June 19, 2008

Achieving a Mundane Technological Transhuman Singularity

Some people have criticized the technological Singularity and Transhumanism because of the upside being things that they do not believe can be achieved.Also, the primary technologies that are often described as enabling the Singularity and Transhumanism are Molecular Nanotechnology and greater than human intelligence general AI. There has been virtually no effort or money spent to develop diamondoid molecular nanotechnology and greater than human AGI is something that will be a rapid shift. For AGI, one can imagine the situation before Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov in chess. A couple of years before it happened many people thought it would be long time before a computer won at chess and many were surprised when it did happen.

This site does not agree that Molecular Nanotechnology (MNT) is not achievable or that greater than human intelligence AI is not achievable. However, let us examine how some of the primary Singularity and Transhuman goals can be achieved even without Molecular Nanotechnology or greater than human intelligence AGI.

The goals, with the first blurb the term used by a critic (Richard Jones for the first three and then goals many have derided for the later goals) and goals from Eric Drexler's website related to MNT, and what follows as a more detailed description of a precise and measurable goal.
1. End scarcity : Relative economic abundance with every living person having an personal resources at the affluent level of a current US citizen. $250,000 per person per year in purchasing power parity income. [The income level that Obama would want to tax more heavily if he become President]. No shortages of any basic need water, food, medical care [equal to that which is achieving the medical results currently affordable to an affluent person now] and energy [currently a US citizen uses an average of 13,000 kwh per year for electricity and three times that for transportation and a share of industrial energy usage. So abundance is 100,000 kwh for every person and assuming a future population of 10 billion is 1000 trillion kwh.

A manufacturing and construction revolution can be achieved with printable buildings, inflatable electric cars, printable electronics and advanced automated rapid manufacturing.

Computer simulation and detailed modeling and other enabling technology will enable the revolution.

Paper stronger than cast iron made from plant cellulose is here and will make manufacturing far cheaper.

Stem cell meat factories, advanced aquaculture and vertical farming and more advanced genetically engineered food will enable an abundance of food. The vertical farming would be further enabled by the printing building technology.

Aquaculture (fish farming) already provide over half of the world's fish.

For water desalination is already very advanced and it is becoming more energy efficient and cheaper. More abundant and affordable energy helps to create more water from desalinization.

The mass produced uranium hydride nuclear reactor would be part of a relatively mundane energy abundance solution. These reactors would have far less waste since 50 times more fuel would be burned generating energy. Molten salt reactors are even more efficient and could burn 99% of the uranium and plutonium in the reactor.

Increasing the current level of nuclear power in the world by 450 times would achieve the 1000 trillion kwh level. Increasing the efficiency of so that fuel usage is reduced by 30 to 98 times and being able to use thorium as well as uranium would ensure that there is sufficient nuclear fuel for the 5-15 times more per year that would be needed. There is uranium in seawater and Japanese researchers have been able to extract kilograms of it. It would cost more but fuel costs are only a small percentage of a nuclear plants operation.

2. Eradicate death [A Jones term]: Achieving actuarial escape velocity [which is not eradicating death but radical life extension] whereby life expectancy increases at greater than one year for each year that passes. No age related disease caused deaths. An increased level of increased physical regeneration and restoration. Really bad accidents or destructive weapons would still be able to kill. Advanced technology could create a precise copy of a person, but whether this will be done for ethical and societal reasons or whether the copy is the person is not discussed. A copy of "the mind" could be created in another substrate (ie. not a flesh and blood person but a computer than simulates "the mind").

Calorie restriction mimicking drugs could be available within five years according to a leading researcher and should provide 3-13 years of increased life span

Treatments to boost the human immune system against cancer and effective and cheap early detection of cancer cells will enable a massive decrease in cancer deaths.

The SENS project has raised over ten million dollars and is launching projects for each of the seven parts of the initial program to substantial extend human lives. This would be a major first step on the actuarial escape velocity path.

Regenerative medicine is making substantial advances with stem cells, tissue generation, and increasing the regenerative capability in humans to be more like salamanders (able to regrow limbs.) This research is well funded by the US defence department with the AFIRM (Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine funded for $250 million for five years) project.

3. Eliminate the bungled mechanisms that introduce imperfections into the human body: Enhance various performance aspects of the human body. Various medical and mechanical enhancements will be discussed which will be significant advances to existing performance enhancement.

Effective and safe myostatin inhibition will likely be developed which will enable most people to become several times stronger and closer to the best levels achievable now (one in one million people already have myostatin inhibited and it is four times as effective as high doses of steroids).

Cognitive enhancement is already here and will become more effective.

Craig Venter, billionaire and enabler of new gene therapy and synthetic biology technology, has indicated that very strong cognitive enhancement is possible, desirable and a goal that he wants to achieve.

From the Eric Drexler website - things that MNT would enable.
- desktop computers with a billion processors
- inexpensive, efficient solar energy systems
- medical devices able to destroy pathogens and repair tissues
- materials 100 times stronger than steel

4. Blood stream robots or achieving the goals (cellular surgery and repair) for which blood stream robots were proposed using other means. [medical devices able to destroy pathogens and repair tissues]

Nanoparticles, existing blood stream robots and guideable containers and cellular repair are being proven and people are working to improve and deploy them.

5. Materials 100 times stronger than steel [cheap and commonly used] : Production or access to diamond and carbon nanotubes increased by 1000 times and using diamond as a primary material for house sized objects and for electronics.

Carbon nanotube production will be ramped up which will become very cheap and will be deployed widely

Very large (multi-carat) diamonds can be produced very fast since 2005 Current methods can produce, three-dimensional growth of colorless single-crystal diamond in the inch-range (~300 carat) is achievable. Large scale production and scaling up diamond creation is an active and well funded area.

