Blog Archive for the ‘Seminars’ Category

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Philip Tetlock Seminar Tickets

Posted on Wednesday, October 28th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Philip Tetlock on Superforecasting

Philip Tetlock presents “Superforecasting”

TICKETS

Monday November 23, 02015 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15

About this Seminar:

The pundits we all listen to are no better at predictions than a “dart-throwing chimp,” and they are routinely surpassed by normal news-attentive citizens. So Philip Tetlock reported in his 02005 book, Expert Political Judgement—and in a January 02007 SALT talk.

It now turns out there are some people who are spectacularly good at forecasting, and their skills can be learned. Tetlock discovered them in the course of building winning teams for a tournament of geopolitical forecasting run by IARPA—Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. His brilliant new book, SUPERFORECASTING: The Art and Science of Prediction, spells out the methodology the superforecasters developed. Like Daniel Kahneman’s THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, the book changes how we think about thinking.

Philip Tetlock is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. With his co-researcher (and wife) Barbara Mellors he is running the Good Judgement Project, with its open competition for aspiring forecasters.

James Fallows Seminar Media

Posted on Tuesday, October 20th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Civilization’s Infrastructure

Tuesday, October 6 02015 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Fallows Seminar page.

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Audio is up on the Fallows Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.

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Infrastructure investment tricks – a summary by Stewart Brand

All societies under-invest in their infrastructure—in the systems that allow them to thrive. There is hardware infrastructure: clean water, paved roads, sewer systems, airports, broadband; and, Fallows suggested, software infrastructure: organizational and cultural practices such as education, safe driving, good accounting, a widening circle of trust. China, for example, is having an orgy of hard infrastructure construction. It recently built a hundred airports while America built zero. But it is lagging in soft infrastructure such as safe driving and political transition.

Infrastructure always looks unattractive to investors because the benefits: 1) are uncertain; 2) are delayed; and 3) go to others—the public, in the future. And the act of building infrastructure can be highly disruptive in the present. America for the last forty years has starved its infrastructure, but in our history some highly controversial remarkable infrastructure decisions got through, each apparently by a miracle—the Louisiana Purchase, the Erie Canal, the Gadsden Purchase, the Alaska Purchase, National Parks, Land Grant colleges, the GI Bill that created our middle class after World War II, and the Interstate highway system.

In Fallows’ view, the miracle that enabled the right decision each time was either an emergency (such as World War II or the Depression), stealth (such as all the works that quietly go forward within the military budget or the medical-industrial complex), or a story (such as Manifest Destiny and the Space Race). Lately, Fallows notes, there is a little noticed infrastructure renaissance going in some mid-sized American cities, where the political process is nonpoisonous and pragmatic compared to the current national-level dysfunction.

By neglecting the long view, Fallows concluded, we overimagine problems with infrastructure projects and underimagine the benefits. But with the long view, with the new wealth and optimism of our tech successes, and expanding on the innovations in many of our cities, there is compelling story to be told. It might build on the unfolding emergency with climate change or on the new excitement about space exploration. Responding to need or to opportunity, we can tell a tale that inspires us to reinvent and build anew the systems that make our society flourish.

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Saul Griffith Seminar Media

Posted on Saturday, October 3rd, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Infrastructure & Climate Change

Monday September 21, 02015 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Griffith Seminar page.

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Audio is up on the Griffith Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.

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Green infrastructure – a summary by Stewart Brand

Griffith began with an eyeroll at the first round of responses in the US to reducing greenhouse gases, a program he calls “peak Al Gore.” Some activities feel virtuous —becoming vegetarian, installing LED lights, avoiding bottled water, reading news online, using cold water detergent, and “showering less in a smaller, colder house”—but they demand constant attention and they don’t really add up to what is needed.

