16 results back to index

pages: 387 words: 105,250

The Caryatids by Bruce Sterling


carbon footprint, clean water, failed state, impulse control, new economy, nuclear winter, semantic web, social software, stem cell, supervolcano, urban renewal, Whole Earth Review

The most heavily trafficked tag was the strange coinage “Supervolcano.” Supervolcanoes had been a topic of mild intellectual interest for many years. Recently, people had talked much less about supervolcanoes, and with more pejoratives in their semantics. Web-semantic traffic showed that people were actively shunning the subject of supervolcanoes. That scientific news seemed to be rubbing people the wrong way. “So,” said Guillermo at last, “according to our best sources here, there are some giant … and I mean really giant magma plumes rising up and chewing at the West Coast of North America. Do we have a Family consensus about that issue?” Raph still wasn’t buying it. “The other sources said that ‘Yellowstone’ was a supervolcano. Not ‘Yosemite.’ Yellowstone is way over in Montana.” “You do agree that supervolcanoes exist, though.

Nobody else in the world wants to think about supervolcanoes.” Buffy was losing her temper. “But this is so totally unbelievable! The sky already darkened! The black rain already fell on us! We already have a climate crisis, we have one going on right now! Now we’re supposed to have another crisis, out of nowhere, because California blows up from some supervolcano? What are the odds?” “Well, that question’s pretty easy,” said Freddy. “A supervolcano under the Earth doesn’t care what we humans did to the sky. If it blows up, then it just blows up! So the odds of a supervolcano are exactly the same as they always were.” Rishi, who was bright, had gotten all interested. “Well, what exactly are the odds of a supervolcano? How often do supervolcanoes erupt, and turn the sky black, completely wrecking the climate, and so forth?”

“They exist. If you insist. But the last supervolcano was seventy-four thousand years ago. Not during this business quarter. Not this year. Not even one thousand years. Seventy-four thousand years, Freddy.” Freddy looked down and slowly quoted from his notepad. “ ‘The massive eruption of a supervolcano would be a planetary catastrophe. It would create years of freezing temperatures as volcanic dust and ash obscured the warmth of the sun. The sky will darken, black rain will fall, and the Earth will be plunged into the equivalent of a nuclear winter.’ ” Guillermo’s face went sour. “Okay, that is total baloney. ‘Nuclear winter,’ that sounds extremely corny to me.” “That’s because this source material is eighty years old. Geologists know a whole lot about supervolcanoes. Nobody else in the world wants to think about supervolcanoes.”


pages: 219 words: 63,495

50 Future Ideas You Really Need to Know by Richard Watson


23andMe, 3D printing, access to a mobile phone, Albert Einstein, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, BRICs, Buckminster Fuller, call centre, clean water, cloud computing, collaborative consumption, computer age, computer vision, crowdsourcing, dark matter, dematerialisation, digital Maoism, Elon Musk, energy security, failed state, future of work, Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute, germ theory of disease, happiness index / gross national happiness, hive mind, hydrogen economy, Internet of things, Jaron Lanier, life extension, Marshall McLuhan, megacity, natural language processing, Network effects, new economy, oil shale / tar sands, pattern recognition, peak oil, personalized medicine, phenotype, precision agriculture, profit maximization, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Richard Florida, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, self-driving car, semantic web, Skype, smart cities, smart meter, smart transportation, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, Stuxnet, supervolcano, telepresence, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Malthus, Turing test, urban decay, Vernor Vinge, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, web application, women in the workforce, working-age population, young professional

They may, of course, be correct, in which case you probably won’t be reading this, but I’m erring on the side of unbridled optimism on this point. Some people claim that the Mayan calendar says that the world will end on December 21, 2012. Why might this occur? One commentator (a website called Armageddon online) says it’s to do with shifts in magnetic fields. The same commentator gives odds of 10:1 against a supervolcano erupting on the same date. That’s not it either. That’s just supervolcanoes. Other potentially devastating superevents might include a major eruption that triggers an earthquake, which triggers a series of other earthquakes or a tsunami the scale of which we’ve never experienced before. All of these events are highly unlikely to occur within our lifetimes, but they’re not impossible and if they were to occur the impacts could be catastrophic.

Toba, in Indonesia, about 70,000–77,000 years ago, was even bigger, probably the largest explosion on Earth in the past 25 million years. Big bang How you view earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis depends on where you live. If you live in Japan, for instance, you’ll be all too familiar with the destructive power of nature. If you live in San Francisco, and are relatively young, you will be less familiar. However, what we all have in common is that within living memory nobody has experienced what happens when a supervolcano explodes. Hopefully, nobody will know for at least a few thousand years. We’d cope, of course, but one sometimes wonders what the fallout would be in a world where supply-chain tolerances are so tight. The world is now interconnected like never before and global companies that source and transport components from all over the world cannot cope for long with major disturbances or disruptions in critical regions.

