Bitcoin: Not the Currency of the Future (Part 2)

Although my last article on Bitcoins was never meant to be a two-parter, the volume of discussion it generated on this blog, Reddit, Twitter, and elsewhere was more than enough to warrant a response. Among Bitcoin’s detractors, the consensus was that the article didn’t go far enough, whereas Bitcoin’s supporters responded with a wide array of criticism. Most of the coherent arguments though, boiled down to two points: First, Bitcoins are software and their technical issues can be corrected over time, and second, the idea that I was fundamentally wrong about deflationary currency and that it is in fact a good thing. Although the responses to these arguments seem intuitive, it is understandable that fanatics and people buried under the weight of thousands of dollars in sunk-cost fallacy Bitcoins could see otherwise. But that article was never meant to convince the Bitcoin zealots, it was meant for those of you on the fence, caught up in the excitement of logarithmic growth charts and fancy mining rigs. If that’s you, and you haven’t quite yet drunk the Kool-Aid, keep reading.

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Bitcoin: Not the Currency of the Future

I’ve been following Bitcoin for a few years now. I was there when it first peaked (and crashed) in 2011, and then peaked and crashed again in April of this year. I read along as Laszlo trekked across the country on Bitcoin and bought the infamous $2.5 million pizza (just a $1,000,000 pizza now), and watched in amusement as Bruce Wagner bumbled his way through the first BitCon. I’ve read countless articles and forum posts alternately attacking and applauding Bitcoins, and countless more articles analyzing the whims that drive the Bitcoin market. All too often, the issue of Bitcoin’s viability as a currency is muddied by non sequiturs, strawmen, and ad hominem attacks from both sides of the debate. Despite all the confusion, misunderstandings, and poorly-guided rants though, when boiled down to the essential facts, things don’t look too good for Bitcoin.

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Thoughts on Asteroid Mining

When Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis announced their founding of Planetary Resources in 2012 – with the goal of conducting industrial scale asteroid mining – many people, myself included, dismissed it as a near-insane pipe dream. Even now, a year later and after the founding of a second asteroid mining company, Deep Space Industries, and a NASA proposal to capture an asteroid into lunar orbit the idea still sounds just as kooky as it did on first impression. Indeed, with the retirement of the space shuttle and the dates for a manned Mars mission slipping further and further back, the idea of something as ambitious as asteroid mining sounds increasingly implausible. But it has been a year, and those of us with curious minds and a genuine belief in humanity’s limitless potential owe the idea a fair examination.

There are three significant barriers to development of an industrial-scale asteroid mining capability: technical, economic, and political. Each barrier is equally significant in its own way, and each poses its own unique challenges. In order to achieve success, the budding asteroid mining is approaching each of them with a separate understanding of the distinct timelines, tools, and professionals required to solve them. To help limit the scope of this article though, the primary focus will be on the approach that Planetary Resources is taking (No offense to Deep Space Industries, there’s just more info out there from Planetary Resources to dig into).

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Book Preview: “Tesla Prime and the Regulus Event”

There’s something about receiving a preview copy of a scifi book from an @jpl.nasa.gov email address that lends it a sort of instant credibility. While the author might not carry the same scientific gravity as von Braun, or the writing talents of Asimov, the end product is proof enough that a dash of each talent is more than sufficient to produce a good novel.

I was initially turned onto Tesla Prime and the Regulus Event by the novel’s website, where the first 10 chapters can be read entirely free. In fact, Douglas, the author, plans to release the entire book for free eventually. But ultimately, the words “free” and “science fiction” alone aren’t what held my attention. Only one chapter into the novel and it became obvious that I had stumbled on a real gem: a captivating, well-polished novel from a first time author.

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Humanity’s Path to Peace: Technological Peace Theory

Among the most well-accepted ideas in political science is “democratic peace theory”, which basically theorizes that democracies are less likely to go to war with one another. Although there is significant disagreement over the definitions used (for democracy, war, peace, etc.) and over the reasons why, the theory is generally borne out well in terms of quantifiable data, regardless of how it is examined. Like so much of political science though – with its massive scope – democratic peace theory struggles to establish controls on the vast mountain of data it draws from. Far beyond simple political motivators, there are numerous other factors that cloud the simple distinction between states and how they interact with one another.

Perhaps the most overlooked alternate explanation though is the one that optimistic science fiction has been hinting at for years: technology. Science fiction has long envisaged a future free of war; liberated by remarkable advances in technology. As much as this notion – a sort of technological peace theory – has come to be mocked in dystopian fiction, the crazy fact is that it appears to be true. Looking at the data, it seems like a quantifiable certainty that the more technologically and industrially advanced a state is, the less likely it is to go to war, particularly with other, similarly-advanced states.