Griffith’s view is that we deal best with greenhouse gases by arranging our infrastructure so we don’t have to think about climate and energy issues every minute. Huge energy savings can come from designing our buildings and cars better, and some would result from replacing a lot of air travel with “video conferencing that doesn’t suck.“ Clean energy will mostly come from solar, wind, biofuels (better ones than present), and nuclear. Solar could be on every roof. The most fuel-efficient travel is on bicycles, which can be encouraged far more. Electric cars are very efficient, and when most become self-driving they can be lighter and even more efficient because “autonomous vehicles don’t run into each other.” Sixty percent of our energy goes to waste heat; with improved design that can be reduced radically to 20 percent.

Taking the infrastructure approach, in a few decades the US could reduce its total energy use by 40 percent, while eliminating all coal and most oil and natural gas burning, with no need to shower less.

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James Fallows Seminar Tickets

Posted on Thursday, September 10th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

James Fallows on Civilization's Infrastructure

James Fallows on “Civilization’s Infrastructure”

TICKETS

Tuesday, October 6 02015 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15

 

About this Seminar:

Infrastructure decisions—and failures to decide—affect everything about a society for centuries. That long shadow, James Fallows points out, is what makes the decisions so difficult, because “We must choose among options whose consequences we can’t fully anticipate.” What we do know is that infrastructure projects are hugely disruptive and expensive in the short term, and neglecting to deal with infrastructure is even more disruptive and expensive in the long term. What would a healthy civilization do?

These days California is making decisions about high-speed rail, about water supply for agriculture, about driverless cars, about clean energy—all infrastructure issues with long, uncertain shadows. Fallows reminds us that “Everything about today’s California life is conditioned by decisions about its freeway network made 60-plus years ago, and by the decision to tear up the Southern California light-rail network in the decades before that.” (That remark came in a 15-part series of blogs about high-speed rail in California that Fallows posted at theatlantic.com. He approves of the project.)

James Fallows is the journalist’s journalist, covering in depth subjects such as China, the Mideast, flying, the military, Presidential speeches (he once wrote them for Jimmy Carter), journalism itself, and his native California. Based at The Atlantic magazine for decades, he blogs brilliantly and has produced distinguished books such as Postcards from Tomorrow Square, Blind into Baghdad , and Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy.

This will be the first time he speaks about civilization entire.

SALT Summaries Kindle Book Update Available

Posted on Thursday, September 3rd, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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The Salt Summaries

Since their inception in 02003, the Seminars About Long-term Thinking have featured over 100 speakers from a wide range of disciplines. Curated by Stewart Brand, each of these Seminars address some aspect of long-term thinking. From the ideas presented and discussed in the live event, he crafts a summary which captures and elucidates these ideas.  A few days after a Seminar, this summary gets posted to the SALT list and blog, but we also collect these distillations in a book, “The SALT Summaries”. Every six months we update the Kindle eBook with the most recent Seminars, and we wanted to let our readers know how they can now update their Kindle book.

After you login to your Amazon account, go to the Manage Your Kindle page. On that page, you should see the cover of the book with an update option hovering above it. If you click update, the update should transfer to all of your devices. Thank you for supporting the Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Sara Seager Seminar Media

Posted on Tuesday, September 1st, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Other Earths. Other Life.

Monday August 10, 02015 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Seager Seminar page.

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Audio is up on the Seager Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.

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To find living exoplanets – a summary by Stewart Brand

Thanks to recent exoplanet research, Seager began, we now know that nearly all of our galaxy’s 300 billion stars are accompanied by planets, and a unexpectedly high number of them are rocky like Earth, and many of those orbit in a “habitable” range—meaning that they could harbor liquid water and perhaps life. How can we detect that life?

(To learn about the 4,700-plus planets so far discovered, Seager recommended an exciting dynamic map and encyclopedia from NASA called “Eyes on Exoplanets.” Seager predicts that “If an Earth 2.0 exists, we have the capability to find and identify it by the 02020s.”)

