Pandora’s Brain is one of the most philosophical science fiction novels I have read recently. And since Calum Chace has been a valuable contributor to Singularity Weblog, as well as a great blogger with an interesting and diverse experience in his own right, I thought that he would make a great guest for my Singularity 1on1 podcast. And so I invited him for an interview which turned out to be a very enjoyable conversation indeed.
Every book on torture that i have browsed is mainly devoted to methods of torture and then to three topics: Ethical arguments against torture, Utilitarian arguments against torture, and History of the rejection of torture. I cannot find a neuroscientist or psychologist who thought of writing about the exact opposite: What were the ethical justifications for torture?, What were the utilitarian arguments for torture? and What is the history of the widespread adoption of torture?
On the surface, valuing embryonic life and abusing children are at odds, but with a biblical view of childhood, these positions can go hand in hand. Why do the same people who fight against abortion argue that parents should have the right to beat their children and deny them medical care or education, as some conservative Republicans have done recently?
The civilized world has an ever-intensifying relationship to automated computer technology. It is involved in nearly everything we do, every day, from the time we wake to the time we go to sleep. Why, then, does so much of our entertainment reflect a deep-set fear of technology and its potential for failure?
When Reuters announced the successful deployment of the first Internet-enabled pacemaker in the United States, it was a dream come true for many. The news came late in the summer of 2009, three weeks after Carol Kasyjanski became the first American recipient of a wireless pacemaker that allowed her doctor to monitor her health from afar. Since then there has been a proliferation of Internet-connected personal medical devices, or iPMDs, which now include insulin pumps, glucometers, blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters, walking canes, and of course, the ubiquitous fitness wearables.
I was taken aback- to say the least – by an article from the New York Times that crossed my Twitter feed today that suggested wearable electronics like the new Apple Watch could be has harmful as smoking: Could Wearable Computers Be as Harmful as Cigarettes? http://t.co/JvM1mnR2Tz — NYT Styles (@NYTStyles) March 18, 2015 (Tweet has since been deleted)
These three short stories all come from the same Cory Doctorow collection, Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2007). Free download here. The three are all set against a background of what I call the “DRM Curtain,” a transnational corporate Empire based on artificial scarcities enforced through a maximalist version “intellectual property” rights, promoted through trade deals written and lobbied by the proprietary content industries, and ultimately backed by the military force of the American state.
In his article, “What is the Difference between Posthumanism and Transhumanism?”, Kevin LaGrandeur sets out to clarify the meaning of the terms “posthuman”, “transhuman” and “posthumanism”. (http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/lagrandeur20141226) He notes that the relative newness of the terminology is a source of confusion among many who employ these terms.
What do emerging technologies mean for a developing economy like Nigeria? This is the second article in a series where I focus on the World Economic Forum’s list of the most promising emerging technologies for the year 2015. Here, I examine the implications of technological breakthroughs such as precise genetic engineering, additive manufacturing, and artificial intelligence, in developing economies such as Nigeria.
First of all, let’s draw a line between a strategy and wishful thinking. There are plenty of wonderful transhumanist projects. A viral video, a global portal, attracting celebrities, proof that aging is a disease, convincing billionaires, educational programs, letters to politicians, civil actions, participating in elections, creating a strong community, clinical trials of combinations of existing age delaying drugs on animals, TV shows, Hollywood blockbusters, creating a political committee, conferences on transhumanist topics, scientific megaproject on life extension, cryonics company, crowdfunding, a lot of startups relevant to transhumanist topics, active use of AI elements in all areas and so on .
Lyrics for the rap song, B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth), include the following line: The white image, of Christ, is really Cesare Borgia. The idea that our modern image of Jesus could be based on a ruthless power-hungry illegitimate son of a pope is startling and farfetched. But it is no more bizarre or fanciful than many other ideas about who Jesus was or what he looked like. And it does have an interesting tale behind it. To understand the Borgia story requires a bit of context.
Last Thursday, the second annual University of Michigan Innovation In Action competition concluded, with six stunning student pitches for startups that could make a significant dent on the health and well-being of communities. It was a great example of what can be achieved at the intersection of public health, entrepreneurship, and the creativity and energy that students can bring to real-world problems.
“At Death’s End”, written by James Blish (1921-1975), was published in the May 1954 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine. Surprisingly, this short story is still only accessible in hard copy, within the original Astounding Science Fiction edition. Apart from a brief review by Robert W. Franson, who introduced me to this work, there is today surprisingly little literary analysis devoted to “At Death’s End” – even though it offers a fascinating glimpse into how a science-fiction writer from an earlier era perceived the prospects for indefinite human longevity, from the vantage point of the scientific knowledge available at the time.
Unwanted pregnancy is contributing to a new “caste system” in America. Is that about to get worse? When new and better technologies become available only to people who are already privileged, the rich get richer and opportunity gaps get wider. That’s exactly what’s happening with family planning—and unless trends change, a recent revolution in contraceptive technology may deepen America’s economic divide. Many factors intersect to create poverty or keep people mired there: racism, sexism, untreated illness and mental illness, hopelessness created by lack of opportunity, structural barriers between social classes, and more.
In response to pressure from the advocacy group As You Sow, Dunkin’ Brands has announced that it will be removing allegedly “nano” titanium dioxide from Dunkin’ Donuts’ powdered sugar donuts. As You Sow claims there are safety concerns around the use of the material, while Dunkin’ Brands cites concerns over investor confidence. It’s a move that further confirms the food sector’s conservatism over adopting new technologies in the face of public uncertainty. But how justified is it based on what we know about the safety of nanoparticles?
