Category : Science & Technology

Walter Isaacson–Should the Rich Be Allowed to Buy the Best Genes?

The French Quarter, where we live [in New Orleans], is hopping that weekend. There is a naked bicycle race that is intended (oddly enough) to promote traffic safety. There is one of many parades and second lines to celebrate the life of Mac Rebennack Jr., the funk musician known as Dr. John. There is also the gay-pride parade and related block parties. And coexisting quite happily is the French Market Creole Tomato Festival, featuring truck farmers and cooks showing off the many varieties of succulent non-genetically modified local tomatoes.

From my balcony, I marvel at the diversity of the passing humanity. There are people short and tall, gay and straight and trans, fat and skinny, light and dark, and even a few wearing Gallaudet University T-shirts excitedly using sign language. The supposed promise of CRISPR is that we may someday be able to pick which of these traits we want in our children and in all of our descendants. We could choose for them to be tall and muscular and blond and blue-eyed and not deaf and not … well, pick your preferences.

As I survey the delightful pageant with all of its natural variety, I ponder how this promise of CRISPR might also be its peril, up there with the encoding of unequal opportunities. It took the laws of nature and of nature’s God more than 3.2 billion years to weave together three billion bases of DNA in a complex and occasionally imperfect way to permit all of the wondrous diversity within our species. Are we right to think we can now come along and, within a few decades, edit that genome to eliminate what we see as imperfections? Will we lose our diversity? Will we become less flavorful, like our tomatoes? Will that be good for our species?

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Posted in Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Life Ethics, Marriage & Family, Science & Technology

(NYT Op-ed) Ross Douthat–Has The Robot Apocalypse Been Postponed?

The best reason to doubt Yang’s story is contained in productivity statistics, which measure the output of the gainfully employed and which traditionally rise rapidly during periods of technological change — because even if workers are losing their jobs to the spinning jenny or the automobile, other workers should be increasing their productivity with the new technology’s assistance.

Lately this hasn’t been happening. Instead productivity growth in the developed world has decelerated over the last decade. To quote a recent summary, in mature economies “labor productivity growth rates halved from an average annual rate of 2.3 percent in the period 2000-2007 to 1.2 percent from 2010-2017.” Combine that with the slow, consistent trend back toward full employment in the American economy — again, not what you’d expect if the labor market were being upended by technology — and the story of our times looks more like stasis than automated revolution, more like the stagnation discerned by a number of heterodox thinkers than the acceleration of conventional wisdom.

Yang and I wrangled about just this question when he graciously came on our Op-Ed podcast, The Argument. He suggested that what we’re seeing in the statistics is that automation for now is just holding down wages and shunting people out of industrial occupations and into low-paying service sector work … and that come a few more breakthroughs and the next recession, when companies will inevitably seek roboticized efficiency, you’ll start to get far more significant disruption.

He could be right; he’s certainly right that automation has had some impact on middle-class jobs, influencing the populism roiling Western politics. But it seems equally plausible that the real state of things is captured by my colleague Neal Boudette’s update on the status of the self-driving car, long portrayed as a technological breakthrough poised to throw lots of people — from long-distance truckers to cabdrivers — out of work.

Read it all.

Posted in Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Science & Technology

(Guideposts) Apollo 11: When Buzz Aldrin Took Communion on the Moon

For several weeks prior to the scheduled lift-off of Apollo 11 back in July, 1969, the pastor of our church, Dean Woodruff, and I had been struggling to find the right symbol for the first lunar landing.

We wanted to express our feeling that what man was doing in this mission transcended electronics and computers and rockets.

Dean often speaks at our church, Webster Presbyterian, just outside of Houston, about the many meanings of the communion service.

“One of the principal symbols,” Dean says, “is that God reveals Himself in the common elements of everyday life.” Traditionally, these elements are bread and wine–common foods in Bible days and typical products of man’s labor.

One day while I was at Cape Kennedy working with the sophisticated tools of the space effort, it occurred to me that these tools were the typical elements of life today.

