New Horizons Probe to Send Message to Interstellar Space

Posted on April 28th, 02015 by Charlotte Hajer
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If you could tell the universe about planet Earth, what would you say?

The One Earth Message Initiative is sending a missive to the stars, and they want your input.

The initiative’s goal is to create a message that will be digitally uploaded to a spacecraft currently making its way to the outer reaches of our solar system. Launched in 02006, the New Horizons probe will fly by Pluto, its primary target, later this summer. Once it completes this mission and sends its data back to Earth, the One Earth Message team hopes to use the space thus freed up on the probe’s on-board computer for a message that intelligent extraterrestrial life may one day intercept. They’ve petitioned NASA with more than 10,000 signatures of support from people all over the world, and received the agency’s encouragement to move forward with the project.

The effort is headed by Jon Lomberg, a long-time collaborator of the late astronomer Carl Sagan, who has decades of experience in the aesthetic design of communications both to and about the distant reaches of our universe. He was design director for the Golden Records that have been traveling aboard the Voyager crafts since the late 01970s, and has collaborated on numerous documentaries, films, and blogs about space exploration.

This new project unites his interest in outreach to the earthbound public with his passion for communicating with the universe. The One Earth Message team hopes to crowd-source their message to the furthest extent possible. They intend to create an internet platform where people from all over the globe can submit images for inclusion in the message and review submissions sent in by others. An advisory board of 86 specialists in a variety of fields – among them Long Now’s own Laura Welcher – will help curate submissions to help put together a message that represents the diversity of our global community.

People from every country will have the opportunity to submit photos and other content. Everyone will have the chance to view and vote online for the ones they think should be sent. It will be a global project that brings the people of the world together to speak as one. Who will speak for Earth? YOU WILL! So we are asking for your support to make it so. (Fiat Physica Campaign page)

The team is currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign to build the message website and spread word of the project around the globe. If the campaign is successful, stretch goals include the development of educational material to encourage creative engagement with One Earth Message, and expeditions to the remotest corners of Earth to make sure even the voices living there are included in the New Horizons message.

While there is a possibility that the message could one day reach alien recipients, The One Earth Message organization sees its project primarily as a way to inspire a sense of global unity, much like the Golden Records did – and like Stewart Brand once thought a picture of Earth from space might do.

For almost 40 years, people have been inspired by the Voyager record, a portrait of the Earth in 1977 … The world is very different now, and this new message will reflect the hopes and dreams of the second decade in the 21st century. It will inspire young people’s interest in science and ignite the imagination of all ages. We hope it will be an example of global creativity and cooperation, something that the entire planet can share as a cooperative venture … (space.com)

Artist's impression of the Rosetta spacecraft flying past an asteroid

In other words, the New Horizons message is a way to start a conversation – with alien life, but also with ourselves. Aside from a form of communication, we might also think of it as a self-portrait. Like the Rosetta Disk aboard the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe, the New Horizons message will be a record of who we are as a global community. As Laura Welcher said of the Rosetta mission,

It’s interesting to think why people do this, why we send messages into space. I think partly we’re trying to commemorate special events … partly we’re also trying to communicate with ourselves; our current selves, and perhaps our future selves. … These messages that we’re sending into space are proxies for us. They are our ambassadors, and they go where we physically cannot go.

The creation of a self-portrait requires reflection on who we are, and who we want to be. It holds us accountable to the image we present to the world. Like any self-portrait, the One Earth Message is at least partly aspirational – it’s meant to compel continual engagement with ourselves and our own betterment; to inspire us always to strive to be our best selves.

To learn more about One Earth Message and ways to contribute, please visit the project’s fundraising page, or follow the project on Twitter.

Beth Shapiro Seminar Tickets

Posted on April 20th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Beth Shapiro presents How to Clone a Mammoth

Beth Shapiro presents “How to Clone a Mammoth”

TICKETS

Monday May 11, 02015 at 7:30pm Marines Memorial Theatre

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

 

About this Seminar:

Beth Shapiro is far from a giddy enthusiast about de-extinction. She knows more than nearly anyone about the subject because she is a highly regarded biologist in the middle of the two leading efforts in the new field—to resurrect extinct woolly mammoths and passenger pigeons. She knows exactly how challenging the whole process will be and how imperfect the later stages of success might appear.

