Category : Science & Technology

([London] Times) Ben Macintyre–Master race dystopia is closer than we think

In an essay published posthumously, Stephen Hawking warned that advances in genetic science would eventually create a generation of superhumans able to redesign and improve themselves by manipulating the genetic make-up of their offspring. “I am sure that during this century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts such as aggression . . . Some people won’t be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics, such as memory, resistance to diseases and length of life.”

In Hawking’s nightmarish vision, there will be stark genetic division in society: a biologically improving elite and a mass of “unimproved humans” without the power or resources to edit their genetic inheritance. “Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete.”

Many people already consistently improve themselves and their offspring, when they can, with private education, cosmetic surgery and advanced healthcare. If there is the opportunity to rig the science of reproduction in favour of an improved outcome, those who can afford it, will. The survival of the fittest occurs naturally; now it may be possible to control the same evolutionary process artificially.

Henry Greely, professor of law and genetics at Stanford, predicts that 20 to 40 years from now a majority of babies will be born by IVF, after being screened to ensure their embryos are the healthiest their parents could produce.

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

(BBC) Can artificial intelligence help stop religious violence?

Software that mimics human society is being tested to see if it can help prevent religious violence.

Researchers used artificial intelligence algorithms to simulate actions driven by sectarian divisions.

Their model contains thousands of agents representing different ethnicities, races and religions.

Norway and Slovakia are trialling the tech to tackle tensions that can arise when Muslim immigrants settle in historically Christian countries.

The Oxford University researchers hope their system can be used to help governments respond to incidents, such as the recent London terror attacks.

However, one independent expert said that the tool needed more work before it could be used in real-life situations.

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Posted in Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Violence

(CC) Carol Howard Merritt–Internet addiction

Techies build social media platforms so that we will become addicted to them. Social media money comes from advertisers who need proof of an audience. To get as many eyeballs as possible, techies studied the brain science surrounding addiction in other areas of our lives. Humans get addicted to alcohol, drugs, and gambling because they give us happiness. These chemicals or experiences of winning create dopamine which translates into a euphoria in us.

But happiness is not enough to keep humans addicted. We need light and shadow. There also has to be risk, a challenge, and a fight. Addiction is as much about the negative as it is about the positive.

Think about it. When a gambler wins, he wants to win more, which is completely understandable. But why would he go back when he’s losing? That defies logic.

It’s because he doesn’t want to leave the table a loser, he wants to make it right. He wants to win back his money. So, both the winning and losing draw him into the addiction.

The same thing happens to us during an argument on social media. We want to make things right, to say the right thing to persuade the other, or to dominate them in order to win. We don’t want to walk away a loser, so we become hooked.

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

(Telegraph) Norma Emerton RIP, a Cambridge scholar of science who saw no contradiction in her robust Christian faith

orma Emerton, the scholar of the history and philosophy of science who has died aged 86, was associated with Wolfson College, Cambridge, for almost 50 years, as a PhD student, Senior Member, Senior Tutor, Fellow, and President of the Society of Emeritus Fellows.

She was a stalwart supporter of Wolfson’s non-hierarchical ethos and was dedicated to the advancement of women in the academic and scientific worlds. The college, which provides for graduates and mature undergraduates, has no High Table and all the college facilities are available equally to students, staff and fellows. Occasional proposals to restrict access would invariably meet with Norma Emerton’s vigorous opposition.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Death / Burial / Funerals, Science & Technology, Theology

John Stackhouse–Eminent Scientist Stephen Hawking Concludes God Doesn’t Exist—Again

The God of the Christian Bible could certainly have created the world through the Big Bang. And, as many theologians and scientists have agreed ever since Darwin published The Origin of Species, God could have supervised evolution to achieve God’s purposes in creation. What Darwin and Hawking seem to have concluded is merely that there is no convincing scientific proof of God performing a miracle at the start of the cosmos or at the genesis of each new kind of creature. But that conclusion isn’t much of an argument against God’s existence.

“We can’t find sure proof that God was definitely there” is hardly proof that God wasn’t there.

No, this final book of Hawking’s will persuade only those who don’t understand the problem. And it’s not a scientific problem, but the problem of evil: However the universe was formed, and however we ourselves got here as human beings, is there better reason than not to believe in God, and particularly the God of the Bible?

