Category Archives: EARTH WATCH

Our enemies are human: that’s why we want to kill them

BOOK REVIEW

Virtuous Violence, Authors: Alan Fiske and Tage Rai.
Out of Character, Authors: David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo.

By Tage Rai, Piercarlo Valdesolo and Jesse Graham – Ever since Rohingya militants attacked Myanmar police outposts, resulting in a dozen deaths in August 2017, Myanmar security forces have begun a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

This process of dehumanisation has been invoked to explain acts of violence ranging from the Holocaust and the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib to the ethnic violence against the Rohingya people. However, our recent research suggests that this explanation is mistaken.

To understand the active desire to cause pain and suffering in another person, we have to look to a counter-intuitive source: human morality.

We show in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2017, dehumanization allows us to commit instrumental violence, wherein people do not desire to harm victims, but knowingly harm them anyway in order to achieve some other objective. However, dehumanization does not cause us to commit moral violence, where people actively desire to harm victims who deserve it. We find that moral violence emerges only when perpetrators see victims as capable of thinking, experiencing sensations and having moral emotions. In other words, when perpetrators perceive their victims as human.

What we found was that dehumanizing victims predicts support for instrumental violence, but not for moral violence. For example, Americans who saw Iraqi civilians as less human were more likely to support drone strikes in Iraq. In this case, no one wants to kill innocent civilians, but if they die as collateral damage in the pursuit of killing ISIS terrorists, dehumanizing them eases our guilt. Dehumanization might not cause a white supremacist to kill, but it does enable the rest of us to stand aside and do nothing. more>

Updates from Boeing

Boeing and subsidiary Liquid Robotics team up to explore deeper possibilities for autonomous systems
BY Dan Raley – Created by Boeing subsidiary Liquid Robotics, this maritime innovation known as the Wave Glider was originally intended to record the songs of migrating whales. When integrated with Boeing’s advanced sensors for defense applications, the Wave Glider can locate undersea vehicles at substantial distances, hunt for mines, monitor land radar, and gather and relay data to other systems, all while operating on solar and wave power for months at a time.

“It’s a hidden treasure,” said Jim Bray, Boeing autonomous systems technology integrator in St. Louis. “There’s a lot going on under the sea.”

Covered with fiberglass panels and small antennas topside and tethered to a wing-like propulsion system beneath it called a sub, the Wave Glider communicates by low-Earth-orbit satellite through a command-and-control unit and surface radio modem, similarly to someone sending a text message by smartphone.

“It’s revolutionary stuff,” said Scott Willcox, Liquid Robotics technology lead. “It’s like reinventing the sail — fundamentally, it’s a new way to get around the ocean. What you can do with it is almost limitless.”

In Ventura, Calif., in July, seven months after Boeing acquired Liquid Robotics, the companies teamed to test new Wave Glider capabilities in the ocean that would be presented to a customer for the first time. The testing demonstrated how transponders placed on the ocean floor by the Wave Glider conceivably could provide an oceanic GPS. An unmanned undersea vehicle in need of updating its location could use these underwater acoustics to determine where it is and never have to surface. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Imaging Technique Unlocks the Secrets of 17th Century Artists
By John Toon – The secrets of 17th century artists can now be revealed, thanks to 21st century signal processing. Using modern high-speed scanners and the advanced signal processing techniques, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are peering through layers of pigment to see how painters prepared their canvasses, applied undercoats, and built up layer upon layer of paint to produce their masterpieces.

The images they produce using the terahertz scanners and the processing technique – which was mainly developed for petroleum exploration – provide an unprecedented look at how artists did their work three centuries ago. The level of detail produced by this terahertz reflectometry technique could help art conservators spot previous restorations of paintings, highlight potential damage – and assist in authenticating the old works.

Beyond old art, the nondestructive technique also has potential applications for detecting skin cancer, ensuring proper adhesion of turbine blade coatings and measuring the thickness of automotive paints.

Without the signal processing, researchers might only be able to identify layers 100 to 150 microns thick. But using the advanced processing, they can distinguish layers just 20 microns thick. Paintings done before the 18th century have been challenging to study because their paint layers tend to be thin, Citrin said. Individual pigments cannot be resolved by the technique, though the researchers hope to be able to obtain that information in the future. more>

Related>

Humanity’s fight against climate change is failing. One technology can change that.

