I keep seeing and hearing cynics sigh about how far we have “fallen.” The disease is rampant, on both right and left. The striking thing to me is the inanity of cliches, like: “Isn’t it a shame that our wisdom has not kept pace with technology?” This nonsense is spouted amid the greatest transformation of diversity, inclusion, acceptance, re-evaluation and tolerance in the history of our species! At no other time were so many hoary/awful assumptions - about race-gender and so on - pilloried by light and scrutiny!
An essay in Wired: Is Dystopian Sci Fi Making us Fear Technology? ponders the pandemic plague of cheap dystopias and apocalypses and feudal fantasties that have metastacized and infected science fiction. Michael Solana muses that a certain amount of dire warnings can be a tonic, but it becomes poisonous in the kind of excess that we are now seeing, in which the fundamental rule seems to be “never show any possibility of a better world.”
Are we on the verge of the new Golden Age of science fiction cinema, in which it becomes about matters more interesting than explosions? Let’s start as Ray Kurzweil and company give us a sneak peak at the forthcoming movie Autómata: “Starring Antonio Banderas, here we have a believable future (2044, thirty years from now) in which desertification is threatening society, and a single company is leading the way in intelligent robotics.” says one George Mason university blogger. Indeed, it appears to be part of the new crop of films that treat AI with some attempts at subtlety.
This time, let’s veer into an area wherein I actually know a thing or two! The matter of whether humanity might someday… or even should… meddle in other creatures on this planet and bestow upon them the debatable “gift” of full sapience—the ability to argue, ponder, store information, appraise, discuss, create, express and manipulate tools, so that they might join us in the problematic task of being worthy planetary managers.
Wired has a long form interview with Edward Snowden: The Most-Wanted Man in the World. A must-read… as far as it goes. Only keep ahold of your ability to parse complexities and contradictions, because my reflex is always to point out aspects that were never raised. I refuse to choose one "side's" purist reflex. So should you.
Continuing our series on co-veillance, sousveillance and general citizen empowerment, on our streets… last time we discussed our right and ability to use new instrumentalities to expand our ability to view, record and hold others accountable, with the cameras in our pockets.
If you push long and hard enough for something that is logical and needed, a time may come when it finally happens! At which point – pretty often – you may have no idea whether your efforts made a difference. Perhaps other, influential people saw the same facts and drew similar, logical conclusions!
The resilience of our entire civilization is increasingly reliant on a fragile network of cell phone towers, which are the first things to fail in any crisis, e.g. a hurricane or other natural disaster… or else deliberate (e.g. EMP or hacker) sabotage.
A few weeks ago, I was one of the headlined speakers at Freedom Fest, the big libertarian convention in Las Vegas. Do I seem an odd choice, given my past thorough and merciless dissections of Ayn Rand? In fact I’ve done this before, showing up to suggest that a movement claiming to be all about freedom might want to veer away from its recent, mutant obsession — empowering and enabling the kind of owner-oligarchy that oppressed humanity all across the last 6000 years. Instead, I propose going back to a more healthy and well-grounded libertarian rootstock — encouraging the vast creative power of open-flat-fair competition…...a word that libertarians scarcely mention, anymore. Because it conflicts fundamentally with their current focus — promoting inherited oligarchy.
A few days ago, I drove up the Califonia coast to help my son move. The trip coincided with the attempted (3 am) launch from Vandenberg AFB of JPL's Orbiting Carbon Observatiory—OCO-2—which will nail down Earth's CO2 cycle. OCO is part of a constellation of five earth-sensing satellites bring launched just this year. (The first OCO failed, weirdly, and others were canceled, back during the Bush Administration. Whereupon it took a while to re-start the earth-sensing programs.)
Back when I published research on optical ellipsometry, “polarization” seemed an innocent-enough term — and indeed, lately there have been applications that let us peer into the very origins of the universe. Alas though, more and more, we hear talk about a polarization of politics — especially in the USA - that has destroyed a great nation’s ability to argue fairly, negotiate pragmatically, and forge the sort of effective compromise solutions that enabled past generations to keep moving ahead.
Most of us in the west were raised with legends, myths and movies that taught Suspicion of Authority (SoA). Thanks to the great science fiction author, George Orwell, we share a compelling metaphor— Big Brother —propelling our fears about a future that may be dominated by tyrants.
