Category : Science & Technology
Americans say they prize competition, a proliferation of choices, the little guy. Yet our taste for convenience begets more convenience, through a combination of the economics of scale and the power of habit. The easier it is to use Amazon, the more powerful Amazon becomes — and thus the easier it becomes to use Amazon. Convenience and monopoly seem to be natural bedfellows.
Given the growth of convenience — as an ideal, as a value, as a way of life — it is worth asking what our fixation with it is doing to us and to our country. I don’t want to suggest that convenience is a force for evil. Making things easier isn’t wicked. On the contrary, it often opens up possibilities that once seemed too onerous to contemplate, and it typically makes life less arduous, especially for those most vulnerable to life’s drudgeries.
But we err in presuming convenience is always good, for it has a complex relationship with other ideals that we hold dear. Though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life. Created to free us, it can become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way it can enslave us.
It would be perverse to embrace inconvenience as a general rule. But when we let convenience decide everything, we surrender too much.
I spoke some time ago to a joint session of Congress, last year. And we were meeting in that room, the statue room. About 300 of them were there. And I said, “There’s one thing that we have in common in this room, all of us together, whether Republican or Democrat, or whoever.” I said, “We’re all going to die. And we have that in common with all these great men of the past that are staring down at us.” And it’s often difficult for young people to understand that. It’s difficult for them to understand that they’re going to die. As the ancient writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, he said, there’s every activity under heaven. There’s a time to be born, and there’s a time to die. I’ve stood at the deathbed of several famous people, whom you would know. I’ve talked to them. I’ve seen them in those agonizing moments when they were scared to death.
And yet, a few years earlier, death never crossed their mind. I talked to a woman this past week whose father was a famous doctor. She said he never thought of God, never talked about God, didn’t believe in God. He was an atheist. But she said, as he came to die, he sat up on the side of the bed one day, and he asked the nurse if he could see the chaplain. And he said, for the first time in his life he’d thought about the inevitable, and about God. Was there a God? A few years ago, a university student asked me, “What is the greatest surprise in your life?” And I said, “The greatest surprise in my life is the brevity of life. It passes so fast.” But it does not need to have to be that way. Wernher von Braun, in the aftermath of World War II concluded, quote: “science and religion are not antagonists. On the contrary, they’re sisters.” He put it on a personal basis. I knew Dr. von Braun very well. And he said, “Speaking for myself, I can only say that the grandeur of the cosmos serves only to confirm a belief in the certainty of a creator.” He also said, “In our search to know God, I’ve come to believe that the life of Jesus Christ should be the focus of our efforts and inspiration. The reality of this life and His resurrection is the hope of mankind.”
I’ve done a lot of speaking in Germany and in France, and in different parts of the world — 105 countries it’s been my privilege to speak in. And I was invited one day to visit Chancellor Adenauer, who was looked upon as sort of the founder of modern Germany, since the war. And he once — and he said to me, he said, “Young man.” He said, “Do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?” And I said, “Sir, I do.” He said, “So do I.” He said, “When I leave office, I’m going to spend my time writing a book on why Jesus Christ rose again, and why it’s so important to believe that.” In one of his plays, Alexander Solzhenitsyn depicts a man dying, who says to those gathered around his bed, “The moment when it’s terrible to feel regret is when one is dying.” How should one live in order not to feel regret when one is dying?
This is simply wonderful.https://t.co/my3bDAF6z1
— Scott Sauls (@scottsauls) March 18, 2018
(Premier) Prof Tom McLeish–Stephen Hawking may have rejected God, but he taught us to marvel at creation
[Stephen]…Hawking was clear time and again that he found the ‘case for a Creator’ unconvincing, but the reason for that seems to have never moved from a failure of that otherwise all-seeing mind to see beyond physics itself.
His conclusion that we do not ‘need God to light the blue touch paper of the Big Bang’ is not contested in terms of physics. But ‘why there is something rather than nothing’ is not a physics question – it lies in the theological realm to which, in spite of many thoughtful Christian correspondents over the years, including former archbishop Rowan Williams and Oxford mathematician John Lennox, Hawking seemed to remain impervious.
While we may sorrow over Hawking’s rejection of God, the Creator who is and loves and gives – rather than just ‘explains’, we may nevertheless be thankful to that God for the gift of one who articulated, even in unbelief, that our biblical calling is indeed to know God’s mind, to look into nature with the same love and insight as its creator, and to live with courage using the gifts we have rather than surrendering to our incapacities.
Stephen Hawking has died age 76, his family announced early Wednesday. https://t.co/iAth2dlZf0
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 14, 2018
I used to think that podcasts were a nimble, cheap, democratic alternative to radio. And maybe, once upon a time, they were. But those days are over. Podcasting has become industrialized, in quite an exciting way. It’s shaping the future of audio-only storytelling, the future of radio—and, possibly, even the future of narrative nonfiction more broadly.
