Blog Archive for the ‘Long Term Science’ Category

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Centre for the Study of Existential Risk needs researchers

Posted on Monday, April 6th, 02015 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Former Long Now speaker Sir Martin Rees just wrote in to let us know that the new Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (At the University of Cambridge) is recruiting four postdoctoral researchers to work on the study of extreme risks arising from technological advances. Specific projects include: responsible innovation in transformative technologies; horizon-scanning and foresight; ethics and evaluation of extreme technological risks, and policy and governance challenges associated with emerging technologies.

They also have the flexibility to hire one or more postdoctoral researchers to work on additional projects relevant to the Centre’s broad aims, which include impacts and safety in artificial intelligence and synthetic biology, biosecurity, extreme tail climate change, geoengineering, and catastrophic biodiversity loss. They welcome proposals from a range of fields.

The deadline for applications is April 24th, and details can be found here:
http://www.jobs.cam.ac.uk/job/6554/

1,000 Year Old Recipe Effectively Kills MRSA (An Antibiotic-Resistant Superbug)

Posted on Thursday, April 2nd, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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A 1,000 year old treatment for eye infections, recreated from a recipe recorded in the 9th Century, killed up to 90% of MRSA bacteria, suggesting a new path of research against antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. The treatment is made up of onion, garlic, wine, and cow bile, and was recorded in Bald’s Leechbook, an early medical textbook that has been preserved by The British Library.

The Cosmological Limits of Information Storage

Posted on Thursday, February 12th, 02015 by Charlotte Hajer
link   Categories: Digital Dark Age, Long Term Science   chat 0 Comments

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An important part of long-term thinking is the never-ending search for very long-lived methods of information storage. A perfect, eternal storage medium still eludes us; most of the ones we’ve invented and used over the course of civilization have had their limitations – even stone, nickel, and sapphire have a shelf life.

But new research by a team of physicists now suggests that searching for a storage medium that lives forever may be a waste of energy, because the laws of physics themselves limit the amount of time that any information can be kept.

In a paper recently published by the New Journal of Physics, the researchers review how spacetime dynamics might influence the storage of information by asking how much data we can reliably hold on to from the beginning to the end of time.

In order to answer that question, the team combined Einsteinian cosmology with quantum theories about the nature of matter and reality. They worked with a standard model of the universe, called the Friedman-Lemaître-Robertson-Walker metric: based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity, it describes a universe that is homogeneous and isotropic, and therefore expands (or contracts) uniformly in all directions.

Working with this metric, the researchers modeled what would happen to stored data over the course of universe expansion. When you encode information into some kind of matter and then track what happens to your storage medium throughout the life course of the universe, you’ll find that the quantum state of its matter (in other words, its properties: its position, momentum, and spin) will eventually and inevitably change. The research team was able to prove that this change in state creates ‘noise’ that dampens the stored information. One of the research physicists explains the process in this video abstract of the paper:

The faster the universe expands, the team argues, the more ‘noise’ interferes with stored data. Looking at the storage of both classical information (anything encoded in bits) and quantum information (anything encoded by the quantum state of a given particle), they conclude that not very much data will last from the beginning to the end of time.

In other words, it seems as though we may be doomed to an eventual quantum dark age. Unless, of course, we always take care to anticipate these state changes, and continuously forward migrate our data.

David Keith Seminar Primer

Posted on Wednesday, February 4th, 02015 by Charlotte Hajer
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On Tuesday, February 17, David Keith will present Patient Geoengineering, as part of our monthly Seminars About Long-Term Thinking. Each month the Seminar Primer gives you some background information about the speaker, including links to learn even more.

In 01991, Mount Pinatubo – a largely forgotten and underestimated volcano in the Philippines – erupted in what would turn out to be one of the 20th century’s most significant geological events. It shot about 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide to the surface, much of which a coinciding typhoon then swept up into the air. This produced a cloud of sulfuric acid aerosols that quickly spread across the planet and managed to lower global temperatures by about 0.5 ºCelsius for the next few years.

This one-time event thereby managed to achieve what decades of political discussion about curbing CO₂ emissions has so far been unsuccessful at doing: counteracting the unprecedented global warming of our planet. Could Mount Pinatubo be pointing us to a viable new solution for climate change?

Many people, climate scientists included, are wary of proposals to reverse or reduce global warming by tinkering directly with Earth’s climate and atmosphere. Such efforts at geoengineering, they worry, could have unforeseen and dangerous regional side effects that we may not be able to control or reverse. What if it interferes with local patterns of rainfall – or produces powerful storms?

But after decades of getting nowhere with emissions caps, argues David Keith, we simply can no longer afford not to put these ideas on the table.

