Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Wowzer Stuff: scientific and political... and weird.

More and more, serious people are grappling with the ethical and consequential effects of technology in ways that do not tumble into technophobic luddism. We need an attitide of vigorous inquiry and discussion and CITOKATE, not in order to cower in gloom, but in order to speedily traverse the tightrope of the next fifty years... hurrying ahead with problem-solving technologies while seeking every error! Attempting to do the near-impossible, solving them well in advance. Living up to that recent aphorism offered by Joe Miller:

Those who ignore the mistakes of the future are bound to make them.

I am asked to partake in these discussions pretty often. For example:
The Caltech Sustainability Hyperforum
The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology -
Worldchanging - (Buy the book & save the world!)
The Lifeboat Foundation -
...and dozens of official andn semi-official government agencies and working groups.

Another group attempting to discuss looming issues is the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. While I am not involved so far, I figure you might be interested in one rumination about uplifting higher animals. Interesting... and of course very short/incomplete. This is a topic with countless ramifications. Of course, for starters... shouldn’t attribution of concepts go where they are due? ;-)

Looking for a cogent and well-researched expression of the standard liberal viewpoint on the Energy/Climate debate? See a new book my my friend Mike Byron: Infinity’s Rainbow: The Politics of Energy, Climate and Globalization.

Mike does a good job of laying down the indictment - that shortsighted corporate and aristocratic greed are doing to the globalized world what Soviet shortsightedness did to the old USSR, ignoring looming calamities in favor of short term self-interest and turning nature into a raped realm, a festering wasteland of toxic mismanagement and lost opportunities. There is no doubt that the villains are also fools, fiddling away while our future goes up in a smoke of excess dependence on fossil fuels.

Alas, like many of the New Puritans, Mike also displays a little of the same sourpuss grimness - channeling Cotton Mather - that we got from Paul Ehrlich & co. A chiding refusal to perceive good news - e.g. the ways that technology and (yes!) globalization can be turned to assertive problem solving.

We should take the New Puritans for what they do well - finger-pointing at lying wastrels. They are far preferable over the New Lords. They indict well. Still, they are part of the foolish “GAR vs FIBM dichotomy” buying into a dismal tradeoff. For, like Cotton Mather, they would have us sit and shiver in the dark. And that’s no solution at all.

So it will be up to us progressive modernists to find actual solutions. Still, all told, a very good book and an important one.

And now a few items from the Arlington Institute. (When did THEY get so militant?)

Pull the Plug on E-Voting
-- (Opednews -- October 25, 2006) All computer systems which process high-value transactions include audit mechanisms that monitor the advertised features of the system to enable an independent means of detecting flawed or fraudulent program logic - everywhere that is except for voting systems, which arguably process the most important transactions of all.

Bush and Martial Law -- (Uruknet -- October 26, 2006) All too often, we fail to remember that America's actions and progress are viewed from myriad perspectives around the globe. This opinion article comes from a particularly notable, and perhaps increasingly prevalent, foreign viewpoint. Its focus is on recent legislation further empowering the office of the President of the U.S.

Pentagon Gears Up for New Media War -- (BBC -- October 31, 2006) The Pentagon's new effort to influence media coverage of the war in Iraq is an example of how governments react when a war is not going too well. They begin to think it is not the war that is the problem, but the presentation of it. The media, being the messengers, get the blame, not the message itself.

And now the weird...

Alloy of Hydrogen and Oxygen Made From Water -- (Physorg-- October 26, 2006) Water, the only indispensable ingredient of life, is just about the most versatile stuff on Earth - and has revealed yet another trick up its sleeve. Researchers have now used x-rays to dissociate water at high pressure to form a solid mixture--an alloy--of molecular oxygen and molecular hydrogen. As long as the sample remained under pressure equivalent to about 10,000 times atmospheric pressure at sea level, it stood up to intense punishment.

Polar Rose to Launch Picture Search Engine -- (Smart Economy -- October 9, 2006)
A new, web-based search engine has been created that can find photographs of people by analyzing pictures and identifying faces. The search engine will be the first of its kind in the world.

Sea Change: Global Warming Could Leave Britain Feeling the Cold -- (Guardian -- October 27, 2006) Scientists have uncovered more evidence for a dramatic weakening in the vast ocean current that gives Britain its relatively balmy climate by dragging warm water northwards from the tropics. Most alarmingly, the data reveal that a part of the current, which is usually 60 times more powerful than the Amazon River, came to a temporary halt during November 2004.


