Jim Thomas of the ETC Group has just posted a well reasoned article on the Guardian website on the challenges of defining the the emerging technology of “synthetic biology”. The article is the latest in a series of exchanges addressing the potential risks of the technology and its effective regulation.
This post is part of an ongoing series I’m doing on the unconditional basic income (UBI). The UBI is an income grant payable to a defined group of people (e.g. citizens, or adults, or everyone) within a defined geo-political space. The income grant could be set at various levels, with most proponents thinking it should be at or above subsistence level, or at least at the maximum that is affordable in a given society. In my most recent post, I looked at Van Parijs’s famous defence of the UBI. Today, I look at Widerquist’s critique of Parijs, as well as his own preferred justification for the UBI.
William Galston writes in the Wall Street Journal about a Republican senator’s plans to force a confrontation on government disability benefits. Though Mr. Galston doesn’t seem to see it this way, it sounds as if Sen. Orrin Hatch plans to hold benefits for disabled Americans hostage in order to force Social Security cuts on everyone.
We the Family first would like to thank each and every one of you for your positive thoughts and wishes. We are asking for your assistance to keep Dick on a positive road to recovery. At this time we just don’t have the means to assist Dick with all the finances for his recovery.
Over the past few days, my news and social media streams have been inundated by articles on “nanojuice”. The “juice” – developed by researchers at the University of Buffalo and published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology – is a suspension of light-absorbing nanoparticles which, when drunk (and only mice have had this privilege so far), allow an unprecedented level of real-time imaging of the small intestine. It also presents an unusual series of safety challenges as the particles are designed to be intentionally ingested.
I want to write a few posts about the basic income over the next couple of months. This is part of an ongoing interest I have in the future of work and solutions to the problem of technological unemployment. I’ll start by looking at a debate between Philippe van Parijs and Elizabeth Anderson about the justice of an unconditional basic income (UBI).
If you get just old enough, one of the lessons living through history throws you is that dreams take a long time to die. Depending on how you date it, communism took anywhere from 74 to 143 years to pass into the dustbin of history, though some might say it is still kicking. The Ptolemaic model of the universe lasted from 100 AD into the 1600′s. Perhaps even more dreams than not simply refuse to die, they hang on like ghost, or ghouls, zombies or vampires, or whatever freakish version of the undead suits your fancy. Naming them would take up more room than I can post, and would no doubt start one too many arguments, all of our lists being different. Here, I just want to make an argument for the inclusion of one dream on our list of zombies knowing full well the dream I’ll declare dead will have its defenders.
We asked “If a gene therapy that added fifty years of life was safe and effective, should parents be legally required to give it to their children?” Only a third of the 182 respondents thought mandatory gene therapy for longevity for kids was a good idea.
Overview of Advances Articulated in Nanomedical Device and Systems Design: Challenges, Possibilities, Visions (2013)  This article provides an overview of the research findings related to cognitive enhancement that are presented in Nanomedical Device and Systems Design: Challenges, Possibilities, Visions (2013), an encyclopedic textbook chronicling a plethora of recent advances in myriad areas of nanotechnology and nanomedicine. The final chapter discusses progress in nanomedical cognitive enhancement, where we find ourselves in a modern era in which many technologies appear to be on the cusp – helping to resolve pathologies while also having much future potential for the augmentation of human capabilities.
Should we worry that only X% of CEOs, or politicians or philosophers (or whatever) are women? Is there something unjust or morally defective about a society with low percentages of women occupying these kinds of roles? That’s what we’re looking at in this series of posts, based on Janet Radcliffe-Richard’s (RR’s) paper “Only X%: the Problem of Sex Inequality”.
Geoengineering has come under attack recently by conspiracy theorists, scientists, to “greens.” There have been many kinds of proposals for geoengineering, and even a legal/illegal experiment pouring 200,000 pounds of iron sulfate into the North Pacific which was supposed to increase plankton that would absorb carbon dioxide. The experiment did not work and pissed off a lot of scientists. China also recently stopped their “flattening of mountains.” Therefore this article is not purely about techniques of combating global warming, but about the need for people to understand that geoengineering is a must, not only a must, but also a “human right.”
