2015 August 29 Saturday
Why Human Population Might Explode

A number of advances in computer and biotechnologies will boost fertility. They might together cause a human population explosion that eventually returns humanity to the Malthusian Trap conditions that prevailed for most of humanity's existence. Technological advances will increase the number of years available for reproduction, lower the work of raising babies, lower the risks, and increase the benefits to parent from having kids. Consider how each of these factors will raise fertility and population levels.

Rejuvenation therapies

Dead people do not make babies. Old women do not make babies. Therapies that extend the fertile period of a woman's life will lengthen the among of time a woman has to make babies. Women who finally decide to make babies at age 35 or 40 will be able to do this if their bodies are biologically only 30 or 25 years old. Rejuvenation therapies will make this happen.

Artificial wombs

Don't want to weigh yourself down with a growing fetus? Or too old to start and carry a pregnancy to term? Won't be a problem once artificial wombs become available. I would say that will raise the fertility rate of womb. Except it won't be the women making the babies. But artificial wombs will certainly boost the number of babies getting made.

Improvements in IVF therapies

Better techniques for selecting fertilized eggs to implant, therapies to improve womb health, and other advances will improve the success rate of IVF. This will boost baby production, though not as much as rejuvenation therapies and artificial wombs.

Gene selection for better babies

Genetic screening and genetic engineering of embryos will cut the risks and raise the returns (as experienced by parents) of making babies. The gene screening and tinkering will enable prospective parents to guarantee better outcomes: smarter, healthier, better-behaved, better looking kids will be on offer for those who can pay for embryo selection based on genetic screening and eventually based on genetic engineering. No more disappointing children.

Gene selection for guaranteeing grandchildren

Parents want grandchildren. How to assure this happens? Choose genes for your children that will give them a stronger instinctive desire to have kids. Such genes will be discovered and some prospective parents will decide to give their kids those genes to make sure the kids have a strong enough desire to make babies that they actually go thru with it. The result? More babies.

Baby care robots, child care robots

Parents are frequently shocked and depressed about how hard it is to take care of a new baby. Getting waken up every few hours leaves moms depressed and unhappy. When bots can take on some of that work the first baby won't be so hard and so mom is going to be more willing to go for a 2nd, 3rd, and even fourth baby.

It seems likely that robots and embedded camera systems around the house will also watch kids beyond the baby stage. Image processing algorithms will alert mom and dad about when junior is about to do something dangerous or damaging. So mom and dad won't have to try as hard to monitor the kids.

Household cleaning and cooking robots

Like baby care robots the housekeeping robots will lighten the load and make it easier for parents to have more kids. Many advances will make it easier to keep a household, including automated ordering (no need for humans to notice the milk or bread is getting low), automated delivery, automated cooking, and automated cleaning. This will all reduce the burdens of child-raising.

So then is a human population explosion inevitable? Hard to tell. Certainly not if the robots take over or we get wiped out by nanotech goo or a massive asteroid. But if human life continues on then continued population growth seems far more likely than plateauing or decline.

By Randall Parker 2015 August 29 12:06 PM 
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2015 August 23 Sunday
Use Autonomous Car Computers When They Are Parked

Electric vehicle batteries will some day be used for load-balancing the electric power grid. While parked the EVs can feed electric power into a household or the grid while demand spikes. Machine learning systems will be able to predict future driving patterns and let a battery drain partially when the electric power is needed elsewhere. But picture the computing power in the parked autonomous EV. Seems like a waste when cars are parked for most of the day.

Each autonomous car will probably have more computing power than a tricked out desktop computer of today. Even fleet cars will be idle most of the day and night because outside of commuting hours most cars are parked. If the cars are EVs plugged into the wall they can just as easily also have their computer network plugged in. So then their CPUs could be made available for other uses.

To what use could we put hundreds of millions of networked autonomous vehicle computers aside from driving? The Folding@home protein folding distributed computing project comes to mind. Another protein folding project: Rosetta@home for disease research. Many other distributed computing projects for astronomy, astrophysics, molecular biology, mathematics, cryptography, and other fields of science could be done in networked car computers.

Update: One objection raised in comments is security. One way to handle that: Download code written in a virtual machine's opcodes (rather like Java) with no IO primitives in it. The code can do simulation calculations and have a way to say "I'm done" and nothing else.

Another objection raised: autonomous vehicles supposedly won't be parked much. But look at roads. How many cars are on them at midnight? Or at 6 AM? By contrast, how many cars on the road at 9 PM or 5 PM? There are huge spikes in percentage of vehicles moving. Travel times are very unevenly distributed.

