Virtual Brains, Virtual Currencies, Real Revolutions

In collaboration with Exponential Finance


Your Brain in the Cloud: Access the Internet Directly with Your Mind

What if we could reverse-engineer the pattern-recognition units of our brains? Technologist and futurist Ray Kurzweil sees this as an imminent possibility, which would enable us to build virtual, cloud-based extensions of our minds with exponentially greater ability to organize and analyze information.


Ray Kurzweil is one of many ahead-of-the-curve speakers at 2015’s Exponential Finance conference, June 2-3 in New York City. Co-produced by Singularity University and CNBC, Exponential Finance provides insight into new technologies that leaders need to understand in order to make the most of the accelerating change happening across business sectors.

Peter Diamandis on How to Become a Billionaire

Exponential technologies are rapidly shifting the way we live and do business, says Singularity University's Peter Diamandis. Those who learn to take advantage of them are sure to ride the wave to extraordinary success.

Peter Diamandis is one of many ahead-of-the-curve speakers at 2015’s Exponential Finance conference, June 2-3 in New York City. Co-produced by Singularity University and CNBC, Exponential Finance provides insight into new technologies that leaders need to understand in order to make the most of the accelerating change happening across business sectors.


Brad Templeton: How Bitcoin Disrupts the Finance Industry

Should you invest in Bitcoin? Maybe not, says Brad Templeton, but that doesn't mean the digital currency isn't amazing in and of itself. Templeton explains what Bitcoin achieves and how it's set to spur further innovation.

Brad Templeton is one of many ahead-of-the-curve speakers at 2015’s Exponential Finance conference, June 2-3 in New York City. Co-produced by Singularity University and CNBC, Exponential Finance provides insight into new technologies that leaders need to understand in order to make the most of the accelerating change happening across business sectors.

Ray Kurzweil: Can You Read 100 Million Web Pages in a Few Seconds? Your Robot Assistant Will.

Comprehension is the human genius. But in a world where computers can process all of human history in a flash, that genius can be scaled. What possible industries would this eliminate risk from? Could scaled comprehension reliably create new business opportunities, each more efficient and profitable than the last?


We are talking about something more than augmenting human abilities with machine efficiency and power. We are talking about creating something that's simply more human: more capable of creativity, of understanding, of love, and of courage.

Ray Kurzweil is one of many ahead-of-the-curve speakers at 2015’s Exponential Finance conference, June 2-3 in New York City. Co-produced by Singularity University and CNBC, Exponential Finance provides insight into new technologies that leaders need to understand in order to make the most of the accelerating change happening across business sectors.

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Is immigration key to bolstering the American economy? Could having one billion Americans secure the US's position as the global superpower? What if massive population growth could nourish rural economies and strengthen our country from the inside out? Perhaps these questions are provocative fodder for more debate and contention but, for Matthew Yglesias, asking them and arguing about them is part of the American way. Join him in a conversation moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg as they explore the case for one billion Americans.

Ask your questions for Matthew Yglesias during the Q&A!

Join the live stream at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.

STREAMING LINKS
YouTube | Facebook | Big Think Edge

  • Experiments on an ultracold gas show strange quantum behavior.
  • The observations point to applications in quantum computing.
  • The find may also advance chaos theory and explain the butterfly effect.

    • Experiments by California physicists revealed "bizarre" behavior in an ultracold gas. The results promise innovations in quantum engineering and a connection between classical physics and quantum mechanics.

      The scientists used lasers to set up an optical trap for lithium atoms. As they were held in a lattice formation, pulses of energy shook up the system and made the atoms exhibit truly unusual quantum activities.

      The research was carried out by UC Santa Barbara undergraduate student Alec Cao, who was the lead author of the paper, and his colleagues in professor David Weld's atomic physics group.

      The scientist's lab specializes in creating "artificial solids", described as "low-dimensional lattices of light and ultracold atoms" by the university's press release. These solids can simulate how quantum particles would behave in dense solids that are subjected to repeating force. The experiments go back to the work of the Nobel laureate physicist Felix Bloch for the underpinning. Bloch predicted that if you apply constant force to a quantum particle in a periodic quantum structure, it will start oscillating.

      Despite Bloch's theoretical prediction, actual observation of such oscillations didn't happen until 2018, also by Weld's group.

