Induction Drive

Over the course of the last year or so, I have become fascinated by the claims of those who are persuaded by the ‘ancient aliens’ theory: namely the theory that many of mankind’s stories about ‘gods’ or ‘people from the sky’ illustrate that ancient humans were visited by – and helped by – a more advanced civilisation: a civilisation that therefore had to have been extra-terrestrial. Whilst there does seem to be a very large amount of evidence to support the first part of this theory, the jump to the second part remains – for me – unproven and even unsound (as an automatic conclusion).

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On The Net

A few days back, I wrote about a point of inflection that lies ahead for humanity. I said that it’s closer than you might think, and here’s one example of why. Already, technicians are looking at ways they might “enhance” humans, by connecting their brains to a sophisticated, computerised network. Down the line, they envisage that we might even blur the boundaries between human and AI net, so that memories are automatically copied and made durable, like the photos on a smartphone. Who knows, one day it might even be possible to persist a whole consciousness: after all, what is it except a bunch of memories and some associative processing? But who controls those memories? And is that all that consciousness really is?

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New World Order?

One of the more persistent conspiracy theories is the one that asserts that a number of powerful governments – or perhaps powers behind them – have either made deals with alien races or are using alien technology to promote a “new world order”. You can look these theories up on the internet – or maybe you already have – but if so, I advise you also to watch the film “Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind”. The reason for this recommendation is because I advise having something to “balance” the NWO ideas, for reasons that I’ll explain below. Maybe you don’t believe in “aliens” but, as Carl Sagan said, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

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Rice Pudding and Income Tax

One of my favourite authors, Douglas Adams, once described a race of beings who created an enormously powerful computer, called Deep Thought. Its purpose was to provide them with an answer to “Life, the universe and everything.” Within seconds of being switched on, it had reasoned the existence of rice pudding and income tax, from first principles. However, when challenged with their very taxing problem, it admitted (after seven and a half million years of processing) that although the answer was clearly “42”, it hadn’t been able to determine what the question had meant. It then proposed designing an even more powerful computer (which turned out to be the Earth) to determine what question “42” really answered.

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The Metaverse

For all the current hype around an open “metaverse” – an online world in which people can hang out, find entertainment or hold conferences and business meetings – the idea is hardly a new one. We’ve already had (still have) “Second Life” and a large number of “MORGs” (multi-player, online, role-playing games) that allow characters to meet, collaborate and chat. And there were parallels in the business world, where you could navigate an “avatar” into meeting rooms, see posters and whiteboards on the wall and of course listen to speeches and engage in discussions. So I find it hard to see anything behind the new hype, other than better graphics and another channel for digital advertising. And whilst the vulnerable can hide their identities, so can the “frisky” and the outright malicious. It could make the Squid Games seem tame. But there are other risks, too, I feel.

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Right To Repair

Several countries look set to follow the USA and introduce some form of “right to repair” legislation, the aim of which is to allow consumers to keep maintaining their domestic equipment and electronic goods for longer. Of course, this isn’t meeting with universal approval from suppliers, many of whom have come to rely on the regular revenue stream from ‘latest version’ sales – even to the point of deliberately making older versions unserviceable. But there’s a much wider picture here: with the imminent need to address climate change, we all need to be throwing away far fewer domestic goods. So a “right to repair” is not just good for consumers (and for secondary, service industries), it’s the right thing for the planet. However, it’s not the whole story.

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Artificial Intelligence

One of the more interesting things to have emerged in computer technology, over the last few years, is the growing understanding of how to make “artificial intelligence”or “AI”. In short, intelligence is what allows humans and other animals to solve complex problems. And the way it does this is by analysing relationships and predicting “likely” chains of consequences. In humans and animals, it is paired with the emotional function, which attaches “weight” (desirability) to the different paths. So AI also has to include artificial emotion, too. All of that would seem to require quite a lot of computing power but researchers have also borrowed another technique from the animal world. We use remembered strategies – things that have worked in the past – before we turn on our goal-seeking intelligence.

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Green Transformation

I wrote recently about the drive to “net zero” emissions by the end of the century. It is a target that I support but I also feel it is a very hard target to meet. It faces a number of challenges, from indifference among the general population to “more urgent” problems for politicians. And although we have a roadmap of sorts, we are already rather late leaving home. I can understand why some activists press for more urgent action, but we’re a rather perverse race when it comes to future crisis … A great many of us would rather wait to see if it is real and even then wait for some “easy” solution. Well, perhaps we have already passed the first point and now need some “clever bods” to put their heads together and show us that easy solution: one that spreads any pain that we cannot reasonably avoid, so it’s not only easy but “fair”.

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Recycling

As a nation, we are still very bad at recycling waste, although better in some areas than others. We still rely on district councils to send waste to appropriate recycling plants, and their hands are tied by the county councils, which place the contracts. Whilst the latter have had legal targets under EU directives, those expired this year and Brexit means that the focus for setting targets has moved back to the UK government. To compound the problem, not all of those recycling operations were actually recycling; some were simply sorting the raw waste in the hope of selling it to other operations – or, if that failed, sending it off-shore. It is perhaps time, in the wake of Brexit, for a national recycling strategy that would actually work.

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Green Energy

As a society, we are now massively dependent on electricity. It can be delivered easily to any point where we need it and we can carry rechargeable “batteries” around with us, wherever we want to go. It’s also a “clean” energy – at least, at the point of consumption. Unlike fossil fuels or wood, the only by-products of consuming it are heat and light – and we don’t yet think of those as pollution. Those batteries are murder on the environment, but that’s tomorrow’s problem. The problem of the day is how to generate electricity cleanly, hence the strong focus on “renewable” generation – taking energy out of the Earth or the Sun’s light, directly. But as a consumer, how can we help the electricity generators and suppliers – which are profit-making businesses, after all – to invest in making electricity “greener”?

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