers for unique appearance.

Should people be allowed to choose…
As long as personal characteristic modification is not injurious of the self or others, it would be difficult to conclude other than that it is an acceptable personal freedom. The only tempering aspect seems to be the usual income dispersion argument as only higher income tiers can initially afford these therapies as they are not covered by insurance. The world of the future will probably be like virtual worlds, with setting modification built into or adjunct to physical corporeality.

Is there any role for regulation?
What if someone wanted to play with a very high aggression setting? People can actually do this now except that cultural and societal norms prevent more divergent behavior. In fact, the ability to manage chemical and personality settings would vastly improve communicating with others and being productive in a group setting for some people. What about experimenting with and getting stuck in a lethal cocktail of depression, low esteem and remorse? Default resets would probably kick in before real harm could occur and these types of experiments could be interesting virtual reality experiences for individuals and a useful neurological tool for researchers.

Cure vs. enhancement and the evolving health system
A fundamental change is occurring as the role of the medical industry and medical professional is shifting from curing health impairments to providing enhancements. As enhancement therapies proliferate, there is a clear opportunity for new fields of enhancement counseling, customizing and habituation training to develop.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Would you still feel like yourself if you modified your body or tried on a different body? Would you have the same sexual appetites and desires? Would it feel the same to be with your partner sexually if you were in a different body? If he/she were in a different body? If you were both in different bodies?

Selecting different bodies would separate the physical and mental aspects of sex. Pheromonal and other elemental physical chemistry might be surprisingly different in different bodies (as Richard Morgan explores in Altered Carbon). There is probably a wide dispersion in people's preferred mix of physical and mental sexual characteristics.

Consider for example senescent seniors trying on teenage bodies for a sexual romp. Should it be illegal to have sex with a body aged below the age of consent if it is inhabited by an adult?

The range of sexual issues that are challenging to discuss in relationships now could explode. Current issues regarding virtual world sex are just a warm-up, for example, is it cheating to have virtual sex with an avatar inhabited by someone other than your partner?

My partner wants to be someone else
How should I feel if my lover wants to experience being in a different body? What if I don't want to have sex with the person he/she wants to try being?

My partner wants me to be someone else
How should I feel if my lover wants me to be in a different body? Is self-agency diminished in inhabiting a body picked by my partner or is it just a more extreme form of doing what I know my partner enjoys? Would I or should I feel rejection pangs if my lover wants me to wear the Angelina Jolie body or would it be fun? Then of course the respite to the novelty could be the really wild - lets just wear ourselves tonight...

Its all about partner is a sexual substrate
Would sex disappear as a special interaction amongst partners in favor of a way to explore individual desires? How could I be desiring my partner if I want him/her to wear someone else's body? Do I still desire my partner or is he/she just a sexual substrate if I can have sex with him/her as Brad Pitt one night, as Angelina Jolie the next, etc.? Does it matter if we are both wearing each others fantasy bodies? How could turning current fantasies into reality be achieved in a healthy way that doesn't hurt feelings but rather opens up new doors to fun and exploration?

We generally don't expect our partners to mind if we engage in other means of entertainment and relaxation with others, could an evolved understanding of sex be as casual? As possibilities increase, the possessiveness of sex probably diminishes.

Does it depend on whose body?
Is it different if it is another real person's body (the Brad Pitt) vs. a fictional body (the anonymous Pleasure Bob model)? In an advanced society, there should be no difference in the connotation of a partner's desire for the Brad Pitt body, the anonymous pleasure model, the Next Door Neighbor or the Guy from Work that you met at Happy Hour.

What would the world be like if we could all have sex with our neighbors, co-workers, celebrities and politicians via a filter worn by our partners? Ironically this could strengthen monogamous or polyamorous bonds and allow relationships to revolve around non-sexual aspects.

It could be that the Brad Pitt model is actually not that well-endowed, and would need to be modified mid-stream, or switched to the Johnny Depp or the Marilyn Monroe model, or become a rotating kaleidoscope of morphing physicality.

How should I feel if my lover wants two copies of me simultaneously? This is actually a new concept of having sex with yourself. Would I want a threesome or foursome with multiple copies of my lover? How would I expect my lover to feel if I wanted to experience a multiple-some with copies of him/her?

Presumably sexual options will eventually extend at minimum to wearing a neuro-experience filter mapping real or imagined partner behavior to personalized sensors and magnitudes, experiencing your partner wearing someone else or having sex with humanoid robots.