      In the new experiment, they changed laser intensities and outside magnetic forces, creating time dependency and curving the lattice. This established a force field leading to slow oscillations that "gave us the opportunity to look at what happens when you have a Bloch oscillating system in an inhomogenous environment," explained Weld.

      Quantum Mechanics, Onions, and a Theory of Everything

      And what happened was quite unexpected, according to the researchers. The atoms were shooting back and forth, moving further apart at various intervals, and even created patterns in reaction to the energy pulses.

      "It was a bit bizarre," explained Weld. "Atoms would get pumped in one direction. Sometimes they would get pumped in another direction. Sometimes they would tear apart and make these structures that looked like DNA."

      To explain what they were seeing, the scientists applied Poincaré sections - a mathematical technique developed for classical physics.

      "In our experiment, a time interval is set by how we periodically modify the lattice in time," said Cao. "When we chucked out all the 'in-between' times and looked at the behavior once every period, structure and beauty emerged in the shapes of the trajectories because we were properly respecting the symmetry of the physical system."

      Professor Weld pointed out that Alec understood that these paths could tell precisely "why in some regimes of driving the atoms get pumped, while in other regimes of driving the atoms spread out and break up the wave function."

      The research may have applications in topological quantum computing as well as advancing knowledge of how quantum chaos appears, explaining such phenomena as the butterfly effect.

      Check out the new study in Physical Review Research.

      Books about race and anti-racism have dominated bestseller lists in the past few months, bringing to prominence authors including Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Robin DiAngelo.


      Sales of these books increased by up to 6,800% in the aftermath of global protests against racial injustice, according to Forbes, showing the role such work plays in raising awareness and leading to a cultural reckoning.

      While readers learned about allyship, companies also showed their strengthened resolve to tackle racial inequality by making public statements on their social media accounts, and releasing detailed action plans with their commitments to change. It is still too early to say what affect these individual and collective actions will have in the long-term, and whether reading books on anti-racism and making public statements will result in a more just society where everyone has access to the same opportunities and is treated fairly.

      But what we do know is that lasting, positive change is difficult to achieve without deliberate, sustained effort informed by reliable data that is free from bias.

      And it's important not to underestimate the role cognitive bias can play in undermining these efforts - and to stay vigilant in spotting and mitigating it.

      What is cognitive bias?

      Human brains are hardwired to take shortcuts when processing information to make decisions, resulting in "systematic thinking errors", or unconscious bias.

      When it comes to influencing our decisions and judgments around people, cognitive or unconscious bias is universally recognized to play a role in unequal outcomes for people of colour.

      This helps to explain why unconscious bias training is often the first resort for companies looking to build more inclusive workplaces, with outcomes that may be highly variable and, at times, result in little measurable improvement.

      These three cognitive biases are likely to be at play and could influence our decisions:

      1. Moral licensing

      This is when people derive such confidence from past moral behaviour that they are more likely to engage in immoral or unethical ways later.

      In a 2010 study, researchers argued that moral self-licensing occurs "because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard", and future problematic behaviour does not evoke the same feelings of negative self-judgment that it otherwise would.

      Participants who had voiced support for US President Barack Obama just before the 2008 election were less likely, when presented with a hypothetical slate of candidates for a police force job, to select a Black candidate for the role.

      As the study authors hypothesize, "presumably, the act of expressing support for a Black presidential candidate made them feel that they no longer needed to prove their lack of prejudice". Other research shows that implicit and explicit attitudes toward African Americans did not substantively change during the period of the Obama presidency.

      Moral licensing may help explain the limitations of corporate unconscious bias training in creating an anti-racist work environment, an effect which has already been observed when it comes to tackling gender inequality.

      Iris Bohnet, a behavioural economist, suggests that "diversity programs aimed at influencing the worst offenders might backfire… Training designed to raise awareness about gender and race inequality may end up making gender and race more salient and thereby highlighting differences."

      2. Affinity bias

      This is our tendency to get along with others who are like us, and to evaluate them more positively than those who are different. Our personal beliefs, assumptions, preferences, and lack of understanding about people who are not like us may lead to repeatedly favouring 'similar-to-me' individuals.

      In organizations, this often affects who gets hired, who gets promoted, and who gets picked for opportunities to manage people or projects.

      Employees who look like those already in leadership are given opportunities to develop their careers, due to affinity bias, resulting in a lack of representation in senior leadership roles for BIPOC.

