A decade ago, it was nearly inconceivable that in 2015, gay marriage would be legal across the US and marijuana fully legal in four states plus the District of Columbia. Yet it happened. It happened because citizens who wanted change led, from the bottom up, often through citizens initiatives.
Authors Peter H. Diamandis and Steve Kotler have created just about the perfect handbook when it comes to envisioning a technically advanced, democratic and thriving society. Written in 2012, this book is still an important read for anyone who’s interested in a technical future where humanity finally rises above the mire it has been tethered to for millennia.
We are living in a world with many challenges and even existential risks. Yet only a relatively small number of people seem to be concerned about this, while others apparently oblivious behave adversely towards these challenges, e.g. through an environmentally unfriendly lifestyle, in developing as well as developed countries. Very often the reason for this behaviour is not lack of education, but wrong education. In many places children are neither educated properly in sciences, nor are their rationality skills trained. Instead in many parts of the world, the curriculum is linked to unscientific ideologies, which pupils are prone to believe forever if indoctrinated in early childhood.
Happy two hundred and thirty ninth birthday, America! Although it’s more accurate to claim the country is younger and date the current republic’s birth from the adoption of the constitution in 1787. Amazingly, it’s a constitution that in most respects remains essentially the same despite all the enormous changes that have happened in the centuries since it was written.
At some point technology will allow us to live forever. With billionaires spending millions on research  and huge corporations such as Google getting in on the act, very soon we are likely to see rapid advances in life expectancy – with the ultimate aim of radical life extension. All diseases will be cured, and the cellular aging that leads to the deterioration in body and mind will be slowed and eventually reversed so that everybody can choose how long they want to live for.
The dangers that face Earth and its inhabitants are diverse and intricate. The solutions, if any exists per particular danger, are equally complex and nuanced. Below you will find a shortlist of threats that range from conventional to bizarre.
Our struggling economy. Our struggling democracy. The income gap. Technology and artificial intelligence. At first glance, these things might not seem connected, but upon closer inspection, I find they’re all part of one impulse, and together they create the web of humanity—and our future.
The Singularity is near! That’s what a lot of us futurists have been planning for since we first came to understand the exponential growth rate of information technologies. What this technological singularity entails, however, is an entirely different question, and one of which requires radical thinking. One such author, C. James Townsend, has ventured himself on the quest of answering this very question – not just from a scientific or technological viewpoint, but equally an economic and political one as well!
We started to discuss Stevenson’s probe — a hypothetical vehicle which could reach the earth’s core by melting its way through the mantle, taking scientific instruments with it. It would take the form of a large drop of molten iron – at least 60,000 tons – theoretically feasible, but practically impossible.
I’ve been thinking a lot about connectivity lately. On many levels. From the fact that Comcast really is just a horrible ISP, to the connection between the ecosystems on Earth, I think it’s safe to say we’re not separate entities. We are intimately connected within webs, both virtually (which is why when we all want to stream Netflix in the neighborhood, our internet slows around here) and materially (which is there is a link between an increase of flesh eating bacteria on our beaches after a major oil spill—those little guys just love a good tarball.)
Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich has been studying extinction for decades; he published Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of Disappearing Species in 1981. Since that time Ehrlich has seen numbers that indicate the rate of extinction - of vertebrates, including mammals - is increasing.
There’s a graph making rounds lately showing the comparative EROIs of different electricity production methods. (EROI is Energy Return On Investment – how much energy we get back if we spend 1 unit of energy. For solar this means – how much more energy does a solar panel generate in its lifetime than is used to create it?)
This EROI graph that is making the rounds is being used to claim that solar and wind can’t support an industrialized society like ours.
We live in a political era dominated by corporate cash, billionaire “beauty pageants,” and a right-wing noise machine whose rhetorical phasers are permanently set to “stun.” It’s easy to lose track of ourselves when we’re distracted from moment to moment by Fox News pinwheels and celebrity-driven media circuses.
But out behind the tents, where the carnival lights aren’t as bright, a lot of people are fighting the good fight. How’s that fight going? One way to track its progress is by measuring recent developments against a populist or progressive agenda.
Chapter 1 - The Origin and State of the First Intelligent Species
The following statement is something we all understand, but it bears repeating because it is perhaps the coolest, most interesting scientific fact that we know about our universe and human existence:
Hydrogen, given sufficient time, turns into people.
