I am a firm believer that technology can sometimes make you “dumber.” Sometimes having “an app for that” can lead to the loss of basic skills — and we become dependent on a machine to do actions for us. Calculators have dulled our ability to do basic math, texts have degraded the English language to sentences like “C U L8r,” and Mapquest has made us paper-map illiterate. The infiltration of technology into autos is no different… soon we might not even have to know how to drive! (And that would be a sad day.)
Cars are now packed with the newest examples of the “cutting edge” — but technology and computers aren’t always the best thing. Some features are “so smart” they can be downright annoying or end up being completely unhelpful. Here is my take on some of the cool features available today… but are they really enriching our lives or are they making us lazy, easily-annoyed, distracted drivers?
The Sun reported today:
Police confirmed one man has died who is believed to be the soldier.
David Cameron vowed Britain would “never buckle” in the face of terrorism and condemned the “absolutely sickening” attack.
In footage, obtained by The Sun, one of the terrorists speaks directly in to the camera bragging about the horrific attack boasting the public and their “children” were targets of extremists.
He says: “We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you…Your people will never be safe.
“In our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe.
“Remove your governments they don’t care about you.
“You think David Cameron is going to get caught in the street when we start busting our guns you think politicians are going to die? No it’s going to be the average guy, like you, and your children.
“So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so can all live in peace.”
image courtesy shutterstock / Vadim Sadovski
Check out Walter’s previous articles in this ongoing series Thursday mornings exploring video games, cultural villains, and American values at PJ Lifestyle. From May 2: “Beating Back the Nazi “Sickness,” and last week: “What Zombies Teach Us About Human Nature.” And also see Walter’s A Reason For Faith series, reprinted last week here. In these four articles Walter begins to formalize his task of synthesizing the Judeo-Christian tradition with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and Tea Party activism. - DMS
In one of the most vivid dreams I can recall, I witnessed the landing of a plainly alien spaceship. It came lucidly, dancing on the edge of wakefulness, informed by enough of my rousing consciousness that it felt particularly real. I remember the feeling that my feet were glued to the ground, that I couldn’t move if I wanted to, not on account of some external force, but due to an overwhelming sense of awe and anticipation. The one thought dominating my mind: everything is about to change.
Though it was only a dream, I retain the memory as vividly as though it were of an actual experience and believe I will respond similarly if ever confronted by a true interplanetary delegation. Something about that kind of moment, when the veil lifts upon an existential mystery, produces an irresistible thrill. Perhaps that tops the list of reasons why our popular culture remains ever fascinated by the prospect of extraterrestrial life.
Aliens have become such a prolific device in our entertainment that we sometimes take them for granted. Like a modern deus ex machina, aliens can be relied upon to suspend disbelief in an otherwise inconceivable scenario. (How does Superman fly? Simple, he’s an alien!) Extraterrestrials rank alongside Nazis, zombies, and generic terrorists as the most common villains found in video games. Unlike those others, however, aliens may also be allies. Nothing inherent to extraterrestrial life demands it be villainous. Beings from other worlds often act as mirrors for examining the human condition, when not merely lurking among shadow and neon strobe.
It’s probably no coincidence that the advent of ufology, which is an actual word in the dictionary meaning the study of unidentified flying objects, coincides with the initial proliferation of aviation and the early years of the space age. We began to look up into the sky right about the time we realized there was nothing left to find over the horizon. In times past, when the known world was still defined by the flickering edge of torchlight, we imagined unspeakable monsters much closer to home. Spirits, ghosts, goblins, ghouls, fairies, vampires — all were the alien invaders and abductors of their time. As we have come to dismiss them as infeasible and childish, our imagination turns to the stars, where the realm of possibility remains seemingly infinite.
Certainly, we can see how aliens have stepped in to fill the role of menacing ghoul. Ridley Scott’s original Alien was essentially a horror film, a science-fiction creature feature. While the execution was masterful, the formula proved well-established and has been revisited ever since.
We have a new rivalry: the Google self-driving car vs. the General Motors “Super Cruise.” The tech world is all revved up about autonomous cars; it’s like Minority Report meets Back to the Future! But before we start singing “A Whole New World” from Aladdin, we need to take a step back and evaluate the feasibility of the implementation of the technology.