By Randall Parker 2015 August 23 04:27 PM 
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2015 August 17 Monday
Growing Input-Outcome Disparity In Biomedical Research

Computers, a many orders of magnitude decline in DNA sequencing costs, big advances in knowledge of how genes, cells, and organisms function, and the growth in microfluidics technology have not increased the rate at which new therapies come to market.

The general public funds the vast majority of biomedical research and is also the major intended beneficiary of biomedical breakthroughs. We show that increasing research investments, resulting in an increasing knowledge base, have not yielded comparative gains in certain health outcomes over the last five decades. We demonstrate that monitoring scientific inputs, outputs, and outcomes can be used to estimate the productivity of the biomedical research enterprise and may be useful in assessing future reforms and policy changes. A wide variety of negative pressures on the scientific enterprise may be contributing to a relative slowing of biomedical therapeutic innovation. Slowed biomedical research outcomes have the potential to undermine confidence in science, with widespread implications for research funding and public health.

This is a problem.

Society makes substantial investments in biomedical research, searching for ways to better human health. The product of this research is principally information published in scientific journals. Continued investment in science relies on society’s confidence in the accuracy, honesty, and utility of research results. A recent focus on productivity has dominated the competitive evaluation of scientists, creating incentives to maximize publication numbers, citation counts, and publications in high-impact journals. Some studies have also suggested a decreasing quality in the published literature. The efficiency of society’s investments in biomedical research, in terms of improved health outcomes, has not been studied. We show that biomedical research outcomes over the last five decades, as estimated by both life expectancy and New Molecular Entities approved by the Food and Drug Administration, have remained relatively constant despite rising resource inputs and scientific knowledge. Research investments by the National Institutes of Health over this time correlate with publication and author numbers but not with the numerical development of novel therapeutics. We consider several possibilities for the growing input-outcome disparity including the prior elimination of easier research questions, increasing specialization, overreliance on reductionism, a disproportionate emphasis on scientific outputs, and other negative pressures on the scientific enterprise. Monitoring the efficiency of research investments in producing positive societal outcomes may be a useful mechanism for weighing the efficacy of reforms to the scientific enterprise. Understanding the causes of the increasing input-outcome disparity in biomedical research may improve society’s confidence in science and provide support for growing future research investments.

If US FDA and NIH policies are a large part of the problem then that is very unfortunate. They are not likely to change, especially not the FDA.

Why does this matter? Our lives depend on the rate of advance of biomedical treatments. We all have an expiration date on our bodies absent some really big advances in methods to rejuvenate aging bodies. How many decades do you have left to live? Not as many as you would have if only increased spending on biomedical research had translated into a more rapid rate of progress in the development of gene therapies, cell therapies, and other therapies needed for tissue repair and rejuvenation.

Update: The US FDA errs far too much on side of avoiding approval of a bad drug and as a consequence it blocks development of good drugs.

By Randall Parker 2015 August 17 10:21 PM 
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Are Autonomous Vehicles A Threat To Human Agency?

Norman Lewis attempts to argue that misanthropy is at the base of the push for driverless cars.

The quest for robotic cars is underwritten by a suspicion of humanity.

Suspicion? A suspicion is where you think something is true but you aren't certain. By contrast, I'm quite certain that drunk drivers kill people every day. I am also quite certain that there are people watching their cell phone messages when they ought to be watching the road. I know this because I've seen them doing it. Recently I was in a left turn lane at the light and while the left turn light stayed red the main light turned green. The guy next to me stayed still even though he had the green because he was holding his cell phone and his head was turned down to look at it. People behind him started beeping. I saw another guy go thru a red light coasting while he watched his cell phone and only avoided an accident because no other cars were coming thru the green.

So people are dangerous. Drivers kill pedestrians, motorcyclists they do not see, and people in their own vehicles and other vehicles and themselves. They maim others. These results are not surprising because we did not evolve to drive cars. We do not have all the cognitive abilities (or sensors) needed for optimal vehicle operation. So when Lewis asks what problems driverless cars are trying to solve it seems obvious: the mismatch between our capabilities and the technologies we've created.

But just because such technology exists, or appears to exist, that doesn’t mean we should stop questioning the driverless car and its implications for the future. A legitimate starting point is to ask: what problem is it trying to solve?

Lewis then goes on to describe some of the obvious problems which autonomous are aimed to solve such as impaired driving and just basic mistakes causing death and injury and expensive vehicle damage. So he gets the benefits. But he's worried about the loss of free will or machines developing their own free will.