The way to discover life from a distance is to search for spectrographic evidence of “biosignature gases” such as oxygen or methane in the planetary atmosphere. To do that we have to acquire direct imaging of the rocky planets, but we can’t because our telescopes are blinded by the brilliance of the planet’s star, a billion times brighter than the planet. “It’s like looking for a firefly next to a searchlight, from thousands of miles away,” Seager said. Even the next planet-discovery telescope, called TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), which is coming in 02018, will not be able to study exoplanet atmospheres.

The solution that Seager has been working on is called Starshade. To perfectly occult a star with a perfectly dark, hard-edged shadow, it will be deployed tens of thousands of kilometers from its telescope. It will be a disk 15 to 20 meters in diameter, with a perimeter of exotically shaped “petals” to defeat the effect of light diffracting around the edges of the disk. The edges have to be geometrically exact and machined to razor sharpness. The Starshade would fly in formation with a telescope located at the stable Lagrange point called L2, a million miles from Earth in the direction away from the Sun. The cost, including launch, will be about $650 million—not currently budgeted by NASA.

Now that we know planets are extremely common, one of the profoundest questions is whether life is also common in our galaxy, or is it extremely rare? Seager thinks that life abounds out there, and we will be able to point to examples in this century.

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Saul Griffith Seminar Tickets

Posted on Friday, August 14th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Saul Griffith on Infrastructure and Climate Change

Saul Griffith on “Infrastructure and Climate Change”

TICKETS

Monday September 21, 02015 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15

 

About this Seminar:

So far we are trying to deal with climate change at the wrong time scale. A really deep problem cannot be solved by shallow innovations, no matter how clever. The scale of climate change requires thinking and acting in multi-decade terms at the level of infrastructure—personal as well as societal. Get it right, and “the result can be like living in a beautifully managed garden.”

Saul Griffith is an inventor and meta-inventor, currently founder of Otherlabs in San Francisco (devising such things as soft robotics, soft exoskeletons, cheap solar tracking, and conformable gas tanks.) He is a MacArthur Fellow and frequent TED dazzler. His 02009 SALT talk on Climate Change Recalculated is the most viewed video in our twelve-year series.

Ramez Naam Seminar Media

Posted on Friday, August 7th, 02015 by Danielle Engelman
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Enhancing Humans, Advancing Humanity

Wednesday July 22, 02015 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Naam Seminar page.

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Audio is up on the Naam Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.

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Enhancing humans and humanity – a summary by Stewart Brand

Beginning with the accelerating pace of biotech tools for human health and enhancement, Naam noted that health issues such as disease prevention will be drastically easier to implement than enhancement. Preventing some hereditary diseases can be done with a single gene adjustment, whereas enhancement of traits like intelligence or longevity entails the fine tuning of hundreds of genes. He favors moving ahead with human germline engineering to totally eliminate some of our most horrific diseases.

Over time he expects that human gene editing will lead in the opposite direction from the enforced conformity depicted in Brave New World and the film “Gattaca.” Instead people will relish exploring variety, and the plummeting costs of the technology will mean that the poor will benefit as well as the rich.

Naam’s brain discussion began with the Sergey Brin quote, “We want Google to be the third half of your brain.” Brain interface tools are proliferating. There are already 200,000 successful cochlear implants which feed sound directly into the nervous system. There is a digital eye that feeds pretty good visual data directly to the brain via a jack in the side of the user’s head. There is a hippocampus chip that can restore brain function in a rat.

Rat brains have been linked so that what one rat learns, the other rat knows. The paper on that work was titled “Meta-organism of Two Rats on the Internet.” Humans also have been linked brain to brain at a distance to share function. Zebrafish have been lit up to show all their neurons firing in real time. Coming soon is the deployment of “neural dust” that can provide ultrasonic communications with tens of thousands of neurons at a time.