If different bodies can be tried on, sex is but one area for discovery, ethics and imagination.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Virtual currency and the attention economy

Market mechanisms are being increasingly introduced for more efficient exchange of capital and other resources (example: P2P lending marketplaces), for knowledge or opinion sharing, reputation building and preference indicating (example: prediction markets) and for now value attribution and broadcast in their latest launch, the enterprise email venue.

Seriosity, the Palo Alto CA-based serious gaming startup, initially reported to be focusing on enterprise applications in a World of Warcraft-like setting has now launched a virtual currency for the attention economy. The attention economy refers to the modern problem of information overload competing for a person's scarce attention. So far, the serios can only be used with Microsoft Outlook email, the sender applying a number of serios from their finite supply to indicate importance to the recipient and/or to vote on ideas, projects, etc.

The Serio Economy in Practice
The purpose of the serio economy is two-fold, directly indicating value and preference and also allowing meta relationships amongst participants to be seen. However, the importance of email is already generally known, by the sender or by the sender indicating urgency. Having serios attached to email may actually exacerbate the attention economy problem by encouraging people to read and evaluate emails they traditionally ignored. An interesting use case for serios would be charging for emails sent, thus perhaps limiting the number of people cc'd on email.

Regarding visibility into meta-relationships, Seriosity has an early study showing that serio economy relationship webs are different from those elucidated in traditional social networking email studies but it is not clear what new information or value this provides. Unlike prediction markets which have been shown to contribute important new information when appropriately executed, such as with anonymity, the serio economy is not anonymous and so is likely to do little more than codify the existing importance hierarchy and visible power relationships. If observed, people are likely to vote more serios in support of a supervisor's idea or for anyone else with whom a game theory relationship exists.

Since Seriosity is the central bank of the serio economy, issuing serios to market participants, some interesting future situations could arise if serios are transferable between organizations. For example, an individual could finally hedge their job, their long human capital exposure by taking an opposing position in the serios of a competitor or industry basket, similar to the way regional interest rate futures now allow individuals to hedge their long exposure in home-ownership real estate. SEC-attention attracting situations could also arise as individuals take arbitrage positions based on inside information.

There are a myriad of other interesting uses for virtual currencies, for example...

1) Work assignment facilitated by micro-economies
Virtual currencies could help workgroup micro-economies to develop, where arbitrary work assignment would be replaced by an economy. Managers could post projects to the micro-economy with assigned serio loads indicating project importance, drudgery acknowledgment, timeframes and requirements. Individuals and teams could signal available time, skills and interests and bid for tasks. The market mechanism could also reorganize schedules dynamically as priorities shift. Not only would a micro-economy more effectively clear supply and demand for work assignments but would also provide the side benefit of transparency, offering visibility into the direction and progress of the workgroup, sub-teams and individuals.

2) More effective shared resource allocation
Individuals and workgroups could use virtual currency allocations to more effectively allocate scarce resources such as conference rooms, office seating, computers and other supplies, food and drink preferences, vacation scheduling, etc. in a bidding process. Interesting workgroup cultural attributes could emerge from allocation behavior such as the engineering team putting all of their currency towards new computer resources while the marketing team puts more emphasis on conference rooms.

3) Information modulated with value
Just as there should be a rating system for all Internet content, a digg or "Was this helpful?" functionality for all news articles, blog posts, reviews and comments, either as a binary yes/no or as a quantitative rating, so there should be a rating system for an organization's internal and customer support forums. Readers could evaluate posts and postings could then be sorted by value, providing a means of distinguishing the usefulness of information and navigating the ever-growing sea of content that includes forum posts, blog comments, etc. Information modulation would be a higher order step in resolving the attention economy challenge.

4) Preference indication on organizational policies
Having a vote on organizational issues would be an important step in increasing individual inclusion and agency. Virtual currency (anonymously voted or not per the user) on the intranet would be an efficient way to discover majority preferences on issues ranging from preferred holidays, vacation policy, travel policies, preferred health care plans, 401k plans, degree of organization-wide executive communications and supply ordering to more sensitive situations such as lay-offs and salary decreases.

