Existence, a Confident Internet, Smarter People… and Dolphins!

loyalWant a glimpse of my new novel EXISTENCE? In a manner similar to EARTH, I offer many brief glimpses into the world of 2050, between chapters of a fast-paced adventure and the strangest alien first contact ever. Now the  Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. has posted a sample – a couple of those between chapter glimpse interludes, focusing on one question… how can we be sure to make our new AI offspring both sane and loyal to humanity, as a whole?

The same site has republished a more colorful version of my essay on “Who Wants Immortality?

While we’re on the subject. Do you know a fair-sized group that might want me to speak for them when I go on a book tour for EXISTENCE in June?  Cities included for sure will be Seattle, Portland OR, the SF Bay Area, and LA.  Other possibilities – New York, Boston etc, if there’s enough interest, plus points in between. Have a look at a list of the public talks I’ve given over the last few years (and go to the bottom for the happy testimonials!)

Osiame Molefe a young columnist at South Africa’s Daily Maverick, wrote passionately about the need for moderate grownups within the ruling African National Congress to stand up for good government against radical leaders setting up “feudal fiefdoms.” In making his case, Mr. Molefe cites and quotes extensively from my novel The Postman, suggesting that, in the long run, the only thing that matters is normal men and women standing up, as citizens, and taking responsibility.

== Toward a Confident, Scientific Civilization ==

A report titled the “The Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity of the United States,” warns in stark terms that “some elements of the U.S. economy are losing their competitive edge.”  A restored emphasis on science and technology is a major part of any solution.

Meanwhile, a compilation of public opinion polls commissioned by Research!America, demonstrates increasing public support for research and innovation to improve health, create jobs and boost the economy.

How best to nurture positive attitudes?  Rob Sawyer delivers a wonderful online appraisal of the importance of science fiction, especially in mass media, as a way to experiment with ideas and comment on social dilemmas. In the course of this amazingly cogent performance, Rob reaches at a conclusion very similar to mine… that much of this transformative power has been frittered and ruined by the pablum mentality toward science fiction that was engendered by Star Wars.  His critique is a bit different, yet related to my own in Star Wars on Trial - and my earlier Salon Magazine article – about how George Lucas’s cycle wound up betraying the world’s most daring and exciting and progressive storytelling genre. And undermining a civilization that’s been very very good to all of us. Including George Lucas.

== And Up With Science Fiction! ==

Also joining the fight for the good stuff… famed author and literary lion Ursula K. LeGuin stood up for her home genre of science fiction with a roar: “To define science fiction as a purely commercial category of fiction, inherently trashy, having nothing to do with literature, is a tall order. It involves both denying that any work of science fiction can have literary merit, and maintaining that any book of literary merit that uses the tropes of science fiction (such as Brave New World, or 1984, or The Handmaid’s Tale, or most of the works of J.G. Ballard) is not science fiction. This definition-by-negation leads to remarkable mental gymnastics.” Good for her.

And the British Library is holding an exquisite exhibition on the history of Science Fiction Literature, through September.  I would love to attend.  Look at this excellent video about this event, featuring the erudite China Miéville.

See an “exam” for would-be fantasy novelists. If you answer “yes” to even one of the 69 cliches, then sorry. You’re great epic isn’t original and groundbreaking.  It is derivative copycatting hackwork.  I think #4 is a little unfair and too broad… but it does serve up a warning to do it in a new way. On the one hand, many of the cliches fit Joseph Campbell’s storytelling prescription.  On the other hand, Campbell sucks. While reading (and chuckling) note how many of these howlers are core elements of Star Wars!

A thought-provoking essay by Brad Torgerson about why fantasy has taken off while science fiction book sales may have languished.

== Is Internet Freedom Endangered? ==

The short answer? Always.

More specifically, I’ve been asked my opinion, as “Mr. Transparency,” about the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA.  Naturally, I opposed this absurd over-reach that portended to strangle internet freedom by putting unsupportable burdens on carriers and linkers to information.  And yet, my stance is not relexive but reflective and I hope that you, too, will ponder the complexity we must navigate.

