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  • Will science and progress make Christianity irrelevant in the 21st century?

    By Zoltan Istvan, Candidate for California Governor 2018 | 22 May 2016 Salon

    In April, the pope made history when he told his flock to accept divorced Catholics. Last week, NPR reported a gay preacher had been ordained as a Baptist minister. Next year it might well be evangelicals in the deep South turning pro-choice. Everywhere around us, traditional Christian theology and its culture is breaking down in hopes of remaining relevant. The reality is with incredible scientific breakthroughs in the 21st century, ubiquitous information via the Internet, and an increasingly nonreligious youth, formal religion has to adapt to survive.

    But can it do so without becoming obsolete? Perhaps more importantly, can Christianity—the world’s largest religion with 2 billion believers—remain the overarching societal power it’s been for millennia? The answer is not an easy one for the old faith-driven guard.

    To remain a dominant force throughout the 21st century, formal religion will have to bend. It will have to adapt. It will have to evolve. Hell, it will have to be upgraded. Welcome to the growing impact of Christian relativism.

    The familiar term cultural relativism was coined by anthropologist Franz Baos, who suggested that people have a difficult time understanding another’s culture without having grown up in it—so therefore we should strive to empathize more with foreign cultures and people. It’s a great concept, and after many years reporting for National Geographic in dozens of countries, I came to strongly believe in the idea.

    Christian relativism, however, does not have that honor of generating empathy so easily—at least not until it separates itself from its cornerstone philosophy: adherence to the Bible. Even with its many dozens of translations, most everything in the Bible simply cannot be logically interpreted in a multitude of ways—or flippantly passed over in generous empathy. To make the Bible’s deity-approved instructions and ideas soundly work, church leaders pushing Christian relativism may simply have to back down or say it made a mistake with its past fundamentalism.

    Christian relativism, however, does not have that honor of generating empathy so easily—at least not until it separates itself from its cornerstone philosophy: adherence to the Bible. Even with its many dozens of translations, most everything in the Bible simply cannot be logically interpreted in a multitude of ways—or flippantly passed over in generous empathy. To make the Bible’s deity-approved instructions and ideas soundly work, church leaders pushing Christian relativism may simply have to back down or say it made a mistake with its past fundamentalism.

    For example, if the Bible clearly says being gay is a sin (and it does many times), then Christians can’t just wake up one day and say homosexuality is permissible without dismissing God’s word. Another example is women; if the Bible says they can’t be priests and must submit to men, then the church can never profess to believe in equality—which is does all the time. Additionally, if committing blasphemy (striving to become god-like) through transhumanism is an unforgiveable sin that leads to eternal punishment, then Christians can’t say they represent a loving and kind God. The hypocrisy is too much to pretend one is being logical or reasonable—since transhumanists vocally aim to never die and possibly even become gods (or God) through science and technology.

    Science is a reliable path to truth. #religion #atheist #god #faith #meme #quote Visit us online! https://t.co/FETurOkbKc pic.twitter.com/Yk4MTqt173

    — Atheistation (@Atheistation) February 23, 2018

    This is the dilemma that the Abrahamic religious face in the age of Christian relativism. They have sealed themselves in the ideological fort for protection, and now they have no way out without atheists and agnostics chiding them. Language is fiercely mechanical—and in the case of the Bible, many of the truths are prominently black and white.

    The antithesis of the Bible is, of course, the much simpler Western ideology: the scientific method, upon which the other part of modern humanity’s culture was built upon—the one that brought us skyscrapers, CRISPR gene editing tech, robots, and vaccinations so our children don’t die from measles. The scientific method states nothing is black and white, but if you prove something enough times, it’s safe to trust it until something strange or unwanted occurs. It’s humble at its core, unlike Christianity which claims to be under guidance of an omnipotent God.

    Consider Christianity’s core message: You are born in sin, and only through Christ can you be redeemed and reach a happy afterlife. The scientific method would’ve never entertained such a conclusion, because it would’ve been stuck asking what is sin?, and where is Christ?—neither of which can be proven one way or the other.

    With this in mind, how does Christian relativism then expect to be taken seriously? I wish that was the question, but people are so entrenched into Judeo-Christian culture, that we rarely consider that Christianity is even changing. We only think we are becoming more open-minded, and that God and our religious brethren should pat us on the back for our newfound wisdom.

