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LONGEVITY REPORT 85

The Newsletter of Longevity Books, West Towan House, Porthtowan, Truro, Cornwall TR4 8AX

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NDE and Morevek Simulations George Smith
But, How Can You Know If Your Life is Real?Scott Badger
Book Review: The Mummy CongressJohn Grigg
41st & 42nd Updates on Fly Longevity ExperimentsDoug Skrecky
Superstition is the Reason Why People Reject CryonicsKeith Rene Dugue
The Return of the Krell MachineSteven B. Harris

NDE and Morevek Simulations

by George Smith < smithid@ix.netcom.com > CI member

Melvin Morse, M.D. conducted a very careful study on Near Death Experiences (NDEs) at the Children's Hospital in Seattle in the 1980s. (For journal articles see the bibliographies in any of Morse's popular books on the subject).

He studied 26 children who were heart attack survivors and compared these cases to 176 seriously ill children who had not experienced clinical death. These two groups were matched for age, sex, medications and anaesthetics involved. Both groups had experienced oxygen deprivation to the brain as documented through blood testing and both groups exhibited the same fundamental blood chemistry.

There are nine specific experiential elements common to NDEs and almost all of the 26 children who died reported at least one of these. None of the 176 "control" patients reported any of these elements.

Dr Morse concluded that expectation of death and oxygen deprivation to the brain is not sufficient to produce the elements common to the NDE. He also concluded that the NDE elements cannot be caused by fantasy or hallucination via confabulation in response to resusitation since, again, the 176 children who did not die had none of these but almost all of the 26 children who died experienced one or more of the NDE elements.

Curiously this ground breaking study seems to remain studiously ignored yet simple enough to be reproduced without having to do anything more taxing than comparing charts and adding numbers.

Dr. Morse then went on to conduct an extensive psychological study to determine what were any possible side effects to the personality due to the NDE and, to gloss over a richly rewarding effort, he discovered that individuals who have NDEs experience radical and long lasting personality change. With the exception of close interpersonal relationships which often tend to suffer from the non-NDE partner's perspective, the resulting changes seem otherwise exceedingly healthy and positive overall.

What does this mean?

I have come to assume that it means the following:

  1. NDE is not an hallucination nor fantasy.
  2. NDE transforms the personality.

If Hans Moravek is correct in his suggestion (Mind Children) that this world may very well be a simulation and that statistically the chances are overwhelming that it probably is, THEN...

  1. A simulation would tend to probably break down when any of its defining parameters would be approached or exceeded, such as personal physical death.
  2. The purpose of the simulation might be to discover it to be so (thus "winning the game").
  3. If the simulation is a puzzle to be solved or game to be won, there may be "clues" given to assist in this purpose and these would most probably take the form of anomolous events, exceptions to the normal "rules" of things (laws of physics).

The following are a few events which are (now) common and fit that criteria:

  1. NDEs.
  2. Dreams in general and lucid dreaming in particular.
  3. Any so-called paranormal experiences to include so-called "alien adbuctions", UFO sightings, ghosts, out of body experiences, etc.

What has any of this to do with cryonics?

First, we seek to restore those currently judged to be "dead" to life again.

But what do we know about the reported experiences of those who today have "died" and been restored to life?

(1) They either report nothing at all, or up to nine elements of experience considered part of the NDE.

(2) Those who report the NDE undergo radical and long lasting personality change.

I have suggested earlier in this forum that as most NDE experiences are clocked in minutes, it might be quite interesting to learn what the experiences, if any, of those who have been cryopreserved for years, decades or even centuries, will be.

It would seem that those who have reported NDEs lay claim to cumulative subjective experience. Though this is highly debated, I would not be very surprised to discover that the experiences of someone "dead" for, say, ten years might be far more profound and transformative than those of someone dead for ten minutes.

The really wonderful thing about choosing cryonics as an option is that these and other fascinating questions may have definitive answers in the future. Will the first fully restored cryonaut report nothing, or decades of NDE? Or something else entirely?

I hope to be there to see it and find out.

I hope you will be there too.


But, How Can You Know If Your Life is Real?

By Scott Badger < w_scott_badger@yahoo.com >

I somewhat suspect that this reality is, in fact, a simulation. Primarily because we have already conceived of such a thing. It is worth noting that the virtual worlds that currently exist on the internet, crude as they are, far surpass the allegedly real earth in terms of square footage. The development of technology among any sentient species is bound to result in increasingly sophisticated computer simulations. Ask yourself what kinds of virtual worlds/simulations we will likely have here on earth in 10,000 years. Now ask yourself how many sentient species are likely to exist in the universe that are at least 10,000 years older than us in terms of technological development.

So how would we know this is the fake world? We couldn't if the creators (machines most likely) were any good at all at programming.

I would think that creators/programmers capable of generating simulations as sophisticated as this one would strive to make successive versions increasingly undetectable by the "simulants". Maybe there's a contest going on with the prize going to the most convincing simulation.

I suspect that if this is a simulation, it will be uncovered by a singularity-related super intelligent (SI) entity who is most likely to detect a fault in the programming as Professor Ettinger suggested.

Perhaps that's how it works. I can imagine a scenario where, in any given simulation, the arrtival of a singularity is the key to discovering the existence of the simulation ... the SI might also figure out the means of transporting to the world of the creator. But that world would have already had its singularty and its inhabitants would have likely already transcended to meet their creators ... leaving only the machinery necessary to maintain our simulation and any possible nested simulations. Imagine getting to heaven only to find that your god had gone off to find his/her god ... who had already left to find his/her god ...

Perhaps our ultimate evolutionary path is to travel through these layers until we reach level 1 ... with universes to explore on the way.

Hey, I'm up for that.

"Vita Perpetuem"


Book Review:

The Mummy Congress

by John Grigg < starman125@hotmail.com >

While at my local Barnes & Noble I came across The Mummy Congress by Heather Pringle. She is a journalist who has written on archaeology in numerous magazines and this is her third book to date.

When her writing turned to cryonics she first gave a basic and helpful overview of it's history and mentions Robert Ettinger, Fred Chamberlain, and Eric Drexler. Nanotechnology is brought up though with some doubt thrown in. The cost for the various freezing options as well as how a cryonic suspension is done, all get covered.

