Tuesday, April 29, 2014

working ourselves to depression - 4/29/14

Since the industrial age began, the pace of work has increased dramatically from the state it was once at with introduction of factories and mechanized transportation. However most of the world did much better than us in preserving their free time as technology changed the pace of the world. If we are to truly enjoy the benefits that modern technology has brought us, then we should be able to use them to our advantage so that we have more free time to do what we choose.
As the World has shrunk and we have become more connected, time has become a much more valued commodity than in the past. Since 1980 the number of people working more than 50 hours a week has increased dramatically among all but the lowest earning working populations.
Aside from this, a shocking number of employees are also required to keep their minds on work even on their time off such as the weekend or on sick leave. As people have begun spending more time at the office, these changes have led to a culture where people begin to stress over the question of  whether or not they should go spend time with their friends this weekend or work on that report they have to do next week. 

American jobs have historically been the most productive in the world, with productivity up more than 80% in the past 30 years however it has almost no tie to an increase in income for the majority of workers. Much of this increased productivity, which should help raise wages for all employees, is being used to make the top 1% almost two and a half times wealthier today than they were in the past and this is effectively making middle and working class people poorer as the living wage continues to rise with inflation their stagnated wages haven't even been growing to match it. If the majority of workers are to not see any economic gain, then should there not be some kind a labor revolt for pay to reflect productivity and how much their worth to the company?

Over the past century increasing productivity has become the most valued thing in any employee and this has led to a corporate culture where there is a constant pressure for more work to be done with the same or fewer employees. All of this pressure to work harder isn't even being reflected in employee compensation or leisure time. All of this has contributed to the overall reduction of happiness as the world has grown to operate faster and more complicated.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Spending Wars 4/18/14

Since World War Two military spending and waste has been on the rise with no clear division between useful and wasteful spending. The lack of distinction between what will be useful and what is waste is a problem that leads to the treadmill of innovation which requires a constant input of money to keep it moving. Much of defense spending around the world is often justified with the deter-or-win rationale, and this leads to massive defense spending. If all countries were to abandon these strategies then conflict would happen at identical or lower levels with less spending on things that don't lead to societal improvement.

A large portion of defense spending goes to projects that are overzealous in complexity and scope that end up being canceled several years in due to time and budget constraints. With projects like the Future Combat Systems that would digitally connected every troop, weapon and armament on the battlefield to each other so they could communicate at a higher level and allow for more exact control of battlefield conditions. However this $190 Billion project was canceled several years into the project after billions had been spent, but had there been better cost-benefit analysis to see if the project would still be worth keeping even if the Department of Defense had to cut its budget at the time it was started then there's a good chance that this project would have never taken off in the first place and the taxpayers wouldn't be short nearly $20 Billion. Measures such as preventive cost analysis of a project that look into the likely-tude of projects running over budget and advising against a project if it is unrealistic in its scope are great ways to reduce unnecessary wastes that cause our defense budget to be the largest in the World.

For the history of warfare people have worked to have pointier sticks than their enemies, and it is this that has spurred the of development of weaponry. The greatest example of this being the gatling gun, which was created with the hope that it would make wars too gruesome for men to fight. However that was not the case and it laid the foundation for the machine gun, which has made warfare all too efficient for all men to carry out. If we stopped trying to make better weapons it would eliminate the issue of us killing each other faster every time we have a war which would leave more room for diplomacy to determine the outcome of war.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Transhuman Improvement 4/15/14

