We've been wowed watching David Attenborough's latest eight-part nature series - Our Planet. This gorgeous and powerfully vivid documentary provides abundant evidence for human impact on climate. Dare your assigned RASR to sit beside you. Say that you’ll watch three hours of Fox if he’ll watch this.
Or else get him to put actual stakes on his Fox-assertions. Because…. alas... straight from EARTH (1990)... Greenland ice is now melting much faster than expected. And how I wish I had been wrong.
On a more science fictional - and somewhat optimistic note - is the newest novel by Eliot Peper: What if a giant tech company became sovereign and democratic? In Breach, hackers and spies grapple over the future of governance. Dark, lush, and philosophical, Breach is a globe-trotting, near-future thriller brimming with intrigue and big ideas.
Okay, so what's really happening?
== Evolving life - and a changing planet ==
Chinese scientists have put human brain genes in monkeys — and yes, they may be smarter. And who saw this coming?
No Uplift required - that we know of. “A chimpanzee proves adept at thumb-swiping through photo sets on a phone.” Fiben's ancestor? Or does it show we've been Downlifting our new human generations?
After the shocking discovery of Denisovans, there may be evidence for yet another previously unknown hominin species, this one dating back 60,000 years in the Philippines.
Archaeology now confirms native legends of a war and massacre between Alaskan tribes during the Little Ice Age of the 1600s.
A truly amazing article. A fossil discovery in North Dakota is believed to be a fish that was blasted and killed on precisely the very day that the Cretaceous ended with the Chicxulub meteorite impact, 66 million years ago And that's just the beginning. If this holds up -- and there are some huge skeptics -- it may be the most incredible (and precise) paleontological discovery of the century, so far, vividly portraying an event that was calamitous for so many, but that paved the way for us.
Earlier – another disaster that may have spurred life along – was the end of the last “Iceball Earth” episode, now dated almost precisely to 635 million years ago, when accumulated greenhouse gases burst from below a planet-spanning ice sheet, causing an abrupt finale to the Kirschvink Epoch. It is likely no coincidence that almost immediately came the burst of complex organisms including multicellular animals and plants leading to the Cambrian Explosion. After almost three billion years of creeping-along, evolution was ready for a series of mighty leaps. (Are we about to do it again?) This episode may have "fermi" implications.
And scientists see the fingerprint of warming climate on droughts going back to 1900.
And scientists see the fingerprint of warming climate on droughts going back to 1900.
Researchers have observed a sudden appearance of numerous deep-sea volcanic vents in the Gulf of California, along with gaudy mat, crystal structures and amazing seemingly “alien” life forms.
== AI and Humanity ==
Consider: How Southern Baptists Are Grappling With Artificial Intelligence. American evangelicals are not the only faith group pondering the intersection of A.I. and religion. The Southern Baptist document appears just a few months after Pope Francis to discuss the ethical use of A.I., a topic he has . The Vatican and Microsoft are co-sponsoring a prize for the best doctoral dissertation this year on the topic “artificial intelligence at the service of human life." Of course Jews and Buddhists have long contemplated artificial beings made of clay. As did I, in KILN PEOPLE.
It seems almost weekly someone asks me to consult about AI. Here’s video of my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson Congress - offering big perspectives on both artificial and human augmentation. (Text version also available.)
This Reuters interview conveys – in a very brief space -- important concepts about AI ignored by most AI researchers.
I generally like Zach Weinersmith's SMBC comics - and this one on robots, AI and humanity is thought provoking... Almost none of the assertions that it makes are true, or have any useful bearing on the issue of how we'll relate to AI. Or indeed human evolution. It is, however, something that a fearful AI might write as a propaganda morality plea. (Synthetic-much, Zach?;-)
How will humans fare in this new era? The recently released, The Robots Are Coming: The Future of Jobs in the Age of Automation, by Andres Oppenheimer, looks toward future changes in banking, automation, medicine and legal work.