      Affinity bias is particularly insidious in recruitment processes, where it presents as a lack of "culture fit", an ambiguous evaluation that should be avoided as an explanation for declining to hire a candidate.

      Many hiring managers have a hard time articulating their organization's specific culture, or explaining what exactly they mean when they say "culture fit", leading to this being misused to engage employees that managers feel they will personally relate to.

      3. Confirmation bias

      This is the tendency to seek out, favour, and use information that confirms what you already believe. The other side of this is that people tend to ignore new information that goes against their preconceived notions, leading to poor decision-making.

      It can hinder efforts to create and nurture an antiracist workplace culture, and also contributes to the limited effectiveness of unconscious bias training, together with moral licensing and affinity bias.

      Many people's perceptions of others with different identities and with whom they have limited interaction, is strongly influenced by media depictions and longstanding cultural stereotypes.

      For example, a 2017 study published in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people tended to perceive young Black men as taller, heavier, and more muscular than similarly sized white men, and hence more physically threatening.

      Persistent notions about female or BIPOC candidates being inherently less qualified than white male candidates can undermine efforts to increase diversity, because such candidates are more likely to be negatively evaluated and ultimately not selected.

      Confirmation bias also helps to explain why Asian Americans are underrepresented in leadership positions despite outperforming other minorities and white people in the US on education, employment and income. Long-held stereotypes lead to Asian Americans being seen as modest, deferential, and low in social skills, while at the same time penalizing those who adopt more dominant behaviours.

      How to overcome unconscious bias

      1. Change systems, not individuals

      The main reason unconscious bias training programmes fail to have the desired effect in creating lasting change, is that they are focused on changing individual behaviours while leaving largely untouched the systems that enabled those behaviours to thrive.

      Individual biases are difficult to shift in the long term, and the academic evidence suggests that knowing about bias does not result in changes in behaviour by managers and employees.

      The whole social environment - rather than the individual - needs to be addressed. This can be done by implementing company policies and programmes designed to mitigate bias through all stages of the employee's journey, from selection processes to performance ratings and promotion decisions.

      These structures, which should be audited regularly, are important in ensuring that any individual's own bias is limited and does not influence decisions at an organizational level.

      Such structural initiatives may end up influencing social norms within organizations, so behavioural change happens on a larger group level, leading to improved compliance from individuals as they gain a new understanding of socially-acceptable behaviour.

      2. Slow down and act deliberately

      Bias is most likely to affect decision-making when decisions are made quickly, according to Stanford University psychology professor Jennifer Eberhardt, who studies implicit bias in police departments.

      We are less likely to act on bias when we slow down and control our thoughts, consciously overcoming first impressions and the biases that come with them.

      This is where unconscious bias training may have an impact, because self-awareness and education are key to shifting mindsets. Such mindset shifts are needed for people of colour as well, as research shows that they are equally subject to the unconscious bias provoked by negative stereotypes.

      At work, slowing down may take the form of ensuring that one person's biases do not contaminate processes through establishing control mechanisms: ensuring a diversity of feedback givers during recruitment processes, and establishing structured interviews with the same set of defined questions and evaluation criteria for each candidate.

      3. Set concrete goals and work towards them

      Data is essential to making real progress on diversity goals, and especially important when it comes to mitigating the effects of bias because it provides an objective measure of what has improved – or worsened – over time.

      The goals themselves will be specific to each organization's needs and context. But taking into consideration local variables such as countries of operation, company size, business goals, and organizational culture, setting goals and tracking progress in a transparent way ensures the environmental change (as opposed to individual) that is needed for success.

      Data is key to buy-in, and companies can increase accountability by collecting and analysing data on diversity over time, comparing the numbers with those at other organizations, and sharing them with key stakeholders internally and externally.

      Data collection also helps companies identify roadblocks, and engage with key stakeholders on strategies to address them.

      Reprinted with permission of the World Economic Forum. Read the original article.

      • A new MDVIP/Ipsos survey found that only 35 percent of Americans know the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
      • Eighty percent of respondents said they want to reduce their risks.
      • An estimated 7.1 million Americans over the age of 65 will suffer from Alzheimer's by 2025.

      An estimated 5.8 million Americans over the age of 65 live with Alzheimer's disease. That number is increasing: within five years, The Alzheimer's Association predicts there will be 7.1 million. In 2020, $51.2 billion dollars in Medicaid payments will be made to treat nearly six million patients suffering from this condition.

