Published on Friday, June 21st, 02013 by Austin Brown
On September 28, 02013, the second Being Human conference will he held at the Nourse Theater in San Francisco. With talks by neuroscientists, philosophers, anthropologists and psychologists, this day-long event seeks to probe science’s developing picture of what it means to be human. As the organizers put it,
For most of human history we’ve been trying to understand our lives based on metaphysical, religious, and supernatural concepts. Then the Age of Enlightenment ushered in science and Darwin’s remarkable theory of evolution—a powerful new way to look at ourselves and the world. Now disciplines such as cognitive neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, genetics, anthropology, and philosophy are delivering fascinating new findings which have the potential to radically remake the way we see ourselves. Based on these scientific insights, a more comprehensive view of human nature is now emerging.
Long Now Board Member David Eagleman is among the presenters – he’ll lead the day’s final session, “The Future of Being Human.” At last year’s inaugural Being Human, he discussed the vast complexity of the human brain:
Published on Wednesday, June 19th, 02013 by Austin Brown
Long Now Executive Director Alexander Rose and former SALT Speaker Chris Anderson will appear this weekend in an event that seeks to bring together Italian artisanal design with Silicon Valley innovation.
Innovating with Beauty runs through June 24th and features symposia, workshops and exhibitions exploring the possibilities of collaboration between Italy’s design community and Silicon Valley technologists and makers.
Chris Anderson will give the opening speech for a symposium called From Taylorism to Tailor Made on Saturday June 22nd beginning at 2:00pm. Other participants in the symposium include MAKE’s Dale Doherty and Long Now’s Alexander Rose. The event will be at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University. The public are welcome to attend this free symposium and can view the event’s details here.
Tuesday May 21st, 02013 at the SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco
From promoting the publication of NASA’s first satellite images of the whole Earth to co-founding The Long Now Foundation, Stewart Brand has always sought to simultaneously humble and empower. Our planet, seen for the first time against the vastness of space, suddenly seemed finite and precious. Our society’s moment placed within The Long Now – the history and future of civilization – becomes tenuous and ephemeral. But, given this expanded awareness and “access to tools,” the biosphere and society’s lasting legacy are ours to sustain and cultivate.
In this talk, Stewart Brand will discuss his newest project, Revive & Restore, which is seeking to de-extinct species with the help of genetic technologies. Over the past two years, Brand has been busy convening meetings that brought together the leading scholars working on the science of de-exintction, which culminated in March’s TEDx DeExtinction conference. Through these conferences, Stewart Brand and Ryan Phelan have mapped a set of questions to determine whether a species should be brought back from de-exinction. The common ground for the top candidate species are that humans were partially (if not largely) responsible for making them going extinct, and that these species were keystone species, or species that somehow played an integral and mutually beneficial role in the ecosystems they called home. In this sense, Revive and Restore is a natural complement to conservation movements that seek to rehabilitate ecosystems that have declined with the rise of the anthropocene.
One of the first direct de-extinction efforts of Revive & Restore (a project of The Long Now Foundation) is to bring back the passenger pigeon. This iconic bird numbered in the billions in the 19th century, only to have the last specimen die in captivity in 01914. Revive & Restore has hired Ben Novak, a self-proclaimed passenger pigeon fanatic, to sequence the genome of the passenger pigeon and its closing living relative, the band-tailed pigeon. With the help of a loose consortium of genetic scientists, Stewart hopes that the passenger pigeon will successfully be brought back and re-wilded in America, allowing it to revitalize the forest it once called home. Although the genetic technology behind Revive & Restore is moving quite fast, the process of re-wilding will take generations–one of the reasons that the project is under the auspices of The Long Now Foundation. For example – since Woolly Mammoths take about 20 years to reach sexual maturity, even after scientists clone an individual (which may itself take many years), it would still be hundreds of years before re-wilded herds roam the tundra.
Come join us at the new SFJAZZ Center on May 21st to learn about de-extinction from the front lines of this new science. You can reserve tickets, get directions, and sign up for the podcast on the Seminar page. If you are a member, please check your email for special ticketing instructions.
