Glossary and Concepts

Terms and ideas relevant to today and tomorrow – current science & technology; theoretical concepts; and SF speculation.  Ideas I find intriguing; not exhaustive for every field! Learning vocabulary is 80% of the work (and fun) in any subject…

Updated April 17, 2016

12th Five Year Plan
The Chinese plan (2011-2015), which invested heavily in science, technology, and energy. It includes developing small cities and greenfield projects. By 2014, Chinese investment in science will overtake that of the U.S., and it has already overtaken the US in research papers published. Reference.

3D printing
A process that uses a machine to “print” a three-dimensional object, typically using by laying down layers (similar to an ink-jet sprayer), under computer control. Also called additive manufacturing, matter printing, selective laser melting, rapid prototyping, or fabbing. The most popular 3D printer on the market is MakerBot. 3D  printing has the potential for disruptive/transformational impact in a number of areas, including health care (printing tissues and organs); electronics (printing circuits and processors); manufacturing (printing houses); design (rapid protyping); energy (solar cells); and many others. One implication of 3D printing is distributed manufacturing – the Staples chain will begin offering a 3D printing service using the MCOR printer in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2013. You can design an object and have it made by Shapeways using different materials. Reference.

3D4D challenge
A competition launched in 2012 for teams to come up with a use of 3D printing to benefit the developing world. The first winner is a group of students who used 3D printers to turn waste plastic into composting toilets and rainwater harvesting systems.

400 ppm
The level of carbon dioxide as measured at Mauna Loa in May 2013. A major milestone:  which was reached ” for the first time in 55 years of measurement—and probably more than 3 million years of Earth history. The last time the concentration of Earth’s main greenhouse gas reached this mark, horses and camels lived in the high Arctic. Seas were at least 30 feet higher.” National Geographic.

450 ppm
One current goal for stabilizing atmospheric carbon.  CO2 was 391 ppm (as of June 2012), and every year it is going up about 2 ppm. However, even at 450  ppm the global temperature will rise about 2 C (3.6 F), and even that will still mean “large loss of species, more severe storms, floods and droughts, refugees from sea level rise” (Brand, Whole Earth Discipline). See also solar radiation management; global warming; 450 ppm; biochar; tipping point; existential risk; geoengineering; terraforming.

4D printing
Creation of responsive objects using 3D printing technology. An object may respond to the environment, or be programmable. The 4th dimension can be thought of as time, since the object changes over time. Reference. See also programmable matter.

Accelerated evolution
The “large-scale programming and evolution of cells” by modifying the genome of a population of cells, producing “combinatorial diversity.” Can create billions of variations, which are then selected for the desired characteristic. See the 2009 paper by George Church.

Accelerating returns
Phrase from Ray Kurzweil used to contrast the pace of technological progress, as compared with normal human perception of linear change. Based on gains in one area increasing those in another, with a resultant acceleration of progress. Same as Kevin Kelly’s “technological acceleration.” Reference.

Additive manufacturing
See 3D printing.

Advanced research project agencies
Government agencies that fund cutting-edge research. Their approach is different in that they support projects that are more uncertain, but have a higher “payoff” if they succeed. Examples: DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency); IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Project Agency), ARPA-E (Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy)

See artificial intelligence

Term for solving the problem of human-level artificial intelligence. Coined in 1988 by Fanya Montalvo by analogy with NP-complete problems in theory of computation, implying a (currently) intractable problem. Any problem in artificial intelligence that would require solving the problem of human-level intelligence could be called AI-complete.

Airborne Taxonomic Mapping System (AToMS)
A system using sensors mounted in airplanes to map the ecology of the tropics. It “combines laser and spectral imaging instrumentation onboard a twin-engine aircraft to derive simultaneous measurements of an ecosystem’s chemistry, structure, biomass, and biodiversity.” (Science Daily). Uses LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and a spectrometer to gather data on an entire ecosystem.   Home site. Video.

Alcubierre drive
(SF/speculative) A speculative faster-than-light method of travel proposed by Miguel Alcubierre in 1994 that uses exotic matter to change the geometry of space in front and behind, allowing such travel. The ship would ride in a region of flat space (called a warp bubble). Within the bubble there would be no relativistic effects (time dilation, space contraction, or mass increase) normally associated with speeds approaching that of light.

Algorithmic trading
The use of computer algorithms to rapidly and automatically manage trading and test the market. Also called high-frequency trading or black box trading. Firms employ mathematicians, ever-faster computers, connections, and algorithms trying to outsmart each other. To hide their trades from competitors, the algorithms “break their giant trade into thousands of little ones… to look random.” They “shoot out little trades… in order to measure the response of the market.” (Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock). Algorithmic trading has risen dramatically from 2006 to the present. It is unclear what effect this is having on the stock market, including possible volatility and weaknesses. In effect, it is creating a “machine ecology” that is faster than humans can affect. New firms engaging in it include Better Alternative Trading System (BATS), Chi-X, Turqouise, Burgundy. See flash crash.

Ambient awareness
(Slang/SF/futuristic) Peripheral social awareness through constant connection with others through social media.

Artificial life; imitating life (and evolution) in software, hardware, or biochemistry. Significant figures include John von Neumann, John Conway, Ed Friedkin, Steven Wolfram, and Chris Langton. Reference. See also genetic algorithms.

A robot designed to look like a human.

An underground, loose, anonymous group of Internet hacktivists who stage protests against actions they consider wrong. Usually they target institutions; historically they have worked against the church of Scientology.

Antagonistic pleiotropy
Theory that pleiotropy (one gene having two or more effects) can work against the body. It can have beneficial effects early in life, then damaging ones later on. One theory related to aging.

An informal term in geology used to designate the human era, because of the extensive impact that humanity has had on the environment. Coined by ecologist Eugene Stoermer in the 1980’s. Reference.

Applied theology
Term coined by Vernor Vinge in his novel A Fire Upon the Deep for the practical study of supra-human (post-human or post-singularity) beings. These are “superhuman but not supernatural” beings. (Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction). Similar to what Giulio Prisco calls “transcendent engineering.”

APT (Advanced Persistent Attack)
The state of constant probing and cyberespionage on corporations, governments, and individuals. Reference.

Artificial immune systems
A branch of evolutionary computation which is modeled on the immune system.

Artificial intelligence/consciousness
Any form of intelligence or consciousness that is made rather than born. One should distinguish between special-purpose AI (such as a self-driving car, or even a search engine) and general AI (today referred to as AGI, artificial general intelligence), which means the ability to handle a broad range of tasks, goals, and environments. The level of AI (sub-human, human, non-human, or supra-human) is a different type of classification.

The prototypical and pre-eminent open access site for scientific pre-prints in the field of physics, published through a Creative Commons license. A demonstration of the emerging open access movement within science. See also PLoS (Public Library of Science) for scientific and medical journals; PLoSOne for general science; PLoSBiology; PLoSMedicine; and other PLoS journals.  See also open access.

Assisted evolution
The manipulation of a species to enable it to survive, for example in the face of climate change. Contrasted with selective breeding, which is for done to benefit people. First popularized in the 2014 paper “Building coral reef resilience through assisted evolution.” discussing the creation of a “super coral” to enable it to survive warmer, more acidic oceans. See also the New Yorker article “Unnatural Selection” by Elizabeth Kolbert.

Atomically-precise manufacturing (APM)
The most realistic aspect of what is generally called nanotechnology. APM “employs artificial, molecular nanoscale machinery that operates on digital principles… to process matter.” (Eric Drexler, Radical Abundance, p. 40)  “An APM system is a factory in a box, a compact device packed with motors, gears, conveyor belts, and specialized gadgets of various sizes…Inside the box, small, simple machines bring molecules together to build nanoscale parts, then larger machines bring small parts together to build larger parts, and at the end, machines of ordinary size bring parts together to build final products.” (p. 276).

A set towards which a dynamical system evolves over time. They are “structures that rise out of processes.” (Goertzel). Or, “Attractors are abstract, ideas structures that emerge from change, structural patterns floating on top of a realm of fluctuating dynamics.”

Augmented reality
A live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are merged with (or augmented by) virtual computer-generated imagery – creating a mixed reality. Google Glass is expected to play a major part in the development of augmented reality.

Augmented vision
Mapping images directly onto the eye, using smart contact lenses, so that neither glasses nor a headset would be needed.

The chemical process whereby the output of a reaction creates a catalyst that drives the reaction itself, which forms positive feedback. This is a way of thinking about technology, where an advance in a field “gives us a better platform on which to build its successors.” (Mark Stevenson).

Autonomic computing
Initiative started by IBM in 2001. Software that controls software, that is capable of self-management or self-regulation. Software that makes decisions on its own, using policies.

“Self-creation,” a term coined in 1972 by biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela to describe living organisms. The term has later been used in relation to complex systems. Reference.

The icon one uses in a virtual reality world; the tele-presence robot or simulation you present to others in lieu of your physical body.

Backward chaining
Working backward from a goal to the steps. Used in automated theory-solving and some AI.

Baran web
A distributed network, where each node has roughly equal weight or influence. Designed by Paul Baran in 1960 and later used in Arpanet and then the Internet, it is also the model for peer-to-peer networks of any type, as described in Steven Johnson’s book Future Perfect.

Bekenstein bound
The limit of information that something (say, a three-pound laptop) can contain. Put another way, the maximum amount of information needed to describe a finite physical system. Derived from considerations of black holes, entropy, and Hawking radiation by Jackob Bekenstein, this places a limit the information that any device or entity can contain. Reference.

Bermuda Principles
The principles of open data that were worked out in 1996 for the Human Genome Project, at a meeting in Bermuda. Set the precedent for sharing of scientific data, a major step forward in the scientific process. See also big data. Reference.

Big data
The unprecedented and exponential rise in the volume of data coming from many sources, e.g. devices, sensors, social media, genomics, indexing, and climate science. Because of the size (terabytes to petabytes), these data sets are requiring new methods of analysis (the area of artificial intelligence called machine learning), and at the same time opening up new fields in science. See also omics.Reference.

Standardized biological parts (and processes) for synthetic biology and genetic engineering. Applying the processes of industrial enginnering to biology. An ongoing “parts list” is maintained at the iGEM site. (Over 2o,000 listed as of Nov. 2012). From the 2003 paper by Tom Knight.

Burning biomass in a low-oxygen environment (pyrolysis) to produce charcoal and wood gas/oil. A method that effectively takes carbon out of the atmosphere while also producing fuel. “biochar may represent the single most important initiative for humanity’s environmental future. …it allows us to address food security, the fuel crisis, and the climate problem…” (Tim Flannery, quoted in Whole Earth Discipline, p. 241) Reference

BA general approach, point of view, or philosophy that rejects the use of technology in the area of biology, such as genetic modification, brain-computer interfaces, or prosthetics. Often seems to stem from a Christian viewpoint, or the “intuitive” argument from repugnance (the “yuck” factor). Examples include writing Bill Joy, Leon Kass, Francis Fukuyama, and Bill McKibben. See also technoprogressive.

