JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 163 : 11 September 2004

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

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Book: Global Brain by Howard Bloom

Can one book explain everything? I've got to tell you - I have just finished reading a book that explains more about life than any single book I have ever read. And, I keep reading and re-reading sections again and again to help me digest some of the answers it provides.

The book - "Global Brain: The evolution of mass mind from the big bang to the 21st. century" by Howard Bloom. This is an exciting tour of evolution, showing that networks between living things have always existed - from original bacterial networks to modern Internet communications.

I was introduced to Howard Bloom's thinking by an eNews reader (please email me again - I didn't thank you enough the first time) who pointed out that political polarization was like the clashes Bloom describes between natural "conformity enforcers" and "diversity generators". Bloom shows how the rules for self-organizing and adaptive systems are universal, and apply equally to ancient civilizations and modern times. You know, for the first time I feel I truly understand the fundamental causes and effects of political polarization - it's wired into our genes.

Bloom's book is easy to read and entertaining. He explains how networks are not only inevitable but essential for survival. His grand scale of thinking, yet clear and entertaining writing, makes this one of the most significant books I have ever read!

Don't just take my word - here's a sampling of back-cover kudos:

  • Filled with scientific firsts
  • I doubt there is any stronger intellect than Bloom's on the planet
  • Bloom is on a very short list that includes Darwin, Freud, Einstein
  • Howard Bloom may be the next Stephen Hawking
Get "Global Brain" and read it! Hey! If you don't like it, send me your copy and I'll refund your money!

Click Get "Global Brain" and read it!

Click Visit Howard Bloom's website

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Techno Human capabilities

The advances of technology, especially the ones that seem to encroach on human abilities, always seem distasteful and even "against nature" - till they become commonplace.

I forget the name of this movie I saw; an aging, short-sighted gunfighter gets spectacles and suddenly becomes a sharp-shooter again. Today, it's 'normal' for people to wear contact lenses which improves their eyesight without any external evidence.

How about taking a pill to improve your health? How normal is that? Well, it's acceptable - till it turns out to be a steroid that actually enhances human performance in the Olympics. Then you're disqualified. So, should steroid use be acceptable for humans in combat? Would it be OK to give steroids to our troops? These are all questions. Your answers are as good as mine.

Let's go off in another direction. Artificial Intelligence (AI) usually refers to machine intelligence. The inverse, Intelligence Augmentation (IA) slips into everyday use much more quickly, providing users with "unfair" advantages. When anyone asks me something - almost anything - I simply consult my Google-connected PDA and provide the answer. Is that fair?

So, should a student be allowed to take a wireless-Internet-connected PDA into a test? Don't be too quick to answer - because what if a chip was inserted into the body, or taken like a pill as a "brain steroid"? Who could tell? And, would that be OK?

Chip implants present some intriguing possibilities and ethical concerns. But, my feeling is that increasingly common usage will sweep away objections and increase acceptance. It will start with volunteers and people who would benefit directly, and then become commonplace.

Here are some recent examples of actual chip-implants:

  • The Mexican Attorney General announced recently that he and some 160 employees had all been implanted with RFID chips. The ID chips, in glass capsules slightly larger than a grain of rice, were injected into their upper arms by a syringe-like device. When activated by a scanning signal, the chips send out a unique 64-bit code that is linked to the person's identity for security clearance.
  • Children at an elementary school in Osaka, Japan are wearing RFID tags to keep better track of them. Amusement parks in California and Europe are offering RFID bracelets to help find lost children. Hospital maternity wards are using RFID bracelets to make sure that babies are matched with their proper parents. The difference, of course, is that RFID bracelets can be removed; implanted chips are more permanent.
Clearly, no one questions the ethics of taking drugs to control medical or mental problems. Soon, there will be drugs not just to normalize intelligence, but to enhance it. And what parent will resist giving their child a pill to get better grades in school? And, if the effect can be made permanent (not wearing off like a drug), then who would resist inserting that nano-chip into the child's brain?

When technology shrinks from rice-sized to dust-sized, the issues of privacy and ethics will be increasingly challenged. Stay tuned - it's already happening...

Click Japan Schoolchildren to be RFID-chipped

Click US FDA to consider human RFID tagging

Click MIT Tech Review - Tag - you're it!

Click RFID: Getting Under Your Skin?

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Digital Music's next nemesis

A new piece of software called TimeTrax could be a forerunner of one of the biggest things since Napster. It allows subscribers of XM Radio's satellite radio service to record music off the airwaves. You can schedule recordings on a certain channel at a certain time, the same way you program a VCR to record a program while you're away.

Right now TimeTrax only works with XM Radio on a device called the PCR, which allows users to listen to satellite radio at home, instead of just in the car. Since TimeTrax came out, XM Radio discontinued the PCR. Of course, this created an immediate market on eBay where the $49 retail PCRs are now selling for more than $350.

