Human Evolution & Intelligence StudiesTrending Away From Reductionism

April 07 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Biotechnology   Year: General   Rating: 17 Hot

How strong are your genes? How smart are you? People have traditionally estimated answers to these questions based on genetic surveys and IQ Tests, which can provide valuable answers, but stop well short of factoring in the system(s) surrounding us. This failure to account for environmental effects and group dynamics ultimately caps their utility when it come to the fundamental future-related questions we all seek to answer, like “How probable is it that I/we will survive?” or “How likely is it that I/we will thrive?”

But don’t worry, we’re getting better at quantifying our system all the time. Right now, we may be on the verge of a perspective shift that will help us to fill in a few more gaps and better our systems definitions. Both human intelligence and evolutionary studies appear poised for a due emphasis shift from reductionism (the focus on individual human agents and single brains) to a more holistic (the focus on large groups and the surrounding bio/info/tech structures) approach.

Cognitive theorist Jim Flynn, founder of the Flynn Effect, argues that it is impossible to properly measure intelligence without considering a combination of genetic and environmental effects. He and William Dickens of the Brookings Institution have developed a new model, which demonstrates that environmental factors play a much larger role in the evolution of cognition than previously thought. They theorize about how “industrialization’s rising cognitive demands, at work and leisure, could in fact be the kind of widespread (but not necessarily large), steadily changing environmental factor that could account for the higher IQ scores across so many nations.” (cont.)

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The Race to Connect Africa: Apple vs. Microsoft

May 19 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Economics   Year: 2009   Rating: 9 Hot

With the rapid rise of the iPhone and Microsoft’s announcement that it will back the One Laptop per Child initiative, a massive battle for the African computer market may be shaping up sooner than expected.

The AP reports a new deal between Apple and cell provider Orange that will bring the iPhone to “Austria, Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Jordan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Switzerland and African markets later this year.”

At the same time, Microsoft has finally agreed to provide Windows to the now promising OLPC initiative after years of ridiculing the then far-fetched project.

Though the iPhone presently costs more than a OLPC PC, $399 vs. $100, that price is due to sharply drop (perhaps to the $100 -$200 range) with the imminent release of the new 3G iPhone, which itself may be priced at just $199 if rumors about a hefty AT&T subsidy prove correct.

While lack of comm infrastructure and politics will certainly remain the primary barriers to diffusion, it looks as though these low-cost yet high-value products, driven by large companies getting accustomed to rapidly exploding markets in which first-mover advantage is critical, may catalyze a perfect storm for connectivity in under-developed nations, most notably African countries. (cont.)

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US Military Fights Toxic Weapon Labs with Incendiary Fireballs

November 13 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Security   Year: 2010   Rating: 3

The Pentagon is being very hush-hush about it, but a secret weapon we posses in the US military is a solid rocket-fuel incendiary fireball. Meant to take out chemical weapons labs or underground bunkers, these fireballs burn up anything located inside the structure without blowing it up. “These are hollow spheres, made of rubberized rocket fuel; when ignited, they propel themselves around at random at high speed, bouncing off the walls and breaking through doors, turning the entire building into an inferno.” If there’s one thing that could ruin a persons day, it’s a bunch of solid rocket-fuel fireballs bouncing around in a small area.

Due to the secretive nature of the new weapon, not much is being said, but Wired, who initially reported the story, says that it’s quite possible the fireballs (named “CrashPAD” and “Shredder”) have been put into some sort of low-rate production. One wonders if this was the secret military weapon Bob Woodward was talking about a few months ago.

Does this have a future in the US Military?

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Non-Lethal Weapons Currently in Use or Development

September 24 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 2

Here are some nifty gadgets people are working on in order to limit casualties in war and even at home. Check out my article on how these devices are killing the art of protesting here.

The StunRay™: Coming in a hand held device (range about 100 meters) or vehicle/ship mounted (range about 500 meters), this device delivers a blinding light that incapacitates a person anywhere from five seconds to three minutes. “Application of the 2-second or less stun beam causes a photo-chemical reaction resulting in temporary loss of sight and neural signal overload of the optic nerves.” The best thing about it? Full recovery takes 15-20 minutes, it only requires a battery, and it allows someone to use it from a great distance, keeping them from the threat.

The Dazzler: Another light weapon, it was used in the British and Argentinian war over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas for you Argentinians, sorry you lost) against low-level flying aircraft. The devices temporarily blind and disorient those targeted. Although hated by many advocacy groups due to it’s potential to cause permanent damage, they have even been issued in Iraq to soldiers at checkpoints in order to find a less lethal way of stopping cars that fail to follow directions.

The Vortex Ring Gun: Basically, an explosion is made in a barrel which accelerates air through the barrel towards whatever you’re pointing it at (kinda like in kung-fu movies where a guy stops his punch a few inches from the victim but the air from his fist still knocks the victim down). “The weapon has demonstrated its capability to knock-down a 75kg man-sized mannequin from a distance of 10 meters.” This allows people to get mowed down by air (a modern day fire hose?). And while injuries will probably occur, it’s still fairly non-lethal.

Long Range Acoustic Device: Developed by NORUS Crisis Assessment and Intervention (NORUSCAI) in the UK, you may have heard them in the news a few years back when the ship Seabourn Spirit beat off Somali pirates with their own LRAD. “After dragging his injured colleague Som Bahadur Gurung to safety, he saw off the heavily armed mercenaries by hitting them with a hi-tech sonic cannon.” The device has the ability to rupture ear drums of those it’s directed at. If it can beat away pirates, that is one tough machine.

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