Category Archives: future

Science Fiction, Cool War and Civil War

Science fiction – or more accurately, speculative fiction –  has a rich tradition of exploring What if... scenarios, exploring alternative paths of important historical events, asking questions such as, “What if the South had won the Civil War?” or “What if America had lost World War II?”

Just a few of the multitude of novels diving into divergent paths for the American Civil War include Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South, Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain, and Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee. The recent, best-selling Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters posits that the Civil War never happened and slavery persists in regions of America. Even politician Newt Gingrich has written in this genre: his novel Gettysburg, co-written with William R. Forstchen, explores how history might have unfolded if the Confederacy had won this crucial battle. In a more outlandish speculation, William Forstchen’s Lost Regiment series, beginning with Rally Cry, envisions a Civil War era Union regiment transported through time and space to an alien world.

But science fiction more often projects into the future. Something deeply human keeps us both fascinated and worried about tomorrow’s dangers. Several recent novels have foreshadowed a possible – and plausible – hot phase of the recurring American Civil War. I’ve written extensively about what I view as ongoing Phases of our American Civil War; luckily most segments of this persistent animosity have been tepid or cool, though the 1860s fever was near devastating. Indeed, I fear, with current tensions, the possibility that something could go volcanic. This was portrayed – in retrospect – by my post-apocalyptic novel The Postman, which has been receiving a surge of attention lately, for its depiction of “holnists” whose rationalizations sound very much like those of Steve Bannon.

One novel I’ve touted lately is Tears of Abraham, by Sean T Smith, which chillingly takes you toward a disturbingly hot second Civil War, a deadly struggle of countryman against countryman. What would happen if the U.S. split apart into warring states — set off by a far-reaching conspiracy? A president who declares martial law as states take steps toward secession. This page turner offers vivid, believable action and characters, along with sober, thoughtful insights into what it may mean — when the chips are down — to be an American. What divides us… and what unites us?

This seems particularly relevant considering the deep divides across America during the election cycle of 2016, where Red States and Blue States were more bifurcated than ever, seemingly unable to fully comprehend the opinions and problems of their own neighbors.

220px-TheCoolWarAnother science fiction vision that came to mind, given evidence of recent efforts by foreign powers to sabotage our democracy and economy, is The Cool War, published by science fiction master Frederik Pohl back in 1981. This tale portrays ongoing slow-simmering international tensions, a series of shadow wars where rival countries seek to sabotage the economy and markets of their enemies — and allies. In fact, I deem no novel to be of more immediate pertinence to any member of our defense and intelligence communities.

Wars, cool, cold or hot? David Rothkopf, editor of Foreign Affairs, distinguishes them, commenting, “The purpose of the Cold War was to gain an advantage come the next hot war or, possibly, to forestall it. The purpose of Cool War is to be able to strike out constantly without triggering hot war, while making hot wars less desirable (much as did nuclear technology during the Cold War days) or even necessary.”

51YXFeqOcQL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In a similar vein, the near-future thriller Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War by P.W. Singer and August Cole envisions a revived Cold War, with rising tensions between the United States, China and Russia. An all-too believable war played out not just on land and sea, but also in space and cyberspace.

Returning to parallel universes, Philip K. Dick’s alternate history of World War II,  The Man in the High Castle — follows a scenario where the Nazis have won the war; it has been vividly adapted in the recent television series of the same name by Amazon. I’ve also explored that dark aftermath where the Nazis won World War II in my graphic novel, The Life Eaters. Connie Willis has revisited World War II in her novel, Blackout. Three time travelers find themselves stranded in London during the Blitz, facing air raids and bombing raids.

Another book just hitting the shelves –  American War by Omar El Akkad – is a dystopian novel about a Second American Civil War breaking out in 2074. The United States has been largely undone by devastating ecological collapse, a presidential assassination, the onset of a virulent plague arising from a weaponized virus, and a militantly divided North and South. The novel vividly portrays a doomed country wracked by vicious guerrilla raids, refugee camps interning displaced citizens, accompanied by relentless violence and death.

Whew! One can only hope that dark visions from these nightmarish scenarios might serve as self-preventing prophecies — much as George Orwell’s prophetic 1984 girded many to fight against the rise of any possible Big Brother to their last breath. Can we resist the divisions that threaten our country?

Indeed, our civilization’s ultimate success may depend on our foresight — perceiving potential problems we are able to navigate, mistakes we manage to avoid. Science fiction has often served to shine a light to reveal possible — and catastrophic — pitfalls in our shared future.

Warnings we would be wise to heed… and wounds we would be wise to heal.

 

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Seven Sci Fi Questions

Here I’ve collected some of my recent answers for science fiction and future-oriented questions I was asked over on Quora. You can follow more of the in-depth discussions and multiple viewpoints on the Quora site.

Where should I begin with hard Sci Fi books?

rendezvous-ramaArthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama is an excellent start. Sample Poul Anderson at his best with Brain Wave and Tau Zero! Move on to Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement. Totally strong about some scientific matter, every single time, Clement writes entertainingly as well. Some of the older hard SF authors must-reads include Robert Forward (Dragon’s Egg) and Charles Sheffield.

Definitely try the novels of Robert Sawyer (Quantum Night or Hominids) and Stephen Baxter (Manifold:Time or Raft). Greg Bear is particularly strong for biology! Try his novel Eon. Gregory Benford (Timescape or In The Ocean of Night) for solid physics and astrophysics. For sure, Larry Niven’s Ringworld. C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station. Carl Sagan’s Contact.

200px-VernorVinge_RainbowsEndVernor Vinge (Fire Upon the Deep or Rainbows End) writes far-seeing hard SF. The Red Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson should be on your list. Also The Forever War by Joe Haldeman; Spin by Robert Charles Wilson; Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress. Other authors you might try include Alastair Reynolds, Greg Egan, Allen Steele and Peter Watts.

My own Heart of the Comet takes you on a wild adventure filled with science and romance, tragedy, disaster, heroism, redemption and a triumphant humanity, bound in new directions they never imagined. My novel Earth takes a look at our planet fifty years in the future.

See also my extensive list of titles: Recommended Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.

Which Science fiction ideas could come to life?

61m1amovnylStart with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein… the creation of life, by human hands. It has already happened, by some interpretations and we’ll go the rest of the way, shortly. Or George Orwell’s 1984 —can anyone deny that Big Brother looms? Robert Heinlein predicted religious dictatorship in the United States (see Revolt in 2100). Unfortunately, nuclear apocalypse tales (like my own The Postman) could come true.

In Earth I predicted average citizens would all be equipped with video cameras in easy reach and this would change power, on our streets.

What are some Sci Fi novels that really make you think?

Almost anything by Banks, Egan, Bear, Stephenson, Tiptree and Liu Cixin will make you go “huh, I never thought of that.” Likewise LeGuin and Kim Stanley Robinson… though you have to wade through some preachiness.

Of course, Philip K. Dick or Arthur C. Clarke. Charles Stross. Asaro knows her stuff, as do Sloncziewski and Landis. Ted Chiang. Bacigalupi. Michael Chabon. Pro or con, Joanna Russ will make your neurons buzz. Varley. Oh, and Nancy Kress!

What are some interesting depictions of the world after the Technological Singularity?

KurzweilSingularityCoverFor a general overview of the concept of the Technological Singularity, delve into Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity in Near: When Humans Transcend Biology as a good starting point. Other books include The Rapture of the Nerds: A tale of the singularity, post-humanity, and awkward social situations, and James Barrat’s Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era.

In fiction, Singularities are hard to portray, which is why Vernor Vinge depicts only the beginnings of takeoff in Rainbows End and a vague Aftermath in Marooned in Real Time. Generally it’s hard to write stories about effectively becoming gods… though I’ve taken up the challenge several times. e.g. in the stories “Stones of Significance” and “Reality Check” (both contained in my collection, Insistence of Vision.) One of these shows an optimistic scenario, reasoning out why AIs would want to be part of ‘humans”. The other explores the biggest curse of gods…

…which is likely to be ennui.

accelerandoOther examples of Singularity and post-Singularity fiction include Charles Stross’s Accelerando, William Hertling’s A.I. Apocalypse, John C. Wright’s The Golden Age, Daniel Suarez’s Daemon, Ramez Naam’s Nexus.

In fact though, very few SF authors have attempted to portray positive singularities. Lots of AI or transcendence-driven apocalypses, since those drive dramatic plots. But positive ones are hard to figure while still having room for human scale tension.

Iain Banks portrays one daring scenario… in which the AI are gods, all right but they care about us and give regular humans a pretty good life… and give challenges to those regular humans who seem capable of something more. I hint at something similar in Earth, where the planet becomes godlike but humanity is allowed to maintain vibrant individualism because that is healthier.

See the reason why there are so many damn dystopias and dire apocalyptic scenarios.

Do you believe we’ve already reached the Singularity?

The apparent steep decline in IQ of the American and other electorates would appear to indicate that intelligence has already moved to artificial matrices.

What made Morpheus from The Matrix such a compelling character?

campbell-heroMorpheus was a standard Campbellian Mentor Figure who summons the hero on a quest. (See Joseph Cambell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.) A few of the stages of the Hero’s Journey were skipped. For example the Refusal to the Call was very very brief, as Neo almost gets out of the limo. So brief it hardly counts.

Morpheus is more of a Gandalf than an Obiwan, but both of them wield swords. All three were played by classic, uber-actors. All were smug mystics… if you find that sort of thing “compelling.”

Are there any science fiction stories where humans are morally ambiguous?

Poul Anderson showed aliens’ perspectives and complaints about humans, very well. I’m finishing one in which humans have chosen to be like Trek’s “Romulans”… bitterly opposed to a brash young race that is vigorous, sexy, lucky — every trait we thought would be ours.

