A 2004 research project on decision-making (PDF) is getting a fair bit of play lately (BoingBoing, Salon, Long Now, etc.) because of the correlation made by Science Blog “The Frontal Cortex” made to the accelerating mortgage crisis in the U.S.. But what jumped out at me was the identification of the section of the brain involved with long-term, rational thinking.
Our analysis shows that the δ areas, which are activated uniformly during all decision epochs, are associated with lateral prefrontal and parietal areas commonly implicated in higher level deliberative processes and cognitive control, including numerical computation. Such processes are likely to be engaged by the quantitative analysis of economic options and the valuation of future opportunities for reward. The degree of engagement of the δ areas predicts deferral of gratification, consistent with a key role in future planning.
I wonder: what would it take to stimulate this region? If the survival of human civilization this century requires greater use of long-term thinking, is there any way to make this region of the brain more active?
• For All of You With Home Chip Fabs: Sun just announced its latest UltraSPARC processor, super-fast (89.6 GHz), super-efficient, etc., etc., but what makes it particularly notable is that Sun has put the blueprints for the core design under the GPL free/open source license. Oh, sure, sure, this will be handy for developers who want to work as close as possible to the hardware to maximize performance, but part of the value of free/open source is the ability to make your own copy—not just read the code, but compile it for yourself to make sure that what you’re working with is exactly what the code says. Kind of hard to do when the “compiler” costs millions of dollars.
• “We got computers, we’re tapping phone-lines, we know that that ain’t allowed”: Add one more item to my list: putting together a proposal for the Technology in Wartime conference being put on this January by the organization Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.
This conference will explore how computer technology is used during war—both for the purposes of combat/defense, as well as for human rights interventions into war-torn regions. Topics will range from high tech weapons systems and internet surveillance, to privacy-enhancing technologies that aid human rights workers documenting conditions in war-torn countries and help soldiers communicate their experiences in blogs and e-mail. We are also interested in the history of computer-aided weapons systems. Our goal will be to consider the ethical implications of wartime technologies and how these technologies are likely to affect civilization in years to come. Ultimately we want to engage a pressing question of our time: What should socially-responsible computer professionals do in a time of high tech warfare?
This sounds like a terrific conference topic—kudos to CPSR Board President Annalee Newitz.