How profound are the ethical issues? Naam observed that we already have many of the attributes of telepathy in our cell phones and smart phones. They came so rapidly and cheaply that they erased most of the concerns about a “digital divide.” Half of the world is now on the Internet, with the rest coming fast. And rather than a divider, the technology proved to be an equalizer and a connector, fostering economic growth and the rapid spread and sifting of ideas.

Digital connectivity, he argued, is widening everyone’s “circle of empathy.” A viral video started the Arab Spring. Viral videos are changing how everyone thinks about race in America. These technologies, he concluded, are making humans more humane.

One question from the audience inquired about the origin of so much reference in the Nexus series to group meditation as the epitome of mind sharing. Naam noted that Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama, are highly interested in brain science, and his own experiences of the ecstacy of mind sharing were at a rave at Burning Man and a ten-day Vipassana Meditation Retreat in Thailand.

I asked if he agreed with the current round of panic about superintelligent artificial intelligence posing an existential threat to humanity. He said no. The dark scenarios imagine an AI so smart it implements new and grotesquely harmful pathways to solve a poorly contextualized problem. Naam pointed out that “Software almost never does anything well by accident.” (A flock of Tweets burst from the theater with that line.) And the dark scenarios imagine an isolated rogue super-capable AI. In reality nothing really capable is developed in isolation.

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Neil Gaiman Seminar Media

Posted on Wednesday, July 8th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

How Stories Last

Tuesday June 9, 02015 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Gaiman Seminar page.

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Audio is up on the Gaiman Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.

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How stories last – a summary by Stewart Brand

Stories are alive. The ones that last, Gaiman said, outcompete other stories by changing over time. They make it from medium to medium—from oral to written to film and beyond. They lose uninteresting elements but hold on to the most compelling bits or even add some. The most popular version of the Cinderella story (which may have originated long ago in China) has kept the gloriously unlikely glass slipper introduced by a careless French telling.

“Stories,” Gaiman said, “teach us how the world is put together and the rules of living in the world, and they come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and want to help them propagate.” Northwest coast native Americans have a tale about a beautiful woman and young man whose forbidden love was punished by the earth shaking, and black ash on snow, and finally fire coming from a mountain, killing many people. It stopped only when the beautiful woman was thrown into the burning mountain.

That is important information– solid-seeming mountains can suddenly erupt, and early warnings of that are earthquakes and ash. As pure information it won’t last beyond three generations. But add in beauty and forbidden love and tragic death, and the story will be told as long as people live in the mountains.

The first emperor of China died 2,300 years ago. He was so powerful that he was able to totally conceal the location of his tomb, and all that was left was stories about the fabulous treasures buried with him. There was said to a whole army of terracotta warriors and ships floating on lakes of mercury. A few years ago a terracotta warrior was dug up in a field in China, and then a whole army of them. Archaeologists figured out where the emperor’s mausoleum must be buried, but first they did something not normally done at archeological digs. They checked if there might be any incredibly poisonous mercury around. There is.

Gaiman said he learned something important about stories from his cousin Helen Fagin, a Holocaust survivor who taught class in a Polish ghetto during the Nazi occupation. Books were forbidden on pain of death, but Helen had a Polish translation of Gone With the Wind she read at night, and she told its story to her entranced students by day. “The magic of escapist fiction,” Gaiman said, “is that it can offer you escape from an otherwise intolerable situation, and it can furnish you with armor, knowledge, weapons, and other tools you can take back into your life to make it better.”

“‘Once upon a time,’ Gaiman said, “is code for ‘I’m lying to you.’ We experience stories as lies and truth at the same time. We learn to empathize with real people via made-up people. The most important thing that fiction does is it lets us look out through other eyes, and that teaches us empathy—that behind every pair of eyes is somebody like us.“

Stories have their own form of life, Gaiman concluded. “You can view people as this peculiar byproduct that stories use for breeding and transmission. They are symbiotic with us. They are the thing that we have used since the dawn of humanity to become more than just one person.“

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Photograph of Neil Gaiman by Kimberly Butler

Beth Shapiro Seminar Media

Posted on Monday, June 1st, 02015 by Danielle Engelman
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

How to Clone a Mammoth

Monday May 11, 02015 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Shapiro Seminar page.

