5 Intriguing Things: Tuesday, 12/3

Drones in hearth and home, sci-fi- Tijuana, bird flu, the end of the selfish-gene meme, and the future of elections.

1. The drone of the future.

"It isn’t the law that is struggling to catch up to drone technology; it’s us. Like it or not, the NextGen computerized autonomous national airspace is coming. It’s not a joke, and it’s not science fiction. Coming to terms with that is important. Disbelief won’t help at this point. The coming shift in our national airspace will push our boundaries. We’ll be able to mount legal challenges against particularly egregious uses of the technology — it’s unlikely that the sheriff of Montgomery County, Texas, will get much mileage out of his wet dream of a remote-controlled aircraft armed with tear gas and rubber bullets — but we won’t be able to imagine every permutation this technology will take. This is going to be some Minority Report–level shit.

Amid all the unknown unknowns on domestic drones, one thing is for sure: The sky is about to get super weird."


Hugo Crostwaithe

2. Artist Hugo Crostwaithe imagines a sci-fi Tijuana for a new exhibit up at the Mexican consulate in LA.

"Robotlicue depicts a mashup of Robby the Robot from the cult sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet and Coatlicue, the Aztec mother of gods who birthed the sun, the moon, the stars, and war god Huitzilopochtli. Around the black-and-white graphite and painted portrait--a style that looks part Xerox-punk flyer and part El Greco--children climb on the robot, wearing jet packs and Jetsons-style astronaut helmets."


3. The first confirmed case of bird flu in Hong Kong.

"The case coincides with the 10th anniversary of the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed nearly 300 people in Hong Kong and had a significant impact on the city's travel and retail industry."


4. The selfish-gene meme should be retired in favor of the "social genome" or "genetic accommodation."

"It’s one of the gruesome beauties of this whole mess that Dawkins himself coined the term meme, and did so in The Selfish Gene. He defined it as a big idea that competes for dominance in a tough environment — an idea that, like a catchy tune or a good joke, ‘propagates itself by leaping from brain to brain’. The selfish-gene meme has done just that. It has made of evolutionary theory a vehicle for its replication. The selfish gene has become a selfish meme.

If you’re West-Eberhard or of like mind, what are you to replace it with? The slave-ish gene? Not likely to leap from brain to brain. The accommodating gene? Mmmmmaybe — but I’m betting that phrase lacks the needed bling. And as West-Eberhard notes, either phrase still encourages a focus on single genes. And ‘evolution is not about single genes,’ she says. ‘It’s about genes working together.’

Better then to speak not of genes but the genome — all your genes together. And not the genome as a unitary actor, but the genome in conversation with itself, with other genomes, and with the outside environment. If you’re into gene expression — if grasshoppers and honeybees and genetic accommodation are to be believed — it’s those conversations that define the organism and drive the evolution of new traits and species. It’s not a selfish gene or a solitary genome. It’s a social genome."


5. They say South Korea does everything first.

"Agents from the National Intelligence Service of South Korea posted more than 1.2 million Twitter messages last year to try to sway public opinion in favor of Park Geun-hye, then a presidential candidate, and her party ahead of elections in 2012, state prosecutors said on Thursday."


San Francisco advisory: A fire hit the Internet Archive last month and they need some help. If you live in northern California, Rick Prelinger is holding a screening of his incredible Lost Landscapes program of Bay Area archival footage to benefit the Archive. Mark your calendar for December 18 and go buy tickets.


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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