Thursday, 30 June 2011

All Your Secrets Are Belong To Us

On Thursday night, the hacker collective Anonymous, as part of their Antisec campaign, released the third installment of their Chinga La Migra attack on the police force of Arizona. The hack released huge volumes of the officer's personal information and email history - some of which contained extremely embarrassing content for the force, including racist remarks about torturing terror suspects, anti-Obama propaganda and the police force's efforts to spin the fact they were employing a convicted sex offender - as well as terrorising and shutting down a number of their websites.

The Chinga La Migra (which loosely translates as "Fuck the Border Patrol") hacks are a direct response to what Anonymous are calling the "racial profiling anti-immigrant police state that is Arizona", who recently introduced the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, a very controversial anti-illegal immigration policy which requires all aliens over the age of 14 to register with the US government and carry identification with them at all times. As you can imagine, this has led to numerous racially tense situations with US citizens from racial minority backgrouds being arrested as "illegal immigrants" as they didn't happen to have documentation proving they were US citizens with them at the time; the assumption here being "guily until proven innocent".

This particular online attack was initiated by the Anonymous splinter group LulzSec, short for Lulz Security, six hackers who decided to run a 50 day campaign of "high-quality entertainment at your expense". It was LulzSec who were famously responsible for bringing down the Sony Playstation Network, claiming to have comprimised the usernames, email addreses and passwords for over one million PSN accounts (although Sony claims it was far less). The Sony hack was claimed to be in response to Sony's legal action against George Holz for cracking the allegedly watertight Playstation 3.

LulzSec went on to compromise and steal data from a raft of corporate and government databases and post it online, along with a basic description of how easy it was for them to invade the local system, the main objective of which being to embarrass the victim company by exposing their often extremelty weak security. This "grey hat" hacking doesn't aim to maliciously exploit the data it steals, or use it for personal gain (like black hat hacking) but does often break the law in order to expose the holes in the company's system's security (unlike white hat hackers, who are often security consultants hired directly by the company).

This kind of "hacktivism" isn't really a new thing but LulzSec's activities have gained it a lot of exposure in the media spotlight both for the sheer scale of their exposures and the witty delivery of the results in their releases and Twitter feed, mainly by their spokesperson, Topiary (not really what you'd expect in a hacker name - I don't imagine that the Matrix would have had the same impact if when Keanu Reeves is fighting Hugo Weaving, the dialogue goes: (Smith) "Goodbye, Mr Anderson", (Reeves) "!"). After Sony was brought down, certainly in the UK, LulzSec was making its way onto mainstream news programs - Channel 4 News even ran a whole article on them - always amusing to see their logo used in a serious report.

The LulzSec Logo

At the end of the 50 day LulzSec lifespan, LulzSec called it quits and its six members merged back into the anonymous Anonymous horde, citing a new combined approach to a larger campaign, Operation Anti-Security, or AntiSec. AntiSec's aims follow the initial examples set out by LulzSec but with a much more politicised agenda, specifically targetting Government agencies, corporations and banks and utilising the combined power of Anonymous rather than the limited resources of just the six LulzSec members.

Operation AntiSec has been running for nearly two weeks now and largely it's living up to its word, causing myriad problems online, taking down both the Brazilian and Chinese government's websites, the US Navy website and dumping 12,000 usernames, email addresses and passwords from the NATO online bookshop. Some of their corporate targets have seemed, to me at least, more opportunistic than particularly interested in direct protest, with Disney, EMI, Universal Music and the online game Battlefield Heroes all coming under fire.

Whilst engaging with Anonymous in Operation AntiSec has clearly given LulzSec's activities a number of benefits, it also could be seen as something of a retreat, or at least a regrouping. Media claims that the arrested Essex-based hacker Ryan Cleary was a core LulzSec member seem to have been somewhat exaggerated as although the MET charged him under the Computer Misuse Act for DDOS attacks on the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the IFPI, the SOCA attack's dates line up with LulzSec's attacks but the IFPI charges date back to November 2010 - way before LulzSec even existed, as they themselves pointed out via Twitter (they also seem to claim that Cleary wasn't part of their attack on SOCA but he may picked up on what they were doing and joined in). Whether Cleary was a LulzSec member or affiliate or not, it's fairly obvious that the six members of the team must have been starting to feel the heat from their actions, with both police forces and other rival hacker groups such as TeaMp0isoN (seriously) racing to identify them. By slipping back into the blanket anonymity of Anonymous, LulzSec have perhaps wisely hidden themselves, at least for now, from any returning fire.

