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The inspiration of Help Hookup is actually a comic book called Global Frequency by Warren Ellis. My brother, Alvin Wang, took the idea to startup weekend and they launched the idea this past weekend for hooking up volunteers. It is similar to the concepts of David Brin’s “empowered citizens” and Glenn Reynolds “an army of Davids”. The concepts are compatible with the ideas and causes of the Lifeboat foundation.

Global Frequency was a network of 1,001 people that handled the jobs that the governments did not have the will to handle. I thought that it was a great idea and it would be more powerful with 1,000,001 people or 100,000,001 people. We would have to leave out the killing that was in the comic.

Typhoons, earthquakes, and improperly funded education could all be handled. If there is a disaster, doctors could volunteer. Airlines could provide tickets. Corporations could provide supples. Trucking companies could provide transportation. Etc. State a need, meet the need. No overhead. No waste.

The main site is here it is a way for volunteers to hookup

The helphookup blog is tracking the progress.

Social Software Society for Safety.

Is there any scarcity? Perhaps friendship, because it requires time, shared history, and attention, is the ultimate scarcity—but must it always be the case?

A thoroughgoing naturalist, I stipulate that the value of all objects supervenes on their natural properties—rational evaluation of them is constrained by the facts. If I choose one car instead if its identical copy, simply because one has been stamped with a “brand,” this is the very definition of irrationality—if the 2 objects are exactly the same—you must be indifferent or violate the axioms of decision theory/identity theory. If I used a Replicator Ray to duplicate the Hope Diamond—which would you choose—the original—based on its history (was stolen, traveled around the world, etc) or the duplicate—they are identical!!

What happens to the value of the original? It is worth ½ because now there are 2? I make a 3rd copy so now it is worth 1/3? Nonsense—value has nothing to do with scarcity—a piece of feces may be totally unique in shape, just like a snowflake—but it has no value. Intrinsic value of objects depends on their properties. Instrumental value depends on what they can be used for (converted to intrinsic value).

Now I switch the 2 Hope Diamonds—neither of us knows which is which—do you pout and refuse to take it?

Now I duplicate your parents. I’m going to kill one set of them—which do you save? The originals. You owe them a duty simply because of the authenticity of the past relationship—the history you share with them. This is the difference between subjects and objects.

In an October 5, 2007 article, (WSJ, also summer feature in 07 New Atlantis), Christine Rosen argues that “because friendship depends on mutual revelations that are concealed from the rest of the world, it can flourish only within the bounds of privacy; the idea of public friendship is an oxymoron.”

What then, does the arrival of the transparent society bode for friendship? With ubiquitous computing—devices built into our clothes, embedded in the environment, cameras linked to our retinal displays, recording and streaming everything to our digital backup, our “life log,”—what of friendship? Social networking software will be integrated into all interactions—your face recognition software will pull up the profile of anyone you meet, instantly searching keywords for common interests, friends, past lovers, etc. Video testimonial files will pop up—don’t date this guy! You will get an accomplishment “rating” for different areas—career, hobbies, etc. Edited montages of your greatest hits and misses will populate the net—spin control, reputation management—prestige brokering will be the function of “banks” of the future. Myspace and Facebook are nothing compared to what will come.

Rosen argues that Facebook and Myspace dilute the word “friend.” With such a quantity of “friends” we diminish the intensity and quality of relationships. We already rank “real world” friends unconsciously—Myspace makes it explicit with a top friends list. Rosen is aware that the social network sites create a new type of accountability—records of IMs, personal news feeds, etc mean that you can never claim to be unavailable—you will get caught in your white lie.

But the true potential of the transparent society lies in what I call “ruthless objectivity.” I’ve begun practicing this myself as a form of cognitive behavior therapy—confronting yourself on tape/video forces you to see how you interact with the world—allowing you to overcome negativity, if you can take the heat.