The concept of lengthening the human life substantially has been in the minds of men for thousands of years. Stories about so called Fountains of Youth date back as early as the 5th century BC. Modern technology could end up being this fountain of youth that we are looking for, however there is a large possibility of abuse that exists for technology that can lengthen or improve peoples lives and these technologies must be shared equally between all people.
Unlike the Fountain of Youth, Transhumanism is more than a folk tale or story it is a series of ideas on the state humans could obtain with technology if it were to be properly focused. They believe we should use our ability to screen for harmful genetic diseases in a form of altruistic eugenics to eliminate inheritable genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell that lead to death and health problems for all those affected. By screening for these diseases at conception parents can choose to abort fetuses that would otherwise live sickly lives and likely die at a young age. They also hope to be able to take advantage of ever shrinking technology to create artificial limbs and organs that could replace old or damaged ones that are no longer usable to their full capacity. By replacing limbs and organs dying of old age will become far less common as it will allow people to extend their ability to work and enjoy life even more than they do now. Combined these uses of technology could eliminate many causes of early and premature deaths that could easily cause significant increases in life expectancy.
By the nature of invention in the beginning many of these innovations will only be available to those with money. While genetic screening is available to those with healthcare, groups without it still do not have access to a quality of care that allows  them to take full advantage of modern prenatal care. This has allowed genetic diseases such as sickle cell which exists mostly among the black community to continue to thrive and cause death among the poor. Artificial limbs and organs that replace those that were removed by choice and not of necessity will be some of the most expensive and powerful tools to separate the rich from the poor. Currently these devices perform worse than their natural counterparts, but as technology progresses it is only logical that we will eventually be able to build body parts that are superior to their natural counterparts. This could cause a larger gap between the rich and the poor by putting physical differences as yet another barrier making it harder to change classes in our society. Unless measures are made before these technologies become recreational to prevent purposeful replacement of body parts and genetic testing is made free for all, then a gap of disease, lifespan and physical ability will be made between the rich and poor.
Combined these ideas have the ability to greatly improve the human condition for all peoples. However it must be carefully watched and maybe even regulated so that it is not abused to keep the current leaders in power or to oppress the poor.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Changing Sience 4/8/2014

In the academic world, and especially at the undergraduate level much of the research is done simply because it is funded and in someone's field rather than because of how much it will impact the world. This research can rarely be called fair for more than ten percent of the population since only that top 10% will be able to afford the product when it is released even if it were to affect them. We ought to focus spending and scientific resources not just on problems that are interesting or hard for scientists to solve or on things that could be easily monetized but they should focus on solving problems that can help as many people as possible.
Due to the way the current grant funding systems works, basic science in medical research has reached a point where it is hard to call it true science. Science relies on peer review in order to ensure the quality of research and that there are reproducible results. However the way that the current grant system is structure no longer lends itself to the continuation of that philosophy since grants are not awarded for peer review but for new and unique ideas on the treatment for an ailment. This flaw in modern research tactics is brought to light in 'Trouble at the Lab' by the economist, where at one point the author brings up a study by Amgen who tried to recreate 53 landbreaking cancer studies with the help of their original publishers and out of these 53 studies they were only able to reproduce to results of six. The market for biomedical research is a multi-billion dollar powerhouse on its own, with over $59 billion being spent in 2012 alone, and if only 11% or even 25% of the studies being done have reproducible results that's $40 to $52 billion being wasted every year on bunk research whose result could have been completely fabricated due to the lack of peer review taking place. Many of these groundbreaking papers with unreproducible results spawn research on similar subjects that could just as easily have bunk results. This wastefulness needs to be removed from the system by allowing more grants for scientists to peer review papers before they or other base more research off of them. This would have a two fold effect that could reduce the research costs for new treatment while opening the door to more research that may not have been done in the current system and both of these changes could have the effect of making more medicine available to more people all at a lower cost.
The most common drugs being created and pushed by Big Pharma aren't cures for rare and deadly diseases or even drugs actually cure diseases. Most drugs introduced today are designed and prescribed to treat symptoms of more complicated health issues that are often left untreated once the symptoms can be abated by medications such as lipitor, prilosec, viagra, and diabetes medications like Glucophage. All of these drugs have a whole host of side effects that can be treated by the other such as in the case of statins like Lipitor which are attributed to a 48% increase one's likelihood of contracting type-2 diabetes. While diabetes drugs are necessary for people with type-1 diabetes, the majority of diabetes cases are type-2 which should have a long term treatment that involves a change of lifestyle and not a permanent prescription, this is also true most cases of high LDL cholesterol and bad acid reflux. Pills like viagra don't even treat a real disease, they provide a change of lifestyle for the elderly who in the past would have had no choice but to accept that they can't have sex anymore. Pills like Viagra and for the most part Glucophage are the bread and butter of modern pharmaceutical companies that allow people to live an otherwise unnatural and unsafe lifestyle that can ultimately shorten their life. Much of this money that went into researching chemicals like these would be better spent if it went into finding cures for common diseases that affect millions like TB or distributing existing cures to things like dysentery and malaria to the people.
Changing the way and reason for basic science research could have significant impact on what comes out of the technoscience machine. Better enforcing peer review by allowing grants for researchers to peer review papers could reduce the waste of grant money on ideas and concepts that don't work, opening the door for other solutions and options to be developed and worked on. If Big Pharma were incentivised in someway with money or emotions to develop low cost cures to diseases that exist only among the poor then more sick people could be treated by the charities that work to help treat the ill in poor countries and they may even be able to eradicate diseases like TB completely like they did with the smallpox virus . All of these changes would lead to a higher quality of medicine for everyone and a better life for those without the money to access current medicines.

