Archive for the 'Public Policy' Category
May 16th, 2012 by jdsawyer
If you’re not the kind of obsessive geek I am, you might have missed that yesterday the first major accomplishment in de novo life extension through gene therapy got published. This project has been going on for a while, but up until yesterday, all therapies and attempted engineering have either caused cancer or other degenerative diseases, or just flat not worked in any significant way that’s applicable to humans, because they relied on flipping genetic switches that evolution flipped for us millions of years ago. Now, though, a one-shot gene therapy has been discovered that that successfully increases life-span and health-span by 13-25% in adult mice, and it’s a kind of therapy that humans can actually benefit from (i.e. it does something that our biology doesn’t already do for us).
Reading the (above linked) article late last night got me thinking along lines I’ve posted on before. We’ve all started saying things like “we’re living in the future” because we’ve now got toys that look (and sometimes act) like tricorders, and we have video conferencing and Internet access and other cool stuff, but the world around us often feels quite prosaic, if tumultuous and threatening. And, really, most of the stuff we look at as “new and shiny” are incremental, rather than revolutionary, improvements. They’re welcome and they’re fun, but do they really change the game all that much?
Well, last night I made a list of revolutionary developments in technology (and its applications), business, and science in the last four years. Some look minor, others are hard to wrap one’s head around. In no particular order, here they are:
Artificial Life — life forms invented from scratch by humans. One of the current application projects involves making biological computers.
Lab-grown organs (this first one is actually from 2006, but it’s still way cool) and printable organs
Vaccines manufactured in goat’s milk
Spider silk engineered into goat’s milk for enviro-friendly fibers and body armor.
DuPont begins the process of transitioning from petrochemicals to bio-engineered plastics and chemicals — This is one of a handful of big things that needs to happen to end the fossil fuel era. Details scattered throughout this lecture.
Private space tourist flights — Now open for business.
Private space flight — SpaceX makes the first supply delivery to the international space station later this month.
Asteroid mining — Now open for business. A moderate asteroid contains over a trillion dollars worth of Iron, Nickel, Gold, Platinum, Titanium, and Rare Earth elements (which won’t be rare once the payloads start arriving). The maturation of this industry means 1) Serious reductions in the costs of spaceflight (due to ice extraction and the creation of orbital fuel stations, thus reducing the water and fuel spacecraft have to carry out of the gravity well), 2) The abandonment of terrestrial mines for everything but coal, salt, and similar minerals (no more open-pit mines and their environmental, economic, and human costs), 3) The radical increase in the material wealth of the entire planet as the materials that our everyday tools and luxuries are made of plummet in price, opening up new opportunities for people all over the world to invent new things with materials previously available only to the very wealthy, 4) A serious reduction in greenhouse gasses and demand for coal as smelting and refinement are carried out in space (better and cheaper) instead of on earth, 5) As a side-effect, the creation of an orbital power generation infrastructure that can create surplus electricity (mostly solar) for sale back to Terrestrial markets.
The Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, the world’s most advanced ground car, the research for which is already spawning revolutionary changes to the world’s automotive industry, to the advantage of both consumers and the health of the environment, such as the following item:
The Volkswagen XL1 — A ~300 Miles-Per-Gallon car that hits the market in Britain late this year. Initially planned as a limited test marketing, the next decade will see more and more of this kind of thing, even if the XL1 doesn’t achieve high-volume production status.
The first successful test of the X-51 Waverider, a scramjet capable of going from Sydney Australia to Los Angeles in 90 minutes. This was followed shortly by the unveling of a competing prototype, the Zero Emissions HyperSonic Transport.
The first efforts to build the space elevator are finally underway — they may not succeed, but even if they fail, it should be an instructive failure. Check it out here.
First earth-like extrasolar planets are discovered
Pollution control and toxic cleanup through mushrooms has now been discovered and is beginning to be adopted.
And, the one that started us off today:
Mouse lifespan extended 25% with a single genetic treatment after the mouse is already mature.
This is just what I could come up with off the top of my head. It doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what I’ve seen and read about in the last four years. It’s gonna be socially uncomfortable dealing with the move to abundance materially, socially, and in terms of lifespan, but holy shit, the future snuck in the back door while we were all worried about mortgages.
November 15th, 2011 by jdsawyer
I’ve been holding this post for a while, because the situation is moving so quickly and the feelings are so high, but I’ve had enough people ask me about it that I thought it would be good to have a centralized place to direct them. This post is political, but it’s not partisan. If political analysis of that sort bugs you, feel free to click away.
Continue reading ‘The Judean People’s Front? Or Not?’
September 26th, 2011 by jdsawyer
Warning: This blog post is about politics. Proceed at your own risk.
Yesterday, I had occasion to visit an old friend–a conservative Rancher who’s occasionally been very active in Republican politics, who I hadn’t seen in close to five years.
After the normal catching up, talk turned to writing and ranching, new projects and old, when from nowhere came a question of the species I’d been dreading:
“I just don’t get what the deal is with these homos.”
Continue reading ‘The OTHER Right Wing’
September 11th, 2011 by jdsawyer
“We are at our best when we move together, and we are at our worst when we move together. When our leader was killed by your people, we went mad together. We stayed mad for a very long time, a madness that almost consumed your world, until finally, before it was too late, we woke up together.”
–Delenn, from Babylon 5 Ceremonies of Light and Dark, by J. Michael Straczynzki
The temptation persists to substitute a few nouns…
July 2nd, 2011 by jdsawyer
Neurological pharmacology–a fancy way of saying “what drugs do to brains”–is a subject with which I have a special fascination. Some of them accentuate specific aspects of personality, some create hallucinations and religious experience, some relieve depression, some kick the sex drive or the bonding drive into high gear. In a lot of ways, though, for my money, I’d nominate alcohol as the most interesting for one reason:
In vino, veritas. Pliny the Elder nailed it: Wine tells the truth. It doesn’t make you do things so much as it lets you do things. You can learn a lot about yourself, and about your friends, by watching what happens when they’re well-buzzed.
