Tag Archives: singularity

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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Who is worse? Those who think progress will be easy? Or those who deny progress at all?

== Grouches versus Pollyannas… spare us! ==

Economics-pundit Niall Ferguson has weighed in again.  This  time, in Don’t Believe the Techno-Utopian Hype, he rails against the super-optimists — those who believe that eternal rapid progress will be the natural, even teleologically ordained, result of ever-rising information technology and connectivity.

That movement — variously called transhumanist or singularitarian, extropian and so on — has its world capital in Silicon Valley, home of Singularity University, where zealots claim the future can, must and automatically will be bright.  Reacting with a grouchiness that has political-wing predictability, Ferguson joins Francis Fukayama, Peter Thiel, Bill Joy, Nicholas Carr and others in disdaining the florid forecasts of those I call “techno-transcendentalists.”

Much of what Ferguson says about this movement is true, as far as it goes, so go ahead and read his essay before coming back here. I’ll wait…

Indeed, emotionally, many transhumanists differ little from millennia after millennia of priests and shamans, who promised to lead every generation of our ancestors toward bright horizons, shucking off the limits of this gritty, morbid, moribund reality. The chief difference nowadays is that our 21st Century transcendentalists have split into two factions.

An old fashioned variety are repelled by technology and continue to offer skyward redemption  via the standard methods.  Whether it’s Old-Time religion or New Age mysticism, the underlying trait remains the same. Offer folks a doorway to a better world via non-physical, non-verifiable abstractions — e.g. prayer, incantation or secret concoctions

The newer type of transcendentalist preachers seem to have the same basic personality and need to promise a better world, only with one crucial difference. Tech-educated and tech-confident, they veer away from belief in incantations toward faith in the unlimited transformative power of Moore’s Law.

== In defense of dreamers ==

Whenever I’m around singularity guys, I become the grouch in the room, and not just because I am “contrary.”  Only followers of Fox News seem to have less grasp of history than the singularity zealots, who proclaim that Marx-like technological teleology will glide us all into godhood, within a decade or two. Both groups ignore the many ways that freedom and creative markets and other enlightenment miracles were quashed, in 99% of human cultures.

On the other hand, it rankles me to see them dissed by pundits whose depth of insight would not get your toes wet. Niall Ferguson, especially — a glib lightweight who flounders in the shallow end of the idea pool — is superficial to a degree that should win him a nice, cushy sinecure at Fox.

For example, Ferguson uses today’s parochial social/economic concerns as proof of some grand, generalized, spenglerian decline-of-the-west, and this “demonstrates” that technology-propeled progress is not only a vain hope, but intrinsically impossible.

But while the middle class may have stagnated for a time in the U.S. — (what do you expect, when a vast portion of their wealth is siphoned by a neo-feudal oligarchy?) — Ferguson ignores far more significant news. The stunningly rapid rise of middle classes in developing nations.

Neither the left nor the right has any interest in acknowledging good news — and complicit mass media find even the possibility absolutely allergenic. So, we hardly ever hear about the rapid decline in violence, each decade since 1945, that Professor Steven Pinker documents in his  book, Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Nor the rate at which new generations are becoming more educated and technologically empowered in China, India and even Africa…

…a vast social leap that has been propelled largely by the American consumer and WalMart.  Probably the greatest phenomenon of the last 60 years, and the direct outcome of deliberate policies first put in place by George Marshall, Dean Acheson, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, this process of uplift through trade is barely acknowledged anywhere, even by the brightest observers, like Paul Krugman.  It is the chief achievement of Pax Americana.  And future generations will call it miraculous.

True, this fantastically effective “aid program” could be better managed. For example, the US and the west should act more decisively to defend their crown jewels, the intellectual property and fruits of creativity that allow the western goose to continue laying Golden Eggs for the rest of the world. Corporate China, in particular, would seem eager to kill and eat the goose, proof they are not yet wise enough to replace the American Pax.

Still, the bigger picture is vast and fascinating and overwhelmingly positive, overall. The slight declines in America that Niall Ferguson cites — and that were wrought almost completely by his side in culture war — are still just surface blips in a trend whose epochal plus sides are beyond the comprehension of myopes like Ferguson.

 Let me reiterate this point, since no one ever seems to grok it. A century from now, the way that U.S. consumers uplifted most of the planet will be viewed as one of the great accomplishments of our age.  Perhaps the greatest. Out of 1945’s depth of despair, brilliant leaders like Marshall set up the world game so that its overall sum has become overwhelmingly positive. Moreover, any “economist” who ignores this yang side of the picture is simply a fool.

== Will it be a world for grouches?  Or Transcendentalists? ==

Neither.  In my new novel – EXISTENCE – I portray what is likely.  A grinding-ahead of progress that the wise investment seer John Mauldin calls “muddling through.” We will accomplish a great deal of what the transhumanists envision, though it will be grittier and more complicated, with lots more irritations than we are assured. There will never be a point when we declare: “oh wow, we are gods now!”

In other words, it will be like the huge progress that we’ve achieved already.  And there will still be those of the so-called right and left and mystical fringe – dopes who deserve no credibility at any level, like Niall Ferguson – who deny that progress happened at all.

In fact, we may have a chance to create a fantastic new civilization on this planet, by returning to and enhancing the Enlightenment methods that brought us to this party.  Methods like transparency and reciprocal accountability and divided power and pragmatic negotiation that have nothing whatsoever to do with “left” or “right” but that are deeply threatened by one side in our current culture war.

