Daily Archives: June 30, 2015

Peter Thiel, N.T. Wright On Technology, Hope, And The End Of Death

It turns out that Peter Thiel quotes Hamlet.

For Thiel, a line in the play’s second scene throws open the pessimism that runs throughout the tragedy and, in his opinion, our current cultural moment. “Thou know’st ‘tis common; all that lives must die,” says Gertrude to her son, Hamlet. Her words are a cold comfort to the young prince, who is grieving the death of his father. All that lives must die. “At some level it’s a statement about reality. At another level,” Thiel postulates, “it’s a statement about accepting the rottenness that is in Denmark.” Death is a fact of life, Gertrude says. There’s nothing to be done. Get over it.

But Peter Thiel isn’t getting over it.

“Why,” he asks, “must we die?”

On a recent Monday evening in San Francisco, 700 members of the Silicon Valley tech scene swarmed the SF JAZZ Center for something of a fireside chat between Peter Thiel and N.T. Wright, hosted by The Veritas Forum. It’s not unusual for the technorati to show up in droves to hear from the billionaire technologist-philosopher Thiel, who co-founded Paypal, made the first outside investment in Facebook, and co-founded the behemoth private data analytics firm, Palantir (recently valued at $15 billion). He is one of the most successful tech investors in history, and has been called “America’s leading public intellectual” by Fortune magazine. Thiel’s fans have made his new book on entrepreneurship, Zero to One, an instant bestseller. But this Monday night he drew a crowd for an unusual reason: to talk about death and God with one of the world’s leading Christian theologians.

N.T. Wright, bald and bearded with the Gandalf-wise accent of the British upper crust, is known simply as “Tom” in personal conversation, but has been hailed by Time Magazine as “one of the most formidable figures in the world of Christian thought.” He is an Anglican priest and former Bishop of Durham and has taught at McGill, Cambridge, Oxford, and now at St. Andrews University in Scotland. The author of dozens of academic and popular books on theology, Wright is both prolific and profound. And like Thiel, N.T. Wright holds some non-conformist views about the reality of death that make some people quite uncomfortable.

I listened to Thiel and Wright during their public conversation and had the chance to sit down with them privately. I came away with a new perspective on religious faith and the prospect of death. I also grew more convinced that there is a dangerous lack of moral philosophy and theological reflection about the rapidly emerging technologies that are forever changing our understanding of death and of life itself.

The Undiscovered Country

Peter Thiel sat on the stage in a trim suit and open-collared white oxford. He has made more than $2 billion by betting big on contrarian ideas that cut against the conventional wisdom. To hear him speak can remind you of the smallness of your own dreams. So it was unsurprising that the conversation this evening eventually turned to what is perhaps his most ambitious project and most controversial idea: trying to extend human life indefinitely.

Thiel, whose speech patterns combine a jarring number of unsure-sounding “ahs” and “ums” with some confidently stated and precisely articulated original aphorisms, summarized the basis of his interest in life extension in the self-evident way an intelligent ten year-old might: “I think the thing that’s really incompatible with life is death.”

The line drew laughter, but one got the feeling the joke was unintentional. For Thiel, life is a self-evident good and death is the opposite of life. Therefore death is a problem, and as he says there are three main ways of approaching it. “You can accept it, you can deny it or you can fight it. I think our society is dominated by people who are into denial or acceptance, and I prefer to fight it.” Whether we can successfully fight death is a question about the nature of nature and about our ability to understand it. Whether we should try to fight death is a question of our philosophy and our theology.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Denial of Death, psychologist Ernest Becker argued that death, or more precisely our fear of death, is the primary driving force in human culture. Unique among the animals, humans are aware that someday we will die. The fundamental irony of our life is that we are so limited that not one of us can escape death, yet we are so magnificent that every one of us conscious of the factwe can’t escape it.

“Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order to blindly and dumbly rot and disappear forever…”

Most of us, most of the time don’t think about our own mortality. We avoid the idea because if we really think about it, it is terrifying.

continue http://www.forbes.com/sites/valleyvoices/2015/06/24/peter-thiel-n-t-wright-on-technology-hope-and-the-end-of-death/

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French senators reject ‘deep sleep’ bill

The French senate has rejected a bill that would legalise ‘deep sedation’ – known as passive euthanasia by critics – of patients with a terminal and incurable illness.

