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Magical thinking is not limited to the religious, as the secular likewise often imbue objects with some degree of sentience, as psychologist Bruce Hood points out in a Wired UK piece by Katie Collins. The opening:

“‘I’m a collector; I collect unusual things,’ says University of Bristol psychologist Bruce Hood speaking at WIRED2014 in London. He asks the audience if they would wear a beautiful cashmere cardigan that he had collected, that was freshly washed and that was once owned by a famous individual. Many raise their hands, but they slink down again when Hood says the cardigan belonged to the serial killer Fred West.

It is not true — in fact the cardigan is one of Hood’s own — but he is making a point: many people hold the belief that a piece of clothing that has come into close contact with a serial killer has somehow been contaminated by the immoral acts committed by its owner. ‘That is what I call supernatural,’ he says. Hood is interested in why we are prepared to believe the unbelievable. The killer cardigan is not connected with religious belief he points out, but that doesn’t stop the majority of people feeling that there’s a hidden property in the clothing that would stop them wearing it.

Hood explains that this is a phenomenon known in psychology as ‘essentialism.’ ‘This is what I’m obsessed with at the moment,’ he says. It is an idea that can be traced back to the days of Plato and that is based on the concept that people can have a strong emotional connections to objects; that they can be imbibed with an ‘essence.'”

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The anarchic experiment that is the Internet has been viewed with a mixture of awe and fear, but as that unbridled energy careers back into our physical world–something that will happen more and more–the old guard and the new wave are unsurprisingly at odds. A little more on the Sharing Economy, from Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times:

“THE regulatory woes seem to be never ending for the newest wave of tech start-ups — the on-demand apps that connect people who need something (a driver, a house cleaner, a grocery shopper) with people who want to do the job.

On Thursday, the New York State attorney general said most Airbnb listings in the city violated zoning and other laws. Officials in California and Pennsylvania recently warned car services like Uber and Lyft that they might be unlawful. And workers’ rights advocates have questioned whether the people who provide these services should receive benefits, spurred by recent reports that some Homejoy house cleaners are homeless.

Why have these companies run into so many problems? Part of the reason is that they think of themselves as online companies — yet they mostly operate in the offline world.

They subscribe to three core business principles that have become a religion in Silicon Valley: Serve as a middleman, employ as few people as possible and automate everything. Those tenets have worked wonders on the web at companies like Google and Twitter. But as the new, on-demand companies are learning, they are not necessarily compatible with the real world.”

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A good way to guard against an epidemic in America would be to extend the Affordable Care Act to all citizens, to make it truly universal. But Ebola has flipped the script at the midterm elections, with government-hating Republicans who fought Obamacare and planned to use it as a rallying cry despite its early successes, now decrying the government’s lack of intervention. From Gary Silverman at the Financial Times:

“Republicans are suddenly asking very Democratic questions about what federal government can do to improve public health. Bloomberg News even reported that members of the appropriations committees in the Republican House and Democratic Senate are working on ways to throw more money at the problem. This would be done by increasing anti-Ebola spending in a bill aimed at keeping the government operating after December 11.

Yet the newfound Republican faith in the federal solutions has been accompanied by a hardening of hearts when it comes to the man behind Obamacare.

Conservatives are seizing on the spread of Ebola as evidence of the president’s unreliability – linking it to the advances of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, management deficiencies at the Secret Service and the arrival of illegal immigrants from Mexico.”

 

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The human species may survive the Anthropocene but likely not very well. Myopia has been as much a villain as any, as humans seem to have a default mode that focuses us on short-term needs rather than long-term survival. Does instant gratification eventually give way to staving off extinction? From Tom Chivers at the Telegraph:

“Not all scientists agree that the ‘Anthropocene’ term is helpful. [Climate scientist Tim] Lenton says it points to a real phenomenon, and the distinction in the stratigraphic record will be crystal clear to future geologists, but ‘gut instinct is to be careful about our hubris as a species, about seeing ourselves as hugely powerful and important.’

None the less, he says, ‘we have had a huge impact on the planet and we predict that impact escalating. We are a very unusual animal in having these effects on the globe. Life, such as cyanobacteria, has changed the atmosphere before, but animals usually don’t.’

‘The Great Oxygenation led to Snowball Earth, and almost the total extinction of life. At each of these mass extinctions, some life has sneaked through, but it might not happen every time, and even if it does we might not be the life that sneaks through.’

But the ‘Anthropocene’ need not, necessarily, be a synonym for human-caused global catastrophe. We have reasons to believe that we could be that life which sneaks through. ‘We are very good at telling apocalyptic stories, and there is science behind them,’ says Lenton. ‘But we’re an ingenious species.’