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Crowdfunding the Future: The Best of December

One of the unfortunate aspects of labeling yourself a transhumanist or a futurist is often the perceived inability to do anything appreciable to advance your cause. Unless you’re a scientist or engineer, there’s little that the average futurist can do. Even politically, it’s often difficult to do anything more than support a technoprogressive standpoint, and hope that society slowly babysteps in the right direction. There are no cyborg rights protests to attend, no “Support Brain Uploading” 5K’s to run, and even futurist non-profits can usually do little more then spread awareness.

Crowdfunding changes that though. It gives scientists and engineers with big ideas and small pockets the opportunity to actually bring those ideas to life, and for futurists, it gives us the opportunity to play a direct hand in the future. This recurring feature article will help highlight the best ideas seeking your help each month. Here are some of December’s best.

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Book Review: “Aeternum Ray”

Without even reading a word of Tracy Atkins’s novel, Aeternum Ray, you have to start by giving him a pat on the back for courage. In everything from its form to its substance, Aeternum Ray is a challenging novel. Going well against the grain of most futurist and transhumanist fiction – with their dystopian and gritty elements – Atkins attempts to explore the idea of a post-Singularity future from a genuinely optimistic viewpoint. By its very nature a post-Singularity future is effectively impossible to speculate on, and yet, that is exactly what Aeternum Ray attempts to do.

The novel takes the form of the memoirs of William Babington, a man born of our our time who lives to see a technological singularity and than catalog the course of the future. In the opening chapters of the novel, Babington writes of his experiences growing up in the 80′s and 90′s and slowly moves onto the earth-shaking events of his later natural life. Although there is hardly anything revolutionary expressed in these chapters, they do offer an insightful, almost-anthropological look at our modern era, and the predictions of the near future are both exciting and well-conceived. Although Atkins does place an almost narrow-minded focus on the development of future AIs, to the exclusive of other technological progress, it is easy to offer some literary liberties given the expansive goal of covering four decades in as many chapters.

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Transhumanism in Developing Nations

As the imminent emergence of a transhuman society begins to take to shape and moves increasingly from the realm of theory to fact, transhumanists and futurists are going to have to start asking some hard questions. No longer can we focus simply on the technological challenges of creating such a future, but we must also consider what those technologies imply for society and the international community. Much has been written and said about the threat of uneven distribution of these technologies, and concerns over such inequality have made their way into everything from futurist fiction to academic critiques. Little has been done to address these concerns though, and what has been done tends to focus on inequality within the developed nations that most futurists are from. Despite this, it is of paramount importance that we focus strong attention on the technological and infrastructural gap that exists been post-industrial and developing nations. Unless we take strong, positive action to address these issues, transhumanism will not be the global revolution we hope it to be, and we will instead take the form of the techno-oligarchs that we fear.

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Future Wars and the Digital Insurgency

Everyone who followed the events the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement last year could tell that something big was happening. To most people, the “big things” were the events themselves; they saw the toppling of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments and the large, international Occupy protests as landmark events in activism. Those who examined the events more deeply, however, saw that their true impact was not so much in their immediate effects, but in what they implied for future revolutions and guerilla movements. Military leaders, in particular, would do well to take note of these events as they offer strong hints as to the means by which future insurgencies and low-intensity conflicts will be fought.

It is often remarked that generals always fight the last war, and this is unfortunately very true. Modern militaries though have gone to pains to correct against this trend, and have begun to demonstrate remarkable foresight on a strategic level. Predictions concerning hybrid warfare in specific seem increasingly prophetic, and the ready acceptance of this by many military leaders is encouraging. For all the strategic foresight that is being demonstrated, however, the future tactical situation is being almost entirely overlooked.

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Crowdfunding the Future: The Best of November

One of the unfortunate aspects of labeling yourself a transhumanist or a futurist is often the perceived inability to do anything appreciable to advance your cause. Unless you’re a scientist or engineer, there’s little that the average futurist can do. Even politically, it’s often difficult to do anything more than support a technoprogressive standpoint, and hope that society slowly babysteps in the right direction. There are no cyborg rights protests to attend, no “Support Brain Uploading” 5K’s to run, and even futurist non-profits can usually do little more then spread awareness.

Crowdfunding changes that though. It gives scientists and engineers with big ideas and small pockets the opportunity to actually bring those ideas to life, and for futurists, it gives us the opportunity to play a direct hand in the future. This recurring feature article will help highlight the best ideas seeking your help each month. Here are the four best future-promoting projects of November.

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