Friday, September 30, 2005

Super Health and the Technology of Nutrition

Recently I've been giving some thought to the slow but sure evolution of the science of nutrition and what it means for us at this nascent beginning of the biotech revolution. So here is a little bit of where my thinking has been on the topic.
pre-civilized humanity must have known very little about what constituted an optimal diet yet after several hundred thousand years of natural selection it must have reached some equilibrium with it's environment wherein the nutrients that it needed for survival could be obtained easily enough and the methods by which those nutrients were obtained could be obtained in a manner which was sustainable to some degree.
Now enter the agricultural/urbanization revolution. At this point humanity has sacrificed the wide range of nutrition available to its hunter-gatherer predecessors so that it can remain stationary for long enough to branch off into specialization. This requires the cultivation of a narrow range of crops - usually some sort of grain. So for the next ten thousand years (including the present) the principle ingredient in humanity's diet remains some sort of cultivated carbohydrate, ex. corn, wheat, potato, ect. which was not a part of the diet that natural selection optimized humanity for during the several hundred thousand years of hunting and gathering.
Now enter the modern era. Its only been but very recently, and only in the most wealthy nations that we can begin to stop worrying about where are next meal will come from and begin asking ourselves just exactly what is the optimal diet for humans. And I don't just mean what exactly we should be eating to avoid obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. What I mean is precisely what combination of macro and micro nutrients should be consumed and in what combination, quantity, and times in order to achieve the greatest possible level of health given our current genetic programming.
It has hardly been possible to even attempt something like this till but recently because of the dismal state of medical and biological science and because of the relative lack of wealth on this planet. However I predict that over the next five years we will see an explosion in the "nutraceutical" business as more and more people wake up to the fact that they can seriously alter there biological chemistry for the better by treating nutrition as a science instead of just eating whatever the more primitive part of their brains suggests to them.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005


The Singularity is Near: a book review

I just finnished reading Kurzweil's latest book and it was loaded with insight. For those of you who arn't familiar with Ray he is one of the most preeminent inventors of our time, a respected futurist, and the author of "The Law of Accelerating Returns", which- in my opinion- will turn out to be one of the most important theories in the history of Science.
If you are familiar with Ray's work then this book really does not contain anything groundbreaking that you havn't heard before though it does contain lots of details you probably are unaware of. Essentialy the book consists of a thourough recapitulation of Kurzweil's Law (The Law of Accelerating Returns) in the first two chapters. The next two chapters go into detail about how Moore's Law will be transcended with three dimentional chips and how we will ultimately achieve processing speedes capable of emulating the functions of the human brain. Kurzweil then spends a good deal of time explaining the current state of the art concerning brain scanning technieques and argues that by 2029 we will be able to revearse engineer the human brain and hence have Turing test capable AI by that time.
In the Fith Chapter Ray returns to his well know GNR hypothesis which basically states that biotech, nanotech, and AI (genetic, nano, robotics) are all interconncted in feedback loops that fuel greater and greater acceleration of return. As Ray explaines it we will first see a boom in biotech over the next decade followed by a nanotech revolution which will together ultimately lead to the technology that will make strong AI possible. After this there is a discussion on how these technologies will affect verious aspects of human life. In chapter seven ray heads into a philosophical analysis of the hard problem of consciousness and what the ramifications will be on society when machines claim to be conscious. I found this chapter to be most interesting because it answered many questions I had about what Ray's believed concerning machine consciousness.
The last Two chapters of the book end with an analysis of the future perils we face because of technology and finally Ray answers specific criticisms and arguments leveled against him by a number of different people and camps. This last chapter is also very interesting because it really shows how much substance Ray's thinking has when up against the specious charecter of his opponents argumets.
If you are in any way interested in technological evolution, or if you desire to be an informed thinker then this book is an absolute must read.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

First Post

Well This is the first post of my new blog. It is also my first blog ever so bear with me as I learn the ropes and I promise to deliver some good content and commentary. There are a number of blogs out there on the subject of exponential technological acceleration and the singularity - so why another one? I hope to offer something a little bit different here primarily by asking somewhat more philosophical questions. My plan is to both report and comment on pertinent inovations as they break, but also to address the philosophical questions such new technologies raise. For instance I will be exploring questions concerning what man essentially is if he is not essentially a biological organism, or is there a theological significance inherent in the coming of the singularity. These are just examples. Some other semi-philosophical topics I wish to explore are what can be expected economically in the near future and what will be the significance of a fully automated economy etc. I am hoping to recieve a lot of reader feadback so that it I can use it to direct where to take my writing.

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Memetic Natural Selection and the Evolution of Information Processing Systems


Part I.
From protien to neocortex

I couldn’t sleep last night and some how a conjunction of ideas began swirling around in my head so I decided to try and get some ideas down on paper. Its not the most organized piece of writing but I thought it was worth sharing.