Cars are already available with semi-autonomous features: cruise control, automatic breaking (for objects that enter the car’s sensor fields), parallel park assist, and new features that guide cars back into their lane if they veer too much. The new Cadillac “Super Cruise” is attempting to one-up these features: it can steer the car within the lane, and will make the driver’s seat vibrate if the car veers out of bounds. It can also brake and accelerate to maintain a “selectable distance” between the car and those in front of it. Proponents of semi-autonomous, and future (fully) autonomous, cars argue that this technology will lead to safer roads, less accidents, better gas mileage, and less need for mistake-prone humans to be driving. I disagree. What about the imperfect nature of our new chauffeurs: computers?
SXSW Monday: I’m here today to check more sessions and events out. Most that I’m interested in are in the afternoon. In the morning, a man needs his coffee, and as I’m walking from my parked car — wherever that is, somewhere blocks away from the action — to the convention center, a man asks me out of the clear blue sky:= “Hey, would you like some free coffee?”
Um, yeah. I would. Very much. He ushers me over to this trailer, which it turns out belongs to GE.
Those two white arms are robots. The barista attaches a syringe to to what, I guess, is its hand. The syringe is full of condensed coffee. She doesn’t start you on a coffee IV, which is a pity.
They snap a photo of you, or a logo that you’re wearing or have handy.
I happened to be wearing my PJTV shirt…
So, after a few seconds, the robot gets the image and passably writes it onto the foam on top of the coffee.
Thanks to Vivian at RetailMeNot for letting me snap pics while the robot was making her coffee. Click on the next page to see the holographic tour guide.
That is the question sought to be answered by the new book Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing by Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman, who discuss the pros and cons of a 3D world where we could possibly have a machine that could make everything. The authors state “[in] the not-so-distant future, people will 3D print living tissue, nutritionally calibrated food, and ready-made, fully assembled electronic components.”
The book looks at the history of 3D printing and how it came about and from there, the chapters discuss everything from what these machines can make to the legal difficulties that will follow from the technology. From the Backcover:
Businesses will be liberated from the tyrannies of economies of scale
Factories and global supply chains will shrink, finding themselves closer to their customers
The law, already reeling from digital media, will once again need to be redefined
Our environment might breathe easier in a 3D printed economy, or it could choke on a rising tide of plastic
3D printed digital and intelligent, adaptive materials will change our relationship with the physical world
What do you think of 3D technology: Is it the next best thing or will we choke on a rising tide of plastic?
AUSTIN — Some of the best transportation thinkers in Texas and across the United States are being upstaged this week by a car that drives itself.
About 1,400 people are attending the eighth annual Texas Transportation Forum through Tuesday in Austin. But while those experts meet in Hilton conference rooms and grapple with tough issues such as how to handle an increase in freight-hauling trucks on the roads, or how to pay for highways under a tightened state budget, it’s the Google “self-driving car” parked outside the downtown Austin hotel’s entrance that’s getting the most hubbub.
“It would probably do a better job driving than we do,” quipped Linda Thomas of Longview, who on Monday afternoon took turns shooting snapshots of the Google car with her husband, Charles.
The car is among a fleet of about 10 vehicles developed during the past eight years by researchers at Google and Stanford University. Google representatives said that on Tuesday they plan to take the car, a Lexus hybrid, for a spin on Austin-area roads, including infamously congested Interstate 35.
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
Today I’m at the Dallas Sci-Fi Expo (which is actually taking place in Irving). Kevin Sorbo and Morena Baccarin will be here today and tomorrow, along with stars from Back to the Future, Battlestar Galactica, Tron, comic book artists, and of course, just about every superhero and villain imaginable.
Let’s walk the exhibition floor and see who turns up.
I don’t know what they’re selling, but they had a lot of buyers.
Even a Sith.
Today’s PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf selection comes From Ed Driscoll’s “Far from Complete: Great Books Missing in the Kindle Format” article:
Profiles of the Future, by Arthur C. Clarke: A quarter century before Star Trek: The Next Generation displayed its first replicator onscreen, Clarke was writing about them in Profiles, along with plenty of other futuristic technology; some we now take for granted (such as the Internet and the Kindle) and others that are still on the drawing board. Again, why isn’t such a forward-thinking book not an ebook as well?