    While I shake my head in disbelief at the Christian mirage all around me (and the billion people who call the pope wonderfully progressive despite his disdain of condoms and other birth control), I accept it as a better fate than the far more dogmatic one humans endured in the 20th Century. I believe I speak for the one billion nonreligious people out there when I say I’ll take progress however I can get it—even if it results in a Jesus Singularity, where even the superintelligent robots engineers are trying to make may end up being programmed to believe in Christ. But Christian relativism is not a cure to the disease—it’s just a band-aid of belief. The cure—or better put: the sobering tonic—is the scientific method, a simple philosophy that says: Get used to not knowing anything for sure—then make up your own mind on what you believe.

    Reprinted with permission from the author.

    Zoltan Istvan is a Libertarian candidate for California Governor 2018. Previously, he was a 2016 US Presidential candidate who aimed to put science, health, and technology at the forefront of American politics. At the age of 21, Zoltan began a solo, multi-year sailing journey around the world. He’s explored over 100 countries, many as a journalist for the National Geographic Channel. His work has also been featured in many major television channels, such as CNN, FOX News, and BBC. Zoltan writes futurist and transhumanist-themed blogs for The Huffington Post, Vice’s Motherboard (Transhumanist Future), and Psychology Today (The Transhumanist Philosopher). He has also written for Slate, Gizmodo, Daily Mail, Salon, Newsweek, Wired UK, Singularity Hub, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Outside. Zoltan has started various successful businesses, from real estate development to filmmaking to viticulture, joining them under ZI Ventures. He is a philosophy and religious studies graduate of Columbia University and resides in San Francisco with his two daughters and physician wife. Zoltan is the creator of the Immortality Bus, a 38-foot vehicle shaped like a coffin to spread the message that science can conquer death. He is the author of The Transhumanist Wager, an award-winning, #1 bestselling Philosophy book describing philosopher Jethro Knights and his unwavering quest for immortality via science and technology. You can follow his work at zoltanistvan.com, on Wakelet, Facebook and on Twitter.

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  • Carl Sagan's 1994 "Lost" Lecture: The Age of Exploration

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  • OPIC is dead. Long live OPIC.

    OPIC is dead. Long live OPIC.

    In the last few years of US president Obama’s administration, there were increasingly loud calls for the government to get rid of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the development agency which encourages investment by US companies in Africa.

    The problem, as the critics saw it, was the four-decades old agency had become “institutionally ill-suited to its mission and harms poor people around the world,” said a 2015 paper from CEI, a libertarian Washington DC think tank, which also claimed OPIC projects end up “enriching the politically connected.”

    With US president Trump’s “America first” mantra it was completely unsurprising when the administration’s first budget in 2017 proposed essentially killing off OPIC.

    But at the same time, development analysts and DC lobbyists have been pushing the US Congress to reform and improve the country’s approach to development finance. In an unexpected turn of events, the reformists won.

    On Oct. 5, president Trump signed into law the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act, which does do away with OPIC, but by doubling its budget to $60 billion and giving it a new name, the US International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC).

    Aside from the much bigger budget, the key change for most observers is that the new agency now has authority to make equity investments, something OPIC lacked and which many believe will make it a more competitive dealmaker. It’ll also be able to make deals and loans in local currency thereby saving investor currency exchange risk.

    “Not only will it lead to more US investment in Africa, which will be a stimulus to economic development across the continent, but it makes US companies more competitive and reduces the risk in a growing market that is not well understood by American business,” writes Witney Schneidman, fellow, Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings Institution.

    And regardless of Donald Trump’s anti-globalist rhetoric, it also brings some clarity to a widely ignored US-Africa policy, outside of security discussions.

    So what changed the US government’s mind on this?

    One word: China.

    “Part of the motivation has been China which is very active in a lot of markets,” says Todd Moss, an analyst at the Center for Global Development and a long-time supporter for reform in the US development finance. “This is an attempt to modernize our foreign policy tools.”

    Before now, the Trump administration had only ever expressed concern for seemingly naive African leaders who were being misled by China with what some call its “debt trap diplomacy.”

    China is not making big overseas loans and investments “to help countries out, they’re in it to grab their assets,” Ray Washburne, the president and CEO of OPIC (who is expected to stay on at the new IDFC) told reporters last month in Washington DC.“They’re interested in industrial mines, we’re more interested in creating jobs to stabilize those economies,” he said.

    The US is “engaged in the world,” Washburne said, it’s not pulling back to its own shores. With the new fund, it will be engaging in other countries it in a “businesslike manner” rather than giving aid

    But even with this new US agency it won’t be as easy as it sounds. “The Chinese model is bigger and quicker, if you’re a government in Africa and want to build infrastructure before the next election you probably will still go with the Chinese,” Moss concedes.

