Google reaches into every aspect of our lives, both online and in the real world.
Google's big keynote at its I/O developers conference this week wore me out.
Not because it lasted a grueling three hours and fifty minutes, but because of what was announced. With every new product update, every new feature, every new virtual service, it became more and more clear that Google isn't just a search company that makes loads of cash by showing you ads. It's creeping into every aspect of our digital, physical, and private lives at an exponential rate.
I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it.
Google isn't just the backbone of the Internet anymore. It's rapidly becoming the backbone of your entire life, all thanks to data you're voluntarily giving up to a private company based on your Web searches, photos, Gmail messages, and more.
Research into mind-altering drugs is back. But the field is still on the edges of academic consciousness.
Research into mind-altering drugs is back.
You don't have to spend much time at the six-day second international Psychedelic Science conference in downtown Oakland to learn that not all its 1,900 attendees are academic scientists, and that few are strangers to the power of mind-bending drugs.
On my first day, boarding the conference's sunset cruise of San Francisco Bay, I meet Chad, a middle-aged man dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, who says his trips with magic mushrooms have reawakened him to the beauty of existence. "I am here out of curiosity," he explains, adding that he has a desire to understand what he has experienced. "It is just really nice to know they are breaking through some of the barriers with formal research. God knows there is a lot of informal research."
As the sun sets behind the Golden Gate Bridge, I meet Seabrook. Wearing rings in both ears and a flower badge pinned to his cap, he says he has never had a bad trip in more than 20 LSD experiences. "The main thing I love about this is it is a reunion—I have so many old friends here it is like a family," he says.
At least half the attendees on the cruise disembark early in San Francisco to join a celebration of Bicycle Day, commemorating the day in April 1943 that the Swiss chemist Albert Hofman sampled the lysergic acid diethylamide compound that he'd discovered and then rode his bike home.
But dotted among the conference's psychedelic aficionados, who along with healers, artists, and activists make up the bulk of attendees, are members of another tribe. Researchers in psychiatry and psychology are here presenting their latest findings on the use of psychedelics to help treat anxiety disorders and addictions for which conventional treatments don't always work.
As the world becomes increasingly complex and interconnected, some of our biggest challenges have begun to seem intractable. What should we do about uncertainty in the financial markets? How can we predict energy supply and demand? How will climate change play out? How do we cope with rapid urbanization? Our traditional approaches to these problems are often qualitative and disjointed and lead to unintended consequences. To bring scientific rigor to the challenges of our time, we need to develop a deeper understanding of complexity itself.
Architect Alastair Parvin presents a simple but provocative idea: what if, instead of architects creating buildings for those who can afford to commission them, regular citizens could design and build their own houses?
The 2007-2008 financial crisis, you might think, was an unpredictable one-time crash. But Didier Sornette and his Financial Crisis Observatory have plotted a set of early warning signs for unstable, growing systems, tracking the moment when any bubble is about to pop. (And he's seeing it happen again, right now.)
Synthetic biology moves us from reading to writing DNA, allowing us to design biological systems from scratch for any number of applications. Its capabilities are becoming clearer, its first products and processes emerging. Synthetic biology’s reach already extends from reducing our dependence on oil to transforming how we develop medicines and food crops. It is being heralded as the next big thing; whether it fulfils that expectation remains to be seen. It will require collaboration and multi-disciplinary approaches to development, application and regulation. Interesting times ahead!