29 April 2014

#VIEWPOINT: '#Scotland’s future is independence': @hjbentham


Sitting on the fence has become too difficult.

At this point, it is evident that the people in Scotland who perceive correctly are going to vote ‘yes’ to independence from London’s rule.

Previously, I had considered this topic too controversial and close to home, and had avoided it. However, it has become clear that the campaign of fear and threats being directed against the Scottish people by London makes it harder and harder to stay neutral in the debate.

As public opinion grows in favor of independence, it is apparent that the government in London is standing on the wrong side of history. By this I mean that, regardless of the outcome of the referendum itself, the opinion that London should no longer govern Scotland is a strengthening tide and it cannot be held back forever.

Changing my view on Scottish independence has not been easy. My understandings of politics are usually derived from forecasts about the best possible social future, and this means I do not care much for flags or nationalistic tales. Originally, I saw Scottish independence as exactly such a nationalistic project. It even seemed like a medieval regression, taking Britain back to the times of Robert the Bruce and attempting to kindle long-forgotten resentment between the people of Scotland and England.

Scottish independence, I thought, had to be a flawed direction to take Britain, because it appealed to a medieval identity and seemed to defy the currents of integration and harmony that have gradually carried Europe towards peace and stability. Such a view is echoed by some theorists who, not as political pundits but as scholars, choose to categorize Scottish independence as a current of micro-nationalism that is inimical to modernity.

However, such dismissive views of independence movements are not always valid. Sometimes, independence movements are in line with modernity, and can be necessary vehicles of liberation or progress. Because the objectives of Scottish independence have a lot to do with marginalized people taking control of their own future, it is more and more apparent that this movement does deserve to be placed in the categories of progressive and liberating.

This is not an endorsement of the Scottish National Party (SNP), whose program and ideas are indeed nationalistic, but an acknowledgment of the injustice that is driving Scots increasingly into the camp of independence. It is now a prudent choice for Scots to vote for independence as a means of taking control of their own destiny, thus making the most of their talents and contributions to the world.

Patronizing and hurtful arguments from London against independence, such as declaring that the independent country will not be welcome to share the currency, fail to take the aspirations of the Scottish people into account. By making such counterproductive statements and taking such a hostile stance, the government in London is handling the prospect of losing Scotland very poorly and does not deserve any results.

Now, there can be no doubt that London is viewing itself as a master, because it has resorted to using propaganda and making claims that Scotland will be economically isolated by pursuing independence. This is tantamount to a campaign of blackmail and threats. Such threats betray the fact that the masters in London know independence is overwhelmingly in the interests of the Scottish people, and it is with such knowledge that the Scots should go to cast their vote.

It is not reasonable to have confidence in authorities who have to resort to blackmail and threats to assert their sovereignty. Sovereignty must be defined by the will of the people, and a negative campaign only stifles such will. The growing numbers in Scotland who support the vision of becoming an independent state must convince the people still undecided to consider the popular and compelling case for Scotland to have a separate future from the United Kingdom.

Any region where the people assert aspirations for independence and sovereign statehood of their own has the right to hold a referendum on this matter. Such a referendum is not a nationalistic device, but a reaffirmation of the still-prevalent and accepted concept of popular sovereignty which serves is the basis of the legitimacy of states in their present form. To reject this is not compatible with the way the present international system works.

In the referendum in September, the Scottish people should be considering only one set of interests: their own. What happens to the United Kingdom itself should be of no concern. If they find that staying in the United Kingdom is harmful to their interests as Scots, they have no reason to remain part of it. One other point that must be added is that the government in London (particularly under Tory rule) has always behaved in a conceited way, marginalizing and not taking into account the interests of less well-off parts of the country. Scotland is such an area, as is the de-industrialized and deprived North of England itself.

