Category : Science & Technology

(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.

Read it all.

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

(WSJ) S. Joshua Swamidass–Evangelicals Take On Artificial Intelligence

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(Crux) Theologian Gerald McKenny: Biotechnology cannot transcend God’s ultimate purpose

Camosy: In this video you suggest that one of your central questions as a theologian is how we should respond to our vulnerabilities and limitations. Why and/or how did this become a central question for you?

McKenny: When I began studying bioethics in the 1980s, advocates of patient autonomy were still trying to establish it as the fundamental bioethical principle while others, in response, were trying to reclaim a Hippocratic focus of medicine on the patient’s good. I agreed with both but thought that they ignored that when people turn to medicine it is because in one way or another they are face-to-face with their vulnerability. Medicine should respect autonomy and serve patients’ good, but it is first of all a ministry to humans in their vulnerability. Around the same time, the Human Genome Initiative and human gene therapy were getting underway. There was a lot of talk, in retrospect unrealistic, about how genetic knowledge and technology would push back at our creaturely limits, giving us new abilities and so on. So, I began to think about medicine, biomedical research, and so forth as a way we respond to our vulnerabilities and limitations. And that is of course a way of thinking about it that is, or should be, theological.

What do you say to Christians who argue that God made us with vulnerabilities and limitations and we ought not to defy God’s will in using biotechnology to address them?

Like all creatures, we are finite, and like all living creatures, we are dependent-on each other, on our environment. To be finite is to be limited, and to be dependent is to be vulnerable, so these are features of our nature as created by God and should be accepted as such. But acceptance of some aspect of our creaturely nature does not necessarily mean keeping it just as it is. For one thing, some of our present vulnerabilities and limitations are due to sin and are not part of our nature as God created it. To mitigate the effects of sin is not to defy God’s will.

Also, we know that our nature will be perfected in eternity, and some people think we can, in modest ways, anticipate aspects of that perfection now, through biotechnology. But more broadly, much of what people want to do with biotechnology – improve cognitive or perceptual functions, increase muscular strength or agility, live longer – aims at attaining certain states that we perceive as good, as fulfillments of our nature as God created it. If these states really are true human goods (of course, that’s a big “if”!) then it might well be God’s will that we pursue them, assuming we don’t harm people or violate their autonomy in doing so. They would make us a little less limited or a little less vulnerable than we were. But we will still be limited and vulnerable: Still creatures.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Roman Catholic, Science & Technology

(CC) Kristel Clayville–Immunotherapy’s believers and skeptics

One of the most compelling moments of the book comes when physician and researcher Bob Schreiber describes a lab meeting at which he presented evidence from an experiment that he had finished. The findings: animals with suppressed immune systems developed more tumors more rapidly than animals with normal immune systems. His colleagues responded that “cancer cells are too close to normal cells to be recognized as non-self,” arguing that cancer cells “are not subject to immune notice.” In short, they responded with their previous beliefs about how the immune system works; they did not think Schreiber’s data challenged their previously held beliefs. It was as if he had no data. His colleagues simply didn’t believe that the immune system could recognize the tumor, and no amount of data could change their minds.

The believers, like Schreiber, redoubled their efforts, sought out more data, ran more experiments, and developed a more nuanced picture of how the immune system works. This nuanced picture was enough to get their first drug into clinical trials.

However, those trials were designed to capture short-term results. The cancer immunotherapy drug worked on a different time scale and with different evidence of success. Previous cancer drugs had to show improvement in tumor size on medical imaging, while the immunotherapy approach relied on patient feedback in the short term. Patients reported feeling better and being able to do more, though their initial imaging looked worse. In order to demonstrate the power of immuno­therapy for cancer, the FDA would have to design a new kind of clinical trial, one that took into account patients’ reports early in treatment and their alignment with imaging much later in the treatment.

The history of cancer immunotherapy is still unfolding. Graeber notes that immunotherapy is a “science built on stories.” He tells these stories in a way that honors the complexity of the roles of belief and evidence in medical and scientific research. His narrative encourages us to imagine what we could achieve if we were willing to believe more patient stories and incorporate the messiness of human life into the research process.

Read it all.

