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July 29, 2013

Call for Papers: The Ethics of Geoengineering

I've been asked to serve as guest editor for an upcoming edition of the Journal of Evolution and Technology, a peer-reviewed electronic journal published by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. (Full disclosure: I've been a senior fellow at IEET for seven years.) The topic of the edition is, as the title of this post suggests, the ethics of geoengineering. Link to the full call for papers.

Here's a bit about what we're looking for:

For this issue of JET we would like to solicit papers exploring both the proposed geoengineering methods, and ethical, social and political questions that must be considered before they are explored and undertaken. Which methods make sense to explore? How can we keep the pressure on to shift to renewable and sustainable forms of energy, agriculture and manufacturing if we avail ourselves of this techno-fix? What agencies should be empowered to research and undertake these initiatives? What risks and benefits should be considered? What kinds of evidence and modeling should be required before they are undertaken, and at what point should they be deployed?

And the relevant info:

Important dates

Submission deadline: Nov 1, 2013
Notification of acceptance/rejection: Feb 1, 2014
Final revision deadline: March 1, 2014
Publication: Spring/Summer 2014


Length and Style

We anticipate that this issue will contain around 10 papers and, as a working guide, the papers should be between 4000 and 12,000 words in length. Instructions on format and style are here: http://jetpress.org/authors.html

Submission procedure

Manuscripts must be submitted electronically in Microsoft Word to cascio@openthefuture.com

Review process

Each submission will ideally receive two reviews. Completed reviews will be forwarded to the corresponding authors. Please suggest up to three external reviewers to facilitate the review process.

Here's what I'll be looking for: arguments and discussions that directly address the underlying dilemma driving the consideration of geoengineering, namely, the growing possibility that dire effects from climate disruption will happen faster than any carbon emission cuts could stop. Papers that just assert that geoengineering is bad and we should feel bad for talking about it, or that geoengineering is great because it will mean we don't have to waste money on cutting carbon will very likely find themselves stuck in a spam filter.

I've written quite a bit about the politics and ethics of geoengineering, but I know that I'm (a) not the only one thinking about it, and (b) not in possession of a monopoly on good ideas. I'd really love to see submissions of pieces that change my mind.

July 17, 2013

The CIA Wants To Control the Climate!!!!11!

No, not really.

But that's the conclusion people are getting from a story published initially at Mother Jones, and picked up around the web. The CIA -- along with NASA, NOAA, and the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) -- is funding a $630,000 NAS project to study geoengineering. Not how to do it, but what the broader ramifications are for global politics. The announcement at the NAS gives the details:

An ad hoc committee will conduct a technical evaluation of a limited number of proposed geoengineering techniques, including examples of both solar radiation management (SRM) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques, and comment generally on the potential impacts of deploying these technologies, including possible environmental, economic, and national security concerns. The study will:

1. Evaluate what is currently known about the science of several (3-4) selected example techniques, including potential risks and consequences (both intended and unintended), such as impacts, or lack thereof, on ocean acidification,

2. Describe what is known about the viability for implementation of the proposed techniques including technological and cost considerations,

3. Briefly explain other geoengineering technologies that have been proposed (beyond the selected examples), and

4. Identify future research needed to provide a credible scientific underpinning for future discussions.

The study will also discuss historical examples of related technologies (e.g., cloud seeding and other weather modification) for lessons that might be learned about societal reactions, examine what international agreements exist which may be relevant to the experimental testing or deployment of geoengineering technologies, and briefly explore potential societal and ethical considerations related to geoengineering. This study is intended to provide a careful, clear scientific foundation that informs ethical, legal, and political discussions surrounding geoengineering.

This is an entirely appropriate use of a very small amount of money (in government terms) and the resources of the intelligence services. As I've gone into multiple times, the global political risks around geoengineering are massive, likely greater than the environmental risks. A better understanding of an emerging complex geopolitical issue is precisely what I'd want an intelligence service to be doing. It's a lot better than operating killer drones and reading our email. People who don't want to see geoengineering happen should be glad that the US government is taking this seriously as a potential issue.

I had an opportunity a couple of years ago to participate in a "wargame" project run by the CIA Center on Climate Change and National Security -- see souvenir above -- and watched as a climate-focused exercise turned into a geoengineering-focused game. As far as I could tell, this was not the designer's intent, but an organic result of player actions. And over the course of the game it came very close to leading to armed conflict between the US and China, a conflict over uncertain (and unsettling) consequences of a geoengineering effort. [The CIA Center on CCNS is now closed, in part due to climate issues being integrated across the spectrum of CIA research, and in part because House Republicans cut funding. Can't have the government studying climate change as if it were a real thing, you know.]

There's no question that geoengineering needs to be thought of as a potential global political risk. I'm glad to see a project like this. And I hope that the intelligence and strategic risk analysis services of other governments around the world are doing the exact same thing.

July 16, 2013

Hackers, Griefers, and Futurists

Apropos of griefing Glass, my most recent piece for Co.Exist is now up: "To [Forecast] The Future Of Technology, Figure Out How People Will Use It Illegally". (The actual title uses "predict" not "forecast," of course.) It's a quick look at stuff I've talked about before, why illicit and unexpected uses of new systems give a better vision of the future than do such systems' intended purposes.

New technologies don’t exist in a vacuum: they interact with both technological and non-technological systems as well as a variety of human wants and needs. This allows for the emergence of surprising combinations of goals and uses, many of which may be completely outside of the expectations of the designers. In short, as the patron saint of futurism William Gibson once said, “the street finds its own uses for things.”

As a futurist, I try to think beyond the designers notes when it comes to the impacts of emerging technologies. I find that it’s often useful to imagine the unintended, seedy, improper, or illicit uses of new tools and systems.

Not a new argument from me, but a concise articulation of it.

Google Glass Ten Second Review

Glass PainsI got a chance to play briefly with IFTF's new Google Glass device (see accompanying photo). Some quick notes:

  • As the photo illustrates (and as the manual apparently states), Google Glass devices do not work with regular eyeglasses. Unfortunately, despite my nearsightedness, the test on the screen for the Glass display is set in a way that left it illegible for me without my eyeglasses. (I suspect that the image is projected in a way to be legible while your eyes are focused at a distance.)
  • Since it uses a bone-conduction mic & headphone, it wouldn't be a simple task to just stick a Glass unit on regular glasses.
  • The voice control works reasonably well, and I was able to instruct it to take a photo (I'll link to it when I get access to it).
  • The voice control doesn't work perfectly, and was confused by terms more complex than "take picture."
  • The voice control is speech recognition, not speaker recognition. It responded to accidental commands from the person I was speaking with while testing them.

    This last is the biggest risk factor for abuse. Saying "OK Glass Google [something shocking]" when someone is using Google Glass in near proximity will make it search Google for whatever startling content you've given it.

    Not that I would suggest any such thing. Nosiree.

  • 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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