Category : Science & Technology

([London] Times) A Robotic ‘muscle’ developed by American engineers can perform human tasks

A soft robotic “muscle” that can lift a thousand times its own weight has been developed by American engineers in a step towards machines that can perform tasks with human-like dexterity.

Over recent years the physical capabilities of robots have lagged some way behind the sophisticated software that drives them.

While some of the creations have mastered manual tricks such as bartending and cooking pizza, the rigid structure of most designs means they struggle to replicate the breadth of skills that even a four-year-old human child can pick up intuitively.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(WSJ) iGen, the first generation of young Americans to spend their entire adolescence with smartphones, versus Free Speech

Nor are they just concerned about physical safety. The iGen teens I have interviewed also speak of their need for “emotional safety”—which, they say, can be more difficult to protect. “I believe nobody can guarantee emotional safety,” one 19-year-old told me. “You can always take precautions for someone hurting you physically, but you cannot really help but listen when someone is talking to you.” This is a distinctively iGen idea: that the world is an inherently dangerous place because every social interaction carries the risk of being hurt. You never know what someone is going to say, and there’s no way to protect yourself from it.

The result is a generation whose members are often afraid to talk to one another, especially about anything that might be upsetting or offensive. If everyone must be emotionally safe at all times, a free discussion of ideas is inherently dangerous. Opposing viewpoints can’t just be argued against; they have to be shut down, because merely hearing them can cause harm.

This frame of mind lies behind recent student agitation to keep controversial speakers off campus. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit watchdog group, campus disinvitations have risen steadily, reaching an all-time high of 42 in 2016, up from just six in 2000. In the American Freshman survey of more than 140,000 college students conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute in 2015, 43% agreed that campuses should be able to ban extreme speakers, up from just 20% in 1984.

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Posted in Anthropology, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology, Young Adults

(NY Post) Larry Gelton–Is ‘Cheap sex’ making men give up on marriage?

The share of Americans ages 25-34 who are married dropped 13 percentage points from 2000 to 2014. A new book by sociologist Mark Regnerus blames this declining rate on how easy it is for men to get off.

Regnerus calls it “cheap sex,” an economic term meant to describe sex that has very little cost in terms of time or emotional investment, giving it little value.

Regnerus bases his ideas, in part, on the work of British social theorist Anthony Giddens, who argued that the pill isolated sex from marriage and children. Add online pornography and dating sites to the mix and you don’t even need relationships.

The result is “two overlapping (but distinctive) markets, one for sex and one for marriage, with a rather large territory in between comprised of significant relationships of varying commitment and duration,” Regnerus writes in “Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy” (Oxford University Press).

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Men, Pastoral Theology, Pornography, Science & Technology, Sexuality

(NYT) Do some Big Companies Have too Much Power in America? Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank which they help fund

In the hours after European antitrust regulators levied a record $2.7 billion fine against Google in late June, an influential Washington think tank learned what can happen when a tech giant that shapes public policy debates with its enormous wealth is criticized.

The New America Foundation has received more than $21 million from Google; its parent company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt; and his family’s foundation since the think tank’s founding in 1999. That money helped to establish New America as an elite voice in policy debates on the American left.

But not long after one of New America’s scholars posted a statement on the think tank’s website praising the European Union’s penalty against Google, Mr. Schmidt, who had been chairman of New America until 2016, communicated his displeasure with the statement to the group’s president, Anne-Marie Slaughter, according to the scholar.

The statement disappeared from New America’s website, only to be reposted without explanation a few hours later. But word of Mr. Schmidt’s displeasure rippled through New America, which employs more than 200 people, including dozens of researchers, writers and scholars, most of whom work in sleek Washington offices where the main conference room is called the “Eric Schmidt Ideas Lab.” The episode left some people concerned that Google intended to discontinue funding, while others worried whether the think tank could truly be independent if it had to worry about offending its donors.