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

Originally published on March 29 2014 in Press TV

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27 April 2014

#BOOK: 5 excellent scifi and fantasy authors you should read @CLUBOFINFO

Like #SciFi? Take a look at CLUBOF.INFO’s selection here of excellent works by some less-known but nonetheless highly skilled sci-fi authors, whose books you can download or get shipped to your address right now. Relax with some captivating reading by clicking the links below.
#1 PEACEFUL INTENT—TALES OF ALIEN/HUMAN INTERACTION by Harris Tobias explores the comedy or tragedy that could happen when aliens and humans interact. In 31 entertaining original stories, Harris Tobias takes his readers on a fun ride through the cosmos. Harris Tobias is one of the best authors often featured at Quantum Muse, where his work can be found frequently. His fiction has appeared in Ray Gun Revival, The Calliope Nerve, Literal Translations, FriedFiction and other obscure publications. 
#2 TIME WARS & OTHER SCI-FI TALES by Gordon Rowlinson provides readers with 11 stories of the unknown, the speculative and the fantastic. These stories vary from an interplanetary journey to a time-travel vacation adventure in the Cretaceous period and more. Gordon Rowlinson contributes to Quantum Muse, where his works are frequent and among the very best there. 
#3 OUTRUNNING THE STORM by Michele Dutcher tells of a world where baseline humans, clones, AIs, and tweaks will compete to claim their place in a social order ruled over by super-corporations. This is the first novel from Michele Dutcher, who has been writing Sci-fi for eight years and has been published multiple times in webzines which include Aphelion, Orion’s Arm, Quantum Muse and Bewildering Stories. With this experience, Michele is a highly capable author.
#4 THE WIZARD'S HOUSE by Jeromy Henry is a fantasy tale of the adventure of Sam and Angela when they are catapulted into magic, mystery and danger. Can they escape a duel between rival magicians? Can they use their wits and courage to find their way home? Will their lives ever be the same again? 
#5 SEARCH BEYOND: FIRST ANTHOLOGY by Harry J. Bentham is a collection of individual science fiction stories about a starship banished forever from Earth and lost in deep space. We find a universe with scarcely any interesting alien life to boast of, yet we can still scrape adventures from the depths of a mysterious universe paralleled only by the enigma of humanity’s own hyper-evolved technologies. Harry J. Bentham is a futurist adviser at the Lifeboat Foundation think tank, where he takes part in some of the defining conversations on emerging tech, and he is also a sci-fi writer with stories at publications including Quantum Muse.
To find other little-known sci-fi and fantasy authors trying to build their readership, visit www.quantummuse.com and discover the work featured there. In this golden age of indie book publishing, there is no reason at all to restrict ourselves to only reading the authors reviewed at the NYT!

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25 April 2014

#VIEWPOINT: Scotland to see more scientific progress if independent

#YEStoIndependence? According to much of the negative commentary in the Scottish independence debate, scientific research in Scotland will be negatively affected by independence. However, Scottish contributions to science will in the long term receive more recognition if Scotland is an independent state.

Scotland is on the periphery of the UK. According to supporters of independence, the public spending Scotland is receiving from London is not proportionate to what it contributes to the British economy. The interests of the Scottish people are marginalized by London.

Independence: justified for any group that is neglected and marginalized

Scottish independence is not some narrow-minded celebration of nationalism, but a prudent economic decision. London’s inability to let the Scots pursue their own interests has naturally driven the people towards increasingly wanting to govern themselves as an independent state.

Desperately negative or even outright threatening statements from London aimed at the Scottish people only strengthen their preference not to be governed by London, thus leading to an increase in support for independence. As far as the interests of the Scottish people are concerned, independence may be the best choice when they vote in the referendum in September about whether or not to be governed from London.

Concern about independence harming science in Scotland is short term thinking

In the short term, funding to research in Scotland may indeed be negatively affected by independence, as predicted. However, this would really just be a transitory problem far outweighed by the long-term gains for the Scots.

An independent Scotland can be expected to want to change the direction of its development, including its research priorities, and these will be directed more in the interests of the Scottish people rather than Britain as a whole. In this sense, from London’s point of view, research will have been undermined, but from Edinburgh’s point of view it will only have been reoriented and sent in a different direction.

How Scotland progresses scientifically in the long term is up to the way successive Scottish governments handle research spending after independence, and that can be expected to be in the direction of improving their independent country’s standing globally. For this reason, the Scottish government already pledges that it will increasingly support research and development, working diligently to support Scottish scientists because this will help their independent country to stand out.

Scotland to get more recognition in scientific world, if independent

Independence will fundamentally change the way Scotland is perceived in the world. Rather than being seen as a periphery of Britain and all of its accomplishments being credited to the UK, Scotland will become an increasingly strong brand in itself and attract a lot of investment. Best of all, its people will be more recognized for their contributions to science, rather than all the credit going to London. It will have a unique opportunity to grow its own scientific community, and become a centre in ways that it was not before. After independence, there would likely be a lot of effort to create a ‘Scottish Silicon Valley’.

If people have doubts about this being a realistic outcome, they should consider Scotland’s leading scientific role in the United Kingdom at present. Most notably, Scotland is able to manufacture its own satellites and is becoming the site of the first spaceport in Britain. This is not a gift from the UK government, but a combination of the ideal launch sites being in Scotland and the fact that Scottish companies are in the lead in producing components and systems for the UK’s satellites. Considering these advantages, Scotland is likely to have a stronger presence in space and more leeway to make breakthroughs as an independent country than as part of the United Kingdom.

In the long term, Scotland is likely to become more of a centre for scientific and technological success upon gaining independence. If independence is achieved, Scotland’s contributions to science will be more recognized by the world than they were before. The UK’s scientific contributions could be reduced in the world’s eyes by the loss of Scotland from the Union, but Scotland’s contributions will be more recognized. As an independent country, it will stand out more and will be more motivated to improve its global standing.

There is ample reason to expect that Scottish independence is not going to harm scientific funding or collaboration, and will instead lead to more recognition, more competition and a better use of resources within Scotland itself. In truth, this should be expected to lead to more effective global collaboration and more success.