If we restore our fervent, even militant fealty to those methods, then this pax will continue to generate vast, positive-sum miracles. But it won’t be easy or fore-ordained.  If it were, the sky would already be filled with the alien starships from countless other civilizations who found it easy before us.  That empty sky tells us a lot.  It is gonna be hard.

We can reach for a bright horizon. But only if we ignore the grouches… then sigh and slog past the lovable dopes who say it will come as a gift, as natural as sunrise.

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From Religion to Biology: Various Cool and Worrisome Items

Had loads of fun at the recent Singularity Summit 2011. I gave a talk to all those folks who think that technology will soon empower us to construct super-intelligent artificial intelligences, or perfect intelligence enhancing implants, or even cheat death. The title:  “So you want to make gods. Now why would that bother anybody?” Here I present some Singularity-tilted theology. 

And while we are reaching across the Great Divide… Science and Religion Today interviewed me in a brief Q&A re: “Can altruism be addictive?” Riffing off of the new volume Pathological Altruism, in which I have two articles.

For more on observation flaws built into human nature… see a fascinating story about “validity bias” where people routinely misjudge their own competence and procedures, even in the face of evidence. This especially applies to my longstanding call for neutral Predictions Registries. Read this and ponder how hard it is to be a mature person in this modern world.

== Biology!  Biology is Destiny! ==

Family living conditions in childhood are associated with significant effects in DNA that persist well into middle age. Researchers found clear differences in gene methylation between those brought up in families with very high and very low standards of living. More than twice as many methylation differences were associated with the combined effects of  wealth, housing conditions and occupation of parents (that is, early upbringing) than were associated with the current socio-economic circumstances in adulthood.

Now let’s be careful.  This is not Lamarckianism (inheriting of acquired traits by the next generation). Though another science report seems to imply that result in methylization studies, as well! No, what this shows is that the effects of childhood conditions can last for life, beyond mere malnutrition stunting of the brain or general health or psychological damage caused by poverty.  Those latter effects should be enough to convince anybody that society should invest in the children of the poor, even if adults are consigned to libertarian perdition, for their foolish choices.

But the new result reinforces the lesson. I consider myself to be a style of libertarian. But anyone who rejects socialist intervention to help poverty-wracked children is not only evil but also now clearly shown to be batshit crazy. And wrong.

An MORE waw-biology! Fascinating.  You’ve heard of “jumping genes” or retro transposons – that shift from one chromosome to another?  It turns out these events actually take place surprisingly often. According to one recent estimate, they occur in many or most brain cells, perhaps several hundred times within each cell. Each neuron is likely subjected to a unique combination of insertions, leading to a genetic variability within populations of cells.The full significance of this “genomic plasticity” is still not clear, but the authors suggest that it could influence brain development and behavior. It may, for example, partly account for the differences in brain structure and behavior between identical twins, and could even affect thought processes by subtly influencing the changes in nerve cell connections that occur with experience.

“The full significance of this “genomic plasticity” is still not clear, but the authors suggest that it could influence brain development and behavior. It may, for example, partly account for the differences in brain structure and behavior between identical twins, and could even affect thought processes by subtly influencing the changes in nerve cell connections that occur with experience.”

== Interesting Developments ==

This cartoon that distills a point I’d been making for years. Everything we must do re Climate Change are things we ought to do anyway (TWODA). “Ruin the economy?” Who wants that! A strawman. Efficiency is next to godliness.  Use this argument. Pry open skulls… or we’ll get Nehemia Scudder!

While Facebook has earned billions of dollars selling ads next to the content shared by their 800 million members, users haven’t earned a dime from their posts. Now a new site, Chime.in offers to reward its posters. The site, which allows individuals to post photos, links, videos and text in two thousand character “chimes,” will give users 50 percent of the revenue it earns from selling advertising on their profile pages. This may even begin a long-overdue re-evaluation of social media.

On the Transparency front: A critical but neglected transparency law could be updated for the 21st century if a new congressional proposal succeeds. The  (S. 1732), introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) on Oct. 18, would update the Privacy Act of 1974 . The Privacy Act governs what actions federal agencies must take when collecting personal information on American citizens and how agencies use and share it.

Artist John Powers writes a fascinating riff, comparing Star Trek to the American dream… and weaving in a number of my own observations about the underlying design of the 200 year American Experiment.

==Science: From the Sea to Space==

From sea-floor… Scientists have discovered a community of 4-inch amoebas living at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the world’s oceans.

Is sub-sea mining (of metal-rich sulfide muds near old oceanic “smokers”) about to take off? How will it change things?

To space… A Rover’s Eye View: Watch this three minute time-lapse video of Opportunity’s thirteen mile trek across the desolate surface of Mars, from Victoria Crater to Endeavour Crater—a journey spanning three years.

The moon may be a harsh mistress, but Russian scientists say they want to establish a colony below the lunar surface. According to Russian space official Sergei Krikalyov, recently discovered volcanic tunnels could provide natural shelter for the first colonists.

== Brief Political Stuff ==

Sorry, but if we’re to prevent Nehemia Scudder… (Heinlein called 2012 his year!) .. we are all gonna have to get more active.  And some of you must wake up.

Read this. Our civil war is no longer left-vs-right. It is about bewildered American pragmatists and a “side” that’s gone mad. “Mike Lofgren recently retired from a lengthy career as an esteemed Capitol Hill republican staffer a respected, knowledgeable figure. Read  Lofgren wrote for Truth Out, published yesterday with this headline: “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult.” How I miss Goldwater & Buckley!

Here’s the source.

See a map of which states are the most/least violent.  Even the first impressions are devastating to the big fib of “civility” in Red America. Now take into account that New York and California and Illinois have an excuse… dense cities and lots of immigrants and urban poor and drugs… And even so score way above average. New England does best of all.  So much for the moral superiority of Limbaugh-land.

