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Children of the Virgin

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Technologies of Awareness - The LNA Paradigm

In the book Neurosphere, I speculate that a global, collective consciousness is in development, as theorized by Teilhard de Chardin, Carl Jung and many others. (www.neurosphere.org) Without buying into that philosophy necessarily, the technology landscape does appear to be developing in accordance with some of the technical predictions of the theory, and so that perspective might serve as a productive guide to future technology development and related business opportunities.

The LNA paradigm suggests that there are three broad areas of technological and service development that will serve the purposes of emerging needs in human consciousness and interpersonal communication. These are Location, Navigation, and Awareness. These underlying themes can be seen in developments over the last twenty-odd years, and will continue to underpin future technology evolution. One helpful signpost for tracking these developments will be the re-occurrence of biological or evolutionary metaphors in describing technologies or services.

Location (Network Infrastructure)

"Is it a fact or have I dreamed it - that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time? Rather, the round globe is a vast head, a brain, instinct with intelligence!”- Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables

The hardwired telecommunications companies laid a dedicated, buried-in-the-ground infrastructure over the past 100 years. New wireless technologies have supplemented these point to point connections to form a continuous blanket, or layer across most of the locations on earth. If this is a fulfillment of Teilhard’s noosphere, or thinking layer, then one should expect a continued expansion of this blanket in breadth of geographic coverage and bandwidth of connections.

As a first step, one should pay attention to technologies like wi-fi that extend the network infrastructure. Of deeper interest are so-called mesh networks that emerge organically and extend/embrace range of locations. As noted, any organic metaphor for telecommunications and information technologies is a sure sign that they fit the LNA paradigm and are likely to be important and growing trends.

Increases in the bandwidth of the individual connections, and coverage of the blanket, are relatively obvious indicators supporting the paradigm. Evolution to so-called 3G and 4G technologies are allowing mobile telecommunications services to more fully support Internet and World Wide Web applications, making them available and functional to greater degrees than the point-to-point world.

Navigation (Personal Interconnection)

“…the evolution of more perfect eyes in a world where there is always more to see.” – Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon

The second pillar of the LNA paradigm is a means of interconnection to and navigation through the locations that are being enveloped in the growing neurosphere. This is a prerequisite for the Teilhardian vision of humans more directly connected to each other.

Moore’s Law and the continued miniaturization of devices of greater and greater functionality enable technology to be a more integral part of human development. Since McLuhan, we speak of the extensions of man, and more specifically, the extensions of human limbs and sense organs.

The LNA paradigm drives infrastructures therefore to be more and more internalized by individuals. Navigation should be handled in smaller and smaller form factors, transitioning from the PC down to the handheld device and, ultimately, to the ultimate user-integrated functionality – chip implants.

The dramatic growth curve of mobile telephone technology illustrates the evolutionary imperative driving navigation technology, just as the dramatic growth curve of the World Wide Web illustrates a vision of human interconnection in the realms of culture and meaning. Thus an obvious near term growth opportunity is the improvement of the Mobile Web, which is currently not nearly fast enough or functional enough.

A technology that bridges location and navigation is that of wireless sensors. RFID, Zigbee and other technologies are riding the curve of Moore’s law and adding literal sense organs to the broader locational infrastructure. Wireless sensors track temperature, air quality, light and darkness. Sense. organs connected to a central processor, or brain, is the definition of living intelligence.

The final step of the navigation portion of the LNA paradigm leads to two-way, electronic interconnection of infrastructure with the human nervous system. As William Gibson had it, the individual becomes jacked in.

