The past weekend saw the ninth Geek Picnic. This is an annual Russian science/sci-fi festival where technologists and futurists come together to hear lectures presentations, see tech exhibits, and do other futuristic things.
I decided to come to this one to see what’s it’s all about. Some of you may have followed my Twitter thread on it – now available as a blog post, updated and expanded.
Appropriately, it was near the Sparrow Hills metro station, a charmingly archeofuturist construction of glass columns surrounded by forested park, looking out on the Luzhniki stadium and skyscrapers from one direction, the occult-like HQ of the Russian Academy of Sciences from the other.
Sponsored by the LDPR? 🙂
Entrance to the Geek Picnic.
The Geek Picnic itself is separated into a few separate areas, including the food court, the Main Stage (for star guests and musical performances), Geek Kids (self-explanatory), the Picnic area (games, books, cosplay), and the Campus area (which features topical lecture tents and exhibits, such as Artificial Intelligence, Outer Space, (Im)mortality, GameDev, and Neurospot.
This year’s main theme was radical life extension.
The Chinese company Unitree Robotics presented their household robot Laikaguo. It’s nowhere near as impressive as the spry specimens offered up by Boston Dynamics, but the difference is that they will actually be within range of household budgets.
The Unitree designer Xing Wang said that he expects household robots to become to the 2020s what smartphones were to the past decade.
This was the pavilion devoted to “old school games.”
Incidentally, Moscow also has a cafe + museum of Soviet arcade machines, which I wrote about here.
Prince of Persia brings back memories. My best time on that was 29 mins.
Stellarc is a transhumanist artist who is into body modification performances.
“Nick Land unpublished texts can be seen on the right” – Momino.
His shtick is all kinds of “creepy and uncanny” artistic experiments. One of his performances involved him getting suspended naked by hooks attached onto the flesh on his back. Other performances explore bodily autonomy, in which people connected to him via the Internet get to control his arm for a few days, while his head is strapped into a VR helmet that feeds him the visual experiences of another man half a world away during that same period of time.
But he is most famous for growing an ear on his arm, which anybody in the world can listen into.
Glory to the Haemonculi!
A girl with hair styled in the colors of the Russian state imperial flag.
Anti-ageing researcher Aubrey de Grey was this year’s star guest. He made his standard speech about his core philosophy – namely, that since understanding the mechanics of ageing to the extent where we can prevent it from happening is too hard…
… we should concentrate – for now – on coming up with ways on how to clean up the seven types of damage to the body that our metabolism produces.
I will not repeat what he said in much detail – it was a standard talk, and you can find much more information about SENS online.
Here are the more interesting things I noticed:
(1) Aubrey’s public speaking has improved tremendously since when I last met him at a Transhuman Visions conference in 2014. Good on him.
(2) He says he likes coming to Russia. Apparently, he doesn’t get asked as many stupid questions here.
(3) Most importantly, he has very good news to report on the anti-ageing front. Aubrey now puts what I understand to be Robust Human Rejuvenation at 15-17 years from now, which would translate to 2034-46 (previous estimate this February was 2037). For context, he only became bold enough to start putting out probability estimates last year.
(4) Why the confidence? Because there is a growing avalanche of money going into this sphere, with new companies sprouting up every week (investors don’t tend to bet on moonshots). Moreover, all seven strategies (for engineered negligible senescence) are now under mouse experimentation or will be so by the following year. There is also now a plan to enable human clinical trials of genuine rejuvenation biotech by 2021 (“Project 21”).
I told Aubrey it might be a good idea to carry out an expert survey amongst gerontologists on when Robust Mouse/Human Rejuvenation will happen (like AI researchers have done on AGI). I pointed out while many gerontologists don’t want to publicly associate with his “out there” ideas, this may not hold true in the context of an anonymous poll (e.g. you don’t see many AI experts talking about machine superintelligence, but expert polls show the median projection for that to happen to be around 2050). Having an expert poll showing significant expert acceptance of the legitimacy of the SENS approach would help shake off his reputation as a “maverick” operating outside the scientific consensus.
Hopefully he might give this some consideration.
My transhumanist acquaintance Alexey Turchin, whom I first met way back in my Hipsterfornia days, made a speech on “Digital Immortality: How to Collection Information In Such a Way That a Future AI Will Be Able to Resurrect Us.”
Unfortunately, his lecture coincided with Aubrey’s, so between him and Aubrey I had to choose the latter.
Yandex rep Anton Slesarev: Driverless taxis in Moscow in 3-4 years.
This is corporate PR so I suppose take it with a grain of salt, but he says Yandex is one of the global leaders in this sphere and in the world’s top 3-5. In fairness, that’s not hard to believe.
I got a biography of Richard Feynman for asking the best question.
There was an nVidia demo showing off their latest VR environment, which you can interact with through a pair of remote controllers that correlate to your arms in the simulation.
(Performance by the “Desert Planet” bank).
“Tesla Show” rated at 5 million volts, with drone thrown in for good measure.
Day 2. Began with a talk on CRISPR. Unfortunately, the speaker wasn’t great, and there were numerous technical programs with the equipment.
Book prize was selection was based, though… Pinker’s The Blank Slate (only translated into Russian last year), and even Wade’s Our Troublesome Inheritance.
Danila Medvedev, head of the Russian Transhumanist Movement, talked about the modern history of what had begun as Russian cosmism more than a century ago now.
Incidentally, he said he believes that augmenting IQ should be an even higher priority than radical life extension. I happen to strongly agree.
Andrey Borisenko, Russian cosmonaut.
Borisenko is positive about the prospects of the Russian space program, despite much larger economies of the US and China. “Their GDP might be five timer larger, but we can do the same things five times cheaper.”
It’s worth noting that Geek Picnic is very heavily corporate endorsed. Just a short sample of companies that had a heavy presence:
- Volkswagen displayed their cars
- Norilsk Nickel had their pavilion too, also with VR displays (but low quality)
- Russian news organizations: RIA, RT, Kommersant, Komsomolskaya Pravda
- Strongbow cider
Final lecture I went to was Alexander Tyshkovsky, a bioinformatician and presenter at a YouTube science channel.
Mouse Biodiversity (MBD): If I understood this right (will try to confirm), only 20% of mouse breeds actually showed longevity improvements from calorie restricted diet.
(1) Tyshkovsky is less upbeat than De Grey; thinks next 15 years will merely see visibly effective longevity supplements, but not Robust Human Rejuvenation. But suspects people now in their 20s will live to immortality.
(2) Also said there is little experimental longevity science in Russia since feeding the mice with special supplements daily is expensive. However, much of this is now bioinformatics, and mainly only needs computers, so Russia can still compete.
Incidentally, I also met the executive director of KrioRus here. As I said, this event attracts all sorts of interesting people like moths to a flame. So if things work out, I might be able to personally report on Russia’s Alcor before the end of this month.