Politics of Engineering 4/1/14

Whether they know it or not most creators are politicians, all be it not in the way most people imagine politicians. By the nature of their field gives them a larger influence than most in the direction of future cultural phenomenons and the way people view innovation. Engineers should be both more willing allowed to exercise this power as well as not be punished as much for speaking out against an innovation or idea that they feel could be harmful or dangerous.
It can be said that necessity is the mother of invention and that may be so, but Engineers are the father of invention. As they are the driving force behind the shaping of their creation and have significant if not total control of of at least some aspect of the design process. There have been many times in the past where if an engineer had spoken up about or thought of a possible design flaw then many disasters could've been averted. Such was the case with the original Ford Pinto which had a fatal flaw that caused it to catch fire and explode in low speed rear end collisions. This design flaw was known by the engineers testing the car, however nothing was done about it because there was no one in the company willing to stand up to Corporate and threaten to refuse to work or inform the media about the dangers of the Pinto in the design state the was produced during its first production run. While it is not the fault of the engineers that this design reached production in the United States there is much more that could have been done to prevent this design from reaching production. The Engineers working on the Product could have gone on strike to delay the car from being released until a solution to their explosive problem could be found, especially since skilled labor like engineering is much harder to bust with scabs due to the time it takes to train new engineers when there is suddenly a gluttony of need for them. While this would work it could prove extremely difficult to throw a strike when employees aren't being disenfranchised, which is why whistleblowing and alerting the media of the cars flaw would have become known to the public and Ford would have been forced to change the car or face a public unwilling to buy their cars. However the way that Ford and its engineers reacted to the Pintos flaws was one of the earliest large scale examples of how large companies corporate culture had changed how it viewed customers to be no more than a line on a docket and not as people.
The digital age has brought on significant changes in the way people do just about everything, from communications to the way children play electronics have become embedded in our lives like television did in the 1950's. Mobile devices have embedded access to near infinite knowledge and distraction into our pockets and this has changed so many things about how we behave. In children and teenagers the structure of information availability on the internet has lead to reduced attention spans which may be able to be linked to attention deficit disorder, since the brain rapidly adapts to the things it is presented. In the business world these devices have created an atmosphere in which people feel like they must always be working just to stay with the pack and the feeling that in many industries the only way to stay ahead is with the use of chemical supplements. By speeding up society the internet has inadvertently created a culture which values work and near constant productivity over all else, which has lead to a reduction in leisure time in adults and attention spans in children and if these societal changes had been foreseen by the inventors of the internet who just wanted a faster way to exchange academic papers then we can only hope that they would have taken extra precaution to prevent the current abuse of the technology in its current state.
Engineers have a very large influence on the impact of what they create, however they often exercise very little of this influence or don't know how to properly estimate the impact of their inventions. If an engineer is to be true to their social responsibility, then they need to better use their ability to influence the impact of their creations in order for them to have the most positive impact possible.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nanotechnology the new boom 4/4/14

