9.12.09

ExtroBritannia: The Way Ahead

Venue: Room 538, Birkbeck College.
Date: Saturday 19th December.
Time: 1pm-3pm.

PLEASE NOTE EARLIER START THAN FOR USUAL MEETINGS.

Topic: Group discussion on Extrobritannia activities, 2009-2010.

Attendees: The meeting is open to anyone interested in supporting Extrobritannia activities.

Proposed agenda:

1.) Results of online survey. Discussion of points arising.

2.) Input to SWOT for Extrobritannia (list of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)

3.) Proposal re membership scheme and group finances

4.) Plans for "Humanity+, UK 2010"

5.) Relations with other H+ organisations (world, EU...)

6.) Any proposals or reports on specific projects or activities (ideally circulated, or at least mentioned, in advance)

7.) (Optional) Retire to the nearby Marlborough Arms pub for refreshment and informal discussion.

2.11.09

Successes and challenges en route to unlimited human lifespans. Q&A on the Immortality Institute, led by Shannon Vyff

2pm-4pm, Saturday 28th November

Lecture Room B20, basement level, Birkbeck College, Torrington Square, London, WC1E 7HX

Shannon Vyff, chair of the The Immortality Institute, will answer audience questions on topics including:

*) The creation and the operation of the Immortality Institute:
Home: http://imminst.org/
FAQ: http://www.imminst.org/faq
Forums: http://www.imminst.org/forum/forums.html

*) The book "The scientific conquest of death"

*) The case for cryonics

*) Becoming a Methuselah Foundation 300 Member

*) Calorie restriction: Case for; Quick Overview of how to do it

*) Introducing people of all ages (including children) to transhumanist topics

** About the speaker:

Shannon Vyff is chair of the Immortality Institute, a Life Boat Foundation Advisor, an Alcor Area Readiness Team Coordinator, a Venturist Director, an author of "The Scientific Conquest of Death", author of the children's transhumanist adventure book "21st Century Kids", and mother of three young children.

Many thanks to Shannon for providing links to some suggested (optional, but useful) pre-meeting reading material.

** There's no charge to attend, and everyone is welcome. There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions and to make comments.

Discussion will continue after the event, in a nearby pub, for those who are able to stay.

** Why not join some of the Extrobritannia regulars for a drink and/or light lunch beforehand, any time after 12.30pm, in The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ. To find us, look out for a table where there's a copy of the book "The scientific conquest of death" displayed.

** About the venue:

Lecture Room B20 is on the basement level in the main Birkbeck College building, in Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square). Torrington Square is about 10 minutes walk from either Russell Square or Goodge St tube stations.

13.10.09

Machine super intelligence

Dr Shane Legg leads a state-of-the-art review of models of how super intelligent machines might work.

2pm-4pm, Saturday 31st October

Room 416, 4th floor (via main lift), Birkbeck College, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7HX

About the talk:

What ever happened to the ambitious aims of artificial intelligence, specifically, its original goal of creating an "intelligent machine"? Are we any closer to this than we were 20 or 30 years ago? Indeed, have we made any progress on figuring out what intelligence is, let alone knowing how to build one? After all, if we had a clearer idea of where we want to get to, we might be able to come up with some better ideas on how to get there!

Clearly, artificial intelligence could do with a better theoretical foundation. This talk will outline work on creating such a foundation:

*) What is intelligence?
*) How can we formalise machine intelligence?
*) Solomonoff Induction: a universal prediction system.
*) AIXI: Hutter's universal artificial intelligence.
*) MC-AIXI: a computable approximation of AIXI.
*) Can the brain tell us anything useful for building an AI?
*) Is building a super intelligent machine a good idea?