Ever seen the maps for teen sex, teen pregnancy, infant mortality, divorce, domestic violence, and transmission of STDs?  Same story.  The preachy folk who claim to have a better handle on morality are, well, on average far less moral.  And their man Bush managed to make every measure of national health and middle class economics plummet during his reign. By all means, let’s heed their advice!

Interesting changes in the degree that the international uber-rich can “helvetian-hide” their booty from the tax-men.

Here’s a quotation from one of the world’s top technology pundits, Mark Anderson:

“For me, there is no more poignant example of the Bush 9.11 era, and the need to get beyond it now. Like two slides, I picture, first: an army of soldiers surrounding bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora, and then being ordered by Team Bush to wait until the locals can get there and participate, at which point the enemy has escaped.

“I compare that slide to the story of this year: after a year in secret investigation and preparation, Team Obama finds a likely target compound in Pakistan, orders in Seal Team Six via stealth choppers, uses overwhelming force, and shoots to kill. DNA samples are taken to confirm ID, and the body is dumped ignominiously in the ocean, with no propaganda pics for the enemy, and no burial process or site to rally round.” What a difference.  And yet, which man is called a “wimp”?

A vastly detailed and deeply disturbing article in Bloomberg about the Koch brothers. Seriously, read at least the first ten paragraphs or so.

== Oh, If Only… ==

Finally, one prays something like this will happen. From The Onion: Nation Finally Breaks Down and Begs its Smart People to Just Fix Everything!

Alas, look at history.  At the obstinate delusional stupidity that ran every previous civilization and keeps threatening ours.  Shall we bet on this?  Sigh.

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A South Pole Centennial, Cryonics, and Organ Generation

So many things to remark-upon, from the recent summit conference about a coming “Singularity,” to the conclusion of the Iraq and Libya wars, to the critical issues raised by Occupy Wall Street… and the prospects for banking transparency in the light of Moammar Ghaddafi’s stolen $200 billions….

…but I want to focus this time on some amazing thoughts and images from old and new frontiers of science.

We’ve entered the extended centennial  of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed expedition toward the South Pole, from 1910-1913. A source of mythic moments, both noble and absurd, that could never have come from fiction.

I cannot too-highly recommend both the book “The Last Place on Earth” and the subsequent television miniseries.  The latter, especially, is just stunning.  Visually gorgeous and haunting. Superbly acted. And probably the best-ever juxtaposition of the extreme consequences of human competence… or the utter lack thereof.

The stark contrast between Scott’s emotional fragility – his mercurial foolishness – and the calm display of relentless ability shown by his rival, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, is one of the most effective comparisons I have ever seen.

While you’re at it, see a series of unseen photographs–incredible images that were recently published in “The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott,” by polar historian Dr. David M. Wilson.

== Deliberately Frozen ==

There were many aspects to the recent Singularity Summit, where I heard the regular paeans to transcendence issued by Ray Kurzweil and others… plus deeply concerned discussions by Peter Thiel, Skype founder Jaan Tallinn, Artificial Intelligence theoretician Eliezer Yudkowsky and other brilliant minds, about “how to keep Artificial intelligences loyal.” (The latter is a topic that I touch upon repeatedly in my coming novel EXISTENCE.)

One thought occurred to me during an extended panel discussion…

… that we do NOT want the new, godlike super-intelligences to emerge suddenly out of stock market trading programs, which are fine-tuned to be utterly predatory, parasitical and ruthlessly sociopathic.  If there were no other reason to impose a transaction tax, that should utterly suffice!

Bemusing were the medallion disks that several presenters displayed, hanging from neck chains, instructing paramedics to inform their cryonics providers, in case of approaching death, so that the head can be injected with subtle antifreeze and chilled for storage, in confident expectation of resurrection and glory in better days ahead.

Who has signed up?  Some of my best friends. Is it tempting? Well, like many singularity/transcendentalist notions, I can talk up the positive points with the best of ’em. And around these guys I find myself inevitably going into the downsides. (Well?  I am “contrary brin,” after all.)

dowereallywantimmortalityMy full, sober reflections are to be found in this earlier essay, Do We Really Want Immortality? Still, these guys talk up a good show. And the Scott-Amundsen centennial brought fascinating comparisons to mind.

== Using Life to Build Things? ==

Okay, this is kind of weird. Using a simple, single-step process, engineers and scientists at the University of California at Berkeley recently developed a technique to direct benign, filamentous viruses called M13 phages to serve as structural building blocks for materials with a wide range of properties. By controlling the physical environment alone, the researchers caused the viruses to self-assemble into hierarchically organized thin-film structures, with complexity that ranged from simple ridges, to wavy, chiral strands, to truly sophisticated patterns of overlapping strings of material–results that may also shed light on the self-assembly of biological tissues in nature.

In nature, the virus attacks Escherichia coli (E.coli), but in bioengineering laboratories, the virus is emerging as a nanoscale tool that can assemble in complex ways due to its long, slender shape and its chiral twist.

== Mammalian Organ Regeneration ==

The most fascinating talk at the Summit came not from a singularitarian or transcendentalist, but one of the brilliant scientists who are making tomorrow day by day. (Despite society’s turn toward ungrateful nonsense, like the Foxite War on Science.)  Stephen Badylak was lately featured on the show “60 Minutes,” and is  is currently a Research Professor in the Department of Surgery and director of Tissue Engineering at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.  Dr. Badylak showed us the latest about organ regeneration in humans and other mammals.

