MonthApril 2015

Mindful Cyborgs: A Positive Vision of Transhumanism and AI with Damien Williams

This week Damien Williams — aka Wolven — joined me to talk about pop culture portrayals of human enhancement and artificial intelligence and why we need to craft more nuanced narratives to explore these topics. Damien has been exploring the subject extensively at A Future Worth Thinking About.

Tune in next week to hear Damien talk about how AI and transhumanism intersects with magic and the occult.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Mindful Cyborgs: A Positive Vision of Transhumanism and AI with Damien Williams

On the State of “Careers”

Is digital journalism a viable career? Financial journalist and media pundit Felix Salmon says no.

His lengthy and dismal assessment of the future of journalism as a career path — ie, a job where your salary increases over time and you make enough money to support a family — was, shall we say, widely panned by other journalists who think he’s being a negative nancy and discouraging young people from entering the field. Personally, I think things are even worse than Salmon says.

Now, Salmon and I are in pretty good posiitons. Him more so than I, but neither of us is cranking out Examiner.com articles for $0 a pop just to build a portfolio in hopes of landing a staff writer job at a community newspaper that pays less than an entry level job at Home Depot. Neither of us is cranking out 10+ “stories” a day for a clickbait site just to make rent. Neither one of us just got laid off from a major urban daily after 20 years. We’re part of the lucky few that get paid a living wage, or better, to produce journalism.

But it’s not just journalism. The entire economy is now geared towards turning humans into fungible commodities. And it’s hard to build a career in an environment where there’s no point in asking for a raise because there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who would do your job for even less than you do.

This is nothing new to billions of manual laborers who are used to being treated like cogs in a machine. But once upon a time unions were able to help workers actually band together to demand things like predictable hours and livable working conditions. That has changed. but the do what you love mantra managed to turn those few jobs that robots can’t yet do into sub-minimum wage gigs that require graduate degrees.

You might think you can escape this fate by becoming a programmer. But code bootcamps are cranking out hundreds of people who can crank out CRUD apps all day. And when you start to go grey, the tech industry will toss you out like an 8-track tape.

I don’t mean to imply that all precariat — from the middle class white guy with a PhD to Rwandan woman who came to the U.S. with nothing — are equally affected by this mechanization of humanity. But we are all affected.

The answer isn’t in picking the right career for the machine age. It’s changing the system.

Chronic Fatigue Century

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a blanket term for a number of debilitating medical conditions that leave people exhausted all the time for no apparent reason. It’s not tied to any particular exertion. Rest doesn’t make it better. Patients are just left crushingly tired, often unable to get out of bed, and we don’t really know why.

Science is finally making some progress towards diagnosing and understanding at least some forms of the syndrome as an immune system disorder. But because it has historically been so hard to properly diagnose — and because people are dicks — it’s been dismissed as a purely psychological issue, as if that would make it any less serious. According to Wikipedia “many patients and advocacy groups, as well as some experts, believe the name trivializes the medical condition and they promote a name change.”

A new name would be clarifying. Then perhaps we can repurpose the term, because “chronic fatigue” seems to perfectly describe our epoch.

Unlike medical chronic fatigue syndrome, our societal fatigue does stem from exertion. But we can’t get the rest that we need. About 73 percent of Americans sleep less than eight hours a night. Not only do we take fewer vacations than the rest of the industrialized world, but we are taking fewer and fewer as the years grind on. It’s not much better if you’re un or underemployed. Poverty is exhausting. We’re willing to work but too tired to hustle.

To compensate, we’ve gone from coffee to Red Bull to Five Hour Energy to modafinil. As soon as DARPA perfects its sleepless serum we’ll move on to that.

We’ve got Kickstarter fatigue, social media stream fatigue, outrage fatigue, crisis fatigue, donor fatigue, future fatigue… fuck, I think I’ve probably got fatigue fatigue at this point.

Maybe it started with 9/11. Maybe it was the financial crisis. Or maybe it was earlier, with Y2K. All I know is that I’m bone tired, and I don’t see any rest on the horizon and that just about everyone I know feels the same way.

But maybe that’s how we start to get better. First we admit that we have a problem. Then maybe we can find a way to collectively pull the plug on this treadmill.

Mindful Cyborgs: Meme Culture, Writing, Contemplation, and Parenting with Paul Ford

Writer and programmer Paul Ford joins us again to talk about Buzzfeed, biking as contemplation and future-proofing his kids.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Meme Culture, Writing, Contemplation, and Parenting with Paul Ford, Part 2

Almond errata

I’ve found a better source of information on how much water almonds use and now have a better estimate of how much water per gram of fat and protein it takes to grow them. It’s about four times what I’d originally estimated, which makes them nowhere near as efficient as I’d originally estimated. Which makes sense — I always thought those numbers were wrong.

But even having adjusted those numbers, almonds are still slightly more efficient in terms of fat per gallon of water than cow’s milk, and use about half the amount of water per gram of protein as beef. So my original conclusion that beef is a far worse problem than almonds still stands, but I do now think almond farming is a problem.

Coconut milk appears to be a good alternative to almond milk, at least based on the So Delicious environmental footprint website. And based on the same report that I got my updated almond numbers from, hazelnuts use almost as much water, in total, as almonds, but use very little irrigated water.

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