Browsed by
Month: March 2021

U.S. Transhumanist Party Letter in Opposition to Nevada Senate Bill 292

U.S. Transhumanist Party Letter in Opposition to Nevada Senate Bill 292

logo_bg

Gennady Stolyarov II


Note: Senate Bill 292, which would make it essentially impossible for minor political parties to compete at the ballot box or even attempt ballot access, is being rapidly advanced in Nevada. It was authored by a former Democratic Party Chair who would like to double the petition-signature requirement for ballot access, require the number of signatures to be impossibly “equally apportioned” by petitioning district, and institute straight-line party-ticket voting that shuts out other options and discourages individualized decision-making.

In an urgent, almost last-minute action, I drafted a letter to the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections in opposition to that bill. The letter, as submitted to the Committee, can be found here

I urge all Nevadans and Transhumanist Party members, as well as those who are sympathetic to other minor political parties, to submit their opinions in opposition to SB292 here: https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/Opinions/81st2021/

The Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections will meet this Thursday, April 1, at 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time to hold a public hearing on this bill. Meeting information will be updated on this page: https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/81st2021/Bill/7895/Meetings. If you can dial in during the time period for public testimony and lend your voice in opposition, that would be greatly appreciated.

~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party, March 31, 2021


March 31, 2021

Re: Opposition to Senate Bill 292

Dear Chairman Ohrenschall and honorable members of the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections:

As Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party and Chief Executive of the Nevada Transhumanist Party, I strongly urge you to oppose Senate Bill 292, which would deprive all minor political parties in Nevada of the opportunity to fairly compete at the ballot box or to even viably attempt such competition.

The Transhumanist Party is an alliance of over 3300 members who advocate for transcending the flaws and limitations of the human condition through technology and for putting science, health, and technology at the forefront of American politics. We advocate initiatives and reforms that will improve the human condition for as many people as possible, with as much beneficial impact as possible – and without regard for scoring political points or defeating “the other side”. In the realm of electoral policy, we advocate for such measures as ranked-preference voting, electronic voting, proportional representation, all-inclusive debates, elimination of ballot-access requirements, and limitation of lobbying by politically connected special interests, while increasing the influence of advocacy by intelligent laypersons. We hold that all contemporary societal, political, and material problems can be solved if we look away from the political trench warfare of today and up toward a far brighter future.

The Transhumanist Party is resolutely opposed to Section 2 of SB292, which would double the number of required petition signatures from 1 percent to 2 percent of the voters who voted in Nevada in the last preceding general election. The 1-percent threshold would already be exorbitantly costly to parties with small or non-existent budgets, at a typical cost of $4 or more per petition signature. A 2-percent threshold would be essentially unattainable. Even more onerous is the requirement in Section 2 that the petition signatures “must be apportioned equally among the petition districts” – which is essentially impossible to fulfill. If a minor party gathers one more signature, or perhaps two fewer signatures, from one petition district than from another, does that make the apportionment of signatures unequal and thus disqualify the entire petition? Moreover, if a minor political party represents constituents who are predominantly located in one part of the State, is this party to be permanently barred from ballot access just because its constituents are not evenly spread throughout the petition districts? All residents of Nevada have legitimate political interests and a need for representation, no matter whether those interests are geographically localized or dispersed. Clearly, the requirement for equal apportionment is an artificial hurdle that is designed to be essentially impossible for minor parties to surmount. With such a requirement in place, it would become easy for a major political party to challenge and disqualify any number of petition signatures gathered by a minor political party after great expenditures of time, effort, and resources. Major parties could therefore suppress minor-party participation through tactics of attrition. To add to the burdens, Section 2 would reduce by about three weeks the time available to gather the doubly high, equally apportioned petition signatures. How impossible is it possible to make ballot access? And is that the question that good public policy should really be striving to answer? There is no compelling benefit to the people of the State of Nevada from being deprived of options to consider at the ballot box; indeed, limiting their choices only makes an illusion out of claims that our electoral system is democratic or representative.