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

Image credit: Clydespace

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24 April 2014

#BOOK: Top 10 futurist must-reads @CLUBOFINFO #Top10

Take a look at CLUBOF.INFO’s pick here of the very best 10 futurist books you can download or purchase right now. Have you missed any of these titles?
#1 LIFE AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT (2013) by J. Craig Venter brings promises from the top scientist of the biotech century about the most extraordinary breakthrough of our time: synthetic life. 
#2 WHAT TECHNOLOGY WANTS (2010) by Kevin Kelly provides a compelling story about how technology is evolving and is an unstoppable force comparable only with nature itself. 
#3 UTOPISTICS (1998) by Immanuel Wallerstein predicts the historical choices awaiting the world in the Twenty-First Century, with anarchy, the loss of state legitimacy, the proliferation of technologies and the greater sensitivity of the world to radical change being the main predictions. 
#4 CYPHERPUNKS (2012) by Julian Assange addresses the way the internet has been subverted and, although it has fallen prey to government spying and control, it still aids dissidents and offers great opportunities for changing society. 
#5 CITIZEN CYBORG (2004) by James Hughes presents the techno-progressive interpretation of how to responsibly use and regulate emerging technologies as they transform humanity. 
#6 LIBERATION BIOLOGY (2005) by Ronald Bailey is an enthusiastic case for the biotech revolution, devoid of politics and very persuasive in arguing that the greater the freedom given to people exploring such technology, the more the progress. 
#7 CATALYST (2013) by Harry J. Bentham is a thesis predicting that information, transport and manufacturing technologies will become so effective that they proliferate beyond the control of their own creators, thus making such things as competition and national security obsolete. 
#8 THE INFINITE RESOURCE (2013) by Ramez Naam makes the case that the grand solutions to the world’s population and resource crises will come ultimately from learning and developing new ways to use the resources we already have, rather than continually excavating new finite resources like oilfields. 
#9 RADICAL ABUNDANCE (2013) by K. Eric Drexler, the founding father of what many call nanotechnology, busts many of the myths about APM (atomically precise manufacturing) while more than compensating for your disillusionment with promises of garage-sized car factories becoming possible in every home. 
#10 THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR (2005) by Ray Kurzweil is a very lengthy work visiting much of the same ideas above, only with added emphasis on the AI singularity and on such celebrated ideas as Moore’s Law to argue for a future in which sentient computers learn to outperform the human brain.
Other powerful works like Abundance by Diamandis and Kotler and The Human Race to the Future by Daniel Berleant also offer key viewpoints about the future of civilization and where the decisive emerging technologies of our near future could lead us.

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23 April 2014

#ESSAY: Parables involving the Theft of Knowledge

All religions have points of agreement concerning human toil and its relationship to the divine. This essay considers some of the Biblical and Hellenic parables of human origin, specifically the origins of human knowledge and instrumentality.

Here I want to present how knowledge and instrumentality are reported to originate with an act of mischief, specifically the theft of a divine artifact. My argument is that, although the possession of knowledge may be seen as a sin to be atoned for, the kind of atonement originally promoted may have simply been for us to apply our knowledge constructively in our lives. The concept of atoning for original sin (whether it is the Biblical or Hellenic sin) can then be justified with secular arguments. Everyone can agree that we retain the capacity for knowledge, and this means our atonement for the reported theft of such knowledge would simply rest with the use of the very same tool we reportedly stole.

The story of the titan Prometheus, from ancient Greek mythology, has been interpreted and reinterpreted many times. A great deal of writers and organizations have laid claim to the symbolism of Prometheus, including in modern times. [1] I would argue that too many writers diluted and over-explored the meaning of the parable by comparing everything to it, although this is not the focus of my essay. Greek mythology is notably weak on the subject of “good and evil” because it predates the Judeo-Christian propagation of their dualism, and this means most of the characters in Greek mythology can be defended or condemned without violating Hellenic theology. Prometheus as a mythic figure could be condemned from a Christian standpoint, because he seems strikingly similar to other scriptural characters engaged in a revolt against the divine. Yet the spirit of Prometheus and his theft has also been endorsed by people and organizations, such as the transhumanists who see him as an expression of the noblest human aspirations. [2]

The widely repeated version of the Prometheus story holds that Prometheus was a titan, a primordial deity who literally stole a sample of fire from Olympus and handed it down to humans. Prometheus was subsequently punished by the gods, who nailed him to a mountain and trapped him in a time-loop so that an eagle repeatedly ate his liver before it was regenerated to be eaten yet again. However, contrary to popular belief, the Prometheus parable is not mainly about the theft of fire but about the creation of the first man. According to Apollodorus’ Library dating from the First or Second Century AD:

"After he had fashioned men from water and earth, Prometheus also gave them fire, which he had hidden in a fennel stalk in secret from Zeus. But when Zeus learned of it, he ordered Hephiastos to nail his body to Mount Caucasos (a mountain that lies in Scythia). So Prometheus was nailed to it and held fast there for a good many years; and each day, an eagle swooped down to feed on the lobes of his liver, which grew again by night. Such was the punishment suffered by Prometheus for having stolen the fire, until Heracles later released him, as we shall show in our account of Heracles." [3]

