Statement on the Recent TED/Psi/Consciousness Controversy

There has been a minor kerfuffle recently regarding the TED franchise’s decision to remove from their main video site, TEDx conference talks given by scientists promoting psi research and the exploration of non-reductionistic approaches to consciousness.

Due to my role in the recently-formed Society for Consciousness Studies, I was asked to contribute a statement to a Huffington Post article on the topic, and I did so; but for some reason (perhaps a simple oversight or clerical mishap) my statement was not included in the article….   So, I am posting the statement I wrote for that article here, in case anyone is interested.

I have spoken on my AI and bioinformatics work at multiple TEDx events, and up till now I’ve had nothing but praise for the wonderful work of the TED organization.

For this reason, I was rather disappointed to observe the recent actions on the part of the TED administration, removing TEDx conference talk videos by Rupert Sheldrake, Russell Targ and others, due to criticisms by certain self-appointed “skeptics” and accusations of “pseudoscience.” Apparently the issue is that their work touches on psi phenomena, commonly known as the “paranormal.”

In my own view, as a scientist with 25 years professional experience in multiple scientific disciplines, the work of these individuals is absolutely not pseudoscience, and would be better characterized as “frontier science.”   Yes, their work  is controversial and in some respects speculative.  But it is based on carefully gathered experimental data, analyzed thoroughly by thoughtful and educated people.  It might prove wrong in the end, but it’s not pseudoscience.

It is noteworthy that the “skeptics” who have prevailed upon the TED administration to call these scientists’ work pseudoscience, consistently refuse to engage in any detail with the actual data gathered by these scientists, or others working on psi and other frontier aspects of mind-matter interaction.

I wonder if the TED administration is aware that  there is a substantial community of serious scientists — including many, like myself, who have contributed to TED events — who

1) disagree with the evaluation of the work of Sheldrake, Targ etc. as pseudoscience, and believe the removal of their videos was a suboptimal decision

2) believe it would be to the benefit of TED and the world at large, if wide-ranging scientific explorations into the nature of consciousness and its relation to the world, were among the permitted topics at TED conferences

My respectful request to the TED administration is that they rescind their decision, and open their minds and their conferences to scientists exploring the relationship between mind and matter.  The scientific data regarding psi is complex and, confusing — I know, because I have looked at it thoroughly myself.  But I believe there is very likely something valuable there, amidst all the confusion.  And I submit that providing an arena for the discussion and debate of controversial, tricky issues with potentially dramatic impact, is very much in the spirit of TED.

H+ Connect (?)

As part of my role as Vice Chairman of futurist advocacy organization Humanity+, I’ve been devoting a few spare thought-cycles recently to the issue of building community among the futurist/transhumanist/Singularitarian/whatever community….

I thought of the idea of creating some kind of social-networky thing for transhumanists specifically.  Humanity+ Board member Amy Li suggested that “Connect” was a better name than “Network”, and I decided I liked the ring of “H+ Connect.”

So for now at least, H+ Connect it is…

I’ll now briefly describe the “H+ Connect” vision in my  mind….   These thoughts are currently QUITE PRELIMINARY and definitely fall into the estimable category of “brainstorming” 😉 …

H+ Connect would be a dynamic network of information about transhumanist people and groups thereof.   Initially it would be represented by a website, but the same network of information could take some different practical form in future…

Some concrete ideas are:

  • let people join as H+ Connect as members for free
  • to join, an individual must input some basic information about themselves
  • members can form and join groups….  These groups may represent general interest groups, or specific projects
  • a project group should have some shared workspace, like a wiki page (with subpages) or similar.  For instance, the organization of a Humanity+ conference would correspond to a project group.  Or, there could just be a group of people interested in sharing information about some specific book or technology.  Etc.
  • a general interest group focused on business networking, would be in essence an “H+ Business Network”, an idea I have put forth before.  Folks in the H+ Business network, when on business travel, could look up others in the network and get together to discuss possible collaboration
  • a general interest group comprised of practicing scientists, would be an “H+ Science Network”, another idea I floated once before
  • members should be able to submit articles to H+ Magazine via the H+ Connect site, and have other members vote on the article’s relevance and quality….  POSSIBLY: Any article with votes above a certain threshold gets into the magazine….  In this way the members themselves take on a lot of the editorial role….

