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Feb 6, 2009

Nuclear Secrets Smuggler A.Q. Khan is Now Free

Posted by in category: nuclear weapons

According to the Associated Press, Abdul Qadeer Khan is now free to “move around” and is no longer under house arrest (where he was confined since 2004).

“In January 2004, Khan confessed to having been involved in a clandestine international network of nuclear weapons technology proliferation from Pakistan to Libya, Iran and North Korea. On February 5, 2004, the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, announced that he had pardoned Khan, who is widely seen as a national hero.” (Source)

For more information about nuclear proliferation, see:

See also this recent post by Michael Anissimov, the Fundraising Director of the Lifeboat Foundation.

Jan 27, 2009

Finding a Cure for Collective Neurosis in the Attention Economy

Posted by in categories: economics, existential risks, futurism, media & arts

(This essay has been published by the Innovation Journalism Blog — here — Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum — here — and the EJC Magazine of the European Journalism Centre — here)

Thousands of lives were consumed by the November terror attacks in Mumbai.

“Wait a second”, you might be thinking. “The attacks were truly horrific, but all news reports say around two hundred people were killed by the terrorists, so thousands of lives were definitely not consumed.”

You are right. And you are wrong.

Continue reading “Finding a Cure for Collective Neurosis in the Attention Economy” »

Jan 16, 2009

Could Spider Silk Save Your Life?

Posted by in categories: ethics, military, nanotechnology

Sometimes what may save your life can come from the most unsuspecting places. Then sometimes, what can save your life in one circumstance may be highly risky, or at least technologically premature, in another. Lifeboat Foundation is about making those distinctions regarding emerging technologies and knowing the difference.

MIT scientists from the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies announced in January 2007 they had reached an elusive engineering milestone. They had successfully created a synthetic material with the same properties of spider silk.1 The combination of elasticity and strength of spider silk has been a long sought after target for synthetic manufacturing for improving materials as diverse as packaging, clothing, and medical devices. Using tiny clay disks approximately one billionth of a meter, these nanocrystals combined with rubber polymer create the stretchy but strong polymer nanocomposite.

The use of nanocomposites for the production of packaging materials or clothing seems to be a relatively safe and non-controversial because materials remain outside the body. The United States military has already indicated, according to one source, their desire to use the material for military uniforms and to improve packaging for those lovely-tasting MREs.2 In fact, this is why the Army-funded Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology is supporting the research—to develop pliable but tough body armor for soldiers in combat. Moreover, imagine, for example, a garbage bag that could hold an anvil without breaking. The commercial applications may be endless—but there should be real concern regarding the ways in which these materials might be introduced into human bodies.

Although this synthetic spider silk may conjure up images of one day being able to have the capabilities of Peter Parker or unbreakable, super-strength bones, there are some real concerns regarding the potential applications of this technology, particularly for medical purposes. Some have argued that polymer nanocomposite materials could be used as the mother of all Band-Aids or nearly indestructible stents. For hundreds of years, spider silks have been thought to have great potential for wound covering. In general, nanocomposite materials have been heralded for medical applications as diverse as bone grafts to antimicrobial surfaces for medical instruments.

Continue reading “Could Spider Silk Save Your Life?” »

Jan 15, 2009

What should be at the center of the U.S. stimulus package

Posted by in categories: existential risks, geopolitics, habitats, lifeboat, space, sustainability

The projected size of Barack Obama’s “stimulus package” is heading north, from hundreds of billions of dollars into the trillions. And the Obama program comes, of course, on top of the various Bush administration bailouts and commitments, estimated to run as high as $8.5 trillion.

Will this money be put to good use? That’s an important question for the new President, and an even more important question for America. The metric for all government spending ultimately comes down to a single query: What did you get for it?

If such spending was worth it, that’s great. If the country gets victory in war, or victory over economic catastrophe, well, obviously, it was worthwhile. The national interest should never be sacrificed on the altar of a balanced budget.

