Browsed by
Tag: exponential growth

Why Transhumanism Needs More Positive Science Fiction – Article by Rykon Volta

Why Transhumanism Needs More Positive Science Fiction – Article by Rykon Volta

Rykon Volta

In the modern Age of Accelerating Returns, more commonly known as the Information Age, technological growth is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. Never before in the history of humanity has technological growth shown itself so clearly to the human race. As noted by famous futurist Ray Kurzweil, the trend of exponential growth in technology follows a double exponential curve.

One famous example of this exponential growth that you might be familiar with if you are into the world of tech is, of course, Moore’s Law, but in The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil demonstrates that other technological fields, including medicine, have been accelerating as well. Ray Kurzweil shows that technology has actually been accelerating since before the Stone Age, although a man in the Roman Empire would not have noticed any ramifications of progress considering that his grandchildren would not live in a very different society from the one his grandfather and he inhabited. For the first time in recorded history, we are commonly thinking about where we will be in 100 years, where we will be in 50 years, and now we are even thinking about where we will be in a decade as technology progresses into the 21st Century. If Ray Kurzweil is right, machines will have sentience, and AI, or artificial intelligence, will be greater than human intelligence, resulting in a hypothetical event known as an “intelligence explosion” or “technological singularity”. After this point, machines will be much smarter than average human beings and will be able to carry on progress much faster than we can even begin to comprehend with our natural brains.

In the wake of the recognition of these future possibilities, many science-fiction authors and script writers have created a plethora of media to warn us that AI and future genetic augmentation pose many existential threats to the human race. Examples that now dominate the mainstream media include Terminator, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, and many more that warn us that AI might kill us all. Gattaca expresses the great fear of an unfair society of elitism in a genetically enhanced world where a man who was born naturally is unable to get his dream career because he wasn’t born with genetic modifications. In parallel, people demonize the idea of genetic modification by ruthlessly attacking GMOs and saying that they’re bad for us when GMOs have in fact solved famine in some parts of the world due to higher yields. People are always fearful of something they do not understand.

In the Golden Age of Science Fiction, a period during the mid-20th Century that saw many sci-fi works hitting the stage, spreading optimism and futurism, science fiction had a brighter outlook on the future. Isaac Asimov imagined future Spacer societies and a Galactic Empire in his Robot Series and Foundation Series. Gene Roddenberry took us on fantastic voyages across the stars in the Enterprise alongside Captain James T. Kirk and Spock. Other authors inspired visionaries to have a brighter outlook on the future as the Space Race sent the first humans to the Moon.

Today, we have, in a way, a form of cultural stagnation. While some still see the future in an optimistic light, it seems much more popular today to look at the future as a dystopia, and New Age movements all over the place actually act like demonizing technology is some kind of “morally right” position. Despite the trends of growth continuing to accelerate, mainstream culture seems to be propagating more fear of the future than hope and inspiration. Why are we doing this? While I agree that dystopian sci-fi has it’s place and that we should in very deed analyze and contemplate existential risks in our future that we might steer clear of, progress is going to happen and we are going to try everything we can to “play god”, as the enemies of transhumanism like to say transhumanists are trying to do. To them, of course, I say, “Were we not created in God’s image? Did God not give the Earth to mankind? Were we not meant to achieve our full potential, to subdue the Earth and conquer it, bending it to our will?” Indeed, this phrase in Genesis seems to be divine permission to modify our bodies and accelerate a brighter future. However, this is mainly an appeal to my fellow religious folks who may be averse to progress. We are not playing God because, quite honestly, God would not even make that possible. We are just using our God-given talents to hack our own genetic code and modify the machinery of our initial, still quite wonderful creation. To those Christians who say that we are insulting God and telling him “You didn’t make me good enough”, the beauty of mankind is that we were in fact created with the ability to modify ourselves. Don’t modify yourself with the intention of insulting your creator, but with the intention of becoming closer to your creator. Why would he give us the ability for self-modification if he didn’t intend for us to use it? It’s like saying that we shouldn’t work out because self improvement is some kind of blasphemy against God. Do you really believe God wants us to intentionally limit ourselves from our full potential?

Others may fear the coming of AI as a usurping of humanity as the apex predator upon this planet, and they may be afraid of a Skynet scenario where a rampant AI destroys us all. I argue that the solution is to merge ourselves with the machines, allowing us to cause ourselves to evolve. Ray Kurzweil and many other singularitarians would make the same argument. By evolving our own bodies and replacing our cells with nanobots whereby we can enhance our brains to the point where neural signals travel at light speed, we will be able to keep up with AI in the evolutionary arms race to come. You can choose to live in fear in the face of the Singularity that is coming, getting left behind in its wake, or you can step boldly and bravely forward into the new world that it will create, surpassing all your physical, mental, and morphological limitations and ending your mortality fully.

As I have written before, mainstream media is overwhelmingly sending out negative signals and warnings about the future, painting into the memespace, or ideaspace, of mainstream culture the notion that technology is a negative influence and that it should be contained and controlled. Society is largely crying for a return back to the caves because many people are fearful of what they don’t understand. This trend needs to cease. People need to see that the light of the future is much brighter than they think. AI is coming, and the technological Singularity is coming, and it’s going to be better than anyone can imagine. This is a call to arms; artists and sci-fi writers who see the ramifications of the future and how it can create an abundant, prosperous utopia, I urge you to write science fiction that portrays AI not in a negative, but rather in a positive manner. Show AI in a benevolent form and show how it can aid humanity in its future quest for survival. Show how it can solve global problems like hunger and global warming and cure disease. Stories that put the Neo-Luddites in their place, and show that the pseudo-religious zeal of anti-progress-minded people is ultimately a negative factor only holding us back from creating a better world in the long run. Know and understand that the content in the mainstream media has a huge effect on the minds of the people, and indeed much of culture is shaped by what is put out there and consumed by the masses. Transhumanism needs more positive science fiction to help gain support for the movement and to inspire the next generation of scientists and inventors to design the future we all desire!

Rykon Volta is the author of the novel Arondite, Book I of The Artilect Protocol Trilogy. Arondite is available on Amazon in hard-copy and Kindle formats here. Visit Rykon Volta’s website here

Watch the U.S. Transhumanist Party Virtual Enlightenment Salon of  July 19, 2020, when Rykon Volta was the guest of honor and discussed science fiction, his novel Arondite, and the ideas surrounding it with the U.S. Transhumanist Party Officers.


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.