Category : Science & Technology

Michael Plato–The Immortality Machine: Transhumanism and the race to beat death

Of the many ideologies and isms to emerge in recent years, transhumanism, which promotes striving for immortality through technology, has to be one of the quirkiest. But its advocates are dead serious. Silicon Valley tech magnates Peter Thiel, Larry Ellison, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Bill Maris have already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into research dedicated to slowing or even stopping the aging process. And the Trans­humanist Party’s presidential candidate, Zoltan Istvan, who recently crisscrossed the nation in a coffin-shaped RV called the Immortality Bus, claims that death itself can be eradicated in “eight to twelve years, with enough funding.”

Beyond Silicon Valley, transhumanism is extending its reach into intellectual and spiritual realms. Though still largely rejected by the mainstream academy, transhumanism has found support in surprising places, for example at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute. Transhumanism’s movers and shakers, made up predominantly of tech entrepreneurs and independent “visionaries,” have held conferences, published widely, and funded research, much of it via a think tank called Humanity Plus.

The transhumanist movement seeks to improve human intelligence, physical strength, and the five senses by technological means. Transhumanists are often also interested in the idea of “technological singularity,” a hypothesized moment in the development of computing power when a true artificial intelligence emerges. This would, its adherents believe, spark an explosion of technological growth, leading to unimaginable, but positive, changes in human society. In certain versions of this scenario, humans and computers would merge, and humanity as a whole would be brought to a new stage of development that would transcend biology.

Above all, transhumanists seek to extend life, even to the point of eliminating death altogether.

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

(1st Things) Richard John Neuhaus: on behalf of the unborn, We shall not Weary, We shall not rest

The following address, described by Robert P. George as “the greatest pro-life speech ever given,” was delivered by Richard John Neuhaus at the close of the 2008 convention of the National Right to Life Committee. —[1st Things] Ed.

We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along the way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person.

Against the encroaching shadows of the culture of death, against forces commanding immense power and wealth, against the perverse doctrine that a woman’s dignity depends upon her right to destroy her child, against what St. Paul calls the principalities and powers of the present time, this convention renews our resolve that we shall not weary, we shall not rest, until the culture of life is reflected in the rule of law and lived in the law of love.

It has been a long journey, and there are still miles and miles to go. Some say it started with the notorious Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 when, by what Justice Byron White called an act of raw judicial power, the Supreme Court wiped from the books of all fifty states every law protecting the unborn child. But it goes back long before that. Some say it started with the agitation for “liberalized abortion law” in the 1960s when the novel doctrine was proposed that a woman cannot be fulfilled unless she has the right to destroy her child. But it goes back long before that. It goes back to the movements for eugenics and racial and ideological cleansing of the last century.

Whether led by enlightened liberals, such as Margaret Sanger, or brutal totalitarians, whose names live in infamy, the doctrine and the practice was that some people stood in the way of progress and were therefore non-persons, living, as it was said, “lives unworthy of life.” But it goes back even before that. It goes back to the institution of slavery in which human beings were declared to be chattel property to be bought and sold and used and discarded at the whim of their masters. It goes way on back.

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Posted in Anthropology, Children, Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Life Ethics, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Science & Technology

(Church Times) Cathedrals trial contactless giving

Cathedrals might enjoy a boost in donations from this year, if a pilot scheme to introduce contactless-card payment-points for visitors pays off.

Cathedrals around the UK began trials of contactless “donation stations” at the end of last year, to make it easier for congregations and visitors to support their upkeep.

The first five terminals, provided by the technology company GoodBox, were installed in Romsey Abbey, and Ely, Guildford, St Edmundsbury, and Newcastle Cathedrals, in November and December.

Three more are due to be installed in Chichester, Liverpool, and St Paul’s Cathedrals during the next ten days.

Besides posting cash into the traditional donation box, visitors to these cathedrals can now select a donation amount on a touch screen on the terminal, before holding their contactless bank card or smart phone (linked with Apple Pay or Android Pay) against the screen, to donate.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Parish Ministry, Science & Technology, Stewardship

(WSJ) Technology That Will Change Your Life in 2018: Electric cars, cryptocurrencies and artificial intelligence are poised for leaps forward. And Amazon will get even bigger

It’s been a weird year. In 2017, technology spread its tentacles into our lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined—see the Equifax hackRussia’s manipulation of Facebook, and Amazon’s purchase of everyone’s favorite overpriced supermarket. In 2018, expect the invasion to get even weirder—and more aggressive.