The story of how we got here could be told in an episode of This American Life, the radio show that in many ways started the whole ball rolling.
Act 1, naturally, is Serial. When it was spun out of This American Life in 2014, it immediately became podcasting’s first blockbuster, recalibrating everybody’s ideas of just how big a podcast could become. Up until that point, even the biggest podcasts were pretty lo-fi affairs. Marc Maron’s hit WTF podcast, for instance, traded on rugged authenticity, charm, and a long-winded discursive style that would never find a home on NPR. Serial went a different direction. It used all the resources available to This American Life—a radio blockbuster in its own right—to create a deeply reported and expertly produced series, complete with narrative cliff-hangers worthy of Dickens. The result was a podcast that kept millions of listeners rapt across 12 episodes and some 8.5 hours of true-crime drama. Broadcast radio had not attempted anything as ambitious in decades….
The Vatican is to host its first hackathon this week, harnessing the technological skills and creativity of students from more than 50 universities around the world to tackle issues identified as priorities by Pope Francis.
About 120 students and 35 mentors will gather in Rome over three days to focus on social inclusion, migrants and refugees, and interfaith dialogue.
“The aim is to bring people with backgrounds in technology, business, civil society and the humanities together to bring new perspectives to key global issues,” said Father Eric Salobir, a Catholic priest and president of the research and innovation network Optic.
The VHacks event is being organised in partnership with some of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Google and Microsoft.
[Meg] Watwood is part of America’s rapidly growing surrogacy movement. The number of babies born through surrogacy in the United States, though still relatively small, has quadrupled in just over a decade. And despite ethical questions surrounding the practice, demand isn’t slowing.
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, surrogates gave birth to 2,807 babies in 2015, up from 738 in 2004. Nearly all were conceived by IVF and carried by women with no genetic connection, a process called “gestational surrogacy.” (In “traditional surrogacy,” the only option prior to IVF but one rarely used today, the carrier would also be the genetic mother of the baby.)
IVF and surrogacy are becoming more normalized in the US just as other countries have shut down foreign surrogacy enterprises, dual trends that have made the US a top surrogacy destination. High demand for surrogates, who typically earn more than $20,000 per birth, has attracted many evangelical women, who often fit the profile of the “ideal” surrogate and are drawn to the idea of using their fertility to bless others.
But laws and ethical discussions surrounding surrogacy haven’t kept up with the industry’s growth, and pastors and churches appear largely ill-equipped to guide women and couples through the high-stakes decisions involved in third-party reproduction.
A Chatbot and a new site to share digital resources with lay people and clergy were the two winners of the Church of England’s ‘Digital Labs’ this week.
The event brought together Christian coders, techies and creatives to present their best ideas for helping the Church develop its technology.
One idea to win was Ask the Church, a chatbot to enable people enquiring about faith to ask the Church questions through Facebook Messenger, Twitter and the new www.churchofengland.org website and, in future phases, Alexa, Google Home and Siri.
Meanwhile CofE House will be a site to allow the sharing of high quality new and existing resources and digital assets, to support lay leaders and clergy across the Church.
The video, which appeared on the online forum Reddit, was what’s known as a “deepfake” — an ultrarealistic fake video made with artificial intelligence software. It was created using a program called FakeApp, which superimposed Mrs. Obama’s face onto the body of a pornographic film actress. The hybrid was uncanny — if you didn’t know better, you might have thought it was really her.
Until recently, realistic computer-generated video was a laborious pursuit available only to big-budget Hollywood productions or cutting-edge researchers. Social media apps like Snapchat include some rudimentary face-morphing technology.
But in recent months, a community of hobbyists has begun experimenting with more powerful tools, including FakeApp — a program that was built by an anonymous developer using open-source software written by Google. FakeApp makes it free and relatively easy to create realistic face swaps and leave few traces of manipulation. Since a version of the app appeared on Reddit in January, it has been downloaded more than 120,000 times, according to its creator.
Deepfakes are one of the newest forms of digital media manipulation, and one of the most obviously mischief-prone.
The New technology that allows for the Creation of Fake Videos(I)–a Radiolab Podcast from last summer
Simon Adler takes us down a technological rabbit hole of strangely contorted faces and words made out of thin air. And a wonderland full of computer scientists, journalists, and digital detectives forces us to rethink even the things we see with our very own eyes.
Oh, and by the way, we decided to put the dark secrets we learned into action, and unleash this on the internet.
(Nieman Lab) Disinformation spread online is so disorienting that it’s messing with the researchers who study it
This week I got to hear Kate Starbird, assistant professor at the University of Washington and director of its Emerging Capacities of Mass Participation (emCOMP) Laboratory, speak about her research into how online disinformation spreads during crisis events (like shootings and terrorist attacks) and what she’s learned about the networks spreading this information and the tactics that they use.
