Tag Archives: Martin Rees

Quantum Mechanics & Gravity conference (August 15 – 19, 2022) launches Vancouver (Canada)-based Quantum Gravity Institute and more

I received (via email) a July 21, 2022 news release about the launch of a quantum science initiative in Vancouver (BTW, I have more about the Canadian quantum scene later in this post),

World’s top physicists unite to tackle one of Science’s greatest
mysteries


Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Society leads international quest to
discover Theory of Quantum Gravity

Vancouver, B.C. (July 21, 2022): More than two dozen of the world’s
top physicists, including three Nobel Prize winners, will gather in
Vancouver this August for a Quantum Gravity Conference that will host
the launch a Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Institute (QGI) and a
new global research collaboration that could significantly advance our
understanding of physics and gravity and profoundly change the world as
we know it.

For roughly 100 years, the world’s understanding of physics has been
based on Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GR), which
explored the theory of space, time and gravity, and quantum mechanics
(QM), which focuses on the behaviour of matter and light on the atomic
and subatomic scale. GR has given us a deep understanding of the cosmos,
leading to space travel and technology like atomic clocks, which govern
global GPS systems. QM is responsible for most of the equipment that
runs our world today, including the electronics, lasers, computers, cell
phones, plastics, and other technologies that support modern
transportation, communications, medicine, agriculture, energy systems
and more.

While each theory has led to countless scientific breakthroughs, in many
cases, they are incompatible and seemingly contradictory. Discovering a
unifying connection between these two fundamental theories, the elusive
Theory of Quantum Gravity, could provide the world with a deeper
understanding of time, gravity and matter and how to potentially control
them. It could also lead to new technologies that would affect most
aspects of daily life, including how we communicate, grow food, deliver
health care, transport people and goods, and produce energy.

“Discovering the Theory of Quantum Gravity could lead to the
possibility of time travel, new quantum devices, or even massive new
energy resources that produce clean energy and help us address climate
change,” said Philip Stamp, Professor, Department of Physics and
Astronomy, University of British Columbia, and Visiting Associate in
Theoretical Astrophysics at Caltech [California Institute of Technology]. “The potential long-term ramifications of this discovery are so incredible that life on earth 100
years from now could look as miraculous to us now as today’s
technology would have seemed to people living 100 years ago.”

The new Quantum Gravity Institute and the conference were founded by the
Quantum Gravity Society, which was created in 2022 by a group of
Canadian technology, business and community leaders, and leading
physicists. Among its goals are to advance the science of physics and
facilitate research on the Theory of Quantum Gravity through initiatives
such as the conference and assembling the world’s leading archive of
scientific papers and lectures associated with the attempts to reconcile
these two theories over the past century.

Attending the Quantum Gravity Conference in Vancouver (August 15-19 [2022])
will be two dozen of the world’s top physicists, including Nobel
Laureates Kip Thorne, Jim Peebles and Sir Roger Penrose, as well as
physicists Baron Martin Rees, Markus Aspelmeyer, Viatcheslav Mukhanov
and Paul Steinhardt. On Wednesday, August 17, the conference will be
open to the public, providing them with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
to attend keynote addresses from the world’s pre-eminent physicists.
… A noon-hour discussion on the importance of the
research will be delivered by Kip Thorne, the former Feynman Professor
of physics at Caltech. Thorne is well known for his popular books, and
for developing the original idea for the 2014 film “Interstellar.” He
was also crucial to the development of the book “Contact” by Carl Sagan,
which was also made into a motion picture.

“We look forward to welcoming many of the world’s brightest minds to
Vancouver for our first Quantum Gravity Conference,” said Frank
Giustra, CEO Fiore Group and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society. “One
of the goals of our Society will be to establish Vancouver as a
supportive home base for research and facilitate the scientific
collaboration that will be required to unlock this mystery that has
eluded some of the world’s most brilliant physicists for so long.”

“The format is key,” explains Terry Hui, UC Berkley Physics alumnus
and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society [and CEO of Concord Pacific].
“Like the Solvay Conference nearly 100 years ago, the Quantum Gravity
Conference will bring top scientists together in salon-style gatherings. The
relaxed evening format following the conference will reduce barriers and
allow these great minds to freely exchange ideas. I hope this will help accelerate
the solution of this hundred-year bottleneck between theories relatively
soon.”

“As amazing as our journey of scientific discovery has been over the
past century, we still have so much to learn about how the universe
works on a macro, atomic and subatomic level,” added Paul Lee,
Managing Partner, Vanedge Capital, and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity
Society. “New experiments and observations capable of advancing work
on this scientific challenge are becoming increasingly possible in
today’s physics labs and using new astronomical tools. The Quantum
Gravity Society looks forward to leveraging that growing technical
capacity with joint theory and experimental work that harnesses the
collective expertise of the world’s great physicists.”

About Quantum Gravity Society

Quantum Gravity Society was founded in Vancouver, Canada in 2020 by a
group of Canadian business, technology and community leaders, and
leading international physicists. The Society’s founding members
include Frank Giustra (Fiore Group), Terry Hui (Concord Pacific), Paul
Lee and Moe Kermani (Vanedge Capital) and Markus Frind (Frind Estate
Winery), along with renowned physicists Abhay Ashtekar, Sir Roger
Penrose, Philip Stamp, Bill Unruh and Birgitta Whaley. For more
information, visit Quantum Gravity Society.

About the Quantum Gravity Conference (Vancouver 2022)


The inaugural Quantum Gravity Conference (August 15-19 [2022]) is presented by
Quantum Gravity Society, Fiore Group, Vanedge Capital, Concord Pacific,
The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver and Frind Estate Winery. For conference
information, visit conference.quantumgravityinstitute.ca. To
register to attend the conference, visit Eventbrite.com.

The front page on the Quantum Gravity Society website is identical to the front page for the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment conference website. It’s probable that will change with time.

This seems to be an in-person event only.

The site for the conference is in an exceptionally pretty location in Coal Harbour and it’s close to Stanley Park (a major tourist attraction),

The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver
1601 Bayshore Drive
Vancouver, BC V6G 2V4
View map

Assuming that most of my readers will be interested in the ‘public’ day, here’s more from the Wednesday, August 17, 2022 registration page on Eventbrite,

Tickets:

  • Corporate Table of 8 all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $1,100
  • Ticket per person all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $129
  • Ticket per person all day access (no VIP luncheon): $59
  • Student / Academia Ticket – all day access (no VIP luncheon): $30

Date:

Wednesday, August 17, 2022 @ 9:00 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. (PT)

Schedule:

  • Registration Opens: 8:00 a.m.
  • Morning Program: 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • VIP Lunch: 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
  • Afternoon Program: 2:30 p.m. – 4:20 p.m.
  • Public Discussion / Debate: 4:20 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.

