Robert L. Blum, MD, PhD




Sphere of Interest

WebBrain: AI
neurosci psych

Stanford Brain Lecture Notes

The RX Project:
Robotic Discovery

CV Biblio (1985)


Index of Essays

Psychology &
Neuroscience brain-icon

Computer Science,
Robotics, and AI

Health & Biotech

Earth Wisdom: Universe

Be Saved by Bob!!!
(And Other Balms )

Optimal Nutrition:
Are Fats Killers
or Saviors?


Consciousness Video:
Who, What, When?

Stan Dehaene's
Consciousness & Brain

Near Death Experiences: In the Desert With Pim Van Lommel

Fine-Tuned for Life?

Neuron Videos Say
Forget Realistic AI

EUV 2014 - Future of Moore's Law

BAM: Brain Activity Map of Spikes

Beating Jeopardy!
What is Watson?
AI Overlord or Tool?

SETI: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

KEPLER Seeks Earth-like Worlds

STEVE PINKER in the Amazon: photos

Billion Year Plan:
AI Formulation

AI Awakens

CONSCIOUSNESS as Global Resonance

SEAN's Accident

Coronary Artery
CT Scan: Yes!

Book Review: TRANSCEND

Book Review:
Create a Mind

Does Drug X


Total Recall:
Everything, Always

Ralph Triumphs:
Elbot Cheers

Scientists &
Evangelicals Unite

Thomas Berry,
Geologian: Obituary

Calorie Restriction
Works in Monkeys!

TheBrain &
WebBrain: Review


Computer Science, AI, Robotics


Let the AIs, not us, formulate a billion-year plan!
Recently the (Ray) Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence (KAI) newsletter ran
a major article 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 of Earth -
we don't need trillions more in space, and 3) humanity is a stepping stone to
the profound intelligences that will emerge within the next century or two and
that will be the great engineers and explorers of space.

Meanwhile, let's focus on sustaining humanity's home right here on Planet Earth.
With luck, we will be able to enjoy life here for many generations to come.

Beating Jeopardy! What is Watson? AI Overlord or Tool?
Beating Jeopardy! was a stunning victory for IBM's Watson
and its DeepQA architecture. It was headline news in 2010. My writeup
(voted the best on the net by Quora ) provides links to
the best online articles and videos, and summarizes the project's key AI components.
Watson was a milestone accomplishment that will lead to cheap, widely available QA systems.
It's a step toward passing the Turing Test, but not an advancement
in perception as were the DARPA Grand Challenge robotic cars.
With Jeopardy Champ Ken Jennings, I too welcome our new AI Overlords,
but take heart at having a brain that's the equivalent of a server farm
but that runs on coffee and donuts.

EUV 2014: The Future of Moore's Law
Will Moore's Law soon hit a brick wall? To make sure it doesn't,
Cymer, ASML, and Intel have spent billions developing EUV lithography.
Here is the current state of EUV - promising but not there yet.

Automated Medical Discovery: the RX Project
A computer, tirelessly combing through patient records, looking for
new medical knowledge - that was my 1981 Stanford PhD thesis project -
an early example of data mining under autonomous AI control.
Under development at Stanford from 1976 to 1986, RX won many awards
and contracts and was presented worldwide.

Microsoft is Broken: My Struggles with Windows 7
The Chinese only think they're stealing Microsoft's software.
It's actually a CIA plot to sabotage their productivity - kinda like Stuxnet or Flame.
(I rejected less genteel titles for this article because several of my friends
work for the Evil Empire (in research) - besides, the Kinect is kool.) This story
chronicles my struggles with Win7. (And, just skipWin8!)
MSFT still makes billions thru corporate IT inertia
despite angering thousands of its customers.
(BTW, don't confuse the brilliant Microsoft Research division with
the stumbling dinosaur that is Microsoft's operations division.)
My pictures speak louder than words.