6. Open access to space [within the solar system for human and robotic travel and small probes up to a significant fraction of light speed for interstellar access]

Ten near term developments for greatly improved space access were covered here

Mirrored laser arrays are achievable with refinement of current technology as is nuclear propulsion.

7. Pollution "elimination" : Reduction of pollution into the environment and nearly complete elimination of deaths caused by pollution.

The use of the uranium hydride and molten salt reactor would greatly reduce the use of fossil fuels.

This sites proposed energy plan is a fast, affordable, and low technology development risk path to eliminating fossil fuels and enabling abundant clean energy.

8. Desktop computers with one billion processors (or performance greater than one billion of todays processors)

500 cores in new teraflop chips for less than $200 for the processor.

Berkeley and Tensilica already working towards energy efficient and affordable exaflop computers for the 2015-2017 timeframe

Design conferences have been held to work out details on zettaflop computers

9. Shape changing functional devices like utility fog

Claytronics has been funded by Intel.

Precise 3 dimensional manufacturing is progressing

So how much of some of the key goals of a transhuman singularity can be achieved without fullblown molecular nanotechnology, AGI or fusion ? Quite a bit. which is why the real deal with molecular nanotechnology, AGI and fusion will be really impressive. The mundane technological singularity shows the kinds of societal shifts that will be needed in order to fully take advantage of the upside. A lot of systems and processes have to be redesigned. The mundane singularity is 100 to 1000 times faster in terms of production and various capabilities.


Red River said...

One huge flaw in all of the TH writing is the lack of focus on political and economic freedom and the structures required for it.

We could very easily end up with an authoritarian state where the TH individuals labor mostly for the rest.

We already have somethng like that in the US where the top workers pay over 50% of the taxes while their very job positions provide the means for others to live comfortably.

How mundane would it be to live in paradise as a slave.

kurt said...

The methods and goals described in your "mundane" singularity are, I think, far more practical and realizable than "drexlerian" nanotech and A.I. You have to realize that many of us transhumanist types have our doubts about molecular nanotech (aka "drexlerian" nanotech).

I would say that a robust "wet" nanotech (i.e. that based on solution-phase chemistry) will be able to do much (not all) of the things that "dry" nanotech is supposed to do.

I would add a couple more. One is Bussard's polywell fusion concept, which is under experiment in New Mexico.

The other is ocean seasteading that "Al Fin" occasionally describes on his blog.

I like this post. The issue is radical life extension and material abundance. Whatever technologies that get us there are the key. Not that it necessarily requires "drexlerian" nanotech.

bw said...

There has been discussion on political, economic, ethics and social choices related to nanotechnology. However, let me point out that these are technologies that are advancing globally so there are many national and regional jurisdictions. So different tax systems and policies. Also, the past decades have mostly been mainstream people denying that Transhuman technology is possible so serious discussions about economics and politics mostly do not happen. When it has happened those discussions are also ignored. Also, discussions about taxes and economic freedom have generally not advanced into implementation. If you and I have a debate and then we and a few hundred people agree on the best political and economic plan, then so what ?
The fair tax plan has a best selling book and some congressman, senators support it and even Mike Huckaby a fairly successful presidential candidate supported it. But is it anywhere close to implementation ? Flat tax plans have not gone anywhere in the USA.

Europe has the VAT.
Hong Kong has a nearly flat tax.

I do not see any of these changes bringing about the fundamental changes to economic or political hodgepodge that exists now. Changes will happen but not just because of increases in technology and wealth. Just as past increases in wealth and technology were not the drivers of such change.

Per capita wealth has increased 30 times over the last one hundred years in the USA.

If you have a proposed better system and a feasible way to implement it then please present it.

Foresight policy whitepapers

More foresight discussion on those topics

Nanoethics group

Center for Responsible Nanotechnology has examined these topics as well

bw said...

A successful polywell fusion future (which I also think is probable) would also be far less mundane. Energy levels would be higher, costs lower and space travel faster and more capable.

Porkov said...

Somewhere in a cave in Pakistan dwells a person who does not want this to happen. There needs to be someplace for the people who fear progress to take a time-out. Is there anyone still living who read Alvin Toffler?

Roko said...

Nice post, but I think that you are misusing the term "singularity" here. What you are predicting is merely a continuation of current economic growth rates and rates of scientific progress.

The only thing in your article that has anything to do with a technological singularity is the one line on "cognitive enhancing drugs", because they form a part of a fairly strong feedback process as far as technological progress is concerned. However the drugs which are *currently* available are pretty lame as far as strong positive feedback into technology is concerned.

James said...

"Somewhere in a cave in Pakistan dwells a person who does not want this to happen. There needs to be someplace for the people who fear progress to take a time-out. Is there anyone still living who read Alvin Toffler?"

When all of these things have happened, there will be some Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania still farming with horses and riding buggies. In a free society, people can opt out if they want to. It's not whether people can opt out, it's whether they think they have the right to force everybody else to opt out. The latter type are the problem.

bw said...

The IEEE Spectrum article was already talking about the goals of a "singularity". The three points from Richard Jones which were addressed. Also, Hanson in his economics of the Singularity pointed to the shift to agriculture and industrializations on economic singularities. I am not using the strict something far greater than human intelligence that causes unpredictable acceleration in tech. Because by definition is undefined tech acceleration. I prefer to talk about predictable tech.

Also, achieving zettaflop computers combined with current brain simulations could have very interesting capabilities.

Accelerating processes (like building construction) by 100-1000 times could have very interesting and not fully predictable effects.

Lobo7922 said...

As always your vision of the singularity is far more clever than other concepts that I have read before.

I believe you arer closer to predict the right way the things will happen.

And as I said before I really like it when you do this resumes