Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, talking about some of the things that fascinate me. (Lottie — this is especially for “John”. I think he might find it interesting 😉 )
Now, I’m not in any way ashamed to admit that one of my favourite online newspapers is the Times. Yes, I read others, comparing details and noting bias, but I find this site nice and accessible, easy to navigate with a fairly decent standard of reporting. But recently I’ve noticed a trend that… well, it doesn’t exactly worry me. It amuses me, more than anything.
To cut to the chase, I’ve started to notice that the quality of articles presented by their various columnists are becoming increasingly superficial, badly written and, yes, in certain circumstances utterly pointless.
So I wasn’t surprised when I read this piece by one-time editor Simon Jenkins.
Try as I might, I just couldn’t see his point. His stance seemed to be, almost, one of either/or — technology versus “real life”. It is a naive and, frankly, badly informed point of view that seems to miss entirely that whilst people do (obviously) enjoy real-life interaction, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t an equally valid demand for technology that enables them to bridge massive distances and interact with people they wouldn’t otherwise have met. Technology is a part of the real-life of which he speaks, to the point where many of us no longer make such pointless distinctions. A number of his readers seem to agree with him (you’ll notice that I didn’t!), completely missing the point that they were sitting before their computers and replying to his article in a form more immediate than most of us would have at one time dreamed possible. They also, as he did, seemed to miss the fact that the article appears on an Internet website.
At the beginning of the article he states:
“Last week hundreds of young people queued overnight to watch Andrew Murray play a game of tennis. Tickets were reportedly changing hands for £2,000. Yet the game could be watched on any television or computer screen, in the comfort of home, pub or work-place.”
There are a couple of obvious points here. One of his main arguments seems to be that “live” is where the money is, these days. He even, rather oddly, uses reality TV as a proof for this. So, let’s look at one point at a time.
Firstly, hundreds of young people were paying (or their rich parents were, at least) up to £2,000 for Wimbledon tickets. Pretty impressive, right? Wrong. What he doesn’t mention is that in excess of twelve million people watched the match live on television (in the UK alone), with more watching over the Internet, listening to the radio etc. So where is the money? Bearing in mind that every one of those 12 million people (this is just the UK viewers, don’t forget), would need television sets, a digital decoder of some kind, and were probably chatting with their mates on their phones whilst they watched — if you wanted to make real money, long-term, which would you rather invest in? The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Association, or technology firms? I know where I’d put my money (if I had any!)
The second point is, of course, that not everyone can attend live events — either because they find it too expensive, too far from where they live or simply because old age or disability makes it difficult for them to attend. This is where, in my opinion, technology comes into its own. It is becoming increasingly egalitarian. Without it, frankly, I would not be able to write the novels I write today. The availability of information, the constant reduction in the price of technology (which companies can do whilst still making a profit because so many units are being turned over), all this and more means that I can more easily do the things I need and want to do. It has not replaced any aspect of my life. Technology has never set out to do that. It merely enhances the lives we already lead.
His final paragraph is so banal I was tempted to write to the Queen to ask her to withdraw his knighthood.
“The money is now being made in supplying a public craving not for technology but for human experience. It lies in flesh and blood. Live is live.”
Human experience? We are making money not from technology, but from human experience? Is there a difference? I’d argue that there isn’t. Technology is becoming so enmeshed with our everyday experience (our everyday human experience) that people like Simon Jenkins just don’t see it. How does he think these live events of which he speaks are organised? What of the amazing light shows that take place at these “live” concerts? Are they achieved by lining up hundreds of people, handing them torches of different colours and instructing them “to wave them about a bit”? No. The complex logistics of putting on such shows and events require masses of technology.
His argument is tantamount to a straw man. Call me stupid (that’s rhetorical, incidentally!), but I consider writing this piece using my nifty voice recognition software on my wonderful Acer laptop, as much a flesh and blood experience as heading out onto the moors and breathing in lots of lovely fresh air. Each has its place. There is no battle, financial or philosophical, except in the minds of those unable to see what is right before their eyes:
A computer screen. Just one element of human experience — and one that many of us can profit by, in many, many ways.
