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November 21, 2008

Still Alive


Massive work period coming to a conclusion.

May post this weekend, but blogging resumption by mid-week next week is probably more likely.

A few things to follow in the meantime:

November 14, 2008

Global Catastrophic Risks


November 12, 2008

Mark Your Calendars

As I've noted, this weekend I'll be speaking at two different events in the SF Bay Area. I finally have the times for my talks, for those of you wishing to make sure you don't stumble across me by accident.

For Global Catastrophic Risks on Friday in Mountain View, I've been convinced somehow to give two presentations, the first at 10am, and the second as a closing set of observations at 4:45pm. I think Hughes got me to agree to this while I was still under the influence of jet lag. I call shenanigans.

For the Green Festival San Francisco, I'll be speaking at the "Mezzanine" location at 4pm on Sunday. I'll be talking Green Futures, but I'll be up against Greg Palast and the "Shamanic Cheerleaders," so I suspect the audience will be most generously described as "intimate."

Tickets still available for both.

Wednesday Topsight, November 12, 2008

Tick tick ticking in my head.

Nature Does Geo: Nature's blog offers a handy chart comparing the costs and uncertainties surrounding the various commonly-discussed forms of geoengineering. Clip & save!

(Note: More bars="better," not necessarily "more of this.")

• Score One for Vernor: Augmented Reality goggles are so twen-cen. For real augmentation, go for the contact lenses. University of Washington engineers have come up with a key precursor technology: contact lenses with integrated circuitry. Vernor Vinge included them in his novel Rainbows End, and they make a lot of sense. If you don't mind sticking something into your eyes on a regular basis, I suppose.

• PAC DOGS: It's been mentioned by a few other folks, so it's probably not news for most of you, but: Pentagon researchers want to deploy robots in packs in order to "search for and detect a non-cooperative human."

Another commentator often in the news for his views on military robot autonomy is Noel Sharkey, an AI and robotics engineer at the University of Sheffield. He says he can understand why the military want such technology, but also worries it will be used irresponsibly.
    "This is a clear step towards one of the main goals of the US Army's Future Combat Systems project, which aims to make a single soldier the nexus for a large scale robot attack. Independently, ground and aerial robots have been tested together and once the bits are joined, there will be a robot force under command of a single soldier with potentially dire consequences for innocents around the corner."

So, robots that hunt down "non-cooperative humans" at the behest of their human master. Or perhaps the robots are simply the extension of the human-technology ecosystem, expanding the reach and capacities of the human.

This is right out of Transhuman Space, by the way.

• Not Quite a Forest: You have 61 trees on this planet. Please don't lose them.

November 7, 2008

80 Hours in the Air-Conditioned Nation


"What do Americans think of Singapore?"

Three different people, all government officials, asked me some variant of that question. And all three times, they eventually made it clear that they were wondering how often "caning" came up in discussions of the country.

I had to tell them: Pretty much every time.

Singapore is a nation coming to terms with its own identity. The habit of many of the people I conversed with was to speak of Singapore as a developing country. But, at least in terms of infrastructure and commerce, Singapore is clearly an industrial -- or, really, post-industrial -- nation. Singapore is the quintessential leapfrog society: from the mass transit to the information grid, from the sparkling malls to the global cuisine, it could easily stand as a full citizen of the first world. But that shift, from a tiny, scrappy "spot" in the heart of Southeast Asia to world-class city/state, has been a bit jarring. Practices that they saw as appropriate for the former -- like caning -- now seem vaguely embarrassing.

The "air-conditioned nation" label in the title of this piece comes from a book of the same name, by Singapore journalist and essayist Cherian George. It's more than appropriate: Being a mere two degrees off the equator, Singapore's weather defines humid. As a lifelong California boy, the heat didn't bother me, but I reeled from the moisture in the air. While the residents clearly tolerate it better than I could, a shift is underway that adds to the identity crisis.

Over the past couple of decades, according to the locals I spoke to, Singapore has started to put air conditioning everywhere. Head down a sidewalk, and every open business doorway offers an arctic blast. I started to expect to see micro-storms emerge as the warm, moist air from the outside runs into the cold, dry air in the stores.

As a result of the increasing ubiquity of "aircon," complaints by locals about the humidity are on the rise, as well. More than one person I spoke to described Singapore, sheepishly, as a "nation of whiners." I didn't see that, myself, but that's hardly the point: It's how they see themselves.

But there's one last twist to the evolving identity of the country. Singapore was, originally, a near-barren island off the tip of Malaysia, with little in the way of population. The country's populace is entirely a result of colonialism, as people from a variety of nearby nations came in to work and trade with the British rulers. After post-British rule by Japan and then Malaysia, Singapore gained independence in 1965. The architecture of the city is a lovely mix of ultra-modern and century-old buildings, and many of the streets carry the names of colonial-era British personalities.

Walking back to my hotel last night, after wandering the riverfront -- where boats that once carried small trade cargo now carry tourists, and where colonial government office buildings now hold restaurants and shopping centers -- it struck me: Singapore has turned its colonial past into an amusement park.

Underlying this evolution, however, is a stark sense of insecurity. I was invited here to talk about risks and uncertainty, and nearly every group I spoke to asked about terrorism and technological threats. Environmentally, Singapore is utterly dependent upon its neighbors and global trade for its resources. If there ever was a country vulnerable to open source warfare and system disruption, Singapore is it.

So on the minds of many Singaporean government officials, and likely many citizens as well, is a troubling dilemma: Who are we -- and how much longer will we even be around to ask that question?

November 4, 2008

Thank You

Even thousands of miles away, the intensity of this moment is incredible.

Jamais Cascio

Contact Jamais  ÃƒÂƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚¢Ã‚€Â¢  Bio

Co-Founder, WorldChanging.com

Director of Impacts Analysis, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

Fellow, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Affiliate, Institute for the Future


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