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It’s the centennial year of the Titanic disaster, and that tragedy remains a touchstone.

The lifeboat angle is obvious. So is the ice hazard: then it was icebergs, now it’s comets.

But 100 years of expanding awareness has revealed the other threats we’re now aware of. We have to think about asteroids, nano- and genotech accidents, ill-considered high-energy experiments, economic and social collapse into oligarchy and debt peonage, and all the many others.

What a great subject for a Movie Night! Here are some great old movies about lifeboats and their discontents.

Lifeboat Triple Feature:

They’re full of situations about existential risks, risk assessment, prudential behavior, and getting along in lifeboats if we absolutely have to. The lesson is: make sure there are enough lifeboats and make darn sure you never need to use them.

Anyway, I finally got my review of the show done, and I hope it’s enjoyable and maybe teachable. I’d welcome additional movie candidates.

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Party LIke It’s 1912… by Clark Matthews is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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“If the rate of change on the outside
exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”
- Jack Welch

Complex societies are heavily addicted to expensive, vulnerable and potentially hazardous infrastructure. We rely on a healthy environment for production of food and access to clean water. We depend on technological infrastructure for energy supplies and communications. We are deeply addicted to economic growth to support growing populations and consumption. If one of these pillars of modern society crumbles our existence will collapse like a house of cards.

The interdependencies and complexities of the system we call modern society has become so intertangled that finding a robust and simple solution to our problems has become close to impossible. Historically the cold war gave us the logic of a “balance of terror”. This logic, originally concerned with a balance of U.S. vs. Soviet military capacities, has lead to an increasingly expensive way of reducing risk and ever expanding bureaucracies to keep us “virtually safe”.

With the onset of a global economic recession, drastic climate change, deadly natural disasters, raging civil wars and diminishing natural resources we need a new logic. A set of moral laws for reducing risk and mitigating consequences applicable at a low cost from the bottom up of entire societies.

The concept of resilience is based on the idea that disasters are inevitable and a natural part of existence. Our best defense is preparedness and engineering systems that not only can withstand heavy strains but also absorb damage. The Institute for Resilient Infrastructure at the University of Leeds gives this definition of “Resilience”;

Resilience can also be explained in terms of durability. A durable material, component or system is one which can cope with all the known, predictable loads to which it will be subjected throughout its life. As well as physical loads – stresses and strains – we include environmental loads (e.g. temperature, weather), economic loads (e.g. the scarcity of resources or financial turmoil) and social loads (e.g. changes in legislation or of use, terrorist attack, changes in demography or society’s expectations and demands).

In the 1970s about 100 disasters were recorded worldwide every year. According to the International Disaster Database an average of 392 disasters were reported per year in the last decade. In 2011 we saw record greenhouse gas emissions, melting Arctic sea ice, extreme weather and the earthquake in Japan resulting in the world’s second worst nuclear disaster. Current systems for mitigation of risk are obviously not capable of handling the overwhelming challenges confronting us.

The price tag for disasters in 2011 reached a record high of $265 billion. Most of that cost ($210 billion) came from the tsunami in Japan, but flooding in Australia, tornadoes in the United States and earthquakes in New Zealand contributed substantially. The increasingly turbulent weather patterns wreaking havoc across the planet may only be the beginning of a period of drastic climate change.

In addition to climate change industrial society faces depleted natural resources, degradation of infrastructure and systemic limits to growth. The ongoing economic crisis is a symptom of a deeper structural failure. Governments are running out of options when solving a debt crisis with more debt is the last resort. We rely on short term solutions for long term problems.

We are facing a different type of threat originating from within the system itself, an endogenous and internal failure of our civilizational paradigm. Growing populations stress our dependency on non-renewable resources supported by potentially hazardous nuclear power. The case of the Fukushima nuclear accident illustrates that large population located on limited land is extremely vulnerable to unpredictable events like earthquakes or other catastrophic “wild cards”. From the perspective of risk analysis the state of Japan is a model of the entire planet.

To make the situation even more acute the horizon of Homo Sapiens is full of threats like global pandemics and emerging technologies that could permanently wipe us off the face of the earth. Nanotechnology, synthetic biology and geoengineering hold the promise of a quick fix but also have the potential to cause irreversible harm to the biosphere and human life.

Technology is without a doubt a part of a permanent solution for sustainable life on the planet. The bottom up approach to resilience is about awakening a culture that rewards autonomy and self-sufficiency. Resilience is more than durable engineering. Resilience has to become an obligatory way of thinking and eventually a way of life.

10 robust resilient strategies:
1. Sustain a culture that rewards autonomy and self-sufficiency.
2. Share practical solutions and stockpile resilient ideas instead of canned food.
3. Support intra-generational sharing of knowledge on how to live in accord with nature.
4. Develop alternative economic systems; use Bitcoins and barter when possible.
5. Refine high-tech solutions but favor low tech; HAM radios beat cell phones in emergencies.
6. Grow your own food; become an urban gardener or start a farm revival project.
7. Reduce energy consumption with geothermal energy, local water mills, wind mills and solar panels.
8. Use a condom; think eugenically — act passionately.
9. Keep a gun; if you are forced to pull it – know how to use it.
10. Stay alive for the sake of the next generation.