Keith is an applied physicist and climate scientist at Harvard, with dual appointments in the university’s schools of engineering and public policy. He splits his time between Cambridge and Calgary, where he runs Carbon Engineering – a company that works on developing technologies for the capture of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and turning it into low-carbon fuel.

Keith dedicates both his academic and entrepreneurial efforts to the exploration of climate engineering. While his company works on methods to directly reduce the amount of CO₂ in the air, his research explores ways to counteract human contributions to rising CO₂ levels by diminishing the amount of solar energy that reaches Earth’s surface. Indeed, one method for this kind of Solar Radiation Management (SRM) takes a cue from Mount Pinatubo, and would involve the release of sulfate particles into the upper atmosphere:

Keith not only argues that we must seriously consider these options, but also suggests that they may not be as irreversible, costly, or dangerous as they seem.

There’s no question [solar radiation management] reduces the global average temperatures; even the people who hate it agree you could reduce average global temperatures. The question is: how does it do on a regional basis? By far the single most important thing to look at on a region-by-region basis is the impact on rainfall and temperature. And the answer is, it works a lot better than I expected. It’s really stunning. A lot of us thought that, in fact, geoengineering would do a lousy job on a regional basis – and there’s lots of talk on the inequalities – but in fact, when you actually look at the climate models, the results show they’re strikingly even.

Nevertheless, Keith by no means means to suggest humanity should begin experimenting with these methods immediately, nor should they be considered a viable and ethical alternative to cutting CO₂ emissions. Above all, he argues for thoughtful discussion, rigorous research, and global consensus about the best way forward. We must, above all, be patient and thorough. As he told Time Magazine in 02009, when the weekly named him a Hero of the Environment, “The thing about tools … is not that you have to use them: it’s that you have to understand them.”

Join us next Tuesday, February 17th at SFJAZZ Center to hear David Keith present his case for patient geoengineering.

From the City to the Great Basin: a Trip to Long Now’s Mountain in Nevada

Posted on Thursday, January 8th, 02015 by Mikl Em
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The Big Here video documenting a drive from San Francisco to Mount Washington in eastern Nevada was made in 02009 and shown as a Long Short before Stewart Brand’s Rethinking Green SALT talk. We showed it again this week at The Great Basin in the Anthropocene talk by Scotty Strachan at The Interval. That event focused on the larger region that includes Mount Washington.

The mount Washington site was originally purchased as a potential site for a monument scale 10,000 Year Clock to act as an icon to long-term thinking. The first of these Clocks is now underway in Texas (see longnow.org/clock/ for more details), and Long Now remains involved in this fascinating, important region of eastern Nevada.

Our Mount Washington property is home to the largest population of bristlecone pines on private land. Bristlecones, amongst the oldest living things on Earth, are a symbol of The Long Now. And Long Now is working with scientists, like Scotty Strachan, at University of Nevada, Reno to study these bristlecones for insights into the last 10,000 years of climate amongst other research efforts.

Mt Washington bristlecone -- Scotty Strachan at The IntervalPhoto of Mount Washington by Scotty Strachan

Jesse Ausubel Seminar Primer

Posted on Tuesday, January 6th, 02015 by Charlotte Hajer
link   Categories: Long Term Science, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

On Tuesday, January 13, Jesse Ausubel will present Nature is Rebounding: Land- and Ocean-sparing Through Concentrating Human Activities, as part of our monthly Seminars About Long-Term Thinking. Each month the Seminar Primer gives you some background information about the speaker, including links to learn even more.

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The stories and scary graphs aren’t hard to find: the global industrialization that has been taking place since the middle of the 19th century has had a disastrous effect on our environment. It has led to massive deforestation, depletion of other natural resources, and a (resulting) rise in greenhouse gases not seen in millions of years.

But Jesse Ausubel counters this gloom with a bit of optimism. He argues that modernity and technology are not necessarily the unusually destructive forces we make them out to be. Humans were impacting the world around them long before we first started burning fossil fuels to power large-scale factories. And the technological progress we’ve made since then, Ausubel suggests, can actually – and might very well – help us diminish our harmful environmental footprint.

Ausubel is an environmental scientist who combines research with an active policy agenda. He has played an important role in bringing environmental, ecological, and climate issues to the attention of governments and scientific agencies, and has been instrumental in the formulation of US and international climate research programs. He helped organize the first United Nations World Climate Conference in 01979 – the event that first brought the issue of global warming to governments’ attention – and served on a variety of federal research agencies throughout the 01980s and 90s.