The bill, passed by a significant majority in the legislative assembly in March, would allow doctors to put patients into an irreversible comatose state and withdraw life-sustaining treatment. The bill goes even further, stipulating that doctors would be obliged to follow end-of-life instructions from patients regarding terminal sedation and stopping treatments if they agree the practices wouldn’t improve their condition.

Unlike the lower house, the senate was overwhelmingly against the bill, voting it down 196-87.

Les Républicains (LR) senators attempted to attenuate the bill (removing the clause “continue until death”) and have it passed, but a majority of left and centrist senators rejected the altered bill.

It will now return to the legislative assembly for a second reading. Minister of Social Affairs and Health Marisol Touraine said she is hopeful the lower house can draft a more palatable revised bill for the senate.

“The Senate’s overwhelming rejection is good news for ethical medicine–at least for now”, wrote bioethicist Wesley Smith.

continue http://www.bioedge.org/bioethics/french-senators-reject-deep-sleep-bill/11499#When:04:46:00Z

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You are free to crowdfund: Kickstarter wins its first patent case

Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter was approached by a competing platform, ArtistShare, in 2011. Just what happened next is disputed. ArtistShare founder Brian Camelio says he wanted to strike a business deal with Kickstarter.

In court papers, Kickstarter said that Camelio had a patent he said Kickstarter was infringing, and Camello intended to sue. Kickstarter took the matter to court first, filing a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the patent. The move left Camelio “stunned and disappointed,” he said in a 2011 interview.

This week, Camelio, who founded ArtistShare in 2003, may be even more disappointed. His patent, “Methods and Apparatuses for Financing and Marketing a Creative Work,” is no more. It was invalidated in an order (PDF) published yesterday, four years after his dispute with Kickstarter began.

Over the course of the litigation, the patent landscape changed considerably. In particular, last year’s Alice Corp. Supreme Court decision made it easier to knock out some computer-related patents as “abstract.”

In the lawsuit, ArtistShare tried to convince the judge to allow its patent, claiming that it wasn’t trying to own crowdfunding. ArtistShare lawyers insisted that the patent wasn’t overly general and said that it covered “particular systems for managing, marketing, and financing a creative work.”

“Defendants’ repetition of words like ‘particular’ and ‘specific’ in bold italics when referring to the claims in the ‘887 Patent does not make them so,” wrote US District Judge Katherine Failla in yesterday’s order.

continue http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/06/you-are-free-to-crowdfund-kickstarter-wins-its-first-patent-case/

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Helium is LEAKING from massive earthquake fault in LA raising fears ‘big one’ could be more devastating than thought

UC Santa Barbara geologist Jim Boles found evidence of helium leakage from the Earth’s mantle along a 30-mile stretch of the Newport-Inglewood Fault Zone in the Los Angeles Basin.

He claims the results show that the Newport-Inglewood fault is deeper than scientists previously thought.

Using samples of casing gas from two dozen oil wells ranging from LA’s Westside to Newport Beach in Orange County, Boles discovered that more than one-third of the sites show evidence of high levels of helium-3 (3He).

‘The results are unexpected for the area, because the LA Basin is different from where most mantle helium anomalies occur,’ said Boles, professor emeritus in UCSB’s Department of Earth Science.

‘The Newport-Inglewood fault appears to sit on a 30-million-year-old subduction zone, so it is surprising that it maintains a significant pathway through the crust.’

Considered primordial, 3He is a vestige of the Big Bang, and its only terrestrial source is the mantle.

Boles’s findings appear in Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems (G-Cubed), an electronic journal of the American Geophysical Union and the Geochemical Society.

When Boles and his co-authors analyzed the 24 gas samples, they found that high levels of 3He inversely correlate with carbon dioxide (CO2), which Boles noted acts as a carrier gas for 3He.

An analysis showed that the CO2 was also from the mantle, confirming leakage from deep inside the Earth.