Operation AntiSec seems to now be gaining some further momentum and expanding its influence, with plans for a WikiLeaks-style website, based on stolen rather than leaked material, a kind of HackerLeaks if you like. This shows something of a maturing attitude from the initial "just for the Lulz" approach and may prove to be a bigger thorn in the side of the authorities than WikiLeaks itself. While WikiLeaks had.its spokesman and media friendly face in the form of Julian Assange, he was also their easiest and most obvious target. Conspiracy theorists would tell you that the rape charges eventually brought against Assange were a meticulously planned "honeytrap" to bring down WikiLeaks; whether that's true or not, Anonymous certainly has no such frontman to target.

What I think LulzSec realised, in the support for their actions from the general online population, is that in Operation AntiSec, they could galvanise the online community under the blanket banner of Anonymous to enact a new level of protest. As I stated before, there's nothing that new in what they're actually doing but it's just never been done on such a massive and mainstream scale before.

In our Western democracies, it's been proven multiple times in recent years that normal forms of protest are becoming less and less effective. As stated on Wikipedia, in early 2003, some sources claim that up to 36 million people across the globe took part in almost 3,000 protests against the Iraq war and yet our governments still went ahead with their plans. Similarly in March of this year, anywhere between a quarter and a half a million people came to London to protest against our Coalition government's proposed spending cuts and were met with almost complete indifference from those in charge. The media agencies covering the recent London protests chose to spend their time reporting on the small amount of breakaway violence that occurred, whilst the police force imposed heavy handed "kettling" tactics against numerous peaceful but determined groups.

In the form of protest that Operation AntiSec aim to undertake, you could argue that the few anonymous individuals involved, rather than the millions that marched, could have more power in influencing government through inciting voters via exposures of corruption and leaked or stolen documentation. In taking down governmental websites and databases they continue to prove that they're one step ahead, both strategically and technically than their targets, although its harder to see the same levels of support across the population for similar attacks against online games companies like Battlefield Heroes or multinational record companies battling bankruptcy like EMI. For me, Operation AntiSec needs to focus its efforts on more legitimate targets in order to widen its support; the Chinga La Migra hacks are an undeniably powerful political statement, the more of which we see, the strong AntiSec's influence will grow.

However you choose to classify the propagators of Operation AntiSec: as a nuisance or as terrorists, as self-indulgent geeks or as revolutionaries, they are capable of showing us something - that sometimes, it's not the actions of the many that make the difference, it's the actions of the few. They're capable of being more than the sum of their parts; they're a movement, they're a force for change, fighting to show us that it's not this government or that corporation that's the problem, that the problem is the system itself.

Back in 1995 there was an Angelina Jolie film called Hackers, in which a small group of (unrealistically attractive) computer nerds saved the planet. Being 15 at the time, I obviously loved it and its naively optimistic view of the world (and still do). Operation AntiSec isn't as glamourous, doesn't involve Angelina Jolie and presumably doesn't involve as much bad CGI, but will it change the world? Maybe. Even if it's just a little bit.

Monday, 20 June 2011

President Bachmann

Last Monday, the Republican Party of America set out it's seven potential candidates to challenge Barack Obama at the Presidential election in 2012 in a warm up debate in New Hampshire. Thrusting her way into the limelight, the percieved big winner of the debate was Michele Bachmann. Bachmann's performance was reportedly slick, strategic and full of stage presence; a strong-minded, attractive and resolutely American-blooded woman, the current darling of the Tea Party and second to only Sarah Palin in their crazy Fox News universe.

Palin, of course, has so far neglected to stand for the forthcoming election and although you might think that's a good thing, Palin is such a devisive figure in the States, that many think although she'd get the backing of the more right-wing half of the GOP demographic audience, that the more moderate Republicans would abandon ship, leaving Obama with a clear path to victory. Palin might very well be the very worst chance the Republicans have to regain the seat behind the desk in the Oval Office.

It's also interesting to discover that recently, for the first time, more than fifty percent of Republicans support the creation of a new third US political party, most likely in the form of the separation of the Tea Party from its Republican Party host. Over sixty percent of Tea Partiers would prefer a three party system and it's not hard to imagine that a lot of the more moderate Republicans are equally frustrated in being lumped in with the more extreme elements of their party.

