Category : Science & Technology

(The Hill) Lawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology

Lawmakers are concerned that advances in video manipulation technology could set off a new era of fake news. Now legislators say they want to start working on fixes to the problem before it’s too late.

Technology experts have begun to sound the alarm on the new software, which lets users take existing videos and make high-quality altered video and audio that appears real. The emergence of the technology opens up a new world of hoaxes driven by doctored audio or video, and threatens to shake faith in the media even further.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the most vocal members of Congress on tech issues, painted a grim picture about what the advances could mean for the future of discerning truth in media.

“Since we can’t rely on the responsibility of individual actors or the platforms they use, I fully expect there will be a proliferation of these sorts of fictions to a degree that nearly drowns out actual facts,” Wyden told The Hill.

Read it all.

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

(Psephizo) Ian Paul–Are people with Down’s syndrome truly valued?

On the second point, I had to ask myself why we are so timid in being clear about what we believe? Martyn Taylor’s proposed amendment was very modest, simply asking that the affirmation at point a. referring to people with Down’s Syndrome ‘before and after birth’. In doing this, Martyn was proposing that we simply use the language found in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of a Child:

Whereas the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth… (in the Preamble).

James Newcombe’s objection here was that saying this would make it harder for Government and GMC to listen to the request made in the motion. But the request came in point d, not in point a. And it is difficult to see why aligning with the UN Declaration would appear to be so unpalatable. But there is a wider point which this hints at: in our discussions with other bodies, and in our making reasonable requests, why are we so shy at being open for our reasons for doing so? If we did make the Church attitude to abortion clear, and if that is at odds with the views of professional bodies, why would that disqualify our request? Do we have to look like these bodies before we can speak to them? Are they so closed to reasonable requests from people with different views, values and outlooks? And does the Church of England have to, chameleon-like, changes its colours to match its surroundings before speaking into a particular context? (Before anyone points it out, I know that chameleons don’t in fact do this.) American theologian Stanley Hauerwas urges that our main priority for living in a post-Christendom world should be to ditch our obsessions with relevance, and simply be the Church we are called to be. And we are not called to be chameleon.

On this issue, it might not in the end make much practical difference. But I am saddened that, in rejecting these amendments, we held back from saying the thing that I think most disabled people want to hear: that we not only value them, but we are prepared to confront those who would see them eliminated. If we cannot do that, can we really say that we value them without qualification?

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Children, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

Church of England General Synod affirms dignity and humanity of people with Down’s Syndrome

The Church of England’s General Synod has given unanimous backing to a call for people with Down’s Syndrome to be welcomed, celebrated and treated with dignity and respect.
A motion affirming the dignity and full humanity of people with Down’s Syndrome was passed after a debate at the General Synod meeting in London.

It comes as a new form of prenatal screening, Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT), is set to be rolled out in the NHS to women deemed to be at ˜high-risk’ of having a child with Down’s syndrome.

The motion welcomes medical advances and calls for the Government and health professionals to ensure that women who have been told that their unborn child has Down’s Syndrome are given comprehensive, unbiased information on the condition.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Children, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Marriage & Family, Science & Technology, Theology

(LARB) James KA Smith on INC Christianity: How to Find God (on YouTube)

What [Chuck] Smith, [John] Wimber, and [Pater] Wagner shared was an aversion to hierarchical authority and a penchant to set up their own shops whenever they encountered resistance. All of them moved from more traditional denominational affiliations to looser nondenominational “fellowships,” eventually setting up their own independent ministries such as the Wagner Leadership Institute, which is “perhaps the largest and best-organized promoter of INC teachings.” This pattern will be repeated and sacralized in INC Christianity. The demand for autonomy will be baptized as “religious entrepreneurship.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that leaders in this movement would also retrieve the title of “apostle.” Most traditional forms of Christianity understand the office of apostle as restricted to the first century of the Church. Apostles are those who, having witnessed the resurrected Christ in person, were then sent (the Greek root from which we get the word means a “sent one”) with a unique authority. But Wagner, for example, has described the INC movement as a “New Apostolic Reformation.” And the network is really one of leaders who claim the title “apostle” by virtue of supernatural manifestations in their ministries, and thereby seek the allegiance of followers. In turn, these apostles provide “spiritual covering” for other leaders and practitioners. To claim to be an apostle is to claim some kind of unquestioned authority and power.