This volcano famously exploded around 1.3 million years ago and erupted an estimated 1,000km3 (240 cubic miles) of material. In contrast, in 1980, Mount St. Helens in the USA erupted just 1km3 (0.24 cubic miles) of material. Yellowstone is huge, as we can see from evidence of previous eruptions, and it tends to explode every 600,000 years or so. When was the last really big Yellowstone eruption? About 600,000 years ago! Dire results So what might happen if Yellowstone, or another supervolcano, exploded during our lifetime? Nobody knows, of course, but the implications could be truly devastating. “…They slept on the abyss without a surge—The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave, The Moon, their mistress, had expired before; The winds were withered in the stagnant air, And the clouds perished! Darkness had no need, Of aid from them—She was the universe” Lord Byron, Darkness, 1816 First, the explosion would physically remove anything even remotely nearby and the loss of tree cover could potentially result in major soil erosion, mud jams and floods.


pages: 370 words: 97,138

Beyond: Our Future in Space by Chris Impey


3D printing, Admiral Zheng, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Berlin Wall, Buckminster Fuller, butterfly effect, California gold rush, carbon-based life, Colonization of Mars, cosmic abundance, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, discovery of DNA, Doomsday Clock, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, Eratosthenes, Haight Ashbury, Hyperloop, I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, Isaac Newton, Jeff Bezos, John von Neumann, Kickstarter, life extension, Mahatma Gandhi, Mars Rover, mutually assured destruction, Oculus Rift, operation paperclip, out of africa, Peter H. Diamandis: Planetary Resources, phenotype, purchasing power parity, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, risk tolerance, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Searching for Interstellar Communications, Silicon Valley, skunkworks, Skype, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, supervolcano, technological singularity, telepresence, telerobotics, the medium is the message, the scientific method, theory of mind, V2 rocket, wikimedia commons, X Prize, Yogi Berra

Also, inbreeding is more likely, with offspring having an increased chance of recessive or deleterious traits.20 When geneticists sequenced the DNA of chimps and humans, they made the staggering discovery that a single band of thirty to eighty chimps can have more genetic diversity than all seven billion humans alive today.21 We have very little genetic diversity, even though it could have developed since we diverged from chimps six million years ago. Research on mankind’s restricted gene variation indicates that humans migrated out of Africa about 60,000 years ago, and at some stage before that our numbers may have dwindled to as low as two thousand. Some geneticists hypothesize that this bottleneck was caused by the explosion of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia and resulting major environmental change.22 Regardless of the cause, our genetic makeup hints at the fact that we were once in a perilous state, at the edge of extinction.23 More recent human history gives better examples of how to define the viable size of a space colony. When a new population is established by a small number of individuals from a larger population, it’s subject to the founder effect, first described by evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr.

His partial list of existential threats faced by humanity includes nuclear holocaust, genetically engineered superbugs, environmental disasters, asteroid impacts, terrorism, advanced and destructive artificial intelligence, uncontrollable nanotechnology, catastrophic high-energy physics experiments, and a totalitarian regime with advanced surveillance and mind-control technologies. Regarding existential threats that might act as a filter in our future, Bostrom makes another point. The requirement is not that it has a significant probability of destroying humanity. Rather, it must be able to plausibly destroy any advanced civilization. Asteroid strikes and supervolcanoes don’t qualify because they’re random events that some civilizations will survive and others won’t experience because their planet and solar system are different from ours. The technological innovations that drive the argument and act more effectively as filters are those that almost all civilizations eventually discover, where their discovery almost universally leads to disaster (Figure 55).

