Those of you who are interested in regenerative medicine probably already know the SENS Foundation. As always, their annual report (pdf) gives a good overview of the progress made during the past year. If you are new to these ideas, the book Ending Aging by Dr. Aubrey de Grey is a good place to start. This speech also gives a good overview, though it doesn’t go into as much detail as the book.
Archive for the ‘Science & Technology’ Category
Technology Review has a good interview with the Harvard Geneticist.
Dr. Church also has a new book that just came out: Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves.
By the way, sorry for posting mostly quick links here lately. I originally told myself that I would try to avoid doing that on this blog and instead focus on longer ruminations, but I’ve been working on too many other projects to do that. I suppose that quick links are better than nothing as long as they are good ones, so I hope you enjoy the ones I’ve shared. I’m sure at some point I’ll find the energy to work on more original content. In any case, thanks for reading!
Update (August 2nd, 2012): Here’s another interview with Elon Musk, this time by the LA Times, about his goals for SpaceX.
Update (August 8, 2012): Short video feature about Musk, SpaceX, and sending humans to Mars.
Update (September 8, 2012): Here’s a great interview with Elon Musk from Autoblog.
Update (September 10, 2012): Interview with Elon Musk by Kevin Rose (now at Google Ventures).
Update (November 22, 2012): Elon Musk speech and Q&A at the University of Oxford.
Great piece recommended by Eliezer Yudkowsky:
This technology for grid-scale batteries made with liquid metals and molten salts is making me more excited than anything in a while. Very promising. Check out the video by following the link below.
TED Talk: Donald Sadoway on Liquid Metal Batteries
The officia website of Sadoway’s spinoff company can be found here: LMBC Corporation.
Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey, the founder and chief science officer of the SENS Foundation, recently gave a talk at the MIT Club of Northern California.
I find his research on the diseases of aging fascinating, and his foundation is the main charity that I support because it has the best risk/reward ratio that I could find (in other words, each dollar spent there has a higher chance of making the world a much better place than a dollar spent elsewhere).
Here’s the video of the presentation:
Here’s a physics riddle that I just thought up. The only problem is that I’m not sure what the answer is. But I like the question, so here we go:
Let’s say you have a very long piece of string, and it has absolutely no elasticity, it’s perfectly straight, and it’s totally frictionless. The string is floating out in the void of space and it takes light 1 year to travel from one end of the string to the other.
What if you and I are at each end of this string, and I pull on it (or I have an incredibly powerful machine do it for me). How fast would you feel the pull?
Intuitively, it seems like it would be instantaneous, but that can’t be right because it would be traveling faster than light. The answer is probably that it would depend on the mass of the string and the amount of energy in the pull, but that whatever those variables are, it would take at least 1 year, and that while that isn’t intuitive, our brains haven’t evolved to intuitively think about this kind of situation. But what if the string is massless? But then, if I add this premise, is it even a real question for physics anymore? Anyway, I thought it was a fun thought experiment.
A cubic meter of the average crust of the Earth has about 12 grams of Thorium in it, and that would be enough to power your life for about 10 to 15 years. At Western standards of living.
Very intriguing stuff. I highly recommend watching the whole presentation (1 hour and 22 minutes long, so make sure you have the time or save it for later):
Science is the only news. When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn’t change much; science does, and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly.
–Stewart Brand, Whole Earth Discipline (2009), p. 216
Switching Costs and Incentives
Google makes most of its money from ads (over 95% of revenue), and a very large portion of these appear on search results.
If Google wants to keep making money, it must encourage people to keep using its site for search. But the switching costs for search engines are very low (change a browser setting and/or a bookmark and that’s it). Right now, the average internet user probably doesn’t know how to do that, but that’s mostly because there hasn’t been a need for it so far; if Google was to significantly fall behind the competition or anger its users (and then turn a deaf ear to the complaints), how to switch to a different search engine would become common knowledge in the same way that people figured out how to switch from Altavista and Lycos a few years ago.
So Google’s incentives are aligned in such a way that it has to keep making products that are liked and very functional, and it must avoid at all cost giving its users reasons to switch. They also benefit from a vibrant web ecosystem with users constantly going from one site to the another (not staying on Facebook all day) and looking for new things.
Things are different at Microsoft. It makes most of its money from the Windows operating systems and the Office suite of applications. With these, switching costs are significantly higher than with search for the average user. We’re not talking about a few simple clicks anymore. This is scary enough that most people will endure a lot of pain and put up with a lot of inconveniences before they’ll consider dropping Office or Windows (especially the latter).
Eliezer’s video answers to 30 questions from the Less Wrong Q&A can be found here.
This video is an hour and a half long, but I think it’s worth watching:
For more on how the Western Diet (high in refined carbohydrates) is causing metabolic syndrome, I also recommend “Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health” by Gary Taubes.
Some were against, but a majority of people seemed to think it was a good idea, and Eliezer agreed to participate (he will film his answers to the questions that have received the higher number of votes), so I went ahead and created a thread where people can ask their questions:
If you have a question for Eliezer, all you need is a Less Wrong account. The rules are simple.
We’re Inconsistent About How Much Weight We Attribute to Genes
I think our intuition might be miscalibrated when it comes to evaluating how much a person’s genes impact how they turn out physically (which isn’t surprising). What’s a bit strange is that we seem to be closer to the truth when it comes to twins.
Nobody’s surprised when identical twins turn out to have very similar bodies (weight, muscle mass, etc), even into adulthood.
But when it comes to non-twins, people seem to think that “making the right choices” and “willpower” are primary factors in how human bodies turn out, and that we can assign a good amount of personal credit or blame to individuals for good and bad outcomes.
There is a disconnect between these two visions, and I think that it’s the latter that needs to be updated.
After all, even if we put aside the direct ways in which our genes build our bodies (encoding how our tissues grow) and instead look at our abilities to “make the right choices” and exert “willpower”, we find that those are also greatly determined by genetic factors. Identical twins probably turn out very similar in good part because they have almost identical amounts of those qualities of mind.
Wrong by Degrees
This doesn’t mean that all is pre-determined and that if we all stop trying we’ll turn out the same we would have otherwise, but rather that we are playing within certain parameters, and that the part we control is probably smaller than most people think (not non-existent — we still deserve some credit — just more modest).
To be clear, I’m not saying the situation was white and we thought it was black, or even that it’s a black & white thing, but rather that most people’s intuition might be the wrong shade of gray. Otherwise, I would think there would be a bigger variation between identical twins, but they spend their lives making different choices yet most stay very similar to each other (as far as I know — if you know of a study on this, please send it my way).