I was stunned.  Sure, I follow what’s going on.  I know that important work is being done with stem cells, and with “scaffolding” — the use of non-cellular pig-based or other material to create a pre-shaped trellis for new cells to grow upon, into a replacement organ. There have been amazing successes in the latter arena.

Dr. Badylak spoke of the great obstacle — inflammation — which we are now perceiving as one of the biggest enemies of health in so many ways.  In this case, the tendency for the body to react to injury by getting livid and puttying the site with crude patching material that we call scarring.  Preventing the crude version of inflammation is step one.

He then described the wide variety of hormonal growth factors that come into play when undifferentiated cells are asked to turn into muscle, nerve and other types of tissue. At this point I expected him to then describe an artisan craft — painting, injecting and impregnating these chemicals into different parts of the scaffolding, in order to say “grow muscle here” and “lace in nerves here!”

Imagine my surprise when it appeared that they do no such thing!  His recent profound successes have come simply by fighting inflammation, inserting the scaffold material… then encouraging the patient to USE the regenerating area, as soon as possible.  He showed us how a cancerous esophagous was ripped out and replaced by a scaffold tube, held open with a stent. In other words, use it immediately.  And within weeks… a new/natural esophagus is in place.  He showed similar examples like an Iraq war veteran who regrew most of a blasted away leg muscle.

?????  Do you know what this means?  I pondered, there in the audience.

It means that mammals have had extra regenerative capacity, held mostly latent within us for the last hundred million years.  So why don’t we regrow major tissues, organs, even limbs by erecting scaffolding of our own?  I thought about it.

Consider.  Mammals are the hothouse-types.  Racing about, burning fuel like mad and eating like crazy, with a metabolism that won’t quit or even pause. Furthermore, nearly all mammals are quadrupeds who, if they lose a limb, are utterly incapacitated.

Grow one back? When?  A low metabolism Amphibian can crawl into a corner and wait while that happens.  A mammal can’t. It doesn’t have the reserves. Nobody is going to bring dinner for months at a stretch. And so, we simply gave up the capacity to regenerate!

Scarring is the quick-patch substitute. If the injury is slight, scarring let’s us get back to business asap. If the injury would take months to regrow, forget it. Not worth the investment to maintain a capacity that won’t do any good anyway.

Except that now we humans can rest those months.  And we can hobble around with three limbs while one recovers. And we can augment the process with complete, hand-made and perfectly sculpted scaffolds, all-at-once. And so, for the first time since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, mammals may resume doing this fine thing.  Regenerating portions that we have lost.

Don’t get your hopes up right away.  There is much to do and accomplish and test.  But if this pans out, then we’ll have that much more to owe to God’s second greatest gift to us – right after Love:

— It’s curiosity. And the skill and care and brilliance to be co-creators.

That is… unless the awful-stupid ingrates who are waging all-out war on science have their way.

== Late Word ==

I was so ticked off that they had killed Moammar Ghaddafi.  Not because I loved the guy, or thought he deserved any consideration.  Well, my mature 5% wants all procedures to be followed for all people – the Enlightenment Way. But no, I was pissed… because only he knew where all his money was kept!
Today’s paper carried estimates of Two… hundred… billion dollars stolen from the nation and people of Libya. Ooh, what a clear case for “helvetian” levels of anger! (You’ll understand if you read my novel EARTH!) That’s why it was good to hear, minutes ago, that they captured Ghaddafi’s top and ablest son, who may know many of the codes. For that reason alone, watch his health. I wouldn’t want to be the man’s prison food taster….

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Milestones Leading up to the Good Singularity

The-singularityThe Technological Singularity – a quasi mythical apotheosis that some foresee in our near, or very-near, future. A transition when our skill, knowledge and immense computing power will increase exponentially — to enable true Artificial Intelligence and humans are transformed into… well… godlike beings.  Can we even begin to imagine what life would look like after this?

An excellent article by Joel Falconer, on The Next Web, cites futurist Ray Kurzweil’s predictions of the Singularity, along with my warning about iffy far-range forecasting: “How can models created within an earlier, cruder system, properly simulate & predict the behavior of a later, vastly more complex system?” 

singularityIf you want an even broader perspective, try my noted introduction: “Singularities and Nightmares: Extremes of Optimism and Pessimism about the Human Future.” For there are certainly risks along the way — one being renunciation, people rejecting the notion of progress via science and technology.

How about portrayals in fiction? I mean, other than clichés about mega-AI gone berserk, trying to flatten us? Now, from a writer’s perspective, the Singularity presents a problem. One can write stories leading up to the Singularity, about problems like rebellious AI, or about heroic techies paving the way to bright horizons. But how do you write a tale set AFTER the singularity has happened – the good version – and we’ve all become gods? Heh. Never dare me! That’s the topic of my novella, Stones of Significance.
Ah, but not all techies think the Singularity will be cool.  One chilling scenario: serving our new machine Overlords: Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak,  speculates that humans may become pets for our new robot overlords: “We’re already creating the superior beings, I think we lost the battle to the machines long ago. We’re going to become the pets, the dogs of the house.”

== Singularity related miscellany! ==

KurzweilSingularityCoverCreepy… but probably helpful… new teaching tool! Do you want to play the violin, but can’t be bothered to learn how? Then strap on this electric finger stimulator called PossessedHand that makes your fingers move with no input from your own brain.  Developed by scientists at Tokyo University in conjunction with Sony, hand consists of a pair of wrist bands that deliver mild electrical stimuli directly to the muscles that control your fingers, something normally done by your own brain. 
Or do Cyborgs already walk among us? “Cyborg is your grandma with a hearing aid, her replacement hip, and anyone who runs around with one of those Bluetooth in-ear headsets,” says Kosta Grammatis, an enginner with the EyeBorg Project. 