Within a decade, “omniveillance” and life logging may be the rule. Acknowledge your failings and insecurities and they no longer have power—except of course if they are things you can’t change. Thus the technological transhumanist imperative to overcome limitations—what is disease, but just such an unfair limitation?

Here is the key point for those of us involved with the lifeboat foundation. We can design defense systems forever but at the end of the day, the best we can do is minimize accidental harm. You will never stop 100% of people determined to go on a rampage or commit acts of terrorism. You can see this already with gun control. You’ll never build a gun smart enough not to be shot in anger/unless you undermine the technology itself. You can’t wait for the gun to authenticate in the heat of battle—unless I suppose it were hooked up to instant face recognition software (we could postulate scenarios all day!) When events like Columbine or the Virginia Tech shootings happened I am always shocked—not that they occurred, but that we have as few rampages each year as we do!!

Most of our social institutions (our factory education system) are set up to create winners and losers, artificial scarcity that breeds resentment, failure, exclusion, marginalization, and anger. No wonder people react unreasonably to an unreasonable world, it is only reasonable (in a twisted way). People are actually more resilient than given credit for.

The Federalist papers, written during the debate over the formation of the institutions of the US government, famously argue for a system of checks and balances, so that ambition will counter ambition, greed counter greed. We could expect reasoned debate and participatory democracy from a government of angels, but we have a government of men so we must assume the worst and design things accordingly. Every man is not a Socrates.

This design approach won’t work in the 21st century. You can only get so far assuming we are sociopaths. We are about to reverse engineer the brain. The mystery of empathy—how Ghandi, Mother Teresa, or Jesus managed to care for the unwashed masses—this will become apparent. Anyone that wants to be more moral can work at it just like going to the gym. The science of empathy is no more mysterious than that of muscle building.

Empathy enhancements, along with constant cognitive therapy thanks to total omniveillance can make us a much more tolerant and humane—and therefore SAFER—society. Of course, people will have to rethink the idea of privacy. My prediction is that once cheap surveillance technology arrives, the only stable endpoint is total recording of everything mundane and sensational. Privacy has no intrinsic value—it only derives instrumental value from the fact that people are evil and will use information to hurt one another. Futurists often seem to miss the essential point that 1$ spent on lessening the chances that somebody is going to be alienated can make us a lot safer in aggregate than $1 million spent on an elaborate technical solution. Not that these approaches are mutually exclusive—I argue that the only real hope for humanity is to re-write our neurological source code.

Facebook is still rather crude—it will give way to the next generation. We control the use to which our technology is put—it does not control us unless we allow it to. When the Virginia Tech “massacre” occurred, April 16, 2007, I scoffed at the memorial groups that sprung up—like an emotional echo chamber—thousands of people, quite distant from the actual events (not direct friends/family members) created pages and testimonials.

Another symptom of our ADD society—only 4 days before Don Imus had been fired over his “nappy headed hoes” remark—if the timing had been a bit different his scandal would have been forgotten before it got started.

My initial reaction was wrong—if these people want to “grieve” this way, perhaps it was of some comfort to the survivors and victims. It certainly doesn’t hurt anyone.

The Net is radically democratic and empowering. It isn’t one to many broadcasting, but many to many. I don’t like Blogs—who cares about your mundane life—what you had for dinner at some restaurant. I don’t want to start a regular blog because if I got a following I’d have to keep cultivating them—you’re only as good as your last post.

And yet I’m guilty of the same narcissism, uploading myself on youtube now, logging my bodybuilding photos for all to see. At least I try to be interesting—my pictures and slideshows, if ridiculous, are more entertaining than 50% of the material out there. As expected, I am starting to attract a gay following on youtube—at least they appreciate the male physique. There is a difference between blogging your life and sharing an area you’ve devoted 13 years to and achieved something in—ultimately I think that comes through.