There is likely some existing software that could be customized to serve the above functions.  Or maybe some scripting must be done to combine existing software together into an overall site….

I don’t currently think this should be done within some existing social network site like Facebook or LinkedIn.   Those sites are valuable (though I admit I don’t really like them or use them often), but they would nudge the community in a different direction than would be the case if we had our own site and owned our own experience and information.  On the other hand, we definitely don’t want to reinvent the wheel software-wise.

There is a lot more to be thought through here in terms of branding, user experience design, implementation and everything else….  I’m just tossing out the idea now to get some feedback…


New page on using human preschool IQ tests for young AGIs

AI History Timeline

As part of a book chapter I’m writing, I put together a visual timeline of the history of AI

New video interview posted, on post-Singularity Uberminds

Beyond AGI: Imagining the Unimaginable

“Designing Minds & Worlds” — video of talk from H+@Parsons, May 2011, posted

Designing Minds and Worlds
Humanity+ @ Parsons (New York)
May 14-14, 2011

new video interview with Critical Thought TV posted

A few months ago I did some interviews with the always-insightful Stuart Dambrot of Critical Thought TV in his New York studio.   These are being released onto YouTube in a series of video clips, two of which are now online: posted a few weeks ago posted today…

The End of the Beginning (new edited book seeking chapter contributions)

My dad and I are editing a new book on the theme of the interim period between here and the Singularity, with a focus on social and economic issues.

Title is … The End of the Beginning: Life, Society and Economy on the Brink of the Singularity

The Call for Chapters is here.  If you would like to submit a chapter for the book, please read the instructions therein!

Bridging the Symbolic-Subsymbolic Gap: new paper drafts

I’ve found time recently to write down some ideas and designs for bridging the symbolic/subsymbolic gap (or put differently, the perception/action vs. cognition gap) in AI via integrating OpenCog with the DeSTIN machine perception system.

Here is a conceptual paper on the topic, from the 2011 AAAI Cognitive Systems workshop:

A Novel Strategy for Hybridizing Subsymbolic and Symbolic Learning and Representation

And here are two more recent and detailed drafts, proposing more specific ideas along the lines from the conceptual paper:

Modifying the DeSTIN Perception Architecture to Enable Representationally Transparent Deep Learning

Perception Processing for General Intelligence: Bridging the Symbolic/Subsymbolic Gap

New Janko-keyboard synth is awesome !!

I’ve been intrigued by the Janko keyboard for years now, but never got to play one before.

Well, I just received my shiny new Chromatone 312 in the mail from Tokyo, and — Wow, it really kicks ass!!!

My first impression, after playing for a few hours, is: It’s just fundamentally, massively superior to the ordinary piano keyboard layout!

The Chromatone 312 itself is a good but not fantastic piece of equipment — the built-in sounds aren’t great (though it can be used as a MIDI controller for another sound generator), and the keys don’t have an awesome feel to them….  But hey, it works! … and the Janko layout is just plain better

It will take probably hundreds of hours for me to acclimate to it, to the extent I have to the ordinary piano layout.  Probably dozens of hours for me to become even OK at it.  Although, picking out songs by ear on it is easier than on the ordinary piano keyboard….

But it just makes composing and improvising fundamentally easier, removing a bunch of unnecessary awkwardness and opening new possibilities via making the geometric structure of melodies correspond more closely to the geometric structures on the keyboard…

As another plus, it lets the hand span many more notes than on an ordinary keyboard .. so that those of us with small hands can play wider chords…

What I really want now is a Janko acoustic piano — but I guess that will need to wait till the hypothetical day when I get a lot richer… I guess the existing ones are all collector’s items….

Too bad I’m soooo busy with work these days that I don’t have much time to learn Janko, and will proceed bit by bit, maybe 15-20 minutes a day….  But hey, those will be a fun 15-20 minutes 😉

Older posts «

» Newer posts