However, splitting the Republican party down the middle has some very obvious downsides for them, namely that no one is splitting up the Democrats too. If the Tea Party decides to go it alone, then there are serious concerns from within the GOP that Obama could simply coast to the finish next November. More bad news for the Grand Old Party then.

So this leaves us with the possibility of a Bachmman / Obama contest in 2012 and, as many of you would probably agree, right now the stakes could not be higher. In order for any of us to stand a chance in the forthcoming century, we need forward thinking, modernist leaders withn sound econonimic and scientific understanding of the world, people willing to push things forward rather then letting them slip into reverse. Although you might agree that in some respects Obama might not represent enough of those things or always endorse or enforce them in ways we might wish, Bachmann doesn't represent any. Bachmann is, in my opinion, not just a bad choice, she's frankly a dangerous one.

The possiblity of President Bachmann, or maybe just even her existence, prompted Truthdig's columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr to pangs of "nostalgia for Bush". Based on his previous articles and has he himself states, that's not something he ever expected to have.

Bachmann has already called for the closure of the US's Environmental Protection Agency (created by Republicans, actually) as part of her swathe of spending cuts and obviously diametrically opposes the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare, as she'd call it) and pretty much every other form of government aid as "socialism". You could argue that this is just down to politics though and that sacrifices have to be made somewhere; the environment and healthcare might not be the first choice of everyone but they're usually fairly close when it comes to the Right getting to weald the spending cleaver (our NHS anyone?). Hoever, I think there's something far more worrying about hearing it come from Bachmann - the fact that she's a hardline fundamentalist Christian (described by possibly my favourite website - Conservapedia - as a "Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod").

This puts Bachmann firmly into the climate change denying Creationist camp, something she's gone on record about several times. In 2006 she claimed that “there is a controversy among scientists about whether evolution is a fact… hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes, believe in intelligent design.”, which as the linked site rightly points out, is so completely false it's borderline farcical. She's spoken out similarly fantastically incorrect fashion about Global Warming on several occasions too, claiming as recently as 2009 that “[T]here isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows carbon dioxide is a harmful gas. There isn’t one such study because carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas, it is a harmless gas. Carbon dioxide is natural. It is not harmful. It is part of Earth’s life cycle.”. Needless to say Bachmann is also pro-life and pro-guns (always a bewilderingly illogical combination, I think).

To me, this kind of denial-based reasoning, the hide-your-head-in-the-sand attitude, is the most terrifying aspect of Bachmann. Her extreme religious views propel her forward, certain under the knowledge that she is correct because God tells her she is. I find it very hard to believe that she would ever even bother listening to a reasoned scientific argument that didn't already support one of the views she already holds. In September of this year, we'll be remember how religious fundamentalism flew some planes into a building and killed a whole load of people; if Bachmann's fundamentalism takes the Presidency next year, I am confident we will see a much bigger crash and a much more severe collapse, of which the fallout will not just kill a few thousand but that its effects will be epochal. We're well known to be on the brink of a paradigm shift in the world; it's a knife edge, one last chance to step back from the void; with Bachmann, the Americans seriously risk seeing the ground give out beneath both them and us.

That said though, I have hope that the American's are simply not that stupid. We, over here in the jostling, secular world of Europe, often tend to regard our US cousins with a fairly dim view when it comes to religion. We can't really understand how middle America obsesses over Christian values, how their nation struggles with separating morality and rationality from religion, how they give face time to Fred Phelps and Fox News. The nearest we get to religious interference is when a bishop has a bit of a go at a few Coalition policies and even then most of us, even the non-religious, respect the fact that although he's a holy man, he's also talking about non-religious things; we might not agree with Dr Rowan Williams about his his choice of deities, but that doesn't mean we can't agree with him about anything else.

I suppose the hope comes from facts like the potential divide looming in the Republican party. We have to hope that those elements that have arisen to power within the GOP remain cowed by the moderates on whose votes they depend. We have to hope that the moderates see through the smokescreens and outright lies to see exactly who and what they're voting for. If I had to offer any advice, I would call that moderate Republicans should stand up and defy this new wave of ridiculous Tea Party candidacy, they should vote with their voices, their actions and frankly, their votes. Maybe they should vote Obama, just to show Bachmann how it really is.

Dionne is right when he says that against such candidates, one would wish for the return of Bush. He may have invaded Iraq because "God told him to", but at least we weren't very worried that he might actively be seeking the End Times.

