Most Dangerous Game

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.

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“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
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