This weeks fun articles (and books)

Anders Sandberg (
29 Jan 1999 16:38:42 +0100

This week: neural interfaces, a new anti-aging treatment, a pinch of terraforming, Herakleitean pre-geometry, quantum smart matter, the smallness of the web, finding communities from mail and reading the classics. No, I don't have time to sleep.

	Neural interfaces for regenerated nerve stimulation and

	Printed spiral coils for neuroprosthetic transcranial
	telemetry applications

	Gene therapy to block aging-related loss of muscle function

	Terraforming Mars: A review of Research

	Self-Referential Noise and the Synthesis of Three-Dimensional Space

	Quantum Smart Matter

	Testing the Small World Hypothesis on the Web

	Beehive: A System for Cooperative Filtering and Sharing of

	Other reading

Neural interfaces for regenerated nerve stimulation and recording

P. Dario, P. Garzella, M. Toro, S. Micera, M. Alavi, U. Meyer,
E. Valderrama, L. Sebastiani, B. Ghelarducci, C. Mazzoni and
P. Pastacaldi IEEE Trans Rehabil Eng 6:4 353--63 1998

I was cheered by this article, since it shows that the INTER project is still up and running; apparently they are working instead of updating their website :-) What they have done is to microfabricate a silicon die with microelectrodes on through-holes, put this inside a polymer guidance channel, cut the sciatic nerve of rabbits and inserted the ends into the channel. The severed nerves regenerated through the holes and regained electrical functionality. By stimulating the microelectrodes they could produce a visible leg/foot contraction, and they could also record signals from the nerve. It looks like a good step in the direction of neural interfaces.

A study of printed spiral coils for neuroprosthetic transcranial telemetry applications
M. R. Shah, R. P. Phillips and R. A. Normann IEEE Trans Biomed Eng, 45:7 867--76, July 1998

The trouble with the classic cyberpunk neural interface is that it is a connector that breaks the skin; this is bad from an infection and mechanics standpoint. A neater solution would be to have wireless transmission, and this is used in many applications. However, most of the systems use a rigid wire coil and this makes things tricky if you want to put it inside the skull for a neurointerface (especially the visual neurointerface University of Utah is working on). Shah and the others have worked with copper on a polyimide surface, which is flexible and hence can be placed so it follows the convoluted brains surface. The prosthesis design would consist of a chip in the middle of the plastic surface, surrounded by the telemetry coil and sending thin spikes into the cortex to act as an electrode array. Looks interesting, even if I have the impression they are rather far yet from an useful complete system.

Viral mediated expression of insulin-like growth factor I blocks the aging-related loss of skeletal muscle function E. R. Barton-Davis, D. I. Shoturma, A. Musaro, N. Rosenthal and H. L. Sweeney Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 95:26 15603--7, Dec 22 1998

As earlier mentioned on the extropians list. By injecting a recombinant adeno-associated virus making the infected cells express insuline-like growth factor I (IGF-I) they increased the muscle mass and strength of young adult mice, as well as preventing most of the aging-related loss of strength. IGF-I doesn't work that well when injected directly (as well as having side effects in the rest of the body), but if it is released locally the results are apparently good; using this viral vector the enhancement was apparently local to only the muscles (anterior muscle compartment of the right hind limb) where the vector had been injected, it didn't affect the other side. This result is good news not just for life extension and enhancement, but also repair after wounds.

Terraforming Mars: A review of Research
by Martyn J. Fogg
(at the Terraforming Information Pages)

A short review of the main concepts that have been discussed in the mars terraforming literature. Discusses the demands for ecopoiesis
(getting a biosphere of any kind "up and running") and turning Mars
more terrestrial; the general conclusion seenms to be that it will never become an Earth II, but quite possibly a lifebearing planet on its own. As in all terraforming discussions, the main question is how much carbon dioxide there is available on Mars and in what form, we really need to know more about it to say what means could suffice to release it and start a runaway greenhouse effect to make it more life-compatible. The conclusion seems to be that we need a human colony (or firm robotic presence) to find out the necessary data.

