Get PJ Media on your Apple

Belmont Club

Most Dangerous Game

June 23rd, 2013 - 3:02 am

From Popular Science, news you can use. The Navy could have the Snowden killer:

In 2008 the Navy demonstrated something called Submarine Over-The-Horizon Organic Capability-launching and controlling a lethal Switchblade drone from a submerged sub. The Switchblade is a one-use drone, powered by a quiet electric motor, that weighs about six pounds and flies up to 50 mph for 15 minutes. …

Switchblade can fly at a height of a few hundred feet, so it is unlikely anyone would notice or recognize a small, silent drone flying in the dark-especially in a busy place like Hong Kong. … The U.S. military and intelligence community also operate a number of other drones which have not yet been acknowledged, including some camouflaged as large birds and designed to operate covertly. These may even have far more impressive capabilities than the Switchblade.

If small power sources become available the combination of submarines and drones open a wealth of possibilities. The Navy can for example, go from microdrones to swarms of insects.

“Insects aweigh my boys, insects aweigh!” However Vijay Kumar of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the men at the forefront of quadrotor robot insects dismisses the idea that these creations will take over the world by themselves.

This is a popular misconception about robots. Can they fail, like a computer does? Sure. Can they deliberately take over the world? No! Could someone use this technology to harm people? Sure! But this is true for everything. Nuclear physics gave us MRIs, but also created nuclear weapons. It’s up to us to manage how technology is used.

But that’s the worrying part, whether the “us” is up to the task. Especially when the “us” is spelled Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Hussein Obama. Can humanity successfully manage the burgeoning capabilities of 21st century science? Freeman Dyson observed that human creativity keeps coming up with curve balls. “Scientific discoveries come from people thinking thoughts that have never been thought before or people using experimental tools that have not been used before” and people who take part in these events often do not realize what they have wrought — or failed to wreak — until years late.

And while our capabilities have been steadily increasing, our wisdom alas, has not. “Information has become cheap, understanding has become expensive. It’s true in history; it’s true in art; it’s true in literature; it’s true in politics.” How that came to be was the subject of Dyson’s article in the New York Times review of books.

The fading of philosophy came to my attention in 1979, when I was involved in the planning of a conference to celebrate the hundredth birthday of Einstein. The conference was held in Princeton, where Einstein had lived, and our largest meeting hall was too small for all the people who wanted to come. A committee was set up to decide who should be invited. When the membership of the committee was announced, there were loud protests from people who were excluded. After acrimonious discussions, we agreed to have three committees, each empowered to invite one third of the participants. One committee was for scientists, one for historians of science, and one for philosophers of science.

After the three committees had made their selections, we had three lists of names of people to be invited. I looked at the lists of names and was immediately struck by their disconnection. With a few exceptions, I knew personally all the people on the science list. On the history list, I knew the names, but I did not know the people personally. On the philosophy list, I did not even know the names.

In earlier centuries, scientists and historians and philosophers would have known one another. Newton and Locke were friends and colleagues in the English parliament of 1689, helping to establish constitutional government in England after the bloodless revolution of 1688. The bloody passions of the English Civil War were finally quieted by establishing a constitutional monarchy with limited powers. Constitutional monarchy was a system of government invented by philosophers. But in the twentieth century, science and history and philosophy had become separate cultures. We were three groups of specialists, living in separate communities and rarely speaking to each other.

When and why did philosophy lose its bite? How did it become a toothless relic of past glories? These are the ugly questions that Jim Holt’s book compels us to ask. Philosophers became insignificant when philosophy became a separate academic discipline, distinct from science and history and literature and religion. The great philosophers of the past covered all these disciplines. Until the nineteenth century, science was called natural philosophy and officially recognized as a branch of philosophy. … Philosophy shrank even further when it became detached from religion and from literature … As a result, science grew to a dominant position in public life.

The same can almost be said of religion. It has gone off into a silent corner and left the field to the creeds of this world, notably Marxism and Islam, who know nothing much about nearly everything, and nearly everything about power. Western civilization no longer links the means and the ends. And so today instead of Newton and Locke we have Holdren and Axelrod.

The unanticipated consequence of this divergence however, has been a diminution of our own freedom. And maybe we will find that the growth of science to “a dominant position in public life” has not necessarily meant that humanity has ridden on its coattails. If man is not the master of his tools he will be a slave to them.

The most striking thing about the present is we no longer consider this a problem. So what if we’re stupid, at least I have an Iphone. I just published a pamphlet titled Rebranding Christianity which basically calls for it to get out of the bricks and mortar game and back into history, in part because among the major faiths, together with Judaism, it holds that we are free and alive and not the playthings of the mysteries we stumble upon. And that’s an idea worth getting back into the public space.