Singularity Summit 2010: San Francisco: Notes, Transcripts
The Singularity Summit is one of my favorite conferences.
In 2010 it was held in San Francisco on August 14-15 (2010) and included
a mix of well-known Singularitarians (Ray Kurzweil, Elie Yudkowski,
and Ben Goertzel), as well as many experts in related fields: Brain Science
(Brian Litt, Terry Sejnowski, and Demis Hassabis), Psychology (John Tooby
and Irene Pepperberg), Computer Science (Shane Legg, Steve Mann,
David Hanson, and Ramez Naam) and Biology (Greg Stock, Lance Becker
and Dennis Bray). Here I posted my detailed lecture notes.
The 2012 Singularity Summit occurred on Oct 13/14, 2012 in San Francisco. Here is a report.

Ray Kurzweil: Transcendent Man
Futurist and Inventor Ray Kurzweil's movie, Transcendent Man, debuted
in February 2011. Ray is the best known of the prophets of the
Technological Singularity, the moment when technology becomes
explosively autonomous, predicted by him to occur around 2045.
The Singularity Institute seeks to mitigate the downside for humanity (as seen, eg,
in the Terminator movies.) I view their mission as futile, but they do put on a great annual
Singularity Summit. I roughly agree with Ray's timetable, although the "devil is in the details."
I heartily recommend Ray's free daily email news summary of ground breaking tech
developments, available on his website . Here, Ray explains
the Coming Singularity. Ray's 2005 book The Singularity is Near was a must read.
But, the most persuasive evidence is his set of timelines, seen here. (CPU clock speed
increase has largely arrested, but accelerating parallelism more than compensates.
By 2020 computers will be 300X as powerful as they were in 2010.)

Ralph and the Singularity
(a one page story showing what STRONG AI computers will be able to achieve.
This was a quick reply to Bruce Klein of
the Singularity Institute who asked
"when will computers pass the Turing test."

Artificial Consciousness
(This is a 2007 letter I sent to Technology Review
responding to an article by Prof. David Gelernter
AI is Lost in the Woods.)

What Technology Wants: Kevin Kelly's Book Reviewed
This is my Amazon book review of
Kevin Kelly's 2010 magnum opus What Technology Wants.
Although I vehemently disagree with his view of the
benign nature of technology, this is an important book that I whole-heartedly recommend..

Total Recall: Technology Wants Eveything, Everywhere, Always
This is a 2009 Amazon book review I wrote of
Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything,
by tech magnate Gordon Bell and his Microsoft colleague Jim Gemmell.
They describe a future of total data capture that's inevitable for many of us.

Intel Solid State Drives
My review of Intel's new (April 2011) 320 series, solid state drives (SSDs).
They're awesome.

Brain, Mind: Hardware, Software
(Written in 1995, this is a chapter-length postscript to a science fiction novel
incorporating elements of the Lifeboat Foundation (not then in existence)
and the Millennial Foundation.
This work introduces the noosphere,
the ocean of knowledge in which mankind dwells.
It introduces the general reader to themes elaborated in books
by Hans Moravec and Ray Kurzweil.)

Mind and Brain: My Life Story
(a chapter length autobiography of my interest
in the mind/brain
and software/computer relationship)

Knowledge and Intelligence
(another chapter length essay (in progress) on the power of knowledge.
Yes, intelligence is multi-dimensional:
social, emotional, motoric, spiritual, etc., but that's later.)

TED Rocks!!!
TED is the annual conference of the tech cognoscente.
Fortunately, their 15 minute talks are all available.
Here are some of my favorites. (Addendum: ie, favorites as of 2007.
Note to myself: bring this up to date. Note to readers: let me know, if you've got a favorite.)

The Web as a Smart Global SuperOrganism
Kevin Kelly is the founding executive editor of Wired Magazine.
In 2008 Kevin posted an elegant article on Evidence of a Global SuperOrganism.
It has four tentative assertions: the Web is
1) a manufactured superorganism, 2) an autonomous superorganism,
3) an autonomous, smart superorganism, and 4) an autonomous, conscious superorganism.

My response provides evidence that the Web is becoming exponentially smarter.
A quantum leap will occur when it can read, synthesize, and learn from its terabytes of content.