Wednesday April 17, 02012 at the Marines’ Memorial Theater, San Francisco
Nicholas Negroponte has made a name for himself not just by predicting the future, but by creating it. He co-founded and, for 15 years, directed the MIT Media Lab, which has become the premier academic incubator for advanced technologies research in fields like mesh networks, personalized robotics, and human computer interaction.
During his time at MIT, Negroponte was the first investor in Wired Magazine, for which he authored a series of contributions that eventually became the book “Being Digital”. Collectively, these writings offered a glimpse into the world we now occupy–complete with ubiquitous wireless data, touch screens, e-books and personalized news.
One of Negroponte’s intellectual themes is the evolution and measures of education. He favors an educational approach that teaches children to “learn learning” and to become passionate about topics that interest them, believing that the current model is outdated, alienating and stifling to natural curiosity. This vision led him to leave the Media Lab to found “One Laptop Per Child”. The reasoning behind the project stemmed from one of Negroponte’s mantras:
“When I wake up in the morning, I ask myself one question, and that question is: Will normal market forces do what I am doing today? And if the answer is yes, stop.”
Ten years ago, laptops were not dropping in price. As Intel increased processing speeds, Windows increased their processing requirements, which kept the price of a basic laptop near $1,000 and the digital divide insurmountable for many.
Negroponte’s mission was to create a $100 laptop that could be given to children in poor countries with struggling education systems to allow for a new type of educational boost. Ten years later, he has distributed 2.5 million computers across the world, and cheap computers have become an established norm.
It will take many years to fully determine the effect of these 2.5 million laptops, but Negroponte’s work has been a major driver in the narrowing of the digital divide.
His vision of low-cost laptops proliferating across the developing world is just one example of the kind of long-view thinking that has made Negroponte an effective leader, mover and shaker in the world of technology and access to it. Another might be the eponymous Negroponte switch, which he describes (and extrapolates upon) below.
Negroponte’s last column for WIRED, written in 1998, was entitled “Beyond Digital”. On April 19th at Marines’ Memorial Theater he resurrects this title to give us a glimpse of the possibilities that lie ahead. You can reserve tickets, get directions, and sign up for the podcast on the Seminar page. If you are a member, please check your email for special ticketing instructions.
Speakers include practitioners in the field of molecular biology who are developing new techniques to make de-extinction possible, conservation biologists and ecologists who can speak to the challenges of re-introducing extinct species into the wild, ethicists who wonder if we should even attempt such things, and artists who’ve depicted endangered and extinct species in paintings and photographs.
Researchers around the world have been working to bring back extinct species, and, in fact, have done so on one occasion already. As this science matures, a robust public discussion can help guide de-extinction practitioners along a path that maximizes the benefits of these new capabilities while keeping ethical, social, and ecological concerns in mind. It can also help educate the public. One de-extinction scenario popular in the public imagination is that of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. In reality, DNA decays at a known half-life and is completely destroyed after 6.8 million years. Cloned dinosaurs, therefore, are not a realistic concern. But the development of this science in secrecy, as depicted in the film, is. With TEDxDeExtinction and other activities, Revive & Restore seeks to support awareness and public comprehension of de-extinction science and to encourage scientists in the field to work openly and collaboratively.
National Geographic Society authors and researchers are also extensively exploring the implications, challenges and prospects for de-extinction on their website and in the April issue of the Magazine. Among the work is a cover story by author and former SALT speaker Carl Zimmer (previewed on his blog, The Loom), an argument against de-extinction by conservationist Stuart Pimm, and a slideshow of popular revival candidate species such as the Woolly Mammoth.
Reviving any extinct species will be a difficult and long-term project. It will require the consideration of many human, ecological and technological factors. At Pharyngula, Chris Clarke makes a strong case for reviving the Shasta Ground Sloth, a 400-pound cousin of today’s tree-dwelling variety. Through the example of arguing for a particular species, his essay surveys many of the issues de-extinction raises.
