Technocracy and the Sea

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 28, 20161

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


“The sea is big. The sea is cruel. She takes more than she gives. That’s how it’s always been.”

This line from my long forgotten first science fiction novel still resonates with me. The ocean is a tough place. No matter how good we get at working at sea, the sea always finds new and creative ways to totally undermine our endeavors.

The last quarter century has seen a tremendous rise in our collective faith in technology’s power to save us. When hundreds of thousands were dying on the roads, we made car that drove themselves, reducing traffic fatalities by several orders of magnitude. After the last great recession, we created new digital currencies to protect our savings from market forces. When we could no longer afford to burn coal and oil, we finally built an alternative energy infrastructure.

When firearm deaths and mass shootings were out of control, we built “safe” guns with sophisticated biometric locks, and developed clothing and shields to reduce fatalities. These measures had almost no effect, but we continue to throw technology at the problem.

That is the problem with technocracy.  (more…)

Remember when sexism in science died? Me neither.

Field Notes from the Future0

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Any female scientist my age (Generation Pre-Internet) can remember when sexism was a standard rite of passage.  Truly, you hadn’t ‘made it’ in science until you could one-up your colleague’s harassment story.  I remember being enlisted into the Sisterhood of the Travelling Confidants (to quote an old classic), where we laughed at the futility of filing complaints while helping new members process their anger.  We were powerless back then… but many.

Then came the advent of ‘social media’, sharing and liking posts, hashtags, connectivity and a voice.  This led to the realization that all institutes of every field of science had their own Sisterhoods.  One by one, reluctantly, these groups came out of the libraries on the second floor (there’s a second floor??), hidden basement kitchenettes, and forgotten conference rooms.  New members, who were younger and more internet savvy than the old guard, took to social media to process their anger.  The sisterhoods became solidarities when male colleagues used their position to amplify the messages.  Soon, a spotlight was put on our inside joke that reporting harassment to higher-ups was as effective as one of David’s remote petitions, and titans of torment began to fall, one by one, each story more disturbing – at least to those outside of the sisterhood – than the last. (more…)

Welcome to the Future: Three Rules for Artificially Intelligent Underwater Robots.

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 27, 20160

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Underwater robotics has come a long way since I started working on it in the early ‘noughts. From the massive industrial beasts of the old guard to the small, sleak, eminently hackable sprite of the Connected Exploration movement to this new crop of fully autonomous, decision-making and directive setting AI-powered drones of the last few years, everything keeps getting smaller, cheaper, and more capable. It’s a great decade to be exploring the deep.

Last month, we deployed our first swarm of artificially intelligent deep diving robots designed to patrol the abyssal plane, identify regions of unique biodiversity, and recommend critical ecosystems for international protection in advance of biomining operations. What’s unique about this project is that we’ve assigned all decision-making authority directly to the swarm. They get to decide where in the world they go and how and when they sample. This came after years of debate and negotiation with stakeholders from science, conservation, and industry, and has been accepted through international agreement as the most unbiased and equitable solution to the challenge of getting groups with vastly different goals to agree upon dividing up the deep. (more…)

The future we wanted to build.

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 26, 20160

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Twenty-five years ago this month we tried a radical experiment. For 31 days, every single post we made came from the future. This future, to be exact. We explored the nature of change, the fate of our ocean, the cycles of environmentalism–from problem to proposal to success to complacency to new problem. We imagined solutions and their consequences. We envisioned struggles that would continue, and struggles that would fade, unremembered. We shifted the baseline and watched it crumble.

It seems weird, looking back now that the day has come, on those old posts. We got a few things right, and a lot of things wrong.  (more…)

Philantropy is our government, now: How to Fund Your Great Scientific Idea

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 25, 20160

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Since Congress decided to cut science funding to all but matters of national security, many of us in the environmental field have existed in the new world of science funding–Foundations and Charitable Giving. While one might make the case that protecting the environment is in fact a matter of national security, our elected representatives disagree and sliced funding to climate change, political science, and education first. But they’ve also constructed a tax code favorable to private donors and foundations supporting science, sometimes because they really like the idea, they see future payoffs from their investment, or because they need the tax writeoff. The problem with these sources of private money is that they’re not as easy to discover as some of those public sources once were, and often require developing a personal relationship with the family owning the endowment. After polling the environmental science community, here’s some tips and tricks for finding and courting money that have set up some fantastic labs for others. Learn from their success.

Know the Next Big Thing

There are fads amongst the problems that need to be solved, and any successful research lab has at least one toe in the water of the subject at the top of the publicity agenda. For ocean topics, for a long while this was charismatic endangered species like whales and turtles. Once we realized we’d done as much as we could in this arena, other subjects started getting attention. For the foundations who take on these issues, they want to be seen at the forefront of an issue, not the tenth batter up, so the field is a constantly shifting landscape and the pace of that shifting hastens each year. Remember when citizen science was the next big promise for marine research? That it offered cheap, high quality data covering large spatial scales collected by the good graces of volunteers? People loved to suggest starting citizen science projects, and it solidified the institutional landscape we see today with professional associations and research institutions designed around maximizing the promise of citizen science. That all happened within the space of a few years and some large investments by the Packard and Bechtel foundations. But once something is institutionalized, it’s time for the foundations to move on to the Next Big Thing. (more…)

Damn the paradoxes! Southern Fried Server Update #4

Field Notes from the Future0

It is clear now that whatever is driving this flood of future content in inextricably connected to the virus infecting cyborgs in 2041. While human-machine interfaces are something that I have always been interested in, it is not something I write about, and it is certainly not something I would  write about on a marine science and conservation blog. The mere presence of these posts in the Southern Fried Science slipstream reveals their importance.