By contrast, I'm more worried about the dangerous people on the road. Sleep-deprived, drunk, high, distracted, addicted to their cell phones. The road is full of human menaces. We need to let computers perform our most dangerous tasks for our own sake.

Update: Traffic fatalities are up 14% so far in 2015. 2200 more deaths than in the first half of 2014. Autonomous vehicles would have prevented that rise and they will eventually save tens of thousands of lives year while preventing brain damage and other permanent damage in survivors of car crashes.

By Randall Parker 2015 August 17 03:32 PM 
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2015 August 16 Sunday
John Deere Is Biggest Seller Of Autonomous Vehicles

John Deere tractors are still supposed to have a human behind the wheel while they drive themselves. The tractors are able to plow and plant much more efficiently when they drive themselves. Case IH and other competitors also sell self-driving tractors.

20 years from now even fields of vegetables will be planted and harvested totally by machines.

John Deere is also among the makers of autonomous lawn mowers.

You can watch the future happening on farm fields while you wait to see it come to highways.

By Randall Parker 2015 August 16 07:42 PM 
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iRobot Gets Regulatory Approval On Robotic Lawn Mower Tech

Robot maker iRobot, best known for its robotic vacuum cleaners, has won US FCC regulatory approval for a communications technology it is considering for control of robotic lawn mowers. The company intends to use ways to cut grass that are much less risky than the high speed big blades used in conventional lawn mowers.

The iRobot company has not yet committed to releasing a robotic lawn mower. But doing some web searches on robotic lawn mowers I am surprised at how many robotic lawn mower products are already on the market. John Deere is already selling robotic lawn mowers in Europe. Check out the John Deere Tango E5 robotic mower. The Bosch Indego is available in Europe. Husqvarna has robotic mowers available in Europe and the United States. Also in the United States LawnBott and Worx are selling robotic lawn mowers.

Anyone have a robotic lawn mower? What do you think? Or anyone planning to buy one? Do you use any other personal robot servants? Satisfied with them?

What I am eagerly waiting for: the Dyson 360 Eye robotic vacuum. My hope is it will suck in a good way, not a bad way.

By Randall Parker 2015 August 16 12:35 PM 
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2015 August 07 Friday
Autonomous Operation Coming For Trucks First?

Full autonomous operation of commercial vehicles is seen as still over a decade away. But commercial fleet operators are rolling out lots of driver-assist technologies that take over a rising portion of driving tasks.

the move to autonomy in commercial and industrial vehicles is far ahead of the autonomous systems offered on most passenger vehicles.

The automated assist technologies are cutting accident rates and improving fuel efficiency. Full autonomous driving will also slash labor costs. This might well happen first with long haul trucks because highways are an easier autonomous driving challenge than local streets. Also, there is a way to cut labor costs without complete autonomy: let one human truck driver play the roll of leader for a bunch of unmanned trucks. The lead truck could also have full autonomous tech. But the human could be ready to intervene when something up ahead is beyond what the computers can handle.

Long haul highway trucking seems like the most likely first candidate for autonomous trucking. Humans can bring the truck to the on-ramp and humans can service the truck at successive truckstops along its way. Then near the end of the trip the truck can pull over at a new style of truck stop to allow a human to get in and drive the trickier pieces of road to a warehouse.

By Randall Parker 2015 August 07 07:32 PM 
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2015 August 04 Tuesday
Entertainment Systems, Keyless Fobs Making Car Stealing Easier

Keyless entry to cars is opening up a new way to steal cars. Thousands of cars were stolen in London alone last year with keyless entry hacks. Autonomous operation will add another layer of risk.

Terrorist groups might want to direct a person's car to the point of ambush or kidnapping

If you can hack into the car to tell it where to go and also to simultaneously prevent updates in destination from within the passenger compartment then the autonomous vehicle will go where you want it to go.

We need encrypted keyless entry messages that are time-based. Plus, the encryption key info should not be stored on a ROM but rather in an encryption chip.

We also need to car security ratings. How hard is it to break into GM's fobless entry vs Toyota's or Land Rover's?

Update: We really need aftermarket solutions that will let us upgrade the encryption of the fob connection. The OEMs are selling cars with lame security schemes. Does even a single manufacturer sell cars with really high quality fob security?

By Randall Parker 2015 August 04 08:28 PM 
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2015 August 03 Monday
Labor-Saving Robots To Cause Mass Unemployment?