On March 4 the World Economic Forum released its list of the top 10 emerging technologies of 2015. The list was put together by the Meta-Council on Emerging Technologies in a bid to offer a vivid glimpse of the power of innovation to improve lives, transform industries and safeguard our planet. Included in the list are zero-emission cars fuelled by hydrogen and computer chips modelled on the human brain
Every time a region of the United States enters a short- or long-term drought, out come the histrionics. “The sky is falling.” But crying “wolf” is not a remedy. Careful planning by considering existing and future technological advances is one obvious solution.
On July 31, 2012, a massive blackout swept across northeast India. At 1 pm local time, a power line in the state of Madhya Pradesh became overloaded and tripped out. As the supply grid struggled to pick up the slack, other lines went down. By 1:03, a cascading series of failures had pushed the electricity supply grid into a state of chaos, resulting in the largest blackout in human history. More than an estimated 600 million people lost power temporarily as a result of the collapse.
"The Master Switch" is an intriguing history of radio, telephone, cinema and television business in the USA (note: "in the USA", which is not clearly stated in the introduction). The central theme of the book is the "oscillation of information industries between open and closed", a recurring pattern that he finds across those four industries… and that he projects into the age of the Internet. The pattern looks like this: scientific innovation creates an information technology, the information technology opens a new market, an industry is created to serve that market, a monopoly eventually comes to control that market and therefore the flow of information.
EDGE OF DARK is the latest science fiction novel from Brenda Cooper. It is the first in the Glittering Edge Duology, and is published next month by Pyr Books. Here’s the synopsis: What if a society banished its worst nightmare to the far edge of the solar system, destined to sip only dregs of light and struggle for the barest living. And yet, that life thrived? It grew and learned and became far more than you ever expected, and it wanted to return to the sun. What if it didn’t share your moral compass in any way?
Jesus has been described as the best known figure in history, and also the least known. If you mentioned the name “Jesus” and someone asked Jesus who?, you might blink. Or laugh. Even people who don’t think Jesus was God, mostly believe they know a fair bit about him. You might be surprised that some of your most basic assumptions about Jesus are probably wrong.
Why aren’t Muslim and Christian extremists extremely peaceful? The answer lies in the Iron Age setting of the Bible and Quran—when literate cultures replaced the Golden Calf with the Sacred Text. Diplomats, religious leaders, and peacemakers of many stripes keep insisting that ISIS isn’t about Islam. They point to a host of other factors including colonialism, injustice, lack of economic opportunity, and hopelessness. They’re not altogether wrong, but they are missing the tyrannosaurus rex in the room.
A genre that science fiction writers have been attempting to colonize with some regularity is that of the suspense thriller. Here the dissolution of genre boundaries is more subtle, since the imaginative material and narrative conventions of science fiction may be retained, while the plot, structure, and tone are borrowed from a mode of paranoid pursuit melodrama pioneered in espionage novels from John Buchan to Robert Ludlum. Initially, those novelists who seemed most successful—at least commercially—in effecting this merger were novelists whose starting point was the thriller rather than the science fiction tale: Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, and Peter Benchley are among the most prominent examples, with Crichton having based nearly his entire career on science fiction conceits.
Opposition to IUD’s, like opposition to vaccines, is putting American families at risk—and a Colorado controversy shows that misguided faith and scientific ignorance are to blame. When a pilot program in Colorado offered teens state-of-the-art long acting contraceptives—IUD’s and implants—teen births plummeted by 40%, along with a drop in abortions. The program saved the state 42.5 million dollars in a single year, over five times what it cost. But rather than extending or expanding the program, some Colorado Republicans are trying to kill it—even if this stacks the odds against Colorado families.
Fareed Zakaria's thesis is that the USA is moving towards an excessively democratic system in which polls are having a perverse influence on a system that was designed to be less about democracy and more about liberty. He doesn't quite offer a crisp definition of "liberty" but roughly it means individual freedom and protection from abuses of authority by the state. "Freedom" is a vague term, that has been used throughout history in different contexts (for most nations it meant "freedom" from foreign oppression). "Liberty" is about personal freedom.
On January 20, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) announced the Apollo 1201 project, an effort to eradicate digital rights management (DRM) schemes from the world of Internet commerce. Led by well-known activist Cory Doctorow, the project aims to “accelerate the movement to repeal laws protecting DRM” and “kick-start a vibrant market in viable, legal alternatives to digital locks.” According to EFF, DRM technologies “threaten users’ security and privacy, distort markets, undermine innovation,” and don’t effectively protect so-called “intellectual property.”
One can rarely find four thinkers as distinct from one another as Gorbachev, Kissinger, Chomsky, and Ron Paul, and yet, for all of their differences, each of them is clearly guided by a systematic, thoroughly considered intellectual framework. All four of these thinkers have concluded, starting from different practical and moral premises, that further escalation of the Ukraine crisis by the United States would be a dangerous, deeply inadvisable behavior.
I recently responded to a rather nice blog post by Herb Silverman as follows: The average lifespan of a Drosophila fruit fly is about 30 days. Imagine what it observes from its perspective: young humans, old humans, middle-aged humans, wandering through the world. No single fruit fly observes a human of one sort turning into another. From its "pre-theoretic" point of view, it only sees "types" of humans that are more or less "fixed" across time (the 30 days of its life). There's no direct evidence of human aging in any single fruit fly generation…