A recent anthology of “climate fiction”, Loosed Upon the World, projects climate change forward some years into dystopian scenarios. The editor, John Joseph Adams, asserts “Fiction is a powerful tool … perhaps [we can] humanize and illuminate the issue in ways that aren’t as easy to to with only science and cold equations.”
I have been an advocate of near-term science fiction, which I refer to as predictive fiction, as a tool to explore the “what if” scenarios that may result from technology, hopefully allowing us to avoid the negative impacts. Unfortunately this particular anthology is dealing with a current trajectory that is more an exploration of “when, what then?”
But some of the basic issues that we technologists face enter the spotlight, albeit one we may not like. In the forward, Paolo Bacigalupi has a painful message for us techies (many of whom fall into his category of “Techno-optimists”): “Engineers don’t grow up thinking about building a healthy soil eco-system, or trying to restore some estuary, … to turn people into better long-term planners, or better educated and informed citizens, or creating better civic societies.” I don’t fully agree with Paolo — it is more accurate to state that “engineers don’t get paid to …” and perhaps “the project requirements do not address …” And occasionally, we have technologists that resist the corporate momentum and try to get their employer to “do the right thing”. SSIT seeks to honor such courage with the “Carl Barus Award for Outstanding Service in the Public Interest” (nominations always welcomed.)
But back to the future, I mean the fiction. Paolo also observes “..imaginative literature is mythic. The kinds of stories we build, the way we encourage people to live into those myths and dream the future — those stories have power. Once we build this myth that the rocket-ship and the techno-fix is the solve for all our plights and problems, that’s when we get ourselves in danger. It’s the one fantasy that almost certainly guarantees our eventual self-destruction.”
I suspect we need a good dose of reality, perhaps in the guise of predictive fiction.
The elimination of Malaria (438,000 deaths per year) and a number of other deadly/debilitating diseases (Zika, dengue fever, yellow fever, etc.) is often a war against the mosquitoes that carry these diseases. Bill Gates has designated the mosquito “the deadliest animal in the world“, and fighting these diseases is a top priority for the Gates Foundation. Another wealthy ExMicrosoft wizard, Nathan Myhrvold, has developed a prototype laser to zap the bugs selectively. And a recent Wall St. Journal article suggests a variety of genetic engineering attacks that are in development. With the spread of these diseases beyond their traditional “range”, their impact will increase as will the needs of a broader range of countries.
There are a number of Technology/Society impacts of interest here. First, any objective for which there are multiple, diverse approaches that are likely to reach the objective are likely to be accomplished — don’t bet on the bugs here (I know, “Jurassic Park” seeks to make the point that “Nature will Find a Way” … and that is often true, but humans have been very effective at driving the extinction of so many species that geologists have declared this a new age, the Anthropocene.)
Second, if anyone wonders how to change the world, the answer clearly is technology — from DDT impregnated sleeping nets, lasers and genetic engineering we are talking tech— and “engineering thinking”. (My granddaughter has a T shirt: front side “A-Stounding”, back side “Stoundings: persons who like to solve problems rather than cause them.” ) I call those folks Technologists. Bugs Beware — you have a whole generation of Robotics Competition and Mindcraft modders headed your way.
Third — is this a good idea? Note, there are significant variations. Some approaches target just one species (Aedes aegypti, at least outside of it’s forest habitat origin), others target a wider range of species, others focused areas.) One recurrent human failure is anticipating consequences of our actions. What animals depend on these critters for dinner, and so forth up the food chain. What plants depend on these for pollination? We abound in ignorance on such matters, and we find it easier to fund the research for eradication than for understanding.
So .. should we eliminate the deadliest animal on earth? (let me qualify, other than Homo Sapiens.)
Well, maybe not. “What Happens When GPS Can’t Find You?” is a commercial concern raised by a Wall St. Journal article. Needless to say a business in today’s world is at risk if the GPS location associated with it is wrong, or just the path that is required to get there is not correct. Consumers at best are frustrated, and may simply write off that operation. In this case it is often not the business’s fault, but one in the GPS location service, or route mapping.
Behind this is a more pervasive and serious problem. Often there is no way to “fix” these problems from the perspective of the consumer or the an affected business. You may know the data is wrong, the route doesn’t work, and correcting the error(s) is not a straight forward path, and certainly not easy enough that the “crowd-source” solution would work. That is, many people might find the error, and if there were a simple way to “report” the problem, after the “nth” report, an automated fix (or review) could be triggered.
