NASA’s pretty confident that December 21, 2012, won’t kick off the end of life as we know it, but what lies beyond might give us a run for our money too. As movies have taught us, the landscape ahead might be glittering and modern — or terrifying and bleak. The remix gurus at Eclectic Method have collected these scenarios, both utopian and nightmarish, and spun them into one mesmerizing video.
Unthinkable as it may be, humanity, every last person, could someday be wiped from the face of the Earth. We have learned to worry about asteroids and supervolcanoes, but the more-likely scenario, according to Nick Bostrom, a professor of philosophy at Oxford, is that we humans will destroy ourselves.
Bostrom, who directs Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, has argued over the course of several papers that human extinction risks are poorly understood and, worse still, severely underestimated by society. Some of these existential risks are fairly well known, especially the natural ones. But others are obscure or even exotic. Most worrying to Bostrom is the subset of existential risks that arise from human technology, a subset that he expects to grow in number and potency over the next century.
Despite his concerns about the risks posed to humans by technological progress, Bostrom is no luddite. In fact, he is a longtime advocate of transhumanism—-the effort to improve the human condition, and even human nature itself, through technological means. In the long run he sees technology as a bridge, a bridge we humans must cross with great care, in order to reach new and better modes of being.
With no instructions, I order the two items through the Presto. Beautifully lit photos let me see what I’m going to get. The UI is intuitive. Within 20 seconds, I’ve sent my order to the kitchen. Before we’d even finished eating, I swiped my card slightly awkwardly into the built-in payment slot, added a tip, and settled up. I would not say that this machine will blow your mind with its technical capabilities, but that’s exactly the point: It just works.
I cannot say for sure that this will be The Future of your restaurant experience, but after talking with E la Carte co-founder Rajat Suri, I’m convinced that some sort of automated ordering system will make its way into your dining experiences. And it’s not because the technology is cool or whizbang or will draw customers. The real reasons are completely economic.
“It costs about a dollar a day per table, it can even go lower depending on if you have sponsors involved because all the alcohol companies want to get involved,” Suri says. “For that, they get about $6 a day per tablet in increased sales. That’s extra desserts, appetizers, drinks. They get about another $5 in extra table turns. If you can fit in one more table per night, that’s worth a lot of money. And some restaurants, though not Calafia, get about $4, $5 extra because they choose to save labor.”
If we can engineer a soldier who can resist torture, would it still be wrong to torture this person with the usual methods? Starvation and sleep deprivation won’t affect a super-soldier who doesn’t need to sleep or eat. Beatings and electric shocks won’t break someone who can’t feel pain or fear like we do. This isn’t a comic-book story, but plausible scenarios based on actual military projects today.
In the next generation, our warfighters may be able to eat grass, communicate telepathically, resist stress, climb walls like a lizard, and much more. Impossible? We only need to look at nature for proofs of concept. For instance, dolphins don’t sleep (or they’d drown); Alaskan sled-dogs can run for days without rest or food; bats navigate with echolocation; and goats will eat pretty much anything. Find out how they work, and maybe we can replicate that in humans.
As you might expect, there are serious moral and legal risks to consider on this path. Last week in the UK, The Royal Society released its report “ Neuroscience, Conflict and Security.” This timely report worried about risks posed by cognitive enhancements to military personnel, as well as whether new nonlethal tactics, such as directed energy weapons, could violate either the Biological or Chemical Weapons Conventions.
While an excellent start, the report doesn’t go far enough. The impact of neural and physical human enhancements is more far-reaching than that, such as to the question of torturing the enhanced. Other issues also pose real challenges to military policies and broader society.
Read more. [Image: US Marine Corps]
Do you wonder why our economy is in such a mess? Do you wonder why the world you grew up with and thought you knew doesn’t seem to be the world you live in? Do you feel less safe today than you did 10 years ago? Do you wonder why the most powerful nation in the world still feels unsafe? Do you sometimes wonder if the nation will survive and wonder how it will survive? Are you concerned about how much foreign ownership of business there is?
These are all hallmarks of information revolutions. For example, when the printing press was introduced, Spain was the most powerful nation with a cosmopolitan outlook, support for science and exploration and unheard of wealth. Yet as that information revolution worked its way through Europe, it became economically out competed; a political, cultural, and scientific backwater. They were bested by their former colony, Holland (The Spanish Netherlands) and the little no-account island upstart country – England. Trade was almost entirely taken over by foreigners. Their gifted and brilliant finance minister Gonzalez de Cellorigo lamented,
“… there are rich who loll at ease or poor who beg, and we lack people of the middle sort, whom neither wealth nor poverty prevents from pursuing the rightful kind of business enjoined by Natural Law”[i]"
Really, the question isn’t how will we feed 9 billion by 2050? The question is how many people will we really have and what will they be eating?
Poverty of course plays a big role in both these issues because, as Juergen Voegele, director, agriculture and rural development, the World Bank, pointed out to Revkin: “We already have close to one billion people who go hungry today, not because there is not enough food in the world but because they cannot afford to buy it.”
Raising incomes, or course, is a difficult nut — one that doesn’t succumb to a solution hatched in a lab. But more income means better-educated families, and even declining population growth. The flip side, though, is that rising incomes are also associated with higher meat consumption, which can get us closer to option five on Smil’s lifestyle if we are not careful. So the best case: to raise incomes and to incentivize less resource-intensive food consumption.
But we don’t need to become vegans to save the world (which would doom us even if we did because so few would go along). In many developing countries, such an approach would amount to culinary imperialism, given the importance of meat for both income generation, the result of having a cow or goat or two, and as a source of much-needed calories for children from milk and scant meat. Never mind the use of manure to grow crops. We’re not talking about factory farms here, but animals that play a central role in cultures and livelihoods.
Read the rest of the story at The Atlantic.