Ice, On Ice

On an old thread at RealClimate, Onar Åm proposed pumping ocean water onto Antarctica to counteract sea level rise, and roughly calculated an energy cost of 35 GW to offset a 30cm rise over 100 years. (World energy usage is estimated at 1500 GW.) I have not seen this idea anywhere else. It sounds too good to be true. Is it reasonable? How far could we push it if we had cheap futuristic energy? As just one example, apparently it would take only about a 30m sea level drop to liberate Doggerland from its fascist oppressor of several millennia. By that time, I guess one worry is where you put all the extra ice.

Just Another Artifact?

Here are some academic writings arguing AI (or “robots“, a word that I feel misses the point and creates an atmosphere of bad sci-fi) isn’t as big a threat as you might think:

I might try a serious rebuttal later. In the mean time I’ll say this.

Earth is a little village. Time after time, the villagers have looked into the forest of the future and cried “wolf”. Sometimes it was a hamster. Sometimes it was an old shoe. Sometimes it was a piece of celery. Sometimes it was even an actual wolf.

Now, on the horizon, we can see things that are to wolves what MechaGodzilla is to a 5cm lizard. And the villagers are crying, “Lol, free farming equipment”. It would be one of funny and tragic if it weren’t the other.


Neven Sesardic, a philosopher, critiques the movie Gattaca:

Imagine that you are on an intercontinental flight and that immediately after take‐off
the pilot makes the following announcement: ‘Dear passengers, I hope you will join me in
celebrating a wonderful achievement of one of our navigators. His name is Vincent.
Vincent’s childhood dream was to become an airplane navigator but unfortunately he was
declared unfit for the job because of his serious heart condition. True, he does occasionally
have symptoms of heart disease like shortness of breath and chest pain, yet he is certainly
not the kind of person to be deterred from pursuing his dream so easily. Being quite
convinced that he is up to the task and that everything would be fine Vincent decided to
falsify his medical records. And indeed, with the clean bill of health readily forged and
attached to his application, he smoothly managed to get the plum job and is very proud to
take care of your safety today. Can we please get some applause for Vincent’s
accomplishment and perseverance in the face of adversity? And, by the way, keep your seat
belts tightly fastened during the entire flight.’

I somehow doubt that in such a situation you would clap enthusiastically, or that you
would vote for Vincent as the airline employee of the month. I bet that, on the contrary, you
would be outraged that he used deception and irresponsibly put other people’ lives at risk
in order to achieve his selfish goal. But why then do we react so differently when we are
confronted with that other Vincent, the main character in the movie Gattaca (1997), who
basically does the same thing. Why do we admire him? I will try to show that this is all the
work of silver screen magic.

(via Online Papers in Philosophy)

Nick Bostrom On the Future of Humanity

Nick Bostrom has a book chapter on the future of humanity online. There’s probably nothing new in it for readers of this blog, just a bunch of obvious claims that should be conventional wisdom but aren’t. I would probably identify as a transhumanist even if I became convinced human enhancement and related technologies were the spawn of the devil and should be suppressed wherever possible, simply because transhumanists seem to me like pretty much the only people that don’t consider it taboo to think seriously about the very-long-term future (and remember, nearly all of the future is very-long-term), the place of humans and technology in it, and how we could affect it positively.

Lovelockian Horrors

Just passing this on for humor value:

But he fears we won’t invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects “about 80%” of the world’s population to be wiped out by 2100. Prophets have been foretelling Armageddon since time began, he says. “But this is the real thing.”

Interviewers often remark upon the discrepancy between Lovelock’s predictions of doom, and his good humour. “Well I’m cheerful!” he says, smiling. “I’m an optimist. It’s going to happen.”

Humanity is in a period exactly like 1938-9, he explains, when “we all knew something terrible was going to happen, but didn’t know what to do about it”. But once the second world war was under way, “everyone got excited, they loved the things they could do, it was one long holiday … so when I think of the impending crisis now, I think in those terms. A sense of purpose – that’s what people want.”

When The Revolution Comes, You Will Be First Up Against The Margin

This Marginal Revolution post discusses carbon taxes, people who are for or against “a carbon tax”, whether “a carbon tax” is a good thing, and so on. But even though both are “a carbon tax”, the difference between a $100 carbon tax and a $10 carbon tax is much bigger than the difference between a $10 carbon tax and no carbon tax. It’s as if people think dollars come in two amounts, “none” and “some”. I doubt that this is true of Tyler Cowen, so maybe there’s something going on that I’m missing.