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Scientific American's Fred Guterl Explores the Threats Posed By Technology

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the keep-your-head-down dept.

Earth 93

Lasrick writes "Fred Guterl is the executive editor of Scientific American, and in this piece he explores various threats posed by the technology that modern civilization relies on. He discusses West African and Indian monsoons, infectious diseases, and computer hacking. Here's a quote: 'Today the technologies that pose some of the biggest problems are not so much military as commercial. They come from biology, energy production, and the information sciences — and are the very technologies that have fueled our prodigious growth as a species. They are far more seductive than nuclear weapons, and more difficult to extricate ourselves from. The technologies we worry about today form the basis of our global civilization and are essential to our survival.'"

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93 comments

Confusing summary (1)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#42125207)

What do Monsoons have to do with technology?
They've been happening annually since the Pleistocene, and nobody has any records that prove any technology link.

Re:Confusing summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42125369)

Read the article. They talk about two seperate pollution effects having opposite influences on monsoon rains.

Re:Confusing summary (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42125851)

No, the article talks about the speculations of one man that pollution might, possibly, sorta, maybe could somehow cause catastrophic problems for some people in the developing world. Naturally, the culprits are the citizens of advanced societies - "greenhouse gases -- emitted mainly from developed countries in the northern hemisphere". Clearly, Tim Lenton is just another academic who is making a good living by blaming his own culture for all the world's ills.

The Indian monsoon, Lenton believes, could be teetering on a knife's edge, ready to change abruptly in ways that are hard to predict.

OMG, "could be teetering"? I am so afraid. Someone please hold me.

Re:Confusing summary (1, Troll)

Toonol (1057698) | about a year ago | (#42126785)

Scientific American is a shadow of its former self. It was a great and respectable magazine 20 years ago; now it is barely more than a 'Discovery' or 'Popular Science'... more parts marketing and fluff than science. I loved it when I was a kid, and now I just feel sad whenever I see a 'Scientific American very special theme issue' on the shelves.

Re:Confusing summary (5, Informative)

Genda (560240) | about a year ago | (#42127069)

Apparently you're not getting the nature of the problem. This is an issue all over the planet. There are a number of human contributions to the ecosphere. Many of these things are antagonistic, as in the case of the Indian Monsoons, The smoke causes local dimming, reducing the amount of solar energy that gets to the ground (or in this case, the ocean.) The green house gases (and you need to appreciate how fast India's use of fossil fuels is growing and how fast their middle class is growing and they want to live like Americans) are being produced by Indians themselves. They want cars and night life and products that have to be shipped half way around the world. So they're producing more than enough local greenhouse gas to impact their own local climate and the climate of others around them. Poor Bangladesh is already in deep guano. Water is rising, and they live on a flood plain. A population half that of the United States lives in profound poverty and they will be displaced by the effects of Global Warming in this century... where do they go? The likely answer is away.

Anyway, you have these two growing forces pushing harder and harder in the opposite direction and for now canceling out. Alls well right? Not so fast, as the two sides push harder and harder, the probability of a catastrophic failure of the system grows exponentially, So, even though the system is almost completely unpredictable what starts to become clearly predictable it that they are going to be faced with severe flood or drought or both quickly alternating in a bistable environment, and the damage it will do to their society and their people will be simply shocking.

I know this is really hard for people to get, this is absolutely solid science. We understand the mechanisms, We are clear what will happen, we just don't know when. Mount Ranier in Washington State has the dark side. After hundred of years, acid from its vents slowly breaks down the rocks of which its made. Here's the problem. They've discovered catastrophic lahars from the mountain that wash right out to the sea every so often. Huge catastrophes, nightmares that beggar the imagination. Scientists know its coming, but they can't say when, Its already overdue. It could be any time. There are folks living at the base of the mountain and they think its all a big joke and the scientists are full of crap. Not all of them, but a lot of them. So there they live mooning the mountain gawd and taunting fate. The thing is, being smug about someone else's endangerment is pretty crass. Being so ignorant about you own endangerment, well that just make you foolish.

Re:Confusing summary (1)

kenorland (2691677) | about a year ago | (#42128089)

Poor Bangladesh is already in deep guano. Water is rising, and they live on a flood plain. A population half that of the United States lives in profound poverty and they will be displaced by the effects of Global Warming in this century... where do they go? The likely answer is away.

We've had global warming and sea level rise for 20000 years and people have always coped with it via migration. The only reason Bangladesh is so strongly affected because it has been artificially separated from India, impeding the natural migrations that would normally happen in response to climate change. But even in the baroque system of modern nation states, AGW will open up plenty of new land in Siberia, Canada, and Northern Europe where people from any flooded areas will be welcome and needed.

Making borders more open for migration is certainly a lot easier and rational than the kind of costly and ineffective anti-AGW efforts you have in mind. And if you can't get people to agree to something as rational, simple, and beneficial as immigration, the kinds of policies you envision are never going to pass anyway.