Louis, The (Lindbergh), 90 Spirit rover, 165 Sputnik 1, 37–39, 37, 40, 41, 51, 65, 141, 269 Sputnik 2, 47, 269 Sputnik 3, 39, 269 SR-71 “Blackbird,” 69 Stafford, Tom, 55 Stalin, Joseph, 35, 37, 253 Stapledon, Olaf, 253 Stapp, John, 46 Stark, Tony (Iron Man), 95, 96, 205 stars: ancient Greek concept of, 18 as basis of carbon, 256 in exoplanet detection, 126–28, 129, 130–31 Sun-like, 131, 133, 187, 215, 233, 236 Star Trek, 88, 90, 92, 167, 192, 228–29, 268 Star Trek: The Next Generation, 229, 232 Stephenson, Neal, 103 Stevenson, Robert, 114 Stone, Bill, 97–98, 161 string theory, 257 Student, The, 86 Sub-Biosphere 2, 197 suitports, 196 Sun: ancient Greek concept of, 18 demise of, 197, 286 as energy source, 124, 223, 253 formation of, 156 stars that are similar to, 131, 133, 187, 215, 233, 236 Sunjammer, 185, 284 Survivor (TV series), 75 suspended animation, 250–52 Synergia Ranch, 192 tachyons, 228 taikonauts, 142–43 tardigrades (water bears), 122 Tarter, Jill, 242–43 Tau Ceti, 187–88, 237 Teacher in Space program, 55, 74 technological maturity, 260–61 technology: advancements in, 127, 133, 159–60, 224, 231, 241, 250, 257–62, 288, 292 alien, 186–91 in cameras, 53 computation, 258–62 destructive potential of, 245–46 development of, 20 for efficient energy production, 220–24, 221 erroneous predictions about, 213–14 in foods, 115–16 human beings surpassed by, 258–59 Kardashev’s scale for, 253–54 outdated, 64–65, 106 of remote sensing, 175–91 of spacesuits, 195–96 speculative and hypothetical, 228–32 trust in, 98 in weaponry, 22–24 see also nanotechnology; specific technologies TED2014 conference, 178 telepathy, cybernetic, 206 teleportation, 228–32, 230, 252 telepresence, 176–79, 283 telerobotics, 177–78 telescopes, 31, 49–50, 126, 128, 129–30, 158, 163, 187, 190, 218, 235, 292–93 see also specific instruments Telstar, 153 Tereshkova, Valentina, 74 Terminator, The, 259 terraforming, 172–74, 182, 216–17, 227 terrestrial exoplanets, incidence of, 128, 129, 216, 241 terrorism, 152–53 Tesla, Nikola, 237 Tesla Motors, 96–97, 97 test pilots, 71–74, 272 Tethers Unlimited, 226 Thales, 18–19 “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” (Feynman), 180 thought experiments: and birth of science, 19 for Dyson sphere, 253–54 of Newton, 25 on self-replication, 226–27 3-D fabrication, 159, 160, 226–27, 226 thrust, in flight, 68–69, 72, 186, 220, 222–23 thymine, 6 Timbisha tribe, 118–19 Titan, 53, 125, 177, 182, 278 Tito, Dennis, 75, 170 Toba supervolcano, 202 toilets, in space travel, 116–17 Tokyo Broadcasting System, 75 tortoises, in space research, 49 Tower of Babel, 148 “Tranquility” (toilet), 117 transhumanism, 207–8 transit method, exoplanet detection by, 128–29, 128, 129, 130–31 “Transmission of Information by Extraterrestrial Civilizations” (Kardashev), 253 transporter devices, 228–32 TrES-2B (exoplanet), 132 tricorder devices, 92 Tristan da Cunha, 202–3 “True Story, A” (Lucian of Samosata), 20 Truman, Harry, 36 Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin Eduardovich, 26–28, 36, 72, 110, 149, 268 rocket equation of, see rocket equation Turing, Alan, 258–59 twin research studies, 98 Tziolas, Andreas, 224 UFOs, 142 belief in, 102, 238 proported sightings of, 239, 240 Ulam, Stanislaw, 221 uncertainty principle, 229–30, 291 United Arab Emirates (UAE), 106 United Nations, 47, 141, 145, 147, 214 General Assembly, 42 Moon Treaty of, 279 United States, 141 bureaucracy of, 105–9 China’s relations with, 144 energy consumption of, 222 founding of, 109 government shutdown of 2013 in, 63–64 rocket development in, 28–30, 35–39 space policy debate in, 146–47 space program of, 38, 40–45, 47, 50, 51, 55–56, 56, 63–64, 72, 74–75, 107, 140–141, 140, 154, 184, 195, 296, 271; see also National Aeronautics and Space Administration in World War II, 34 Uranus: probes to, 52 as uninhabitable, 125 V-2 ballistic missile (Retaliation/Vengeance Weapon 2), 30–36, 33, 47, 48 vacuum: as lethal, 54, 108 rocket function in, 30 of space, 70, 108, 126, 195, 222 Vanguard rocket, 36–38, 269 Van Thillo, Mark, 194 Vega (star), 236 Venera 7, 51 Venus: Earth compared to, 171, 215 fly-by of, 51 nanobot exploration of, 182 probes to, 40, 51, 184, 270 property rights on, 145 as uninhabitable, 124 Verne, Jules, 26, 28, 117, 183, 239 vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) rockets, 103 Very Large Array, 236 videoconferencing, 176 video games: evolution of, 175–77 simulation compared to, 261 Vietnam War, 158 Viking probes, 51, 52, 164, 176 Virgin Atlantic airline, 87 Virgin Galactic, 88–89, 88, 101, 105–6, 113 Virgin Group, 87 Virgin records, 86–87 virtual reality, 176–77 volcanoes: on Earth, 119, 202 on Io, 53, 177 as source of heat energy, 124 super-, 245 Volna rocket, 184 Vomit Comet, 114 von Braun, Wernher, 28, 30–36, 38, 76, 140, 166–67, 269 von Kármán, Theodore, 141 von Littrow, Joseph, 238 von Neumann, John, 227, 258–59 von Neumann probes, 227, 258 Voskhod 2 spacecraft, 108 Vostok 1 spacecraft, 40–41 Voyager 1, 52, 53, 121, 121, 125, 219, 225 Voyager aircraft, 83 Wakata, Koichi, 273 Wallace, Alfred Russel, 164 Wang Yaping, 142–43 Wan Hu, 21–22, 22, 24, 31, 139, 141 warfare, rockets in, 22–24, 30, 32–34 War of the Worlds, The (Wells), 164 warp drive, 228–29 Warwick, Kevin, 206–8 Wasp 18b (exoplanet), 132 water: acidification of, 195 as biomarker, 217–18 on Earth, 172 on Europa, 125 on exoplanets, 132 on Mars, 124–25, 163–66, 165, 170, 172, 173 on Moon, 159–61 as requirement for life, 123–25, 132, 214, 217 in space travel, 116, 159 Watson, Thomas, 213 weaponry: nuclear, 36, 38 technological roots of, 22–24 weightlessness, 54, 88, 114, 167–68, 200 Weisman, A., 293 Welles, Orson, 164 Wells, H.