Conscious awareness is entirely distinct and is a huge mystery.
Awareness seems to be characterized by the large scale integration of
multiple sensors of self and environment. All mammals are conscious
(and probably other chordata and even some invertebrates).
My 2008 essay on gamma oscillations pointed to one possible telltale sign.

My Book Review of Manna: Two Visions of Humanity's Future
Manna is a poignant dystopian work of social commentary in the tradition of
Brave New World and 1984. Written by Marshall Brain (inventor of HowStuffWorks)
and freely available on the web, it deserves a wide audience.

TheBrain & WebBrain: A Review
This is an unsolicited, unpaid testimonial for TheBrain, a software program
that I have used daily for almost a decade to keep track of absolutely everything.
WebBrain is the server-based version of TheBrain that I use
for sharing the public half of my brain on the web..

(A one page synopsis of my life-long interest in the mind/body problem.)
(Woody Allen would say, "which is it better to have?"

PR2 Folding Towels

Willow Garage: Open Source Robotics
Kevin Kelly's excellent new book, What Technology Wants, came out in 2010.
The central theme was that technology is a never ending cycle of innovation: each new product
or idea is built upon previous innovations. So, no electricity without copper wires;
no copper wires without copper smelting and wire extrusion. No electricity without coal
or uranium or dams; none of those without roads and vehicles.

Willow Garage (WG) , one of my local robotics factories, is one of the purest examples.
WG was specifically designed to address the key stumbling block to robotics.
Every new academic or industrial team has had to start from ground zero,
assembling a suite of sensors, actuators, and controllers. Hence, each new team
had to reinvent the wheel; their final product would be a demo video: progress by demo.
Then, another team would start from scratch. Willow Garage ends that and hugely promotes
robotics innovation by making sharing of hardware and software easy.
The main software is ROS (Robot Operating System) and OpenCV (computer vision).

WG is creating a community of OPEN SOURCE robotics developers who share
not only their insights and algorithms but also their hardware and code. A grad student
who would previously have spent four years building a platform and only one year
on his specific innovation can now start immediately on his innovation by using
WG's robot PR2 and the community's previously developed code. Like Wikipedia,
Willow Garage will unleash the creative talents of hundreds of new contributors.

Although WG is only four years old, its results are astounding. Their flagship robot
is their PR2 (personal robot version 2). Watch PR2 fold laundry (the holy grail
is stuffing a pillow into a pillowcase). See PR2 clean up after the party,
or fetch a beer from the refrigerator. Examine PR2's sensor suite.
Here, in only five days, the WG team programs the PR2 to play pool.
Watch PR2 open a door, find a socket, and plug itself in.
However, PR2 really needs a voice like its cousins R2D2 and WallE.

ASIMO running with kids

ASIMO Avoids Moving Obstacles
This clip shows what you can achieve when you combine Honda's million dollar
humanoid robot ASIMO with Takeo Kanade's outstanding computer vision group at CMU.
ASIMO on Wikipedia. Here ASIMO is running, and here it is learning identities of objects.

Boston Dynamics: PETMAN
PETMAN is Boston Dynamics (BDI) most advanced legged, robotic platform.
I had to laugh at the company's blurb stating that it would be used to test
clothing durability for the Defense Dept. That's akin to saying 10,000 years ago
that Homo sapiens was being evolved to model animal skins.
Also look at BDI's Cheetah robot running at 28 miles/hr. BDI was founded by
Marc Raibert, who spun it off from MIT in 1992. Here is Marc at Stanford CSD
explaining the challenges of legged robotics.
I was heartened to see this April 2012 DARPA Challenge Prize for humanoid robots.
Also read the DARPA pdf. PETMAN will soon have a more important mission than
modeling clothing. The great sci fi author Philip K. Dick.had it exactly right in Blade Runner.
Robots will be the explorers of outer space - not humans.
(See this superb collection of hi-res photos of the MSL/Curiosity Rover on Mars.)