Oh, The RE-WORK Applied AI Summit is back in San Francisco June 20-20. The two-day summit is set to bring together 90 speakers and over 600 attendees to discuss the latest research and application methods in AI and Deep Learning. Was invited to speak. Can't make it. Busy in DC.
== Tech advances & challenges ==
China already dominates the electric vehicle supply chain. It produces nearly two-thirds of the world’s lithium-ion batteries - compared to 5 percent for the United States - and controls most of the world’s lithium processing facilities. Says one of the quickly extinctifying residually sane republican pols: “We need to find ways to more efficiently develop our nation’s domestic critical mineral supply because these resources are vital to both our national security and our economy.” Sounds okay, though watch roadblocks thrown up by certain… most... other republicans.
Israeli Scientists 3D-print a tiny, live heart made with human tissue… complete with muscles, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers. The cells used to print the heart came from a donor’s fat tissue, changed into embryonic stem cells, and finally differentiated into the various types of heart tissue used in the printing process. Eventually, the cells in the heart began to beat spontaneously. Maybe Larry Niven’s organlegger dystopia is forestalled… along with a lot of death. (Likewise Beyond Burgers and tissue culture meat. Might we then be worthy to be let out of the zoo?)
Researchers have discovered a fundamentally new way to measure brain function using a technology known as magnetic resonance elastography (MRE), mapping tissue stiffness using an MRI scanner to track brain function activity on a time scale of 100 milliseconds, far quicker than before. It can show which regions of the brain stiffen or soften under different types of stimulus timing.
Stronger and more flexible than graphene, borophene – a monolayer lattice of Boron atoms -- is a good conductor of heat and electricity, and can be superconducting.
Despite horrific meddling and obstruction by truly evil oligarchs and their cult-minions, the price of sustainable energy keeps plummeting, undermining coal in the best possible way, with technological competition.
== Hiding anything, much? ==
Setting the stage…. The U.S. Defense Department has canceled its contract with the Jasons – a consortium of academic researchers who have advised DoD for half a century. I do not know details, but I do get a spidey tingle.
Okay now… In 2017, the Pentagon first confirmed the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), a government operation launched in 2007 to collect and analyze “anomalous aerospace threats” from “advanced aircraft fielded by traditional U.S. adversaries to commercial drones to possible alien encounters.” … In some cases, pilots — many of whom are engineers and academy graduates — claimed to observe small spherical objects flying in formation. Others say they’ve seen white, Tic Tac-shaped vehicles. Aside from drones, all engines rely on burning fuel to generate power, but these vehicles all had no air intake, no wind and no exhaust.
Consider in context: It's been 25+ years since any new techs were announced from the various Defense Department Skunk Works. Used to be, we’d get some kind of revelation, e.g. stealth bombers, at least once per decade, showing something for our tax dollars. I do know things are at least marginally farther along than we are told, when it comes to hypersonics, lasers, and ABM abilities, though by how much?
Another piece to the puzzle. Some years ago the National Reconnaissance Office gave NASA two Hubbles. Yes, two Hubble Space Telescopes. Well, not quite. They were obsolete Earth observing spy satellites, and we thus discovered that the Hubble had been a “beard” for the spysat program, all along. (Perhaps explaining why Hubble’s optics were initially a bit off for astronomy purposes.) The gift put NASA in a bind – getting two billion-dollar spacecraft for free is nice, unless you don’t have the quarter of a billion it would take to repurpose them for real science. One of them has been repurposed now and will launch soon as a great new mission, but it took a while. (Ask me about the other one!)
But the lesson is clear. Stuff goes on, behind the scenes. Some “wasted” funding may have only been diverted (see my old novella “Senses, Three and Six.”) Some civilian events or endeavors may be (partly) “beards.” Above all, we need to pray and hope that members of our defender caste really are (as I believe) nearly all devoted public servants and not how Fox and ilk portray them – as Deep State enemies of the people.