Self-Referential Noise and the Synthesis of Three-Dimensional Space Reginald T. Cahill and Christopher M. Klinger

Another attempt at getting a 3+1 dimensional spacetime out of random graphs; I must admit that I have a fondness for this kind of thinking, even if it so far has not been very successful. This paper in many ways reminds me of Greg Egan's novel _Distress_, in that they want to have a bootstrap model of reality that bootstraps logic itself in a self-consistent way. The authors try to build a model without even assuming objects or axioms, just processes (they call it a Heraclitean Process System). The idea is that if the universe is in a state of self-organized criticality on all levels, then the axioms underlying all this can simply be lost and replaced with universality. You get quantum "noise" due to the irremovable non-local randomness due to Gödel/Chaitin-like effects in arithmetic. However, while I find the philosophical section fun, the actual model they experiment with to bootstrap physics feels rather ad hoc. It produces "spacetimes" that I'm not convinced look like ours despite the authors' arguments. However, it is a fun approach to the question of the deep ontology of physics and could perhaps be read as a kind of Eganesque entertainment.

Quantum Smart Matter
Proceedings of the Workshop on Physics and Computation 1996 Eds T. Toffoli et al, 147--152

It is a natural extension of the idea of smart matter (i.e. matter with internal sensors and actuators) to think of quantum smart matter - they act on the quantum scale. Quantum smart matter might have very interesting properties (as if smart matter hadn't). Using quantum interference the probability of undesirable behaviors could be damped, and quantum parallelism might enable subtle control over local potentials enabling all sorts of fun things: active caumoflage, materials changing lattice structure to suit demands, active quantum springs, adjust the propagation of phonons or the specific heat, as well as modifying mechanical and optical properties. Dispersed smart matter might control reaction rates in solutions. Makes nanotech look like just the first step towards truly deep control over matter. Lots of fun possibilities, although they are rather theoretical at the moment as we don't have good quantum computers, nanotech or the control theory tools to handle the kind of bottom-up control smart matter suggests.

Testing the Small World Hypothesis on the Web Lada Adamic,

Small world graphs are graphs where nodes are highly clustered but there are a few paths making the distance between any two nodes rather short. Examples include collaboration graphs of actors ("Six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon") and mathematicians (Erdös numbers), the nervous system of C Elegans and power grids. This article shows that the WWW exhibits a similar structure, and suggests a search engine exploiting this - use the already found members of a particular sought cluster to find the other members of the cluster. It also has some marketing applications, and can say a bit on the differences in organization between different groups (in the article pro-choice people, pro-life people and UFOlogists).

Beehive: A System for Cooperative Filtering and Sharing of Information Bernardo A. Huberman and Michael Kaminsky

Another fun Xerox paper. The idea is to semi-automatically build lists of membership in informal communities from an analysis of mailing habits (who sends mail to who; implemented as a script looking at mail headers) and then use it to make it simple to disseminate information to other members by simply dropping it onto an icon for the community
("coworkers", "transhumanists", "family" etc).

Other reading:

Right now I'm reading up on the classics, stuff that I think a transhumanist scientist should have read:

Probability Theory: the Logic of Science bt E. T. Jaynes

Fulltext (but missing certain pieces) at

Bayesian statistics, quite nicely written in places (and hard in others). The discussions of inference and the "robot" might be of interest to people into PCR and the questions about what kinds of minds can exist.

The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod

Very interesting discussions about the prisoners' dilemma and how cooperation might emerge, be encouraged or sabotaged. A bit dated in some places, as evolutionary game theory have moved on with more extensive simulations, but still essential reading.

Information, Randomness and Incompleteness (Series in Computer Science : Volume 8) by G. J. Chaitin

Fun, mind-stretching papers about algorithmic information theory: how much information is there in a string of bits? What is randomness? Is arithmetic random? How does this relate to life? People who loved _Gödel, Escher, Bach_ will likely enjoy this, even if it is presented in an infinitely dryer form than Hofstadter did. The introduction chapter and some of the papers are quite readable for a layman, I think, while the later theoretical chapters are rather technical. But it is nice to see somebody so comitted to the beauty of LISP :-)

The Two cultures by C.P. Snow

C.P. Snow's classical and controversial Rede lecture about the split between the scientists and liberal arts people. Still as actual today as then, even if the situation has become even more complex. Hopefully we transhumanists can form a viable synthesis.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y