It seems the first Earthly colonists to Mars may be bacteria. Only a few years ago everyone assumed that harsh conditions in space would kill any Earthly hitchhikers, but that’s no longer a safe assumption; discover and study of extremophiles has shown that some bugs can live damn near anywhere.
Lawrence Livermore has discovered element 117. The new element has not been named; given the predilection for naming these super-heavy elements after Roman dieties, I would suggest the name Penianium after a minor Roman god of poverty. Why? Because it’s funny, in a mildly juvenile way. Sound it out. Right?
It’s waaay too early to start handicapping the 2016 Presidential elections, but the 2014 mid-terms are not all that far off – and they don’t bode too well for the party that currently holds the White House and the Senate. This just in from the Washington Free Beacon: Shellacking II: The Sequel. Excerpt:
Let’s be empirical. The Democrats, according to one political science model, have a one percent chance of recapturing the House in 2014. According to other models, the Republicans are either “slight favorites” or just plain favorites to control the Senate next year. (On Thursday, the New York Times forecast a 54 percent chance of a Republican Senate takeover.) The models can change, of course. That’s what models do. And models can be wrong—they often are, in fact. But, for the time being, the same models that our educated classes trumpeted during the 2012 election predict a happy day for Republicans on Nov. 4. And so I, in turn, am happy to base my analysis on them.
Mind you predictions are notoriously hard to make, especially when they’re about the future. Mid-terms tend to go badly for the party in power, but so far – and only so far – this mid-term looks like it’s shaping up to be a 1994-style debacle for the Democrats.
There’s one big difference, though, between 1994 and 2014. Bill Clinton was in the White House in 1994, and President Clinton was and is one of the canniest political operators of our time. He was capable and smart enough to realize that, when his first mid-term went so badly against him, a change of course was in order. He did change course, tacking back to his left-of-center, southern Democrat roots, and was largely successful for the rest of his two terms.
Not so for Barack Obama. Never in yr. obdt.’s lifetime has a President been so tone-deaf to the electorate; even after his 2010 shellacking he did not change course, but stayed true to his Hyde Park urban liberal roots – a longs way to the left of mainstream America.
Bill Clinton, whatever his faults, had some idea how Americans really think. Unlike Barack Obama, Bill Clinton actually lived in that world before moving into the rarefied atmosphere of Oxford.
However, there is hope for the Democrats: As the Beacon concludes:
Will the clouds still be out for the president on Election Day? After the experience of 2012 I am venturing no predictions. Some unexpected event will have to occur, something bizarre will have to happen, to bring the Democrats good fortune, to brighten the sky for Obama and for his party. Fortunately for him, there is a major, long-lived American institution that specializes in making life easier for liberals.
In the latest Spike Jonze movie, Her, an operating system called Samantha evolves into an enchanting, self-directed intelligence with a will of her own. Samantha makes choices that do not harm humanity, though they do leave viewers feeling a bit sadder.
In his terrific new book, Our Final Invention, documentarian James Barrat argues that visions of an essentially benign artificial general intelligence (AGI) like Samantha amount to silly pipe dreams. Barrat believes artificial intelligence is coming, but he thinks it will be more like Skynet.
In the Terminator movies, Skynet is an automated defense system that becomes self-aware, decides that human beings are a danger to it, and seeks to destroy us with nuclear weapons and terminator robots. Barrat doesn’t just think that Skynet is likely. He thinks it’s practically inevitable.
Is it really inevitable?
At present we are in the midst of mankind’s third great cultural revolution. The Agricultural Revolution made it possible for people to produce more than they consumed; it made possible trade, a division of labor, the birth of villages, towns, cities.
Later, the Industrial Revolution gave us mass production, factories, consumer goods; it gave us railroads, automobiles, aircraft, travel, and leisure time. It gave us the first modern standard of living.
Now, we find ourselves in the Information Revolution, and it will be as world-changing as the first two – it already has been, even now, in its infancy. Who is to know what the next hundred years will bring?
Barrat concludes with no grand proposals for regulating or banning the development of artificial intelligence. Rather he offers his book as “a heartfelt invitation to join the most important conversation humanity can have.” His thoughtful case about the dangers of ASI gives even the most cheerful technological optimist much to think about.
Much to think about – but predictions are notoriously hard to make, especially when they’re about the future. AI may prove difficult to produce, and fickle when it’s realized – or it may be as predictable and reliable as the rising sun, and as gentle as the morning rain. We can’t know, and won’t – until it happens.
Has the once and former Mayor Bloomberg overextended his gun-banning efforts? Maybe so. Excerpt:
A mere 10 days after former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his new anti-gun coalition Everytown for Gun Safety in the New York Times, former Pennsylvania Gov. and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, one of the most prominent members of its advisory board, has resigned from the group.
No one should be surprised.
“When I signed on as an adviser to Everytown,” Ridge said, “I looked forward to a thoughtful and provocative discussion about the toll gun violence takes on Americans. After consultation with Everytown, I have decided that I am uncomfortable with their expected electoral work.”
