Thursday, March 29, 2007

Is anybody aware of any good reasons for reproductive cloning? This is the best the President's Council on Bioethics (which is arguably a rather biased institution) has got (bold=Bioethics Council, regular=my humble opinions):

Reasons for Reproductive Cloning : President's Council on Bioethics, Staff Working Paper (Jan 2002)

The reasons for human reproductive cloning can perhaps be broken down into two basic groups: liberal (a through f) and eugenic (g through i). The first are recognizable and defensible within the core values of modern liberal democracy; the second run against the grain of our prejudices -- for now, if not forever.

Reproductive cloning, it is argued:

a. Allows infertile couples to have children who are biologically related to one of the parents.1

This case would only be necessary if both individuals are infertile; a situation of low probability. In these rare cases, adoption is a much easier, and defensibly a more moral, choice.

b. Allows nontraditional couples and individuals (same-sex couples, single mothers, single fathers) to have children who are biologically related to themselves.

In the cases of same-sex couples, adoption is the choice that will provide greater benefit for a greater number of children. Single parenting is generally not a recommended option; children who grow up in single-parent homes are often worse off than their counterparts with two parents. This is not to say that single-parents should not have children; they should simply go through the much more intensely regulated path of adoption or sperm/egg banks.

c. Allows people to have children without the risk of known genetic diseases.

So would gene therapy, IVF, or genetic screening of embryos.

d. Allows people to attempt to "replace" children who have died prematurely.

Oh god, this is horrible. I needn't discuss the atrocity of the psychological, emotional, and societal damage that would be caused by this.

e. Allows parents to produce children who would be ideal transplant donors for a desperately ill existing child.

This is even worse; a child should never have to live knowing they were conceived only for the purposes of helping a sibling.

f. Expands reproductive freedom and reproductive choice.

What evidence is there to show that this is a good thing? People are generally stupid, selfish, immature, and unwise; give them more choices, and they are more likely to choose wrong. (Yes, I'm an absolutist.)

g. Allows families or society to reproduce individuals of great genius, talent, or beauty, presumed to be based on their desirable or superior genetic make-ups.

"If you want sperm that produces Nobel Prize winners you should be contacting people like my father, a poor immigrant tailor. What have my sperm given the world? Two guitarists!"
-- Biochemist George Wald, on being solicited for a semen sample by William Shockley's sperm bank for Nobel Prize-winning scientists. (Who is apparantly harsh on his two kids.)

h. Allows society to prepare for the unpredictable nature of the future: for example, extreme circumstances may require the re-creation of certain desirable genomes.

How is this even relevant? We'll cross that bridge if we get there.

i. Human cloning is the next step in human evolution; the gateway to the genetic self-improvement of mankind; and the desirable continuation of modern civilization's mastery of nature for the relief of man's estate.

Some of us would argue that cloning is a biologically stupid thing to do; maintaining genetic diversity is crucial to the success of any species. Even if this was not the case, these supposed advocates of genetic self-improvement of mankind have missed their mark; genetic engineering, not cloning, is the future of man's fight against his nature.

Monday, March 19, 2007


A quiet death for bold project to map the mind

Military scraps research at Rutgers and other schools to engineer a brain
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Star-Ledger Staff

The military, it appears, is no match for the mind.

The Star-Ledger has learned the Pentagon quietly has killed a project to "reverse-engineer" the human brain, a goal one participant compared to inventing the atomic bomb or landing men on the moon.

Scientists from Rutgers, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a dozen other schools and institutions set out in 2005 to map the complex workings of the brain, in hopes of creating software that someday might help leaner combat forces fight smarter.

Now, as researchers scramble to salvage their pieces of the puzzle, some are lamenting the loss of a rare chance to work closely with diverse experts -- a cross-pollination of neuroscientists, psychologists and computer scientists -- they say promised bold approaches to demystify the brain.

"It was all very exciting. ... It's hard to know at the outset if it was too ambitious," said Mark Gluck, a neuroscientist at Rutgers-Newark who, like others on the project, was left scratching his head over its demise.

"All we know is it's dead," Gluck said.