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Dark Futures from Science Fiction

51hzanjpal-_sx330_bo1204203200_More and more, it seems we are living in a sci fi story. In darker moments, I am reminded of Ray Bradbury’s great story “The Sound of Thunder.” A tale of time travel and the Butterfly Effect and profoundly altering the course of history. Terrifying… and clearly prophetic. 

Watch a short — and moving — film version here from the Ray Bradbury Theater.

See this list from Tor: a wide-ranging list of science fiction and fantasy novels that explore issues of religion and god – including Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, Walter M. Miller’s classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man and Arthur C. Clarke’s The Nine Billion Names of God.

Brief looks at books, old and new…

 swastikaA long overlooked book — Swastika Night, by the English author Katharine Burdekin, was first published in 1937 under the male pseudonym Murray Constantine. This dark dystopia, which predates Orwell’s 1984, portrays a nightmarishly feudal Europe, in which Hilter’s fascism and male dominance have reigned supreme for seven centuries. In this chilling alternate reality, all “inferior races” such as the Jews, have been wiped out; Christians are persecuted and despised. All pre-war history, art and books have been destroyed; Hitler has been elevated to a god. Boys are removed from their mother’s care at 18 months, indoctrinated in a male culture of violence and brutality. Women are regarded as sub-human, caged, subjugated and kept docile and ignorant; rape is not just acceptable but expected. When Alfred, an English subject, is presented with a secret pre-war history, he begins to question Nazi ideology and power… but most have  lost the ability to think for themselves.

deaths-end

Death’s End: Cixin Liu’s new novel wraps up his brilliant Three Body trilogy, which began with the Hugo Award winning The Three Body Problem (translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu). Explaining his most recent work, Cixin Liu writes, “I put in the idea of altering the natural laws of the universe in interstellar warfare, and consequently, the universe and its laws are seen as the leftover mess from a feast of the gods, a strange universe in which the Solar System falls into ruin in a morbid, poetic manner…” Read a selection of this vivid book on Tor’s website.

515q0ciqm8l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Annihilation and its sequels Authority and Acceptance form the Southern Reach Trilogy, by Jeff Vandemeer. These surreal thrillers offer spine tingling suspense and dark layers of intrigue. The mysterious wilderness of Area X has been sealed off, abandoned for thirty years for unknown reasons. Eleven expeditions across the border have failed. Now four women are sent across the border. Known only by their professions (Biologist, Psychologist, Surveyor, Anthropologist), their mission rapidly begins to fall apart …Everything seems wrong — as they find themselves transformed, their memories altered, unsure what is real and who to trust. Whatever has encroached upon Area X…it must be stopped… before the world becomes Area X. A chilling, haunting tale that will pull you in… and won’t let go.

41byjoehoul-_sx327_bo1204203200_Afterparty, by Daryl Gregory An all-too plausible future where desktop printers can customize and manufacture designer drugs. Lyda Rose was part of the scientific team that set out to cure schizophrenia, manipulating the brain’s biochemistry with a pharmaceutical called Numinous. However, the drug had unintended consequences, causing people to see god, or at least hallucinations of their own personal version of god. When Lyda is released from a mental institution (along with an angel doctor that only she can see), she tracks down the drug pushers who have released the drug onto the streets.

51hria9g5cl-_sx311_bo1204203200_The Burning Light by Bradley P. Beaulieu and Rob Ziegler is a post-apocalyptic tale set amid the canals flooding the hollowed ruins of New York City, overrun by scavengers, pirates and slavers. The ruthless Colonel Melody Chu has a singular obsession, stopping the epidemic of the “Light.” Chu relentlessly drives her squad of exiled soldiers to track down junkies addicted to the ecstasy of the Light – as well as the “vectors” – often children, who give people access to it. The Light can make you feel like you’re touching infinity… but it also kills. Chu knew: “She had personally stared into the Burning Light – and the Light had stared back. She knew it was coming.” And yet, controlled, the Light may usher the next stage of humanity… This short novel presents a vividly textured, if dire future.

And finally… an interesting and fun article discusses how various robot apocalypse scenarios play out in the movies.

 

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Will the “true 21st century” bring us back to feudalism?

Exactly a century ago, a lone gunman set in motion events that transformed the world — ending the lives of millions and shattering empires. With that anniversary in mind, I pondered the clear fact that the last three centuries all seemed to start on their FOURTEENTH YEAR. The brutal arc and themes of the 20th Century – a concave pit that hit its nadir in 1943 – all of it started with shots fired in Sarajevo in June 1914. And 1714 and 1814 were years of similar, transforming portent.

Century-Begin-2014 See my explanation… along with speculation where we might be heading, if 2014 proves to be the “real beginning” of the 21st Century. And sure… that great, over-arching, 21st Century theme might turn out to be pragmatic, adult problem-solving, science and reason! Heck, throw in the Age of Aquarius! I’m for all of that.

But let’s be frank, the odds have always been against those traits ever getting the upper hand for long. Too many deep, animal drives have propelled most human cultures toward slumping into pyramids of hierarchy and domineering privilege. And rationalization, as portrayed in this poignantly sarcastic piece in the Onion.

Conniving cheaters and their lickspittle excuse-makers will always be an anchor on our ankles, dragging us backward.

== Traitors to the Enlightenment ==

How far does it go? Corey Pein takes on (and eviscerates) one extreme cult — the New Feudalism — a weird and deeply sick new type of mind-herpes that has infected some of our worst indignation junkies out there — resentful fanatics who love drawing attention by declaring hatred of democracy, egalitarian justice and science, pledging fealty instead to rule by a new lordly caste.

Neoreactionary-brinLike a parody of evil techie libertarians, theses fellows would be funny, if they weren’t potentially dangerous. See my own take on this “movement,” which declares hatred of all the things that brought us the richest, wisest, gentlest, most productive, insightful, generous, creative, artistic, scientific and enlightened era of all time. Indeed, delusional rationalization is the greatest human talent, and the one gift in which pathetic under-achievers truly excel.

See the root cause of all this, in my talk: “Indignation, Addiction and Hope: Does it help to be “Mad as Hell?”  Follow along with the slides on Slideshare!

Mr. Pein may go a bit too far by interpolating and extrapolating similar views that he attributes to Silicon Valley libertarian-investor Peter Thiel. Thiel likes to poke at a very wide horizon of concepts and he is entitled, even if some of those what-if experiments border on silliness. I can hardly throw stones at that trait! And Thiel has done enough pragmatic delivery of genuine goods and services that he is no under-achiever. Again, if he wants to poke at our heads with provocative ideas — he’s entitled.

indignation-junkiesAs for the others? Facts will not stall indignation junkies, even when nearly all of their assertions prove diametrically opposite to actual truth. It is the Rapture of the Ingrates.

Oh, one final, amusing thing about the neo-feudalists? Their hilarious adoration of Vladimir Putin.

== Putin… the expected one? ==

I kid you not. Track the admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is lavish and open among the neo-feudalists but only softens a little — to “grudging admiration” —among the pundits at Fox. And why not? Everything now happening in Russia suits the Fox Design, as does the Putin narrative. Religion, hierarchy, inherited status, venerated values, top-down monopolies organized around families…

During the Crimea takeover, President Putin derided Western notions of tolerance and universal rights as “barren and neutered.” Said Putin, it is time to resist this scourge of “diversity” creeping in from the West. “More and more people in the world support our position on defending traditional values.”  He asserted Russia’s role to “prevent movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state.”

UnlikelinessPositiveSumSocietyI do not blame him for saying this! It is, after all, exactly (almost word-for-word) the dismissal that zero-sum thinkers — even very bright ones — always come up with, when faced with the stunning successes of the Enlightenment West. Our wealth and productivity and power and freedom and joys must have come at a cost! Something precious must have been sacrificed in a “tradeoff.”

Osama, Stalin, Hitler, even the Civil War Confederates… all said the same thing in various ways. Western/Northern decadence must have been purchased at cost of our “soul”… or manhood, or grit, or resilience, or style, or willingness to sacrifice.

Zero-summers must believe this! The only alternative, when staring jealously at our innumerable successes, would be to admit “those people in the scientific-tolerant West know a better way to live.” And rather than utter those words, they would rather die, or else make up a good story.

Every generation of Americans, especially, has had to disprove the Zero Sum Canard, sometimes at great cost. In comparative terms, we got off easy with 9/11. The grit and determination exhibited by New Yorkers, who stood atop the rubble and shouted “Is that all you got?” was capped by the courageous rebellion of the passengers on flight UA93, who reacted within minutes and showed what resilience and grit truly mean. No zero-sum society would ever see common citizens react with such rapid agility or guts.

Positive-Sum-GameI do not blame the zero-summers for not understanding the Positive Sum Game. Zero-sum thinking is deeply rooted in human nature. But understanding why they go back, again and again, to the same dreary rationalization does not mean we must put up with it. Because it always forces us into a position of pain, having to prove, yet again, that we have (figurative) cojones.

We cannot surrender our method — our positive sum revolution. Not even while merchants of fear on both the left and the right are yammering at us to give up and give in to despair.

== Speaking of ingrates… ==

With just a few exceptions, the states whose politicians most-loudly preach small government tend to be much more reliant on it than other states. Red States by far are more dependent on the federal government and are poorer. In aggregate, these states take back much more from the federal government than they put in. More of their gross domestic product comes from direct and indirect government outlays. This turns the takers vs makers debate on its head as those pushing that message represent the end they portend to despise.

Quality-life-america-countyAnd more — a composite ranking (map) differentiates those counties where Americans are healthy and wealthy, educated and thin… versus struggling, poor and obese.

Sorry. The left has its haters of the enlightenment, too. But our biggest problem, right now, is the New Confederacy. Instead of seceding, this time, they think they have a better plan. They are tearing it all down from within.