pages: 654 words: 204,260

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Alfred Russel Wallace, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Arthur Eddington, Barry Marshall: ulcers, Brownian motion, California gold rush, Cepheid variable, clean water, Copley Medal, cosmological constant, dark matter, Dava Sobel, David Attenborough, double helix, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, Kuiper Belt, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Menlo Park, Murray Gell-Mann, out of africa, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, supervolcano, Thomas Malthus, Wilhelm Olbers

As soon as Christiansen saw the photos he realized why he had failed to spot the caldera: virtually the whole park—2.2 million acres—was caldera. The explosion had left a crater more than forty miles across—much too huge to be perceived from anywhere at ground level. At some time in the past Yellowstone must have blown up with a violence far beyond the scale of anything known to humans. Yellowstone, it turns out, is a supervolcano. It sits on top of an enormous hot spot, a reservoir of molten rock that rises from at least 125 miles down in the Earth. The heat from the hot spot is what powers all of Yellowstone's vents, geysers, hot springs, and popping mud pots. Beneath the surface is a magma chamber that is about forty-five miles across—roughly the same dimensions as the park—and about eight miles thick at its thickest point.

No one has the faintest idea how or why Yellowstone's ended up beneath a continental plate. Only two things are certain: that the crust at Yellowstone is thin and that the world beneath it is hot. But whether the crust is thin because of the hot spot or whether the hot spot is there because the crust is thin is a matter of heated (as it were) debate. The continental nature of the crust makes a huge difference to its eruptions. Where the other supervolcanoes tend to bubble away steadily and in a comparatively benign fashion, Yellowstone blows explosively. It doesn't happen often, but when it does you want to stand well back. Since its first known eruption 16.5 million years ago, it has blown up about a hundred times, but the most recent three eruptions are the ones that get written about. The last eruption was a thousand times greater than that of Mount St.

And ash, it is worth remembering, is not like a big snowfall that will melt in the spring. If you wanted to grow crops again, you would have to find some place to put all the ash. It took thousands of workers eight months to clear 1.8 billion tons of debris from the sixteen acres of the World Trade Center site in New York. Imagine what it would take to clear Kansas. And that's not even to consider the climatic consequences. The last supervolcano eruption on Earth was at Toba, in northern Sumatra, seventy-four thousand years ago. No one knows quite how big it was other than that it was a whopper. Greenland ice cores show that the Toba blast was followed by at least six years of “volcanic winter” and goodness knows how many poor growing seasons after that. The event, it is thought, may have carried humans right to the brink of extinction, reducing the global population to no more than a few thousand individuals.


pages: 482 words: 147,281

A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester


Albert Einstein, butterfly effect, California gold rush, Golden Gate Park, index card, indoor plumbing, Loma Prieta earthquake, Menlo Park, place-making, risk tolerance, Silicon Valley, South of Market, San Francisco, supervolcano, The Chicago School, transcontinental railway, wage slave, Works Progress Administration

The park is a place of almost indescribable spectacle, rightly popular and in consequence frequently, especially in the high summer, more crowded than is good for it. The wildlife, the mountains, the lakes and the geysers are all the very obvious lures for the hundreds of thousands who each season drive in through the park’s main gates. And these days there is a new reason: the widely publicized knowledge that Yellowstone Park sits on top of a potential super-volcano, the eruption of which – at some unpredictable moment in the geological near term – will devastate nearly all of Western America. Most of Yellowstone is, in fact, the relic of a family of great volcanoes. There have been three periods of eruption, the first about two million years ago, the latest finishing around 600,000 years ago, with each spitting out, very violently, immeasurable quantities of lava and dust and ash.

