Surveillance, Addiction and Accountability

First, for a garrulous ramble that will take you from Pericles to Popper to Pluto – mostly focusing on transparency and accountability and re-learning the art of political pragmatism – here’s a recent podcast interview I gave on Surprisingly Free about the future of freedom.  A couple of times I even pause to inhale!

Through its new “Finder” program, the the intelligence community’s way-out research shop, IARPA, says that it is looking for ways to geolocate (a fancy word for “locate” that implies having coordinates for a place) images by extracting data from the images themselves and using this to make guesses about where they were taken. More and more digital cameras today don’t just take pictures but also capture what is called metadata  — often referred to as data about data — that can include everything from when the picture was taken to what kind of camera was used to where the it was taken. This metadata, often stored in a format called , can be used by different programs to understand different aspects of the image — and also by intelligence analysts to understand different aspects of the user who took it, and the people who are in it. Like who they are, what they are doing, and where and when they did it.

sousveillance-quote-david-brinYep, it will be a real Big Brother world… unless WE get all these powers too.  In that case, vibrant participatory democracy and citizen action will ensure we can look back at the mighty.  They’ll still see more than we can.  But if we stay anywhere close, then we’ll stay free.  Side-benefit… our protectors shouldn’t mind!  A secular trend toward a more open world may inconvenience them in the short term. But their mission will be more likely, overall, to succeed.

== Is your politics brain-predestined?==

No wonder some folks are waging a War on Science. ”Using data from MRI scans, researchers at the University College London found that self-described liberals have a larger anterior cingulate cortex–a gray matter of the brain associated with understanding complexity. Meanwhile, self-described conservatives are more likely to have a larger amygdala, an almond-shaped area that is associated with fear and anxiety.”  … “It’s very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these brain regions,” More work is needed to determine how these brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude.”

Only now comes a more broad description of brain differences among political personality types, from Scientific American: The Ideology of No.  Share this one!

Deserving your support… A bipartisan political action committee called Ben Franklin’s List, aims to help engineers and scientists need to win office. Now, among the 435 members of the House include one physicist, 22 people with medical training & 6 engineers. Shameful for an advanced civilization. (Did you know almost all the leaders of China started as engineers? Ponder that.) The “war on science” must stop.

==Science In the News==

NASA’s WISE mission found a ‘Trojan’ asteroid sharing Earth’s orbit. We’ve used other “lagrange” positions (sunward and spaceward) for telescopes. But the trojan spots -60degrees ahead or behind- could hold valuable rocks, predictably accessible and sources of great wealth.

Are biologists ready to “make” life? By some measures, they have! Other steps – self-replicating and evolving molecules – seem to say we’re getting very close to that ‘Frankenstein’ spark that separates inanimate from living. Fascinating article.

Recent films... No, I haven’t been to see the one with clever apes.  I suppose I’m missing a beat, by not publishing an article about Uplift and the dismal Hollywood reflex of despising science.  On the other hand, I recommend the film SOURCE CODE. Not bad for very low-budget sci fi. Science isn’t evil and the gimmicks make a little sense.

SMBC is a great online comic strip that often comments on scientific matters….but see especially this panel that makes you both laugh & think. Especially since I’m active in trying to talk foolish radio-exhibitionists out of exposing themselves (and us) compulsively to the cosmos.

==Addiction & Evolution ==

A vaccination against heroin addiction? Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla have created a vaccine cocktail that consists of a heroin-like hapten – a molecule that provokes the immune system – bound to a carrier protein and mixed with alum, that  stimulates the immune system. The vaccine trains the immune system to swarm heroin molecules with antibodies, as though the drug were an invasive organism, thereby sequestering the drug in the bloodstream before it can reach the brain.

Another group in Baltimore (NIDA) gave rodent addicts a drug that binds the CB-2 cannabinoid receptors in the brain, inhibiting dopamine activity and thereby blunting the cocaine high.

Mice who received the anti-cocaine drug pushed the cocaine lever less frequently and did not scurry around as much as their high peers.  Of course all of this relates to one of my ongoing interests… the general notion that addiction is a process that we got from evolution.


And disturbing — 20 million hectares of the best farmland in Africa have been sold by government out from under local farmers to companies from rich countries, notably China and Saudi Arabia to produce food for export back home.

Some of these visions of tomorrow are as bad as the sarcastically-cynical writer of the article yells… and I think people will not want to touch all those touch screens other people have been touching.  There are lots of other ways to do augmented reality.  Still. dive into the article and play the videos! (All right, #4  #2 and #1 are pretty dumb. But #5 and #3 have real content.)

A very beautiful short film — winner of a competition restricted to six lines of dialog. Have a look!

And now a swerve into painful humor! See the annual Bulwer-Lyton contest for deliberately BAD WRITING!

Food/medicines/industry use beef/pork gelatin with some allergy & other probs. Now yeast with inserted human genes make better gelatin! “Human derived.”. Is it vegetarian? Vegan? Cannibalism? Offer it to zombies or vampires? Oh, the commercials…



Filed under politics, science

5 responses to “Surveillance, Addiction and Accountability

  1. matua1

    any comments anyone?

  2. Jon Marcus


    “More and more digital cameras today don’t just take pictures but also capture what is called — often referred to…”

    Should that be “…also capture what is called *metadata*” instead?

  3. Al Schmidt

    I pondered your statement that China’s leaders started out as engineers. Perhaps the reason there are so few engineers in our freely elected representative republic is that we are a Freely Elected Representative Republic! China is, well, hmm I don’t know what the PRC has become. A communist oligarchy; authoritarian anarcho-capitalism?

    I do know they don’t conduct free and open elections so the Chinese citizens had no say in the selection of these engineer leaders. There is a lack of freedom of religion and speech. The genius engineer leaders have no regard for human rights or the environment. And they censor and control Internet access and content ! They seem to have done such a great job at managing China’s agricultural infrastructure and food production they have to buy land in Africa “from under local farmers…to produce food for export back home”.

    According to the 2004 US Census, Doctors comprised one third of 1% of the US population, with GPs accounting for one thirtieth of 1%. I couldn’t find a breakdown of the percentage of the population that were professional physicists, but I did find out that 45% of Ph.D. physicists working in the United States are foreign born. I believe in order to run for any US political office you have to meet a citizenship requirement, not necessarily native born but at least naturalized like The Governator. As for engineers, well I found varying statistics, but frankly I know engineers, I work with engineers. They’re brilliant sometimes nice but mostly arrogant people I wouldn’t vote for if they were running for dog catcher. The key word there is VOTE.

    I don’t find the breakdown by former occupation or background of the US House of Representatives appalling or shameful. Comparing the dictatorial leadership of China to our elected representatives is like comparing cockroaches to elephants.

    That being said, I loved the first two Uplift trilogies!

  4. TearsTheWingsOffAngels

    Chinas leaders are engineers, OK, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing a good job. That having been said, about half of America’s leaders are morons, and they’re definitely doing an awful job.

    But we did get to vote for them. I’ll give you that.

  5. Al Schmidt

    If half of America’s leaders are “morons”, and they are doing “an awful job”, and somebody voted for them, does this imply that half of the American electorate are morons? I doubt it. We have no one to blame but ourselves for the level of intelligence and competence of the people we elect to office.

    The real morons are the people who don’t vote and pay more attention to what is going on in reality television than within their own government.

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