 

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Viral Video – for those who like ideas

In this golden era of public speaking, “chatauqua” style presentations range from enlightening (e.g. the best TED talks) to absurd flim-flam (e.g. the worst TED talks)… all the way to the hilariously on-target Onion Talks. I’ve certainly been kept busy in this new century, giving blather that — I suppose — spans that entire range. Now, two of my best recent talks are available, online!

1. Otherness: Will we supply our own new diversity? Suppose we don’t meet aliens. Might we satisfy our thirst for “otherness” anyway, by widening the range of who “we” are? The greatest discovery of recent, scientific civilization has been tolerance. Inclusion of all types, races, genders of people as full citizens, contributing fresh perspectives and wisdom. That task of expansion is not complete! But already we’re discussing the next phases. Incorporating intelligences that are artificial, or human variants, or uplifted animals. What are the dangers and opportunities?

Othereness-Smithsonian-Brin

Explore these Big Ideas along with David Brin’s assumption-shattering talk at the Smithsonian, in May 2014.

Alas, the editors of this slide-heavy talk chose to focus mostly on me and my boring face, which may prevent you from making out the illustrations. But you can follow along on Slideshare! Just open the window alongside and click along with me. (Some overlays and animations don’t play.)

2. “Indignation, Addiction and Hope: Does it help to be “Mad as Hell?” My talk at TEDxUCSD finally offers a public version of this disturbing notion I’ve been discussing for years — that an unseen addiction is destroying our civilization.

TEDxUCSD-Indignation

For a generation, we’ve been taught that the best way to deal with any problem – personal or national or worldwide – is to get mad as hell!

plague-sanctimonyRecent science exposes this as a scam that has produced the most disastrously addictive force in civilization…. a veritable plague of sanctimony that is pushed by cynical media, selling fear while poisoning our native ability to negotiate with one-another.

Oh, certainly problems sometimes merit indignation! But are we abandoning our greatest gift – the ability to actually solve problems?

Again, the TED-itors chose to emphasize my boring face. So here are the slides.  (Most multi-layer and animated slides don’t flow; you’ll just have to imagine!) And see links to some other cool videos, below.

== The ideas get even deeper! ==

Closer-To-Truth-David-BrinRobert Kuhn’s television series Closer To Truth “gives you access to the world’s greatest thinkers exploring humanity’s deepest questions. Discover the fundamental issues of existence. Enjoy new ways of thinking. Appreciate diverse views. Witness intense debates. Express your own opinions. Seek your own answers. Get smarter.” Wow… that’s a pretty hefty promise! So why not check out this fabulous series, now fully available online!

I contributed a few bits to the program, on topics ranging from cosmology and SETI to religion to ESP. My segments – sorted by show episode and category – can be found here.

But scan the impressive lists of other folks Kuhn interviewed, some of them WAY smarter than me! Such as David Deutsch, Freeman Dyson and Francisco Ayala. Mind-blowing stuff.

== What does it take to be “ethical?” ==

Elsewhere, the topic came up… to what extent is it fair to judge men and women of the past by OUR modern moral standards? And to what extent does that set us up for rebuke by much better descendants?

Certainly some who engage in the modern drug high of sanctimony chide their neighbors partly to lower their own “karma” … but also as a kind of aggression. (See my video on this: cited above!)

And yet the world does need to be saved! And we owe much to heroes who stood up — in days past — to question the “common wisdom” of their own times, when it came to racism, sexism, classism or environmental neglect.

Salk-Good-ancestorThere is a litmus that I apply to historical figures and I am willing to see it applied to myself.  Yes, they were products of their times — as am I.  Hence, what I ask is “did you try to be at least two standard deviations BETTER than your times?”

Did you try — and succeed — to shift the momentum or arc of your times in better directions?  By that metric, Thomas Jefferson gets some added slack and Abraham Lincoln is let completely out of purgatory.  Sure it’s self-serving. This standard lets me continue to eat meat, for example, so long it is judicious and sparing and I keep a nagging conscience affecting how I behave as a much-reduced carnivore. And so long as I am part of the movement to keep applying pressure for better empathy and treatment of animals… plus the technological push for tissue culture meaticulture that may take away the ethical conflict with our evolved natures… I don’t feel too guilt-wracked.

Or is that rationalization? Sure, my pisco vegetarian wife has better karma than I do. She’ll live longer, too! I expect I’ll reevaluate next year… and the next.

Likewise, I fight for a better world hard enough to know that I am trying and I cannot be judged as not having cared… yet I still fly in airplanes, drive a car.  I’m not in this to lord my virtuous nature over others, nor to win your approval.  I am in it to be (as Jonas Salk demanded) a “good ancestor.”

== Other Cool Media ==

The brainiac philosophers at “A Partially Examined Life” have posted both the two hour podcast of our interview and their followup notes. “What’s the point of thinking? David Brin sees the future as a pressing threat, and Existence speculates that the reason we don’t see evidence of life on other planets is that no species survives its technological adolescence. The solution? We need to be smarter than our parents and work to give our kids the tools to be smarter than we are. In the book, the ultimate hope comes from a concerted effort to develop and diversify the coalition of Earth’s intelligent life, to make “humanity” encompass more than just the biological humans that we currently are.”

I tried hard to offer my best stuff since these are the alphas who actually did something with their philosophy majors! Maybe I tried too hard to impress em. Did talk a mile a minute, trying to cover a lot?

And now… here are the cliffs of Torrey Pines north of San Diego .  These men release their  hawks, and then soar with them. way cool.

Of Buddies, Offpspring and Artificial Mythology: A stunningly beautiful video/art riff by renowned artist Bob Vanderbob contains this background remark — “These (are) times of accelerating change, ill-defined angst, collective paralysis , anger and all sorts of regressive behavior. Times that are scary but also full of potential. It is important that we stay calm. One way to do that is to put our lives into perspective. Look at the big picture. That is what mythology does.” — while he presents images that are gorgeously evocative and thought-provoking.

Your Digital AfterLives: Here’s an interesting rumination, by Eric Steinhart, on the notion that we may be living in a simulation. Some subtleties.

== Miscellany ==

overstepping-artifacts Overstepping Artifacts, by Musicians with Guns, is a way-cool video that illustrates another great riff on fractal space. I’d love to use this as a basis for the ever-changing metal corals under the seas of Kithrup, in a Startide Rising flick.

See MyDream: a cool build-your-own universe/world game system recently funded on kickstarter.  It seems compatible with what Sheldon Brown and I have been working on… the Exorarium Project.

Are indoor shopping malls vanishing? No new one has been built in the US since 2006 and maybe half of them might disappear soon. For a generation, they were our town square. By all appearances (especially in the age of video arcades) in may be that GenX was the best of all times to be young and hang out.

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Science Fiction Media and Films — Some hidden gems

interstellar-movieWhile we’re all holding our breath for the release of films Interstellar and Transcendence… let’s skim a fewer lesser-known nuggets. But first a few announcements:

1) The Smithsonian Magazine in collaboration with the UC San Diego Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, Nerd Nite, Smithsonian Grand Challenges Consortia, and the Smithsonian Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation PRESENTS

   THE FUTURE IS HERE: Science meets Science Fiction
Imagination, Inspiration and Invention
MAY 16-18, 2014 WASHINGTON DC

Presenters include: Patrick Stewart, David Brin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Brian Greene, Adam Steltzner, George Takei, Stewart Brand, Sara Seager, and The Mythbusters! For more information…. TICKETS ARE GOING FAST!

Smithsonian-future-is-here-2014

Culminating the first day, I’ll have an onstage discussion with the mighty string theorist and science popularizer/author Brian Greene .

2) Issues in Science and Technology —  a respected quarterly journal that explores the intersections of science, technology, society, and policy — announces a science fiction contest! Winners will receive $1500. Throughout 2015, starting with the Winter volume, IST will publish one SF story per issue, on topics of broad societal interest. Published stories may be accompanied by a brief commentary or response written by a member of the National Academies. Co-sponsored by Arizona State University.

== Greene/(Green) Days ==

greene-hidden-realitySpeaking of the brilliant Brian Greene, author of The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos as well as The Elegant Universe… watch this trailer for a magnificent dramatization of his children’s book “Icarus at the edge of Time,” narrated by John Lithgow with music by Philip Glass.

Further… when does a story about science become science fiction? On this episode of ScienceFriday, Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss and theoretical physicist Brian Greene discuss how to spin a yarn about string theory or the Big Bang, without hyping or distorting the science. And novelist Ian McEwan, whose books touch on neurosurgery and quantum field theory, talks about what science offers to fiction.

Speaking of the verdant color, lately, at the LA Times Festival of Books, I was able to wrangle for Cheryl a seat to watch an interview with John Green. the effervescent impresario of Crash Course online tutorials, as well as a legendary series of entertaining pro-sense-and-science v-log rants, and New York Times best-selling author of novels including The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska.

== Media and Movies! ==

UnknownKeep an eye open for John Harden’s latest short film “NEW” which will soon be hitting the festival circuit, thanks to the generosity of online supporters like you. Moreover, get ready for a story that is poignant, stirring, but not stuck in the hackneyed rut of apocalyptic dystopias. “Cautionary tales have their place, of course, and I love those movies,” says Harden, “but I think dystopian views of the future are just a trendy stock solution. It’s not a good trend, because an unvaried diet of dystopias doesn’t warn us, it just points us toward despair.” Harden believes we need the utopias, too.

One review reads: “I think that’s one reason that NEW got [an] endorsement from sci-fi author and futurist David Brin, back when we were launching our first online fundraiser,” says Harden. “He and I are simpatico on that point—which is why my movie shows a lush green future of rolling hills and puffy white clouds.” Plus some sadness… and some hope. Spread some yourselves.

