Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Accelerating Science... While there's still an Enlightenment...
Well, I cannot let despair over civilization's plummet into a dark age keep me all gloomy. The Enlightenment is still kicking... and I prove it, now and then, by posting barrages of really cool stuff!
Who Speaks for the Earth?
First - that article in SEED -- Who Speaks for Earth, by David Grinspoon -- is now available online. A good piece of science reporting about the SETI/METI controversy. Or whether a very small number of people should make huge, irreversible decisions on behalf of all humankind. (Anyone have a link to the Wall Street Journal followup?)
See a cool lecture by my friend, futurist and media/alternate-reality pundit Jamais Cascio, about VR.
Here’s a YouTube item that’s a must, a deeply-moving ballet of two amputees. Amazing.
The nonprofit Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) -- of which I am a founding member -- released a series of scenarios depicting various versions of a near-future world into which transformative manufacturing concepts may emerge. Across eight separate storylines, an international team of policy, technology, and economic specialists organized by CRN imagined in detail a range of plausible, challenging events -- from pandemics to climate crises to international conflicts -- to see how they might affect the development of advanced nanotechnology over the next 15 years.
Future in Review
See one of the best predictive news services in the world -- and host of the annual “Future in Review” or FiRe Conference.
Stefan Jones suggests this funny one... though it hurts too. I’ve spent ten years trying to get anyone at all to notice huge, gaping gaps in our dismal online experience. Hey, I don’t need to be rich as Sergey. I just want to see this stuff happen!
Along related lines, see DemocracyLab which appears to aim at improving the level of discourse and debate within an Enlightenment civilization that desperately needs better tools. My own take on this is a bit heavy. But it shows the Web is NOT living up to its potential as a helper in problem solving discourse.
Is this true? That the side of your car that your gas filler cap is on is indicated by the “facing” of the little gas pump symbol on your dashboard?
I’d also be interested in reactions to the Presidential Climate Action Project of the University of Colorado School of Public Affairs headed up by former senator Gary Hart and industrialist Ray Anderson. The Potomac Institute calls it “ the finest systems approach to climate change that we have seen. The principles are highly adaptable to corporations and countries other than the U.S.” Thoughts welcome. http://www.climateactionproject.com/
See a speech on this topic, by my friend, acclaimed author, unleashed thinker, neurobiologist and climate pundit, William Calvin, delivered at the Chinese Great Hall of the People.
For those of you who missed it, here’s a link to the study indicating that human evolution has sped up, perhaps even a thousand-fold, during the last 10,000 years of civilization. See also Chris Wills’s CHILDREN OF PROMETHEUS: The Accelerating Pace of Human Evolution. Though nobody mentions one driver that I feel must have been huge. Beer. It provided a highly storable liquid bread, enabling people to bridge famines. When populations rose, water became polluted, so beer became necessary. It affected behavior, often in ways that culled out those with little self control. Resulting (I bet) in populations an average less intemperate or prone to addiction or rage. Though, we are still lamentably addiction prone. As in my rant about indignation junkies. Speaking of which...
Want a reminder that the Left can be loony, too? Here’s a cheery stocking-stuffer:
Better Never To Have Been: The Harm Of Coming Into Existence by David Benatar
Most people believe that they were either benefited or at least not harmed by being brought into existence. Thus, if they ever do reflect on whether they should bring others into existence—-rather than having children without even thinking about whether they should—-they presume that they do them no harm. Better Never to Have Been challenges these assumptions. David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm... The author shows that there are a number of well-documented features of human psychology that explain why people systematically overestimate the quality of their lives and why they are thus resistant to the suggestion that they were seriously harmed by being brought into existence.
The author then argues for the 'anti-natal' view—-that it is always wrong to have children—-and he shows that combining the anti-natal view with common pro-choice views about foetal moral status yield a 'pro-death' view about abortion (at the earlier stages of gestation). Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct. Although counter-intuitive for many, that implication is defended, not least by showing that it solves many conundrums of moral theory about population.
Comments a National Review fellow “The author is a professor at the University of Cape Town. That's on the Cape of Good Hope, though evidently not in this case.”
To be fair, hasn’t the greatest question always been “To be, or not to be”? Ah, but if those who CAN be persuaded by these arguments then act upon them, won’t the chief result be the evolution of a species that laughs itself silly at these ideas? Talk about selection... (Actually, this stuff figures in my next novel!)
Looking to the Future
Over the past four years, in partnership with Google, the Bodleian and a number of other great libraries have gradually been transferring their holdings into digital, searchable form. By next year, the Bodleian will have put half a million books online. According to one estimate, Google is digitizing books at the rate of ten million a year, and it is not alone. Microsoft, Yahoo! and Amazon are all taking part in what amounts to a digital-literary gold-rush.
Scientists at the University of Oxford have built a device to beam waves of ultrasound into the body, generating bubbles at the site of a tumor. When these bubbles "pop", they release energy as heat - killing rogue cells.
"My forecast is that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots," said artificial intelligence researcher David Levy at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands.
The company Hyperion Power Generation was formed last month to develop the nuclear fission reactor at Los Alamos National Laboratory and take it into the private sector. The portable nuclear reactor is the size of a hot tub. If all goes according to plan, Hyperion could have a factory in New Mexico by late 2012, and begin producing 4,000 of these reactors. It’s self contained, involves no moving parts and, therefore, doesn’t require a human operator.
For the majority of Americans who do not travel abroad, the only visible effect so far of the dollar’s steep fall has been higher fuel prices at the pump. The Chinese imports that fill the big-box stores still cost the same, because the Chinese yuan is still pegged to the American dollar. But that may be about to change, along with many other things. Three of the world’s biggest oil exporters, Iran, Venezuela and Russia, are demanding payment in euros rather than dollars. Recently a Chinese central bank vice director, Xu Jian, gave voice to the suspicion of many others, saying that the dollar was “losing its status as the world currency.”
AMERICA has told Britain that it can “kidnap” British citizens if they are wanted for crimes in the United States. A senior lawyer for the American government has told the Court of Appeal in London that kidnapping foreign citizens is permissible under American law because the US Supreme Court has sanctioned it. The American government has for the first time made it clear in a British court that the law applies to anyone, British or otherwise, suspected of a crime by Washington.
Something is stirring deep below the legendary hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone, the first and most famous national park in America -- and home to a huge volcanic caldron. Parts of the park have been rising the past three years at a rate never before observed by scientists. They believe that magma -- molten rock -- is filling pores in the Earth's crust and causing a large swath of Yellowstone to rise like a pie in the oven.
Note: If the Yellowstone hot spot ever does blow... or the one under Mammoth Lakes... then every other news items becomes insignificant.
See some alarming statistics about American reading habits. Do have a (depressing) glance. (Do NOT use this as an excuse for contempt for the masses! It is a sickness of the left, as well as the right.)
Final bit. Apparently the titanically talented and pioneering web artist/cartoonist Patrick Farley, has lost his Electric Sheep web site e sheep.com. I mourn.