The Internet carries a lot of illicit copyrighted information. My books appear on several pirate sites and, for the record, I ask that they stop; I got kids in college.) Yet – Julian Sanchez argues the overall economic impact of online piracy has been wildly inflated – the most pirated movies also tend to be top at both box office & DVD sales. The most impacted industries (music, movies, books) have outperformed the overall U.S. economy lately. So should we yawn? It’s complex. Without IP, the US could never afford to lift the world by buying goods. (Hence overseas IP thieves are cutting their own throats.) And IP was an innovation to foster openness.  Want a return to rampant trade secrecy? OTOH – SOPA would have strangled internet freedom. We need to be thoughtful, not reflexive.

== Fascinating Miscellany ==

See an amazing list of predictions made 100 years ago by a very savvy writer, amazingly on-target. Especially since the heady optimism of 1911 hit a hard wall in 1914. Still, call out the predictions registry!  Oh… There is one last peculiarity to Watkins’ article. Every one of his predictions involved an improvement in the lives of Americans. He saw only positive change in the new century.  Note this as an artifact of 1911… before the Titanic and before the calamities of 1914 smashed optimism like a bug.  Will we ever get it back?

Have a look at this Kickstarter project… to create a “sousveillance App” for android smartphones called Help! Turn it on and live audio and video stream to a safe place till you shut it off.  If the feed is interrupted by damage or power failure or interference, an email goes to your contact person offering the stored feed up till the moment it was lost.  Use it for alibis, in cases of danger or just to record that encounter with authority.  (If you sign up, say I sent you!)

A couple of very beautiful astronomical perspectives. The Known Universe and Hubble Ultra Deep Field 3D.

Kanzi, a fun-loving male bonobo, has figured out how to cook his food with fire and even to light fires with matches.  All right, that’s halfway uplifted.  Shall we finish the job?  Ah Fiben Bolger was my best character ever!

“War Correspondent”  or “WarCo” is a first-person-shooter game in development in which the player holds a camera instead of a weapon, gaining points not only fore surviving and filming the most dramatic and dangerous moments, but also for followup interviews and report editing.  An altogether amazingly cool notion.  It leverages against ideas that resonate with my own The Transparent Society … and with Peter Gabriel’s Project Witness.  I can’t wait to offer it to my son and to try it myself.  And to offer my support.

Fascinating/fun artistic recapitulation of the rise of human civilization… and then (in the eyes of this comet expert) the highlight of a worrisome encounter with a comet!  Deep-down- all the way to the symbolism of human “seeds” crossing the cosmos – it is a love-ode to human ingenuity and unquenchable zest to survive and persevere.

See a cogent, well-written and unabashedly transhumanist article by Valkyrie Ice about the future of graphene computing (that may accelerate Moore’s Law), the home-fab revolution, and… sexbots. Published on Accelor8or

Brazil has undergone a demographic shift so dramatic that it has astonished social scientists. Over the past 50 years, the fertility rate has tumbled from six children per woman on average to fewer than two — and is now lower than in the United States. This may be of cosmic importance.  Yes, cosmic. Because Malthus may be more correct on other planets than he has been for us. A fluke in human nature has meant that everywhere women get health, freedom, prosperity and hope, the vast majority choose small families. This seems counter -darwinian! It may also save us all, giving us time to repair and save the world and cross the danger gap into star-traveling levels of wisdom. Might most other races get trapped into overpopulation busts, as portrayed in 1960s sci-fi and gloom books? Might this explain the Fermi Paradox of missing starfarers? In fact, it may not last more than a couple generations, so let’s use this breather well.

Dolphins have been using iPads, so it’s really about time our primate cousins adopted the technology: Orangutans use iPads to video chat with Friends in other zoos! Now the big questions.  Will this help to reduce ennui at the zoo? Or to nail down simian and cetacean intelligence? Will this help to sell scientists and the public on Uplift? Will the orangs use Face Time to organize their own Simian Spring?  And does this qualify as one for the Predictions Registry?