Re:Confusing summary (3, Informative)

Genda (560240) | about a year ago | (#42135991)

Oh yeah, this makes complete sense, for example Americans have always been so excited to have Mexicans just come marching over the border. I'm sure if that number ever rose to 150,000,000 we'd welcome them with open arms. Those pesky artificial boundaries of which you speak of are called national borders and when refugees anywhere on the planet try to leave the disaster they come from, they create a brand new disaster where they are stopped, at of all places... NATIONAL BORDERS. You imagine that's going to go away? Whatever you're smoking, please let me know, I'd like some. As for the amount of sea level rise... the last two years have shown an acceleration of the melting of the Greenland ice mass and a number of other large bodies of ice profoundly faster than expected. I'm the first to say 2 years does not a trend make, give it what, 10 more years, if this in fact the new normal, we're all boogered. The Greenland ice mass could raise global sea levels 20 feet all by itself. Say goodbye to Bangladesh. Florida becomes the newest Caribbean Island and its half its current size. Most of Louisianan is gone, as well as significant amounts of coastal Texas, Mississippi and Georgia. The San Francisco bay expands engulfing the entire Silicon Valley and the wine country of the North Bay. Kiss Manhattan goodbye. Amsterdam gone. Venice Ciao. Even London would be seriously threatened. So your answer is to open borders and let people come and go as they please when the water rises. Logical. Utterly batfsck insane, but logical.

The problem with this conversation is that when the same change that has happened over 20,000 years happens in 80, particularly in a world with strong national borders and infrastructure to prevent both animal and human migration, what you have coming is a biblical disaster. You know... Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria! So you propose a 50 year human exodus from the tropics for most of 3-6 billion people as a solution to us as opposed to just cleaning up the mess we made. So let me wrap my head around this, correct me if I'm missing something, rather than ceasing to crap all over the scenery and cleaning up the mess we've been making for centuries, you suggest we should just keep crapping away and avoid the advancing crap wall as it chases us north. Yeah, that sounds like a plan, sign me up. Just for laughs, what happens when the last 100 million of us are treading water at the north pole trying to climb up each others back? Don't bother, I don't need an explanation.

I'm all for technological solutions, bright folks all over the place are coming out with genius plans to harness the carbon, sequester it, use to to advance out society. Sticking my head in the sand and waiting for the lion to chew my haunches off just wasn't among them, it lacks a wee bit of technological finesse, don't you think, eh?

Re:Confusing summary (1)

kenorland (2691677) | about a year ago | (#42139791)

So you propose a 50 year human exodus from the tropics for most of 3-6 billion people as a solution to us as opposed to just cleaning up the mess we made

I don't "propose" anything and there is no "as opposed to". Climate change is inevitable. We can't remove the carbon from the atmosphere, and nations aren't agreeing to stop adding to it either. Sea level rise has been happening independent of AGW anyway. You can either wallow in apocalyptic visions, or you can simply accept it and deal with it. And dealing with it doesn't require either mass death or a mass exodus.

The San Francisco bay expands engulfing the entire Silicon Valley and the wine country of the North Bay.

That's not going to happen because SF Bay is filling up faster naturally than any sea level rise; if it weren't for active conservation efforts, the bay would be disappearing. For the same reasons, Bangladesh's land mass is actually growing and will likely continue to grow for decades despite sea level rise. Your scenarios are unreasonable.

Re:Confusing summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42136055)

Unfortunately, all throughout history, mass migrations have coincided (been the cause of) large wars and mass death. Of course humans will survive almost all catastrophic events, as long as a few people are managing to get by on the food they produce, and they will, there are still isolated communities and countries, and some of them, New Zealand for example, produce far more food than is required to sustain the local population (mass exports). But the survival of some humans doesn't mean the survival of the current dominant civilisations.

Re:Confusing summary (1)

Nyder (754090) | about a year ago | (#42128165)

Apparently you're not getting the nature of the problem. This is an issue all over the planet. There are a number of human contributions to the ecosphere. Many of these things are antagonistic, as in the case of the Indian Monsoons, The smoke causes local dimming, reducing the amount of solar energy that gets to the ground (or in this case, the ocean.) The green house gases (and you need to appreciate how fast India's use of fossil fuels is growing and how fast their middle class is growing and they want to live like Americans) are being produced by Indians themselves. They want cars and night life and products that have to be shipped half way around the world. So they're producing more than enough local greenhouse gas to impact their own local climate and the climate of others around them. Poor Bangladesh is already in deep guano. Water is rising, and they live on a flood plain. A population half that of the United States lives in profound poverty and they will be displaced by the effects of Global Warming in this century... where do they go? The likely answer is away.

Anyway, you have these two growing forces pushing harder and harder in the opposite direction and for now canceling out. Alls well right? Not so fast, as the two sides push harder and harder, the probability of a catastrophic failure of the system grows exponentially, So, even though the system is almost completely unpredictable what starts to become clearly predictable it that they are going to be faced with severe flood or drought or both quickly alternating in a bistable environment, and the damage it will do to their society and their people will be simply shocking.

I know this is really hard for people to get, this is absolutely solid science. We understand the mechanisms, We are clear what will happen, we just don't know when. Mount Ranier in Washington State has the dark side. After hundred of years, acid from its vents slowly breaks down the rocks of which its made. Here's the problem. They've discovered catastrophic lahars from the mountain that wash right out to the sea every so often. Huge catastrophes, nightmares that beggar the imagination. Scientists know its coming, but they can't say when, Its already overdue. It could be any time. There are folks living at the base of the mountain and they think its all a big joke and the scientists are full of crap. Not all of them, but a lot of them. So there they live mooning the mountain gawd and taunting fate. The thing is, being smug about someone else's endangerment is pretty crass. Being so ignorant about you own endangerment, well that just make you foolish.

Wow, you got this Fear Mongering thing down. I think you'd have a great job as a politician.

Ya, I live in Seattle, Mt. Rainier is an volcano that can go boom! Guess what? It's not the only one in the Pacific Mountain Range. Or in Washington. And guess what? We don't care, we don't change our lives because of it. When it goes, it goes. Nothing we can do about it. Living in fear because of it is a stupid and wasteful thing to do.