TEDxDeExtinction is divided into four sessions: Who, How, Why and Why Not, and Wild Again. It begins at 8:30am EDT on Friday March 15th and you can attend in person, stream it live on the web, find a viewing party to watch with, or wait until the videos are posted online afterwards. We hope you’ll participate in the discussion on Facebook and Twitter. And, for or updates on de-extinction science beyond this week’s TEDx, follow Revive & Restore on Facebook and Twitter.
Published on Friday, February 22nd, 02013 by Austin Brown
On Thursday March 7th, Stewart Brand and Isabella Kirkland will discuss their combined efforts to keep recently extinct species from completely fading away. Kirkland has created a series of paintings featuring endangered and extinct species (on display at the David Brower Center in Berkeley – where the talk will be held) and Brand is working with molecular and conservation biologists to bring the passenger pigeon and other extinct species back to life.
Kirkland’s work, influenced by 16th and 17th century Dutch still lifes, includes two series of paintings, Taxa and Nova. Taxa delves into the biodiversity of past and present, featuring species that are extinct, in decline or that have been brought back from the brink of extinction. Nova, on the other hand, focuses more on the future, exploring plant and animal species discovered over the past two decades and hinting at the possibilities of what could be if we take action to protect our natural resources.
The talk is free to attend.
The David Brower Center Conversation and book signing with Isabella Kirkland and Stewart Brand
Presented in partnership with the Long Now Foundation
Thursday, March 7
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm Goldman Theater
Please see the Brower Center website for details, and Brown Paper Tickets to RSVP.
Tuesday February 19, 02013 at the Lam Research Theater at YBCA, San Francisco
Long Now emeritus board member Chris Anderson originally earned his marks in publishing, starting as an editor of Science, Nature, and The Economist before taking the helm of Wired magazine. It was at Wired that Anderson became an unofficial evangelist of the Maker’s movement, becoming so deeply involved that he recently quit his day job as Editor to join a 22-year-old from Tijuana in running a “Makers” firm, 3D Robotics. Anderson’s current prognosis for the future focuses on how the Maker’s movement will change the world of objects that surround us:
Here’s the history of two decades in one sentence: If the past 10 years have been about discovering post-institutional social models on the Web, then the next 10 years will be about applying them to the real world.
Anderson’s book THE LONG TAIL chronicled how the web revolutionized and democratized content distribution. For most of history, to publish content one required a factory, complete with the bureaucratic systems that surround such institutions. When the first desktop laser printer became accessible, it created a new wave of self publishing. Nearly thirty years later, all we need to do is click a “publish” button in WordPress. Anderson’s new book MAKERS shows how the same thing is happening to manufacturing, with even wider consequences for the world:
Transformative change happens when industries democratize, when they’re ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks. The Internet democratized publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of both participation and participants in everything digital — the long tail of bits. Now the same is happening to manufacturing — the long tail of things.
It all started when Anderson wanted to find some new science projects to work on with his kids. He bought a 3d printer (check out the demo below) and found a series of projects that were kid-friendly. Although his kids often quickly lost interest in the various projects he started, Anderson realized that technologies like 3D printers were more than just hobbyist niches. They were the beginnings of a system that has the power to disrupt established systems of manufacturing. MAKERS shows how new systems of funding (kickstarter, crowdfunding), open-sourced design communities (thingiverse.com), and new manufacturing technologies (3d printers, laser cutters, web-integrated small-batch factories) together allow for the radical democratization of manufacturing:
The collective potential of a million garage tinkerers is about to be unleashed on the global markets, as ideas go straight into production, no financing or tooling required. “Three guys with laptops” used to describe a Web startup. Now it describes a hardware company, too.
Chris Anderson will discuss the coming “Maker’s Revolution” and how it will affect our systems of manufacturing on February 19th at the Lam Research Theater at YBCA. You can reserve tickets, get directions, and sign up for the podcast on the Seminar page. This talk is in partnership with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and we would like to extend a special welcome to the YBCA:YOU members. We would also like to welcome members of General Assembly. Check your email for special ticketing instructions.