We seem to be getting amazingly close to the $100 laptop (or pad) per child.

100 Skills Every Man Should Know: The Instructions (With Videos!) – from Popular Mechanics

== SCIENCE BLIPS! ==

Americans think science will save the economy!

Technology addiction: evolution or enslavement?

9 amazing exoplanets

UCSD researchers have been developing fascinating devices that can self-propel, even though they are microns in size. The latest use tiny self-propelled rocket motors that can zip around an acidic environment, like the human stomach, without the need for any external fuel.  I’ve met these guys.  Amazing stuff.

The European Southern Observatory’s plan to begin construction of the world’s largest telescope — the European Extremely Large Telescope — will take a big step forward; its primary mirror will be a staggering 138 feet (42 meters) wide. For comparison, the Keck Observatory in Hawaii has a mirror that measures 33 feet (10 meters) wide. But don’t count out the yanks, — Caltech (my alma mater) leads a consortium to put an almost equally prodigious 30 meter device on Maua Kea in Hawaii.

ResearchGate is a new social network for scientists.  One grasps what they intended the name to mean.  But that secondary implied meaning does sound worrisome!

Visit your travel agent to book a flight to space!

What mystifies Dr. Hawking? Women are a mystery, he says.

Check out a lovely little epiphany… an optimistic (super!) look at the newxt 40 years, written by someone who hasn’t had the joyful spirit of ambition snuffed by grouches of right and left.

Meteor in Titan’s atmosphere?

From fussilli to quadrefiori: The complex mathematics and geometry of pasta

One of many interesting series podcasts about science developments may be the Sentient Developments site of my friend George Dvorsky.  Give it a listen!

==Can We Get Smarter? ==

I won’t be the first… but… transcranial direct current stimulation or TDCS, can be used to improve language and maths abilities, memory, problem solving, attention, even movement.  “”You require effort and hard work to learn. It is just that you get more out of your effort. And because it is cheap, low tech, easily affordable, it could be widely available. This addresses the objection that it will introduce inequality and unfairness. It could be available and should be available to all, if it is safe and effective.”

Another possibility? Optimum intervals  to pulse serotonin to maximize a protein that seems to be involved in memory? The optimal protocol, it turned out, was not the usual, even-spaced one, but an irregular series of two serotonin pulses emitted 10 minutes apart, then one five minutes later, with a final spritz 30 minutes afterward. With this regimen, interaction between the two enzymes rose by 50 percent—an indication that the learning process was operating more efficiently. Very preliminary, but suggests steady but irregular learning may be better than cramming! Read the article in Scientific American.

Well, we’ll see.  But humanity could use a “brain wave.” Still, wait a bit.

Yes… well… watch out for things that sound too good!  The web site “ Sci- ənce! ” offers “red flags of quackery” … related to many familiar “logical fallacies.”

Oh but this one is obvious! Chewing gum before a test – does it increase brain function?  Too bad it makes you LOOK stupider.

== Dolphins Triumphant! ==

Speaking of smarter-than human…. Many species interact in the wild, most often as predator and prey. But recent encounters between humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins reveal a playful side to interspecies interaction. In two different locations in Hawaii, scientists watched as dolphins “rode” the heads of whales: the whales lifted the dolphins up and out of the water, and then the dolphins slid back down.

But this is even better. Quick! To the Predictions Registry! Dolphins are skilled at imitating sounds they hear. But they occasionally store away sounds to practice much later, at night when they are alone… possibly while sleeping and dreaming. French water park workers included whale songs in the music background of a show. Then… at night… when the dolphins were half-brain sleeping… they seemed to drift into recapitulations of the themes in the whale song –

– very much like I portrayed Captain Creideiki doing, in Startide Rising!  Someone log that as a “hit”?

Ah, but do they already know about this?  This sonar-sighted object under the Baltic, the size of a jumbo ject… isn’t it shaped like the Millennium Falcon?

1 Comment

Filed under science

One response to “Existence, a Confident Internet, Smarter People… and Dolphins!

  1. First computer game to catch my interest since… ever.
    Thanks!

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