Tag Archives: technology

Life: Extension, Existence and Extrapolation

Top news… if it proves out… The amplituhedron, a  jewel-like geometric object at the heart of quantum physics: As a physicist, I find this one of the most exciting advances (again, if true) in quite a while. Einstein said something like “follow the elegance” and if this is true, then it is elegance. It is also lovely in its weirdness.

== Health, Lifespan & Such ==


Why are American Health Care Costs So High? A bizarrely sensible and entertaining perspective from author John Green.  And amazingly, it is not political!  Well, it does demand reason and common sense and a willingness to step away from pre-conceptions… so nowadays just doing that is a political act.  But do watch it.

A study shows for the first time that lifestyle changes — in diet, exercise, stress management and social support — may result in longer telomeres, the parts of chromosomes that affect aging.

Oh, but a century won’t suffice, no?  A kickstarter campaign seeks funding for The Last Generation to Die, a provocative short science fiction film about the near future when we must wrestle with the arrival of age reversal or rejuvenation.  The tradeoffs and emotional quandaries. And for my own take on the tradeoffs, take a look at my essay: Do We Really Want Immortality?

While we’re on the subject, see Larry Page’s most recent effort to use his wealth (with some help from friends) to fund Calico, a win-win initiative to fight aging and disease, and help us all to live longer.

GrouchyFutureAh, but more and more we are splitting between those who are (sometimes recklessly) gung-ho about the future and those who are (often dyspeptically) grouchy about it.  This one is sure to spark screaming matches: Adderall for All: A Defense of Pediatric Neuroenhancement.

== It’s about Life! ==

A stunning example of terrifying yet inspiring animal altruism. A giant leopard seal tries to teach a diver how to survive.

Actually, now that I think about it… the story is almost identical to a scene in Existence!

Aw heck, recall the G’Keks in Brightness Reef? In the spirit of last week’s discovery of an insect that uses gears, watch this short video about the incredible tongue of a hummingbird, an astonishing organ that works in a way never before known. Another bio-engineering marvel! But the greatest feats may be yet to come…

FreemanDysonSimply flat out mind-boggling cool:  Freeman Dyson on Warm-blooded Planets in the Outer Solar System .  I attended this talk by my brilliant friend, whose stunning ideas about “greenhouse organisms” that could sustainably colonize and “green” icy moons in space, is utterly fascinating.  This was at the recent Starship Century conference at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.

== And artificial (gulp!) life! ==

I’ve been warning you folks about the billions that Goldman-Sachs and others are pouring into High Frequency Trading — that this investment will not only warp and distort financial markets in hugely unfair ways, but that also might threaten us with the very worst kinds of emergent artificial intelligence (AI). In a new paper, Abrupt Rise of New Machine Ecology beyond Human Response Time, researchers have studied these ultra-rapid computational processes and determined that: “far from simply generating faster versions of existing behaviour, we show that this speed-up can generate a new behavioural regime as humans lose the ability to intervene in real time.”

They add that “transition to a new all-machine phase (is) characterized by large numbers of sub-second extreme events.”  They even use some terminology similar to mine, concluding that these results are: “consistent with an emerging ecology of competitive machines featuring ‘crowds’ of predatory algorithms.”

== Space Updates! ==

The next year or two should be big for planetary science.  A possible (unlikely) “comet of the century“… plus another comet skating past Mars. The Dawn mission will reach Ceres in 2015. The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft will be escorting the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko around the sun that year, while NASA’s New Horizons mission will be reaching Pluto and its moon Charon.

Getting a little closer to home… So cool. You get to see what no ancestor saw before 1960: a full rotation of the moon.

Even closer. Congratulations to Orbital Sciences for launching a supply capsule to the space station in September. Competition with SpaceX is a good thing.  Though the two endeavors are not exactly comparable. For example, while Elon’s SpaceX has developed its own new rocket and thousand innovations entirely in-house, Orbital Sciences is struggling to find a reliable engine for its rocket: “The NK-33 engine that powered Antares’ first flight was built decades ago by Russia’s Kuznetsov Design Bureau and is no longer in production. Further, Orbital is uncertain about the quality of Aerojet’s remaining stockpile of 23 NK-33s.” Well, they are at least proving there’s a niche for clever recycling!