An evolutionary biologist who created and runs the paleogenomics lab at UC Santa Cruz, Shapiro is a careful skeptic, a great story teller and explainer, and an extremely productive scientist. In this talk she spans the full de-extinction narrative from DNA editing all the way to revived populations in the wild—from lab work with CRISPR Cas 9 and primordial germ cells through to the ethical and practical issues of restoring a long-absent keystone species in its former ecosystem.

“The goal of de-extinction,” she points out, “is to restore ecosystems; to reinstate interactions between species that no longer exist because one or more of those species are extinct. We don’t need to create exact replicas of extinct species to achieve this goal.” She concludes, “De-extinction uses awesome, exciting, cutting-edge technology to take a giant step forward. De-extinction is a process that allows us to actively create a future that is really better than today, not just one that is less bad than what we anticipate.”

Beth Shapiro is a MacArthur Fellow, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and author of the new book from Princeton University Press, How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction.

The Front Line of Language Extinction

Posted on April 17th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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We live in an era of mass extinction of linguistic heritage. Thousands of years of ancestral knowledge and stories are vanishing with the last speakers of hundreds of languages. Come and find out how mobile devices and social media are being used to preserve the “wisdom of the tribe” for generations far into the future.

Linguists worldwide are engaged in an urgent task of recording the world’s languages while there is still time. Oral cultures are in particular jeopardy because they lack a written record. However, the languages are disappearing more quickly than they can be preserved, and so a new effort is trying to ramp up the effort using mobile technologies.

Steven Bird, a linguist and anthologist who spoke for us at The Interval in November 02014 has been testing a new mobile app in Amazonia, Melanesia, and Central Asia. The app, called Aikuma, has been designed by Steven and his team to permit people who speak endangered languages to record and translate their stories and songs. When Steven visited The Interval, he ran a hands-on demonstration of the app, facilitated a discussion of some thorny issues it raised, and shared some of his ingenious solutions. In this recent interview with the Australian Broadcasting Company, Steven Bird explains how the app works and how it can be used to save endangered languages.

amazoniatranscribe stevenamazonia

The above photos are from the village of Terra Preta, near Manaus, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. Steven’s team worked with local speakers of the Nhengatu language to record, translate, and transcribe the stories of the rainforest. One of the products is a story book illustrated by the children of the village, which has been uploaded to the Internet Archive where anyone can access it.

Steven Bird is a Senior Research Associate at the Linguistic Data Consortium at UPenn and Associate Professor of Computing and Information Systems at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He travels extensively to remote indigenous communities and through a variety of projects he works to bring the power of technology to bear on efforts to preserve the world’s endangered languages.

Paul Saffo Seminar Media

Posted on April 15th, 02015 by Mikl Em
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

The Creator Economy

Tuesday March 31, 02015 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Saffo Seminar page.

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

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The Creator Economy – a summary by Stewart Brand

Media innovations drive economic shifts, Saffo began. “We invent new technology and then use it to reinvent ourselves.”

  1. The Industrial/producer Economy: At the beginning of the 20th century the leading scarcity was stuff, and so manufacture was systematized. By 1914 one of Ford’s workers could buy a Model T car with four month’s salary. Production efficiency won the Second World War for the allies. In 1944 the US was producing 8 aircraft carriers a month, a plane every five minutes, and 50 merchant ships a day. The process became so efficient that its success ended the dominance of that economy. That always happens. “Every new abundance creates an adjacent scarcity.“
  2. The Consumer Economy The new scarcity was desire. 1958 brought the first credit card. The CEOs of leading companies shifted from heads of production to heads of marketing. Container ships doubled global trade.
  3. The Creator Economy: In 1971 Herbert Simon predicted, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently.” The new scarcity turned out to be engagement. The mass media television channels that had dominated the Consumer Economy were overwhelmed by personal media–YouTube, eBay, Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, Google, Etsy. Hollywood was overwhelmed by video games. (The blockbuster movie “Avatar“ opened in 2009 with a $73 million weekend. The previous month, the game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” sold $310 million in 24 hours.)