The Nevada Transhumanist Party has been registered with the Secretary of State since August 31, 2015, and has maintained compliance with all requirements for a minor political party without ballot access. In early 2020 the Nevada Transhumanist Party was engaged in significant internal deliberations about attempting a petitioning effort to achieve ballot access; while the current threshold pursuant to NRS 293.1715 (1 percent of the total number of votes cast at the preceding general election for the offices of Representative in Congress) appeared to be quite daunting to a small, all-volunteer organization which refuses all special-interest funding on principle, we were nonetheless willing to give it an earnest attempt. Then COVID-19 arrived, and the resulting lockdown measures essentially prohibited petitioning for ballot access, even as the petitioning requirement itself was not lifted. This effectively prevented any minor political party from safely attempting to qualify for ballot access, and thus entrenched the ability of incumbent major political parties to operate without available alternatives. We thought the 1-percent signature requirement was onerous, but potentially attainable with immense effort. A 2-percent signature requirement, on the other hand, would be impossible for any political party except those with immense budgets funded by large donors. Whatever happened to limiting the influence of money in politics?

The Transhumanist Party also opposes the provisions of Sections 1 and 4 of SB292, which would establish straight-ticket party voting in Nevada. While the straight-ticket voting would technically apply to both major and minor political parties, the overwhelming benefit would accrue to major political parties, who are more likely to have candidates in the vast majority of races. Moreover, straight-ticket voting would discourage voters who are normally inclined toward one political party from even considering minor-party, independent, or nonpartisan candidates in individual races where those candidates might more strongly align with those voters’ views. Every voter is an individual and does not always adhere to the entire package of ideas in a major-party platform. This individuality and diversity of opinions should be respected, and each voter should accordingly be motivated and encouraged to research all of the individual candidates and issues and make an informed decision, rather than just delegating his or her nuanced preferences to a monolithic party line.

Straight-ticket voting is even disadvantageous for many candidates of major political parties, and I urge members of the Legislature to oppose it even if solely on the grounds of their personal self-interest. Consider this: if you are a Legislator from either major political party who nonetheless wishes to reach out to constituents from the other major political party – to build bridges and find common ground – straight-ticket voting will act to your detriment, because it will encourage voters who typically align with the other major political party to vote for that party’s candidate no matter what – even if you are a bridge-builder and the other candidate is an extremist who alienates much of his or her own constituency.

The Transhumanist Party also opposes Section 3 of SB292, because it would limit by more than three weeks the time available for a minor party to respond to a challenge of its qualification to place the names of candidates on the ballot. If, by some fantastical confluence of effort and luck, the minor party does manage to gather the newly required number of signatures, the amount of time available to defend them from the inevitable major-party challenge would be further narrowed to often render such a defense untenable.

Senate Bill 292 would achieve the opposite of establishing a fair, level playing field for political candidates and parties.  Unfortunately, Senate Bill 292, if enacted, will only serve to exacerbate today’s political trench warfare by solidifying the bifurcation of the contemporary American body politic into two blocs that have each become increasingly monolithic and radicalized internally, and increasingly hostile toward the other, with no room between them to pursue unconventional and innovative solutions that can bridge partisan divides. This anticipated effect of SB292 is likely not anyone’s intention; however, the two-party system in the United States has a built-in downward spiral of incivility, hostility, and division which has, over the past year, crossed the line from mere acrimony into deadly riots and insurrections from extreme exponents of both sides of the partisan gulf. Any Legislator interested in stable and sensible governance should seek to avert an intensification of this scenario, and there is a vital role for a vibrant minor-party ecosystem in helping to prevent it.