Immediately, you may be eager to identify the differences between this account of humanity’s creation and the Abrahamic accounts. For example, man is created by the thief, Zeus punishes the thief rather than man (it may seem), and the punishment of the thief is not portrayed as good, because ultimately the hero Heracles is destined to set Prometheus free again. However, the similarities are striking. Mankind is believed, in this parable, to be a source of trouble for the gods because mankind’s unique power derives from the violation and theft of divine power. We also encounter the apparent responsibility of women for the release of evil, found in the parable of Pandora, noted in the Library as being described by Hesiod as a “beautiful evil.” [4] Pandora (meaning women) was inflicted on men as the punishment for their possession of fire, which directly connects the tale of Pandora with the tale of Prometheus. We may speculate that Hesiod’s Pandora story contributed misogyny in the way some have argued that the Genesis account justifies misogyny. [5] However, such misogyny would defy the notion that Pandora, unlike men, was created by the gods [6] and was not punished by them.

It is possible that the serpent represents a Prometheus-like figure within Christianity. Christian theology holds that it was Satan, the serpent, who really leaked knowledge of good and evil to mankind and so condemned us to death. The Abrahamic God lashes out at everyone involved, holding them all to be guilty: the serpent for tricking the woman, the woman for enticing the man, the man for consuming the fruit. He does, however, seem to punish those parties somewhat proportionally to their crimes, because serpents are reduced to lesser animals, women are condemned to endure pain in childbirth, and men are condemned to earn their daily bread through labour. Similarly, Zeus opts to punish men by inflicting women on them, read this how you will, even though man did not do anything wrong other than be created by Prometheus and accept his gifts. Note that the stories consistently explain man’s hardships as burdens to counter the divine flares of knowledge and power in human hands.

Although the Prometheus parable can be used to praise a specific stride such as enlightenment or technological advancement, the more important part of the parable today should lie in the way it actually tries to explain something fundamental to our nature as humans, separating us from animals. If we take an evolutionary standpoint, there likely was a Prometheus “incident” in our evolution, and in this sense the parable of knowledge being “stolen” is describing a very definite reality. [7] When we first exercised knowledge to help our survival, we might not yet have been human as we know it. Knowledge of fire was perhaps the first significant teaching that allowed us to fully separate ourselves from the billions of years of direct competition with the animals, moving away from interspecies competition towards inter-social competition. A secular Fall of Man theory might hold that the parable is really just a retelling of our transition from being unclothed foragers to civilised farmers, just as the Cain and Abel parable probably describes a real feud in ancient Mesopotamia between shepherds and farmers. [8] Was God’s refusal to recognise Cain’s offering merely a misconstrued report about farming going into disuse as a result of desertification?

Let us just consider some of the visual similarities between the Biblical Fall of Man and the contents of the Library, because there are some alarming ones worthy of note here. Pagan mythologies are filled with stories about magical apples as a source of eternal life. The Library describes the “Apples of the Hesperides” as being found in a nymph-occupied garden, upon a tree with a monstrous serpent guardian coiled in the branches to defend against mortal thieves. [9] Hera placed the serpent there to defend the tree, with the golden apples growing upon it being a known source of eternal life.

Human engineering ambitions seem to anger both the Biblical God and the Hellenic gods repeatedly. The Biblical God is reported to see engineering ambitions as an affront to his divine monopoly. In the Tower of Babel parable described in the Book of Genesis, mankind’s will to build a magnificent structure and enter Heaven results in our punishment by God, who confuses our languages to subvert cooperation among different nations. In the Hellenic parables of Daidalos and Icarus, efforts to extend human abilities prove to be disastrous. [10] However, these stories are not really attacking engineering, international cooperation, or knowledge and the human will to strive for perfection. They actually just represent counterattacks against human wills to invade God’s presence. What defines these affronts exactly can be subjected to interpretation, but the parables were probably written to discourage attempts to seek out a physical basis for Heaven and God when there are none to be found. While the Tower of Babel parable can be compared with the Fall of Man, it still does not contain any condemnation of humans for using their “stolen” gift of knowledge to help them in their worldly toil. Therefore, such people as radical transhumanists advocating artificial immortality do not violate the parables of Icarus or the Tower of Babel. In fact, it is more arguable that pseudo-researchers looking for Biblical evidence are violating the parable of the Tower of Babel by trying to bridge themselves to God by physical means.