Easter Island reconsidered – a summary by Stewart Brand
In the most isolated place on Earth a tiny society built world-class monuments. Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is 1,000 miles from the nearest Pacific island, 3,000 miles from the nearest continent. It is just six by ten miles in size, with no running streams, terrible soil, occasional droughts, and a relatively barren ocean. Yet there are 900 of the famous statues (moai), weighing up to 75 tons and 40 feet high. Four hundred of them were moved many miles from where they were quarried to massive platforms along the shores.
Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo began their archeological work on Easter Island in 2001 expecting to do no more than add details to the standard morality tale of the collapse of the island’s ecology and society—Polynesians discovered Rapa Nui around 400-800AD and soon overpopulated the place (30,000 people on an island the size of San Francisco); competing elites cut down the last trees to move hundreds of enormous statues; after excesses of “moai madness” the elites descend into warfare and cannibalism, and the ecology collapses; Europeans show up in 1722. The obvious lesson is that Easter Island, “the clearest example of a society that destroyed itself“ (Jared Diamond), is a warning of what could happen to Earth unless we learn to live with limits.
A completely different story emerged from Hunt and Lipo’s archaeology. Polynesians first arrived as late as 1200AD. There are no signs of violence—none of the fortifications common on other Pacific islands, no weapons, no traumatized skeletons. The palm trees that originally covered the island succumbed mainly to rats that arrived with the Polynesians and ate all the nuts. The natives burned what remained to enrich the poor soil and then engineered the whole island with small rocks (“lithic mulch”) to grow taro and sweet potatoes. The population stabilized around 4,000 and kept itself in balance with its resources for 500 years until it was totally destroyed in the 18th century by European diseases and enslavement. (It wasn’t Collapse; it was Guns, Germs, and Steel.)
What was up with the statues? How were they moved? Did they have a role in the sustainable balance the islanders achieved? Hunt and Lipo closely studied the statues found along the moai roads from the quarry. They had D-shaped beveled bottoms (unlike the flat bottoms of the platform statues) angled 14 ° forward. The ones on down slopes had fallen on their face; on up slopes they were on their back. The archeologists concluded they must have been moved upright—”walked,” just as Rapa Nuians long had said. No tree logs were required. Standard Polynesian skill with ropes would suffice.
“Nova” and National Geographic insisted on a demonstration, so a 5-ton, 10-foot-high “starter moai” replica was made and shipped to Hawaii. After some fumbling around, 18 unskilled people secured three ropes around the top of the statue—one to each side for rocking the statue, one in the rear to keep it leaning forward without falling. “Heave! Ho! Heave! Ho!” they cry in the video, the statue rocks, dancing lightly forward, and the audience at Cowell Theater erupts with applause. Progress was fast, even hard to stop—100 yards in 40 minutes. A family could move one.
Stone statues to ancestors are common throughout Polynesia, but the enormous, numerous moai of Easter Island are unique in the world. Were they part of the peaceful population control and conservative agriculture regime that helped the society “optimize long-term stability over immediate returns” in a nearly impossible place to live?
During the Q & A, Hunt and Lipo were asked how their new theory of Easter Island history was playing on the island itself. Shame at being the self-destructive dopes of history has been replaced by pride, they said. Moai races are being planned. Polynesians were the space explorers of the Pacific. They completed discovering every island in the huge ocean by the end of the 13th century, colonized the ones they could, and then stopped.
Published on Tuesday, January 22nd, 02013 by Alex Mensing
Join artist and ecologist Laura Cunningham and Ryan Phelan at the David Brower Center in Berkeley on Wednesday evening, January 30th, for a conversation jointly presented by The Long Now Foundation and the Brower Center. “A Landscape Flux” will blend Laura Cunningham’s long-term perspective on California ecological history with Ryan Phelan’s work, including a new Long Now project on extinct species revival, Revive and Restore.
We hope to see you at the talk, which is free and open to the public. Please see the Brower Center website for details, and Brown Paper Tickets to RSVP.
In conversation with Ryan Phelan of The Long Now Foundation, Laura Cunningham will explore the theme of changing natural landscapes and time’s effect on them, reminding us that the landscapes we see today are merely a snapshot of an ever-changing world in constant flux.