Monday, August 27, 2007

AIs let humans live over math problem

There is a possible future scenario where AIs let humans live due to math. AIs, especially if derived from human intelligence and economic models might covet what they do not have and cannot make. Some examples of scarce or unobtainable resources would be art, fallibility and imperfection, all generated by humans; anything non-mathematically random and to which a curve could not be fitted or any other math applied. AIs might thereby keep humans alive through this quirk, not because they are benevolent or enjoy art or human imperfection as art but rather because humans constitute a vexing math problem. It is unclear what might happen after equations have been developed to explain human behavior...

What are some other possible unintended consequences with AI?

Though easily remedied, there could be some embarrassing AI birth defects such as an AI compiled without write capability. Or a case of co-processisng dependency and anachronistic behavior when the remnants of human sexual jealousy have been inadvertently mapped onto an AI. Why AI-beta2 are you spending so much time processing on AI-delata3’s kernel?

A more serious possibility could be a normal situation of forking copies of a mindfile for research, simulation or other activities gone awry when one forked copy evolves malignantly from the original such that it no longer agrees to re-merge and has an independent survival drive, the natural extreme of which would be plotting to remove all instances of the original.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Second Life Meta-Me

The experience of identity is often heavily influenced by physicality (race, gender, height, nose size, etc.). Virtual worlds such as Second Life offer freedom from physicality via unlimited self re-presentation opportunities.

So far, merely the surface of human creativity has been scratched as the majority of avatars are tall, fit, young and attractive which underlines both physical world inferiority sentiments and an unproductive focus on superficial aesthetics.

Virtual worlds could be used to visually represent another more abstract layer beyond physical appearance, the more important and meaningful parts of individuals such as values, actions, ideas and creativity. This could be facilitated by bringing existing Internet-based information into virtual worlds. Visual representations could be executed with shapes, size, coloring, accentuations, vibrations, etc., for example, the bigger the glow around the avatar, the higher the social capital. People might even want to represent themselves in the physical world based on some of these ideas.

Reality filters
Not only could there be a deeper granularity of self-representation but also filters for viewing others. Filters could be based on preference, literally blocking those with unattractive value systems, efficiency, seeing only those other avatars who also wanted to interact regarding certain topics like education, business, sex, singularity, science, etc., or other attributes.

Below are some suggestions for new ways of avatorial representation:

1. Profile-based avatars
Avatars are a visual expression of their profile tags, for example an extropian transhumanist singularitarian might look different from a vegan sustainable development social worker from a politically conservative attorney, but maybe not. Interest indicators could be amalgamated or cycled through in kaleidoscope fashion. The assumption is that social interaction could be enhanced with overt interest-signaling.

2. Reputation-based avatars
Avatars are an expression of how others see them, a visual representation of how they have been rated by others, in-world or as a consolidation of Internet reputation mechanisms such as eBay, Amazon, LinkedIn, Yelp, etc.

3. Idea-based avatars
Avatars are visual representations of the degree and quality of the person's ideas. This may not be able to be rendered until the underlying information is more explicitly captured, either self-evaluated or as another level of reputation. Amazon asks "Was this review helpful?" and a creativity evaluator could inquire "Were innovative and good ideas described here?"

4. Value system-based avatars
Avatars are a visual representation of a person's values. Value systems can be elicited in a variety of ways including as specified directly in a profile, determined from a set of questions, deducted from a log of Internet-based activities or abstracted from physical world activities such as purchasing, recycling, volunteering, exercising, etc. A means of obejective data collection would be important, barcodes/rfid would work in the case of purchases. Would this be tyranny or freedom? Certainly it would be optional and some people would choose to increase their social capital by broadcasting high-congruity lifestyles.

5. Presence-based avatars
RSS presence feeds are streamed into Second Life and aggregated into a visual representation of facebook, jaiku, pownce, twitter, wakoopa, blogging, emailing, texting, social music listening (pandora,, etc.) and other lifecasting activities. How close a representation of self would people perceive this to be? The essence of individuality is increasingly available on the Internet.

6. Real life Sims Online avatars
Extending the Sims Online game, in-world avatars could follow the same percentages of time spent on activities that humans do in the physical world, working, exercising, relaxing, socializing, eating, sleeping, etc. An invaluable tool for extrospection, the sim could be sped up to show the natural end states of one's current activities, and altered to see different outcomes (e.g.; a 1% increase in exercise leads to greater longevity).

