2015 December 26 Saturday
We Are Still Not In The Space Age

If it meets its design goal the SpaceX Falcon 9 will cost $250 per lb to put into low Earth orbit (LEO). That is about a tenth of the price of competing alternatives.

Suppose Elon Musk succeeds in getting the price done that far. Suppose he goes even farther and hits $100 per pound. Will we be in the space age yet? Nope. Why not? Well, compare to traveling around here on Earth by jet. Suppose you get a $2000 flight to somewhere distant and you and your luggage weigh 200 lb. That's $10 per lb. Much cheaper. Plus, the airplane ticket price includes the cost of a comfortable temperature and breathable atmosphere in the main cabin.

But wait. The difference in cost is much greater than $100 vs $10 per lb. If you fly to Hawaii you don't need to carry your food, water, oxygen, energy, and a hotel to keep you alive while in Hawaii. The islands are supplied far more cheaply with food, construction materials, cars, home appliances, and many other items by ship. Also they get their oxygen and water effectively for free. They've got many miles of areas suitable for humans to walk around, sit around, build homes, build swimming pools, and the like.

Going into space means you bring along your entire life support system and living and working and recreation space. Remember, the new cheap SpaceX rocket costs are only for LEO. If you want to go to, say, Mars then your costs go up by orders of magnitude. You need a much more durable housing module, shielding against radiation that is much higher outside the Van Allen Belt, and a lot of food to consume during the many month trip.

We entered the jet age decades ago. To enter a space age in the same sense in which we entered the jet age would require much cheaper energy to power the rockets, better propulsion systems for moving between planets, and an assortment of technological advances to make a space colony viable on another planet or moon. So we aren't in the space age yet.

By Randall Parker 2015 December 26 09:55 PM 
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Two Clusters Of Genes Linked To Human Intelligence

Clusters of genes found that influence cognitive function:

Scientists from Imperial College London have identified for the first time two clusters of genes linked to human intelligence.

Called M1 and M3, these so-called gene networks appear to influence cognitive function – which includes memory, attention, processing speed and reasoning.

Crucially, the scientists have discovered that these two networks – which each contain hundreds of genes – are likely to be under the control of master regulator switches. The researchers are now keen to identify these switches and explore whether it might be feasible to manipulate them.

These clusters of genes become obvious targets in which to focus the search for genetic variants that influence intelligence. Also, their regulatory regions might be useful as drug targets. Though getting regulatory approval for intelligence-boosting drugs would be hard.

I'm skeptical about the potential to have a big impact on human intelligence by modifying a small number of master regulator switches. Researchers chasing genetic causes of intelligence differences find plenty of evidence that each genetic variant that influences intelligence has only a small impact. As a result, thousands of locations in the genome have genetic variations that cause differences in intelligence. The vast majority of these thousands of locations have not yet been identified.

Since each location on the genome that influences intelligence has only small effect people chasing after all those locations have to use really large data sets of genetic testing and sequencing data. This has made the search for brain IQ genes a much lengthier process than some optimists had hoped 10 to 15 years ago.

On the bright side, the many orders of magnitude drop in DNA sequencing costs accelerated starting around 2008 and we have now reached a point where much larger scale sequencing of genomes has become possible. The search for IQ genes has sped up by orders of magnitude. We will know the vast majority of them in 10 years and some of them much sooner. By 2020 or perhaps 2022 it will be possible to choose between embryos using IVF to get much smarter children.

When embryo selection for intelligence first starts I expect affluent (or even highly motivated not so affluent) people will travel to whichever jurisdictions allow it. To get around inevitable regulatory delays by the US FDA and European equivalents we will probably see fertility clinics with embryo genetic testing popping up in legally lenient islands in the Caribbean, Hong Kong, Singapore, and other locales on the fringes of major powers.

The prospect of getting babies with 10+ IQ point boosts over the average outcome from old style sexual reproduction is going to be a very powerful lure. As the implications sink in genetic testing will start happening as part of mate selection. Also, the market will bid up the prices of sperm and egg donors with the most genetic potential.

By Randall Parker 2015 December 26 05:22 PM 
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2015 December 16 Wednesday
About California Autonomous Vehicle Regulations

California will require a licensed driver and steering controls.

That knocks out autonomous taxis. No way for the taxi to drive itself to pick up a passenger. It also eliminates the benefit for the blind and old folks who've lost too much coordination and decision-making skills.

But if you are eagerly waiting autonomous vehicles do not despair. What I expect to happen: Some jurisdictions will allow fully autonomous vehicles. In those jurisdictions death rates will plummet. People will sing the praises of cheap autonomous taxis. The old and blind will get a lot of attention in the press when they describe their new freedom of movement. The public will become very supportive in the more restrictive jurisdictions. Then governments like California's will relent.