Posted in Health & Medicine, History, Psychology, Science & Technology

(CT) The Gospel of AI: Evangelicals Want Tech to Remain Good News

As artificial intelligence (AI) makes its way into social media and smart devices, markets and health care systems, military and public policy, evangelicals are raising big questions about its revolutionary potential.

“We recognize that AI will allow us to achieve unprecedented possibilities, while acknowledging the potential risks posed by AI if used without wisdom and care,” state the authors of the new Evangelical Statement of Principles on Artificial Intelligence, unveiled today in Washington, DC. “We desire to equip the church to proactively engage the field of AI, rather than responding to these issues after they have already affected our communities.”

The statement was initially endorsed by about 65 leading evangelical voices, including Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president J. D. Greear; pastors Matt Chandler and Ray Ortlund; professors Wayne Grudem, Michael Horton, and Richard Mouw; as well as leaders of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), which released the document. (CT’s editor in chief, Mark Galli, also signed the statement.)

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Posted in Evangelicals, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(Terry Mattingly) Busy pastors and the dumpster fire of social media

“People can create online personalities that are simply not real. … A lot of what they say in social media has little to do with who they really are and all the fleshy, real stuff that’s in their lives,” said the Rev. John Jay Alvaro of First Baptist Church in Pasadena, California.

Thus, Alvaro and the church’s other clergy are committed to this strategy: Always move “one step closer” to human contact. “What we want is coffee cups and face-to-face meetings across a table. … You have to get past all the texts and emails and Facebook,” he said.

In fact, Alvaro is convinced that online life has become so toxic that it’s time for pastors to detox. Thus, he recently wrote an essay for Baptist News Global with this blunt headline: “Pastors and other church leaders: Give up social media. Not for Lent, but forever.” His thesis is that the “dumpster fire” of social media life is making it harder for pastors to love real people.

To quote one of Alvaro’s Duke Divinity School mentors — theologian Stanley Hauerwas — today’s plugged-in pastor has become “a quivering mass of availability.”

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Care, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(Local Paper front page) South Carolina’s treasured dolphins tangle with human threats. Their future is uncertain.

That leaping dolphin, one of the most beloved animals of the South Carolina coast, might be dying off in front of our eyes.

Nobody knows how many are really out there. More dolphins are dying tangled up in yards of crab pot lines and other marine gear. They are backing away from their usual behaviors as beachgoers and boaters crowd them.

The local population of the sea mammals is smaller than many people realize. Some people think the waters around Charleston are home to thousands of dolphins, said Lauren Rust of the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network.

But the last survey by a federal team was done more than a decade ago, in 2008. It found only 350 living in Charleston area waters.

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Posted in * South Carolina, Animals, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Stewardship

Church of England bishops welcome introduction of online safety laws

Church of England bishops today welcomed the publication of a Government White Paper including plans to impose substantial fines against social media companies that breach their duty of care towards the vulnerable.

The Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, who in 2016 launched a campaign (#liedentity) to encourage a safer online environment, said: “The new plans unveiled today are an encouraging sign that the online world will start to be regulated to protect people like Molly Russell, 14, who tragically took her own life. We know that her family believe that social media was partly responsible for their daughter’s death.

“Research tells us that 4 in 10 people feel that tech firms fail to take their concerns seriously when they complain.

“It’s about time that social media companies are held responsible for their content and are accountable for their actions. No other organisation in the ‘real’ world has that freedom. We manage to regulate electricity, water companies, broadcasters, shops etc through consumer bodies, yet for years social media companies have been allowed to self-regulate. These new clear standards, backed up by enforcement powers will hopefully be the step change to start really protecting our children and young people online.”

The White Paper, which includes plans to hold individual executives personally liable for failings, follows the publication of a House of Lords Select Committee report on Communication.

Read it all.

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

(NBC) Poll: Americans give social media a clear thumbs-down

The American public holds negative views of social-media giants like Facebook and Twitter, with sizable majorities saying these sites do more to divide the country than unite it and spread falsehoods rather than news, according to results from the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

What’s more, six in 10 Americans say they don’t trust Facebook at all to protect their personal information, the poll finds.

But the public also believes that technology in general has more benefits than drawbacks on the economy, and respondents are split about whether the federal government should break up the largest tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook.