    While $60 billion is a lot of money from the US, it’ll be spent across the developing world including countries in Asia and South America. Last month, China pledged $60 billion towards development on Africa alone. But as our columnist Andrew Alli has written, the availability of more competition in terms of funding and expertise should be the ultimate benefit of China’s Africa presence. The more, the better for Africa. Heather Timmons contributed reporting.


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    The vast majority of companies today depend on software to run their businesses. Along the whole supply chain and down to the last customer, it’s software that runs the show.

    Bugs in computer software can range from mild irritant to huge economic loss, and, in the worst cases, to a tragic loss of life.

    The vast majority of companies today depend on software to run their businesses. Along the whole supply chain and down to the last customer, it’s software that runs the show.

    Facebook’s new Android app has sought to use artificial intelligence - for the first time - to find and fix bugs in its software.

    The consequences of software bugs range far and wide.

    For instance, in 2017, a glitch in the United Kingdom's NHS computer system meant it didn’t send out 709,000 pieces of medical correspondence. While some people missed routine appointments as a result, others failed to receive their patient records, or worse, their cancer test results. Almost 2,000 patients were exposed to harm as a result.

    The same year, the Uber app got a Frenchman into trouble when it exposed his affair to his wife. It had continued to send push notifications of his whereabouts, despite him having logged off the service.

    In 2018, Tricentis, a Vienna-based software testing company, issued a report that found 606 major software fails, affecting 314 companies and a whopping $1.7 trillion in assets.

    Software developers have a constant roll of fixes to find and implement, some critical, others routine, and they have systems and processes in place that help alert them to bugs. But a lot of the work involves manually trawling through code.

    Facebook’s new AI hybrid tool (called a hybrid because it still requires human interaction) was introduced to alleviate some of this spadework.

    SapFix was created by Facebook engineers and is designed to drastically reduce the amount of time engineers spend debugging programs. It’s also designed to speed up the process of rolling out new software.

    It works in two parts. First Sapienz, Facebook’s intelligent software testing tool, finds the bugs. Then SapFix automatically generates fixes and proposes them to engineers, who do the final check before letting loose the fix.

    “Since we started testing SapFix in August, the tool has successfully generated patches that have been accepted by human reviewers and pushed to production,” says the company, adding that:

    “To our knowledge, this marks the first time that a machine-generated fix – with automated end-to-end testing and repair – has been deployed into a codebase of Facebook’s scale.”

    The finer details of how it works can be found here. In the meantime, Facebook promises that it will release the tools to open source “in the future”, with the feedback it receives used to further improve its innovations.

    One of its key highlights, and one that might have proven useful to both the NHS and Uber, is that it will head off glitches before they happen.

    Written by Alex Gray, senior writer, Formative Content.

    This article was republished courtesy of the World Economic Forum.


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  • Meet the 19-year-old tech genius coding at Ethiopia's first AI lab

    By Alice McCool and Thomas Lewton, for CNN

    Updated 1058 GMT (1858 HKT) October 11, 2018

    (CNN)At 19-years-old, Betelhem Dessie is perhaps the youngest pioneer in Ethiopia's fast emerging tech scene, sometimes referred to as 'Sheba Valley'.

    Dessie is coordinating a number of nationwide programs run by robotics lab iCog, the Addis Ababa based artificial intelligence (AI) lab that was involved in developing the world famous Sophia the robot.

    She has four software programs copyrighted solely to her name - including an app developed for the Ethiopian government to map rivers used for irrigation.

    And it all began when she was just 9.

    She recalls: "On my 9th birthday I wanted to celebrate so I asked my father for money." When her father said he didn't have any to give her that day, Dessie took matters into her own hands.

    Making use of the materials around her - her father sold electronics in their home city of Harar in eastern Ethiopia - Dessie started with small tasks such as video editing and sending music to customer's cell phones.

    "I got about 90 dollars - then I celebrated my birthday" she laughs, sitting in one of the robotics and coding rooms at iCog, Ethiopia's first AI lab.

    iCog launched in 2013 and Ethiopia's tech industry is set to take off even faster this year following the liberalization of the country's economy under new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

    Abiy who took office in April, has part privatized a number of state owned companies including telecoms provider Ethio Telecom. It's a bid to hopefully pave the way for better internet access. The country is seeing huge changes following a government sanctioned internet blackout that took place prior to Abiy taking office.


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