Program:

9:00 a.m. Session 1: Beginning of the Universe

  • Viatcheslav Mukhanov – Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist, University of Munich
  • Paul Steinhardt – Theoretical Physicist, Princeton University

Session 2: History of the Universe

  • Jim Peebles, 2019 Nobel Laureate, Princeton University
  • Baron Martin Rees – Cosmologist and Astrophysicist, University of Cambridge
  • Sir Roger Penrose, 2020 Nobel Laureate, University of Oxford (via zoom)

12:30 p.m. VIP Lunch Session: Quantum Gravity — Why Should We Care?

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

2:30 p.m. Session 3: What do Experiments Say?

  • Markus Aspelmeyer – Experimental Physicist, Quantum Optics and Optomechanics Leader, University of Vienna
  • Sir Roger Penrose – 2020 Nobel Laureate (via zoom)

Session 4: Time Travel

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

Event Partners

  • Quantum Gravity Society
  • Westin Bayshore
  • Fiore Group
  • Concord Pacific
  • VanEdge Capital
  • Frind Estate Winery

Marketing Partners

  • BC Business Council
  • Greater Vancouver Board of Trade

Please note that Sir Roger Penrose will be present via Zoom but all the others will be there in the room with you.

Given that Kip Thorne won his 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics (with Rainer Weiss and Barry Barish) for work on gravitational waves, it’s surprising there’s no mention of this in the publicity for a conference on quantum gravity. Finding gravitational waves in 2016 was a very big deal (see Josh Fischman’s and Steve Mirsky’s February 11, 2016 interview with Kip Thorne for Scientific American).

Some thoughts on this conference and the Canadian quantum scene

This conference has a fascinating collection of players. Even I recognized some of the names, e.g., Penrose, Rees, Thorne.

The academics were to be expected and every presenter is an academic, often with their own Wikipedia page. Weirdly, there’s no one from the Perimeter Institute Institute for Theoretical Physics or TRIUMF (a national physics laboratory and centre for particle acceleration) or from anywhere else in Canada, which may be due to their academic specialty rather than an attempt to freeze out Canadian physicists. In any event, the conference academics are largely from the US (a lot of them from CalTech and Stanford) and from the UK.

The business people are a bit of a surprise. The BC Business Council and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade? Frank Giustra who first made his money with gold mines, then with Lionsgate Entertainment, and who continues to make a great deal of money with his equity investment company, Fiore Group? Terry Hui, Chief Executive Office of Concord Pacific, a real estate development company? VanEdge Capital, an early stage venture capital fund? A winery? Missing from this list is D-Wave Systems, Canada’s quantum calling card and local company. While their area of expertise is quantum computing, I’d still expect to see them present as sponsors.

The academics? These people are not cheap dates (flights, speaker’s fees, a room at the Bayshore, meals). This is a very expensive conference and $129 for lunch and a daypass is likely a heavily subsidized ticket.

Another surprise? No government money/sponsorship. I don’t recall seeing another academic conference held in Canada without any government participation.

Canadian quantum scene

A National Quantum Strategy was first announced in the 2021 Canadian federal budget and reannounced in the 2022 federal budget (see my April 19, 2022 posting for a few more budget details).. Or, you may find this National Quantum Strategy Consultations: What We Heard Report more informative. There’s also a webpage for general information about the National Quantum Strategy.

As evidence of action, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced new grant programmes made possible by the National Quantum Strategy in a March 15, 2022 news release,

Quantum science and innovation are giving rise to promising advances in communications, computing, materials, sensing, health care, navigation and other key areas. The Government of Canada is committed to helping shape the future of quantum technology by supporting Canada’s quantum sector and establishing leadership in this emerging and transformative domain.

Today [March 15, 2022], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, is announcing an investment of $137.9 million through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants and Alliance grants. These grants are an important next step in advancing the National Quantum Strategy and will reinforce Canada’s research strengths in quantum science while also helping to develop a talent pipeline to support the growth of a strong quantum community.

Quick facts

Budget 2021 committed $360 million to build the foundation for a National Quantum Strategy, enabling the Government of Canada to build on previous investments in the sector to advance the emerging field of quantum technologies. The quantum sector is key to fuelling Canada’s economy, long-term resilience and growth, especially as technologies mature and more sectors harness quantum capabilities.

Development of quantum technologies offers job opportunities in research and science, software and hardware engineering and development, manufacturing, technical support, sales and marketing, business operations and other fields.

The Government of Canada also invested more than $1 billion in quantum research and science from 2009 to 2020—mainly through competitive granting agency programs, including Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada programs and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund—to help establish Canada as a global leader in quantum science.

In addition, the government has invested in bringing new quantum technologies to market, including investments through Canada’s regional development agencies, the Strategic Innovation Fund and the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.

Bank of Canada, cryptocurrency, and quantum computing

My July 25, 2022 posting features a special project, Note: All emphases are mine,

… (from an April 14, 2022 HKA Marketing Communications news release on EurekAlert),

Multiverse Computing, a global leader in quantum computing solutions for the financial industry and beyond with offices in Toronto and Spain, today announced it has completed a proof-of-concept project with the Bank of Canada through which the parties used quantum computing to simulate the adoption of cryptocurrency as a method of payment by non-financial firms.

“We are proud to be a trusted partner of the first G7 central bank to explore modelling of complex networks and cryptocurrencies through the use of quantum computing,” said Sam Mugel, CTO [Chief Technical Officer] at Multiverse Computing. “The results of the simulation are very intriguing and insightful as stakeholders consider further research in the domain. Thanks to the algorithm we developed together with our partners at the Bank of Canada, we have been able to model a complex system reliably and accurately given the current state of quantum computing capabilities.”

Multiverse Computing conducted its innovative work related to applying quantum computing for modelling complex economic interactions in a research project with the Bank of Canada. The project explored quantum computing technology as a way to simulate complex economic behaviour that is otherwise very difficult to simulate using traditional computational techniques.

By implementing this solution using D-Wave’s annealing quantum computer, the simulation was able to tackle financial networks as large as 8-10 players, with up to 2^90 possible network configurations. Note that classical computing approaches cannot solve large networks of practical relevance as a 15-player network requires as many resources as there are atoms in the universe.

Quantum Technologies and the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA)

In a May 26, 2022 blog posting the CCA announced its Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies (they will be issuing a Quantum Technologies report),

The emergence of quantum technologies will impact all sectors of the Canadian economy, presenting significant opportunities but also risks. At the request of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine the impacts, opportunities, and challenges quantum technologies present for Canadian industry, governments, and Canadians. Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information and Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo, will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.