And yipe… this trailer for Scarlet Johansson’s coming film LUCY is amazing. How interesting that the human enhancement theme is on a roll. This one makes it a dive into psychic stuff, but I am willing to be entertained. Still, I enjoyed the intelligent film LIMITLESS (2011) as one of the few SF films “for grownups” ever made.

BBC-real-history-sfBBC America has just announced the 10 PM April 19th debut of a four-part mini-series titled The Real History of Science Fiction, which will feature films from Star Wars to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Jurassic Park to Doctor Who, each program is packed with contributors behind these creations. There are even (gasp) a couple of authors.

Some details about Andy and Lana Wachowski’s super secretive new Netflix series Sense8 have finally surfaced. And this new series, created in collaboration with Babylon 5’s J. Michael Straczynski, sounds kind of incredible. It apparently concerns some topics that have been raised here before (and in certain novels): the cultural expansion of empathy horizons, from family to tribe to clan to nation to globe; as well as how technology is used to both unite us and divide us. Interesting themes, a promise of a show in conception already more sophisticated that most of the SF we get in media usually.

Black-MirrorAnyone know about BLACK MIRROR? It seems the top sci fi anthology show around and …well… my ulterior motive is to get them a copy of OTHERNESS. Lots of people think I have a dozen tales perfect for that kind of Twilight Zone treatment. Hint. Hint. (Some of my best haven’t been collected yet!)

Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe is threatening to draw me in. Argh, like I needed more time sinks.

Episode one of REDSHIRTS: The Animated Series!

Terry Gilliam may be out of his mind — and this trailer for his new quasi-sci-fi film, Zero Theorem, seems to indicate it’s so — but no one can deny he is the bravest film maker alive.

 

== Weird but a good effort ==

lem-futurological-congressIn his 1960s novel The Futurological Congress, the great science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem foresaw a worldwide chemical dictatorship run by the leading pharmaceutical companies, whose complete control of our emotions range from love to jealousy to fear. Director Ari Folman’s new film adaptation — The Congress — of Lem’s novel introduces the current cinematic technologies of 3-D and motion capture, which are then extrapolated to a future when actors — in this case Robin Wright — sell their personnas to become permanent studio franchises, completely created by AI.

The film, which won a number of festival awards, has no theatrical release scheduled in the U.S., alas.  My wife and I got to see it as guests of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival… for the price that I had to join a panel afterwards, with local luminaries and animation experts, to discuss the movie. (I was the token sci fi author.)

congress-movie-folmanWe had mixed reactions.  I felt the middle third dragged and the animation was too repetitious — too many lush, avatar-like flowering plants.  On the other hand, Robin Wright was terrific, playing an alternate version of herself.  And the poignant ending was very well-handled. I thought that Folman dealt with the “what is reality?” issues at least as well as any of the directors who have rendered Philip K. Dick tales.  All told, I recommend renting the DVD when you get a chance.

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Probing the future: very good news… and some very bad…

Good-judgment-projectSo You Think You’re Smarter than a CIA Agent? asks an article on NPR News, citing The Good Judgment Project — a four-year research study organized as part of a government-sponsored forecasting tournament. Thousands of people around the world predict global events. Their collective forecasts are surprisingly accurate. For the past three years, 3,000 average people have been quietly making probability estimates about everything from Venezuelan gas subsidies to North Korean politics as part of  an experiment put together by three well-known psychologists and some people inside the intelligence community. According to one report, the predictions made by the Good Judgment Project are often better even than intelligence analysts with access to classified information.

Philip Tetlock, one of the three psychologists who came up with the idea for the Good Judgment Project, also wrote Expert Political Judgment: How Good is it? How Can We Know? His concept started simple:

First, if you want people to get better at making predictions, you need to keep score of how accurate their predictions turn out to be, so they have concrete feedback.

PredictionsRegistryBut also, if you take a large crowd of different people with access to different information and pool their predictions, you will be in much better shape than if you rely on a single very smart person, or even a small group of very smart people.’

These desiderata will sound familiar to some of you, who have read my own, decade-old calls for new kinds of Predictions Registry concept — which ought to be civilization’s utter-top priority, for a number of reasons that I lay down in that article.  As for “collective smarts” see how Smart Mobs are portrayed in Existence!

 

== Reasons for optimism, while everyone goes grumpy ==

A fascinating study for the US Defense Department concludes that three “almost shocking” dollops of positive news are transforming our prospects for the better — even as the public mood in the U.S. keeps sinking into inexplicable funk. The report: “Some Aspects of the Future Security Environment: Considering 1987, 2012, and 2037,” looked back and forward 25 years, according to an unclassified summary released by Office of Net Assessment of a Summer Study in late 2012, by Jesse H. Ausubel and Alan S. Curry.

It begins by surveying the world effects of globalization, an ongoing phenomenon which remains fraught with tension and opportunities for economic setbacks… but under which vast numbers of human families are rising, every year, out of grinding poverty, into some level of (very) basic comfort. Those who complain about other effects of globalization, while conceding the good things, have some credibility. Those who do not, have none.

Optimism-PessimismThen comes a real surprise: “Water provides a second big change in resource concerns during the past 25 years. In 1975, almost all experts forecast large increases in use of water by the United States. In fact, most of the forecasts vastly overestimated demand — and water withdrawals in the United States peaked about 1980. The trend in actual use has been flat for decades, even as U.S. population has grown about 80 million, the population of Turkey. Agriculture consumes far the most water. In the United States the decoupling of food production from land accounts for much of the moderation of demand. Sparing land usually means sparing water, both here and abroad. We see in farming in other industries increasing precision where we use more bits of information but less stuff — less energy, fertilizer, pesticide and water. So the idea of a global water crisis seems far-fetched.”

How fascinating. We’ve become so used to gloom and assuming the world will burst into flame everywhere over water. Indeed, there will likely be some local stress!

“At the same time, some regions clearly experience stress because of weak management and complex borders. Among regions to watch are upper basins where nations are building dams to capture water that flows downstream through other nations, e.g. the upper Indus, Mekong, and the Tigris and Euphrates, where Indian, China and Turkey; respectively, are adding storage with all its benefits and risks, including political consequences downstream.”

Okay, as Forest Gump would say – “one less thing….” Sort of. But then…

== Is fracking your friend? ==

“A third big surprise in resources of the past 25 years is the discovery and acceptance of the abundance of natural gas, methane.”  Since this report was issued in 2012, the arrival of frack-released gas and oil has crashed into public attention, with nearly everyone leaping to take one extreme position or the other. Either this is capitalism at its best, with no need to regulate, or else it is satanic poisoning of the air and aquifers.

In fact, there are many reasons to believe the trend needs and merits strongly assertive regulation by a government that implements the public will, to get both the economic stimulation/jobs/security that come from energy independence and the capping of leaking greenhouse gas sources and tight protection of aquifers. Both the benefits of methane weaning us off of filthy coal and continuing the spectacularly successful incentives that have brought sustainables like solar and wind into the mainstream, becoming viable at a rate that’s far faster than automobiles and airplanes became practical, a century ago.

The potential harms that accompany good news seem to set members of my Baby Boomer generation a-quiver with agitation and zero-sum thinking. Almost never do boomers, of left or right, contemplate the positive sum, win-win. The possibility that we might enhance the good effects and minimize the bad.

Our calmer and more pragmatic heirs will be better off without our grumpy-boomer asses around.

== Feed us! ==

Then there’s agriculture. It was thought that the increases in crop yield that happened under Borlaug’s “Green Revolution” were peaking just as populations were rising, bringing the curse of Malthus back into play. In fact, the verdict is mixed, so far. There is clear evidence that climate change is affecting crop yields – destroying both farmlands and grazing zones. These problems are exacerbated by many stupidities in re water use, pest management, monoculture, monopoly controlled GM seeds and a myriad other vexing perplexities and needs for action. On the other hand, new kinds of crops emerge all the time. And we also have on the horizon algae-culture, and tissue-culture meat, and far better fish farming, any of which may be game changers.

We’ll need them. For when fertile zones at lower latitudes turn to desert, we lose areas with two growing seasons. Canada and Siberia may get warmer but the new “farmlands” lack topsoil and languish in total darkness for half the year. This is not a fair trade.

The report also discusses mixed news about population. There is the aging developed world, with fears of demographic collapse. There is China, with it’s own one-child-affected situation. There are realms like Africa and India where Malthus looms as a spectre… and a few places of relative balance like the US and Canada, who benefit from the invigoration of immigration. It is WAY too soon to breathe any sigh of relief!

Still… it don’t look (yet) like Soylent Green.

Ah, but then there’s worrisome news….

== China on the brink? ==

China-shakes-world“China is like an elephant riding a bicycle. If it slows down, it could fall off, and then the earth might quake.” – James Kynge, China Shakes the World: A Titan’s Rise and Troubled Future — and the Challenge for America.

John Mauldin and his partners are worried about China.

After 30 years of sustained economic growth topping 8% and a successful bank cleanup in 2000, the People’s Republic was well on its way to blowing through the “middle income trap” and transitioning to a more advanced consumption-based economy. But then in 2008 the banking crisis in the United States abruptly ushered in a painful era of balance sheet repair across the developed world and delivered a demand shock to emerging markets. Rather than allow the Chinese economy to fall into recession at such an inconvenient time, the Party leadership sprang into action to stimulate demand with its largest fiscal deficit in more than 60 years and to mobilize bank lending with historically low interest rates and enormous liquidity injections.”

As a result, China’s total debt-to-GDP (including estimates for shadow banks) grew by roughly 20% per year, from just under 150% in 2008 to nearly than 210% at the end of 2012 … and continued rising in 2013. Even more ominous, corporate debt has soared from 92% in 2008 to 150% today. 

“China has consumed just 65pc of the cement it has produced in the past five years, after exports. The country is currently outputting more steel than the next seven largest producers combined – it now has 200m tons of excess capacity, more that the EU and Japan’s total production so far this year.”

