Human Technology May Be a Good Bit Older Than We've Thought

From today's Globe and Mail:

Ancestors used stone tools millennia earlier than thought: fossil study

I'm not qualified to comment on the paleoanthropological controversy (though, to me, the objections raised by Toth do sound pretty worrisome).

Berkeley Backs Down on Gene Tests for Students

via Chris MacDonald's Biotech Ethics Blog.

I'm less convinced than MacDonald that harm is only relevant moral standard in a case like this. Though, on the other hand, I'm more impressed than MacDonald with the prospects for this sort of testing leading benefits, both scientific and, as the proponents of the Berkeley plan had hoped, educational.

But even more so I reckon there's at least a few lawyers in Berkeley's risk management office who are breathing a sigh of relief: The state, specifically the California Department of Public Health, has taken a potential hot potato out of their hands.

Radio Silence

I haven't posted anything to this blog in a quite a while. Obviously.

Expect the occasional posting from now until the beginning of term. Thereafter, though, I plan to move the Ethics and Technology blog to a WordPress platform hosted in my own web space.

Moore's Law vs. Moral Hazard

"...the health care system has long had trouble keeping up with Moore’s Law, the principle that computing power rapidly increases even as costs fall sharply."

That's from today's NYT: Insurers Fight Speech-Impairment Remedy And here's the nub: Given recent advances in speech-synthesis technology,

"...people with speech disabilities have a choice: pay for a cheaper product from their own pockets, try to borrow one from a private assistance group or spend their insurer’s money on a specialty device from a company like DynaVox Mayer-Johnson or Prentke Romich."

Expect more and more stories following pretty this same pattern, I'd say, since it's not only computing technology that seems to follow Moore-like patterns of development. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if someone were to offer a glucometer add-on for the iPhone any day now.

Though, by the same token, Moore's law-type effects start out in a race against diseconomies of scale and the story of Dean Kamen's iBot shows that what happens when, alas, the diseconomies win.

Norman Borlaug Dies at 95

A way back when, I used to use a quotation from Gulliver's Travels in my .sig:

And he gave it for his opinion, that whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.

Surely if ever there was person who deserved Swift's compliment, it is Norman Borlaug.

While I'm quite sensitive to the claims offered by some critics of 'green revolution' technologies--that they create dependency on the use of chemicals in agriculture, that they deliberately violate natural constraints and are ultimately unsustainable--I note that Borlaug himself was not sanguine in the face of these criticisms. Instead, he faced them with a rare and remarkable intellectual honesty.

And who could want a greater tribute to their life's work than this?:
By Mr. Toenniessen’s calculation, about half the world’s population goes to bed every night after consuming grain descended from one of the high-yield varieties developed by Dr. Borlaug and his colleagues of the Green Revolution.

RTFM Moment: Mic vs. Aspergillum

[Via Fail Blog]

Microsoft Ordered to Stop Selling Word in U.S.

Holy cow. [Globe & Mail]

A U.S. judge issued a permanent injunction preventing Microsoft Corp. from selling its flagship “Word” software in the United States, agreeing with a jury verdict that the company willfully violated a patent held by a small Toronto firm...The injunction will bar Microsoft from selling its word-processing software that handles documents in a form known a “custom XML.” This category includes the company's Word 2003 and Word 2007 products, as well as any future versions using the same technology in question.

Of course
Microsoft plans to appeal. And, I note, at least so far no big change in Microsoft's share price (which, I suppose, suggests that 'the market' either believes that that appeal will be successful or, more likely, that they will be able to settle with i4i, the company whose patents Microsoft has been found to have infringed.

It's unlikely, in other words, that Microsoft won't ultimately get it's way on this (it usually does, if only because money talks and, well, that particular company has a lot to say). Still, it's always nice to see the big supposed bully taken down in the headlines.