“Quantum technologies have the potential to transform computing, sensing, communications, healthcare, navigation and many other areas,” said Dr. Laflamme. “But a close examination of the risks and vulnerabilities of these technologies is critical, and I look forward to undertaking this crucial work with the panel.”

As Chair, Dr. Laflamme will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in quantum technologies, economics, innovation, ethics, and legal and regulatory frameworks. The Panel will answer the following question:

In light of current trends affecting the evolution of quantum technologies, what impacts, opportunities and challenges do these present for Canadian industry, governments and Canadians more broadly?

The Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies:

Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC (Chair), Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information; the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis John von Neumann Chair in Quantum Information; Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Waterloo

Sally Daub, Founder and Managing Partner, Pool Global Partners

Shohini Ghose, Professor, Physics and Computer Science, Wilfrid Laurier University; NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering

Paul Gulyas, Senior Innovation Executive, IBM Canada

Mark W. Johnson, Senior Vice-President, Quantum Technologies and Systems Products, D-Wave Systems

Elham Kashefi, Professor of Quantum Computing, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh; Directeur de recherche au CNRS, LIP6 Sorbonne Université

Mauritz Kop, Fellow and Visiting Scholar, Stanford Law School, Stanford University

Dominic Martin, Professor, Département d’organisation et de ressources humaines, École des sciences de la gestion, Université du Québec à Montréal

Darius Ornston, Associate Professor, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto

Barry Sanders, FRSC, Director, Institute for Quantum Science and Technology, University of Calgary

Eric Santor, Advisor to the Governor, Bank of Canada

Christian Sarra-Bournet, Quantum Strategy Director and Executive Director, Institut quantique, Université de Sherbrooke

Stephanie Simmons, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Nanoelectronics, and CIFAR Quantum Information Science Fellow, Department of Physics, Simon Fraser University

Jacqueline Walsh, Instructor; Director, initio Technology & Innovation Law Clinic, Dalhousie University

You’ll note that both the Bank of Canada and D-Wave Systems are represented on this expert panel.

The CCA Quantum Technologies report (in progress) page can be found here.

Does it mean anything?

Since I only skim the top layer of information (disparagingly described as ‘high level’ by the technology types I used to work with), all I can say is there’s a remarkable level of interest from various groups who are self-organizing. (The interest is international as well. I found the International Society for Quantum Gravity [ISQG], which had its first meeting in 2021.)

I don’t know what the purpose is other than it seems the Canadian focus seems to be on money. The board of trade and business council have no interest in primary research and the federal government’s national quantum strategy is part of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada’s mandate. You’ll notice ‘science’ is sandwiched between ‘innovation’, which is often code for business, and economic development.

The Bank of Canada’s monetary interests are quite obvious.

The Perimeter Institute mentioned earlier was founded by Mike Lazaridis (from his Wikipedia entry) Note: Links have been removed,

… a Canadian businessman [emphasis mine], investor in quantum computing technologies, and founder of BlackBerry, which created and manufactured the BlackBerry wireless handheld device. With an estimated net worth of US$800 million (as of June 2011), Lazaridis was ranked by Forbes as the 17th wealthiest Canadian and 651st in the world.[4]

In 2000, Lazaridis founded and donated more than $170 million to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.[11][12] He and his wife Ophelia founded and donated more than $100 million to the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in 2002.[8]

That Institute for Quantum Computing? There’s an interesting connection. Raymond Laflamme, the chair for the CCA expert panel, was its director for a number of years and he’s closely affiliated with the Perimeter Institute. (I’m not suggesting anything nefarious or dodgy. It’s a small community in Canada and relationships tend to be tightly interlaced.) I’m surprised he’s not part of the quantum mechanics and gravity conference but that could have something to do with scheduling.

One last interesting bit about Laflamme, from his Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed)

As Stephen Hawking’s PhD student, he first became famous for convincing Hawking that time does not reverse in a contracting universe, along with Don Page. Hawking told the story of how this happened in his famous book A Brief History of Time in the chapter The Arrow of Time.[3] Later on Laflamme made a name for himself in quantum computing and quantum information theory, which is what he is famous for today.

Getting back to the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment, the public day looks pretty interesting and when is the next time you’ll have a chance to hobnob with all those Nobel Laureates?

Awe, science, and God

Having been brought up in a somewhat dogmatic religion, I was a bit resistant when I saw ‘religion’ mentioned in the news release but it seems I am being dogmatic. Here’s a definition from the Religion Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

Religion is a social-cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.[1][2]

This research into science and God suggests that the two ‘belief’ systems are not antithetical. From a July 18, 2019 Arizona State University (ASU) news release (also on EurekAlert but published on July 17, 2019) by Kimberlee D’Ardenne,

Most Americans believe science and religion are incompatible, but a recent study suggests that scientific engagement can actually promote belief in God.

Researchers from the Arizona State University Department of Psychology found that scientific information can create a feeling of awe, which leads to belief in more abstract views of God. The work will be published in the September 2019 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and is now available online.

“There are many ways of thinking about God. Some see God in DNA, some think of God as the universe, and others think of God in Biblical, personified terms,” said Kathryn Johnson, associate research professor at ASU and lead author on the study. “We wanted to know if scientific engagement influenced beliefs about the existence or nature of God.”

Though science is often thought of in terms of data and experiments, ASU psychology graduate student Jordan Moon, who was a coauthor on the paper, said science might be more to some people. To test how people connect with science and the impact it had on their beliefs about God, the researchers looked at two types of scientific engagement: logical thinking or experiencing the feeling of awe.

The team first surveyed participants about how interested they were in science, how committed they were to logical thinking and how often they felt awe. Reporting a commitment to logic was associated with unbelief. The participants who reported both a strong commitment to logic and having experienced awe, or a feeling of overwhelming wonder that often leads to open-mindedness, were more likely to report believing in God. The most common description of God given by those participants was not what is commonly found in houses of worship: They reported believing in an abstract God described as mystical or limitless.

“When people are awed by the complexity of life or the vastness of the universe, they were more inclined to think in more spiritual ways,” Johnson said. “The feeling of awe might make people more open to other ways of conceptualizing God.”

In another experiment, the research team had the participants engage with science by watching videos. While a lecture about quantum physics led to unbelief or agnosticism, watching a music video about how atoms are both particles and waves led people to report feeling awe. Those who felt awe also were more likely to believe in an abstract God.

“A lot of people think science and religion do not go together, but they are thinking about science in too simplistic a way and religion in too simplistic a way,” said Adam Cohen, professor of psychology and senior author on the paper. “Science is big enough to accommodate religion, and religion is big enough to accommodate science.”

Cohen added that the work could lead to broader views of both science and religion.