Bio-Fab Manifesto
The 2006 paper (“Engineering Life”) in Scientific American where the principles were described that would turn “transform biological engineering from a craft into an industry.” (George Church).

(Slang) A hobbyist experimenting with DNA at home, using cheap tools. See the Biohack, Biocurious, and DIYbio sites for examples.

Reverse-engineering structures and functions from nature. Of particular use in nanomedicine and synthetic biology. The approach has been around since Icarus, but the difference today is in engineering functions at the nano-scale level, such as photosynthesis, cellular activity, protein structure, transport, and synthesis. In another direction, the complex functions of the brain are being explored as ways of controlling complex systems such as the electrical power grid.

The use of microorganisms to extract minerals from ore. Biomining is less destructive of the environment than using toxic chemicals, and is being used currently to extract copper from mine tailings.

See prosthetics.

Using protons to interface with a living system, rather than electrons. Uses chitosan, derived from chitin. First reported Sept 2011. Reference.

The science of using light to interact with cells. Includes cells communicating with each other using light. See nanophotonics and optogenetics.

A printer that can lay down cells or tissues either on a substrate or a living person (e.g. burn victim). Also being used to develop “printed” meat for consumption.

A collection of biological specimens intended to support long-term research. May include bacteria, plants, animals, or human tissue. A human one is called a biobank. List of biobanks

Bit rot
The paradoxical decay of digital storage media and systems over time, from physical causes (e.g. breakdown of CDs) to unavailability of technology (e.g. floppy disk drives). Also the gradual problems with software as operating systems, interfaces, formats, and other changes in software render a program increasingly difficult to use.

BRAIN (Brain Research through Advanced Innovative Neurotechnologies) Activity Map
Initially called a “brain activity map,” the NIH BRAIN project  was announced in April 2013 by the Obama administration to fund a massive attempt to map the functional connections (connectome) in the brain. Will probably require the development of  nano-scale tools instead of current imaging technology. Science published a detailed paper on mapping the brain in summer 2012. See also connectome.

Brain co-processor
(Slang/SF/futuristic) Concept from MIT. A form of artificial intelligence that would monitor the brain and feed it information when needed. First thought is for Alzheimer’s patients. Reference.

(Slang/product) Name for using fNIRS to determine a person’s state of mind. Reference.

Brain-To-Brain-Interface (BTBI)
Link between two brains which allows passing information from one directly to another. First reported Feb 28, 2013 with rats, using intracortical microstimulation (implants). One rat learned a task, and the signals were sent to the second. The two acted as a pair, so that they formed a new kind of mind, a “dyad” that sensed and acted together. Reference.

A method that is explicitly intended to take a person or process part of the way toward a goal, with the understanding that a separate method will then be used. Kurzweil and Grossman identify three consecutive bridges over the next few decades toward the goal of slowing aging (the ultimate goal being radical longevity or lifespan).  1) supplements, exercise, calorie restriction, predictive genomics. 2) biotechnology (genetic engineering) and AI 3) miniaturization, nanotechnology, and AI.

Broadcast architecture
A nanotechnology that would require operating code to be broadcast from a central server, instead of being built in. One safeguard against danger.

Calabi-Yau manifold
A special type of shape (manifold) that may embody the mathematical structure of space in superstring theory. Six dimensions are unseen; they may be tiny and folded, or they may be cosmically large, as a brane.

Capacitive sensing
Proximity (of a finger, for example) disrupts electrical connections. Used in the iPhone touch screen.

An image generated by a computer, that only a person can read. A kind of reverse-Turning test used to ensure that someone filling in a form is a live person, and not a bot. Used to separate bots from humans.

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR), Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)
Also called carbon fixation. Taking carbon out of the atmosphere and storing (sequestering) it. Methods include combining it with magnesium or basalt rocks; producing and burying biochar (pyrolysis with biomass); enhancing agriculture; atmospheric scrubbing (e.g. artificial trees); or subterranean injection. See also solar radiation management; global warming; 450 ppm; biochar; tipping point; existential risk; geoengineering; terraforming. For a detailed assessment of the state of the science, see the report released in 2013 by Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project. New techniques are emerging, such as using electrolysis, which would capture carbon and reduce ocean acidity.

Carbon nanotube
A cylindrical tube of carbon atoms. May be one or more atoms thick. Has unusual properties: length-to-width ratio; conductive; thermal; strength; tensile strength; optical. One particular type is single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNT), which are about a nanometer in diameter, with a hexagonal structure.

Cell assembly theory
Mental entities (thoughts, memories, emotions) are neural circuits. “in the brain, one may think of the vast number of neuronal circuits as being a pool of “patterns” each one of which potentially matches stimuli from the outside, or from other parts of the brain. And one may think of memories as consisting of reverberating neural circuits, formed from smaller circuits linked together. This is cell assembly theory.” (Unification of Science and Spirit, Goertzel)

Cellular automata
A concept from computer science. The possibility of a collection of simple parts acting in a decentralized fashion, each of which uses only a few simple rules. Conceived of as possibly forming a hive mind or a swarm intelligence. Championed most strongly by Stephan Wolfram in A New Kind of Science.

Central pattern generator
Small neural circuits in humans and animals that control periodically recurring movements, like walking or breathing. In the past, for a robot, each had to be programmed. Now, with a chaotic control, can learn by themselves. Reference.

Cerebral projection
(p. 26, Beyond Human) When the brain/mind “projects” senses from a stump to the limb that is being moved or felt.

“A system is chaotic if a very slight change in the system’s initial conditions very quickly produces easily visible changes in its behavior. The behaviors of chaotic systems often generate spacetime patterns that have fractal shapes, and which can be said to lie upon strange attractors.” (Lifebox, p.488)

Charter city
A reform zone on the scale of a city; a city that is set up for voluntary citizenship with adopted rules. Experiments include Shenzen in China; Auroville in India. Reference.

An animal that has cells of two different species. Compare to a transgenic animal, which has individual genes from another species, and a hybrid, which is created when the sperm of one species is joined with the egg of another. Also applied to proteins that have been fused from originally different peptides.

Church-Turing Thesis
The thesis that anything that can be computed (=calculated) can be done so by a Turing machine; and that any more complex form of a computation or machine can be expressed or reduced to a Turing machine. Alternatively, these can be expressed as recursive functions (Church). The thesis effectively defines a computation. It includes all classes of real-world computers, including quantum computers.

Circle of empathy
The things that we place within the sphere deserving of empathy or compassion.

Citizen science
The practice of crowd-sourcing the collection and analysis of scientific data to non-experts. Often presented as a game, using online tools to leverage our pattern-matching skills. Examples include iSPEX, EyeWire, Galaxy Zoo, Cell Slider, Clumpy, Ancient Lives, Zooniverse, Foldit, Great Backyard Bird Count, Phylo, The Cure, Citizen Sort, AI Game Research, Brain Flight, GeneRun, Ventus, and Bug Guide. Called “distributed thinking” in the book The Human Face of Big Data.

Coal-Direct Chemical Looping (CDCL)
A process using crushed coal feedstock and iron oxide beads, which are heated together, creating a chemical form of combustion. Carbon in the coal combines with oxygen in the iron oxide beads, forming heat and carbon dioxide. Because the process can be done in a sealed chamber, almost all of the carbon dioxide can be contained. Reference.

In biology, a change in one organism that is triggered by a change in another organism. Used by analogy or extension to describe changes in technology, where advances in one field affect another. Concept originated in 1964 by Peter Raven and Paul Erlich in a classic paper “Butterflies and Plants: A Study in Co-Evolution.” See also: autocatalysis; accelerated evolution; accelerating returns.

Cognitive computing
A kind of computer chip “expected to learn through experiences, find correlations, create hypotheses, and remember — and learn from — the outcomes, mimicking the brains structural and synaptic plasticity. IBM is combining principles from nanoscience, neuroscience, and supercomputing as part of a multi-year cognitive computing initiative. IBM’s long-term goal is to build a chip system with ten billion neurons and hundred trillion synapses, while consuming merely one kilowatt of power and occupying less than two liters of volume.” See 2011 IBM announcement.

Cognitive load
The mental effort involved in doing something, such as all the links, graphics, videos on a busy web page. Noted in Nicolas Carr’s “The Shallows.” Earlier and related concepts are information overload, future shock, and decision overload.

Collaboration filtering
Similar to “recommendation systems.” An algorithm that takes the choices/actions/recommendations of individuals and then feeds them back to individuals. Amazon, Epinions, etc. are current examples.

Collective intelligence
Bringing together a group of people to accomplish something. Increasingly being done through networking technology. Examples include massive online open education (MOOC); citizen science; Wikipedia; open source software. Reference.

“A computation is any process that obeys finitely describable rules” (Lifebox, p.489)

Computational functionalism
The theory that mind is made up of its functions, which are explained by or the same as information processing on a computer. Not the same as the computer metaphor of the mind, where information processing is the main idea. See theory of mind.

See also “hyperrealism.” According to Goertzel (Unification) : “The digital universe is not a mechanistic universe in the sense of Isaac Newton. It is a massively parallel, self-organizing quantum computer, full of randomness, emergent chaos and emergent pattern, as well as routinized, mechanistic procedures. Computational modeling does not reduce everything to clockwork: rather, interpreted in the light of turn-of-the-millenium “postmodern” science, it reduces everything to self-organization and self-creation.”

(Slang/SF/futuristic) Theoretical arrangement of matter to make the most efficient and powerful computer.

The theory that consciousness arises from connections in the brain. See patternism.

A complete description of the structural and functional connections in the brain. Coined by Olaf Sporns and his colleagues in a 2005 paper. “A connectome is the totality of connections between the neurons in a nervous system. … It is all of the connections.” See the book Connectome by Sebastian Seung, who believes “You are your connectome. Your connectome is unique and contains a huge amount of information. That information includes your memories, personality and other aspects of your personal identity. Reference. EU Human Brain Project. Proposed US brain-mapping project., and reference for that project.

(Slang/SF/futuristic) A body frozen cryonically in hopes of coming to life in a future time, when science is more advanced.

Cortical column
The functional unit of the cerebral cortex, each column comprising perhaps 10,000 neurons, and about 1 square millimeter of space on the surface. There are about 2 million in the cortex. Each one has subcolumns that comprise about 80 neurons.