About the speaker:

Dr Shane Legg is a post doctoral research associate at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, University College London. He received a PhD in 2008 from the Department of Informatics, University of Lugano, Switzerland. His PhD supervisor was Prof. Marcus Hutter, the originator of the AIXI model of optimal machine intelligence. Upon the completion of his PhD he won the $10,000 Canadian Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence Prize and was also awarded a post doctoral research grant by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Shane is a native of New Zealand. After training in mathematics he began a career as a software engineer, mostly for American companies specialising in artificial intelligence. In 2003 he returned to academia to complete a PhD. His research has been published in top academic journals (e.g. IEEE TEC), and featured in mainstream publications (e.g. New Scientist). All of Shane's publications, including his doctoral thesis "Machine super intelligence", are available on his website: vetta.org.

22.9.09

Leave a comment and help SENS

Want to give $5000 to Aubrey de Grey's SENS Foundation? All you have to do is click here and leave a comment. It costs you nothing and it takes a minute. As part of a competition organised by a company called 3 Banana, the charity that will get the most votes will get the prize. Right now SENS is a close second, so every vote counts! And if you run a blog or are active in online forums, please spread the news!

18.9.09

Singularity Summit 2009 - highlights and learnings.

Speakers include Aubrey de Grey and Anders Sandberg

Saturday, October 10, 2009: 2pm-4pm

Room 415, 4th floor (via main lift), Birkbeck College, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7HX

** About the meeting:

The 2009 Singularity Summit is taking place in New York on the 3rd-4th October.

That Summit is described as "a conference devoted to the better understanding of increasing intelligence and accelerating change... bringing together a visionary community to further dialogue and action on complex, long-term issues that are transforming the world. Participants will hear talks from cutting-edge researchers and network with strategic business leaders. The world's most eminent experts on forecasting, venture capital, emerging technologies, consciousness and life extension will present their unique perspectives on the future and how to get there."

One week later, several of the UK-based speakers and delegates from the Singularity Summit will be gathering in London, to review what they found to be the highlights from the New York meeting - breakthrough ideas, successes, failures, good surprises, bad surprises...

The panel of speakers in London will include:

*) Dr Aubrey de Grey, Chief Science Officer, the SENS Foundation for human regenerative engineering.

*) Dr Anders Sandberg, Research Fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University.

** There's no charge to attend, and everyone is welcome. There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions and to make comments.

Discussion will continue after the event, in a nearby pub, for those who are able to stay.

** Why not join some of the Extrobritannia regulars for a drink and/or light lunch beforehand, any time after 12.30pm, in The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ. To find us, look out for a table where there's a copy of the book "The Singularity is near" displayed.

** About the venue:

Room 415 is on the fourth floor (via the lift near reception) in the main Birkbeck College building, in Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square). Torrington Square is about 10 minutes walk from either Russell Square or Goodge St tube stations.

18.8.09

Quantum Computers and the creation of human-level artificial intelligence - Uploading Schrodinger's Cat?!

This talk will put forward a case that quantum computers might help those who wish to achieve the goal of whole-brain emulation and exotic neural networks, and will review how this may provide insight into the currently hotly-debated topic of the role played by quantum mechanics in the brain and consciousness.

2pm-4pm, Saturday 12th September.
Speaker: Dr Suzanne Gildert,
Research Fellow at University of Birmingham, UK

Room CL 101, Clore Management Centre, Birkbeck College,
Torrington Square, London WC1E 7HX

The talk in more detail

This talk will explain the fundamental concepts of the quantum computer (QC) and how these systems might be able to perform certain tasks that classical computers find incredibly difficult. The talk will also explain why QCs might be useful for some very interesting problems with applications to a wide variety of fields such as biology, microprocessor design, pharmaceuticals, economics, transport, chemistry and business. More importantly, the talk will also explain what they can't do! Quantum computers are sometimes wrongly portayed by the media as being replacements for desktop machines, whereas the reality is that they are more like fast co-processors.

There will be a review of some of the experimental challenges involved in building QCs, and a focus on a particularly promising version known as the Superconducting Flux-based Quantum Computer. The devices involved in this type of QC are defined using a process similar to semiconductor technology, but using Niobium and Aluminium rather than Silicon. There will be a brief overview of the physics which causes these devices to demonstrate 'Macroscopic Quantum Coherence'- an effect which allows us to scale up quantum effects to a size where we can manipulate them easily, and why the devices must be cooled to millikelvin temperatures for them to work properly.