Read it all.

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

(NYT) Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built

Mr. [Roger] McNamee said he had joined the Center for Humane Technology because he was horrified by what he had helped enable as an early Facebook investor.

“Facebook appeals to your lizard brain — primarily fear and anger,” he said. “And with smartphones, they’ve got you for every waking moment.”

He said the people who made these products could stop them before they did more harm.

“This is an opportunity for me to correct a wrong,” Mr. McNamee said.

Read it all (emphasis mine).

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

(1st Things) Mary Eberstadt–The Zealous Faith of Secularism: How the Sexual Revolution became a dogma

If the so-called right to choose were truly an exercise of choice—if the rhetoric of the people who defend it matched the reality of what they actually believe—one would expect its defenders to honor choosing against it here or there. But this does not happen: No “pro-choice” group holds up as an example any woman who chooses not to abort.

That this doesn’t happen tells us something noteworthy. For secularist believers, abortion is not in fact a mere “choice,” as their value-free, consumerist rhetoric frames it. No, abortion is sacrosanct. It is a communal rite—one through which many enter their new religion in the first place. The popular, Internet-driven rage for “telling one’s own abortion story”—the phenomenon known as #shoutyourabortion—illustrates this point. Each individual story is a secularist pilgrim’s progress into a new faith whose community is united by this bloody rite of passage. Add the suggestively popular term “woke”—today’s gnostic version of “awakened”—and there’s more evidence that secularist progressivism has erected a church.

So the fury directed at Christianity can be pressed into a single word, sex. Christianity today, like Christianity past and Christianity to come, contends with many enemies. But the adversary now inflicting maximal damage on the Church is not dreamed of in Horatio’s philosophy. It is instead the absolutist defense of the sexual revolution by its faithful.

Christians and other dissidents aren’t being heckled from Hollywood to Capitol Hill for feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, or defending the commandments against lying and stealing. Bakers aren’t landing in court because of trying to follow what’s said in the Song of Songs. All of the expressions of animosity now aimed against Christianity by this new secularist faith share a common denominator. They are rooted in secularist dogma about the sexual revolution, according to which that revolution is an unequivocal and fundamental boon.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Other Faiths, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Secularism, Sexuality

([London] Times) Screen-addicted children spend 16 minutes a day outside

Children in Britain spend just 16 minutes a day playing or exploring in parks and other open spaces, according to a detailed new study.

The figure, an average of time spent outdoors in parks, the countryside, the coast or seaside, includes excursions at weekends as well as weekdays.

Among children in their mid-teens it drops to ten minutes per day as younger children, aged between eight and 13, spend more time playing outdoors.

The figures, published by the Office for National Statistics, are the first to examine how children spend their free time and will be used to track engagement with the outdoors and sport.

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in Anthropology, Children, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Science & Technology

(WSJ) China, Unhampered by Rules, Races Ahead in Gene-Editing Trials

In a hospital west of Shanghai, Wu Shixiu since March has been trying to treat cancer patients using a promising new gene-editing tool.

U.S. scientists helped devise the tool, known as Crispr-Cas9, which has captured global attention since a 2012 report said it can be used to edit DNA. Doctors haven’t been allowed to use it in human trials in America. That isn’t the case for Dr. Wu and others in China.

In a quirk of the globalized technology arena, Dr. Wu can forge ahead with the tool because he faces few regulatory hurdles to testing it on humans. His hospital’s review board took just an afternoon to sign off on his trial. He didn’t need national regulators’ approval and has few reporting requirements.

Dr. Wu’s team at Hangzhou Cancer Hospital has been drawing blood from esophageal-cancer patients, shipping it by high-speed rail to a lab that modifies disease-fighting cells using Crispr-Cas9 by deleting a gene that interferes with the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. His team then infuses the cells back into the patients, hoping the reprogrammed DNA will destroy the disease.

In contrast, what’s expected to be the first human Crispr trial outside China has yet to begin….

