Negroponte’s Laptop Proposal

From the New York Times:

Nicholas Negroponte, the technology guru from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology Media Laboratory, prowled the halls of the
World Economic Forum holding the holy grail for crossing the digital
divide: a mock-up of a $100 laptop computer.

… in partnership with Joseph Jacobson, a physicist at M.I.T., he
wants to persuade the education ministries of countries like China to
use laptops to replace textbooks.

… Mr. Negroponte said his experience in giving children laptop
computers in rural Cambodia had convinced him that low-cost machines
would make a fundamental difference when broadly deployed.

"You
can just give laptops to kids," he said, noting that they quickly take
advantage of the machines. "In Cambodia, the first English word out of
their mouths is ‘Google.’ "

I’ve been looking for additional info on this project, but haven’t found it yet.  I think Bill Gates had it right in 1998:

[he argued] that it was more important to address basic life necessities –
health and food, for example – before connecting the world’s poorest
citizens to the Internet.

Why not just spend that $100 per child on more textbooks?

Link: The New York Times > Technology > New Economy: Taking the Pulse of Technology at Davos.

Bioethics left and right

Utne’s January issue has a brief article about the "transhumanists": 
"The Next Digital Divide: How biopolitics could reshape our understanding of left and right"

Didn’t think it was possible for the left to be anymore splintered?
Welcome to the world of biopolitics, a fledgling political movement
that promises to make mortal enemies out of one-time allies — such as
back-to-nature environmentalists and technophile lefties — and close
friends of traditional foes, such as anti-GMO activists and
evangelicals.

Biopolitics, a term coined by Trinity College professor James
Hughes, places pro-technology transhumanists on one pole and people who
are suspicious of technology on the other. According to Hughes,
transhumanists are members of "an emergent philosophical movement which
says that humans can and should become more than human through
technological enhancements." The term transhuman is shorthand for transitional human — people who are in the process of becoming "posthuman" or "cyborgs."

James Hughes is pleased at (what he reads as) the article’s cyborg-positive tone, though I think he’s reaching a bit.

“For instance, here is a monkey with four asses”*

This article from National Geographic looks at recent biotech research that has produced chimeras, hybrids of two or more species:

Chinese scientists at the Shanghai Second Medical University in 2003
successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs. The embryos were
reportedly the first human-animal chimeras successfully created. They
were allowed to develop for several days in a laboratory dish before
the scientists destroyed the embryos to harvest their stem cells.

In Minnesota last year researchers at the Mayo Clinic created pigs with human blood flowing through their bodies.

And at Stanford University in California an experiment might be done later this year to create mice with human brains.

Link Animal-Human Hybrids Spark Controversy via Presurfer.

*

 

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John Eklund writes in Inversion magazine about the marketing of books, including some observations about automated recommendations:

When I consider purchasing a book online, I’m supplied
by a shopping algorithm with a list of what else I might like,
based on what I have bought or what other people “like
me” bought.

… the “customer-recommends”
algorithm removes the pesky human from the interaction. And
it does the exact opposite of what it claims to do: far from
expanding my reading horizon, it contracts it. It doesn’t
show me new worlds, it tries to duplicate as closely as possible
the reading world I’m stuck in. When I’m offered
“more like this” I want to scream NO! Not more
like that. More like something else entirely, more like some
other reader I’m nothing like, more like some new and
different experience.

He sums up,

We are awash in great books, more than we could possibly
read. I have to laugh when I hear people bemoan a lack of
quality, or say things like “What a lousy season for
fiction.” To access the literary wealth we have to step
outside the paradigm of the Corporate New, where we are marketing
targets, and instead create for ourselves a Personal New,
a truly custom-designed inventory of the found, the overheard,
the stumbled-upon and the forgotten. Superb books are plentiful
in every bookstore and library. While the commercial publishing
conglomerates chase the next mega-selling piece of fundamentalist
pornography, literary treasures and surprises await those
with open eyes and ears.

Link: Don’t Point that Ad at Me: the business of books is bad for reading via  goodreports.net.

Healthcare executive gets RFID chip implanted

From an article in Health Data Management:

"John Halamka, M.D., does not have a chip on his shoulder. He has a chip in his shoulder.

Halamka, CIO at Boston’s CareGroup
Healthcare System, has become the first volunteer to test an
implantable radio frequency identification chip for medical use. The
VeriChip, from Delray Beach, Fla.-based Applied Digital, was approved
in October by the Food and Drug Administration for medical use in
humans. In December, it was classified as a Class II medical device
with special controls. …"

Via Roland Piquepaille’s Technology Trends — The World’s First RFID-Enabled CIO.

The Center for the Study of Technology and Society (is it still active?)

I learned of this non-profit thinktank in DC through google.  The site has a lot of interesting content and links, but doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2001.