But property is the biggest bubble, as it was in the U.S. and Europe. “The average price-to-rent ratio of China’s eight key cities is 39.4 times – this figure was 22.8 times in America just before its housing crisis.”

George Soros holds that “The major uncertainty facing the world today is not the euro but the future direction of China.”

== The lesson: optimism? Pessimism? ==

OPTIMISM-PESSIMISM-3It’s neither! It is that the world is far, far too filled with good trends and news to make cynicism and gloom anything other than wretched, simplistic treason. Show me the cynic who is actually and pragmatically useful to anyone! Or who actively and effectively helps to solve any of the problems that he (almost never “she”) grouses about!

I would say the same thing about fizzy, polyanna, best-of-all-worlds optimists, too… if you could point me at any. Sure, I know a few “singularity” types who think we’ll all be gods within 30 years. But none of them prescribe indolent shrugs, the way cynics do. Most optimists admit the desperate need for action!

But cynics aren’t our worst adversaries. The very worst people – enemies of your future and of your grandchildren – are the manipulators who are propagandizing to millions that they should hate science. Hate the people who know stuff. Hate the very idea of mixed, vigorous, confident, can-do effort to solve problems, partly together, via consensus government, while mostly through our markets and families and individual efforts.

Those are the folks who are waging war against your kids.

 

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“Neo-Reactionaries” drop all pretense: End democracy and bring back lords!

Following up on my previous posting, about the rationalizations of the new aristocracy, this time I plan to reveal to you a pernicious trend among some of society’s best and brightest.  But first, will you indulge me with a riff of background?

In Existence,  I portray a grand conference, held in the Alps around the year 2045.  The secret meeting has been called by a consortium of “trillies,” or trillionaire families, with the objective of commencing a new, world-wide era of Aristocratic Rule.  But their goal is not just to re-institute the ancient pyramid of privileged domination, but this time to start off on the correct foot. To get it right.

Social-pyramidPainfully aware of how gruesomely awful such pyramid-shaped societies were at governance, across the last many-thousands of years — how fraught with violence, delusion, waste and error — the trillie families are nevertheless unable to step back from the approaching time of takeover that their parents had conspired for, all the way back even to the Twentieth Century.  Giving in to human nature, they nurse rationalizations about the failure of democratic systems, and their hired boffins supply them with plenty of incantations to support the coming putsch.  And yet —

Yet, I also describe this particular lordly cartel as smarter than average. They know that the vast, educated middle class has access to powerful technologies that, should they become enraged, could make the guillotine look like louffa. Hence, they take their coming transition to rulership seriously, much as the Medici dukes of Florence did, during the Renaissance. Amid that alpine conclave, I show them calling on their hired intellectuals and house savants to take up the role of Machiavelli. To study and report what went wrong with past eras of oligarchy and feudalism, innovating ways to do it better, this time.

These are deeply cynical scenes!  But still, they also contain my patented brand of optimistic faith in reason: in this case positing that a cabal of trillionaires would have enough honesty and self-awareness to know how badly their favored system worked, in 99% of past human cultures. That they would hire the brightest people they could find (among those who could be trusted to help them end democracy) and ask those boffins to develop modified approaches to aristocracy,  based on lessons from both history and science.

For example, how to avoid catastrophic in-breeding and instead use meritocratic systems to invite the very best commoners upward to join their elite families via marriage and other alliances, at the top. Solving the illusion of superiority by making it — gradually — completely real.

== Fictional wishful-thinking? ==

ThePlutocratsDo I expect such calm and measured sobriety from the New Lords who are — even now — making their moves to restore the ancient social order?  Replacing the middle class, enlightenment, diamond-shaped social order with a traditional pyramid of owner-lord privilege?

Of course not.

For every Lorenzo de Medici or Heny Plantagenet there were hundreds, thousands of fools who let flatterers talk them into believing ego-stroking stories — that they were lords because of their own genius, or inherent superiority, or God-given right.

As I have said many times, this is human nature.  We are all descended from the harems of guys who pulled off this trick. Voluptuous delusions run through our veins, so strongly that it’s amazing the Enlightenment Miracle was ever tried at all, let alone that it lasted as long as it has.

== The rise of the Neo-Reactionaries ==

Till now, the Enlightenment had several things going for it: like the fact that it works.

For three hundred years, in realms as diverse as science, wealth-creation, error-avoidance, innovation, justice and happiness, it has outperformed all previous societies combined. But that is not the secret sauce. Its key trick, above all, was a very strong mythology of egalitarianism, individualism, pragmatism and liberality —

Four-Arenas-Competition— the ideal of a level and fair playing field, in which good ideas should win out over bad ones, without interference by stodgy or biased authorities. Adam Smith taught us — and the American Founders instituted — ways to benefit from arenas of competition in which no single person’s (or narrow cabal’s) delusions may reign — but instead products, policies, theories and justice are wrangled, tested and refined in four great arenas — markets, democracy, science and courts — where avoidance of criticism or error-discovery is difficult, even impossible over the long run.

They never worked perfectly and were always under attack by cheaters.  Still, these accountability arenas are the only systems that ever penetrated our species’s penchant for delusion in any systematic way.  Leftists who despise competition in principle are fools who ignore both human nature and a cornucopia of positive-sum outcomes from the four arenas.

Rightists who believe competition works well without careful tuning, regulation, research, opportunity-enhancement, shared investment in infrastructure, and (above all) relentless prevention-of-cheating are even worse fools who ignore all our past.

CourtsEven that most-solipsistic of clades, the libertarians, used to declare fealty to Adam Smith’s process, albeit grudgingly. But you had only to look at their favorite books and stories to detect an undercurrent and foretell that it would emerge openly, someday, into betrayal of Smith. Idolatry of the Nietzschean ubermensch or superman — the figure every geek supposes himself to be — oppressed and kept from his natural place on-top by jealous mobs of bullies, like those who oppressed him on the playground.  Where every young nerd (myself included) muttered: “just you wait till I come into my powers!”

IAAMOACFrom Ayn Rand to Harry Potter to Star Wars to Orson Scott Card, how many mythologies have catered to that fantasy, in all its voluptuous, masturbatory solipsism?  In contrast, can you count any mythic systems — other than Star Trek — that encouraged a different view? Recognition that “I am a member of a civilization”? One that made million miracles possible? Not by unleashing a few demigods, but by stimulating the efforts of whole scads of bright folks who are merely way above-average?

Well, the pretense may be over, fellas and gals.  Welcome to Nietzsche World.

Welcome to the Rapture of the Ingrates.

It is called the Neo-Reactionary Movement”  — a quasi-new cult that yearns for the ancien régime of monarchy and feudal rule. One that rejects Adam Smith and Franklin and the entire Enlightenment.  And above all — democracy.

== Yearning for the “Return of the King.” ==

Rise-Neo-ReactionariesI’ll let Klint Finley describe this movement for you, in a few paragraphs clipped from his excellent article on the subject: Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neo-Reactionaries:

“Neoreactionaries believe that while technology and capitalism have advanced humanity over the past couple centuries, democracy has actually done more harm than good. They propose a return to old-fashioned gender roles, social order and monarchy.”

Finley continues“Perhaps the one thing uniting all neoreactionaries is a critique of modernity that centers on opposition to democracy in all its forms. Many are former libertarians who decided that freedom and democracy were incompatible.

“Demotist systems, that is, systems ruled by the ‘People,’ such as Democracy and Communism, are predictably less financially stable than aristocratic systems,” a leading light of this movement, Michael Anissimov writes. “On average, they undergo more recessions and hold more debt. They are more susceptible to market crashes. They waste more resources. Each dollar goes further towards improving standard of living for the average person in an aristocratic system than in a Democratic one.”

Is this just a fluke? No, the movement has been long-simmering. It reminds me of a statement made by Star Wars impresario George Lucas in an infamous 1999 New York Times interview. “Not that we need a king, but there’s a reason why kings built large palaces, sat on thrones and wore rubies all over. There’s a whole social need for that, not to oppress the masses, but to impress the masses and make them proud and allow them to feel good about their culture, their government and their ruler so that they are left feeling that a ruler has the right to rule over them, so that they feel good rather than disgusted about being ruled. In the past, the media basically worked for the state and was there to build the culture. Now, obviously, in some cases it got used in a wrong way and you ended up with the whole balance of power out of whack. But there’s probably no better form of government than a good despot.”  

Every time I read that, it leaves me breathless. Stunned. I appraised that perspective – and its toxic lesson – in Star Wars on Trial.  Indeed, I have elsewhere explored the emotional underpinnings of all this:

“Wouldn’t life seem richer, finer if we still had kings? If the guardians of wisdom kept their wonders locked up in high wizard towers, instead of rushing onto PBS the way our unseemly “scientists” do today? Weren’t miracles more exciting when they were doled out by a precious few, instead of being commercialized, bottled and marketed to the masses for $1.95? Didn’t we stop going to the moon because it had become boring?”

Neo-Reactionary-Glossary

The temptation to wallow in romance — in fiction — is understandable.  To prescribe feudalism for real life, though?

Oh, where to begin on this grotesque — and  poisonously romantic — wrongheadedness?   Shall we start with the way that these fellows erect edifices of assertions that, when examined, prove to be not only untrue, but spectacularly and diametrically opposite to true? Like maintaining that Hitler and Stalin were epiphenomena of democracy, and not absolutist-oligarchist reactions to democracy — attempts to throttle it to death, erecting new elites, complete with harems? Or the way no ancient autarchy ever “got done” even a scintilla’s percentage of the accomplishments of any modern democracy.

