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.
Energy and environment are the central issues of human civilization in the 21st century. K-12 must educate for scholarship and core skills, but also for hope, optimism and the shared values of national and societal myths. In other words the educator must walk a fine line between the radical skepticism of the critical scientific approach and a hopeful optimism without which life is not worth living. This balancing act has always been difficult – never more so than today.
Submissions are invited for a special issue of the Journal of Evolution and Technology on the topic of the Ethics of Geoengineering. Deforestation, animal husbandry, the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities have resulted in the rise of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. The rapid rise in temperature is having dramatic impacts from massive storms to droughts near the equator, and it is vital to nearly all species on Earth that we actively reduce greenhouse gases. Geoengineering – a variety of massive projects to deflect sunlight or sequester carbon - is one possible way to slow and mitigate this environmental crisis, although the various methods being proposed all have attendant risks and ethical concerns.
Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution recently wrote a post called No One is Innocent: “I broke the law yesterday and again today and I will probably break the law tomorrow. Don’t mistake me, I have done nothing wrong. I don’t even know what laws I have broken. Nevertheless, I am reasonably confident that I have broken some laws, rules, or regulations recently because its hard for anyone to live today without breaking the law. Doubt me? Have you ever thrown out some junk mail that came to your house but was addressed to someone else? That’s a violation of federal law punishable by up to 5 years in prison…
The climate crisis demands our immediate attention. Climate change could devastate thousands of at-risk communities beyond repair and leave the face of the earth scarred. We cannot be alarmist enough about continued climate change and the threat it poses to life on this planet. This is the first time in the history of this planet that a species altered global climate to such a degree. The future of life on this planet is entering a period of extreme risk and few are offering rational solutions.
There are writers and futurists who are swimming upstream against a tide of people screaming about the sky falling. Ramez Naam is one of the them, offering practical tools and illuminating the power of imagination and initiative.
Roger Howard presents plausible scenarios regarding the geopolitical dangers of peak oil. Equally plausible scenarios could envision some positive impacts, because countries dependent on natural resources are often poor and undemocratic, while countries dependent on human resources are often rich and democratic.
In 1979, sociologist Prof. Albert J. Szymanski once said: The energy for change comes from the emotions. It comes from feelings of frustration that arise when people's needs are not met. If people were computers that could be programmed to do anything their masters wanted, there would be no pressure for change, even if some computers were treated much worse than others…
It’s not enough to point out that our political system is completely corrupted by money, including money from coal and oil and nukes and gas. Of course it is. And if we had direct democracy, polls suggest we would be investing in green energy. But saying the right thing to a pollster on a phone or in a focus group is hardly the extent of what one ought sensibly to do when the fate of the world is at stake.
Recently I wrote a very long post in which I tried, as exhaustively as possible to discuss if it was the case to let people delegate their vote in eDemocracy. The conclusion was that it would be better not to introduce it. Which is a bitter conclusion, because it halts the conversation before it starts. I also suggested that IF we wanted to allow delegated voting, it should be done in a “non linear” way. In other words, it should be possible to delegate someone, but it’s not a good deal.
Continued demand for Africa’s natural resources as well as the recent discoveries of oil, gas and minerals in, among others, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, together with an improved macro-economic environment, sustain prospects for robust economic growth on the continent.
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) exhibited significantly better economic and social indicators than Asia in the immediate post-independence era in the 1960s. Existing historical records and evidence suggest that the region had higher average per capita income and better human development indicators.
I haven’t said much political in a while. Moreover, amid all the talk of budget balancing and sequesters, I’d like to shift attention to a topic that may - at first sight - seem a bit wonkish and detached: farm subsidies. In fact, they are an area where Blue America remains frightfully ignorant and where the flood of entitlement spending merits closer attention, in times of near bankruptcy.