National holidays can do the same thing to people–and not just because of the amount of alcohol people tend to consume given half an excuse. Like all things, love of one’s country can come in a lot of flavors. Soviet dissidents, for example, loved their country while hating its system–they loved its culture, its geography, its weather, the shared history in which their identity was rooted. Members of totalitarian systems, on the other hand, are trained to identify the system with the country, and to see non-conformity as so unpatriotic as to deserve death. Some people are patriotic about countries where they’ve never lived, so much so that they’ll move across the world to live in them, because they’ve fallen in love with the ideology, or the people, or the culture of that country. You can learn a lot about a person by watching the flavor of their patriotism.
Writing a political thriller series these last few years, I’ve carefully watched the political micro-climates around the world and studied how they relate to the version of love of country I carry around in my own psyche. Call it a love affair with the Jeffersonian vision of freedom: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
This year has been an amazing year around the world for the struggle against different forms of tyranny, and as an Americans it’s been more exciting than I can say to watch the most action-packed year of calculated struggles against tyranny since the late 80s and early 90s (it’s also more than a little embarrassing how little my home culture seems interested in carrying on their struggle on the home front, but that’s a topic for another time). It’s quite possible that the Arab Spring, the Iranian struggles, and the other protests and revolutions around the world will all come to bad ends in the same way that the revolutions of the twentieth century almost all ended in dictatorship, civil war, and genocide; still, I have a thin hope that some of the people who are laying down their lives–for reasons as simple as the next loaf of bread or as idealistic as bringing democracy and universal suffrage to cultures where such notions are without precedent–may have read history and learned from the missteps of the last hundred years.
Because of that, in celebration of the first revolution that actually worked (if imperfectly), I’ve dedicated Free Will (my new book about revolution) as follows:
This volume is dedicated to the men and women
Who sat in Tahrir
Who crossed the Wall in Berlin
Who fell at Tiananmen Square
Who bled in the streets of Tehran
Who lost their lives in Boston
And all those like them before and since.
To them we owe a debt we cannot repay
Save that we make their dream come true
I’ll be seeing you soon, with the rest of the book. Have a safe weekend–and spend it however you want to. The ability to make that choice is a remarkable thing in the history of the world.
June 7th, 2011 by jdsawyer
So, Megan Cox Gurdon of the Wall Street Journal is concerned about the darkness in YA literature. It seems that such stories (written, as they are, for teenagers) might introduce unnecessary dreariness and misery into the otherwise sunny time of adolescence.
It raises the obvious question: At what age does an adult undergo a mandatory brain wipe and forget about what it’s like to be a teenager? Even teenagers with nothing evil happening in their lives directly know friends who have awful things going on. More than that, teenagers are coming to grips with mortality and sex in two important respects: in both cases, they are confronting both the knowledge that they can make decisions that will give them power over the death and over the sexuality of other people, and with the equally uncomfortable realization that other people can have that kind of power over them (and that, at least with death, there will eventually be nothing they can do to stop it). This is to say nothing about their own desire both for sexual gratification and for some (safe) experience of violence and danger. Sex and death, folks. It don’t get more real, or dark, than that.
Continue reading ‘Unsuitable for Children?’
January 31st, 2011 by jdsawyer
As a human being, I am entitled to my goofy ideas–and boy, do I have a lot of them. I can’t help it. I have a brain, and it has to do something while it’s waiting for the teapot to boil. Some people think about knitting, some people think about sex, I tend to think about things far beyond the norm. Hey, I write science fiction, right? It’s kind of my job.
You have goofy ideas too–I know you do, because one of my goofiest ideas is that reality is to some extent knowable (which puts me two goofy steps out from the perspectives of certain Hindus and Buddhists I know personally), and in a universe this big the statistical likelihood of anybody actually having all the right answers to all the possibly questions is pretty much zero.
Still, it’s kind of rude to say someone has goofy ideas, isn’t it? Particularly when you use words with more bite than “goofy”–words like “screwy,” “stupid,” “false,” “questionable,” or worst of all, “wrong.” It rubs a lot of people the wrong way, like it’s contrary to the spirit of tolerance–or, maybe, it devalues the person who holds the goofy idea.
Continue reading ‘The Doctrine of Goofy Ideas’
January 10th, 2011 by jdsawyer
It’s mid January, and time for your vegetables. This year’s first link salad is here–I hope you enjoy this sampling of my weidrness and wanderings from around the web!
Continue reading ‘Link Salad, Jan 10, 2011′
December 27th, 2010 by jdsawyer
Time for your vegetables again — these are some of the highlights of my research journeys hither and yon in the great wasteland of cyberspace. Hope you enjoy!
Continue reading ‘Link Salad 12/27/10′
October 22nd, 2010 by jdsawyer
And, from the kitchen this weekend we have for you a lovely Link Salad, with leaves of history and science, garnished with a healthy dose of whimsy.
But first, I begin with a special treat for my free-wheeling brewer friends. Beer has always been a problem in space — not because of drunk piloting, but because weightlessness does weird things to the sense of taste. There’s also the question of what the bubbles will do to the body, and how drinkable beer will be in zero G anyway. Fortunately, someone is officially working on these problems so that we can take into space with us the drink that made civilization possible in the first place: Click here for Space Beer!
Now, on to the main courses:
Continue reading ‘Link Salad, Oct 22 2010′