From their mission statement:

PURPOSE:

The purpose of the Center for
the Study of Technology and Society is to study and report on the
important technological issues that affect society.

Through original research and in-depth analysis, the Center will
emphasize and clarify the point that advances in technology are neither
inherently good nor inherently evil. Every new technology has the potential to cause problems, and the
capacity to solve problems. In all its work, the Center will be guided by the belief that
properly utilized technology can be beneficial, but that uninformed
government interference will only stymie technological achievement and
close off avenues to progress.

The founder, Adam Keiper, is now managing editor of The New Atlantis, "A Journal of Technology & Society" (writing from a mostly Conservative viewpoint, I believe), begun in 2003.

More on Aubrey de Grey

Aubrey de Grey’s response to Sherwin Nuland’s Technology Review article about him is fairly weak, in my humble/uneducated opinion.  While he might be right about a few logical inconsistencies in the article, I suspect those are due to his misreading or to ambiguity in the text.  (Would that we all could think and write as perfectly clearly as de Grey thinks he does!)

In some cases I just don’t think he understood Nuland’s point.  For example:

Nuland: "Unlike engineers, the adoption of whose methodology de Grey
considers his main conceptual contribution to solving the problems of
aging, biologists do not approach physiological events as distinct
entities that have no effect on any others. Each of de Grey’s
interventions will very likely result in unpredictable and incalculable
responses… the next thing you know, it all explodes in your face."

de Grey: "Engineers reading his article may beg to differ concerning whether they
can successfully manipulate systems consisting of mutually interacting
subsystems, and the briefest consultation of my publications will
reveal that it is precisely the management of those interactions, by
the judicious choice of which places to intervene, that defines my
approach."

But Nuland is talking about biologists, not engineers!  Did I miss something here?  And saying "go look at my publications" is not a valid refutation.

In the end, de Grey’s response turns a bit juvenile and personal: you guys are just jealous!  scared!  I’m not letting you join my club, then you’ll really be sorry!

Speaking of juvenile, take a look (if you have a strong stomach) at their forum posts on this topic.  Most of the posts are rabid attacks on Nuland for his "lack of imagination", "paranoia", etc., but don’t offer any responses on the real risks and the ethical and moral questions at stake.  A choice quote:

"What strikes me is the fear Nuland has about dieing…"

Huh?  If there were ever a clear example of the "denial of death", in Ernest Becker’s words, then the actions of these narcissistic, simple-minded "transhumanists" is it.  Are they really so immature?  Isn’t part of life and personal growth about learning to see outside of your self and find meaning in the face of inevitable death?

What’s scary is that, as Nuland wrote, these people may well destroy us in their attempts to save us.

Cyberselfish in 2005

I recently read Paulina Borsook’s book Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech.  It was published in 2000, so yes I’m a little behind the times.

It’s a fun read, unless you’re a very thin-skinned techie — check out the reviews on Amazon for a sampling of nasty reactions to the book, and of the culture of which she writes.  I hadn’t thought that closely about libertarianism in high tech before, but her analysis does explain a lot.

Has much changed since 2000?  I’d suspect that 4 years of Bush junior have turned at least a few technolibertarians into lefties, but I may be wrong.

The official site for the book is still up — cyberselfish.com, as is a fan site with many of Borsook’s articles.  Neither looks to have been updated since about 2001, though, and I haven’t found any more recent writings of hers on the web.  (If you know of anything, on-line or off, please let me know.)

This page: Freedom Through Technology (part of the "Critiques of Libertarianism" site) has some interesting articles on technolibertarianism from around the same time period.

Here is an amusing exchange between Paulina Borsook and Eric Raymond on Salon (his review of the book, and her response).
http://archive.salon.com/tech/log/2000/06/30/borsook_raymond/

Raymond wrote (in 2000),

"Ultimately, it appears to me that what Borsook and Kakutani and their punditocracy ilk truly fear about hacker culture is in fact its libertarianism and what’s behind that, the liberating power of technology and free markets. Beneath that, I think they fear freedom itself …"

There you have it!  These critics of technology fear freedom!  I hope King George doesn’t hear about this.

NYT: Rapid Rise and Fall for Body-Scanning Clinics

For a brief moment, Dr. Thomas Giannulli, a Seattle internist, thought
he was getting in at the start of an exciting new area of medicine. He
was opening a company to offer CT scans to the public – no doctor’s
referral necessary. The scans, he said, could find diseases like cancer
or heart disease early, long before there were symptoms. And, for the
scan centers, there was money to be made.

"I’ve never seen a market for a medical technology collapse so completely," Dr. Ramsey said.

Link: The New York Times > Health > Rapid Rise and Fall for Body-Scanning Clinics.