This is not just GPS problem. I’ve found many web sites are validating addresses against equally flawed sources (perhaps even the USPS). I can send mail to my daughter (and she gets it), I’ve even seen the mailbox on the side of her street. By one of the web sites I used to deliver items to her location is rejecting the address as “not known”… and of course there is no way to report the error. A related problem is entering an address in “just the right way” — am I in “Unit A101” or “Apt. A 101″ or maybe Apt A101”, note that the delivery folks can handle all of these, but the online ordering system can’t. Technology design consideration: track such ‘failures’, and after some number, check the validation process, or better have a button such as “I know this is right, so please update the database”.
Online operations are losing business, as well as brick-and-mortar activities due to online “presumptions” of correctness .. and no corrective processes available. It’s one thing when the word processor marks your spelling as “wrong”, but lets you keep it anyway. It is another when medications or essential services can’t reach your location because the GPS or delivery address is not in the database, or is listed incorrectly.
SSIT was honored with an opening address from Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, at the 2015 IEEE-SSIT International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS ‘15) on November 11 in Dublin, Ireland. It is the first time a head of state has addressed an ISTAS event. Full coverage of the conference will appear in the January 2016 SSIT e-newsletter and on line at ieeessit.org. The President’s remarks will be published in the March 2016 issue of T&S Magazine. A Special Issue on ISTAS ‘15 will appear in the September 2016 issue of T&S, and will be guest edited by ISTAS ‘15 conference chair, Paul Cunningham.
4 President’s Message
Coping with Machines Greg Adamson Book Reviews 5Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Mission 7Alan Turing: The Enigma 10 Editorial
Resistance is Not Futile, nil desperandum MG Michael and Katina Michael 13 Letter to the Editor
Technology and Change Kevin Hu 14 Opinion
Privacy Nightmare: When Baby Monitors Go Bad Katherine Albrecht and Liz Mcintyre 15 From the Editor’s Desk
Robots Don’t Pray Eugenio Guglielmelli 17 Leading Edge
Unmanned Aircraft: The Rising Risk of Hostile Takeover Donna A. Dulo 20 Opinion
Automatic Tyranny, Re-Theism, and the Rise of the Reals Sand Sheff 23 Creating “The Norbert Wiener Media Project” J. Mitchell Johnson 25 Interview
A Conversation with Lazar Puhalo 88 Last Word
Technological Expeditions and Cognitive Indolence Christine Perakslis
SPECIAL ISSUE: Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century
33_ Guest Editorial Philip Hall, Heather A. Love and Shiro Uesugi 35_ Norbert Wiener: Odd Man Ahead Mary Catherine Bateson 37_ The Next Macy Conference: A New Interdisciplinary Synthesis Andrew Pickering 39_ Ubiquitous Surveillance and Security Bruce Schneier 41_ Reintroducing Wiener: Channeling Norbert in the 21st Century Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman 44_ Securing the Exocortex* Tamara Bonaci, Jeffrey Herron, Charles Matlack, and Howard Jay Chizeck 52_ Wiener’s Prefiguring of a Cybernetic Design Theory* Thomas Fischer 60_ Norbert Wiener and the Counter-Tradition to the Dream of Mastery D. Hill 64_ Down the Rabbit Hole* Laura Moorhead
74_ Opening Pandora’s 3D Printed Box Phillip Olla 81_ Application Areas of Additive Manufacturing N.J.R. Venekamp and H.Th. Le Fever
Papers (5,000 – 6,000 words) using the ISTAS2015 Template must be registered on the conference portal by the deadline of 31 May 2015. Workshop proposals have a 8 June 2015 deadline (see site for details)
Sustainability has been defined as: the pursuit of environmentally sound development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the future. [Source: UN Document A/42/427: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, August 1987]
Abstract: We explore in this article some of the emerging opportunities, and associated challenges, that the digital age offers for public-domain verification of compliance with international treaties. The increase in data volume, in ever-improving connectivity, and the relentless evolution towards ubiquitous sensors all provide a rapidly changing landscape for technical compliance verification of international treaties. From satellites to cell phones, advances in technology afford new opportunities for verifying compliance with international agreements, on topics ranging from arms control to environmental and public health issues. We will identify some of the engineering challenges that must be overcome in order to realize these new verification opportunities.