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Audio is up on the Shapiro Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.

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De-extinction science – a summary by Stewart Brand

When people hear about “ancient DNA” in fossils, Shapiro began, the first question always is “Can we clone a dinosaur?” Dinosaurs died out so many millions of years ago, their fossils are nothing but rock (and by the way, there’s no workaround with mosquitoes in amber because amber totally destroys DNA). With no DNA, there’s no chance of cloning a dinosaur. (Sorry.)

The fossils of woolly mammoths, though, are not rock. They died out only thousands of years ago, and their remains are pretty well preserved in frozen tundra, which means there is recoverable DNA. So, Plan A, can we clone a mammoth? It would be like Dolly-the-sheep, where you take nuclear DNA from somewhere in the preserved mammoth body, inject it into the egg of a closely related species (Asian elephant), plant the mammoth embryo in a surrogate mother, and in two years, a newborn woolly mammoth! But as soon as any animal dies, unless it is cyropreserved with great care, all the DNA is attacked by gut bacteria, by water, by temperature change, and soon you have nothing but tiny fragments. Nobody has found any intact cells or intact DNA in frozen mammoth mummies, and probably they never will. So, you can’t clone a mammoth. (Sorry.)

Okay, Plan B, can you sequence a mammoth—reconstruct the entire genome through digital analysis and then rebuild it chemically and plant that in an elephant egg? Ancient DNA, even from the best specimens, is so badly fragmented and contaminated it’s hard to tell what bits are mammoth and how they go together. Using the elephant genome for comparison, though, you can do a pretty good job of approximating the original. Just last week the successful sequencing and assembly of the full woolly mammoth genome—4 billion base pairs—was announced. But all sequencing is incomplete, including the human genome, and maybe important elements got left out. A genome rebuilt from scratch won’t be functional, and you can’t create a mammoth with it. (Sorry.)

Alright, Plan C, can you engineer a mammoth? Take a living elephant genome and cut and paste important mammoth genes into it so you get all the mammoth traits you want. There is an incredibly powerful new tool for genome editing called CRISPR Cas 9 that can indeed swap synthetic mammoth genes into an elephant genome, and this has been done by George Church and his team at Harvard. They swapped in 14 genes governing mammoth traits for long hair, extra fat, and special cold-adapted blood cells. If you can figure out the right genes to swap, and you get them all working in an elephant genome, and you manage the difficult process of cross-species cloning and cross-species parenthood, then you may get mammoth-like Asian elephants capable of living in the cold.

(During the Q & A, Shapiro pointed out that with birds the process is different than with mammals. Instead of cloning, you take the edited genome and inject it into primordial germ cells of the embryo of a closely related bird. If all goes well, when the embryo grows up, it has the gonads of the extinct bird and will lay some eggs carrying the traits of the extinct animal.)

Why bring back extinct animals? Certainly not to live in zoos. But in the wild they could restore missing ecological interactions. Shapiro described Sergey Zimov’s “Pleistocene Park” in northern Siberia, where he proved that a dense herd of large herbivores can turn tundra into grassland—”the animals create and maintain their own grazing environment.” The woolly mammoth was a very large herbivore. Its return to the Arctic could provide new habitat for endangered species, help temper climate change, increase the population of elephants in the world, and bring excitement and a reframed sense of what is possible to conservation.

Furthermore, Shapiro concluded, the technology of de-extinction can be applied to endangered species. Revive & Restore is working on the black-footed ferret, which has inbreeding problems and extreme vulnerability to a disease called sylvatic plague. Gene variants that are now absent in the population might be recovered from the DNA of specimens in museums, and the living ferrets could get a booster shot from their ancestors.

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