The program was called BICA, short for Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures. It was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the agency that spawned the Internet.

About $9.5 million was earmarked to chart a game plan, the brain project's first phase. But the next stage -- a five-year, $50 million to $100 million push to design and test brainlike software -- never got launched.

Rumors the program had been scratched began circulating late last year among participants, who say they still have heard nothing official. DARPA's Web site still says the agency is soliciting proposals for the next phase.

But in an e-mail to The Star-Ledger, program manager David Gunning confirmed: "DARPA has decided to not pursue BICA phase 2." Requests to interview Gunning were denied.

Also scrapped was a related project, Architectures for Cognitive Information Processing, which sought to develop special computer hardware.

The brain effort linked experts from neuroscience, cognitive psychology, robotics and artificial intelligence. They wanted to replicate how different parts of the brain interact -- sometimes pulling together, sometimes not -- to solve problems. Their toolkit would include everything from imaging technologies that pinpoint brain activity to emerging theories about emotions.

"In some ways, it was like a Manhattan project or the Apollo project. Building a brain is a big task," said Randall O'Reilly, an associate professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, who termed the program's death "pretty devastating."

O'Reilly will keep studying vision and navigation with scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, on the U.S. Navy's tab. But only DARPA, he said, is capable of supporting truly far-out, "blue sky" research among collaborators from disparate fields.

Pentagon watchers and academics have questioned whether DARPA has shifted focus, from basic research to faster programs to serve troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and homeland security.

Anthony Tether, who took charge of DARPA in 2001 and is its longest-serving director, has maintained that his agency strives to serve both needs.

"I haven't seen any convincing data that they've tilted one way or the other," said Kei Koizumi, an analyst at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Tether's critics describe a micromanager who hinders freewheeling research, a hallmark of DARPA since its debut in the Cold War. Defenders hail the electrical engineer for keeping the $3 billion agency honest, for delving into biology, and for galvanizing U.S. students with robotic car contests.

Addressing Congress last year, Tether strongly endorsed so-called cognitive research, for "thinking" computers that will streamline decisions for military commanders. Computers that interpret data more intelligently -- and, maybe, reason like a human -- are considered crucial for smaller fighting forces in the future. The Pentagon hopes that automating administrative and support tasks will free up more personnel for combat. The brain project was part of this drive.

An agency spokeswoman said DARPA is trimming $300,000 from cognitive programs in fiscal 2008, but will ask Congress to boost funding down the road. One ongoing project is PAL, short for Personalized Assistant that Learns. Computers are adapting to users' quirks, to customize information in busy command centers.

DARPA officials were terse when asked why they quit deciphering the brain.

Citing unspecified "changing priorities," agency spokeswoman Jan Walker noted it's not unusual for projects to wash out.

"We are constantly starting and stopping programs," Walker said. "We review our programs every 18 months, and make decisions based on the resources available, and technical progress."

O'Reilly conceded progress would have been hard to gauge. How do you design tests to show software is learning and adapting to new situations? One idea was to train software on a video game, he said, then make it play a new game and grade the results.

"We really hoped this would be an important project and would lead to some real breakthroughs," said University of Michigan computer scientist John Laird, who had wanted to explore how emotions shape decision-making. "What was very ambitious was looking at the brain as a whole -- how the pieces fit together, and what computations could be done for the whole brain, not just a specific area."

At Rutgers, Gluck seeks other federal funds for his research on memory circuits of the brain.

But simulating the entire organ? "That's not going to happen without DARPA," Gluck said.

Kevin Coughlin may be reached at

© 2007 The Star Ledger
© 2007 All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Happy Pi Day!

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510 58209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679 82148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128...

Monday, March 12, 2007

"But then, to what end," said Candide,
"was the world formed?"
"To drive us mad," said Martin.

Will biology solved the Universe?

This isn't going to ruffle any feathers... While Robert Lanza will be exalted by those in the biological sciences, everyone from philosophers to physicists will hate him at first. Then, the inevitable switch... for it is inevitable, as even physicists think he's right...


"For years, scientists have tried to develop a universal theory of everything. Steven Hawking predicts that such a theory will be discovered in the next 20 years. A new theory asserts that biology, not physics, will be the key to unlocking the deepest mysteries of the universe, such as quantum mechanics.