Lynas and Lenton agree we can’t go back to a pre-industrial age ‘that would lead to a mass extinction of humans,’ says Lynas. But technologies – nuclear power, carbon capture, efficient recycling of raw materials – could allow us to enjoy a modern lifestyle even with a population of billions. The trick is, says Lenton, to use our species’ foresight. ‘We have to decide on the sort of world we want, and to design the Anthropocene we want.'”

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A century ago, Gobi Desert dwellers didn’t desire dinosaur eggs for their historical value but for their utility, often fashioning from them jewelry or other trinkets to wear or trade. In 1923, a motorcar-powered expedition, which numbered naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews as one of its leaders, was the first to ever secure the prehistoric eggs and bring them back to America. It was a sensation, of course. Chapman, a showman at heart who was not immune to utility himself, parlayed the jaw-dropping find into international celebrity, the directorship of the American Museum of Natural History and a young trophy wife. It’s conjectured by some that he was the model for Indiana Jones, but most likely that character is a composite of numerous explorers. A couple years after his dino-egg windfall, the scientist returned to the Gobi and purchased an armful of shells from a Mongolian villager for a bar of soap (see caption of fourth photo from top). One odd thing about the October 29, 1923 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article below, which heralded Chapman’s discovery, is its surprise that dinosaurs laid eggs. It doesn’t mention what the prevailing theory had been.

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No shocker that NYC landlords with large holdings in popular Manhattan neighborhoods are illegally exploiting Airbnb, though the city is pretty much turning a blind eye to individual residents on the wrong side of zoning laws. For better or worse, the Sharing Economy is a thing now and will continue to be. From David Streitfeld in the New York Times:

“The housing broker and its imitators, like the taxi service Uber and its clones, have been prompting upheaval just about everywhere they go.

Admirers say these stars of the so-called sharing economy are breaking up monopolies that have grown greedy and lazy. They are empowering individuals. Critics say that the start-ups are unsavory efforts to avoid regulation and taxes, and that the very term ‘sharing economy’ is ridiculous.

In some contentious spots, like San Francisco, where the local government endorsed a plan last week to essentially legalize Airbnb, a resolution may be in sight. But in New York, where real estate is often viewed as a blood sport, the battle is only deepening.

Mr. Schneiderman and city regulators will also announce Thursday a joint enforcement initiative to shut down illegal hotels. Various regulators will investigate violations of building and safety codes and tax regulations.

‘Anyone operating an illegal hotel should be on notice that the state and city will take aggressive enforcement actions in this area,’ said Mr. Schneiderman. ‘A slick advertising campaign doesn’t change the fact that this is illegal activity.’

He was careful, however, to speak of ‘illegal hotels’ rather than ‘illegal rentals.’ Airbnb is already too popular to dislodge completely, no matter what the housing laws say. It also delights travelers, who get a cheaper and usually more interesting place to stay.”

‘Most of our hosts are regular New Yorkers, and the overwhelming majority live outside of Manhattan,’ Mr. Papas said.

As for the 72 percent of listings that Mr. Schneiderman said were illegal, {Airbnb spokesperson Nick] Papas said it was hard to tell what was going on.”

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What would a person with a 1,000 IQ be capable of? How can our relatively puny intelligences even fathom such a thing?

In Stephen Hsu’s Nautilus article “Super-Intelligent Humans Are Coming,” he walks through the process of genetic modification which would lead to heretofore unknown brain power, with the average IQ being ten times what it currently is, which may not be in the immediate offing but aspects of which are closer than might be imagined. An excerpt:

“Super-intelligence may be a distant prospect, but smaller, still-profound developments are likely in the immediate future. Large data sets of human genomes and their corresponding phenotypes (which are the physical and mental characteristics of the individual) will lead to significant progress in our ability to understand the genetic code—in particular, to predict cognitive ability. Detailed calculations suggest that millions of phenotype-genotype pairs will be required to tease out the genetic architecture, using advanced statistical algorithms. However, given the rapidly falling cost of genotyping, this is likely to happen in the next 10 years or so. If existing heritability estimates are any guide, the accuracy of genomic-based prediction of intelligence could be better than about half a population standard deviation (meaning better than plus or minus 10 IQ points).

Once predictive models are available, they can be used in reproductive applications, ranging from embryo selection (choosing which IVF zygote to implant) to active genetic editing (for example, using CRISPR techniques). In the former case, parents choosing between 10 or so zygotes could improve the IQ of their child by 15 or more IQ points. This might mean the difference between a child who struggles in school, and one who is able to complete a good college degree. Zygote genotyping from single cell extraction is already technically well developed, so the last remaining capability required for embryo selection is complex phenotype prediction. The cost of these procedures would be less than tuition at many private kindergartens, and of course the consequences will extend over a lifetime and beyond.

