Monday Topsight, October 22, 2007
Because technically it was still Monday when I started this.
Oooh, Spooooky! What's more appropriate for Hallowe'en than Spooky Technology? Except this isn't ghosts and goblins (and Count Floyd!), it's research into communication, sensing and perhaps even weapons technologies that take advantage of weird quantum effects, famously referred to by Einstein as "spooky action at a distance." Wired's Danger Room blog quotes Cambridge University's Charles Tahan:
Spookytechnology encompasses all functional devices, systems, and materials whose utility relies in whole or in part on higher order quantum properties of matter and energy that have no counterpart in the classical world. These purely quantum traits may include superposition, entanglement, decoherence (along with the quantum aspects of measurement and error correction) or new behavior that emerges in engineered quantum many-body systems.
(Note that Tahan goes for the domain-name-friendly "spookytechnology," but doesn't bother with a courtesy intercap. Yes, spookytechnology.com and .net are both taken, but .org remains tantalizingly available.)
Tahan's full study is available at Arxiv (pdf). What's particularly interesting is that it's more about language than about actual technology. Tahan is especially anxious to avoid having "spooky-" fall victim to the same kind of inappropriate overuse that damned "nano-."
Nor do we want to incite a prefix-fest as in nano-everything. “Spooky,” being defined more specifically, has fewer tendencies towards this than “nano,” which alludes to an entire length scale. Terms like “spookynet” or “spookytronics” may make sense, but selectively.
I am so ready to start overusing "spookytronics."
Sleeping In on Sunday: I'm not a religious person, but I recognize the importance religion has in understanding the future trajectories of culture, society and politics. So studies like the Barna Group's recent survey of religious views of 16-29 year olds really fascinate me -- especially when they show glimpses of a major cultural shift at work. And it's not one that'll make traditional Christian political-religious institutions very happy.
The Barna Group is an expressly Christian survey research firm, focusing on understanding American religiosity. In this survey, Barna finds a striking increase in critical views of Christianity among 16-29 year olds, far higher than earlier generations at the same point in life. These critical views are especially strong in non-Christian youth:
Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a "good impression" of Christianity.
(Emphasis mine.) On topic after topic, young people in the US have a strongly negative view of mainstream and evangelical Christianity, using terms like "judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%)." Similarly, the number of young people identifying as Christian has dropped dramatically. Barna's research suggests that this is not the kind of trend that will shift significantly as this generation ages.
For me, the most interesting point is that the critical factor for both Christian-identified and non-Christian youth in shaping their views of religion is the strident homophobia of institutional Christianity.
Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual." Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else.
This is a powerful indicator of a tremendous cultural shift underway in the United States today. The hardcore right-wing religious voters are set to become increasingly marginalized, and organizations offering distinctly different -- and inclusive -- forms of social networking and community are likely to become much more visible.
Nano-Ecosystem: My first official essay as the Director of Impacts Analysis for the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology is now up over at Nanotech-Now. It's entitled "The Nanofactory Ecosystem," and it's a look at the non-technical aspects of what the development of a nanofactory is likely to take. For example...
Health and safety evaluations
Who, ultimately, is responsible for regulating what can be made with nanofactories? Since a nanofactory can, in principle, self-replicate, would it be possible for modified versions of nanofactories to be evaluated for safety concerns while still "baking?" Relying on individual users to self-police and to undertake informed evaluations of new designs and nanofactory models is a pleasant fantasy, but what other options could there be? And what happens when self-policing and informed evaluation fails?
My goal with this essay was to ground the development of nanofactory technologies in the everyday world of consumers, regulations and safety. These kinds of tools will certainly have substantial economic and social impacts, but we can't let them exist in our minds as transcendent technologies. They're human-made tools, with all of the compromises and fuzzy thinking that can imply.
(By the way: if anyone can identify the artist who created the image used at the top of this post -- "modernmonkey.com" now is a spam site -- I would love to give a link and credit.)