I am excerpting where I think all of you would have by far the most interest to say the least! lol Get a load of this...

From The Mummy Congress by Heather Pringle:

If nothing else, such state-of-the-art medical technology promises to churn out hundreds of wonderously preserved mummies in the future. I confess I rather enjoy the image of entire warehouses stacked full of Napster hackers, Yahoo programmers, and Apple engineers, complete almost down to their last DNA base pairs. But does Alcor's glorious vision of the future really mean that all these dot-com millioniares will be guaranteed their shots at eternity? It seems unlikely, for if the strange history of mummies shows us nothing else, it reveals just how much can go wrong when the dead are unable to life a finger to defend themselves. Even the world's most devout mummifiers, the Egyptians, were prone to horrible foul-ups. They switched bodies, took out all the wrong organs, slapped on too much boiling resin, and slipped bodies into too little natron, they tied together already rotting limbs with the Egyptian equivalent of duct tape, then concealed their mistakes under yards of linen. Then the most unscrupulous spent their evenings plundering those they had embalmed just a few months earlier.

Eternity, moreover, lies at the whim of future generations, and who knows what they will make of all these twenty-first-century mummies? Five thousand years from now, when nameless treasure-seekers crawl down into the eerie darkness of a long-buried warehouse and stumble blindly like moles into rows of giant stainless-steel thermoses, now rusty and bent and toppled, who knows what will happen? Will these fearless adventurers pry off the lids and see long rows of ancient saints with delicate perfect hands rosy cheeks? Will they, after offering up silent prayer, begin cutting out their hearts as sacred relics? Or will they size up this trove of ancient human flesh for its commercial potential and auction off its primeval DNA and untainted blood cells on some future version of Ebay? Will they view these strange corpses as some quaint curiosity of ancient earth technology and cart them back as trophies to molder in their own galactic museums? Or will they disdain all this fleshy debris as just selfish clutter, yards of human bubble paper that should have recycled long ago? And will they consign it to the nearest recycling bin?

Whatever they decide, there seems precious little chance that these rosy elders will sleep dreamless and undisturbed through the millennia. Mummies have always spoken to us on some deep primal level, and we are simply unable to leave them alone. We love them and we fear them, we aspire to be them and we dread that fate. But one thing is certain: we are powerless to resist their potent appeal. (end)

Well, we are going to have a field day with this! Where do I begin? lol! I would like to think the folks at Alcor and the other cryonics organizations will be much more diligent at protecting the bodies in their care then those ancient Egyptians who were less then ideal mummifiers! I believe those cryonically suspended will get their "shot at eternity."

I respect the obsession the ancient Egyptians had with preserving their dead for religious purposes and in many instances they did this with incredible care and effort. Even in our day the amazing results they achieved can be seen and admired.

And I think if they could witness our cryonics organizations they would heartily approve. Probably many Egyptians given the choice would have chosen cryonics over mummification! lol

The scenario given where 1920's style explorers from five millennia into the future stumble into an "ancient and abandoned" cryonics facility is hilarious! Somehow I doubt people will be praying to our frozen bodies because they view us as saints. Especially, if they get the chance to read Cryonet! :)

As David Pizer carefully argued, there are a number of excellent reasons why a future society would want to bring us back. I see them doing it out of a sense of ethical responsibility and the desire to show off their cultural and technological achievements.

The whole idea reminds me of a King Tut parody which had future archaeologists digging up a roadside motel. They somehow "pieced together" that people of our day would put toilet seats around our heads while singing in religious ceremonies! LOL

At the very most it will only be one or two centuries before we can be reanimated unless civilization collapses due to war or natural disaster. This writer has not done her homework...

from the book: Mummies have always spoken to us on some deep primal level, and we are simply unable to leave them alone. We love them and we fear them, we aspire to be them and we dread that fate. But one thing is certain: we are powerless to resist their potent appeal. (end)

I thought the final paragraph she wrote on mummies(actually the cryonically suspended) was very powerful and honest. Though I admit to not wanting to be considered a mummy while I am in suspension! lol I do think mummies and by extension the suspended do have a very potent appeal which will work to our benefit.


41st & 42nd Updates

on Fly Longevity Experiments

by Doug Skrecky < oberon@vcn.bc.ca >

This is the 41'st update of my fly longevity experiments. Except where indicated 1/4 tsp citric acid was added to all bottles, to prevent pathogen growth on the fly food. No evidence of mold was detected. As with Run #40 increasing the dosage of citric acid to 1 tsp appeared to offer

some benefit. However I am still not convinced that this is not due to chance.

The poor results with tartaric acid first detected in Run #37, are replicated here. It does look like tartaric acid is much more toxic than citric acid. By comparison acetic acid (white vinegar) looks to be relatively non-toxic. Apple cider vinegar powder is mildly beneficial. How much of the volatile acetic acid is retained in this powder is debatible.

Very low dose lithium appears to be of no benefit, while extreme sodium loading with sodium citrate is toxic. Both soy and whey protein reduced longevity, but this may be due to dehydration from the "dry" looking fly food.

Run #41

Percent Survival on Day

supplement 22 28 34 38 44 50 55 60 65 72 76 81 86 91
control (citric 1/4 tsp) 94 83 72 61 44 33 33 22 11 6 0 - - -
apple cider vinegar .5 gm 100 94 76 82 59 59 53 41 29 12 6 6 6 0
apple cider vinegar 2 gm 92 92 92 67 67 58 50 50 33 25 17 0 - -
citric acid 1 tsp 87 74 74 70 65 65 26 17 4 0 - - - -
citric acid 2 tsp 53 47 37 32 26 21 11 0 - - - - - -
sodium citrate 1 tsp 48 0 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Licl 1 drop 76 72 64 52 36 24 12 8 0 - - - - -
soy protein 4 tsp 56 50 19 19 13 13 0 - - - - - - -
tartaric acid 1/4 tsp 0 - - - - - - - - - - - - -
vinegar, white 4 tsp 95 85 85 85 80 55 40 25 10 0 - - - -
whey protein 4 tsp 88 81 44 19 6 6 0 - - - - - - -

My personal testing of the satiating ability of various foods has continued. This time I tried a low carb approach, by eating nothing but white chicken breast meat for a day. Ad libitum intake was 1478 calories, which is no different from other low palatability foods. Switching to unsalted roasted peanuts increased intake significantly to 2689 calories. However there was evidence of malabsorption with this food, and true calorie intake would have been lower than this figure. Unfortunately I made the mistake of trying malvia verticellata tea on the day I tried peanuts. This tea has a reputation for causing malabsorption. I couldn't help but think about how common severe peanut allergies have become in the last several decades. The peanuts I ate would have killed an entire school bus load of peanut sensitive children. When I was a child, nobody that I was aware of had any peanut allergies. Such is no longer the case.