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Science & Technology, Theology

Food for Thought from Patrick Deneen in 2014–The Coming Persecution

From there:

[Michael] Shermer lauds the liberal society being brought ever more fully into view under the liberal dominion as one of equality, liberty, prosperity, and peace. This is at the very least a willful misreading of the signs of the time. The society that comes ever more clearly into view is one that efficiently and ruthlessly sifts the “winners” from the “losers,” the strong from the weak. It has transformed nearly every human institution – from the family to the schools to the universities to the government – to assist in this enterprise. Modern liberalism congratulates itself on its liberation of disadvantaged minorities – so long as some of their number can join the side of the winners – but is content to ignore or apply guilt-assuaging band-aids to the devastation of life prospects experienced by the “losers.” Tyler Cowen has described this aborning world as one in which “average is over,” in which you will either be one of the 10-15% of the winners, or 85-90% of the losers destined to live in the equivalent of favelas in Texas where you will be provided an endless supply of free Internet porn. This is the end of history, if we follow the logic of liberalism.

So, since Shermer ends with a prediction, let me make one also. Those Christians and other religious believers who resist the spirit of the age will be persecuted – not by being thrown to lions in the Coliseum, but by judicial, administrative, and legal marginalization. They will lose many of the institutions that they built to help the poor, the marginalized, the weak, and the disinherited. But finding themselves in the new imperium will call out new forms of living the Christian witness. They will live in the favelas, providing care for body and soul that cannot not be provided by either the state or the market. Like the early Church, they will live in a distinct way from the way of the empire, and their way of life will draw those who perhaps didn’t realize that this was what Christianity was, all along. When the liberal ideology collapses – as it will – the Church will remain, the gates of Hell not prevailing against it.

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

(CEN) C of E General Synod to be asked to back rights of people with Down’s Syndrome

Next month’s General Synod will hear a call for the Government to improve the regulation of commercial providers of tests that determine a woman’s likelihood of having a child with Down’s Syndrome.

The call will come in a debate on ‘Valuing people with Down’s Syndrome’ on Saturday 10 February.

The Bishop of Carlisle will move a motion that encourages the Church to ensure that all parishes provide a ‘real welcome’ for people with the condition as well as their families.

Synod will be asked to ‘affirm the dignity and full humanity’ of people with the syndrome, but, reflecting the Church’s opposition to abortion, will call for ‘comprehensive, unbiased’information about it.

A background paper prepared for Synod members ahead of the 2.30pm debate notes that people with Down’s areliving longer than ever before, are receiving better healthcare and are experiencing better social inclusion.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Children, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Care, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(1st Things) Wesley Smith–The Deadly Legacy of Eugenics

Here’s an example. Many people believe that German crimes in the medical context were Hitler’s idea, or were purely a product of Nazi ideology. Not true. The doctors who committed these crimes had embraced the eugenicist ideology that views some lives as of lower “quality” and, hence, lower value than others. The support among German medical, legal, and academic intelligentsia for euthanasia and terminating the disabled long predated Hitler’s rise to power.

Medical historian Robert Jay Lifton has identified the 1920 book Permitting the Destruction of Life Not Worthy of Life (Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens), written by law professor Karl Binding and physician Alfred Hoche, as “the crucial work” promoting the agenda of death. Permitting the Destruction of Life profoundly influenced the values of the general public and the ethics of the German medical and legal communities—to the point that a 1925 poll of the parents of disabled children reported that 74 percent of them would agree to the painless killing of their own children!

The book is a truly chilling read, not only because of its crass advocacy for killing the defenseless, but also because of the ways in which it mirrors many concepts propounded by bioethicists and euthanasia advocates today. Binding and Hoche believed that some lives are so degraded that they constitute “life not worthy of life.” Who were these unfortunates?

  1. Terminally ill or mortally wounded individuals who “have been irretrievably lost as a result of illness or injury, who fully understand their situation, possess and have somehow expressed an urgent wish for release.” This view is virtually identical to the euthanasia and assisted suicide policies urged upon us today.
  2. Binding and Hoche believed it was permissible to euthanize “incurable idiots,” whose lives they denigrated as “pointless” and “valueless.” They were deemed an economic and emotional “burden on society and their families.” Today’s advocates do not depict the developmentally disabled as “idiots,” nor do most go as far as Hoche and Binding did in calling for non-voluntary killing. However, the economic cost of caring for those labeled as having a low quality of life is frequently noted by euthanasia advocates and asserted as grounds for healthcare rationing and the withdrawal of wanted life support.
  3. The “unconscious,” who “if they ever again were roused from their comatose state, would waken to nameless suffering.” The United States and other Western nations already allow terminating such individuals by withholding tube-supplied sustenance—as vividly exposed in the legal and cultural conflagration over the court-ordered dehydration death of Terri Schiavo.

