Saturday, October 11, 2008

Biology in Science Fiction Roundup: October 11 Edition

Once again it's time to clean out my accumulated links:

Written Word

Suvudu takes a look at another frequently banned book: Flowers for Algernon.

The Guardian Books blog asks whether science fiction really needs to be so glooomy:
The world needs warnings from its future, and science fiction has been there to provide them. But there are no end of reasons to have hope for tomorrow. Biotechnology and genetic research offer fantastic advances in medicine, yet their portrayal in science fiction is typified by the gloom of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. [...] To look at the infinite possibilities of the future and see only darkness is a failure of imagination.
Rudy Rucker talks about sex and science fiction.


Warner Bros. plans a prequel to I Am Legend. Will Smith will reprise his role as a virologist who is one of the few survivors of a plague caused by a mutant engineered virus.

Jeff Carlson's thriller Plague Year will be made into a feature film

io9 reports that there will be a significant difference between the comic book version of Y The Last Man and the movie adaptation of the story.
First of all, we are going to lose all the interesting subplots about how the political regimes of the world reconstitute themselves in the wake of losing every single creature with a Y chromosome. We'll get very few chances to learn about the Israeli military, the Amazonian terrorists, the Japanese all-girl Yakuza, the women's prison-turned-farm-coop, and the female scientists working to make it possible to rebuild the world out of the DNA they've got left. In other words: A comic book about a world entirely filled with women is going to turn into a movie about a dude.
Is it possible that a movie with a single male character will end up failing the Bechdel Test?


Jennifer Oullette at Cocktail Party Physics took a look at the science-based shows appearing on prime time

At The Bones Blog Vanessa Uy looks at the Anthropology of Star Trek (via SF Signal)

AMC has announced that it will be adapting Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars. It's not clear if it will be a movie or mini-series. I hope the latter.

Web Series

io9 has an interview with Joshua Fialkov about his web series LG15:The Resistance, an unlikely spin-off to lonelygirl15.

io9: LG15: The Resistance is, oh, roughly a million miles away from what people think of when they think of lonelygirl15, in part because the mainstream hype for that really peaked before the series' revelation of a wider, more SF and fantasy-based mythology. Is it a problem when you explain to people that this series isn't really just a girl sitting in front of her webcam at home, talking about her life, but instead all about secret societies and genetically superior beings?

Joshua Fialkov: Yeah, I definitely think there's a huge audience out there that would love the show if they just knew what it really was.


Watch video of The Fly:The Opera at io9

Cool Science

The Times reports that geneticist Steve Jones says that "human evolution is over". His claims have been refuted in so many places that there is nothing for me to add. Read more: John Hawks, Gene Expression, Evolving Thoughts, discussion at Sandwalk.

io9's biogeek looks at whether human evolution will result in beings of pure energy (sadly, no)

Carl Zimmer writes about the latest research on genes and intelligence (so far not much progress). He also has an an article in Conservation Magazine about "The Most Popular Life Style on Earth" - parasitism!

Kevin Kelly discusses why he doesn't think the singularity will happen, at least not in the way Kurzweil has described it: thinking, even really fast thinking by an AI, isn't sufficient to solve our problems. The assumption that it is sufficient he terms "thinkism". (via Futurismic)
Let's take curing cancer or prolonging longevity. These are problems that thinking along cannot solve. No amount of thinkism will discover how the cell ages, or how telomeres fall off. No intelligence, no matter how super duper, can figure out how human body works simply by reading all the known scientific literature in the world and then contemplating it. No super AI can simply think about all the current and past nuclear fission experiments and then come up with working nuclear fusion in a day. Between not knowing how things work and knowing how they work is a lot more than thinkism. There are tons of experiments in the real world which yields tons and tons of data that will be required to form the correct working hypothesis. Thinking about the potential data will not yield the correct data. Thinking is only part of science; maybe even a small part. We don't have enough proper data to come close to solving the death problem. And in the case of living organisms, most of these experiments take calendar time. They take years, or months, or at least days, to get results. Thinkism may be instant for a super AI, but experimental results are not instant.
We are still finding alien creatures that exist right here on Earth. An example of this is the newly characterized Desuforudis audaxviator, which lives deep in a gold mine nearly 3 kilometers beneath the surface of the Earth. There is no light, little air and an ambient temperature of 160°C (140°F). It lives on the hydrogen and sulfate produced by the radioactive decay of uranium.
"One question that has arisen when considering the capacity of other planets to support life is whether organisms can exist independently, without access even to the sun," says Chivian. "The answer is yes, and here's the proof. It's sort of philosophically exciting to know that everything necessary for life can be packed into a single genome."
Nina Munteanu looks at growing fuel from algae.

Genetic Future reports that a new company, Complete Genomics, has promised to provide whole-genome sequencing for only $5000 by the middle of next year. The perfect Christmas gift?

In what is a grossly misleadingly-headlined post, SciFi Scanner says "Scientists say our eyes evolved to see through objects". Um, no, our binocular vision allows us to integrate information from both eyes, so if our right eye can see behind the right side of an object and our left eye can see behind the left side of an object, our brain can piece together that information into an image of what is "behind" the object.


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