Up till now, with the exception of Astro's no-fat fruit yogurt, no foods with a strong taste had been tested. I decided to try a highly palatable calorically dense food, to see if intake would be

modified. Entering stage right is Christie's Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies. I included 568 calories of chili, so as avoid a protein deficit, but ate an unbelievable additional 3487 calories from the cookies, for a total daily intake of 4055 calories with cookies and chili! It appears

that high palatability and high caloric density have a potent synergistic effect on calorie intake. I am incredulous at the large difference in calorie intake between cookies, and yogurt.

After separating tasty foods from those with little taste, it is apparent that caloric density has little or no effect on intake, when taste is not a confounding factor. Without the lure of palatability, it appears my motivation for eating is solely for the calories, so density does not matter. Small food volume may be the reason tasty cookies are so much less satiating than tasty yogurt, but further experimentation will have to test this hypothesis.

Food Daily Calorie Intake
Low Palatability
apple, Gala 1413
chicken breast 1478
potato 2179 (skipped lunch next day)
rye bread 1388
rye crispbread 1564
vegetables/cottage cheese 1768
Medium Palatability
yogurt & Gala apples 1976
peanuts 2689 (malabsorption)
High Palatability
cookies/chili 4055
yogurt, fruit, no fat 1483

42nd update

This is the 42nd update of my fly longevity experiments. Nothing much to report this time. I tested a number of tannin rich sources, but the results were negative. In my next update I'll include the results of my continuing food satiation experiments.

Run #42

Percent Survival on Day

supplement 17 23 29 33 39 45 50 55 60 67 71 76 81 86
control 76 71 62 62 57 29 14 10 5 0 - - - -
blue verveine tea 86 69 64 61 47 25 11 8 6 3 3 3 3 0
black walnut hulls 1/4 tsp 79 58 54 50 46 21 8 8 4 4 4 4 4 0
pau d'arco bark tea 54 46 42 38 25 13 13 13 8 0 - - - -
popular bark tea 67 52 38 38 14 5 5 5 0 - - - - -
white oak tea 64 67 61 58 55 36 24 15 3 3 0 - - -
wood betony tea 91 78 65 61 48 35 35 13 4 0 - - - -

Superstition is the Reason Why People Reject Cryonics

by Keith Rene Dugue < cordierite@mediaone.net >

People don't want to interject naked superstitious statements amongst your logical reasons for choosing Cryonics. But the Christian heaven is totally illogical anyway. Regaining consciousness in an advanced future will be very shocking even for those who have thought out the many possibilities and still keep an open mind that they may wrong. But what about a temporal being regaining consciousness "somewhere" outside of space-time controlled by an omnipotent being who created the source of all suffering and evil but claims he loves you? Which takes more imagination?

Assuming the Christian model of the afterlife, how can a person in heaven be happy looking down into hell and seeing friends , relatives and children suffering with out end (what ever that means outside of space-time)? What about those good hearts that "made it" to heaven because they could not bear to see others suffer and helped everyone they could? Heaven would be shear hell for them because they could do nothing more than watch. The Christian response I usually get to these scenarios is that the people in heaven will simply stop caring about all those deserving ,eternally damned. Is that logical? Watching your loved ones from heaven lonely, grieving and heartbroken without you, your love and your help can't be a recipe for happiness even in heaven.

We are all filthy rich by the standards of 2,000 years ago so it will be very hard for most modern world Christians to make it to heaven. Maybe heaven is almost empty? Who knows? If you are not sure what you are going to get, why not stick with a known quantity. Choose Cryonics because it may give you enough time to ensure your entry into heaven.

Luke 16:22-25: "And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented." Cryonics: A reasonable odds lottery ticket to the rest of forever


The Return of the Krell Machine

Ultimate Technology and the Empty Planet Syndrome

(c) 2001 Steven B. Harris < sbharris@ix.netcom.com >
Updated versions (but without the web links in the article below) may be found here.

This essay may be freely reproduced without author permission, so long as reproduced whole and not-for-profit. Otherwise, all rights reserved.

1. Introduction: Forbidden Planet

In 1956, the Fred McLeod Wilcox film Forbidden Planet became the second memorable science fiction movie of the 1950's (the first being Robert Wise's The Day The Earth Stood Still). Forbidden Planet, from a screenplay by Cyril Hume, is still entertaining today. It has become a classic by being among the first movies to raise important issues about the use of ultimate technology. Moreover, it has also had a vast impact on the art of all science fiction films which have come after it.

Modern viewers will be surprised at how much Forbidden Planet reminds them of Star Trek, but of course, it's the other way around, for Trek stole liberally from Forbidden Planet through many episodes. As the film begins, a "United Planets Cruiser" featuring a dashing young starship captain is paying a call to the planet Altair IV, to investigate the loss of a science mission there 20 years before. They find no one alive on the planet but the expedition's philologist, one Edward Morbius, Ph.D. (lit.), who is living comfortably with a strangely-advanced robot servant, and also his teenaged daughter, who has never seen humans other than her father (we recognize the plot of Shakespeare's The Tempest). Morbius is engaged in deciphering traces of a vast civilization which had once occupied the planet, but which became suddenly extinct 200,000 years before. The race of beings had called themselves the Krell. In a key scene, Dr. Morbius, in almost blank verse, tells the ship's captain about them:

Ethically, as well as technolgically, they were a million years ahead of humankind.

For, in unlocking the mysteries of nature, they had conquered even their baser-selves.

And, when in the course of eons, they had abolished sickness and insanity and crime and all injustice, they turned, still with high benevolence, outward toward space.

Long before the dawn of man's history, they had walked our Earth, and brought back many biological specimens.