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Through his work with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, where he is a science advisor and former Vice President of Programs, Ausubel has pursued several efforts at documenting and conserving biodiversity. He helped develop the Census of Marine Life, an international mission to study the distribution, diversity, and abundance of life in Earth’s seas and oceans. The census has so far discovered numerous previously unknown species, and species thought to have gone extinct millennia ago. Honoring Ausubel’s efforts, a recently discovered deep-sea lobster was named Ausubel’s Mighty Clawed Lobster (or dinochelus ausubeli).

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In addition, Ausubel is a co-founder of the Barcode of Life – an initiative to begin using very short genomic sequences (rather than morphological characteristics) as universal ‘barcodes’ for species identification. He is also founding chair of the Encyclopedia of Life, a wikipedia-like website, first proposed by former SALT speaker E.O. Wilson, that aims to catalog all species of life on earth.

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Ausubel is currently Senior Research Associate and Director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University, where he studies how human technological and economic development interact with the environment. He is considered a founder of the field of Industrial Ecology (and his 01989 textbook, Technology & Environment, is accepted as one of the sub-discipline’s foundational texts).

Ausubel argues that industrial development can help us diminish our harmful environmental footprint, because it always tends toward greater efficiency. As the New York Times reported in 02011,

In a recent interview in his office at Rockefeller University on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Mr. Ausubel explained his view that the environment will be protected, not harmed, by technology. Over the long run, he notes, the economy requires more efficient forms of energy, and these are inherently sparing of the environment. Cities used to use wood for heat and hay for transport fuel. But the required volumes of wood and horse feed soon led to more compact fuels like coal and oil.


Jesse Ausubel : Why Renewables are Not Green from Arcos Films on Vimeo.
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As industry evolves, Ausubel argues, it constantly finds ways to use fewer material resources for every unit of production, thus decreasing its consumption of the world’s natural resources, including land. In other words, industrial development follows a path of dematerialization. Ausubel claims it is also on a course of decarbonization: a consistent and gradual replacement of carbon-based fuels by much more efficient hydrogen-based ones. Indeed, Ausubel is an advocate of nuclear power as a highly efficient source of energy, and a useful alternative that can help us spur society’s decarbonization along.

In a landmark paper, for which Ausubel won The Breakthrough Institute’s 02014 Paradigm Award, Ausubel concludes:

The builders of the beautiful home of the US National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., inscribed it with the epigraph, “To science, pilot of industry, conqueror of disease, multiplier of the harvest, explorer of the universe, revealer of nature’s laws, eternal guide to truth.” Finally, after a very long preparation, our science and technology are ready also to reconcile our economy and the environment … In fact, long before environmental policy became conscious of itself, the system had set decarbonization in motion. A highly efficient hydrogen economy, landless agriculture, industrial ecosystems in which waste virtually disappears: over the coming century these can enable large, prosperous human populations to co-exist with the whales and the lions and the eagles and all that underlie them–if we are mentally prepared, which I believe we are.

Human culture is poised to realize technology’s potential to liberate the environment, Ausubel suggests: we need simply to pursue our drive toward efficiency and greater convenience. This drive might just allow us to have our cake and eat it, too – a prosperous and growing human society amid a thriving natural environment.

To hear more about Jesse Ausubel’s vision of a prosperous human population co-existing peacefully with a thriving natural world, please join us on Tuesday, January 13 at the SFJAZZ Center.

 

Scotty Strachan: The Great Basin in the Anthropocene @ The Interval January 6 — The Mountains Keep Teaching

Posted on Sunday, January 4th, 02015 by Mikl Em
link   Categories: Clock of the Long Now, Events, Long Now salon (Interval), Long Term Science, The Interval   chat 0 Comments

Scotty Strachan up and upPhoto by Scotty Strachan

January 6, 02015: Scotty Strachan (University Nevada-Reno)
Long Now’s Nevada: the Great Basin in the Anthropocene
Tickets are still available

This Tuesday a very special event begins our 02015 series of salon talks at The Interval in San Francisco. The Great Basin in the Anthropocene on January 6 will be a night full of science, natural beauty, and Long Now lore.

Scotty Strachan will talk about the natural history of the Great Basin Region. Scotty’s scientific research includes study of the climate and hydrology of the area as well as tree-ring analysis of bristlecone pines. This work has been conducted throughout the region including on Long Now’s property on Mount Washington in Nevada. Alexander Rose, Long Now’s Executive Director, will give a special introduction about Long Now’s history and connection with the area. You can purchase tickets here while they last.

In Stewart Brand’s 02004 TED talk (full video below), he tells some of the story of Long Now’s Mount Washington. It’s a talk Stewart called “How Mountains Teach”.