How does Senate Bill 292 exacerbate political polarization? It does so by making it effectively impossible for minor political parties to even attain ballot access – in the numerous ways described above. This bill would make it clear to voters that minor parties are not just long-shot participants but are effectively shut out of the process altogether. Thus, many people who would have otherwise given a minor party a chance would be shunted into one of the major political parties that is barely more aligned with their views than the other major political party. This would reinforce the bifurcation of America into two distinct blocs which are engaged in an ever-intensifying struggle with one another, to the detriment of any actual progress on policy and any actual solutions to the many pressing problems facing our State, country, and world. Bifurcation of the American body politic creates an “us-versus-them” dynamic, where anyone who is not part of one’s own bloc is automatically considered to be “the enemy” and whose ideas are automatically disregarded. The record increase in independent and nonpartisan voters already shows many Americans to be disillusioned by the toxicity and acrimony that characterize the electoral tactics of the major parties and their most vocal adherents. Without minor parties for them to seek alternatives in, these Americans will either be reluctantly dragged into the deleterious fray they have always wished to avoid, or try to refrain from political participation altogether – in which case the fray will still find them, as extremists from the major parties have increasingly been demonizing conscientiously apolitical Americans as well.

The antidote to polarization is hyper-pluralism, which is precisely what a vibrant minor-party scene would facilitate. In a hyper-pluralistic body politic, there is no clear “enemy” for any constituent, because different smaller parties will align with one another on different issues; one’s adversary on one issue could be an ally on another, and so it is worthwhile to remain on at least respectful terms with everyone. It is for this reason that parliamentary democracies, which allow for proportional representation and numerous political parties competing on each ballot, are generally far less roiled by partisan strife than America’s uniquely contentious two-party system. But Nevada does not even need to adopt a parliamentary system to achieve a similar outcome; it just needs to allow minor political parties to compete on the ballots. Note that we are not even asking for the minor parties to win (which would still be difficult enough on its own), but merely to be allowed to compete! Even the possibility of competition motivates both incumbent officeholders and major-party candidates to be more responsive to the needs of their constituents. Furthermore, minor parties can be fruitful repositories of ideas for major-party politicians to draw upon; the Transhumanist Party would be delighted to have any of its platform reflected in legislation advanced by major-party lawmakers. Ideas from minor parties tend to sufficiently depart from the prevailing major-party packages that they avoid triggering contentious and mutually intransigent debates about “wedge” issues and so may actually lead to solutions that most major-party policymakers are willing to entertain. Incumbents and major-party candidates can even derive much valuable campaign intelligence from election results involving minor political parties. A strong showing for a minor party indicates a set of issues that voters are interested in and that the incumbent or major-party candidate would do well to address while in office or on the campaign trail.

By shutting minor parties out of viable political participation, Senate Bill 292 would only accomplish the illusion of stability for leading figures of a major political party. In reality, one cannot have a stable or tranquil political experience in a general environment marred by ideological polarization and all of its attendant ills. Depriving people of legitimate alternatives will only alienate them further and feed into the undercurrents of frustration and perceived disenfranchisement that permeate American politics today. Minor political parties are a major safety valve of American politics and can act to effectively channel dissent and discontentment into constructive avenues of mutual improvement and enhanced justice.  In the Federalist No. 10, James Madison, at the onset of the American Republic, noted that the advantage of a large representative republic is precisely in “the greater security afforded by a greater variety of parties, against the event of any one party being able to outnumber and oppress the rest”. The American Founders, who feared precisely the scenario of two dominant factions vying for power at the citizens’ and the Republic’s expense, saw the “greater variety of parties” as an important safeguard against such an outcome. The Transhumanist Party echoes the Founders’ wisdom and would urge the Legislature to consider reforms in the opposite direction from those proposed in SB292 – namely, the elimination of all ballot-access requirements and the ability of any candidate or political party to compete fairly for office on the same terms as any other. After all, if a minor-party candidate is unpersuasive to the voters and the major-party candidates remain more popular, what is there truly for a major party to fear from allowing participation for all? But in the absence of such truly progressive reforms, we urge that the Legislature at least refrain from taking steps that would further limit electoral competition. Please reject Senate Bill 292.

Sincerely,

Mr. Gennady Stolyarov II, FSA, ACAS, MAAA, CPCU, ARe, ARC, API, AIS, AIE, AIAF

Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party

Chief Executive, Nevada Transhumanist Party

To Maryland Governor Larry Hogan: Liberate Vaccine Doses from the FDA! – Article by Dan Elton and Edward Hudgins

To Maryland Governor Larry Hogan: Liberate Vaccine Doses from the FDA! – Article by Dan Elton and Edward Hudgins

Daniel C. Elton, Ph.D.
Edward Hudgins, Ph.D.