Reaching back a bit…I had a chance to speak with the mighty maven of tech-future Journalism, Tim O'Reilly, during my previous visit to Washington DC. The next day in Forbes, Tim cited me with the following quotation: "It is intrinsically impossible to know if someone does nothave information about you. It is much easier to tell if they do something to you." His article, The Creep Factor: How to Think about Big Data and Privacy, is cogent.
How might the Obama Administration best respond to wave after wave of "NSA revelations" that roil and cloud the political waters? Ironically, almost none of Edward Snowden's leaks—or those of Julian Assange—revealed anything that was illegal per se. What they have done is stir a too-long delayed argument over what should be legal!
World economics seer Louis-Vincent Gave, of the Gavekal Partnership, has explained the pivotal meaning of the Crimea Incident in a larger context which he calls a looming "World War IV" —the conflict between the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam, in which Sunnis control larger reserves of oil, but Shia populations are restive in the very places where that oil is pumped. If a rising axis of Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq takes hold - (the latter three Shia-ruled, currently) - then fear will tighten across the Sunni belt.
I just attended the NASA Innovative and Advance Concepts group (NIAC) symposium at Stanford —(I am on NIAC's Council of External Advisors)—watching and appraising and questioning terrific presentations about future-potential "game-changing" space technologies. In four days the recipients of NIAC seed grants, showed us how NASA's small but strategic investments in exceptional… even risky… technologies might prove valuable—even vital—if given a chance.
During his State of the Union Address, President Obama brought into the open, a topic we've all been mulling, lately… the worrisome rise in wealth and income disparity. Especially in the U.S., where two generations have grown up under the blithe illusion (unprecedented in human history) that matters of class are no-big-deal. Knowing that we're about to discuss the calamitous effects of a rising plutocracy, some of you will click away.
As if you didn’t already have enough to be nervous about, here’s something creepy to ponder as the new year opens. This what-if isn’t technological, social, political or even science-fictional. Rather, it’s a bit of wholly unscientific, superstitiouspattern-recognition. The last two centuries (and possibly more) didn’t “start” at their official point, the turning of a calendar from 00 to 01. That wasn’t when they began in essence, nor when they first bent the arc of history.
Following up on my previous posting, about the rationalizations of the new aristocracy, this time I plan to reveal to you a pernicious trend among some of society's best and brightest. But first, will you indulge me with a riff of background? In Existence, I portray a grand conference, held in the Alps around the year 2045. The secret meeting has been called by a consortium of "trillies," or trillionaire families, with the objective of commencing a new, world-wide era of Aristocratic Rule. But their goal is not just to re-institute the ancient pyramid of privileged domination, but this time to start off on the correct foot. To get it right.
While Americans await the recoil of their government's impending shut-down, I recommend, for light reading/listening, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, especially the last sentence, which is a tonic for those who have been taught the koolaid mantra that "all government is vile, all the time." Ask yourselves what our parents in the Greatest Generation would have said to that noxious oversimplification.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is working on the Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS) allowing authorities to identify individuals by their faces—from images collected by street cams, driver’s license photos, mug shots or other sources. As Ginger McCall points out, there is little or no "legal oversight of such technologies." And I agree! Oversight and "under-sight" or sousveillance is absolutely essential lest this lead to Big Brother!
R.J. Eskow - on Salon - offers "11 Questions to see if Libertarians are Hypocrites." And yes, most of Eskow's posers certainly do set up some stark and thought-provoking contradictions - even hypocrisies - in the oft-touted positions held by many who today use the "L-word" to describe themselves. The article is well-worth reading and it does skewer especially those who bow in obeisance to Ayn Rand, the patron saint of resentful ingrates who want desperately to blame society for being under-achievers. And yet…
I cannot recommend too highly an excellent article that appeared in The Guardian— Technology as Our Last Best Hope —about the concept of ecological modernism, which sees technology as key to solving big environmental problems.
My last posting about Climate Change remediation got a lot of attention, positive and negative, so let me emphasize: I do not consider any form of "geoengineering" to be a substitute for responsibly investing in energy efficiency and finding ways to maintain a great civilization without ruining our planet.