Things tagged future:
Where are we going, and where do we want to go, genetically speaking?
Of all the politically correct stances, the genetic unimprovability of humanity is perhaps the most inviolable. Even while we work daily, even feverishly, to improve other aspects of our material and cultural existence, our biology remains an ethical red zone, where nothing can be done and no infringement placed on individual replication. As a response to the abuse of eugenics in the 20th century, and to the deep philosophical problems involved, this is understandable. But it does not do justice to the underlying science.
Eugenics are a real issue, have been a real issue, and will continue to be a real issue. Genetic modification techniques will come to be applied on humans, and the rich will get it first. Looking away from these realities because they are uncomfortable is weakness.
In 2012, in the nature magazine Orion, Kingsnorth began to publish a series of essays articulating his new, dark ecological vision. He set his views in opposition to what he called neo-environmentalism — the idea that, as he put it, “civilization, nature and people can only be ‘saved’ by enthusiastically embracing biotechnology, synthetic biology, nuclear power, geoengineering and anything else with the prefix ‘new’ that annoys Greenpeace.” Or as Stewart Brand, the 75-year-old “social entrepreneur” best known as the publisher of the “ Whole Earth Catalog,” has put it: “We are as gods and have to get good at it.”
In December 2012, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was on vacation in Berlin when he decided to detour to the Netherlands. He wanted to get a firsthand sense of the famed Dutch approach to water management. Hurricane Sandy struck six weeks before, and in the aftermath, President Obama asked him to lead a task force, whose objective was not just to rebuild but also to radically rethink the region’s infrastructure in light of climate change.
In the Netherlands, a man named Henk Ovink offered to be Donovan’s guide. Ovink was the director of the office of Spatial Planning and Water Management, meaning, essentially, that it was his job to keep the famously waterlogged country dry. As he learned about various Dutch innovations, Donovan was struck by the fact that Ovink looked at water as much in cultural as in engineering terms, which was a function of the centuries-old need of the Dutch to act together for protection.
As life has evolved, its complexity has increased exponentially, just like Moore’s law. Now geneticists have extrapolated this trend backwards and found that by this measure, life is older than the Earth itself.
You hear a lot about “next gen” science and technology, but not so much about will happen to human societies and cultures in the future. To fill the gap, we asked three futurists and one science fiction writer what social changes we should expect to see in the next century.
Continuing my posting on the Fermi paradox:
Most people take it for granted that we have yet to make contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Trouble is, the numbers don’t add up. Our Galaxy is so old that every corner of it should have been visited many, many times over by now. No theory to date has satisfactorily explained away this Great Silence, so it’s time to think outside the box. Here are eleven of the weirdest solutions to the Fermi Paradox.
Ross Andersen in Aeon:
Last December I came face to face with a Megalosaurus at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. I was there to meet Nick Bostrom, a philosopher who has made a career out of contemplating distant futures, hypothetical worlds that lie thousands of years ahead in the stream of time. Bostrom is the director of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, a research collective tasked with pondering the long-term fate of human civilisation. He founded the institute in 2005, at the age of 32, two years after coming to Oxford from Yale. Bostrom has a cushy gig, so far as academics go. He has no teaching requirements, and wide latitude to pursue his own research interests, a cluster of questions he considers crucial to the future of humanity.
Bostrom attracts an unusual amount of press attention for a professional philosopher, in part because he writes a great deal about human extinction. His work on the subject has earned him a reputation as a secular Daniel, a doomsday prophet for the empirical set. But Bostrom is no voice in the wilderness. He has a growing audience, both inside and outside the academy. Last year, he gave a keynote talk on extinction risks at a global conference hosted by the US State Department. More recently, he joined Stephen Hawking as an advisor to a new Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge.
Interesting solution to the Fermi Paradox aka Nietzsche was right:
Friedrich Nietzsche: “Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman–a rope over an abyss. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end, …”
William Gibson in Wired:
I wish I had a thousand-yen note for every journalist who, over the past decade, has asked me whether Japan is still as futurologically sexy as it seemed to be in the ‘80s. If I did, I’d take one of these spotlessly lace-upholstered taxis over to the Ginza and buy my wife a small box of the most expensive Belgian chocolates in the universe.
He overplays the magic, but if you try and see things through his eyes, the future (and Tokyo) seems much cooler. Why not dream a little.