D. 147 skyscrapers 28–9, 198 Slot 199, 217 Smith, Jedediah 93–4, 120 Socialist Voice 279 Society of Jesus 236–8 Sonoma Valley 228–9 Southern Pacific Company 290–91, 292, 293 space travel xvi–xix, xxi–xxii Spanish 9–10, 24, 74, 75, 90, 174–6 speaking in tongues 306–8 spreading zones 172 Spreckels, Claus 197, 198, 371 Spreckels, Rudolph 19 Standard Oil 21, 69 Stanford, Leland 103–4, 188, 198 Stanford University 105–6, 158, 235, 248, 250 Stegner, Wallace 118 Steinmann, Gustav 124 Sterling, George 320 Stevenson, Robert Louis 197, 320 Stewart, Nellie 211 Stiattesi Vertical Pendulum 235 Stillwater Intrusion 47 Stimson Beach 150 stock market 291 Stockton, Commodore Robert 23 Strauss, Levi 191 strike–slip faults 144 Students Astronomical Observatory, Berkeley 241 subduction 138–9, 141 Suess, Eduard 49–50, 124 suicides 292, 293 Sullivan, Dennis 199–200, 212, 254 Sullivan, Margaret 254 Sumatran Tsunami 6, 61, 66, 213, 273–4, 333, 338 magnitude 364–7, 365 Summerville, South Carolina 64–5, 68–9, 71, 84 Sun Yat-sen 195 Sunset 321, 322 supercontinents 49–50, 51, 52–5, 56, 57–60 super-volcanoes 348–51, 352 surface-waves 148 Surtsey 41–2, 45, 61 surveys 110–23 Sutro, Adolph 198 Sutter, John 94, 95, 96 Sweet Nell of Old Drury 211 Sydam, Mr 183 Taft, William 280 Taiwan 3–4 Tangrenbu see Chinatown tectonic plates 34–6, 37, 38–9, 71, 127–9 Tecumseh 75 Tejon Pass, California 162, 164–7 Telegraph Creek 141 telephones 258, 267 Temblor Range 160–61, 167 temperature 355 terrane 128 Tethys 49, 50 theatres 209–211, 283–4 Thingvellir 43, 44, 45 Thomas, Lewis xvii–xviii Three Years in California (Colton) 91, 92 Tiffany, Charles 115 Tigerlily (Merchant) 130 trans-Alaska oil pipeline 340, 345–6, 347 Transverse Range 162, 164, 167 Traumdeutung, Die (Freud) 27 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo 89–90 Trenton, Tennessee 79 triode 28 triple junctions 140–41 tsunamis 1, 6, 61, 339, 355 see also Sumatran Tsunami Tumaco, Colombia 2 Turner, Thomas 64–5 Twain, Mark 197 Two Years Before the Mast (Dana) 91, 178 Ukiah, California 241 ‘Ultramafics and Orogeny’ (Moores) 122–3 Ungava, Canada 84 United States Geological Survey (USGS) 116, 121, 141, 158, 160 1906 earthquake 251, 255–6, 261–2 earthquake forecast 331 Parkfield 132, 133 United States Mint 257, 281, 284 United States Post Office 281, 284–6 Ur 55, 57, 58, 59, 60, 62 Valparaiso 5 Van Dyke, W.


pages: 414 words: 105,153

Ringworld by Larry Niven


dark matter, gravity well, Mercator projection, supervolcano

Earth was two hundred light years away, the puppeteer fleet two light years distant, was receding at nearly lightspeed; and even the half-vaporized Liar had been invisible from the beginning of the flight. Now the meteoric gouge had faded from sight. How easy would it be to lose the ship entirely? Tanj near impossible, Louis decided. To antispinward was the largest mountain men had ever seen. There couldn’t be many such supervolcanos on the Ringworld. To find the Liar one would aim for the mountain, then troll spinward for a linear gouge several thousand miles long. ... But the arch of the Ringworld blazed overhead: three million times the surface area of the Earth. There was room to get quite thoroughly lost on the Ringworld. Nessus was beginning to stir. First one head, then the other emerged from beneath the puppeteer’s torso.


pages: 304 words: 87,702

The 100 Best Vacations to Enrich Your Life by Pam Grout


Albert Einstein, Buckminster Fuller, clean water, complexity theory, David Brooks, East Village, global village, Golden Gate Park, if you build it, they will come, Maui Hawaii, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ralph Nader, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ronald Reagan, supervolcano, transcontinental railway, urban sprawl, Yogi Berra

The hundred or so yearly seminars are taught by the top experts in their field. “Wolves of the World,” for example, is taught by Dr. Doug Smith, the project leader for the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Restoration Project. “Mammal Tracking” is taught by Dr. Jim Halfpenny, a prominent tracker and author of a popular tracking field guide, and the “Yellowstone Volcano” class is led by the two scientists featured in the popular BBC docudrama Supervolcano. Although workshops are held throughout the park, the home base for a majority of the field seminars is the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, a comfortable field campus in the park’s northeast corner. Overlooking the Lamar Valley, a haven for elk, bison, mule deer, and bighorn sheep, the ranch was the site of the park’s bison recovery project in the early 20th century. “The ranch is right in the middle of one of the richest wildlife habitats in North America,” says Jeff Brown, director of education for the institute.


pages: 377 words: 97,144

Singularity Rising: Surviving and Thriving in a Smarter, Richer, and More Dangerous World by James D. Miller


23andMe, affirmative action, Albert Einstein, artificial general intelligence, Asperger Syndrome, barriers to entry, brain emulation, cloud computing, cognitive bias, correlation does not imply causation, crowdsourcing, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Brooks, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Deng Xiaoping,, feminist movement, Flynn Effect, friendly AI, hive mind, impulse control, indoor plumbing, invention of agriculture, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, knowledge worker, Long Term Capital Management, low skilled workers, Netflix Prize, neurotypical, pattern recognition, Peter Thiel, phenotype, placebo effect, prisoner's dilemma, profit maximization, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, reversible computing, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Silicon Valley, Singularitarianism, Skype, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, supervolcano, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, transaction costs, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Von Neumann architecture