Morris Okun, Matthew Scott and Holly O’Rourke from ASU and Joshua Hook from the University of North Texas also contributed to the work. The study was funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Science, God, and the cosmos: Science both erodes (via logic) and promotes (via awe) belief in God by Kathryn A.Johnson, Jordan W.Moon, Morris A.Okun, Matthew J.Scott, Holly P.O’Rourke, Joshua N.Hook, Adam B. Cohen. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 84, September 2019, 103826 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2019.103826

This paper is behind a paywall.

I noted the funding from the John Templeton Foundation and recalled they have a prize that relates to this topic.

2019 Templeton Prize winner

A March 20, 2019 article by Lee Billings for Scientific American offers a profile of the 2019 Templeton Prize winner,

Marcelo Gleiser, a 60-year-old Brazil-born theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College and prolific science popularizer, has won this year’s Templeton Prize. Valued at just under $1.5 million, the award from the John Templeton Foundation annually recognizes an individual “who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” [emphasis mine] Its past recipients include scientific luminaries such as Sir Martin Rees and Freeman Dyson, as well as religious or political leaders such as Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

Across his 35-year scientific career, Gleiser’s research has covered a wide breadth of topics, ranging from the properties of the early universe to the behavior of fundamental particles and the origins of life. But in awarding him its most prestigious honor, the Templeton Foundation chiefly cited his status as a leading public intellectual revealing “the historical, philosophical and cultural links between science, the humanities and spirituality.” He is also the first Latin American to receive the prize.

Scientific American spoke with Gleiser about the award, how he plans to advance his message of consilience, the need for humility in science, why humans are special, and the fundamental source of his curiosity as a physicist.

You’ve written and spoken eloquently about nature of reality and consciousness, the genesis of life, the possibility of life beyond Earth, the origin and fate of the universe, and more. How do all those disparate topics synergize into one, cohesive message for you

To me, science is one way of connecting with the mystery of existence. And if you think of it that way, the mystery of existence is something that we have wondered about ever since people began asking questions about who we are and where we come from. So while those questions are now part of scientific research, they are much, much older than science. I’m not talking about the science of materials, or high-temperature superconductivity, which is awesome and super important, but that’s not the kind of science I’m doing. I’m talking about science as part of a much grander and older sort of questioning about who we are in the big picture of the universe. To me, as a theoretical physicist and also someone who spends time out in the mountains, this sort of questioning offers a deeply spiritual connection with the world, through my mind and through my body. Einstein would have said the same thing, I think, with his cosmic religious feeling.

If you’re interested, this is a wide ranging profile touching on one of the big questions in physics, Is there a theory of everything?

For anyone curious about the Templeton Foundation, you can find out more here.

October 2019 science and art/science events in Vancouver and other parts of Canada

This is a scattering of events, which I’m sure will be augmented as we properly start the month of October 2019.

October 2, 2019 in Waterloo, Canada (Perimeter Institute)

If you want to be close enough to press the sacred flesh (Sir Martin Rees), you’re out of luck. However, there are still options ranging from watching a live webcast from the comfort of your home to watching the lecture via closed circuit television with other devoted fans at a licensed bistro located on site at the Perimeter Institute (PI) to catching the lecture at a later date via YouTube.

That said, here’s why you might be interested,

Here’s more from a September 11, 2019 Perimeter Institute (PI) announcement received via email,

Surviving the Century
MOVING TOWARD A POST-HUMAN FUTURE
Martin Rees, UK Astronomer Royal
Wednesday, Oct. 2 at 7:00 PM ET

Advances in technology and space exploration could, if applied wisely, allow a bright future for the 10 billion people living on earth by the end of the century.

But there are dystopian risks we ignore at our peril: our collective “footprint” on our home planet, as well as the creation and use of technologies so powerful that even small groups could cause a global catastrophe.

Martin Rees, the UK Astronomer Royal, will explore this unprecedented moment in human history during his lecture on October 2, 2019. A former president of the Royal Society and master of Trinity College, Cambridge, Rees is a cosmologist whose work also explores the interfaces between science, ethics, and politics. Read More.

Mark your calendar! Tickets will be available on Monday, Sept. 16 at 9 AM ET

Didn’t get tickets for the lecture? We’ve got more ways to watch.
Join us at Perimeter on lecture night to watch live in the Black Hole Bistro.
Catch the live stream on Inside the Perimeter or watch it on Youtube the next day
Become a member of our donor thank you program! Learn more.

It took me a while to locate an address for PI venue since I expect that information to be part of the announcement. (insert cranky emoticon here) Here’s the address: Perimeter Institute, Mike Lazaridis Theatre of Ideas, 31 Caroline St. N., Waterloo, ON

Before moving onto the next event, I’m including a paragraph from the event description that was not included in the announcement (from the PI Outreach Surviving the Century webpage),

In his October 2 [2019] talk – which kicks off the 2019/20 season of the Perimeter Institute Public Lecture Series – Rees will discuss the outlook for humans (or their robotic envoys) venturing to other planets. Humans, Rees argues, will be ill-adapted to new habitats beyond Earth, and will use genetic and cyborg technology to transform into a “post-human” species.

I first covered Sir Martin Rees and his concerns about technology (robots and cyborgs run amok) in this November 26, 2012 posting about existential risk. He and his colleagues at Cambridge University, UK, proposed a Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, which opened in 2015.

Straddling Sept. and Oct. at the movies in Vancouver

The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) opened today, September 26, 2019. During its run to October 11, 2019 there’ll be a number of documentaries that touch on science. Here are three of the documentaries most closely adhere to the topics I’m most likely to address on this blog. There is a fourth documentary included here as it touches on ecology in a more hopeful fashion than is the current trend.

Human Nature

From the VIFF 2019 film description and ticket page,

One of the most significant scientific breakthroughs in history, the discovery of CRISPR has made it possible to manipulate human DNA, paving the path to a future of great possibilities.

The implications of this could mean the eradication of disease or, more controversially, the possibility of genetically pre-programmed children.

Breaking away from scientific jargon, Human Nature pieces together a complex account of bio-research for the layperson as compelling as a work of science-fiction. But whether the gene-editing powers of CRISPR (described as “a word processor for DNA”) are used for good or evil, they’re reshaping the world as we know it. As we push past the boundaries of what it means to be human, Adam Bolt’s stunning work of science journalism reaches out to scientists, engineers, and people whose lives could benefit from CRISPR technology, and offers a wide-ranging look at the pros and cons of designing our futures.

Tickets
Friday, September 27, 2019 at 11:45 AM
Vancity Theatre

Saturday, September 28, 2019 at 11:15 AM
International Village 10

Thursday, October 10, 2019 at 6:45 PM
SFU Goldcorp

According to VIFF, the tickets for the Sept. 27, 2019 show are going fast.