Anonymous said...

Regarding attribution of concepts:

You're right, I didn't see any mention of Doctor Moreau!

Actually, in the uplift article, the author references you in the first footnote.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Scientists say White House muzzled them

"WASHINGTON - Two federal agencies are investigating whether the Bush administration tried to block government scientists from speaking freely about global warming and censor their research, a senator said Wednesday.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg D-N.J., said he was informed that the inspectors general for the Commerce Department and NASA had begun "coordinated, sweeping investigations of the Bush administration's censorship and suppression" of federal research into global warming."

Tony Fisk said...

It would be nice if the Inspectors general report came out on Nov 5...

(Coincidentally, the hearing on the guys who leaked the Al-Jazeera memo was postponed from early October until April.)

That 'alloy' sounds a trifle explosive!!

Don Quijote said...

A chiding refusal to perceive good news - e.g. the ways that technology and (yes!) globalization can be turned to assertive problem solving.

Technology is a tool, and if you refuse to use it, it won't do you any good. The problems that we have are political and not technological, the day we decide to resolve these problems, they will be resolved. We know how to build efficient cars, we just don't do it, we know how to build well planned, efficient cities, we just don't do it.

We know how to do a lot of things with substantially less impact on the environment, but we don't do it. It's not in the short term interest of the Capitalists, so therefor the world will keep getting worse, and none of that beautiful technology that you so love will help us.

Rob Perkins said...

Regarding Woozle's note about OSC's CivWatch posting, calling on everyone to vote against Democrats, I tend to agree with Woozle, and not with Card. The Dems might be hell-bent on self destruction, but in the meantime, as David points out, they're good watchmen for the Republicans' specific tendencies to excess.

Competition/cooperation, again.

I thought this oped was interesting: link

Apparantly this Congress is the GOP's to lose.

Blake Stacey said...

DB wrote:

As long as the sample remained under pressure equivalent to about 10,000 times atmospheric pressure at sea level, it stood up to intense punishment.

So. . . as long as it was under intense punishment, it could withstand intense punishment?

That's going to be bothering me all day.

Andrew Smith said...


You should read his recent writing about the state of Physics. It's a hoot.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's any oceans on Earth with enough pressure for that water metal to hold together under. Now, if we wanted to go explore Jupiter... Exploring Jupiter in giant bubbles. That's neat idea. Science fiction meets poetry.

If only there'd been a good way to get the problems of electronic voting machines out from the slashdot crowd to everybody else. But not even the people involved in making the decisions seemed to care. Sigh.

I'd heard about the Atlantic current thing before, most of Europe's about equal latitude with most of Canada. But I hadn't heard the current had stopped in 2004. That's scary.

And there's something broadly creepy despite the coolness about the picture search engine. It's nothing that can't be duplicated by having enough plain old people flip through photos, but. Maybe it's just how every time some kind of info-gathering technology gets automated, it's gone from being the domain (mainly) of government spy agencies to being the domain of marketers, with nobody making any move to limit how much of our personal info any of these companies can harvest. I saw somebody elsewhere in Blogistan arguing the Democrats should introduce a constitutional amendment for privacy, sorta like the flag burning ones the Republicans keep doing. Just to make the Republicans vote against it. And if it gets passed, all the better, most likely.

David Brin said...

Actually, I fear a Constitutional Amendment for Privacy almost more than I fear anything else on Earth.

Our only, only chance during the next 20 years will be to create a worldwide Accountability Society in which elites may remain elite, and rich... but never unscrutinized. Never again able to game markets and cheat outrageously. Because their cheating invariable screws the markets that Adam Smith rightly called the best decision-making process.

Markets of trade, of policy (democracy), of factual evidence (science). While crowing that they favor free enterprise, these elites are predictably doing what human nature compells them to do. Rationalizing reasons to secretly control processes that should be outside their control. (Because they "know better.")

I despair of repeating forever that liberals should re-adopt the "first liberal" Adam Smith, because the thing he hated most was the warping of markets by elite crony favoritism, by secret manipulators. By monopolists and pals of the king.

