Long Now Boston has held two virtual conversations in the past month to identify how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting human society and culture and what the implications may be for us in the long term. The first conversation, with Long Now Boston volunteers, was held April 6. The second, open to Charter Members, was convened on May 11. While the perspectives are varied and the future trajectory of the virus and its impacts are highly uncertain, one thing seems clear: The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be the most significant global disruption since the mid 20th century. How we collectively respond to it will shape the history of the 21st century.
April was Global Citizen Science month. To celebrate, people around the world took part in various citizen projects, from observing the night sky to measuring rainfall. Long Now Boston joined in by participating in the City Nature Challenge. The City Nature Challenge was founded and is organized by the California Academy of Sciences and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. It is an international celebration of biodiversity observed and documented in and around urban areas.
A Long Now Boston conversation with Bina Venkataraman, March 2, 02020, Cambridge MA.
In a world dominated by short-term thinking, it is easy to become cynical or jaded about human behavior and the long-term prospects for humanity. Bina Venkataraman has a solution – the pursuit of “wisdom over recklessness.” Wisdom (“experience, knowledge, and good judgment”) can overcome recklessness (“lack of regard for the danger or consequences of one’s actions”), but it requires a different approach to what we measure, what we reward and what we imagine. Bringing this wisdom to bear on our individual and collective choices requires change and new tools at the individual, cultural and institutional levels, which Bina has documented in her book The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age. She offered great advice to a large and enthusiastic crowd at the Long Now Boston Conversation event on Monday March 2, 02020, at the CIC in Cambridge, with the help of moderator William Powers.
The way we organize our work has a profound effect on our lives. Raj Sisodia has spent much of his life investigating, describing, and advocating for one particular way of organizing work, which he calls “Conscious Capitalism.” For Long Now Boston’s February gathering, he presented some of his latest thinking on this topic.
On January 6, 02020, five Long Now Boston members shared their ideas for improving the long term future for planet earth and the human civilization that inhabits it. In one way or another, all five speakers touched on the importance of working together towards outcomes that better match our human values and aspirations. The top vote-getter for the night was Ye Tao of Harvard’s Rowland Institute for his presentation on Mirrors for Earth’s Energy Rebalancing (MEER:ReflEction). Long Now Boston Board Member George Gantz (ineligible for votes) concluded the event with a presentation on Empathy:The Secret Sauce for Human Thriving.
Avi Loeb is confident in the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations, and optimistic that confirmation, when achieved, will fundamentally transform the human perspective, just as the Copernican revolution, based on increasingly detailed astronomical observations, did a half-millenium ago. With the rapid increase in relevant data from more advanced observations and increasingly sophisticated space missions, that confirmation may come soon.
“Our civilization will mature only by leaving home to the cosmic street and meeting others.” Avi Loeb
Long Now Boston Conversation Series November 4, 02019, at CIC, 1 Broadway, Cambridge MA, with James (“J”) Hughes (IEET) and Nir Eisikovits (UMAEC).
Synopsis: Human species have co-evolved with technology for hundreds of thousands of years. Fire and stone tools were once the killer apps, giving humans immense advantages – but human physiology and society also evolved with them. It is no different today, but the stakes are higher, as they include global existential risks, and the pace of change is faster by many orders of magnitude. It is impossible to plan or to predict the future, but we can shape its trajectory by better understanding the risks and tradeoffs and by seeking to achieve equity in how we govern technology.
Long Now Boston Conversation SeriesOctober 7, 02019, at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Featuring Dr. Hyunjun Park, CEO of CATALOG DNA, and Nova Spivack, Chairman of Arch Mission Foundation.
Synopsis: Human science and imagination are moving us to a reality we can barely comprehend. Synthetic DNA is the basis for stunningly efficient data storage and sophisticated computational functionality – yet the microminiaturized manufacturing process defies visualization. Using this technology, petabytes of data are encoded on strands of DNA and dried into something the size of a sugar cube. Imagine such a cube layered into a small, superstrong container at the core of a small disk the size of a DVD. That disk consists of a number of layers of nickel nanofiche analog imagery on top of high-density digital storage layers, bonded with an epoxy in which human and other DNA samples are stored — a complete library of human knowledge and history. Now imagine those libraries scattered around the earth, on the moon, in orbit around the sun, where they will serve as the backup for planet Earth, lasting billions of years.
Long Now Boston Conversation Series September 9, 02019, at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Featuring Safi Bahcall, author of Loonshots (2019)
Synopsis: According to Safi Bahcall, the people, companies, institutions and governments that drive progress take advantage of both the creativity that generates new ideas, and the logistical discipline that can take them to scale. Creatives need the open environment of loonshot nurseries. Soldiers need the structure and hierarchy of a franchise. Both are essential to long-term success, and the best leaders are the ones that love their creatives and soldiers equally.
A great deal of planning and preparation had gone into the afternoon picnic, but the time for planning was over. It was time for the event to begin. Thoughts and questions cross through your mind as you walk into a quiet Cambridge neighborhood. Will the event be well-attended? Who will I know? What questions might be asked of me, and what questions would I like to ask?