Finally, the talk will look at several 'controversial' applications which may arise as Quantum Computing (and classical High Performance Computing) begins to cross into the field of neuroscience and neural networks.

About the speaker

Dr Suzanne Gildert is a Research Fellow and Experimental Physicist at the University of Birrmingham. She is currently working on the design and testing of novel superconducting devices (specifically Josephson Junctions) using non-conventional materials and processing techniques. Her physics webpage.

There is no charge to attend and everyone is welcome.

General discussion is likely to continue after the event, in a nearby pub, for those who are able to stay. Why not join some of the Extrobritannia regulars for a drink and/or light lunch beforehand, any time after 12.30pm, in The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ. To find us, look out for a table where there's a copy of the book displayed, "A Shortcut Through Time: The Path to the Quantum Computer".

About the venue:

Room CL 101 is on the first floor of the Clore Management Centre, which is on the opposite side of Torrington Square from the main Birkbeck College building. Torrington Square is a pedestrian-only square and is about 10 minutes walk from either Russell Square or Goodge St tube stations.

19.7.09

The future of energy. Leadership and technological innovation.

2pm-4pm, Saturday 15th August.

With James Woudhuysen, Professor of Forecasting & Innovation, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK.

Description:

When Western elites say, as a response to concerns about climate change, that individual consumers must change their lifestyles and use less energy, they are really abdicating their own responsibility to develop a new, cheap, clean and reliable energy supply. They are scared of investing in nuclear power, scared of moving ahead in carbon capture and storage, and scared of developing new, efficient biofuels – whether on the land or in the laboratory. Public guilt
about climate change is a waste of energy. Progress may have got us into this mess but it is also what is going to get us out of it.

This talk builds on elements of the speaker's recent book "Energise! A future for energy innovation" (co-authored with Joe Kaplinsky). This book has been described "A cogent, widely researched analysis of the future of energy which will enable readers finally to distinguish fact from fiction" and "A hugely useful reframing of the debate". The talk will be of interest to everyone concerned with the future of technology, and the role of innovation and culture
to support a richly energetic society.

About the speaker

Physics graduate; contributor to Computing and the New Civil Engineer; visiting Professor of Forecasting and Innovation at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. Article on chemical weapons for The Economist, 1978; co-author, Robots, 1984; The future of cities, report for Glasgow Development Agency, 1988; multi-client study on e-commerce, 1988; proposed Internet TV, 1993. Manager, worldwide market intelligence, Philips Consumer Electronics, 1995-7; Cult IT, ICA, 1999; `Play as the main event in international and UK culture', Cultural Trends, 2003; Why is construction so backward? (John Wiley, 2004); Energise! A future for energy innovation (Beautiful Books, 2009). His website, Woudhuysen.com, carries the title "Thinking about the future".

There is no charge to attend and everyone is welcome. Join the debate!

Discussion is likely to continue after the event, in a nearby pub, for those who are able to stay.

Why not join some of the UKTA regulars for a drink and/or light lunch beforehand, any time after 12.30pm, in The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ. To find us, look out for a table where there's a copy of the book "Energise" displayed.

Venue:

Room 538, on the fifth floor (via the lift near reception) in the main Birkbeck College building, in Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square). Torrington Square is about 10 minutes walk from either Russell Square or Goodge St tube stations.

25.6.09

Extreme Simulation Scenarios. Thinking about the promise, risk, and plausibility of AI and VRs

With Amon Twyman
2pm-4pm, Saturday 11th July 2009

Transhumanism is a broad set of ideas and niche interests which collectively address the impact of technology on the human condition. The most radical thought experiments entertained by transhumanists often involve some reference to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and/or Virtual Reality (VR), and can be classed as Extreme Simulation Scenarios (ESS). Such scenarios can be equal parts attractive and disturbing. They describe conditions of radical liberation from traditional human constraints, but also open up entirely new categories of potential risk. Evaluations of ESS frequently conflate assessments of promise, risk, technological credibility, and congruence with extant belief systems.