Cronies who always, always, always come up with fantasy stories that they tell each other -- in dismally predictable circle-jerk rhythms -- about how they NEED to avoid scrutiny in order to wisely guide markets for the good of everybody. Never noticing that their rationalizations boil down to exactly the same ones murmered by the commies they despised.

Don't you just hate people who quote themselves?

"I’ve long held that the greatest tragedy, among countless misfortunes that recur in the agonizing human story, is not when evil triumphs over good, or when oppression overcomes freedom, or the wretched loss of ten billion potential might-have-beens.

"The most devastating defect in our character - a trait that held us down since the caves - is the very same twist in our natures that makes us such fine storytellers. I am talking about our incredible penchant for - and creativity at - self delusion and rationalization. The lengths that we all go to, in order to convince ourselves that we are the smart ones, virtuous and right, often in complete denial of blatant evidence to the contrary."

If we "guarantee privacy" is there even a remote chance that the rich & mighty won't be FAR better at exploiting these new shadowss than you or me? They will shout "MYOB!" (Mind Your Own Business!) at us far more effectively than we will (lamely) say it to them.

Please (shameless plug) get The Transparent Society and realize that we'll be more potent citizens, better market players and better able to (yes!) protect our ptivacy, if we all live mostly in light, most of the time.

Even more important, given the decisions and technologies rushing toward us... we will be much more likely to survive.

Rob Perkins said...


I read OSC's stuff regularly. Some stuff I agree with, some not. And I had the physics posting debunked by some people I respect, including David, here.

Andrew Smith said...

I read him regularly too. And this blog; I must have missed the debunking, but "bunk" is what I meant by "hoot."

I can't remember anything about which I agree with him, though.

He's a big fan of Hannity style strawmen ("The Democrats say..."), and equivocation. I can only take him in small doses.

David Brin said...

I have a theory about this. Long ago, OSC got pod-peopled. He's not the same man who gave those terrific "secular humanist revival meetings" long ago.

If you ever see that happen to me... if I become a shill and hired-gun excuse-offerer for inexcusable would-be feudal lords... then some of you know what to do.

Cleanse... my... pod. With light. With citokate.

Of course there is another professional hazard. Egotistic pyrotechnics. The kind almost trademarked by my beloved pal Harlan Ellison and imitated assiduously by some other, talented writer/ranters who you or I could easily name.

Smart guys (in some cases VERY smart) who perceive very well and mostly take the right stands. Who act very often like "social T Cells" zeroing in on errors needing citokate (right on!) Guys who could never be co-opted by the Man or pod-replaced...

...but who DO respond very well to rhythmic injections of excess outrage and pride. Thus addicted to indignation and solipsistic roar, they crank up the volume, the theatrics... and thus (tragically) self-marginalize... *I* have self-marginalized at times, in exactly that way! (A kettle CAN call a pot black!),,,

... only, at least I cut each cycle short. Keep it brief, fearing addiction. And try always to spend only 5% of my life admiring myself in a mirror... and 10% laughing at the fool I see there.

What is "their" last resort, then? The ones who find that they cannot either pod you or addict you to permanent and self-discrediting rant-mode?

Well... there is always the option of arranging cancer. Or an accident.

Ah, but I am pre-advertising my next novel! ;-)

David Brin said...

Another trick. When a pundit has said something important, get HIM to distract from it by pressing one of his immature, personal buttons!

Ignore the comment I posted just above, about ranting egotists. The more important one preceded it. About the importance of an open society.

Someday (in a century) I'll be mature enough not to give in.

Anonymous said...

Seafood could collapse by 2050, experts warn

Overfishing, pollution, warming are destroying stocks, study finds

"WASHINGTON - Clambakes, crabcakes, swordfish steaks and even humble fish sticks could be little more than a fond memory in a few decades."

Hey, everybody! Look over there! Hillary Clinton is having a bad hair day!

Rob Perkins said...

I have a theory about this. Long ago, OSC got pod-peopled. He's not the same man who gave those terrific "secular humanist revival meetings" long ago.

Probably, he isn't. He's raised a bazillion kids to sane adulthood in the meantime. Perhaps he's just crotchety in his aged-ness?

I dunno. What I *do* know is that I still enjoy his fiction, and his restaurant reviews.

And I know I've seen him write that he can't stand Hannity. I say take it for what it's worth and leave the rest behind.

Andrew Smith said...

I have a theory about this. Long ago, OSC got pod-peopled.

