Thursday, June 28, 2018

States of Change: Chapter 19: Crossroads (Indiana)

States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.
The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics, culture and our planet's future.

The year is 2076, decades after Oosa's defederalization. 
Fifty independent States have forged their societies from revolutionary technology and ideology.
Prominently, The Augment, a real-time, virtual overlay of sensory data 
has become widely available for personal use throughout many of the post-fed nation-states.

More than ten thousand corporations call the Indianapolis Industrial Ring HQ. The data servers in the IIR complex collectively hum 24-7 as if the second coming of Cryptocurrency was underway. Even on this Sunday, loop transport and automated delivery modules cart office supplies, printer rods and support personnel to and fro in a labyrinthian, video game of motion.  Suite 3D16 of the northwest arc houses the diminutive Genetic Crossroads Limited Partnership module.  Its minimalist sharespace is busier than most modules in the whole of the IIR. The monthly business meeting is well underway.

GCLP's business model was designed to leverage the Augment fully; strategy conferences, expert system data-sharing, state accounting and even employee morale building exercises were key aspects to that model.  In fact, the ten full-time bio-technicians employed by GCLP only ever worked remotely. The founders Prim and Merc, however, meet monthly face-to-face to discuss personnel adjustments, mission recalibration and individual project closure.  Today, VisARs off, they focused on the last.

"...DNA Depth Analyses adequate for extended generation survivability?"

 "Check. Ten thousand life cycles assured at a ninety ninth percentile confidence level."

"Habitat flora, fauna, and resource impact meta-studies fully compliant?"

"Check. Approval confirmed by each African ecosystem council and the International Riparian Oversight Committee."

"Individual organism, environment, and global simulation data all acceptable to GCLP standards?"

"Check, check and checkuna-matata!"

Merc paused, shaking his head with a grin. "You're a strange one, Prim."

"What? You don't like my Lion King reference?"

"Lion King? Right. Okay, that about does it. All paperwork for the release of the Clarias cavernicola recovered genome is digitally signed and now submitted. If the Continental African government approves the funding the golden cave catfish will swim back from from extinction into their tropical estuaries once more."

"Excellent, Merc! Pretty crazy that our little Indiana startup is making waves across the oceanographic bioscape! Resurrecting extinct fishes from the abyss! Five years ago, who would've guessed?"

"It's not surprising at all, Prim. The terms you negotiated for the CRISPR PHISH protocol license has been a boon for the company. We now have seventy-five restored species to our name, with twenty-one others awaiting funding approval. Maybe fifty years ago it would've been surprising, but given the technology and ethical standards of the moment, you should be proud, not surprised."

Prim laughed. "You're right of course, but do you ever get the feeling we've overstepped. You know, kinda playing God."

"By playing God, do you mean wielding science and compassion in judicious iterations toward restoring the damage humanity has done to the planet over the past three millennia?"

"Yep, that's the feeling--hubris mixed with a healthy portion of righteousness. How can we can know the long-term global outcome of resurrecting species that have been dead for decades?"

"This ain't Jurassic Park, Prim. Restoring the planet's biodiversity pre-anthrocene is the company's mission and business is booming! Subtext: I think we're doing good works. God for sure has never deigned to step in to upkeep the environment so it's our responsibility to do our best for the good of earthkind."

Prim laughed again. "All this talk of God and fish makes me think of that Jesus story where he magically multiplies loaves and fishes to feed his waiting audience."

"Don't know that tale, but from what I hear that Jesus character had some freaky superpowers. If he had an ethical bone is his body you'd think he'd have resurrected the fish and set them free rather than hand them out as incentive to listen to his dogma like a common missionary."

They both laugh.

"Ok, I guess we can log this business meeting as complete. Dinner is my treat tonight, Prim. Clean Meat Kitchen has the new Red Steak cultivar, hot off the Middle Eastern bio-shelf."

"I'll take the treat, Merc, but I'm steering clear of the red stuff. Ethical laboratory practices aside, the cultured flesh of Stalin, or any animal for that matter, just susses gross to me. I'll stick to my reformed vedge and potatoes."

"Suit yourself."

Both men exit ready for a night out on the plex.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Of Dirt and Data

(Farside entry by Gary Larson)

As I read Gore Vidal's Creation, I'm encouraged to think about the nature of the Universe. One of Vidal's themes in the novel is that for millennia humans have attempted to separate the World into complementary categories. The Truth and The Lie, Forms and Matter. Earth, Air, Wind and Fire. Flesh and Spirit. Material and Non-material. Good and Evil. The list goes on.

In general I feel these divisions can be both misleading and useful. Each set of groupings is driven by a world view (perhaps religious or cultural) and by an interpretation (perhaps modern or classical). As long as we thoughtfully analyze the groupings and recognize a spectrum is likely in play, then I think a worthwhile conversation may be had.

To that end I propose the Dirt and Data model of the Universe:

  • Dirt is matter or light or anything that serves as a medium.
  • Data is a pattern or value that identifies the state of said Dirt.

I think this dichotomy is quite useful in that it underscores a Universe composed of stuff that has properties that over time tends to clump and organize ever more complex things without any mysterious entity pulling strings. As such the Dirt and Data model captures the essence of how the Universe works given centuries of collected scientific data.

Kim Stanley Robinson called the tendency for things to organize toward complexity "Veritas." This Veritas has been baked into the Universe How the properties and possible Data states of the Dirt have come to be originally are unknowable. Did a god design Creation, did an architect program the Hologram, did an alien monstrosity defecate the Dirt? There is no data whatsoever to support any intentionality in how we and our World got here in the first place. The scientific humility of "We don't know." must suffice...and we will likely never know.

And so we Humans, as the sole, known species that proposes and discusses explanatory ideas must factor self-deception into the existing Data we analyze. This is to say, people for eons have speculated hypothetical ideas that feel good for various reasons even when the data is absent. Hundreds of past cultures have attempted to explain how the Universe works and what our place in it is using magical stories. Most of these stories are spun, understandably, with humans playing a central role in the Universe. It is our challenge as a civilization and as individuals to investigate the Data and separate likely fiction from likely fact.

A swirl of ancient ideas surviving in our modern minds concurs with the Dirt and Data model. Our brains of complex Dirt are highly programmable with the Data that is behavior and cultural norm. These Data are communicated down to us in many ways: tradition, religion, conspiracy theory, rule-of-thumb, moral law and science. A lazy mind might accept the Data without delving further, especially if that laziness pays off by providing more pleasureful pursuits. Belief without doubt and reconsideration can mislead us away from bettering the world, toward tribalism, hate and selfishness.

As someone who grew up a god believer, I recognize even now that I have an "I want to believe" meme circulating within the Data that is my mind. Thankfully, the "I want to understand" meme has dominated the Data inside that animates my human Dirt. 

It is a tough fact to face that when I die my Dirt will be simply be recycled, and the unique Data of my consciousness will evaporate. Still, I hope (and as I strive to make true) that the Data I swirl within me will have reached others to stir their muddy curiosity and further sculpt with creativity toward Goodness.