Pure Danger Tech


Humanity 2.0

05 Dec 2009

Matt Taylor did an awesome talk this week at the Lambda Lounge called Humanity 2.0 (slides, video).

Matt gave us a lot to think about by looking at the scale of space from the big (galaxy scale) to the small (cells). Matt then looked at how evolution has continued from DNA and genes into brains and further into the Internet and how this relates to the concept of a singularity. Not our typical Lambda Lounge talk but definitely a mind-expanding journey that spurred a lot of fascinating discussion afterwards.

Some things that I scribbled down notes on during the discussion:

  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson – I’m in the midst of reading this right now and I’m deeply enjoying it. Some ideas in it are inspired by the Long Now Foundation and their quest to build a clock that will work for 10,000 years. Thinking about human life on that kind of scale radically changes your perceptions of change and can be very illuminating. I’ll probably have a lot more to say about Anathem in a future post but here I’ll just offer a recommendation if you like speculative fiction.
  • Accelerando by Charles Stross – If you’re interested in the concept of the singularity and like science fiction, then you MUST read this book. Probably one of my favorites from one of my favorite authors. The first third in particular is just amazing.
  • Dunbar’s Number – we talked a bit at the meeting about social connectedness and Dunbar’s Number. This basically is a formula that predicts the number of members in a primate social group based on the size of the neocortex. It seems to hold well across many primates and for humans works out to be about 150. However you should note there is a big confidence interval and some other experimental studies have found larger numbers in the 200+ range. I think it’s an interesting question whether social media and the Internet have or will change this by allowing us to more actively augment our memory and effectively expand our social group through technology.
  • Human nature – there were some questions about whether “war is human nature” and I happened to listen to a podcast recently that actually explored this question from a cultural perspective and how that has changed over time. This was the New Baboon segment of a recent episode of my favorite and the always fascinating Radiolab show.
  • Infinite space – I was also reminded of an older Radiolab with Brian Greene about the implications if the universe is really infinite. It’s explained better in the audio but the key thing I recall is that if the universe is infinite and if our existing world as we know it is a finite configuration of atoms and particles etc…then our world MUST exist in perfect replica elsewhere. Infinitely many times. Mind blown.

Blogs from some other attendees about the talk:

Some other unrelated things to mention:

  • St. Louis Cloud Camp is next Thursday Dec 10th! Be there!
  • Kyle Cordes’ company Oasis Digital has offered to be a ongoing sponsor for Lambda Lounge! That may help us have some funds to bring speakers in from other places occasionally or do other fun events. More to come…
  • Kyle also mentioned that he is doing a giveaway in tandem with Bob Walsh for his http://startuptodo.com. Kyle has arranged to give away 6 months of FREE access to the site for the first 10 St. Louis software-related startup companies to ask him. Great stuff.
  • I am involved in a group that will be doing a startup-oriented event in St. Louis in the February/March timeframe. Lots of awesome people and ideas are involved and I’ll let you know more soon.