The corresponding ethical issues are complex and deserve serious attention in what may be a relatively short interval before these capabilities become a reality. Each society will decide for itself where to draw the line on human genetic engineering, but we can expect a diversity of perspectives. Almost certainly, some countries will allow genetic engineering, thereby opening the door for global elites who can afford to travel for access to reproductive technology. As with most technologies, the rich and powerful will be the first beneficiaries. Eventually, though, I believe many countries will not only legalize human genetic engineering, but even make it a (voluntary) part of their national healthcare systems.

The alternative would be inequality of a kind never before experienced in human history.”

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While Elon Musk’s EV charging stations are impressive to look at, they may be redundant if the “gorging” paradigm of refueling can be transformed into a “grazing” one. From Alex Davies of Wired:

“Beyond the (significant) question of cost, Envision’s longterm plan for the EV ARC includes a fundamental change in how we think about refueling our cars. The idea of building a network of DC Fast Charging stations (like Tesla’s proprietary Superchargers) is ‘silly,’ [Envision Solar CEO Desmond] Wheatley says, because it’s based on the way we gas up engine-powered cars. It’s a ‘gorging’ mentality, when an electric vehicle calls for a ‘grazing’ mentality advocated often call ‘opportunistic charging.’ Eventually, you’ll charge our cars the way you charge your phone: while you sleep or work, and just about anytime you don’t need it in your hand. That has ‘become part of our cultural norm,’ Wheatley says.

‘The problem is we’ve got 100 years of cultural norm that says I must be able to pull over somewhere, and I must be able to fuel in three to five minutes. That’s what we’ve all be ingrained to think. I’m convinced that today’s children will think it’s hilarious that we ever pulled off the highway to charge.’ And, he argues, electric cars will eventually offer enough range to cover a distance anyone would want to drive without stopping to sleep, except the most energy drink-fueled college students. ‘Charging infrastructure will be ubiquitous. It’s my mission to make sure that it’s all renewably energized.'”

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Many great actors seem to me like they grew up in a cult, so oddly unique they are. Vanessa Redgrave, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Daniel Day-Lewis and Ben Kingsley? Had to be a cult, right? But Glenn Close actually was raised in a cult, a right-wing, anti-intellectual one to boot. It caused some trust issues, as you might expect, even within herself. An excerpt from Stephen Galloway’s new Hollywood Reporter profile:

“Close was 7 years old when her dad, a Harvard-educated doctor from a long line of New England blue bloods, joined the religious group known as the Moral Re-Armament.

Founded during the late 1930s, the MRA held firmly to what it called ‘the four absolutes': honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. But these benevolent principles masked the all-consuming, all-controlling traits of any other cult — this particular one led by Rev. Frank Buchman, a violently anti-intellectual and possibly homophobic evangelical fundamentalist from Pennsylvania, who argued that only those with special guidance from God were without sin, and that they had a duty to change others. What began as an anti-war movement gradually turned into a possessive and exclusionary force.

It is unclear how many adherents the MRA had, though about 30,000 people gathered to hear Buchman speak at the Hollywood Bowl in the late 1930s, and the group was widely discussed in the press during and after World War II. Its post-war conferences were attended by several high-level diplomats and politicians — despite allegations that Buchman had been a Hitler supporter — and its cultlike nature appears to have emerged only slowly.

‘I haven’t made a study of groups like these,’ says Close, ‘but in order to have something like this coalesce, you have to have a leader. You have to have a leader who has some sort of ability to bring people together, and that’s interesting to me because my memory of the man who founded it was this wizened old man with little glasses and a hooked nose, in a wheelchair.’

When her family joined the cult, Close was removed from everything she held most dear — above all, life in the ivy-covered, stone cottage on her grandfather’s Connecticut estate, where she ran wild over the rugged land with her Shetland pony, Brownie. While Dr. Close went to Congo as a surgeon, she lived with her brother and two sisters at the group’s headquarters in Caux, Switzerland.”

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A trio of videos by (or about) Finnish philosopher, technologist and electronic music pioneer Erkki Kurenniemi. The first, about the next evolution, is from Mika Taanila’s 2002 documentary about the theorist, The Future Is Not What It Used to Be; the second is Kurenniemi’s own 1964 short, “Electronics in the World of Tomorrow”; and finally a demonstration of one of the DIMI synthesizers he created.

Boozy, skirt-chasing Leonid Brezhnev, a bearish man whose eyebrows continued where his fur hat left off, can be seen in retrospect as a relative calming influence in Soviet history despite the folly of the Afghanistan War. He may have been Nero fiddling, but the music soothed his people. In the Moscow Times, writer Pyotr Romanov sees some similarities between Brezhnev’s reign and Vladimir Putin’s, believing them both to be periods of gestation. An excerpt:

“These times are somewhat similar to the Brezhnev era. Once again, the Russian people are dozing, somewhere in the depths of society the distant lightning of future changes is flashing and a popular leader who has long remained in office has skillfully built a relationship with those around him and with his people.