TimeTrax is an indication of what will likely be the music industry's next major war: the bootleg recording of broadcast digital audio. This is the next step after computer peer-to-peer (P2P) music downloads. When radio stations start broadcasting digital music signals, programs such as TimeTrax will allow users to search for and capture songs in ways similar to programs such as Kazaa and Grokster. Instead of grabbing a song from someone else's hard drive, users will take it "from the air" via a digital radio signal. It's a whole new challenge, which is what makes it so interesting.

Already in Europe, devices have hit the market that allow users to do exactly what TimeTrax does, but with other built-in functionality such as the ability to re-wind live radio for as long as 10 seconds so the beginning of a song a user likes can be recorded. These devices have taken off in Europe because the standard for digital radio is already in place.

In the US, the standard is still in limbo, and digital radio hasn't really started. Today, only satellite radio offers digital quality over the air. Once the US FCC makes its decision, radio stations will begin digital broadcasts, which programs like TimeTrax can record.

As more US radio stations go digital, and as more people sign up for satellite radio, the interest in these bootlegging recording programs will grow exponentially. And who can stop them? This raises legal issues that will make the current P2P wars look like child's play.

Click MIT Tech Review - Digital Music's Next Big Battle

Click Visit the TimeTrax website

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Global poll shows a Kerry landslide

In 30 out of 35 countries polled from all regions of the world, a clear majority would prefer to see John Kerry win the US presidential election - especially traditional US allies. On average, Kerry was favored by more than a two-to-one margin: 46% to 20%. Only one in five people surveyed supported the re-election of President Bush.

The poll of 34,330 people in 35 countries was conducted by "The Program on International Policy Attitudes" from the University of Maryland, and the polling company GlobeScan Inc. with its worldwide network of research institutes.

The sample size was a fair measure of public sentiment, running from 500 to 1,800 people per country, polled through a variety of means including face-to-face interviews, telephone, or via the Internet.

Kerry won clear majorities in China, Indonesia and Japan, but won by only a slight margin in Thailand and India. The most negative attitudes came from France, Germany and Mexico, where roughly 80% of those surveyed thought that President Bush's foreign policies had made them feel worse about the US.

Most traditional US allies came out strongly favoring Kerry, while only those polled in Nigeria, Poland and the Philippines preferred Bush. The only country where Bush received support from more than 50% of those polled was the Philippines, where 57 % supported his election, compared with 32% who supported Kerry.

Norway and Germany tied at 74% as the countries where those polled most strongly support Kerry. Canadians preferred Kerry by a ratio of 61% compared with 16% for Bush.

Click International Herald Tribune - Global Poll Shows a Kerry Landslide

Click Program on International Policy Attitudes

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Pinto editorial - 9/11 anniversary thoughts

In his Sept. 2002 book, Chris Hedges, the veteran NY Times journalist who has covered several wars, published his book: "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning". As we arrive at the third anniversary of 9/11, I re-read some of the thoughts expressed in Hedges' book and they still gives me shivers of significance.

Hedges compares war to an addiction, a sustained super-bowl spirit of tribal bonding, adrenaline rushes, violence awaiting victory. In war, people unite in a feeling not of friendship but comradeship. It brings a sense of nationalism and patriotism, more than what is right, or just. War appeals to the human psyche. It provides a purpose for living. It allows us to rise above regular life and participate in a noble cause.

We are captivated by the bravery of our heroes, their noble sacrifice, the utter depravity of the enemy. There is very little communication outside of the clichés. A new war vocabulary becomes everyday jargon, the accepted axioms of a society that remains captive within the power structure.

Once a war has commenced, it is difficult to penetrate behind the barrage of media and political rhetoric, to go beyond unquestioning patriotism. We cannot simply quit, as the anti-war protesters demand; we'd lose face! We cannot lessen our support for our loyal troops, so we have little choice but to continue to maximize their strength, whatever it takes.

Our captivity continues. Whatever disquiet we feel, the words to express it are considered unpatriotic. The myths predominate - built around glory, heroism, self-sacrifice and national nobility. It's a kind of intoxication. People lose individual conscience as they participate in communal vengeance.

Just a few weeks after the Iraqi war was launched, President GW Bush stimulated the feelings of national pride, the instant rush of power and accomplishment that came with seeing our leader dressed up in a flight suit, landing on an aircraft carrier and declaring to the world" "Mission Accomplished". Today, some two and a half years later, over 1,000 Americans are dead, and the war continues without a forseeable end.

Only after a long time, if things continue to go terribly wrong, if the excuses run out, if the promises of victory fall prey to continued failure, if the toll in human lives escalates beyond endurance, does the slow but sure democratic process bring the backlash.

It's been 3 years. Today is 9/11/2004. Saddam, who is reported by the 9/11 commission to have had nothing to do with 9/11, has been captured; but the self-confessed arch-villain bin Laden remains at large and releases new videos that get maximum press coverage to fuel the flames of terror.

