Announcing a new David Brin “fan page” on Facebook! for news and updates. See also a site for people who think “The Postman is the best movie ever.” Of course, then, there is the rumor that both the book and the movie are iconic rallying symbols for the pro-democracy movement in Kazakhstan... or so I’ve been told.
--- A Brin-terview ---
While visting IBM Research, I did a brief, ten-minute oral-essay about how science fiction can change the world. IBM has podcast it. This is separate from my hour-long (and detailed) talk about Third Millennium Problem-Solving: Can New Visualization and Collaboration Tools Make a Difference? That much longer talk is available online.
--- Unusual Perspectives ---
See the ever-brilliant and entertaining Kevin Kelly talk about how far the web has come in its 5,000 days of existence... and where it may go in the next 5,000. He points out that the number of transistors currently linking online has reached about the same number as the neurons in a human brain. (A papallel I made in EARTH, published just before the web arrived.)
Another site worth a visit: the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. A great guy, Robert D. Atkinson, is president and has interesting things to say about rediscovering our role as a scientific and technologically innovative civilization.
---- Unusual Worries ---
For its 60th Anniversary, the Rand Corporation invited its staff around the world to propose “important policy issues not currently receiving the attention they deserve in the public debate” — issues, in other words, that might be on the back burner today but will likely become front burner issues within the next five years. The listed eleven top responses are fascinating. (Though I can think of a dozen even bigger items they left out, of course.) See especially “a new Anti-American coalition” and “From Nation-State to Nexus-State.”
----- Betting on Tomorrow ----
I’ve long pushed for better ways to track those in society who seek credibility, influence or power by bandying confident forecasts about future events.
Now, Nigel Eccles talks about Hubdub.com, a site that tries to generate a lot of fun while encouraging folks to stick their necks out, betting on matters like the VP sweepstakes or the Dow Jones or potential Olympic flag bearers, with credibility scores rising or falling with outcomes. “At the moment you can tell a user’s historic accuracy by their net worth. In the next week we are going to introduce star levels which will translate those amounts into something that it is easy for a casual reader to understand (e.g. I might be a 5-star technology predictor but only 1-star on politics). We are also going to give users the ability to post their credibility to their blogs and profiles on social media sites.”
It’s a worthy effort, applying some of the methods developed recently for Prediction Markets, but also suffering from some of the faults of PMs. Above all, it remains just a game because people come to Hubdub in order to play, or when they are confident. My Predictions Registry concept goes a bit farther. It would actually “out” the hundreds of thousands of people in our society who practice the art of predictive sleight-of-hand -- demanding influence based upon forecasts, but hedging and evading accountability when things turn out differently Still, go ahead and try out Hubdub.
------ Some Quandaries Just Need a Little Imagination ---
When Leona Helmsley died in August 2007, she left all but a few million dollars of her perhaps $8 billion estate to the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, making it easily one of America's largest foundations. She also left a brief document indicating that the entire trust be used for the care and welfare of dogs. "The trustees recently hired a philanthropic advisory service to help them figure out a way to remain true to Mrs. Helmsley's intentions while at the same time pursuing broader charitable goals with her foundation," reported the *New York Times*("Helmsley Left Dogs Billions in Her Will," July 2). Rather than pay estate taxes of $3.6 billion to the government, Helmsley has stipulated that the money be held in trust for perpetuity. Madoff argues in her op-ed that "the law should not encourage people to tie up their resources – and ours – for all time."
Indiana University professor of public affairs and philanthropic studies Leslie Lenkowsky suggests that Helmsley may have been trying to support animal welfare as a heretofore neglected charitable cause compared to, say, child welfare – and that Congress and the American people give her that right.
I have a completely different take on how to re-interpret the Leona Helmsley bequest of many billions to "benefit dogs." While intellectuals squirm in order to find ways to evade or re-interpret her clear (if perhaps addled) intent and apply the funds to "animal welfare" or to the environment or to children, I believe there is another interpretation that might both broaden the use of her trust and keep direct faith with her wishes.
The money might be applied, to some extent, to the detailed genetic analysis of dogs (a first-draft genome already exists), in unprecedented detail, down to the cellular and molecular level, their neuronal and behavior qualities, etc. The resulting perfect map of an animal species would:
1) serve to benefit dogs - perhaps eliminating or palliating every canine disease - exactly as the donor wished.
2) have profound side-benefits for the understanding of all mammalian life processes, as well as exploring new methods for analysis that can be applied beyond dogs, thus benefiting humanity... and ecology, for that matter.