Therefore, if the people forgave Brezhnev for the war in Afghanistan, today’s Russians will forgive President Vladimir Putin the Western sanctions imposed over the conflict in Ukraine.

Of course, there are also many differences between these two periods. For example, Brezhnev was no workaholic. As an experienced party apparatchik, he only retained personal control over staffing decisions. He considered everything else ‘secondary,’ although he applied that label to a great many important issues….

However, Putin is very different. Even during the four years that he formally worked as prime minister under former President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin never relaxed his grip on the levers of power. He has centralized power to an unprecedented degree.

We know what brought an end to the Brezhnev era, but we can only guess what will put an end to the Putin era. The two periods are also similar in that the opposition, as it tugs on the shoulder of the slumbering populace, once again has little idea of what it will do with those people once they finally awaken.

And that is why there is absolutely no guarantee that the perestroika of the future will ultimately succeed.

As writer Kurt Vonnegut rightly pointed out: ‘Considering the experience of past centuries, can a reasonable person entertain the slightest hope that humanity has a bright future?’

I share his lack of historical optimism.”

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No, we’re not living yet in a world of fully autonomous driving, but Elon Musk tells Bloomberg TV about his very aggressive timeline for when that will occur, which suggests, I suppose, that smart cars will not necessarily need smart roads.

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The Economist has an interesting baseball piece in wake of the Los Angeles Dodgers poaching the Tampa Bay General Manager Andrew Friedman, arguing that superstar chief executives aren’t as valuable as they’re made out to be, that the supply of them outstrips the demand, and that clubs left in the hands of mediocre GMs (e.g., Ruben Amaro Jr. of the Phillies) are the result of poor ownership decision rather than scarcity. It’s a broadside against the Great Man Theory, suggesting that while setting up a good organization and process are hallmarks of a talented exec, the organization then becomes bigger than the individual leader. An excerpt:

“Hiring the talented Mr Friedman is hardly the worst or most wasteful decision in recent Dodgers history. The gap between what he is paid and what he will contribute pales in comparison with what the club is squandering on Andre Ethier or Brandon League. And Mr Friedman’s sterling reputation may help Los Angeles to attract elite researchers and scouts, who are the real sources of competitive advantage, from other clubs.

But far from the $100m a year or so that Mr Morris suggests that Mr Beane deserves, no member of a front office is worth as much as even a half-decent MLB player. The reason GMs make less money than players do isn’t because owners are blind to the contributions of an elite executive. It’s because there are far more people capable of running an MLB team at a high level than there are people capable of playing for one, and less scarcity leads to less value. The only front-office decision that really matters is the owner’s choice to embrace modern management techniques. Once a club chooses to take the plunge into the 21st century, there will be no shortage of brainiacs ready, willing and able to implement that strategy.”

 

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We tend to equate wealth with intelligence in America, and that’s often a false association. Hiltons and Johnsons who inherit money often seem as dumb as posts, and even someone who has basic smarts like Mike Bloomberg has had many points added to his IQ erroneously because he amassed vast wealth by identifying a small shortfall in financial information which could be exploited. He was really great at one particular endeavor, much the same way as Harlan Sanders was with chicken, not an amazing Renaissance Man. It showed in the very uneven job he did as NYC mayor.

So it’s best not to take as gospel the opinions of the super-rich because knowing one thing isn’t knowing everything. That said, I’ll grant Bill Gates is far more intelligent and intellectually curious than your average person, monied or not. Here’s the opening of his review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which he agrees with overall:

“A 700-page treatise on economics translated from French is not exactly a light summer read—even for someone with an admittedly high geek quotient. But this past July, I felt compelled to read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century after reading several reviews and hearing about it from friends.

I’m glad I did. I encourage you to read it too, or at least a good summary, like this one from The Economist. Piketty was nice enough to talk with me about his work on a Skype call last month. As I told him, I agree with his most important conclusions, and I hope his work will draw more smart people into the study of wealth and income inequality—because the more we understand about the causes and cures, the better. I also said I have concerns about some elements of his analysis, which I’ll share below.

I very much agree with Piketty that:

  • High levels of inequality are a problem—messing up economic incentives, tilting democracies in favor of powerful interests, and undercutting the ideal that all people are created equal.
  • Capitalism does not self-correct toward greater equality—that is, excess wealth concentration can have a snowball effect if left unchecked.
  • Governments can play a constructive role in offsetting the snowballing tendencies if and when they choose to do so.

To be clear, when I say that high levels of inequality are a problem, I don’t want to imply that the world is getting worse. In fact, thanks to the rise of the middle class in countries like China, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and Thailand, the world as a whole is actually becoming more egalitarian, and that positive global trend is likely to continue.

But extreme inequality should not be ignored—or worse, celebrated as a sign that we have a high-performing economy and healthy society.”