I wondered if it might be possible to take communion on the moon, symbolizing the thought that God was revealing Himself there too, as man reached out into the universe. For there are many of us in the NASA program who do trust that what we are doing is part of God’s eternal plan for man.

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Posted in Eucharist, History, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(NBC) Mission Control At Johnson Space Center Restored To The Way It Looked In 1969 For New Museum

‘NASA unveiled the completely restored Apollo Mission Control, brought back to the way it looked 50 years ago when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in Apollo 11. Flight Director Gene Kranz showed NBC’s Tom Costello around and reflected on the historic day.’ Watch it all.

Posted in History, Science & Technology

(FT) Emma Howard Boyd–Climate change: is your equities portfolio too hot to touch?

Understanding green finance can be challenging, add in the prolix greenwash that pours on to the internet every day and no wonder many people decide it is all too difficult.

But it isn’t. The Committee on Climate Change’s recent reports showed that the world urgently needs to reduce emissions and take action to prepare for physical impacts that will get worse in just 11 years.

To prosper in this new reality, investors have to focus on whether their investments address these two basic points. That is green finance in a nutshell.

Helping investors obtain good information to do that is why the Environment Agency Pension Fund and the Church of England National Investing Bodies set up the Transition Pathway Initiative in January 2017.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Climate Change, Weather, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Stock Market

(Guardian) One Quarter of world’s biggest firms ‘fail to disclose emissions’ according to new research

About a quarter of the world’s highest-emitting, publicly listed companies fail to report their greenhouse gas emissions and nearly half do not properly consider the risks from the climate crisis in decision-making, new research has found.

The findings show the distance even the world’s biggest companies still have to cover to meet the goals of the Paris agreement on climate change, according to the group of investors coordinating the report.

The research covered a sample of 274 of the world’s highest emitting companies which are publicly listed, and therefore must make official disclosures of key financial data.

It was carried out by the Grantham Research Institute on climate change at the London School of Economics and commissioned by the Transition Pathway Initiative, a group of investors supportive of the Paris agreement, with about $14tn (£11tn) in funds under management.

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Posted in Climate Change, Weather, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization

(Journal of Practical Ethics) John Tasioulas–First Steps Towards an Ethics of Robots and Artificial Intelligence

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology

(RNS) United Church of Christ’s General Synod endorses Green New Deal

The denomination helped launch the environmental justice movement in the 1980s, and the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, Jr., a UCC minister, is believed to have coined the phrase “environmental racism,” [the Rev. Brooks] Berndt said.

More recently, the UCC became the first denomination to call for divestment from fossil fuels, he said.

“When the Green New Deal came out, we immediately saw this as reflecting the values and the commitments that we’ve been holding dear for all these many years,” Berndt said.

The Green New Deal — introduced in the House in February by Ocasio-Cortez — aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, build smart power grids, update buildings to be more efficient and train workers for jobs in a new “green” economy over the next 10 years.

The UCC resolution framed its support for the legislation in terms of faith.

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Posted in Ecology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, United Church of Christ

Archbishops of Canterbury and York launch Church of England’s first ever social media guidelines and charter

The Church of England has published social media advice aimed at tackling offensive behaviour and misleading content and encouraging a positive atmosphere for online conversations.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, unveiled the Church’s first ever social media guidelines at Facebook today. The guidelines encourage positive engagement across all national social media accounts run by the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York.

At the same time the Church is urging Christians and others to sign up to a voluntary digital charter aimed at fostering a more positive atmosphere online.

As part of a live Q&A at Facebook UK’s Headquarters, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, launched the digital charter and guidelines and encouraged Christians and others to sign up to it.

The charter is centred on the five principles of: truth, kindness, welcome, inspiration and togetherness, and the opportunity for people to sign-up to show they support the principles.

It is hoped that people of all faiths and none will use the charter to consider how their own online interactions can affect others, both for good and bad.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

([London] Times) Will Face-Reading AI Tell Police When Suspects Are Hiding the Truth?

Police could soon get help from an artificial intelligence system that reads the hidden emotions of suspects by scanning involuntary “micro-expressions”.

The technology analyses fleeting facial movements that researchers believe betray true emotions and are impossible to suppress or fake.

