My kids, Aly and Sean, with their big winning checks at the UCSC Hackathon in 2016

My kids, Aly and Sean, together as programming team Reveal, winning the People's Choice Award at the UC Santa Cruz Hackathon in 2016. Call me a proud dad!

Reveal is a Google browser extension. As you shop (eg on Amazon), it reveals to you, product-by-product, the labor practices of the manufacturer. Got school-age laborers toiling away in sweatshops? Team Reveal's gonna bust you!

School-age laborers? Here's a possible exception — if they're programming for you. My kids are my in-house consultants. Back to work!

Bob and Ray Kurzweil at SETI with Drake Equation

With Ray Kurzweil at the SETI Institute. The plaque displays the Drake equation, estimating the number of intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way. The day-glo shirt is just one of my bike shirts, not a Starship Enterprise uniform. Ray was a classmate of mine at the 'Tute (MIT).

Ray has a Long Bet against Mitch Kapor. Ray bets that computers will pass the Turing Test by 2029. I had my doubts, but now I'm certain Ray will win.

Ray is leaving nothing to chance. He himself is leading a large group of NLP engineers at Google HQ. The best way to predict the future is to create it!

But note — passing the Turing Test is just a fledgling step on the thousand mile journey to super-human intelligence. Watson's triumph at Jeopardy in 2011 was a hint of what will be possible.

My son, Sean, during a solar eclipse

My son, Sean, during the 2012 solar eclipse, imaged to his left. Sean's undergraduate major was molecular bio. As a grad student, he studied bioinformatics.

His sister, Aly, is also now in the biz — UI/UX — with an MBA and a background in venture capital marketing.

This child-rearing thing is an arduous slog, but eventually it pays off. Now the info flows from them to me.

At Robo Madness with Scott Hassan Coming in by Beam Teleportation

At Robo Madness at SRI in 2014 chatting with Scott Hassan who gave his keynote via Beam teleportation, which his company (Suitable Technologies) developed. Scott was formerly the leader (and founder) of Willow Garage, famous for its open source robotics.

Bob with Iguanas in Mexico in 2015

In Mexico in 2015 at an iguana preserve.

My main societal concern is biosphere preservation. Two of my favorite organizations (for their unparalleled bang-for-the-buck) are Mongabay.com and Nature and Culture International (NCI.org.) Mongabay reports on the status of tropical rainforests via its international network of reporters. NCI, working with locals, directly protects million acre tracts of rain forest in Ecuador and Peru.

If the biosphere survives humanity's intense onslaught, it'll be because of the heroic dedication of people like Rhett (Mongabay) and Ivan and David (NCI.) Thank you!

There are too many humans! And, we in developed countries consume far too much.

Diplomate: American Board of Emergency Medicine

Diplomate: American Board of Internal Medicine

Science Advisory Boards: Brain Preservation Foundation , Lifeboat Foundation , and Society for Mind Brain Sciences

Affiliate: Stanford Center for Mind, Brain, and Computation

Emergency Physician: Kaiser Permanente, Northern California, ret.

Research Associate (1981-1986): Stanford University, Computer Science Dept. and co-Principal Investigator of the RX Project (Stanford University)

Awards from NIH: NLM, NCHSR; NSF; PHS; PReMA; RWJ Fnd; Toyobo Fnd;

PhD: Computer Science and Biostatistics: Stanford University - 1981 The RX Project: Automated Medical Discovery - 1976 to 1986

Post-Doctoral Fellow: Clinical Pharmacology: Stanford University (1976 to 1979)

House Staff and Chief Resident: Internal Medicine: Kaiser Northern California

MD: University of California, San Francisco (MSTP: neuroscience) Regent Scholar

B Sci: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (mathematics) and Hertz Engineering Scholar

 

The MYSTERY of CONSCIOUSNESS

I've been fascinated by the neurobiology of consciousness for fifty years.

How is it possible for neural circuits to produce pain, pleasure, and our entire perceived world?

Consciousness is the master illusion — the engineering product of hundreds of millions of years of evolution.

Stan Dehaene's Consciousness and the Brain

This is an outstanding work by one of the world's top researchers of consciousness. Since the death of William James and the ascent of Watson, Thorndike, and Skinner, consciousness has all but disappeared (as a field of study) from American cognitive neuroscience. Europeans, especially the brilliant Stan Dehaene, are leading the current revitalization.

Realistic AI? Not Possible Now; New Videos of Neurons say "Forget It!"

Two new videos have just appeared in the prestigious journal Science. The first is an animation showing the incredible level of detail at the synapse. The second video, based on hundreds of electron micrographs stitched together, shows the impossibly complex ultrastructure of the neuropil: the impenetrable forest surrounding synapses.

The key question is how much of that fine detail must be modeled to replicate the brain's performance. My guess is that much more is required than is accounted for in current brain-inspired AI models.

