Something for the weekend #28

My round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, discussions of optimism/pessimism gap, and debunkings of optimism/pessimism, as noticed in the media.

* “Space Junk Net Successfully Completes Capture Test” reports Popular Mechanics. “Deployed from the International Space Station [using] a vision based navigation including cameras and LiDAR, the net was able to quickly capture the runaway CubeSat.” CubeSats are really tiny satellites, and thus seem like a good ‘hard’ test target.

* “Most of us are wrong about how the world has changed” writes Max Roser, University of Oxford. “An accurate understanding of how global health and poverty are improving leaves no space for cynicism.”

* ‘Pakistan’s tree revolution’ becomes a global inspiration, and also a big vote-winner at elections. The new “government plans to plant over 10 billion trees” in five years, repairing decades of deforestation. While there’s congratulations from the World Economic Forum, and it seems that every organisation and company in the nation is now issuing press releases that they’re out planting trees on their land, one has to hope that the back-end long-term sustainability has also been baked in to the project. China will also help, providing a big new tree restoration campaign along the Indus River near Pakistan, which should reduce some of the downstream flood-water which washes away so many saplings.

* Meanwhile, in Africa, moves toward “Monitoring the ambitious land restoration commitments in Africa”. “Restoration [of land] requires more than the planting of trees […] Countries must enact polices, allocate budget to restoration implementation, track and learn from their progress.” Also needed may be more politically difficult reform of things like land tenure and farm security.

* Spiked! on “The myth of a climate crisis”… “The problem with the climate-crisis idea, as Pielke shows, is that most extreme weather data do not support it. This, explains Pielke, is not a fringe view; it is the consensus of climate science.” Also, “the data sets consistently show that economic and technological development mitigate the worst problems that climate has always caused. [for instance] the deaths caused by droughts have fallen by nearly 96 per cent, despite a nearly fourfold increase in population.”

* Nepal is on track to double its tiger population by 2022, according to the nation’s recent camera-trap surveys. The wider background is explained in an article at The Diplomat, “Nepal’s Success in Wildlife Conservation”.

* In Canada’s Banff National Park Banff bison are roaming wild and free for first time in 140 years. “These are not a captive display herd. These are wild bison”, and they’re breeding.

* Future of Jobs 2018 report from the World Economic Forum. Their best forecast for the next five years is that… “machines and algorithms in the workplace could create 133 million new roles in place of 75 million that will be displaced”. That’s a gain of 58 million new jobs, albeit probably not uniformly distributed or necessarily well-paid. Also, A.I. is deemed unlikely to impact creative areas such as art and illustration markets, despite the hype among creative marketeers. A.I. is probably also unlikely to impact content curation, given how dismal the taste-matching suggestion algorithms are on the likes of YouTube and Amazon. We may also see diminishing public acceptance of A.I. deployment due to politically-correct skewing of the algorithms — for instance, in recruitment there is no way that a ‘C.V. bot’ will simply be allowed to impartially pick the five most highly qualified candidates for interview.

* Early news of a new book by Matt Ridley (The Rational Optimist), to be titled How Innovation Works: Serendipity, Energy and the Saving of Time. It will examine the history and theory of innovation, and compare this with evolution in animals and plants. The rights have been picked up by publishers and the title is set for publication in Spring 2020.

* A newly published book, Reimagining Our Tomorrows: Making Sure Your Future Doesn’t Suck. The cover makes it look a bit dippy at first glance, but it’s actually optimistic ‘sci-fi near-future storytelling meets futurism’, from a former writer for Disney Imagineering. Seems like a stimulating set of scenarios, judging by the contents page. But, as yet, no reviews.


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New book: 2020 & Beyond

Superversive Press is a rare publisher specialising in traditional heroic and conservative science-fiction (tagline: “books for a more civilised age”). One of their most recent books is the optimistic and future-facing conservative sci-fi anthology MAGA 2020 & Beyond (Nov 2017)…

“MAGA 2020 & Beyond tells the tales of a prosperous future where evil is defeated, the border wall is built, society has righted itself, space exploration is common and world peace has been attained. These aren’t just fantastical stories of a far-fetched future, they are stories of a future that can be obtained.”

For my piffling £3 I got 340 pages of optimistic essays and futurist articles and short fiction. Mostly predictive fiction. Available on Kindle.

I see they also have a forthcoming sci-fi anthology for readers who are “sick of today’s portrayals of men as toxic or bumbling idiots”. The call for that book was last September, so I’m guessing it’ll be available soon.

I have to say that 2020 & Beyond doesn’t have the best front cover. I want a bit of curvy eco-green in my future city, not some re-hash of a tired 1980s conception of a future city. And while I can see how the gold typeface is meant to evoke MAGA/Trump, it’s in such a cheesy font and the gradient is naff. I do wish people would use cover consultants and put a bit more thought into covers, but I guess bad covers are now just a near-unavoidable occupational hazard for science-fiction authors. Very few get the superb covers they deserve. That said, many of Superversive Press’s steampunk and art-lit covers are definitely above average.

“It’s all dystopia”

The leading science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, Anathem) was interviewed last week at MIT. It wasn’t the greatest interview in the world, frankly, but he was asked about the effects of his recent multi-author anthology of optimistic science-fiction. He replied that, as a result of the anthology…

NS: “I feel like there was a little uptick in people being more conscious of, you know, why they’re always dystopias [in contemporary science-fiction], you know. Can we please get away from the dystopian thing for a minute?”

Interviewer: “I mean… the effects on young people [can’t be good. For instance]… I see my daughter’s middle school… yeah… they’re reading science fiction. But it’s all dystopia.”