This article is co-published on Interesting Times Magazine.

Kevin Kelly concluded a chapter in his new book What Technology Wants with the declaration that if you hate technology, you basically hate yourself.

The rationale is twofold:

1. As many have observed before, technology–and Kelly’s superset “technium”–is in many ways the natural successor to biological evolution. In other words, human change is primarily through various symbiotic and feedback-looped systems that comprise human culture.

2. It all started with biology, but humans throughout their entire history have defined and been defined by their tools and information technologies. I wrote an essay a few months ago called “What Bruce Campbell Taught Me About Robotics” concerning human co-evolution with tools and the mind’s plastic self-models. And of course there’s the whole co-evolution with or transition to language-based societies.

So if the premise that human culture is a result of taking the path of technologies is true, then to reject technology as a whole would be reject human culture as it has always been. If the premise that our biological framework is a result of a back-and-forth relationship with tools and/or information, then you have another reason to say that hating technology is hating yourself (assuming you are human).

In his book, Kelly argues against the noble savage concept. Even though there are many useless implementations of technology, the tech that is good is extremely good and all humans adopt them when they can. Some examples Kelly provides are telephones, antibiotics and other medicines, and…chainsaws. Low-tech villagers continue to swarm to slums of higher-tech cities, not because they are forced, but because they want their children to have better opportunities.

So is it a straw man that actually hates technology? Certainly people hate certain implementations of technology. Certainly it is ok, and perhaps needed more than ever, to reject useless technology artifacts. I think one place where you can definitely find some technology haters are the ones afraid of obviously transformative technologies, in other words the ones that purposely and radically alter humans. And they are only “transformative” in an anachronistic sense–e.g., if you compare two different time periods in history, you can see drastic differences.

Also, although perhaps not outright hate in most cases, there are many who have been infected by the meme that artificial creatures such as robots and/or super-smart computers (and/or super-smart networks of computers) present a competition to humans as they exist now. This meme is perhaps more dangerous than any computer could be because it tries to divorce humans from the technium.

Image credit: whokilledbambi

With our growing resources, the Lifeboat Foundation has teamed with the Singularity Hub as Media Sponsors for the 2010 Humanity+ Summit. If you have suggestions on future events that we should sponsor, please contact [email protected].

The summer 2010 “Humanity+ @ Harvard — The Rise Of The Citizen Scientist” conference is being held, after the inaugural conference in Los Angeles in December 2009, on the East Coast, at Harvard University’s prestigious Science Hall on June 12–13. Futurist, inventor, and author of the NYT bestselling book “The Singularity Is Near”, Ray Kurzweil is going to be keynote speaker of the conference.

Also speaking at the H+ Summit @ Harvard is Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist based in Cambridge, UK, and is the Chief Science Officer of SENS Foundation, a California-based charity dedicated to combating the aging process. His talk, “Hype and anti-hype in academic biogerontology research: a call to action”, will analyze the interplay of over-pessimistic and over-optimistic positions with regards of research and development of cures, and propose solutions to alleviate the negative effects of both.

The theme is “The Rise Of The Citizen Scientist”, as illustrated in his talk by Alex Lightman, Executive Director of Humanity+:

“Knowledge may be expanding exponentially, but the current rate of civilizational learning and institutional upgrading is still far too slow in the century of peak oil, peak uranium, and ‘peak everything’. Humanity needs to gather vastly more data as part of ever larger and more widespread scientific experiments, and make science and technology flourish in streets, fields, and homes as well as in university and corporate laboratories.”

Humanity+ Summit @ Harvard is an unmissable event for everyone who is interested in the evolution of the rapidly changing human condition, and the impact of accelerating technological change on the daily lives of individuals, and on our society as a whole. Tickets start at only $150, with an additional 50% discount for students registering with the coupon STUDENTDISCOUNT (valid student ID required at the time of admission).

With over 40 speakers, and 50 sessions in two jam packed days, the attendees, and the speakers will have many opportunities to interact, and discuss, complementing the conference with the necessary networking component.

Other speakers already listed on the H+ Summit program page include:

  • David Orban, Chairman of Humanity+: “Intelligence Augmentation, Decision Power, And The Emerging Data Sphere”
  • Heather Knight, CTO of Humanity+: “Why Robots Need to Spend More Time in the Limelight”
  • Andrew Hessel, Co-Chair at Singularity University: “Altered Carbon: The Emerging Biological Diamond Age”
  • M. A. Greenstein, Art Center College of Design: “Sparking our Neural Humanity with Neurotech!”
  • Michael Smolens, CEO of dotSUB: “Removing language as a barrier to cross cultural communication”

New speakers will be announced in rapid succession, rounding out a schedule that is guaranteed to inform, intrigue, stimulate and provoke, in moving ahead our planetary understanding of the evolution of the human condition!

H+ Summit @ Harvard — The Rise Of The Citizen Scientist
June 12–13, Harvard University
Cambridge, MA

You can register at