It’s an early embarrassment for Bloomberg’s latest effort to buy the Second Amendment back from the Constitution, but one that is sure to be repeated over the coming months — if Everytown even lasts that long.
First of all – thinking people should take issue with Gov. Ridge’s use of the idiotic term “gun violence.” Guns can not commit violence; they are not motive agents. As inanimate objects, firearms are capable of being neither good nor bad; they can only be tools. People can be good or bad, and it’s important to note that Mayor Bloomberg and his ilk favor acts of legislation that will only affect good people – and which bad people will ignore.
That, True Believers, is the ultimate fallacy of gun control legislation. Laws only affect the law-abiding – and the savage hypocrisy of fools like Bloomberg, themselves surrounded by layers of armed guards, is that they would deprive the peaceable and law-abiding citizens of the country of their best and most effective means of self-defense.
Bloomberg may be losing influence, but what he really deserves is derision, for his thoughtless and foolish stance on this issue.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is probably looking a bit smugger than usual, if that’s at all possible. In the latest commerce-war news between Texas and California—a battle which California appears to be losing badly—Toyota has announced it’s moving its headquarters from the Golden State to the Lone Star State.
As a result, 3,000 jobs will be transferred (from) California to Texas. Not everybody will be going, though. According to the Associated Press, 2,300 jobs will remain in California after the move. But before we mock high-tax, high-regulation California for getting another kick in the moneybasket, let’s see how Perry lured Toyota there:
Perry, who made two visits to California to lure employers to his state, said Texas offered Toyota $40 million in incentives from the taxpayer-funded Texas Enterprise Fund. The Republican governor said Toyota is expected to invest $300 million in the new headquarters.
Some folks would call what Governor Perry is doing corporate welfare – Mr. Perry probably calls it canny politics. Both sides would have a legitimate point. But what does Toyota think?
Toyota, obviously, thinks there are good reasons for relocating a portion of their American enterprise to Texas. They aren’t alone. Texas has a reputation for being as friendly to business as California is hostile. We have no way of knowing if Toyota may have made the move if Texas hadn’t sweetened the pot, but Texas did, and Toyota did – and there we are.
The fact is, all of the several states engage in similar acts of bribery enticement when major corporations are considering a move. It’s just that Texas, for a variety of reasons, seems to be more successful than most other states of late. True Believers everywhere are invited to investigate and contemplate the possible reasons for themselves.
It should come as a surprise to just about nobody that Chicago is the most corrupt big city in America, and long has been. The setting for the godfather of all gangster movies – Scarface, the Shame of a Nation, starring Paul Muni as a thinly disguised Al Capone, directed by Howard Hawks — Chicago has flaunted its outlaw status in the country’s face for nearly a century. And continues to do so, now that one of its own occupies the White House.
A colleague of mine who spent much of his life in Chicago often repeats a truism about Illinois politics, one that posits Illinois Governors serve two terms: One as Governor, one in prison. Chicago is the corrupt epicenter of a corrupt state, and it’s hardly recent; the stink of corruption in that city goes back at least to the early Twentieth century.
Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth orbiting in the “habitable zone” – the distance from a star in which we might expect liquid water, and perhaps life.
What did not make the news, however, is that this discovery also slightly increases how much credence we give to the possibility of near-term human extinction. This is because of a concept known as the Great Filter.
The Great Filter is an argument that attempts to resolve the Fermi Paradox: why have we not found aliens, despite the existence of hundreds of billions of solar systems in our galactic neighbourhood in which life might evolve? As the namesake physicist Enrico Fermi noted, it seems rather extraordinary that not a single extraterrestrial signal or engineering project has been detected (UFO conspiracy theorists notwithstanding).
This apparent absence of thriving extraterrestrial civilisations suggests that at least one of the steps from humble planet to interstellar civilisation is exceedingly unlikely. The absence could be caused because either intelligent life is extremely rare or intelligent life has a tendency to go extinct. This bottleneck for the emergence of alien civilisations from any one of the many billions of planets is referred to as the Great Filter.
The tenor of this article is pessimistic – the main thrust being that intelligent life has a near-inavoidable tendency to self-destruction, which is why no near neighbors have yet paid us a call.
But, given the vastness just of our own galaxy, that doesn’t necessarily make sense. Our own Milky Way contains somewhere between 100 and 400 billion stars. If one in ten of those stars has planets, that’s somewhere between ten and forty billion solar systems – if one in a thousand of those systems has a habitable world, that’s somewhere between a ten and forty million habitable worlds.
That’s a lot of real estate, True Believers. Most of it hundred or thousands of light years away.
And we’re worried about the destructive tendencies of all intelligent life because, out of all that vastness, we haven’t picked up a radio signal in the paltry few decades we’ve been listening? That’s far from enough to be convincing. And, besides, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Although, personally, and just for now, I’d be pleased with some evidence of intelligent life in Washington.