The heights they had reached!

But then, seemingly on the threshold of some supreme accomplishment which was to have crowned their entire history, this all-but-divine race perished in a single night.

In the two thousand centuries since that unexplained catastrophe, even their cloud-piercing towers of glass and porcelain and adamantine steel have crumbled back into the soil of Altair IV, and nothing, absolutely nothing, remains above-ground.

Later, Morbius shows the starship captain the principal remains of the Krell civilization, a self-repairing and still-functioning gigantic machine which reposes, blinking and humming, beneath the desert of Altair IV. It is a cube 20 miles on a side (we recognize the Borg cube here). The machine is powered by 9200 functioning thermonuclear (fusion) reactors buried even more deeply, but its function is initially a mystery. Later in the film, it is revealed: the gigantic device was built by the Krell as a replacement for all technological instrumentalities. It is the ultimate machine. Its purpose was to instantly manufacture for the Krell anything they could imagine. The captain figures it out with a some clues from the brain-boosted (and brain-burned) ship's doctor:

Morbius: a big machine, 8000 cubic miles of klystron relays, enough power for a whole population of creative geniuses-operated by remote control. Morbius-operated by the electromagnetic impulses of individual Krell brains. [..] In return, that machine would instantaneously project solid matter to any point on the planet, in any shape or color they might imagine. For any purpose! Creation by pure thought.

But there's a little problem, the Captain tells Morbius: Monsters From the Id. But, like you, the Krell forgot one deadly danger-- their own subconscious hate and lust...for destruction. [..] And so, those mindless beasts of the subconscious had access to a machine that could NEVER be shut down. The secret devil of every soul on the planet, all set free at once to loot and maim. And take revenge, Morbius, and kill!

The machine allows the Krell to destroy themselves, and later (guided now by Morbius' subconscious) it destroys one human expedition and part of another. At the end of the film, Morbius causes the machine to go into overload in order to stop the invincible monsters (we recognize a scene from Alien), and the ship captain and Morbius' daughter manage to make it off the planet just in time, before the planet explodes.

The argument may be made that the Krell machine is evidently a 50's metaphor for nuclear energy - thought at that time to be nearly infinite power for good or evil. The question asked in the movie is the famous one of those of this era: to wit, are our Freudian Ids, our ape's-emotional-brains, ready for that kind of increase in power? If a machine had the power to make anything we want, would we be wise to know what was good for us? The answer of the movie is "no."

Since Forbidden Planet, the Krell machine has turned up repeatedly in SciFi, from Star Trek to Total Recall. The last and most interesting place where the Krell machine seems to be a precursor, is in the complex of the ideas which since the mid 1980's have become, for some, serious predictions about mankind's future.

2. Mankind's Pending Ultimate Instrumentalities: Nanotechnology

There are various kinds of ultimate technology which may be imagined, but for purposes of this essay we may divide Ultimate Technologies broadly into those connected with the physical world, and those connected with the mental/computational world.

We begin with the physical. Here, we are amused by one of the more advanced capabilities of Robby, the Robot, who is the servant of Morbius in the 1956 film. Robby is human-designed using Krell-technology. He can make artificial gems and analyse and duplicate any chemical mixture, all within the small space of his body. Does any technology we might imagine allow this? We do not know the inspiration of physicist Richard Feynman, when he gave the answer to this question just 3 years later, in the famous essay (1959) There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom. But perhaps it was this very film. Feynman's answer, however, was somewhat shocking: it's not that far out as science fiction. There do not appear to be any physical laws which prohibit the manipulation and manufacture of devices atom-by-atom, much as Robby does things, if we can figure out how to make the manipulators.

Much later, K. Eric Drexler in a masterwork of straight future-prediction Engines of Creation, 1986 pointed out that the job might be done using tiny microscopic programmable construction-machines. Such machines (called Assemblers) might also conveniently be constructed to be self-replicating von Neumann machines, like living organisms. Along the way, nanotechnology (as Drexler called the whole technology) would offer the ultimate physical manufacturing technology. Nanotechnology might even be capable of more than Robby. Since humans are piles of chemicals, nanotechnology includes the theoretical ability to (slowly) duplicate and even "fax" human beings who have been put in suspension for the purpose. "Nanomachines" might also interact directly with each other, in a more direct morphogenic manner, to generate forms with densities from those of aerogels to those of diamond, or beyond. Depending on conductances and elasticities, the resulting objects might emerge like plastic stereolithography sculpture, yet at the same time potentially be as mobile and protean as the "liquid metal" automaton in the movie Terminator 2. Josh S. Hall has suggested that non-interacting microscopic nanomachines might look like mist, but morph or solidify on command ("Utility Fog"). The problem with Krell Machines of such power, of course, is: Who gives the commands? Even if nanomachines are under docile command, their power begins to resemble wizardry, and the way in which change the world with them (by speaking a word or even thinking a thought) begins to look suspiciously like sorcery. Do we want that? Of course, inside a computer, it's always been that way, as Vinge was one of the first to point out in the short story True Names (1981). But the Forbidden Planet question is: is anybody safe with this kind of power over matter, "here" in our physical world?

There is the problem of accidents. As in any self-replicating system, viruses and parasitical forms may emerge. An uncontrolled self-replication and assembler system popularly manifests itself in the genre as a creeping, corrosive gray-goo, which is a kind of undifferentiated assembler-cancer. This causes disaster, because like some super-corrosive bacteria or slime mould, it exists merely to turn the universe into more gray goo. These is some small consolation in that one suspects that gray goo will be subject to the same evolutionary pressures as the rest of life, and (even if it arises) it won't stay primitive forever, anymore than biological life did. If the goo appears, therefore, it is probable that eventually there will also appear more complex forms. We will eventually get gray-goo composite "animals" and (eventually) gray-goo intelligent beings. One creationist has satirized the Darwinian creative process as "from goo to you, by way of the zoo." As far as we can tell, however, that is more or less what happened, historically. Human beings at the end result of such a process are not likely a second time around, of course, but "goo-evolution" will probably eventually go on to something interesting. It won't be mankind, to be sure, but then (at that time) mankind itself, if it survives, will no longer be very recognizable, either. What would be lost in a Gray-Goo Disaster is (on a larger scale) much like what is lost in a cryonics disaster. In this case not life itself, but rather mankind's unique history and memories.

