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Archive for the category “science”

Aging Strategy

Maria Konovalenko (whom I took mildly to task on a different issue here and this same issue here) has a recent post up on her blog about the relationship of human aging to disease and the research funding process effects on healthy lifespan extension and traditional disease treatment therapy research processes.

She writes:

Aging is not considered to be a disease at the moment. There is no such indication as aging, therefore one can’t register a geroprotector drug, the one that slows down aging. This is one of the major hurdles in aging research. Even though there are some substances that are proven to slow down aging and protect from diseases, researchers can’t make drugs from these substances. This has to be changed if we want to live longer and healthier.

A perfectly valid observation, marred by her curative prescription:

I think it’s horrible that the NIA people are propagating this idea that aging is not a disease. They are rejecting the opportunity with their own hands. If they fought for persuading the healthcare officials to accept aging as a disease, a lot of problems would be gone instantly.

Let’s be blunt here; the people staffing the US NIA are perfectly ordinary Americans trying to perform their job duties as well as they can in the job environment they occupy.  I expect they by-and-large are well-meaning people who genuinely want to improve other people’s lives medically (and I’m confident Maria herself would not disagree with this observation).  The problem being, the people staffing NIA aren’t free to make funding grant decisions based solely upon science – they work for the US government and so are funded by the US legislative branch of government and directed by the US executive branch of government, both of which are frequently subject to pressures from conflicting points of view.

Basically, having the .gov fund your research virtually guarantees you won’t have much say in the direction your research follows and you will always find your efforts being held up as example of how wrong-headed government funded research is (if only by someone whose pet project/topic of interest isn’t getting funded as well as desired).  The problem isn’t a lack of funding, it’s the funding regulation process itself that’s having such an inhibiting effect on aging treatment research.

In her comments I wrote (in part):

Relying for research (or any other, really) funds from people who are themselves reliant upon the common perception that their opponents can create about them to portray them in a negative light will always result in a tightly constrained and medically questionable (at best) research and development (or pretty much any other, I suggest) environment. Much better, I think, to develop a different model of research funding that minimizes individual influence and maximizes transparency of research process. Government would still have a desirable role in the production and distribution process of medical treatment after all.

My thinking here is influenced by my experience with Khan Academy.  Salman Khan began his education “business” as a series of YouTube videos to tutor his niece who lived in a different city here in the USA.  Serendipitously, he chose not to make the videos private, and others soon found them and began commenting positively about them.  Eventually, financial backing was arranged and Khan Academy became the non-profit education establishment it is still in the process of becoming.

Maria Konovalenko occupies a position from which she is uniquely able to replicate that experience – not for education as such, but for creating a healthy life extension non-profit to fund research into therapies as well as educating people around the world about healthy life extension.

This would not be a quick process (Sal Khan spent 6 years building his teaching model and portfolio to arrive at the formal organizing stage), but she has the credentials and access to the researchers to begin the development process that Sal Khan himself has demonstrated.  An open-ended series of instructional YouTube videos (in as many different languages as Maria can contrive to produce – I’m guessing she isn’t the only multi-lingual hottee of her personal acquaintance – but at least in both Russian and English to begin with) that explain the various principles and research efforts, and maybe some interviews of researchers themselves when possible, would make a good beginning.  Once she has a program of research direction(s) defined “on tape”, she begins the process to attract funding for a non-profit, non-governmental entity to fund research into age-related effects on disease and treatments for aging aspects of (ultimately any) disease or health condition, entirely independent of government or corporate investment in similar types of research.

Maria is quite correct that present research efforts are being artificially limited, both in scope as well as direction.  I hope my comment at her blog will lead her to this page and that she gives these ideas some consideration.  I’m not getting any younger myself, after all.  Yet …

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A Transhuman Strategic Model

Maria Konovalenko is a young Russian woman who works for the Science for Life Extension foundation in Moscow, FRS  On her personal blog she recently put up a post titled Transhumanism Presentation in Tallinn at the NMR Meeting at which she made a live stage presentation of the following notion:

the opportunity to share our ideas about transhumanism as the ideology that can be used as the basis for uniting researchers and increasing the amount of funding.