Anesthesia was a major medical breakthrough, allowing us to lose consciousness during surgery and other painful procedures. Trouble is, we’re not entirely sure how it works. But now we’re getting closer to solving its mystery — and with it, the mystery of consciousness itself. When someone goes under, their cognition and brain activity continue, but consciousness gets shut down.
Let’s start with a thought experiment. Suppose that in a given population 50% of people have blue eyes and 50% have brown eyes. Suppose further that there is no evidence to suggest that eye colour has any effect on cognitive ability; indeed, suppose that everything we know suggests that cognitive ability is equally distributed among blue and brown-eyed people. Now imagine that in this population 80% of all senior academics and professors are blue-eyed. What conclusions should we draw about the justice of this society?
Transhumanism—the rapidly growing international movement that aims to use radical science and technology to significantly improve the human being—has many fascinating fields of study. One of my favorite areas is biohacking. I recently had a chance to chat with Rich Lee, a leading biohacker whose upgrades and experiments to his body are both impressive and courageous. His exploits have been featured in CNN, The Guardian, Popular Science, The Huffingon Post, and many other well-known media sites.
It could be difficult for human civilization to survive a global catastrophe like rapid climate change, nuclear war, or a pandemic disease outbreak. But imagine if two catastrophes strike at the same time. The damages could be even worse. Unfortunately, most research only looks at one catastrophe at a time, so we have little understanding of how they interact.
The developed nations of the Western world are currently characterised by a political-economic system typically referred to as “Liberal Democracy“*. Up until very recently, there has been a tendency for all major political parties to converge on an ostensibly moderate, centrist, Liberal Democratic position. This position is characterised by Representative Democracy on the one hand, and commitment to Liberalism (both social and economic, but with emphasis on Market Liberalism) on the other. This worldview is frequently depicted by its proponents as the polar opposite of and only ethical or viable alternative to Authoritarian forms of social organization.
Over the spring the Fundamental Questions Institute (FQXi) sponsored an essay contest the topic of which should be dear to this audience’s heart- How Should Humanity Steer the Future? I thought I’d share some of the essays I found most interesting, but there are lots, lots, more to check out if you’re into thinking about the future or physics, which I am guessing you might be.
The event we celebrate on the Fourth of July is not America’s victory over Great Britain. The British weren’t defeated until September 3, 1783. July 4, 1776 is the day the Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence.
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.
I have always been fond of the concept of feedback loops, and it is indeed the case that much of humankind’s progress, and the progress of a given individual, can be thought of as a positive feedback loop. In the technology/reason interaction, human reason leads to the creation of technology, which empowers human reason and raises rational thinking to new heights, which enables still further technology, and so on.
As expected, the last case ruled on before the Supreme Court of the United States adjourned until October was the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga case. For those unaware, this case is based on the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, classifying contraceptives as preventive healthcare required under all insurance plans without a co-pay. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood both objected to this, saying that covering some forms of birth control, like the IUD/IUS or Plan B, violated their religious beliefs by requiring them to fund abortive medications.1
The Prime Minister of Morocco recently compared women to “lanterns” or “chandeliers,” saying that “when women went to work outside, the light went out of their homes.” His remarks, which ran counter to Morocco’s constitutionally-guaranteed rights for women, promptly provoked both street demonstrations and an “I’m not a chandelier” Twitter hashtag.
Imagine if you could take an exotic vacation billions of light years from Earth, peek in on the dinosaurs’ first-hand, or jump into a parallel universe where another you is living a more exciting life than yours; and you could swap places if you like.
Prophecies of doom, especially when they’re particularly frightening, have a way of sticking with us in a way more rosy scenarios never seem to do. We seem to be wired this way by evolution, and for good reason. It’s the lions that almost ate you that you need to remember, not the ones you were lucky enough not to see. Our negative bias is something we need to be aware of, and where it seems called for, lean against, but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss and ignore every chicken little as a false prophet even when his predictions turn out to be wrong, not just once, but multiple times. For we can never really discount completely the prospect that chicken little was right after all, and it just took the sky a long, long time to fall.
The preceding installments have described a tension between organized human effort and individual freedom. The former entails the adoption of a machine-like way of processing observations and acting on them (nowadays a techno-bureaucracy) that has no inherent morality: human values lie entirely with the people who make judgments within this machine.