I have been arranging the speakers for the Long Now Boston Conversation Series. It has been taking quite a bit of my time (hence fewer posts on Spiral Inquiry) but the results have been satisfying. The fall program has been covering a very wide range of topics (see below). I also had the opportunity to meet Stewart Brand, cofounder and President of the Long Now Foundation, along with board members Esther Dyson, Danny Hillis and Ryan Phelan, at an event in Cambridge in August. My hope is that as we learn to practice long term thinking, we will be better able to find creative solutions to the problems that beset our civilization.
Reflections: LNB Garden Party 02019
August 17, 02019, Cambridge MA: A personal experience with the “Cam of Time”, and conversations with Stewart Brand, Esther Dyson, Danny Hillis, Ryan Phelan and other Long Now enthusiasts.
Comment from one attendee: “Every conversation I had with anyone at this event was with smart and passionate people. And the diversity of their knowledge base and skill set is great. It’s so easy to get siloed in your field (in my case biotech) and not have chats with economists and city planners and app developers and information engineers on a regular basis. What’s great about the Long Now Boston events is the cross-fertilization of ideas with these other perspectives.”
Mastering the Balance – Loonshots and Franchise
September 9, 02019, Long Now Boston Conversation Series at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Featuring Safi Bahcall, author of Loonshots (2019)
According to Safi Bahcall, the people, companies, institutions and governments that drive progress take advantage of both the creativity that generates new ideas, and the logistical discipline that can take them to scale. Creatives need the open environment of loonshot nurseries. Soldiers need the structure and hierarchy of a franchise. Both are essential to long-term success, and the best leaders are the ones that love their creatives and soldiers equally.
From Synthetic DNA to Billion Year Libraries
October 7, 02019, Long Now Boston Conversation Series at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Featuring Dr. Hyunjun Park, CEO of CATALOG DNA, and Nova Spivack, Chairman of Arch Mission Foundation.
Human science and imagination are moving us to a reality we can barely comprehend. Synthetic DNA is the basis for stunningly efficient data storage and sophisticated computational functionality – yet the microminiaturized manufacturing process defies visualization. Using this technology, petabytes of data are encoded on strands of DNA and dried into something the size of a sugar cube. Imagine such a cube layered into a small, super strong container at the core of a small disk the size of a DVD. That disk consists of a number of layers of nickel nano-fiche analog imagery on top of high-density digital storage layers, bonded with an epoxy in which human and other DNA samples are stored — a complete library of human knowledge and history. Now imagine those libraries scattered around the earth, on the moon, in orbit around the sun, where they will serve as the backup for planet Earth, lasting billions of years.
Future Humans and the Price of Progress
November 4, 02019,A Long Now Boston Conversation Series at the Cambridge Innovation Center featuring James Hughes (IEET) and Nir Eiskovits (UMAEC).
Humans invent technology to shape the world — but technology also reshapes humans. What will future humans be like?
Recently, alarms have begun to sound about the impact of excessive screen time, the ethics of AI and the negative effects of social media on culture and politics. These technologies have increased communication and inspired social change – but they are also changing the human beings they are intended to serve, in unanticipated and potentially harmful ways. Nir Eiskovits(AEC UMass Boston), will discuss these impacts and how they could play out in the decades and centuries ahead.
At the same time, technologies are changing humans from the inside. The outsourcing of our short-term memory to smart phones is just the tip of the iceberg. We are moving into an era when human perception, reproduction, genetics, and even physiology and brain function, will be fundamentally enabled by engineering and biological technologies. James Hughes(IEET) will discuss the prospects for engineered super-humans, and the many ethical issues that will be raised.
Searching for Life in Deep Space
On December 2, 02019, A Long Now Boston Conversation Series event at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Harvard Professor Avi Loeb takes Long Now Boston to the frontiers of cosmic discovery and exobiology.
Professor Avi Loeb is the Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science and Chair of Astronomy at Harvard, Director of the Institute for Theory and Computation, Founding Director of the Black Hole Initiative, Chair of both the Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee and the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. In 2012, TIME magazine selected Loeb as one of the 25 most influential people in space science.
In the past few years, scientists have made huge progress probing ever more deeply into space. They have confirmed the existence of a vast multitude of earth-like planets. They have found evidence of complex chemistry in deep space and validated the claim that all life on Earth is made of stardust. Yet there is no evidence of life originating anywhere other than on Earth.
This may change soon. Upcoming searches will aim to detect markers of life in the atmospheres of planets outside the solar system. We also have unprecedented technologies to detect signs of intelligent civilizations through industrial pollution of planetary atmospheres, space archaeology of debris from dead civilizations or artifacts such as photovoltaic cells that are used to re-distribute light and heat on the surface of a planet or giant megastructures.
At the same time, we continue to launch interplanetary and even interstellar explorations of our own. Others may notice and seek to contact us — or we may find messages that confirm we are not alone.
Long Now Boston is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is independent from but philosophically aligned with the Long Now Foundation. Long Now Boston provides a forum for discussing, investigating and engaging in issues that have long-term implications for our global cultures. Long Now Boston hosts a monthly Community Conversation series in Cambridge, MA. You can sign up on their website for notices.