As for relationships, today there are considerable limits to our empathy and attention—the latest studies show 5 “close” friends as average. The superlative “best” friend admits of only one, regardless of how many BFFs you may say you have. Polyamory (multiple person marriage) doesn’t work well with our current cognitive architecture, and love triangles are socially unstable despite what geometry might say (but at 60% divorce rate, regular marriage ain’t doing a lot better).

A God or superintelligence might have the cognitive capacity to attend and respond to every aspect of your being—multiplied by 6 billion, and truly be everyone’s best friend. Until then, we’ll have to be content to use our new social software to relate not alienate. You never know who’s watching.


The Yellowstone caldera has moved upwards nine inches over the last three years, a record rate since geologists first began taking measurements in the 1920s. This is the result of a Los Angeles-sized blob of magma that recently rose up into the chamber only six miles below the surface. The Yellowstone caldera is an ancient supervolcano. Last time it erupted, 642,000 years ago, it ejected 1,000 cubic kilometers of magma into the air. If this happened in today’s world, it would kill millions and cover most of the United States in a layer of ash at least a centimeter thick. The lighter ash would rise up into the atmosphere, initiating a volcanic winter and ruining crops worldwide.

Calderas rise and fall worldwide all the time without erupting. But the activity in Yellowstone is still concerning. Like a reckless teenager in a sports car, it seems as if our civilization laughs off the possibility of its own demise like a complete joke. Yet the right sort of event, and we could be knocked flat. Instead of waiting for a disaster to happen, we should prepare in advance to minimize its probability.

I would like to see scientists do a study on the feasibility of using nuclear weapons to initiate a supervolcano eruption. If it looks feasible, then park security in Yellowstone should be increased.

Rioting at the Foresight Unconference

AP, Nov. 3 — The Foresight Unconference announced today that scientists have discovered that there in no world below 1 nanometer. “It’s just space,” said noted scientist Eric Drexler. “We don’t know what to do!” Participants left dazed. Many decided to go back to philosophy, one attendee said.

“Like I said, It’s full of stars!” said novelist Arthur C. Clarke, reached in Sri Lanka. “There’s no there, there.”

In a tragic note, famous author Ray Kurzweil was committed to an insane asylum, ranting “the Singularity isn’t near! This is horrible!!!”

Participants then staged a bonfire outside of Yahoo! headquarters, burning copies of The Singularity Is Near and Engines of Creation. “We’ve been totally mislead!” screamed one woman, ripping her clothes off and jumping in the fire. “It’s all over!!!”

“It’s my fault,” admitted conference organizer Christine Peterson. “By calling it the ‘unconference’, I cancelled out the entire science of nanotechnology.”

University of Pittsburgh researchers injected a therapy previously found to protect cells from radiation damage into the bone marrow of mice, then dosed them with some 950 roentgens of radiation — nearly twice the amount needed to kill a person in just five hours. Nine in 10 of the therapy-receiving mice survived, compared to 58 percent of the control group.

Between 30 and 330 days, there were no differences in survival rates between experiment and control group mice, indicating that systemic MnSOD-PL treatment was not harmful to survival.

The researchers will need to verify whether this treatment would work in humans.

This is part of the early development in the use of genetic modification to increase the biological defences (shields) of people against nuclear, biological and chemical threats. We may not be able to prevent all attacks, so we should improve our toughness and survivability. We should still try to stop the attacks and create the conditions for less attacks.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Full name: Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction

Short name: Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)
Open for signature: April 10, 1972
Entered into force: March 26, 1975
Member states: 158
Map of member states:


Article I: Never under any circumstances to acquire or retain biological weapons.
Article II: To destroy or divert to peaceful purposes biological weapons and associated resources prior to joining.
Article III: Not to transfer, or in any way assist, encourage or induce anyone else to acquire or retain biological weapons.
Article IV: To take any national measures necessary to implement the provisions of the BWC domestically.
Article V: To consult bilaterally and multilaterally to solve any problems with the implementation of the BWC.
Article VI: To request the UN Security Council to investigate alleged breaches of the BWC and to comply with its subsequent decisions.
Article VII: To assist States which have been exposed to a danger as a result of a violation of the BWC.
Article X: To do all of the above in a way that encourages the peaceful uses of biological science and technology.