Let us consider the possibility that the Christian theology is “anti-Promethean”, to coin a phrase. If we were to follow the teachings in Genesis literally, it might mean knowledge and the advancement of technology have to be regarded with distrust and hostility, like they are by Amish communities. The shadow of Christianity’s possible anti-Promethean bias is still arguably shown in Western politics and philosophy in the modern day. To accuse someone like synthetic biologist J. Craig Venter of “playing God,” [11] for example, is simply to accuse someone of Promethean theft, much like any claim that a specific nation is too irresponsible and brutish to handle a certain technology. The crime is essentially to become “like God” through knowledge and instrumentality, which is considered to be the very meaning of original sin in the Book of Genesis. Is science and technology, really, what original sin was about? Quite probably not. My reading of the Fall of Man parable, much like the Tower of Babel parable, is simply that the greedy pursuit of power and the arrogant pursuit of personal contact with the divine for ultimately selfish reasons of power-mongering is actually the real character of the Fall of Man. As such, great numbers of Christians may actually be committing an affront to their own God due to the false reading of a parable. Could Christians actually be motivated by the very character that caused the Fall of Man, trying to get close to God by approximating his mind and ultimately stretching their hands out towards “eternal life” with no real motivation other than their own arrogance and greed? If so, the Christian’s own worship might really be motivated by the exact same reasoning that makes Eve bite the apple.

For religious believers, I think the best theological resolution to these parables of the theft of knowledge might actually be to simply accept the theft of knowledge and the sinful character of humans as other parts of divine intention. Isolated on its own, the sin of consuming God’s knowledge described in Genesis is evil in spiritual terms, because knowledge and power in Eden were utterly unnecessary and were acquired out of greed and defiance against God. On the other hand, our knowledge and power outside of paradise are necessary and are part of divine intention because God clearly left those stolen tools in our hands. Although, in Genesis, God was displeased by the human consumption of the fruit of knowledge, he then used that very sin as the basis for the “fallen” world humans would inhabit. The logic follows that humans must toil, using the very knowledge and instrumentality they had stolen, in order to actually earn that knowledge and instrumentality and justify such gifts. Are the extension of the human life span, a future cure for cancer, and improved agriculture all divinely sanctioned, just like toiling in the fields with primitive instruments?

In secular terms, the horrors and pains of our humanity and our world are regrettable, but they can be relieved if we atone by developing solutions to those scourges and having faith that our good-willed labour is going to pay off someday.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today

[1] Consider the recent science fiction movie, Prometheus, directed by Sir Ridley Scott: http://www.imdb.com/, retrieved 2013-FEB-18.
[2] Nick Bostrom, “A History of Transhumanist Thought”, Journal of Evolution and Technology, http://www.nickbostrom.com/, retrieved 18 February 2013
[3] Robin Hard (Translator), Apollodorus, “The Library of Greek Mythology,” (Oxford University Press) 1997, Page 36.
[4] Ibid, Page 185.
[5] Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, “Genesis and Patriarchy”, http://witcombe.sbc.edu/eve-women/4patriarchy.html, retrieved 18 February 2013
[6] Hard, op. cit. , Page 37
[7] Stanley Kubrick’s popular movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” approximates a scene with early hominids first taking up tools to defend themselves
[8] "Miscellaneous myths: The Deluge," http://www.sacred-texts.com/, retrieved 2013-FEB-18.
[9] Hard, op. cit. , Pages 81-83.
[10] Hard, op. cit. , Pages 140-141.
[11] “American scientist who created artificial life denies ‘playing god’”, The Telegraph, 21 May 2010, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/, retrieved 2013-FEB-13

Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally posted: 2013-MAR-04
Latest update: 2013-MAR-04
Author: Harry J. Bentham

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

Originally published on March 4 2013 in OCRT

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#PRODUCT: Best and cheapest flashlight torch on @Amazon?

Whether you are caught in a power cut or trekking in the night and exploring abandoned buildings (like we all know you do), there are three things that everyone looks for in a good flashlight and exponentially improving technology is here to help you.

1, lighter and smaller is best. 2, nobody wants the torch to empty the battery too quickly, or get dim as the battery is drained. 3, it should be durable.

Now that we know what we want, let us go through the best options found by CLUBOF.INFO at Amazon.

#3: UltraFire Cree

Equipped with 5 different modes and extremely bright, this torch will light up the whole place with blazing white LEDs, thus keeping night terrors away and helping you sleep at night. Its fantastic design can allow you to spot wildlife even 200 yards away in the dark, provided of course that you zoom the beam. In fact, this is bright enough that you should take care to keep it out of reach of kids, or they might be burning your retinas when you next look in their direction.

The UltraFire works effectively with just 3 AAA batteries. Its five modes include strobe light mode, and all reviews show that it is very easy to use. Reviewers say it is a good choice for camping and any other situations where a bright light might come in handy. Reasonably priced, this is one of the best options that can be recommended on Amazon.

Click for a closer view at Amazon, if you want to try this out.

#2: ProTac HL

With specifications showing that it has 600 lumens of blinding light and 253 meters of beam distance, the ProTac HL is the brightest in the ProTac series. It is advertised to offer the latest in power LED technology, and three different selectable programs that are entirely up to the user. Thanks to its unique technology, this is “one of the brightest tactical personal carry lights for its size”. It is recommended for “law enforcement, security, emergency medical services, sporting goods, hardware/tool, and consumer use.