“Social media — and Facebook, in particular — have some serious issues in this poll,” said Micah Roberts, a pollster at the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies, which conducted this survey with the Democratic firm Hart Research Associates.

“If America was giving social media a Yelp review, a majority would give it zero stars,” Roberts added.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, America/U.S.A., Blogging & the Internet, Science & Technology

(WSJ) Deus Ex Machina: More Religions Use Robots to Connect With the Public

Gabriele Trovato is worried about tomorrow. Or at least that’s what he confesses to SanTO, one of his religion-inspired robots. Just shy of 17 inches tall, SanTO resembles those small figurines of saints often found in Catholic homes—except with a computer, microphone, sensors and a facial recognition-enabled camera. As Mr. Trovato touches and speaks to the machine, its deep, echoing voice responds with a Bible quote: “From the Gospel according to Matthew,” it says, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Mr. Trovato, a roboticist and assistant professor at Japan’s Waseda University, designed SanTO to provide comfort and assistance to the elderly. Interactive, social robots like ElliQ, a robot companion for seniors, or Sony’s Aibo robot dog are increasingly seen as a means to alleviate loneliness, entertain and provide information. But they can do better at making users comfortable with the technology, Mr. Trovato said, by incorporating cultural touchstones including religious features. At the same time, a handful of religious institutions are developing robots to converse with visitors and share doctrine. These robots are not meant to replace religious leaders, but they can make religious information more accessible or spur attendance to places of worship. “Religion has evolved through history, from oral tradition to written tradition to press and mass media. So it’s very reasonable to think that AI and robotics will help religion to spread out more,” Mr. Trovato said.

Eventually, says Robert Geraci, a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, robots might become more than just tools. “One possibility is that religion gets radically reformulated in collaboration with the advancement of technology,” he said. Another is that technology-celebrating movements such as transhumanism could compete with traditional religions. Should they ever become sentient, robots could join faiths themselves, raising questions about religious identity, he said. Would a robot count for a minyan, a Jewish quorum for religious obligations?

Read it all.

Posted in Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(Local Paper) Charleston area recycling programs, while well-intentioned, face tough road ahead

Ron Brinson often fields questions about recycling when he’s making his Saturday morning rounds through the neighborhoods he represents on North Charleston City Council.

“They know that most, if not all, of this stuff ends up in a landfill, but for so many of our neighbors, recycling is instinctive,” Brinson said. “It’s a great ‘habit’ and we were all sorry North Charleston’s pickups in Dorchester County had to be suspended.”

The end of recycling in Brinson’s council district wasn’t unusual. In fact, it represents the current reality for the waste industry: It’s tough to find anyone to buy salvaged paper, glass and plastic these days.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Ecology, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources

(Guardian) A Letter to the Editor from Archbp John Setamu and others–‘Double standards on oil spills in Nigeria must end’

The devastating impact of oil spills is widely recognised. The past decade has witnessed the destruction caused to human life and the environment from spills including the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and the Montara spill in Australia in 2009.

On each occasion the global community has reacted with horror, demanding the oil industry clean up local ecosystems and communities. Yet in Nigeria, and particularly in Bayelsa state in the Niger Delta, these calls are ignored.

Oil spills are a persistent feature of life in Bayelsa. While 4m litres of oil are spilled annually in the US, 40m litres are spilled in the Niger Delta.

Oil has poisoned the land and water. The contamination of fish and crops has destroyed livelihoods, decimated local employment opportunities and pushed many into militancy. Life expectancy in the Niger Delta is 10 years below the national average.

Multinational oil companies operate to severe double standards. While efforts are made to clean up spills in the US, Scotland or Norway, oil is left to flow unabated in Nigeria.

Read it all.

Posted in Archbishop of York John Sentamu, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Nigeria, Religion & Culture

A Local Paper Article on the Expanding use of Telehealth in South Carolina

Some experts believe that in a few years health care will look a lot like Amazon, with a list of health services on demand and quick access to health resources via virtual care.

Gone will be the need to make appointments for some basic health problems or sitting endlessly in a waiting room at an emergency room with a child screaming with an ear infection.