Re:Confusing summary (1)

Johann Lau (1040920) | about a year ago | (#42128309)

Imagine a parent telling a kid about how hot the stove is, and that touching it, or even tripping and falling right in, is not a good idea. And the kid just gives a little self-important speech how it doesn't care, when it happens, it happens, and that "living in fear" wouldn't solve anything.

You see how that would be silly, right? NOBODY, other than you, suggested living in fear. What instead was suggested is learning a thing or two about how the world works, and making smarter choices maybe.

Because when shit gets flooded, not only adults who deliberately decided to stay ignorant are affected, but also kids (yes, I said kids, think of 'em etc.) and people who were misled by those "active fools". Not to mention the surrounding areas who get to feed and shelter the immigrants. Being a dumb fuck is not a personal lifestyle choice.

Fearmongering? If anything I'd hatemonger. Fuck you and anyone who walks and talks like you. Everybody is ignorant depending on the perspective, but being proud of ignorance is just fucking evil.

Re:Confusing summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42129093)

lol. troll much?

captcha: evacuate

Re:Confusing summary (1)

Johann Lau (1040920) | about a year ago | (#42139951)

I wish! I just hate a lot of people when I'm not in direct contact with them. I like 'em when they're near, or when considering them individually, but I hate them in theory and in numbers. So useless, and so full of shit.

Re:Confusing summary (1)

Genda (560240) | about a year ago | (#42136181)

So I guess you're personally and deeply offended by the significant state and local taxes spent on the early warning systems built in the Lahar flood plain in Washington precisely to save tens of thousands of lives and prevent human tragedy WHEN the mountain gives way. Maybe you'd think the money was better spent training folks on the finer points of surfing boiling mud. You can stand around spelunking your own rectum and be surprised when you and yours are wiped from the face of the earth. Or you can begin to assess real threats to human beings now, and make small investments in logical contingencies, mitigating technologies, clever problem solutions, and outright fixes through global consensus. I realize that's not as much fun as using your navel as a peephole or calling people names because they aren't adventurous enough to french kiss wall outlets with you, but maybe there's room in the world for sane people too, you think?

All I'm saying is that there are repercussions to being an idiot. When you find yourself at the bottom of a hole... STOP DIGGING. We made this problem. We can unmake it, but so many clowns out there refuse to even see a problem because it interferes with their world view. Tough. Your worldview is a personal fantasy, get over it. Reality trumps your opinion every time. Mine too. That the nature of reality vs Opinion.

Re:Confusing summary (1)

Genda (560240) | about a year ago | (#42136359)

Let's get real for a minute, eh. I've considered becoming a politician because somebody sane needs to go to Washington. Sadly I have strong convictions, a relatively strong moral compass and I'm not for sale, so I have no illusions that I'd make it there. Friend there's bad news in the world, and good news too, but you have to be able to deal with both without losing your mind. I just lost my partner of 35 years to ovarian cancer. When she's lost 40% of her body mass in under 2 months, it was pretty clear something bad was happening. Her doctor said you're going to die, soon. Your cancer was silent, now its advanced and loud as hell, and you're going to get to choose between longer and harder or shorter and easier.

So I have bad news for you about the world. Because they keep bringing this specific topic up, they like to see people like you and me pimp slap one another, its entertaining. In this area the news is bad, and if you can't accept that, then you can't address the problem and you're simply fucked. That's not an indictment. Or an accusation. Its a simple fact. You want to talk about good news, we can do that too. There is so much good news. Even in this area. There is brilliant technology with the sparkling promise of cleaning up these messes without draconian contortions of our economies or social liberties. But you have to face the issue so you can solve the problem with genius and inventiveness and audacity. Because hunkering down on a piece of ideological turf and defending that to the exclusion of all sanity is a waste of your humanity and an insult to mine. Wake up. Solve the real problem. Stop making this political. Its not and its never been.

Re:Confusing summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42137101)

this is absolutely solid science

No, it isn't. It's an old game. Con men used to use the occasion of an eclipse or volcanic eruption to bilk terrified villagers out of their belongings. AGW is just the modern day equivalent. Scare and bilk. Scare and bilk. Repeat as often as is feasible.

Time to build habitats in space and sea (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | about a year ago | (#42137283)

http://tmp2.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page [wikia.com]
http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com/oscomak/ [kurtz-fernhout.com]

I agree risks have increased. We need to think bigger than just the risks though. At the same time, we need to think different on Earth: http://anwot.org/ [anwot.org]

Problem is, most people are still enmeshed in "scarcity" thinking -- even with the tools of abundance at their fingertips. So, rather than build solutions, we build drones to fight over the problems.

Do we have any credible (4, Interesting)

Dyinobal (1427207) | about a year ago | (#42125267)

Do we have credible reports of someone actually being killed because of hacking? The media and politicians for the last few years have been hyping the hell out of the hacker menace and the "cyber" war but no one is even providing any body counts

Re:Do we have any credible (2, Insightful)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#42125483)

Do we have credible reports of someone actually being killed because of hacking? The media and politicians for the last few years have been hyping the hell out of the hacker menace and the "cyber" war but no one is even providing any body counts

Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Do we have any credible (5, Insightful)

The_mad_linguist (1019680) | about a year ago | (#42125567)

Which is why you should pay me for unicorn insurance.

Just because you haven't heard of any attacks, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. With their pointy, pointy horns.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#42125619)

Which is why you should pay me for unicorn insurance.

Where did I say anything about unicorns?

Just because you haven't heard of any attacks, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. With their pointy, pointy horns.