In 02004 we were considering the mountain as the initial site for the 10,000 Year Clock. And while we are currently building in Texas, we remain committed to this fascinating, important area. Long Now’s property features the largest group of bristlecone pines on private land. Bristlecones are amongst the oldest living things on the planet and are a symbol of The Long Now.

As Stewart says in the talk:

If you go up on top of those cliffs, that’s some of the Long Now land in those trees. And if you go up there and look back, then you’ll get a sense of what the view starts to be like from the top of the mountain. That’s the long view. That’s 80 miles to the horizon. And that’s also timberline and those bristlecones really are shrubs. That’s a different place to be. It’s 11,400 feet and it’s exquisite.

This talk is a great introduction not only to Mt. Washington, but also to the entire Great Basin region. Alexander’s introduction before Scotty’s talk will revisit the story of Long Now’s purchase of the land, and talk about why it means so much to our organization.

Scotty is also a talented photographer. While conducting field research in the mountains and valleys of eastern Nevada, he also takes the time to document the natural beauty of the area. We are thrilled to share dozens of Scotty’s photographs not only during his talk but on video screens at The Interval leading up to and following his talk. Below are just a few examples of Scotty’s work. Tickets and more information about the talk are here.

Mt Washington bristlecone -- Scotty Strachan at The Interval Scotty Strachan at The Interval Mt Washington Great Basin
Great Basin horses - Scotty Strachan
Great Basin golden sky - Scotty Strachan Great Basin red sky - Scotty Strachan
Scotty Strachan long walk Nevada
All photos by Scotty Strachan

Salt Crystals and Selfies: Curiosity after the Seven Minutes of Terror

Posted on Monday, December 22nd, 02014 by Ahmed Kabil
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http://graphics8.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2014/11/25/mars/f17d9ebc88054dedce2d80e913fc89476d52495c/images/170-mount.jpg

In October 02013, NASA engineer Adam Steltzner spoke to the Long Now about landing the Curiosity rover on Mars. A decade of exhausted alternatives led Seltzner’s team to take the unconventional approach of a mini-rocket “sky crane” controlled by artificial intelligence to guide the rover to the Martian surface. Because the crane could not be tested on Earth, NASA would have to brave a $2.5 billion attempt on Mars to know it was successful. A 4×12 mile landing target at the Gale Crater left virtually no margin for error. It was a tense moment for martian space travel, which historically has a 42% mission success rate.

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It also made for compelling entertainment. Curiosity’s successful landing in August 02012 was a global event witnessed by millions, aided no doubt by a NASA social media campaign that included Curiosity video games, humorous tweets delivered in first-person by the rover, and “seven minutes of terror” ads that framed the descent as a high-stakes action film unfolding live before viewers’ eyes.

Guess who just got an “attitude adjustment”? My mood’s fine; I needed to reposition my medium-gain antenna for Earth communication

— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) July 19, 2012

A tweet from @MarsCuriosity ahead of landing on Mars.

28 Months on Mars, a new visual storytelling project from the New York Times, provides a window into what Curiosity has been up to since the dramatic landing. An HTML5 multimedia timeline weaves together patchwork snapshots taken by the rover with three-dimensional renderings of the martian landscape, immersing viewers in the bumpy twists and turns of Curiosity’s journey through the dried lakebed of the Gale Crater as it seeks to answer whether Mars could ever have supported life.

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Wheels show gashed wear and tear after five miles on the unforgiving Gale Crater terrain. An unexpected week-long hiatus occurs when Curiosity has to troubleshoot a software update downloaded from Earth. Drilling samples at the Mojave rock outcrop reveal rice-shaped salt crystals (picture above) that suggest a past cycle of wet and dry conditions necessary for supporting microbial life. And at each noteworthy moment, Curiosity takes a selfie.

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The project is part of a growing trend in space exploration to use social media and short-form visual storytelling to engage the public and make the challenges and rewards of decades-long space missions more accessible.

Other recent efforts show the potential of short-form media to bring out the long-term narrative of extended scientific endeavors in space: NASA’s Global Selfie campaign for Earth Day 02014 resulted in over 50,000 submissions from 113 countries, and Astronomy Pic of the Day, a NASA project that shares daily photographs of the cosmos, has upwards of a million followers on Twitter. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield became a pop culture phenomenon through his social media dispatches from the International Space Station; and the European Space Agency has said November 02014’s Rosetta Comet landing (whose hashtag, #cometlanding, was trending globally for days) marked a “watershed” in the agency’s efforts to connect with the public.