Author Michael Choroset, in the World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines and the Internet, envisions a seamless interface of humans with machines in the near future. Wearable computers, implanted chips, neural interfaces and prosthetic limbs will be common occurrences. But will this lead to a world wide mind — a type of collective consciousness?
And how do we distinguish Mind vs. Machine? In The Atlantic, Brian Christian describes his experience participating in the annual Turing Test, given each year by the AI community, which confers the Loebner Prize on the winner. A panel of judges poses questions to unseen answerers – one computer, one human, and attempts to discern which is which, in essence looking for the Most Human Computer. Christian, however, won the Most Human Human award.

Ray Kurzweil discusses the significance of IBM’s Watson computer  — and how this relates to the Turing Test.

Hive Mind: Mimicking the collective behavior of ants and bees is one approach to modeling artificial intelligence. Groups of ants are good at solving problems, i.e. finding the shortest route to a food source. Computer algorithms based upon this type of swarm intelligence have proved useful, particularly in solving logistics problems. 

Finally, how would we begin to define a universal intelligence  — and how to apply it to humans, animals, machines or even extraterrestrials we may encounter?  

== How to Manage a Flood of Information ==

In the last decade, a tsunami of data and information has been created by twenty-first century science, which has become generating huge databases: the human genome, astronomical sky surveys, environmental monitoring of earth’s ecosystems, the Large Hadron Collider, to name a few. James Gleick’s The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, discusses how we can avoid drowning in this sea of data, and begin to make sense of the world.
Kevin Kelly discusses his book: What Technology Wants “We are moving from being people of the book….to people of the screen.” These screens will track your eye movements on the screen, noting where you focus your attention, and adapting to you. Our books will soon be looking back at us. 

All books will be linked together, with hyper-links of the sort I envisioned in my novel, Earth. Reading will be more of a shared, communal activity. The shift will continue toward accessing rather than owning information, as we live ever more in a flux of real-time streaming data.

Google looks to your previous queries (and the clicks that follow) and refines its search results accordingly…

…Such selectivity may eventually trap us inside our own “information cocoons,” as the legal scholar Cass Sunstein put it in his 2001 book Republic.com2.0. He posited that this could be one of the Internet’s most pernicious effects on the public sphere. The Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser’s important new inquiry into the dangers of excessive personalization, advances a similar argument. But while Sunstein worried that citizens would deliberately use technology to over-customize what they read, Pariser, the board president of the political advocacy group MoveOn.org, worries that technology companies are already silently doing this for us. As a result, he writes, “personalization filters serve up a kind of invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas, amplifying our desire for things that are familiar and leaving us oblivious to the dangers lurking in the dark territory of the unknown.”…”

Very entertaining and informative… and the last five minutes are scarier n’ shit! Jesse Schell’s mind-blowing talk on the future of games (from DICE 2010)… describing how game design invades the real world… is just astounding. Especially the creepy/inspiring worrisome last five minutes.  Someone turn this into a sci fi story!  (Actually, some eerily parallel things were already in my new novel, EXISTENCE. You’ll see! In 2012.)

Enough to keep you busy a while?  Hey, I am finally finishing a great Big Brin Book… a novel more sprawling and ambitious than EARTH … entitles EXISTENCE.  Back to work.

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Singularitarians & Secessionists – techno-tubes & uplift

I really do like these mad, transcendentalist singularity guys! Alas for their simple, Moore’s Law extrapolations —

 

KurzweilSingularityCover“The brain’s overall complexity is almost beyond belief. One synapse, by itself, is more like a microprocessor -with both memory-storage and information-processing elements – than a mere on/off switch. In fact, one synapse may  contain on the order of 1,000 molecular-scale switches. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth”

Clearly, intracellular processing plays some role, as I forecast in 1989, in EARTH. Heck, even a factor of ten plays hob with those who think it will be trivial to duplicate and transcend the power of the human brain. Oh, well.

How’s this for synchronicity? I am the very model of a singularitarian.

While we’re on the subject, I am often asked why I don’t depict uplifted octopi, or other cephalopoids, the intellectual giants of the invertebrate kingdom.  Well, I do depict a pretty smart ‘ps in my next novel, EXISTENCE.  But they really are the aliens among us.  For example, take this:

Octopuses have large nervous systems, centered around relatively large brains. But more than half of their 500 million neurons are found in the arms themselves, Godfrey-Smith said. This raises the question of whether the arms have something like minds of their own. Though the question is controversial, there is some observational evidence indicating that it could be so, he said. When an octopus is in an unfamiliar tank with food in the middle, some arms seem to crowd into the corner seeking safety while others seem to pull the animal toward the food, Godfrey Smith explained, as if the creature is literally of two minds about the situation.”

Our last common ancestor reaches back to the dim depths of time, 500 million to 600 million years ago. That means octopus intelligence likely evolved entirely separately and could be very different from that of vertebrates.

===About our long-term survival
See a fascinating interview of Rebecca D. Costa regarding her new book:Watchman’s Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction. Her appraisal of “supermemes” or mental habits that prevent us from perceiving or negotiating solutions to problems, is most enlightening.

How many ways could Earth be destroyed? In his book, Armageddon Science: the Science of Mass Destruction, Brian Clegg catalogs real and theoretical threats to our planet. The most likely in his view: nuclear weapons, cyberterrorism and natural disasters.

My home state: What is the future of California? California Dreams asks you toimagine the future: what will a day in your life look like in Futuristic California. Submit a video.