"The answer to the universe is biology -- it's as simple as that," says Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president of research and scientific development at Advanced Cell Technology. He details his theory in The American Scholar's spring issue, published on Thursday. Lanza says scientists will establish a unified theory only if they radically rethink their understanding of space and time using a "biocentric" approach. His article is essentially a biological and philosophical response to Hawking's A Brief History of Time, in which he questions how we interpret the big bang, the existence of space and time, as well as many other theories -- assertions that might ruffle the feathers of some physical scientists."

--Aaron Rowe, Wired News
WiredNews: In your article, you make the assertion that time and space do not exist. What do you mean by that?

Lanza: There is something very unusual about them. We can't put them in a marmalade jar and take them back to the lab for analysis. Space and time are forms of animal sense perception. Space and time are not objects or things -- they are forms of animal sense perception.

Thousands of articles and books have danced around the desire to toss off the current mechanical world view that has dominated Western culture for hundreds of years. While some imply that time and space may not in fact exist, this article diagrams, for the first time, such a universe -- a universe in which time and space do not exist as physical realities independent of humans and animals.


WN: You seem to disagree with how the world was created.

Lanza: There are serious problems with the current world view. We pride ourselves in our current beliefs and then we (scientists) say, and by the way, we have no idea why the big bang happened.

WN: Can you explain why we should doubt the things that are accepted as the truth in science classes everywhere?

Lanza: For the first time outside of complex mathematics, this theory explains the provocative new experiment that was just published in Science** last month. This landmark experiment showed that a choice you make now can actually influence an event that has already occurred in the past.

Scientists continue to dismiss the observer as an inconvenience to their theories. Real experiments show that the properties of matter itself are observer-determined. A particle can go through one hole if you look at it, but if you don't look at it, it can actually go through more than one hole at the same time. Science has no explanation for how the world can be like that.

**Jacques, V., et al. Experimental Realization of Wheeler's Delayed-Choice Gedanken Experiment. Science. 16 February 2007: Vol. 315. no. 5814, pp. 966 - 968 DOI: 10.1126/science.1136303.


There's always been something wrong, from Einstein to Newton to Maxwell to Godel, there's always been something that didn't iron out in physics. Beginning with the largely ignored hole pointed out by Kurt Godel which says that time cannot exist, moving on through 5+ dimensional theories like string theory, to incompleteness and uncertainty theorems, there has always been something sketchy about physics.

My hypothesis is that the difference in mindset for physicists versus biologists is irreverance: physicists are significantly more likely to belong to an organized religion, or believe in god, and are therefore less likely to accept (for a while) the hubris of Lanza's theory. Biologists are more unimpressed by life; they see its flaws, its inefficiencies, its downright absurdities; life is evidence against a creator. Physicists try to maintain the idea that the universe can remain pristine, untouched by our observations, unsullied by the human mind. But the last century has changed that. With the mounting evidence for ten dimensions, the increasingly serious attempts at forms of time travel, and increased demonstration of uncertainty and the central importance and influence of the observer, all coming from within physics itself, has caused the world to sit up and take notice.

Not all biologists sit and look at test tubes of DNA, paying the hired CS grad student $20/hr to write a program that will compare two nearly identical strings; some biologists have a strong physical or mathematical background, and a tendency to theorize about more than just life.

In walks Lanza, a brave and brilliant man who has created more than his share of controversy. What will the world think? We'll find out on Thursday...


RIP -- Richard Jeni (Oct 31, 1957-March 12,2007)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Toygers: ($800-$4000)

I'm getting one:

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Oh Joy. Dead baby porn...
(Warning: not for the weak-stomached...)
An Exerpt from GoogleChat:

me: you know, the whole celera genomics debacle
me: the violent nightmare of venter vs collins? it was a deathmatch. it was bitter, bitter war. it was raw human ambition forged with cutthroat capitalist greed, tied up in the frustration of contracts and government bureacracy. the legendary battle between the two genome generals has still not been decided. or maybe thats just how i look at it...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
--Apple Computers