Category Archives: Science

TED Talk: The kill decision shouldn’t belong to a robot

Technology always brings unforeseen social changes

In Barbados we have zero transparency, zero accountability and the ruling political elites can do pretty well what they want. Author Daniel Suarez’s TED presentation predicts that as autonomous weapons become cheaper and more lethal, smaller governments and developing societies will have an advantage over larger, more developed societies. It seems far fetched to imagine Barbados wielding autonomous weapons and drones – but maybe not. Suarez also talks about private interests using the same weapons. Considering the Columbian and Mexican crime cartels, that’s not such an impossibility either.

The above YouTube video is brought to you by those friendly folks at Samsung. That’s right, the same folks that make your phone also make and deploy automatic killer machine guns for a very reasonable US$200,000 each. Just set ’em and forget ’em…

“This raises the very real possibility of anonymous war. This could tilt the geopolitical balance on its head, make it very difficult for a nation to turn its firepower against an attacker, and that could shift the balance in the 21st century away from defense and toward offense. It could make military action a viable option not just for small nations, but criminal organizations, private enterprise, even powerful individuals. It could create a landscape of rival warlords undermining rule of law and civil society. Now if responsibility and transparency are two of the cornerstones of representative government, autonomous robotic weapons could undermine both.

Now you might be thinking that citizens of high-tech nations would have the advantage in any robotic war, that citizens of those nations would be less vulnerable, particularly against developing nations. But I think the truth is the exact opposite. I think citizens of high-tech societies are more vulnerable to robotic weapons, and the reason can be summed up in one word: data. Data powers high-tech societies. Cell phone geolocation, telecom metadata, social media, email, text, financial transaction data, transportation data, it’s a wealth of real-time data on the movements and social interactions of people. In short, we are more visible to machines than any people in history, and this perfectly suits the targeting needs of autonomous weapons.”

Watch Daniel Suarez’s entire TED Talk here.

Thanks to an old friend for the suggestion.

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Genetically modified organisms (GMOs): Threat or salvation?

Hello BFP, Green Monkey here. You might find of interest the following article from Prison Planet:

GMOs could cause ‘irreversible termination of life’ on Earth, risk expert warns…

When discussing the issues surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) — that is, organisms bearing the genetic traits of other species or bacteria — the focus is typically on how safe (or unsafe) these novel, food-like products are for humans. But distinguished risk engineer and two-time best-selling author Nassim Taleb thinks an even bigger problem with GMOs is their threat to the planet, and the statistical likelihood that they will eventually lead to the collapse of life on Earth.

In a new study, which is still in draft form, this professor of risk engineering from New York University uses statistical analysis to make the case that GMOs, by their very nature, will disrupt the ecosystems of this planet in ways that mankind is only just beginning to comprehend. Because they represent a systemic risk rather than a localized one — GM traits are known to spread unconstrained throughout the environment — GMOs will eventually breach the so-called “ecocide barrier,” leading to catastrophic ecosystem failure.

“There are mathematical limitations to predictability in a complex system, ‘in the wild,’ which is why focusing on the difference between local (or isolated) and systemic threats is a central aspect of our warnings,” Taleb is quoted as saying by Fool.com, noting that it’s essentially impossible to contain the inevitable spread of GMO traits far and wide.

“The [precautionary principle] is not there to make life comfortable, rather to avoid a certain class of what is called in probability and insurance ‘ruin’ problems,” write Taleb and his colleagues in their paper. “For nature, the ‘ruin’ is ecocide: an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be the planet.”

GMOs are not ‘scientific,’ and nearly every argument used in their defense is flawed…   Continue reading

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Dr. Victor Gooding: A Barbadian Living in Canada

Victor-Gooding-scientist Barbados

Barbadian Scientist living in Canada to deliver 2013 Sir Winston Scott Memorial Lecture

Frank Collymore Hall, Monday November 25, 2013 8pm

The Central Bank of Barbados today announced that a Barbadian whose pioneering work in telecommunications created a new narrative for Canadians of African descent will deliver the 2013 Sir Winston Scott Memorial Lecture.

Dr. Victor Gooding, Barbadian Olympian and Senior Satellite Systems Scientist at Telesat Canada, will speak on the topic “View from 45 years North: A Barbadian Living in Canada” at the Frank Collymore Hall on Monday, November 25 at 8:00 p.m.

“The unique perspectives of Barbadians abroad represent valuable and important contributions to the dialogue on the country’s social and economic development efforts”, Dr. Gooding commented days before his presentation.

This telecommunications specialist said his audience can expect a presentation on a series of issues ranging from science to education to the international economic crisis. Continue reading

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Finding Barbados when you are drunk on Royal Navy rum…

barbados-happy-marcus.jpg

You think it was difficult stumbling home from Christ Church last Friday night?

Try doing it without a mobile phone and GPS location.

God; how I miss you, my brother.

Cliverton

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Dr. Robert Lucas: Taking issue with the scientific illiterates

Barbados Sugar Cane.jpg

Tropical soils, Temperate soils: What’s the difference and does it matter?