Note from the Authors: This was an op-ed we wrote in the first week of February 2021. Unfortunately, no newspaper wanted to publish it. We first submitted it to the Baltimore Sun, which promptly turned it down. We then submitted it to the Capitol Gazette, The Washington Times, and The Washington Examiner but never heard back from any of them. Sadly, this op-ed is just as relevant today as when we first wrote it almost two months ago. Since it was written, the evidence for the safety and efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine has only gotten stronger. An observational study of millions of people in Scotland published in early March found that a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine offers ~94% protection against hospitalization, outperforming Pfizer’s vaccine, which offered ~85% protection. Last week AstraZeneca reached an endpoint in the Phase III trial in the United States that the FDA requested, finding an efficacy of 76%, very similar to the previous Phase III trial result (70%). Despite all this, there has been no action from the FDA,and millions of AstraZeneca doses remain languishing in factories in Baltimore, Maryland and West Chester, Ohio as thousands of American taxpayers that are desperate for them die every day.

~ Daniel C. Elton and Edward Hudgins, March 31, 2021


If Maryland Governor Larry Hogan acts immediately and decisively, he can save thousands of Marylanders from suffering and death from COVID-19. A facility in Baltimore produces the very effective AstraZeneca vaccine and has stockpiled millions of doses. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, headquartered in suburban Maryland, which must certify all vaccines and medical treatments before patients can reap their benefits, is holding those doses hostage to its antiquated, bureaucratic red tape. Hogan should act now to liberate the vaccine to save the lives of Marylanders.

Over a year into the pandemic, over 8,200 Marylanders have died, and some 410,000 have suffered from COVID-19. Marylanders have suffered from a chronic shortage of the FDA-approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. AstraZeneca is approved in the E.U. and 19 other countries. So as our morgues fill up, what’s the FDA’s excuse for delay?

The AstraZeneca vaccine has passed Phase I and Phase II efficacy trials, which were published in the medical journal The Lancet in July and November 2020. A Phase III peer-reviewed study that was conducted in three other countries indicates the vaccine has an efficacy of 70 percent, ranging from 62 percent to 90 percent with different dosages. Most importantly, the vaccine showed a 100-percent efficacy at preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. The AstraZeneca vaccine was also the first shown in a scientific study to reduce transmission. And unlike the two already-approved vaccines, it requires only regular rather than ultra-cold refrigeration. It has been given to over one million people in the U.K. without safety issues detected, yet FDA has requested that AstraZeneca redo most of their Phase III trials using patients from the U.S.

Some media outlets have reported that AstraZeneca’s vaccine “may not work” in the elderly. Unfortunately, AstraZeneca’s Phase III data published so far does not allow for efficacy to be determined for those older than 65. However, Phase I & II trials showed a similar immune response after the second dose across all age groups, including those over 65, so there are good reasons to believe the efficacy should be similar for the elderly. Even if the efficacy is much lower, because the elderly are at such high risk it still makes sense to give them the vaccine in order to save lives. This was shown clearly by Oxford bioethicists Jonathan Pugh and Julian Savulescu, who ran some numbers to show the grave consequences of denying the vaccine to the elderly. It is also true that recent results show the AstraZeneca vaccine is not very effective against the South African variant at preventing mild forms of COVID-19. However, the current study only addressed mild illness and AstraZeneca’s vaccine gives a similar immune response to Pfizer’s vaccine, which has been shown to protect strongly against hospitalization from the South African variant. The World Health Organization recently released guidance recommending the rollout of the vaccine not be halted due to this finding and that the vaccine be given to all age groups. 

The U.S. government has already contracted for 300 million doses of the vaccine, costing taxpayers over $1 billion. Yet with thousands dying daily and many more suffering from COVID-19 across the county, the FDA projects they won’t approve the vaccine until late April.  