Blueschist found at the bottom of nearby deep wells indicates that the Newport-Inglewood fault is an ancient subduction zone – where two tectonic plates collide – even though its location is more than 40 miles west of the current plate boundary of the San Andreas Fault System.

Found 20 miles down, blueschist is a metamorphic rock only revealed when regurgitated to the surface via geologic upheaval.

continue http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3143818/Helium-LEAKING-massive-earthquake-fault-LA-raising-fears-big-one-devastating-thought.html

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Transhumanists Helping the Ugandan Mountain Community of Kyarumba

The small community of Kyarumba, Uganda, is located in the southern end of Rwenzori Mountains (aka Mountains of the Moon). It straddles a wild river that is prone to flooding. The community recently got electricity.

In January 2015, I met up with Hank Pellissier and we spent half a day in Kyarumba, getting to know the needs of the villagers. Hank provided assistance to a community woodworking-training center and to a science center funded by the Mormon Transhumanist Association, the Christian Transhumanist Association, and Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

My friends and I constructed a 4-seat swing set (with financial assistance from Hank) at the local primary school.

Yesterday (June 2015), I returned to Kyarumba. We provided some power tools to the woodworking shop, were entertained by the students at the primary school (where the swing was constructed), and provided educational games (a gift from Hank) to the science center. The center is well maintained and well used by the local students.

continue http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/hansen20150625#When:10:16:00Z

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Musk seeks permission from the FCC to test his ambitious space internet

Later last year, ZME Science revealed that one of Elon Musk’s top priorities in the future is deploying a massive fleet of micro-satellites into Earth’s low orbit to provide  internet and mobile data. The plan is to serve internet to billions in the developing world, but to do so the service needs to be very, very cheap. At the same time, while launching thousands of satellites into space doesn’t sound particularly cheap, but if there’s any company good at launching cargo into space affordably that’s  SpaceX. This isn’t exactly a pipe dream, and Musk seems very serious about it considering he just filled an official request to the FCC to gain permission for a test of the satellite internet, according to the Washington Post.

If you live in a well connected city, you won’t need satellite internet. After all, right now it’s at least 10 times slower than fiber optic since there are quite a few lengthy connections that need to be made. When you’re on satellite internet and want to access a website, the request first goes out of the computer to the modem, out to the dish which transmits the data to the satellite. The signal is then bounced back from about 22,000 miles up (where the geosynchronous satellites orbit) to ground-based stations called gateways. The gateways have large antennas which they use to pick up the signal from the consumer’s home, what website they want to go to, and using the terrestrial system connect with the Internet, grab the data, take it back to the gateway, shoot it back up to the sky and back down to the consumer’s home. Sounds very complicated (it’s a lot more in practice), but the whole process still only lasts 500ms or half a second. This is still quite a lot if you play video games or need lag-free voice data, but still better than nothing if you live in the middle of nowhere or there’s no fiber optic infrastructure, like in most developing countries.

continue http://www.zmescience.com/space/musk-space-internet-04223/

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Feds Force Reason.com Editor to Rat out Commenters

I think we all know how crazy the comment section of any website can get. If you’ve used the internet for more than five minutes in your entire life, you know that anonymity creates an environment where people can say whatever they want; and sometimes, the things they say can get pretty heated. But no matter how vindictive, blustering, or threatening a comment may be, it’s pretty rare for the commenter to act on it in the real world.

But try telling that to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. According to an editor for Reason.com, they were subpoenaed by the court after they published an article on the prosecution of Ross Ulbricht. Some of the readers had blasted Judge Katherine Forrest with comments like, she should be “taken out back and shot” and “I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman” among other colorful phrases. The court then tried to force Reason.com to release all information that would identify the commenters “such as IP addresses, names, emails, and other information.” They were later issued a gag order, and weren’t allowed to share this fact with anyone, or even the fact that they were under a gag order.

The editor has since contended that none of the comments were genuine threats, and that the court’s reaction was completely unnecessary. He even suggests that the court issued the subpoena to punish them for their critical analyses of the trial. I wouldn’t put it past them.

source http://www.shtfplan.com/headline-news/feds-force-reason-com-editor-to-rat-out-commenters_06262015

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