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Andreas Mogensen, Denmark’s first astronaut, answered questions from Andreas Digens of Vice, not straying far from conventional wisdom when considering the next 35 years of space exploration. An excerpt:

Question:

Do you believe we can send people to Mars? 

Andreas Mogensen:

I think we can send people to a new place in 2030. Whether it’s Mars, an asteroid, or to the moon again, I don’t know. But if we choose to send people to Mars, then we could easily do it. We are so much further ahead than when the US sent people to the moon. We can do it, but it’s a political decision. 

Question:

Do you think there’s life in space? 

Andreas Mogensen:

There are two further questions to that question. The first is: is there life on Mars? It looks like there’s been liquid water on the surface, which is the key to life. It also looks like the climate used to be warmer. That’s why we’re so interested in exploring it. We want to look for bacteria or microorganisms. If we find that, it would be huge, as it would be the first time we’d seen evidence of life on other planets.

Moreover, in the last 15 years we’ve been able to locate planets around other stars. Until 15 years ago, we only knew about eight or nine planets in our own solar system. Today, we’ve found 1,000 planets in orbit around other stars. What we want to do is to have powerful telescopes in orbit to look at all these planets that are very far away from Earth. Light years away. Then we can see if their atmospheres have oxygen and water, which is what a planet needs to sustain life. It could get very interesting in the next 50 years”

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Holy fuck, Wavy Gravy is still alive. Known as Hugh Nanton Romney (Romney 2016!) before adopting his meat-sauce moniker, he was the Woodstock Era’s psychedelic drum major, and he has some amazing stories to tell, none of which he can remember. WG just did an AMA at Reddit, in which he dosed the entire Internet. A few exchanges follow.

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Question:

Do you think the pranksters changed culture? What are your thoughts on the medical uses of psychedelics?

Wavy Gravy:

Absolutely. The Prankster changed the culture by driving ac across the country in these painted buses. That was something no one had ever seen before. It was like the universe on wheels.

I think that psychotropics should be available to any ADULTS with psychiatrist spirit guide to help them over the rough patches on the quest to enlightenment.

back in the day this was applicable for Henry Luce, the publisher of Life magazine, as he was pictured conducting an orchestra of daffodils in his garden, Psychiatric at the ready.

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Question:

Were you ever a fan of the group Pink Floyd? And have you heard of their new album coming out in a month? What are your thoughts on the group and what do you remember about them during their times in the late 60s/70s?

Wavy Gravy:

In 1970 we did what Warner Brothers hoped would be a sequel to the movie Woodstock. It involved a caravan of painted buses driving across America putting on shows. Sound familiar? Except this time Warner Brother would fly in their stable of amazing artists like BB King, Jethro Tull or Alice cooper, on tiny stages, or Joni Mitchel strumming around our camp fire. The tour ended with us flying Air India to England, where we did a concert outdoors with Pink Floyd. It was drop dead uber awesome and amazing.

Question:

Why hasn’t this been released?

Wavy Gravy:

It was released. It was called Medicine Ball Caravan with the sub title “We have come for your daughters.”

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Question:

Hi Wavy. I live in Sunland/Tujunga, California. There is a piece of property for sale on a hilltop here that is said to be the original home of the Hog Farm Hippie Commune in the 1960’s. Can you tell us any stories of the old days on the hog farm? Do you have any pictures you can share? Some people claim that Charles Manson was there. I find it hard to believe that you and Manson were ever friends. Can you clear that up? Thanks.

Wavy Gravy:

Absolutely! We were given this mountaintop rent free if we would tend to 50 hogs the size of a davenport. One of which we later ran for president. She was the first female black and white candidate for that high office. On Saturday nights, we would go to the shrine auditorium and do light shows for all the great bands of the 60s. On Sundays, we would have a free show on our mountaintop with different themes. Kite Sunday, no wind until night time. Mud Sunday, it poured..who could slide in the mud the furthest! The hog rodeo where we painted these giant pigs with temper paint and rode around on them, we showed film of this to Salvador Dali in Paris. He loved the hog rodeo. Many pictures and stories are in my first book The Hog Farm and Friends and beautifully documented in Avant Garde magazine back in the day.

Oh yes, Charlie Manson was no friend of mine and was asked to leave which he did. Thank heavens!

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Question:

Just firstly would like to say thank you for sharing love. Secondly, I love being warm and social with everyone but I really want to make things better like you did; any idea why protests now a days aren’t being taken as serious?