Artificial intelligence will touch so many of the gadgets and services we use, we won’t even realize that machines, not humans, are behind them. Hackers will continue to pursue the institutions that hold our most sensitive information. The consolidation of power by the big four—Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple—will have an even bigger impact on what we see on our screens and what we buy.

And while you won’t necessarily pay for your new electric car with Bitcoin, you’ll continue to hear more about it and other cryptocurrencies. (Yes, you’ll soon consider buying an electric car.)

Tech is more powerful than ever. To help you prepare, here’s our annual roundup of the tech that will affect us in the year ahead.

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Posted in Science & Technology

(Christian Today) Church of England looks to millennial ‘creatives’ for digital ideas

The Church of England is turning to millennial ‘creatives’ to boost its online reach as regular church attendance is replaced with digital engagement.

Around 50 ‘technicians and creatives’ from around the UK are being brought into central London for a day-long event pitching ideas for new apps, hashtags and websites to help the Church boost its web presence.

Their ideas will be judged by an expert panel including the BBC’s senior digital producer Lynda Davies and the LEGO Group’s global social media team senior manager, James Poulter.

It comes as the Church battles dwindling numbers coming on a Sunday and instead is trying to reach people through social media and digital marketing techniques. Figures released in October say 1.2 million people every month engage with the Church online through its videos, images, podcasts and blogs.

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

Anglican Church of Kenya to Launch Facebook service for youth who cannot go to worship in 2018

Head of ACK Archbishop Jackson Jackson Ole Sapit has announced that the church will start training its priests on how to use social media ahead of the launch of the online service.

“As a church we cannot afford to be left behind and weneed to embrace technology. It’s a high time we start our online church to tap on the larger community in the social
media,” said Dr Sapit.

He explained that the bold move in meant to reach out to the diminishing numbers of young people attending church services. He urged fellow clergymen to be ready to embrace social media platforms.

“Most of our young congregation have the latest gadgets and are not attending church services and the best way to loop them back is to introduce online church services as they are permanently on socialmedia,” said Dr Sapit.

“As the world is becoming a global village by the day, it’s about time we in the leadership of the church embrace technology and start online services” said Dr Sapit.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anglican Church of Kenya, Blogging & the Internet, Science & Technology

Irwin Stelzer–Silicon Valley at the Intersection of Facebook and the iPhone

“Forgive me Lord, for I knew not what I was doing.”

No, not Victor Frankenstein after creating his monster. Instead, Tony Fadell, co-creator of the iPhone; and Chamath Palihapitiya and Roger McNamee, a former Facebook executive and investor, respectively. Even Mark Zuckerberg confesses concern with his creation, although in a round-about way: “Facebook has a lot of work to do”, … and his “personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues.”

We have here a test of whether corporate capitalism is capable of self-reform, or whether politicians around the world will seize this opportunity to expand the regulatory state, here and abroad. So far, self-correction, driven by the profit motive, seems to be the answer to a set of problems that threaten to convert a host of proudly self-styled “disrupters” from heroes to zeroes.

Eleven years ago almost to the day Apple ended decades in which we were tethered to the wires of telephone company monopolies; Facebook has provided two billion people with a news source and a platform on which to display pictures of their cats and for Vladimir Putin to interfere in nations’ elections. Such radical change inevitably creates problems, just as, for example, Detroit’s creation, the mass-produced automobile, brought enormous benefits but also created environmental problems. So it created a demand for regulations galore, from seat belts to regulations on the content and use of gasoline. Now it’s the turn of the creations of Silicon Valley, which might have spawned social problems only now being understood.