In the Advocate newspaper of 8th April 2013, there was an article captioned “Organic agriculture can boost restaurant sub-sector.” Immediately below the caption in bold font was the following statement: “In temperate countries like the UK, the organic matter content stood at 5%. In Barbados on the other hand….the organic matter content in most soils was less than one percent.” The statement also appeared in paragraph five of the article. In paragraph eight of the same article, the following appeared: “Conventional methods contribute to green house gas emissions and can cause inefficiencies in energy use..” The two statements were attributed to the National Co-ordinator of the United Nations Development Facility Small Grants Program (GEF SGP).

In biology there is a concept called the temperature quotient. The temperature quotient is a ratio of the velocity of a process at a given temperature to that at a temperature 10 °C lower. In biological systems the temperature quotient is about 2-3. This means that there is (using the lower figure) a doubling of the rate of a biological reaction for every ten degrees increase in temperature. This doubling effect occurs up to certain temperature beyond which, there is an adverse reaction due to effect of heat. Since tropical countries are hotter than temperate ones, one would expect tropical soils to have little or no soil organic matter. Obviously, if fresh vegetation or pen manure is added to tropical soils, initially, soil organic matter will be high. This, however, is only so for a short time. The duration of organic matter is further reduced in the presence of air and water. Another fact to be considered is the carbon /nitrogen ration of the added vegetation or manure. If the nitrogen content is too low, the rate of decomposition is retarded: the converse occurs if there is adequate nitrogen available. Pen manure or vegetation added to the soil is broken down by soil micro-organisms. Students of biology would have encountered in their studies the carbon and nitrogen cycles. Carbon dioxide and nitrogen are the ultimate products of the decomposition of manure and vegetation when added to soils as is the case when fertilizers are used.

I have stated in the past that, the majority of Barbadians are scientific illiterate and the article referred to, supports what I have been saying for years.

Sincerely

Robert D.Lucas, Ph.D.

Food biotechnologist.

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Barbados should be into Butanol, not Ethanol, to power autos – but we lack the vision and leadership

distillery butanol

“It would appear that, only certain persons in this society are founts of knowledge and that their opinions and ideas are adhered to, even when they are talking on subjects outside their area of technical competence.”

by Robert D. Lucas, PH.D.

There was an article entitled “Deal to turn whisky ‘leftovers’ into bio-fuels for cars”, in a local newspaper of Wednesday 26th September 2012. The same news item was aired on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on Monday 24th September 2012. It was reported in paragraph five of the article that, ninety percent of the stuff which comes out of the distillery is not whisky. It is leftovers like daff and pot ales which are high in sugars. It is planned, as reported in the article, to utilize these leftovers for the manufacture of butanol (an alcohol) for use as a bio-fuel. I have some points and observations which I will now make.

In the past (letters to Advocate: 7th June, 1998; 31st July, 2002; 3rd August, 2004 and 18th May 2006) I have advocated that yeast by-products (which are a high quality source of protein) from rum manufacturing, be utilized in the manufacture of rations for livestock locally. As I pointed out then, alcohol is a toxic by-product of the metabolism of molasses by various strains of yeast Saccharomyces cervisisiae. Once a threshold level of alcohol is reached, the yeast die off; but considerable amounts of free molasses remain. The yeast can be separated and used as a source of high-protein input for animal rations. The cell-free extract can then be distilled to remove ethanol. The residual liquid can be fermented to obtain more alcohol. Alternatively, selective pressure can be used on S.cervisisiae, to obtain strains of yeasts with increased tolerance to ethanol. The same trait can be obtained using genetic engineering techniques, to obtain improve alcohol tolerance of yeasts.

Butanol beats Ethanol for vehicles!

In 2006, in a letter (“Ethanol not the only manufacturing solution”), I proposed that the alcohol of choice for use as a bio-fuel be butanol. Continue reading

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Eat your water bottle? Barbados scientist develops edible degradable plastic!

Barbados plastic molecule

Robert D. Lucas, Ph.D.

I have been doing some research on the development of degradable plastics locally. I have been able to develop an edible degradable plastic using glucose which is stable under certain conditions.  There are certain challenges which have to be over come when using glucose. It is necessary to give some background on the status of degradable packaging and on how I became involved in the present research.

At present, there are four other methods of making degradable packaging.  One of the methods, uses gelatinized starch which is molded under pressure with cellulose. In the second method, starch is extracted from maize, fermented to give lactic acid, which is then polymerized. Thirdly, there is the use of genetically modified bacteria, which are fed sugars. The latter process is complex and expensive. In the third method, use is made of methanotrophic (bacteria which utilize methane), in an aerated medium obtained from waste-water from plants (food, sewers etc.), to which has been added certain salts. Methane is then pumped through the system, and is polymerized by the bacteria.

I became involved in the research, as a result of a proposal of mine, which was entered in the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST’s) innovative competition. As a result, the Barbados Industrial Development Corporation (BIDC) became interested in my proposal. BIDC purchased some basic pieces of scientific equipment and the NCST allowed me the use of their forty-foot container which had previously been converted into a laboratory, located in the Ministry of Commerce’s yard. Apart from the BIDC’s equipment, I have funded all of the chemicals and other bits of equipment myself. I am not paid for doing the research; I want to make that absolutely clear. Continue reading

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