That's true. And will continue to be so until someone will come with a positive proof about the impossibility of unicorns or the impossibility of unicorns to harm anyone.
With the note this is an argument neither for nor against unicorn insurances.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

Toonol (1057698) | about a year ago | (#42126787)

The impossibility of unicorns is next to irrelevant. What matters is the unlikelihood of unicorns, just like the unlikelihood of murderous hackers is the issue at hand.

And lack of evidence can very easily establish unlikelihood.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#42126861)

The impossibility of unicorns is next to irrelevant. What matters is the unlikelihood of unicorns, just like the unlikelihood of murderous hackers is the issue at hand.

In what context?
* If it's in the context of "unicorn insurance", I almost agree (my reserve: one can't properly assess the risk without knowing enough details of the situation, and what's enough varies from case to case. Or... do you think it's possible for a building/construction project manager to manage a software development proj without knowing anything about SoftEng?)
* If it's in the context of "impossible to kill someone by hacking", then it's relevant.

The OP didn't fix the context well enough.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

kenorland (2691677) | about a year ago | (#42128105)

Insurance, like anything else that matters, is not about possibility, it is about probability.

Re:Do we have any credible (3, Informative)

fyngyrz (762201) | about a year ago | (#42126343)

Unicorns? You just drop a teapot on them. From orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year ago | (#42158807)

The menace of the unicorns lethal with grace
We seek finality, an end to this terrible race
Only weapons terrible and potent
Shall crush this feared menace

Shall it be a hail of bullets?
Or poisoned, sweet millet?
Rainbows sparkle showers?
Or a rain of nuclear power?

The unicorn's horn is proof against those things of Earth,
The locale of its supernatural birth

The mightiest weapons of our lands are impure
no better than firing peas from a pod

That is why to be sure
One must send teapots from God.

Re:Do we have any credible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42126969)

Which is why you should pay me for unicorn insurance.

Nah. I'm giving my tiger-repelling rock an upgrade.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#42125923)

Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence

True, but absence of evidence after a thorough search can give you certainty with P > .97

Re:Do we have any credible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42126031)

Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence

True, but absence of evidence after a thorough search can give you certainty with P > .97

Belief without evidence is called faith and not just in matters of religion.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#42126093)

Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence

True, but absence of evidence after a thorough search can give you certainty with P > .97

Belief without evidence is called faith and not just in matters of religion.

Or... cowboy project (risk) management? (as in: one doesn't understand how the things work but... no matter.. one does have nice statistic charts handy).

Re:Do we have any credible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42127219)

I have faith that there isn't a magical invisible pink unicorn living on mars!

It's always hilarious to see religious people (and I have no idea if you're a religious idiot or just an idiot) comparing their faith to the 'faith' of people unwilling to believe in made-up bullshit. It's cute, but sadly, it's also a disease.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42127607)

The absence of evidence can be evidence by itself. And after a therough search, it generally is.

Some people seem to confuse evidence with proof. Evidence is anything which makes an assumption more likely to be true. While a proof makes it certain that the assumption is true.

Note that something doesn't even need to make the assumption more likely true than false to be evidence. If without the observation, you'd consider the probability of the assumption to be true as 0.1%, but the observation raises the probability to 0.2%, then the observation is still evidence for the assumption. Nevertheless you'll still reject the assumption on the basis that the evidence is not sufficient to accept it.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#42126131)

Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence

True, but absence of evidence after a thorough search can give you certainty with P > .97

Apropos your reply and your signature: home prices never go down, right? 'Cause it was > 0.97 certain before 2008.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#42126327)

? Clearly your search wasn't very thorough.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#42126401)

? Clearly your search wasn't very thorough.

True. But that's my point - one trap of the "thorough search" and "statistical/risk assessment" approach (vs "actual evidence of the absence") as a base to one's decision: when is the thorough search thorough enough?

Other than this... ummm... my search?

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#42126537)

Good question, and you have to be careful, but it still doesn't invalidate the technique.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#42126665)

Good question, and you have to be careful, but it still doesn't invalidate the technique.

Invalidate, no. Set the limits into evidence and prove that the statement "the technique is always valid" is false: yes... (unless you want to discuss the "True Scotsman" fallacy as well).

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#42126723)

In any case, if no one on slashdot can think of any case where someone died from hacking (I haven't been able to remember one myself), that's a good indication that such events are rare.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

Genda (560240) | about a year ago | (#42127109)

Which isn't to say that with our country weaponizing hacking the face of other nations and organization weaponizing hacking that something bad won't eventually, in fact probably happen. Its time to being looking at our information infrastructure as a psuedoliving entity and build it an immune system predicated on protecting human beings and the assets first and then network resources second. Such an immune system should include a way of marking intruders such that cyber antibodies can hunt them down and wrap their systems awaiting disposition by the authorities.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#42127353)

Its time to being looking at our information infrastructure as a psuedoliving entity and build it an immune system predicated on protecting human beings and the assets first and then network resources second.

Just so you know, this is a metaphor, and doesn't actually mean anything concrete at all.

Re:Do we have any credible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42127679)

Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence

True, but absence of evidence after a thorough search can give you certainty with P > .97

Apropos your reply and your signature: home prices never go down, right? 'Cause it was > 0.97 certain before 2008.

Wrong. There was absolutely zero evidence for "never" because house prices existed only for a limited time. There was a lot evidence for "the home price will not go down tomorrow", there was less evidence for "the house price will not go down till next year", there was even less evidence for "the house price will not go down the next five years".