MYO: Control Devices with the Wave of a Hand
2013 will be a banner year for HCI: Human Computer Interaction.
(I hear about developments in HCI before they go public in Prof. Terry Winograd's
weekly HCI course at Stanford
.) Two of my soon-to-be-released favorites are the
MYO, an EMG-based forearm band featured above, and Leap Motion, a 3d video sensor.
Leap Motion is similar (but with higher resolution) to Microsoft's Kinect,
which will itself have a major upgrade, the Kinect2, in 2013.

SWARMANOID wins 2011 AAAI Oscar
This year (2011) at the AAAI Conference in San Francisco,
this video won an Oscar (actually a "Shakey") for best demo video.
Swarms of robots cooperating to accomplish a task.
NASA and scores of other labs are developing swarm robots to explore
hazardous environments like the surface of Mars, Titan, or Jupiter's moon, Europa.
Bring 'em on. It's time to end domination of Earth by hominids as Agent Smith
informs Morpheus in The Matrix.

In this TED video, U. Penn. Prof. Vijay Kumar explains principles of quadrotors,
flying in precise formation and cooperating to do construction and mapping.

Turing Test? Try Elbot!
In 1950 British code breaker Alan Turing set the most famous milestone of AI research
- faking human discourse. A computer passes the Turing Test
if it can fool humans into thinking that it is human.
Kevin Warwick presents a good backgrounder on the Turing Test.
Better still is the the Loebner Prize website, awarding money to the best competitors.
But, best of all is ELBOT - the reigning champion. Try it (him?) out!

In 1997 IBM made AI history with its chess playing program DEEP BLUE,
which beat world champion Garry Kasparov. In 2010 IBM was again advancing AI
by attempting to beat humans at the popular TV game JEOPARDY. IBM's program,
called WATSON, was named after IBM's founder. Here is WATSON in action.

If you're really a human, you should be able to distinguish CATS from DOGS,
as in this test from ASIRRA. Bots can't do it, yet.

STAIR: The Stanford AI Robot Project
Prof. Andrew Ng presents a masterful one hour video overview of Stanford's STAIR Project.
There are faster and more amazing robot demos on Youtube, but this is the video
to watch if you are really interested in the intellectual challenges confronting robot builders.
(Sept, 2012 update: here is a wonderful 2011, 16 min. overview of robotics
and machine learning by Prof. Ng.)

Computers That See - Fei-Fei Li
Here, Prof. Fei-Fei Li presents the work of the Stanford Vision Lab
to a family audience at the 2012 eDay (Engineering for Kids). Her wonderful presentation
hides the incredible complexity of this cutting edge research. Although the computer
could not recognize it, a five year old girl in our audience had no trouble
identifying the star-nosed mole. Fei-fei's group now holds the record
for number of recognizable categories of objects: twenty thousand!

Doug Lenat on Cyc: Putting Common Sense into Computers
Doug was a contemporary of mine at Stanford. Since leaving about 30 years ago,
he has led the longest running, best-funded AI project in history - CYC.
His aim is to codify all of common sense, rendering it machine-comprehensible.
In this video presented to AI researchers at Google he shows CYC's objectives and methods.
(Much of common sense is nonconscious, situational, temporal, and subsymbolic.
Despite that, CYC is essential background for AI builders.)

AI and the Singularity: Luke Muehlhauser
Until 2015 Luke was head of MIRI (the Machine Intelligence Research Institute.)
Here he concisely addresses many of the key issues that MIRI studies.
What is artificial general intelligence (AGI)? When will it be achieved?
Does it require consciousness? Will it be based on whole brain emulation or rather
will it involve de novo AI? Will it be friendly to humanity? Are there accelerants and
spoilers in its development? Luke worked with many of the key players.
His answers are accurate and brief.

Artificial Intelligence Videos from Syntience: Holistic AI
AI researcher Monica Anderson has identified a key weakness in traditional AI:
the exclusive reliance on symbols, models, and logic to compute the state of the world.
Radically different are her model-free methods that use pattern-based computations.
This series of videos from her company, Syntience, presents the problems with symbolic AI.
Also included are videos by AI luminary Peter Norvig (Dir. of Research at Google) and
futurist Jamais Cascio. My video on Consciousness, presented at the Bay Area AI-Meetup,
is also included. Consciousness (and intelligence) is the paradigm case of
subsymbolic, holistic, pattern-matching. AI must follow suit.