Friedman wondered: What if you could just move—not just you, but everything you own, including your home, and, if your neighbors agreed with you, your whole community? What if you could move all of it where no government would bother you at all, and you could make a new, better society?
Lewis Page in The Register:
Professor David J C MacKay of the Cambridge University Department of Physics holds a PhD in computation from Cal Tech and a starred first in Physics, so we can take it that he knows his numbers. And, as he points out, numbers are typically lacking in current discussion around carbon emissions and energy use.
MacKay tells The Reg that he was first drawn into this field by the constant suggestion — from the Beeb, parts of the government etc — that we can seriously impact our personal energy consumption by doing such things as turning our TVs off standby or unplugging our mobile-phone chargers.
Anyone with even a slight grasp of energy units should know that this is madness. Skipping one bath saves a much energy as leaving your TV off standby for over six months. People who wash regularly, wear clean clothes, consume hot food or drink, use powered transport of any kind and live in warm houses have no need to worry about the energy they use to power their electronics; it’s insignificant compared to the other things.
The article goes on to summarize some of the solution scenarios MacKay worked out for the UK, and as you would expect nuclear is the only one that is close to achievable.
Via Arts & Letters Daily.
Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened--rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before--free time.
And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV
Bruce Sterling's Kiosk:
THE FABRIKATOR WAS UGLY, noisy, a fire hazard, and it smelled. Borislav got it for the kids in the neighborhood.
One snowy morning, in his work gloves, long coat, and fur hat, he loudly power-sawed through the wall of his kiosk. He duct-taped and stapled the fabrikator into place.
The neighborhood kids caught on instantly. His new venture was a big hit.
The fabrikator made little plastic toys from 3-D computer models. After a week, the fab's dirt-cheap toys literally turned into dirt. The fabbed toys just crumbled away, into a waxy, non-toxic substance that the smaller kids tended to chew.
Borislav had naturally figured that the brief lifetime of these toys might discourage the kids from buying them. This just wasn't so. This wasn't a bug: this was a feature. Every day after school, an eager gang of kids clustered around Borislav's green kiosk. They slapped down their tinny pocket change with mittened hands. Then they exulted, quarreled, and sometimes even punched each other over the shining fab-cards.
The happy kid would stick the fab-card (adorned with some glossily fraudulent pic of the toy) into the fabrikator's slot. After a hot, deeply exciting moment of hissing, spraying, and stinking, the fab would burp up a freshly minted dinosaur, baby doll, or toy fireman.
Foot traffic always brought foot traffic. The grownups slowed as they crunched the snowy street. They cast an eye at the many temptations ranked behind Borislav's windows. Then they would impulse-buy. A football scarf, maybe. A pack of tissues for a sneezy nose.
Once again he was ahead of the game: the only kiosk in town with a fabrikator....
Bit rough the first page or two, but gets better.
Ever since v-2.org went down for the count, I get a fair number of requests to repost this minifesto on “open-source constitutions for post-national entitites,” from 2003. It’s goofy, it’s naïve, it’s grandiose and pompous…and I present it to you now exactly as I wrote it then. Enjoy!
Found via Bruce Sterling at Beyond the Beyond.
I’m at Burning Man, and I’m riding my bike around. [… O]ver my left shoulder I hear the word “gene;” I hear the word “memes,” and I stop. And there’s this very unassuming white tent with a bunch of people sitting around on chairs as if they were at a lecture hall. And there’s this good-looking guy in a woman’s nightie. […] I listened to the lecture and thought, “That’s a fascinating guy!” It turned out he was doing a lecture every day, so I kept coming back. The third time I came back, I was on a hallucinogen.
So Ray Kurzweil got up there and Moira Gunn was interviewing him, and everybody got to submit a question. And Moira would pick her three favorite questions. So there were all these technical questions about how will the singularity do this, how will the singularity do that. And my question was, “How will the Singularity get laid… err help me get laid?” So she picked my question as an extra one as a way of dismissing it. She said, “Somebody put a joke question in here, and can you believe that there are people here who would write something like this? It’s ‘how will the Singularity help me get laid?’” And then she throws it aside and tries to move on to another question. But Kurzweil says, “Hang on. Hang on. I want to answer that.” And then he goes into this long technical description…