Resistance Fighters

From the VIFF 2019 film description and ticket page,

Since mass-production in the 1940s, antibiotics have been nothing less than miraculous, saving countless lives and revolutionizing modern medicine. It’s virtually impossible to imagine hospitals or healthcare without them. But after years of abuse and mismanagement by the medical and agricultural communities, superbugs resistant to antibiotics are reaching apocalyptic proportions. The ongoing rise in multi-resistant bacteria – unvanquishable microbes, currently responsible for 700,000 deaths per year and projected to kill 10 million yearly by 2050 if nothing changes – and the people who fight them are the subjects of Michael Wech’s stunning “science-thriller.”

Peeling back the carefully constructed veneer of the medical corporate establishment’s greed and complacency to reveal the world on the cusp of a potential crisis, Resistance Fighters sounds a clarion call of urgency. It’s an all-out war, one which most of us never knew we were fighting, to avoid “Pharmageddon.” Doctors, researchers, patients, and diplomats testify about shortsighted medical and economic practices, while Wech offers refreshingly original perspectives on environment, ecology, and (animal) life in general. As alarming as it is informative, this is a wake-up call the world needs to hear.

Sunday, October 6, 2019 at 5:45 PM
International Village 8

Thursday, October 10, 2019 at 2:15 PM
SFU Goldcorp

According to VIFF, the tickets for the Oct. 6, 2019 show are going fast.

Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain

Strictly speaking this is more of a technology story than science story but I have written about blockchain and cryptocurrencies before so I’m including this. From the VIFF 2019 film description and ticket page,

For anyone who has questions about cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (and who doesn’t?), Alex Winter’s thorough documentary is an excellent introduction to the blockchain phenomenon. Trust Machine offers a wide range of expert testimony and a variety of perspectives that explicate the promises and the risks inherent in this new manifestation of high-tech wizardry. And it’s not just money that blockchains threaten to disrupt: innovators as diverse as UNICEF and Imogen Heap make spirited arguments that the industries of energy, music, humanitarianism, and more are headed for revolutionary change.

A propulsive and subversive overview of this little-understood phenomenon, Trust Machine crafts a powerful and accessible case that a technologically decentralized economy is more than just a fad. As the aforementioned experts – tech wizards, underground activists, and even some establishment figures – argue persuasively for an embrace of the possibilities offered by blockchains, others criticize its bubble-like markets and inefficiencies. Either way, Winter’s film suggests a whole new epoch may be just around the corner, whether the powers that be like it or not.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019 at 11:00 AM
Vancity Theatre

Thursday, October 3, 2019 at 9:00 PM
Vancity Theatre

Monday, October 7, 2019 at 1:15 PM
International Village 8

According to VIFF, tickets for all three shows are going fast

The Great Green Wall

For a little bit of hope, From the VIFF 2019 film description and ticket page,

“We must dare to invent the future.” In 2007, the African Union officially began a massively ambitious environmental project planned since the 1970s. Stretching through 11 countries and 8,000 km across the desertified Sahel region, on the southern edges of the Sahara, The Great Green Wall – once completed, a mosaic of restored, fertile land – would be the largest living structure on Earth.

Malian musician-activist Inna Modja embarks on an expedition through Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, and Ethiopia, gathering an ensemble of musicians and artists to celebrate the pan-African dream of realizing The Great Green Wall. Her journey is accompanied by a dazzling array of musical diversity, celebrating local cultures and traditions as they come together into a community to stand against the challenges of desertification, drought, migration, and violent conflict.

An unforgettable, beautiful exploration of a modern marvel of ecological restoration, and so much more than a passive source of information, The Great Green Wall is a powerful call to take action and help reshape the world.

Sunday, September 29, 2019 at 11:15 AM
International Village 10

Wednesday, October 2, 2019 at 6:00 PM
International Village 8
Standby – advance tickets are sold out but a limited number are likely to be released at the door

Wednesday, October 9, 2019 at 11:00 AM
International Village 9

As you can see, one show is already offering standby tickets only and the other two are selling quickly.

For venue locations, information about what ‘standby’ means and much more go here and click on the Festival tab. As for more information the individual films, you’ll links to trailers, running times, and more on the pages for which I’ve supplied links.

Brain Talks on October 16, 2019 in Vancouver

From time to time I get notices about a series titled Brain Talks from the Dept. of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. A September 11, 2019 announcement (received via email) focuses attention on the ‘guts of the matter’,

YOU ARE INVITED TO ATTEND:

BRAINTALKS: THE BRAIN AND THE GUT

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 16TH, 2019 FROM 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Join us on Wednesday October 16th [2019] for a series of talks exploring the
relationship between the brain, microbes, mental health, diet and the
gut. We are honored to host three phenomenal presenters for the evening:
Dr. Brett Finlay, Dr. Leslie Wicholas, and Thara Vayali, ND.

DR. BRETT FINLAY [2] is a Professor in the Michael Smith Laboratories at
the University of British Columbia. Dr. Finlay’s  research interests are
focused on host-microbe interactions at the molecular level,
specializing in Cellular Microbiology. He has published over 500 papers
and has been inducted into the Canadian  Medical Hall of Fame. He is the
co-author of the  books: Let Them Eat Dirt and The Whole Body
Microbiome.

DR. LESLIE WICHOLAS [3]  is a psychiatrist with an expertise in the
clinical understanding of the gut-brain axis. She has become
increasingly involved in the emerging field of Nutritional Psychiatry,
exploring connections between diet, nutrition, and mental health.
Currently, Dr. Wicholas is the director of the Food as Medicine program
at the Mood Disorder Association of BC.

THARA VAYALI, ND [4] holds a BSc in Nutritional Sciences and a MA in
Education and Communications. She has trained in naturopathic medicine
and advocates for awareness about women’s physiology and body literacy.
Ms. Vayali is a frequent speaker and columnist that prioritizes
engagement, understanding, and community as pivotal pillars for change.

Our event on Wednesday, October 16th [2019] will start with presentations from
each of the three speakers, and end with a panel discussion inspired by
audience questions. After the talks, at 7:30 pm, we host a social
gathering with a rich spread of catered healthy food and non-alcoholic
drinks. We look forward to seeing you there!

Paetzhold Theater

Vancouver General Hospital; Jim Pattison Pavilion, Vancouver, BC

Attend Event

That’s it for now.

2014 Maddox Prize winners and more ( a letter writing compaign)* from Sense about Science*

The UK’s ‘Sense about Science’ organization announced the two winners of its 2014 John Maddox (aka, the ‘standing up for science’) Prize in late October 2014 (from the Oct. 28, 2014 announcement),

I am delighted to share that last night [Oct. 27, 2014] Dr Emily Willingham and Dr David Robert Grimes were announced as the winners of the 2014 John Maddox Prize, at our annual reception held with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

After lengthy deliberation, this year’s judges (Tracey Brown, Philip Campbell, Colin Blakemore and Martin Rees) awarded the prize to these two people who embody the spirit of the prize, showing courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest, despite facing difficulty and hostility in doing so.

