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


Index of Essays

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.

BAM - Brain Activity Map
Every Spike from Every Neuron

A blue-ribbon panel of nanotechnologists and neuroscientists from the
Kavli Foundation has just proposed creating an incredible set of tools
to enable the visualization of every spike from every neuron in brain-wide regions.
Enthusiasts include NIH Director Francis Collins and President Barack Obama.
This scientific ten year moon shot made it into the 2013 State of the Union!

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 a century or two
that will be the great explorers and engineers of space.

Video Lecture by Bob Blum
Consciousness - What, Who, When, and Why

This is a hi-def video of a lecture I gave in 2010 at the Bay Area AI Meetup.
It discusses the importance of consciousness to ourselves and our sense of the world.
I introduce comparative neuroanatomy and discuss when and why
consciousness evolved. Consciousness confers evolutionary advantage
in a fiercely competitive and changing world.
(See my essay on The Mystery of Consciousness: Introduction.)

Automated Discovery: the RX Project
A computer, tirelessly combing through patient records, looking for
new medical knowledge - that was my Stanford PhD thesis project -
an early example of data mining under AI control.
RX garnered many contracts and awards and was presented worldwide by myself and
my co-PI and thesis advisor, Stanford CSD Prof. (now emeritus), Gio Wiederhold.
Imagine how hard this was to do in the late 1970s in the era of
mag tape, scant megabytes of core, and crawling CPUs.

My Stanford Lecture Notes
I attend about 200 lectures per year at Stanford University and other
local venues including SLAC, SETI, SRI, and (Xerox) PARC. Most of these
focus on cognitive neuroscience and on AI (my main interests). But I also attend talks
given by visiting superstar professors of molecular biology, cosmology, physics, and
energy and computer science. When I'm forced to travel during the
academic year, it feels like I've been cast out of Nirvana.

Be Saved by Bob and Other Balms
(Yes. This is the humor section.)

Optimal Nutrition: Are Fats Killers or Saviors?
Here are the keys to happiness: HEALTH, WEALTH, KNOWLEDGE, WORK,
LOVE, and FREEDOM. Health always comes first;
as the saying goes - without it, you have nothing.
Now, here are the keys to good health: nutrition, sleep, exercise,
freedom from toxins, and freedom from pain and stress
Nutrition is a difficult piece to get right, but it is worth the effort.
You are a community of ten trillion cells, each in continuous equilibrium
with what you eat. So, what is the optimal recipe?
Say you eat 2400 calories per day, and let's say 400 calories are protein.
How many of the remaining 2000 calories should come from carbs and (hence)
how many should be from fats (the remainder). This issue has vexed medical researchers
for decades. Here, I examine the issue in detail and show you
the best of what is available free on the internet.

Beating Jeopardy! What is Watson? AI Overlord or Tool?
Beating Jeopardy! was a stunning victory for IBM's Watson and
its DeepQA architecture. It generated a flurry of publicity.
I provide links to the best online articles and videos, and summarize
the project's key AI components. Watson is a milestone accomplishment that will
lead to 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.

Fine-Tuned Universe, God, and the Anthropic Principle
Every year I backpack in the Sierras, inevitably focusing on the big questions.
How did all that exists come to be? Are there other Universes? Is mankind alone?
Many physical constants that allow life to develop in the Universe appear to be finely-tuned. Did God sit at a control panel twisting the dozens of knobs that determine the interactions of the particles and forces that comprise reality?
I discuss the views of physicists, cosmologists, and theologians

SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
Is ET out there, waiting to be discovered? My answer is "yes, although,
in the vast majority of cases, microbial." My viewpoint follows the SETI Instituteand its
founder Frank Drake. (See this lovely video from Carl Sagan's tv series Cosmos.
Carl was a SETI trustee.) Prof. Drake's car license plate reads
"N = L." The number of ET civilizations in the Milky Way
is determined by their likelihood of survival. Our survival on Earth is not guaranteed,
but requires dedicated stewardship and devotion to long-term sustainability.