The system has been developed by Facesoft, a British company co-founded by Allan Ponniah, a consultant plastic surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital in northwest London, who first used AI to reconstruct patients’ faces.

The company, which has held discussions with police forces in Britain and India, describes micro-expressions as “emotional leakage”. The expressions were first linked to deception by psychologists in the 1960s, who noticed that suicidal patients sometimes lied to disguise strong negative feelings.

Read it all (subscription) and you may find more there; the company’s website ishere.

Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Police/Fire, Psychology, Science & Technology

(NYT) Forget Tanning Beds. College Students Today Want Uber Parking

The millennial generation attended college in a golden era for student housing, as investors poured money into luxurious off-campus communities packed with resort-style amenities: rooftop pools, golf simulators, tanning beds, climbing walls.

The wow factor increased with every new development. Many universities amped up their campus dorms and amenities in an effort to bolster recruitment, with a few going so far as to put in “lazy rivers” for floating around pools.

“It was crazy to see what was going to beat the last new thing,” said Dan Oltersdorf, a senior vice president and chief learning officer at Campus Advantage, which manages about 70 off-campus student housing communities around the country. “You were just asking, what’s next?”

But as millennials move on and so-called Generation Z moves in, student housing is shifting away from recreational dazzle and toward amenities that reflect the gig economy: digital conveniences, ample spaces indoors and out for studying and collaborating, and cutting-edge fitness facilities to maintain wellness.

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Posted in Economy, Education, Science & Technology, Young Adults

(Guardian) Time Is Now thousands march in London for urgent climate action

Campaigners, religious leaders and people of various faiths, led by the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams proceeded along Whitehall on a “walk of witness”.

Williams said he was proud the UK was taking the climate crisis seriously. “I compare it with the great struggle 200 years ago with ending the slave trade. Parliament took an option that wasn’t easy, it must have felt risky at the time facing massive entrenched global culture – and things changed,” he said.

At least 195 MPs who met campaigners were encouraged to mark their constituency with a pin on a large map of the UK before being taken by rickshaw to speak to their constituents.

At 2pm the thousands present rang alarm clocks, mobile phone alarms and sirens, and cheered loudly to symbolise “the time is now”.

Jane Alexander, a primary school headteacher from London, brought five pupils from her school, North Harringay primary, to the lobby. She said: “Our children may be too young to vote but they are not too young to have their voices heard.”

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, Theology

(The Age) Mobile phones to be banned in Victorian state primary and secondary schools

Mobile phones will be banned from Victorian state primary and secondary schools under strict new rules aimed at tackling cyber bullying and distractions in the classroom.

The Victorian government has adopted one of the world’s toughest stances on mobile phone use in schools and from the start of next year, students must switch off their devices and store them in lockers during school hours.

Students from prep to Year 12 will not be allowed to use their phones during recess and lunchtime.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said teachers and parents regularly raised concerns about mobile phones’ effect on students.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Australia / NZ, Children, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Science & Technology

(Church Times) Nick Spencer–The uncharted history of science and religion

First, the nature of the “conflict”. For more than 100 years now, the popular narrative has been that religion has always opposed science: think medieval Church, heliocentrism, Galileo, Darwin, Scopes, etc. Wilberforce’s taunting, according to this viewpoint, was just another example of religious idiocy.

The reality is different. For all his misplaced wit, Wilberforce’s opposition was based on “the principles of inductive science, philosophy, or logic”, as the Gazette put it — and, as Darwin himself knew; for he called the Bishop’s review of On the Origin of Species “uncommonly clever”. This is more typical of the periodic clashes between “science” and “religion” than the Young Earth creationist parody of our day. Not only were such conflicts rarer than popularly imagined, they were usually much more sophisticated and more scientific than we think. It wasn’t simply a case of “but the Bible says . . .”

Second, the context of the conflict. Huxley was a newfangled “scientist”; Wilberforce was an old-school “clerical naturalist”. What happened at Oxford was as much about the former shouldering the latter aside in the social hierarchy of Victorian England as it was a debate about Darwinism. “What [Huxley] has deprecated”, as the Gazette put it, “was authority like the Bishop’s, authority derived from a reputation acquired in another sphere.”