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
Publication Date: April 28, 2009
In 2004, Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, MD, published Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. Their groundbreaking book marshaled thousands of scientific studies to make the case that new developments in medicine and technology will allow us to radically extend our life expectancies and slow down the aging process. Soon, our notion of what it means to be a 55-year-old will be as outdated as an eight-track tape player.
TRANSCEND: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever presents a practical, enjoyable program so that readers can live long enough (and remain healthy long enough) to take full advantage of the biotech and nanotech advances that have already begun and will be occurring at an accelerating pace during the years ahead. To help readers remember the nine key components of the program, Ray and Terry have arranged them into a mnemonic:
Talk with your doctor
This easy-to-follow program will help readers transcend the boundaries of our genetic legacy and live long enough to live forever.
New Year’s Resolution #6: Stop sacrificing health on the altar of workaholism. Saturday Bookshelf suggestions explore various diet and exercise regiments.
Shutterstock image courtesy / Andrea Danti
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
Glenn Reynolds talks to Professor James D. Miller of Smith College. Miller is the author of Singularity Rising. Will there come a time when technology becomes so smart that it will alter human civilization? Can you survive what Miller calls the singularity? Find out why this is not science fiction, on this InstaVision.
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
In 1967 the Beatles song “When I’m Sixty-Four” appeared on the now iconic Sgt. Pepper album, and many, including this writer, considered age 64 “old.” (Of course, I was only 12, but 64 was old at that time.)
But when General Norman Schwarzkopf recently died at age 78, I did not consider him old.
So what happened to change my view of when old age begins?
Well for starters, I got old along with the 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 who are affectionately known as “baby boomers.” Boomers transformed America at every stage of life. Unfortunately, our nation was totally unprepared for all the change we brought every step of the way and now is no different.
Last year at an Aging in America conference, Ken Dychtwald, CEO of the consulting firm AgeWave, summed it up like this:
“We weren’t prepared for the boomers,” he said. “There weren’t enough hospitals or pediatricians. There weren’t enough bedrooms in our homes. There weren’t enough schoolteachers or textbooks or playgrounds. The huge size of this generation has strained institutions every step of the way.”
Then Dychtwald compared his New Jersey high school, with such overcrowding that students had to go to classes in shifts, to what’s in store for aging baby boomers in the coming decades.
“The boards of education had 13 years to see this coming. What was the surprise there?” said Dychtwald. “But it’s the same today with senior care and geriatric medicine and continuum of care. It’s staggering how unprepared we are.”
Yes, it is staggering indeed — and, as the saying goes, “we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World stands as one of the most creative scripts produced in 2012. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley play an odd couple united on a quest to reconnect with their respective pasts before a meteor destroys all life on Earth. Dramatically deviating from the clichés of the disaster genre, Seeking a Friend presents a doomed humanity that takes the apocalypse fairly well. While including requisite scenes of panic and riot, the film’s characters strive toward some sense of relationship in their final days.
We too seem to be taking the apocalypse pretty well. Our world hurls toward its scheduled end on December 21st according to predictions based on the ancient Mayan calendar. It’s something folks like Art Bell, George Noory, and their overnight talk radio guests have been warning us about for years. It serves as the subject of several books, a keyword of countless websites, the inspiration for a variety of B movies, and the premise behind Roland Emmerich’s consummate disaster film titled simply 2012. After years of hype, the date approaches. Yet there is a conspicuous lack of panic.
The smart money bets on the continued survival of both humanity and our planet. As my friend and PJ Media colleague Sunny Lohmann recently quipped on Twin Cities News Talk, the only thing sure to come beyond the winter solstice is more daylight. Predictions of Armageddon have an impressive failure rate.
Be that as it may, we should not completely dismiss the potential for a kind of apocalypse. No, I don’t mean the fiscal cliff, Obama’s second term, or an imminent economic meltdown. I’m talking about an apocalypse of the kind which has come many times before, a moment in history when a culture unravels under a development so overwhelming that established institutions pass into ruin. Think of the Aztecs and their encounter with Spanish conquistadors. They scurried about, minding their own business, when the white man arrived to unmake their world.