The list of staggering rationalizations is too long for me to even ponder addressing, from ignoring Adam Smith’s denunciations of aristocracy as the core enemy of enterprise, to the bizarre belief that you can have economic freedom without any of the political kind, or that the clearly nasty and stupid rulership pattern of 6000 years should ever, ever again be trusted with anything more than a burnt match. Or that Communism was somehow a version of democracy, instead of a quasi-feudal theocratic cult that relentlessly spewed hatred at “bourgeoise democracy.” Or the way they rail against the Hayekian sin of “too few allocators and deciders” when it is committed by civil servants, yet justify narrow cliques of conniving group-think lords who do the same thing, just because they are “private.”

Above all, the hoary and utterly disproved nostrum that bourgeois citizens are fiscally less prudent than kings and lords, a slander that is as counterfactual as claiming day is night.

Fortunately, I do not have to refute this nonsense in detail, myself. Finley links to Anissimov’s manifestos — and many others’ — against modernity, democracy and enlightenment… so go ahead and give their own words a fair shake. Read the incantations! I have faith in you.

Anti-Reactionary-FAQThen head over to a marvelous, point-by-point refutation provided by Scott Alexander showing, among other things, how neo-reactionaries overestimate by many orders of magnitude the stability or governing aptitude of monarchies.  Alexander recently published an Anti-Reactionary FAQ, a massive document examining and refuting the claims of neoreactionaries.

Seriously, it is huge but painstakingly detailed, accurate and devastating. You need to give it a look. Alexander writes very well, entertainingly, and this vote of confidence in YOU needs to circulate as widely as possible.

== Disproof by example ==

Let me clip just one short part of Mr. Alexander’s devastating refutation of those who contend that absolute monarchy, following ancient principles, will outperform democracy, equal rights and all that decadent western crap. He starts by suggesting the simplest and most fair experimental test of rhe neo-reactionary assertion.  That we take a very homogeneous country and split it in half.

“One side gets a hereditary absolute monarch, whose rule is law and who is succeeded by his son and by his son’s son. The population is inculcated with neo-Confucian values of respect for authority, respect for the family, strict gender roles and cultural solidarity, but these values are supplemented by a religious ideal honoring the monarch as a near-god and the country as a specially chosen holy land. American cultural influence is banned on penalty of death; all media must be produced in-country, and missionaries are shot on site. The country’s policies are put in the hands of a group of technocratic nobles hand-picked by the king.

“The other side gets flooded with American missionaries preaching weird sects of Protestantism, and at the point of American guns is transformed into a parliamentary democracy. Its economy – again at the behest of American influence – becomes market capitalism, regulated by democracy and bureaucracy. It institutes a hundred billion dollar project to protect the environment, passes the strictest gun control laws in the world, develops a thriving gay culture, and elects a woman as President.

“Turns out this perfect controlled experiment actually happened. Let’s see how it turned out!”

zrx_image19Alexander then provides an image that speaks ten thousand words.

Some of you know the experiment to which he refers.  North and South Korea.

Oh, but read this section.  Read the rest.  And marvel that bright males (almost no women, of course) are able to talk themselves into believing factually-opposite, example-free, history-ignoring, human nature-ignoring and cosmically stupid incantations, just because it flatters their playground-traumatized imaginations to imagine that — in a world of far more limited opportunities and justice — they would somehow get to be the ones with harems.

== We generate our own, home-grown enemies ==

It is said that every generation is invaded by a fresh spate of invaders — their children. In our case, western civilization has raised many generations steeped in memes of suspicion of authority and questioning the home-and-familiar, one of the most unusual things that any culture ever preached to its own offspring!  I appraise this reflex favorably in my essay and book Otherness.  These memes are what led to so many successive self-improvement campaigns, from constitutionalism to elimination of slavery. They led us hippies – for example – to march against horridly assumptions that all other generations took for granted — wasteful and inherently impractical superstitions like racism, sexism and environmental blindness.  They also guarantee that new immunal rejection reflexes will be applied against the Boomers’ assumption sets by even-newer generations!  So be it.

To an extent, this is a core element of the Enlightenment’s healthy process of advancement and renewal. Heaven forbid that the young stop getting in their elders’ faces, confronting their mistakes.  But T-cells that go screeching through the body looking for mistakes are not always right! And many a sanctimonious twit of both right and left conveys more heat than light.  More noise than value.

better-angels-of-our-natureIn this case of the neo-reactionaries, you have a cult of ingratitude that should incur at least a burden of scholarly proof. Certainly not being allowed to get away with blithe assertions and bald-faced lies. For example, I have again and again pointed out recent evidence — such as Steven Pinker’s book on declining world violence — that we have good news to build upon.  Open and reciprocal criticism helped to make the violence decline happen!  Along with steep plummets in world (per capita) poverty and so on.  That’s a lot of accomplishment to overcome, in claiming that kings could do better.

In fact, I know — and rather enjoy — some of these fellows, such as Anissimov and Peter Thiel, whose other accomplishments are respect-worthy and whose lively, vivid minds make up for abstract disagreements.  There are areas of common ground! Like the long range goal of a world that overflows with empowered and sovereign individuals, needing little in the way of regulation or constraint, a shared dream, even if we part company over how to get there.

Indeed, some of them have legitimate complaints — in the nitty gritty of the details of running a complex, democratic civilization. Fine.  Want to propose alternatives? Experiments? Deregulations? Criticism is a feature, not a flaw of demotic life, part of the completely unique ferment that generally keeps us moving forward. (For example, I have no objections — only questions – regarding Thiel’s endeavor to create new sovereignties out at sea.) You want to offer innovations and solutions and evidence, along with those wild-eyed assertions? Well, you know…

…we’d all love to see your plan.

== We are still the revolution ==

Alas though, they tend not to view things that way. Here I am speculating: but I believe that some of these fellows have swung this way because they are too smart to be fooled any longer by the undead thing that has hijacked American conservatism, sending poor Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley spinning so fast that Arizona and New York draw electricity from their graves.  Having driven off all the nation’s scientists, teachers, doctors and every other clade of “smartypants” professionals, the New GOP could hardly hold on to brainiac Silicon Valley libertarians, who can see the unalloyed record of catastrophic governance and universally bad outcomes from the Bush years.

But what’s the alternative? Preachy, smarmy, compromising-consensualist and preachy-progressivist liberalism?  Never.

Let’s give them points for imagination, then, finding a new — or rather, ancient — direction to call their own.  Even though Neo-Reaction winds up as delusional as any dogma issued by the House of Ailes.

Rather than picturing themselves as part of Adam Smith’s flat and open competitive churn,  Neo-Reactionaries prefer to envision a kind of uprising or counter-reformation. An up-ending and reversal of what they see as a decadent experiment in mob rule, gone wrong, demanding that we return to the beastly way of life that oppressed and limited and cauterized all of our ancestors (including the lords!) — only getting it right, this time.  A way of life that (I admit) is the natural human attractor state! One that caters to every romantic impulse behind the popularity of fantasy tales of Martin, Lucas or Tolkien. One that is darwinistically so compelling and natural that it probably snared most intelligent races in our galaxy — a top potential explanation for the Fermi Paradox. An attractor state called feudalism.

An attractor that is yanking hard on us now, as would-be lords deliberately instigate a fresh phase of Civil War to cripple American pragmatism and institutions, throwing into imbalance all four of those great, positive-sum accountability arenas upon which our Great Experiment relies.  But it won’t work.

OligarchistsThey do not get to call themselves rebels!  We and our Enlightenment are the revolutionaries, still, beating down the repeated, clawing assaults of oligarchists from all sides, some of whom called themselves “communists,” but always prescribing the same, boring pyramid of power.

These guys face a steep burden of proof that we should reject the social contract that brought them to their high status, in a civilization that may — in just two generations — embark upon interstellar adventures, bringing light, at last, to the galaxy.

Amid the Rapture of the Ingrates, they are welcome to contend (it’s a free country) that we’d all be far better off if the west had not followed the advice of Locke and Montesquieu and Franklin and Smith and all the other heroes — the greatest our species ever produced — who rebelled against oligarchic rule, giving us one chance — perhaps only this one — to try something else.

They are free to offer that assertion. But I am (nodding thanks to all those heroes) equally empowered to say bullshit.

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Looking to the Future: An Interview

Looking-to-the-futureAs I prepare to speak to the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Congress in Vilnius, Lithuania, on November 6, here is an interview that I gave to one of the major European journals covering the event:

  • 1. Mr. David Brin, you are a science fiction writer and in the past you had a chance to consult some of the world’s most largest corporations. So my question is – what can be predicted considering the future by a writer, that can’t be predicted by executives of the largest corporations?

Organs in our brains – the prefrontal lobes – uniquely compel human beings to do “thought experiments” about what might come to pass. We do this obsessively, despite knowing full-well that our forecasts won’t come true, because the process still enables us to confront a myriad bad decisions and outcomes, eliminating many of those and making up stories that might lead to success.

All human civilizations invested heavily in prediction. In the past, shamans read goat entrails or the stars. Our current society employs millions to engage in this kind of work, from stock market analysts to politicians and business leaders whose job — after all — is to appraise approaching needs and opportunities, allocating resources accordingly. Trained as a scientist, I tend to view those professions as ill-disciplined! But even science can be murky as it looks ahead.

1984It is in my role as a science fiction author that I get to stretch a bit, peering beyond the typical five-year horizon. It is the sort of long-gaze shown by the medieval cathedral builders.  In science fiction we seldom try to “predict” the future, so much as illustrate trends, extrapolate possibilities… and occasionally to issue stark warnings. George Orwell’s classic novel NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR  was a “self-preventing prophecy” that stirred millions of terrified readers into action, working to prevent the author’s vision from coming true.

  • 2. What are the most common questions asked by representatives of the largest corporations? What are they trying to learn from you? Do they want to know predictions about the evolution of the technology, or they want to learn how the new technology might influence people’s life in the future?

