Robert L. Blum, MD, PhD




Sphere of Interest

Bob's WebBrain: AI neuro psych

The RX Project: Robotic Discovery

CV Biblio (1985)


Index of Essays

Psychology & Neuroscience

Computer Science, Robotics, AI

Health & Biotech

Earth Wisdom: Biosphere and Universe

Be Saved by Bob!!! (And Other Balms )

Optimal Nutrition:
Are Fats Killers
or Saviors?

Beating Jeopardy! What is Watson?
AI Overlord or Tool?


Consciousness Video: Who, What, When?

Near Death Experiences: In the Desert With Pim Van Lommel

Is the UNIVERSE Fine-Tuned for Life?

KEPLER Seeks Earth-like Worlds

SETI: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

STEVE PINKER in the Amazon: photos

Singularity Summit 2010 San Francisco: Lecture Notes

CONSCIOUSNESS as Global Resonance

SEAN's Accident

Kevin Kelly's Global SuperOrganism

Coronary Artery CT Scan: A Life Saver

Book Review: TRANSCEND



Total Recall: Everything, Always

Turing Test? Yes? Try ELBOT!!!

Scientists & Evangelicals Unite

Thomas Berry, Geologian: Obituary

Calorie Restriction Works in Monkeys!

Best Internet Website: TED ROCKS!!!

TheBrain & WebBrain: Review


Computer Science, AI, Robotics


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 cheap, 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.

Automated Discovery: the RX Project
A computer, tirelessly combing through patient records, looking for new medical knowledge
- this was my 1976-1982 Stanford PhD thesis project - an early example of data mining
by a robot statistician under AI control. RX won many awards and contracts
and was presented worldwide.

Singularity Summit 2010: San Francisco: Notes, Transcripts
The Singularity Summit is one of my favorite conferences.
This year's was in San Francisco on August 14-15 (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.

Ray Kurzweil: Transcendent Man
Futurist and Inventor Ray Kurzweil's movie, Transcendent Man, will debut in February 2011.
Ray is the best known of the prophets of the Technological Singularity, the moment
when technology becomes explosively autonomous. That is predicted to occur around 2045.
The Singularity Institute seeks to mitigate the downside for humanity (as seen, eg,
in the Terminator movies.) I view their mission as futile, but they do put on a great annual
Singularity Summit. I am in accord with Ray's time table, although the "devil is in the details."
I recommend Ray's free daily email news summary of ground breaking tech developments,
available on his website . Here, Ray explains the Coming Singularity.
Ray's 2005 book The Singularity is Near is a must read. But, the most
persuasive evidence is his set of timelines, seen here. (CPU clock speed has decelerated, but
accelerating parallelism more than compensates. By 2020 computers will be 300X as powerful.)

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."

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

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.

Intel Solid State Drives
My review of Intel's new (April 2011) 320 series, solid state drives (SSDs).
They're awesome.

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.)

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. (Addendum: ie, favorites as of 2007.
Note to myself: bring this up to date. Note to readers: let me know, if you've got a favorite.)

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.

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.

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?"

PR2 Folding Towels

Willow Garage: Open Source Robotics
Kevin Kelly's excellent new book, What Technology Wants, has just come out.
The central theme is that technology is a never ending cycle of innovation: each new product
or idea is built upon previous innovations. So, no electricity without copper wires;
no copper wires without copper smelting and wire extrusion. No electricity without coal
or uranium or dams; none of those without roads and vehicles.

Willow Garage (WG) , one of my local robotics factories, is one of the purest examples.
WG was specifically designed to address the key stumbling block to robotics.
Every new academic or industrial team has had to start from ground zero,
assembling a suite of sensors, actuators, and controllers. Hence, each new team
had to reinvent the wheel; their final product would be a demo video: progress by demo.
Then, another team would start from scratch. Willow Garage ends that and hugely promotes
robotics innovation by making sharing of hardware and software easy.

WG is creating a community of OPEN SOURCE robotics developers who share
not only their insights and algorithms but also their hardware and code. A grad student
who would previously have spent four years building a platform and only one year
on his specific innovation can now start immediately on his innovation by using
WG's robot PR2 and the community's previously developed code. Like Wikipedia,
Willow Garage will unleash the creative talents of hundreds of new teams.

Although WG is only four years old, its results are astounding. Their flagship robot
is their PR2 (personal robot version 2). Watch PR2 fold laundry (the holy grail
is stuffing a pillow into a pillowcase). See PR2 clean up after the party,
or fetch a beer from the refrigerator. Examine PR2's sensor suite.
Here, in only five days, the WG team programs the PR2 to play pool.
Watch PR2 open a door, find a socket, and plug itself in.
However, PR2 really needs a voice like its cousins R2D2 and WallE.