At a moment like that, two things happen. Newly introduced technology bowls over indigenous methods, and a new way of thinking transmits through that technical superiority. That kind of apocalypse, one which reforms our world and thus destroys our way of life, looms not only possible, but anticipated.
While powerful transcanial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the frontal lobe of the brain can alleviate symptoms of depression, those receiving the treatment did not report effects on sleep or arousal commonly seen with antidepressant medications, researchers have found.
“People’s sleep gets better as their depression improves, but the treatment doesn’t itself cause sedation or insomnia.” said Dr. Peter B. Rosenquist, Vice Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Health Sciences University.
The finding resulted from a secondary analysis of a study of 301 patients at 23 sites comparing the anti-depressive effects of the Neuronetics Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Therapy System to placebo treatment in patients resistant to antidepressant medications. These initial findings, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry in 2007, were the primary evidence in the FDA’s approval of TMS for depression.
Related at PJ Media today:
Every once in a while, theres news which reminds us that were living in the age of accelerating change. This is one of those times: A new project has been announced in which scientists at the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex are hoping to create the first accurate computer simulation of a honey bee brain — and then upload it into an autonomous flying robot.
This is obviously a huge win for science — but it could also save the world. The researchers hope a robotic insect could supplement or replace the shrinking population of honey bees that pollinate essential plant life.
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
The promise of home 3-D printing is that you can construct anything you want from the comfort and convenience of your own living room. For a group whose mission is to 3-D print a working pistol from scratch, however, that promise has been revoked.
Defense Distributed, a collective led by UT-Austin law student Cody Wilson, has raised $20,000 online in a bid to design and develop the world’s first entirely 3-D printed gun, which it calls the Wiki Weapon. If it succeeds, not only will it build its own prototype, it will share the design publicly, so that anyone around the world with a 3-D printer can print his own pistol. It’s sort of the opposite of “Don’t try this at home.”
In a promotional video, Wilson waxes philosophical about the project. “The Defense Distributed goal isn’t really personal armament,” he says. “It’s more the liberation of information. It’s about living in a world where you can just download the file for the thing you want to make in this life. As the printing press revolutionized literacy, 3-D printing is in its moment.”
Turns out the company that leased Defense Distributed its 3-D printer doesn’t see it that way. In a letter to Wilson dated Sept. 26, the legal counsel for Stratasys Inc. informed Wilson that it was cancelling his lease of the company’s uPrint SE printer. “It is the policy of Stratasys not to knowingly allow its printers to be used for illegal purposes,” the company wrote, noting that Wilson lacked a federal license for manufacturing firearms.
More Futurism at PJ Lifestyle:
Chinese hospitals are introducing a new machine which can extract sperm for donors.
According to China’s Weibo social platform the automatic sperm extractors are being introduced in a Nanjing hospital, capital of Jiangsu province.
The pink, grey and white machine has a massage pipe at the front which apparently can be adjusted according to the height of its user.
Speed, frequency, amplitude and temperature are also controllable.
It has a small screen on the top which plays films for the user to help them with the extraction process.
The director of the urology department at Zhengzhou Central Hospital said the machine was being used by infertility patients who are finding it difficult to retrieve sperm the old fashioned way.
A website which is selling the machine for $2,800 promoting it stating ‘it can give patients very comfortable feeling.’
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
In the recent debates here at PJ Lifestyle about what swimsuit styles were acceptable for women trying to look sexy but inappropriate for little girls heading for a fun day at the beach, one of the commenters wanted to know why I thought more in terms of a future daughter rather than a son (he also assumed I was a reincarnation of Andrea Dworkin):
You are very persistant in wanting people to “show me a swimsuit that you find objectionable and would not want your daughter wearing”. I’ve told you what my daughters liked. Now I must tell you what I wouldn’t get them? Why? Why is knowing that so important?
Finally, are you planning on raising your children(you keep saying ‘daughter’–you’re very focused on the notion that your child will be a girl, why?) in the San Fernando Valley? Do you think your one man crusade on PJM will change the Valley in the next ten or fifteen years?