In the near term, they want hints about business opportunities and dangers.  For example, what trends might make the current motif for cell-phones (a rectangular slab in your pocket) obsolete?   Will rising world education levels, decentralization of skill, and the rise of desktop manufacturing mean the return of cottage industry, replacing large-scale manufacturing? Will biological synthesis follow its own Moore’s Law pattern, the way computers have, leading to an Internet of organic chemistry?

The biggest forces are social. What will happen when the 20th Century’s relentless drive to “professionalize everything” comes to an end — as it must. Will we see a rising era of amateurs? Will ubiquitous cameras — getting smaller, faster, cheaper and more mobile each year — lead to a Big Brother state, or to hyper-empowered individualism?  And if all individuals get to see, like gods, will this lead to tyranny by mobs? Or increased autonomous respect?

I do not offer answers, only lots of questions.

  • 3. Is it possible to state, that the vitality of a corporation directly depends on ability to identify how the world will change in next decade?

Our prefrontal lobes compel us to anticipate, and new tools for anticipation are arriving in a flood, from Big Data to vision and behavior analytics, from social modeling systems to face recognition and even artificial intelligence.  Setting aside (for now) the implications for freedom, the biggest concern is how uneven these tools will be, how fraught with error. No matter how effective, they will fail, sooner or later! And when anticipation fails, there is just one trait that can save the day.  For ten thousand years it has been the partner of anticipation.

That trait is resilience.

  • 4. When we talking about future predictions, how much are those predictions  important to small players? For example to small companies, or individuals who want to start a business? Maybe for a student, who want’s to become a dentist, isn’t important how the teeth will be fixed in the next decade, because in any case he will get all the necessary knowledge at the university? 

The corporation is one method by which human beings organize themselves to pursue common goals.  It has been remarkably successful, though there is nothing sacred about it, nor about any one form of government. (Indeed, both types of system become brittle when they are top-heavy.)

A counter-trend has been building momentum. It is the agility of self-organizing groups of highly skilled individuals.  At first this manifested in “non-governmental organizations” like Amnesty International, or Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) who copied corporate structures in order to allow millions to sort their pooled efforts according to interest and passion.

Lately, we have seen bolder experiments with ad-hoc structures, most famously in quasi-legal entities like WikiLeaks and Anonymous. Online ratings systems, for example on Amazon, Yelp, and eBay, only crudely coordinate what will soon become a crucial matter of our era — reputation management. These primitive efforts are not yet the “smart mobs” portrayed in some science fiction.  Self-organizing systems may empower the new Age of Amateurs to spectacular achievements, like those accomplished by the 20th Century’s Age of Professionals.

  • 5. What do you think about a prediction and a vision, that maybe in the year 2050 nobody will be able to lie, because devices like Google Glasses will be able work as a 100% correct lie detectors? No more populists who try to win a president election by lying? 

SundiverMy 1980 novel SUNDIVER dealt glancingly with a future in which it became difficult to lie, because all citizens could track the gaze of politicians or salesmen and the eyes would involuntarily reveal deception.  Recent scientific work suggests that something like this may be coming.  In which case, we will have to decide what kind of society we want.  We have several options.  If we try to ban these technologies, that will only ensure that we — you and I — don’t have them, but elites will get them anyway, in secret.

Or we may all grab these methods and then use them against each other, dissolving into a morass of accusations and recriminations. A war of all against all.

Or we could decide to moderate this world of vision with good sense, by cultivating a general social norm of forgiveness for small mistakes… because we will all need it. Catching dangerous or malicious lies, we may also forgive and shrug-off the inevitable foolish exaggerations and slips of the tongue that are deeply part of human life.

  • 6. In your opinion, how will the world  look in a year 2050? People with artificial body parts and cyborgs all around? Or maybe every disease can be healed in seconds, and lost body parts regrown in minutes? How about a vision, where everyone is living in a virtual world, where androids do all the work in “real“ world? Will people live longer, and our world will be much safer place? (If possible please justify your arguments in more details)

People should become familiar with the term “social singularity” which is today much discussed by the brightest young people. It is the notion that human knowledge has been accelerating for generations and that acceleration will rise even faster across the next few decades. Just one technology — artificial intelligence — could arrive from any of six different directions. If it does come… and assuming the new minds are friendly … then our rise in knowledge and capability may accelerate even faster.

KurzweilSingularityCoverSome believers in this “singularity” expect that we organic humans will get to join the rapid rise in intelligence, through improvements in brain function or through augmentations, or by linking our minds with external components, much as our ancestors did when they added another layer — when mutation gave them the  spectacular prefrontal lobes. They, too, had to adjust to becoming much smarter, very rapidly.

We cannot know what life will be like for those descendants.  (Indeed, some believe it will happen so quickly that such godlike leaps will be provided to you, the person reading this, within a few years!)

Whether it happens fast or slow, we can hope that our best, most central human values (like honor and charity and a sense of humor) will be deeply embedded in that world to come. If that happens, then the mighty beings who follow us will still be… human.

  • 7. Which of the currently emerging technologies will lead to major changes in how we work, how we consume, and how we produce goods?

Desktop fabrication will probably not eliminate manufacturing, mass-production and delivery systems. But it will become a factor, when people can upload design patterns and create their own small parts or machines. Even factory-produced items will be personally tailored to the needs of particular customers. Impatience with old-fashioned delivery systems may provoke the return of pneumatic tube transport for small or medium-scale packages. If asteroidal resources become available, all metals will plummet in price, including gold and platinum.

resiliencyThe late 20th Century obsession with efficiency in production and delivery improved profit margins and quality in many industries, like automobiles. But we saw fads like Just-in-Time parts delivery hit a devastating wall in the calamity of Fukushima, Japan.  There – and in other disasters – we have learned that Nature does not only want us to be efficient. Our bodies are also resilient.  Governments and societies need to encourage this trait in our production and supply chains.

For example: laws that tax the warehousing of parts must be changed to instead encourage factories to keep on-hand supplies — stockpiles that can keep businesses going during disruptions. Beyond that, local production will reduce vulnerabilities and dependence on trans-oceanic shipping. A global economy is great, but local self-sufficiency will be a counter trend of real value.

  • 8. Let’s go back to the year 2050. What car we will drive then? Some people say that we’ll have better batteries for electric cars, others say that future belongs to hydrogen powered electric cars. What is your opinion? Maybe we won’t have cars at all and travel in glass tubes from one city to another?

UKEarthPBI portray hydrogen powered cars being used by 2050 in my novels EARTH and EXISTENCE. There are real potential advantages… but not in the near term.  The required infrastructure, if we copy gasoline distribution, would be insane. Hydrogen will make sense only when solar power becomes so plentiful that you fill your tank at home.

The big news has been the spectacular improvement in electric cars. The motors and control systems were more than ready and battery improvements, including super-capacitors, are clearly on the horizon.

What few people — including science fiction authors — expected was for the the self-driving car to burgeon so rapidly. Science fiction tales envisioned that it would require “smart roadways” with embedded cables and centralized computer control. But onboard vision and analysis systems have progressed to the point where cars can see us, anticipate trouble and avoid accidents. The implications are astounding.

  • 9. Another tough question – oceans and the human future? Will we have cities underwater? There is a lot of most needed resources under ocean flour, when we will be able to get our hands on them? Our maybe asteroid mining is the future? 

Asteroid-MiningAsteroid mining is a dream that only a few of us shared in the 1980s.  Ocean settlement goes even farther back.  Both frontiers offer the potential (still speculative but well-based) for spectacular benefits that might enrich human society far beyond any memory of poverty. Both must overcome serious obstacles. In accessing the vast resources from asteroids — which include almost everything we currently tear out of the Earth through mines — we must first decide to be ambitious. To become again a people who invest boldly in space. That dream has been almost crushed by cynicism, but the numbers suggest that cynics are wrong. The dreamers were right.

The sea is an immense problem and opportunity that we can only handle with care and plenty of science.  It will do us no good to exploit the riches below if we harm or kill Mother Ocean. At the same time, recall that 75% of the seas are “desert” areas, poor in nutrients and almost barren of life.  Ways may be found to “fertilize” some stretches, creating new fisheries and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.  There is a careful middle ground, exploring these concepts with care, but refusing to be daunted into sitting on our hands.

  • 10. In the fifth decade of the last century science fiction writers predicted that by year 2000 we would have colonies on Moon, and a lot of people will be live in space stations orbiting Earth. That didn’t happen. What is correct year for Moon base? And if we ever construct a Moon base, how this will affect humanity’s thinking? Can a new philosophy or view to life emerge from space conquest? Will people still believe in God, when they will know that it takes only 15 minutes flight to an amusement park in Moon?

When the year 2001 came around, I had to answer many questions like: “where are the moon bases we were promised?” But watch again the film by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. It portrayed a civilization that by the year 2001 had made greater leaps in spaceflight than we’ve achieved. But society had progressed much less on a human plane. It conveyed a world commanded by patronizing, smug white-male-American bosses who operated in habitual secrecy. Now, you may claim that was accurate! But put aside the reflex. Today’s world – for all its flaws – is far more open and diverse — even at pinnacles of power — than Kubrick and other science fiction writers expected or imagined. In other words, space proved to be hard! But we have made progress in areas that seemed even harder, including the human heart.

BetterAngelsDo facts support this claim? In his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” Professor Steven Pinker shows how violence per-capita, worldwide, has declined steeply, every decade since 1945, propelled largely by the self-criticism habit that leaves us never satisfied, always eager to improve. Likewise, most of the world’s children now live in homes with basic sanitation and electricity.  Pinker had better be right!  If he is, then our heirs may have the wisdom to manage not only society and a planet, but a solar system filled with opportunities and wonders.