The call for 2014 nominations was mentioned in an Aug. 18, 2014 post. Here’s more about each of the winners (from the 2014 John Maddox Prize webpage on the Sense about Science website),

The judges awarded the prize to freelance journalist Dr Emily Willingham and early career scientist Dr David Robert Grimes for courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest, despite facing difficulty and hostility in doing so. …

David Grimes writes bravely on challenging and controversial issues, including nuclear power and climate change. He has persevered despite hostility and threats, such as on his writing about the evidence in the debate on abortion in Ireland. He does so while sustaining his career as a scientist at the University of Oxford.

Emily Willingham, a US writer, has brought discussion about evidence, from school shootings to home birth, to large audiences through her writing. She has continued to reach across conflict and disputes about evidence to the people trying to make sense of them. She is facing a lawsuit for an article about the purported link between vaccines and autism.

A Nov. 1, 2014 post by Nick Cohen for the Guardian newspaper discusses one of the 2014 winners in the context of a post about standing up to science ignorance and Ebola in the US, scroll down abut 15% of the way),

The joint winners confronted beliefs that are as prevalent in Britain as America: that vaccination causes autism, that homeopathic medicines work, that manmade climate change does not exist and that adding fluoride to the water supply is a threat to health. (I didn’t know it until the prize jury told me but Sinn Féin is leading a vigorous anti-fluoride campaign in Dublin – well, I suppose it’s progress for the IRA to go from blowing off peoples’ heads to merely rotting their teeth.)

David Robert Grimes, one of the winners, said that, contrary to the myth of the scientific bully, most of his colleagues wanted to keep out of public debate, presumably because they did not wish to receive the threats of violence fanatics and quacks have directed at him. If we are to improve public policy in areas as diverse as the fight against Ebola to the treatment of drug addicts, they need to be a braver, and more willing to tell the public, which so often funds their research, what they have learned.

Grimes makes a useful distinction. Most people just want more information and scientists should be prepared to make their case clearly and concisely. Then there are the rest – Ukip, the Tea Party, governors of Maine, Sinn Féin, David Cameron, climate change deniers – who will block out any evidence that contradicts their beliefs. They confirm the truth of Paul Simon’s line: “All lies and jest, still the man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

Lydia Lepage (a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the Voice of Young Science, which is run by Sense About Science) over on the Conversation writes about both winners in an Oct. 28, 2014 post (Note: Links have been removed),

Willingham is a freelance science journalist whose evidence-based article: “Blame Wakefield for missed autism-gut connection” drew intense criticism and a lawsuit from Andrew Wakefield, the discredited scientist known for his now-retracted 1998 Lancet paper on the alleged link between vaccines and autism. She criticised the “red herring and the subsequent noxious cloud that his fraud left over any research examining autism and the gut”.

Willingham’s self-declared passion is “presenting accurate, evidence-based information”. She says:

Standing up for science and public health in the face of not only unyielding but also sometimes threatening opposition can be tiring and demoralising.

Grimes is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Oxford in the UK, working on modelling oxygen distribution in tumours. He has been awarded the Maddox Prize for reaching out to the public through his writing on a range of challenging and controversial issues, including nuclear power and climate change.

Grimes continues to present the evidence, despite receiving threats, particularly surrounding discussion on abortion in Ireland. Following his article on six myths about cancer, in which he addressed the “dubious and outlandish” information that can be found on the internet, he received physical and digital hate-mail.

Sense about Science next announced an ‘Ask for Evidence’ website, from a Nov. 2, 2014 announcement,

We are excited to announce that Ask for Evidence online is now live! And people are already using it to ask for the evidence behind claims they’ve come across. Check out www.askforevidence.org

It’s our new interactive website that makes asking for evidence and getting help understanding that evidence as easy as possible. You can use it to ask politicians, companies, NGOs and anyone else for evidence behind their claims, while you’re on the train, walking down the street or sitting in front of the TV. And if you need help understanding the evidence you’ve been sent, that’s there too. With the help of partners and friends we’ve built a help centre that has captured what we’ve learnt over the past 12 years answering thousands of requests for help in understanding evidence.

Finally,. there’s the latest announcement about an effort to influence the World Health Organization’s (WHO) new policy on reporting the results of clinical trials, from the Nov. 11, 2014 announcement,

Following our pressure, the World Health Organization is drafting a policy on reporting the results of clinical trials.

We have to grab this fantastic opportunity with both hands and make sure that the most influential health body in the world comes out with a statement that strongly supports clinical trials transparency.

But you only have until Saturday 15th November 2014 to add your voice.

The draft WHO policy does not call for the disclosure of the results of past trials, only future ones. The vast majority of medicines we use every day were approved by regulators a decade or more ago and so were tested in clinical trials over the past decades.

So email the WHO to tell them their policy should:

  1. Call for the results of all past clinical trials to be reported, as well as all future clinical trials.
  2. Require results to be reported within 12 months, rather than permitting delays of 18-30 months. The USA’s FDA Amendment Act, the newly adopted EU Clinical Trials Regulation and pharmaceutical companies including GSK and LEO Pharma all agree that 12 months is enough time to report results.
  3. Encourage researchers to put results on publicly accessible registers, in useful, standardised formats.

Email ictrpinfo@who.int today.

Be sure to include your name and contact details as the WHO will not consider anonymous comments.

You can also use the full AllTrials response to write your email if you wish.

Read the full AllTrials response.

I am encouraged to see a move towards more transparency in reporting the results of clinical trials whether or not this bid to include past clinical trials is successful, although that would certainly be excellent news.

* (a letter writing campaign) was added to the head and ‘sense about science’ was changed to ‘Sense about Science’ on Nov. 14, 2014 1015 hundred hours PDT.

Should we love our robots or are robots going be smarter than we are? TED’s 2014 All Stars Session 5: The Future is Ours (maybe)

Rodney Brooks seems to be a man who loves robots, from his TED biography,

Rodney Brooks builds robots based on biological principles of movement and reasoning. The goal: a robot who can figure things out.

MIT professor Rodney Brooks studies and engineers robot intelligence, looking for the holy grail of robotics: the AGI, or artificial general intelligence. For decades, we’ve been building robots to do highly specific tasks — welding, riveting, delivering interoffice mail — but what we all want, really, is a robot that can figure things out on its own, the way we humans do.

Brooks makes a plea for easy-to-use (programme) robots and mentions his Baxter robot as an example that should be improved; Brooks issues a challenge to make robots better. (Baxter was used as the base for EDI introduced earlier in TED’s 2014 Session 8 this morning (March 20, 2014).

