The 2nd Global Futures 2045 Congress in New York City (June 15-16, 2013).
We are all traveling into the future, as are our children and grandchildren. At a fortunate time such as this one, we can significantly affect how that future turns out, because we have a global infrastructure, global economy and global science to direct at the problems we choose.
The Avatar concept of Foundation 2045 (2045.com) seeks to address urgent and long-term problems facing humankind. It does so in a most rational and unflinching manner, by recognizing without anthropocentric reservations that the most severe problems are indicative of the limitations of our niche in evolution. It is entirely reasonable to note that humans, like all other animals, are the result of a process of natural selection that took place in the context of a specific environment and a specific set of challenges. It is equally reasonable to conclude that this product of evolution is not well-suited to significantly different environments (e.g., space travel, undersea) or to all manner of new challenges (e.g., comprehending and effectively utilizing “big-data”, grasping the complexities of physical and cosmological processes, managing and completing large-scale & long-term projects with high memory requirements, tasks and experiences with high sensory sample rates and reaction speed requirements, competing with other intelligence).
Environments and challenges change. Earth will not always be a shelter to humanity. Great change may come soon as a result of our own doing, or it may come to us from above, as meteors strike and as the sun eventually expands to reduce the Earth to cinders. Modern human history has been a succession of developments in which augmentations (e.g., clothing, housing, transportation, communication, computation) have allowed us to get around some of those limitations. Foundation 2045 recognizes this from the perspective of all of human history and Avatar is itself a project that adequately continues this very human trait of augmentation and self-improvement.
Brain and body are intricately connected and the experience of being is filtered through both. The GF2045 Congress therefore looks specifically at body topics and brain topics that describe a path from our current circumstances to a society with greatly increased flexibility, adaptability and choice. The results of the Avatar A sub-project, a human-like robot under personal control will provide the experience of being in many places through telepresence. With extensive two-way brain-computer interfaces it becomes possible to experience sensations remotely and to act out responses remotely. The body can be designed to lend us physical capabilities and sensory perception far beyond our present abilities. The development of Avatar B, with its ability to directly support a human brain within another body can extend the length of survival of an individual, that person's knowledge and the concepts and memes that are championed and propagated by that individual. An Avatar B body can allow a human mind to experience existence in other environments, as well as the experience of different types of bodies.
But even when the brain is supported within a new body, it is still subject to degeneration, to the loss of memory and increased difficulties with recall. All of the limitations of our mental capabilities persist. The biological brain still depends on life-support within a specific type of environment, and it expects to process only those inputs that would be generated by such an environment. It is still tuned to the environment and challenges that predominated during the epoch that marks the origins of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
The biological brain is not designed to permit backup of its contents, and, beyond the the neural ensemble encoding paradigm, it does not operate on spatially distributed systems with built-in redundancy for fault-tolerance. Consequently, there is still death. Brain cells die, life-support can fail, disease can strike and fatal accidents can happen. A clear-headed consideration of death makes it quite obvious that death is a bad thing1. Death removes from our midst those who have accumulated the greatest experience. Death often involves personal suffering and nearly always causes suffering as loved ones are lost. And significantly, death imposes on humanity a dangerously near-sighted perspective that vastly overemphasizes the relevance of matters that take effect within a short human life-span.
Problems of our biology lead to disease and decay, to a reduced quality of life as persons gradually approach death. Those problems are very difficult to solve, because a long period of natural selection has led to heavy interrelatedness of the many details of our cellular composition. John Furber has published a series of maps that show a large collection of the many different processes that lead to death. Even if we could address each one of those, as well as all of the downstream effects caused by the tweaks that we would then apply, then we would still not be solving the problems of adapting to new environments and new challenges.
Instead, take a step back and allow yourself to look at the problem from an unencumbered and more open-minded perspective. Having done that, consider what we are really trying to preserve and enhance. Address that directly in the most feasible and promising way. Removing the problems of biology means taking the functions that are us and enabling those in many implementations, in other words, achieving substrate-independence. That is what the stages of the Avatar project lead to.
What are you? You experience yourself sitting here, reading this. You feel the seat. You see and you hear. But really, those things are all results of something. They are generated, processed results. Everything that you experience, everything that you are thinking, remembering, your concept of what is around you, where and when you are... all of that is generated by mental processing. Without it there is nothing, and that processing is all there is to Being. Some say the self is an illusion, but everything else is just as much an illusion. It is all a construct, a way of structuring things, labelling them, constraining the patterns of your mental activity. We need to understand this to be more enlightened and to strive for better things.
There is no reason why processing information, which is the basis of experience at every level, should be unique to one implementation of the processing functions (i.e., a human brain). In principle, the same processes could be carried out in many different substrates. Speaker Dr. Theodore Berger will demonstrate this in the form of actual cognitive neuroprosthetic chips. Ultimately, that is where the solution to adaptability lies, in the ability to move functions of the mind to many different types of substrates – to be substrate independent minds (SIM).
This is urgent, because we have a window of opportunity. We can tackle fundamental problems that we all face, because civilization is largely intact. We have what it takes to get to the next stage. Neuroscience has spent most of the last 100 years learning how to identify elements of brain physiology and how to measure signals and compounds at the level of neurons and synapses. That is why nearly every serious effort to identify functions of a specific person's mind and ultimately to transfer such to substrate-independent minds is presently seeking to do so through the most conservative means, which we call Whole Brain Emulation.
