Charles Stross uploaded a new talk today, about the next thirty hears at Olin College.  Here's my favorite bit, about whether post-scarcity breaks economic models:

It doesn't necessarily break Keynesianism, Keynes himself actually speculated about when we would achieve an effective post-scarcity society.  Back in the nineteen twenties and thirties, he speculated that by the sixties, we should be able to reduce the working hours a week to about ten to fifteen hours per person -- and he was absolutely right -- the problem is we reduced it to ten to fifteen hours a week on averagewith some bastards having to work sixty hours a week, and a lot of people being unemployed.

And here's the video link and embed:

Subgenres of weird real science

io9 has published a list, titled: 11 Emerging Scientific Fields That Everyone Should Know About, which is, like, crazy interesting.  My favorite one was number 7:

7. Recombinant Memetics

This one's quite speculative, and it's technically speaking still in the proto-science phase. But it'll only be a matter of time before scientists get a better handle on the human noosphere (the collective body of all human information) and how the proliferation of information within it impacts upon virtually all aspects of human life.

Similar to recombinant DNA (in which different genetic sequences are brought together to create something new), recombinant memetics is the study of how memes (ideas that spread from person to person) can be adjusted and merged with other memes and memeplexes (a cohesive collection of memes, like a religion) for beneficial or ‘socially therapeutic' purposes (such as combating the spread of radical and violent ideologies). This is similar to the idea of 'memetic engineering' — which philosopher Daniel Dennett suggested could be used to maintain cultural health. Or what DARPA is currently doing via their ‘narrative control' program.

Temporary tattoo tech

Charles Q. Choi, writing at Txchnologist and republished by io9, has written an article about an incredible new experimental technology -- temporary tattoos that can translate the product of thought into useful digital signal.

Choi writes:

Commanding machines using the brain is no longer the stuff of science fiction. In recent years, brain implants have enabled people to control robotics using only their minds, raising the prospect that one day patients could overcome disabilities using bionic limbs or mechanical exoskeletons.

But brain implants are invasive technologies, probably of use only to people in medical need of them. Instead, Coleman and his team are developing wireless flexible electronics one can apply on the forehead just like temporary tattoos to read brain activity.

"We want something we can use in the coffee shop to have fun," Coleman says.


In past studies, Coleman's team found that volunteers could use caps studded with electrodes to remotely control airplanes and flew an unmanned aerial vehicle over cornfields in Illinois. Although the electronic tattoos currently cannot be used to pilot planes, "we're actively working on that," Coleman says.

These devices can also be put on other parts of the body, such as the throat. When people think about talking, their throat muscles move even if they do not speak, a phenomenon known as subvocalization. Electronic tattoos placed on the throat could therefore behave as subvocal microphones through which people could communicate silently and wirelessly.

"We've demonstrated our sensors can pick up the electrical signals of muscle movements in the throat so that people can communicate just with thought," Coleman says. Electronic tattoos placed over the throat could also pick up signals that would help smartphones with speech recognition, he added.

This stuff is really cool, and, being right around the corner, renders quite a lot of my standing sci fi assumptions useless.  (One of my Clarion application stories makes roughly no sense given a world with this technology.  Not that there's no way to patch that.)

Also, it seems to me a short step from telepathy-enabling temporary tattoos to telepathy-enabling permanent tattoos.  Which I want.  Very much.

Doctorow: Transaction costs

Cory Doctorow is probably my favorite person.

Technologies that makes it cheaper to work together lower the tax on super-human powers.

He's got a new article up at the Guardian, called Disorganized but effective:  how technology lowers transaction costs.  It's about the ways in which the internet, and other advancing technologies, have expanded our ability to cooperate to the point where we've passed a horizon of comprehensibility -- it no longer makes sense to think of cooperation in some traditional ways.

Language (which allowed for explicit communication), writing (which allowed for record-keeping), literacy (which allowed for communication at a distance and through time) and all the way up to assembly lines, telegraphs, telephones, cryptography (which lowers transaction costs by reducing the amount of energy you have to expend to keep attackers out of your coordination efforts), computers, networks, mobile phones and beyond.

Decreasing transaction costs means that the powerful can do more. If you've already organised a state or criminal enterprise or church with you at the top, it means that you've figured out how to harvest and distribute resources effectively enough to maintain your institutional stability.

Sci fi writers always ask the best questions, and Doctorow's essay doesn't disappoint:

When I'm wondering about the future, I try to imagine moving today's institutions down the formality ladder. What technology would let us govern nations the way that ants build hills or Occupy runs its general assembly? What technology would make it possible to build and run a tramway the way Wikipedia manages its collective editing process? What would it mean to have networking fade into the background, become so commodified and automated that it more or less built and maintained itself?

Most of all, I try to imagine what "disorganised and effective" groups would do with every area of substantial human activity, from public health to education to astronomy. It's a wonderful and mindwarping sort of exercise – I thoroughly recommend it.