These are the articles that are too far out of place for this blog to be anything but central to the broader situation:

The future, like the present, is dark, yet hopeful, a blend of ocean optimism and the wine dark deep. There are problems from today that are still with us.

There are wholly new problems that we haven’t even anticipated, like Global Norming.

And there are solutions, some terrifying and some wonderful.

This month is a chance to look back and, somehow, reflect upon our future. A chance to scream “Damn the paradoxes, to hell with the timeline, let’s use the future to mend the presence.” This is our chance. The future laid out before us is not our future, it is the record of a vanished legacy, an archive of futures, past.

Damn the paradoxes! To hell with the timeline! The future is my kraken. It must be released.

The Cyborg Crisis: new digital virus is fatal to augmented humans

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 24, 20160

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


What began as a relatively benign, though eminently annoying cybernetic virus has evolved into a global catastrophe. Alpha Cloner was just the beginning of a series of increasingly malevolent molecular vectors. Once the code was out, creatives got to work, hacking together more clever, more wicked software packets. The flood gates were open.

Even the barrage of behavior modifying bugs was a distraction. Whoever coded Zero Cloner knew that there would be hundreds of hackers altering their code. They were counting on it.

The genius of Alpha Cloner was not that it tricked augmented humans into queuing up at a food truck. The genius of Alpha Cloner was that the ad hoc fix was for augments to shut off their internal geolocators. This practically guaranteed that the Center for Disease Control and Digital Security would be incapable of tracking the virus as beyond the initial outbreak or document the spread of the Zero Cloner base code–which we now know acts as a critical architecture for further infection. As, one by one, cyborgs opted out of the National Tracking Matrix, the origin and extent of the infection was obscured.  (more…)

Gliding on starlight: Celestial Navigation for Martian Explorers

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 23, 20161

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Thousands of years ago, merchants on the Arabian Peninsula would cross vast, featureless desert as they traveled from settlement to settlement, selling their goods. They had no roads, no maps, no GPS, yet still they managed to find their mark. They accomplished this tremendous feat of navigation with the help of the stars and a tiny instrument called a kamal.

The kamal was a piece of wood, bone, or ivory, with a piece of string threaded through it at a precise point and measured out to a precise distance. By sighting the kamal against the horizon and the north star, these merchants could maintain a constant latitude as they marchd across the desert, and find their way home. For millennia, this basic principal–that the celestial pole could, with the right instrument, reveal latitude–was the driving force for exploration, trade, and travel. Polynesian sailors used latitude hooks to mark their journey. Portuguese explorers used quadrants to find their way across the Atlantic and around Africa. The age of discovery was already entering its twilight by the time we had figured out longitude–the great scientific puzzle of an generation. For most, simply knowing latitude and cardinal direction was enough to circle the world and return home.

The Martian Circumtropical Expedition kicks off net month, with teams from 17 nations racing to see who will be first to circumnavigate the red planet. Their sandgliders will be outfitted with the most sophisticated expedition gear that their sponsors can afford, costing, at the low end, hundreds of millions of dollars. The budget for China’s team surpasses the GDP of most countries. These will be the best outfitted and most connected explorers in history.

What happens if things go wrong? (more…)

Our Gerrymandered Ocean

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 22, 20160

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Three weeks ago, an armed, irritable, and ill-prepared posse of privateers laid claim to the Deepwater Horizon National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico. Their demands–access to the infamous 30-year-old borehole, as well as new fishing quotas and deregulation of the GoMex Tuna Mariculture industry–are as bizarre as they are indefensible. Gulf oil production has slowed to a crawl. Even if the notorious Macondo Deep were reopened, an act that geologist from within the offshore oil and natural gas industry admit would be catastrophic, there would still be no demand for their crude.

Deregulating tuna mariculture would also be an industry disaster, as federal regulations on the import of foreign tuna is the only thing keeping their sea pens afloat. And you can’t raise quotas on fish that no longer exist.

These privateers are just the latest in the oft-parodied march of Entitlement Militias–cranky young men with few marketable skills who, unable to succeed in the free market, demand vast, and vastly disproportionate, government handouts, paradoxically under an anti-government or anti-federalist banner. Often, they take federal property by force (more accurately the illusion of force, as, historically, they have, to a man (and it’s always men) folded like paper dolls at the first hint of confrontation). (more…)

Why that ‘genius’ 6-year-old’s solution to Rubbish Delays will make things worse

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 21, 20160

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


We’ve all been there.  You’ve spent an extortionate amount of your travel budget on an atmojet so that you can reach NYC from London in 3 hours, but your launch ends up being delayed an additional 3 hours by an endless airbourne rubbish vortex (ARV).  Research has shown that much of the particles that make up an ARV are pieces of garbage bags that date to the early 2000’s, when effective grocery bag bans ignored the elephant-in-the-room large black garbage bags that continued to be used.  Additionally, the disastrous Rubbish Catchments instalments along highways that were designed to reduce blowing rubbish have unintentionally encouraged people to be even more careless with their litter.  It seems that these dreaded Rubbish Delays at airports aren’t going away anytime soon, and may become even worse.

Enter The Complete Air Cleanup, an engineering project created by the latest kid ‘genius’.  This large plastic net design is an interpretation of the latest viral DreamOracle image, created by the subconscious doodlings of 6-year-old Cassis Wigan.  These 3D rainbow-coloured scribbles created by recording brain electron movement during REM sleep are probably the most obnoxious soothsaying mediums for tech-parents used to confirm that they, indeed, have birthed the next Nikola Tesla.  Neurobiologists have consistently denounced these images as just as effective for predicting intelligence as the pattern your child creates during an explosive bowel movement, but nonetheless this hasn’t stopped parents from interpreting their child’s entire DreamOracle Diary to unsuspecting vitacoffee break victims, worldwide. (more…)

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