The history of science and religion, like any history of ideas, is coloured by the political, social, and cultural worlds of the time, from the nervous post-Reformation context of Galileo to the sinister eugenic context of the Scopes Monkey Trial. The Wilberforce-Huxley debate was no different. We ignore such context at the cost of historical subtlety.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, History, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(NYT) With More Storms and Rising Seas, Which U.S. Cities Should Be Saved First?

As disaster costs keep rising nationwide, a troubling new debate has become urgent: If there’s not enough money to protect every coastal community from the effects of human-caused global warming, how should we decide which ones to save first?

After three years of brutal flooding and hurricanes in the United States, there is growing consensus among policymakers and scientists that coastal areas will require significant spending to ride out future storms and rising sea levels — not in decades, but now and in the very near future. There is also a growing realization that some communities, even sizable ones, will be left behind.

New research offers one way to look at the enormity of the cost as policymakers consider how to choose winners and losers in the race to adapt to climate change. By 2040, simply providing basic storm-surge protection in the form of sea walls for all coastal cities with more than 25,000 residents will require at least $42 billion, according to new estimates from the Center for Climate Integrity, an environmental advocacy group. Expanding the list to include communities smaller than 25,000 people would increase that cost to more than $400 billion.

“Once you get into it, you realize we’re just not going to protect a lot of these places,” said Richard Wiles, executive director of the group, which wants oil and gas companies to pay some of the cost of climate adaptation. “This is the next wave of climate denial — denying the costs that we’re all facing.”

Read it all.

Posted in City Government, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Urban/City Life and Issues

The Bishop of Salisbury welcomes the Government’s commitment to “net zero” emissions by 2050

The Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment has welcomed the news that the government has set a stricter target on climate change. The Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury said: “This announcement is very welcome, and the UK is setting an example by making this commitment to address the global climate emergency.”

“But commitment alone is meaningless unless it is backed up by relentless action, which must remain our priority in the coming decades.

“If we are to achieve Net Zero the government’s response to the recent recommendations from the Climate Change Committee will be crucial.”

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, England / UK, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Stewardship

(AP) Maine Becomes 8th State to Legalize Assisted Suicide

Maine legalized medically assisted suicide on Wednesday, becoming the eighth state to allow terminally ill people to end their lives with prescribed medication.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who had previously said she was unsure about the bill, signed it in her office.

Oregon was the first state to legalize such assistance, in 1997, and it took over a decade for the next state, Washington, to follow suit. While still controversial, assisted suicide legislation is winning increasing acceptance in the United States, and this year at least 18 states considered such measures.

Maine’s bill would allow doctors to prescribe terminally ill people a fatal dose of medication. The bill declares that obtaining or administering life-ending medication is not suicide under state law, thereby legalizing the practice often called medically assisted suicide.

The proposal had failed once in a statewide vote and at least seven previous times in the Legislature. The current bill

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Posted in Aging / the Elderly, Anthropology, Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Pastoral Theology, Science & Technology, State Government, Theology

[Oxford] Bishop Stephen Croft–The Time is Now: The past, present and future of climate change

A [recent] report…by the European Academies Science Advisory Council concludes that almost 30,000 early deaths a year in the UK could be prevented by ending the burning of fossil fuels.

The substance of every single chapter of Wells’ book was worse than I expected it to be. The science is irrefutable. We are on a path to three or four or more degrees of global warming. Radical change is needed now to limit that warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees. We are currently failing. Even if we are “successful”, we are still talking about damage limitation.

Half of all British Co2 emissions come from 4 sources; inefficient construction, food waste, electronics and clothing. In the US, the same 4 categories account for 66 per cent of wasted energy.

Eliminating Co2 increase now is much easier than (theoretically) trying to remove it later. Wallace Wells makes this point forcefully and highlights the gap between theoretical, technological promise and current reality.

