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The Global Brain
"It is not guilty pride but the ceaselessly reawakened instinct of the game which calls forth new worlds." (Heraclitus Reloaded)
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    Pin-Yin Shi Shi Zao Ying Xiong! (part 6 and last)
    How quickly do things change; when we started the Pin Yin series of posts describing our techno-optimism for 2008/2009 we did not realize we had so much to tell about. What was meant to be a short review became a foray into the realms of energy both alternative and exotic as portrayed in part 1, we then went and explored resources, and climate change, of our planet and beyond in part 2. Part 3 was dedicated to the explosion in brain science, psychology and the very real prospects of enhancing human intelligence and in part 4 we penetrated into the realm and the prospects of technology profoundly enhancing the human biological system through genetic, bionic, and other biotechnological interventions. Finally in part 5 we surveyed the advent of the information age, computation, the rise of robotics and the first steps towards a true Artificial Intelligence.

    We have now reached a pause, a point of reflection; we wish to dedicate part 6, probably the last in our techno-optimistic visionary series to projects that to our eyes represent an epitome of human endeavor and activist hope towards a better future. These are very real ideas at different stages of realization, some are visionary, others already implemented. What makes them stand out is the presence of a courageous out-of-the-box kind of ingenuity, the essential ingredient of a world changing idea. These are the ideas that made us proud of being human; not a very common sentiment these days, and if not for anything else, we find them most appropriate as our concluding note.

    Life Straw

    "Approximately 1 billion people throughout the world are without access to safe drinking water. A large percentage of these people suffer because their drinking supply is infected with bacteria, or microorganisms brought on by agricultural pollution and poor sanitation. But a much touted new device called the Life straw seeks to give those billion a fresh look at water...



    The Life straw is a little longer than a toilet paper tube, and about the same diameter. Inside the tube, a series of mechanical screens, carbon particles, and resin beads filter and kill most pathogenic bacteria and microorganisms common in water systems throughout the world. Using a patented material called PuroTech Disinfecting Resin, the filters are rated for 700 liters of water — approximately one year's use for a single individual. They require no training to use (just suck) and minimal maintenance.

    But perhaps most exciting is the cost: Only 2 dollars US if sold individually (presumably, volume discounting could apply). Obviously, this is a large amount of a subsistence farmer's income, but the amount of wages earned during the time lost to illness is probably comparable. And it's still awfully cheap for drinking water."

    From: (Life Straw: All You Can Drink For A Year!)

    Life straw is of course not the final solution for the acute lack of drinking water in developing countries. By 2015 half of the world population is predicted to live without access to clean drinking water. Dwindling resources of water may also affect the capability of whole populations to produce enough food. Drinking water is a planetary resource that needs planetary level solutions. Meanwhile, Life straw is one simple and ingenious answer for those who already find themselves without access to this precious resource. By that it buys for all of us some time to address this urgent issue.

    To the Life Straw project we award the Bravo!factor.

    The micro nutrient initiative

    The micro nutrient initiative was already mentioned in part 3 of this series. It is certainly one of those initiatives that can literally transform humanity in a matter of just a few generations. “Probably no other technology, the World Bank said of micronutrients, “offers as large an opportunity to improve lives ... at such low cost and in such a short time.”

    “The Copenhagen Consensus, which brings together a panel of top global economists to find the most cost-effective solutions to the world’s problems, puts micronutrients at the top of the list of foreign aid spending priorities.”



    In a New York Times article named “Raising the World’s I.Q”, Nicholas D. Kristof reveals a plan to massively boost intelligence worldwide using a chemical additive, as part of the micronutrient initiative. He writes:

    Almost one-third of the world’s people don’t get enough iodine from food and water. The result in extreme cases is large goiters that swell their necks, or other obvious impairments such as dwarfism or cretinism. But far more common is mental slowness. When a pregnant woman doesn’t have enough iodine in her body, her child may suffer irreversible brain damage and could have an I.Q. that is 10 to 15 points lower than it would otherwise be. An educated guess is that iodine deficiency results in a needless loss of more than 1 billion I.Q. points around the world.