Awareness (The World Right Now)

“What’s going on?” – Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On

Viewed through an evolutionary lens, post-9/11 security-state trends, as in the years during WWII, reflect a punctuated evolution driven by great trauma. For WWII, examples included radar and atomic bombs. For WWT (World War on Terror), an example is a proposal for a beefed up, biometrics-based customs system for America’s borders with Canada and Mexico. (Also consider its pale echo in the focus on physical border security a la the Minutemen and the DHS’ Border Infrastructure Project (Fence)) Because the spectacle of planes hitting the World Trade Center impacts us on a subconscious level, the response is to extend antennae further/deeper for protection. In a more linear, conscious way, this is the same dynamic as underlies edge scientists seeking to patrol the solar system for near-Earth asteroids. Our level of daily life protection/security reaches such high levels that we look beyond for next level threats. (Another example of the same dynamic is gerontological health care.)

This emergent (in some ways pre-conscious) need for greater bio-neurological awareness leads to a series of technology growth areas. Border security means not just perimeter protection like fences, but immune system metaphors – for example RFID-embedded passports or biometric detection systems.

Wireless sensors, as previously noted, are growth technologies that add awareness across the full locational range of the infrastructure that is developing. The proliferation of functions of such devices should be followed, especially as they mimic organic functions – environmental sensing for temperature, motion, light, etc.

Ubiquitous computing extends awareness, even consciousness, to inanimate objects. This is an underlying principle of Teilhard’s theory, that everything has an interior, i.e. a rudimentary form of consciousness. This trend turns the theory on its head in a sense, as humans embed consciousness in the device, rather that the interior consciousness evolving on its own into higher forms.

Locational technologies are beginning to extend awareness to an incredible degree. Remote monitoring of the range of locations on earth extended into outer space with Landsat and its successor mapping satellites, most recently monetized in a revolutionary way by Google Earth. Even in space, the connection is bidirectional, and we can consume the remote monitoring of outer space by space shuttle astronauts, geosynchronous satellites, and space telescopes. I foresee a demand for a Window on the Stars application that allows viewers to tune into any of these myriad space missions and view all the splendor of the far-flung universe in real time (unlike Google’s Sky). All that’s lacking is the navigational user interface and rights to use the video created by taxpayer dollars.


In the vein of Windows on the Stars, in the sense of the most expanded view of human extensions, a popular desktop PC application is called SETI At Home. This application ties individual computers together to pool spare processing power, a development now known as Grid Computing. Right now, this is group action through the donation of the technical infrastructure of each individual. What happens when the human is herself interconnected with that computer in joint action? I would suggest that what happens is collective consciousness, what Teilhard called the Omega Point. So even at the speculative boundaries of the LNA Paradigm, one may draw some guidance toward predicting likely technology development.

Nomads in the 21st Century

Among the seeming endless parade of endangered and oppressed people around the world, the plight of the Tibetans is something that caught my particular interest. I live in Boulder Colorado, the biggest hotbed of white Tibetans outside of California. My attention was grabbed by the parallel of the Chinese expansion into Tibet in the last 50 years with a virtually identical one that happened almost a hundred years ago to the Mongolians. That one also targeted a largely nomadic people.

From there, one can start to think of the Jews of Europe, the Gypsies, Bedouins, and the indigenous peoples of North America, and the inexorable absorption or destruction of any nomadic peoples who attempted to survive into the twenty-first century. What is it that drives it?

The unlikely topic that drew me to this historical cycle was dinosaurs. The head of the New York Museum of Natural History early in the twentieth century, Roy Chapman Andrews, gained fame as a dinosaur hunter. Andrews wrote a children’s book called All About Dinosaurs, which I read about 50 times when I was 9 or 10 years old, wanting to be a paleontologist. Andrews led an expedition to the Gobi Desert and discovered the first fossil dinosaur eggs. The book mixed stories of scientists with graphic descriptions of dinosaurs to get a kid’s imagination going.

When my own kids came along, my wife and I acquired a couple of dinosaur books, and the stories told (T-rex vs. the triceratops) sure sounded like they were ripped off directly from Andrews’ protean accounts. A couple years later, I discovered a bio of Andrews called Dragon Hunter. It provided a great adult perspective on a childhood memory, which led me in turn to abebooks.com to find his original 1940 report of the expeditions called The New Conquest of Central Asia.