Cambridge University has endowed the Project for Existential Risk, which grows out of the idea that “developments in human technology may soon pose new, extinction-level risks to our species as a whole.” The idea is that it may be far too dangerous to go on, with science, philosophy and history divorced from one another in our heedless way. We are perhaps the most dangerous thing that ever existed on this planet. And we have come to misgive ourselves. It is hard to know whether even a heightened awareness of our journey through the cave of wonders that is the universe; a greater consciousness in the opening of doors, or the shutting of them, will help or hinder us. For we are too clever to tell ourselves the truth.

But whether or not our choices run ill, we owe it to ourselves to make the selections consciously and face our fate as free men. Otherwise some visitor from another planet in the far future may come on the ruins of our once magnificent civilization and tease out of the computer logs man’s last message.

“Oh shit.”


Rebranding Christianity for $3.99
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99
Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
the two great gifts of the USA to the world over the last century or more have been unlimited resources and limited government.

The great issue before the USA and the world since the 1970's has been whether the world of unlimited resources was coming to an end. This question is in the process of being resolved in favor of unlimited resources.

The second question --that of limited government is now the great question in contention. A vote for the amnesty bill in the senate is a vote for unlimited government and a rejection of America's original gift to the world. Why? because amnesty will create a one party state--democrat-- at the federal level. (The democrats already have inter-generational control of Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and California. All they need is Texas or Florida and they have a lock on the white house. Amnesty will give them that.)

With an inter-generational lock on the federal bureaucracy--through control of the white house --the scandals at the IRS and the NSA will be only just the beginning. The question of limited government will be resolved in favor of unlimited government -- to the detriment of not just the USA but also the whole world.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (28)
All Comments   (28)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
the two great gifts of the USA to the world over the last century or more have been unlimited resources and limited government.

The great issue before the USA and the world since the 1970's has been whether the world of unlimited resources was coming to an end. This question is in the process of being resolved in favor of unlimited resources.

The second question --that of limited government is now the great question in contention. A vote for the amnesty bill in the senate is a vote for unlimited government and a rejection of America's original gift to the world. Why? because amnesty will create a one party state--democrat-- at the federal level. (The democrats already have inter-generational control of Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and California. All they need is Texas or Florida and they have a lock on the white house. Amnesty will give them that.)

With an inter-generational lock on the federal bureaucracy--through control of the white house --the scandals at the IRS and the NSA will be only just the beginning. The question of limited government will be resolved in favor of unlimited government -- to the detriment of not just the USA but also the whole world.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
"If small power sources become available the combination of submarines and drones open a wealth of possibilities. The Navy can for example, go from microdrones to swarms of insects." wretchard

Run a search for the headline; "Scientists use 3D printer to create microbatteries smaller than a single GRAIN of sand, paving the way for high-powered flying robot insects" 19 June 2013

"Scientists have used a 3D printer to make linthium-ion microbatteries that can fit into tiny devices that had previously stumped engineers looking to power them for longer periods.

The batteries were constructed from interlaced stacks of tiny battery electrodes, which conduct electricity, that are each smaller than the width of a single human hair.

"The electrochemical performance is comparable to commercial batteries in terms of charge and discharge rate, cycle life and energy densities. We’re just able to achieve this on a much smaller scale" said the co-author of the study, Shen Dillon, assistant professor at University of Illinois."
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
"So what if we’re stupid, at least I have an Iphone."

Back in 2008 Mark Steyn published a comment from a reader that struck me as if I'd just heard an oracle speak: "We're rich enough that we can afford to be stupid." Since then, as I've watched America sliding heedlessly into the abyss, I've felt that that comment will be picked up by historians of the future and used to pinpoint the moment of the Fall of America. That was when America forgot how to think. Five years later, the results of that attitude are even clearer: a decisive percentage of the the American people now think that being rich is simply a characteristic natural to America, like the Appalachian mountains or the Mississippi. It will ALWAYS be there, and stupidity is cost-free. Or at least, if it has a cost, it's "affordable". Sort of like the fad for drinking absinthe in the late 19th century: yeah, you know it's killing your brain cells, but you can spare some in order to enjoy the kick. Many Americans, maybe MOST, really can't imagine that things could ever be different. "We're rich", and that's that. We'll always be rich, everybody will always agree that we SHOULD be rich, and so there's no reason ever to worry. Being stupid has never been a problem before, so why change?
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Paragraphs, sir ... paragraphs.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
The books I read would not have required a paragraph for another 400 words.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
"...a comment from a reader that struck me as if I'd just heard an oracle speak"
You remind me of Kurtz speaking of the Horror, "...like being shot with a diamond."
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxLFdJLSho8
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I haven't given the article the thought it deserves (exterior house repair tasks beckon), but I don't think the author's point is that everyone should become philosopher/scientist/kings. I read it as a type of plea for a return to a more intelligible liberal arts tradition, where a given scientist would be able to locate the probable results of his work within a context, a world view informed by previous study of history and philosophy. Granted, as a former philosophy major, I may be suffering observer bias.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment

David theLast
The Thirty did not kill Socrates. It took the Democracy to do that.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
In another age, the response might be "What difference does it make!" but I mispoke. The Thirty wanted Socrates dead, but indeed Democracy killed him. I think it was only a year or so after the Thirty were overthrown and "Democracy" was restored that Socrates was sentenced. The madness that overtook Athens during and after the Peloponesian War.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment

John William Gardner (8 October 1912 – 16 February 2002) , President of the Carnegie Corporation and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson said, "The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water. "
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Maybe the scientist-philosopher should be thought of like the singer-songwriter: held in higher esteem then somebody who does one or the othe, but not bothr. On the other hand, our science and our philosophy have both advanced and degraded. The best example is the left's belief in global warming where Al Gore declares that it must be true because a "consensus" of scientists are willing to espouse it in return for government grant money. Nobody is able to point out the fallacy in this claim without being viciously attacked as an heretic.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Who the elite are in any area of endeavor has always been the issue. The creative people who have led society in advancement of knowledge have historically been people with wealth and property. Creativity had always been a hobby or leisure activity for creative people with the wherewithal to indulge in it. Modern society assumes that if everyone has leisure and property, everyone can be a scientist and philosopher and do great things. Now we have millions of university grads with few able to function beyond advanced busy work.

The modern world has not come to grips with the unequal distribution of creative ability. Thus, we have "art" that is ugly, "philosophy" and "religion" that guide people to doom, and "science" that condemns mankind as a blight on the planet. Mediocrity is "empowered," and "self-esteem" is supreme.

Under all that noise there are still ultimate standards of reality that nevertheless endure in a world that has rejected standards as an elitist evil concept but can not survive without them. Until society faces the inequality of innate creative abilities, we have mass or mob standards of "excellence" with a drone elected president and awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

The ancient dilemma of choosing Plato's philosopher-king still persists.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I read your pamphlet. Two comments:

1. The early Christians were early adopters of the most important information technology since the invention of parchment and papyrus: the codex. By adopting these poorly bound, prototype books, they could carry their gospels and epistles in pouches, always at the ready. They could perform text searches very quickly as well. These two tasks were much more difficult with scrolls.

2. Not sure if "coolness" is the goal. My opinion is that the goal should be "oneness." Wearing a type of tunic that became popular in Byzantine times sets the clergy apart. So do black shirts and clerical collars. The more ornate vestments are patterned on ancient badges of office, again from late antiquity. Nothing says "I am apart from you" more than wearing a 1,500-year-old outfit! The apostles and missionaries should look like what they are: tough, driven men and women, who are working as hard to build the Kingdom as their predecessors are. The problem in this day is that too many clergy are soft and pale.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
zxnrbl says: Dyson, while a credible physicist, is not a broadly learned man.
Yes, but he dabbles, and even that is more than most. He says what Wittgenstein published is *clear*? Come on now. Then he tells his story of meeting Wittgenstein and his personal eccentricities, and so, I suggest, do most readers find Wittgenstein's writings.

But back to the science. wretchard, what are you saying, shall we discard all this science as a bad deal? Philosophy has certainly suffered since natural philosophy broke loose and went into business on its own as science, as x says it's perhaps overspecialized, but so are we all. Philosophy *of* X is never going to be as reputable as X itself, modern philosophy suffers from eschewing the hard work *of* science but the reverse is true too, few practicing scientists really ever get beyond kindergarten levels of philosophy. Or perhaps it's just that finding individuals who CAN do both is as difficult as finding two-sport athletes, I mean just try hitting a football with a baseball bat or remembering not to tackle the baserunner as he goes by.

And so I suppose with religion and science, there are just so many hours in the day, and you're not likely to excel at either if you split your time between both. Neither can just be assumed, either.

Maybe we haven't found an ideal synthesis, and maybe we have found that neither on its own is sufficient, but what we DID find in the Enlightenment has at least worked better than anything else - openness and dialog. If Mr. Peikoff wants to find a philosophy, that is the one that differentiated the founding of the United States (based on the precedents of Locke and Newton as recited by Dr. Dyson) and that's the one I pray we can keep.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
1 2 3 Next View All