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

fyi101 (2715891) | about a year ago | (#42127075)

Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence [wikipedia.org]

A phrase often ritually quoted by people whithout thinking about it first. I believe it was here in Slashdot that I read a comment to the effect of: "YES, YES IT IS. Absence of evidence is not PROOF of absence, but it certainly is EVIDENCE of it". I can't help but to concur, although I think this can stem from the ambiguousness of the word "evidence" (evidence as proof, or evidence as something that increases the probability of truth for a prediction). Failing to detect something can mean simply that the instrument or method used were inadequate, but as "failures to detect" pile on, scientists who predict said observation can begin to get nervous, and rightly so. Sometimes a prediction is tied to a well tested theory, and it's more reasonable to wait for further studies than to dismiss the theory altogether, but eventually the observation is made (or the failure of the prediction is ratified) or the theory can't be considered to be falsifiable, and is therefore unscientific.This (in my opinion) mistake is the reverse of another often misused phrase "Correlation is not causation", that is: "The presence of evidence is not evidence of presence" (I'd say: Yes, it is, it's just not PROOF of presence).

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#42127143)

Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence [wikipedia.org]

A phrase often ritually quoted by people whithout thinking about it first. I believe it was here in Slashdot that I read a comment to the effect of: "YES, YES IT IS. Absence of evidence is not PROOF of absence, but it certainly is EVIDENCE of it"

Cool. Thanks for being precise.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

kenorland (2691677) | about a year ago | (#42127965)

You're misapplying that. The "argument from ignorance" fallacy tell you that just because you haven't seen something, you can't conclude that it doesn't exist. That's because you may not have looked or may not have had a chance to observe it. But police and media are looking for such cases, are capable of identifying them, and would be reporting them publicly. If you look for something that could happen to millions of people and you don't observe it, it is reasonable to conclude that it's rare.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#42129653)

As another poster insightfully pointed out [slashdot.org] , the correct statement is "the absence of evidence is not the proof of absence".

That's because you may not have looked or may not have had a chance to observe it.

Even if you searching long enough, not finding something is still not a proof of impossibility.
Here's an example: "based on my numerous attempts, I must conclude that is impossible for me to win the lottery. Yes, I know, almost every week somebody wins it, but it's not me." - is this a true statement?

Re:Do we have any credible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42131783)

Even if you searching long enough, not finding something is still not a proof of impossibility.

Correct. But nobody claimed that it was impossible, hence your argument was a strawman argument.

I pointed out that the argument does, in fact, support what the original poster implied, namely that such cases are rare.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

Nyder (754090) | about a year ago | (#42128169)

Do we have credible reports of someone actually being killed because of hacking? The media and politicians for the last few years have been hyping the hell out of the hacker menace and the "cyber" war but no one is even providing any body counts

Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence [wikipedia.org] .

Ya, but it serves people policies by pretending it's an issue when it's not.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#42129675)

Do we have credible reports of someone actually being killed because of hacking? The media and politicians for the last few years have been hyping the hell out of the hacker menace and the "cyber" war but no one is even providing any body counts

Repeat after me: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence [wikipedia.org] .

Ya, but it serves people policies by pretending it's an issue when it's unlikely to be one.

FTFY.

Re:Do we have any credible (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about a year ago | (#42128563)

Simple - the media magnate and politicians are generally older people, who don't understand much technology at all. Not only that, every time they open their mouths ("I invented the internet","the internet is a series of tubes","we'll pass a law banning (X) on the internet", etc.) they look stupider and stupider.

The only things more fearsome than ignorance to a politician are those that they cannot control, and that which diminishes their power. The "internets" are both.

Poor phrasing: (1)

Hartree (191324) | about a year ago | (#42130377)

"are generally older people, who don't understand much technology at all"

Thus, since you seem to say older people do not understand much technology at all, they couldn't have built the technology that led directly to what we have now.

So, light emitting diodes and such are all just figments of Nick Holonyak's imagination since an old person like him couldn't have understood them, and he's fooled us into thinking they glow for all these years.

Thanks for clearing that up, youngling. I think you need to change it to say that certain careers like politician are less likely to have technically knowledgeable types rather than just saying the old are technical know nothings.

I think it 's nice for us to know (-1)

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If it bleeds, it leads (1)

Kittenman (971447) | about a year ago | (#42125411)

Why "threats posed by technology"? Why not benefits provided by technology? There's been billions - with a b - fed by GM crops, for a start. Vaccinations, robust engineering, surgery ....

Re:If it bleeds, it leads (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42126649)

Technology has to be demonstrated to be a threat in order to dismantle the industrial complex that produces that technology, the greenhouse gases and allows us to continue our lives in ways that are contrary to Agenda 21.

The award for world's most sustainable and best designed house a year or so ago was a cob house (a large mud hut) built on Vancouver Island in Canada. Yes, as mud huts go, it's relatively comfortable but it is the goal of Agenda 21 to reduce our civilization to a few people left living in a sustainable manner in mud huts that won't have any impact on the world when we finally die out as a species.

That's why technology must be portrayed as a threat to everything good ... (I was trying to find a proper ending for this statement but, I guess, that really sums it up nicely. Technology is just a threat to everything good.)

Re:If it bleeds, it leads (1)

Kelbear (870538) | about a year ago | (#42132651)

Because many of the benefits of technology are plain to see, and continue to be heavily explored by many. Technology solves problems, sometimes problems we didn't even know we had at the time.

In fact, this is so widely known and obvious that the author took a moment to consider the other side, and explore negative impacts of technology, because there is a greater likelihood of finding interesting or insightful points to discuss on the road less traveled.

It's hardly a foolish thing to look at threats from technology. Perhaps the answer will be that the corrective response needed will be minimal, perhaps the threat is not significant at all. But to avoid even the idea of looking of negative impacts from technology would be foolish indeed.