So let’s hope we get the most value possible for all that money–and all that red ink. Let’s hope we get a more prosperous nation and a cleaner earth. Let’s also hope we get a more secure population and a clear, strategic margin of safety for the United States. Yet how do we do all that?

Continue reading “What should be at the center of the U.S. stimulus package” »

Jan 13, 2009

The New Rise of Online Health Tracking

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, futurism, open source

Tracking your health is a growing phenomenon. People have historically measured and recorded their health using simple tools: a pencil, paper, a watch and a scale. But with custom spreadsheets, streaming wifi gadgets, and a new generation of people open to sharing information, this tracking is moving online. Pew Internet reports that 70–80% of Internet users go online for health reasons, and Health 2.0 websites are popping up to meet the demand.

David Shatto, an online health enthusiast, wrote in to CureTogether, a health-tracking website, with a common question: “I’m ‘healthy’ but would be interested in tracking my health online. Not sure what this means, or what a ‘healthy’ person should track. What do you recommend?”

There are probably as many answers to this question as there are people who track themselves. The basic measure that apply to most people are:
- sleep
- weight
- calories
- exercise
People who have an illness or condition will also measure things like pain levels, pain frequency, temperature, blood pressure, day of cycle (for women), and results of blood and other biometric tests. Athletes track heart rate, distance, time, speed, location, reps, and other workout-related measures.

Another answer to this question comes from Karina, who writes on Facebook: “It’s just something I do, and need to do, and it’s part of my life. So, in a nutshell, on most days I write down what I ate and drank, how many steps I walked, when I went to bed and when I woke up, my workouts and my pain/medication/treatments. I also write down various comments about meditative activities and, if it’s extreme, my mood.”

Continue reading “The New Rise of Online Health Tracking” »

Dec 30, 2008

Globally Networked Anarchy (#Griot)

Posted by in category: defense

The year 2008 saw the hype fall away from virtual worlds but in contrast social networks are going from strength to strength and are being increasingly used as protest vehicles around the world. While the utility of Facebook and Twitter (using the #griot descriptor to report on the riots in Greece) have been widely reported upon some of the more interesting and interactive information can still be found in Second Life, which bodes well for the future of virtual worlds. Full report and links relating to this phenomena over at the MetaSecurity blog. Whether it be web-forums, Facebook or Second Life, virtual communities will continue to be an increasingly important part of the National Security picture in 2009.

Dec 9, 2008

Why antropic principle stops to defend us

Posted by in categories: existential risks, futurism, space

In the volume “Global catastrophic risks” you could find excellent article of Milan Circovic “Observation selection effects and global catastrophic risks”, where he shows that we can’t use information from past records to estimating future rate of global catastrophes.
This has one more consequence which I investigate in my article: “Why antropic principle stops to defend us. Observation selection, future rate of natural disasters and fragility of our environment” — that is we could be in the end of the long period of stability, and some catastrophes may be long overdue and what is most important we could underestimate fragility of our environment which could be on the verge of bifurcation. It is because origination of intellectual life on the Earth is very rare event and it means that some critical parameters may lay near their bounds of stability and small anthropogenic influences could start catastrophic process in this century.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/8729933/Why-antropic-principle-sto…vironment–

Why antropic principle stops to defend us
Observation selection, future rate of natural disasters and fragility of our environment.

Alexei Turchin,
Russian Transhumanist movement

Continue reading “Why antropic principle stops to defend us” »

Nov 26, 2008

What are the Risks of Failure of Nuclear Deterrence?

Posted by in categories: existential risks, geopolitics, nuclear weapons

Nuclear warheads

Martin Hellman is a professor at Stanford, one of the co-inventors of public-key cryptography, and the creator of NuclearRisks.org. He has recently published an excellent essay about the risks of failure of nuclear deterrence: Soaring, Cryptography and Nuclear Weapons. (also available on PDF)

I highly recommend that you read it, along with the other resources on NuclearRisks.org, and also subscribe to their newsletter (on the left on the frontpage).

There are also chapters on Nuclear War and Nuclear Terrorism in Global Catastrophic Risks (intro freely available as PDF here).

