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What's new at the crossroads of culture, technology and science
Curated by Artur Alves
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Have the Obits for Peak Oil Come Too Soon?

Have the Obits for Peak Oil Come Too Soon? | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Among the big energy stories of 2013, “peak oil” -- the once-popular notion that worldwide oil production would soon reach a maximum level and begin an irreversible decline -- was thoroughly discredited.

Via Willy De Backer
Artur Alves's insight:

The usual technotriumphalism (technology, more technology, better technology will solve any given problem, given enough time) allays fears about the end of oil. Worryingly, it distracts from the main issue: thinking about a radically different society, less dependent on fossil fuels.

 

"In place of peak oil, then, we have a new theory that as yet has no name but might be called techno-dynamism.  There is, this theory holds, no physical limit to the global supply of oil so long as the energy industry is prepared to, and allowed to, apply its technological wizardry to the task of finding and producing more of it.  Daniel Yergin, author of the industry classics, The Prize and The Quest, is a key proponent of this theory.  He recently summed up the situation this way: “Advances in technology take resources that were not physically accessible and turn them into recoverable reserves.”  As a result, he added, “estimates of the total global stock of oil keep growing.”

From this perspective, the world supply of petroleum is essentially boundless.  In addition to “conventional” oil -- the sort that comes gushing out of the ground -- the IEA identifies six other potential streams of petroleum liquids: natural gas liquids; tar sands and extra-heavy oil; kerogen oil (petroleum solids derived from shale that must be melted to become usable); shale oil; coal-to-liquids (CTL); and gas-to-liquids (GTL).  Together, these “unconventional” streams could theoretically add several trillion barrels of potentially recoverable petroleum to the global supply, conceivably extending the Oil Age hundreds of years into the future (and in the process, via climate change, turning the planet into an uninhabitable desert).

But just as peak oil had serious limitations, so, too, does techno-dynamism.  At its core is a belief that rising world oil demand will continue to drive the increasingly costly investments in new technologies required to exploit the remaining hard-to-get petroleum resources.  As suggested in the 2013 edition of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, however, this belief should be treated with considerable skepticism."

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Willy De Backer's curator insight, January 10, 2014 3:15 PM

Michael Klare explains why the media reports about the death of peak oil have been 'greatly exxagerated'.

 

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The 4 Big Dangers of Fracking

The 4 Big Dangers of Fracking | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Here’s a look at what we’ve learned about the dangers of fracking in the last few weeks.
Artur Alves's insight:

"By now you’ve likely heard that the U.S. is expected to overtake Russia this year as the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas. The surge in production comes from a drilling boom enabled by using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, along with, in many places, horizontal drilling. These technologies have made previously inaccessible pockets of oil and gas in shale formations profitable.

But at what cost? Accidents, fatalities and health concerns are mounting."

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Is our tech making the world too complex? – Samuel Arbesman – Aeon

Is our tech making the world too complex? – Samuel Arbesman – Aeon | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Human ingenuity has created a world that the mind cannot master. Have we finally reached our limits?
Artur Alves's insight:

"For centuries, humans have been creating ever-more complicated systems, from the machines we live with to the informational systems and laws that keep our global civilisation stitched together. Technology continues its fantastic pace of accelerating complexity — offering efficiencies and benefits that previous generations could not have imagined — but with this increasing sophistication and interconnectedness come complicated and messy effects that we can’t always anticipate. It’s one thing to recognise that technology continues to grow more complex, making the task of the experts who build and maintain our systems more complicated still, but it’s quite another to recognise that many of these systems are actually no longer completely understandable.  We now live in a world filled with incomprehensible glitches and bugs. When we find a bug in a video game, it’s intriguing, but when we are surprised by the very infrastructure of our society, that should give us pause."

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Science is becoming a cult of hi-tech instruments – Philip Ball – Aeon

Science is becoming a cult of hi-tech instruments – Philip Ball – Aeon | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Giant instruments are giving us a sea of data. Can science find its way without any big ideas at the helm?
Artur Alves's insight:

"The faddish notion that science will soon be a matter of mining Big Data for correlations, driven in part by the belief that data is worth collecting simply because you have the instruments to do so, has been rightly dismissed as ludicrous. It fails on technical grounds alone: data sets of any complexity will always contain spurious correlations between one variable and another. But it also fails to acknowledge that science is driven by ideas, not numbers or measurements — and ideas only arise by people thinking about causative mechanisms and using them to frame good questions. The instruments should then reflect the hypotheses, collecting precisely the data that will test them."

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Cheating Goes High-Tech

Cheating Goes High-Tech | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
As online courses multiply, so is the number of students willing and able to game the system—unless they're thwarted.
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What social networks know about you.