By contrast, Sir Martin Rees, astrophysicist has some concerns about robots and artificial intelligence as per my Nov. 26, 2012 posting about his (and others’) proposal to create the Cambridge Project for Existential Risk. From his TED biography,

Martin Rees, one of the world’s most eminent astronomers, is a professor of cosmology and astrophysics at the University of Cambridge and the UK’s Astronomer Royal. He is one of our key thinkers on the future of humanity in the cosmos.

Sir Martin Rees has issued a clarion call for humanity. His 2004 book, ominously titled Our Final Hour, catalogues the threats facing the human race in a 21st century dominated by unprecedented and accelerating scientific change. He calls on scientists and nonscientists alike to take steps that will ensure our survival as a species.

Rees states that the worst threats to planetary survival come from humans not, as it did in the past, nature. While science offers great possibilities, it has an equally dark side. Rees suggests robots going rogue, activists hijacking synthetic biology to winnow out the population, and more. He suggests that there is a 50% chance that we could suffer a devastating setback. Rees then mentions the proposed Cambridge Centre for Existential Risk and the importance of studying the possibility of human extinction and ways to mitigate risk.

Steven Johnson, writer, was introduced next (from his TED biography),

Steven Berlin Johnson examines the intersection of science, technology and personal experience.

A dynamic writer and speaker, Johnson crafts captivating theories that draw on a dizzying array of disciplines, without ever leaving his audience behind. Author Kurt Anderson described Johnson’s book Emergence as “thoughtful and lucid and charming and staggeringly smart.” The same could be said for Johnson himself. His big-brained, multi-disciplinary theories make him one of his generation’s more intriguing thinkers. His books take the reader on a journey — following the twists and turns his own mind makes as he connects seemingly disparate ideas: ants and cities, interface design and Victorian novels.

He will be hosting a new PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) series, ‘How We Got to Now’ (mentioned in Hector Tobar’s Aug. 7, 2013 article about the PBS series in the Los Angeles Times) and this talk sounds like it might be a preview of sorts. Johnson plays a recording made 20 years before Alexander Graham Bell ‘first’ recorded sound. The story he shares is about an inventor who didn’t think to include a playback feature for his recordings. He simply didn’t think about it as he was interested in doing something else (I can’t quite remember what that was now) and, consequently, his invention and work got lost for decades. Despite that, it forms part of the sound recording story. Thankfully, modern sound recording engineers have developed a technique which allows us to hear those ‘lost’ sounds today.

The UK’s Futurefest and an interview with Sue Thomas

Futurefest with “some of the planet’s most radical thinkers, makers and performers” is taking place in London next weekend on Sept. 28 – 29, 2013 and  I am very pleased to be featuring an interview with one of  Futurefest’s speakers, Sue Thomas who amongst many other accomplishments was also the founder of the  Creative Writing and New Media programme at De Montfort University, UK, where I got my master’s degree.

Here’s Sue,

suethomas

Sue Thomas was formerly Professor of New Media at De Montfort University. Now she writes and consults on digital well-being. Her new book ‘Technobiophilia: nature and cyberspace’ explains how contact with the natural world can help soothe our connected lives.http://www.suethomas.net @suethomas

  • I understand you are participating in Futurefest’s SciFi Writers’ Parliament; could you explain what that is and what the nature of your participation will be?

The premise of the session is to invite Science Fiction writers to play with the idea that they have been given the power to realise the kinds of new societies and cultures they imagine in their books. Each of us will present a brief proposal for the audience to vote on. The panel will be chaired by Robin Ince, a well-known comedian, broadcaster, and science enthusiast. The presenters are Cory Doctorow, Pat Cadigan, Ken MacLeod, Charles Stross, Roz Kaveney and myself.

  • Do you have expectations for who will be attending ‘Parliament’ and will they be participating as well as watching?

I’m expecting the audience for FutureFest http://www.futurefest.org/ to be people interested in future forecasting across the four themes of the event: Well-becoming, In the imaginarium,  We are all gardeners now, and The value of everything. There are plenty of opportunities for them to participate, not just in discussing and voting in panels like ours, but also in The Daily Future, a Twitter game, and Playify, which will run around and across the weekend. 

  • How are you preparing for ‘Parliament’?

 I will propose A Global Environmental Protection Act for Cyberspace The full text of the proposal is  on my blog here http://suethomasnet.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/futurefest/ It’s based on the thinking and research around my new book Technobiophilia: nature and cyberspace http://suethomasnet.wordpress.com/technobiophilia/ which coincidentally comes out in the UK two days before FutureFest. In the runup to the event I’ll also be gathering peoples’ views and refining my thoughts.

sue thomas_technobiophilia

  • Is there any other event you’re looking forward to in particular and why would that be?

The whole of FutureFest looks great and I’m excited about being there all weekend to enjoy it. The following week I’m doing a much smaller but equally interesting event at my local Cafe Scientifique, which is celebrating its first birthday with a talk from me about Technobiophilia. I’ve only recently moved to Bournemouth so this will be a great chance to meet the kinds of interesting local people who come to Cafe Scientifique in all parts of the world. http://suethomasnet.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/cafe-scientifique/

 

I’ll also be launching the book in North America with an online lecture in the Metaliteracy MOOC at SUNY Empire State University. The details are yet to be released but it’s booked for 18 November. http://metaliteracy.cdlprojects.com/index.html

  • Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’m also doing another event at FutureFest which might be of interest, especially to people interested in the future of death. It’s called xHumed and this is what it’s about: If we can archive and store our personal data, media, DNA and brain patterns, the question of whether we can bring back the dead is almost redundant. The right question is should we? It is the year 2050AD and great thought leaders from history have been “xHumed”. What could possibly go wrong? Through an interactive performance Five10Twelve will provoke and encourage the audience to consider the implications via soundbites and insights from eminent experts – both living and dead. I’m expecting some lively debate!

Thank you,  Sue for bringing Futurefest to life and congratulations on your new book!

You can find out more about Futurefest and its speakers here at the Futurefest website. I found Futurefest’s ticket webpage (which is associated with the National Theatre) a little more  informative about the event as a whole,

Some of the planet’s most radical thinkers, makers and performers are gathering in East London this September to create an immersive experience of what the world will feel like over the next few decades.

From the bright and uplifting to the dark and dystopian, FutureFest will present a weekend of compelling talks, cutting-edge shows, and interactive performances that will inspire and challenge you to change the future.

Enter the wormhole in Shoreditch Town Hall on the weekend of 28 and 29 September 2013 and experience the next phase of being human.

FutureFest is split into four sessions, Saturday Morning, Saturday Afternoon, Sunday Morning and Sunday Afternoon. You can choose to come to one, two, three or all sessions. They all have a different flavour, but each one will immerse you deep in the future.