Satisfied? Click to view at Amazon.

#1: Mini Cree

Now this is a lot of light from such a tiny device. CLUBOF.INFO sees this as the best option for just about any average user, offering a compelling combination of all three features you most want in a flashlight torch. In fact, I might just add this to my own basket right now (it has been reduced from $35.48 to $3.18 recently.)

This option brings you super mini size and a bright, blinding effect. The Mini Cree has a durable design and is waterproof. Still capable of remarkable power despite its tiny size, its output can come to a maximum of 300 lumens. It has an adjustable focus range for different usage, stretching to adjust its focus. Just pull the head of the flashlight, and it extends to adjust the zoom. This torch will utilize its batteries to the maximum, wasting nothing. It is suitable for everything from hunting to just about any emergency situation.

Above all, the Mini Cree is cost-effective, light, tiny and extremely powerful.

Just click through to get this cute, tiny flashlight.

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22 April 2014

#BOOK: The #Human #Race to the #Future by @LifeboatHQ Daniel Berleant (2013)

The Human Race to the Future: What Could Happen - and What to Do [2014 edition] is the scientific Lifeboat Foundation think tank’s publication first made available in 2013, covering a number of dilemmas fundamental to the human future and of great interest to all readers. Daniel Berleant’s approach to popularizing science is more entertaining than a lot of other science writers, and this book contains many surprises and useful knowledge.
Some of the science covered in The Human Race to the Future, such as future ice ages and predictions of where natural evolution will take us next, is not immediately relevant in our lives and politics, but it is still presented to make fascinating reading. The rest of the science in the book is very linked to society’s immediate future, and deserves great consideration by commentators, activists and policymakers because it is only going to get more important as the world moves forward.
The book makes many warnings and calls for caution, but also makes an optimistic forecast about how society might look in the future. For example, It is “economically possible” to have a society where all the basics are free and all work is essentially optional (a way for people to turn their hobbies into a way of earning more possessions) (p. 6-7).
A transhumanist possibility of interest in The Human Race to the Future is the change in how people communicate, including closing the gap between thought and action to create instruments (maybe even mechanical bodies) that respond to thought alone. The world may be projected to move away from keyboards and touchscreens towards mind-reading interfaces (p. 13-18). This would be necessary for people suffering from physical disabilities, and for soldiers in the arms race to improve response times in lethal situations.
To critique the above point made in the book, it is likely that drone operators and power-armor wearers in future armies would be very keen to link their brains directly to their hardware, and the emerging mind-reading technology would make it possible. However, there is reason to doubt the possibility of effective teamwork while relying on such interfaces. Verbal or visual interfaces are actually more attuned to people as a social animal, letting us hear or see our colleagues’ thoughts and review their actions as they happen, which allows for better teamwork. A soldier, for example, may be happy with his own improved reaction times when controlling equipment directly with his brain, but his fellow soldiers and officers may only be irritated by the lack of an intermediate phase to see his intent and rescind his actions before he completes them. Some helicopter and vehicle accidents are averted only by one crewman seeing another’s error, and correcting him in time. If vehicles were controlled by mind-reading, these errors would increasingly start to become fatal.
Reading and research is also an area that could develop in a radical new direction unlike anything before in the history of communication. The Human Race to the Future speculates that beyond articles as they exist now (e.g. Wikipedia articles) there could be custom-generated articles specific to the user’s research goal or browsing. One’s own query could shape the layout and content of each article, as it is generated. This way, reams of irrelevant information will not need to be waded through to answer a very specific query (p. 19-24).
Greatly similar to the same view I have written works expressing, the book sees industrial civilization as being burdened above all by too much centralization, e.g. oil refineries. This endangers civilization, and threatens collapse if something should later go wrong (p. 32, 33). For example, an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) resulting from a solar storm could cause serious damage as a result of the centralization of electrical infrastructure. Digital sabotage could also threaten such infrastructure (p. 34, 35).
The solution to this problem is decentralization, as “where centralization creates vulnerability, decentralization alleviates it” (p. 37). Solar cells are one example of decentralized power production (p. 37-40), but there is also much promise in home fuel production using such things as ethanol and biogas (p. 40-42). Beyond fuel, there is also much benefit that could come from decentralized, highly localized food production, even “labor-free”, and “using robots” (p. 42-45). These possibilities deserve maximum attention for the sake of world welfare, considering the increasing UN concerns about getting adequate food and energy supplies to the growing global population. There should not need to be a food vs. fuel debate, as the only acceptable solution can be to engineer solutions to both problems. An additional option for increasing food production is artificial meat, which should aim to replace the reliance on livestock. Reliance on livestock has an “intrinsic wastefulness” that artificial meat does not have, so it makes sense for artificial meat to become the cheapest option in the long run (p. 62-65). Perhaps stranger and more profound is the option of genetically enhancing humans to make better use of food and other resources (p. 271-274).
On a related topic, sequencing our own genome may be able to have “major impacts, from medicine to self-knowledge” (p. 46-51). However, the book does not contain mention of synthetic biology and the potential impacts of J. Craig Venter’s work, as explained in such works as Life at the Speed of Light. This could certainly be something worth adding to the story, if future editions of the book aim to include some additional detail.
At least related to synthetic biology is the book’s discussion of genetic engineering of plants to produce healthier or more abundant food. Alternatively, plants could be genetically programmed to extract metal compounds from the soil (p. 213-215). However, we must be aware that this could similarly lead to threats, such as “superweeds that overrun the world” similar to the flora in John Wyndam’s Day of the Triffids (p. 197-219). Synthetic biology products could also accidentally expose civilization to microorganisms with unknown consequences, perhaps even as dangerous as alien contagions depicted in fiction. On the other hand, they could lead to potentially unlimited resources, with strange vats of bacteria capable of manufacturing oil from simple chemical feedstocks. Indeed, “genetic engineering could be used to create organic prairies that are useful to humans” (p. 265), literally redesigning and upgrading our own environment to give us more resources.
The book advocates that politics should focus on long-term thinking, e.g. to deal with global warming, and should involve “synergistic cooperation” rather than “narrow national self-interest” (p. 66-75). This is a very important point, and may coincide with the complex prediction that nation states in their present form are flawed and too slow-moving. Nation-states may be increasingly incapable of meeting the challenges of an interconnected world in which national narratives produce less and less legitimate security thinking and transnational identities become more important.
Close to issues of security, The Human Race to the Future considers nuclear proliferation, and sees that the reasons for nuclear proliferation need to be investigated in more depth for the sake of simply by reducing incentives. To avoid further research, due to thinking that it has already been sufficiently completed, is “downright dangerous” (p. 89-94). Such a call is certainly necessary at a time when there is still hostility against developing countries with nuclear programs, and this hostility is simply inflammatory and making the world more dangerous. To a large extent, nuclear proliferation is inevitable in a world where countries are permitted to bomb one another because of little more than suspicions and fears.
Another area covered in this book that is worth celebrating is the AI singularity, which is described here as meaning the point at which a computer is sophisticated enough to design a more powerful computer than itself. While it could mean unlimited engineering and innovation without the need for human imagination, there are also great risks. For example, a “corporbot” or “robosoldier,” determined to promote the interests of an organization or defeat enemies, respectively. These, as repeatedly warned through science fiction, could become runaway entities that no longer listen to human orders (p. 83-88, 122-127).
A more distant possibility explored in Berleant’s book is the colonization of other planets in the solar system (p. 97-121, 169-174). There is the well-taken point that technological pioneers should already be trying to settle remote and inhospitable locations on Earth, to perfect the technology and society of self-sustaining settlements (Antarctica?) (p.106). Disaster scenarios considered in the book that may necessitate us moving off-world in the long term include a hydrogen sulfide poisoning apocalypse (p. 142-146) and a giant asteroid impact (p. 231-236)
The Human Race to the Future is a realistic and practical guide to the dilemmas fundamental to the human future. Of particular interest to general readers, policymakers and activists should be the issues that concern the near future, such as genetic engineering aimed at conservation of resources and the achievement of abundance.
By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