By Akshat Rathi – The optimism surrounding renewable energy masks some harsh realities. Despite decades of progress, about 80% of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels—the same as in the 1970s. Since then, we’ve kept adding renewable capacity, but it hasn’t outpaced the growth of the world’s population and its demand for energy.

Today, about 30% of total world energy (and 40% of the world’s electricity) is supplied by coal, which emits more carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced than nearly any other fuel source.

The hugely valuable oil and gas industries, accounting for 33% and 24% of total world energy use, respectively, are also entrenched. “Based on what we know now, we would need major technological breakthroughs or weak world growth, including for large emerging and developing economies, for oil demand to peak in the next 20 years,” says Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti of the International Monetary Fund. Despite the growth in electric vehicles, most oil companies agree that peak oil is “not in sight.”

If you’re still not convinced, consider this: there are a handful of industries essential to the modern way of life that generate large amounts of carbon dioxide as a side product of the chemistry of their manufacturing process. These carbon-intensive industries—including cement, steel, and ethanol—produce about 20% of all global emissions.

If we want to keep using these products and reach zero emissions, the only option is to have these industries deploy carbon capture. more>

Why The World Is Getting Better And Why Hardly Anyone Knows It

By Steve Denning – Read the news and you can see that the world is going to hell in hand-basket—and fast! Terrorism, nuclear weapons, economic stagnation, social unrest, autocratic leaders, structural unemployment, deskilling, growing hopelessness, the opioid epidemic, increasing inequality, xenophobia, economic migrations, recessions, financial bubbles and crashes, recessions, depressions—the list goes on.

And yet the facts show otherwise. In a powerful study entitled “The short history of global living conditions and why it matters that we know it” by Max Roser, an economist at the University of Oxford and the founder of Our World in Data, we learn that on virtually all of the key dimensions of human material well-being—poverty, literacy, health, freedom, and education—the world is an extraordinarily better place than it was just a couple of centuries ago.

  1. Poverty – 1950 75% of the world were still living in extreme poverty. But today, those living in extreme poverty are now less than 10%.
  2. Literacy – world population that is literate over the last 2 centuries has gone from a tiny elite to a world where 8 out of 10 people can read and write.
  3. Health – In 1800, more than 40% of the world’s newborns died before the age of five. Now only a tiny fraction die before the age of five.
  4. Freedom – In the 19th Century almost everyone lived in autocratically ruled countries. Today more than half the global population lives in a democracy.
  5. Population – Global life expectancy doubled just over the last hundred years.
  6. Education – All these gains were enabled by improvements in knowledge and education. There will never be more children on the planet than today.

more>

Democratizing the digital

BOOK REVIEW

The Egyptians: A Radical History of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution, Author: Jack Shenker.
Hope in the Dark, Author: Rebecca Solnit.
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Author: Cathy O’Neil.

By Jack Shenker – Digital technologies are changing politics as we know it, but not because of some inherent or immutable characteristic that stands apart from the world in which they were created. Instead, these technologies have helped an underlying condition, namely growing discontent at marketization – the privatizing of ever more goods, services and social interactions, and the ideologies that justify that process – to find meaningful expression in the formal political arena. The result has been successive electoral shockwaves that have shattered long-held certainties and splintered the political spectrum.

Ironically, digital technologies are capable of playing this role precisely because in reality their own development and logic owes so much to market forces. Behind the advertising copy, Apple, Amazon and the other tech giants share far more with the Enclosure Acts of the Tudor period than they do with the common land those acts so violently eroded. Facebook, Twitter and co are simultaneously creatures of a neoliberal orthodoxy and engines of its crisis.

But contained within this irony is a kernel of hope: not only that such technologies are not necessarily antithetical to the sort of politics we should be fighting for – a sort that places the ideals of Tahrir above those of the Egypt it stood against – but also that they could yet play a vital role in rejuvenating them.

Our struggle must be to find new ways to harness digital technologies to a stronger, more robust and inclusionary democracy: one that relies neither on thin forms of representation nor the false comforts of rule-by-plebiscite. more>

Do civilizations collapse?

BOOK REVIEW

Understanding Collapse: Ancient History and Modern Myths, Author: Guy D Middleton.

By Guy D Middleton – In After Collapse (2006), Glenn Schwartz compiled a useful list of circumstances in which archaeologists might identify collapse: ‘the fragmentation of states into smaller political entities; the partial abandonment or complete desertion of urban centers, along with the loss or depletion of their centralizing functions; the breakdown of regional economic systems; and the failure of civilizational ideologies’.