Experience 28 Months on Mars here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/12/09/science/space/curiosity-rover-28-months-on-mars.html?_r=1

Long Now’s Nevada and Artists with Lasers: January 02015 at The Interval

Posted on Thursday, December 18th, 02014 by Mikl Em
link   Categories: Announcements, Events, Long Now salon (Interval), Long Term Art, Long Term Science, The Interval   chat 0 Comments

Scotty Strachan speaks at The Interval - January 6, 02015

We have just announced our lineup of upcoming events at The Interval for 02015. The first four months of the year will feature talks on art, science, history, technology and long-term thinking. Tickets are on sale now for the first two:

January 6, 02015
Scotty Strachan: The Great Basin in the Anthropocene
environmental researcher at University Nevada-Reno
Scotty will talk about his scientific research in the Great Basin region including the Long Now owned site on Mount Washington in Nevada

January 20, 02015
Mathieu Victor: Artists with Lasers
artist, technology consultant (formerly of Jeff Koons studio)
first in a series on art, time, and technology talks produced with ZERO1

Space is limited at these events and tickets will sell out. So get yours early. If you make a tax-deductible donation to The Interval you’ll be added to our list for early notice about Interval event tickets. More information on these events below.

When we opened The Interval in June 02014 one of our goals was to host great events in our cafe/bar/museum space at Fort Mason in San Francisco. It was important that these talks complement our larger format Seminars About Long-term Thinking series which we produce for audiences of several hundred in San Francisco each month and are enjoyed around the world via podcast.

So The Interval’s “salon talk” series events are more frequent (2 or 3 times a month) and intimate: fewer than 100 people attend and have the chance to meet and converse with our speaker afterward. So far we’ve produced 14 events in this series and all of them have sold out. They are being recorded and will eventually become a podcast of their own. But we don’t yet have a timeline for that, so your best bet is to attend in person.

Scotty Strachan speaks at The Interval on January 6, 02015
Scotty Strachan speaks at The Interval - January 6, 02015

Tuesday January 6, 02015:
Scotty Strachan: Long Now’s Nevada: the Great Basin in the Anthropocene

Our first Interval salon talk of 02015 features geographer Scotty Strachan discussing the Great Basin region of eastern Nevada. Amonst his other work Scotty conducts research on Long Now’s Mount Washington property. Scotty has done extensive work with bristlecone pine trees which are amongst the oldest organisms on the planet often living for several thousand years. He will discuss his work in eastern Nevada and put it in perspective with climate science efforts worldwide.

Mathieu Victor speaks at The Interval on January 20, 02015
Mathieu Victor speaks at The Interval - January 20, 02015

Tuesday January 20, 02015:
Mathieu Victor: Artists with Lasers. Art, Tech, & Craft in the 21st Century

A creator, art historian and technologist, Mathieu Victor has worked for artists, galleries, and leading design studios. Mathieu’s study of past practice matched with his experience in executing extraordinary contemporary projects give him a unique perspective on how art in the physical world benefits from the digital age.

Other highlights of the 02015 salon talk schedule that we’ve announced: The Interval’s architect/design team Because We Can and Jason Scott of the Internet Archive will speak in February; and Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Rhodes will talk about his new book on the Spanish Civil War in March. More talks will be announced soon. We hope you’ll join us at The Interval soon.

Kevin Kelly: Long-term Trends in the Scientific Method — Seminar Flashback

Posted on Thursday, November 20th, 02014 by Mikl Em
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In March 02006 author and Long Now board member Kevin Kelly shared his thoughts on what awaits us in the next century of science. At the time Kevin was already at work on the book What Technology Wants which would be published 5 years later. If you enjoyed Kevin’s 02014 Seminar for Long Now “Technium Unbound“, then you’ll appreciate this talk as a precursor to his ideas about technology as a super-organism.

Long Now members can watch this video here. The audio is free for everyone on the Seminar page and via podcastLong Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD. Video of the 12 most recent Seminars is also free for all to view.

From Stewart Brand’s summary of the talk (in full here):

Science, says Kevin Kelly, is the process of changing how we know things. It is the foundation our culture and society. While civilizations come and go, science grows steadily onward. It does this by watching itself. [...]

A particularly fruitful way to look at the history of science is to study how science itself has changed over time, with an eye to what that trajectory might suggest about the future.

Kevin Kelly is a former editor of the Whole Earth Review and Whole Earth Catalog. He was the founding Executive Editor at Wired magazine, and his other books include Out of Control and most recently Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities (02013).

Kevin Kellly photo by Christopher Michel

The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. It is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast.

Everyone can watch full video of the 12 most recent Long Now Seminars. Long Now members can watch video of this Seminar video or more than ten years of previous Seminars in HD. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits.

You can join Long Now here.