This presentation will disentangle the various threads within ESS evaluation as follows:

(1) explaining key ESS concepts such as uploads, utility fog, and virtual autonomous zones;
(2) describing the principal extreme simulation scenarios and their historical roots;
(3) evaluating specific criticisms of ESS; and
(4) considering the degree to which assessments of ESS are often a matter of opposed assumptions and worldviews rather than the unprejudiced examination of evidence.

Come along and learn how to think critically and constructively about some of the most revolutionary transhumanist ideas, and how they relate to our current culture and technology.

About the speaker

Amon Twyman is a cognitive scientist and artist based in London. His work within cognitive psychology at University College London has investigated the role of conscious awareness in decision making, and he has explored transhumanist themes as a member of electro-industrial band Xykogen.

There is no charge to attend and everyone is welcome. Join the debate!

Discussion is likely to continue after the event, in a nearby pub, for those who are able to stay.

Why not join some of the UKTA regulars for a drink and/or light lunch beforehand, any time after 12.30pm, in The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ. To find us, look out for a table where there's a copy of Charles Stross's book "Accelerando" displayed.

Venue:

Room 538, on the fifth floor (via the lift near reception) in the main Birkbeck College building, in Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square). Torrington Square is about 10 minutes walk from either Russell Square or Goodge St tube stations.

5.6.09

Swine flu, black swans, and Geneva-eating dragons

Anders Sandberg on What statistics tells us we should (not) be worried about

2pm-4pm, Saturday 20th June.

Risk is everywhere these days - in economy, in technology, in health, in climate. Such things have always been uncertain, but recently our society has become preoccupied with risk and safety, often allowing such concerns to trump any other value.

The more future-oriented we become, the more nasty possibilities there seem to be, and the more we strive for safety the more elusive it becomes. Worse, many problems are radically uncertain: we have no experience with them and may not even have considered them before they strike. But what can we actually say about what threatens us? What are the big threats we can foresee? What can we do about them?

This talk will introduce some of the thinking about risk that is going on right now:

*) how power-law distributed disasters reliably surprise us
*) how to estimate the risk of something we have no historical record of
*) why we should be more afraid of power outages than asteroids
*) why the really big problems always are unexpected
*) and how to try to think when you know normal reasoning is too unreliable.

There is no charge to attend and everyone is welcome. Join the debate!

Discussion is likely to continue after the event, in a nearby pub, for those who are able to stay.

Why not join some of the UKTA regulars for a drink and/or light lunch beforehand, any time after 12.30pm, in The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ. To find us, look out for a table where there's a copy of the book "The Black Swan" displayed.

Venue:

Room 153, on the first floor (via the lift B) in the main Birkbeck College building, in Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square). Torrington Square is about 10 minutes walk from either Russell Square or Goodge St tube stations.

19.5.09

Mike Darwin on: Whatever Happened to the Future of Medicine

Why the much anticipated medical breakthroughs of the early 21st century are failing to materialize

Saturday 30th May 2009, 2pm-4pm. Room 403 (fourth floor), Birkbeck College, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7HX. There's no charge to attend, and everyone is welcome.

Speaker

Mike Darwin has 30 years experience in cutting edge medical research. Co-founder of the Institute for Advanced Biological Studies, 1977. President of Alcor Life Extension 1983-1988, Research Director 1988-1992. Described by Wikipedia as "Second only to Robert Ettinger as one of the most influential figures in the controversial field of cryonics"

Description of talk

The last half of the 20th Century was a time of explosive growth in growth in high technology medicine. Effective chemotherapy for many microbial diseases, the advent of sophisticated vaccination, the development and application of the corticosteroids, and the development of extracorporeal and cardiovascular prosthetic medicine (cardiopulmonary bypass, hemodialysis, synthetic arterial vascular grafts and cardiac valves) are but a few examples of what can only be described as stunning progress in medicine derived in large measure from translation research.

