JOIN: Carl Feynman

From: Paula or Carl Feynman (
Date: Mon Mar 19 2001 - 21:59:58 MST

This is my joining message.

I was born in 1962.

In 1966, I played with the world's smallest microelectromechanical
device, a 400 micron electric motor, which my father kept in the drawer
with his handkerchiefs, just above my eye level. He told me the many
wonderful things that would happen when tiny machines are
mass-produced. I'm still waiting (:-)

I went to MIT and got a BS in Philosphy & Linguistics. Then I got an MS
in EE & CS. During this period, I hung around the MIT AI Lab, fiddling
with various AI projects. I spent the '80s working on parallel
computers for AI applications, at MIT and Thinking Machines
Corporation. I also did some very cool machine vision stuff. Then
around '90 I got sick of both AI (which was clearly going nowhere) and
working for the DoD (which clearly wanted to use AI to kill people, in

I spent the first half of the '90s sending way to much email to the
Extropians list. I also got married, started a family and started
making money. All this took too much time to do anything technically
interesting. In the second half of the '90s, I applied some machine
learning techniques to various Internet things. For the past few years,
I've been working for Ab Initio Software, which is doing extremely cool
stuff I can't talk about. Don't worry, we're not trying to get to the
singularity first.

I have a wife and two daughters, ages 5 and 7. My instincts tell me
they are wonderful and perfect and more valuable than life itself. I'm
going with my instincts on this one.

For a technological optimist, I'm awfully pessimistic. When I was
Eliezer's age, it was 1983. It was clear to me, then, that by the year
2001, we'd have space colonies, artificially intelligent supercomputers,
self-reproducing nanotech assemblers, brain-computer interfaces,
holographic TV, cheap diamond, solar powered hydrogen production, a
worldwide hypertext system containing all human knowledge, photo-quality
computer graphics, and laptop computers. We only got three out of
nine. My experience is that almost anything new and exciting is wrong.
So my first response to any visionary proposal or exciting piece of news
is to explain why it will never amount to anything. I've been
restraining myself from dumping too much wet sand on the stuff bandied
about on this list, so as to preserve the list's delightful air of
youthful enthusiasm.

I will now wax enthusiastic about an article I just read. It's called
"Defining brain wiring patterns and mechanisms through gene trapping in
mice", and it's in the 8 March issue of Nature. Through some piece of
biochemical prestidigitation that uses too many acronyms for me to
understand, these biologists can modify mice so that brain cells that
express a certain protein will have their cell bodies stained blue and
their axons stained purple. This tells them the wiring diagram for that
kind of cell: the inputs are here, and the outputs are over there. They
can then disrupt the gene and see how the wiring pattern changes, and
how that affects the poor mice. They can do this for randomly selected
brain proteins, even ones that haven't been discovered-- so far they
have done it for 120 known proteins and 43 new ones. Many of them
outline particular cell types in particular regions of the brain. They
can look at the mice brains at various stages of development and watch
the purple axons grow across the brain and hook up to their
destinations. They can disrupt one protein and see how it affects the
growth of other types of labeled cells.

It's a colossal torrent of neuroanatomical information-- too much to
really handle by existing methods of understanding. All this was done
by just eight people. It used to be that eight people could find maybe
one wiring tract per decade, if they were lucky. Now they are speeding
that up by three orders of magnitude. There are at most a thousand cell
types in the brain, total. At this rate, we'll have a pretty good
high-level wiring diagram for all of them in a few years.

Here's the abstract:

And here's the site where they hand out the information to everyone:

--Carl Feynman

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