Wavy Gravy:

Some are more seriously taken than others. A lot of demonstrations have gone electronic. I am amazed at how powerful a tool the computer has become and I am a self confessed luddite.•

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mannequin671

Freeman Dyson said that when the “games” begin, genetic engineering will be messy, and Nick Bostrom pointed out that it will be difficult for people (or nations) to recuse themselves from the proceedings. It’s, of course, important to remember that while the unnatural comes with dangers, so does the natural. The opening of “The Genetics Epidemic,” Jamie F. Metz’s Foreign Affairs meditation on the national-security angle of human enhancement, which might not be the most pressing consideration but is important nonetheless:

“The revolution in genetic engineering that will make it possible for humans to actively manage our evolutionary process for the first time in our species’ history is already under way. In laboratories and clinics around the world, gene therapies are being successfully deployed to treat a range of diseases, including certain types of immune deficiency, retinal amaurosis, leukemia, myeloma, hemophilia, and Parkinson’s. This miraculous progress is only the beginning. The same already existing technologies that will soon eliminate many diseases that have victimized humans for thousands of years will almost certainly be used eventually to make our species smarter, stronger, and more robust.

The prospect of genetic engineering will be exciting to some, frightening to others, and challenging for all. If not adequately addressed, it will also likely lead to major conflict both within societies and globally. But although the science of human genetic engineering is charging forward at an exponential rate, the global policy framework for ensuring this scientific progress does not lead to destabilizing conflict barely exists at all. The time has come for a meaningful dialogue on the national security implications of the human genetic revolution that can lay the conceptual foundation for a future global policy structure seeking to prevent dangerous future conflict and abuse.

The rate of recent progress in human genetics has been astounding.

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Marshall McLuhan and artist and ace typographer Harley Parker enjoyed a bull session in 1967’s “Picnic in Space,” which focused on meanings that shifted as spaces changed, a process that has speeded up exponentially in the years since it was shot, as many brick-and-mortar forms have gone digital. Film informed by the work of Warhol, Lichtenstein and Godard.

Google does many great things, but its corporate leaders want you to trust them with your private information–because they are the good guys–and you should never trust any corporation with such material. The thing is, it’s increasingly difficult to opt out of the modern arrangement, algorithms snaking their way into all corners of our lives. The excellent documentarian Eugene Jarecki has penned a Time essay about Google and Wikileaks and what the two say about the future. An excerpt follows.

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I interviewed notorious Wikileaks founder Julian Assange by hologram, beamed in from his place of asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. News coverage the next day focused in one way or another on the spectacular and mischievous angle that Assange had, in effect, managed to escape his quarantine and laugh in the face of those who wish to extradite him by appearing full-bodied in Nantucket before a packed house of exhilarated conference attendees.

Beyond the spectacle, though, what got less attention was what the interview was actually about, namely the future of our civilization in an increasingly digital world. What does it mean for us as people to see the traditional town square go digital, with online banking displacing bricks and mortar, just as email did snail mail, Wikipedia did the local library, and eBay the mom and pop shop? The subject of our ever-digitizing lives is one that has been gaining currency over the past year, fueled by news stories about Google Glasses, self-driving cars, sky-rocketing rates of online addiction and, most recently, the scandal of NSA abuse. But the need to better understand the implications of our digital transformation was further underscored in the days preceding the event with the publication of two books: one by Assange and the other by Google Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt.

Assange’s book, When Google Met Wikileaks, is the transcript (with commentary by Assange) of a secret meeting between the two that took place on June 23, 2011, when Schmidt visited Assange in England. In his commentary, Assange explores the troubling implications of Google’s vast reach, including its relationships with international authorities, particularly in the U.S., of which the public is largely unaware. Schmidt’s book, How Google Works, is a broader, sunnier look at how technology has presumably shifted the balance of power from companies to people. It tells the story of how Google rose from a nerdy young tech startup to become a nerdy behemoth astride the globe. Read together, the two books offer an unsettling portrait both of our unpreparedness for what lies ahead and of the utopian spin with which Google (and others in the digital world) package tomorrow. While Assange’s book accuses Google of operating as a kind of “‘Don’t Be Evil’ empire,” Schmidt’s book fulfills Assange’s worst fears, presenting pseudo-irreverent business maxims in an “aw shucks” tone that seems willfully ignorant of the inevitable implications of any company coming to so sweepingly dominate our lives in unprecedented and often legally uncharted ways.•

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In a Wall Street Journal interview conducted by Laura Hedli, Google driverless-car consultant Brad Templeton ponders how these new vehicles will be sold to the public. An excerpt:

WSJ:

How will this car be sold to people?

Brad Templeton:

You might sell it to people for a monthly fee. Plus they would have to pay per mile for gasoline, and to some extent, insurance and maintenance.

You also can sell this per mile like a taxi, except it would be much cheaper because 60% of the cost of running a taxi is the driver. It will basically be a cheap Uber [which allows a person to hail a private car or ride-share from a mobile phone], and with no need to talk to the driver.

WSJ:

If autonomous cars operated using a service model, as opposed to ownership, what will people pay per ride?