Really ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42125451)

Another BS from the "Concerned" pseudo scientists. In XIX century steam engine was supposed to destroy us.

JAM

not convincing (3, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#42125475)

It's fairly clear that a nuclear armageddon would have been bad for the majority of earth, if not destroying civilization completely.

Let's look at the other scenarios he describes (not all necessarily related to technology):

Emerging diseases. Yes, if H1N1 were as bad as the 1918 influenza, millions would have died. Not worth comparing to nuclear winter.
Global Warming. I'll let you decide if it's as bad as a nuclear armageddon.
Computer Hacking. In theory, it could cut power to a lot of people, as the article mentions, but so could some well-placed sticks of dynamite.

At least he didn't mention the terminator [slashdot.org] .

Re:not convincing - nukewar good for Earth (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42128779)

"It's fairly clear that a nuclear armageddon would have been bad for the majority of earth, if not destroying civilization completely."

Actually, if all this global warming gasbagging is anywhere near correct, nukewar, and it's subsequent nuclear winter, by dramatically reducing (and most likely not eliminating) human population would be a benefit to the planet. Maybe not to humans, though. Somewhere there's a balance between human overpopulation and health of the planet. Do we really care as a species? Not effectively. Don't worry, though - the 'free market' will sort things out...

Not the same SA that I grew up with (4, Interesting)

xtronics (259660) | about a year ago | (#42125569)

I used to read SA cover to cover when I was in high-school in the early '70s - it was great! The magazine was looking at using technology to improve our future - a lot of which happened.

Now, it is a bunch of nay-sayers and nervous ninny's which will prevent the future instead of embracing it.

Re:Not the same SA that I grew up with (1, Insightful)

Tokolosh (1256448) | about a year ago | (#42125805)

Absolutely. SA is staffed by a bunch of luddites. Most articles are about impending environmental catastrophe, which can only be averted by moving back to caves. And if we don't move back to caves, then our hubris will result in us having to move to caves. They have lost the plot.

Re:Not the same SA that I grew up with (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42126189)

It makes me sad. I used to enjoy reading SA. Then, SA decided to get political, started taking public policy positions on things like high-speed passenger trains and publishing bs articles giving credence to pseudoscientific claims about behavior (criminality, homosexuality, etc.) being genetically determined. Progressives have been trying to create societies free from all personal responsibility for a couple of hundred years. SA shouldn't treat their propaganda as science just as it shouldn't amplify the effort to create hysteria about AGW. Stick to the science. As part of the science, recognize that most scientists aren't supported by tax dollars and that their is nothing about working in the private sector that makes one's scientific views on things like AGW any less valid than that of the welfare queens in labcoats who work in academia or government agencies.

Re:Not the same SA that I grew up with (1)

geekpowa (916089) | about a year ago | (#42126255)

Not just limited to SA. Seems like most science journalism and popularization is focused on Malthusian pessimism.

Something more relevant to slashdot that makes my blood boil is every time Michio Kaku opens his mouth bangs on about how the end of Moore's law is imminent and this is going to have destructive repercussions for civilization. Give. It. A. Rest.

These folk are utterly unimaginative. Completely underestimate our combined ingenuity and overestimate the hurdles infront of us. Fortunately there are some popularisers out there who buck this trend, inspire both wonder and optimism just like the figures of my childhood did (e.g. Carl Sagan). i.e. Brian Cox

Re:Not the same SA that I grew up with (2)

Genda (560240) | about a year ago | (#42127141)

I am a HUGE FAN of wonder and optimism. I've seen more than one person accomplish the utterly impossible by setting out guns a blazing, and the universe just seemed to line up in front of them as though by dent of will the universe wouldn't dare to deny such great intent. So I am clear that the dreamers and inventors may in fact be the only hope our species has because we are only a few paces in front of the stupid messes we made to get here, and it will honestly take greater technology than any we happen to have in our quiver to resolves these things (though I am utterly clear they are resolvable.)

My biggest concerns are the idiots running the circus who are deadly committed to nothing changing forever so the master of these toadies can continue to enjoy dominion over all they see. We need to jettison this entrenched social idiocy with all due haste or the ugly stories will start precipitating with alarm frequency and horror. Bring out the inventor and visionaries, and the first lawyer to sue for squatted IP gets to be a human sacrifice to the future.

Re:Not the same SA that I grew up with (1)

Genda (560240) | about a year ago | (#42127221)

Dude... Moore's law is coming to an end... you just can't look at Moore's law in a bubble. Its part of a much larger sweep, starting with the evolution of life, an asymptotic curve going back about 4 billion years. Then primates going back about 12 million years, then Genus Homo, then society, then the Renaissance, the industrial revolution, electronics, solid state and Moore's Law. Each is an asymptotic curve inside a larger asymptotic curve. What comes next? Photonics, Nanotechnology and Self Assembly? Protein based computing? Quantum computing? All of the above? Silicon as we are playing with it now has a decade at most before its played out for as much as we can squeeze out of it. Processors with a 1,000 cores and super computer performance in your pocket. There's no reason to even suspect there aren't a dozen new asymptotic curves ready to pick up where Moore's law leaves off. As for Michio, he's a futurist, he wants to light a fire under the idiots who would sit on their hands because they think computers are the work of the devil. So absolutely warn the citizens we need to beware of the coming of the end of Moore's law and we better have our tickets ready for the next ride cause sitting in one place any more comes at a high price

Re:Not the same SA that I grew up with (1)

geekpowa (916089) | about a year ago | (#42128343)

You seem to be arguing more-so about Accelerating change [wikipedia.org] than Moore's law.

