February 19, 2007

Go For Throttle Up: Will the Feds put a choke-hold on your CPU?

  It's worth recalling that the first computer to break the teraflop barrier, in 1997, was a behemoth assembly of 9,326 Pentium pro chips that sucked down enough electricity to power a high-rise building. Because now there is a desktop version.

Will this amount of computing power make it onto your desktop?

For a moment, let's imagine that teraflop computing on the desktop would be an enabling technology, the emergent features of which would precipitate qualitatively novel forms of communication. Urban legends of errant futurists abound, often taking the form of a noted luminary who underestimates what Joe Six-pack might do with the tamed silicon wafer. Treat them as a morsel of evidence lending an infinitesimal degree of plausibility to this hypothetical.

Among the many current uses for this league of high-performance computers are several that stand out for their security risks: nuclear weapons design simulations, and decryption, for example. Ostensibly, export controls on high-performance computers put in place by the federal government exist to keep this capability from falling into the wrong hands. There is a list of countries that Uncle Sam thinks shouldn't be sold such machines. Pakistan is on the list but Somalia is not. 

In light of the appearance of the "home-grown terrorist cell", which, like the ivory-billed woodpecker, may or may not have been sighted in the wild, how long will Uncle Sam be able to resist domestic curbs on access to high-performance computing? If a teraflop machine using as much power as a light bulb becomes affordable, the natural barriers of cost and power consumption will have disappeared, and for the first time this question will suddenly seem relevant. Given the array of surveillance programs launched after 9/11, it doesn't take much of a stretch to imagine this scenario. Would this amount to a further erosion of civil liberties?

One could argue a case for first-amendment protection of access to computing power. Without the means for communication, what does it matter whether there is a Constitutional right to free speech?

February 7, 2007

Cancer Cures Promiscuity

Perplexed? I was too until I penetrated the inner logic of this argument against mandatory administration of the HPV vaccine.

So here it goes: fear of contracting cervical cancer will suppress promiscuous urges and encourage moral and upright behavior, in the same way that AIDS and pregnancy have done in the past. This is just one more arrow in the quiver.

Now I have a daughter, and it is my hope that, when faced with decisions of consequence, she will be able to rely on her judgement and strength of character, two parentally-mediated traits that come from within, but hey- that's just me. Fear is so popular these days, I can see why parents would embrace it.

To be effective, the fear of cancer must itself be innoculated in the budding youth. For example, you could say "if you have sex, you'll get cancer!" This works so well with smoking and lung cancer, I'm sure it will easily overpower teenage groinal urges.

As a fallback option, should the vaccine become mandatory, you could say "if you have sex, I'll burn you with a hot poker!" Is that more mean-sounding? I can't tell.

February 5, 2007

Good News Gal

If you're tired of living in a country that has so much wrong with it, change the channel. During the Superbowl, CBS ran a commercial for its nightly news with Katie Couric that promised us what the Bush Administration has been asking for, but unable to produce: good news.

"We hear a lot about what's wrong with America, but there are so many examples of America's can-do spirit. Good people doing great things, on CBS news."

So, feel good, America. We're one step closer to Stephen Colbert's satirical utopia. Forget the facts, it's the feeling that matters. Katie is your "half glass full" sort of news.