ASIMO running with kids

ASIMO Avoids Moving Obstacles
This clip shows what you can achieve when you combine Honda's million dollar
humanoid robot ASIMO with Takeo Kanade's outstanding computer vision group at CMU.
ASIMO on Wikipedia. Here ASIMO is running,

SWARMANOID wins 2011 AAAI Oscar
This year (2011) at the AAAI Conference in San Francisco, this video won an Oscar
(actually a "Shakey") for best demo video. Swarms of robots cooperating to accomplish a task.
NASA and scores of other labs are developing swarm robots to explore hazardous environments like the surface of Mars, Titan, or Jupiter's moon, Europa. Bring 'em on.
It's time to end domination of Earth by hominids as Agent Smith informs Morpheus in The Matrix.

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!

In 1997 IBM made AI history with its chess playing program DEEP BLUE,
which beat world champion Garry Kasparov. In 2010 IBM is again advancing AI
by attempting to beat humans at the popular TV game JEOPARDY. IBM's program
is called WATSON, named after IBM's founder. Here is WATSON in action.

If you're really a human, you should be able to distinguish CATS from DOGS,
as in this test from ASIRRA. Bots can't do it, yet.

STAIR: The Stanford AI Robot Project
Prof. Andrew Ng presents a masterful one hour video overview of Stanford's STAIR Project. There are faster and more amazing robot demos on Youtube, but this is the video to watch if you are really interested in the intellectual challenges confronting robot builders.

Doug Lenat on Cyc: Putting Common Sense into Computers
Doug was a contemporary of mine at Stanford. Since leaving about 25 years ago,
he has led the longest running, best-funded AI project in history - CYC.
His aim is to codify all of common sense, rendering it machine-comprehensible.
In this video presented to AI researchers at Google he shows CYC's objectives and methods.
(Much of common sense is nonconscious, situational, temporal, and subsymbolic.
Despite that, CYC is essential background for AI builders.)

Artificial Intelligence Videos from Syntience: Holistic AI
AI researcher Monica Anderson has identified a key weakness in traditional AI:
the exclusive reliance on symbols, models, and logic to compute the state of the world.
Radically different are her model-free methods that use pattern-based computations.
This series of videos from her company, Syntience, presents the problems with symbolic AI.
Also included are videos by AI luminary Peter Norvig (Dir. of Research at Google) and
futurist Jamais Cascio. My video on Consciousness, presented at the Bay Area AI-Meetup,
is also included. Consciousness (and intelligence) is the paradigm case of
subsymbolic, holistic, pattern-matching. AI must follow suit.

Urgent EVOKE: Save the Planet via Video Games! (?)
All boys (and many girls) have spent 10,000 hours playing video games by age 21.
It causes neglect of school work and disengagement from reality. It promotes
lack of physical activity and obesity. It stunts social skills and narrows the player's world.
Is there any upside? Yes, says the Institute for the Future's Jane McGonigal.
Massive multiplayer games, like World of Warcraft, promote sociability, cooperative
problem solving, engagement, persistence in the face of continual defeat, and a sense of
empowerment, and even heroism. Now, asks Jane, how do we harness those 10,000 hours
to save the planet? Her answer is Urgent EVOKE, one of a series of video games that
she is developing. See her present the concept at TED. If you cannot solve
the world's problems alone, then EVOKE a solution. Go Jane!

Speaking of heroism, Joseph Campbell in 1949 extracted the formula from the
world's classical mythologies. Here is the key to the Hero's Journey (as seen in The Matrix).

PLAY, Existenz, the Matrix: Total Immersive Reality
Is it possible you're reading this but haven't seen the 1999 film The Matrix?
(It is possible. Many of my friends are meditators who hate violence (and tend to be female.)
Perhaps they will be more successful in saving humanity from itself than my kind:
media-saturated hacker males.) How about the 1999 film eXistenZ?
Another similar film is PLAY (only 19 minutes - free, online, and excellent.)
All three movies raise the question, "Is totally immersive virtual reality (VR) possible?"
Answer is "No. Brain in a Vat fooled by computer-generated VR is NOT possible."
This Rudy Rucker (gonzo fiction/ math whiz) essay eloquently says why. (I'll start and stop here: only 1089 particles in the known Universe - insufficient compute power.)

Speaking of brains in vats: check out this one by AI game builder Chris Jurney.
Is it real or virtual? Answer is REAL (ie real plastic).