Back to Moore's law: I am not arguing against limits of Moore's law. I take issue with Michio Kaku's interpretation what it means when the limits of Moore's law begin to realise itself. In his rhetoric, a collapse in Moore's law will precipitate a collapse in society.

Maybe I've been watching a different Michio Kaku than you. Your's sounds like an optimistic futurist. The one I've watched peddles end-of-times by clinging to an narrow-mindedness that your Michio Kaku presumably rails against.

Anyway what is there for the average citizen to be beware of? We are already essentially dealing with our appetite for expanding compute power beyond Moore's law already; i.e. steady increase in parallel computing, on die and across networks, and steady efficiency improvements, i.e. joules per flop.

Re:Not the same SA that I grew up with (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42129357)

Not just limited to SA. Seems like most science journalism and popularization is focused on Malthusian pessimism.

I won't defend it, just explain it.

These are people who spent decades arguing and believing the hype about how these emerging technologies would change the world toward some utopia. After being burned very often, they have become much more pessimistic.

Re:Not the same SA that I grew up with (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42126501)

When did Faux News buy SA?

Re:Not the same SA that I grew up with (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42126625)

You seem to be confused. It is liberals who promote antipathy to modern technology. Hippies are the ones telling everyone else to live on communes, not a problem until they start using the government to force other people to live like hippies want them to. What is the political ideology of those trying to ban GM foods, processed foods, soda pop, fast food and personal automobiles? Who is it who celebrate dirty, dangerous jobs in steel mills and other smoke stack industries?

It is a standard liberal talking point that political conservatives are anti-science, but the reality is that it is political liberals who condemn modern industrial society.

Re:Not the same SA that I grew up with (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42134229)

As long as the science doesn't, you know, have anything to do with evolution, or the earth being older than 6000 years, or climate change, or getting pregnant from rape. Just stuff like that.

Re:Not the same SA that I grew up with (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42137475)

As long as the science doesn't, you know, have anything to do with evolution, or the earth being older than 6000 years, ..., or getting pregnant from rape.

Those aren't the positions or views of the overwhelming majority of political conservatives, just the caricature of conservatives invented by liberals as a smear tactic and reinforced by their media allies. Insisting that most conservatives hold such views is like insisting most liberal men inflate their scrotums (scroll down a few pictures at http://www.zombietime.com/hall_of_shame/) for fun.

or climate change

There is real scientific debate about climate change and what effect, if any, human activity has on it. Notably, it is liberals who insist on suppressing the debate by declaring the scientific argument to be over and by smearing those who challenge their narrative.

Re:Not the same SA that I grew up with (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42128985)

It'd be great if all the people cheerleading technology would see what the impacts of those advancements are. Old satellites? Space junk to the point where it's hard to avoid debris in some parts of space. Networked cameras and cellphones? Constant surveillance. Data mining? Models of a person's lifestyle and background, whether they wanted that information public and purchaseable or not.

Although I'm probably the troll for pointing this out, because all these cheerleaders think that this tech wasn't developed for the goals I pointed and government and/or people who have other nefarious intentions will never be able to use these techs for something other than what the founding developers intended the techs for.

Not the same SA I knew either (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42125639)

What ever happened to SA. They now seem to be more of an anti-science based publication. Every time I look in an issue there are articles about how evil or dangerous science is. The articles have become totally superficial. Can someone find the real SA.

Not the same Slashdot I knew either (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42125711)

What ever happened to Slashdot. They now seem to be more of an anti-science based forum. Every time I look in an issue there are articles about how evil or dangerous science is. The articles have become totally superficial. Can someone find the real Slashdot.

Re:Not the same SA I knew either (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42126809)

What ever happened to SA

The chief editor is a woman. A scientific magazine with a woman editor. *shakes head*

Inanimate objects aren't threats. Only people. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42125717)

Inanimate objects aren't threats. Only people looking to impose their will on others are threats. Blaming the tools gives these evil individuals a scape goat.

Guns don't kill people (1)

gmuslera (3436) | about a year ago | (#42125743)

People not properly understanding its consequences, or plain killers using them are the ones that kills people. With technology is more or less the same. The threat is people.

Regaring climate or diseases, could be attributed to people how damaging (or costly in lives) they could become.

Once again overblown scaremongering.... (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | about a year ago | (#42125745)

... by people looking for money.

Let's be realistic, there are easy ways to deal with "hackers" on the internet = add more capacity then any hacker can hope to DDOS you with. The others deal with patching security issues in software/making hacking expensive (i.e. make it more trouble then it is worth). The whole idea of cyber war is idiotic to begin with. If you don't want anything made public don't put it on a public network.

The fact that we have people looking for $ who want to make an "industry" out of the uninformed and they are using PR techniques to manipulate people into believing their bullshit.

Its the unknown that's the problem (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year ago | (#42125881)

I've held a theory for a very long time, that I fear advanced civilizations snuff themselves out with science all the time. I fear, that it's almost inevitable that it happens, and that it's not nuclear war or global warming that does them in. Dangerous things that we see coming... But the sudden surprise discovery that does it. Lets say we invent some marvelous device... like the microwave... and it seems innocuous enough and eventually everyone has one in their homes... and then lets say we invent a new oven mitt made out of a new hybrid plastic that allows the user to touch hot things and not get burned... lets say there is something fundamental about physics that's very basic that we do not quite understand yet... and when this new plastic is irradiated with microwaves, they split quarks inside of it. So some housewife leaves her oven mitt in the microwave and viola... quark bomb... earth gone... Sounds silly... but really, we're inventing devices and materials not found in nature all of the time. We're also stumbling into very surprising physical phenomena all the time... how possible is it that there is something very very dangerous that we just don't have a clue about yet?