Mass participation became the new normal. Stuff is cheap; status comes from creation. Value is created by engagement—from Wikipedia entries to Google queries to Mechanical Turk services to Airbnb to Uber to Kaggle analyses. Burning Man sets the standard of “no spectators.” Makers insist that “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.”

Saffo advised recalling four warnings for revolutionaries. 1) There are winners and losers 2) Don’t confuse early results with long-term outcomes. 3) Successful insurgents become over-powerful incumbents 4) Technologies of freedom become technologies of control.

If we want privacy now, we have to pay extra for it. As with our smart phones, we will subscribe to self-driving cars, not own them. With our every move tracked, we are like radio-collared bears. Our jobs are being atomized, with ever more parts taken over by robots. We trade freedom for convenience.

Over the 30 or so years remaining in the Creator Economy, Saffo figures that we will redefine freedom in terms of interdependence, and he closed with Richard Brautigan’s poem about a “cybernetic ecology” where we “are all watched over by machines of loving grace.”

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Centre for the Study of Existential Risk needs researchers

Posted on 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 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.

Upcoming Events at The Interval with Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences

Posted on March 30th, 02015 by Mikl Em
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D. Fox Harrell speaks at The Interval in May
D. Fox Harrell, Ph.D. — photo by Bryce Vickmark

Long Now is pleased to announce a new collaboration with the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University. Beginning in May, CASBS Fellows will appear regularly in our Conversations at The Interval series. The first two Fellows to speak will be D. Fox Harrell (MIT) on May 5, 02015 and Valentina Bosetti (Università Bocconi) on June 23. All upcoming Interval talks are listed here.

For over sixty years the Center has been a national and international locus for transformative thinking and research on the most important issues in social science. Their residential fellowship program attracts the finest scholars from psychology, sociology, economics, political science, anthropology, history, philosophy, linguistics, and related disciplines.

CASBS alumni include such renowned scholars as Kingsley Davis, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Wallace Stegner. CASBS Fellows have been recognized through the years with an impressive list of honors including 22 Nobel Prizes, 14 Pulitzers, 44 MacArthur Fellowships, and 20 National Book Awards, to mention only a few. Four previous Long Now SALT speakers have been Fellows at CASBS during their careers: Daniel Kahneman, Stephen Lansing, Paul Romer, and Philip Tetlock. Other notable alums include Henry Louis Gates Jr., Steven D. Levitt, Donald Norman, Norman Ornstein, and Edward Tufte.

D. Fox Harrell‘s talk is entitled Coding Ourselves/Coding Others: Imagining Social Identities Through Computing. In his talk at The Interval on May 5 he will discuss his studies of social networking, gaming, and virtual worlds; he’ll show examples of systems developed by his research group that are designed to enable creative expression, cultural analysis, and social empowerment.

Dr. Harrell is a tenured Associate Professor of Digital Media in the Comparative Media Studies Program and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT. He founded and directs the MIT Imagination, Computation, and Expression Laboratory (ICE Lab).

Valentina Bosetti speaks at The Interval on June 23, 02015. Her talk entitled “Life’s a Great Balancing Act” will include her work on climate change risk and uncertainty, how individuals perceive them, and how they affect the climate change policy making process. She was recently awarded a European Research Council grant with the objective of substantially advancing the way we conceptualize, model and frame climate change policy making under uncertainty.

Valentina Bosetti at TEDx Milano 02012
Valentina Bosetti, Ph.D. — photo TEDxMilano

Dr. Bosetti is associate professor at Bocconi University where she teaches environmental and climate change economics. She was a lead author of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) about the state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change. She is also a senior researcher at Fondazione Enrico Mattei and Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change.