I’m currently wading through it, and while it gives a great accounting of the paleontological and other scientific purposes of the expedition, it is also interesting for its portrayal of China, Russia and Inner and Outer Mongolia in the years after the Bolshevik takeover of Outer Mongolia, and China’s inroads into Inner Mongolia.

In fact in the 9 years of expeditions, Andrews recorded the steady settlement of nomadic Mongolia by Chinese farmers, several miles deeper into Inner Mongolia every year.

And in March of this year, those accounts echo in the news from Tibet:

"Several hundred monks from Bora monastery in Amchok Bora, a primarily Tibetan nomadic area in Gannan TAP, Gansu Province, demonstrated earlier yesterday (March 18). According to a reliable source, they broke into Chinese shops in the area and destroyed property, although they deliberately avoided violence against people in their attacks on property. According to the same source, they stopped when they were asked to do so by a respected lama and possibly other monks too. The source also said that large numbers of Tibetan nomads gathered in the area and were persuaded not to carry out protests by local monks. Casualties as a result of the protest, which was met by armed police, could not be confirmed.
Troops also broke up crowds of Tibetan demonstrators in Machu (Chinese: Maqu) county town in Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu (Amdo), when a group of students began protesting and were soon joined by nomads from neighboring counties on March 16. The protestors, some of whom carried images of the Dalai Lama, shouted pro-independence slogans, and called for the return of the Dalai Lama. A Tibetan flag was displayed and protestors wore white khatags (Tibetan blessing scarves)."

Unrest in Tibet is echoed due north in the province of Xinjuan, home to a people of nomads and cowboys known as Uighurs, a people both Turkic and largely Muslim.

China’s attitudes toward these Western regions are complex. On the one hand, there has never been a repudiation of the imperialist tendencies of the Maoist Communist Government. The current government’s public pronouncements echo the florid style of socialist revolution (“Splittists!” “The Dalai Lama Clique”), even as the country embraces capitalism with a vengeance.

Analysis of migration to the West might start with the simple, evident need to relieve population pressures in the coastal regions. Those pressures of course were exacerbated by economic policies that created great wealth through manufacturing in the Pearl River Delta, and drawing workers from rural areas.

Further, the Western regions are virtually unexplored in terms of mineral riches and may contain great wealth in natural resources. (see

And finally, the fundamental requirement for China remains stability. With more than a billion people compressed largely in eastern coastal areas, and the memory of the insanity of the Cultural Revolution still fresh, China pleads the need for stability in response to criticisms of their stifling of democracy, their pursuit of economic growth at the expense of air and water quality, and their suppression of a free press.

Indeed, the maps and news organs of the Chinese government carefully omit any mention of the word Tibet (as do international investors). And with China’s role in the world economy, providing cheap labor to American producers and buying U.S. debt to finance the American foreign trade deficit, neither international investors nor liberal democratic governments are likely to press the issues. The Beijing Olympics came and went with barely a ripple of criticism of Olympic ideals being upheld in a land where democratic dissent is violently suppressed.

So Tibet not only reflects the plight of the nomad in the 21st century global community, it also is a fulcrum and avatar of the struggle that is emerging as mankind grows headlong toward a world population of 10 billion. That struggle encompasses a globalized economy, security and terrorism, wars and refugees and more – I call the challenge, in engineering-speak, Scaling Humanity. (Scaling Humanity will be the topic of the next DifferNetX rant, er, essay.) The pressure on nomads is growing in a globalized terrorist world, where your every neighbor might be a suicide bomber, and anyone who hasn’t been part of your world for generations is suspect.

In the meantime, Tibetans are nomads caught in a losing battle with the property owners of agricultural and industrial nations, the dominant mode of existence for the last 10,000 years. In this, they have something in common with Gypsies, who face eviction and assault all over Europe (http://www.errc.org/News_index.php), with American Indians, and perhaps even with Jews, an ancient nomadic people before, after and during their return to the Promised Land.