Has the risk of terrorism increased, or decreased, because of Afghanistan and Iraq? Our friends warned: "The war in Iraq will create hundreds more bin Ladens!" And it has - the terrorism escalates, demonstrating that the old, hard weapons of "shock and awe" are futile. America cannot remain alone to declare pre-emptive wars against shadowy terrorists; we need allies everywhere. The world must act together.

But stop! Democracy means that the buck ultimately stops with us, the voters. We must face facts, accept personal responsibility, and do whatever we can as individual citizens.

That time is drawing near....

Click War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning - by Chris Hedges

Click The myths & mystique of war

Click Terrorism risk has increased since Iraq

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Mike Tsoukias, [zibbo@ev1.net] has served as an election judge in Houston, Texas for many years. He provides an insider's view:
    "On the subject of election fraud, there is indeed good reason to worry. I have every confidence that the process will be carried out cleanly at my precinct. Past experience with the City and County workers gives me confidence there too. BUT - what about the machines we will use? Can they be fiddled beforehand, with preset counts, or fiddled afterwards?

    "The technical answer is yes. Of course they CAN be fiddled. There is sufficient debate in the public domain already to make it worthy of the deepest concern by all of us.

    "I will cite one reason. Last year during a Bush rally in Ohio, the CEO of Diebold (makers of one of 4 nationwide electronic voting systems) declared to the cheering crowd that he would "help deliver the state of Ohio to President Bush".

    "Is the State of Ohio the Diebold CEO's private domain? Why was there not an immediate and draconian reaction from the Federal Election Commission? Why did the Democrats not haul said CEO to court at once for intent to commit electoral fraud, and charge the rally organizers as accomplices? Why has the media of this country either ignored this outrage, or at best treated it as a minor (and normal) pre-electoral incident?

    "The Nov. 2004 election is, in my opinion, a watershed event which will decide if we will have even the remnants of democracy in this country, or if we deserve it."

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In eNews 27 Aug. 2004, I mentioned, "Robot soldiers could help determine the outcome of wars, without waste of human life". Steve Jones [Steve.Jones@Fluor.com] correctly pointed out my serious error:
    "Well yes, that may be true if you are lucky enough to be on the side that has the robots - this statement seems to presume that the side without the robots are not human.

    "It seems to me that robotic soldiers have much greater potential for indiscriminate killing as opposed to the human kind that can occasionally express complex emotions such as pity, forgiveness and remorse. I wonder if in the future it will be possible to program the warrior robots to take prisoners or perhaps it will be cheaper in terms of software programming and testing to just have them shoot and kill everything in sight.

    "As a closing thought, I wonder who would be accountable if war crimes or atrocities were committed by robots."

My response to Steve Jones:
    "Whoops! I suddenly realized the stupidity of my cold, analytical statement. I did not recognize the ethical and social aspects of my comments.

    "This clearly assumes that the robots are better 'killing machines'. After all, isn't that what 'shock and awe' was all about, with aerial combat and remote-targeted weapons? We minimize our own loss of life, while inflicting huge loss on the 'enemy'!

    "Steve, thank you for pointing this out. I'm sorry I wrote that."

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Harry Ebbeson [hlestringman@yahoo.com] is tired of political rhetoric from both sides:
    "Politicians say what they need to get elected. They promise anything to everyone without regard to reality. It doesn't matter whether it is Democratic or Republican; in the long run the middle class ends up paying-either for social programs or business welfare.

    "Rich liberals are no different from rich conservatives - they have learned how to keep their money, make more and especially at the expense of the lower working classes. If someone really gives it all away they are considered "out of line" and out of reality. I don't really believe anyone who has multiple homes, ties to big business and is quick to tell me what I need to give up for the 'common good'.

    "Europe stood by and watched the Eastern European carnage take place in the 90's. Ethnic cleansing was accepted and the rest of Europe ignored it. If left alone it would have resulted in the elimination of an entire culture and group of people. I have little patience for the Europeans telling the US what to do.

    "African states stood by as genocide took place in that continent. Europe was not interested because there were no resources at stake, the US was no better. If Rwanda had oil it would have been different.

    "We could left Saddam alone and let him continue his reign of terror on his people. That was widely acknowledged. Maybe we traded one kind of war for another? I think Iraq was a mistake only because we did not anticipate the ramifications of the region.

    "WMDs are still prevalent in surrounding countries, some maybe from Iraq, others from other countries. There are more pressing issues such as job losses to other country's, a business environment that is totally anti engineering and an education system that is designed to turn out politically correct MBAs that have no real world experience in anything.

    "Energy issues rest on the fact that there are more and more people consuming a diminishing resource. I personally know and feel that there is lots of oil left (I was in the business) but it will cost a lot more to produce it. Energy policy in the USA has always depended on the cheap production of the resource. The political will to change always falls prey to lobbyists on both sides."

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