I have offered my best answer to that here, among the many other replies available. As Christmas approaches once more, this would be a good season to give that question, along with the interesting ones Professor Hawking was indeed qualified to answer, the attention it deserves.

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Posted in Apologetics, Science & Technology, Theology

(SN) Survey raises worries about how screen time affects kids’ brains

Nearly two out of three U.S. kids spend more than two hours a day looking at screens, a new analysis of activity levels finds. And those children perform worse on memory, language and thinking tests than kids who spend less time in front of a device, the study of over 4,500 8- to 11-year-olds shows.

The finding, published online September 26 in Lancet Child & Adolescent Healthbolsters concerns that heavy use of smartphones, tablets or televisions can hurt growing minds. But because the study captures a single snapshot in time, it’s still not known whether too much screen time can actually harm brain development, experts caution.

Researchers used data gleaned from child and parent surveys on daily screen time, exercise and sleep, collected as part of a larger effort called the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study. Cognitive abilities were also tested in that bigger study. As a benchmark for the new study, the researchers used expert guidelines set in 2016 that recommend no more than two hours of recreational screen time a day, an hour of exercise and between nine and 11 hours of nighttime sleep.

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

Bishop Stephen Croft–Artificial Intelligence: A Guide to the Key Issues

It’s a long way from robot vacuum cleaners to a superintelligence. At the moment, much artificial intelligence is “narrow”: we can create machines which are very good at particular tasks (such as beating a human at “Go”) but not machines which have broad general intelligence and consciousness. We have not yet created intelligent life.

But scientists think that day is not far away. Some are hopeful of the benefits of non human superintelligence. Some, including Stephen Hawking, are extremely cautious. But there is serious thinking happening already. Professor Nick Bostron is the Director of the Future of Humanity Institute in the University of Oxford. In his book, Superintelligence, he analyses the steps needed to develop superintelligence, the ways in which humanity may or may not be able to control what emerges and the kind of ethical thinking which is needed. “Human civilisation is at stake” according to Clive Cookson, who reviewed the book for the Financial Times[3].

The resources of our faith have much to say in all of this debate around AI: about fair access, privacy and personal identity, about persuasion in the political process, about what it means to be human, about the ethics of weaponisation and about the limits of human endeavour.

In the 19th Century and for much of the 20th Century, science asked hard questions of faith. Christians did not always respond well to those questions and to the evidence of reason. But in the 21st Century, faith needs to ask hard questions once again of science.

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

(RNS) No longer the default, the Church of England goes to battle in religious marketplace

It’s not particularly news in Britain that young English people no longer automatically consider themselves Anglican. A government survey released this month was only the latest to confirm that “CoE” — Church of England — was no longer the default response when Englanders were asked their religion or checked a box on a form.

What’s new, however, is that the Church of England is not sitting back and accepting decline. The nearly 500-year-old denomination is answering back, via Instagram.

The U.K.’s annual British Social Attitudes Survey reported that only 2 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds identify with the Church of England, the established religion of the realm since the Reformation.

Overall, in fact, fewer than 1 in 7 of the English say they belong to the Church of England. Between 2002 and 2017, the share of the populace identifying with the church dropped from 31 percent to 14 percent. That was a faster decline than any other Christian denomination in England.

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

(Guardian) Kwame Anthony Appiah–Can we choose our own identity?

“What I want to do is to widen the bandwidth of gender,” says Alex Drummond, the Cardiff psychologist and author and a trans woman, who decided to keep her beard, while also forgoing surgery or hormones. Drummond, who identifies as lesbian, told BuzzFeed: “If all you ever see is trans women who completely pass and are completely convincing as natal females, then those of us who just don’t have that kind of luck won’t have the confidence to come out.” (Most trans women have not had genital surgery, according to a recent survey by the American National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.) Her project of “gender queering” hasn’t met universal acceptance; one trans woman writer has likened her to “the older, oversized bully” who “throws himself into the toddlers’ sandpit and kicks everyone else out”. Did I mention quakes and tremors?

But a conversation – a negotiation – has begun, gloriously. Every day, men negotiate with one another about what masculinity means. And not just men. “Man” and “woman” are part of a system of interacting identities. Nor, for that matter, can black and white and Asian and brown racial identities be negotiated separately by black and white and Asian and brown people. That’s why we have to resist the liberal fantasy in which identities are merely chosen, so we are all free to be what we choose to be. In truth, identities without demands would be lifeless. Identities work only because, once they get their grip on us, they command us, speaking to us as an inner voice; and because others, seeing who they think we are, call on us, too. If you do not care for the shapes your identities have taken, you have to work with others inside and outside the labelled group in order to reframe them so they fit you better; and you can do that collective work only if you recognise that the results must serve others as well.

