When you’re facing a life or death situation, what do the odds mean – to you personally? As Brian Zikmund-Fisher from the University of Michigan School of Public Health pointed out to Robert Siegel on NPR yesterday, “We’re never 95 percent alive. We either live or die. We experience outcomes”.
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.
This is a statue of Dick Winters from the Allied 101 airborne and Easy Company of World War II. He didn’t let us down with the war against the Nazis, battling through Normandy, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge and the invasion of Germany to get to them and capture and shoot them so they would stop threatening all of our freedoms. I’m very sorry and eternally saddened that the world couldn’t get to the goal of indefinite life extension therapy available for all, in time for more people like Dick.
Most broadly, Social Futurism stands for positive social change through technology; i.e. to address social justice issues in radically new ways which are only just now becoming possible thanks to technological innovation. If you would like some introduction to Social Futurist ideas, you can read the introduction page at wavism.net and there are links to articles at http://IEET.org listed at the top of this post. In this post I will discuss the Social Futurist alternative to Liberal Democratic and Authoritarian states, how that model fits with our views on decentralization and subsidiarity, and its relevance to the political concept of a “Third Way“.
Over the past few days, the interweb’s been awash with virtual “oohs” and “ahs” over Surrey Nanosystems’ carbon nanotube-based Vantablack coating. The material – which absorbs over 99.9% of light falling onto it and is claimed to be the world’s darkest material – is made up of a densely packed “forest” of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes (see the image below). In fact the name “vanta” stands for Vertically Aligned NanoTube Array.
A lot of interesting testimony came out of yesterday’s House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing, which was titled “Review of CDC Anthrax Lab Incident,” but broadly covered the numerous slapstick-’cept-it-ain’t-funny errors around dangerous pathogens research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Theoretically the problem is already solved. It is now quite obvious what kind of research should be done for life extension. For example, testing various combinations of different things that extend lifespan in old mice. Particularly important is longevity gene therapy development.
There is often imagined to be a struggle between humans and nature. How does this struggle originate, and what is its resolution? Such a question is central to some religious traditions, and has much room to be explored in literature.
I have to admit – I was a total bitcoin skeptic. But after spending several months learning about cryptocurrencies I have come to believe that bitcoin is the financial singularity – the most disruptive technology of our present day beyond whose event-horizon human affairs as we know them – be it financial or otherwise, will be fundamentally transformed.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies on February 25, 2014 released its annual list of breakthrough technologies. The list highlights 10 trends in technological advancement that could offer innovative solutions to a range of pressing global challenges. As a member of the council that compiles the list each year, I’m excited to see technologies here that could be truly transformative. At the same time, realizing the benefits they offer will require a good dose of responsible innovation mixed in with the technologies each trend represents.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Since giving my support to the May 24 march against Monsanto, I have taken the time to review some of the more unusual opinions in the debate over genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). The enthusiasts for technological development as a means of eliminating scarcity and disparity view GMOs favorably.
I just watched a video of an event in Amsterdam where the well-known Libertarian Stefan Molyneux spoke. Let me link it for your edification. Immediately after the event his Google+, Gmail and Youtube were deleted, as a result of complain vandalism. In other words, what he said caused a counter reaction. Now I am not usually overly enthusiastic about Peter and his Libertarian ideas, but in this video he makes a pretty much spectacular point against the power of unbridled governance. This particular line of reasoning I really like.
World Beyond War has created a set of online interactive maps to help us all see where and how war and preparations for war exist in the world today. You can find the maps we’ve created thus far at http://bit.ly/mappingmilitarism and send us your ideas for more maps here. We’ll be updating some of these maps with new data every year and displaying animation of the progress away from war or the regress toward more war as the case may be.
The technological singularity requires the creation of an artificial superintelligence (ASI). But does that ASI need to be modelled on the human brain, or is it even necessary to be able to fully replicate the human brain and consciousness digitally in order to design an ASI?
What does it mean to be a person? For the anti-abortion group, Personhood USA, a “person” is present from the moment a sperm penetrates an egg, and members are fighting to have their definition encoded into law. Online coaching tools for abortion opponents use the term person interchangeably with human or human being. Are they interchangeable? Does it matter?
Somewhere around a dozen years ago, I was sitting in a bar in Eastern Washington. It could have been Lake Chelan or Yakima. I really don’t remember. But I do remember meeting two cowboys. Real cowboys (we still have them in the west). They weren’t talking about herds of cows over their beers. They were talking about fires.
Discussions of technological change in the media are generally coupled with discussions of technological unemployment and the increasing polarization of wealth. A good example is a piece by Eduardo Porter in the New York Times (“Tech Leaps, Job Losses and Rising Inequality,” April 15). Amid talk of all the technological wonders issuing from Silicon Valley, Porter observes that in recent years employers have seized on the falling cost of capital relative to labor that results from such improvements as an opportunity to substitute capital for labor.
The American Bible Society funds an annual “State of the Bible” survey, and this spring the Christian Post cheered some of their findings: “The Bible continues to dominate both mind space and book retail space as America’s undisputed best-seller.” According to the study, conducted by Barna, over 88 percent of American homes contain a Bible. In fact, the average is 4.7 copies per household.
Last post we observed the dynamics of the collective in the terms of a small tribe, and indicated that at this size, things worked pretty well. That is not to say that error modes were not possible, but that when error modes arose, there were mechanisms in place to deal with those errors. Essentially, at this scale, the ability of individuals to veil their actions in a wall of secrecy did not exist. While it is certainly possible for the individual to lie, cheat, steal and deceive, such actions could only be carried out to a limited extent, and carried repercussions that were deleterious to that individuals long term well being.