May 2, 2009

Let’s Do it!!! SPACE TRAVEL!!!

Okay, up to this point, I have focused mainly on the dangers of technology. I may have come across at times as even hating technology. I do. But I still use it and even love some of it, as long as it’s used properly. I am also well aware that I, unfortunately, do not get to decide what people do with their devices. Blasted freedom! Now, though, seeing as this is my final blog, I am making a suggestion to the world.

We NEED space travel, not the moon, not mars, not just anywhere in the solar system, but wherever the hell we, as human beings want to go. I am intentionally going to ignore some of the obvious questions that may arise, such as how to pay for a project of this magnitude without being guaranteed that it will work. I don’t care. This is EARTH! We can do anything. C’mon!!

We need to create some sort of engine that allows us to travel at the speed of light, but what would be more impressive would be a jump drive of some sorts that would allow us to hop around through some sort of worm hole. I don’t know how to make such a device, but would be more than happy to volunteer my time to bring coffee, cigarettes, or run errands for the super-smart scientists that could be working on it.

Think of the benefits! There have got to be millions of planets with cool things on them. We could get all the resources we would ever need from uninhabited planets. Maybe we would find advanced civilizations that we could learn from. If I have learned anything from Sci-Fi movies and TV, its that advanced civilizations can detect drives from far away. We probably don’t even need to build an actual ship at first, just the jump drive. Then the aliens with the technology will come to us. We might even be able to just develop a device that mimics the pattern.

Maybe humans shouldn’t have such technology, but we already have some pretty dangerous shit out there and we are a very dangerous species, but maybe space travel could help chill some folks out. Who knows? The Shadow? At least we will be able to find out.

I understand that there are so many problems with trying to develop this technology at this point in our history. I feel we should spend all of our time and resources curing disease, feeding the hunger, fixing the environment, solving the energy crisis, and making sure that everyone has clean water and basic human rights. But if we’re not going to spend the money to do this, let’s go to space. My only suggestion for funding would be to take all of the military budgets from every country and use it for research and development. I think this would solve multiple problems all at once. Some may think that not every military power in the world would do this, but I beg to differ. I don’t think any leader would be dumb enough to pass up the opportunity to help develop a jump drive. Case closed.

As a final thought, I would like to suggest that the ships we fly in look either like the Battlestar Galactica, Cloud 9, or a Cylon Basestar. Good looking ships.

April 19, 2009

One in millions, but what if we're wrong? Oh, well. I guess?

We, as human beings, have developed technologies that give us the power to destroy every living thing on the planet. It’s horrifying, and to make it worse, it’s just not that hard to do. Any country or group of people with enough time, money, and textbooks can build devices that can end the world. The nations that already have the technology are willing to do just about anything to preventing anyone else from developing it (unless of course, for the time being you are considered an “ally,” they just might give it to you, but that’s politics and power I suppose.

When the atomic bomb was being developed, some of the scientists speculated that they could possibly ignite the atmosphere. In the end, most said it couldn’t happen, while a few said it could but was unlikely. Well, they tested them anyway and we now know that they don’t. Good news?…maybe?…I don’t know.

Today, although it has had a few setbacks, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is about ready to go back online and fire up to full speed. I will be the first to admit that any project designed exclusively for the advancement of scientific understanding is usually a good call, but I’m a bit of a nerd like that. Many miles long, full of super-cooled magnets, and tons of energy, it should be able to smash little bits of matter together at ridiculous speeds, just under the speed of light. Pretty damn cool.

Unfortunately for all of us, there have been some concerns proposed by scientists from around the world. If these hypotheses are correct, the best-case scenario is that the Earth turns into a molten ball of theoretical particles called strangelets. The other option is that we are sucked into a black hole. (This one might not be so bad if it’s like that Disney movie where they go into a black hole, but I just don’t feel all that confident in Disney to predict theoretical physics)

I’d be lying if I claimed to understand what the hell would be happening on a quantum level if these doomsday scenarios occurred. (I suppose that if I did, I probably wouldn’t be here at the U of M as a student) Now, most of the scientists agree that both of these scenarios would be highly unlikely, including Stephen Hawking, but with anything involving theoretical physics, no one really knows what will happen. That’s why it’s theoretical! My favorite part of this situation is that although it is unlikely, scientists are still willing to take the risk even though being wrong means the end of the world. Heck of a gamble. Truth is though, if I had a giant super collider, I would have turned it on as soon as I could. I can’t even resist pushing unmarked buttons in buildings, let alone in multi-billion dollar pieces of equipment! (I bet it’s back lit too, probably red)