    In a blog post “The perfect cognition enhancer” about the same issue, Andres Sandberg adds:

    Similarly iodine appears to be a de facto cognitive enhancer with big social impact: the total economic impact of reduced iodine deficiency can be enormous. Iodine deficient populations had 12.5-13.5 IQ points less than normal populations. In areas of severe iodine deficiency cretinism can affect 5-10%, straining the resources of the community to support them beside the direct loss to the sufferers. Since cognition is important for personal success, for example by affecting how much can be learned in school, work productivity and health behaviors, deficiency likely has large detrimental effects on the community.

    Using the assumption that 1 IQ point is worth about 1% increased income (a low estimate; when comparing IQs and GDP across countries the relation seems even stronger) this would mean an increase in average income by at least 10% - definitely nothing to sneeze at. Better, there seem to be strong network effects of cognition in a society: if more people are smart, educatable and healthy they will produce wealth more efficiently. Note that this calculation has not taken into account the effects of apathy and illness due to iodine deficiency, just the cognitive impairment - fixing those will probably have at least a comparable effect on their own.


    "The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, launched at a UN Special Session in May 2002, was created to pave the way. Chiefly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the organization's mission is to help governments and food producers in needy countries start their own iron, iodine and folate fortification programs. As to vitamin A, the Micronutrient Initiative will work with governments and nongovernmental organizations to expand supplement distribution programs in countries that already have them and develop new ones in those that don't."

    (From: Vitamin and mineral deficiencies harm one-third of the world's population)

    There is no doubt that there is a direct link between smarts and the ability to produce wealth. There seems to be a firm connection between mental and cognitive enhancement and technological progress. In the light of the serious problems humanity faces today, the importance of pharmaceutical brain enhancement becomes quite clear and we are sure we will see its priority rapidly increasing on the public agenda. The ongoing change of attitude towards intelligence enhancement is perhaps the most significant paradigm shift presently taking place.

    To the global Micronutrient initiative we award the Bravo!factor.

    The Solar Internet

    The internet is certainly becoming the backbone of future civilization on this planet. Yet, large communities in developing countries do not have access to the internet. They cannot be left out.

    SolarNetOne is a collaborative effort spanning several continents, organizations, and technical disciplines, with the goal of developing a feasible, sustainable solution for providing public and private Internet access and related services to areas that do not have the benefit of a reliable power or communications grid. With experts in open source software, photo-voltaic electricity, internet infrastructure, and true internet pioneers on the SolarNetOne team, we have endeavored to design and implement systems capable of bridging the digital divide under the most difficult of conditions, and in the most open method available. (From SolarNetOne Wiki)

    Developed by Florida based GNUveau, the system is a solar-powered Internet “hub” (running Ubuntu GNU/Linux). The terminals includes access to web browsing, email, voip, office, multimedia, software development and web development tools as well as 15,000 other applications. Wifi coverage spans a 2-mile radius, with no fuel costs, no polluting emissions and a long lifespan of up to 20 years with proper maintenance. The entire system, in fact, operates on about the same amount of power as a 100-watt light bulb, GNUveau says.

    To SolarNetOne we award the Bravo!factor.




    A new kind of transportation

    Visionary Shai Agassi has founded a new startup called Better Place, aiming to introduce a paradigm shift in how we think about and operate private transportation. It is not only about replacing conventionally fueled cars with zero emission electric cars. It is about a whole system that includes environmentally friendly transportation, smart use of renewable energy, and the way we own and use cars.



    Electric cars had been the future for over 100 years. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Electric Vehicle Company was the largest automaker in the US, with dealers from Paris to Mexico City. But oil, in the end, supplanted volts on American highways because of one perennial problem: batteries. Car batteries, then and now, are heavy and expensive, don’t last long, and take forever to recharge. In five minutes you can fill a car with enough gas to go 300 miles, but five minutes of charging at home gets you only about 8 miles in an electric car. Clever tricks, like adding “range extenders”—gas engines that kick in when a battery dies—end up making the cars too expensive.



