Monday, 19 July 2010

The Meaning of the 21st Century II

Chapter 14 A perfect storm
Small scale entrepreneurs in developing countries - storm of innovation. Amory Lovins Factor 4 double wealth and half resource use. We can do this now. We actually need to think of factor 10 this is for the innovation. Says this requires sweeping away government regulations - very right-wing capitalist.

Chapter 15 The vital role of corporations
I agree that corporations and business can do far more for a country than aid and charity, but it depends on the ethics and scruples of the companies. We need more Cadbury's and less Enrons. We need companies that see real costs and keep real balance sheets.

Chapters 16 and 17 Cultures crucible and The Counter-terorist world
Nonsense - he overplays the conflicts between religions and cultures. In the end we all want certain freedoms and liberal democracies but these do not specify Gods and cultures. The disputes are caused by anachronisms that are dying and having their last roll of the dice. In the 1580s protestants went on suicide missions against catholic priests.

The Meaning of the 21st Century

Chapter 1 - The Transition Generation
We are going through a time of very rapid change and there will be suprises and changes in paradigm (leverage factors) that provide large-scale changes in what we can do. The challenge is definitely staying alive.

Chapter 2 What got us into this mess
  • Too much complexity, a lack of appreciation of limited natural resources. Over-confidence in technology being able to surpass nature (this is ironic as this is Bjorn Lomborg's argument and Martin is guilty himself in later chapters). The tragedy of the commons with fisheries and factory fishing, the tipping point of pollution in the Black Sea. People learn from catastrophe first.
  • Worldwatch Institute $124 billion spent to catch $70 billion problem of subsidies which encourage over fishing.

Chapter 3 Rich kids and their trust funds
  • We are using up the environmental capital without any thought to the long term sustainability (I hate using this word). Gives a very false account of the cost of what we consume. GDP can rise so long as we keep using natural resources without factoring any real costs for them.
  • Norman Myers - list of perverse subsidies that total $2 trillion each year. More than enough to end the current financial crisis and to return the world to order. Roodman D Getting the signals right $73,000 a year per worker in the Ruhr to subsidise coal mining.
  • Dangers of spin - particularly by the government where vested interests mean they hide the truth e.g tobacco showing nicotine is harmless and non-addictive.

Chapter 4 Too many people
Leverage factor is education which dramatically reduces the population growth rate and in most cases reduces it below the replacement rate. Actually in the long term we need to hit the replacement rate if we do not want to become extinct but not go above it. Liberated women are the answer - women who can ejoy sex like men!!

Chapter 5 The giant in the kitchen
  • Water security - there is an issue of IEEE spectrum about this as we have to balance water and energy needs but if we can create an excess of energy the problem goes away as we can desalinate the worlds oceans. The loss of topsoil can also be managed with careful farming methods and west is not best no matter what Martin's inference. More trees, more addition of the right minerals (Australian soil doctor). Extensive use of hydropnics especially in cities can reduce food miles but these have to be well designed and computer maintained and also stretch water resources although in a closed loop way.
  • He is a strong proponent of GM foods - GM has a risk that evolution is necessarily slow so that the consequnces are less drastic and so we cannot understand all of the ecological consequences. GM has to be treated carefully, some is fine to make disease resistant bananas for example but the round-up crops are not essential and there is some evidence that organic pest management is possible and better.

Chapter 6 Destitute nations
Crippled business because of the lack of capital - no deeds or possibility of land transfer or business transfer and so there is a lack of assets that can creat mobile capital.