The other scientific advancement, which I feel falls a bit more in the category of nuclear technologies, is that of anti-matter. Sounds futuristic? It’s not; human beings are currently producing it. Basically, anti-matter is just matter, but with the charges reversed, positive “electrons” and negative nuclei. If these anti-atoms come into contact with “regular” matter, they react and turn into almost pure energy. If the fissile material in a nuclear weapon were switched with anti-matter, it would make a nuke look like a firecracker. (Not a very big one either!)

Luckily, it is very difficult to contain anti-matter. The potential uses are awesome. A possible energy source to be used in interstellar travel is what I am hoping for, although we can’t produce the stuff very efficiently, but they’re working on it and getting better everyday.

The danger of course rises from the chance that it could be used as a weapon. I personally have no doubt that the second anti-matter was discovered, every military minded person in the world was wondering if it could be turned into a weapon. I’ve never liked this way of thinking, unless of course if it’s how to prevent everyone, from turning it into a weapon. I don’t think that we will see a violent, thus worthless application of this technology for quite some time, but it’s better to have things figured out in advance than scrambling at the last minute. Oh, well, we’ll see what happens.

Do I lose much sleep because of these things? No. Can’t do much about and even if I could, I wouldn’t try to stop it. Someday one of these experiments may allow us to travel to distant solar system and I wouldn’t want to risk preventing that from happening. I just hope we get to that stage before we lose one of these gambles.

April 6, 2009

Whirly-birds: Winged Beasts of the Sky!!!

Helicopters, choppers, whirly-bird, and blade spinners, all names for helicopter, well maybe not the last one. Helicopters are some of the most terrifying machines that have ever been built. They can fly front, back, left, right, up, and down. These days they can even do loops! Impressive, considering I was always under the impression that most people have trouble navigating vehicles in two dimensions, let alone THREE!!

Yeah, helicopters are cool. I’ve only flown in one once and it was awesome. Sure I spent most of the time trying not to throw up (those pilots take those things pretty darn close to some big mountains) it was a blast. I also realize they can be a very valuable tool. They allow us all to enjoy staring at traffic jams on the freeway in the morning and watch high-speed chases. I even once saw REAL, LIVE footage for two hours of a horse stuck in the mud as rescuers tried to get it out on FOX News! If that isn’t news, I don’t know what is! Seriously though, they can be a valuable tool. When I briefly was a wild land firefighter, they could drop two hundred gallons of water with pinpoint precision with a turnaround time of about ten minutes. That was pretty good considering my entire tank only held one hundred and ninety gallons. They could also fly over with infrared and give us the GPS coordinates of hot spots we had missed. I tended to appreciate this. Yeah, I like helicopter. They’re fun, cool, and exciting, but I also find them fairly terrifying.

But with all good technology, it can be use for terrifying purposes. Helicopters are one of these inventions. One of Mel Gibson’s greatest films (other than MadMax and Passion of the Christ of course (just kidding, well about Passion of the Christ anyways, that movie was terrible and Mel Gibson can keep his damn anti-Semitic mouth shut) was Conspiracy Theory. Any helicopter that has a “stealth” mode and can drop armed soldiers into Times Square without anybody knowing is scary. I have no clue if these actually do exist, but there are real features of helicopters that make me a little leery.

Infrared is one. Yes, it has practical applications, but a camera that effectively allows people in the sky to see through trees and other forms of cover makes me nervous! How are we as people supposed to be able to hide? I think being able to run away and at least have a chance of escaping is important. Sure cars and tanks can move faster than us, but we can still outmaneuver them. Airplanes? Just stand still, they have to keep moving, piece of pie! Not helicopters though, they can move much faster than most cars and us. Even the cars and motorcycles that go faster have limitations to where they can go. A helicopter can take a straight-line path and see way further down the road!

Finally, the worst thing about some helicopters is GUNS! I’m not a big fan of implements of destruction in the first place, but we’ve strapped just about every efficient killing device we can to the side of a helicopter. I suppose it’s just the childish habit of a portion of human beings to spend their time and money to find the best way to kill as many human beings as efficiently as possible as we can. Some people just like to blow shit up I guess, I’ve never been able to understand it. It’s a bit sad, but I still have hope for humanity.