    Agassi dealt with the battery issue by simply swatting it away. Previous approaches relied on a traditional manufacturing formula: We make the cars, you buy them. Agassi reimagined the entire automotive ecosystem by proposing a new concept he called the Electric Recharge Grid Operator. It was an unorthodox mashup of the automotive and mobile phone industries. Instead of gas stations on every corner, the ERGO would blanket a country with a network of “smart” charge spots. Drivers could plug in anywhere, anytime, and would subscribe to a specific plan—unlimited miles, a maximum number of miles each month, or pay as you go—all for less than the equivalent cost for gas. They’d buy their car from the operator, who would offer steep discounts, perhaps even give the cars away. The profit would come from selling electricity—the minutes.

    There would be plugs in homes, offices, shopping malls. And when customers couldn’t wait to “fill up,” they’d go to battery exchange stations where they would pull into car-wash-like sheds, and in a few minutes, a hydraulic lift would swap the depleted battery with a fresh one. Drivers wouldn’t pay a penny extra: The ERGO would own the battery.

    Agassi unveiled the outline of his vision for the crowd at the Saban event: a new kind of infrastructure, with ubiquitous charge stations, that was not only simple and logical but potentially profitable, too. As he talked, he read the body language of the audience—they were leaning forward, they were nodding—and he fed off it, layering on details. A country like Israel, he told them, could get off oil by simply adopting his new business model. No technological breakthroughs were necessary. No new inventions. It was as if he’d discovered a trapdoor beneath both the gasoline industry and the auto industry, a combined $3 trillion market. It sounded easy and unavoidable. Even Daniel Yergin was amazed. Shai Agassi had stolen the show.

    By early summer 2008, Agassi had two countries ready to roll out the plan, a major automaker producing the cars, and $200 million in committed capital. He had launched the fifth-largest startup of all time in less than a year.

    (Adapted from Wired Magazine)

    Aggasi’s plan to electrify the private transportation system is nothing short of ingenious. It is a win-win game for governments, car owners, for the environment, for the economy and for Aggasi’s company. True many details must be worked out properly for such a deep change to take place. But it seems entirely within reach. Read the rest here.

    The paradigm shift proposed by Agassi, will certainly encourage projects like the three-wheeled, crash-resilient, all-electric hyper car, Aptera.



    Expected to be in full production and distribution by October 2009, Southern California-based manufacturer Aptera Motors will initially sell the vehicles only in their home state, at an expected cost between US $25,000-$45,000. The company plans to extend the distribution of the Aptera to the rest of the United States by late 2010.

    According to the manufacturer, the aerodynamically-inspired 2e will go from zero to 60 in under 10 seconds, top out at 90 mph and get the equivalent of more than 200 miles-per-gallon(!) based on a standard EPA driving cycle. “

    To Shai Agassi and the Better place project as well as to the Aptera we award the Bravo!factor.

    Alternative monetary systems

    “Not since Marx identified the manufacturing plants of Manchester as the blueprint for the new capitalist society has there been a deeper transformation of the fundamentals of our social life. As political, economic, and social systems transform themselves into distributed networks, a new human dynamic is emerging: peer to peer (P2P). As P2P gives rise to the emergence of a third mode of production, a third mode of governance, and a third mode of property, it is poised to overhaul our political economy in unprecedented ways…”

    (From: The Political Economy of Peer Production- Michel Bauwens at Ctheory)

    Though the above quote was published in 2005, the economic reality of 2008-2009 has proven yet again that given enough pressure to change, human civilization will muster its mindfulness to accommodate new ways of doing things. A proliferation of new ideas, methods and fashions has found its way to the mainstream economic trends, so much so that Time Magazine devoted a full article on the issue:

    ” Alternative (or "complementary") currencies range from quaint to robust, simple to high tech. There are Greens from the Lettuce Patch Bank at the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in rural northeastern Missouri. In western Massachusetts one finds fine-artist-designed BerkShares, which are convertible to U.S. dollars. More than $2 million in BerkShares have been issued through the 12 branches of five local banks, according to Susan Witt, executive director of the E.F. Schumacher Society, the nonprofit behind the currency. And in South Africa, proprietary software keeps track of Community Exchange System (CES) Talents; one ambitious plan is to make Khayelitsha, a vast, desolate township of perhaps 1 million inhabitants near Cape Town, a self-sustaining community."