“It has to be as convenient as Amazon,” said Dr. Edward O’Bryan, chief medical officer for Medical University of South Carolina Business Health when describing the launch of their new virtual urgent care system. “It’s improving access to health care for the residents of South Carolina.”

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(Gallup) Most Americans Support Reducing Fossil Fuel Use

While the future of the Green New Deal proposed in Congress is uncertain, most Americans support the general idea of dramatically reducing the country’s use of fossil fuels over the next two decades as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change. Six in 10 U.S. adults say they would “strongly favor” (27%) or “favor” (33%) policies with this energy goal, while fewer than four in 10 say they would “oppose” (19%) or “strongly oppose” (17%) them.

Support for rapidly slashing the country’s use of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal is significantly higher among Democrats (80%) and independents (60%) than among Republicans (37%).

These data are from Gallup’s annual Environment poll, conducted March 1-10.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Sociology, Stewardship

(Recode) US companies are moving tech jobs to Canada rather than deal with President Trump’s immigration policies

US companies are going to keep hiring foreign tech workers, even as the Trump administration makes doing so more difficult. For a number of US companies that means expanding their operations in Canada, where hiring foreign nationals is much easier.

Demand for international workers remained high this year, according to a new Envoy Global survey of more than 400 US hiring professionals, who represent big and small US companies and have all had experience hiring foreign employees.

Some 80 percent of employers expect their foreign worker headcount to either increase or stay the same in 2019, according to Envoy, which helps US companies navigate immigration laws.

That tracks with US government immigration data, which shows a growing number of applicants for high-skilled tech visas, known as H-1Bs, despite stricter policies toward immigration. H-1B recipients are all backed by US companies that say they are in need of specialized labor that isn’t readily available in the US — which, in practice, includes a lot of tech workers.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Canada, Immigration, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Science & Technology

(AP) Dartmouth professor Marcelo Gleiser wins top religion prize

A Dartmouth College professor of physics and astronomy was awarded one of the world’s leading religion prizes for blending hard science and deep spirituality in his work, a foundation announced Tuesday.

The John Templeton Foundation is awarding its 2019 prize to Marcelo Gleiser, who has written books on topics ranging from the origin of the universe to how science engages with spirituality. The Templeton Prize comes with a $1.4 million award.

Gleiser, a 60-year-old Brazilian native, is the 49th recipient and the first from Latin America to get the award, which honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension. Previous winners include Mother Teresa, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, and King Abdullah II of Jordan. The award will be presented at a ceremony in New York City on May 29.

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Posted in Education, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(USA Today) Mom calls out YouTube video with hidden suicide plan for kids

A Florida-based pediatrician who is also a mother is calling out YouTube over a series of videos aimed at kids with inappropriate content, including one offering instructions on how to commit suicide.

Dr. Free Hess, who runs her own website called PediMom.com, said she first encountered the video with a clip of the suicide instructions edited in about seven months ago from a concerned parent.

Hess said although the clip was removed from YouTube Kids – a version of YouTube available as an app billed as kid friendly – it had resurfaced on YouTube.

A clip from the video recorded by Hess appears to show cartoonish characters from “Splatoon,” a video game made by Nintendo. Hess said more than four minutes in, the video abruptly flips to a man offering advice on how to commit suicide.

“There has to be a better way to assure this type of content is not being seen by our children,” said Hess in a blog post published last Friday. “We cannot continue to risk this.”

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Children, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Science & Technology, Suicide, Teens / Youth

(Christian Today) David Baker–We need to be aware of the pervasive impact of ‘The ‘cult of relentless negativity” all around us

Hear it on the radio when pointlessly adversarial interviews are staged with two opposite views – because a negative clash is deemed more likely to engage listeners than a reasoned debate. All it does is leave both interviewees looking foolish – and the presenter as righteous ring-master. Hear it when interviewers constantly interrupt or harangue their interviewees, leaving an impression that the person being interviewed is stupid or inept.

Watch it on television when news reporters conclude their package with a phrase such as ‘But critics will say…’ without naming anyone, or indeed offering any evidence they have even spoken to such ‘critics’. And there’s that other lazy, negative journalistic sign-off – ‘But many questions remain unanswered’ – leaving the impression that whatever person or event has just been reported on, there’s probably some sort of cover-up or incompetence yet to be exposed.