  • 11. Last, but the most important question for us. What kind of future you predict for small countries like Lithuania? What can you advise for our politicians and scientists? We have limited resources, so where to focus? Do we need to follow niche technology road (like focus on lasers, biotechnology), or try to invest even a small amount of money to every emerging technology? What advice would you give to parents who will have children this year, and those children will start studies in a year 2033?

Globalization has been a mixed blessing. Great positive benefits followed the wave of export-driven development as successive nations had a chance to work hard and send their children to school.  The process was seldom perfectly just — or easy on the planet — but the growth of a world-majority middle class has been a miracle, and those educated children will demand more improvements, still.

Globalization also carries dangers: ecological, ethical, and a risk of cultural homogenization as regional and local differences are drenched in a Standard International Culture. Corporate consolidation makes competition difficult for small countries or small businesses or individuals. Oligarchy is a mistake that plagued every society across 6000 years.

But we have seen that there will be opportunities, too. Smaller nations — like individuals — must be agile. Opportunities may be sudden and short-lived, the way Finland strode across the world stage of telecommunications for a time. More often, there will be opportunities for alliances our parents could never have imagined. A Lithuanian artists’ collective might collaborate with a consortium of independent neural-interface designers in San Diego, plus fabrication experts in Malaysia and a set of encryption crackers in Smolensk.  A new kind of passenger seat for automobiles might be prototyped in Chengdu but produced in Vilnius by a company that never learns the identity of the original designer… an artificial intelligence residing in one of Google’s self-driving cars.

Small countries will probably also be the drivers for innovation in governance. You will not get fresh ideas about constitutional freedom from major powers like the United States, China or Russia. We all may have benefited from a generally benign Pax Americana, but that Pax will have to give way to something else, in time. And that next thing is more likely to emerge from small nations that are bold enough to experiment, developing new and quicker ways for individual citizens to exercise sovereignty, freedom, creativity and the rising, agile power to make alliances anywhere on the planet.

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Is the world improving… despite our grouchy dogmas?

Poverty and violence are decreasing worldwide, at truly amazing rates. And of course – as we have seen – this fact seems anathema to grouches of both the far left and the entire right. But it does prove that the Great Program instituted by George Marshall, Harry Truman, Dean Acheson and Dwight Eisenhower has been working, in a spectacular mix of good development assistance and the better half of capitalism.

I have described several times how Dr. Stephan Pinker, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, shows clearly that per capita rates of violence across the world have been plummeting (albeit with tragic unevenness) every decade since the Second World War. Even the recent, terribly unwise wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, though in many ways regrettable and devastating to our U.S. economy, were nevertheless waged in a manner unlike what any other generation would have called “war,” looking more like heavy-scale (sometimes fierce) SWAT team action than mass armies pounding and flattening everything in their path.

20130601_cna400But it is the fight against poverty that stands out even more. As reported in a recent Economist article, Towards the End of Poverty: “In his inaugural address in 1949 Harry Truman said that “more than half the people in the world are living in conditions approaching misery. For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and skill to relieve the suffering of those people.” It has taken much longer than Truman hoped, but the world has lately been making extraordinary progress in lifting people out of extreme poverty. Between 1990 and 2010, their number fell by half as a share of the total population in developing countries, from 43% to 21%—a reduction of almost 1 billion people.”

To be clear: I’m no pollyanna.  (1) These improvements are just enough to offer hope, not any excuse to let-up.  And (2) there are many areas that are not improving at a trajectory for success. Environmental worries top that list.  Nevertheless, violence and poverty are paramount, and the news in those areas is tentatively fantastic.

Why do we hear so little about this? Because amid today’s callowly indignant political polarization and Phase Three of the American Civil War, good news serves the polemical interests of neither right nor left. The mania of the right is that “improvement” campaigns are manifestations of pushy do-gooder oppressors; things are rotten but that is the natural way of things and trying to “improve” them is either nanny-frantic rudeness or else a commie plot.

The mania of the left is to hallucinate the most self-defeating fabulation of all. Not that we must improve… (I agree that we had better, a lot, or fail utterly)… but that chiding… and only chiding… will get us there.  That reflex, to emphasize only indignant finger-wagging, has been politically devastating, by alienating millions who dislike being chided. Moreover it  illogically and stupidly aims to motivate folks to take up progressive causes without ever admitting that earlier progressive campaigns to improve the world have actually … worked! Pause. Contemplate that, and why nagging might be unhelpful.

Feh. You can see how these manias feed into each other. They are reciprocal addiction enablers. And extreme self-righteousness junkies are not the ones making a better world.  We are.

== Emissaries wanted! ==

Another METI – (Message to Extraterrestrials) – stunt appears to be underway, pushed ahead by fools who claim an arrogant right to speak for humanity, without ever discussing the issue in open debate with colleagues or the public. One group will be announcing their planned Yoohoo Shout at a news conference in New York City on June 11: 1pm at 500 Broadway (2nd fl).

For background on this vexing issue see: ShoutingCosmosShouting at the Cosmos: How SETI has taken a worrisome turn into dangerous territory. Here is the shouters’ rationalization: The Benefits and Harms of Beaming into Space, which is based (the Benford boys assure me) upon fallacious physics.

Out of all the members of our SETI dissidents group (arguing that there should be discussion involving top people from many fields, before small groups arrogate to go screaming into the cosmos on humanity’s behalf, based on faulty assumptions) none of us are able to attend the news conference on short notice, or ask inconvenient questions. Do we have any volunteers from out there in the community? Calm sciencey types preferred!  Get in touch via comments below.

At minimum, we could learn who is funding this and who owns the telescope.

== A miscellany of fascinations… 

Are All Telephone Calls Recorded And Accessible To The US Government? Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, hinted that the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations (in the context of the Tsarnaev bombings.) Consider the implications of that blithe, offhand remark. The blogosphere went ballistic in outrage!

My reaction: and you expected… what? If they cannot do it now, they certainly will. Nothing on Earth will prevent the mighty (and I am more scared of oligarchs than civil servants) from seeing and hearing us.  We must concentrate our efforts not on trying (futilely) to blind them, but on measures that allow us (or trusted representatives of us) to sousveil and reciprocally look at the  mighty. If we cannot hide from the mighty, then let us strip them naked.

grafzeppelinSee an amazing 90 minute documentary on the Graf Zeppelin’s 1929 voyage around the world. Especially fascinating is the portion about the airship’s brush with death, after leaving Japan and barely surviving a Pacific typhoon, blown off course and coming  down near an uninhabited island to do repairs. (That part is 55 minutes in.)  A terrific show about olden times that (I believe) may in some ways come again!

(See my own future zeppelins! 😉

And learn more about the online Museum of Hoaxes! 

Words that last: a research team has identified 23 “ultraconserved words” that have remained largely unchanged for 15,000 years, spanning not only Indo-European but several of the six other major language groups in Eurasia. Among them the root words for “hand” (“main”) and “to give” (“donne”).

==Mars Haiku==

MarsMavenNASA solicited “Haiku about Mars,” — to be sent aboard the Mars MAVEN Spacecraft. I whipped out two Mars haiku in about a minute….  So I’ll just share them with you now.

Does Mars need women?

And incidental males too?

Let’s supply them soon.

Snowy Olympus

Juts into vacuum above

The oceans we’ll revive.

== More Miscellany ==

FUTUREWRONGIn “The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be: Why Futurists and Pundits So Often Get It Wrong,” Christian Cantrell (author of Containment) offers  a welcome reality check, or dose of cold water in the face, concerning our excessive utopian expectations from technology. Indeed, his comments on declining quality of air travel hit home. I expect air travel to keep getting worse, until — fed-up — the middle class forms mobs with torches and pirchforks to burn down the corporate jetports and chase the rich back into First Class, where they belong.  That would end our decline into misery, overnight!  But read this cogent essay.

Now come algorithms that will only let your browser come up with things that they think you’ll like. My novel EARTH (1989) portrayed hackers in the 2020s deliberately tweaking this “nuremberg-ware” so that it would do the opposite.  Instead of helping people only see and hear and read what agrees with them, all saluting the same memes at the same time, the hacked relevance algorithms would let through different and provocative points of view.  Breaking folks out of the group-think “nuremberg rallies” of memic sameness.

What’s the solution?  To introduce randomness into searches? Randomness won’t work.  It just makes your searches less efficient.  What’s needed is a small symbol showing if someone with very high reputation and credibility scores disagrees or finds fault.  You can click on the symbol, or not.  But just glimpsing the symbol, flashing over on the far right, would say “there is dissent to this; don’t assume it’s just given.”  Of course for this to work, we need the desperately neglected cred-and-reputation system I designed.

Or take a simpler wholesome reality check. A feel-good public relations move that just might do some good… Coca-Cola has set up hyper-window vending machines in India and Pakistan that let you meet, play games or dance with folks in the other country, then toast them with Coke. I hope this isn’t a one-off but that they will deploy dozens.  Also, I hope the screens are Gorilla Glass viz the inevitable hate attacks.  Clearly they must be set up in affluent and highly supervised shopping malls.  Still… what fun.

A commercial product based on Transcranial stimulus.

A Guardian analysis of the top 50 video games sold in 2012 found more than half contain violent content labels. One third have weapons that depict real-life firearms.

== Artistry Notes ==

I’ve quite enjoyed the web-comic called “Tragedy Series” by Benjamin Dewey.  Done in sepia with a Victorian-Steampunk ambiance, these little one-image postcard vignettes are lovely jolts of dark wit and sometimes even genuine irony.

ThreeBodyProblemNext year will see the english language publication of THE THREE BODY PROBLEM by the greatest sci fi author ever in China, Liu Cixin.  It takes a very dark view of METI, by the way.

I will speak more in coming months about this top-flight, truly exceptional series and its excellent translation by our own Ken Liu.  But when you do read it, you may never think the same about “harmless” METI shouts into the cosmos.

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