Start with Apple, which has already bruised its reputation in some circles by refusing to help the FBI unlock a terrorist’s iPhone, bowing to Chinese censorship in order to retain access to its market, and turning tax avoidance into a (perfectly legal) fine art, becoming the corporate equivalent of David Goodhart’s rootless man from “anywhere,” described in his much-read “The Road to Somewhere.” It is now charged with harming children and producing an iGen (born in 1995 or later) that is “on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades” according to Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. Studies purport to show that opioids are not the only addictive substances available to teens. They also suffer from cell phone addiction that produces “depressive symptoms” (University of Basle), increased risk of suicide (University of San Diego), and poor scholastic performance after sleep-deprived nights on their cell phones.

Then there is Facebook….

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

([London] Times) Pornography no longer a dirty word for millions of women

It was inevitable in the brave new post-Fifty Shades world. Internet searches of “porn for women” grew by 359 per cent last year, according to one of the genre’s most popular websites….

Laurie Betito, a sex therapist and director of the Pornhub sexual wellness centre, said: “2017 seems to have been the year where women have come forward to express their desires.

“From the ‘Me too’ movement to prominent females the likes of Hillary Clinton and Nikki Haley on the world stage, women are feeling more empowered and they have found their voice. This is a sign of things to come.”

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

(Globe and Mail) A new generation of prenatal testing raises ethical questions

For about $800, an American lab would analyze the fetal DNA circulating in Ms. Owens’s blood and tell her as early as 10 weeks into her pregnancy if she was carrying a baby with the chromosomal anomalies that cause Down syndrome and a few other, less common, conditions.

“Once I found out about this test,” Ms. Owens said, “I refused to wait until I was in my second trimester. I had to know right away.”

The desire of women like Ms. Owens to know as much as possible about their pregnancies as early as possible is behind a quiet revolution in prenatal screening in Canada and other developed countries.

A new generation of simple blood tests is allowing would-be parents to learn about the sex and potential genetic anomalies of their babies in the first trimester, a stage of the pregnancy when it’s relatively easy to get an abortion in Canada.

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Posted in Anthropology, Canada, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Marriage & Family, Science & Technology

(FT) Bibles, cookery books and the birth of the knowledge economy–An ambitious project aims to trace the early years of Europe’s printed revolution

A knot of academics is huddled over a large bound volume in the soft light of the Bodleian Library at Oxford university, attempting to unlock the secrets buried within its 500-year-old pages.

The beautifully tooled leather binding protecting this late-15th-century Hebrew Bible — a rare survival once held in the library at Holkham Hall in Norfolk — has helped keep its printed pages in a fine state of preservation. But it is not the words of the text that hold the attention of these experts. Instead, they are interpreting and recording the fleeting evidence it retains of previous owners, whether revealed in hand-painted heraldry, scholarly annotations, scribbled thoughts or simple underlining.

It is a process they and their colleagues have gone through many times in the service of a five-year project of sweeping academic ambition: an attempt to trace the flowering of knowledge, ideas and trade in the first 50 years of Europe’s printed revolution.

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Posted in Books, Europe, History, Science & Technology

(Guardian) Jonathan Freedland–Eugenics: the skeleton that rattles loudest in the left’s closet

Does the past matter? When confronted by facts that are uncomfortable, but which relate to people long dead, should we put them aside and, to use a phrase very much of our time, move on? And there’s a separate, but related, question: how should we treat the otherwise admirable thought or writings of people when we discover that those same people also held views we find repugnant?

Those questions are triggered in part by the early responses to Pantheon, my new novel published this week under the pseudonym Sam Bourne. The book is a thriller, set in the Oxford and Yale of 1940, but it rests on several true stories. Among those is one of the grisliest skeletons in the cupboard of the British intellectual elite, a skeleton that rattles especially loudly inside the closet of the left.

It is eugenics, the belief that society’s fate rested on its ability to breed more of the strong and fewer of the weak. So-called positive eugenics meant encouraging those of greater intellectual ability and “moral worth” to have more children, while negative eugenics sought to urge, or even force, those deemed inferior to reproduce less often or not at all. The aim was to increase the overall quality of the national herd, multiplying the thoroughbreds and weeding out the runts.

Such talk repels us now, but in the prewar era it was the common sense of the age. Most alarming, many of its leading advocates were found among the luminaries of the Fabian and socialist left, men and women revered to this day.