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Improving science innovation

To experience most significant scientific advances, humans are dependent on the clunky unreengineered process of science innovation and deployment. Potential improvements to the innovation phase are discussed below.

In the absence of clear feedback loops aligning research investigations with implemented results, scientists can languish in isolated labs for years and the majority do not seem to care whether their findings are useful to or implemented by others. For type A scientists, the in-place incentive system is academic publishing and acknowledgment. Publishing is a codependent phenomenon with scientific publications increasingly exerting influence over the direction of research to generate more interesting reading.

Suggested Improvements

1. Open human knowledge databases
Without yet destabilizing the publishing juggernaut, some progress could be made in releasing already published and unpublishable findings into open databases of human knowledge. There are some early examples of these resources in Physics with ArXiv, the NIH's PubMed and the Earth System Grid for climate research, however there is an opportunity for a new layer of applications to make the information much more accessible to different levels of audiences.

The next three suggestions have to do with creating accountability and a better feedback loop between scientific findings and the use of that information.

2. Quantitative values attached to findings
A system of quantitative values could be applied to research so that findings and scientists could be measured and compared. Supervisors, peers and industry colleagues could rank findings based on a variety of parameters. Unpublishable and null findings would also be incorporated into the valuation program.

3. Annual performance reviews for scientists
The rigor of quarterly goal setting and review, 360 degree feedback and other performance evaluation metrics implemented decades ago in the business environment should also be de rigueur in the scientific community. Performance metrics would be a good start, incorporating what are now standard corporate principles of leadership, communication and management science to reduce subjectivity and otherwise improve scientific working environments would also be helpful.

4. Broader scientific mindset
The most successful scientists have been those who have perceived their roles as not the mere discovers and handers-off of the Truth but also as being responsible for rendering their findings implementable by others. Emphasizing full realization of pursuits and results from a more service-driven than ego-driven mindset could also produce better results more quickly.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Alt approaches to AGI

50+ year old attempts at creating AGI have not been successful. It is possible that AGI cannot be generated from current methods and technologies; the wrong tool is being used, sort of like trying to build a 747 with a toothbrush. Electromagnetism, silicon and Von Neumann architectures may not ever have the capacity to achieve AGI even allowing for continued increases in processing, storage and memory and architectural shifts such as parallelism.

Other substrates might work
Getting around the rigidity of Von Neumann, mathematical, logic-based, computational approaches, symbolic approaches and traditional computers, other computational substrates like quantum computing, DNA computing, etc. might work and also those that humans have not yet invented, discovered or exploited for this purpose like light, air, memes and information. There must be other substrates, and other viable approaches that are not constrained by mathematics and logic.

Information as a substrate
Narrowly, the only existing example of general intelligence is the human brain and the basic requirements of AGI are self-replication and self-improvement. Considering self-replication, there are many examples of more effective self-replication than humans, for example, memes, disease and microbes. Considering self-improvement, memes also self-improve more effectively than humans as they are refined through repetition, and have the unbounded ceiling for improvement of true AGI.

Taking advantage of the self-reproducing and self-improving properties and using memes and information as a novel computing substrate might be one way of extending AGI progress.

Information as a substrate could be developed symbiotically with a very broadly applicable new understanding of the laws of physics based on information and entropy as opposed to mass and energy.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Machine creativity

What are the relevant differences between humans and the machines of the future?

The general claim is that the uniqueness of humans is creativity, imagination and fallibility.

Creativity is rationality
Examining and demystifying the concept of creativity suggests that machines can be every bit as creative as humans. Creativity is merely a new idea or approach, a novel solution to a problem, a fresh representation; a process, a personality attribute, a mindset, an approach to life.

Alternative intelligences/machines can use brute force to rationally crunch through the set of all possible answers to a problem and suggest which are best. Much human creativity comes from "out-of-the-box" thinking which is largely applying knowledge, structure or skills from another domain, and also making mistakes (penicillin, 3M's post-its, Nike's waffle soles, painter Apelles' foam depiction, etc.). Machines can easily do all of this and more, testing a wide range of "out-of-the-box" domains and applying inverse or orthogonal analysis to incorporate human creativity by trial and error.

It is not clear that humans have any positive aspect that cannot be replicated or superseded by an alternative intelligence/machine. Therefore, nothing appears to be lost in the potential extinguishment of the human form as intelligence evolves to non-biological substrates.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Reducing US greenhouse emissions

The Kyoto Protocol, the developed world's effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to their 1990 levels, has largely failed. Only the UK and Germany have managed to reduce their emissions, in part due to the implementation of market mechanisms via a cap-and-trade system.