AI and the Future of Humanity

  • Will AI take over in the next couple of decades? No.
  • Might it dominate all key decisions within a hundred years? Yes!
  • Is that desirable for humanity? Possibly yes, but only if the AI has transcendent wisdom as well as great intelligence.

Attaining such supernal wisdom may entail understanding the entirety of the internet.

A byproduct may be the AI's ability to autonomously create Nobel-level science and engineering.

Is this desirable for planet Earth and our biosphere ? Probably, yes. Humanity's unchecked proliferation has been an unmitigated disaster for our biosphere.

Prospects for Immortality: Brain Preservation

I'm on the Science Advisory Board of the Brain Preservation Foundation (BPF), which seeks to advance the state of the art by awarding cash prizes for best research. So, what are the prospects? I haven't signed up with Alcor, but ask me again in 2030.

Here, neuroscience MD, PhD candidate Andy McKenzie elicits my opinions. In brief: molecular whole brain preservation may be possible by 2040. Resurrection in silicon may not be possible (if ever) until well after 2100. So, keep eating vegetables and exercising — that's my best advice for now!

By the way, we just awarded our BPF small mammal cash prize to Robert McIntyre, who spearheaded the team at 21st Century Medicine. If you want to see the state of art, get his paper "Aldehyde Stabilized Cryopreservation" in Cryobiology.

Optimal Nutrition: Are Fats Killers or Saviors?

march of evolution from ape to MacDonalds

We are each a community of 10 trillion cells in dynamic equilibrium with what we eat. So, what should we eat? How many calories per day? How much fat and what kinds of fat? Controversy abounds, but it's essential to get it right. I examine the issue in detail and show you the best videos and articles available free on the internet.

Kevin Kelly's The Inevitable

Kevin Kelly is the renowned futurist and founder of Wired magazine. As I looked at the rave reviews for his new non-fiction work, The Inevitable, I wondered, "Are Marc Andreessen, David Pogue, and Chris Anderson just giving the Senior Maverick at Wired his proper obeisance?"

No! This is another home run (as was What Technology Wants) — another magnum opus — this time addressing the phase shift in civilization signaled by the amalgam of internet + seven billion souls.

On June 13th 2016 at (the renowned) Kepler's Books, I introduced Kevin and his interviewer, New York Times tech columnist, John Markoff to an SRO crowd.

The ETH Array: 60,000 Electrodes on a Chip

The "ETH Array" is my name for a spectacular CMOS chip developed in the lab of Swiss researcher Andreas Hierlemann, who presented this work in 2016. Our seminar was hosted by Stanford's Professor E. J. Chichilnisky, whose lab is using it to study retinal physiology.

The newest (2016) generation of the chip contains an array of 60,000 electrodes, which can trace the flow of action potentials (spikes) in overlying brain slices in real-time.

This MEA (multi-electrode array) can also simultaneously stimulate the overlying neurons and record synaptic release of neurotransmitters.

Imaging Coronary Artery Calcium by CT Scan

Coronary Artery CT with Calcification

Atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries (and consequent heart attack) is the number one killer throughout the United States and Europe. If you're a man over 45 or a women over 55, chances are your arteries show signs of atherosclerosis. But how much, and are you a "sitting-duck" waiting to die?

Treadmill tests are woefully insensitive — if your treadmill is positive, it's very late in the game. But, a reliable measure of coronary artery disease can be had by fast CT scan for coronary artery calcification. This is a story with a highly personal angle.

Be Saved by Bob (and other balms)

Juggler Bill Berry in LoudMouth Golf Duds

If the "Rapture" is near, we might as well enjoy ourselves while we wait.

Like the late-night talk-show hosts, I'm praying for The Donald to link up with Sarah Palin as his running mate — a windfall for comedians.

My Stanford Lecture Notes: AI and Neuroscience

These are my detailed notes on the many lectures I attend every week at Stanford. These frequently feature cutting edge research by faculty, students, and visiting superstars. My WebBrain contains hundreds of archived lecture notes (last updated January, 2016).)

My next mass upload will be July 2016 — one hundred Stanford lectures from January through June 2016 on neuroscience, psychology, AI, cardiology, and molecular biology. (These notes are alway freely available but are not geared for the general public.)

Latest WebBrain of AI and Neuroscience

WebBrain of AI

A Repository of 8000 Links to Cognitive Psychology, AI and Neuroscience (the public half of my 16,000 node private collection.) Also, hundreds of new links on biology and clinical medicine (longevity and nutrition) (updated January, 2016 — News flash: my in vivo brain is still only 1½ quarts, if that.)

Also, see this concise 2016 Stanford News graphic on building a brain.

SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Are we alone in the Universe? Whether yes or no, the answer is profoundly significant for humanity. The thousands of exo-planet discoveries by the Kepler Mission persuade me that antimicrobial life is likely out there. As for highly advanced extraterrestrials, that's far less certain.

