A World on Our Doorstep

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence remains a high-risk, low-payoff-probability endeavor, with many exciting initial reports that mostly turn out to be false alarms.The search for other planets, however, continues to pay off in spades. And a team of European astronomers just hit the biggest jackpot yet: a habitable planet orbiting the Sun's nearest neighbor.Astronomers using ESO telescopes and other facilities have found clear evidence of a planet orbiting the closest star to … [Read more...]

Why We Shouldn’t Want Manufacturing Jobs Back

The words "Rust Belt" evoke a vanished age of American greatness.Cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit, once mighty economic powerhouses, now have a reputation for dwindling and decline. Their factories have closed; their populations are aged and shrunken; their civic architecture has fallen into desolation and decay, spawning the genre of "ruin porn". And the resentment and despair of rootless former blue-collar workers is a central issue in the presidential race.This story resonates … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: Primitive Technology

My latest obsession is Primitive Technology, a video blog from remote northern Australia. The creator, who hasn't identified himself by name, has an ambitious goal: to go out into the wilderness and recreate as much human technology as possible, starting from the Stone Age and working his way up.Working with nothing but his bare hands and whatever natural materials he can find, he makes tools from scratch, which he can then use to make more complex tools: knapping stone into hand axes, using … [Read more...]

We Need All the Brainpower We Can Get

I don't believe, as some people fear, that economic growth has come to an end.This is equivalent to saying that we'll never be any richer, more prosperous or more technologically advanced than we are right now; that you and me, the people alive today, are living through the zenith of human civilization. I find this implausible. Innovation and change have been churning away for thousands of years, and it's unlikely that we just happen to be living in the one era when it's all about to come … [Read more...]

On Human Negativity Bias

What was the best year in history? If you could choose any year out of the entire span of human existence so far to be alive in, which one should you pick?You could pick your answer for any number of reasons. You might choose to live in the age of exploration, or at the dawn of the scientific revolution, or in the company of great historical figures. But if you want the best chance of living a peaceful and happy life, if you're going solely by the numbers, then it's obvious: the answer is … [Read more...]

Doubt Is Not Our Product

In my Atlas Shrugged series, I wrote about the tobacco companies who tried to conceal the health risks of smoking by sowing confusion and uncertainty. The strategy was to counter all the scientific evidence with ginned-up studies and paid-to-order experts so that people wouldn't be sure what to believe. Their memos said that "doubt is our product" and that their goal should be "establishing a controversy" in the public mind.That story is an object lesson in how corporations that sell … [Read more...]

Have We Hit the Limits of Growth?

Ever since the Great Recession and the grindingly slow recovery that's followed, it's become an especially urgent question whether we can expect the future to be more prosperous than the past. Singularitarians and other techno-utopians predict that technology will make economic growth an ever-upward exponential curve, bringing undreamed-of material abundance and making each generation's life vastly better than the one that preceded it. On the other hand, skeptics argue that minimal or zero … [Read more...]

The Clock of the Long Now

I recently became aware of the Long Now Foundation, a futurist group whose mission is to plant the seeds of long-term thinking in society. It's a cause I have a lot of sympathy for, so it's worth publicizing what they do.The foundation is headquartered at The Interval, a cafe and public forum in San Francisco's Fort Mason. On display there is their library, a scale model of their 10,000-year clock (more on that in a moment), and all kinds of other curiosities. A screen above the bar shows a … [Read more...]

Repost: The Republican Stupid-Party Spiral Dilemma

[Author's Note: I wrote this in late 2012. In light of recent developments, I thought it was worth reposting. The success of Donald Trump seems to show that classic Christian conservatism isn't as necessary an ingredient to the Republican coalition as I once thought - but in just about every other respect, these trends have only accelerated.]In an interview in November 2012, Republican senator Marco Rubio, who was clearly laying the groundwork for his 2016 presidential run, announced that he … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: Autonomous Vehicles Advance

Nailed it:This week was a huge achievement for Elon Musk's SpaceX, which delivered another payload to orbit - an inflatable habitat module for the International Space Station - and then successfully landed its Falcon 9 reusable rocket on an unmanned drone ship platform waiting for it out at sea.The company has already achieved a rocket landing on solid ground, but this is their first successful sea landing after several previous attempts crashed and exploded. The sea landing is more … [Read more...]