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I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Sexuality

(NYT) Finding It Hard to Focus? Maybe It’s Not Your Fault The rise of the new “attention economy.”

It was the big tech equivalent of “drink responsibly” or the gambling industry’s “safer play”; the latest milestone in Silicon Valley’s year of apology. Earlier this month, Facebook and Instagram announced new tools for users to set time limits on their platforms, and a dashboard to monitor one’s daily use, following Google’s introduction of Digital Well Being features.

In doing so the companies seemed to suggest that spending time on the internet is not a desirable, healthy habit, but a pleasurable vice: one that if left uncontrolled may slip into unappealing addiction.

Having secured our attention more completely than ever dreamed, they now are carefully admitting it’s time to give some of it back, so we can meet our children’s eyes unfiltered by Clarendon or Lark; go see a movie in a theater; or contra Apple’s ad for its watch, even go surfing without — heaven forfend — “checking in.”

“The liberation of human attention may be the defining moral and political struggle of our time,” writes James Williams, a technologist turned philosopher and the author of a new book, “Stand Out of Our Light.”

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Media, Psychology, Science & Technology

Today in History in 1981

Posted in History, Science & Technology

(LA Times) Avram Mlotek–Google could use a little godliness

Whether they realize it or not, technology leaders are writing a virtual universal constitution. What they’re doing is important to humanity. With a little spiritual guidance, maybe it’ll be easier for them to pause the emoji barrage and hear the human voice.

Just as clergy offer counsel to their congregants, the users, let’s bring chaplains into tech offices, the providers. Sure, it may be hard to envision the Pope giving a talk on sexuality at Tinder, but it’s a new dawn. Anything is possible and this rabbi is ready for the unexplored frontier. Google, you know where to find me.

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

(DM) Christian doctor is sacked by the Government for refusing to identify patients by their preferred gender because he believes sex is established at birth

A doctor has been fired from a top government role for suggesting gender is determined at birth.

Dr David Mackereth, 55, who has worked as an NHS doctor for 26 years, was deemed to be ‘unfit to work’ after he said he would refuse to identify patients by their preferred gender.

The senior doctor was set to become a disability assessor for the Department for Work and Pensions claims a person’s gender is biological and said his right to freedom of speech had been denied.

The medic, from Dudley in the West Midlands, fears other ‘professional people of faith’ could lose their jobs simply for holding opinions about gender that are ‘centuries old’.

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Posted in Children, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology, Sexuality

(NPR) More Screen Time For Teens Linked To ADHD Symptoms

Most teens today own a smartphone and go online every day, and about a quarter of them use the internet “almost constantly,” according to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center.

Now a study published Tuesday in JAMA suggests that such frequent use of digital media by adolescents might increase their odds of developing symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“It’s one of the first studies to look at modern digital media and ADHD risk,” says psychologist Adam Leventhal, an associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California and an author of the study.

When considered with previous research showing that greater social media use is associated with depression in teens, the new study suggests that “excessive digital media use doesn’t seem to be great for [their] mental health,” he adds.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Psychology, Science & Technology, Teens / Youth

(FT) How business is capitalising on the millennial Instagram obsession

The tables at the Tsubaki Salon are slightly wobbly. No more than a couple of millimetres off kilter, but enough to be noticeable.

This is puzzling because, in all other respects, this highest of high-end pancake houses, nestling among the haute-couture flagships of Tokyo’s Ginza district and fitted out in bracingly minimalist decor, is perfection. The plates and cups are the definition of Japanese ceramic elegance. The spindly handled spoons and forks have been created by one of the country’s most famous designers to fit the pinnacle of pancake Epicureanism. When it comes to the edible stars of the show — made using a complex technique — they too, in the view of the pancake cognoscenti, are flawless.

But what about that wobble? “It’s deliberate,” says Yukari Mori, nudging the table a little to demonstrate that even this imperfection is perfection. “They were designed this way to show off what makes these pancakes so good.”

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Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Economy, Japan, Photos/Photography, Science & Technology, Young Adults