The US has increased emissions 16% since 1990 and China and India, while not precisely covered by the Kyoto Protocol, have been increasing emissions and are together with the US the biggest three polluters. The International Energy Agency predicts that China will surpass the US as the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter in 2009.

What is the lowest handing fruit in the US for reducing emissions?
Petroleum is responsible for the majority of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Of the four energy-using sectors; transportation, industrial, commercial and residential, transportation contributes a disproportionately large share of the US's carbon dioxide emissions. The chart below from the US Department of Energy shows expected emissions by sector and fuel type.

Industrial and Commercial Sectors not appropriate to address
According to Stanford energy economist and policy advisor, James Sweeney, the industrial sector has a complex energy usage mix and is not the best area to address first. Commercial energy use, with an emphasis on fluorescent lighting, is also not an obvious area for initial pursuit since the sector is one of the most efficient.

Transportation restructuring - the biggest impact
The single biggest impact on reducing US carbon dioxide emissions would be a redesign of motor vehicles, in particular, incorporating more stringent fuel efficiency requirements and redefining “truck” to not apply to passenger vehicles such as PT Cruisers, SUVs, etc.

Residential sector - additional gains
In the residential segment, a substantial improvement in energy efficiency can be gained by switching from incandescent bulb lighting to compact fluorescent bulb lighting. It appears likely that California and other forward-thinking states will pass compact fluorescent lighting legislation and that more efficient mercury-free bulbs will be introduced in the next few years.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

End of religion

The positive aspect of religion seems to encompass three things: 1. Offering an explanation for the unknown, the as yet scientifically unproven, 2. (most impactfully) Providing comfort in uncomfortable matters such as death, one's own and the deaths of others and in other unpleasantries; war, pestilence, disease, misfortune, etc. and 3. Providing a moral code of behavioral conduct.

It is easy to see many ways in which religion could become evolutionarily outcompeted, eventually disappearing. First, as science's accelerating advances continue, the unexplained territory shrinks to asymptotically small proportions. Second, if death becomes obsolescent through life extension, there is no longer a need to postulate anything that might occur after death and no need to comfort the non-dying. Third, there are many appropriate moral behavioral norms, particularly those which do not involve religious models or the introduction of artificiality (for example, sinning exonerated by confessing).

It will become increasing difficult for religion to persist in the face of radical life extension and eventual immortality. Everyone is their own Jesus in this new empowered age of agency. Implicit shifts away from religion are codified in the recent publication of books bringing scrutiny and analysis to religion: "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, "The End of Faith" by Sam Harris, "God is not Great" by Christopher Hitchens, "Breaking the Spell" by Daniel Dennett and others.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Cryonics and the art of the long view

How surprising it is that those with a long view in thinking and behavior are not those with traditional religious beliefs but include sponsors and supporters of the Long Now Foundation and cryonicists. The Long Now Foundation has trans-millennial views on the order of 10,000 years, roughly the forward counterbalance to the history to date of human civilization. Cryonicists, in general, have a practical stance, simultaneously acknowledging the unproven nature of reanimation and assessing and focusing on contributing to the key challenges of the next 200-400 years, as opposed to the 20-50 year (or less) timeframe that appears to be implicit in current individual and political thinking.

Erstwhile cryonicists will do well to remain practically absorbed. It is easy to imagine a long-distanced future visit to the Met, where alongside the Egyptian tombs and mummies, dewars have been emptied to display frozen heads, bodies and pets. Excited expedition excavators from the three key sites, Alcor/Arizona, Cryonics Institute/Michigan and Suspended Animation/Florida pose next to their digs.

Stored possessions and artifacts of the time are neatly arranged in an exhibit with terse placards. "Little is known about the belief systems of these peoples. Middle-era Americans carried many nonmalleable gadgets though it is not clear how useful they were to daily life. It was not atypical for one person to carry cell phones, MP3 players, laptops, power cords, PDAs, cameras, recording devices, cords, batteries and recharging units at all times. [Portable lightweight inexhaustible energy source] was not yet available and devices were not yet appropriately nano-miniaturized and physically embedded."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Massive info processing needed

Step function improvements in information processing and communications capabilities are needed now and in the future.