What social networks know about you. | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it

It’s hard to escape the sense that we provide social networks with too much information about ourselves. They know our names, our faces, our friends, our favorite music and movies, our employment history. Since they profit by using our online identities to sell targeted advertising, it’s only fair to ask how networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram view us.

Artur Alves's insight:

This infographic shows how much of your information is stored, sorted and used by your social network services.

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Animal Cruelty Is the Price We Pay for Cheap Meat | Rolling Stone

Animal Cruelty Is the Price We Pay for Cheap Meat | Rolling Stone | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Rolling Stone takes you inside the dark underbelly of factory farming in the meat industry
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How Long Have Humans Dominated the Planet?: Scientific American

How Long Have Humans Dominated the Planet?: Scientific American | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
A call goes out for a new global effort to puzzle out humanity's ecological history over the last 50,000 years or more
Artur Alves's insight:

"The putative start date for what scientists have begun to call the Anthropocene—a newly defined epoch in which humanity is the dominant force on the planet—ranges widely. Some argue that humans began changing the global environment about 50,000 years back, in the Pleistocene epoch, helping along if not outright causing the mass extinctions of megafauna, from mammoths to giant kangaroos, on most continents. Others date it to the emergence of agriculture some 7,000 years ago. The most definitive cases to be made coincide with the start of the industrial revolution and the dawn of the atomic age. The beginnings of burning fossil fuels to power machines in the 19th century initiated a change in the mix of atmospheric gases , and the first nuclear weapon test on July 16, 1945, spread unique isotopes across the globe.

There is little doubt from the archaeological record that humans have been altering ecosystems on a local scale for at least 50,000 years if not longer, but the extent of that alteration remains unknown. Recent work by ecologist Erle Ellis of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and others suggests that for at least 3,000 yearshunting, farming and burning have shaped most landscapes on the planet, based on computer models."

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SpaceX just made rocket launches affordable. Here’s how it could make them downright cheap.

SpaceX just made rocket launches affordable. Here’s how it could make them downright cheap. | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
When SpaceX put a communications satellite into orbit yesterday, it wasn't a just triumph of technology. It was a victory for cost control.
Artur Alves's insight:

"The success of this first launch for a private client—the company had already contracted  with NASA to deliver supplies to the International Space Station via its rocket and reusable robotic space capsule, called Dragon—clears the way for SpaceX to fulfill its $4 billion book of business. If future launches confirm Falcon 9′s reliability, SpaceX will “own the satellite launch industry,” as space journalist Michael Belfiore puts it. That will give it the cash flow to pursue its more technically challenging plans, such as a trip to Mars."

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Silicon Valley Isn't a Meritocracy. And It's Dangerous to Hero-Worship Entrepreneurs | Wired Opinion | Wired.com

Silicon Valley Isn't a Meritocracy. And It's Dangerous to Hero-Worship Entrepreneurs | Wired Opinion | Wired.com | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Meritocracy and entrepreneurialism reinforce a closed system of privilege.
Artur Alves's insight:

"In a cultural context where idealists have linked social media to democracy, egalitarianism, and participation, the tech scene in Silicon Valley considers itself to be exceptional. Supporters speak glowingly of a singularly meritocratic environment where innovative entrepreneurs disrupt fusty old industries and facilitate sweeping social change.

But if the tech scene is really a meritocracy, why are so many of its key players, from Mark Zuckerberg to Steve Jobs, white men? If entrepreneurs are born, not made, why are there so many programs attempting to create entrepreneurs? If tech is truly game-changing, why are old-fashioned capitalism and the commodification of personal information never truly questioned?"

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Battle over Google Glass etiquette erupts in another Seattle diner

Battle over Google Glass etiquette erupts in another Seattle diner | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Google Glass has been available to early adopters for nearly nine months, and some merchants are doing their best to keep it out of their establishments. Nick Starr, a network engineer in Seattle,...
Artur Alves's insight:

A camera mounted on your head. A camera in your phone. How is that any different, you ask? Well, imagine walking around with your phone always pointing at people, perhaps shooting and recording everything. What would the reactions be?