Since FDA won’t certify the AstraZeneca vaccine immediately, Governor Hogan should act. He might invoke emergency authority to simply take possession of enough of the AstraZeneca vaccine supply in the Baltimore factory producing it to meet Maryland’s needs. But this would likely be unnecessary. He should request that the facility release the vaccine and inform them that the state will likely be able to guarantee no adverse repercussions from the FDA. After all, during the past decade over 40 states passed “Right To Try” laws that allowed terminally ill patients to access safe treatments not certified by FDA for efficacy. The only “repercussion”: in 2018 Congress passed bipartisan legislation, signed by President Trump, recognizing the state’s authority to do so. 

But in parallel, Hogan should call on President Biden to issue an executive order suspending the need for final FDA certification in this exceptional case.

Or Biden, backed strongly by the Maryland Congressional delegation, could request Congress pass emergency legislation creating a Free To Choose Medicine track parallel to FDA’s normal, slow certification process, on which COVID vaccines, tested safe and promising in Phase II or III trials, could be accessed by individuals, with informed consent. Such a track was created in 1992 for AIDS treatments, saving the lives of thousands of sufferers.

Or Biden could request Congress pass a reciprocity law certifying for the use of Americans any COVID treatment approved  in other advanced countries. Rep. Chip Roy (TX-21) and Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-TX) have introduced legislation allowing for reciprocal approval of drugs approved in other trusted countries. This proposal could be focused to allow access to COVID vaccines.

Since AstraZeneca is produced in Maryland and the FDA headquarters is also in Maryland, Hogan is in an ideal position to be the hero, shake things up, and break the bureaucratic walls separating citizens from a lifesaving medication.

If you agree that Hogan should act now, please sign this petition on Change.org:
Larry Hogan : Liberate the AstraZeneca vaccine from the FDA!

Ed Hudgins is founder of the Human Achievement Alliance and a science policy researcher.  He can be reached at ehudgins@humanachievementalliance.org. Dan Elton is  Director of Scholarship at the US Transhumanist Party.  You can reach him via direct message on Twitter (@moreisdifferent).

A List of Possible FDA Reforms – Compilation by Dan Elton

A List of Possible FDA Reforms – Compilation by Dan Elton

Daniel C. Elton, Ph.D.


I have ranked these according to my own perception of which have the most support among DC bureaucrats and members of congress.