Oh yes, one last stat I forgot to add in, the one that inspired this whole article actually... As you'll remember we recently managed to avoid 21st May's notably absent Rapture, as prophecised by the US televangelist Harold Camping. A recent national poll of the GOP primary voters revelead that although Bachmann at the time was only supported by nine percent of the pollsters, a staggering thirty-five percent of them believed the Rapture was really going to happen. Compare that will Palin, who was second place for potential Rapturees (is that a word?) who was way down at seventeen (which is still obviously worrying).

Perhaps we should have a little more faith, if you like (small "f"), in our more sensible American cousins. Clearly, most of them thought the idea of the Rapture was ridiculous and hopefully enough of them will think Bachmann is too. I couldn't name you a single person I know that would come out in defence of Bachmann and I'm sure if I was in America that would still be the case.

Really though, America, it's time to pull your socks up. This kind of thing is going too far.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Antimatter Anticertainly

So this week, as you may have read in the paper, some rather clever fellows at CERN have managed to create some anti-hydrogen and hang onto it for about fifteen minutes.

Anti-hydrogen is the antimatter equivalent of hydrogen (I think you'd probably already worked that out) and, in this instance, was created by getting some positrons (which are anti-electrons) to orbit some antiprotons, thus creating said anti-hydrogen. This isn't the first time this has been done but what's remarkable about this instance is that they held on to them for so long - fifteen minutes is literally ages in atomic physics terms.

As I understand it, as matter and antimatter are true opposites, if they both exist in the same place they will cancel each other out. Think of it a bit like having +1 and -1 in an equation; if you put them together, you just end up with zero. Therefore, one of the main gists of CERN's experiment will ultimately be to determine why we live in a universe with so much matter in it, when the Big Bang happened and huge equal  amounts of matter and antimatter were created, why was so much matter left over afterwards (when they should have added up to zero and left nothing)?

Anyway, I watched a BBC news article about this, loosely explaining the above, with helpful on-screen magic like turning half of the picture to negative colours when explaining antimatter. Well, I say helpful but I actually mean not really very helpful at all.

Reading back over what I've written above, it just makes me think how virtually impossible this sort of thing is to understand. When the BBC demonstrate antimatter as being a bit like a negative colour screen, or I compare it to plus and minus one, you think "yes, ok, I get it" but in reality it's nothing like either of those things. I can get my head round the facts presented and even understand them in a (moderately) scientific kind of way but what I can't do is relate them in any way to anything I can actually comprehend.

For example, let's take an obvious question: what does antimatter look like? You would imagine the opposite of matter to look like nothing, like a vacuum; something and nothing are opposites, right? Wrong. Antimatter plus matter equals nothing, so what we were saying before is that we know what the +1 and zero parts look like but not the -1 part.

Now, if I say that mathematically I understand the concept of minus one, but I'm fine with the fact you can't have, say, minus one apples in your hand so this is a bit like antimatter I'd be wrong again. Antimatter is a physical thing and given enough of it you could theoretically hold it in your hand, test tube or Large Hadron Collider. If it is a thing, what does it look like?

Now I know I'm jumping the gun here and we can't really be expecting lovely press shots of a substance we created in super-micro amounts for a matter of minutes. My point is that when we get on to topics like this, cutting edge sciences and so on, is that there's no real way to explain them in layman's terms.

The LHC also rustled up something called quark-gluon plasma this week too. This stuff is the densest material we've ever created; denser than a neutron star and a hundred thousand times hotter than the centre of the sun, the only things we think may be more dense are black holes; a cubic centimeter of quark-gluon plasma would weigh around forty billion tons. Great stuff, anyone understand that? Not really.

(Which kind of reminds me of watching The World's Strongest Man and the commentator saying that the giant rock the ridiculously massive bloke has just picked up weighs "as much as two baby rhinos" or "a chest freezer full of food". Do I know how much those things weigh? Of course not. A lot?)

The problem is, I guess, that in science the numbers are getting so big or small, the concepts so esoteric and exotic and the background understanding required becomes more deep or specialised, that it's increasingly difficult trying to make these things into palatable subjects for consumption by normal people.

My concern is that as cutting edge science moves steadily off over the horizon, normal people will lose sight of why it's important. I've said it before about climate science but I think it applies across the board; science and scientists need to think about the way they communicate about what they're doing and why and how it might affect the rest of us.