Since I’m trying to be more of a judge than an advocate with this book (except for a chunk of material in the next chapter), I now examine four categories of arguments against the likelihood of radical intelligence enhancements. 1.Civilization Collapses In my opinion, the most probable reason why mankind will never experience significant increases in machine or human intelligence is that our high-tech civilization won’t survive long enough for it to happen. That is, nuclear war, biological or nanotech weapons, or natural disasters such as super-volcanoes or asteroid strikes wipe out our species, or at least send us back to the Stone Age. One of the most powerful, but strangest, arguments that civilization will probably soon collapse comes from Robin Hanson’s application of what’s known as Fermi’s Paradox. To give you an intuitive grasp of the argument, I present the following story:330 One day you wake up with a strange kind of amnesia in which you have forgotten everyone’s age and lost the ability to determine people’s age from their appearance.


pages: 364 words: 101,193

Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas


accounting loophole / creative accounting, Climatic Research Unit, Deng Xiaoping, failed state, ice-free Arctic, nuclear winter, oil shale / tar sands, peak oil, price stability, South China Sea, supervolcano

Further south, the agricultural heartland of states like Missouri and Iowa would have been freezing tundra, blasted by dust-laden winds sweeping down from the ice cap, and underlain by layers of solid permafrost. During the ice age, humans were displaced far to the south, where places that are now subtropical, like Florida and California, maintained a temperate climate. In addition, temperature swings were astonishingly rapid-several degrees in the space of a decade as the climate warmed and then cooled again. At one point, about 70,000 years ago, a huge supervolcano eruption in Indonesia blew thousands of cubic kilometres of dust and sulphur into the atmosphere, cutting off the Sun's heat and causing global temperatures to plummet. Humans were nearly wiped out in the ensuing ‘nuclear’ winter: the entire global human population crashed to somewhere between 15,000 and 40,000 individuals, a survival bottleneck which is still written in the genes of every human alive today.


pages: 462 words: 150,129

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley


23andMe, agricultural Revolution, air freight, back-to-the-land, banking crisis, barriers to entry, Bernie Madoff, British Empire, call centre, carbon footprint, charter city, clean water, cloud computing, cognitive dissonance, collateralized debt obligation, colonial exploitation, colonial rule, Corn Laws, credit crunch, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, decarbonisation, dematerialisation, demographic dividend, demographic transition, double entry bookkeeping, Edward Glaeser,, everywhere but in the productivity statistics, falling living standards, feminist movement, financial innovation, Flynn Effect, food miles, Gordon Gekko, greed is good, Hans Rosling, happiness index / gross national happiness, haute cuisine, Hernando de Soto, income inequality, income per capita, Indoor air pollution, informal economy, invention of agriculture, invisible hand, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, John Nash: game theory, joint-stock limited liability company, Joseph Schumpeter, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, Kula ring, Mark Zuckerberg, meta analysis, meta-analysis, mutually assured destruction, Naomi Klein, Northern Rock, nuclear winter, oil shale / tar sands, out of africa, packet switching, patent troll, Pax Mongolica, Peter Thiel, phenotype, Plutocrats, plutocrats, Ponzi scheme, Productivity paradox, profit motive, purchasing power parity, race to the bottom, Ray Kurzweil, rent-seeking, rising living standards, Silicon Valley, spice trade, spinning jenny, stem cell, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, supervolcano, technological singularity, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen, trade route, transaction costs, ultimatum game, upwardly mobile, urban sprawl, Vernor Vinge, wage slave, working poor, working-age population, Y2K, Yogi Berra

The annual risk of collision with a very large asteroid, such as wiped out the dinosaurs, is put at about one in 100 billion. Given that such an event would greatly reduce human prosperity, it seems to be rather cheap of humankind to be spending as little as $4m a year to track such asteroids. Why are we not spending large sums stockpiling food caches in cities so that people can survive the risks from North Korean missiles, rogue robots, alien invaders, nuclear war, pandemics, super-volcanoes? Each risk may be very unlikely, but with the potential harm so very great, almost infinite resources deserve to be spent on them, and almost nothing on present causes of distress, under Weitzman’s argument. In short, the extreme climate outcomes are so unlikely, and depend on such wild assumptions, that they do not dent my optimism one jot. If there is a 99 per cent chance that the world’s poor can grow much richer for a century while still emitting carbon dioxide, then who am I to deny them that chance?


pages: 574 words: 164,509

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom


agricultural Revolution, AI winter, Albert Einstein, algorithmic trading, anthropic principle, anti-communist, artificial general intelligence, autonomous vehicles, barriers to entry, bioinformatics, brain emulation, cloud computing, combinatorial explosion, computer vision, cosmological constant, dark matter, DARPA: Urban Challenge, data acquisition, delayed gratification, demographic transition, Douglas Hofstadter, Drosophila, Elon Musk,, epigenetics, fear of failure, Flash crash, Flynn Effect, friendly AI, Gödel, Escher, Bach, income inequality, industrial robot, informal economy, information retrieval, interchangeable parts, iterative process, job automation, John von Neumann, knowledge worker, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, mutually assured destruction, Nash equilibrium, Netflix Prize, new economy, Norbert Wiener, NP-complete, nuclear winter, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, performance metric, phenotype, prediction markets, price stability, principal–agent problem, race to the bottom, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, reversible computing, social graph, speech recognition, Stanislav Petrov, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, strong AI, superintelligent machines, supervolcano, technological singularity, technoutopianism, The Coming Technological Singularity, The Nature of the Firm, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, transaction costs, Turing machine, Vernor Vinge, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, World Values Survey