Cosmic web
The structure of filaments and sheets of galaxies at the largest level in the universe. Discovered in the last ten years. Reference.

Creative destruction
Term used by Joseph Schumpeter to describe the process of capitalism, whereby new businesses destroy old ones. Writers today see such radical transformation coming soon in many fields as a result of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, networking, and other changes. See The Creative Destruction of Medicine (Topol) for a current application of this idea.

CRISPR gene editing
Technique used since 2012 to edit the genome of a living cell. An acronym standing for Clustered Regularly Spaced Short Palindromic Repeats, CRISPR is a mechanism that bacteria use to acquire immunity to viruses. The CRISPR system inserts segments of viral DNA into their own genome, which are then used to recognize and destroy the virus in the future. CRISPR is now being used by synthetic biology to insert or replace specific genes. In April 2015 it was announced that CRISPR had been used to modify a human embryo. See synthetic biology.

Collecting money from a number of individuals to create a project, business, artistic, scientific, or other venture. Examples include Kickstarter, Upstart, IndieGoGo, ArtistShare, PetriDish.

Crowd sourcing
Also called “cloud labor.” Tossing out a project, letting people submit work or ideas, and then picking the one you want. May be done as paid or unpaid work, for science or to to improve lives. Examples: Ushahidi, Open311, IdeaBounty, Mechanical Turk, Crowdflower, Global Crowd Intelligence, OpenStreetMap, Ancient Lives. See citizen science.

A solution that prevents ice crystals from forming during vitrification.

CubeSat (Picosatellite)
A miniature satellite with a volume of 1 liter (10 cm on a side). Increasingly used for DIY research and experiments, often with crowd-sourced money (e.g. Kickstarter). Typically include sensors, cameras, and transmitting equipment. Reference.

Term in Ian McDonald’s novel River of Gods to refer to the parallel environment inhabited by artificial intelligences. Similar in meaning to George Dyson’s phrase digital universe in the book Turing’s Cathedral.

The study of communication and control, in biological and artificial systems. Extended to mean a hybrid of human and artificial, as in cyborg.

(SF) The original term for a subjective experience of the entire Internet, experienced as a kind of virtual reality. Popularized by William Gibson’s groundbreaking 1984 SF novel Neuromancer.

Dark data
Data that is collected by systems and organizations that is unstructured, untagged, and in practice unavailable. Dark data includes log files, archives, ancillary system information, machine logs, sensor data, click logs, internal transactions, text, email, or paper records.

Dark energy
Form of energy discovered in 1998. Accounts for roughly 70% of the known mass-energy in the universe (another 26% is dark matter, and 4% is visible, known light and matter). Appeared halfway through the lifetime of the universe (roughly 7 billion years ago), at which time the expansion of the universe began to speed up. Interview with Saul Perlmutter.

Dark flow
Flow of galaxy clusters, in relation to the cosmic microwave background radiation. Discovered 2008. May indicate link to other universes, through quantum entanglement.

Also called the dark net, deep web, undernet, or the hidden web. Data beyond the reach of public search engines, including password-protected data, US and foreign government communications, and noncommercial file-sharing between trusted peers. “The deep web contains government reports, databases, and other sources of information of high value to DOD and the intelligence community,” according to a 2010 Defense Science Board report. Reference.

Deep learning
“a learning system consisting of adaptive unitson multiple layers, where the higher level units recognize patterns in the outputs of the lower level units, and also exert some control over these lower-level units” (Ben Goertzel)

Deep learning is a leading field in the development of artificial intelligence since the mid-2000s, when Geoffrey Hinton published a paper on back-propagation. Since then it has had significant successes in speech, language, and image recognition. The fundamental approach is to have an algorithm use neural nets to learn from a set of data without human supervision or input. Important aspects of deep learning include multiple hierarchies of representation from low-level to higher-level features or concepts; back-propagation; and non-linear processing. It is a major focus for research by Google. See also neural networks.

Default mode network
A network of cells that is active when you are not specifically thinking – when you are daydreaming. May be a key or indicator of basic consciousness? Reported June 2008. Reference.

Diffusion tensor imaging
MRI technique that tracks the flow of water (diffusion) through neurons, so that it displays nerve tracks. Used to show brain white matter location, orientation, architecture. See neuroimaging.

Digital universe
Term used by George Dyson in his book Turing’s Cathedral to indicate the universe that came into being with the advent of the stored program computer. It is expanding; unpredictable by its very nature (because of Turing’s Entscheidungsproblem (halting problem) in the sense that “there is no systematic way to tell, by looking at a code, what that code will do….” It is a third universe, in addition to that of pure mathematics and the physical one, and interfaces between the two.

Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN)
The protocol being tested for an “interplanetary Internet” or interplanetary network (IPN). A protocol first suggested by Vint Cerf. Such a network has to deal with longer time delays. First tested in 2008. A recent test successfully had a robot on Earth directed from the International Space Station. Reference.

Distributed manufacturing
The process of manufacturing at a local site, thereby reducing the time/expense/energy needed for transportation. May be one outcome of 3D printing.

Distributed computing (application)
Dividing up a program among different servers, so that it can be run in parallel. Similar to crowd-sourcing a task to people (see citizen science). For an example, see the Hadoop framework, which uses Google’s MapReduce programming model for parallel work on huge datasets.

DNA data storage
The ability to store digital data using DNA. Recently done with 100% accuracy. Density can be much higher than magnetic memory,  it may last for thousands of years, and DNA is a universal biological code. Reference.

DNA origami
DNA origami is a scaffold, or building material for self-assembling nanoscale structures that could be used to deliver drugs, act as biosensors, perform artificial photosynthesis and more. In a March 2006 paper Caltech computational bioengineer Paul Rothemund laid out a new design strategy called DNA origami: the construction of two-dimensional shapes from a DNA strand folded over on itself and secured by short “staple” strands. Several years later, William Shih’s lab at Harvard Medical School translated this concept to three dimensions, allowing design of complex structures that have opened new avenues for synthetic biological design at the nanoscale.

An approach to organization which implies that permission is given by doing something. The organizing principle of the hacker group Anonymous. Reference.

An unmanned flying vehicle, also known as a UAV. From 2005 forward, undergoing rapid prototyping and development both for military and civilian use, and rapidly shrinking in size. See the 2013 Nova episode (60 minutes) for a history of military drones.

Echo chamber
The situation where like-minded people only listen to each other, thereby reinforcing their beliefs. With the explosion of specific media and online communities, this can produce distortions, false belief, and spread disinformation.

ECSTL (Emitter-Coupled Spin-Transistor Logic)
A promising method for achieving up to a million-fold reduction in heat generated by a semiconductor (as compared to current CMOS transistors), using logic circuits based on electron spin. Reference.

Display of text or images through electrophoresis (the movement of particles in an electric field). For e-ink, the particles are pushed to the top or bottom, creating the text/image.

(ECoG) Applying a sheet of electrodes to the exposed surface of the brain.

“Emergent behavior is that which cannot be predicted through analysis at any level simpler than that of the system as a whole” (George Dyson) It is “what’s left after everything else has been explained.”

Problem posed by David Hilbert in 1928: given a set of axioms, can one prove any mathematical statement? Alan Turing and Alonzo Church proved the opposite: there is no (algorithmic) solution to this question. This conclusion laid the foundation of most computer theory. The problem can be stated: given a set of axioms, can you come up with an algorithm (a machine, or computer) that will decide whether a given statement is true or false? Can variously be stated as the halting problem or the decidable problem. George Dyson interprets the lack of solution as meaning that the future of the computer universe (where it will go) is itself unknown, undecidable.

Eulerian video magnification
A process of revealing details in a video, in real time, by discerning and amplifying pixel variations. Can be used to show aspects in a video that are imperceptible to human sight, for example the pulse. Reference.

Evolutionary developmental biology, a field that is the combination of evolutionary biology (how species change over time) and developmental biology (how an organism changes during the developmental phase of growth). Evo-devo looks at how development is influenced by evolutionary forces.  Reference.

Existential risk
A risk of ending civilization, humanity, or even all life on earth. Generally refers to activities by humanity (anthropogenic risk), though it may also refer to natural causes such as asteroids. Sir Martin Rees in the Reith lectures (2010) lists biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and climate change among possible existential risks. See the collection of papers by Nick Bostrom.

(SF/futuristic) Term in Hannu Rajaniemi’s novels (The Quantum Thief, The Fractal Prince) for public, external, non-biological memory that can be retrieved by anyone through a link in consciousness. Similar to the term exocortex used by Charles Stross in Accelerando in reference to individual external (technological) memory. Similar to the term extended mind used in neurophilosophy. Reference.

An external skeleton that protects the body and increases its abilities. Currently being developed for use by the disabled and the military. Reference.

Exotic matter
Hypothetical forms of matter that would have different (exotic) properties. Examples include particles with negative mass; particles composed of a different number of quarks; Bose-Einstein condensates; and dark matter.

Extinction reversal
Bringing an extinct species back to life, through biotechnology. The first proof of concept was done in 2003 (for 7 minutes) with the Pyrenean ibex, using the cells of the last individual (Celia). The species had gone extinct in 2000. The Long Now Foundation is actively working to bring back species through the Revive and Restore project.  Researchers are considering the possibility of bringing back Neanderthal man, or the wooly mammoth. See also resurrection ecology, Pleistocene Park, nuclear transfer cloning, and frozen zoo. Reference. TedX videos.

A futurist philosophy, conceived of as an effort in the opposite direction of entropy. Goertzel: “The group wants to push ahead with every kind of technology as fast as possible…. Along the way they want to get rid of governments, moral strictures, and eventually humanity itself, remaking the world as a hypereconomic virtual reality system…” (The Path to Posthumanity, p. 392).

Functional Electrical Impedance Tomography by Evoked Response. Used to create a movie of the brain losing consciousness. Reference.

(Slang/SF/futuristic) 10 -15 meters. The level where it is possible to turn neutrons into protons and vice-versa. Implies the total control of matter. Reference. Essay by Hugo de Garis

Field-Programmable Gate Array
An integrated circuit designed to be configured by the customer or designer after manufacturing

Flash crash
A sudden catastrophic drop in the stock market caused by malfunctioning computer-driven trading algorithms. One consequence of High Frequency Trading, the term for robot trading done at high speed. See high-frequency trading. Reference. Reference.

Frozen zoo
A repository “of frozen, viable DNA as well as frozen, viable cell cultures, semen, embryos, oocytes, and ova, as well as blood and tissue specimens of extinct, rare, or endangered species. The Frozen Zoo at San Diego Zoo… houses samples from more than 8,400 individuals… Worldwide, there are about a dozen frozen zoos.” (George Church, Regenesis) See also resurrection ecology, Pleistocene Park, nuclear transfer cloning, and extinction reversal.