      Even though Alzheimer's is a well-known disease—it's the sixth-leading cause of death in the US—it turns out that it's not well understood. According to a new survey conducted by MDVIP/Ipsos, only 35 percent of Americans know the symptoms even though 80 percent of respondents want to reduce their risks.

      Specifically, 74 percent of respondents didn't realize hearing loss damages the brain; 72 percent didn't know diabetes is a risk factor for dementia (the disease that Alzheimer's often leads to); 64 percent were ignorant of the fact that lack of sleep shrinks brain size; and half of respondents didn't know the impact of emotional well-being on brain health. Over half of those surveyed also didn't realize high cholesterol and poor dental care play a role in Alzheimer's disease.

      The researchers also discovered disturbing COVID-19-related data. While 58 percent of adults report changes in sleep, 57 percent note mood swings, and 51 recent suffer from emotional withdrawal during this time, only 8 percent are looking for professional help.

      Dr. Andrea Klemes, MDVIP Chief Medical Officer, notes that checkups during the pandemic are especially important.

      "We don't yet know the long-lasting consequences that the pandemic will have on the brain, and we hope that research such as ours will continue to shine a light on this very serious health issue."

      Credit: logika600 / Shutterstock

      Remaining healthy requires regular screenings. Here again we see a disassociation between risk reduction and proactivity. Seventy-seven percent of respondents don't talk to their doctors about lifestyle habits that support brain health; 51 percent have never been screened for depression; 44 percent have never had a neurological exam; and 32 percent have never been screened for hearing problems.

      Common early warning signs of dementia, according to Dr. Jason Karlawish, co-director of the Penn Memory Center, include repetitive questions and stories, difficulties with complex daily tasks, and trouble with orientation.

      In terms of intervention, exercise, diet, building a brain reserve, and challenging your brain (such as learning a new language or musical instrument) are all proven methods for staving off the ravages of Alzheimer's. Oxytocin has also showed promise in brain-addled mice, while researchers found positive results for a group of intermittent fasters in promoting neurogenesis.

      Epidemiologist Bryan James says that dementia is not an inevitable result of aging.

      "It's simply not pre-destined for all human beings. Lots of people live into their 90s and even 100s with no symptoms of dementia."

      Professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, Andrew Budson, recommends aerobic exercise and the Mediterranean diet. As has long been known, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and healthy fasts like nuts and olive oil seem to have brain-boosting properties.

      To learn more, take the Brain Health IQ quiz.

      --

      Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter, Facebook and Substack. His next book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."


    • More than 150 countries have joined an initiative to develop, produce, and fairly distribute an effective COVID-19 vaccine.
    • But China, Russia, and the U.S. have declined to join in a bid to win the vaccine race.
    • The absence of these three economies risks the success of the global initiative and future collaborations.

      • The board game "Pandemic" tasks players with stopping deadly diseases as they spread across the world. But what separates "Pandemic" from its winner-take-all peers is that it's a collaborative endeavor. Players either pull together to stamp out their microscopic foes, or they all lose.

        Commentators have naturally drawn comparisons between the game and the COVID era it has become emblematic of, and those parallels have become more fitting lately. On September 21, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that 156 countries had joined the COVAX Facility, a worldwide collaboration to develop a vaccine and distribute it strategically and equitably.

        But as any "Pandemic" fan will tell you, there are always those players: the ones who cut ties with the others, who play to be the most powerful, who reinterpret the goal as domination in a zero-sum game of their own devising. Unfortunately for WHO and its allies, three big global players have refused to play cooperatively: China, Russia, and the United States.

        All for one (vaccine) 

        Launched this April, the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator brought together a panoply of governments, scientists, businesses, and global health organizations with the goal of accelerating the development, production, and distribution of an efficacious COVID-19 vaccine. The "vaccines pillar" of this initiative is the COVAX Facility.

        COVAX is coordinated by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. The program maintains a diverse portfolio of COVID-10 vaccines, monitoring each to identify promising candidates. It has also partnered with manufacturers to ease investment risks and serves as a purchasing pool for self-financing countries, while offering fundraising efforts to poorer ones.

        "[G]overnments from every continent have chosen to work together, not only to secure vaccines for their own populations, but also to help ensure that vaccines are available to the most vulnerable everywhere," Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, said in a release. "With the commitments we're announcing today for the COVAX Facility, as well as the historic partnership we are forging with industry, we now stand a far better chance of ending the acute phase of this pandemic once safe, effective vaccines become available."

