Humanity+ @ CalTech, Dec 4-5 2010: Redefining the Future of Humanity

It’s been my privilege, over the last month, to help out with organizing the next Humanity+ conference, which will be at CalTech’s Beckman Institute Dec 4-5.  So I wanted to take the chance, in this article, to introduce just a handful of the extraordinarily interesting talks that we’ll be bringing you.

Of course all the talks and demonstrations we have planned for the conference are awesome, and I can’t do justice to them all in a short article, so if you want to get a fuller picture please see the conference website.  Also see the H+ magazine blog entry I recently wrote, that pertains to my own presentation at the conference, about my work on AI for video games.

Early bird registration has been extended till November 8, so register now and get a discounted rate!  Or if you really can’t make it, remember that the conference will be live-streamed to the Net courtesy of TechZulu, so tune in Dec 4 to http://humanityplus.org.

Anyway, to whet your radical-futurist appetite a bit, here are just a few of the many exciting things to expect at Humanity+ @ CalTech:

Real-Time World Building — Performance Art for the 21st Century

It’s not so often that someone introduces a brand new art form to the world, but that’s exactly what polymathic performer/designer/filmmaker/artist/composer J-Walt will demonstrate at the Humanity+ Summit: real-time world building as a novel form of performance art!

J-Walt’s Spontaneous Fantasia performances combine aspects of animation, video games, music, theater, dance and architecture into a seamless new art form.  He has performed for thrilled audiences around the US as well as in Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Edmonton.

At Humanity+ @ CalTech, J-Walt will give a lecture explaining the underpinnings of his unique art form — and he’ll then kick off the conference’s Saturday night party with a live demonstration.

Robot Einstein Comes to LA

The conference will also feature a visit from a curious character named Robot Einstein, and his creator David Hanson.

Hanson’s firm, Hanson Robotics, was founded in late 2003 with the modest mission to “awaken intelligent robotic beings, grant them sparks of true consciousness and creativity, and distribute these beings and their constituent technologies into the world.”  As a step along this path, the firm has a created a variety of shockingly realistic humanoid robot heads, which emulate human emotional expression and understanding — including the redoubtable Robot Einstein.  The firm is currently working on giving their robots a deeper understanding of human needs and interactions, leveraging their technology for practical applications such as emotionally savvy service robots.

The March Toward Desktop Manufacturing Continues

What if, instead of ordering products from a store, you could just fabricate them yourself at home?

Sounds farfetched, but significant steps have already been taken in this direction not just by large corporations, but also by networks of scientists and hobbyists collaborating on the creation of open-source hardware.

RepRap is an open source 3D printer capable of printing plastic objects. Established in 2005 by Adrian Bowyer, the RepRap project has grown into an international community of RepRap operators.  Many in the RepRap community consider it plausible that their work will eventually lead to a self-replicating machine — a RepRap that can automatically build new RepRaps!

Currently the RepRap team is at work on building a new RepRap called Huxley, which will complement their current “Mendel” version via providing more rapid desktop manufacturing.  Bryan Bishop will announce in his talk at the Humany+ @ CalTech conference that Humanity+ is to host the Gada Prize, aiming to stimulate personal manufacturing R&D. A cash prize will reward the first individual or group to make a RepRap satisfying certain technical requirements.

Robot Bones and Human Organs — from Tissue Regeneration to Cyborgs

[Images are from http://www.cyberartsweb.org/cpace/cyborg/cyborgfood/separation%20from%20nature.html]

Growing human tissues and organs on robotic scaffolds is an accepted medical practice by now, but CalTech researcher Adrian Stoica wants to take it to the next level.  In his approach the scaffolds become more than just simple frameworks to hang organs and tissues on; they become intelligent systems themselves, with capability for movement, sensation, reconfiguration and ultimately perhaps even some forms of adaptive cognition.

This practical work aims to help suffering humans and improve human life.  But Stoica also views it more broadly, as part of humanity’s progress toward the creation of true cyborgs, as long envisioned in science fiction.   Today’s regenerative medicine may lead to tomorrow’s hybrid digital-biological life forms.

Stoica will share his wide-ranging but highly technically informed vision of cyborgs, advanced biometrics and regenerative medicine at the Humanity+ @ CalTech conference.

From Long-Lived Flies to Long-Lived Humans

Could humans one day live 500 years instead of a mere 100?

Genescient’s work with long-lived fruit flies gives some cause for optimism: painstakingly bred for longevity over a 30 year period, they now live 4x as long as normal flies of the same species.  If flies can do it, why not humans?  After all, a majority of fly genes have close matches in the human genome, including many of the key genes underlying age-associated disease.

Genescient is a startup biopharma firm located not too far south of CalTech, in Irvine California, focused on using genomic information from these long-lived flies to design therapies to help people live longer and better.  [Full disclosure: I work part time with Genescient, helping use AI tools to analyze their genomic data.]  Humanity+ @ CalTech will feature a number of speakers associated with Genescient, including

•  UC Irvine professor and Genescient co-founder Michael Rose, who had the vision to begin evolving the long-lived flies back in 1980 — and has made a host of other contributions to the evolutionary genomics of aging and other related areas
•  Renowned science fiction author and Genescient co-founder Gregory Benford, giving his unique perspective on the prospects for indefinite human lifespan and its multifold implications
•  Yours truly (Ben Goertzel), briefly discussing recent work applying AI to analyze the genomes of long-lived flies, and also presenting a vision for the future of biomedical science (crafted together with Michael Rose), focused on the synergies between genomics, experimental evolution and artificial intelligence

Genescient sequenced the genomes of these long-lived flies for the first time this year, and Humanity+ @ CalTech will be the first unveiling of some of the dramatic lessons the long-lived fly genome has to teach us about human longevity.

Ryan Bethencourt, Director of Business Development at Paraxel, will also give a related talk, discussing the changes that the pharma industry is currently undergoing, and how they impact the practical rollout of radically innovative biomedical work like Genescient’s.

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