Archive for April, 2009

Yes, I’m Posting Something About the Swine Flu Too

As you’ve no doubt heard, there’s a new epidemic spreading throughout the world called Swine Flu. To be honest, I’m not too worried about this becoming something on the scale of the 1918 flu epidemic. We know about viral vectors, have the ability to be able to effectively quarantine affected areas, and can develop vaccines that will protect people (who are smart enough to actually get themselves inoculated) from sickness.

Not that we should become complaicent. It’s like when you see a cop while driving. You slow down, sit up straight, put down the cell phone, etc. If we all are just a little more conscious about washing our hands regularly and not coughing and sneezing all over the place, it will make swine flu spread much more slowly and perhaps cause it to run itself out.

Of course, looking at all this from a futurists’ perspective, it all seems a bit silly. An uploaded person is obviously completely immune to a biological virus. In fact, it’s a pretty good argument for why someone should get uploaded. Any and all ways you can get sick and die from being biological (flu, cancer, heart failure, stroke, etc.) become irrelevant (computer viruses are a different issue, but I think they’ll also not be much threat to an uploading brain mostly because the brain is not a binary computer blindly executing instructions, and neither will an uploaded brain be).

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If Ever There Was A Poster Child…

…Steven Hawking would be it. As you, my dear readers, may have heard, Steven Hawking isill. At age 21, he diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), which over the years has completely paralysed his body, save for a few fingers. Also, for the past few weeks, he has also had to be hospitalized for a chest infection that has hospitalized him.

I don’t wish to sound like I’m parading someone else’s tragedy for my own purposes, but Professor Hawkings’ case is a perfect example of why we need mind uploading. His brain is completely unaffected by his condition, and he has managed to make some of the most important scientific insights in human history. But he has done so against incredible odds. When first diagnosed, his doctors gave him 2-3 years, tops. So far, he has lived 46 years. Partially because of sheer will, but also simply because he has been exceptionally lucky.

If we did have mind uploading, Hawking would have the option to leave his body permanently, and become able-bodied again. He would be able to go on and make even more incredible scientific discoveries, perhaps even uncovering the “theory of everything”, the ultimate physical law of the universe. But as it is, he’s trapped. His body is killing him, and unfortunately there’s nothing he can do.

The Mexico Drug War

This week, President Obama was in Mexico City and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to stopping the transport and sale of illegal drugs in Mexico. He plans to redeploy 500 federal agents and more than $200 million to combat illegal drugs, money and weapons from being transported between Mexico and the United States.

Does anyone else have the impression that this isn’t going to work? It just seems like more of the same to me. For most of the twentieth century there were federal laws against various drugs. There have been federal agents trying to stop their sale and transport this whole time, but you know what? There’s still drugs out there. There is, however, a simple solution that will end the Mexican Drug War permanently:

Legalize drugs.

Yes, you read that right. Now, that plan is probably setting off a fire alarm in your head. You’re probably thinking, “that’s crazy! If you legalize drugs, it’ll just cause the problem to get worse!” But, you see, it really won’t. The reason that there’s so much violence and danger associated with drugs is because they’re illegal.

A good comparison to the current drug war is the period of Prohibition. When alcohol was made illegal in the United States, it didn’t stop people from drinking. It only caused it go underground. Whenever you make a product or service illegal that people still want, you create a black market. In a black market, there’s no enforcement. You can’t file a complaint with the authorities or try to sue if the product you receive is dangerous. The people who supplied alcohol knew this, and would often “cut” alcohol with cheap, legal, but poisonous substitutes, like turpentine. And who were the suppliers during Prohibition? The mob, of course. And with the mob comes turf wars, violence, and just a whole big mess.

This, of course, is exactly what’s going on today with illegal drugs. People still want marijuana, cocaine, herion, etc. (at least, there’s a demand for it), and so people will supply it. People who can take advantage of the fact that it’s illegal and not have to bother with supplying safe(r) products.

After Prohibition, what happened? Did the gang wars and drinking problem get worse? No. It actually got a lot better. Think about it. Today, are there turf wars over alcohol? Are people getting mowed down in the street because of them? Are people dying from having  a single drink? No. It would be ridiculous to think so.

The reason is because, with legalization, comes regulation and taxation. If you legalize drugs, the people making a profit on it won’t be drug barons and street pushers, it would be publicly-traded companies like Anheuser-Busch, Philip-Morris, and so on. We may vilify these companies for producing products that are dangerous, but they’re not selling to kids or murdering people to keep their market share. If we legalized drugs, the cartels will suddenly lose all their power and collapse. Drugs would be sold over the counter, in smoke shops and supermarkets (who check IDs, by the way).

Of course, drugs are still dangerous by themselves. There’s no denying that. But it would be a much better controlled danger, with doses and quality assured.

Post-Easterism

Now that Easter’s over, we can look forward to the most important thing:

Lots of mark-down easter candy at the grocery store! Yay!

Alien Civilizations VI: Additional Thought

Thinking over my hypothesis about why there are no extraterrestrial civilizations around, at least none within several hundred million light-years, I realized a small loophole. I assumed that the alien civilization would be trying to survive as long as possible. But what if there isn’t that much longer to live? That is, what if the universe won’t be capable of supporting life or intelligence of any kind at some point in the future?

It may sound strange but there is a hypothesis being kicked around called the Big Rip. Basically, the universe is expanding, and it is accelerating. So, what if the acceleration itself is increasing as well? In technical kinematic terms, the jerk is non-zero (yes, that really is the term for change of acceleration. Change in position is velocity. Change in velocity is acceleration. Change in acceleration is called jerk. I didn’t just make that up. Jerk). Anyway, it postulates that if this is the case eventually galaxies and solar systems, all the way down to planets, life-forms, even atoms will get ripped apart by the rushing expansion of space. If true, the scientists that developed this concept estimate that around 50 billion years from now this would happen.

50 billion years is a long time, but is actually quite small compared to the length of time I estimated an advanced civilization could survive. In short, there may be alien civilizations out there that don’t convert the entire universe into energy stores because they just don’t need to. A single star would supply all their energy needs until the end. They might even encourage the development of other intelligent species since, hey, we’re all doomed anyway, and there’s more than enough room in the meantime. They might as well have some company.

The Big Rip is still just a hypothesis. There’s no evidence that it’s actually going to happen. But if we do ever discover alien civilizations, it might be a big tip-off that maybe the universe doesn’t have as long to go as we think it does (though it would do to confirm it independently, as they probably would have).

Next Post: Black Hole Power