Aerobraking? That’s for sissies! How about … litho-braking!  In a recent test, ESA researchers sent a prototype careening into 10 tons of ice at a deceleration of 24,000 times the force of gravity.  The main shell of the payload survived the deceleration “scuffed.”  Next up: tests containing electronics.  Possible an ideal penetrator to study the oceans of Europa?   Oh, so many questions, first!

Extraction… will the recent interest in asteroids stay stoked?  Scientists have searched through the current database of around 9000 near-Earth objects looking for those that could be maneuvered into an accessible orbit by changing their velocity by less than 500 meters per second.  Researchers conclude that 12 asteroids meet this criteria.  They call this new class of asteroid “Easily Retreivable Objects” or EROs.  I have been backing this kind of idea ever since reading John Lewis’s pioneering and visionary MINING THE SKY: Untold Riches from Asteroids, Comets and Planets, way back in the 1980s.

NEOShieldPreventing extinction-level events: The European-backed NEOShield Project aims to develop defenses against killer Near Earth Object (NEO) asteroids.  Their plans include orbital reconnaissance, as well as the hypothetical launch of kinetic impact spacecraft that would deflect problematic asteroids from their earth-bound trajectory. Watch the animated simulation video.

==Next Steps in Exploration==

China announced Wednesday that it plans to put a rover on the Moon by the end of the year. The Chang’e-3 Lunar probe will include a six-wheeled lunar rover, which will work on the surface for about three months. China’s goal: landing humans on the Moon. Though there is competition. Private space company Golden Spike plans to land a person on the Moon by the year 2020.  And while China is aiming for the Moon, another great Asian power, India, is aiming to put a probe in orbit around Mars this Fall.

And finally…

Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you…and start your life moving in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you ear to what you do with your time tonight…turns you into who you are tomorrow and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you’d be…but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in.

Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.

– Astronaut Chris Hadfield

(See this quote illustrated on Zen Pencils)

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Transparency: Privacy in an era of Sousveillance

For H+ Magazine, I was recently interviewed by Ben Goertzel on accountability, surveillance and sousveillance. and our chances to maintain some level of personal privacy in the coming age of transparency and light.

An excerpt: In The Transparent Society I devote a whole chapter to how essential some degree of privacy is for most people. I argue that in a society full of liberated people empowered with highly functional sousveillance technology, sovereign citizens, able to apply sousveillance toward any center of power than might oppress them, will likely use some of that sovereign power to negotiate with their neighbors, and come up with some way to leave each other alone.

This is the logical leap that too few people seem able to make, alas. That fully empowered citizens may decide neither to hand power over to a Big Brother… nor to turn into billions of oppressive little brothers.

They might instead decide that the purpose of light is accountability. And shoving too much light into the faces of others, where accountability isn’t needed, well, THAT would also be an abuse, a socially unacceptable activity. One that you can be held accountable for.

Science Tidbits:

This wondrous solar powered plane isn’t a gimmick anymore! It looks so retro nostalgic… like something from the 1920s… yet it works. It stayed aloft 26 hours on just sunlight & batteries… and looks so cool. Also, it probably doesn’t have much of a heat signature….

The world’s leading climate change research organization issued a report yesterday that has renewable energy boosters cheering, as it foresees substantial growth in alternative energy sources over the next 40 years.

The military is taking climate change seriously. A recent report for Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, said: “We must recognise that security means more than defense” — urging a strategy of sustainability as climate change is “already shaping a ‘new normal’ in our strategic environment.” The military intends to adapt, as must shipping, insurance, and even oil companies…

No one has ever floated a boat on another world, but NASA is now considering doing just that, on Saturn’s icy moon Titan. With a proposed launch date of 2016, the Titan Mare Explorer would drift upon the ethane-methane lakes of Titan, performing chemical analyses and looking for signs of exotic life.