I’ve been taking a look at an “international civil society organization” called the ETC Group. The “ETC” group is also known as the “Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration”. To be honest, I can’t figure them out. Here is a summary:

“ETC Group is an international civil society organization based in Canada. We are dedicated to the conservation and sustainable advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights. ETC Group supports socially responsible development of technologies useful to the poor and marginalized and we address international governance issues affecting the international community. We also monitor the ownership and control of technologies and the consolidation of corporate power.”

So they look like a somewhat standard leftist environmentalist technology oversight group. Alright.

Here is their stance on nanotechnology:

“Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of matter on the scale of the nanometer (one billionth of a meter). Nanoscale science operates in the realm of single atoms and molecules. At present, commercial nanotechnology involves materials science (i.e. researchers have been able to make materials that are stronger and more durable by taking advantage of property changes that occur when substances are reduced to nanoscale dimensions). In the future, as nanoscale molecular self-assembly becomes a commercial reality, nanotech will move into conventional manufacturing. While nanotechnology offers opportunities for society, it also involves profound social and environmental risks, not only because it is an enabling technology to the biotech industry, but also because it involves atomic manipulation and will make possible the fusing of the biological world and the mechanical. There is a critical need to evaluate the social implications of all nanotechnologies; in the meantime, the ETC group believes that a moratorium should be placed on research involving molecular self-assembly and self-replication.”

(Bold by me.)

This is a touchy issue for researchers. At the Lifeboat Foundation we sometimes talk about the Religion of Science, which states that science must progress as quickly as possible and that any attempt to limit it is foolish and immoral. We’ve had people leave our Scientific Advisory Board when they realized that we did not subscribe to this Religion, but in fact question whether any scientist should be allowed to do just anything.

But we do not go as far as the ETC Group, which is proposing a blanket ban on all molecular self-assembly, a very large and potentially incredibly fruitful field.

What prompted me to write on the ETC Group was a news release they sent me today on synthetic biology:

ETC Group
News Release
17 October 2007

Syns of Omission:
Civil Society Organizations Respond to Report on Synthetic Biology
Governance from the J. Craig Venter Institute and Alfred P. Sloan

A report released today on policy options for governance of synthetic
biology is a disappointing effort that fails to address wider
societal concerns about the rapid deployment of a powerful and
controversial new technology. Synthetic biology aims to commercialize
new biological parts, devices and living organisms that are
constructed from synthetic DNA – including dangerous pathogens.
Synthetic biologists are attempting to harness cells as tiny
factories for industrial production of chemicals, including
pharmaceuticals and fuels. ETC Group describes the synthetic biology
approach as “extreme genetic engineering.”

The report, authored by scientists and employees from the J. Craig
Venter Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the
Center for Strategic & International Studies (Washington, D.C.) was
funded by a half-million dollar grant from the U.S.-based Alfred P.
Sloan Foundation and billed as a “project to examine the societal
implications of synthetic genomics.” The study was more than two
years in the making, but the report makes no policy recommendations
and failed to properly consult civil society. While the authors do
acknowledge possible bio-error (i.e., synbio accidents that cause
unintended harm to human health and the environment), the emphasis is
on how to impede bioterrorists “in a post-September 11 world.”

“This report is a partial consideration of governance by a partisan
group of authors,” explains Jim Thomas of ETC Group. “Its authors are
‘Synthusiasts’ – or, unabashed synthetic biology boosters – who are
primarily concerned about holding down costs and regulatory burdens
that could allegedly stymie the rapid development of the new
industry. By focusing narrowly on safety and security in a U.S.-
centric context, the report conveniently overlooks important
questions related to power, control and the economic impacts of
synthetic biology. The authors have ignored the first and most basic
questions: Is synthetic biology socially acceptable or desirable? Who
should decide? Who will control the technology, and what are its
potential impacts?”