The closing decades of the last century brought confident predictions from both academic and clinical researchers (scientists and physicians alike) that the opening decade of this century would see, if not definitive cure or control, then certainly the first truly effective therapeutic drugs for cancer, ischemia-reperfusion injury (i.e. heart attack, stroke and cardiac arrest), multisystem organ failure and dysfunction (MSOF/D), immunomodulation (control of rejection and much improved management of autoimmune diseases), oxygen therapeutics and more radically, the perfection of long term organ preservation, widespread use of the total artificial heart (TAH) and the clinical application of the first drugs to slow or moderate biological aging.

However, none of these anticipated gains has materialized, and countless drug trials in humans based on highly successful animal models of MSOF/D, stroke, heart attack, cancer, and immunomodulation have failed. Indeed it may be reasonably argued that the pace of therapeutic advance has slowed. By contrast, the growth of technology and capability in some areas of diagnostic medicine, primarily imaging, has maintained its exponential rate of growth and, while much slower than growth in other areas of technological endeavor, such as communications and consumer electronics, progress has been impressive.

Why has translational research at the cutting edge of medicine (and in particular in critical care medicine) stalled, or often resulted in clinical trials that had to be halted due to increased morbidity and mortality in the treated patients? The answers to these questions are complex and multifactorial, and deserve careful review.

Renewed success in the application of translational research in humans will require a return to the understanding and acceptance of the inescapable fact that perfection of complex biomedical technologies cannot be modeled solely in the animal or computer research laboratory. The corollary of this understanding must be the acceptance of the unpleasant reality that perfection of novel, let alone revolutionary medical technologies, will require a huge cost in human suffering and sacrifice. The aborted journey of the TAH to widespread clinical application due to the unwillingness on the part of the public, and the now extant bioethical infrastructure in medicine, to accept the years of suffering accompanied by modest, incremental advances towards perfection of this technology, is a good example of what might rightly be described as a societal ‘failure of nerve’ in the face of great benefit at great cost. It may be rightly said, to quote the political revolutionary Delores Ibarruri, that we must once again come to understand that, “It is better to die on our feet than to live on our knees!”

Pre-meeting and post-meeting activities

Why not join some of the UKTA regulars for a drink and/or lunch any time after 12.30pm, in The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ. To find us, look out for a table where there's a copy of James Halperin's book "The First Immortal" displayed. (This book is a well-researched and thought-provoking novel about cryonics.)

Discussion is likely to continue after the event, in a nearby pub, for those who are able to stay.

Room 403 is on the fourth floor (via the main lift) in the main Birkbeck College building, in Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square). Torrington Square is about 10 minutes walk from either Russell Square or Goodge St tube stations.

14.4.09

Cryonics in the UK: Reality and Vision

What are the pros and cons of signing up for your body to be cryonically suspended at ultra-low temperatures when a fatal disease strikes?

Speaker: David Styles, organiser for Cryonics UK, a Britain-based "standby assistance" team

2pm-4pm, Saturday 2nd May.

Venue:

Room 538, 5th floor (by main lift), Birkbeck College, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7HX (Note: Torrington Square is pedestrian only. It is a short walkfrom each of Goodge Street and Russell Square tube stations.)

About the speaker:

David Styles is a cryonicist, who views cryonic suspension as an ambulance to the future. While he'd much rather not need it, he recognises that it may be necessary in order to avoid death in the short (100 years or so) term.

Further reading: a recent article on the Daily Mail.

Pre-meeting and post-meeting activities:

Why not join some of the UKTA regulars for a drink and/or lunch any time after12.30pm, in The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ. To findus, look out for a table where there's a copy of James Halperin's book "TheFirst Immortal" displayed. (This book is a well-researched and thought-provokingnovel about cryonics.)Discussion is likely to continue after the event, in a nearby pub, for those whoare able to stay.

7.3.09

One foot in the future. Attaining the 10,000+ year lifespan you always wanted?

Saturday 21st March, 2pm-4pm. Venue: Room 403, 4th floor (via main lift), Main Building, Birkbeck College, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7HX. The event is free and everyone's welcome.

Dr Richard Faragher, Reader in Gerontology, School of Pharmacy & Biomolecular Sciences, University of Brighton
, will review the ageing process across the animal kingdom together with the latest scientific insights into how it may operate. The lecture will also review promising avenues for translation into practice over the next few years, and current barriers to progress in ageing research will be considered.