Massive amounts of data are becoming increasingly available and currently humanity only has narrowband access to these biomedical, genetic, astronomical, particle accelerator and other data sets.

Large and diverse data sets requiring storage, processing and upload/download will only continue to proliferate. For example, as the web goes 3-D, rapid video, audio and data download and upload are needed, as objects become IP tagged, sensor and RFID networks require instantaneous data collection and summarization.

Scientific philosophers such as Anders Sandberg correctly point to information processing capability as the main limit on any society's growth and development. To attain a new level and not just asymptote out on the current plateau, a re-envisioning of information processing is necessary.

As with energy, some alternatives are being explored at the fringes but there is no real replacement methodology on the horizon. Also as with energy, there may be a dearth of real progress until the present means is more substantially threatened, however this point is coming very soon in information processing as compared with energy.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Radical Life Extension and Population Growth

The world population just passed 6.6 billion in mid-June and is estimated to reach 7 billion in 2012.

The Conventional Thinking

The conventional thinking is that the world population will continue to grow to a peak of about 9 billion in 2050 before starting to decline. The chart below shows the number of years it took for each billion to be added to the population.

Another Approach
In reality, many factors could change how population growth will actually occur. The basic inputs to population growth estimates are fertility rates and mortality rates.

Fertility rates have dramatically dropped since 1960 (push play at this Gapminder link to watch the global decline in fertility rates and increase in longevity 1960-2005). The accelerating informationalization of the developing world and increasing literacy and participation by women in the economy could trigger even greater drops in fertility rates than have been included in the UN and other projections.

Mortality rates could see even more change than fertility rates. Disease treatment and prevention, personal genomics and radical life extension technologies could all trigger hugely discontinuous increases in longevity.

What would the world be like with huge populations of baby boomers and others living healthily into their 100s, 120s, and beyond? Six-seven generation families could be alive simultaneously.

At some point in the next few or several years, longevity will likely start to edge up in fast spurts and plateaus until immortality is ultimately achieved, probably synergistically with digital options such as uploading mindfiles (for backup at minimum!) and downloading into any variety of human and other corporeal forms (Hack your Body!).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Wikinomics Ideagoras

There are many great perspective-shifting points in Wikinomics, a 2006 book by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams.

One of the most interesting ideas is how organizations (companies, teams, groups, institutions, etc.) are opening beyond their traditional boundaries to solicit external contributions to their problems and challenges. Consumer products behemoth Proctor & Gamble, for example, currently sources 35% of new product and service ideas externally from participative global R&D communities such as InnoCentive where scientists solve R&D problems for cash rewards.

Wikinomics refers to online ideas marketplaces like InnoCentive as ideagoras. Other examples of global ideas, R&D and project communities in life sciences and technology include NineSigma, InnovationXchange Network, Eureka Medical, YourEncore, Innovation Relay Centres and TopCoder.

Ideagoras give a huge boost to efficiency in at least two primary ways:

1) Multidisciplinary approaches accelerate advance of human progress
Ideagoras expose challenges to participants from both within the field and across many other fields allowing infinite creativity to be applied. In the gold mining example in Wikinomics, a plethora of diverse solutions using applied math, advanced physics, intelligent systems, computer graphics, organic solutions to inorganic problems, etc. were received, 50% of which were completely new ideas and over 80% of which were useful.

Ideagoras allow a wildly diverse and large group of participants to apply their special tools and approaches to problems. In this saturation of approaches, a fuller solution set of possible answers is quickly obtained and the pace of the Earth's meme encephalization, the increasing interconnectedness of human minds extending and implementing knowledge and information, is quickened.

2) More effective use of human capital - mindset of abundance
Ideagoras allow human capital to be more effectively utilized both inside and outside the organization. Internally, just as companies may be using only 10% of their patented IP, they are most assuredly also underutilizing their staff in terms of project fit vs. skills and interests. Instead of being assigned to projects, staff members could self-select projects of value and interest by participating in remunerative ideagoras or open-source practice communities as in the software example.

The new abundance of external human capital resources promotes the corporate mentality that a land grab to get the best people on staff is no longer required, just the need to provide the best project incentives. An entity's workforce can extend way beyond any salaried employees, to those employed elsewhere and others. Ideagoras provide a tremendous opportunity for retired or underemployed participants, such as women, to find activities where they can make a useful contribution.