The report’s authors include representatives from institutions that
have a vested interest in commercialization of synthetic biology.
According to the J. Craig Venter Institute, one of the three
institutions that led the study, scientists are just weeks or months
away from announcing the creation of the world’s first-ever living
bacterium with entirely synthetic DNA and a novel genome. Scientists
from the Venter Institute have already applied for patents on the
artificial microbe, and Craig Venter predicts that it could be the
first billion or trillion dollar organism. The report fails to
address issues of ownership, monopoly practices or intellectual
property claims arising from synthetic biology.

“The sixty-page report has oodles of input from a small circle of
scientists and policy ‘experts,’ but the 20-month long study fails to
incorporate views of civil society and social movements,” points out
Hope Shand, ETC Group’s Research Director. “An insular process like
the one that produced the Sloan report instills little confidence in
the results.”

The economic and technical barriers to synthetic genomics are
collapsing. Using a laptop computer, published gene sequence
information and mail-order synthetic DNA, it is becoming routine to
construct genes or entire genomes from scratch – including those of
lethal pathogens. The tools for DNA synthesis technologies are
advancing at break-neck pace – they’re becoming cheaper, faster and
widely accessible. The authors acknowledge this reality, and evaluate
several options for addressing it.

One proposal aimed at “legitimate users” of the technology – those
working in industry labs, for example – is to broaden the
responsibilities of Institutional Biosafety Committees, which were
established (in the US) to assess the biosafety and environmental
risks of proposed recombinant DNA experiments.

Edward Hammond, Director of the Sunshine Project, a biotech and
bioweapons watchdog, argues, “Institutional Biosafety Committees are
a documented disaster. IBCs aren’t up to their existing task of
overseeing genetic engineering research, much less ready to absorb
new synthetic biology and security mandates. The authors of this
report are aware of the abject failure of voluntary compliance by
IBCs, including by the Venter Institute’s own IBC. So it is very
difficult to interpret their suggestion that IBCs oversee synthetic
biology as anything but a cynical attempt to avoid effective

Options for governing synthetic biology must not be set by the
synthetic biologists themselves – broad societal debate on synbio’s
wider implications must come first. Synthetic microbes should be
treated as dangerous until proven harmless and strong democratic
oversight should be mandatory – not optional. Earlier this year the
ETC Group recommended a ban on environmental release of de novo
synthetic organisms until wide societal debate and strong governance
are in place.

ETC and other civil society organizations have called repeatedly for
an inclusive, wide ranging public dialogue process on societal
implications and oversight options for Synthetic Biology.

The full text of “Synthetic Genomics: Options for Governance” is
available here:

ETC Group’s January 2007 report on synthetic biology, Extreme Genetic
Engineering, is available here:

Backgrounder: Open Letter on Synthetic Biology from Civil Society,
May 2006:


Does synthetic biology need more oversight? I believe it does. But I am hesitant to support the ETC Group in full, because some statements on their website have a Luddite flavor. For instance, I think it is infeasible to call for a moratorium on molecular self-assembly.

Another cause the ETC Group seems to be involved in is that of “Terminator” seeds — seeds that grow into plants which are sterile, forcing farmers to return to the seed market. They call this “an immoral application of biotechnology” and I’m inclined to agree.

The ETC Group also seems preoccupied with the phrase “Playing God” to scare up support a little too often for my liking.

I think that new technologies such as MNT and synthetic biology need to be regulated, but I don’t like the extremes I’m seeing: either pure boosterism, or borderline Luddism. The only organizations we can trust are those not attached to any particular extreme. The Lifeboat Foundation seems to be one.

What do you think?