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Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Science & Technology

A BBC Sunday radio Four programme on Religion and Artificial Intelligence

The Bishop of Oxford Stephen Croft, Rabbi Moshi Freedman, anthropologist Beth Singler from the Faraday Institute and Kriti Sharma, VP of AI at Sage debate and discuss the application of AI and why its development needs to be considered within a moral and ethical framework….

Listen to it all (Bishop Stephen Croft section starts at abt 9:23).

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(BBCws) The Bible app with a quarter of a billion downloads

American pastor Bobby Gruenewald on how he founded the YouVersion Bible app – now downloaded more than 250 million times on smartphones and tablets. Religion is increasingly moving online but the trend has sparked concerns among traditional church-goers

Listen to it all (approximately 2 1/3 minutes).

Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Science & Technology, Theology: Scripture

(Atlantic) Jean Twenge–Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

In the early 1970s, the photographer Bill Yates shot a series of portraits at the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in Tampa, Florida. In one, a shirtless teen stands with a large bottle of peppermint schnapps stuck in the waistband of his jeans. In another, a boy who looks no older than 12 poses with a cigarette in his mouth. The rink was a place where kids could get away from their parents and inhabit a world of their own, a world where they could drink, smoke, and make out in the backs of their cars. In stark black-and-white, the adolescent Boomers gaze at Yates’s camera with the self-confidence born of making your own choices—even if, perhaps especially if, your parents wouldn’t think they were the right ones.

Fifteen years later, during my own teenage years as a member of Generation X, smoking had lost some of its romance, but independence was definitely still in. My friends and I plotted to get our driver’s license as soon as we could, making DMV appointments for the day we turned 16 and using our newfound freedom to escape the confines of our suburban neighborhood. Asked by our parents, “When will you be home?,” we replied, “When do I have to be?”

But the allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens, who are less likely to leave the house without their parents. The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, History, Marriage & Family, Science & Technology, Teens / Youth

(NYT) In Ukraine, Could a Malware Expert Blow the Whistle on Russian Hacking?

The hacker, known only by his online alias “Profexer,” kept a low profile. He wrote computer code alone in an apartment and quietly sold his handiwork on the anonymous portion of the internet known as the dark web. Last winter, he suddenly went dark entirely.

Profexer’s posts, already accessible only to a small band of fellow hackers and cybercriminals looking for software tips, blinked out in January — just days after American intelligence agencies publicly identified a program he had written as one tool used in Russian hacking in the United States. American intelligence agencies have determined Russian hackers were behind the electronic break-in of the Democratic National Committee.

But while Profexer’s online persona vanished, a flesh-and-blood person has emerged: a fearful man who the Ukrainian police said turned himself in early this year, and has now become a witness for the F.B.I.

“I don’t know what will happen,” he wrote in one of his last messages posted on a restricted-access website before going to the police. “It won’t be pleasant. But I’m still alive.”

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Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Europe, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government, Ukraine

([London] Times) Twitter will leave young illiterate, says prominent novelist Howard Jacobson

A Booker prize-winning novelist has warned that children will be illiterate within a generation, because of the devastating impact of Twitter.

Howard Jacobson said that the combination of social media and smartphones had changed the nature of communication so completely that even he — a man who once liked nothing better than to curl up with “300 densely packed pages” of a late Henry James novel — now craved interruption.

Within 20 years, “we will have children who can’t read, who don’t want to read”, he said. “I can’t read any more as much as I used to. My concentration has been shot by this bloody screen. I can’t do it now — I want space, I want white pages, light behind the page.”

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Books, Children, Education, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology, Teens / Youth, Theology

Lowcountry South Carolina Solar Eclipse Coverage from the Local Paper

Read and look through it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Photos/Photography, Science & Technology

Taking a Mental Health Day to see the Solar Eclipse

Posted in * By Kendall, * South Carolina, America/U.S.A., History, Science & Technology

(HLR) Mark David Pickup–A Cure for MS?