About the speaker:

Richard Faragher read Biochemistry at Imperial College, London, and undertook doctoral studies at the University of Sussex. His primary research interest is the relationship between replicative senescence and organismal ageing. In 2005, he became the first ever scientist to receive a Help the Aged award for his championship of research for older people. From 2004-2008 Dr Faragher was Co-director of the BBSRC EPSRC-SPARC programme, a cross-disciplinary research network designed to build national capacity in ageing research. He currently serves on the Research Advisory Council of the Charity Research Into Ageing.

Pre-meeting and post-meeting activities:

Why not join some of the UKTA regulars for drinks and/or a light lunch beforehand, any time after 12.30pm, in The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ? To find us, look out for a table displaying a copy of Aubrey de Grey's book "Ending Aging".

For those able to stay after the meeting, discussion is likely to continue in one of the pubs near Birkbeck College.

3.2.09

The role of diet and supplements in longevity - the science behind the hype.

The next ExtroBritannia event is scheduled for Saturday the 28th of February 2009; 2:00pm - 4:00pm. Venue: Room 153, 1st floor (via lift B), Main Building, Birkbeck College, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7HX. The event is free and everyone’s welcome.

Alistair Tweed of Aging-management.com will highlight the results of the latest scientific research into a series of diets and dietary supplements that have been held up as capable of extending our healthy lifespan.

The talk will include:

-The role of diet and supplements in longevity.
-A primer on how to choose and use supplements to optimise your health for longevity.
-Advanced supplement strategies.
-Which supplements and nutraceuticals to look out for in the coming year - and the science behind them
-How people can meaningfully contribute to the progress of of anti-aging science and medicine.

About the speaker:

A long time health and fitness enthusiast, Alistair Tweed developed a keen interest in longevity and anti-aging about 10 years ago and has continued to learn about and live by these principles ever since. He set up Aging Management Ltd in July of 2007 and is webmaster, company director, primary business developer and general dog's body for the company. In March 2008, he was invited to become "Methuselah Foundation Outreach Coordinator - UK", official volunteer lead for the Methuselah Foundation for business and outreach activities in the UK, working closely with the Methuselah Foundation Board and especially Aubrey de Grey, as he promotes the Foundation's mission and donors in the UK. Alistair lives in Essex with his family.

Pre-meeting and post-meeting activities:

Why not join some of the UKTA regulars for drinks and/or a light lunch beforehand, any time after 12.30pm, in The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ? To find us, look out for a table displaying a copy of Aubrey de Grey's book "Ending Aging".

For those able to stay after the meeting, discussion is likely to continue in one of the pubs near Birkbeck College.

4.1.09

Informal lunchtime get-together: ideas and plans for the H+ year ahead

The next ExtroBritannia event is scheduled for Saturday the 17th of January 2009; 1:00pm - 2:00pm. Venue: the Penderell's Oak pub, 283 High Holborn, London WC1V 7HP (nearest tube stop: Holborn). The event is free and everyone’s welcome.

Anyone interested in Transhumanism and/or Extropian themes is welcome to join a lunchtime gathering in the pub that's been described as the spiritual home of transhumanism in the UK. If it's your first ExtroBritannia, look out for a table with a copy displayed of Eric Drexler's book, "Engines of creation". This get-together is being scheduled to fit in the lunch break of the day-long "Weird science" event organised by the Centre For Inquiry, London, that's taking place that day in the nearby Conway Hall. During our get-together, we'll have the chance to discuss ideas for H+ meetings and activities in the UK later in the year. We can also review how H+ fits with the Bad Science approach, and possible synergies with the Centre for Inquiry.

Note: anyone who wants to attend the lectures of the Bad Science event will need to register separately - and pay a small fee to the CFI London organisers. Use the above link.

Note: Participants from the Bad Science event will be retiring to Penderell's Oak after the Conway Hall lectures, from 4pm, so there will be a chance to take part in discussions at that stage too.