It will be interesting to see which jurisdictions allow autonomous vehicles first. Some more free wheeling American states? Japan? Hong Kong or Singapore? Will German car companies apply pressure for Germany to be a front runner in the race to full autonomy? How about China? It is now the biggest car market in the world.

I'm still expecting fully autonomous vehicles on sale in some jurisdictions by the early 2020s and with skyrocketing demand across many jurisdictions by the mid 2020s.

By Randall Parker 2015 December 16 09:14 PM 
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2015 December 15 Tuesday
Wild Species Genetic Alteration: Seems Inevitable

A writer calls for human intervention in nature to reduce animal suffering. My own beliefs and ethics do not drive me in any way toward this point of view. But when the cost of doing something goes down more people consider doing it. I think this might be the case for managing wilderness areas and all the flora and fauna in them.

Imagine humans do not get wiped out by AI robots or nanodevices. We will (or some of us will) eventually gain the ability to intervene in nature with a high level of nuance and fine grained control over wide ranges. How? Little robots, mini-UAVs, insects genetically engineered to deliver viruses that record the DNA of wild species, food sources genetically engineered to produce wild animal contraceptives, and many other tools for managing nature. So, for example, once robots can produce enormous quantities of goods it'll become much easier to, say, send out UAVs to find every wolf or bear and give it an injection.

It strikes me that humans will not be able to resist intervening in nature to alter species. Some might do it to reduce animal suffering. Others might do it to make the birds who come to their bird feeder in the winter be more attractive. Still others will want to do it to, say, replace mosquitoes that bite humans with mosquitoes that won't bite humans. The number of ways to intervene in nature will be limited only by human imagination.

Oh wait, that's not right. I left out the artificial intelligences that will work to come up with ideas for nature's alteration to make human lives more satisfying. The AIs might closely observe human lives and decide that particular insects or perhaps fire ants have got to go. Then the AIs will use microfluidic devices and massive simulations to figure out how to alter or wipe out inconvenient species so that they no longer pose any problems for humanity (or post-humanity as may be the case).

One can imagine how this tinkering and rewriting of other species could lead to conflicts between different human factions. How much should chimpanzee intelligence be increased? How about dolphin intelligence? Should any species be altered so that they revere and worship humans? Will some humans take violent objection to being made objects of veneration for felines v2.0?

I can easily imagine some portion of some species uplifted to higher intelligence so they can play as gladiators against those of their own kind - or perhaps as warriors against another uplifted species. Animals could be altered to serve as pawns in battles between human factions.

What species do you want to genetically alter? Why?

By Randall Parker 2015 December 15 10:15 PM 
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2015 December 12 Saturday
Cheap LIDAR coming for driverless cars

Silicon Valley startup Quanergy and Delphi Systems are going to sell a LIDAR sensor system for autonomous vehicles for less than $1k. Game changer.

We will see fully autonomous vehicles on sale in the 2020s. Car accident rates and death rates will plummet along with insurance premiums and taxi ride fares. People will travel more because it will become easier and less stressful. We will also see the rise of (cheaper) delivery services where you have to come out to the (driverless) vehicle to retrieve your goods.

Will people commute greater distances when they no longer have to drive? Or will they live in cities more once car ownership becomes less necessary and taxi rides become much cheaper? Maybe both. Maybe some will move to cities while others commute to work from rural areas to suburban office parks.

Autonomous vehicles will probably shift mass transit toward smaller buses and vans. Why use big buses when you no longer have to pay for a driver for each bus? Run smaller electric vehicles along dynamically chosen routes and let Uber or Lyft coordinate pickups.

By Randall Parker 2015 December 12 11:44 AM 
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2015 December 05 Saturday
Cancer Risk and US FDA As Obstacle For Cancer Cures

A review of The Death Of Cancer by long time cancer researcher Vincent T. DeVita includes an excerpt where he expresses his frustration with the obstructing role that the US Food and Drug Administration plays in the development of cancer treatments.

“I’d like to be able to say that as cancer drugs have become increasingly more complex and sophisticated, the F.D.A. has as well. But it has not.” In fact, he writes, “the rate-limiting step in eradicating cancer today is not the science but the regulatory environment we work in.”

Think about it. Want to die of cancer? Or want a cure if you get cancer? You have about a 1 in 2 chance of getting cancer in your lifetime and the FDA is slowing down the development of cures. If it was up to me this one issue would be the biggest issue of the US presidential campaign. It is a matter of life and death.

By Randall Parker 2015 December 05 09:30 AM 
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