At the 2nd GF2045 in New York City, speaker Dr. Anders Sandberg (Oxford University) will address the overall context of existential risk and opportunity, specifically considering Avatar and Whole Brain Emulation. Dr. Sandberg is known for his entertaining and lucid talks (e.g., “What kind of humanity should we want to make?” - TEDxVasastan). He is a computational neuroscientist and philosopher, and is an expert in the area of risk and human technological development (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Sandberg).
Every emulation is achieved by carrying out what is known in engineering circles as System Identification. System Identification is when you have a black box that receives input, carries out processing and produces output. You try to determine what functions constitute that processing by investigating the correlated input and output. Note the feedback loop that the brain creates with the rest of the body and its environment through neural action potentials or spikes. Sensory input produces spikes. Spikes drive muscles such as for speech. And the order and delay between spikes is essential for storing memory at synapses. If we could predict spike timing sufficiently we may have a working emulator.
At this point, we are talking about a concrete roadmap to Whole Brain Emulation that is based on the requirements for system identification. Congress speaker Dr. Edward Boyden (MIT, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Boyden), engineer and neuroscientist, is famous for his discoveries and developments in the field of optogenetics and a prolific developer of neuroscience tools that enable the acquisition of more data at higher spatial and temporal resolutions and at increasing scale. Dr. Boyden is a strong supporter of large-scale and whole brain approaches, and he will describe the technology developments that are needed to acquire all the data for Whole Brain Emulation. Dr. Randal A. Koene (Carboncopies.org & Foundation 2045, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randal_A._Koene) will explain the rationale and fundamental concepts behind Substrate-Independent Minds (SIM), the roadmap to Whole Brain Emulation, where we are on that roadmap, and how the contributions of other speakers at the GF2045 Congress deal with practical and feasible solutions to each of its parts. Dr. Koene is an engineer and computational neuroscientist who has been leading projects towards Whole Brain Emulation since 1994. He heads the “Rebrain” Avatar C sub-project through the non-profit carboncopies.org. Dr. Koene has often presented the roadmap in terms of four main parts:
The more we know about the relevant input-output and the architecture of the brain, the smaller we can make the black boxes for which system identification needs to be carried out. This first requirement is all about determining the right scope and resolution for emulation. Dr. Sebastian Seung (MIT) is a prominent physicist and computational neuroscientist known for his strong stand promoting the importance of research into the human “connectome” (the complete map of the detailed connections between neurons in the brain, http://bcs.mit.edu/people/seung.html). Specifically, Dr. Seung seeks to address fundamental hypotheses about reconstructing the function of neuronal circuitry by attempting to recover and reconstruct memory directly from a section of neural tissue.
A platform is needed on which an emulation of a specific mind can be implemented. Speakers will explain what is required in order to carry out successful System Identification that captures mental functions of a biological brain such that they can be expressed in other computing substrates. Currently feasible ways to re-implement neural circuit functions and carry out operational Whole Brain Emulation will be presented, such as recently published work by Dr. James Kozloski (IBM Watson Center, http://researcher.watson.ibm.com/researcher/view.php?person=us-kozloski). Dr. Kozloski published an ultrascalable solution to neural tissue simulation.
The detailed specific structure, the connectome of an individual brain needs to be obtained. The better that data is, the smaller the black boxes become for our system identification problem. We would like to be able to predict as much as possible about the parameters for a representation from structural measurements. Dr. Kenneth Hayworth (Janelia Farm, http://chronicle.com/article/The-Strange-Neuroscience-of/132819/) will address this at the Congress. An engineer and neuroscientist, Dr. Hayworth has a no-nonsense approach to the preservation of brain tissue and its scanning at high-resolution by electron microscopes. He has designed and constructed several iterations of the so-called Automatic Tape-Collecting Ultramicrotome (ATUM), specifically to obtain the full structure data of a brain's connectome for Whole Brain Emulation.
Tuning all of the parameters of combined models that make up a whole brain is an intractable optimization problem without additional reference measurements. The functional recording techniques used in neuroscience today can obtain a very few measurements at high resolution using electrodes or a larger number of measurements at low spatial and temporal resolution using techniques such as MRI. We need something much better. Speaker Dr. George Church (to be confirmed) (Harvard University, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Church) is directly involved with projects along two routes to such tools. While Dr. Church is best known for his pioneering role in the Human Genome Project, he has now called for a similarly ambitious project to create a Brain Activity Map. Dr. Church will present approaches such as the so-called “Molecular Ticker-Tape” to characterize the response features of every neuron in the brain. Another approach, using microscopic wireless devices (dubbed “Cyborcells”) will be described in Dr. Koene's talk.
The 2nd GF2045 Congress addresses the full scope of the goals of Foundation 2045, the significance of those goals as well as the projects to accomplish them. Whole Brain Emulation is an important component of those goals, all of which are grounded in the Global Risks and Opportunities at this time in the 21st Century, in a world with accelerating technological advances. Other components include Human-Like Robotics, Brain-Computer Interfaces, Business Opportunities, Economic and Social Impacts, and Spiritual and Cultural Advance. This includes an address by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, keynotes by author James Martin (to be confirmed) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Martin_(author), founder of the James Martin 21st Century School at Oxford University), and entrepreneurs Dr. Martine Rothblatt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martine_Rothblatt), X-Prize Foundation originator and Singularity University co-founder Peter DIamandis and Dmitry Itskov, roboticists Dr. David Hanson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hanson_(robotics_designer)) and Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroshi_Ishiguro), as well as many other leaders and celebrities. A special opportunity for business and investment relations will be provided in conjunction with the Congress at a VIP event hosted by Dr. Rothblatt.
1 Objections to this are usually about resources. Ending a life is not the best solution to a resource problem.
For more information about the Congress and about attending, please visit the Congress web site at: http://gf2045.com