At the present rate of change, a MIT 2018 study shows that we will take 400 to years to get to fully clean energy. And while the cost of solar energy has fallen 80% since 2009, current technology proof-of-concept plants show we would need a billion Carbon Capture and Storage plants to reduce the carbon count by just 20ppm.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Stock Market

(AS) Wesley Smith–Canada Conjoins Euthanasia and Organ Harvesting

How do you convince society to embrace euthanasia as a means of attaining utilitarian benefit — while also convincing yourselves that your culture remains both moral and compassionate? Once you get past the squeamishness of allowing doctors to kill patients, it isn’t that difficult: First, legalize euthanasia of the seriously ill and disabled. Once the community becomes comfortable with doctors committing homicide as a means of eliminating suffering, you next allow those who want to be killed to donate their organs. After all, they won’t need their livers anymore, so why not let others have them? Next, ensure that the potential of euthanasia to add to the organ supply becomes well known, both to normalize doctor-administered death and to induce people to believe they or a loved one might personally benefit from doctors killing the sick. Finally, over time, you expand euthanasia/organ donation eligibility to patients who are far from death, such as those with neuromuscular disabilities or psychiatric illnesses — better organs, don’t you know — justifying it as you go along with soothing words of respecting autonomy and preventing suffering.

Lest any reader believe that I am conjuring a paranoid dystopian fantasy, this very scenario consumed the medical and organ transplant ethics of the Netherlands and Belgium, nations in which patients with mental illnesses and other diseases are admitted to hospitals, killed by lethal injection, and then wheeled immediately into a surgical suite for organ harvesting. When I bring up these facts in domestic debates about assisted suicide, supporters of doctor-prescribed death sniff that the Netherlands and Belgium are not the United States, and that such crass utilitarian exploitation of the despairing would never happen here. But why? Once we deem certain categories of people to be killable — which is precisely what legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia does — it becomes all too easy to conclude, as Belgians and Netherlanders have, that since these patients want to die we might as well benefit societally from their deaths.

That is precisely what happened in Canada, the United States’ closest cultural cousin, and indeed, a country many Americans see as having more enlightened public policies than our own. In the three years since lethal injection euthanasia became legal in Canada, at least thirty people were organ harvested after being euthanized. That number may soon increase dramatically as the Canadian medical establishment has come out solidly in favor of letting people who die by euthanasia to also become organ donors.

A major ethics “Guidance” was just published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association that establishes euthanasia kill-and-harvest (my blunt term) protocols. It makes for a chilling read.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Canada, Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

An Important 2018 revisit–(NYT) Is the Algorithmification of the Human Experience a Good Thing?

Those sorts of edge cases are worrying, but at least in theory, they can be solved by tweaking the algorithms. In some ways, the harder question is what it means for kids’ experiences and development when the algorithm works correctly. Is it all basically fine?

The way YouTube treats videos for grown-ups gives some reason to worry. Guillaume Chaslot, a former Google engineer, recently conducted an experiment tracing YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. He found that, during the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States, users who viewed political videos were routinely steered toward ideologically extreme content and conspiracy theories.

Zeynep Tufekci, a University of North Carolina researcher, wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed article that Mr. Chaslot’s research suggested that YouTube could be “one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.”

Is that true? We don’t have empirical proof that it is. But we also can’t know for sure that it isn’t true, in part because companies like YouTube and Facebook tend to be pretty guarded with data that could be used to estimate the impact of their platforms. Facebook, to its credit, is bringing on social scientists and sponsoring research.

Still, it’s telling that companies like Facebook are only beginning to understand, much less manage, any harm caused by their decision to divert an ever-growing share of human social relations through algorithms. Whether they set out to or not, these companies are conducting what is arguably the largest social re-engineering experiment in human history and no one has the slightest clue what the consequences are.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology

(1st Things) Dan Hitchens–Thinking Through Robots, AI and Anthroppology

The robots may or may not steal our jobs. Headlines frequently announce that AI will leave half the population unemployed, but a closer look at the data indicates a smaller impact. And history, including very recent history, suggests that automation ends up complementing non-automated work, rather than replacing it.

But even if the robots don’t steal our jobs, they may be stealing our humanity.