A few of the intriguing bits from Starbird’s talk:
— She and her team have looked a lot at the language that conspiracy theorists use both in tweets and on sites like 21stCenturyWire.com. This is “question-mark language,” Starbird said. “‘I’m not gonna tell you what to think, I’m just gonna put the evidence out there and you can make up your mind yourself’ — this way of talking persists across different events” from Sandy Hook to the Boston Marathon bombing to the Orlando shooting.
— Starbird spent a lot of the time reading the sites that were spreading these conspiracy theory posts — the sites behind the links being tweeted out. (“I do not recommend this.) Stuff she looked at: Homepages, about pages, ownership, authors, common themes and stories. She developed coding schemes for theme, political view, and so on. Common themes: “aliens, anti-big pharma, chemtrails, anti-corporate media, geo-engineering, George Soros, anti-globalist, anti-GMO, Flat Earth, Illuminati, Koch Brothers, anti-media, 9-11 truth, New World Order Cabal, nutritional supplements, pedophile rings, Rothschilds, anti-vaccine, anti-Zionist.” (On the subject of GMOs, by the way, please read this tweet thread, which is not about conspiracy theories but is really interesting to keep in mind as you read about Starbird’s work.)
(CT) Many Species Face ‘Thinning of Life’–On World Wildlife Day, conservationists reflect on biblical ways of dealing with eco-anxiety
There has been a 95 percent drop in tiger numbers over the last hundred years and a 40 percent drop in African lions over just 20 years.
Numbers like these have drawn attention to the “pre-traumatic stress” felt by environmental scientists whose everyday work seems to be that of a doomsday prophet. Not only are their audiences not as receptive as they feel they should be, but their understanding of what their data mean for the future is driving them to a “professional depression.”
Last year meteorologist Eric Holthaus sparked an online frenzy, as well as solidarity from fellow scientists, as he spoke openly about the psychological effects of his work. “How am I supposed to do my job—literally to chronicle planetary suicide—w/o experiencing deep existential despair myself? Impossible.”
Christians are called to rule over creation as God’s image bearers on earth, reflecting the character and self-sacrificial rule of God. So how can we respond to this atmosphere of despair? We spoke to a number of Christian conservationists who are working in very different countries and contexts but share similar stories of working with feelings of deep personal loss.
(Time) Teen Sexting Has Become Even More Common, Research Says, with about 1 in 4 now saying they receive such photos
73% of teenagers today have a smartphone, giving them access to all types of communication over text or social media. For many kids, that includes sexting—the sharing of sexual messages, images or videos—according to a new study.
The new report, published in JAMA Pediatrics, analyzed 39 studies with a total of about 10,300 young men and women under age 18. It found that sexting has become increasingly more common in recent years. Though the majority of teenagers don’t report sexting, 15% of teens say they send sexts and 27% receive them. The activity is also more common as young people get older, the study authors report.
(Telegraph) Churches must switch off CCTV cameras during services as prayer should be private, C of E court rules
Churches must switch off CCTV cameras during services because prayer is private, a Church of England court has ruled.
The consistory court ruling is believed to be the first made on the ethics of CCTV in church and was made in response to a Canterbury vicar who applied to install two cameras so his church could be left open during the day.
The Reverend Philip Brown, and churchwardens Robin Slowe and Robert Allen, want to install the camera system to deter vandals from damaging the church and to catch the actions of any wrongdoers.
The 13-page Guidance document provides information relating each stage of the process, from receiving an approach from a mobile phone operator or internet service provider, to seeking faculty approval:
- obtaining specialist advice, consultations with various agencies and the public;
- investigating the various permissions that might be required;
- obtaining professional advice – architects, surveyors, solicitors and other specialists;
- contacting national bodies with a statutory interest in the church’s built heritage: Cathedral and Church Buildings Division; National Amenity Societies: Ancient Monuments Society, the Council for British Archaeology, the Georgian Group, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the Twentieth Century Society and the Victorian Society, Historic England (see below).
- Issues to consider: equipment to be used; ingoing works; impact on the fabric of the church; health and safety compliant access for telecommunications operators & ors; health and safety; lightening protection; new ‘clean’ electrical supply; insurance; bell and turret clocks; wildlife and trees; archeology.
- Licence issues: The parish will need independent advice as to the Licence Agreement. The Diocesan Registrar will usually have a copy of a Model Licence.
- Formal application for faculty authorization.
Covering similar issues, the Historic England guidance is equally important since HE is the statutory adviser to local authorities and the listed five denominations in accordance with the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 and the Ecclesiastical Exemption Order 2010. If the installation will make changes to historic fabric that could affect the character or significance of a listed building HE must be consulted, whether the church is seeking permission through its denominational advisory body or the local authority.