Re:Its the unknown that's the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42126109)

You should watch Penn&Teller's Bullshit! episode on environmental hysteria. IIRC that's the episode that shows people attending a counseling session to alleviate their "environmental anxiety". Your overblown fear of new technology should make you fit right in.

Re:Its the unknown that's the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42126891)

first of all let me justb say that i am not tyring to put you down AT ALL---not even one bit
if you find yourself thinking about this stuff more than a few minutes a day PLEASE TRADE LIVES WITH ME
in not trying to be a dick ,but i wish i had your life. but i dont wish mine on you
you know those tv commercials where they show the "starving people" and they show dark skinned refugees in fly encrusted piles of detritus where these people live? you know the ones where they try to beg 28 cents a day to feed them and provide water to drink? THOSE PEOPLE HAVE WORRIES and they really exist
it always helped me to try to draw a line between the real and imaginary and stick to the real side where there arent any quark bombs

How about a more realistic analysis (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42126003)

Danger from a pandemic:
True, modern modes of travel make the spreading of disease easier. However, modern medicine has already doubled the expected lifetime of people in advanced societies and technology allows remedies to be devised and epidemics to be tracked and contained whereas before the only things people could do were pray or find someone to scapegoat.

Danger from IT:
Before reading the article, I thought the danger cited would be from totalitarian regimes pushing for total information awareness, enslaving vast swaths under governments with such tight controls that there would be little or no hope for the populace to remedy the situation. Instead the author makes ridiculous statements such as "gas stations couldn't pump gas from their tanks, and fuel-carrying trucks wouldn't be able to fill up at refueling stations". Apparently, the author has never heard of non-computer controlled gas powered portable generators or simple mechanical devices for pumping. Sure, a major loss of power would be disruptive, but people would find a way to adapt without dying by "the millions". Seriously, Guteryl gets paid to write crap like this?

Danger from anthropogenic climate change:
Computer models aren't proof. "climate scientists" who suppress opposing views aren't scientists. And, of course, there is still no evidence whatsoever that even if human activity is causing climate change that the changes caused wouldn't be beneficial rather than damaging.

Comparing any of these things to a full-scale nuclear exchange is idiotic. A full-scale exchange would, without question, cause the deaths of tens of millions of people.

globalization (2)

hyperion2010 (1587241) | about a year ago | (#42126221)

Frankly I think all of this can be summed up in one word: 'globalization.' Unfortunately it doesn't consider the alternatives. The more connected the world is the faster things like disease spread and the more some deleterious event in one place can effect the rest of the world. Hacking isnt a threat, basing your civilization on systems that can break is, that has been true forever and always will be. The alternative is to live under a rock and have high mortality rates to keep the population down so we never leave the neolithic.

Frankly the article cherry picks a couple well known fears that people has and doesn't actually look at where the real weak points are in our current civilization. As others have mentioned, a stick of dynamite in the right place could easily result in further self destructive behavior above and beyond that we have already inflicted upon ourselves as a result of 9/11.

Re:globalization (2)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#42126735)

where the real weak points are in our current civilization.

What would you consider to be the real weak points of our current civilization then? Resource exhaustion? Climate change?

Re:globalization (1)

kenorland (2691677) | about a year ago | (#42128123)

What would you consider to be the real weak points of our current civilization then? Resource exhaustion? Climate change?

Same as always: nationalism, xenophobia, totalitarianism. If you keep a lid on those, humanity can cope with anything.

Can't Fred Guterl do better than that? (1)

herojig (1625143) | about a year ago | (#42126435)

Disease, weather, and lack of energy have plagued humanity since we all crawled from the slime, or peeked from the cave, or evolved however we did. I think we can deal with it.

Old news (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | about a year ago | (#42126641)

James Burke was talking about this more than 30 years ago in Connections. The final episode is something every modern luddite should watch and learn from.

turkey lurkey and chicken little both .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42126831)

singing that same old song
THE SKY IS FALLING! THE SKY IS FALLING!
these things are just there to scare people just in case they had NO other things to worry about
sorry but right now there are REAL THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT, not some vague intangible ideas.
seriously i could make a list of "things"that are much more "real" to worry about
bills arent going to pay themselves and xmas is less than one month away
isnt that mayan calendar thing gonna happen soon--i cant hardly wait for that

Get a grip (1)

wakeboarder (2695839) | about a year ago | (#42127281)

Seriously? This is not even a comprehensive list... He didn't even give an honorable mention to solar flare. And yes turbines fail, but probably not because of a computer virus. And if we had to rig something up here we do have the manufacturing capabilities.

Why all the "worry"? (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | about a year ago | (#42128131)

You can't do anything about it. Your elected representative's real constituency are his corporate "campaign contributors". You get your electricity off the grid, and your Frankenburgers and Slave Labour Shoes from the Buy-N-Large. Very few of us can afford to effect change through purchasing decisions, certainly not enough to be significant.

So why worry? What are you achieving, other than to raise your blood pressure? Massive protests didn't stop the War on Eastasia, nor did Occupy bring down the 1%.

Ignorance is bliss, but don't ponder that too hard.

Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42128599)

I for one welcome our robotic overlords.

Depleted Uranium (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42135653)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-VkpR-wka8

2 Billion (yes with a B) year half life
40% aerosolization on impact
inhalation is the most common exposure
kills soldiers, civilians, animals indiscriminately

A true weapon of mass destruction and worse than chemical or biological weapons.

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