Functional electrical stimulation
Implanting electrodes under the skin, at the end of a stump or elsewhere, which pick up muscle movement, and then transmit it to an artificial limb or other device.

Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS)
A method used for detecting changes in blood hemoglobin concentrations associated with neural activity. Scans cortical tissue (not the entire brain).

Using an understanding of games to learn about psychology, problem-solving, education, and design.

Gene drive
An element that gives a gene more than a 50% chance of continuing in the next generation. An engineered gene drive is a method of stimulating a gene to spread throughout an entire population. Proposed for such things as eliminating malaria in mosquitoes. The concept has been known since the 1940s but engineered gene drives are now technically feasible using CRISPR/Cas9. Reference

Genetic algorithm
Computational simulation of evolution by natural selection. Called “Darwinware” in the novel River of Gods.

Genetically-Modified Organisms (GMO)
More accurate term is transgenic organisms, referring to a foreign gene being introduced into an organism. GMO crops are in wide use, but have occasioned a fierce debate in the United States. A series of articles in Nature gives a more balanced view of GMO crops. See also this summary.

Changing the surface or climate of the earth as a whole through engineering techniques. See also solar radiation management; global warming; 450 ppm; biochar; tipping point; existential risk; geoengineering; terraforming.

Germinal choice technology
Technology that allows parents to influence the genetic constitution of their children.

Gestural interface
New generation of interfaces that recognize movements, through cameras or optical sensors.

Gift economy
The practice of giving without expecting anything in return. A model of behavior different from the classic market, as well as barter or exchange. As Kevin Kelly says in chapter 4 of New Rules for A New Economy, “Huge numbers of people, exerting millions of hours of collective effort, will jointly craft hundreds of thousands of creations, but without the exchange of money.” Exemplified by Kickstarter and Wikipedia, and attempted en masse every year at the Burning Man festival.

Google augmented reality glasses, developed as part of Google[X], their “moonshot factory.” Plans are to integrate a number of functions into Glass. See the hour-long presentation from SXSW

Global Brain
(Futuristic) Wikipedia: ‘a worldwide intelligent network formed by people together with the information and communication technologies that connect them into an “organic” whole.” Discussed by cyberneticist Francis Heylighen in this interview and paper, as well as science historian George Dyson in Darwin Among the Machines, and H.G. Wells in his collection titled World Brain.

Global warming
The fact that the Earth’s atmosphere is warming, due mainly to the burning of fossil fuels. The major challenge of the next 100 years worldwide. Distinct from climate change, which describes the overall process that has been occurring over geological ages. See also solar radiation management; 450 ppm; biochar; tipping point; existential risk; geoengineering; terraforming; coal-direct chemical looping; carbon dioxide removal.

A phenomenon that is both local and global. Applied to memory and other aspects of consciousness in terms of neuroscience; for example a memory may be both stored in a localized number of neurons, as well as spread throughout (or linked to) areas throughout the brain. Can be similarly applied to the “global brain” of the Internet, as suggested by Ben Goertzel in a post on global superintelligence.

Interaction of gluons. Slang.

Something with surprisingly intricate detail. By extension, Rudy Rucker uses it for a Class 4 computation (Stephan Wolfram) of cellular automata that “produces seething, seemingly random patterns.” (p. 68, “Lifebox”) Or, “non-repeating, purposeful-looking, and intricate. Examples in nature would be twisting tree roots, large ocean waves, or weathered human faces.” (Lifebox, p. 490)

Single-layer-thick sheet of carbon atoms, organized into hexagonal honeycomb pattern. The development of graphene won a half-billion Euro prize for development in 2013.

Gray goo
(Slang/SF) Rapidly replicating nanobots, out of control, which take over and kill all life on earth through simple replication, perhaps destroying the earth itself. See replicator.

Grid computing
Application of several computers to a problem at the same time, connected by a “grid”

Grid parity
The point at which the cost of electricity from photovoltaic solar is the same as the local utility. Occurred in India and Italy in 2013, and will happen in other parts of the world by 2014.  When it occurs the pace of adoption of solar power may increase significantly, because the economic benefits of installing solar will rapidly outpace utility power.

The use of computers and the Net to carry out direct action protest to effect social change, although in some interpretations it can be portrayed as cyberterrorism.

Hebbian learning
The accepted mechanism of learning at the synaptic level. When a neuron causes another to fire, the synapses are modified (physically or chemically) so that they become more strongly associated.

Hidden Markov model (HMM)
One of the primary algorithms used in neural nets. Responsible for much of the advance of artificial intelligence in the first decade of the 21st century. A prime characteristic of HMM’s is that they can learn from data, using supervised or unsupervised methods. This has allowed fields like natural language processing to benefit from the availability of millions of pages of text.

Higgs Field
The hypothetical field in the standard model of physics that creates mass as particles pass through it. In July 2012 scientists at the Large Hadron Collider announced the discovery of a particle (Higgs boson) that would correspond to the field.

High-definition fiber tracking (HDFT)
FA high-resolution neuroimaging technique announced in March 2012, which solves two limitations of DTI (diffusion tensor imaging) — DTI cannot solve the crossing of fibers, nor can it determine accurately where fibers begin or end. HDFT can track white matter tracts across long distances in the intact brain, show exactly how they overlap in 3-dimensional space, with a spatial resolution (voxel) of 0.5 mm. Reference. Video (4 min). Paper. Technical manual.

High intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU)
First non-invasive way to do brain surgery. Ablates cells in a specific region. Debut in 2009.

Hive mind
The collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems, natural or artificial. Mind composed of many simple entities, such as bees, or cellular automata. Also used to describe the uncoordinated but intelligent behavior of large groups of people.

Holographic principle
Description of a volume of space can be encoded on a boundary to the region. Or, the universe can be seen as a two-dimensional informational structure “painted” on the cosmological horizon, so that the three dimensions we observe are only an effective description at macro levels. Inspired by black hole math, which can describe all objects as fluctuations in the event horizon (boundary).

Homo evolutis
A term for a possible next stage or species of humanity. Coined by Juan Enriquez (see the short book by the same name). Related terms include transhuman, posthuman, parahuman, transitional human.

Human flesh search engine
The phrase is a literal translation from Chinese. A type of Internet vigilantism, most common in China, where an anonymous individual who has offended decency or taste is tracked down through the process of “doxing” and their identity and information revealed.

(Theory) A computer that can effectively run (“decide”) non-Turing-computible functions/languages. Sometimes interpreted as a modern equivalent to what Alan Turing called “O-machines” or Oracle machines in his later writings.

Term in The Path to Posthumanity to describe a system where there is a complex interaction between producers and consumers, use of bots/AI as brokering intermediaries. Creates “exposed market values’ and “socially responsive markets.” Coined by Sasha Chislenko.

Term coined by Ben Goertzel for the unification of science and spirit. “the universe consists of a system of pattern/processes continually producing and transforming one another. Using modern scientific ideas — chaos theory and complexity science — one can show how the illusion of a universe of persistent objects emerges from an underlying universe of fluctuating pattern dynamics. In this way one can explain a wide variety of psychological structures: thought, emotion, intuition, consciousness, and so forth.” Hyperrealism “recognizes that at the deepest level the universe — mindspace — is a system of processes, producing and supporting each other.” From his online book Hyperrealism.

Inorganic chemical cells. (self-replicating, evolving inorganic cells). Reference.

iGEM competition
The annual International Genetically Engineered Machine competition in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Begun by MIT, it became a non-profit in 2012. High school and college students compete to build working biological systems from a repository of standard parts. An important event that brings together hundreds of teams of young future synthetic biology scientists from around the world.

Immersive visualization display
A “holodeck” which surrounds a person or group with virtual displays. The Reality Deck (opened 2012) in Stony Brook has 1.5 billion pixels, using 22o TFLOPs of graphic display.

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPSC)
A stem cell derived from an adult (non-stem) cell, typically by forcing expression of certain genes. But as of Jan 2010 it is possible to skip this, and make an adult cell into another adult cell (see transdifferentiation).

Inflection point
The point on an exponential graph (or process of growth) where the process has an impact. Not a difference in the curve itself, but the point at which the phenomenon becomes significant in the world.

Informal economy
Activities that fall outside of regulation, taxes, or official visibility. Synonyms include black market and shadow economy. The major type of activity in the mega-slums of the world, the informal economy is estimated to be from 9% (US) to 67% (Bolivia, Panama) of a country’s GNP. “It is to economic theory what dark energy is to astrophysical theory. It’s not supposed to exist, but there it is, and it’s huge.” (Stewart Brand, Whole Earth Discipline, p. 43) Reference.

Information-theoretic death
(Slang/SF/futuristic) The point after death at which it becomes impossible to deduce (or reproduce) the healthy state of the person.

in silico
Designing “in a computer” (based on “in vitro” or “in vivo”)

The boundary between two things, or the link between them (in terms of communication).

iGEM (International Geneticically Engineered Machine)
A competition started in 2004 to create specific biological machines using biobricks. (The first was to build a genetically encoded finite-state machine). Reference.

Internet of Things
Connecting physical things in the world to the Internet (e.g, using RFID). In some forms, merging with citizen science, as in the global sensor network Safecast for collecting and sharing radiation measurements.

Insertional vector
A method that puts a gene into the nucleus of a cell, so that it is copied when the cell divides. By doing so, it creates a more or less permanent change. A non-insertional vector is like a plasmid, which may be broken down over time.

Intelligence amplification
(Slang/SF/futuristic) Increasing mental ability through artificial means. In a softer sense, any technology (writing, books, science, computers, networks) can be said to amplify natural human intelligence.

Inverted index
A list that maps from words to documents. Similar to the index at the back of a book, which maps from words to pages in the book. The main technique behind rapid text searches on the Internet, an inverted index may be the foundation behind next-generation search/natural language processing, and are one manifestation of the emerging semantic web. Examples include Google’s Knowledge Graph, Bing’s Satori, and Facebook’s graph search.

Ion microtrap
A combination of electric and magnetic fields that can trap particles in a vacuum. May be used to create various quantum devices, including quantum computation. Has been demonstrated with conventional semiconductor chip technology. Reference.

It from bit
(Theoretical) Phrase coined by the physicist John Wheeler to express the idea that the universe is in essence information, rather than “stuff.” Other ways of stating it are that the universe is computable; or that it is the equivalent of a computer.

Kardaschev type
A classification of possible civilizations after energy usage. Type I civilizations control all available energy on a single planet. Type II civilizations control all available energy in a solar system (for example, using Dyson spheres). Type III civilizations control use all available energy in an entire galaxy.