A Landscape Flux The David Brower Center
6:30 pm to 9:00 pm Wednesday, January 30th, 02013
Conversation with Laura Cunningham and Ryan Phelan: 7:00 – 8:00
Book Signing in the Gallery: 8:00 – 9:00
Visit the gallery by the end of January to see Laura Cunningham’s exhibit.
Laura Cunningham: Before California
The David Brower Center Hazel Wolf Gallery (Fourth Annual Art/Act Exhibition)
Exhibit dates: September 13, 02012 – January 30, 02013
Thursday January 17, 02013 at the Cowell Theater, San Francisco
Archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo study cultural evolution and diversity. Their research tries to answer questions about how small communities develop into complex societies, and how cultures change and spread over time. They’ve focused much of their work on the Southern Pacific, a big stretch of ocean, dotted by tiny islands, that poses somewhat of a conundrum to archaeologists and anthropologists: how did human populations ever manage to spread out across these isolated locales?
Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, is a particularly intriguing case. More than 2,000 miles removed from its nearest (inhabited) neighbor, the island is small and relatively poor in natural resources. Nevertheless, Rapa Nui was home – for a while at least – to an industrious society most known for its construction of nearly 900 giant statues, or moai. Scholars and researchers have pored over the mystery of how a small community was able to build such impressive statues, and why the population ultimately perished in the 18th century.
According to conventional theories, the answers to those questions serve as a warning to our modern global population. Many scholars believe that the population depleted what little natural resources their island had in order to satisfy an ever-growing obsession with their society’s statue-building cult, thereby causing their own “ecocide.” In order to move these massive stone figures, people felled the palm trees that were once abundant on the island and turned them into logs. But with the disappearance of these trees, other species quickly went extinct as well. No longer able to sustain itself, Rapa Nui society collapsed into chaos and ultimately perished.
“It seemed obvious to researchers that Rapa Nui was a clear case of human recklessness, over-population, over-exploitation, and cultural collapse. Given contemporary concerns about our own environmental future, Rapa Nui offered the quintessential case of “ecocide,” as Jared Diamond (2005) dubbed it. The case for “ecocide” seemed consistent with some accounts from early European visitors, some of the oral traditions, Heyerdahl’s views of pervasive warfare and cultural replacement, and the emerging palaeo-ecological evidence. Rapa Nui provided a compelling story and environmental message that held relevance in today’s urgent global crisis (e.g. Kirch 1997, 2004).” (Hunt & Lipo 2007:85)
Nevertheless, Lipo and Hunt found reason in the archaeological record to question that theory. They traveled to Easter Island, where they ran a creative, hands-on experiment that put one simple assumption to the test: did the islanders really use logs to move their statues?
“When people are asked, how did your ancestors move the statues, the answer was always, ‘they walked’. … For the Rapa Nui, that was the answer, and … the foreigners asking the question, they thought, ‘oh, well that’s silly, you know, how crazy.’”
Hunt and Lipo built a precise, 15-ton replica of a moai from concrete, and asked a small group of people to see if they could make it “walk”: to move it forward in an upright position, using only ropes. A PBS feature documents their process of trial and error – and eventual success.
By confirming this simple hypothesis – that the Rapa Nui did not need logs to move their moai – Hunt and Lipo are able to offer a new theory about how the islanders interacted with their environment, and what caused their eventual decline. In their book, The Statues That Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island, they take their insight as the basis for a new view of cultural evolution in the Southeastern Pacific: rather than a symbol of reckless environmental destruction, the Easter Island statues are a testament to human innovation and creative use of the environment. Hunt and Lipo argue that the islanders were actually inventive ‘users’ of their island’s resources, and adept at maximizing its agricultural capacities. Rather than a dangerous, self-destructive obsession, the statues were in fact instrumental to a culture of sustainability. The eventual demise of the Easter Island population was caused by a confluence of complicated factors, with an important role played by European conquerors and the foreign pests and diseases they brought with them. Easter Island still serves as an object lesson – but now of the complex and globally interwoven dynamics of cultural and ecological change.
Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo discuss their findings and the lessons we might learn from the fate of Rapa Nui on January 17th at the Cowell Theatre. You can reserve tickets, get directions, and sign up for the podcast on the Seminar page.