Perhaps antimatter is a harsh example; it's probably up there with the most complicated things we've ever done. Perhaps science is already doing a remarkable job in even distilling that understanding down to a point where particularly interested people like me can write about it.

I love all this stuff and I find it genuinely engaging, interesting, meaningful and important and I think other people should too. I just don't think you should have to be a particle physicist first.

NB. Just in case you were wondering, I've just written this whole post using my phone. This is a) pretty cool, b) quite difficult and c) has taken absolutely ages. Any nonsensical sections, bad spelling or wild grammar should be forgiven until such time as I've looked at it on a proper screen!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Utopia or Dystopia?

Last night I was back at the British Library for another Out of this World talk, this time discussing ‘Utopias and Other Worlds’, with a panel consisting of Gregory Claeys, Professor of the History of Political Thought at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the authors Francis Spufford and Iain M. Banks (with an M, as he was there with his sci-fi hat on…). Overall, it was a bit more of a generalised discussion of the topic than some of the previous Out of this World talks but overall it focused on what utopias and dystopias are, why we have them and how they’re reflected in literature, especially science fiction.

As we got round to audience questions, I posed the panel a question around the nature of utopias and dystopias, a kind of thought experiment to see which way they’d go on a given potential outcome of our society. It went a little something like this (a little less eloquently at the time, but forgive me my poetic license):

“Within the next one hundred to two hundred years, Humanity continues down its current path of environmental exploitation and destruction, leading to a catastrophic event which renders the planet largely inhospitable to human life. At the same time, we also invent a way in which to upload our conscious thought onto computers and, merging with artificial intelligences and so forth, create a digital paradise in which the “surviving” members of the human race can live on forever in total happiness, regardless of the damage done to the outside world. Would you say this was a utopia or dystopia?”

All the panel were in agreement that this scenario would be a dystopia, based on the fact that we’d caused widespread destruction to the planet and a significant proportion of humanity, mainly the poorer half, will have perished en route. Francis Spufford also argued that it would be a dystopia because humanity had lost all physical, or real, interactions with the outside world and each other and Banks, quite rightly, pointed out that those who did survive would just be total bastards. Claeys highlighted some of the gaps in my question and how it took a broad brush to a plethora of issues, about which he’s obviously correct but a) I thought this up about 30 seconds before I asked it, so give me a break and b) it’s my question, so I can assume whatever I like anyway.

Now, you’d probably agree with all of the above points (and so do I for the most part) but I think that although we may not like the circumstances in the situation’s arrival, it doesn’t mean that we can’t argue that it is a utopia. My basic justification for this is that the people who do survive get to live in a paradise and although it’s potentially a paradise for the few at the sacrifice of the many, it is still a paradise (although I didn’t actually specify in the question that we hadn’t managed to upload everyone before said disaster).

In Banks’ own utopia, the Culture, he talks about the fact that his vast civilisation made many mistakes along the journey to being the galaxy spanning wonderland that it is. Who’s to say that similar situations to the one above wasn’t one of them (apart from Banks, obviously)? You can’t make an omelette… right?

I suppose the definition of a utopia is that it’s defined by those outside that are perceiving it as such, rather than the theoretical (or otherwise) individuals who live in it. If you’re already living in one person’s idea of a utopia then the likelihood is that your idea of a utopia is somewhere else that you perceive to be better than your own situation. We currently live in a utopia by the standards of the entire of human history, however that doesn’t mean that we have to think it’s paradise. In my proposed world, those citizens of the digital paradise live in an all encompassing heaven, so by the assumptions set in the question, therefore they must live in a utopia of sorts from our perspective.

Also, I don’t think that dismissing their perception of “fake” reality as being any less true than our “real” one counts for much either way as, as is often spelled out in many science fiction novels, reality tends to be a blurry thing once you have more than one (am I a man dreaming of a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming of a man, for instance).

In summary, I think that I agree that all of the panellist’s main points about the situation that I laid out are totally valid and obviously the situation is a bad one, although I have trouble labelling it as either a utopia or dystopia though as I think it fails to be either. The situation is awful by nature’s standards, but humanity continues in a form (let’s not get into digital animals) so the situation isn’t a total nightmare scenario. If we assume that everyone got “copied over” at the start, then on a human scale the loss is a trade of one perception of reality for another. A dystopia for the natural world then, perhaps?