Continue reading “What are the Risks of Failure of Nuclear Deterrence?” »

Nov 25, 2008

Giant planets ignition

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, existential risks, futurism, geopolitics, nanotechnology, nuclear weapons, rants, space

I wrote an essay on the theme of the possibility of artificial initiation and fusion explosion of giants planets and other objects of Solar system. It is not a scientific article, but an atempt to collect all nesessary information about this existential risk. I conclude that it could not be ruled out as technical possibility, and could be made later as act of space war, which could clean entire Solar system.

Where are some events which are very improbable, but which consequence could be infinitely large (e.g. black holes on LHC.) Possibility of nuclear ignition of self-containing fusion reaction in giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn which could lead to the explosion of the planet, is one of them.

Inside the giant planets is thermonuclear fuel under high pressure and at high density. This density for certain substances is above (except water, perhaps) than the density of these substances on Earth. Large quantities of the substance would not have fly away from reaction zone long enough for large energy relize. This fuel has never been involved in fusion reactions, and it remained easy combustible components, namely, deuterium, helium-3 and lithium, which have burned at all in the stars. In addition, the subsoil giant planets contain fuel for reactions, which may prompt an explosive fire — namely, the tri-helium reaction (3 He 4 = C12) and for reactions to the accession of hydrogen to oxygen, which, however, required to start them much higher temperature. Substance in the bowels of the giant planets is a degenerate form of a metal sea, just as the substance of white dwarfs, which regularly takes place explosive thermonuclear burning in the form of helium flashes and the flashes of the first type of supernova.
The more opaque is environment, the greater are the chances for the reaction to it, as well as less scattering, but in the bowels of the giant planets there are many impurities and can be expected to lower transparency. Gravitational differentiation and chemical reactions can lead to the allocation of areas within the planet that is more suitable to run the reaction in its initial stages.

The stronger will be an explosion of fuse, the greater will be amount of the initial field of burning, and the more likely that the response would be self-sustaining, as the energy loss will be smaller and the number of reaction substances and reaction times greater. It can be assumed that if at sufficiently powerful fuse the reaction will became self-sustaining.

Continue reading “Giant planets ignition” »

Nov 18, 2008

Aardvark’s and Avatars

Posted by in category: defense

There continues to be some discussion and rejection of the idea that terrorists would be able to exploit new technology platforms such as social networking and virtual worlds. In a recent post the blogger Abu Aardvark (aka Marc Lynch from GW University) goes some way in debunking ideas surrounding terrorist use of social networking, Wiki’s and virtual worlds. He further states that Al Qaeda is now behind the curve in using the area of user-generated content and interactivity. While, the aardvark’s media analysis relating to ‘al-Qaeda outreach’ appears to be sound I think he misses a fundamental point about terrorists and technology.

The defining feature of terrorism and technology is its adaptive quality. It is highly unlikely that individual terrorists or terrorist groups would exactly replicate the mainstream functions of the technology abu aardvark highlights in his post. It is more likely they would take certain elements from the various innovations and mesh them together or otherwise distort them. So an al-Qaeda Facebook isn’t going to happen anytime soon but using the system to identify IDF soldiers for possible assassination already has. Similarly an ‘AQThirdlife’, which replicates the virtual world Second Life seems unlikely but using some of its key features still seems probable. The virtual money transfer aspect continues to be a high on most peoples list of concerns (this is discussed in a recent SSRN paper written by Stephen Landman, Funding Bin Laden’s Avatar: A proposal for the regulation of Virtual Hawalas, which he has kind enough to share with me). Aardvark’s point about an AQThird life also fails to account for phenomena such as the virtual caliphate, which is running in the UK, where users log into areas to see and hear sermons by dead or expelled radical preachers — there continues to be a market for extremism and virtual exposure to it is potentially more powerful than real exposure.

As ever the central point is that given rapid and increasing virtualization flexible thinking and planning is required to conceptualize the next form of terrorist threat — blogs appear to be a great enabler of this practice.