We also need to think about what we apply the term ‘collapse’ to – what exactly was it that collapsed? Very often, it’s suggested that civilizations collapse, but this isn’t quite right. It is more accurate to say that states collapse. States are tangible, identifiable ‘units’ whereas civilization is a more slippery term referring broadly to sets of traditions.

Looking around us, we can see the trouble we are in, we can see the threats to our overpopulated world, to our overly complex and thus increasingly vulnerable society and way of life.

We do not need to make other peoples’ histories into lessons for ourselves. When the evidence for environmentally driven collapses in the past is so weak, and the evidence for contact-era atrocities so strong, it is a wonder that the former is the focus and the lesson, rather than the latter. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves what exactly we should be learning from history. more>

War once helped build nations, now it destroys them

BOOK REVIEW

Voices from Iraq, Author: Mark Kukis.

By Mark Kukis – Organized violence – the term war boils down to – has long been a unifier of peoples.

Orchestrating raids on neighboring Nubian settlements took coordination among villagers, as did fending them off. Attackers and defenders alike had to marshal resources, make plans and build trust among one another in order to fight effectively. Cooperation, mutual dependence, trust – even in killing others – are building blocks of political order, the foundational elements of states.

Since the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), wars have tended to be mainly destructive forces for nations.

Countries amid the throes of war now seem to be breaking down rather than rising up. In countries today ranging from Libya to Myanmar, conflict is undermining governments, and threatening to undo nations much as strife tore apart the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. In Iraq, a war initially launched 14 years ago by the United States to save the country has gone on and on, and become a source of the nation’s internal decay.

Meanwhile, South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, is in a downward spiral of internal violence. The country won its independence from Sudan after more than two decades of fighting. Patterns in history suggest that South Sudan should have emerged from that ordeal unified despite the many challenges the country faced as a young nation. Instead, it essentially collapsed amid infighting upon independence, launching yet another war that has displaced more than 2 million of its 12.5 million people.

The experience of South Sudan is the new norm. more>

How Technological Advancements Will Shape the Future of the Battlefield

BOOK REVIEW

Future War, Author: Robert H. Latiff.

By Robert H. Latiff – Battles of the future will not necessarily be fought on battlefields as we know them, but in cities, in ungoverned areas, in cyberspace, and in the realm of the electromagnetic spectrum. Even outer space will be a contested environment.

On the future battlefield, soldiers will look, and be, different. Technology will be employed, first externally, to give the soldier greater protection, greater situational awareness, and greater stamina. Some military pilots are already being given legally approved stimulants to increase their alertness during lengthy air missions. Function-enhancing drugs will become more common. Soldiers’ bodies will be modified for greater efficiency. They are likely to be artificially enhanced with exoskeletons to improve strength, drugs to improve cognition or alter memory, and surgery to implant microelectronic neurological aids.

Battles will not be well defined temporally. They will be spread out in space and time, and the adversary will rarely be readily recognizable. Battles may be subtle and take place over long periods, or they may be instantaneous and devastating.

We will fight over a larger, more diffuse, battlefield, in small units of highly specialized soldiers. In some cases, the soldiers may never have to leave their base to unleash destruction on an enemy. more>

Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it

BOOK REVIEW

The Territories of Science and Religion, Author: Peter Harrison.
Narratives of Secularization, Editor: Peter Harrison.
The Future of Christianity, Author: David Martin.

By Peter Harrison – Scientists, intellectuals and social scientists expected that the spread of modern science would drive secularization – that science would be a secularizing force. But that simply hasn’t been the case. If we look at those societies where religion remains vibrant, their key common features are less to do with science, and more to do with feelings of existential security and protection from some of the basic uncertainties of life in the form of public goods.

The US is arguably the most scientifically and technologically advanced society in the world, and yet at the same time the most religious of Western societies.

As in India and Turkey, secularism is actually hurting science.

In brief, global secularization is not inevitable and, when it does happen, it is not caused by science. Further, when the attempt is made to use science to advance secularism, the results can damage science.

The conflict model of science and religion offered a mistaken view of the past and, when combined with expectations of secularization, led to a flawed vision of the future. Secularization theory failed at both description and prediction.

The real question is why we continue to encounter proponents of science-religion conflict.

Religion is not going away any time soon, and science will not destroy it. more> https://goo.gl/ZjLZJx