Alien Planets and Human Extinction

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1. Finding habitable exoplanets is bad news for our long-term survival as a species because if there are lots of places to live but no aliens we can detect... 

"Might every sufficiently advanced civilisation stumble across a suicidal technology or unsustainable trajectory? We know that a Great Filter prevents the emergence of prosperous interstellar civilisations, but we don’t know whether or not it lies in humanity’s past or awaits us in the future... Esteemed scientists such as Astronomer Royal Martin Rees at the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk point to advances in biotechnology as being potentially catastrophic. Others such as Stephen Hawking, Max Tegmark and Stuart Russell, also with the Cambridge Centre, have expressed serious concern about the exotic but understudied possibility of machine superintelligence."


2. An ecosystem's soundscape is structured and organized

"In each spectrogram, Krause points something out: No matter how sonically dense they become, sounds don’t tend to overlap. Each animal occupies a unique frequency bandwidth, fitting into available auditory space like pieces in an exquisitely precise puzzle. It’s a simple but striking phenomenon, and Krause was the first to notice it. He named it biophony, the sound of living organisms, and to him it wasn’t merely aesthetic. It signified a coevolution of species across deep biological time and in a particular place. As life becomes richer, the symphony’s players find a sonic niche to play without interference."


3. All these people after the 65+ tech market

"The whole quantified-self category needs to be expanded from athletes and healthy young people to the geriatric population, he said. 'There is no reason such devices can’t watch a person’s heart rate as they go through their day to see if there’s a spike that might indicate they’re off their meds,' he noted."


4. The Mayan view of objects.

"Jackson has found that the Maya applied property qualifiers in a broad manner, including some unexpected areas of divergence from literal interpretation. For example, to the Maya, a temple might have 'stony' qualities but so might a calendar or different things related to time. Other known Maya behaviors suggest belief in the concepts of object agency and partible personhood, meaning objects have the power to act in their own right and that the identity can be split into sections which can live outside the body."


5. Chinese milk powder demand is having a whole bunch of consequences across the world.

"Milk futures in Chicago are up 24 percent this year and cheddar cheese gained 19 percent, with both reaching records last month. The higher prices are eroding profit margins for domestic purchases including dairy processor Dean Foods Co., sandwich chain owner Potbelly Corp., and Annie’s Inc., a maker of organic macaroni and cheese. While the USDA expects domestic milk output to rise for a fifth straight year, up 2.2 percent to 205.7 billion pounds (93.1 million metric tons), exports now account for 15.5 percent of sales, compared with 5 percent a decade ago, according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council, an industry group based in Arlington, Virginia."


Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

beautician. Chiefly US. See BARBARISMS.


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of 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, 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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