There’s really only one solution. Tunnels. Lots and lots of tunnels! Tunnels are fun to play in, stay dry in the rain and relatively warm in the winter and cool in the summer! They offer great hiding places too! And if I’ve learned anything from the movies, if I bring a dirt bike down there I can ride it up the sides to get passed the “bad” guys!

Helicopters, I love them and I hate them. I just do.

March 22, 2009

The Death of Storytelling in the Information Age

When I was in sixth grade, a storyteller came to my school. She was dressed in traditional African attire (I have no clue which part of Africa, as I was a bit young and undereducated to identify, let alone remember such things. Not that I am sure I would be able to do it today either.)

She told stories of Anansi the spider and had me entranced. At the end of her story telling, she spoke for a while about the importance of story telling and how there are not many people left who tell stories in the way a trained storyteller does. The way in which she held a large group of young students, not just with the content of the stories, but also with the inflections in her voice made me want to be a storyteller. (I also wanted to be a professional jump roper when a guy came to our school, but luckily that phase passed quickly)

Although the idea of being a storyteller has always stuck with me, it was something that I ignored for awhile. A few years ago, I ran into a fella named Mike Loche. He was half Lakota, and after being orphaned as a child, grew up with his Native American grandparents. Today he is an interpreter at the Audubon center just outside of Sandstone, MN. As he and I walked along the banks of a river, he told me stories of his times in the woods and experience from his travel. As he was talking, I realized that he had the same entrancing ways of speaking as the storyteller from my childhood. Every word was in someway important to the story. Although the point of his stories and experiences could have been conveyed in a short paragraph, it would not have had the same affect. His speech was reserved and quiet. Every word was well chosen. Mike did not plan out his stories, it was just how he communicated, aware on some higher level that his words were more than a summary, they were a description of a history that would not be recorded in a history book.

Another storyteller who I ran into was Ted Mahto. Ted Mahto is a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa in northern Minnesota. I lived with him in a basement of a house in the woods. The nearest town was 30 miles away, so we spent a lot of time in the forest reading and talking. At the time he was around eighty-five years old. He told me many stories of his time hitchhiking across the United States, hanging out with famous jazz musicians. He told me about his time with the American Indian Movement (AIM). Even his viewpoints on education were given in story form. Although he talked about the evils of “the white man” and liked to call me a white devil, I knew that it was mostly in jest, as he would follow it up with a hoarse chuckle. Once again, the idea of the importance of good storytelling was rekindled in my mind.

Enough rambling. One thing I have noticed with information being so plentiful and available is distaste for expressive detail that many people share. Not all, but a growing number it seems, become irritated with a story if it is not comprised of short, succinct facts. I understand that the only way to get a large amount of information in a short period of time is to summarize. Newspapers love to summarize events, but this doesn’t tell the real story. Personally, I don’t care if a car crashes into a building. Maybe if it were in terms of describing the physics of the crash it would be interesting. The important thing, to me at least, is the impact it has on people. Photography can help others understand a situation, but it still doesn’t tell the story of the people in the photo. A storyteller is a person who can convey the situation and help a person feel what it was really like.

Perhaps it’s the fact that we live in the information age. The information has become the important part. We have e-mail, the Internet, Blackberries, and other forms of instant communication. We want things fast and quick. We want the shortest, fastest route to the endpoint. Sometimes I think we all just need to step back and slow down for a while. If we lose storytellers, we lose a piece of humanities soul. We may be efficient and well informed, but we will be missing something that is important to us. It is as important as any art form.

Someday, I too hope to be a great storyteller. Everyone has stories to tell and almost everyone’s stories are interesting. But if the stories are just a list of details, they become fairly boring. Sometimes when I am telling one of my stories, people will say that I am exaggerating or that I am being dramatic. There’s probably some truth to this, but does it change the important events? No. It just makes it more interesting. Besides, as far as I am concerned, it’s how I remembered it, so it’s the truth to me. Besides, who gets to define reality but ourselves?