Kolmogorov complexity
A measure of intelligence. The Kolmogorov complexity of a string of bits is the length of the smallest Turing machine program which produces the bit string as output.

Lambda Cold Dark Matter model
“theoretical basis for the Bolshoi simulation. According to this model, gravity acted initially on slight density fluctuations present shortly after the Big Bang to pull together the first clumps of dark matter. These grew into larger and larger clumps through the hierarchical merging of smaller progenitors.”

Legacy humans
(Slang/SF/futuristic) Humans who choose to remain untransformed after a Singularity.

Lethal autonomous robots (LAR)
A robot that is built to independently (autonomously) kill. The subject of increasing debate, as perception, action, and decision systems become more complex, and the use of technology (e.g. drones) increases on the battlefield. Christof Heyns from the UN called for a moratorium on their use in May 2013. The question of autonomy in a robot actually exists on a continuum, outlined by this list from Sheridan and Thompson, in People versus computers in medicine.

1. The computer offers no assistance; humans must do it all.
2. The computer offers a complete set of action alternatives, and
3. narrows the selection down to a few,
4. suggests one, and
5. executes that selection if the human approves, or
6. allows the human a restricted time to veto before automatic execution, or
7. executes automatically, then necessarily informs the human, or
8. informs him or her after execution only if he or she asks, or
9. informs him or her after execution only if it, the computer, decides to.
10.The computer decides everything and acts autonomously, ignoring the human

Life extension
The ability to extend an individual’s lifespan beyond the normal boundary of 120 years. In his book Ending Aging, Aubrey de Grey also uses the phrase robust human rejuvenation to emphasize that it includes addition years of healthy life. See longevity escape velocity. Reference. Essay.

Using a device to record everything that you experience. Championed by Gordon Bell (MyLifeBits), as well as video-cyborgs such as Steve Mann. The contents of the log were previsioned by Rudy Rucker as a “lifebox.”

Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR)
Similar to RADAR, but much more accurate because of the wavelength. Starting to be used for mapping.

Long now
The focus on sustainability and long-term thinking and vision, measured in centuries or millennia rather than months or financial quarters. The most visible effort is the Long Now Foundation started in 1996by Stewart Brand. See also the article by Michael Chabon.

Longevity escape velocity
The point at which the gain in life expectancy (currently about 1/4 of a year per year) becomes one year per year. In other words, for every year a person lives, they can expect to live one year longer. At that point, a person becomes (theoretically, as science progresses, and barring accidents) immortal. Also called the Methuselarity or gerontological singularity by Aubrey de Grey. See life extension.

M theory
(Theoretical) An extension of string theory proposed by Edward Witten in 1995 which includes 11 dimensions. Fundamental to the theory are “P”-branes, membranes with dimension P. Some particles (such as the graviton) may have closed loops, which would enable them to move between branes – or even between universes.

Using the spin state and magnetic moment of an electron in solid state electronic devices. Also called spintronics.

Imaging technique used to measure the magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the brain.

Magnonic holographic memory
A new type of memory in chips that uses interference of magnetic spin waves for magnetic holography (rather than the commonly understood light holography). This may allow significant advances in pattern recognition, partly because it can operate in parallel, and takes advantage of wave superposition, and it is already possible to integrate into computer chips. Reference. See also mesoscale.

General term for “malicious software” intended to do harm to a person, institution, or government. Initially understood as viruses, the types have become more complex in recent years, and the US government announced in Feb 2013 that it intended to expand its staff devoted to “cyberware” (currently 900) by several thousand. Reference.

[Online] “Marketplaces operate by connecting one group of people to another group of people and allowing them to conduct a transaction, of which they take a cut. Etsy connects buyers to sellers; Kickstarter connects creators to backers; Airbnb connects travelers to hosts; OkCupid connects daters to daters. Marketplace companies build tools to solve problems that exist in the world.” (from Farmer and Farmer, by Jonathan Harris)

Massively Open Online Course (MOOC)
Pioneered by Stanford in the fall of 2011, when 160,000 students signed up for their introduction to artificial intelligence. (Thrun and Norvig, instructors). Being examined for course credit by the American Council on Education. AI is being used for grading essays and exams as well.

Massively parallel genomics
Using arrays to run thousands or millions of genetic experiments at the same time on a genome or set of genomes. See Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering (MAGE).

Mathematical universe hypothesis
The idea, put forward most recently by the physicist Max Tegmark, that reality is essentially mathematical. Similar to the simulation hypothesis argued by the philosopher David Chalmers.

Matter printer
(Slang/SF/futuristic) A machine (a “printer”) that can create or print anything on demand, even another version of itself. Often used in terraforming scenarios – it may take decades or even hundreds of years, but a small nano-seed could thus change the entire surface of a planet, making it habitable. See 3D printing.

Medical Body Area Network (MBAN)
An MBAN is a network of inexpensive disposable sensors worn on, or even implanted in, the body. The sensors monitor various vital signs, such as temperature, blood pressure or glucose levels, and transmit the information to a control device. Spectrum for MBAN use was approved by the FDA in May 2012. Such networks may use ultrasound to communicate between devices.

A thought in itself, that persists over time and across minds or vehicles. Self-reproducing idea or other information pattern which is propagated in ways similar to that of a gene. Coined by Richard Dawkins. Related ideas include memeplex (groups of memes that tend to occur together in an individual, culture, or period), and metameme (memes about memes).

A “memory resistor,” a new kind of transistor that appears to mimic the ability of a synapse to “remember” input. Conceived in 1971 but only demonstrated in 2008. May allow for ultradense computing devices. Also, a part of what is called neuromorphic engineering, in other words creating components of intelligence that are functionally like nervous tissue. The next step may be neuristers, a transistor that combines memory with neuron-like spiking. Metacortex
(Slang/SF/futuristic) Term in Stross’ Accelerando for the computing resources one is tied into, both physically (supercomputer on your belt) and through networking (agents on the net). An enhancement to your cortex.

A size between that of atoms and micrometers (100-1000 nm = 100 nm to 1 micrometer), where both classical physics and quantum physics applies. An example of mesoscale effects is magnonic holographic memory.

The study of genetic material recovered from environmental samples, often using a massively parallel “shotgun” sequencing technique. The field broke open when Craig Venter sailed around the world, and in one batch from the Sargasso sea, “reported…1.2 million genes new to science (doubling the previous number).” (p. 171, Whole Earth Discipline). The technique is rapidly transforming our understanding of ecology, biology, and gene transfer. See pangenome.

Artificial materials constructed to have properties that are not found in nature. E.g., superlenses that have a different refractive index.

Metasystem transitions
Term used by Valentin Turchin for the change from one historical level of organization to another. For example, single-celled to multi-cellular organisms, or individual human being to a superorganism at some level.

Methuselah flies
Strain of flies that has been bred to have five times the normal lifespan. The mechanisms not understood, however.

A 2-D “lab on a chip,” a system of micro or nano-scale channels that can be used to run thousands or millions of experiments simultaneously.

(Theoretical) An artificial white blood cell that would destroy bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens in the body. A type of medical nanotechnology.

Micro-Electrical-Mechanical Systems (MEMS)
MEMS are devices at the micrometer scale (one-millionth of a meter). At the lower size these become nano-scale (one-billionth of a meter). Many MEMS devices are in use as sensors, piezoelectronics, microphones, and inkjet printers. MEMS are a promising area for development in medicine, for example embedded sensors, skin grafts, optogenetics, smart pills, micromotors, or biopsies.

Manipulating the flow, behavior, detection, and reporting on fluids at the sub-millimeter scale. “the behavior, precise control and manipulation of fluids that are geometrically constrained to a small, typically sub-millimeter, scale.” As of 2012, can be used to mimic an “organ on a chip” for simulation of human physiology. DARPA is funding Harvard in a project to simulate 10 organ systems at once. See organ on a chip. Reference (V chip) Reference.

Local generation, storage, and distribution of electricity. Used for backup with critical facilities such as hospitals, microgrids may also help ameliorate power blackouts such as happened in India in August 2012, and also offer benefits beyond the larger grid. Reference.

Micro-optical-mechanical system (MOMS)
Changing the optical character of a material at the micro level. Compare to MEMS.

(Slang/SF/futuristic) Term in “The Path to Posthumanity” for the status of mind when individuals can connect freely and maximally with each other in a positive sense. “a whole new form of being; thinking and feeling, including and enhancing and yet massively transcending known human experience – including new forms of individual free will and social interaction that are impossible  in a universe where minds are connected together merely by imprecise linguistic representations of thoughts.

Molecular manufacturing (molecular nanotechnology)
The theory of machines that assemble themselves at the nanometer scale, also called assemblers, fabs, or molecular assemblers. Proposed by Eric Drexler in his 1986 book, Engines of Creation.

Molecular stethoscope
Term used by Eric Topol in The Patient Will See You Now to describe embedded sensors and associated algorithms/AI to predict the occurrence of disease before it is clinically manifest.

Morphological freedom
The moral principle, championed by some transhumanists, that one has the right to alter one’s body. See the essay by Anders Sandberg.

Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering (MAGE)
A “mass-scale, accelerated version of genetic engineering” that can produce billions of genome versions in a day, a kind of extremely rapid genetic protyping. “It would allow researchers to start with an intact genome of one animal, and, by making the necessary changes, convert it into the functional genome of another animal entirely.” (George Church) Reference.

Multiple possible universes. May be from expansion (bubble universe); or with different physical laws; or the quantum many universes.

Medicine performed at the single cell level, including repair (regeneration) of diseased cells rather than elimination. Characterized by the use of nano-tools that are roughly 1,000 times smaller than a cell; feedback control; and molecular biosensors. Medication delivered and adjusted at the cellular level.  Online course.

The study of light at the nanometer scale. Increasingly being considered for both computing and biological signaling. Reference.

“Nanotechnology is the engineering of atomically precise structures and, ultimately, molecular machines” (Robert Freitas) “The science is good, the engineering feasible, the paths of approach are many, the consequences are revolutionary-time-revolutionary, and the schedule is: in our lifetimes.” (Stewart Brand) Reference. See atomically-precise manufacturing.

Nanotube carpets
A method for making nano-scale tubes, using solutions on a surface.

Natural language processing (NLP)
The ability of a computer to work with language. Includes reading, answering questions, summarizing, translating, and any other aspect of using language. NLP is made up of a set of specific techniques, such as recognizing parts of speech, spelling, named entities (e.g., Lincoln), grammar, searching documents, sentiment analysis, relationships (ontology), and temporal relationships. Examples of NLP applications in use include Watson, Siri, and article-writing programs such as Narrative Science and Automated Insights. See Watson; Semantic web.

Nuclear, Biological, Chemical – Genetics, Nanotechnology, Robotics. Spoken of as the main scientific trends of the 20th and 21st centuries, respectively.