    (From: Alternative Currencies Grow in Popularity, Time Magazine, Dec 2008)



    A number of new web sites that are dedicated to novel currency systems and projects has emerged; most prominent and interesting are: Kashklash and the Transitioner, those we have chosen for the Bravo!factor:

    “KashKlash is a space to share thoughts on, and to shape, the future; a playground for visionary people like you, who, in a sense, are already living a few years ahead. Let’s start from the basic consideration that people have always shared and exchanged things. Sure, it comes to us naturally. But today’s digital communication systems are changing and expanding this age-old behaviour: not only are there new things to share — pictures, music, ratings, writings, videos, data and information — but there are now also many more platforms and opportunities for sharing and exchanging to take place.” (From Kashklash)

    TheTransitioner is an international network of researchers, social entrepreneurs, spiritual explorers, visionaries, writers, leaders, scientists, technical and software engineers who work on Collective Intelligence, Wisdom and Consciousness (CIWC). Jean-François Noubel, founder of the Transitioner in his captivating article writes:

    Money is probably the trickiest and most powerful invisible architecture because it is pervasive and planetary. Although money has taken digital form, its fundamental dynamic has remained the same since the Victorian age. Its built-in architecture is based on artificial scarcity and centralization and works like a seed from which wealth and power concentration, ownership, usury, and secrecy unfold. The emerging planetary consciousness, observable through the arising of the free/open source economy, is about to invent its own appropriate new monetary systems that will support its body structure. In the coming years, anyone will be able to create currencies. There will be millions of them. Money is about to follow the path of distributed networks.


    (From: Collective Bodhisattvas by Jean-François Noubel)

    There are additional organizations and projects worthy of note: People and plants international write in their website:

    "We believe that cultural diversity is inherently linked to biological diversity and that effective stewardship of our Earth must involve local people. We also believe that traditional knowledge systems are invaluable to manage and conserve threatened landscapes and respond to global change."


    The Community Economies project, is a place where new visions of community and economy can be theorized, discussed, represented and enacted. The project grew out of J.K. Gibson-Graham's feminist critique of political economy that focused upon the limiting effects of representing economies as dominantly capitalist. Central to the project is the idea that economies are always diverse and always in the process of becoming. This project developed as a way of documenting the multiple ways in which people are making economies of difference and in the process building new forms of community.

    Special Mentions

    In our choice of the Bravo!factor, we would like to mention two more issues:
    In the New York Times article from July 13, 2008: 'When human rights extend to non humans', we first read that the environment committee of the Spanish parliament voted to grant limited rights to our closest biological relatives, the great apes — chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. The committee would bind Spain to the principles of the Great Ape Project, which points to apes’ human qualities, including the ability to feel fear and happiness, create tools, use languages, remember the past and plan the future. The project’s directors, Peter Singer, the Princeton ethicist, and Paola Cavalieri, an Italian philosopher, regard apes as part of a “community of equals” with humans.



    With their motto 'Equality beyond humanity' the idea behind the Great Ape Project is founded upon undeniable scientific proof that non-human great apes share more than genetically similar DNA with their human counterparts. They enjoy a rich emotional and cultural existence in which they experience emotions such as fear, anxiety and happiness. They share the intellectual capacity to create and use tools, learn and teach other languages. They remember their past and plan for their future. It is in recognition of these and other morally significant qualities that the Great Ape Project was founded. The Great Ape Project seeks to end the unconscionable treatment of our nearest living relatives by obtaining for non-human great apes the fundamental moral and legal protections of the right to life, the freedom from arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and protection from torture. (From The Great Ape Project Website)

    Spain's move, so we hope, is only a first one among many that will pronounce in action a potential upgrade of the human ethical system. An evolved humanity must realize its undeniable interconnectedness and therefore responsibility to all life, and this realization should find its place in our ethics. More about that in 'The Emerging Uplift Principle'.