Check out this PBS NewsHour report Do labor-saving robots spell doom for American workers? Some people think so.

Retail is one of the sectors still employing a lot of lower skilled workers. But robots that lead you to what you are looking for, robots that have internet connections to store chain employees in distant places, and robots that stock the shelves and polish the floors are just a matter of time. In some cases, in just a matter of a pretty short period of time. Silicon Valley start-ups are developing hotel concierge service robots too.

I picture a future where if you go to the store a robot will greet you at the door with knowledge of all your previous purchases and it will ask you want you want. If you want to message ahead the robot could already be holding your purchase and you'll just have to wave your smart phone like a wand to pay for it. The robot might be holding a few other things to offer you based on machine learning models that predict your wants. That'll be your shopping experience if you plan ahead.

If you wait until you get to a store to tell a store robot what you want it can go off and get some things while you wander the aisles or perhaps sit in an in-store cafe to eat. THe in-store cafe will have a really excellent robot chef offering a large assortment of quality dishes. The shopping robot can send you images of choices it picks up and you can decide while you eat which color shirt you want or which watermelon.

What I'll opt for instead of a store visit: a robot that brings my groceries into my home and stocks my kitchen with them while I am at work.

By Randall Parker 2015 August 03 09:13 PM 
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2015 August 02 Sunday
Third Of Olympic Medalist Athletes Dopers?

Several hundred athletes were drugging up to enhance their performance. Click thru to read all the details. More here.

My standard spiel on this subject: We could just allow enhancement. Race car engineering has sped up the development of tech for higher performance cars. Drugs and gene therapies for athletic enhancement could do same for humans The biotech for doing this is only going to get better. It is only a question of how fast. Gene therapies will eventually provide the most powerful ways to enhance athletic performance (unless nanotech turns out to be even better). Enhanced humans will eventually far exceed the performance of genetic wild type (genetically unaltered) humans. I say we should have a sports contest for the enhanced. It will speed up the development of genetic enhancements and useful medical treatments.

50 years from now genetic wild type humans will be a rapidly shrinking fraction of the total human species. People will genetically alter cells to create embryos which have far fewer genetic defects. [We all have hundreds if not thousands of harmful genetic mutations. Fixing all those would be a boon for humanity.

Once babies are created that have better genes are these kids going to be excluded from the Olympics? If they are then this will set the stage for the gradual fading out of the Olympics as the genetically improved organize their own sporting events. The athletic events we watch in the 2060s will involve kids created in the 2040s with genetic profiles that make them faster, stronger, more coordinated, motivated, smarter, and with greater endurance. The World Anti-Doping Agency probably won't exist any more.

By Randall Parker 2015 August 02 01:29 PM 
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Self-Driving Cars To Cause Car Insurance Industry Revenue Plunge

In 15 years average premiums could be less than half of today's car insurance costs.

That is even more dramatic than it sounds because 15 years from now some of the cars on the road will be pre-autonomous. Just how far autonomous vehicles cut accident rates will depend on how many people insist up controlling their cars at least some of the time. It seems likely that at some point in the future pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists will be much bigger causes of accidents than cars.

Insurance rates on autonomous vehicles will be set by such factors as how many non-autonomous vehicles operate in the area where each person lives and how many pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists are on the roads the driver travels. Another factor: different companies will have different accident rates due to variations in the quality of their hardware and software. Car companies with the lowest accident rates will advertise the lower accident rates and the resulting lower insurance rates.

Since autonomous driving equipment will come to upscale cars first the safety advantage of premium cars will be much greater than it is today.

Autonomous vehicle introduction could cause a large winnowing in the auto industry. Autonomous capability will entice a lot of people to upgrade to a new car once it becomes clear that certain models from certain brands are doing a great job avoiding accidents.

Right now the autonomous highway driving option for a Tesla costs $2500. In just one year Cadillac will offer their Super Cruise autonomous highway driving feature in a new Cadillac model. Autonomous driving on surface roads in towns with pedestrians and parked cars is a much harder problem

Various car companies are predicting fully autonomous vehicles on the market between 2018 and 2024 with with 2044 for mandatory autonomous operation. In the latter forecast autonomous operation without driver back-up doesn't come to market until 2030. We do not know the exact timing but full autonomous operation will come. In that future I predict adventurous groups of peoplewill go on organized trips to countries that still allow autonomous vehicle operation. Then the adventurous groups will go on driving marathons across a country's rural roads to meet up at night and tell stories about accidents and surprises.

By Randall Parker 2015 August 02 12:41 PM 
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