Consider two novels separated by 127 years in publication, both dealing with the moon, yet oddly alike. Both tell us something about the evolution of hard science fiction. Arguably, Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon announced for a broad audience the invention of modern science fiction—stories with the scientific content foregrounded, as much a character as any person, and lending credibility to the imaginings to come. Verne boasted incorrectly that “I have invented myself” this new fiction (Poe had a clear prior claim), but he did make the new form widely popular, and became the first and last sf writer to be blessed by the Pope for doing so.
Information and knowledge have been both feared and sought in the past. New information brings change, and change is often met with fear and resistance. In the past books were burned by the church and new technology destroyed by Luddites. The change that new information and knowledge brought was often regarded as threat to established interests. But inevitably with time, it brings benefits for all. New information changes our perception of ourselves, others and our environment. It breeds ideas and solutions for the obstacles we face and creates a positive feedback loop which is the driving force behind progress.
Joel Garreau, in Radical Evolution, lays out three possibilities, all stemming from Ray Kurzweil’s “Law of Accelerating Returns.” Garreau focuses on the so-called GRIN technologies: Genetics, Robotics, Information, and Nano-Technology. He sees a world where the understanding of our biological programming (genetics), allows us to build tiny robots (nano-technology, robotics) as an artificial immune system that can be updated wirelessly no matter where you are (information). In other words, he feels all four of these technologies will converge to change the rules of the human condition—for better or for worse.
While doctors and nurses will continue to treat patients, software programs will take up a growing share of the work. In a new technology-driven area, home-based software will monitor patients and provide daily advice. When patients are not feeling well, they will run their symptoms by the software and get automatic prognoses on what might be ailing them and whether an appointment with a human doctor is necessary.
In the last post, I simply listed both our traditional and our “new” ways of using animals. Perhaps I was a little harsh, since humans have treated certain classes of animals like family. We have even gone so far as to evolve essentially symbiotic relationships. For example, I wouldn’t want our family dogs to have to live wild. They don’t have those skills….
A new study spearheaded at Columbia University aims to provide parents with more information about their unborn children—including potential abnormalities and genetic defects. Spread across 10 different research hospitals that plan to secure 1,000 women each to participate, knowledge gained from the study will contribute to the ethical dialogue surrounding what parents do with more prenatal testing data.
By definition, a singularity is something utterly peculiar unto itself, a species of being unmatched for its “this-ness.” The term has found usage in a number of domains, most significantly in physics, where a singularity defines a condition of matter whose mass is approaching zero as a function of its density approaching infinity. Cases of singularities or near singularities include black holes and the singularity that preceded the Big Bang.
A recent UN State of the Future Report projects that by 2100, world population will total 9 billion, just 2 billion more than today. But the report did not account for radically increased life spans. Many forward thinkers, including this writer, believe that today’s biotech efforts with stem cell therapies and genetic engineering techniques, combined with molecular nanotech breakthroughs (the much hyped nanorobots whizzing through our veins), will provide a radical extension of human life.
I recently attended a talk by Daniel Garber (Princeton University) on the topic of “God, Laws and the Order of Nature in the Scientific Revolution.” While Garber’s talk was mostly historical in nature, it raised some interesting points about why and how we talk about laws of nature at all. And the connection was reinforced just a couple of days ago when I went to the New York Film Festival and saw a screening of “Particle Fever,” a documentary about the Higgs boson during which the concept of the fundamental (lawful, according to supporters of supersymmetry; random, according to people who favor the multiverse) architecture of the universe was the truly big question lurking in the background.
This series is a discussion of how we take responsibility for the birds and the beasts and the fields and the oceans and whatever Genesis left out (for example, the Bible doesn’t mention the atmosphere). It’s time for some discussion of the future of animals and how we’ll use them.
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to the Time Portal. In a few moments, we will beam your minds 10,000 years into the past at a location what is now Russia, where you will experience the sights and sounds of the Neolithic Revolution as humanity transforms from Hunter-Gatherer to Civilization status. Your body will remain here in a sleep state, while your conscious mind observes prehistoric human tribal activities on this 30-day journey. We hope you enjoy this exciting time travel adventure.”
When I go to the gym I get easily bored, so I listen to either music or, more likely, audiobooks. Recently, I’ve spent exercise time with a couple of scifi entries by author Robert Sawyer. I started out with Flashforward, then moved to Calculating God. Both books are based on clever premises, unfold nicely, but are — in my opinion — ruined by the author’s penchant for invoking deus-ex-machina scenarios near the end. And they both preach a bit too much science, to the point of feeling like a lecture to the reader, especially Calculating God. Nonetheless, they do make the time at the gym pass significantly faster…
The technological revolution gives us an opportunity to view questions of social justice differently. One example pertains to the handicapped. We now see them as needy unfortunates; objects of social and humanitarian concern rather than autonomous subjects capable of managing their own lives.