It is worth noting at this point that nanotechnology will have wide creative powers, but even a fully controllable self-replicating molecular scale chemistry will have foreseeable limits. As Drexler and others have pointed out, this is technology will have power over chemistry only; no nuclear transformations are included. As such, it can produce only chemical results, and even these will forever be limited in rate. The expected power of nanotechnology will actually be somewhere between that of Robby and the Krell machine. Nanomachines are precision programmable chemical catalysts held together themselves by chemical bonds, and this places severe limits to the kinetic energy the machine pieces may have, and thus how fast they may work to move and assemble atoms. There are also limitations involving temperature and pressure, again because nanomachines are made of ordinary molecular substances. These are fundamental limitations, connected with the laws of physics, and not likely to be circumventable. Thus, nanotechnology provides the limiting technology for how to make any chemically possible structure of atoms on any scale which are stable against the pressures of self-gravitation [4]. On these scales, the power of nanotechnology is as good as it gets, but this is likely to be God-like only if your imagination is somewhat limited, and your gods are very patient gods.

3. Mankind's Pending Ultimate Instrumentalities: The Computational Singularity

Unlike nanotechnology, the other main idea of the 1980's regarding future technological progress, involves limits which are very much more difficult to foresee. The basic starting point for this second set of predictions involves the notion that information processing or "computation" can be done faster than we do it, and there do not appear to be any obvious physical limits as to how fast it may be done. Certainly if there are limits, they are far beyond those which limit the power of our own inefficient brains, and therefore it must be possible to construct intelligences far superior to our own. Indeed, we already do so now, when many people work on a given project (a moon rocket) or when humans work in concert with computers. This kind of thing will continue. As it does, it will assist in creating itself. This kind of thing leads to supra-exponential growth in ability.

Computers have been shrinking at a rapid rate, and many people have sensed that there is something wildly empowering ahead. When the first kit to allow homebuilders and hobbyists to construct their own personal electronic computers (1974) was offered, the computer ended up being named the Altair (name suggested by the 12 year-old daughter of the Popular Electronics publisher, after a Star Trek destination). The name somehow seems doubly appropriate, for the Krell machine is seen here, trying to be born. Today, personal computer power has grown to levels quite unforeseen in 1974, and there is no end in sight. Indeed, it seems that ahead is a kind of watershed. Such a happening has been written about in terms for half a century, but we may refer to it as the Computational Singularity. The Computational Singularity corresponds to a singularity point in a mathematical function, where the value of the function approaches infinity, like f(x) = 1/x when x approaches zero. It is a place and a time where computational power rises to levels which are, if not infinite, at least qualitatively unimaginable. This is set to happen uncomfortably soon, if we continue at the present pace of improvement in computation.

The first place the author saw this idea used explicitly in SciFi was in a Vernor Vinge [VIN-jee] novel (1986) called Marooned in Realtime (sometimes collected with earlier related tale(s) in Across Realtime). In these tales, travellers riding through time in time-stasis bubbles come out of the stasis globes to find themselves on the other side of a curious rift in civilization, during which all humans have disappeared from the Earth, leaving the planet empty. Nobody who comes out of stasis in Vinge can figure out what happened to civilization, although there are clues that the end possibly hasn't been extermination. Possibly (Vinge hints) there has been an Exodus or Ascendancy of some kind, since the computer technology of the people who have entered status just before the rift is known to be increasing exponentially toward a somewhat god-like information-processing power, and the rift happens just about the time mankind should have attained this state. The implication is that mankind has (alternately) destroyed itself in some very subtle way, or perhaps "graduated" into some other kind of new mental life, much as happens in Arthur Clarke's 1953 novel Childhood' s End (about which more, later-- Clarke's fiction provides some of the first SciFi "mental millennium" genre stories, though the mental millennium in Clarke is not computer-generated).

Vinge himself has written formally in non-fiction about the concept of the computational singularity (1993, ref [1], and traces the idea at least as far back as speculations of J. von Neumann and S. Ulam (a couple of legendary figures) in the 1950's. Vinge also credits I.J. Good (1965) with first pointing out explicitly that computer design of computers leads to computer power progress which must be at least exponential. And indeed, here in the year 2001 we don't yet have a HAL 9000, but we already allow a great deal of chip design to be done by machine. We have no choice-it's already beyond the capability of humans.

The advent of true self-replicating nanotechnology is difficult to predict, but recently there have been a number of suggestions that the Computational Singularity (which I will hereafter refer to as simply the "Singularity") will be upon us within a generation or two. Hans Moravec in the book Mind Children suggested that it will happen in 2030 C.E.. Ray Kurzweil has recently updated and expanded Morovec's arguments in a book called The Age of Spiritual Machines (a horrid title, though not quite as bad as Chicken Soup for the Cartesian Mechanist's Soul). In the book, Kurzweil suggests that the doubling time of computations per dollar in Moore's law has decreased from three years toward one year, so therefore not only is the pace of change exponential, but the exponent itself is changing. However, according to Kurzweil and others, the Singularity happens not because of the sliding nature of the exponent (although this helps determine the time) but rather because of something else. The other key effect is simply this: at some point, computers will became as computationally powerful as the human brain. This is projected to happen sometime between 2010 and 2020 C.E., and the exponential effect will ensure that the personal computers 10 years later will be just as powerful. A few years later, it follows inexorably that computers as complex as the human brain will be throwaway items, like digital watches.

Of course, a computer as powerful as the human brain does not guarantee the performance of a human-equivalent mind. Indeed, humans themselves, if not programmed correctly, become not Mowlgi but "wolf boy" - not much more than animals. The special thing about a human brain is its sheer connectionist capacity, and probably less important are deep structural programs for learning. Of course, we don't know this for sure. The attainment of human and superhuman mental performance by computers depends on the ability to program computers by experience, in much the same way that we semi-program human minds today. Simple learning programs in such a scenario become better learning programs until, at some point, they pass the Turing test and become capable of human performance. The sorites paradox as amplified by the philosopher Hegel is then realized: an increase in mere (computational) quantity is mysteriously translated into a change in quality. We say that we now have a system property (or in modern parlance, an emergent property), and that in this case, the new property is intelligent action.