Brad Templeton: 

It will start somewhere between 50 cents and a buck. I think it could even get [to be] less than 50 cents a ride, but it won’t start cheaper.

For people who are going to make light use of it, then the per-mile price, rather than the monthly price, might actually be a good thing. Seniors stop buying cars because they don’t really feel like trading in anymore, and they cut their mileage by quite a bit.

WSJ:

Looking further down the road, what might we see in the self-driving market?

Brad Templeton: 

I think eventually people will build sleeper cars that can do an overnight trip. I don’t think it’s a very green vision, but you would probably be able to hire a car that doesn’t even have seats. It’s just got a bed. Get into it, lie down, and then eight hours later you wake up and you’re 400-500 miles away.”

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Somebody makes money from book sales, but those people, most of them, are not writers. Plenty of authors actually lose money publishing their titles, having to pay their own expenses and taxes. At The Popcorn Chronicles, novelist Patrick Wensink reveals the earnings for his Amazon bestseller, Broken Piano for President, and they truly are revealing. An excerpt:

“Even when there’s money in writing, there’s not much money.

I was reminded of a single page in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius; specifically, the section where Dave Eggers breaks down his $100,000 advance on sales from his publisher. He then lists all his expenses. In the end the author banked a little less than half. It wasn’t bad money — just not the ‘I bet Dave Eggers totally owns a Jaguar’-type of income I expected. I mean, his name was on the cover of a book! He must be rich.

That honesty was refreshing and voyeuristic. I always said if I ever had a chance, I’d make a similar gesture. As a person learning about writing and publishing, there was something helpful about Eggers’ transparency. So here is my stab at similar honesty: the sugar bowls full of cocaine, bathtubs full of whiskey, semi-nude bookstore employees scattered throughout my bedroom tale of bestseller riches.

This is what it’s like, financially, to have the indie book publicity story of the year and be near the top of the bestseller list.

Drum roll.

$12,000.

Hi-hat crash.

I just started getting my royalty checks from July the other day (the publishing industry is slow like that). From what I can tell so far, I made about $12,000 from Broken Piano sales. That comes directly to me without all those pesky taxes taken out yet (the IRS is helpful like that).

Don’t get me wrong; as a guy with a couple of books out on an independent publisher I never thought I’d see that kind of money. Previously, my largest royalty check was about $153. I’m thrilled and very proud to say I earned any money as a writer. That’s a miracle. It’s just not the jewel-encrusted miracle most people think bestseller bank accounts are made from.

The book sold plus or minus 4,000 copies. (The publishing industry is hazy like that. What with sales in fishy-sounding third-world countries like Germany and England.) Being on an indie press I receive a more generous royalty split than most: 50 percent after expenses were deducted.

You can do the math.”

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I wish it were true that space tourists who hop aboard Virgin Galactic would return immediately wanting to help and heal the planet they (temporarily) left behind, as that venture’s Head of Mission, George Whitesides, believes, but I don’t think human beings work that way. While having more globalized travel has slowly–painfully slowly–contributed to humanity’s improvement on Earth in some ways, let’s not forget that such far-flung voyages first led not to a desire to mitigate suffering but to genocide, enslavement and predation of every kind. While Galactic won’t cause such horrors, it may be more a Disneyland effect than a remedy. From Sarah Knapton at The Telegraph:

“Promising that the first commercial flights into space will begin next Spring, Mr Whitesides, said: ‘It’s a simple observation but there is something called the overview effect, which is scientifically documented. When people go into space they come back with a different perspective and I think many of the challenges we face over the next century are essentially planetary challenges and so we need to have that planetary perspective to solve them

‘So I think we are going to have tens of thousands of people who are leaders in their community coming back and bringing that planetary perspective with them. I think that perspective is really important to solving some of our biggest problems on Earth.’

That may be a bold promise, but it is one to which Mr Whitesides – and his boss – appear committed.

‘I truly feel that the things we are doing at Galactic are going to be very important for the future of the world, for the future of humanity,’ he said, speaking to The Sunday Telegraph to mark the 10th anniversary of the project.

That grand, almost spiritual, vision is being reflected in something very concrete, the design of the inside of the SpaceShipTwo craft currently being developed to shoot its passengers into space and back.

The spacecraft’s cabin – being designed by Adam Wells, who was responsible for the first-class cabin of Virgin Atlantic – will be beautiful but utterly minimal, so as not to detract from the passenger’s view of the Earth below.”

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Software companies were bigger winners than their hardware counterparts during the personal-computing boom, and it’s worth wondering whether the same will be true of driverless cars. For instance, Google seems to have no interest in being an auto manufacturer (beyond prototypes) but is desperate to come up with the software for robocars that can be sold to other outfits. And what of companies that supply sensors and such, will they likewise be the true victors? From Chris Bryant and Andy Sharman of the Financial Times:

“Who will build the self-driving car of the future?