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

(Telegraph) University College London launches ‘eugenics’ probe after it emerges academic held controversial conference for three years on campus

A senior academic is being investigated by University College London after he was found to have hosted an annual conference in which speakers debated ideas on eugenics and intelligence.

Since 2015, Dr James Thompson has overseen the London Conference on Intelligence, which has seen a researcher who has previously advocated child rape online speak on campus on three occasions.

The university was last night attempting to establish how the honorary lecturer was able to host the event without informing senior officials, who were unaware of which speakers would be attending.

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

(Barna) The Trends Shaping a Post-Truth Era

The term “post-truth” is now often used to describe the current political climate in the United States, in which reality is relative and even the facts are open to interpretation. In the feature story of the new, 2018 edition of Barna Trends—an annual collection summarizing a year’s worth of Barna’s major research studies and including analysis, interviews and infographics—the Barna team and other trusted experts identify cultural and spiritual reasons the world is no longer in agreement about anything….

Barna Trends 2018 begins with an overview of the dwindling public confidence in institutions—especially, and very notably in 2017, the media. However, three in 10 U.S. adults (31%) say the primary source of the “fake news” problem most often lies in reader error—“misinterpretation or exaggeration of actual news on social media”—not factual mistakes in reporting itself. And it would seem there are plenty of chances for these social media mistakes: When asked what kind of news media people are most likely to share, social media posts tie with traditional reporter-written articles as the top response (25% each). Though a plurality (36%) says they verify reports by comparing to multiple sources, the tendency to share social media posts as news points to a preference for more salacious, opinion-forward headlines and reporting. At the least, it allows opportunity to perpetuate it; a plurality (38%) never corrects misinformation they see on social media.

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

(WSJ) Silicon Valley Reconsiders the iPhone Era It Created

A tussle this week between prominent investors and Apple Inc. over iPhone use by young people comes amid a nascent re-evaluation of the smartphone’s social consequences within the industry that spawned it.

The smartphone has fueled much of Silicon Valley’s soaring profits over the past decade, enriching companies in sectors from social media to games to payments. But over the past year or so, a number of prominent industry figures have voiced concerns about the downsides of the technology’s ubiquity.

They include Apple executives who helped create the iPhone and now express misgivings about how smartphones monopolize attention, as well as early investors and executives in Facebook Inc. who worry about social media’s tendency to consume ever more user time, in part by pushing controversial content.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Children, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology

(Globe and Mail) Ira Wells–Smartphones and the abdication of parental responsibility

Like most kids who have recently been given their first cellphones, Andrea’s 12-year-old daughter is pretty nonchalant about the whole thing. When asked what she likes best about her new iPhone, she shrugs. “Feeling responsible,” she says. Besides, since her friends mostly interact over Snapchat and Instagram, the phone is a crucial way to keep in touch. Sure, she’s heard about kids “writing rude things” on social media, and sneaking off to the school bathroom to check their notifications. But over all, she’s not worried.

“Worried,” however, hardly begins to describe the deep apprehension that Andrea feels toward her daughter’s phone. Andrea’s concern, or one of them, is that as the phone replaces face-to-face interactions, her daughter “won’t be able to communicate or develop deeper, meaningful friendships. And it’s easy enough for a grownup to fall into the trap of valuing yourself for your ‘likes.’ How is a hormonal teenager going to handle that?”

Among the infinite sources of anxiety involved in childrearing today, few fill parents’ hearts with icy dread quite like the question of when kids should get their first smartphones. For modern parents, members of the last generation to grow up prior to ubiquitous internet access, equipping kids with their first phone often feels like a momentous decision – one that could impact children’s social development, influence their sense of self, shape their first romantic experiences and even condition their experience of “reality.”

And yet, despite their often-profound misgivings, most parents today act as though the smartphone is simply an unavoidable fixture of adolescence. That is an interesting reversal of expectations. Pop psychology tells us that today’s parents are mollycoddling, hyper-protective control freaks. Yet, when it comes to the signature parenting issue of our generation – the effect of smartphones on children – we have ceded control to the kids themselves, or to the marketing departments of Silicon Valley corporations. Kids are going to “need” those phones, according to the dominant cultural narrative, because the future. Or connection. Or something.

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Posted in Children, Marriage & Family, Science & Technology