It is an amazing statement if you think about it. A collection of simple atoms swirling around in the early universe, combined with the ordinary laws of nature like gravity, created human beings living here on planet earth over the course of billions of years.
This article examines the risks posed by “unknown unknowns,” which I call monsters. It then introduces a taxonomy of the unknowable, and argues that one category of this taxonomy in particular should lead us to inflate our prior probability estimates of annihilation, whatever they happen to be. The lesson here is ultimately the same as the Doomsday Argument, except the reasoning is far more robust.
What underlies a question like this is that it’s okay to force people to work by withholding what they need to live, in order to force them to work for us. And at the same time, because they are forced, we don’t even pay them enough to meet their basic needs that we are withholding to force them to work.
To hell with black swans and military strategy. Our direst problems aren’t caused by the unpredictable interplay of chaotic elements, nor by the evil plans of people who wish us ill. Global warming, worldwide soil loss, recurrent financial crisis, and global health risks aren’t strings of bad luck or the result of terrorist attacks, they are the depressingly persistent outcomes of systems in which each actor’s best choice adds up to a global mess.
The chances are that, if you follow news articles about cancer, you’ll have come across headlines like “Most Cancers Caused By Bad Luck” (The Daily Beast) or “Two-thirds of cancers are due to “bad luck,” study finds” (CBS News). The story – based on research out of Johns Hopkins University – has grabbed widespread media attention. But it’s also raised the ire of science communicators who think that the headlines and stories are, in the words of a couple of writers, “just bollocks”.
The pace of technological change is governed by many factors — including public demand. Which is why we need to be demanding more. Here are 12 transformative technologies whose development should be expedited right now. To make this list meaningful, I only included those items that are within reasonable technological reach. Sure, it would be nice to have molecular assemblers, warp drives, and the recipe for safe artificial intelligence, but it’ll be decades before we can reasonably embark upon such projects.
It is a risky business trying to predict the future, and although it makes some sense to try to get a handle on what the world might be like in one’s lifetime, one might wonder what’s even the point of all this prophecy that stretches out beyond the decades one is expected to live? The answer I think is that no one who engages in futurism is really trying to predict the future so much as shape it, or at the very least, inspire Noah like preparations for disaster.
Over the past few weeks, revelations of potentially dangerous errors in US federal labs handling pathogens have placed health and safety high on the national agenda. In June, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced as many as 75 of its staff may have been exposed to anthrax due to safety issues at one of its labs. At the beginning of July, vials of smallpox virus were found in an unsecured room at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Then earlier this week came the revelation that in the same room were over 300 vials containing pathogens such as dengue virus, influenza, and the bacterium that causes Q fever.
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.
For anyone thinking about the future relationship between nature-man-machines I’d like to make the case for the inclusion of an insightful piece of fiction to the canon. All of us have heard of H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke. And many, though perhaps fewer, of us have likely heard of fiction authors from the other side of the nature/technology fence, writers like Mary Shelley, or Ursula Le Guin, or nowadays, Paolo Bacigalupi, but certainly almost none of us have heard of Samuel Butler, or better, read his most famous novel Erewhon (pronounced with 3 short syllables E-re-Whon.)
The future of civic education may just lie in the past - the deep past that is. Here at the PEAR Lab we are hard at work weaving a new thread within the acclaimed civics curriculum Project Citizen - to enable to students to explore public policy issues through the lens of Big History. Let me briefly review Why we must do this, How we plan to get it done, and finally, What it is looking like.
The National Security Agency monitored the communications of other governments ahead of and during the 2009 United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, according to the latest document from whistleblower Edward Snowden. The document, with portions marked "top secret," indicates that the NSA was monitoring the communications of other countries ahead of the conference, and intended to continue doing so throughout the meeting.
This is the second part in my series on libertarianism and the basic income. The universal basic income (UBI) is a proposal for reforming the way in which welfare is paid. It is thought to be radical because it is paid to everyone, regardless of their work status, or other sources of income. Libertarianism, on the other hand, is a political philosophy associated with robust negative and property rights, the promotion of the free market, and a minimal state.
I have recently become interested in the case for an unconditional basic income (UBI). In large part, this has been prompted by an increasing fascination with the phenomenon of technological unemployment and its future progression. Some argue that increasing levels of technological unemployment, and the associated capital-labour income inequality that comes with this, would be best solved by something like the UBI. This strikes me as a prima facie plausible argument.