Observe it in politics in the nastiness between Democrats and Republicans in the US. See it likewise in Britain: witness the way people on both sides of the Brexit debate have spoken of the other. Or hear Labour MP John McDonnell who said he could never, ever be friends with a Tory – as though they are to be regarded as some separate species of human.

And sadly, of course, the cult of relentless negativity is in the church too. Read Angela Tilby’s likening of Anglican evangelicals to Labour’s hard-left ‘Momentum’ grouping in last week’s Church Times. Why undertake any serious comment when you can just smear a whole group in this way? Meanwhile an ‘inclusive’ and influential Anglican website carries an article in which every member of the Church of England’s ‘Living in Love and Faith’ sexuality project is declared ‘guilty’ on six counts (yes, six!) of ‘evil’ by the writer, namely ‘prejudice, silence, ignorance, fear, hypocrisy, prejudice and misuse of power’. Quite some indictment!

More conservative Christians can be the same. There are websites purporting to offer objective comment on Anglicanism which seem dedicated, relentlessly, to reporting and reinforcing a 100 per cent negative view. One wonders what it does to those who churn the stuff out. Some of the loudest online critics of the Church of England have alienated potential allies by relentlessly disparaging anyone who does not see things exactly as they do. How easy it is, as the puritan Richard Baxter observed, ‘to tear our brethren as heretics before we understand them’.

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

(LA Times) Your phone and TV are tracking you, and political campaigns are listening in

“We can put a pin on a building, and if you are in that building, we are going to get you,” said Democratic strategist Dane Strother, who advised Evers. And they can get you even if you aren’t in the building anymore, but were simply there at some point in the last six months.

Campaigns don’t match the names of voters with the personal information they scoop up — although that could be possible in many cases. Instead, they use the information to micro-target ads to appear on phones and other devices based on individual profiles that show where a voter goes, whether a gun range, a Whole Foods or a town hall debate over Medicare.

The spots would show up in all the digital places a person normally sees ads — whether on Facebook or an internet browser such as Chrome.

As a result, if you have been to a political rally, a town hall, or just fit a demographic a campaign is after, chances are good your movements are being tracked with unnerving accuracy by data vendors on the payroll of campaigns. The information gathering can quickly invade even the most private of moments.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(Healthday) Screen Time for the Very Young Has Doubled in 20 Years: Study

The electronic babysitter is alive and thriving in the new digital age.

A new study says it all: Children under the age of 2 spend twice the amount of time in front of a screen each day — almost three hours, to be exact — as they did 20 years ago.

Kids are being exposed to far more screen time than recommended by pediatric experts, the researchers added.

That screen was most often a TV set, with the television viewing of toddlers rising fivefold between 1997 and 2014, the study findings showed.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Science & Technology, Theology

(CC) Peter Boumgarden–Christian humanism in a technocratic world: Alan Jacobs’s biography of T.S. Eliot, Simone Weil, W.H. Auden, Jacques Maritain, and C.S. Lewis

What unites these thinkers is a burning desire to build an alternative to the demonic powers made manifest within the war and to house that vision within the university. The protagonists of 1943 worried that a technocratic ideology fails to see individuals as moral persons whose vocation extends far beyond that of a citizen or worker. In his Terry Lectures, Maritain offered one of the most direct explanations of the alternative model, arguing that “the prime goal of education is the conquest of internal and spiritual freedom to be achieved by the individual person, or, in other words, his liberation through knowledge and wisdom, goodwill, and love.”

For these individuals, even the secular humanist project had its problems. Though also suspicious of technocracy, secular humanism too easily elevated the human to an almost cult-like status. A Christian humanism must decenter this anthropocentric model with an equally deep understanding of human evil.

Jacobs’s narrative is not one of social change. However ambitious, each of these reformers moved away from institutional reform. Lewis, after a time, migrated into fiction. Auden and Eliot renewed their focus on poetry. Only Maritain ended the war in something close to a political posture, working to build his personalist views into laws and institutions. Jacobs concludes:

Their diagnostic powers were great indeed: they saw with uncanny clarity and exposed with incisive intelligence the means by which technocracy has arisen and the damage it had inflicted and would continue to inflict, on human persons. Few subsequent critiques of “the technological society” rival theirs in imagination or moral seriousness. But their prescriptions were never implemented, and could never have been: they came perhaps a century too late, after the reign of technocracy had become so complete that none can force the end of it while this world lasts.