That is the theory, in any case. Those who hold that there is something special about human thought which can never be duplicated were dealt a severe blow in 1997, when the IBM computer called Deep Blue defeated the chess grandmaster and world champion B. Kasparov. Kasparov was thought, at the time, to be as good as any human player has ever been. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the episode was that, right up until he encountered Deep Blue, Kasparov had contended that the play of computers was typically mechanical and unimaginative in ways that the best human chess-player could easily detect, and then exploit. For long it pleased the vanity of humans to believe him. Finally, in 1997, changes in raw computer power resulted in a self-learning chess-playing machine which had somehow mysteriously become capable of chess imagination and insight, as well. Even the programmers were not too sure how it had happened. Deep Blue now passed its version of the Turing Test, for Kasparov felt for the first time that he was glimpsing a mind across the board from him. In this case, a human mind amplified by the nearly instantaneous relays possible in a computer (as another Star Trek episode, The Ultimate Computer, once put it). Kasparov immediately accused the programmers of cheating, and of having a human in actual contact with the computer during play. But there was actually no one "home" within the programs which comprised the "mind" of Deep Blue. The programs "creatively" dismantled and destroyed Kasparov's strategies were running by themselves. Kasparov was indeed facing only a machine, but now he could not tell the difference. There is a lesson here which is not to be missed.

Supercomputers today have brains only about as computationally powerful as those of insects, so it's not very surprising that when given machine bodies they interact with the world in somewhat insect-like ways. Indeed insects themselves behave in many ways that seem to us to be somewhat stylized and mechanical. But things cannot fail to change as machines grow more complex. In the future, as computers become capable of it, they will presumably pass more and more Turing tests, in which their thinking cannot be told from that of a human, over ever-more-wide areas of expertise and sets of rules.

There has been some carping on this point, to be sure. Vinge himself has remarked [1] that the super-accelerated mind of a dog (say) would still not be human. But here, I think for once, he misses the point. A dog is crippled by short attention span and a relatively poor declarative memory. These are not problems for an artificial program, or a computer-enhanced mind. Indeed, Vinge himself has recently written some wonderful SciFi discussing the value of having monomaniacal attention-span at one's command, if only one can also leave some executive functions in control of it (see Vinge's novel A Deepness in the Sky; Vinge's horror-source there goes at least to Edgar Allen Poe's 1835 short story Berenice, available out of copyright, on the net. A dog is also notably crippled by lack of good hands and the programming to feel and move them, and by lack of brain image-processing circuitry which allows rapid recognition, identification, and use of signs, symbols, letters, and the elements which make up language (chimps have some of this). Add all these things, plus some mental quickness and some training and teaching, and a dog will no longer be a dog. Just what it will become, is an open question. (I myself suspect that such animals, even if never capable of formal operations, may yet advance far into progressive academic political thought...)

If we assume that self-programming ability follows processing power, very soon after the point that computers of human brainpower are throwaway items, computers will attain the total information processing power of all human minds on the planet. They will have long since become the experts in the design of more complex computers, just as they are today the reigning experts at chess strategy. At some point not long after that, so goes the theory, computers will recapitulate human history, human culture, and human thought. They will then teach each other everything we know in a matter of years (months? days? hours?), and then move on. The whole thing will happen in a flash, and it happens at all, will certainly happen long before we're really ready for it. It seems inevitable before the end of this century, and seems quite probably before the middle of it. And, of course, we'll be unable to stop it, anymore than we can stop anything on the Internet. Before we know it, it will be done.

In theory, either full nanotechnology or the computational singularity might happen first, but whichever arrives first, it seems difficult to imagine that the other will not then immediately follow in consequence. Nanotechnology, after all, requires molecular-scale self-replicating computers, and such machines should in theory easily be able to grow themselves in three dimensions to complexities needed for the computational singularity to occur. In a similar fashion, an evolved computer far faster and brighter than we are, will soon figure out how to manipulate matter on the atomic scale with self-replicators, and will do so, unless actively prevented. Nanotechnology seems destined to be the incarnate "muscle" of the Computational Singularity intelligence.

One might imagine at first that we can prevent this with safeguards which prevent super-intelligences from interacting with the physical world, except by something like censored email. On second thought, however, such a program appears doomed. As well expect a bunch of chimpanzee guards to keep humans from escaping Alcatraz. If a superintelligent computer has enough contact with the world to be useful, it has enough contact to pervert its captors enough to eventually allow it to escape.

IV. Penalties For Playing God

Then what? That, of course, is The Question.

Culturally, the relative imminence of the Singularity has had on its believers somewhat the same effect as belief in the imminence of the Second Coming. The meme-complex of ideas which formerly parasitized and sometimes immobilized minds as apocalyptic Christianity, now in other guises seems to handicap them with visions of Technological Salvation, or Techno-transcendentalism. First Cryonics, then Nanotechnogy, and now Singularity will get us to the End Time and Gabriel's Trump. All of them, we note, can serve as apocalyptic religion, and all point toward the apotheosis of man. At least the techno-evangelicals don't wear placards saying "The End is Near/ Repent NOW". Actually, there doesn't seem anything much to do in the Religion of Singularity except spread the Good News (hence, perhaps, this essay). And, of course, one must Believe. Still, the whole thing does cause a certain amount of unease.

It's easy to place some of the sources of that. To begin, what's up with these coming superintelligences? Will they be friendly, or, instead of Forbidden Planet will we get The Forbin Project? What about safeguards? In Forbidden Planet, Morbius' powerful robot servant Robby has been explicitly designed by Morbius around Asimov's Laws of Robotics, but the Krell machine is a dangerous servant precisely because it has not. The Krell have evidently screwed up on that point, and in true heroic fashion have succumbed as much to hubris, as to anything else. That being said, can we hardwire the Laws of Robotics permanently into "robots" and other hardware smarter than we are? Inquiring minds want to know! Alas, it may be that the answer is "no" for machines that rewire themselves, which is what they will have to be capable of, if they ever are to be smarter than we are. We cannot program minds better than ours, and if they program themselves we can't. That's the rub. There is no such thing as immutable "hardwiring" when software is in control, Anything that can be created may be uncreated, or gotten around, or redefined (as Asimov himself pointed out in later life, on thinking about the future of robotics).