  The idea seems to be most simply put as, while cooperation between disciplines can extend the available funding, the shortage of research funding is universal to all disciplines of study and won’t be relieved until there is widespread “social mandate” sufficient to compel politicians to allocate public monies appropriately.

It could work.  Maria cites the lunar landings of the ’60’s and ’70’s as support of this technology development model.  I, having personally been alive throughout that whole period of human history, wish to take this opportunity to suggest that there may be a better model to consider, one that doesn’t require that whole [fill in the blank] War framework of competition so critical to the US/USSR Moon Race.

Here in the US, we famously (and rather tiresomely upon occasion, I admit) point to the Preamble to the US Declaration of Independence in support of all manner of sometimes quite silly ideas.  But in this case, I believe the phrase “… that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” might have a more direct and broad application than Maria (and apparently a good many other people) may yet realize.

There are two basic formative concepts of human governance; that power (political or societal generally speaking) and the right to express it comes from an organized government of some description, or that governments are organized to compound and coordinate expression of the power inherent to individual human beings.  In the US, the fundamental socio/political structural assumption is that government expresses some portion of the combined power of the individual citizen’s majority will (this isn’t a political diatribe – we can have that screed/counter-screed go ’round some other time please).  My thought is that there is a transhuman business model in that concept – one that exceeds national borders and is potentially as inclusive of ordinary humanity as honest business practice and scientific research methodology can reasonably provide.

The Transhumanist model Maria and her employer seem to be promoting appears to be largely aligned with the Strategy for Engineered Negligible Senescence first proposed by Aubrey de Grey.  What seems necessary to advance and expand the reach of SENS-type life extension research and human therapies is a determinedly inclusive model of individual investment in, along with individual access to, life extending therapy(s).  Bearing in mind that this is a strategic model and will provoke more questions than answers, consider the following criteria:

1) In the US, a common retirement investment program for individual citizens is the 401(k) retirement plan; person invests a given amount weekly, taxes aren’t due until the money is withdrawn during retirement.  An international bank of solid reliability, for examples sake I’m going to say Swiss, accepts individual and group purchases of ownership shares in a life extension R&D and therapeutic clinic.  Actually, the bank sells stock with a face value of SF1000 in units of 1/100th of a share, referred to as a “point” of ownership, for SF10 each.  There is no trade in stock, nor any form of speculative market permitted (and discouraged by substantial tax and other financial penalties imposed on all participating parties to a trade or speculative market transaction); funds raised are equally divided into R&D and commercial therapy outlets.  To avoid concentration of ownership in the more economically powerful country’s citizenry, charitable organizations are encouraged to purchase blocks of stock for dispersal to their aid recipients in various self-help projects.  The bank creates an individual trust account (with stipulated inheritance details provided by the individual purchaser) as part of the stock sale and any profits eventually earned are deposited in the trust account.  The bank receives SF.001 for every point of stock sold and provides the trust arrangement as a customer service.  Other than the hopefully minimal occasion for collection of inheritance taxes, national governments receive the benefits of their citizenry’s extended tax paying lives.

2) Product quality (either commercial or initially research efforts) must be transparently held to rigorous standards.  I know it’s a stereotype, but it’s a well-earned one, and German standards of research evaluation and product manufacture QC ought to be the starting point from the outset.  Not restricted to German people doing the checking necessarily, but people dedicated to strict compliance with Teutonic attention to detailed accuracy of a certainty.

3) Half of all stock sales funds goes to R&D.  45% of all stock purchase funds goes to therapy clinic development.  5% of stock sales funds is reserved for administrative expenses (coordinating between different component labs and clinics and “government policy outreach” – what we call “lobbying” in the US).  I propose 100 million full value shares for the initial offering.  Once therapies and products do become available for sale, profits are divided among the investors apportioned on a per-share basis.