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Posted in Books, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(RC) Craig Gay On Technology: How Do We Tell The Good From The Bad?

My primary intellectual interest has always been trying to understand where we are, what’s going on, how we got here, and how does understanding these sorts of things help us to understand ourselves. As soon as you start asking these kinds of questions you can’t help but wonder about modern technology, i.e., where it came from, where it’s headed, what it’s doing to us, is it good or bad, etc. The fact that I grew up in Silicon Valley during the 1960s and ’70s and witnessed the early years of the “digital revolution” is just a kind of happy accident, but it has given me a kind of insider’s knowledge of modern tech development.

What if I think modern medicine, electric cars, and Instagram are all great? What if I love technology and think it’s basically a force for good? Should I still read Modern Technology and the Human Future?

Fair warning: I’m going to try to talk you out of such a naive view….

It is often said that modern technology is not the problem; rather, the problem is what we do with it. This is true as far as it goes. Technology per se—even in its distinctively modern form—is not the real problem. What we do with technology, however, is shaped by who in the world we think we are and by the kind of world we believe ourselves to be living in. Here we appear to have certain problems.

People commonly ask: What about this or that technology? Should we use it? Is this or that technology good or bad? What we need to understand is that we stand absolutely no chance of being able to satisfactorily answer these kinds of questions unless we know what kinds of people we are trying to become. Basically, unless we know where we are trying to get to, there’s no way of knowing if this or technology is going to help us to get there.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology, Theology

(NPR) Interracial Couples And Disability-Friendly Emojis Coming Soon To Smartphones

Disabled individuals will see a wide range of new emojis devoted to them, including wheelchairs, canes, hearings aids, and prosthetic limbs. These emojis were proposed by Apple to better represent individuals with disabilities.

“One in seven people around the world has some form of disability,” Apple wrote in its proposal. “Adding emoji emblematic to users’ life experiences helps foster a diverse culture that is inclusive of disability.” Apple said it developed the proposed emojis in collaboration with the American Council of the Blind and the National Association of the Deaf, among other organizations.

A new “people holding hands” emoji will let users mix and match different skin tones and genders, with 171 possible combinations.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Psychology, Science & Technology

(Irish Times) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshanna Zuboff: Data disaster

In two important and deeply personal books, Harvard Business School emeritus professor Shoshana Zuboff and Russian-born American journalist Yasha Levine reveal that such surveillance, by the corporate world and the state, is not a dirty exception but the rule; not a malfunction or mistake, but the norm. These surveillers are intrinsically and historically linked.

Zuboff’s massive The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (at 700-plus pages) will surely become a pivotal work in defining, understanding and exposing this surreptitious exploitation of our data and, increasingly, our free will.

Even “data”, as a term, erases the fact that it comprises the very essence of us – our likes and dislikes, our physical and emotional attributes, our social connections, our physical environment, the patterns of our daily lives. It is us, packaged and sold on for further exploitation.

“Surveillance capitalism unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data”, which then is utilised to produce “surveillance revenue”, Zuboff writes.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Books, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology

(NYT) This Is Your Brain Off Facebook

The world’s most common digital habit is not easy to break, even in a fit of moral outrage over the privacy risks and political divisions Facebook has created, or amid concerns about how the habit might affect emotional health.

Although four in 10 Facebook users say they have taken long breaks from it, the digital platform keeps growing. A recent study found that the average user would have to be paid $1,000 to $2,000 to be pried away for a year.

So what happens if you actually do quit? A new study, the most comprehensive to date, offers a preview.

Expect the consequences to be fairly immediate: More in-person time with friends and family. Less political knowledge, but also less partisan fever. A small bump in one’s daily moods and life satisfaction. And, for the average Facebook user, an extra hour a day of downtime.

Read it all.

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

(CT Women) Jen Michel–Move Over, Sex and Drugs. Ease Is the New Vice.