And what about that Krell lesson - what happens if the Gods punish mankind by giving it what it wants, on both conscious and unconscious levels? Our experience with children and animals, not to say ourselves, makes us suspicious of what happens, to say the least. The side-effects of our present fad and impulse-driven market economy (not that I'm knocking it) are frightening enough; what happens when it gets infinitely worse?

Our cultural mythology, both before and after the advent of science fiction, has classically laid heavy penalties on the heads of men who strove to steal the knowledge and the fire of the Gods. The penalty is being cast out: Prometheus is chained to a rock and tortured; Adam and Eve are cast out of the presence of God. Science fiction as we know it properly begins with Frankenstein (subtitle: Or, a Modern Prometheus), in which the monster, as a price for its unnatural scientific resurrection, is cast out of society to wander-- forever looking through the window at the celebration, forever seeking one of its own kind to talk to, or love. The monster suffers the tortures of adolescence, and Mary Shelley, who wrote the book as an adolescent, is forerunner to all science fiction authors. Shelley, in her later writings, sought the ultimate source of alienation, and in one of her other novels (The Last Man) features a man who is all-alone on the Earth. This ultimate alienation of the Deserted Planet (Nuclear Winter to Silent Spring) has, since Shelley, naturally come to be associated with higher technologies and the far future (see Wells' Time Machine). The Krell machine is always found in the ruins, on an empty or nearly empty planet (just as Prospero, in The Tempest, inhabits a nearly deserted island). Or it sits unused and lonely in ruins in the empty City on the Edge of Forever, {interesting link -ed} because all the people who used it have either been destroyed, or else have dreamed and left for their dreams, leaving our more mundane reality behind, like an old husk. Besides, it's much more fun in SciFi to figure out for yourself what that big red button does...

The SciFi penalty for the ultimate magic or the ultimate technology must be (from the viewpoint of those who do not participate) that everybody who has access to it, vanishes like 16 year-olds with the car keys. But where do they go? Stephen Spielberg's move A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, a film playing in theaters as this essay is written [Spoiler Warning to end of paragraph] typifies the now-standard form. A.I. is a straightforward retelling of the Frankenstein story, with all of its subtexts of child-abuse, and creators who fail to live up to their responsibility. The protagonist, an artifical child named David, is cast out to wander the Earth, and finally is put out of his misery by being accidentally cryopreserved. When he wakes, civilization (both human and robot) have vanished, and he is left with the visiting space aliens, but still asking for his mommy. That's meant to give you the creeps, and indeed it does.

We frequently do not know where civilizations go when they hit singularity in fiction, but quite often, they leave behind cryptic messages. In Robert Forward's hard SciFi novels Dragon's Egg(1980) and Starquake (1985), much of the action is creatively set on the surface of a neutron star. The indigenous neutron-star intelligent life are somewhat like electronic computers, inasmuch as their nucleonic brain "chemistry" allows them to think a million times faster than humans. In these novels, humans originally arrive in orbit around the neutron star and find the intelligent inhabitants in a very primitive cultural state. Humans cannot visit the star's surface due to the fantastic gravity, but communication can at least be established. As the neutron star creatures are taught by humans, however, they rapidly assimilate human culture, then just as rapidly, surpass it. Then, suddenly, to the surprise of the human starship crew, the world below them is empty. The neutron star creatures have hit Singularity and (of course) disappeared. They leave behind nothing, save for a few condescending clues, the litter of Ascended Beings who now don't want to interact with primitive humanity until we are ready. This is in a novel published a year before Marooned in Realtime, so the idea was already current. The ultimate alienation is an empty world, containing perhaps traces of beings who could talk to you, but don't want to.

We've seen this repeatedly in SciFi. Forbidden Planet's superhumanly intelligent Dr. Morbius is a creator beyond good and evil, and doesn't really want to talk, even though he's nearly alone on Altair IV. He warns of danger, but he wants no contact. There is something of Nietzsche's superman about him (why else is he a philologist?) The human I.Q. does not impress him, for his own brain has been augmented by the Krell machine, which is an intelligence-enhancer as well as a physical realizer of ideas. The technology and the intelligence is in the realm of magic, ala Clarke's law, and at the end of the film Morbius wears the wizard robes of Shakespeare's Prospero to show this. Like Prospero, however, Morbius cannot escape his own very human passions.

In Star Trek's most light-hearted invocation of the Krell Machine (Theodore Sturgeon's Shore Leave, (1966) the crew of the Enterprise land on an apparently empty planet, only to find that it hides machinery which has the job of making fantasies into realities. After being harassed by the incarnate results of their idle thoughts, the crew finally encounters the planet's Owners. The Owners use the technology for recreation, and they tell Kirk that they (the Owners) are too advanced to meet humans. Now run and play. But thanks for asking.

Again, it is traditional for planets to come out of the other side of the Singularity depopulated, or worse. For their part, SciFi authors write past the singularity, simply because it's impossible to write convincingly into it. It's too strange. But there are many fly-bys in fiction. If alienation as the price of technical advance is the primal theme of all science fiction (as Brian Aldiss suggests [3]) then Arthur C. Clarke's basic story themes often involve alienation with some attempt at communication. Clarke's characters are often beyond help, but they can always still talk while they are trapped, or while meeting their seemingly inevitable doom. In Childhood's End (1953), the Clarke story with which we began, the role of Frankenstein's monster is played by the Overlords, inhumanly intelligent but unlovely creatures who are destined never to be able to make the evolutionary leap to higher consciousness, and who must therefore spend eternity on the outside of the party, looking in. They are alienated aliens; monsters troubled with monsters. At the end of the novel, the last man on Earth stays to fatally witness mankind's transition to higher being. He continues to talk though the last minutes of his life to the retreating Overlords as the Earth begins to become transparent, in a scene which comes full circle and reminds us of Altair IV, the wizard Prospero, and some of the more famous lines from the play that was the inspiration for Forbidden Planet:

Our revels now are ended: these our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind: we are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep...