4) It seems apparent that initial stem cell-based therapies and procedures will largely be of a cosmetic nature.
That is what it is, and what it is is an already massive market.  Early life extension products and therapies promise to range from direct unguents and infusions (to include IV introduction of client-derived pluripotent stem cells) to eventually client stem cell cloned replacement organs and other body parts (this would require a cooperative arrangement with a surgical hospital I would assume); most patients wouldn’t be trauma sufferers.  Even for those that are, taking a cosmetic approach to correcting their injury isn’t an unworkable initial methodology.  

So, how to bring all this together?

Paris Hilton and Rooney Mara.

Paris Hilton has all-too-publicly tried her hand at several businesses and a parade of questionable activities and relationships; she has apparently finally found her place in life (mostly) out of the tabloids and her business niche solidly in the fashion industry – reputedly to the tune of US$100 million.  Ms. Hilton has her own perfume and couture outlets; she also has every reasonable expectation of being given a respectful hearing by her family’s various charitable foundations and trusts.  Hilton Hotels are located around the world; having a Paris Hilton-sponsored life extension therapy clinic co-located with her more usual business product line in every Hilton Hotel world-wide strikes me as a viable starting point for negotiation of a mutually advantageous opportunity for all parties.  The hotel gets added clientele, Paris’ business gets added patronage (initially from people well able to afford her product line) and life extension therapies and treatments get an advantageous premises from which to treat their patient clientele (paying guests of the hotel, of course).  Eventually, the life extension clinic model will extend beyond the confines of any hotel chain, but that’s just an added opportunity for Hilton Hotels (and many others) to broaden their investment portfolio.

Patricia Rooney Mara has a university degree in “international social policy, and nonprofits” and has founded her own non-profit charity Faces of Kibera.  In American football (the one with helmets, ferocious hitting and very sporadic contact of the human foot with the ball in play), the familial names Rooney and Mara are synonymous with words like “dynasty” and “greatness”.  Both families remain financially involved with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants respectively and have each been responsible for the creation of a number of charitable foundations and trusts.  If Miss Patricia’s charity were to purchase a quantity of the stock under discussion, financed by both branches of her family’s other charities, and use stock “points” as either an incentive for aid recipients to work to gain ownership for themselves (or local group entities) or as a product for local market development and local jobs (sales, education, etc), a fairly controlled environment could be created within which to develop tactics and practices for other charitable organizations to base their efforts on elsewhere around the world.  In addition, Ms. Mara’s personal education and public reputation makes her about as promising a spokesperson as can be realistically imagined, I think.

After Maria Konovalenko herself, of course.

Seriously. 

Paris Hilton and Rooney Mara have the assets to represent the “how” of life extension research and therapy very well indeed both on the commercial as well as the investment levels of discussion, but Maria Konovalenko is the one with the passion and the insight into the subject to present the “what” that comprises this novel and extraordinary conceptual worldview to an as-yet unconvinced and distracted public.  Everyone wants to buy something valuable or desirable; Maria Konovalenko has the assets to explain what life extension is and why it should be both real and attainable by ordinary people everywhere.

To sum up; at the least, a minimum of obstructive governmental policy and regulation will certainly be necessary for life extension research to achieve any of its promising potential as human therapies and treatments.  I submit that the primary key to life extension strategic success, however, lies in organizing and focusing the inherent power of the individual human being.  Only people have the capability to create from disparate components and intellectual imaginings objects that never existed before, and the faith and imagination to work for their eventual attainment.

For life extension to become more than a series of failed temptations and dashed hopes, it needs to involve people from all walks of life and every corner of the globe (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase).  Regular people who might not even be able to reliably spell life extension need to have a realistic hope of gaining personal investment in a means of attaining personal financial gain in a world of advancing technology development that leaves them less and less opportunity to succeed in life – with or without extension.

And that last point may be the ultimate saving grace of extending life after all.