A policy could thus be evaluated on the basis of how much of a differential advantage it gives to desired forms of technological development over undesired forms.3 Preferred order of arrival Some technologies have an ambivalent effect on existential risks, increasing some existential risks while decreasing others. Superintelligence is one such technology. We have seen in earlier chapters that the introduction of machine superintelligence would create a substantial existential risk. But it would reduce many other existential risks. Risks from nature—such as asteroid impacts, supervolcanoes, and natural pandemics—would be virtually eliminated, since superintelligence could deploy countermeasures against most such hazards, or at least demote them to the non-existential category (for instance, via space colonization). These existential risks from nature are comparatively small over the relevant timescales. But superintelligence would also eliminate or reduce many anthropogenic risks.


pages: 481 words: 125,946

What to Think About Machines That Think: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Age of Machine Intelligence by John Brockman


3D printing, agricultural Revolution, AI winter, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, algorithmic trading, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, bitcoin, blockchain, clean water, cognitive dissonance, Colonization of Mars, complexity theory, computer age, computer vision, constrained optimization, corporate personhood, cosmological principle, cryptocurrency, cuban missile crisis, Danny Hillis, dark matter, discrete time, Elon Musk, Emanuel Derman, endowment effect, epigenetics, Ernest Rutherford, experimental economics, Flash crash, friendly AI, Google Glasses, hive mind, income inequality, information trail, Internet of things, invention of writing, iterative process, Jaron Lanier, job automation, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, loose coupling, microbiome, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, natural language processing, Network effects, Norbert Wiener, pattern recognition, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, planetary scale, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Republic of Letters, RFID, Richard Thaler, Rory Sutherland, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Skype, smart contracts, speech recognition, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, Stuxnet, superintelligent machines, supervolcano, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, Turing machine, Turing test, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y2K

To deal with the evolving strategies of viruses and bacteria, wash your hands, avoid sneezes, get a flu shot. Occasionally, as with Ebola, further measures are required. But once again, prudence, not alarm, is effective. The evolution of natural intelligences can be a source of awe and inspiration if we embrace it with prudence rather than spurn it with alarm. All species go extinct. Homo sapiens will be no exception. We don’t know how it will happen—a virus, an alien invasion, nuclear war, a supervolcano, an asteroid, a red-giant sun. Yes, it could be AIs, but I would bet long odds against it. I would bet, instead, that AIs will be a source of awe, insight, inspiration, and yes, profit, for years to come. MACHINES THAT THINK ARE IN THE MOVIES ROGER SCHANK Psychologist and computer scientist, Engines for Education, Inc.; author, Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science Can Save Our Schools Machines cannot think.


pages: 551 words: 174,280

The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch


agricultural Revolution, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, artificial general intelligence, Bonfire of the Vanities, conceptual framework, cosmological principle, dark matter, David Attenborough, discovery of DNA, Douglas Hofstadter, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, first-past-the-post, Georg Cantor, Gödel, Escher, Bach, illegal immigration, invention of movable type, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, John Conway, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Loebner Prize, Louis Pasteur, pattern recognition, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Stephen Hawking, supervolcano, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Review, William of Occam

And the next such object to strike us is already out there at this moment, speeding towards us with nothing to stop it except human knowledge. Civilization is vulnerable to several other known types of disaster with similar levels of risk. For instance, ice ages occur more frequently than that, and ‘mini ice ages’ much more frequently – and some climatologists believe that they can happen with only a few years’ warning. A ‘super-volcano’ such as the one lurking under Yellowstone National Park could blot out the sun for years at a time. If it happened tomorrow our species could survive, by growing food using artificial light, and civilization could recover. But many would die, and the suffering would be so tremendous that such events should merit almost as much preventative effort as an extinction. We do not know the probability of a spontaneously occurring incurable plague, but we may guess that it is unacceptably high, since pandemics such as the Black Death in the fourteenth century have already shown us the sort of thing that can happen on a timescale of centuries.


