Two of my good friends have started the move toward vegetarianism. One for health reasons, the other for ethical ones. I’ve started eating better myself (more fruits and veggies) because of them. But the lure and ever-almost-here-ness of synthetic meat gives me hope for those of us who can’t (or won’t) give up our carnivores sides. The Guardian presents the two most likely candidates to bring ethical meat to the masses.

 The idea of synthetic meat has been around for a long time. In 1932, Winston Churchill stated, “Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.” But fake meat, aka schmeat or in-vitro meat, is one of those ideas that, like lunar colonies, fusion power and flying cars, has yet to cross the threshold between fantasy and reality.

To make bigger chunks of meat, [Dr Mark Post, an affable 54-year-old Dutchman] will need to make synthetic fat (“actually quite easy”) and grow the fillets on some sort of biodegradable scaffold, “fed” with nutrients pumped through artificial polysaccharide “veins”. Otherwise the centre of the fillet will become gangrenous and die.

The technique is viable for any species.

“Could you make fake panda?”

“Sure.”

“What about human?”

“Don’t go there.”

Eventually, Post envisages a future where huge quantities of high-quality meat are gown in vats, incorporating not only muscle fibres but layers of real fat and even synthetic bone. “In 25 years,” he says, “real meat will come in a packet labelled, ‘An animal has suffered in the production of this product’ and it will carry a big eco tax. I think in 50-60 years it may be forbidden to grow meat from livestock.”

via MR

 

They’re on the horizon.

Link via io9

 

Brave is a much richer and more important film than most people realize. Context as they say, is everything. And to understand why Brave matters, we have to look at it within the context of animated films up to this point.

Nearly every review I’ve read about Pixar’s newest film and Disney’s newest addition to the princess cannon has noted how standard the story is. Alyssa Rosenberg gives the most concise, level review of the film, accurately pointing out the total failure regarding the characterization of the witch (ugh, what a waste, could have been the next Ursula) and pointing out the importance of Merida as Pixar’s first heroine. In brief: I agree with the consensus that the film is spectacularly beautiful, has some hilarious moments, great characterization, flirtations with genuine darkness (all I’ll say: blank-bear eyes) and is a very solid, if standard film.

But here’s the thing: Brave is not just about a typical child/parent film. It’s about Pixar’s relationship to Disney’s entire princess lineage.

Continue reading »

 

Ah yes, another law drafted by the “the government is evil and should be small except for when legislating about sex, drugs, and procreation” GOP has failed.

And did they really want it to pass? No – it’s a wedge issue designed to give them something to point to during the election cycle. “See, look, these Democrats voted to KILL LITTLE BABY GIRLS. Vote Republican.” An actual back and fourth on the issue:

“Today’s vote is a stunning declaration by supporters of abortion that they oppose any restrictions on abortion,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana.

Democrats accused Republicans of contriving a vote on legislation to address a problem that does not exist.

“I don’t support abortion for gender selection,” said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado and an opponent of the legislation. “I don’t know anyone who does. Maybe that’s because there is no problem in this country of abortion for gender selection.”

Maybe. Who knows? Why let facts get in the way of posturing. Sigh.

 

I’m always amazed by the way governments address their own abysmal actions. Thousands were involuntarily sterilized? Here’s some money, now be quiet.

There should be a massive, public announcement in which the governor and all members of the state’s government (senators, reps, etc.) deliver a clear, honest description of what happened, why North Carolinian’s thought involuntary sterilization was alright, why those reasons were wrong, and what they have done to ensure it will never happen again.

 

Asimov had some good ideas, but we need to, you know, actually write some laws now:

As they become smarter and more widespread, autonomous machines are bound to end up making life-or-death decisions in unpredictable situations, thus assuming—or at least appearing to assume—moral agency. Weapons systems currently have human operators “in the loop”, but as they grow more sophisticated, it will be possible to shift to “on the loop” operation, with machines carrying out orders autonomously.

As that happens, they will be presented with ethical dilemmas. Should a drone fire on a house where a target is known to be hiding, which may also be sheltering civilians? Should a driverless car swerve to avoid pedestrians if that means hitting other vehicles or endangering its occupants? Should a robot involved in disaster recovery tell people the truth about what is happening if that risks causing a panic? Such questions have led to the emergence of the field of “machine ethics”, which aims to give machines the ability to make such choices appropriately—in other words, to tell right from wrong.

 

Why Philip K. Dick thought Turing didn’t go far enough:

“For Dick, the biggest problem with the Turing test was that it placed too much emphasis on intelligence,” [How To Build an Android author, David F.] Dufty writes. “Dick believed that empathy was more central to being human than intelligence, and the Turing Test did not measure empathy.” Instead, Dick imagined in Electric Sheep the “Voigt-Kampff test,” which attempts to separate machines from men by provoking emotional responses.”

Also see: The Turkle Test.

Expect more of this as social science fiction displaces hard science fiction. Culture, emotion, and identity are the raw materials out of which the new futures will be crafted.

 

Science is the act of making a guess and comparing that guess against reality, which results in some amazing experiments. The guess: that life on earth came from bacteria laden asteroids and meteors. The test: could bacterial spores survive such a ride. The results:

Even if extraterrestrial life did exist, proponents of the panspermia theory must still determine how life arrived on Earth. The best candidates to act as “seeds of life” are bacterial spores, which allow bacteria to remain in a dormant state in the absence of nutrients. Bacteria constitute about one-third of Earth’s biomass and are characterized by their ability to survive under extreme conditions—those that we initially believed were unable to support life. In light of panspermia, the important question is if bacteria or bacterial spores could survive in space.

To address this question, scientists at the German Aerospace Centre in Cologne designed experiments using the Russian FOTON satellite. They mixed bacterial spores with particles of clay, red sandstone, Martian meteorite or simulated Martian soil to make small lumps a centimeter across. The lumps were then exposed via the satellite to outer space. After two weeks of exposure, researchers found that nearly all of the bacterial spores mixed with red sandstone were able to survive. Another study showed that bacterial spores could survive the extreme conditions of outer space for six years if they were protected from extraterrestrial solar UV radiation. This would be possible if the spores traveled within comets or meteorites.

 

Ken Robinson obliterates the current public schooling system and the educational myths that sustain it:

 

At least in one Italian city, it is. Biopower ad absurdum.