The Ralph W. Tyler Collection at CASBS, Stanford University

Tyler collection books
Books from the Tyler Collection

In addition to talks by these and other CASBS Fellows, the Center’s director Margaret Levi will recommend a list of books for our Manual for Civilization. Her list will include selections from The Ralph W. Tyler Collection. The collection contains over 1,800 books written by CASBS Fellows since the program began in 01954. All the books in the collection were conceived, initiated or completed during the author’s fellowship.



The Ralph W. Tyler Collection at CASBS, Stanford University

photos by Mikl Em, unless otherwise noted

Tickets for Interval talks go on sale a few weeks beforehand. Long Now members and Interval donors always have the first chance to buy tickets for these events.

Lewis Dartnell at The Interval: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch on March 24 02015

Posted on March 21st, 02015 by Mikl Em
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The Knowledge paperback by Lewis Dartnell

Tuesday, March 24, 02015
Lewis Dartnell
(University of Leicester / European Space Agency)

The Knowledge: Rebuilding Our World From Scratch
at The Interval

Tickets on sale now
advanced tickets suggested

This Tuesday in San Francisco Long Now welcomes British astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell to our Conversations at The Interval series to discuss his latest book The Knowledge. This book is a guide to rebuilding key features of civilization like agriculture, communication, transportation and medicine in the aftermath of a global catastrophe.

The Knowledge will be on sale at the talk, and Lewis will sign books and chat more with the audience afterwards

Far from a doomsday prediction, Dartnell’s book reveals the potential resiliency of humanity if we approach challenges with an awareness of the natural sciences and understanding of how contemporary technology works. The Knowledge brings a lot of this fundamentally useful information into one place; and it’s bibliography points to deeper resources for a wide range of subjects. Lewis has previously shared his expertise with Long Now for our Manual for Civilization project.

The Knowledge is a fascinating look at the basic principles of the most important technologies undergirding modern society… full of optimism about human ingenuity”
  — The Wall Street Journal

The videos below show two examples of tips you’ll find in The Knowledge. The first draws on insights into how our world works today (manufacturing) to reveal an ideal solution. There are many ways to open a can, but this is probably the best. The second is more sophisticated: how to use a scavenged battery to drive electrolysis and isolate useful elements like oxygen and chlorine. That requires a better understanding of chemistry than you will get studying TV plotlines, but it’s mostly high school level science. And it hints that the best solutions actually create more tools to help us more rapidly recover.


Often Dartnell’s advice relies on a combination of scientific knowledge and scavenged resources. Both industrial detritus (a golf cart battery) and common household items (steel wool) are useful in resuscitating features of modern society. This kind of ingenuity is familiar in pop culture: television shows in particular from MacGyver to Breaking Bad feature protagonists whose expertise with the periodic table and access to a junkyard or various consumer packaged goods help save the day time after time. It’s the same principle: when the stakes are high we are capable of ingenuity, even if we aren’t geniuses.

We hope you can join us for Lewis Dartnell’s talk at The Interval on March 24, 02015

The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell hardcover

Michael Shermer Seminar Tickets

Posted on March 18th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Michael Shermer presents

Michael Shermer presents “The Long Arc of Moral Progress”

TICKETS

Tuesday April 14, 02015 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

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

About this Seminar:

Steven Pinker writes: “Shermer has engaged the full mantle of moral progress and considered how far we have come and how much farther that arc can be bent toward truth, justice, and freedom.”

“Through copious data and compelling examples Shermer shows how the arc of the moral universe, seen from a historical vantage point, bends toward civil rights and civil liberties, the spread of liberal democracy and market economies, and the expansion of women’s rights, gay rights, and even animal rights. Never in history has such a large percentage of the world’s population enjoyed so much freedom, autonomy, and prosperity. The steadily unfolding revolution of gay marriage gives Shermer the opportunity to show how rights revolutions of many different kinds come about.“ [Steven Pinker is the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature. He gave a SALT talk on “The Decline of Violence” in 02012.]

Michael Shermer’s new book is The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. His previous books include The Believing Brain and The Science of Good and Evil. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine and has a monthly column in Scientific American.