France (Lonely Planet, 8th Edition) by Nicola Williams


active transport: walking or cycling, back-to-the-land, bike sharing scheme, British Empire, car-free, carbon footprint, centre right, Columbine, double helix, Guggenheim Bilbao, haute couture, haute cuisine, Henri Poincaré, Honoré de Balzac, illegal immigration, industrial robot, information trail, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Louis Blériot, Louis Pasteur, low cost carrier, Mahatma Gandhi, means of production, Murano, Venice glass, pension reform, QWERTY keyboard, ride hailing / ride sharing, Saturday Night Live, Silicon Valley, Skype, supervolcano, trade route, urban renewal, urban sprawl, V2 rocket

Return to beginning of chapter PARC NATUREL RÉGIONAL DES VOLCANS D’AUVERGNE A vast tract of cloud-shrouded peaks, snowy uplands and jade-green valleys, the huge Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne ( 04 73 65 64 00; occupies most of the western Massif Central, stretching for around 3950 sq km and 120km from base to tip. Its northerly area extends from the chain of extinct volcanoes known as the Chaîne des Puys and Monts Dômes, centring on the high point of Puy de Dôme (below). Further south are the Monts Dore and the snowy Puy de Sancy, a popular ski station and the Massif Central’s highest point. The park’s southern edge is marked by the wild, rugged Monts du Cantal, formed by an ancient supervolcano worn down over the millennia, and dominated by the lofty summit of the Plomb du Cantal (1855m). * * * FIERY FURNACES With its peaceful pastures and verdant hills, it’s hard to believe that the Massif Central was once one of the most active volcanic areas in Western Europe. The area consists of three geological bands. The Chaîne des Puys and Monts Dômes, a chain of extinct volcanoes and cinder cones stretching in a 40km north–south line across the northern Massif Central, thrust up around 100,000 years ago.

* * * Return to beginning of chapter MURAT pop 2300 / elevation 930m Tumbling down a steep basalt crag topped by a statue of the Virgin Mary, Murat is an excellent base for exploring the Monts du Cantal. With a cluster of dark stone houses huddled beneath the Rocher Bonnevie, it’s one of the prettiest towns in the Cantal and a popular hiking centre. To the west are the three lofty peaks of Puy Mary (1787m), Plomb du Cantal (1855m) and Puy de Perse-Arse (1686m), the last remnants of an exploded supervolcano that once covered the Cantal Massif. Information The tourist office ( 04 71 20 09 47;; 2 rue du Faubourg Notre-Dame; 9am-12.30pm & 1.30-7pm Mon-Sat, 9.30am-12.30pm & 2.30-6.30pm Sun Jul & Aug, 9am-noon & 2-6pm Mon-Sat & 10am-noon Sun Sep-Jun) is near the town hall, and has lots of info on walks and activities in the Cantal area. Sights & Activities Murat’s fine old town, with its twisting streets and wonky stone cottages, makes a lovely afternoon stroll.


pages: 945 words: 292,893

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson


clean water, Colonization of Mars, Danny Hillis, double helix, epigenetics, fault tolerance, Fellow of the Royal Society, Filipino sailors, gravity well, Isaac Newton, Jeff Bezos, kremlinology, Kuiper Belt, microbiome, phenotype, Potemkin village, pre–internet, random walk, remote working, side project, Silicon Valley, Skype, statistical model, Stewart Brand, supervolcano, the scientific method, Tunguska event, zero day, éminence grise

The ground, where they could see it through smoke and steam, was a mottled terrain of dully glowing lava: some of it the hot impact craters of recent big meteorites, some of it spewing up out of the Earth’s fractured crust. Oceans were dark at night, hazed with steam in daylight, their coasts difficult to make out, but clearly shallower than they had been. Florida was reaching out toward the Keys but being battered down and chipped away by bolides, and washed away by tsunamis, even as it did so. A year and a half ago, a big rock had torn the lid off the long-dormant Yellowstone supervolcano. That had been cloaking most of North America with ash ever since then; glimmers of yellow light in the northern extreme of their view hinted at a vast outpouring of magma. A long-suppressed habit told Dinah, absurdly, that she should go and turn on her radio in case Rufus was transmitting. This made the tears come, and that in turn made Ivy’s tears come, and so they spent the last half of the intermission, from perigee onward, gazing at Earth through water.


Lonely Planet France by Lonely Planet Publications


banking crisis, bike sharing scheme, British Empire, car-free, carbon footprint, centre right, Columbine, double helix, Frank Gehry, glass ceiling, haute couture, haute cuisine, Henri Poincaré, Honoré de Balzac, illegal immigration, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Louis Blériot, Louis Pasteur, low cost carrier, Mahatma Gandhi, Murano, Venice glass, ride hailing / ride sharing, sensible shoes, Silicon Valley, supervolcano, trade route, urban renewal, urban sprawl, V2 rocket

With a cluster of dark stone houses huddled beneath the Rocher Bonnevie, it’s one of the prettiest towns in the region and is a popular hiking and skiing hub. Sights & Activities The twisting streets and wonky stone cottages of Murat’s old town make an enjoyable afternoon stroll. To the west are the lofty peaks of Puy Mary (1787m), Plomb du Cantal (1858m) and Puy de Peyre Arse (1806m), the last remnants of an exploded supervolcano that once covered the Cantal Massif. Maison de la Faune MUSEUM (; adult/child €4.70/3.10; 10am-noon & 2-6pm Mon-Sat, 2-6pm Sun) Budding entomologists should make a beeline for this spiralling stone tower (opposite place de l’Hôtel de Ville), which houses more than 10,000 insects, butterflies and stuffed beasties from the Auvergne to the Amazon. Rocher Bonnevie WALKING For great views, brave the lung-busting climb to the top of Rocher Bonnevie.