Please note that FutureFest is a living, breathing festival so sessions are subject to change. We’ll keep you up to date on our FutureFest website.

Saturday Morning will feature The Blind Giant author Nick Harkaway, bionic man Bertolt Meyer and techno-cellist Peter Gregson. There will also be secret agents, villages of the future and a crowd-sourced experiment in futurology with some dead futurists.

Saturday Afternoon has forecaster Tamar Kasriel helping to futurescape your life, and gamemaker Alex Fleetwood showing us what life will be like in the Gameful century. We’ve got top political scientists David Runciman and Diane Coyle exploring the future of democracy. There will also be a mass-deception experiment, more secret agents and a look forward to what the weather will be like in 2100.

Sunday Morning sees Sermons of the Future. Taking the pulpit will be Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, social entrepreneur and model Lily Cole, and Astronomer Royal Martin Rees. Meanwhile the comedian Robin Ince will be chairing a Science Fiction Parliament with top SF authors, Roberto Unger will be analysing the future of religion and one of the world’s top chefs, Andoni Aduriz, will be exploring how food will make us feel in the future.

Sunday Afternoon will feature a futuristic take on the Sunday lunch, with food futurologist Morgaine Gaye inviting you for lunch in the Gastrodome with insects and 3D meat print-outs on the menu. Smari McCarthy, founder of Iceland’s Pirate Party and Wikileaks worker, will be exploring life in a digitised world, and Charlie Leadbeater, Diane Coyle and Mark Stevenson will be imagining cities and states of the future.

I noticed that a few Futurefest speakers have been featured here:

Eric Drexler, ‘Mr. Nano’, was last mentioned in a May 6, 2013 posting about a talk he was giving in Seattle, Washington to promote his new book, Radical Abundance.

Martin Rees, Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, was mentioned in a Nov. 26, 3012 posting about the Cambridge Project for Existential Risk (humans relative to robots).

Bertolt Meyer, a young researcher from Zurich University and a lifelong user of prosthetic technology, in a Jan. 30, 2013 posting about building a bionic man.

Cory Doctorow, a science fiction writer, who ran afoul of James Moore, then Minister of Canadian Heritage and now Minister of Industry Canada, who accused him of being a ‘radical extremists’  prior to new copyright legislation  for Canadians, was mentioned in a June 25, 2010 posting.

Wish I could be at London’s Futurefest in lieu of that I will wish the organizers and participants all the best.

* On a purely cosmetic note, on Dec. 5, 2013, I changed the paragraph format in the responses.

Existential risk

The idea that robots of one kind or another (e.g. nanobots eating up the world and leaving grey goo, Cylons in both versions of Battlestar Galactica trying to exterminate humans, etc.) will take over the world and find humans unnecessary  isn’t especially new in works of fiction. It’s not always mentioned directly but the underlying anxiety often has to do with intelligence and concerns over an ‘explosion of intelligence’. The question it raises,’ what if our machines/creations become more intelligent than humans?’ has been described as existential risk. According to a Nov. 25, 2012 article by Sylvia Hui for Huffington Post, a group of eminent philosophers and scientists at the University of Cambridge are proposing to found a Centre for the Study of Existential Risk,

Could computers become cleverer than humans and take over the world? Or is that just the stuff of science fiction?

Philosophers and scientists at Britain’s Cambridge University think the question deserves serious study. A proposed Center for the Study of Existential Risk will bring together experts to consider the ways in which super intelligent technology, including artificial intelligence, could “threaten our own existence,” the institution said Sunday.

“In the case of artificial intelligence, it seems a reasonable prediction that some time in this or the next century intelligence will escape from the constraints of biology,” Cambridge philosophy professor Huw Price said.

When that happens, “we’re no longer the smartest things around,” he said, and will risk being at the mercy of “machines that are not malicious, but machines whose interests don’t include us.”

Price along with Martin Rees, Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, and Jaan Tallinn, Co-Founder of Skype, are the driving forces behind this proposed new centre at Cambridge University. From the Cambridge Project for Existential Risk webpage,

Many scientists are concerned that developments in human technology may soon pose new, extinction-level risks to our species as a whole. Such dangers have been suggested from progress in AI, from developments in biotechnology and artificial life, from nanotechnology, and from possible extreme effects of anthropogenic climate change. The seriousness of these risks is difficult to assess, but that in itself seems a cause for concern, given how much is at stake. …

The Cambridge Project for Existential Risk — a joint initiative between a philosopher, a scientist, and a software entrepreneur — begins with the conviction that these issues require a great deal more scientific investigation than they presently receive. Our aim is to establish within the University of Cambridge a multidisciplinary research centre dedicated to the study and mitigation of risks of this kind.

Price and Tallinn co-wrote an Aug. 6, 2012 article for the Australia-based, The Conversation website, about their concerns,

We know how to deal with suspicious packages – as carefully as possible! These days, we let robots take the risk. But what if the robots are the risk? Some commentators argue we should be treating AI (artificial intelligence) as a suspicious package, because it might eventually blow up in our faces. Should we be worried?

Asked whether there will ever be computers as smart as people, the US mathematician and sci-fi author Vernor Vinge replied: “Yes, but only briefly”.

He meant that once computers get to this level, there’s nothing to prevent them getting a lot further very rapidly. Vinge christened this sudden explosion of intelligence the “technological singularity”, and thought that it was unlikely to be good news, from a human point of view.

Was Vinge right, and if so what should we do about it? Unlike typical suspicious parcels, after all, what the future of AI holds is up to us, at least to some extent. Are there things we can do now to make sure it’s not a bomb (or a good bomb rather than a bad bomb, perhaps)?

It appears Price, Rees, and Tallinn are not the only concerned parties, from the Nov. 25, 2012 research news piece on the Cambridge University website,

With luminaries in science, policy, law, risk and computing from across the University and beyond signing up to become advisors, the project is, even in its earliest days, gathering momentum. “The basic philosophy is that we should be taking seriously the fact that we are getting to the point where our technologies have the potential to threaten our own existence – in a way that they simply haven’t up to now, in human history,” says Price. “We should be investing a little of our intellectual resources in shifting some probability from bad outcomes to good ones.”

Price acknowledges that some of these ideas can seem far-fetched, the stuff of science fiction, but insists that that’s part of the point.

According to the Huffington Post article by Lui, they expect to launch the centre next year (2013). In the meantime, for anyone who’s looking for more information about the ‘intelligence explosion’ or  ‘singularity’ as it’s also known, there’s a Wikipedia essay on the topic.  Also, you may want to stay tuned to this channel (blog) as I expect to have some news about an artificial intelligence project based at the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) and headed by Chris Eliasmith at the university’s Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience, later this week.