Ha! I have evidence: I went to see him talk at a bookstore a few years ago and he said he wanted to get out of science fiction and write romantic comedy screenplays.

David Brin said...

Rob, watch out fgor people who say "I hate Hannity, but --" It is called the credibility bat and switch.

Romantic comedies? How do you write those while also indulging in demigod fantasies?

Oops! I just saw (wretched horrible/awful) Click! Then there was Bruce Almighty... So I guess demigod fantasies are okay in romantic comedy so long as:

* every male except for grandpa is a horrible person (the hero being horrible but redeemable after terrible suffering lessons)... and...

* every female is a carricature-stereotype. e.g. gorgeous/patient/suffering wife/fiance plus her slutty but heart-o-gold best friend... and office full of buxom blonde bimbos...

Oh, you can see what the aliens are doing, replacing good sci fi writers with pod people. Argh! They already did that to me! After Kiln People and THE LIFE EATERS, they turned me into an over-opinionated pundit-sage-inventor-TVPersonality-blogger!

They didn't need a pod. All it took was George W Bush.

Join the revolution, so I can write fiction again. Because right now, reality it just too scary and weird.

Anonymous said...

Iraq sold $30 billion worth of oil last year.

The U.S. spent another $100+ billion on Iraq last year.

Yet the C.I.A. says Iraq's GDP last year was only $46 billion...

...down 7% from 2004.

How could that be?

String theorist/accountant...a new field of study if the Democrats win next week?

Hank Roberts said...

>Atlantic current ... came to a halt

Um, bogus story, newspaper editor cut the important fact out of the article leaving the impression you got:

Rob Perkins said...

Card's take on Hannity is more along the lines of "He's not helping matters any," which is just as true of Coulter, Carville, and in his most piqued moments, Franken.

My impression from his comments is that he can't stand Hannity quite as completely as you or I can't stand Hannity.

As for his being a "demigod fabulist", I think you're strawmanning. I'll know better, I think, after reading his Empire novel.

In fact, I want you to review it! I'll buy the copy for you if that's what it takes.

And I'd love to read your next novel! Please! Hop to it, man! I've set aside $30 for the hardcover! Want a story idea? No? OK!


David Brin said...

Clutch that $30. Will be approx price of SKY HORIZON, my lavish (illustrated) "Heinleinian" novella, just contracted today. Will announce soon.

I'd be very interested in seeing a Card novel that is NOT about a demigod.

But mind you, I like his demigods vastly better than Lucas's cardboard cutouts! Card's HURT! They ponder deeply and agonize over human obduracy...

...before finally concluding that humanity cannot be trusted with a burnt match, needing some demigod meddling instead.

"Now, people, I know it will seem like my thumb is pressing down on you'all. But trust me. This is gonna hurt me more than it hurts you. Ow!"

If we ever are taken over by demigods, I hope they'll be OSC characters... because at least they won't enjoy it.

matthew jones said...

I love the 5% egotist / 10% fool comment above. Life would flow much more easily if more folks came clean about how true this statement is for all of us.
Please put in my vote for DB's 5/10 statement in a hypothetical "BOCB (Best of Contrary Brin)".
Very glad to hear of new contract - more doses of thick hardbacks = always a happy day.

Rob Perkins said...

Heinleinian... mmmmm. Me like! Bark at me like Johnnie Rico's teachers! :-p

Rob Perkins said...

You can probably decide for yourself if his latest is not about demigods, since the first few chapters are posted on

Can't miss it; click on the "Empire" announcement.

Kelsey Gower said...

Announce the novella soon, Brin? I think you just announced it, and I'll be waiting for the release. :)

And I liked the 5%/10% comment you posted too, even if you told us to ignore that post, and even if I think spending 12 years in front of a mirror is much too long for anyone.

Anonymous said...


Would you care to explain to me the point of reading OSC's editorials. Whenever I read them, I get a tale full of sound and fury, but written by someone who regularly writes about issues he knows very little about, and, to borrow from Stephen Colbert, he is very consistent - what he believes on Monday he believes on Wednesday no matter what evidence he is presented with on Tuesday.

Rob Perkins said...


If he's your enemy, you read him in order to know your enemy.

If he's merely one of the "others" not of your faction, you read him in order to know his mind, in turn in order to glean his good ideas and citokate yourself from an incongruous direction.