“Top Ten reasons to expect the next ten years to be more exciting than the last.”

Delivering food & freight by a series of tubes – sounds like vacuum tubes of drive-through bank tellers, but it would work via induction motors & intelligent software. This Futurama ‘pipe’ dream would cut carbon emissions and lessen our dependence on truck deliveries, which makes our cities fragile. Don’t tell me this idea sucks.

= Secessionism is… “patriotic”? or hypocrisy

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) – At South Carolina’s Secession Gala, men in frock coats and militia uniforms and women in hoopskirts will sip mint juleps as a band called Unreconstructed plays “Dixie.” In Georgia, they will re-enact the state’s 1861 secession convention. And Alabama will hold a mock swearing-in of Confederate President Jefferson Davis…._

PAST-civil-war…who, just three years before that, gave a famous speech demanding that all soldiers and citizens hold to their vows to the United States, right or wrong, through thick or thin, as their paramount, sacred duty. Yet, soon, in a snit over their side losing an election – nothing more – the southern aristocracy hurled their neighbors into a hopeless conflagration that despoiled their region for generations. Why?

We are told by these modern secession-romantics that “it was never about slavery but state’s rights.” So?  Name the crime that had been committed against their states’ rights?  Demand that they cite one.  Even one.
Even the secession declarations do not cite any specific grievances, because there were none! There had been no time for even a single action to have been taken, by Congress, or abolitionists, or an Abraham Lincoln who was not even yet president. When you break a solemn oath – without having been harmed a scintilla… or once even having tried to negotiate with your countrymen… then you have no excuses.  You are simply a traitor.

Oh, by the way, actually read the Declaration of Secession. It repeatedly and relentlessly and openly cites slavery as the core thing that they are fighting to defend.  “Slave” is present 20 times.
I have said it before.  I will no longer let any good old boy, who fantasizes about going back in time and riding with Nathan Bedford Forest, preach to me about patriotism.

_Meanwhile, Republican whip Eric Cantor has launched an attack on that most dastardly bastion of anti-american subversion…the National Science Foundation
With the abandonment of patriotism and fiscal responsibility and 9/11 as ralling cries, it seems that the neocons are left with just two themes. Keep heaping largesse on the rich.  And hatred of smartypants

and finally…

A Missouri deputy might think twice the next time he tries to arrest a person on bogus charges. The last time he did so, the arrest was caught on a hidden camera in the arrestee’s sunglasses.” Carlos Miller’s Photography Is Not A Crime site tracks these types of cases on a daily basis.

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Longevity and Life Extension

I was interviewed about the likelihood that human lifespan can be extended indefinitely, any time soon. “When Will Life Expectancy Reach 200 Years? Aubrey de Grey and David Brin Disagree in Inteview” 

This is a topic I’ve covered in my article, Do We Really Want Immortality? Funny thing about these immortalist fellows.  Their calculations always seem to portray it happening in time to save them!  But in fact, the news from science seems to keep getting worse for them, not better… e.g. in recent insights into the vastly complex inner computation abilities of human neurons.  It is a case where I’ll be pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong.  But I feel grownups should focus on the guaranteed right bet… investing in our posterity.

To see how far back the fantasy goes, read about Gilgamesh and the Chinese First Emperor, who drank mercury in order to live forever… and died in his forties.  Or read the creepily familiar reasonings of very similar fanatics in Huxley’s brilliant (if slow) After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, a book that you find out on the very last page was actually a sci fi novel, all along!
This quasi-debate provoked a firestorm of controversy over on my Facebook page. One of my responses: I appreciate the enthusiasm of those urging me to BELIEVE(!) that tech-delivered eternal life is just around the bend. Indeed, I am told that BELIEVING(!) is essential to get there and that NOT believing might prevent it from happening. One fellow wrote:
“The power of your expectations is crucial. “

Um right. I get the same pitch from SETI zealots, who proclaim that detection of advanced alien civilizations will result in scientific leaps that may solve all our problems.

Now bear in mind that I am a scientist and sci fi author and I have explored concepts of both future and alien with far more eagerness, breadth and relentlessness that any hundred others you will ever meet. I want us funding ten times as much scientific research as now. I support SETI and have served on some of the commissions, and my name is on the first contact rolladexes. I know all the singularity guys and have listened to them for hours.

So why do I — and Vernor Vinge, the coiner of the term “tech singularity” react with sighs and eye-rolls to all this fervent “hossanah” shouting over salvation from above or an imminent Day of Transcendence, when Death shalt be no more and ye true believers will all be rewarded…

…because we’ve heard it all before. The terminology may be different, but the PSYCHOLOGY is still the same as in every tent show revival meeting across 6,000 years. It’s not just the substitution of anecdotes for actual capabilities. (Lots of stem cell papers, but not one regrown nervous system, yet.) Nor the coincidence that Salvation Day always calculates out to be just in time for YOU!

None of that offends me. Heckfire, I hope you guys turn out to be right. It might happen. I think simplistic notions are stymied by recent results showing how vastly complicated the internal processes of a neuron are — that the intracellular automata interactions and computations going on in there are FAR more complex than just unrolling an charting the incredibly simple and easy human genome……but sure. Let’s all hope. In fact, lots of stuff discovered along the way might be Earth-saving. Like cheap tissue culture meat. That’d be great

But no, I’ll tell you what bugs me. It’s the psychology. The incredibly self-centered, solipsistic, self-serving, “I-am Soooooo-darned-important!” narcissism of the fantasy is what bugs me. The hand-rubbing, chortling I-am-So-gonna-live-forever! zealotry that seems never to entail ANY of the virtues that we’ve long associated with adulthood.