More explicit eugenics advocacy of the era is also analogous to culture-of-death arguments made today.

Read it all.

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

(Telegraph) ‘Deep freeze’ funerals set to come to the UK

“Deep freeze” funerals for people who don’t want to be buried or cremated could be about to become a reality in the UK.

Plans for a “green” crematorium which freezes bodies instead of burning them are under consideration by Sevenoaks District Council in Kent.

If approved the facility, which will come complete with a chapel and a cafe, will be the first of its kind in the world.

Read it all.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(NYT) Inside Amazon Go, a Store of the Future

There are no shopping carts or baskets inside Amazon Go. Since the checkout process is automated, what would be the point of them anyway? Instead, customers put items directly into the shopping bag they’ll walk out with.

Every time customers grab an item off a shelf, Amazon says the product is automatically put into the shopping cart of their online account. If customers put the item back on the shelf, Amazon removes it from their virtual basket.

The only sign of the technology that makes this possible floats above the store shelves — arrays of small cameras, hundreds of them throughout the store. Amazon won’t say much about how the system works, other than to say it involves sophisticated computer vision and machine learning software. Translation: Amazon’s technology can see and identify every item in the store, without attaching a special chip to every can of soup and bag of trail mix.

Read it all.

Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Science & Technology

(NYT) After Surgery in the Womb, a Baby Kicks Up Hope

Though more data is needed, the newer approach seems to have two major advantages, which were important to the Royers. It appears less likely to lead to a premature birth, which can cause many complications for the newborn. And it gives the mother a chance to have a vaginal delivery. Women who have the usual fetal surgery have to give birth by cesarean section, which poses risks for subsequent pregnancies.

For the Royers, the procedure, described in an Oct. 23 article in The New York Times, lived up to its promises. Mrs. Royer’s pregnancy lasted the full nine months, and she had a happy, uncomplicated vaginal birth with her husband by her side. Dr. Belfort delivered their son.

The infant’s back, which previously had the biggest defect the surgeons had ever repaired, now showed barely a hint of it. But incisions on his sides, made during the fetal surgery to loosen enough tissue to cover the hole in his back, had not closed. Those cuts usually heal on their own after birth, but one had a sizable lump of tissue bulging out and needed suturing.

Three hours after he was born, Baby Royer was on an operating table with three plastic surgeons stitching up his sides. The job took less than an hour.

Read it all.

Posted in Children, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Science & Technology

(Atlantic) Science Is Giving the Pro-Life Movement a Boost

The first time Ashley McGuire had a baby, she and her husband had to wait 20 weeks to learn its sex. By her third, they found out at 10 weeks with a blood test. Technology has defined her pregnancies, she told me, from the apps that track weekly development to the ultrasounds that show the growing child. “My generation has grown up under an entirely different world of science and technology than the Roe generation,” she said. “We’re in a culture that is science-obsessed.”

Activists like McGuire believe it makes perfect sense to be pro-science and pro-life. While she opposes abortion on moral grounds, she believes studies of fetal development, improved medical techniques, and other advances anchor the movement’s arguments in scientific fact. “The pro-life message has been, for the last 40-something years, that the fetus … is a life, and it is a human life worthy of all the rights the rest of us have,” she said. “That’s been more of an abstract concept until the last decade or so.” But, she added, “when you’re seeing a baby sucking its thumb at 18 weeks, smiling, clapping,” it becomes “harder to square the idea that that 20-week-old, that unborn baby or fetus, is discardable.”

Scientific progress is remaking the debate around abortion. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the case that led the way to legal abortion, it pegged most fetuses’ chance of viable life outside the womb at 28 weeks; after that point, it ruled, states could reasonably restrict women’s access to the procedure. Now, with new medical techniques, doctors are debating whether that threshold should be closer to 22 weeks. Like McGuire, today’s prospective moms and dads can learn more about their baby earlier into a pregnancy than their parents or grandparents. And like McGuire, when they see their fetus on an ultrasound, they may see humanizing qualities like smiles or claps, even if most scientists see random muscle movements.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Marriage & Family, Science & Technology, Theology