Biological natural selection exerts its force on genes, which are units of information prescribed for the replication of biological/mechanical organisms. This force is exerted in such a way that if there arises some variation in the encoded instructions then the organism, or the organism’s kin will sometimes be more or less likely to survive. If, however, the environment which the organism adapted to changes significantly enough, the organism will not be able to adapt. This is because the only power which allows an organism to adapt to the environment at all is the selection of random variation of information within the encoded instructions for replication. This therefore necessarily gives rise to four basic different evolutionary survival strategies:

  1. Hardiness: the ability to survive in a multitude of environmental challenges. A hardy organism should be able to eat almost anything, tolerate a wide range of temperatures, and be able to defend itself against all manner of predator or pathogens. Ex. The Great White Shark, Cock roach etc.
  2. Rapid Replication: This strategy allows an organism to adapt to almost any environmental challenge because it replicates so fast it vastly increases the rate at which it can mutate to an environmental demand. Ex. Viruses, bacteria etc.
  3. Rapid mobility: This strategy allows an organism to rapidly move from one environment to another so that if it is pressured by one environment it can easily move to a more congenial one. Ex. Migratory species such as birds whales etc.
  4. Environmental Reconstruction: This is the ultimate evolutionary strategy. In all previous strategies the organism needs only the most rudimentary ability to process information and the instructions for how to process that information are preprogrammed in its genetic replication code. For this reason organisms will behave in a way prescribed by their genetic programming which only allows for a very limited range in how they may interact with their environment. However with the environmental reconstruction strategy an organism must first go through a process where natural selection slowly selects a more and more sophisticated ability to process information. We see this in nature. The more complex an organism becomes the more powerful becomes its ability to process information. As soon as an organism attains to certain level of information processing power it attains the ability to interact with the environment in novel ways without having to alter its genetic code. Ex. Elephants may warn children of a new threat. Chimpanzees may show one another a new way to find food etc. However no organism has attained to the level of environmental reconstruction as man. With the advent of man genetic natural selection finally attained to the ultimate evolutionary strategy of an organism which could replicate a powerful information processor (the human brain) genetically, but which could also rapidly transmit new information processing programs from one organism to another with out the necessity of altering the basic genetic code. For this reason this new ultimate organism could begin a new form of natural selection where the variation and selection of genetic information would become relatively unimportant because the organisms powers of information processing were already sufficient for the task at hand. What now becomes subject to the powers of natural selection is the programming of that information processor via memes.

No longer does the organism’s survival depend on genetic natural selection alone. This new organism must behave in novel ways according to the demands of the environment. And this novel behavior arises through an ability to think (process information on a very sophisticated level) thanks to the genetically received apriori schema, and the ability to reprogram the brain through learning. Learning is achieved when an organism successfully alters its behavior or understanding through processing information that was received through either the environment or another human mind. This in turn gives rise to language, worldview, science, and technology.

Part II. From Tribal Man to the World Wide Web

We have so far discussed the forces that led necessarily to organisms with powerful information processing abilities and to the ability to create, replicate, and transmit programmatic information from information processor to information processor (here to fore known as mind). Now we shall discuss how this organism went from grunting pack hunter to walking on the moon in less than 50,000 years.

I will put forth the hypothesis that genetic natural selection is the force which gave us the hardware of a super information processor – though it took 3 billion years, while memetic natural selection is the force that is still in the process of programming our inherited super computers to give us the power to accomplish maximum environmental reconstruction.

Human minds do not exist as separate individual entities but they exist as socially networked entities. The function through which they are networked is language. Therefore in order for a people to be part of a society they must share a language and the means to transmit that language. So before a mind can receive full memetic programming (join a society) it must first learn that society’s language. This happens automatically if a child is immersed in his/her society.

Now within a society there are certain norms which are core and certain others which are not. If a child is to become part of a society and survive it must receive and adopt those core memes. All societies have different core memes but almost all societies have at the absolute core mostly the same kinds of memes which consist of obedience to authority structures and the acceptance of a mythology which justifies that authority. If a person rejects these core memes he will be rejected from the society or killed. However as a society ages its many memes are replicated at an astonishing rate and certain memes are rejected or altered as they become more or less easily replicated and transmitted.

These memes that a society shares dictates the effectiveness of that society’s survival. Now there are as many societies as there are different peoples who share and are able to transmit a language. Initially these societies were small tribes consisting of a few families and later these societies grew as they were able to sustain that growth through technology (reconstructing their environment). All societies which come into contact with other societies geographically must come into competition for resources. Therefore if one society is either threatened by or needs the resources of another society they must enter into some kind of conflict. When one society comes into conflict with another society that society whose memetic structure is most efficient will either eradicate or assimilate that society’s memetic structure (culture). In this way that society with the most efficient memetic structure, i.e. whose culture has best restructured the environment, will expand and become more powerful, therefore increasing the chances of those memes’ survival. This force of memetic natural selection has caused rapid advance in technology because ultimately it is technology (which is nothing more than the power to restructure the environment) which ultimately makes one society and its memes more survivable than another.

This has resulted in the formation of states and empires which are highly organized societies. These societies have conflicted with one another on regional and later global levels. Currently the planet is in the state of creating a single society (globalization). The result of this is that a particular core of memes has dominated and spread. The rate of memtic replication and transmission has increased hyperbolically with the increase in communication and information technology. The result is one society. We have defined a society as a group of people sharing a language and a means to transmit that language along with a core memtic structure. This has been, in large part, achieved. The authority structure is based on universal human rights and the consent of the governed. The core mythology which must be accepted to support this structure is science and rational thought. These memes have spread to some degree to all peoples and have resulted in one society organized around the most efficient core memetic structures through a world wide web of communication. At this juncture in history we are nearly at the end of zero sum memetic competition and stand poised for a new economic paradigm shift based on non-zero sum cooperation. It is at this stage that rational self-interest and love for thy neighbor become, more and more, one and the same.

Any how I just thought this might spark some thought out there. Its nothing particularly new but its how I came to put together a couple of ideas in my mind. Hope you’re able to get something out of it.

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