Dig it, find me the extropian who understands how we stand on the shoulders of every generation of parents who tried to raise better kids than themselves, or who ever speaks about the beauty of that chain of pay-forward generosity, the most tragic-poetic tale ever told. Or the noble honor we’ll all have, even if we die, if we can only be one of the most important of the pay-forward generations. ALL I hear is paeans to how grand it will be to receive the end result. Never anything about the OBLIGATION that falls upon us, from that great chain.

I see the quest for individual immortality as kinda cool, tempting… and fundamentally *irrelevant* to the Great Project that I have inherited — that WE have inherited. To build and improve the Enlightenment Civilization of Ben Franklin and the others. To ensure we never slump back into darkness. To build something like Star Trek that deserves to move outward. To make kids who are better than us…

…so much better that THEY will have ideas about what’s wise and good and proper — wisdom that’s far beyond ours. (BTW, this is happening.) Building that posterity is a far greater challenge, yet one our ancestors were up to. It is a project that is far more noble, precedented and plausible than some grand leap to transcendent immortal suppersmart godhood. It is the project that should have YOUR loyalty. And if we happen to get some of the goodies while doing all that, well then fine.

=== Would Extended Life Bring Cowardice? ===

In a related article, Seth Shostak, of the SETI Institute (and my frequent nemesis on the issue of METI), speculates that living forever may be a bad idea: “Here’s the problem in a nutshell: if we extend human lifetimes a lot — to millennia, rather than centuries — all the small risks you heedlessly take every day will have a devastating cumulative impact. Most jobs will become unattractive, because just about any occupation becomes, eventually, a deadly occupation. We’ll automate nearly everything we can, and stay at home immersed in a virtual world.”  

Sigh.  Seth is a smart fellow who often has interesting insights. Alas, he also keeps making broadly absurd declarations about what will automatically happen… Advanced aliens WILL do this&such!  They can only beam messages THIS way! If discussions about METI (sending messages to space) are opened up to a broad spectrum of sages and the public, the result will be a clamp of silence on Earth that will last… Forever!!!  Whatever just-so story enters his head — that is the way the universe operates, without exception.

In this case, the counter-examples are blatant.  Rich, healthy, long-lived folk are the principal source of participants in extreme sports, in thrill seeking hobbies and attempts to break world records. Will dynamic immortals, plagued by ennui, really sit and twiddle their thumbs, just because Seth Shostak decides “logically” that they ought to?  Feh.

=== and Related Science Matters ===

A team from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow has developed a ‘pioneering’ lighting system that can kill hospital superbugs such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile. The technology decontaminates the air and exposes surfaces by bathing them in a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelengths, known as HINS-light. It works by exciting molecules within the bacteria, which in turn produces ‘highly reactive’ chemical species that are lethal to it.  (Hey, didn’t I predict something like this in EARTH?)

Forty years after federal laws criminalized the use of psychedelics for non-medical purposes in FDA-regulated psychological and drug research, the study of these drugs is picking up again, and their use in treating certain patients shows promise. Researchers are finding that the drugs may help improve functioning and lift the spirits of those with cancer and other terminal diseases, as well help treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder. As a result, the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration have eased regulations and also given approval to researchers at Johns Hopkins University and New York University’s Langone Medical Center to study the use of psilocybin to treat death anxiety among cancer patients.

In the first comprehensive global survey of temperature trends in major lakes, NASA researchers determined Earth’s largest lakes have warmed during the past 25 years in response to climate change.  ALSO… The past 12 months have been the warmest ever recorded by NASA. Until now, the hottest year on record has been 1998, when temperatures were pushed up by a strong El Nino – a warming event in the Pacific. This year saw a weaker El Nino, and that fizzled out to be replaced by a La Nina cooling event. So scientists might have expected this year’s temperatures to be substantially lower than 1998 – but they are not. Within the bounds of statistical error, the two years are likely to be the same.

On April 8, the networking hardware that routes traffic on the Internet got new marching orders: Requests for data from 15% of Internet addresses-includingDell.comYahoo.comMicrosoft.com, and U.S. government sites-were directed to go through China.

Recently NASA quietly moved its two long-grounded X-34 space planesfrom open storage at the space agency’s Dryden center – located on Edwards Air Force Base in California – to a test pilot school in the Mojave Desert. At the desert facility, the mid-’90s-vintage, robotic X-34s would be inspected to determine if they were capable of flying again. Provided they’re in flyable shape, it’s far more likely the space agency will make the X-34s available to private industry.

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Galactic black holes, cosmic ray bubbles…and more science

The BBC phoned earlier to ask me about the “gamma ray bubbles” a NASA space telescope observed, above and below the Milky Way’s galactic core.  Extending 25,000 light years north and south, these giant features are very diffuse, but super-heated to incredible energies. What do they mean?  I’ll explain!

First, when you see twin lobes of high energy, extending from the poles of a spinning stellar object, then it is a dead giveaway.  This happens when matter that’s been captured by a black hole or neutron star spirals inward, via a swirling skirt called an Accretion Disk. As this matter pulverizes, compresses and heats up, the resulting super-energized plasma gets channeled into intense magnetic fields.  While some of the matter falls all the way into the singularity, some of the rest escapes via the only path available…

…straight up and out of the singularity’s north and south poles. We’ve seen this happening in many parts of the universe, especially in light from galaxies in the wild early days of the cosmos.  So what does this have to do with today’s “gamma ray bubble”?

The twin lobes we observe are fat spheroids, not narrow jets.  But that could have simply resulted from the jets striking matter as they speared outward from some event at the galactic center. What event? Well… clearly… the black hole down there had something to EAT, maybe 30,000 years ago!