I haven’t done a science related post in a while, if memory serves me well, so today I thought I’d share this great YouTube series on the history of the universe with you. There is much in it that many of you will already be familiar with, but it is nonetheless an excellent, simple explanation of many complex ideas. A valuable refresher and an excellent introduction for the beginner.
WE NEED YOU! — I am looking for people who can “seed” the Made Easy series, either hosting it on their websites, mailing DVDs to schools or to other ‘seeds’, or spreading through BitTorrents. If you can help spread a bit of science and counter the rolling tide of creationist ignorance, please get in touch. Message me with a description of what you can do. Thanks!
The ‘Made Easy’ series is designed to explain the evidence that shows how we got here, from the Big bang to human migration out of Africa. A better quality version will soon be available for free download from a website — details to be announced. I will be happy to send DVDs free of charge to schools after the series is finished.
The ‘Made Easy’ series of videos can be freely copied and distributed for educational purposes, but cannot be used for commercial gain in whole or in part. They cannot be altered, transformed or added to. If you use repost these videos you must attribute them to ‘Potholer54 on YouTube.”
I’ve been a journalist for 20 years, 14 years as a science correspondent. My degree is in geology, but while working for a science magazine and several science programs I had to tackle a number of different fields, from quantum physics to microbiology. My particular talent was my ignorance. By not understanding half of what I was assigned to cover, I had to reduce scientific discoveries from the complex to the simple. If I wrote it in a way that I could understand it, then my readers could understand it.
I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but what with my “creative endeavours” and whatnot, I just haven’t got round to it.
The blogoshere is growing on a minute by minute basis. It’s estimated, in fact, to be growing so fast that by 2020 it will have broken free of its technological confines and turned the world and everything in it to a fish-paste-like mush… or was that nanobots? Either way, it’s a force to be reckoned with — and as our blogging skills increase I’m sure the trend for so-called “real journalists” to start sweating a bit and worrying about their job security will also continue to grow. Exponentially.
But, let’s face it, there’s a whole heap of dross out there. Silly, personal websites I have no objection to. They serve a purpose for the individual concerned and more power to them. What I don’t like, however, are the badly written blogs that claim to speak with authority on subjects they quite clearly know nothing about.
With this in mind, I thought I’d take a few moments to introduce you to some of my fellow bloggers who don’t fit into this category. These are the blogs I read on a daily basis. And they are a bit good.
See what you think.
- The Odd Blog. Mike’s mix of Internutter de-masking and commentary.
- PD Smith. Science writer par exellence.
- The Will Rhodes Portmanteau. Will’s political blog.
- Nectarville. Bekki’s blog. Slow down, girl!
- Pharyngula. “Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal.”
- KurzweilAI.net. Science and futurism.
… that’s all for now, but more will follow soon.
[Edit: Please be aware that not being included in the list does not necessarily mean your blog falls into the “badly written blogs that claim to speak with authority on subjects they quite clearly know nothing about” category.]
I despair when I read stories like this on the state of funding for the sciences in the UK. It no longer seems the priority it once was — the ignorant simply “not bothered”, whilst the plain stupid probably believe that we’ll be safer, because the science boffins will have less money “to build, like, bigger bombs and stuff”.
The reality is, of course, a lot different. Many of us simply wouldn’t be here today were it not for science of one form or another. We certainly wouldn’t enjoy the lives of luxury we currently enjoy. That 42″ LCD TV you watch? Science. The pills that keep your hypertension in check or help you be a fine upstanding fellow in the bedroom? Science. The airbag that inflates in nanoseconds (hopefully) when you smash your car up the arse of another? Science. The double-glazed units that insulate our houses? Science.