    Last and certainly not least in our respectable list is a provocative and enlightening article by Steven Pinker published on may 2008 in the New Republic under the title 'The Stupidity of Dignity'. Pinker's article starts with the following:

    "This spring, the President's Council on Bioethics released a 555-page report, titled Human Dignity and Bioethics. The Council, created in 2001 by George W. Bush, is a panel of scholars charged with advising the president and exploring policy issues related to the ethics of biomedical innovation, including drugs that would enhance cognition, genetic manipulation of animals or humans, therapies that could extend the lifespan, and embryonic stem cells and so-called "therapeutic cloning" that could furnish replacements for diseased tissue and organs. Advances like these, if translated into freely undertaken treatments, could make millions of people better off and no one worse off. So what's not to like? The advances do not raise the traditional concerns of bioethics, which focuses on potential harm and coercion of patients or research subjects. What, then, are the ethical concerns that call for a presidential council?
    Many people are vaguely disquieted by developments (real or imagined) that could alter minds and bodies in novel ways. Romantics and Greens tend to idealize the natural and demonize technology. Traditionalists and conservatives by temperament distrust radical change. Egalitarians worry about an arms race in enhancement techniques. And anyone is likely to have a "yuck" response when contemplating unprecedented manipulations of our biology. The President's Council has become a forum for the airing of this disquiet, and the concept of "dignity" a rubric for expounding on it. This collection of essays is the culmination of a long effort by the Council to place dignity at the center of bioethics. The general feeling is that, even if a new technology would improve life and health and decrease suffering and waste, it might have to be rejected, or even outlawed, if it affronted human dignity."




    Pinker makes an excellent job in exposing how high human values such as dignity are cynically obscured and distorted for the purpose of advancing certain political agendas. Nowadays when powerful words and concepts are being abused as a matter of acceptable political practice, Pinker's article was read with relief. It is a wakeup call to all of us to sharpen our critical thinking and become mindful to the way we use language. As our reality becomes increasingly complex, we should all strive to become keen observers and critical thinkers, mindful to the subtleties and sensibilities of the vast conceptual ecology our minds exist in.

    End note

    The Bravo!factor is our way of showing appreciation and yes, even gratitude, for the multitude of humans that make this civilization of ours have hope and reach for its proper place in the universe.

    We say bravo when we witness an act or an initiative or indeed a performance that rightfully deserves to be applauded. Applauded for its courage and bravery in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, acclaimed for its vision and groundbreaking actuation, commended for the anticipation it creates in us, but above all for the fresh invigorating wind it continuously blows into the sails of our optimistic vision for the future of humanity.



    We started the “Pin-Yin Shi Shi Zao Ying Xiong!” series as an overview of clues to optimism from science and technology heralding great changes for life as we know it, these in turn become the harbingers of social movements and “Great movements for social change always begin with statements of great optimism”, which is as was mentioned before, a political act (Optimism is a political act).

    And yet, ours is not a political statement but maybe an intellectual emotion based on the reality of the facts of knowledge that came to our attention accompanied with a generous dosage of desire to see humanity thrive.

    Humanity is on the move, our civilization is progressing, and the clues for that, as we have shown, are innumerable. The explosive powers unleashed by the Internet and the resulting emergence of collaborative intelligence is nothing less than awe inspiring; as with the Polytopia project and the contributions we all share here at Space Collective, we see the end of this series as only the embryonic stage of the approaching singularity.

    We are living in interesting times indeed! We hope you have enjoyed reading and thank you all for allowing us to share our optimistic vision.

    Wildcat, Spaceweaver

    Sun, Jan 25, 2009  Permanent link

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    Fast T     Mon, Jan 26, 2009  Permanent link
    There are no few words that I can think of to relate to this series as a whole. Yet, I do wish to voice at least this: Traveling along the PinYin Shi Shi Zao Ying Xiong (here, i said it:) has been akin to an exciting ride in the adventure fair which is, lo and behold, our life. I wish to express my thanks for inviting us all to this interesting ride.

    I find few lines towards the conclusion of this part of the series, especially important. It says:
    As our reality becomes increasingly complex, we should all strive to become keen observers and critical thinkers, mindful to the subtleties and sensibilities of the vast conceptual ecology our minds exist in.
    I think in this phrase you pinpointed to the extended responsibility in which we all share. It is not a trivial act at all, to address, mind and describe that which unfolds as our reality, in a fashion that supports and enhances a better future.
    For this clear notion, so beautifully expressed, I wish to say thank you.



     
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