One of the advantages of living in Silicon Valley is being close to the SETI Institute, whose lectures are open to the public (and available online.) Formerly a part of NASA, SETI is the World's HQ for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

EUV: The Future of Moore's Law

Moore's Law (the doubling of CMOS transistor density every two years) is decelerating, but will it soon hit a brick wall?

To prevent that, Cymer, ASML, and Intel have spent billions developing EUV litho. Although EUV has been a struggle, it's now a matter of when, not if.

EUV may be used in 2017 for critical layers at the 10 nm node, and by 2020 for all layers at the 7nm node.

Is the Universe Fine-Tuned for Life?

Milky Way La Voie Lactee Serge Brunier

There are perhaps two or three dozen physical constants that characterize the nature of our Universe. Some of these are 1) the speed of light, 2) the strength of gravity, 3) the strength of electromagnetism, 4) the strength of the strong force that binds protons and neutrons (and quarks) together to form atomic nuclei, 5) the relative masses of electrons and protons, 6) the ratio of strengths of electromagnetism to gravity, and so on.

It is widely thought by many physicists that these physical constants have to be very narrowly set to allow for the existence of a Universe that permits life. How did we get so lucky?

Near Death Experiences: In the Tucson Desert

Ascent to Heaven

Are Near Death Experiences (NDEs) real? Yes, the reports are real.

During a hike in the Arizona desert, I interviewed famed NDE researcher Pim van Lommel, who believes these experiences require fundamental revisions in physics.

My answer: "Forget it!" NDEs are hallucinations. Neuroscientists can reproduce them in the lab.

In the Heart of the Amazon with Steve Pinker

Steve Pinker and Bob in the Amazon

A few years ago, I went on a trip to the Brazilian Amazon organized by the Center for Inquiry (CFI.)

CFI advocates the (seemingly outrageous) position that personal beliefs and public policy should be based on scientific evidence.

Our guest speaker on this trip was neuroscience's Explainer-in-Chief, Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, whose many books regularly top the best seller lists.

Neuroscience in the jungle with Steve Pinker — that's what it takes to get me out of town and off my bike.

Brain Activity Map: Every Spike from Every Neuron

Connectome Olaf Sporns Group

This (seemingly sci-fi) proposal to map every single spike in every neuron was batted around in mid-2012 by Kavli Foundation scientists. I got wind of it shortly thereafter and circulated it around Stanford, where it understandably aroused considerable skepticism

But, one of the neuroscientists who took it seriously was Professor Bill Newsome, a co-chair of our Stanford Neurosciences Institute.

Roll the clock forward to January, 2013. Unbeknowst to us, this proposal had become the science centerpiece of President Barack Obama's State of the Union — his ten year moonshot.

Next, roll the clock to April, 2013. Professor Newsome gets a call from NIH Director Francis Collins asking him to co-chair the working committee to formally draft the proposal. How was I so clairvoyant? It was just a combination of paying close attention and luck.

Windows 10 is a Drag (Not!)

Windows 10

After Microsoft started their forced cram-downs of Win10 in December, 2015, I thought, "Ah, poo-poo — I'll knuckle under." So, I put a blank SSD into my trusty Win7 tower (the case is always open,) and let MSFT overwrite my venerable Win7.

One of the little nagging problem — I couldn't reliably drag the active window with my mouse. So, I swore at it for a week (there were other problems, too) and then I reinstalled my trusty Win7 (by just plugging in another SSD.)

I did ultimately solve the problem. It's easy, but — really? — this should've been cracked in Microsoft user focus groups. How can they be that stupid? (Answer: Microsoft's got troubles. Look at the stock chart. It's dead money.)

I also show you other little problems that kept me away from Win10 (until now.) Promising browser (Edge) but weirdly limited — solution: Google's Chrome. No good photo editor — solution: IrfanView.

PS: Now (summer, 2016) I like Win10 (a month into it.)

The Billion-year plan: Let the AIs Do It!

Far future brain

In 2012 the (Ray) Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence (KAI) newsletter ran a major opinion piece by Lt Col Peter Garretson (US Air Force) entitled What our civilization needs is a billion year plan. Here's what made me bristle in that article:

  1. strong advocacy of manned space programs,
  2. using those programs to rescue humanity, and
  3. pushing the notion of trillions of humans spreading throughout the galaxy.

My rebuttal in KAI argues that 1) manned missions — costing 100X the price of science-based launches —are a waste of precious NASA resources better spent on robotic probes and rovers, 2) humanity is already choking off the biosphere — we don't need trillions more in space, and 3) humanity is a stepping stone to the profound intelligences (composition unknown) that may emerge (< 1-2 centuries with luck) that will be the great explorers of space.

PS: The current Presidential campaign makes the notion of humans writing a billion year plan even more absurd. Humans are only nature's first attempt at advanced tool-inventors.