Need I go on? It’s a cliché, but investing in science really is investing our future. Heaven knows, if we blow this planet up, I want to be on Mars when we do it. And how is that achieved?
Now you’re getting it.
[EDIT: This might be of further interest: Sir David said it was “a scandal” that there was “no place for continuing series of programmes about science or serious music or in-depth interviews”. ]
I always enjoy it when stories that were considered science fiction when I was a boy slowly (and sometimes not so slowly!) become fact, so I was especially pleased to read this article today. A wonderful development for the patients, and further evidence that Kurzweil’s theory of man merging with machine is correct.
Today saw me:
- Hitting the 55,000 word mark with Children of the Resolution. Chapter Nine of seventeen (plus prologue and epilogue) is almost complete and I’m generally happy with the way in which the tone is darkening as Carl grows older. The latest Marisa and Carl scene may need trimming, but that apart, all is pretty much as it should be at this point.
- Taking a well-earned trip to Whitby. A glorious spring/almost summer day and, predictably, the crowds were out. I came to the conclusion that Whitby isn’t the Whitby I love when it’s all sunny and crowded. A fine drizzle and a winter wind. That’s what Whitby requires to properly work for me.
- Wondering if I can write a truly disturbing literary novel about the UFO/alien abduction “phenomenon”.
- Jiggling over the bumps to Grinkle Park.
- Eating pizza.
- Looking forward to putting my brain in neutral and watching The Bionic Woman (it fits quite nicely with Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near — in fact, Kurzweil is far more “out there”.)
There’s nothing I like more after a highly productive week (can we say 5,000 words?) than letting my
one remaining hair down. This evening will therefore be spent watching I’d Do Anything and wondering if Ray Kurzweil could have possibly got any more logorithmic graphs in The Singularity is Near.
And I’ve just eaten a Cornish pasty.
(Who said writers don’t know how to live?)
It’s official. I’m writing again. After a rather prolonged fluey-type thing (not quite the flu, but more than a lily-livered cold), I’ve finally managed to get back into my much-needed work routine. I’ve resigned myself to the knowledge that I probably won’t hit 60,000 words by the end of the month, as I’d planned, and took a great deal of pleasure from the realisation that in spite of the enforced break I had today broken the 50,000 word mark. It would be crazy of me not to be chuffed with that — especially when I’m so happy with the whole tone and feel of the novel.
The last few days have been rather blog-less, as you may have noticed. There’s been plenty in the news to get all indignant about (I daren’t even think the word “embryo”, for fear of venting my spleen in the idiotic Cardinal O’Brien’s direction and suffering a self-induced, post-illness apoplexy!), but my energy levels aren’t quite where they need to be, just yet, so I’m behaving myself.
What does such an alien concept entail? Well, largely finishing Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity and beginning Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near. The former is my first real attempt at reading “proper” science fiction in a long while, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Asimov’s understanding of the moral/ethical questions behind his “science” was astounding. Plus it’s a bloody good love story.
As for The Singularity Is Near… I’ve just started it, but it promises to be every bit as thought-provoking as the lectures of Kurzweil’s that I’ve so enjoyed.
If I’m quiet, you know why.
Whilst wandering around the BBC News site this morning, I stumbled upon this fascinating article on Ray Kurzweil and was immediately captivated by the scope of this gentleman’s ideas. I read it and read it again, wondering just how reputable Kurzweil really was and finally realising that I didn’t much care. His ideas are brave and spine-tinglingly insightful — and whether he turns out to be right or wrong on the whole subject of the Singularity etc., it’s entertaining, at the very least.
In the coming decades, a radical upgrading of our body’s physical and mental systems, already underway, will use nanobots to augment and ultimately replace our organs. We already know how to prevent most degenerative disease through nutrition and supplementation; this will be a bridge to the emerging biotechnology revolution, which in turn will be a bridge to the nanotechnology revolution. By 2030, reverse-engineering of the human brain will have been completed and nonbiological intelligence will merge with our biological brains.
Where do I sign up?