Advancing Humanity Symposium at Stanford

On March 3rd, 2012, I attended the Advancing Humanity Symposium presented by the Stanford Transhumanist Association.  It was held in the Braun Auditorium in the Mudd Chemistry building on the Stanford campus which is a chemistry lecture hall which seats around 300.  Based on how full the room was, I would estimate that about 150 people attended.  Although put on by a campus association, I would estimate that less than half of the attendees were of college age.  I recognized many familiar faces from the Futurist/Rationalist scene.

Here are my impressions of the symposium broken out by session:

Social Technology – 10 AM to 12 PM

Dan Dascalescu (Blueseed) – Social Innovation through Seasteading
Dr. Walter Greenleaf (Thrive Research) – Virtual Worlds and Avatar-Facilitated Therapy
Elizabeth Slavitt (Khan Academy) – The Online Classroom

I arrived late, so I missed Slavitt and Greenleaf, but I did catch most of Dascalescu’s talk.  Blueseed is the company trying to setup an off-shore visa-free entrepreneur community 12 miles from Silicon Valley in international waters.  This is a sea-steading type of offering where entrepreneurs can live close to the valley without needing a visa.  Dan pointed out that they will carefully screen the residents to exclude activity that would be illegal in the US like black-hat hacking or controlled substance use.  He said that they want to be squeaky clean in order to avoid being targeted by US authorities.  So presumably there will be these startups on board some sort of stationary ship within a 90 minute commute of Silicon Valley or San Francisco which will allow foreign nationals to easily meet and work in person with VC’s and engineers.  The overarching agenda is really to drive governmental and societal innovation.

I didn’t get to hear to Elizabeth Gravitt from the Khan Academy give her presentation, but I did hear her during the Q&A session.  Also, I recently worked on a pro bono project involving Khan Academy, so I learned a little more about it.  Khan Academy is an online education site with videos and exercises to help students learn at their own pace.  It was founded by Salmon Khan, who holds two degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard.  Khan started out producing YouTube videos to tutor his cousins in various subjects and the videos went viral.  Khan Academy received the attention of the Gates Foundation

Lunch Break – 12 PM to 1 PM

Forecasting, AI, and Robotics – 1 PM to 3 PM

John Smart (Acceleration Studies Foundation) – Forecasting the Future
Marshall Brain (HowStuffWorks) – Effects of Robotics on the Workforce
Monica Anderson (Syntience) – Intuitive A.I.

Future of Medicine – 3 PM to 5 PM

Dr. Aubrey de Grey (SENS Foundation) – Life and Youth Extension
Dr. William Hurlbut (Stanford) – A Future for Humans, an Ethical Perspective
Dr. Babak Parviz (UWashington) – LED Contact Lenses, Biosensors, and Augmented Reality