Kepler Seeks Earth-like Worlds
The Kepler Space Telescope discovers new exoplanets every week.
Planets are common, and Earth-size planets are probably also common.
Now orbiting the sun millions of miles from Earth, Kepler stares fixedly at 150,000 stars
looking for planetary transits. Other follow-on projects, most notably, the
James Webb Space Telescope may be able to detect the spectra of earth-like atmospheres.

Near Death Experiences: In the Desert with Pim Van Lommel
Out in the desert foothills of Tucson in 2010, I interviewed NDE researcher
and cardiologist, Pim Van Lommel, who organized the largest study of NDEs so far.
My view is that the patients are genuinely conveying their experiences, but
their perceptions are hallucinatory. Dr. Van Lommel believes they are quite real,
and require a fundamental revision of neuroscience and physics. I doubt it.

Singularity Summit 2010: San Francisco: Notes, Transcripts
The Singularity Summit is one of my favorite conferences.
It was in San Francisco on August 14-15 in 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 post my detailed lecture notes.

Thomas Berry, Geologian, Dies at 94
I heard priest and historian Thomas Berry speak many years ago.
His book, the Universe Story, combines scientific cosmogenesis
with a story that emphasizes the obvious creative potential of the Universe.
His later books, particularly The Great Work, focus on the wanton environmental destruction that has resulted from mankind's lack of global consciousness and insane view of its perogatives. Thomas Berry was a great voice for the environmental
movement. It is up to us to continue his Great Work.

The Mystery of Consciousness: Introduction
Consciousness is the most fundamental unsolved problem in science.
This brief introduction reviews the mind/body problem.

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

Consciousness as Global Resonance
I review an important 2009 paper by Stan Dehaene's group
on the neural correlates of consciousness.
This research was conducted on ten human subjects with intracranial electrode arrays.
(Electrocorticography is a rare opportunity to track consciousness
in real time. MRI is too slow.)
It shows that consciousness is a global reverberatory state involving all cortical lobes.

Steve Pinker in the Amazon
In 2008 I went to the Amazon on a trip with the Center for Inquiry (CFI).
The world famous Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker was our guest lecturer.
This is a photo essay about the trip, Steve, Paul Kurtz
(CFI's Founder and leading luminary), and our traveling band of skeptics.

Sean's Accident
The saga of my son Sean's broken arm. The photos are not for the faint-hearted.

Synthetic Coronary Artery Bypass Grafts
(Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease is the major killer in the United States.
If the artery was a plugged drain pipe in your kitchen,
you'd simply buy a replacement.
So, why aren't synthetic coronaries available?

Tim Russert: Dead at 58
The Case for Coronary Artery Calcium CT Scanning

If famed newscaster Tim Russert had had a Coronary CT Scan, he might still be alive.
Here I present the argument for doing a Coronary Artery Calcium Scan.
This is a story with a highly personal angle.

Transcend: A Book Review
Transcend is a May 2009 book by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman.
I had avidly read their previous health book, Fantastic Voyage.
(My review is one of the most popular book reviews on Amazon,
having garnered over 800 positive votes.)

Does Drug X Really Work?
This is a long overdue essay on evaluating medical evidence.
My main criticism of Transcend is Ray's and Terry's lack of skepticism.
Every new vitamin or supplement seems to be greeted with unbridled enthusiasm.
I spent 10 years studying biostatistics. The default hypothesis is that
Drug X does NOT Work. This essay shows you what it takes to show that it does.

Transcend Drugs!!!
In my drug evaluation essay above, I emphasized the Natural Standard -
a group of university clinicians that publish comprehensive reviews of supplements.
I looked up each of the supplements in Transcend to see how they were rated by the experts.

What Technology Wants: Kevin Kelly's Book Reviewed
This is my Amazon book review of
Kevin Kelly's 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 an 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.

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.

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!

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?"

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.

The Web as a Smart Global SuperOrganism
Kevin Kelly is the founding executive editor of Wired Magazine.
Kevin recently 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 requires the integration of large numbers of sensors of self and environment.
All mammals are conscious: a property of their thalamocortical physiology.
Stay tuned for an essay on Gamma Oscillations.

TheBrain & WebBrain: A Review
This is an unsolicited, unpaid testimonial for TheBrain,
a software program that I use daily to keep track of everything.
WebBrain is the server-based version for sharing on the web.

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

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.)

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