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The NSA's Global Threat to Free Speech

The NSA's Global Threat to Free Speech | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
In addition to infringing on privacy in vast areas of our lives, the NSA’s spying poses a global threat to freedom of expression over the Internet. " And to the dismay of the rest of the world, US law on surveillance recognizes no privacy rights whatsoever for non-Americans outside the United States, even though many of their communications travel through the United States and the US government has the capacity to collect much of whatever does not. Considerable attention has been paid recently to the NSA’s monitoring of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. Under existing US law, however, the NSA can freely spy on ordinary foreigners living outside the United States as well. And it can collect not only their metadata but also the contents of their communications —including phone calls, email, and text messages. Communications between US citizens and foreigners are also vulnerable so long as the US citizen in question is not deemed a “target” of the surveillance."
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Leonardo da Vinci piano hybrid heard after 500 years

Leonardo da Vinci piano hybrid heard after 500 years | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
The viola organista combines keyboard and cello in a unique string sound dreamed up by the Renaissance genius. Read this article by Tim Hornyak on CNET.
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I Spent Two Hours Talking With the NSA's Bigwigs. Here's What Has Them Mad | Threat Level | Wired.com

I Spent Two Hours Talking With the NSA's Bigwigs. Here's What Has Them Mad | Threat Level | Wired.com | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
My expectations were low when I asked the National Security Agency to cooperate with my story on the impact of Edward Snowden’s leaks on the tech industry. Imagine my surprise when they agreed to let me behind the fence.
Artur Alves's insight:

Steven Levy's (short) report of his visit to the NSA. Apparently, "They really hate Snowden" and "[t]hey believe their intelligence gathering is palatable because it’s controlled by laws, regulations, and internal oversight"... Naturally.

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Green Capitalism: The God That Failed

Green Capitalism: The God That Failed | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
No amount of ''green'' capitalism will ensure the profound changes we must make to prevent the catastrophic impacts of global warming.
Artur Alves's insight:

The path to climate crash is fraught with the empty celebrations of record profits and unhealty growth. Adding climate change scepticism is just making things even worse. Expecting an environmental "invisible hand" is not the way to deal with the growth of emissions and the anthropogenic chemical changes in our habitat.


"And contrary to green capitalism proponents, across the spectrum from resource extraction to manufacturing, the practical possibilities for "greening" and "dematerializing" production are severely limited. This means the only way to prevent overshoot and collapse is to enforce a massive economic contraction in the industrialized economies, retrenching production across a broad range of unnecessary, resource-hogging, wasteful and polluting industries, even virtually shutting down the worst. Yet this option is foreclosed under capitalism because this is not socialism: No one is promising new jobs to unemployed coal miners, oil drillers, automakers, airline pilots, chemists, plastic junk makers and others whose jobs would be lost because their industries would have to be retrenched - and unemployed workers don't pay taxes. So CEOs, workers and governments find that they all "need" to maximize growth, overconsumption, even pollution, to destroy their children's tomorrows to hang onto their jobs today. If they don't, the system falls into crisis, or worse. So we're all on board the TGV of ravenous and ever-growing plunder and pollution. As our locomotive races toward the cliff of ecological collapse, the only thoughts on the minds of our CEOs, capitalist economists, politicians and most labor leaders is how to stoke the locomotive to get us there faster. Corporations aren't necessarily evil. They just can't help themselves."

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How the NSA Almost Killed the Internet | Threat Level | Wired.com

How the NSA Almost Killed the Internet | Threat Level | Wired.com | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the other tech titans have had to fight for their lives against their own government. An exclusive look inside their year from hell—and why the Internet will never be the same.
Artur Alves's insight:

A very enterprise-friendly piece by Steven Levy. The transparency of Silicon Valley companies has always raised doubts and considered wanting.

 

"The clash illustrates a seemingly irresolvable conflict. While Silicon Valley must be transparent in many regards, spy agencies operate under a cloak of obfuscation. There is certainly a reason for the secrecy; evildoers who use an Internet service presumably would be less likely to keep using it if they were aware that the pro­vider was sharing communications with the NSA. But one of the disturbing conse­quences of secret programs is the destructive shroud of doubt they cast over every­thing they touch. Months after Snowden’s leak, basic facts about Prism remain elusive. How much information is actually collected by the program? Exactly what kind of cooperation did the companies offer after those dates specified on that NSA PowerPoint slide? The companies contend that in addition to what they can’t say, there’s plenty they don’t know.

...

But even if the spy programs are viewed as justified, and whether they are tempered or not, we’re still left with the most sickening aspect of the Snowden revelations: The vast troves of information gathered from our digital activities will forever be seen as potential fodder for government intelligence agencies. A lot of people became inured to worries about Little Brother—private companies—knowing what we bought, where we were, what we were saying, and what we were searching for. Now it turns out that Big Brother can access that data too. It could not have been otherwise. The wealth of data we share on our computers, phones, and tablets is irresistible to a government determined to prevent the next disaster, even if the effort stretches laws beyond the comprehension of those who voted for them. And even if it turns the US into the number one adversary of American tech companies and their privacy-seeking customers."

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My ’70s Health-Nut Parents Didn’t Vaccinate Me. This Is What My Childhood Was Like.

