Tag Archives | Science & Technology

Living Bits: Information and the Origin of Life

Image: Flickr user Tau Zero, adapted under a Creative Commons license.

Image: Flickr user Tau Zero, adapted under a Creative Commons license.

Via Chris Adami at PBS.org:

What is life?

When Erwin Schrödinger posed this question in 1944, in a book of the same name, he was 57 years old. He had won the Nobel in Physics eleven years earlier, and was arguably past his glory days. Indeed, at that time he was working mostly on his ill-fated “Unitary Field Theory.” By all accounts, the publication of “What is Life?”—venturing far outside of a theoretical physicist’s field of expertise—raised many eyebrows. How presumptuous for a physicist to take on one of the deepest questions in biology! But Schrödinger argued that science should not be compartmentalized:

“Some of us should venture to embark on a synthesis of facts and theories, albeit with second-hand and incomplete knowledge of some of them—and at the risk of making fools of ourselves.”

Schrödinger’s “What is Life” has been extraordinarily influential, in one part because he was one of the first who dared to ask the question seriously, and in another because it was the book that was read by a good number of physicists—famously both Francis Crick and James Watson independently, but also many a member of the “Phage group,” a group of scientists that started the field of bacterial genetics—and steered them to new careers in biology.

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The Cusp of a Transhumanist Renaissance, or the Eve of Dystopia?

Transhumanist, Zoltan Istvan joins Midwest Real.

When it comes right down to it, we have absolutely no idea what the future will hold. Yet, between 2014’s major advances in AI, VR, AR, quantum computing and longevity science, it sure as hell seems like we’re on the cusp of something huge.

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IMG_6532Will these unprecedented breakthroughs usher in a utopian neo-renaissance? Will technological and medical innovation enable us to live practically forever so that we’re free to pursue our passions all day long? Or, will we find ourselves an Orwellian dystopia plagued by a broken environment, thought control and murderous AI oligarch overlords who’ll invade our minds in an effort to milk us for money and energy as we jump willingly into ultra-plush matrix pods of their design?

Who knows?

Our guest this week, Zoltan Istvan is the author of The Transhumanist Wager. He writes for practically every major technology website (Gizmodo, Huffington Post, Motherboard Wired etc.) He’s the founder of the Transhumanist Party, which aims to draw attention and dollars to cutting-edge science and technology.… Read the rest

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The coming food disaster

David Schubert via CNN:

One would expect that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the best interests of the public in mind, but its recent decisions have cast serious doubt upon this assumption.

One in particular could have a dramatic impact on the safety of the U.S. food supply: It is the mandate of the EPA to regulate the use of agricultural chemicals like insecticides and herbicides, as well as to determine their allowable limits in food and drinking water.

Herbicides (weed killers) are mixtures of chemicals designed to spray on weeds, where they get inside the plants and inhibit enzymes required for the plant to live. The active ingredient in the most widely used herbicide is glyphosate, while some herbicides contain 2,4D. 2,4D is best known as a component of Agent Orange, a defoliant widely employed during the Vietnam War.

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Co-Creator of “Gray State” Speaks on Deceased Filmmaker; Future of Main Project

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Via Amanda Warren at Activist Post:

Last week, we reported on the tragic and mysterious death of film producer David Crowley, his wife and young daughter who were all found dead in their Apple Valley, MN home, weeks after the incident took place.

A few new details have been reported by the media. Hennepin County Medical Examiners report a murder-suicide saying wife Komel and their five-year-old daughter were shot, and report David’s death as a suicide. No additional marks, injuries or signs of struggle, they say.

Bodies were found close together on the front room floor with a black handgun near David. Date of death not released. Apple Valley police Capt. John Bermel said there were no signs of a scuffle, that the house was intact. Last sign of verified activity was late December. Electronics were taken from the home to be analyzed with investigators saying it could take awhile to make more determinations….

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The Dark Side Of Open Data: It’s Not Only How Much You Publish, But How And Why

Alexey Kljatov (CC BY 2.0)

Alexey Kljatov (CC BY 2.0)

Federico Guerrini via Forbes:

A few days ago, the World Wide Web Foundation established by Sir Tim Berners-Lee released the second edition of the Open Data Barometer, a report on the impact and prevalence of open data initiatives around the world. Turns out the UK government is the “most transparent” in the world, when it comes to public access to official data, with US and Sweden in second and third place respectively.

That’s fantastic, isn’t it? Opening the data (which already belongs to the public, as it is produced with taxpayers’ money) can expose corruption and abuse, provide new insights on sensitive topics, help engage citizens in important debates, improving, in the end, the overall quality of democracies. So, kudos to the British and God forgive the Kenyans, whose country has fallen from to 22nd to 49th in the Barometer’s rankings. Shame on them.