Chapter 7 Climate catastrophe
This is happening the ocean conveyors (evidence is disputed) and global warming and we need to take action. Fuel cells and hydrogen-economy is the answer - fine but this technology has yet to make a big impact. Solar could be used to charge the cells - Solar Living Sourcebook Astropower 120-watt photovoltaic panel vovering Nellis Air Force Base and Nevada Test site would generate all the power for the US, 1,858,850 panels per square mile  produce 425 million kwH/year.
Fourth generation nuclear power - pebble-bed reactors - gas cooled - small so locally produced - no loss from transmission

Chapter 8 Invisible mayhem
  • The effect of the agro-chemicals on sperm levels and genital mutations. They will be around for the long-term as we made them to not-degrade and so we have to live with this but we should make no more of them.
  • The Erice statement
Chapter 9 Genetically modified humans
Too much belief in understanding the genome

Chapter 10 Nanodeluge
Gives rise to massive computing and non-human like intelligence. The problem is does this type of intelligence create knowledge or anythign we can use/work with?

Chapter 11 Automated evolution
Goal directed evolution is not evolution in the Darwinian sense - that has a teleology and you might as well call it intelligent design and god. The problem is trying to keep evolution and the environment separate. As the two mix in an undivided whole you get the law of unintended consequences and the faster the "evolution" the more serious these become.

Chapter 12 The Transhuman condition
This is just silly. There might be a singularity but for once Baroness Greenfield is right - we cannot reproduce the compelxity of our minds. We cannot reproduce the idea of freewill. A computational intelligence does not have free-will, logic denies it, it denies emotion. We would end up with the Borg. If we do choose that then we can imagine going the whole way. Digitising ourselves completely - then no food shortages, no environmental concerns, space travel becomes possible and colonisation of the universe. Only entropy would stand in our way.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Meaning of the 21st Century - Values of the Future

This is chapter 20 and it is starting to get a bit repetitive with almost the same sentences being repeated from earlier chapters which described the challenges, but this time in the context of solutions. There is too much emphasis on the idea oh high culture and on the brain/mind altering drugs. There is much to be said of low culture - great movies need not be high-brow and not everyone loves Mozart. I dislike Impressionism and love Surrealism but there is no reason why you cannot hate art, or classical music or ballet - ask Jeremy Clarkson.

There is one really great sentence I wanted to quote.
Education for leisure will do more to improve quality of life than education for jobs.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

James Martin - The Meaning of the 21st Century I

The Awesome Meaning of this Century

The Skill/Wisdom gap is a serious problem. We have lost our ability to put things together. We have got deeper and narrower to an extent that we can no longer link ideas in an interdisciplinary way and this limits our reasoning and our "wisdom". It leads to isolated decision making that will always create unforseen consequences, at a time when we can least afford it.

The news today had an example which was the relationship between obesity and diet and exercise. The new research suggests that first you tackle diet and eating as if you focus on increasing acticvity and exercise you have limited success because once you have the extra pounds you are less keen to be active. This is when the foolish Secretary of State for Health says that diet should not be governed centrally but that people should take their own responsibility regardless of evidence showing legislation of the food industry in France and Denmark has reduced obesity. He also forgets the experiences of two world wars and particularly of rationing that improved the diet of millions of people, who had been almost starving before-hand.

The Perfect Storm

This chapter is focussed on his ideas about the need for non-centralised managements and the weaknesses of having a centralised government that uses a command-and-control structure which cannot plan for every eventuality. This does not allow for local corrections to problems that arise. The examples he takes come from the Nobel Prize winner Hayek. These have been confirmed recently by the result of complex systems analysis.

This seems to me analogous to the gaze heuristic. We do not calculate the trajectory of a ball, we look to guide it into our hands by minor corrections that bring us to the final solution. This means a much more pragamatic and localised structure to problem solving. So government only sets the strategic goals - the actual implementation is carried out globally.

There are also practical links with the problems we face in high throughput biology. We are losing the specialised "local" biological knowledge that we used to have in small-scale laboratory experiments, where people were very familiar with the genes they were studying and so there was lots of know-how that did not enter the literature. This was particularly important in the case of genome annotations and so the result was the creation of the DAS annotation system. Which never seemed to make the headway that was needed. Good idea but just too complicated to be used - this is a limitation of the semantic web and of creating perfect database schema. They manage knowledge perfectly but exclude the user and the requirements of the specifications change too often. We also need decentralised and more modular project managment/coding.