Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Transhumanism - Nano-Bio-Info-Congo Convergence

Humanity+ discusses the potential for human development based on emerging technologies of Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Neuroscience. This is simplified to Nano-Bio-Info-Congo or NBIC.

NBIC will likely be used to enhance intelligence, mobility, cognitive qualities, vision and hearing. “I think we will stop short of eugenics but proceed to offer neurological and physical enhancements that improve the quality of life under the umbrella of medicine,” writes James Canton of the Institute for Global Futures. “Industry is watching this debate closely. Boomers are also watching this debate and will influence the outcome, based on their health economic investments.” Canton asks whether people in a free society have the right to enhance their memory, augment their intelligence, maximize their pleasure, and even change their physical forms on demand. He suggests that this will become a human rights issue in the 21st century. “Longevity medicine, life extension, and the augmentation of human performance will become features of our global culture in the near future,” he argues. | Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno: Paradigm for the Future, H+ online magazine |
The optimist in me thinks this sounds great. The pessimist in me sees a looming dystopia similar to that described in Bruce Sterling's book Holy Fire. |Amazon| Worlds Without End | Blog review at Health Data Management Review | This also reminds me of this recent Wired post about digital narcotics that can be tailored to your genetic make-up and electronically activated. I can only imagine what Aldous Huxley would make of it all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Law as Social Software

I recently read an op-ed by Douglas Rushkoff, Are Jobs Obsolete? . An interesting viewpoint... it strikes me as an clever new paradigm that has little to no chance of becoming widely held in the United States in the near future. (I contend because our electorate is not very clever, by and large.)

I was unfamiliar with Mr. Rushkoff, so I did some searching and discovered this short video of an address he gave at SXSW.

I thought his discussion of legacy software systems running our society was an excellent description of the law which is always lagging behind technological and social innovations (like sexting). In this video he lays out his view that by learning to be programmers people can learn to understand the limitations of the software medium and appreciate the biases of the people who create the software.

I like his suggestion of viewing the law as social software, but on that analogy, only Congress can change the program.

And unfortunately Congress is paralyzed by partisanship and rancor. As well as being asked to deal with complex problems for which there are no easy solutions and therefore no politically palatable solutions, leading to our current state of economic and political crisis, which is what led Mr. Rushkoff to ask if jobs are obsolete.

Friday, July 01, 2011


CONvergence is an interesting event. It's like a convention of conventions: steampunk, zombies, LARP, gaming, belly dancing...

Sunday, June 05, 2011

CDC Zombie Warning

Survival in the zombiepocalypse will require more than just luck. Of utmost importance is the survival mindset and a working knowledge of zombies.

But even the most determined individual will need some supplies. The Centers for Disease Control recently released suggested survival supplies and they are great, insofar as they go.

But they left out one important item: a machete.

Man chopping watermelon with a machete
Image courtesy of sgoralnick.

Luckily my friends and I have been prepping for this eventuality since before 2008.

The Zombie Research Society is another great resource for learning more about the coming undead pandemic.

This item was first posted at the Bellman.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Unintended Consequences of Abundant Energy

From the Archdruid Report:

[T]he average European uses around a third as much energy per capita as the average American, and has a better standard [of] living by most of the usual measures. Until recently... I’d assumed that this was simply a function of waste and mismanagement on our part, and a more efficient use of limited resources on theirs.

Still, I find myself wondering if there’s a direct connection between these two factors. Is it possible that Europeans have, by and large, a better standard of living because they use less energy, not in spite of that fact?

Ask the question and it’s not hard to find obvious examples. Consider the way that so many Americans buy gasoline-powered riding lawnmowers, and suffer the health impacts of a flaccid middle age – with attendant costs to the economic system – that could have been avoided by the moderate exercise gotten by using a push mower. Consider how much of the industrial world’s intractable unemployment has been driven by the replacement of skilled human labor with machines made possible by the availability of cheap abundant energy. For that matter, consider the way that the availability of energy correlates with the civilian death toll in wars. Before the age of fossil fuels, the annihilation of the entire population of a city happened relatively rarely, and took an extraordinary amount of hard labor on the part of the attackers. By the twentieth century it was relatively easy, and therefore routine.|Link| (emphasis added)

I find his analysis provocative. I suspect there's a happy medium to be found here.

As an American, I cannot dispute a link between material and energy abundance and its waste. But energy abundance has allowed humans freedom from agriculture which allows specialization of trades and the dynamism of cities in the long run.

Staying in shape is really important and the we've designed our societies to encourage sitting in chairs. We need to put walking and motion back into our lives.

The Minnesota Department of Health recommends putting computers on treadmills or stair climbers and having walking meetings, for instance.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Responding to Cascading Disasters

Cascading disasters occur when one disaster triggers another. Japan is poised on the brink of a series of cascading disasters in Fukushima prefecture.

Cascading disasters are especially challenging because they quickly reduce a country's capacity to respond. Infrastructure systems are necessarily interdependent. The earthquake and tsunami destroyed much of Japan's electrical and transportation infrastructure in the space of an hour. See Coordination in Rapidly Evolving Disaster Response Systems: the Role of Information (2004) by Louis K. Comfort et al. for more on the challenges of responding to cascading disasters.

The breadth of the destruction in Japan will necessarily lead to a series of public health emergencies. The immediate concerns are to take care of survivors and rescue those trapped in the rubble or stranded by flooding, but sanitation will be a significant challenge in the near future as well.

The Japanese have excellent emergency management professionals and I'm sure they are doing everything they can to prevent these emergencies from becoming full-fledged disasters.

Another example of a cascading disaster was Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane was a natural disaster which caused the levies around New Orleans to fail, that was a technological disaster.

Then the government response to Katrina was poorly handled at the local, state and federal levels (putting it as mildly as possible), which led to a breakdown in the provision of relief services as well as law and order at times. This is covered in some detail in Disaster Law and Policy (2009) |Amazon| which is the textbook I've been using in my Disaster Law class.

In the government's defense, everyone make mistakes. To err is human, especially under duress, and it doesn't get much worse than facing a series of cascading disasters. But we expect more from disaster response professionals and emergency managers. Congress passed a law after Katrina that (among other things) required the head of FEMA to be a professional experienced in disaster mitigation and response.

But everyone can play a role in preparing for a disaster. Ready.gov helps citizens prepare for local emergencies. A few simple steps can help you and your loved ones weather the storm.

FEMA offers free online classes in emergency management through FEMA's Independent Study Program as well as classroom training through the Emergency Management Institute if you'd like to learn more about disaster prevention, mitigation and response.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Threatcon 1: What disasters are most overhyped?

New America Foundation's Michael Lind has a provocative article on Foreign Policy's website discussing bullshit concerns that animate public policy discussions and lead to apocalypse fatigue.

I agree with Mr. Lind that the threat of nuclear terrorism is overblown (premise #1), that Europeans are not pacifists (#3), and that water-sharing is not a basis for the peace process (#8).

But I am strongly concerned about several things of which he is dismissive: pandemics (#5), environmental refugees (#7), post-peak oil price shocks (#2) and especially the shift in power away from nation-states to sub-state actors such as terrorists, corporations, and eccentric billionaires (#9).

Unfortunately I think these last four trends are as relentless as the zombiepocalypse.