Robert Freitas, Jr., Lifeboat Foundation Fellow and head of the Lifeboat Foundation’s Nanomedicine Division has won the 2007 Foresight Institute Feynman Prize in Communication.

Dr. Pearl Chin, President of the Foresight Nanotech Institute, said Freitas received the award for “pioneering the study and communication of the benefits to be obtained from an advanced nanomedicine that will be made possible by molecular manufacturing [and for having] worked to develop and communicate a path from our current technology base to a future technology base that will enable advanced nanomedicine.”

Prior to his Feynman Prize win Robert shared the Lifeboat Foundation’s 2006 Guardian Award with technology legend Bill Joy. Freitas and Joy shared the Guardian award for their many years of work on mitigating risks posed by advanced technologies.

Determining the structure of a protein called hemagglutinin on the surface of influenza B is giving researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Rice University in Houston clues as to what kinds of mutations could spark the next flu pandemic.

This is interesting research and progress in understanding and possibly blocking changes that would lead to pandemics.

In a report that goes online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Drs. Qinghua Wang, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at BCM, and Jianpeng Ma, associate professor in the same department and their colleagues describe the actual structure of influenza B virus hemagglutinin and compare it to a similar protein on influenza A virus. That comparison may be key to understanding the changes that will have to occur before avian flu (which is a form of influenza A virus) mutates to a form that can easily infect humans, said Ma, who holds a joint appointment at Rice. He and Wang have identified a particular residue or portion of the protein that may play a role in how different types of hemagglutinin bind to human cells.

“What would it take for the bird flu to mutate and start killing people” That’s the next part of our work,” said Ma. Understanding that change may give scientists a handle on how to stymie it.

There are two main forms of influenza virus – A and B. Influenza B virus infects only people while influenza A infects people and birds. In the past, influenza A has been the source of major worldwide epidemics (called pandemics) of flu that have swept the globe, killing millions of people. The most famous of these was the Pandemic of 1918–1919, which is believed to have killed between 20 and 40 million people worldwide. It killed more people than World War I, which directly preceded it.

The Asian flu pandemic of 1957–1958 is believed to have killed as many as 1.5 million people worldwide, and the so-called Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968–1969 is credited with as many as 1 million deaths. Each scourge was accompanied by a major change in the proteins on the surface of the virus.

The Lifeboat Foundation has the bioshield project

New Scientist reports on a new study by researchers led by Massimiliano Vasile of the University of Glasgow in Scotland have compared nine of the many methods proposed to ward off such objects, including blasting them with nuclear explosions.

The team assessed the methods according to three performance criteria: the amount of change each method would make to the asteroid’s orbit, the amount of warning time needed and the mass of the spacecraft needed for the mission.

The method that came out on top was a swarm of mirror-carrying spacecraft. The spacecraft would be launched from Earth to hover near the asteroid and concentrate sunlight onto a point on the asteroid’s surface.

In this way, they would heat the asteroid’s surface to more than 2100° C, enough to start vaporising it. As the gases spewed from the asteroid, they would create a small thrust in the opposite direction, altering the asteroid’s orbit.

The scientists found that 10 of these spacecraft, each bearing a 20-metre-wide inflatable mirror, could deflect a 150-metre asteroid in about six months. With 100 spacecraft, it would take just a few days, once the spacecraft are in position.

To deflect a 20-kilometre asteroid, about the size of the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, it would take the combined work of 5000 mirror spacecraft focusing sunlight on the asteroid for three or more years.

But Clark Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, US, says ranking the options based on what gives the largest nudge and takes the least time is wrongheaded.

The proper way to go about ranking this “is to give weight to adequate means to divert an NEO of the most likely sizes we expect to encounter, and to do so in a controllable and safe manner”, Chapman told New Scientist.

The best approach may be to ram the asteroid with a spacecraft to provide most of the change needed, then follow up with a gravity tractor to make any small adjustments needed, he says.

It is good to have several options for deflection and a survey to detect the specific risks of near earth objects.