My ’70s Health-Nut Parents Didn’t Vaccinate Me. This Is What My Childhood Was Like. | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
I am the ’70s child of a health nut. I wasn’t vaccinated. I was brought up on an incredibly healthy diet: no sugar till I was 1, breastfed for over a year, organic homegrown vegetables, raw milk, no MSG, no additives, no aspartame.
Artur Alves's insight:

The vaccionation scare has been making victim of its own.


"I find myself wondering about the claim that complications from childhood illnesses are extremely rare but that “vaccine injuries” are rampant. If this is the case, I struggle to understand why I know far more people who have experienced complications from preventable childhood illnesses than I have ever met with complications from vaccines. I have friends who became deaf from measles. I have a partially sighted friend who contracted rubella in the womb. My ex got pneumonia from chickenpox. A friend’s brother died from meningitis."

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The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder

The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Diagnoses have soared as makers of the drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have found success with a two-decade marketing campaign.
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NSA phone surveillance program likely unconstitutional, federal judge rules

NSA phone surveillance program likely unconstitutional, federal judge rules | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Collection of US phone metadata 'likely' in breach of fourth amendment as judge describes scope of programe as 'Orwellian'
Artur Alves's insight:

"A federal judge in Washington ruled on Monday that the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records by the National Security Agency is likely to violate the US constitution, in the most significant legal setback for the agency since the publication of the first surveillance disclosures by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Judge Richard Leon declared that the mass collection of metadata probably violates the fourth amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and was "almost Orwellian" in its scope. In a judgment replete with literary swipes against the NSA, he said James Madison, the architect of the US constitution, would be "aghast" at the scope of the agency’s collection of Americans' communications data."

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Snowden leak examines gaming as a terrorist propaganda and training tool

Snowden leak examines gaming as a terrorist propaganda and training tool | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
66-page report lays out intelligence concerns both practical and fantastical.
Artur Alves's insight:

"The latest document dump from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is getting a lot of deserved attention for revelations that international security agencies are taking steps to monitor communications inside online games. But those leaked documents also include an in-depth report on the potential for games to be used as recruitment, training, and propaganda tools by extremist organizations.

Security contractor SAIC produced the 66-page report "Games: A look at emerging trends, users, threats and opportunities in influence activities" in early 2007, and the document gives a rare window into how the US intelligence community views interactive games as a potential tool to be used by foreign actors. While parts of the report seem pretty realistic about gaming's potential use as a propaganda and planning tool, other sections provide a more fantastical take on how video games can be used as potential weapons by America's enemies."

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As engineers, we must consider the ethical implications of our work

As engineers, we must consider the ethical implications of our work | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Abbas El-Zein: Engineers are behind government spying tools and military weapons. We should be conscious of how our designs are used
Artur Alves's insight:

"One aspect of Edward Snowden's revelations in the Guardian about the NSA's surveillance activities has received less attention than it should. The algorithms that extract highly specific information from an otherwise impenetrable amount of data have been conceived and built by flesh and blood, engineers with highly sophisticated technical knowledge. Did they know the use to which their algorithms would be put? If not, should they have been mindful of the potential for misuse? Either way, should they be held partly responsible or were they just "doing their job"?

...

 

Our ethics have become mostly technical: how to design properly, how to not cut corners, how to serve our clients well. We work hard to prevent failure of the systems we build, but only in relation to what these systems are meant to do, rather than the way they might actually be utilised, or whether they should have been built at all. We are not amoral, far from it; it's just that we have steered ourselves into a place where our morality has a smaller scope."

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India's rice revolution

India's rice revolution | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
In a village in India's poorest state, farmers are growing world record amounts of rice – with no GM or herbicide. Is this a solution to world food shortages? John Vidal meets the farmers
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What now for the surveillance state?

What now for the surveillance state? | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Alan Rusbridger: Even GCHQ and the NSA know their work may not be sustainable without a proper debate about their power
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Young adult readers 'prefer printed to ebooks'

Young adult readers 'prefer printed to ebooks' | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Survey finds that 62% of 16 to 24-year-olds prefer traditional books over their digital equivalents
Artur Alves's insight:

The digital economy does not need to overreach.

 

"Sixteen to 24-year-olds are known as the super-connected generation, obsessed with snapping selfies or downloading the latest mobile apps, so it comes as a surprise to learn that 62% prefer print books to ebooks.

Asked about preferences for physical products versus digital content, printed books jump out as the media most desired in material form, ahead of movies (48%), newspapers and magazines (47%), CDs (32%), and video games (31%)."

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Web inventor in surveillance warning

Web inventor in surveillance warning | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it

Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee has warned that the democratic nature of the net is threatened by a "growing tide of surveillance and censorship".

 
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