Fired-up by Google’s driverless prototype, carmakers such as Mercedes-Benz and Volvo are already testing autonomous vehicles on public roads.

But the advanced sensors and electronics that form the building blocks of self-driving cars are often made by suppliers, not the car manufacturer.

Some fear that, in the long term, carmakers that lag behind in autonomous vehicle technology face a future akin to today’s PC assemblers – with the big profits accruing to the companies behind the software and electronic content underneath.

‘It’s all the suppliers into the industry who, in the fullness of time, will gain the power,’ says a senior industry analyst, who works closely with the leading carmakers. ‘If I’m the buyer, I don’t care if it’s a 1.9-litre car or a 2.4 – because I’m not driving it.'”

 

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The excellent comic Aziz Ansari has a bit in which he talks about the way we’ve grown overdependent on Google, doing mindless searches for things like “the best toothbrush,” when we were perfectly capable of buying a toothbrush before search engines ever existed. We would just go to the store and buy a toothbrush that looked like it was good. And it always was.

Funny, yes, though I’ll argue fiercely that search engines don’t weaken our brains but give us every opportunity to improve them. (And if they’ve done the former rather than the latter, than the fault probably lies with us.) Never before have we had in our shirt pockets access to the storehouse of the world’s knowledge.

Ian Leslie’s well-considered Salon article, “Google Is Making Us All Dumber,” argues the counter, asserting that the efficiency of Google’s search has removed pretty much all of the actual search, weakening us neurologically. The piece starts with a Pablo Picasso quote about machines only being good for answers, which is amusing for its wit but also because more and more, that’s no longer true. The opening:

“In 1964, Pablo Picasso was asked by an interviewer about the new electronic calculating machines, soon to become known as computers. He replied, ‘But they are useless. They can only give you answers.’

We live in the age of answers. The ancient library at Alexandria was believed to hold the world’s entire store of knowledge. Today, there is enough information in the world for every person alive to be given three times as much as was held in Alexandria’s entire collection —and nearly all of it is available to anyone with an internet connection.

This library accompanies us everywhere, and Google, chief librarian, fields our inquiries with stunning efficiency. Dinner table disputes are resolved by smartphone; undergraduates stitch together a patchwork of Wikipedia entries into an essay. In a remarkably short period of time, we have become habituated to an endless supply of easy answers. You might even say dependent.

Google is known as a search engine, yet there is barely any searching involved anymore.”

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With computers so small they all but disappear, the infrastructure silently becoming more and more automated, what else will vanish from our lives and ourselves? I’m someone who loves the new normal of decentralized, free-flowing media, who thinks the gains are far greater than the losses, but it’s a question worth asking. Via Longreads, an excerpt from The Glass Cage, a new book by that Information Age designated mourner Nicholas Carr:

“There’s a big difference between a set of tools and an infrastructure. The Industrial Revolution gained its full force only after its operational assumptions were built into expansive systems and networks. The construction of the railroads in the middle of the nineteenth century enlarged the markets companies could serve, providing the impetus for mechanized mass production. The creation of the electric grid a few decades later opened the way for factory assembly lines and made all sorts of home appliances feasible and affordable. These new networks of transport and power, together with the telegraph, telephone, and broadcasting systems that arose alongside them, gave society a different character. They altered the way people thought about work, entertainment, travel, education, even the organization of communities and families. They transformed the pace and texture of life in ways that went well beyond what steam-powered factory machines had done.

The historian Thomas Hughes, in reviewing the arrival of the electric grid in his book Networks of Power, described how first the engineering culture, then the business culture, and finally the general culture shaped themselves to the new system. ‘Men and institutions developed characteristics that suited them to the characteristics of the technology,’ he wrote. ‘And the systematic interaction of men, ideas, and institutions, both technical and nontechnical, led to the development of a supersystem—a sociotechnical one—with mass movement and direction.’ It was at this point that what Hughes termed ‘technological momentum’ took hold, both for the power industry and for the modes of production and living it supported. ‘The universal system gathered a conservative momentum. Its growth generally was steady, and change became a diversification of function.’ Progress had found its groove.

We’ve reached a similar juncture in the history of automation. Society is adapting to the universal computing infrastructure—more quickly than it adapted to the electric grid—and a new status quo is taking shape. …

The science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once asked, ‘Can the synthesis of man and machine ever be stable, or will the purely organic component become such a hindrance that it has to be discarded?’ In the business world at least, no stability in the division of work between human and computer seems in the offing. The prevailing methods of computerized communication and coordination pretty much ensure that the role of people will go on shrinking. We’ve designed a system that discards us. If unemployment worsens in the years ahead, it may be more a result of our new, subterranean infrastructure of automation than of any particular installation of robots in factories or software applications in offices. The robots and applications are the visible flora of automation’s deep, extensive, and invasive root system.”

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