3) have another effect that is utterly pro-dog, while benefiting us all. It could be a prelude to commencing the "uplift" of dogs, continuing a process we have been engaged-in together for at least the last 10,000 years of human-canine interaction -- arguably our longest-lasting and most extensive project of all. By applying these funds to such dog centered research, humanity might - for example - increase canine intelligence and abilities, gaining fresh insights into intelligence itself, while helping this most cooperative of all friendly species to partner with human beings in ever more meaningful ways.
If overall canine “happiness” were included as an essential parameter, would not, say, a doubling of canine intelligence be a "benefit" under Mrs. Helmsley's wishes? While enabling the foundation to expand upon her dictate, without bending or breaking it?
My argument is simple. Instead of trying to waffle reasons to broaden the Helmsley bequest, it might be possible to dive into it, in profound and enthusiastic detail, and achieve great things for humanity and the world, while remaining true to the original (albeit somewhat silly) concept.
--- And Now the Misc-tery Data Dump! ---
InnoCentive is a company that links organizations (seekers) with problems (challenges) to people all over the world (solvers) who win cash prizes for resolving them. The company gets a posting fee and, if the problem is solved, a “finders fee” equal to about 40 percent of the prize. The process, according to John Seely Brown, a theorist of information technology and former director of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, reflects “a huge shift in popular culture, from consuming to participating” enabled by the interactivity so characteristic of the Internet.
The prevailing theory of aging is being challenged by Stanford University Medical School researchers. Their discovery contradicts the generally held hyopothesis that aging is a buildup of tissue damage similar to rust. The Stanford findings suggest specific genetic instructions drive the process. If they are right, science might one day find ways of switching the signals off and halting or even reversing aging. (But, accident or not, it would not have been reinforced if it did not offer an evolutionary advantage... and thus be hard to turn off. Some people simply do not thinks things through.)
Adding lime to seawater increases alkalinity, boosting seawater's ability to absorb CO2 from air and reducing the tendency to release it back again. The process of making lime generates CO2, but adding the lime to seawater absorbs almost twice as much CO2. The overall process is therefore 'carbon negative'. However, the idea, which has been bandied about for years, was thought unworkable because of the expense of obtaining lime from limestone and the amount of CO2 released in the process. Shell is so impressed with a newly developed approach that it is funding an investigation into its economic feasibility. (Note an added benefit. Increased alkalinity would also compensate for potential acidification if iron is added to seawater to boost plankton and foodchain productivity in “desert” sea areas, pulling out even more CO2.)
The Highlands Forum has released its late summer reading list. Blogmembers are welcome to report back on any of these!: ”Among the six books are one novel and five works of timely nonfiction. On the nonfiction side are important books that tell us much about our world, where we may be going, and what we might do to make things better. They range in theme from the failure of states and the plight of the people in those states (The Bottom Billion, Fixing Failed States) to the rise of alternative forces to states (Terror and Consent), to the process of creating effective, cohesive groups that might affect the outcomes of elections, resulting in stronger states (Here Comes Everybody, Millennial Makeover). On the other side is a novel regarding the science of complexity as well as the people and organization from which the deep insights on complexity arise (The Edge of Chaos)“
Solar system travel posters.
Miniaturized DNA Sewing Machines "Japanese researchers have found a way to build long threads of DNA using miniaturized hooks and bobbins. In fact, they've demonstrated how to manipulate delicate DNA chains without breaking them. They've designed these laser-directed microdevices to pick up and manipulate individual molecules of DNA.
MIT researchers turn everyday windows into solar panels. The technology could soup up traditional panels by 50%. To create the concentrator system, researchers mix multiple dyes that they basically paint onto a pane of glass or plastic. The dyes absorb light across a range of wavelengths. The energy then is pushed out to the edges of the pane, where it's stored in solar cells there.
Somebody try out http://dermundo.com/ and report back about how this new multilingual publishing tool powered by the Worldwide Lexicon project works! Let by Brian McConnell.
And a final quotation I saw while taking the Family, recently, to some big stone faces...
“I think that we can perhaps meditate a little on those Americans ten thousand years from now, when the weathering on the faces of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln shall have proceeded to perhaps the depth of a tenth of an inch, and wonder what our descendants—and I think they will still be here will think about us. Let us hope that at least they will give us the benefit of the doubt, that they will believe we have honestly striven every day and generation to preserve for our descendants a decent land to live in and a decent form of government to operate under.” -- Franklin Roosevelt at Mount Rushmore, 1936.