In many ways we are already living in the future, but with the key difference being that we don't fully understand the dangers of many of the things we do. In "A TINY PRIMER ON NANO-SCALE TECHNOLOGIES AND “THE LITTLE BANG THEORY”" they introduce the concept of nanoscale technology and how the properties of elements change at the nanoscopic scale. The author argues that the possible dangers and abuses of nanotech is unknown and because of that all implementations of them should be taken off the market until all health and safety concerns for each nano-material are resolved. However these materials have the ability to change the world and the way people live.
In medicine nanotechnology has led to breakthroughs that have the potential to revolutionize medicine by inventing new cures to diseases that don't exist in the wild, purpose built to remove certain infections. Making medical devices smaller allows more sensitive devices to be made cheaply on a larger scale, such as in the recently invented electronic tattoos that are printed directly on the skin and can detect things such as heart rate and hydration levels as well as electrical conductivity of the skin, and that's just with them being on the surface of the skin. This technology is relatively cheap and is easy to implement with only the possibility for improvement in the future with this being the first step to nanobots that are injected directly into the bloodstream to monitor a patients health. Even modern medicine has been changed by nano-technology, with sub-dermal glucose monitors that are so small they can be powered by the bodies natural energy and read via RFID chips attached to these almost impossibly small devices, and while sub-dermal implants are still on trial they show great promise to decrease the change in lifestyle for those afflicted with diseases such as diabetes and also show that implantable monitors are possible.
Due to their incredibly small size these nanomaterials have the possibility of being constructed on a particle by particle basis, meaning that  they can be built automatically at an incredibly low manufacturing cost. These molecular factories could be used almost anywhere to greatly reduce the cost of manufacture of these advanced materials, and allow people of all wealth classes access to them. Molecular assemblers could be used drive the price of modern medicine through the floor by making it extremely easy to produce any chemical or nano-device. Low cost medicine is key to preventing a quality of care gap between income levels that widen the divide between classes even more. If implemented properly nanotechnology could be used to make self replicating factories that are able to build products, chemicals and devices for several times less than we are currently able to and that would allow for more people to access the new technologies created by these nanomaterials.
To change the world would be introducing these technologies, and while they are not without their dangers the possible benefits of nanotech far outweighs any dangers that are realistic. While the green and grey goo's discussed in the Woodhouse text are scary they are unrealistic when compared to how nanotech is being used. With nanotechnology changing the way products as simple as sunscreen work, it is amazing that it can be found scary when it should be viewed as a tool to advance humanity and society to having not only a new level of control over its domain, but we will also be able to increase the quality of life of everyone with access to it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A new evolution - 3/28/14

With the pace of invention accelerating at an alarming rate society and the way people interact has been changed dramatically. The fields of chemistry, engineering and physics have allowed us to create fields like computer science, which didn't exist 100 years ago. This impressive pace of progress is moving to the field of biology, where modern technologies are allowing us to perform the unprecedented form of creating life from scratch, allowing for amazing new possibilities in all aspects of human life.
In confessions of a botanist the author, Martha Crouch, argues that much of the work she had done in the field of plant breeding and genetics research was misused by Monsanto to create the genetically engineered foods that dominate the markets we have today. With much of her research being implemented by these companies in a manor that allowed them to patent and sell the seeds to plants that could produce significantly more food than classical plants. This created a second green revolution that helped the world grow to hold over 7 billion people, with modern techniques of genetic engineering we could find a way to make new plant strains that are even more pest and weather resilient that can survive in much harsher climates, all while producing even more food in indoor greenhouse towers to feed the cities of the future.The author presents a tone of regret nearing malice when speaking of her past work and how it was used, but it was just a stepping stone to a nearly unrecognizable future where plants have been optimized to take as much energy from sunlight as possible in order to produce unthinkable yields of food in a highly efficient manor.
The invention of artificial life in 2010 was perhaps one of the most groundbreaking things to ever happen in biology. With the phi X174 virus being created by J. Craig Venter we have reached a new landmark in the science of biology that opens the doors to creating custom organisms to make us anything we need using renewable fuels that our machines cannot efficiently capture energy from. While this does open a two way door and has a possibility to lead even more deadly forms of warfare and terrorism, it opens a much wider door which will give humanity the means to continue prospering and even save the planet through renewable creation of gasolines, pharmaceuticals, or even metals that are currently very expensive to manufacture. Combined with the older techniques of genetic manipulation used by Crouch and her team it gives us the power to feed the world even more efficiently and maybe even save it.
These amazing advancements are a way we can use to avoid the catastrophe that will occur if we ever truly outgrow our environments ability to support us. By some genetic engineering may be considered playing god, and perhaps that is the case but it gives us the ability to do things that would've been thought impossible a century ago. Like electricity and the computer synthetic biology and GMOs should not be viewed as man playing with powers he should never control, but as tools we can use to change the World we live in for the better and why not change the World?