Urgent EVOKE: Save the Planet via Video Games! (?)
All boys (and many girls) have spent 10,000 hours playing video games by age 21.
It causes neglect of school work and disengagement from reality. It promotes
lack of physical activity and obesity. It stunts social skills and narrows the player's world.
Is there any upside? Yes, says the Institute for the Future's Jane McGonigal.
Massive multiplayer games, like World of Warcraft, promote sociability, cooperative
problem solving, engagement, persistence in the face of continual defeat, and a sense of
empowerment, and even heroism. Now, asks Jane, how do we harness those 10,000 hours
to save the planet? Her answer is Urgent EVOKE, one of a series of video games that
she is developing. See her present the concept at TED. If you cannot solve
the world's problems alone, then EVOKE a solution. Go Jane!

Speaking of heroism, Joseph Campbell in 1949 extracted the formula from the
world's classical mythologies. Here is the key to the Hero's Journey (as seen in The Matrix).

PLAY, Existenz, the Matrix: Total Immersive Reality
Is it possible you're reading this but haven't seen the 1999 film The Matrix?
(It is possible. Many of my friends are meditators who hate violence (and tend to be female.)
Perhaps they will be more successful in saving humanity from itself than my kind:
media-saturated hacker males.) How about the 1999 film eXistenZ?
Another similar film is PLAY (only 19 minutes - free, online, and excellent.)
All three movies raise the question, "Is totally immersive virtual reality (VR) possible?"
Answer is "No. Brain in a Vat fooled by computer-generated VR is NOT possible."
This Rudy Rucker (gonzo fiction/ math whiz) essay eloquently says why. (I'll start and stop here: only 1089 particles in the known Universe - insufficient compute power.)

Speaking of brains in vats: check out this one by AI game builder Chris Jurney.
Is it real or virtual? Answer is REAL (ie real plastic).

Some of my friends are head freezers. Eternal life, maybe! Advertising-free, no!

There are two kinds of total immersive reality, and it's essential to distinguish them.
You know VR (virtual reality) from films like The Matrix in which an entire fake world
is computer-generated. That is not possible. However, the other kind of immersive reality -
telepresence, is far more interesting and is quite possible. Telepresence refers to
being immersed in a real physical environment that is some distance from you.
Total immersion means the immersion is so complete that you are not aware of
your true location.(That was the situation in the sci-fi films Strange Days,
Total Recall, Avatar, and Source Code.)

Telepresence in this wiki article is lamely being confused with video teleconferencing.
That's like confusing looking at a photo of rock-climbing with actually being on the cliff face.
Totally immersive telepresence is the key magic trick behind consciousness.
Real immersive telepresence is what you've been experiencing every second of your life
from the time you were born. It's like The Matrix only you can't escape.
It always amazes me when some of my otherwise brilliant Silicon Valley friends don't get it.
(It's like explaining water to a fish or air to anyone 300 years ago. It's invisible but true.)
Philosopher of mind, Thomas Metzinger, explains it superbly here.

is a cutting edge virtual reality heaset for video gamers. It met its Kickstarter goal of
raising 250,000 dollars in a mere four hours. With its 110 degree immersive field of view
and low head-motion latency, high-res graphics, it will usher in a new era in
consumer-grade VR in 2014. Devkits are already available.

Robot Scientists
The crucial bottleneck in scientific progress is the number, brilliance, and resources of
research teams on the planet. The pace of science has quickened as more and more
countries have joined the enterprise. Another source of new leads is robotic science:
eg high-throughput drug screening. Two recent projects, each touted as robot scientists,
peaked my interest and reminded me of my Stanford AI research on the RX Project,
an early success in automating scientific discovery. The new projects are
1) ADAM - an automated microbiology lab for generating hypotheses, conducting experiments, and interpreting results and 2) Eureqa, a Cornell project focused on
automated interpretation of science data. Experiment design and interpretation
is essential to human cognition and learning. It's the way children learn about their world,
and its automation is an essential but challenging step toward The Singularity.