Warren Buffett maintains his lead in his $1 million Long Bet

Posted on March 13th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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In 02008, Warren Buffett placed a Long Bet that will take until 02017 to resolve. He predicted that for those ten years, “the S & P 500 will outperform a portfolio of funds of hedge funds, when performance is measured on a basis net of fees, costs and expenses.

Below is a summary of how things went in the seventh year of this Bet, as published by Fortune Magazine:

Warren Buffett adds to his lead in $1 million hedge-fund bet

warren-buffett

By Carol Loomis

Seven years into a 10-year performance wager, the Berkshire Hathaway CEO is winning easily.

Results are in for the seventh year of what’s sometimes called The Million-Dollar Bet—Warren Buffett’s 10-year wager that the S&P 500 would outperform a sampling of hedge funds—and, for now at least, it’s looking like a rout for the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

Under the terms of the wager, Buffett is betting (with his own money, not Berkshire’s) on the stock market performance of an S&P 500 index fund while Protégé Partners, a New York money manager, is banking on five funds of hedge funds (the names of which have never been publicly disclosed) that Protégé carefully picked at the outset. Through the seven years, Vanguard’s 500 index fund, as represented by its Admiral shares, is up 63.5%. That’s the portfolio carrying Buffett’s colors. Protégé’s five hedge funds of funds are, on the average—the marker the bet uses—up an estimated 19.6%. (The “estimated” takes into account that not all of the five funds have final figures for 2014).

A charity of the winner’s choice will receive $1 million—or more, which we’ll get to in a moment—at the bet’s end.

This was the sixth straight year that the contest has tilted in Buffett’s direction: The Admiral shares were up 13.6% in 2014 and the average gain for the funds of funds was 5.6%. Only in the first year of the bet—which began in 2008, a year that was a train wreck for both the economy and the stock market—did the funds of funds win, so to speak. They were down, on average, only 24%. The Admiral shares plummeted by 37% that year.

In Fortune (which exclusively wrote about the beginning of the bet in 2008 and has since annually made public how the bet stands), Buffett pictured himself after the 2008 tumult as a tortoise, up against a hare. Since then, Buffett has stuck to the plot of the Aesop fable and methodically moved ahead of his rival.

With only three years left in the bet, is there a scenario that would leave Protégé closing the yawning gap and winning? One scenario, maybe, and it is articulated by Ted Seides, the Protégé partner who in 2007 negotiated the bet with Buffett (after Buffett, in a speech, threw out a challenge to the hedge-fund world). Says Seides: “The odds now are that we’ll need to see a severe market contraction for our side of the ledger to stage an epic comeback.”

And he adds the deeper meaning of such a contraction. “One lesson from 2008 is that no one wins when that occurs,” says Seides.

To amend that statement only slightly, this contest will definitely have one certain winner: The charity that gets the proceeds of the bet. The odds say that will be Girls Inc. of Omaha, which Buffett designated to get the money if he emerged the victor.

The amount handed over, though, is not likely to be $1 million, because of changes that Buffett and Protégé made in the wager a couple of years ago. The original bet stipulated that each side in the bet would put up $320,000 to be invested in a zero-coupon bond that after 10 years would be worth $1 million. Thus the name of the bet.

But, when the recession hit, interest rates went down so insistently—which sent zero-coupon bonds up—that the valuation of the bond that Buffett and Protégé bought was by the fall of 2012 very close to the promised land of $1 million.

The two contenders then agreed that the bond would be immediately liquidated and the proceeds put into the B stock of the company that Buffett heads, Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett also issued a guarantee: He will pay the winning charity $1 million if the Berkshire stock bought isn’t worth that much at the bet’s end.

And what’s happened since those changes? Berkshire, like the S&P 500 overall, has done well, and the bet’s stock is now worth about $1,680,000.

That’s a tough figure for headline writers to handle. In its annual rundown, Fortune will probably stick to the “Million-Dollar Bet,” even as that description—for the minute, at least—understates the case.

Carol J. Loomis, who retired recently from Fortune as a senior editor-at-large, is a long-time friend of Warren Buffett’s, a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder, and editor of Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders.


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