IEET Fellow David Brin has been named the first annual National Endowment for the Humanities/Hannah Arendt Center Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. David will be in residence at the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College from Monday, October 5, to Sunday, October 25. As part of David’s fellowship, he will mentor selected Bard students on their fiction and nonfiction writing. Brin will also offer a number of lectures and discussions during his residency at Bard.
Across all my years as an impudent dissenter from mob-think regarding freedom and privacy, one fact has left me boggled, time and again. The way activists and academics and pundits – many of them clearly intelligent and sincere thinkers – leap to make the same mistake, over and over again. The error of technological myopia.
Is interstellar travel by bio-humanity even possible? Not according to my dear bro and esteemed colleague Kim Stanley Robinson. Whose new novel AURORA follows one of the first… and possibly last… efforts to send a generation starship to a neighboring star. Naturally, any KSR book is worth rushing out to purchase… though like many of his other works, there is a very strong sense that the author has a point to make.
Not only was “peak oil” off-base… it was way, way off base. Out in the shale fields, it appears that a new kind of Moore’s Law is at work, with incredible new technologies making wells up to 50% more efficient per year! You may not like carbon—and indeed over the span of a decade, neither do I. But it is in all of our interests that (1) coal be driven out of business by natural gas, (2) American manufacturing be spurred by cheap natural gas, (3) the Middle East lose its compulsory power over our attention, (4) that some powers in the Middle East, especially, come to realize they are not unlimited gods.
What technologies are currently shaping our world…and which will continue to mold our future? In this special posting, we’ll take you on a tour of many wondrous web sites and other resources that aim spotlights at the future. And invite you all to chime in with favorites that I missed!
We’re looking outward… toward the vast, vast majority of all there is. And after decades of doldrums, it seems we truly are regaining some momentum in space exploration. Have any of you been keeping track on a scorecard?
Hang on till the end, to read the news from NASA NIAC!
Talk of war? Major war in Europe? This long and very detailed article in Vox examines the ways that Russia’s contretemps with NATO and the US and the West could spiral out of control, via many of the same psychological and strategic miscalculations that tumbled the planet – 100 years ago – into the First World War.
Social thinkers long yearned for the kind of predictive power offered by universal laws of Galileo, Newton and Einstein—reductionist rules that changed our relationship with the material world, from helplessness to manipulative skill. If only similar patterns and laws were found for human nature! Might we construct an ideal society suited to decent living by all?
Excitement is building for the New Horizons Mission and its hurried swing past Pluto on July 14. What a terrific way to celebrate Bastille Day! Watch this terrific video - Fast and Light to Pluto - about New Horizons, created by the NY Times.
“Americans now discriminate more on the basis of party than on race, gender or any of the other divides we typically think of — and that discrimination extends beyond politics into personal relationships and non-political behaviors.” This according to a study published last year by Stanford and Princeton researchers. (See America’s New Cycle of Partisan Hatred.) The divide is as fierce as it has been, since…
One thing I promise, when we do politics here. It won’t be stuff you are reading anywhere else.
Cranking back NSA spying…?
Topmost in the news, recently, the shocking ability of the U.S. Congress to actually pass a compromise bill, one that dials back a few of the powers given (since 9/11) to our Professional Protector Caste (PPC) in the Patriot Act.
Planetary Resources, founded by Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson, aims to pave the way to humanity mining asteroids for vast wealth… as the B612 Foundation hopes to detect and track asteroids that threaten civilization’s survival… a real case of synergy of purpose. (I’ve been helping both.)
This fascinating (if long) essay - Engineering the Perfect Baby (from Technology Review) - explores the scientific and moral ramifications of “germ cell genetic engineering” or the changing of genomes in ways that can be inherited and passed-down, parent to naturally conceived child.
You would be writers out there, of both fiction and nonfiction! Have a look at George Orwell's wonderful advice to writers of English prose—Politics and the English Language. It is 95% spot on — valuable for those who want to communicate, instead of being pompous!
A National Academy of Sciences panel said that, with proper governance and other safeguards, we should commence more research on geoengineering — technologies that might let himanity deliberately intervene in nature to counter climate change. With the planet facing potentially severe impacts from global warming in coming decades, drastically reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases was by far the best way to mitigate the effects of a warming planet. But society would be foolish not to at least carefully commence small scale experiments looking into other means of reducing the net harm.
What does it mean for the world to flow with light? Let's start this example of sousveillance in action… a professor and his students showcase where the FDA buried information about drug company misconduct. Now, the standard response to something like this is to build and then build some more upon our callouses of cynicism. Oh no, we see more villainy, proving that all institutions are corrupt! Instead of yes! We just caught some villainy! Proving that we can—with grinding but relentless hard work—improve our institutions, the way our parents and grandparents did!
It is widely bruited about that both society and the internet are utterly unforgiving. That any nude photo or youthful indiscretion will be remembered until the galaxies go dim. That teen instagrams will scandalize potential mates and employers, ruining your life, forcing you to live in gutters. But this Atlantic article— Naked on the Internet is Not Forever—casts doubt on both assumptions…. that those photos hang around, or that anyone really cares.
Sometimes people just plain blow a good thing. Take one of the most powerful symbols of the last 70 years, the so-called “Doomsday Clock” of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “It is 3 minutes to midnight." In a statement released today during a press conference in Washington, DC, members of the Science and Security Board said: "The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists does not move the hands of the Doomsday Clock for light or transient reasons."
The issue will not go away. But at last the reflexes seem to be fading. The silly reflex - for example - to demand that we solve information age problems by shutting down info flows. By standing in front of the data tsunami like King Canute screaming "Stop!" Instead of learning to surf.
In a previous political posting, we ran through a long list of political addictions – nostrums and catechisms that believers return to decade after decade, despite their having been relentlessly and decisively disproved. Like the notion that a seventy year Drug War can cure chemical dependency, or that a fifty year trade embargo on Cuba ever did a scintilla of good.
Okay, then. As we launch into a new year… possibly the first "real" year of a new century... it seems that a theme will be deification or bust! Either we build up enough momentum to attain godlike powers - in sane and wise ways - or we fall short and crumble into a morass of unsolved problems and stifling dogmas. Oh… but don't forget the "sane and wise" part! Which takes us to our first item.
A core lesson for our era. Don't give up on all privacy. Nevertheless—live and work as if anybody might be watching now, or at a recording that's decrypted and published ten years from now. Always act as if there's a chance what you're doing will be revealed. That's the take-home lesson from…
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.
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