        In an interview with Vox, Berkley noted that the ACT Accelerator is the largest global collaboration since the Paris Climate Agreement. He added, "This type of solidarity is critical because otherwise what you're going to end up with is just a constant reintroduction of infections and the inability to go back to normal."

        As of Monday, 64 higher-income countries and 92 low- and middle-income countries—representing nearly two-thirds of the world's population—have signed commitments to COVAX. Thirty-eight more are expected to sign soon.

        COVAX's goal is to have 2 billion doses by the end of 2021. Experts estimate this amount will cover high-risk and vulnerable people, as well as healthcare workers, worldwide. Participating nations must cover those populations before administering vaccines according to national priorities. As part of the agreement, countries agree to support equal access to the vaccine once it becomes available, a move aimed at preventing hoarding and price gouging.

        Currently, CEPI is supporting nine candidate vaccines, of which eight are in clinical trials.

        Why has the U.S. backed out?

        The United States is gambling that its bilateral deals with various pharmaceutical companies will win the "vaccine race." This U.S.-only initiative, named (sigh) Operation Warp Speed, has already spent approximately $10 billion and is pushing to deliver 300 million doses by January 2021. Many experts worry this speedy push through the regulatory path could result in premature and dangerous approvals.

        China and Russia have likewise bet on their own high-priced ponies. Russia is touting an unvetted vaccine nicknamed (double sigh) "Sputnik V." This vaccine has only concluded phase 1 and 2 trials with a small number of participants, yet Russia claims to have already received international requests. Meanwhile, China has administered tens of thousands of doses of a vaccine before completing phase 3 clinical trials.

        An additional barrier to the United States' participation: COVAX is a WHO-led initiative. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump admonished the WHO as a corrupt organization and claimed it assisted China in covering up the coronavirus outbreak and its severity. Though he presented no evidence for the accusation, Trump has used it as the basis for his threat to cut ties with, and funding for, the agency.

        "The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China," said Judd Deere, a spokesman for the White House, said in a statement.

        He added, "This president will spare no expense to ensure that any new vaccine maintains our own FDA's gold standard for safety and efficacy, is thoroughly tested, and saves lives."

        By shirking COVAX, these countries hope to gain peerless access to a vaccine. Each could secure large numbers of doses for its citizens while also reaping the political boons to follow. In the United States, President Trump has pinned his re-election bid on a timely vaccine, while Chinese officials seem posed to use a vaccine to repair diplomatic ties.

        But the loss of such rich economies will prove a blow to COVAX and the ACT Accelerator. Vaccines are notoriously expensive and risky to develop; the costs to manufacture doses at scale will be immense. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated the ACT Accelerator would cost roughly $30 billion, and the final bill for the tools to combat novel coronavirus would be at least $100 billion. But that's a pittance compared to the $10 trillion already spent on the pandemic so far.

        "COVID-19 is an unprecedented global crisis that demands an unprecedented global response," Tedros said. "Vaccine nationalism will only perpetuate the disease and prolong the global recovery. Working together through the COVAX Facility is not charity, it's in every country's own best interests to control the pandemic and accelerate the global economic recovery."

        The winner won't necessarily take all

        SARS-CoV-2 vaccine

        SARS-CoV-2 vaccine

        Credit: GettyImages/Andressa Anholete/Stringer

        By COVAX's count, there are 170 COVID-19 vaccines in development. None have been approved, few have reached phase 3, and most will fail to exit clinical trials. While one or two may be ready by year's end, they probably won't be a corona-cure-all. They will likely be similar to flu vaccines, reducing the contraction risk and the severity of symptoms.

        "We all recognize that flu vaccine, in a year when it's efficacious, you have what, 50% protection? And in a year when it's poor you have 30% or less than that—and still we use that," Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO assistant director-general of Health Systems and Innovation, told Stat.

        That means any country to pass the approval finish line won't necessarily win it all. After approval, it will still take a global effort to manufacture and distribute doses. Without blanketed protection, even countries with a high inoculation rate will risk reintroduction of the virus from those still struggling to contain it.

        As any player of "Pandemic" will tell you, when a player decides to go it alone, they don't just make the game more difficult. They diminish the trust and cooperation for many games to come.