Originally published on April 22 in h+ Magazine

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#VIEWPOINT: Could #Mindreading #Technology Become Harmful?

The increasing detail at which human brains can be scanned is bringing the possibility of mind-reading appliances closer and closer. Such appliances, when complete, will be non-invasive and capable of responding to our thoughts as easily as they respond to keys on a keyboard. Indeed, as emphasized in the Lifeboat Foundation’s 2013 publication, The Human Race to the Future, there may soon be appliances that are operated by thought alone, and such technology may even replace our keyboards.
It is not premature to be concerned about possible negative outcomes from this, however positive the improvement in people’s lifestyles would be. In mind-reading appliances, there are two possible dangers that become immediately obvious.

Danger 1: “Thought police”

Brain-machine interfaces have many possibilities that deserve to be explored by science. However, there are also potentially dystopian threats presented by this technology. Even technologies like personal computers, which were seen as liberating to the individual and not aligned with powerful governments, have also become windows that regimes can use to spy on their citizens.
If hardware eventually allows words to appear on screens simply because of a thought, and the appliances are still vulnerable to hacking or government pressure, does this mean minds can be read without consent? It is very likely that any technology sensitive enough to respond to our thoughts could be programmed by a regime to intercept our thoughts. Even if our hardware was not originally designed to intercept thoughts on behalf of the authorities, the hardware would already meet the requirements for any program written to intercept thoughts for policing and political repression.
The potential negative consequences of mind-reading technology are equivalent to those of “uploading”, the futuristic concept of transferring one’s mind to computers as popularized by Singularitarians, usually following the ideas of Ray Kurzweil. There is a real threat that a technological singularity, as depicted in Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near, could strengthen a flawed social system by giving the authorities the intrusive ability to monitor what it sees as deviant or threatening thought.

