17 February 2015

Meta-adaptation as a categorical imperative

Having read some stuff recently on evolutionary biology and human nature (Edward O. Wilson, for example), I'm more convinced than ever that humanity really is just at the point where a critical binary decision point is upon us. Either we adapt to our own (in-progress) technological adaptation (sort of meta-adaptation), and learn to control it, so that it permits our continued existence as a planetary species in a stable, life-sustaining environment, or we spiral downward into extinction. It's the existential imperative of sophont life forms everywhere they may exist in the Universe. Everything else, including the unchecked aggression that could prevent the level of intraspecific cooperation necessary to achieve such meta-adaptation, is subsumed within this imperative.

16 February 2015

Bionic biofuels and molecular synthesis from sunlight: implications for the big picture

There's an article in Scientific American about how "bionic" systems are going to be better than plants at producing biofuels and other useful molecules using the energy of sunlight. I think this is a milestone, and extremely interesting. It's inevitable, I would argue, that as human understanding of chemistry and energetics increases, the time must come when artificial systems outperform natural ones at the particular purpose for which they are designed (since, after all, evolution results in adaptation to natural environments, not particular human purposes). There is no reason at all to be resistant to this kind of technology. In the future, the extent to which we are able to consciously and deliberately minimize our adverse impact on the Earth's natural environments will be precisely the extent to which those environments are able to continue to exist.

Human "interference" with nature cannot be avoided. If one group of people altruistically control their behavior in this regard, another will not. The only option is to understand nature fully, serve human purposes in such a way as to avoid destruction of natural environments, and thereby create positive synergy. The alternative is the opposite: downward spiral and extinction.

13 February 2015

Ron Dermer should be asked to leave the US

Said before and I'll say it again, short of actually declaring him persona non grata, the Administration should inform the Israeli government that Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador, has become someone with whom the US government can no longer work productively, and if they want to maintain cordial and more-than-cordial relations with our country, they should withdraw him tout de suite and appoint someone else. Dermer has shown himself all too willing to act as virtually a Republican operative, which it TOTALLY inappropriate for a diplomat.

Fact is, Netanyahu himself is acting as virtually a Republican operative, but this is how it works. The Ambassador is the surrogate for the head of state. If the head of state does something that crosses the line, it's the Ambassador who is expelled. In this case, the ambassador is also acting totally out of line, but the more nuanced response would be to say, "Look, we've noticed. So pull him out and cut it out. Or things will get worse for you, not better." This is the kind of message that bullies like Netanyahu understand.

11 February 2015

"Geo-engineering" to address climate change ?

See this

I agree, in general, that poorly thought out "geo-engineering" is a bad idea, but I have come to believe that the time to PREVENT climate change is probably already past, and serious, risky, probably even desperate MITIGATION measures (which will inevitably include this kind of 'geo-engineering') will probably be necessary. And if such efforts are possible, and the situation gets as bad as it likely will, someone in the World will do them, whether the big Liberal Democracies do it or not. Just the facts, ma'm.

That being the case, we had better make sure the science is there, and sound, so I actually think that research into what may work and what definitely doesn't should not be suppressed, but encouraged. What's important is to UNDERSTAND the possible dangers, as well as the possible benefits, and figure out how to control for them, now, while there's still time to do carefully limited and controlled experiments.

09 February 2015

Turning CO-2 into rock?

Count me among the severe skeptics of "carbon sequestration," which I believe is, for the most part, a fraud perpetrated by a fossil fuel industry desperate to pull the wool over the public's eyes on the effects of their pollution. But we have to look at every possible solution, and mitigation, to the world's climate crisis. Including researching the possibility of extracting greenhouse gas from the atmosphere and processing it into the Earth. After all, this IS how the Earth itself maintains an isostasy of CO2 long term in the atmosphere, so there is no reason, in principle, that intentional artificial processes can't have the same effect.

See this.  

Artificial Intelligence the current greatest existential threat to humanity? (!)


I'm in the camp of the ostriches on this one (somewhat), because I disbelieve, for philosophical reasons, in artificial consciousness, and because I tend to think that people will have enough instinct for self-preservation to avoid giving real power and control over human life to machines. (Note an important distinction between artificial intelligence, which can be mindless algorithm, and
artificial consciousness. And I admit I may be very, very wrong). Anyway, these are the big quotes from the piece.

Bill Gates:

“I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence,” Gates wrote. “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”

Here’s what Elon Musk had to say:

"I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out."

07 February 2015

What to do about corrupt special interest influence in government

I posted this as a comment on Facebook (slightly edited), but it represents my long-held opinion. I think this problem is so pervasive, and so destructive, that only a "root and branch" approach has any possibility of working:

I concluded long ago that not only do we need public financing of (short) political campaigns, but it should be illegal to take any good or service from anyone for any reason while campaigning or in public office, with severe penalties. If you can't live with that, don't run for office. (OK, there would have to be exceptions for presents from immediate family members... but that's it). And any quid pro quo that shows up after the official leaves office (such as job offers from regulated industries, lobbying jobs, etc.), also should be illegal. Officials should learn to err on the side of caution, lest they spend a few years eating prison fare. Unenforceable? I think not... it's no worse than, in fact in many ways similar to, laws against insider trading, which don't work perfectly but which do work to some degree to "keep 'em honest."