March 1, 2009

Fact: Robots are just shiny people

Well, it has begun. Yes, what we were promised as kids is finally becoming a reality. We are finally beginning to see robots in our homes. It’s a wonderful idea to think of a world where there is no need to clean, cook, or dress ourselves. It may not be to this point yet, but it will be. We’ve got the freakin’ Roomba!! If only old Isaac Asimov were around to see robots roaming the floors of our home like cute little rodents picking up little bits of popcorn and other crumbs.

It is only a matter of time though, before we begin seeing more advanced robots, human like robots, wandering our streets. Eventually, we may see artificial intelligent. Not just programmed human emotion mimickery, but actually self-aware robots. This raises a particularly important ethical question. How do we classify the value of life of self-aware robot rights? Perhaps us human folk should start discussing the ethical implications before they become real so that we won’t have to worry about them when the time comes.

The question that comes to mind is “Is it morally okay if we choose to destroy or kill a self-aware robot?” Let’s think about what being self aware means. If it can feel emotion and create things from nothing, how is it different from us? We may someday see amazing pieces of art created by robots capturing aspects of the world that we once perhaps thought was what made us human. Is there a difference between killing these robots and killing another human being?

I think one of the more critical thoughts in this argument comes from what makes us human. There are obvious differences between robots and us. We are made mostly of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Perhaps, the term ‘organic’ could be used. Robots are made of metal or sweet synthetic polymers. We are powered by sugars and fats while robots are fueled by nuclear power packs and other dangerous tiny batteries. But there are many things that fall into the organic category that us humans, for the most part, tend to think that we are above them in complexity at the very least. To me, what is important about humans is our brains. This particular organ is what makes me, me. That is where my ‘being’ lives. So if a robot has a ‘brain’ that functions in the same way ours do, it is in essence, a human being.

To me, there is no difference between killing a robot that is self-aware and killing a human being, and I don’t even trust robots! (Hopefully I can overcome my robot prejudices by the time we reach this stage in the game) I hope that we don’t have to see this future class of beings suffer and struggle for the same rights to life and liberty that so many groups have struggled for in the past and continue to fight for today as well. I’m guessing that this might fall under the liberal category, which is good for me because I’ve become quite attached to my always being labeled as a ‘bleeding heart liberal’ and kind of wear it as a badge of honor, but now I’m getting on a tangent. Habits.

Please don’t murder self-aware robots. How we can even determine if they are self aware, I just don’t know. I guess we’ll just have to trust them, but then again, I’ve seen ‘Terminator.’ Maybe I’ll discuss the danger of robots some other time.

February 15, 2009

My Friends are Real (at least as far as I can tell)

Before I start rambling on here, I would just like to get it out there that I don't have a problem with social networking sites. I just think that there are some risks to a person's quality of life. But then again, how can anyone really decide what makes a quality life.

I have definetly used a social networking site before, myspace, because of people demanding that I join. They tried to get me to join Facebook AND Myspace, but I chose the latter for my first step. The reason that they used to convince me that it was a great site was about how it made it easy to keep in touch with people all around the country. This made sense at the time as I was travelling around the gulf coast with my buddy, Ben, making all sorts of friends. Behold!!! It did make it easy to stay in touch with them!

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February 1, 2009

Maybe the Barber Stole Your DNA

"Gattaca?" Anyone remember this film? About all the terrible things people could do to you if they got a hold of your DNA? Well, if not, some people, myself included, believe that if DNA records are kept, it would only be a matter of time before this information was being exploited by employers, the government, and companies. We may try to avoid having a record of our DNA on file with our names attached to it, there may be a few sources to use to put together a database that may have been overlooked by most. They got us with the "let's stop kidnapping by fingerprinting every child in elementary school" when we weren't old enough to decided, back when we believed that a dog named McGruff in a trench coat could eliminate crime. There is one source of DNA, with personal information attached to it, that we might not think about. The barber.

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Disclaimer: Theoretical Ethics or Technological Fears of the Paranoid

The content of this blog is to convey my particular thoughts and concerns of both the negative effects and risks of current technology along with theoretical ethics problems of technology that may not exist at this point in time. I may or may not believe the argument that I am making is true, as I am not yet arrogant enough to think that my viewpoints are the correct ones. They are merely observations, of real or possible situations I have used to form a temporary opinion on the issue. Since information is constantly being and received by myself, it forces me to have a very dynamic opinion on many issues, which does on occasion change by the hour. Presented always with humor and a dash of cynicism. Fair enough.