An accidental discovery by Japanese researchers found that Red wine turns a metal compound into superconductor! Sake, beer and whiskey also appear to work! The better it tastes, the more effective it is, claims lead researcher Yoshihiko Takano.

Wow. Stunning video: NASA captures a giant comet diving into the sun. My doctorate was for analyzing the composition and behavior of comets BTW. Put a lot of this science into my novel, Heart of the Comet, which I co-wrote with Gregory Benford. And at Caltech I was a solar astronomer! So, it’s very cool to see the collision of comet and sun! Amazing.

Red colobus monkeys in Uganda’s Kibale National Park are being hunted to extinction—by chimpanzees. According to a study published May 9 in the , this is the first documented case of a nonhuman primate significantly overhunting another primate species.

Pixar as an early propaganda wing of the Uplift Institute? The relationship between human and non-human characters is central to these movies. Whether the character is an insect, robot or rat, non-humans are sentient intelligent beings — that “humanity does not have a monopoly on personhood.”

The World Science Fiction Convention will be held in Reno this August. If any of you know teachers or librarians who happen to love science fiction and also live near Northern California or Nevada, clue them in that this year’s World Science Fiction Convention will feature a college credit course on the teaching of science fiction!

Musings about life:

Finally… a clarification. Satiation? I call satiability one of the hallmarks of sanity, and it is… but only if it means you shift your longings! When you get what you said you wanted, you should be happier! And need that thing (e.g. money) less) But that should not stop ambition and longing in general!

As Mignon McLaughlin put it, “Youth is not enough. And love is not enough. And success is not enough. And, if we could achieve it, enough would not be enough.”

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While defending sanity on Saturday — bring along (decent and smart) Capitalism

Folks may be curious how I can avow to be a libertarian (albeit a heretical one who despises Ayn Rand) and an admirer of Adam Smith… while urging everybody in sight to attend the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rallies, this coming Saturday and to “think blue” on election day.

For starters, because contradictions don’t bother “Contrary Brin”… in fact, they’re part of the fun in life! Also because most are illusory contradictions.  (Have you actually read Adam Smith? Today he’d be a democrat.  It’s clear on almost every page.)

One commonly-used crutch that I’ve long denounced is the hoary-stupid so-called“left-right political axis” — a monstrous metaphor that lobotomizes all who use it. It should be abandoned because it’s puerile, misleading, illogical… and because it’s French! (;-)

Seriously, if you’d like to probe everything from several dozen fresh perspectives,that I guarantee you’ve never thought of before, then have a look at this essay series I wrote for a group that wants to transform libertarianism from a fringe-of-flakes into a real force for pragmatic freedom in American life.  I wish them luck! (Though I won’t hold my breath.)

Will the comedians rescue us? To those of you heading for the Stewart-Colbert rallies, October 30 in DC… thank you, heroes! And if you cannot attend the main event in Washington? Then find a satellite rally at www.rallymao.com !

Is American Civilization in a steep decline? So you’d think from dyspeptic ads running on Fox.  But for a broader perspective, historian and diplomat Joseph Nye gives us the 30,000-foot (TED-talk) view of the shifts in power between China and the US, and the global implications as economic, political and “soft” power shifts and moves around the globe.

Me? I am appalled that 99% of American are unaware of what we have accomplished.  And how simple it would be for the United States to remain the rich and influential and respected leader of the world.

=== The Road We’ve Traveled ===

Let’s start with a basic fact that is too-seldom discussed. Nearly all of world development, since WWII,  has been financed by American purchasing power … us buying countless trillions of $ worth of crap we never needed.  US consumer purchases — uplift via Wal*Mart — has lifted more people out of poverty than all the “aid” given by all nations, across all of time.