Remember the final refrain of the classic Queen song “Who Wants To Live Forever?”
Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
Forever is our today
Who has forever anyway…
If you’re like most people, you probably answered that in your head with “ME! I want to live forever!” It does sound appealing, doesn’t it? The idea that you would never die as long as you kept your head was what really captured people’s imagination about Highlander. The same goes for vampires. The big difference between vampires and other much more boring supernatural creatures like goblins, ghouls, ogres, and pixies is that they can live for thousands of years…. like God. Just imagine what you could do, learn, and become if you had thousands of years to do it! Unfortunately, there may be a few downsides people haven’t considered…
1) Sometimes, death is a mercy.
We get this when it comes to animals. When a pet’s whole life becomes misery, we put it down. Even though we don’t do the same with other humans because of political and cultural reasons, we understand it. But, if you were immortal and healthy, why would you ever WANT to die?
In Greek mythology, the immortal Prometheus was chained on a mountain, and each night a vulture came to rip out his liver and eat it.
In Ninja Scroll, the immortal Lord Himuro Gemma is washed into the sea by a wave of boiling gold, which hardens, traps him, and takes him to the bottom.
In the TV show Angel, the main character, who is a vampire, is sealed in a metal box and dropped to the bottom of the ocean.
In the TV show Supernatural, the unkillable Doc Benton is chained in a refrigerator and buried alive.
Imagine being caught in a landslide, being trapped in a plane that goes down over the ocean, or even being captured and experimented on by a government trying to learn the secrets of your immortality. There are times when dying beats all the other options.
Over at Acculturated this week editor Emily Esfahani Smith highlights a disturbing development, the rise of services that help couples choose the gender of their baby. Couples are paying tens of thousands of dollars to make sure they have girls (the reverse of what we commonly see in China and India), and are heartbroken when they end up with a boy:
Simpson was inseminated with the slower sperm that same day. Fifteen weeks later, she asked a colleague at the hospital to sneak in an after-hours ultrasound. The results felt like a brick landing on her stomach: another boy.
“I lay in bed and cried for weeks,” said Simpson, now 36, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy. She took a job in the operating room so she would no longer have to work with women who were giving birth to girls.
Even more disturbing is her reaction when she finally did get her baby girl:
“My husband and I stared at our daughter for that first year. She was worth every cent. Better than a new car, or a kitchen reno.”
Aside from the obvious hints at eugenics that can be seen here, what does this say about how we view children? From the high rates of abortions of babies with Down syndrome or other disabilities to choosing the sex of our babies, are we beginning to view our kids as accessories? As “things” meant to bring us happiness? When parents are paying to make sure the baby they have is the one they want, it really is like buying a new car or renovating a kitchen. It’s a purchase. It puts the child on the same level as the little chihuahua Paris Hilton carried around in her purse: a designer object meant to be used as a status symbol or to make the parent feel good.
And where do we go from here? What if we could choose our children’s eye color, hair color, height? Would we? The reason this is disturbing is because it allows parents to play God… to engineer perfect children, and toss out the not-so-perfect ones. Along the way, would we lose our humanity as well?
Science may allow us to create designer babies, but that doesn’t mean we should.
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
Those crazy kids at Gizmodo had a story today called “Scientists Invent Method to Create Memories in Brains” that got a lot of attention.
It sounds like a Philip K. Dick story. Sadly Gizmodo is about as reliable on science reporting as their corporate sibling Gawker is on politics, but the actual report is interesting, and even pretty hopeful.
The real paper is ”Mnemonic Representations of Transient Stimuli and Temporal Sequences in Rodent Hippocampus In Vitro,” and it describes an interesting experiment: the researchers at Case Western, Ben W. Strowbridge and Robert A. Hyde, dissected out little fragments of a structure in a rat’s brain called the hippocampus, put them on glass, and stimulated them. They were able to show that the little bits of hippocampus changed their activity in a way that was similar to what happened in rat hippocampus in live rats who were exposed to some simple stimulus. (I picked up a nice picture fron an NIH publication that shows where the hippocampus is.)