The citizens still have to live with the guilt of their actions from the previous “reality” and their circumstances are still under threat from external “real” forces, earthquakes etc, so the paradise is definitely tainted in some aspects. Mankind has a reasonably short memory for guilt though so perhaps they’ll get over it (well, I guess that goes with death, so with immortal computer people, who knows?). Maybe they’ll invent a way to get back “out” into the real world eventually and sort things out.

Ultimately, it goes without saying that I’m not suggesting we pursue the proposed course of action but I think that it’s an interesting way of showing that perhaps from some perspectives a utopia or dystopia isn’t necessarily what we might normally assume it is.

I do agree with Banks though, those digital citizens would definitely be total bastards.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Transhumanist Bling

Transhumanists are a funny bunch. Their basic outlook is that one day in the not too distant future, probably within our lifetime, humans will cast off our physical bodies and unite ourselves in digital-only form with our AI counterparts, creating a new form of immortal 'transhuman' that exists entirely on computers. No-one will ever die and those of us 'natural' intelligences and the other artificial ones will be entirely indistinguishable. This concept is known as the Singularity or often jokingly referred to as the "geek rapture".

Now, this all sounds a bit sci-fi to most of us, but the possibilities of this are taken very seriously by a lot of notable scientists, perhaps the most famous of which is Ray Kurzweil. Over the years, Kurzweil has had a lot to say about our future and even in the mid-90's correctly predicted much about the digital, internet-based world we currently enjoy - wirelessly accessing a worldwide internet using tiny handheld personal computers anyone? My school didn't even get the internet until 1998; that was only 13 years ago...

In his 2005 book The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil has predicted that by 2018 you'll be able to buy a computer with the same memory space as the human brain for about $1,000 (that's 10 to the power 13 bits, apparently) and by 2020 it will be just as clever as you too. By 2029 he thinks that the first computer will pass the Turing Test, basically proving it to be "sentient" and in the mid-2030's we'll all be uploading ourselves to computers willy-nilly. After that it all gets a bit crazy, but ultimately he's hedging on the Singularity happening in around 2045, so keep that year free in your diaries.

So far, so sci-fi though in my opinion; scientists and geeks are very easy to excite when they start talking about this stuff, so I think they miss out on some of the more basic questions when they start pulling out the geek rapture story.

Firstly, while it's easy to say that we're just organic computers, I think there's a bit more to it than that. Our brains might be a mega-complex computer like series of neural connections but it's also subject to the whims of the rest of our bodies, hormones 'n all. An obvious example is, if you're uploaded to a computer, do you still get randy? You won't have the appropriate parts any more, so that's going to be difficult to deal with. What about the bit of you that enjoys going for a poo, does that bit get copied over too? My point is, that even though our brains might do the thinking, there's a bit more to us that just that.

Another issue is that it might seem like a great idea to keep everyone around forever, it turns out a lot of people aren't really that great. Osama bin Laden forever anyone? Didn't think so.

Humanity has evolved socially over hundreds of years, slowly, you might argue, advancing our morality, leaving old prejudices behind and overall becoming fairer and more egalitarian. While that's a rose-tinted view, the principle stands and my point is that death is very much a part of that process. Old ideas die with the people who have them, making way for new people to have new ideas of their own. If no-one dies, then are we pretty much stuck with the opinions that we have today? Alright if you're a geek and live in a bit of a bubble, but I think the rest of us would agree that we've still got a long way to go before we can draw a line under our society and say "yep, that'll do".

To be fair though, I recently went to a talk on the future of humanity at the British Library, as I've mentioned in previous posts, part of their Out of this World series and exhibition, and was hugely surprised by their transhumanist panelist, Anders Sandberg.

Sandberg, a Research Fellow at The Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford, had a lot to say about exactly the kind if thing I've mentioned above and helped assure me that not all of those who believe in the Singularity are necessarily only thinking about a giant magic World of Warcraft future.

Just to give an example, when one of the audience asked the panel about cryogenics and whether we should be freezing ourselves when we die so that we can be reanimated once everyone else has worked out how to do it. Sandberg's response was to reach inside his academic's tweed jacket, pull out a small silver medallion and say:

"my answer is yes; this medallion signifies my insurance policy that means should I die i'll be frozen. It cost quite a lot but I'm hedging my bets that one day someone will be able to both bring me back to life and repair whatever needs repairing.

My main concern being that when they wake me up they'll all be laughing at some of the ridiculous predictions that I've made, but hopefully it'll be better to be embarrassed and alive than not; this medallion, I call it my Transhumanist bling".