  • Improving transparency. During the COVID-19 pandemic the public has been kept in the dark regarding how key decisions were made, such as the decision to issue an EUA for hydroxychloroquine, the decisions that pushed Pfizer’s EUA from early November to late December, and the decision to require additional Phase III data from AstraZeneca which delayed their EUA by at least 3-4 months. Currently the FDA keeps much of the information relevant to decision making confidential. In theory Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests can be used to obtain some information, but in practice FOIAs are slow-walked, may require litigation, and take years to resolve. There are many possible ways to increase transparency at the FDA, some of which are outlined in this recent article in STAT News. 18 specific recommendations can be found in this journal article from 2018. One of people referenced as a top candidate for FDA Commissioner, Joshua M. Sharfstein, is a poor choice when it comes to implementing other reforms but has been a leading voice calling for more transparency.
  • Reciprocity. If a drug/medication is approved by a regulatory agency in a different country which has equivalent standards to the FDA (for instance agencies in the UK or Japan, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), or Health Canada), it should automatically be approved by the FDA (and vice versa). Reciprocity would save both taxpayers and companies a lot of time and money. Imagine if the AstraZeneca vaccine had been approved on January 1st, a few days after the UK approved it. It’s easy to see that tens of thousands of lives would have been saved, especially when you consider it would have been given to the most at-risk first!  In 2015 Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz introduced the RESULT Act, which is primarily focused on implementing reciprocity.
  • Making the agency independent from the executive branch. It’s hard to insulate the FDA from political concerns as long as Congress controls the FDA’s purse, but it could at least be removed from direct interference from the executive branch by making it an independent agency like the FCC or Federal Reserve. There seems to be wide support behind this idea right now and recently four former FDA commissioners all endorsed this idea in an interview.
  • Rolling reviews. It should not take 3-4 weeks from the submission of an EUA application until a decision is made, especially when thousands are dying every day while waiting for vaccines. According to Dr. Marty Makary, a professor of public health policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has conducted over a hundred clinical studies, the FDA “could have done the approval in 24-48 hours without cutting any corners”. Likewise, the approval of drugs and therapies after Phase III trials have reached an endpoint should not take 6 – 18 months. While the FDA does engage in a back and forth with companies prior to when they submit their paperwork for an EUA or approval, they do not use rolling reviews. Due to their rolling review systems other countries like the UK were able issue EUAs for COVID-19 vaccines faster than the FDA. Rolling reviews should be the norm, and the submission and analysis of trial data should made as streamlined and as efficient as possible without compromising the integrity of the analysis.
  • Tiered approvals. Doctors who want to provide new drugs to at-risk patients currently have to wait 5-10 years for lengthy Phase III trials to conclude and then another 6 – 18 months for the FDA to carry out their review of the trial data. Tiered approvals would allow a lower level of approval after just Phases I and II, freeing up treatments to those who need them most. The centrist Niskanen center has a white paper which suggests four levels of approval (see also their op-ed in The Hill).
  • Expansion of Right-to-Try. Federal right-to-try legislation was passed in 2018. However, it is very restrictive, and patients need to have met a number of strict requirements before they can try new medications and treatments, greatly limiting its utility.
  • Treating aging as a disease. Currently it is illegal to market an FDA-approved product as a treatment for aging. Even though aging is a harmful biological process, it is not considered a legitimate “indication” for a drug or therapy by the FDA. In other words, the FDA doesn’t view aging as a “disease” and therefore anti-aging treatments fall outside their mandate. Some specific aspects of aging are also not considered as legitimate indications. The FDA is currently operating in an inconsistent way as some conditions which are due to the aging process can are considered legitimate targets, such as osteoporosis and menopause, but others, like sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss /frailty), are not.  Many experts, including David Sinclair, have spoken out about this issue. Some companies have found ways to get around the FDA’s restrictions, such as by using certain metabolic markers to track the degree of damage from aging. However, the impossibility of getting FDA approval for therapies that directly slow down or repair the damages from aging greatly dis-incentivizes industry R&D investment in this area.  Fortunately, with advanced gene and stem-cell therapies on the horizon, the Congress and the FDA have already taken a few steps towards being able to review and approve anti-aging drugs and therapies. The 21st-Century CURES Act, for instance, mandated the creation of the Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy designation at the FDA.
  • Challenge trials in emergency situations. Many people, including a group of legislators, lobbied the FDA to give companies the go-ahead to do challenge trials, but there was no action. Thousands of volunteers for COVID-19 challenge trials signed up with 1daysooner.org but were unable to participate as they had wished to. As a result, data on vaccine efficacy was obtained much slower than it could have been.
  • Use of the proactionary principle for all drug & therapy approvals. The FDA should publish a transparent, quantitative, scientifically informed, and structured cost-benefit analysis for each regulatory action performed, which estimates the expected quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) saved versus risk of QALYs lost for both the action and inaction. The analysis should be made public, ideally sometime before the decision goes into effect. Crucially, the analysis should enumerate the risks and benefits of granting an approval and the risks and benefits of not granting it. See Max More’s overview of the proactionary principle and his chapter in The Transhumanist Reader, where he presents not just a principle but an entire framework for rational decision making. The key reform here is to make it mandatory that decision making at the FDA be highly structured and quantitative so it under less sway from political concerns and cognitive biases. If such a framework for rational decision making was in place it’s unlikely the FDA would have decided to delay Pfizer’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from early November to December 11th, a decision which cost tens of thousands of American lives.
  • Free to Choose Medicine with a Trade-off Evaluation Database.  In brief, Free to Choose Medicine would create an additional track after Phases I and II to allow doctors to prescribe new therapies to at-risk patients who are unable or unwilling to participate in a Phase III trial. Patients in the Free-to-Choose Track would be mandated to submit data to a trade-off evaluation database, creating a trove of valuable real-world data (this could be genetic, biomarker, and adverse events data, for instance).  See this excellent podcast interview with Bart Madden for more information. 