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Bitcoin, the Digital Deluge and the Seeds of an Open Source Society

IMG_6496It’s all been swept up by the digital deluge: the way we create, consume, socialize, learn, all of it. Yet no matter how much of the analog world seeps into the digital realm, the almighty dollar continues to resist the pixel-y tide. The act of currency creation remains an esoteric, behind-the-scenes process controlled by a few privileged, monocle-clad, suit-wearers with fancy titles and special permissions.

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Actually, we do have digital money and it’s called bitcoin. It does work, it’s safe and it’s easy to use. On top of that, for the first time ever, no government, corporation or human being can claim dominion over, control, destroy or create a currency. Bitcoin is decentralized, open source, peer-to-peer, lives completely online and created through a programmatic process.

Practicality wise, you can already buy basically anything using bitcoin and a growing number of merchants, services and corporations are accepting it every day.Read the rest

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C.I.A. Officer in Leak Case, Jeffrey Sterling, Is Convicted of Espionage

Land of the free?

Land of the free?

Matt Apuzzo writes at The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Jeffrey A. Sterling, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, was convicted of espionage Monday on charges that he told a reporter for The New York Times about a secret operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.

The conviction is a significant victory for the Obama administration, which has conducted an unprecedented crackdown on officials who speak to journalists about security matters without the administration’s approval. Prosecutors prevailed after a yearslong fight in which the reporter, James Risen, refused to identify his sources.

The case revolved around a C.I.A. operation in which a former Russian scientist provided Iran with intentionally flawed nuclear component schematics. Mr. Risen revealed the operation in his 2006 book, “State of War,” describing it as a mismanaged, potentially reckless mission that may have inadvertently aided the Iranian nuclear program.

On the third day of deliberations, the jury in federal court in Alexandria, Va., convicted Mr.

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Ranking The States From Most To Least Corrupt

Harry Enten writes at FiveThirtyEight:

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara ripped into the political culture in Albany on Thursday during a news conference detailing the arrest of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges. Indeed, cynics (including this writer) weren’t surprised that yet another of New York’s public officials landed in hot legal water.

But is Bharara being too tough on the Empire State’s public servants? Is the New York capital really that corrupt? The truth is, there are different ways to measure corruption, and they point in different directions. Here are four measures (I’ll go through each below).

We can look at the absolute number of public officials convicted in federal court on corruption. On that score, New York was No. 1 from 1976 to 2010 with 2,522 convictions. California was No. 2, Illinois No. 3, Florida No. 4 and Pennsylvania No. 5. Yet it’s clear from this list that the most corrupt states are also the states with the biggest populations.

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Building Moral Robots, With Whose Morals?

BEAR, or Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot, is designed to help soldiers in need. But other robots could take on roles as combatants. Credit Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center

BEAR, or Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot, is designed to help soldiers in need. But other robots could take on roles as combatants.
Credit Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center

I certainly wouldn’t trust the politicians or corporate money-mongers. Heather Goldstone proposes three sources: The Geneva Convention, Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, and/or The Ten Commandments. Whose morals would you want AI to model?

Via at WCAI:

Giving robots morals may sound like a good idea, but it’s a pursuit fraught with its own moral dilemmas. Like, whose morals?

Stop and look around you right now. You’re sitting in front of a computer and, chances are, there’s a phone or some other “smart” device in your vicinity. As our devices get more capable, and we become more reliant on them, there’s increasing hand-wringing over whether our relationships with technology have gone awry.

In some circles, the conversation has a particular urgency to it – because they’re talking about whether or not robots could – or should – be entrusted with life and death decisions, and whether such robots could ever be conferred with anything comparable to our morals.

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Psychopath vs. Empath: the War Between Truth and Deception

good_vs_evil_by_flyinfrogg

Gary ‘Z’ McGee writes at Waking Times:

“The supreme mystery of despotism, its prop and stay, is to keep men in a state of deception, and cloak the fear by which they must be held in check, so that they will fight for their servitude as if for salvation.” –Baruch Spinoza

Are you fighting for your servitude as if for your salvation? Then you have been well-deceived. You have been sheeple-compromised. Your thoughts are not your own. Your actions are not your own. You are in all ways a conditioned puppet who is under the delusion that it is free, and the psychopaths of the world are your uncompromising puppet masters. The questions you need to be asking yourself are these: “Am I willing to do what it takes to become free? Am I ready for the uncomfortableness of undeceiving myself? Would I rather be slapped by the truth or kissed with a lie?

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