There are two kinds of total immersive reality, and it's essential to distinguish them.
You know VR (virtual reality) from films like The Matrix in which an entire fake world
is computer-generated. That is not possible. However, the other kind of immersive reality -
telepresence, is far more interesting and is quite possible. Telepresence refers to
being immersed in a real physical environment that is some distance from you.
Total immersion means the immersion is so complete that you are not aware of your true location.
(That was the situation in the sci-fi films Strange Days, Total Recall, Avatar, and Source Code.)
Telepresence in this wiki article is lamely being confused with video teleconferencing.
That's like confusing looking at a photo of rock-climbing with actually being on the cliff face.
Totally immersive telepresence is the key magic trick behind consciousness.
Real immersive telepresence is what you've been experiencing every second of your life
from the time you were born. It's like The Matrix only you can't escape.
It always amazes me when some of my otherwise brilliant Silicon Valley friends don't get it.
(It's like explaining water to a fish or air to anyone 300 years ago. It's invisible but true.)
My favorite modern philosopher of mind, Thomas Metzinger, explains it superbly here.

Robot Scientists
The crucial bottleneck in scientific progress is the number, brilliance, and resources of
research teams on the planet. The pace of science has quickened as more and more
countries have joined the enterprise. Another source of new leads is robotic science:
eg high-throughput drug screening. Two recent projects, each touted as robot scientists,
peaked my interest and reminded me of my Stanford AI research on the RX Project,
an early success in automating scientific discovery. The new projects are
1) ADAM - an automated microbiology lab for generating hypotheses, conducting experiments, and interpreting results and 2) Eureqa, a Cornell project focused on
automated interpretation of science data. Experiment design and interpretation
is essential to human cognition and learning. It's the way children learn about their world,
and its automation is an essential but challenging step toward The Singularity.

High-Speed Robot Hand Does Mad Tricks
A regular debate I have with my NASA friends is "exploration of space -
human or robotic?" My answer is that humans will explore Mars only after
the robots first build the Mars Hilton.. This video from Ishikawa Yomura's robotics lab
reinforces that claim. There are dozens of great robotics videos on the web.
(That's a reminder to me to list those links here. While you're waiting,
here's another spectacular video of a quadrotor doing aggressive maneuvers.
And this clip of quadrotors grasping parts and four of them autonomously building a tower.
And here, from the GRASP Lab at U. Penn, a swarm of Nano Quadrotors in tight formations.
But having seen that, what do you now think of the common housefly
that you so casually swat

INFOGLUT: Overload by Cheap Information: eCrap
Attention is a precious commodity. We can only think so fast (< 10 words per second).
Meanwhile, we are bombarded by an ever-expanding mass of Electronic Junk.
This paper by former ACM President Peter Denning on Infoglut spells out
the problem and a solution: VIRT (valued information at just the right time).

Tour the Allosphere: Go Inside Cells and Atoms
A stunning demo from UCSB's Professor and composer JoAnn Kuchera-Morin,
who created the Allosphere, a three story tall, virtual reality environment
connected to a supercomputer. This wonderful TED video shows the Allosphere in action
as it navigates through a brain, inside blood vessels, inside cells, and inside atoms.

Augmented Reality Assists Marines with Tank Repair
Augmented Reality (AR) means overlaying words and graphics on top of the real world.
This excellent video from Columbia's AR group shows a marine using AR to fix a tank turret.
Don't own a tank? How about taking a tour of Tokyo and maybe even finding a date.

CNC Machine: Robot Manufacturing
When will robots autonomously manufacture their own parts?
They already do. Robots vs Humans? Compare the precision of the CNC machine
to the "precision" of YouTube comments by humans. Which is evolutionarily more fit?

3D Printing: Bits to Atoms
This is a key step in the journey toward AI/robotic autonomy. Look at these
videos from RapMan, showing bit by bit manufacture of complex parts.
This video from Z Corporation shows the manufacture of a working crescent wrench.
Again, compare the precision seen here to YouTube comments by humans.
As Agent Smith said in The Matrix, "You had your turn, now it's our turn."

Build Your Own Neural Network Controlled Self-Driving RC Car!
This project done by Dave Singleton sooo wound my clock that
my son (Sean) and I just had to go out and buy an Arduino to replicate it.
First, look at the 35 second video at the very bottom of his write-up (not the first clip).
Next, contemplate the fact that DARPA, CMU, Stanford, and Google
spent millions developing self-driving cars. So, here's Dave doing it with a $29.95 RC car!
I got my start at age 11 building ham radio kits. Buy your kids Arduinos - nothing beats "hands on."