By that I mean that the common habit of treating robots as people—however much it seems like a joke or a shorthand or a metaphor—could erode our already diminished sense of the human person as uniquely special. Effusive media reports give the impression that robots will befriend us, play with our children, and care for us when we are old—and that they may be (at least) as good as the human alternative.

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Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology

(Metro UK) The rise of digisexuality could see us falling in love with people who don’t exist

Read it all [content not necessarily suitable for all blog readers].

Posted in Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology, Sexuality

([London] Times) Jessikka Aro, the journalist who took on Russian trolls

“This has nothing to do with freedom of speech,” says Aro. “This is not normal political discussion. Saying, ‘Jessikka is a crack whore who needs to be killed’ is a crime in many different countries.”

Confident, passionate and highly articulate, Aro speaks fluent English and Russian. She has tried reporting her abusers to Facebook and YouTube, but mostly receives an automated reply saying that they haven’t violated community standards. The reality of moderating, she argues, can be too complex for an algorithm, and requires human brains. “In fact, some of this content violates both their own community standards and Finnish legislation. By not removing it, they are enabling state-sponsored Russian troll operations.”

She accuses the companies of putting profit before anything else. Facebook has even profited from the trolls, she claims, because they pay for visibility and sponsored posts to attack her.

“Their moderation and security guarantee goes against their business model, basically. But if they’re going to do business in our countries, if they’re going to take our data and use it to make money, then they should also take some responsibility. It’s wrong, and illegal, to send death threats to anyone. They should have put an end to this years ago, but it’s still going on. They don’t seem interested in investigating it voluntarily, unless the US Senate or special counsel Robert Mueller demands that they do.”

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Language, Law & Legal Issues, Science & Technology

([London] Times) Say a little prayer for me: Alexa app helps users to connect with God

In centuries past people went to priests and prophets with questions about the Almighty. Now Christians and the curious are “connecting with God” through Amazon’s Alexa.

Tens of thousands have interacted with the Church of England through the digital assistant since the launch of its own voice-controlled app, or Alexa “skill”, a year ago.

Some 9.5 million Britons use smartspeakers such as Amazon’s Echo to answer questions and control devices and the church said that more than 75,000 engaged with its new service.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(FPR) Jeffrey Bilbro–What Are People For? Control or Love?

The least-discussed chapter in Patrick Deneen’s much-discussed Why Liberalism Failed is—I would venture—“Technology and the Loss of Liberty.” Similarly, Rod Dreher has lamented that relatively few readers or reviewers discuss the technology chapter in The Benedict Option. These oversights are unfortunate because our current cultural and political climate is unintelligible without an adequate account of the role technology, and particularly digital technology, plays in enabling and shaping our quest for freedom.

Deneen’s focus is on how the political ideology of liberalism pushes societies to develop technologies that enable autonomous individuals to satisfy their desires, although these technologies often backfire and leave us more lonely and enslaved. In Transhumanism and the Image of God: Today’s Technology and the Future of Christian Discipleship, Jacob Shatzer explores the inverse of this dynamic: the digital technologies with which we live subtly yet powerfully shape us into autonomous, liberal subjects. Such technologies habituate us through what Shatzer terms “liturgies of control.” These liturgies create the plausibility structures necessary to sustain the myth of liberalism: that we are autonomous individuals capable of arranging the world to fulfill our appetites. The arguments that Deneen and Shatzer advance are really two sides of the same coin; as one interpreter of Marshall McLuhan put it (perhaps paraphrasing Churchill), “We make our tools, and then our tools make us.”

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Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology

(Sunday [London] Times] Niall Ferguson–the world cannot afford another Thirty Years’ War: History suggests the US-China conflict will need a Westphalian resolution

The end of the Thirty Years’ War was not brought about by one treaty, but by several, of which the most important were signed at Münster and Osnabrück in October 1648. It is these treaties that historians refer to as the Peace of Westphalia. Contrary to legend, they did not make peace, as France and Spain kept fighting for 11 more years. And they certainly did not establish a world order based on modern states.