Danger 2: Accidents

It may be that manual or verbal control, still depicted in science fiction as gifts that will be with us for many centuries and taken with humanity’s distant descendants to the stars, are just more practical than mind-reading. Even when limited to practical uses like controlling a vehicle or appliance, mind-reading may simply be destined to take away convenience rather than create convenience for the vast majority of its customers.
Even if driving a car by thought can be made safe, the use of aircraft or weapons systems via mind-reading would certainly be more problematic. When the stakes are high, most of us already agree that it is best not to entrust the responsibility to one person’s thoughts. By not using the body and voice when performing a task, and by not allowing others to intervene in your actions, the chances of an accident are probably always going to be raised. Although we like to think of our own brains as reliable and would probably be eager to try out mind-reading control over our vehicles, we do not think of others peoples’ brains that way, and would be troubled by the lack of any window for intervention in the other person’s actions.
Possible accidents when piloting a complex machine like a helicopter or manning a dangerous weapon may be averted by an experienced hand preventing someone from taking the wrong action. Considering this, old-fashioned manual controls may already be destined to be superior to any mind-reading controls and more attuned to the challenges faced by humans. We evolved to talk and physically handle challenges. Given this fact, removing all the remaining physical challenges of performing a task may only complicate your ability to perform effectively, or result in a higher tendency to err or take rash actions by subverting the ability of others to challenge you as you act.

Recommendation: we should avoid strengthening an undesirable social system

I hope that these objections to mind-reading may be proven invalid, with time. It is certainly likely that some people, such as those with physical disabilities, are going to rely on improvements in mind-reading technology to restore their lives. However, there has been, and continues to be, a very definite danger that a flawed social system and government are going to seek out technologies that can make them more and invulnerable, and this is one such technology. Any potential avenue of invulnerability of governments against their critics is unacceptable and should be challenged, just as the present excess in surveillance has been challenged.
It is important to keep reiterating that it is not the technology itself that is the source of a threat to humanity, but the myopic actions of the likely operators of that technology. Given the experience of government mass espionage, which began without the knowledge or consent of the public, concerns about other unannounced programs exploiting communication technology for “total information awareness” (TIA) are justified.
By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

Originally published on April 22 in Dissident Voice

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18 April 2014

#PRODUCT: 'I speak things into creation': everyone is #talking instead of #typing

In the near future, we might all have affordable hardware to transform our very thoughts to words on our screens. However, much of human thinking is bound up in the act of speaking or performing a task, so verbal interfaces may already be the more “advanced” option.

Writing and communicating verbally, being such an important part of human evolution, may significantly assist people, as they evaluate what they are saying and doing as it happens and thus improve the final creation. For this reason, it is possible that verbal interfaces are already destined to be more effective than brain-machine interfaces.

Does science fiction predict the best possible (and impossible) technology?

Science fiction works seem to have fantasized about the spread of touch-sensitive screens and verbal interfaces for computers long before these technologies became a reality. In the Star Trek series and its offshoots, for example, the protagonists commonly speak to the starship’s computer or use touch-sensitive screens. These may have inspired the real thing, as they were conceived as science fiction before they became science fact.

If fantasies about the (then) impossible have led to people imagining verbal control over computers and the spread of touch-sensitive screens, is it possible that these things represent a kind of optimum, and anything further may just be impractical? If so, the verbal interfaces and touch screens being adopted in recent years could be with humanity for centuries and stay largely unchanged.

Life is getting better

Talking text into creation is getting easier and more affordable all the time, and there is a reason why more and more people are using it. Just try out Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home 12.0, English, a cost-effective way of truly bringing your voice into your writing. Dragon does this with a greater level of recognition and accuracy than any other program before it.

Although people often turn to this option due to an injury or disability affecting their ability to use the keyboard, the program is also an effective method for others. All hands get tired on keyboards, and many people are far better at talking than they are at typing.

Speaking your words into your document can aid your task magnificently if you are drafting a rough outline of, say, an essay or story. If you have a lot of work to do, you may find it easier to “talk up” a rough plan of your work first, and then add flesh and increase the detail in your document later.

If you are struggling with “writer’s block”, don’t write. Just talk, because talking is so much easier and more natural a task to start than writing.

Could mind-reading appliances be dangerous?

A lot of what humans do is based on teamwork, where understanding the other person’s actions is key to being able to help them. Verbally interacting with machines might be especially effective if you are working with others, as people can then perceive one another’s actions accurately as they occur, and make suggestions or amendments.

This is one area in which future mind-reading appliances could possibly be at fault. If you were, for example, controlling a vehicle or typing a document with your mind, others on your team would be less available to see your mistakes and recommend changes. If it is a vehicle, for example an aircraft, the stakes are very high, so flight could likely never be entrusted to someone’s thoughts.

Speaking and touching are more natural tasks than typing or writing, and all of these are more natural tasks than simply thinking things into creation via the brain-machine interfaces that are becoming increasingly possible. As the path of extraordinary innovation continues, more questions and dilemmas with social consequences are bound to emerge and capture our attention.

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