Net neutrality
The core technical principle that all digital traffic on the Internet is treated the same. No packets is given special priority. Internet Service Providers want to charge for traffic, but doing so would cut off some people or areas from net access, changing the egalitarian nature of the Internet.

Network effect
The concept that the value of any network increases exponentially with the number of people connected to it. First described in terms of availability of the telephone, but particularly applicable to today’s social networks. Metcalf’s Law argues that it increases as the square of the number. Similar to the idea of critical mass from nuclear physics.

Neural decoding
Using information from brain scan to determine/predict what a person is experiencing or thinking. “Decoding” the information in the brain to thought.

Neural dust
(Speculation) Theoretical design for micron-size sensors that could be used to record and map neural activity, creating a distributed brain-computer interface. The system would use a transducer device implanted below the skull to both power and communicate with the nodes via ultrasound. The nodes would be placed on the cortex at a level of _____; a piezoelectric component would be used to power communication from the transducer, record extracellular neural activity, and transmit to the transducer. A first step towards the brain-interface technology described in Ramez Naam’s Nexus trilogy. Article.

Neural interface
A system “operating at the intersection of the nervous system and an internal or external device” (NIH). Advances are being made by DARPA in connecting with peripheral nerves, which are likely to be the next step in prosthetics for amputees and others with limb dysfunctions.

Neural net
A biological or artificial network of neurons that is functionally connected, often to achieve a specific purpose. Also called deep learning, the technique has had significant success in recent years, for example in detecting cancer cells in a specimen. A recent development has been deep belief networks, which form what can be seen as an associative memory.  Available as a cloud service for individuals as well. Reference. Presentation (13 min). Resource. See deep learning.

Neural prosthetic
A device that assists with neurological functioning of the brain. Current examples include cochlear implants and retinal implants. Future devices may include memory implants, which could be useful in dementia.

Wikipedia: “A concept that regards atypical (neurodivergent) neurological development is a normal difference” that is to be recognized and respected as any other biological variation. Recognizing and respecting that brains and minds cover a wide spectrum.

Using engineering techniques to understand, repair, replace, enhance, or otherwise exploit the properties of neural systems.

A platform for the interaction of the brain with a story while a person is reading it. Created by Hannu Rajaniemi in 2013, neurofiction uses an EEG headset to sense brain response; machine learning to determine the person’s patterns; and branching stories so that the fiction can take different tracks. Not the same as hypertext (in which a person makes conscious choices).

Methods to visualize the structural or functional parts of the brain. The field has been undergoing rapid advances in resolution and the ability to view individuals who are awake and even moving. Different imaging methods include MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computed tomography), fMRI (functional MRI), DTI (diffusion tensor imaging), DSI (diffusion spectrum imaging), resting-state functional connectivity MRI (rs-fcMRI), and HDFT (high-definition fiber tracking). See voxel.

The changing of neurons, the organization of their networks, and their function via new experiences (internal or external). Wikipedia: also referred to as brain plasticity, cortical plasticity or cortical re-mapping) is the changing of neurons, the organization of their networks, and their function via new experiences.

Neurosynaptic computer chip
Chips that “recreate the phenomena between spiking neurons and synapses in biological systems, such as the brain, through advanced algorithms and silicon circuitry.” IBM unveiled the first prototypes August 2011. Reference.

Neurotypical (Nypical)
A term in the autistic community as a label for people who are not on the autism spectrum: specifically, neurotypicals have neurological development and states that are consistent with what most people would perceive as normal, particularly their ability to process linguistic information and social cues.

Nuclear transfer cloning
The technique of putting the DNA (cellular nuclear material) into another cell, in order to clone an organism. First done in 1951 with a northern leopard frog, and then with a mammal in 1996 with Dolly the sheep. The  primary method for bringing back an extinct species. See extinction reversal, resurrection ecology, Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering.

Nucleic acid origami
Nanoparticles built from RNA and DNA. Used to turn off genes in tumor cells. Reference.

Omega Point
Term coined by Tielhard de Chardin to indicate the point of maximum complexity towards which the universe is heading.

Term for multiple disciplines dealing with huge databases of molecular data. Originally from the term “genome,” it now applies also to proteomics, transcriptomics, and metabolomics. “Omics research generates complex high-dimensional data…  can be used to produce a computational model.” (National Academies Press, Evolution of Translational Omics). See also big data.

Open access
Making research freely available, rather than limiting it to subscription journals or sites. Started with efforts such as ArXiv and PLoS, it has also become policy through the Public Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health (US) and the Research Councils (UK), and in Feb 2013 across all US institutions that sponsor research. Open access is in distinction to the locking up of knowledge by publishers, which is increasingly being opposed by researchers. For a view of how open access is growing, see the world-wide registry of open access websites.

Mediating biological processes through light. For example, using opsins, light-sensitive proteins. Optogenetics enables precise observation and control of neurons at the same millisecond rate that neurons function. Reference.

Organ on a chip
Modeling the action of a biological organ or organ system by growing cells in multiple micro-scale channels on a computer chip. An extension of lab-on-a-chip technology. Allows precise testing of physiology, drugs, growth, and other effects. An important element in work toward building artificial organs. Successfully done with heart, lung, kidneys, and arteries. See also microfluidics. Reference.

A small organ grown in the lab from stem cells. Organoids have been used to create neural, liver, thyroid, intestinal, pancreatic, and epithelial tissue. Techniques are progressing rapidly since it was first reported in 2008. A recent report describes precise DNA-guided creation of 3-D structures.

An EEG spike related to task-related stimuli. Often used as a measure of cognition in decision-making processes. New portable, inexpensive device marketed to read letters/words. Reference.

P4 Medicine
Predictive, Preventive, Personalized, Participatory. Reference.

The full complement of genes in a species. Since gene transfer is so common (90% of genes in the human genome are virus-like), “it is looking more and more as though the biosphere is an interconnected network of genes – a pangenome.” (New Scientist, quoted in Whole Earth Discipline, p. 175). See also metagenomics. Reference.

The idea that consciousness is the result of patterns (in the brain). These may be electrical, chemical, physical, or a combination. See Connectionism.

Peer economy
The approach of meeting a need (supply and demand) by crowdsourcing it. Can be done through labor (such as with the sites Mechanical Turk or Taskrabbit) or through offering assets (AirBnB, for a place to stay), or a combination of the labor and asset (Lyft, for a ride).

Personal Genome Project (PGP)
The project, started in 2009, to sequence the genomes of 100,000 volunteers, and publish the data (along with other personal information) on the Internet. See the article by Steven Pinker, the sixth person to sign up, and the book Here Is A Human Being, by Misha Angrist, the fourth person to sign up.

The practice of creating a transgenic animal to produce pharmaceuticals (medications). The first transgenic drug (Atryn, antithrombin) was licensed in the U.S. in 2009 by GTC Biotherapeutics. It is produced from goat’s milk.

Physics model
The laws of physics instantiated in virtual, computed, or augmented reality. Here the laws of physics can be altered, with profound effects upon experience, life, and the world.

Electricity generated by movement (mechanical stress) such as the bending of a sheet.

Planck length
1.6 x 10-35 meters, “a scale below which it’s not clear if we can actually speak of continuous space.” (Lifebox, p. 491)

A “quasi-particle,” a quantum of plasma oscillation. Being used to develop on-chip photonic communication at the nano scale. When interacting with light at the surface of a material, forms a “hybrid plasmon polariton.” Reference.

Pleistocene Park
A sixty-square-mile nature preserve in Siberia set aside in 1989 by Sergey Zimov and others, to assist in bringing back large animals (megafauna) such as the wooly mammoth. See also resurrection ecology, extinction reversal, nuclear transfer cloning, and frozen zoo.

Positional assembly
The technique of placing individual atoms, such as with an atomic force microscope. See self-assembly.

Possibility space
The range of possibilities, in some field; the limit of what is possible, analogous to Hilbert space in mathematics. This idea leverages our geometric intuition when thinking about complex or unusual phenomena. Erik Drexler and Michio Kaku use the laws of physics as the boundary for possibility space in technology, whereas Steven Johnson speaks of the possibility space of the Internet and software.

Post-capitalist (non-zero-sum, agalmic, abundance)
The concept that society will exist in a state of abundance rather than scarcity; where transactions are win-win (non-zero-sum); where the methods of capitalism (large sums to finance a business) are not needed. In such a world, many social, legal, business, and manufacturing structures change radically. May come about through a combination of info, bio, nano, robotics, and other accelerated technology.

Description of the work going on today, with understanding how the genome translates to proteins; proteomics; and the whole organism.

(Slang/SF/futuristic) The next stage in evolution of humanity. Variously defined, understood, and explained. See also transhuman(ism).

Precision medicine
Using “molecular models of an individual’s genes, proteins, microbial communities” (Al Gore, The Future, p. 205) along with current measurements to guide health care. Also called personalized medicine. Reference. Toward Precision Medicine (National Academy Press)

Predictive coding
New model of vision that shows that the brain predicts and edits the image before we see it. This is a “top-down” model, which is the opposite of the current “bottom-up” model called “feature detection.” In feature detection, the brain first sees lines, then shapes, etc at each neuron level going up. Reference.

Predictive analytics
The combination of big data and machine learning (Bayesian, deep learning, neuromorphic computing) to predict an occurrence at the individual level – for example, catching the onset of a disease through using a molecular stethescope to monitor a person from inside the body.

Printable electronics
The ability to print (e.g., with ink-jet technology) electronics. The source for interactive, “intelligent” paper. Reference.

Programmable matter
Matter that can reversibly assemble into 3D objects “on command” (through information input). A DARPA project since 2007. Reference.

The field of artificial organs, limbs, and functions for the body. Moving rapidly forward. Examples include the first artificial retina was approved in February 2013; bionic arms and legs; wireless connectivity; and dual hormone artificial pancreas. See the NIH Bionic Man page for current projects.

Protein folding
Also called the nanoassembly conformational problem. A critical area of synthetic biology, where progress is rapidly being made. Because of the exponential number of variations in folding a protein, the problem of determining the optimal shape is intractable — figuring it out by going through all the possibilities would take longer than the age of the universe (Levinthal’s Paradox). Peter Wolnyes won the 2012 ACS award for his work in this field. Reference.

Building blocks of living materials and methodologies. Can be “created” by combining natural chemicals and substances (oil mixed with an alkaline solution, for example) and they do have properties such as the ability to organize themselves into microstructures. They exhibit behaviors such as movement and sensitivity to biological or chemical elements and light, for example. See Living Architecture, by Rachel Armstrong. Reference.