So that is all we can really say, as Earth or Altair IV disappears in the aft-viewplate of our imaginations. The problem with the Singularity is that there is no way to "survive" it (pace the tongue-in-cheek Vinge subtitle How to Survive in the Post-Human Era [1]) because it is the nature of the singularity to change beyond all recognition even the basic concepts of humanity, life, individual identity, and survival-- particularly "individual" survival [2]. The name "Singularity" is appropriate in part because, like a Black Hole, the Singularity looks different depending on whether it is viewed form the outside or from the point of view of someone falling into it. We have fictional scenarios only for the outside, but (for all we know) perhaps these are what will ultimately come to pass for "us." After all, it is not certain that mankind will be destroyed OR entirely uploaded/assimilated. There is a third possibility: mankind might be left in the dust like those old computers (or toys) in your garage that you're never going to use again (again, Spielberg and Aldiss do this bit nicely). Not for nothing has the Singularity been called the Techno-Rapture--- we must remember that a fundamental feature of the Rapture is that some go, and some are left behind.

Perhaps the Artificial Intelligence will go on, then, but leave humanity with some kind of technological lock, in order to prevent development of the computational power necessary for such uncouth creatures as we, to follow. Singularity-struck societies which leave some people behind may represent a kind of threat to the Ascended, in somewhat the same fashion that nuclear power finally represents a threat to the "other planets" in The Day The Earth Stood Still. Such stuttering "techno-adolescent" societies can be expected to hit new singularities regularly, and with each one, regularly fire out races of new Ascended Intelligences. Some of these may even be pathological. Such societies will therefore be under watch by those who have gone before. They may, conceivably, be under quarantine.

"What," you say? "Surely they will let us upload, and join the fun. Won't they? They have to!"

Er....don't they?

If not, we are familiar from fiction (and from our own adolescence) what things would look like then. We would be forever be Prometheus, forever the orphaned and lonely Frankenstein's monster. The ultimate insult. Indeed, we would be forever Caliban, left alone on an island Earth, with the wizards gone, and we not even comforted by the whisperings of spirits that have long since been freed.

The author appreciates feedback, particularly regarding obvious errors and problems.

Notes and References:

[1] http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge/misc/singularity.html

[2] Vinge remarks in [1] that "[a] central feature of strongly superhuman entities will likely be their ability to communicate at variable bandwidths..." This is a safe and nearly tautological prediction, for breadth of bandwidth is all that defines whether "communication," as we usually understand the word, is taking place at all. Communication is generally not a word we use in connection with the mind's internal affairs. It requires two or more minds, and if bandwidth is too high, the individual minds disappear, and only one mind is left. Thus, within a grouped computational being, minds and sub-minds are _defined_ only by bandwidth. Imagine being "you" only when you close the door on the party, or they close the door on you. Open it wide, and you don't exist.

Individuation will obviously be something of an act of will in such circumstances. However, there are places where there is no choice. The size/gravity of the computer will still limit the maximal complexity of various kinds of computers, and the speed of light must limit the bandwidth of two-way interactive communication *between* such computers. In the future, it is perhaps comforting to know that the day of the individual is not dead, since individuation seems destined always to be enforced by communications problems. Arthur C. Clarke and Brian Aldiss might both have particularly envisaged this!

[3] See Aldiss' excellent SciFi review The Billion Year Spree. He is also author of the short story Supertoys Last All Summer, upon which Spielberg's A.I. film is loosely based.

[4] A note about the macro physical size-limits of computers might be appended here. All other things being same, it is always best to have computer elements closer to each other rather than far away, because the speed of light is finite. Thus, there is a natural tendency to centralize computer processing for maximal power. However, whatever computers ultimately are made of, there are limits to the pressures which complex chemical structures can resist. There are therefore gravitationally-induced size limits to "ordinary matter" molecular computers: whether these result in maximal structures the size of planetoids, or planets, is left as an exercise for the student.

"Ordinary matter" computers can be constructed in rotating ribbons to take some of the stress and pressure off. This must be done differently at each radius, so the ultimate computer may not be spherical, but may be a disk of differentially rotating ribbons. You saw it here first.

As we reach the limits of the pressure which ordinary matter can take, we compress all chemical structure out, and end up with degenerate matter, which is mostly (after fusion) supercompacted iron metal. This region does not appear promising for computation. Just beneath the surface of neutron stars, however, appears a region in which degenerate matter iron begins to become enriched in high neutron isotopes, and eventually becomes a soup in which such nuclei drip or trade neutrons, and engage in kind of nucleonic chemistry. This is the region which looks promising for both life (a.k.a. Forward's novels) and for computation. Both processes (which are the same process) require a region on the boundary between chaos and complete order. Some chaos is necessary to process information and dump entropy, and some order in limited areas is necessary to store information so that complex learning systems can profit from experience. These conditions may be present just under the surface of a neutron star. At deeper levels and greater pressures in a neutron-star, nuclei are jammed into a kind of hadron/pion "plasma". These regions do not look promising for computation, nor does the crystalline core of neutronium which comprises most of a neutron star.

Unfortunately, we recognize that Forward's diminutive fictional Cheela will have to be made of super-degenerate matter, and if they are, that they will have a hard time evolving on the surface of a neutron-star, with one side exposed to vacuum. Nucleonic chemistry requires confinement of nuclei into close proximity by immense pressures, and even the gravity field at the surface of a neutron star needs the weight of a millimeter or two of matter to generate such pressures. If the Chile exist, they will have to carry around an awful load of iron on their backs.

For purposes of pure computation, the skin of a neutron star looks somewhat more promising. Our neutron-star supercomputer simply works like the brains of the Cheela, but on a larger scale. Much material might be available. The first centimetre or two of neutron-star "topsoil" contains approximately the mass of the Earth, but within this shell no point is more than 60 km signal path from any other. Moreover, the gravitational fields are much more reasonable than occur near black holes, so that time ticks by on the surface of the neutron star at up to 70% the rate of clocks in space. This is fast enough to do a lot of information processing, and still get the results "out" into flat-space realtime, where our kind of life will have started, and where it will at first be hanging out.

Of course, we haven't a clue as to how any of this "femtotechnology" might be done, or how even to begin to do it. However difficult it is, however, it looks considerably easier than Frank Tippler's computers (The Physics of Immortality) which must work in the conditions of the Big Crunch at the End of the Universe. Even if we don't have a Big Crunch, it's nice to know we still have something pretty good.


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