Figure from Bart Madden, “Free to Choose Medicine“, The Heartland Institute

 

Dan Elton, Ph. D., is Director of Scholarship for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.  You can find him on Twitter at @moreisdifferent, where he accepts direct messages. If you like his content, check out his website and subscribe to his newsletter on Substack. 

Forecasting Whole-Brain Connectomics – A Kurzweilian Approach – Article by Dan Elton

Forecasting Whole-Brain Connectomics – A Kurzweilian Approach – Article by Dan Elton

Daniel C. Elton, Ph.D.


Editor’s Note: In this article, U.S. Transhumanist Party Director of Scholarship Dr. Daniel C. Elton describes the recent advances in mapping the connectomes of various organisms, as well as the technological advances that would be needed to achieve effective human whole-brain emulation. Given extensive discussion of these subjects among U.S. Transhumanist Party members, including at the Virtual Enlightenment Salon of September 27, 2020, with Kenneth Hayworth and Robert McIntyre, it is fitting for the U.S. Transhumanist Party to feature this systematic exploration by Dr. Elton into what has been achieved in the field of connectomics already and what it would practically take for human whole-brain emulation to become a reality. As Dr. Elton convincingly illustrates, this possibility is still several decades away, but some steady progress has been made in recent years as well.

~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party, March 7, 2021


The connectome of an organism is a map of all neurons and their connections. This may be thought of as a graph with the neurons as nodes and synaptic connections as edges. Here we take the term ‘connectome’ to refer to the graph and the underlying electron microscopy images of the neurons, which contain much more information. However, to successfully simulate an organism’s brain using a connectome, more information will be needed.  Retrieving a detailed scan of an entire brain and mapping all the neurons is a prerequisite for whole-brain emulation. In their landmark 2008 paper, “Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap“, transhumanists Anders Sandberg and Nick Bostrom construct a detailed “technology tree” showing the prerequisite technologies for realizing whole brain emulation:

Tech tree from Sandberg & Bostrom, 2008

In this article, we focus on the “scanning” component along with part of the “translation” component, namely neuronal tracing. By plotting technological progress on a logarithmic plot, similar to how Kurzweil does, we attempt to forecast how many decades away we are from being able to scan an entire human brain (and trace/segment all neurons to determine the connectome).  Of course, while Kurzweilian projections have been known to hold (most famously for Moore’s law), we caution that the start of a logistic function can look like an exponential function. In other words, exponential trends can and often do plateau. As any investment advisor would say, “past returns are no guarantee of future results”.

The complete connectome of the nematode worm (Caenorhabditis Elegans) was published in 1986. A complete set of images of the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) was published in 2018. However, all of the neurons and their connections have not yet been segmented or traced. In January 2020 researchers published the connectome of the central brain of the fruit fly, containing 25,000 neurons, which to my knowledge is the largest connectomics dataset published to date.

I thought it would be fun/interesting to plot the progress of connectomics over time and try to extrapolate out any trend observed. So, I did a literature search for all studies to date which either traced or segmented neurons and marked out synapses in electron microscopy data:

[1] D. D. Bock, et al. “Network anatomy and in vivo physiology of visual cortical neurons”, Nature 471 (7337) (2011) 177–182. doi:10.1038/nature09802. [link]
[2] K. L. Briggman, M. Helmstaedter, W. Denk, Wiring specificity in the direction-selectivity circuit of the retina, Nature 471 (7337) (2011) 183–188. [link]
[3] D. J. Bumbarger, M. Riebesell, C. Rodelsperger, R. J. Sommer, System-wide rewiring underlies behavioral differences in predatory and bacterial-feeding nematodes, Cell 152 (1-2) (2013) 109–119. [link]
[4] C.-Y. Lin, et al., A comprehensive wiring diagram of the protocerebral bridge for visual information processing in the drosophila brain, Cell Reports 3 (5) (2013) 1739–1753. [link]
[5] S. ya Takemura, et al., A visual motion detection circuit suggested by drosophila connectomics, Nature 500 (7461) (2013) 175–181. [link]
[6] M. Helmstaedter, K. L. Briggman, S. C. Turaga, V. Jain, H. S. Seung, W. Denk, Connectomic reconstruction of the inner plexiform layer in the mouse retina, Nature 500 (7461) (2013) 168–174. [link]
[7] N. Kasthuri, et al., Saturated reconstruction of a volume of neocortex, Cell 162 (3) (2015) 648–661. [link]
[8] A. A. Wanner et al., 3-dimensional electron microscopic imaging of the zebrafish olfactory bulb and dense reconstruction of neurons, Scientific Data 3 (1). [link]
[9] K. Ryan, Z. Lu, I. A. Meinertzhagen, The CNS connectome of a tadpole larva of Ciona intestinalis (l.) highlights sidedness in the brain of a chordate sibling, eLife 5 (2016) [link]
[10] S.-y. Takemura, et al., A connectome of a learning and memory center in the adult Drosophila brain, eLife 6 (2017). [link]
[11] K. Eichler, et al., The complete connectome of a learning and memory centre in an insect brain, Nature 548 (7666) (2017) 175–182. [link]
[12] C. S. Xu, et al., A connectome of the adult drosophila central brain (preprint) [link]
[13] L. K. Scheffer, et al., A connectome and analysis of the adult drosophila central brain, eLife 9 (2020). [link]
[14] J. S. Phelps, et al., Reconstruction of motor control circuits in adult drosophila using automated transmission electron microscopy, Cell 184 (3) (2021) 759–774.e18. [link]

Next I plotted most of the data for the number of neurons versus the date of publication:

Next I did linear regression on the (year, log(# neurons)) data which is equivalent to fitting an exponential function to the data. (The reason for fitting the data in this way was to avoid the bias that occurs when fitting an exponential function with least-squares regression that leads to the larger values on the y axis being fit more accurately than smaller ones.) After doing the linear regression I extrapolated it forward in time.

The projection for the fruit-fly connectome (2024) seems about right. If anything, we may see it slightly sooner. It will be interesting to see how much longer it will take before we have physically realistic models of the fruit fly and fruit-fly behavior.  U.S. Transhumanist Party member Logan T. Collins has advocated for  building biophysically and behaviorally realistic models of insects to better understand nervous systems. For one thing, interesting neuroscience experiments may be performed on a simulated “virtual fly” much faster and easier than on a real fly (for instance, certain neurons may be removed or manipulated, and the effects on the virtual fly’s behavior observed).  A project to produce the mouse brain connectome is underway, and again, the date extrapolated to — 2033 — seems plausible if the funding for the project continues. Beyond that though, I have very little idea how plausible the projections are!

Here are some numbers that show the challenges just with scanning the entire brain (not to mention segmenting/tracing all the neurons accurately!).

Assuming an isotropic voxel size of 20 nm, it is estimated that storing the images of an entire human brain would require 175 exabytes of storage. It seems we are approaching hard drives which cost about 1.5 cents per gigabyte. Even at those exorbitantly low prices, it would still cost $2.6 billion to store all those images!

The volume of the human brain is about 1.2 x 10^6 cubic millimeters. The Zeiss MultiSEM contains either 61 or even 91 electron beams which scan a sample in parallel. According to a Zeiss video presentation from April 8th, 2020, it can scan a 1×1 mm area at 4 nm resolution in 6.5 minutes. Assuming a slice thickness of 20 nm, a single such machine would require 742,009 years to scan the entire brain!

X-ray holographic nano-tomography might be the path forward …


Dan Elton, Ph. D., is Director of Scholarship for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.  You can find him on Twitter at @moreisdifferent, where he accepts direct messages. If you like his content, check out his website and subscribe to his newsletter on Substack.