Public key cryptography
The mechanism by which has enabled secure transactions on the Internet, arguably the most important technical method enabling commerce on the Net.

Public Library of Science (PLoS, and PLoS One)
The Public Library of Science, a site created in 2000 to enable open access to general science papers. Has a companion site PLoS One, which combines peer-review and open access. Two examples of new models for transparency and openness in research. See also ArXiv.

Quantified Self
The practice of gathering, analyzing, and using precise information about yourself through the use of measuring devices to improve health. Reference.

Quantum algorithms
A new set of algorithms that utilize qubits. Only a handful have been discovered, including Shor’s (for factoring); Wang’s (for search using quantum walk). See also quantum computing.

Quantum archeology/resurrection
(Speculative/SF) The idea that advances in quantum physics will allow the reconstruction of any state in spacetime, including a person who is dead. Also called quantum resurrection. Resurrection of ancestors is a significant theme in current transhumanism, and originates from the Russian cosmist philosophy, a growth from Fedorovism, where such resurrection was called The Common Task. In his novels Hannu Rajaniemi calls it “The Great Common Task,” which is pursued by the Sobornost, post-human godlike beings.

Quantum chromodynamics
Mathematical physics theory of the strong force.

Quantum computing
Mathe The use of quantum phenomena to perform calculations. Theoretically quantum computing can overpass the speed limits of classical computers. Quantum computers are being marketed by D-Wave, and recently Lockheed announced their plan to use them commercially. See also quantum algorithm, hypercomputation.

Quantum dot
A semiconductor whose electrons are confined in three spatial dimensions (the “dot”), giving it unique properties different from normal semiconductors or molecules.

Quantum walk
Grover’s algorithm for search. Uses a modified Monte Carlo method by dividing the entire sample into clusters and searching the whole thing randomly.

A unit of quantum information. State vector in a two-level quantum-mechanical system.

Racetrack memory
Non-volatile memory that uses spin-coherent electric current to move magnetic domains along a nano-wire, demonstrated in 2008. Higher density and faster read-write than current memory.

(Slang/SF/futuristic) Transmitting thoughts wirelessly, through technology. First described by Olaf Stapledon in Last and First Men, from 1937.

Radical futurist
A person who “believes in human and technological progress towards a more advanced state of being, in contradiction to social cycle theory (“history repeats itself”) or neo-Luddite anti-progressives who seek to curtail progress in the name of a romanticized regression to (their conception of) pre-modern traditional life. (The Path to Posthumanity, p.580)

Usually refers to reducing reality to the most fundamental element, such as atoms or strings. More correctly should be used for reducing theory to a fundamental understanding.

Reflective equilibrium
The process described by John Rawls in his book A Theory of Justice (1971), by which people come to a balance among different beliefs or moral ideas. Cited by Aubrey de Grey in terms of society’s changing approach to slavery, sexism, etc. : “contradictions between simultaneously held values are progressively highlighted and resolved by the abandonment of the less central one”

Regenerative medicine
The branch of medicine that seeks to restore function, rebuild tissues and organs.

(Hypothetical) Nanotechnology device that is programmed to make other nano-scale devices. Potentially used in 3D printing. A worst-case scenario would be if replicators became is gray goo – continue copying themselves repeatedly, thereby overwhelming a region, the biosphere, or the earth. The risk of this is debateable.

(Hypothetical) A  nanoparticle proposed by Robert Freitas. It would carry oxygen in the blood, but be up to 200 times as efficient as red blood cells/hemoglobin, allowing greatly enhanced physical activity, or care of patients with blood loss or surgery. Reference.

Resurrection ecology (De-extinction)
Bringing back fauna and flora to an environment to restore balance and vitality to the ecosystem. The introduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park or bison in several areas are examples. See books by Paul Martin (Twilight of the Mammoths) and Mihael Soule (Rewilding North America). See also Pleistocene Park, extinction reversal, nuclear transfer cloning, and frozen zoo. 2013 TEDx De-extinction conference videos.

Reverse engineering
Taking the form or function of an existing entity and designing a process or thing based upon it. Being used widely today to develop artificial functions that mimic the biological world (biomimicry).

The loss of jobs due to automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Appears to be an growing factor in the global economy, leading what some describe as structural unemployment. Occurring in developing countries as well as developed. In the past has affected industries such as manufacturing, but increasingly affecting service jobs (e.g. travel agents) and intellectual work (e.g. journalists, legal research, education). See The Lights in the Tunnel by Martin Ford for a detailed consideration.

The typical history of a specific technology. Starts off slow, improves, then reaches a plateau. Acceleration is achieved because new technologies supersede the old. Travel (foot, horse, steam, combustion, jet); computer (relay, vacuum tube, transistor, integrated chip) are examples.

Scientific method (new directions)
Kevin Kelly, in this essay, outlines several new ways in which the scientific method and ways of knowing are emerging: compiled negative results; triple blind experiments; combinatorial sweep exploration; evolutionary search; multiple hypothesis search; pattern augmentation; adaptive real-time experiments; AI proofs; wiki-science; defined benefit (prize) funding; “zillionics”; deep simulations; hyper-analysis mapping;

Seed AI
“A simple AI program that has a moderate level of intelligence, and the ability to modify its own computer code, to make itself smarter and smarter.” (The Path to Posthumanity, p. 410)

The property of a system to create a structure without formal information or instructions, for example the way proteins fold.

Semantic network
A network which represents relationships of meaning among the members.

Semantic web
Organization of the web into meaningful relationships among its content, using metadata. Machine-readable data that allows computers, agents, or AI’s to “read” the web intelligently. Coined by Tim Bernars-Lee. In general terms, can be understood as the long-term possibility that all the information and knowledge on the web will be readable, thus vastly amplifying our ability to solve problems. See also inverted index.

Sensor substitution device
A device that translates one sense into another – for example, converts images into “soundscapes” to assist the blind. One indication of progress in new approaches to using the plasticity of the brain and improved algorithms to make up for deficits (or to extend the senses). Reference.

The Chinese practice of wide-spread pirating of goods, especially electronics and software. Encompasses an entire approach to manufacture, trade, and innovation, which has paradoxical effects. It is “more than just making a dodgy knock-off. … Chinese Shanzai manufacturers have become experts in not only copying fashionable Western goods, but also improving on them. They are thus placing a fat finger on the fast-forward button of product evolution.” (Ben Hammersley, Approaching the Future)

Shared control
A machine (like a wheelchair) that is under the control both of a person and of an algorithm. Used so that rough means such as EEG control can be done safely. Robotics/prosthetics that shares control between the person and the device. First seen in response to wheelchairs interfaced with an EEG. Reference.

Sharing economy
An approach to economics where individuals share what they own with others, for a fee. Examples include sharing housing (AirBnB), carpooling (Lyft), time (Time Bank), bicycles (Zotwheel), or books (paperbackswap). The sharing economy emphasizes trust, leveraging ownership, use of information technology, and is enabled by the density in cities. It can use renting; lending; exchange; or other models.

Shock level
(Slang/SF/futuristic) As in “SL4,” shock-level 4, the email list run by Eleizer Yudkowsky. A “measure of the high-tech concepts you can contemplate without experiencing future shock.” SL1: VR, life extension, Wired magazine. SL2: immortality, genetic engineering, alien cultures. SL3: Nanotech, human-equivalent AI, minor IA, uploading, body revision. SL4: The Singularity, godlike beings (“Powers” in Vingean fiction),

Transferring files between two local machines. In the novel Zendegi, a concept of “training a neural network to mimic a particular organic brain, based on a rich set of non-intrusive scans…” (p. 144)

Simultaneous Location and Mapping (SLAM)
Using sensors to create a map of an area or building while a person is walking through it. Expected to be used for coordination in disaster situations. Reference.

(Slang/SF/futuristic) An event horizon, a point in history when something radically different emerges; a discontinuity or break with the present; generally expected to come about through technical advances. Like the phase shift of a substance from solid to gas, or the emergence of an entirely new form of life. Not synonymous with unpredictable, unknowable, or technological. In the 1950s, John Von Neumann was quoted as saying that “the ever accelerating progress of technology…gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.” In 1965 I. J. (Jack) Good wrote an article on the possibility of an “intelligence explosion” resulting from intelligent machines designing their next generation without human intervention. In 1986, Vernor Vinge, a mathematician and computer scientist at San Diego State University, wrote about a rapidly approaching technological “singularity” in his science fiction novel, Marooned in Realtime. Then in 1993, Vinge presented a paper to a NASA-organized symposium which described the Singularity as an impending event resulting primarily from the advent of “entities with greater than human intelligence,” which Vinge saw as the harbinger of a run-away phenomenon.” Quotations from Ray Kurzweil’s article on the law of accelerating returns.

Sloan Great Wall
The largest structure in the universe, a chain of galaxies 1.6 billion light-years across (about 1/60th the size of the entire universe). Discovered in 2003 as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which uses open sharing of data and collaboration. See also big data.

Smart composite microstructures
A method of manufacturing devices at the mesoscale and micrometer scale using a variation of additive layering (3D printing). Elements are machined in bulk using lasers, and then glued together in layers. Used to build the first robotic fly, weighing 80 mg

Smart Grid
An electrical grid that uses sensors, information, and fine-grained control at the local and regional level to adjust itself. This improves the efficiency, distribution, fault-tolerance, and flexibility, and can allow for more use of small and intermediate sources. Reference.

Smart pill
A device that is swallowed, monitors body functions, and communicates data to an outside device. Also considered as a kind of internal password. Review. Also see nano-medicine; precision medicine; P4 medicine; Micro-Electrical-Mechanical Systems.

Solar radiation management (SRM)
The attempt to reduce global warming by reflecting the heat of incoming sunlight. Not attempted yet. Possible methods include sulfur aerosols in the stratosphere; cloud whitening; and space mirrors. See also global warming; 450 ppm; biochar; tipping point; existential risk; geoengineering; terraforming.

Solid-state batteries
One of the promising directions for battery technology that may enable electric cars to become practical. Reference.

Solve for X
A project/think tank/entrepreneurial forum started by Google to encourage practical collaboration on solutions to global problems. “These are efforts that take on global-scale problems, define radical solutions to those problems, and involve some form of breakthrough technology that could actually make them happen” Website. Reference.

Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT
The technique of cloning which uses the nucleus from a body (somatic) cell, and an egg with the nucleus removed. The somatic nucleus is inserted into the egg, which reprograms it. The egg then begins to divide. If it is used to create tissues for a person, referred to as therapeutic cloning. The technique used to create the first cloned animal (Dolly the sheep), it was reported successful for the first time in May 2013 in being used to produce human embryonic stem cells. See also induced pluripotent stem cells; transdifferentiation.