Saint John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering)was an important source for me in my search to understand my anguish. Salvifici Doloris is Latin for “Redemptive Suffering.” That precious Apostolic Letter introduced me to the idea that if I relinquished ownership of my pain to Christ, He might unite my suffering with His own. He could, in fact, give meaning and purpose to my suffering. That is what happened, and it continues to this day.

Multiple sclerosis was the perfect tool to smash my colossal pride and ridiculous sense of self-sufficiency, both of which had kept my faith shallow and small. (It was hard to be proud and self-sufficient when someone else had to dress me, tie my shoes, and cut the meat on my plate.) A new me began to emerge from the waves of my grief, no less vital than the previous man—just different. My chronic illness and serious disability became an integrated part of my life and faith journey. I no longer let them dominate my life.

Instead, suffering taught me how to make an unqualified surrender, to trust Christ when the stakes are horribly high, and to accept what was once unacceptable. Christian suffering on earth is part of the joy of heaven. That’s how it works. Is it worth it? Yes, I believe it is. The long journey in my wheelchair has brought me to a point where I can accommodate that which I cannot control. There is consolation and peace—I am content.

Now, at this late stage in my journey, comes the very real possibility of a cure for multiple sclerosis.

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Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(CT) Dorcas Cheng-Tozun–Can Robots Be Sexist?

In response to such questions, Rob High, chief technology officer of IBM Watson, names transparency as one of the most important characteristics of ethical AI. Humans need to know when they are interacting with an algorithm, and what its purpose and expectations are. Others are calling for more high-tech professionals with a humanities education who can “grasp the whys and hows of human behavior.” Just last month, a leading Silicon Valley engineer wished she had “absorbed lessons about how to identify and interrogate privilege, power structures, structural inequality, and injustice. That I’d had opportunities to debate my peers and develop informed opinions on philosophy and morality.”

As Christians, we believe that our bodies, our personalities, and other forms of human expression are outward manifestations of the soul that resides in each of us. For Pope John Paul II, this theology of the body was so central to faith that he dedicated 129 lectures to it. “The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine,” he said. “It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus to be a sign of it.”

Whether we are ready or not, we are all riding an unstoppable train toward a society in which AI will be almost as prevalent as other humans and these questions of body and soul will become all the more pressing. Despite the uncharted path before us, this is the moment for those with training, gifts, and interest in engineering and human behavior to step into the fray. The apostle Paul’s exhortation to offer our bodies as is just as relevant in this next technological revolution. With God’s wisdom and discernment, we can encourage AI that enhances our appreciation for the embodiment of the divine, rather than detracts from it.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Men, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Women

(Atlantic) Kurt Andersen–How America Lost Its Mind

When did america become untethered from reality?

I first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books—they’re all fact, no heart … Face it, folks, we are a divided nation … divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart … Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, --Social Networking, America/U.S.A., Blogging & the Internet, Entertainment, History, Movies & Television, Philosophy, Psychology, Science & Technology

(WSJ) Newton the Faithful: David Davis reviews ‘Priest of Nature’ by Rob Iliffe

Mr. Iliffe, a professor of history at Oxford, documents the depth and breadth of Newton’s religious inquiry, explaining how, in thousands of manuscript pages, Newton explored the mechanics of optics and motion alongside diligent theological research. His topics were varied, covering biblical prophecy, God’s infinitude, the Incarnation, idolatry and the nature of the soul. Mr. Iliffe demonstrates how Newton pored over biblical scholarship, exhibiting a mastery of Greek as well as the chief sources on church history.

Interestingly, Newton’s study of prophecy overlapped the period of his most groundbreaking scientific work—in part because the discipline with which he approached one intensified the rigor of the other. Newton’s underlying assumption was that religious truth was itself rational, because it, like science, was an explanation of the divine order. While Newton did not use the Bible as a book of science, his science was grounded in Christian assumptions that “humans were made in the image of God” and that rational thought could provide insight into the Creator God. His interpretation of scripture developed a universal order, through which all prophecy could be understood—assumptions that also provided a framework for the mathematic system of Newton’s “Principia….”

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