What the Westphalian settlement did was to establish power-sharing arrangements between the emperor and the German princes, as well as between the rival religious groups, on the basis of limited and conditional rights. The peace as a whole was underpinned by mutual guarantees, as opposed to the third-party guarantees that had been the norm before.

The Cold War ended when one side folded. That will not happen in our time. The democratic and authoritarian powers can fight for three or 30 years; neither side will win a definitive victory. Sooner or later there will have to be a compromise — in particular, a self-restraining commitment not to take full advantage of modern technology to hollow out each other’s sovereignty.

Our destination is 1648, not 1989 — a Cyber-Westphalia, not the fall of the Great Firewall of China. If we have the option to get there in three years, rather than in 30, we should take it.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., China, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(Ely Standard) Science festival at Ely Cathedral – a ‘seamless mix of reverence and awe’ celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing

Launch night for the Ely Cathedral science festival began with choral evensong that included the first performance of the anthem ‘The Ordinances of Heaven’, a piece commissioned especially for the festival.

It has been written by Tim Watts, artist-in-residence at the Institute of Astronomy and a fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge, set to the words from the Book of Job.

Once over the choristers were among those cheerfully and gleefully enjoying the delights of the science festival.

Not only is there plenty to see and to do but exhibitors actively encourage audience participation – such as discovering, for scientific purposes, who can refrain from blinking the longest.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), History, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(SWNS) Why the average American hasn’t made a new friend in 5 years

Forty-five percent of adults say they find it difficult to make new friends, according to new research.

A new study into the social dynamics of 2,000 Americans revealed that the average American hasn’t made a new friend in five years.

In fact, it seems for many that popularity hits its peak at age 23, and for 36 percent, it peaks even before age 21.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology

(1st Things) Josh Hawley–The Big Tech Threat

My thesis is that the evidence strongly suggests there is something deeply troubling, maybe even deeply wrong, with the entire social media economy. My thesis is that it does not represent a source of strength for America’s tomorrow, but is rather a source of peril. Consider for a moment the basic business model of the dominant social media platforms. You are familiar with them. You might think of it as akin to financial arbitrage. Maybe we’ll call it attention arbitrage. Users’ attention is bought by tech giants and then immediately sold to advertisers for the highest price.

Now arbitrage opportunities, as those of you familiar with markets know, are supposed to close. The market eventually determines that something is off. So how is it that this attention arbitrage in the social media market is preserved and renewed over and over again? That’s where things get really scary, because it’s preserved by hijacking users’ neural circuitry to prevent rational decision-making about what to click and how to spend time. Or, to simplify that a little bit, it’s preserved through addiction.

Social media only works as a business model if it consumes users’ time and attention day after day after day. It needs to replace the various activities we did perfectly well without social media, for the entire known history of the human race, with itself. It needs to replace those activities with time spent on social media. Addiction is actually the point. That’s what social media shareholders are investing in: the addiction of users.

Read it all (emphasis mine).

Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Stock Market

(Wired) In a first, San Francisco just banned public agencies, including police, from using facial recognition technology

At the state level, efforts to regulate facial recognition in Washington crumbled after Microsoft and Amazon, among others, opposed a proposed moratorium in favor of a bill with a lighter regulatory touch. In Massachusetts, which is considering an ACLU-backed moratorium on facial recognition until the state can develop regulations including things like minimum accuracy and bias protections, local police departments frequently partner with the state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles to identify suspects.

Kade Crockford of the ACLU of Massachusetts, which is working with Somerville officials on a proposal that would forbid such data-sharing, is optimistic about the potential for cities to lead the way. “I’m not aware of any other example of people really successfully intervening in this very fast-moving train of tech determinism and throwing a democratic wrench in the gears,” Crockford says.

San Francisco’s ban comes amidst a series of proposals that highlight tensions between the city and tech companies that call it home. On Tuesday, the city also unanimously approved a ban on cashless stores, an effort aimed at Amazon’s cashierless Go stores. Waiting in the wings? A so-called “IPO tax,” in response to the endless march of tech companies going public, which would authorize a city-wide vote to raise the tax rate on corporate stock-based compensation.

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Posted in City Government, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Science & Technology, Urban/City Life and Issues