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:

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.

Replacing passwords with jewelry

Wired writes about Google's effort to eliminate the password as a means of authenticating your identity online.  Passwords are incredibly insecure, and only becoming more so.  They will never again be a good way to protect your data.

Passwords are a cheap and easy way to authenticate web surfers, but they’re not secure enough for today’s internet, and they never will be. 

Google agrees. “Along with many in the industry, we feel passwords and simple bearer tokens such as cookies are no longer sufficient to keep users safe,” Grosse and Upadhyay write in their paper.

Fortunately, Google is working on a solution.

Thus, they’re experimenting with new ways to replace the password, including a tiny Yubico cryptographic card that — when slid into a USB (Universal Serial Bus) reader — can automatically log a web surfer into Google. They’ve had to modify Google’s web browser to work with these cards, but there’s no software download and once the browser support is there, they’re easy to use. You log into the website, plug in the USB stick and then register it with a single mouse click.

They see a future where you authenticate one device — your smartphone or something like a Yubico key — and then use that almost like a car key, to fire up your web mail and online accounts.

In the future, they’d like things to get even easier, perhaps connecting to the computer via wireless technology.

“We’d like your smartphone or smartcard-embedded finger ring to authorize a new computer via a tap on the computer, even in situations in which your phone might be without cellular connectivity,” the Googlers write.

The future may not exactly be password-free, but it will at be least free of those complex, hard-to-remember passwords, says Grosse. “We’ll have to have some form of screen unlock, maybe passwords but maybe something else,” he says, “but the primary authenticator will be a token like this or some equivalent piece of hardware.”

Personally, I can't wait until this technology comes out.  I like jewelry, but I've never been able to come up with anything I would be particularly motivated to wear, or to make work with my outfit.  But having a ring that was my key to the internet would be perfect.

Also: security and stuff.

EDIT 7:58pm -- I actually think a bracelet would be a lot cooler.   Would that work?

Slate on Amish values in technology

Jamey Wetmore at Slate has written an article arguing that new technologies are making us behave more like the Amish, which struck me (as I'm sure was the point) as slightly absurd.  I didn't realize, though, that the Amish values surrounding technology aren't about outright avoidance of electronics or combustion engines -- it's that the Amish take a defensive stance against technology as an effort to protect the family and community.

For many of us, the technology rules the Amish have developed seem arbitrary and silly. But they are actually thought through very well. The Amish meet twice a year in groups of 40-50 families to decide if any rules need to be changed. If someone is thinking about using a new technology, this would definitely be a topic of conversation. What are the metrics for making decisions about technology? Community and family. The Amish believe that the best life is one that is lived in community with fellow believers. The majority of their decisions are driven by the goal of strengthening the ties they have to one another.

So those seemingly arbitrary rules I just mentioned do have a purpose. Why can’t an Amish person buy a car? They’ve seen how our communities have slowly unraveled to the point where many of us don’t even know the names of our neighbors. They think the automobile—which gives us the ability to travel great distances by ourselves quickly—bears a great deal of the blame for this. But they do see the benefit of occasionally using car travel, and if a neighbor wants to lend a hand, spending time with them helps to strengthen their ties.

Jamey makes a lot of solid points in this article.  I mean, I still wouldn't want the rest of civilization to start focusing on family as much as the Amish do.  I think that would be really bad for us, and I think America's reduced emphasis on family is a good thing.

But I like the idea of structuring our relationships with technology to build communities, rather than focusing just on profit and convenience.  This reminds me of one of my favorite TED talks "The shareable future of cities" by Alex Steffen, specifically the bit about halfway through about the drill.

Surfing the Blagosphere

I was talking to a friend of mine today, about one of my favorite things about the internet -- how completely silly it has made language.  Describing your experience on the internet with even the slightest bit of detachment makes it sound like you live in a cartoon.  There are bloggers and pirates everywhere, arguably the most important website is called Google, one of the best news sources is called Boing Boing.  Another one's called Reddit. Sites like TVTropes make literary analysis sound like rambling nonsense from a children's cartoon: "Yeah, it's a Hollywood science follow the leader, but at least they hang a lampshade on the unobtanium, and I think the whole thing might have just been stealth parody."

My friend suggested that eventually all conversation is going to sound like that.  Maybe he's right -- maybe one day, legal contracts will be written like Doctor Seuss books.  But a certain amount of language isn't just fluidly reflective of the language around it -- it's buried in the way we hear it.  Some sound forms just sound more serious, and I don't think we'll ever run out of uses for them.

The change I've got my fingers crossed for is a massive increase in the amount of, acceptability of, and reference to bathos.  I want to hear bathetic style shifts in newscasts and presidential speeches.  And, especially, I want the word bathos to show up more in public conversation.  Right now, people just mostly think you hit B when you meant to hit P.

California's new rail project

Los Angeles and San Francisco are, thanks to a bill passed today in California's legislature, getting a high-speed rail line.  From the AP article:

"No economy can grow faster than its transportation network allows," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement applauding the legislative vote. "With highways between California cities congested and airspace at a premium, Californians desperately need an alternative."

Governor Jerry Brown hasn't yet signed the bill, but he lobbied in support of the bill, so it's unlikely he'll veto it.

The first stretch of the track scheduled to go down is going between Madera and Bakersfield.  And since I have no idea where those places are, I assume my readers don't, either.  Here's a reference picture:

So, it looks like it covers about a third of the total distance the rail will, ultimately, service.

The decision was not without its critics:

Republicans blasted the Senate decision, citing the state's ongoing budget problems.

"It's unfortunate that the majority would rather spend billions of dollars that we don't have for a train to nowhere than keep schools open and harmless from budget cuts," Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, said in a statement.

Budget cuts which I doubt Democrats are pushing through -- and what does it say about Sen. Tom Harman's sense of his state that he feels that Los Angeles and San Francisco both qualify, as destinations, as "nowhere"?

This is exactly the kind of project our country needs.  The AP article unfortunately does not make any statements about the intended speed of the train, but if it's much like the ones in Japan, China, Taiwan or Germany, the max speed of 300 mph, passing through Bakersfield and Medira, puts the 400 mile trip at less than an hour and a half.  It's a seven hour drive, and I don't care how fast a plane is -- it takes longer than two hours to get on and off one.

Apart from that, high speed rail is less gas-heavy than airplanes, and has a lot of potential to run on clean energy. I am in favor of everything about this project.

Now we just need rails across the country and up and down the east coast.  Then put in vertical farms, and we can let the rest of the country drift back to wilderness.

Google chairman calls for computer science education

Google chairman Eric Schmidt gave a talk yesterday in London in which he raised his fears about the future of the internet.  He argued that the greatest threat to the future of the internet was not individual cybercriminals, but nations attempting to disrupt its function.

Eric Schmidt said [that] the internet would be vulnerable for at least 10 years, and that every node of the public web needed upgrading to protect against crime. Fixing the problem was a "huge task" as the internet was built "without criminals in mind" he said. (Source)

He moved on to a plea that British schools focus more energy on computer science and engineering (apparently British schools don't even teach computer science -- which, thinking about it, neither did my high school, except in a fringe occupational class only about a dozen students a year took.) and offered this excellent quote:

[S]o long as more kids aspire to win X Factor than win a Nobel Prize, there's room to improve.