A few weeks ago, I brought up the subject of genetically modified organisms (GMO). I thought I would do a post on GMO so I could go into more detail about it. As a background on GMO for those not familiar with it, the April 2013 issue of Discover magazine has an interesting article on GMO. That article is also online.
For a long time, outdated perceptions have contributed to the lack of investment in birth control for men. Since women traditionally have borne the primary burden of unwanted childbearing and parenting, decision makers have long assumed that men wouldn’t be interested in contraceptives—or would have a very low tolerance for cost, side effects, or hassle. Today, though, in the age of paternity tests and child support, with fathers and mothers sharing parenting responsibility—more and more men want to be in control of their own fertility.
The year is 2020 and your favorite 1980′s actor doesn’t look the way (s)he used to. Many iterations of cosmetic and then reconstructive surgery have now succumbed to gravity and the shortcomings of the biological substrate that is the human body. It is particularly hard for a superstar actor to come to terms with this. The combination of years of hard work to reach the top, the adoration of fans, wealth and ego are a hard mix to overcome. An actor’s career however is not over, should he or she choose the next milestone – Voice acting.
On September 18 Google announced their crusade against death via the Time journal cover. Calico company was created specifically to fight aging. Larry page made it clear for the shareholders that Google is an innovative company and that they can afford the most courageous projects, while the investments won’t be too large and won’t undermine the foundations of the company.
Part 2 on Male Contraception: Eight promising possibilities for males. My teenage nephew came to visit last summer, and I asked him if there was anything he needed from the drug store. “Uh, condoms?” he said. It was easier to ask liberal Aunt Val than Grandma, who is raising him. We hopped in the car. At the local Walgreens, we found the display and we lingered, picking packages up and putting them back. “Wow, there’s a lot of choices,” he enthused, exchanging a rainbow of colors for a fruit-flavored variety pack.
A study from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology suggests that nearly half of U.S. jobs could be at risk of computerization over the next two decades. The study examined more than 700 detailed occupation types, noting the tasks workers perform and the skills required.
Current theories about “embodied cognition” – the notion that our minds are in some sense determined by our bodies – stand to revolutionize the way we think about who, and what, we are. But the philosophical roots of embodied cognition teach us that our minds might not be the abstract things we always thought they were.
A number of people who I respect have written articles and chapters in books that support GMO crops. These include leading environmentalist Mark Lynas, author of The God Species: How the planet can survive the age of humans, and Ramez Naam, author of The Infinite Resource: The power of ideas on a finite planet.
With great power comes great responsibility. While this sentiment was first given voice in a Spider-Man comic, the idea itself is a common cultural trope that focuses on responsibility and accountability to something greater than oneself. The contrast of the trope is best summed up by the phrase “with great power comes great perks”, or with Rob MacDougall’s argument in defense of industry funding bioethicists.
My friend Michelle has done something very important and very useful to all of us – she donated money to aging research. I believe this is how we can change the situation – by following Michelle’s example.
Humanity is on the threshold of technologies so great; we may not be mature enough to handle them. The converging technologies predicted by Kurzweil’s Singularity offer technological paradigm-shifts. More interestingly to me, Artificial Intelligence (AI) may become more self-aware than humans. The imperatives for creating smarter-than-human AI sheds light on a possible solution to our blind drive for more technology without consideration.
Kids growing up in the year 2020 will miss out on a lot of things: buying music, the familiar screech of a dial-up internet connection, their first fender bender... But worst of all, they will soon miss out on one of our most sacred traditions: playing hookey.
Former Kansas City Star reporter Martin Manley committed a very public suicide in August. The story captured my attention for two reasons: (1) I used to work in the newsroom of the Kansas City Star and (2) I started thinking about Manley’s death in relation to transhumanism.
As much as I respect Pres. Obama’s senior advisor on science and technology, John Holdren, on his work in fighting against climate change, I’ve come to find out that his political beliefs are almost interrelated with that of Maoist-Third-Worldism (an extremist Leftist ideology).
Research may one day lead to better understanding of consciousness… Imagine you’re a mouse, and you’re feeling a chill throughout your body because a researcher is placing you into a chamber. You distinctly remember feeling shocks in that chamber…