If we set aside (temporarily) concerns about labor practices, corruption and eco-side-effects, the creation of a nascent world middle class has been one of the greatest achievements of Pax Americana, fully on a par with toppling Hitler and staunching the fever that was communism. By one light, our trade deficits have been sacred and noble things.

Find that boggling?  Compare Japan and Europe in 1945 to now. Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, Brazil… and today, as we speak, even in a recession, we are lifting the economies of China AND India… at the same time.

But how have we afforded to do this?  Every decade, dour pundits predicted that calamity would result, but it never happened…. that is, till now.

The reason is simple.  HALF of all GDP growth – since WWII – occurred because ofscientific and technological advances. Jets, satellites, pharmaceuticals, copiers, computers, the Internet… you name it.  We dealt with IP theft by creating new patents faster than others could steal them!

This is why the right’s endless rants against both science and labor unions are monstrously stupid and self-defeating.  The solution is not to drive working Americans into penury.  Nor is it to hate the smart people who kept us dining on the ‘golden eggs’ of new discoveries and inventions. These were the folks who kept the rising tide that lifted all boats, and allowed the US to stay ahead, and able to pay for it all.

But today we are seeing the result of the Bushite War Against Science.  Ronald Reagan shifted R&D from Carter’s energy program (which would have taken us off of the Middle-East oil teat, by now) and onto frantic overdrive in developing things we prayed that we would never use!  But, even still, at least in those days, Republicans liked technology!  And some science.

Reagan’s version of the War on Science was mild. He funded some research and listened to OSTA, now and then.  In contrast to the neoconservatives, who trashed the OTSA as their very first order of business, I miss Reagan, terribly.  At least he would negotiate.  He called liberals foolish.  He had no truck with labeling his fellow citizens as satanic beings.

The dawn of the 21st century saw the first US leadership that directly and deliberately undermined the basic source of our power and strength, as well as the health of the Middle Class.  The font from which we took IN so much wealth that we were able to uplift the world, through trade.

Can we believe this? Whether this parsimonious explanation is true — that it was done deliberately — or else the preposterous story that is believed by nearly everybody — that such a perfect record of harm to the United States was wreakedunintentionally, out of staggeringly uniform and manic stupidity — either way, the harm has been grievous. And it is ongoing.

The relentless campaign of propaganda that manifests on Fox News and in the Tea Party Movement has one common them… Hatred of All Smartypants.  Fuming, smoking spite toward America’s “creative minority” —

— the same minority of smart folks that the great historian Arnold Toynbee once called the core to any great nation’s success.  The same segment of society that Rush Limbaugh recently spewed venom toward, in openly-declared hatred and in extremely clear, general terms.

Let us be plain.  They want us to cook the goose that laid all those golden eggs.  And serve it to a conniving oligarchy that is almost as profoundly short-sighted and stupid as it thinks itself smart.

An afterthought… preventing this realization is probably the reason that many of the puppeteers have inflicted on us the treason of subsidized culture war.  By deliberately fostering populist, know-nothing confederate hatred of urban/science/blue America and a million other distractions, they get enough political clout to prevent any populist reaction against aristocratism in Congress.

And finally… I repeat it everywhere.  Liberals, get off your butts and RECLAIM THE FIRST LIBERAL!  Adam Smith. The theoretician who despised conniving oligarchs far more than any other enemy of competitive enterprise.

Read Smith!  Don’t take the word of doofus right wingers who proclaim that Smith wanted “laissez-faire” to run roughshod over the poor.  In fact, in his fervent support for public education, social mobility, transparency, open competition and the creation of power centers that can hold the oligarchy in check, Smith provides a litany of neocon-demolishing quotations!

Moreover, by reclaiming Adam Smith, we:

1- emphasize liberalism’s roots in pushing social justice, not just because it is “nice” but because it is totally pragmatic to maximize the number of capable, competitors!

2- anti-monopoly sentiment is fizzing, just below the surface.  Harness it!

3- It is political jiu jitsu!  BE the party of enterprise!  It is about time that competitive markets got a champion, after the Republican Party has spent a generation demolishing them.

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