We know all about the black hole, by the way.  It was only guessed-about, just 20 years ago.  Now we know its mass and location in exquisite detail, even though – because it is now quiet – it cannot be seen.  Because a dozen nearby stars are whirling around a particular point in space, like mad dervishes. The BH has a mass millions of times that of our sun… because it has had millions of meals before.  And, apparently, it had another, pretty recently.  About the time painters were drawing mastadons on the caves of Lasceaux.

I just got off the phone with Gregory Benford, who knows the galactic center better than almost anybody on Earth, having studied it as an astronomer and written the classic “Galactic Center” series of science fiction novels.  (Greg told me “you have it entirely right on all counts, David.” Cool! 😉  He also said that there is plenty of other evidence, supporting the supposition that the Black Hole gobbled up something big, a few tens of thousands of years ago.

Bakazoom!

=== MORE SCIENCE! =====

A NASA spacecraft sped past a small comet Thursday, beaming pictures back to Earth that gave scientists a rare close-up view of its rocky nucleus. (Once again proving my doctoral dissertation was correct!)

Since late last month, the world supply of Viagra ads and other e-mail spam has dropped by an estimated one-fifth. But with 200 billion spam messages in circulation each day, there is still plenty to go around. Moscow police authorities said Mr. Igor Gusev, 31, a suspected spam kingpin, was a central figure in the operations of SpamIt.com, which paid spammers to promote online pharmacies, sometimes quite lewdly. SpamIt.com suddenly stopped operating on Sept. 27. With less financial incentive to send their junk mail, spammers curtailed their activity by an estimated 50 billion messages a day.

Fermilab is building a holometer (holographic interferometer) to determine if all reality is really an illusion – that the universe is really two dimensional, and the third dimension is an illusion. “The universe-as-hologram theory is predicated on the idea that spacetime is not perfectly smooth, but becomes discrete and pixelated as you zoom in further and further, like a low-res digital image.”

A water dance: a mesmerizing slow motion video of water droplets bouncing off an array of hydrophobic (water-repelling) carbon nanotubes. Watch the climax as two drops collide and merge.

For a bit of humor: an ordinary day obeying the laws of physics, like it or not

From memristors to artificial cells to the semantic web. Fifty ideas to change science forever: Cast your vote for which will most profoundly affect our future:

On Society:
It’s not quite Star Wars, but science fiction is changing the modern battlefield: with the advent of spy saucers, big dogs, stealth ships, nuke proof tanks, airborne lighsaber, and a flying humvee.

A global gender gap: how do countries worldwide compare in empowering women? Based on data on wages, literacy, leadership and health, Yemen scores at the bottom, Norway at the top. Overall, gaps in health and education have narrowed more quickly than those in leadership & economic power.

On Fiction:
A mathematician weighs in on the contrasts between stories and statistics. Stories tend to focus on atypical individuals, peculiar circumstances, random occurrences… and the occasional improbable coincidence (or even a deux ex machina). And yet the author tries to populate stories with realistic details and true-to-life characters – to help the reader suspend disbelief.

Twenty fictional librarians who save the world.

A few ‘forgotten’ classics of science fiction. The list includes some of my favorites… and some lost classics of science fiction that I never read, or never even heard of.  I have a few lost classics of my own, such as THE AGE OF THE PUSSYFOOT, by Frederik Pohl, which contains the only pre-1980 futuristic portrayal of citizens carrying around (very) smart computer phones in their pockets. Others would include Poul Anderson’s BRAIN WAVE, and John Boyd’s THE LAST STARSHIP FROM EARTH.

=== AND NOW EVEN MORE SCIENCE ===

From The Economist: a report on smart systems: “What if there were two worlds, the real one and its digital reflection? The real one is strewn with sensors, picking up everything from movement to smell. The digital one, an edifice built of software, takes in all that information and automatically acts on it. If a door opens in the real world, so does its virtual equivalent…..The real and digital worlds are converging, thanks to a proliferation of connected sensors and cameras, ubiquitous wireless networks, communications standards and the activities of humans themselves.”

Project M may put Avatars on the Moon: A rogue group of NASA engineers proposes landing a humanoid robot on the moon in 1000 days – for a fraction of a manned mission cost. The bot – controlled by scientists on earth using telepresence suits – may be a version of Robonaut2 set for launch to the ISS. No life support or return trip necessary. Two legs may not be the best design — lower to the ground may be more stable

Ten strange and mind-boggling things about the universe: Negative energy, frame dragging, relativity of simultaneity, black strings, geon, Kerr black hole, quantum tunneling, cosmic strings, antimatter retrocausality….

Eight ways in which the human condition is improving: World GDP per capita is increasing, the number of people in extreme poverty is decreasing; life expectancy is steadily increasing; infant mortality is declining….

Five misconceptions about the CERN Large Hadron Collider.

=== AND FINALLY ===

The $1.1 million “Hundred Year  Starship” project is a yearlong study for a multigenerational mission which is yet to be named … and for which humans might need to be re-engineered. Pete Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, created a stir last month at a conference sponsored by the Long Now Foundation when he mentioned that the space agency was kicking in an extra $100,000 to the project, sponsored by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Why a newfound love of of science fiction might help Africa to transform itself.

…and this vital reminder…
I believe in humanity. We are an incredible species. We’re still just a child creature, we’re still being nasty to each other. And all children go through those phases. We’re growing up, we’re moving into adolescence now. When we grow up – man, we’re going to be something!”

– Gene Roddenberry, Hollywood Blvd. “Star” ceremony acceptance speech, 9/4/85

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