According to recent research, teens are starting their sex lives a lot later. Despite shifting cultural norms and new sexual freedoms, our youngest and most virile are apparently having less sex—at least for now. Sociologists and social commentators debate whether the trend is temporary and whether it marks a healthy or unhealthy societal shift. But it’s possible that the so-called sex recession offers evidence of a wide, disturbing trend that has nothing to do with sex—one that is particularly endemic to our cultural moment. The trend bears witness to the ways that we’re increasingly finding embodied life “tiresome.” (In Japan, that’s the word many younger Japanese people to describe intercourse: mendokusai.)

Our apparent fatigue with bodily living extends to other areas, as well. Two years ago, in response to declining cereal sales, market researchers went looking for answers to why younger people were opting out of the convenience food that had fed their parents and grandparents. According to The New York Times, researchers found the reason: Breakfast cereal—with the whole bother of bowl and spoon—involved far too much work. “Almost 40 percent of the millennials surveyed by Mintel for its 2015 report said cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it.”

The decline in sexual activity and cereal sales hardly seem correlated, but both seem to point to one of the most seductive promises of a technological age: that ours should be an unbothered life. As our lives (at least in the developed world) get easier, we are increasingly formed by the desire for ease. Of all the cautions we raise about technology—its distractions and temptations, its loneliness and superficiality—this promise of unencumbered living is perhaps the most insidious danger and also the one we talk the least about.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(Telegraph) Church of England calls for fines on harmful social media

Social media giants should face multi-million fines if they fail to take down damaging content that leads children to suffer self-harm, bullying or emotional distress, the Church of England says today.

The bishop who has led the Church’s campaigns on social media said the Government should introduce regulations similar to Germany’s where firms face fines of up to 50m Euros (£44m) if they fail to delete posts within 24 hours of a complaint.

It is the first time the Church has thrown its weight behind a duty of care – a centrepiece of The Telegraph’s campaign social media – that would give children the same protections online as they get in the real world.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Children, Corporations/Corporate Life, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Teens / Youth

(NYT) Washington State Weighs New Option After Death: Human Composting

Katrina Spade, the founder and chief executive of Recompose, a Seattle company that hopes to build the first facility to use the new method and conduct funeral services based around it, said the movement toward cremation — now used in more than half of deaths in the nation — has led to an erosion of essential rituals. Remains are often just picked up from a crematory, she said, and that’s that.

“This is not simply a process to convert bodies to soil; it’s also about bringing ritual and some of that ceremony back,” Ms. Spade said.

Ms. Christian, the woman who is hoping recomposition will be an option after she dies, says she has long been uncomfortable with the other choices. She has ruled out burial. And she does not like the idea of cremation because of environmental costs — emissions and climate impacts of fossil fuels used in the burning process. But her friends remain divided on the issue.

“The vast majority are like, ‘That is so cool,’” she said. “And then the other response is, ‘Oh, gross.’”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(LT) Terry Mattingly: Many pastors clueless when swamped with sex, tech issues

Researchers contacted 410 senior ministers in 29 evangelical and mainline Protestant denominations, along with non-denominational congregations.

Pastors were asked about 18 issues, including marital infidelity, premarital sex, same-sex relationships, sexting, gender dysphoria and the use of pornography by husbands, wives, teens and young children. Among the findings:

  • Eighty percent of these Protestant pastors said they had been approached during the past year by church members or staff dealing with infidelity issues, and 73 percent had faced issues linked to pornography.
  • Seventy percent of the pastors said they dealt with serious “sexual brokenness” issues in their flock several times a year, with 22 percent saying this took place once a month or more.
  • Only one-third of the pastors said they felt “very qualified” to address the sexual issues being raised by their staff and church members.
  • Two-thirds of pastors “agree strongly” that the church should help people dealing with sexual sins. However, fewer than 1 in 4 said their churches openly discuss these issues in Bible studies, small groups, training for laity or support groups.
  • “Mainline” church pastors were much less likely (39 percent) to address “sexual health” issues than evangelical or conservative clergy (78 percent). Many clergy offer “pastoral counseling,” and that’s that.

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Posted in Adult Education, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Ministry of the Laity, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Pornography, Science & Technology, Sexuality, Theology, Theology: Scripture