(Slang/SF/futuristic) An object that is tracked from its origin to its destruction in every possible way, location, use, etc. Coined by Bruce Sterling; see The Shape of Things.

(SF) Perception using spimes embedded in things. A detailed type of universal viewpoint enabled by smart things. From The Quantum Thief. Similar in concept to the orphidnet, formed by quantum computing nanomachines called orphids in Rudy Rucker’s writings.

Spindle cells
80,000 cells in the brain that connect to all other regions. One may have hundreds of thousands of connections.

Using the spin of an electron to store information. Uses much less energy than using the charge to store energy, as is done in most electronics.

Neither deterministic nor random: governed by probabilities. Possible relation to the range described in Integral Yoga (imperatives, possibilities, actualities.) See The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 1, “Indeterminates, Cosmic Determinations, and the Indeterminable”

Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS)
The program being laid out for life extension and immortality, through modification of the body. Phrase created by Aubre de Grey, to describe an approach to extending longevity through slowing aging to the point where it is “negligible.” Based on seven cellular processes. Reference.

The physical basis of something. Now that it is understood that the content of a message is its information (not the electricity), the term substrate-independent mind is used to refer to the instantiation of a mind in a material other than the biological brain.

Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID)
Very sensitive magnetometers used to measure extremely small magnetic fields, based on superconducting loops containing Josephson junctions.

An emergent entity made up of individuals in massive numbers, such that new behaviors, forms, and even levels of consciousness are seen.

Swarmbot (s-bot)
Small robots that communicate, coordinate, and dynamically self-assemble collective behavior independently of any central control, using principles of cellular automata. Reference.

Swarm intelligence
(Slang/SF/futuristic) Computational technique involving the study or simulation of collective behavior in distributed systems. Reference.

Synthetic biology
Design, construction of new biological parts, organisms. See synthetic genomics, Bio-Fab Manifesto, nuclear transfer cloning, CRISPR, iGEM, and Tinkercell. Examples of companies developing tools and prototypes include BioFabReference.

Symbolic AI
The attempt to create artificial intelligence through logical symbol systems. The main focus of AI for the first few decades.

The mixing of sensory or other experience. For example, some people see each number as having a particular color. May be due to cross-wiring of adjacent areas in the brain. A theory by V. S. Ramachandran proposes that synesthesia develops by a mutation that causes less pruning of brain connections during development, and that it can take place at different levels (not just sensory). Cross-connections may lead to creativity, the use of metaphor, and the development of language. Reference.

Synthetic genomics
Creating new organisms, traits, or functions through genetic engineering. Possibilities include engineering bacteria to create fuel, changing human characteristics, bringing back extinct species, or creating chimera. Six general areas: recombinant DNA; bio-mimetics; bio-bricks; evolution; instrumentation; and whole-genome engineering. (Regenesis, p. 163). See the 6-hour  master class from 2009 moderated by George Church and Craig Venter. An emerging technology is creating DNA with laser printers.

Synthetic reality
(Futuristic/hypothetical) An ensemble of micro or nano-scale machines or robots to mimic a 3D object. Reference

Talinn Manual
NATO document spelling out the legal and international meaning of cyber-warfare. Reference.

Term coined by Kevin Kelly, in his book What Technology Wants, for “the greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us. [It] extends beyond shiny hardware to include culture, art, social institutions, and intellectual creations of all types. It includes intangibles like software, law, and philosophical concepts. …[It is] the grand totality  of machines, methods, and engineering processes…. the society and culture of tools…. a self-reinforcing system of creation. [It is] maturing into its own thing. Its sustaining network of self-reinforcing processes and parts have given it a noticeable measure of autonomy. …it is more like a very complex organism” (pp. 11-13)

Technological acceleration
As described by Kevin Kelly, the tendency of technology to accelerate, because one development speeds up another. Similar to Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns.

The belief that science and technology will solve all problems in the future. Most forcefully advocated by Ray Kurzweil; and opposed by Bill Joy (see his essay from 2000). Techno-optimists tend to downplay or ignore the significance of political forces, human rights, spirituality, and the arts.

The view that technology and science is a requisite for advancing society and the human condition. Similar to but not identical with the Enlightenment notion that reason and education are the mainsprings of improving society. Most transhumanist and singularity writings are techno-progressive in essence.

Technological unemployment
Loss of jobs due to technology. Also called structural unemployment. Some people believe that this is an ongoing/upcoming trend, irrespective of normal business or economic cycles, related to transformations in the economy due to robotics. Reference.

(Futuristic) Operating a distant robot (“avatar”) using the mind, including the sensation of being in that body, experiencing the world through its senses. An extension of tele-operation (operating a robot remotely).

Transforming the surface and atmosphere of a non-Earth planet through large-scale engineering techniques. Also discussed in relation to climate change and the possible necessity of modifying the Earth in the future. See also solar radiation management; global warming; 450 ppm; biochar; tipping point; existential risk; geoengineering; terraforming.

Theory of mind
The general process by which we believe that other people have minds. Used to describe the way it happens naturally; the way it can be implemented in an artificial intelligence; and a formal philosophical approach. See computational functionalism

Theragnostic (or Theranostic)
A method that is both diagnostic and therapeutic at the same time. In other words, diagnosing and treating simultaneously. Relates to personalized medicine; predictive medicine; nanomedicine; and pharmacodiagnostics.

Thin film
Materials ranging in thickness from nanometers to micrometers. Emerging uses are solar energy generation; display; batteries.

Tipping point
The conditions under which the behavior of a system changes dramatically and unexpectedly. A simple example is water freezing – up to that temperature it (merely) gets colder, but at 32 degrees the state changes radically. Probably most relevant to climate change, in relation to possible tipping points of temperature and process, such as melting of permafrost, Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet melting, release of seabed methane clathrates, or acid-inhibition of carbonate organisms such as coral and diatoms. In technical terms, the point at which the response of a previously linear system to a stimulus (or “forcing” in climate terms)  becomes non-linear. Reference.

Tissue regeneration
Medical technique of re-building cells, tissues, or whole organs through a variety of methods.

Transcension hypothesis
(Theoretical) The idea by John Smart that the development of intelligence eventually reaches into “inner space,” the realm of the very small, and transcends the observable universe (possibly by entering a state similar to a black hole. The hypothesis is used to explain why we have not encountered other civilizations that have reached a state of technological or intelligence singularity; in other words, an answer to the Fermi Paradox.  Reference.

Turning one adult cell into another adult cell, without going through stem cell phase.

An organism with foreign genes (genes from another organism). The first transgenic organism approved in 2003 for sale to the general public is the GloFish, a tropical zebrafish that can be genetically engineered to glow different colors under black light.

“Transhumanism is a loosely defined movement that has developed gradually over the past two decades. It promotes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding and evaluating the opportunities for enhancing the human condition and the human organism opened up by the advancement of technology.” Goertzel: “refers to philosophy that doesn’t view human life as the ultimate  endpoint of the evolution of intelligence.” (The Path to Posthumanity, p. 392) See also Extropians.

Ben Goertzel: The basic idea of the Transcension is that at some point, the advance of technology will bring about a fundamental change in the nature of life and mind.  The difference is that a Transcension can occur even if there is no exponential or superexponential growth in technology.  It could occur, eventually, even with a linear or logarithmic advance in technology.

Ubiquitous computing
(Slang/SF/futuristic) The condition of having computers everywhere, invisible or blended with things. The world becomes conscious.

Unattended Ground Sensor (UGS)
A sensor disguised as a rock, powered by solar, that can act for decades. Used in Afghanistan, and along the US border. Reference.

Uncanny valley
The point in the curve of human similarity of a robot, when acceptance, which had been rising,  drops off, because people feel uneasy when robots resemble them too much.

Universal Mind Simulator
(Slang/SF/futuristic) Concept proposed by Ben Goertzel, which he also refers to as “AI Buddha.” An AI which “which contains sub-units dedicated to studying and simulating the actions of other minds in the universe.” An AI “that is oriented toward understanding the universe from the perspectives of all sentient life forms concurrently.” This makes it more ethical. Similar to mirror neurons, but a significant extension in scope.

Utility fog
(Slang/SF/futuristic) A concept in nanotechnology, that a “fog” of nanobots could do almost anything: create matter, change your perception. Sort of like a 3D “holodeck” from Star Trek, except that it would be in the real world (not confined to a space).

A process of preserving tissue at low temperature without freezing, so that ice crystals do not form. Created 20 years ago by Gregory Fahy for preserving organs for transplant. Uses cryoprotectant chemicals. Works best as flash-freezing. Work needed today is in re-warming.

Vitrionic contact lens
Takes in the field of vision and light through an eyepiece and interprets it via a processor before it is re-projected from the glasses onto the lens of the eye. Light is processed to Mann’s specifications and then resynthesized it as virtual light to be seen by his eye.

Voice banking
Recording one’s voice to be used later, if the voice is lost through neurodegenerative disease such as ALS, Parkinson’s, or laryngectomy. Software is being developed specifically to record and use the voice to generate speech, such as ModelTalker, HTS, and CAST. Reference.

Volumetric Bar-Chart Chip (V-chip)
A hand-held (3×2 inch) device which uses ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) to test up to 50 aspects of a drop of blood. Integrated quantitative measurement, display, portability, and low-cost. Reference. See also microfluidics.

Volumetric picture element. A method of characterizing resolution in 3-D space, analogous to a 2-D pixel. Voxels are used in medical and scientific imaging, and are one way of measuring advances in neuroimaging.

Name of the IBM software program that played Jeopardy in Feb 2011, beating the three human champions. IBM is looking at incorporating it into smartphones. Being developed for the field of medicine in partnership with Cleveland Clinic, WellPoint, and Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Shipped to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Jan 2013 for research purposes. In use clinically as of Feb 2013. Reference.

(Slang/SF/futuristic) The brain, biological basis for mind, thinking, computation as compared with silicon. Popularized by Rudy Rucker’s series of SF novels (?).

Whole genome sequencing
The process of determining the entire genome of a person or organism. It is now being applied to sequencing the genome of cancer cells (and the RNA), in order to discover exact mutations.

Zero-point energy (Nullpunktenergie)
The lowest (ground) energy of a quantum mechanical system. Proposed by Einstein and Stern in 1913.  The sum of all fields in empty space is called vacuum energy. Hypothetically possible to harness energy from. May be related to the Casimir effect and the cosmological constant.

Zombies and zimboes
Terms used to construct thought experiments in discussing theory of mind. A zombie is identical to a human being, down to the molecules, but has no subjective experience. A zimbo (Daniel Dennett) is a zombie who believes she has subjective experience. Relates to the overall question of sentience for artificial intelligence. See theory of mind, computational functionalism.
The l