High-Speed Robot Hand Does Mad Tricks
A regular debate I have with my NASA friends is "exploration of space -
human or robotic?" My answer is that humans will explore Mars only after
the robots first build the Mars Hilton, an argument elaborated by me here.
This video from Ishikawa Yomura's robotics lab reinforces that claim.

Here are some of my favorite quadrotor (quadcopter) YouTubes.
Quadcopter Pole Acrobatics - flipping a balanced baton between two copters.
Quadcopter Ball Juggling (also from ETH, Zurich) and quadrotor doing aggressive maneuvers.
And this clip of quadrotors grasping parts and four of them autonomously building a tower.
And here, from the GRASP Lab at U. Penn, a swarm of Nano Quadrotors in tight formations.
But having seen that, what do you now think of the common housefly
that you so casually swat

March, 2013: Check out SyFy channel's new TV show: Robot Combat League.
Larger than life robots in hand-to-hand combat - what could be more meaningful?

INFOGLUT: Overload by Cheap Information: eCrap
Attention is a precious commodity. We can only think so fast (< 10 words per second).
Meanwhile, we are bombarded by an ever-expanding mass of Electronic Junk.
This paper by former ACM President Peter Denning on Infoglut spells out
the problem and a solution: VIRT (valued information at just the right time).

Tour the Allosphere: Go Inside Cells and Atoms
A stunning demo from UCSB's Professor and composer JoAnn Kuchera-Morin,
who created the Allosphere, a three story tall, virtual reality environment
connected to a supercomputer. This wonderful TED video shows the Allosphere in action
as it navigates through a brain, inside blood vessels, inside cells, and inside atoms.

Glasses from Google

Augmented Reality Assists Marines with Tank Repair
Augmented Reality (AR) means overlaying words and graphics on top of the real world.
This excellent video from Columbia's AR group shows a marine using AR to fix a tank turret.
Don't own a tank? How about taking a tour of Tokyo and maybe even finding a date.
And, look at this video of Project Glass (April 2012) from Google:

CNC Machine: Robot Manufacturing
When will robots autonomously manufacture their own parts?
They already do. Robots vs Humans? Compare the precision of the CNC machine
to the "precision" of YouTube comments by humans. Which is evolutionarily more fit?

3D Printing: Bits to Atoms
This is a key step in the journey toward AI/robotic autonomy. Look at these
videos from RapMan, showing bit by bit manufacture of complex parts.
This video from Z Corporation shows the manufacture of a working crescent wrench.
Again, compare the precision seen here to YouTube comments by humans.

SWARMANOID attacks bookshelf, wins 2011 AAAI Oscar,
then annihilates human race

The Matrix's Agent Smith salivates at the prospect.
"Not so fast," says Bob. "Humans are special - maybe."
(BTW, this clip of Peter Weyland's 2023 TED Talk had me - popcorn in hand -
enthusiastically awaiting the June 2012 release of Prometheus.
Weyland Industries David robot.
Addendum June 23, 2012: Prometheus was a dud - the trailers were much better.
You're better off just seeing The Avengers again or Ridley Scott's Blade Runner.)

NEXUS by Ramez Naam
I agree with the editors at Wired; this novel is "good. scary good." Don't tell your friends
about it unless you know they can afford a few nights of feverish reading.
The review by 'TChris' at Amazon is accurate. This is as good as Michael Crichton's best.

Build Your Own Neural Network Controlled Self-Driving RC Car!
This project done by Dave Singleton sooo wound my clock that
my son (Sean) and I just had to go out and buy an Arduino to replicate it.
First, look at the 35 second video at the very bottom of his write-up (not the first clip).
Next, contemplate the fact that DARPA, CMU, Stanford, and Google
spent millions developing self-driving cars. So, here's Dave doing it with a $29.95 RC car!
I got my start at age 11 building ham radio kits. Buy your kids Arduinos -
nothing beats "hands on."