FTL Is Real

As I noted a couple weeks ago, there was a re-test of the charged neutrino transmission test scheduled by CERN. The results have been announced as Brian Wang reports:

The new tests, completed 6 November, did away with the statistical analysis by splitting each pulse into bunches just 1- to 2-nanoseconds long, allowing each neutrino detected at Gran Sasso to be tied to a particular bunch produced at CERN. These tests were carried out over 10 days and provided 20 events. The researchers confirmed that the neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds early, with an uncertainty of about 10 nanoseconds, comparable to that of the initial result.

[My bold.]

I still don’t get the time travel part of all this, but the fact (apparently) that we still don’t know all there is to be learned about our universe isn’t a surprise at all (and an idea I’m confident Albert Einstein himself would have agreed with).

Second Try At Breaking Universal Speed Limit

Those not-so-wacky boys (and, presumably, girls) at CERN are going to repeat the experiment they announced last month. The speed of light was apparently exceeded by the charged neutrinos released in a comparatively lengthy stream by the CERN experimenters, so a slightly different format (two short bursts released separately over a measured time period) will be used this time to test for that outcome specifically.

The maths are all well beyond my fuzzy calculations (fuzzy, math; it’s a math funny :)), but this seems to me a most honest and transparent method to check their earlier results. I may not understand the process, but it’s obvious even to a mathematical ignoramus like me just how profound a change in humanity’s supposed understanding of our universe is potentially put to the question here.

Exciting stuff.

h/t: Instapundit

It Isn’t Just For Gun Control

…, now socialist production planning is for farming too. RTWT for yet another example of the tactic say the same thing in a slightly different application approach to government (mis)management.

Comes in for a good kicking in the comments too, which Watts Up With That is usually good for in these circumstances.

A "Natural" Selection For Benevolent AI?

Via Labrat at Atomic Nerds comes notice of this intriguing result

Ever since Cicero’s De Natura Deorum ii.34., humans have been intrigued by the origin and mechanisms underlying complexity in nature. Darwin suggested that adaptation and complexity could evolve by natural selection acting successively on numerous small, heritable modifications. But is this enough? Here, we describe selected studies of experimental evolution with robots to illustrate how the process of natural selection can lead to the evolution of complex traits such as adaptive behaviours. Just a few hundred generations of selection are sufficient to allow robots to evolve collision-free movement, homing, sophisticated predator versus prey strategies, coadaptation of brains and bodies, cooperation, and even altruism. In all cases this occurred via selection in robots controlled by a simple neural network, which mutated randomly.

PLoS Biology: Evolution of Adaptive Behaviour in Robots by Means of Darwinian Selection

[My bold]

Not a complete solution, of course, but evidence that a desired trait (like, apparently, an altruistic attitude toward a given group or class of recipient) can be developed as part of the general development process. Injecting a measure of periodic order into the selection process would seem to be a necessary next step, and we have an example of just such a process ready to hand.

Assuming the fundamentally Darwinian processes and techniques (reinforce the desired results, ruthlessly cull the undesirable ones as they first evidence themselves in a given individual example) utilised in the selective development of canine and other animal breeds will in fact more-or-less directly apply to nascent robotic and artificial intelligences, then I think attention should soon be paid to developing a logically consistent thought process (a self-reinforcing, circular logic construct) that is analogous to that underlying a human moral code. One that does not rely on any external justification. Something along the lines of, good thought/action causes the least harm to the greatest number of humans; the most benefit to the greatest number of humans is good thought/action.

Yet to be resolved still is the desired definition of “harm” and “benefit” within a range of contextual settings, but I think this research gives increased hope for a practical process to be developed. Eliezer Yudkowsky and Nick Bostrom are both looking at this very problem, but I confess I don’t make much effort to keep up with their (or other’s) work, as much of the detail is lost on me once things get anywhere near their respective levels of thought.

So, not an answer as such, but perhaps the beginings of developing a process whereby to eventually arrive at one.

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