David Brin is best-known for shining light — plausibly and entertainingly — on technology, society, and countless challenges confronting our rambunctious civilization. His best-selling novels include The Postman (filmed in 1997) plus explorations of our near-future in Earth and Existence. Other novels are translated into 25+ languages. His short stories explore vividly speculative ideas.
Brin's nonfiction book The Transparent Society won the American Library Association's Freedom of Speech Award for exploring 21st Century concerns about security, secrecy, accountability and privacy.
As a scientist, tech-consultant and world-known author, he speaks, advises, and writes widely on topics from national defense and homeland security to astronomy and space exploration, SETI and nanotechnology, future/prediction, creativity, and philanthropy. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was cited as one of the top 10 writers the AI elite follow.
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Media advances don't always liberate, at first. The tracts that emerged from printing presses enflamed Europe's 16th Century religious hatreds, while the 1930s-era radio and loudspeakers helped consolidate the power of tyrants. Our new media — the Internet — has inspired its own peril: the rise of fake news and too-easy proliferation of alt-facts. Can ordinary citizens separate truth from manipulation before the harm spreads? Brin's proposal, as outlined in "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competitiveness for Society's Benefit," could teach us how to out-run a lie.
Could a single scientific breakthrough help get us past today's rising mass frenzy of self-righteousness that has poisoned politics in the United States and some other countries? Brin has long corresponded with experts, trying to find out. The resulting essay, "Addicted to Self-Righteousness? An Open Letter to Researchers In the Fields of Addiction, Brain Chemistry, and Social Psychology," led to papers in psychiatric journals and a speech at the National Institutes for Drugs and Addiction.
The Internet — that magnificent new world for latter-day explorers, more vast than any realm discovered by Columbus or Magellan. Optimists point out how much more knowledge the average person can access, predicting better minds and savvier citizenry. Pessimists perceive a dumbing-down effect that spreads users too thin, resulting in shallowness that could be detrimental to politics and clear thinking. This David Brin essay (available as an audiobook on Amazon and iTunes) weighs the evidence and ponders whether it may be possible to profit from this revolution of vision and memory — as we did from others that came before.
Every election opens a new front in the seemingly-neverending Global Climate Change culture war. Trained as a scientist, and knowing many who research the atmospheres of 8 planets or who propelled spectacular advances in weather forecasting, Brin tends toward listening to expert advice on this one — especially since we're only being asked to do things we should be doing anyway. In 2007 he posted an essay dealing with some logical flaws in the denial-movement, going after those who claim: "I'm not denying science, just asking questions!"
Nothing demonstrates the silliness of left-right "culture war" more than the illogical fight over human-caused climate change (HCC). People who take fierce positions over a scientific matter based on their politics should be ashamed of themselves. Originally published in Skeptic Magazine, "Skeptics versus Deniers: Creating a Climate of 'No!'" shows you how to tell a true "skeptic" from an opportunistic "denialist."
Entrepreneur? Tinkerer? Whatever your level of involvement, you can have the satisfaction of sponsoring humanity's greatest endeavors. In an era when political factions and media empires are waging relentless "war on science" this trend toward active participation — or providing some financial support for ideas and inventions you love — is the surest way to help support an active, vigorous, future-hungry and scientific civilization. In Existence, he portrays this trend as it can become, as individuals and small groups become ever more agile at sleuthing, data collection and analysis & forming very very smart, ad-hoc, problem-solving 'smart mobs.'
Managing the climate in the face of global warming is a wicked problem that requires getting almost every independent nation to coordinate. What would a system of global governance look like that's up to the true challenges ahead? And how do we start thinking about whether we need to take more desperate interim steps in the form of geoengineering projects that may not require global political consensus?
"Geoengineering" is no substitute for responsibly investing in energy efficiency and finding ways to maintain a great civilization without ruining our planet. Even if a few such methods are found that work well, without crackpot flaws and/or gruesome side effects, that won't let us off the hook from our shared and individual responsibilities, which include seeking alternate, sustainable forms of energy to replace the irresponsible spewing of greenhouse pollutants into our atmosphere. Those who have been lured into participating in a War on Science must be introduced to its value, and the cynical men who are financing this cult exposed as the enemies of humankind they are.
Here David Brin offers some rebuttals to those denying the possibilty of human-caused climate change — with links to the full climate science. It's extended, exhausting and somewhat repetitious. Print it out before your next crazy-uncle encounter. BONUS: Print too the latest report that details how denialism is beginning to harm the economy.
David led an amazing roundtable of people working both inside and outside NASA, including Geoffrey Landis, Chris McKay, Rusty Schweickart, and Ariel Waldman, as they roughed out some of the ambitious new goals that could animate this next era in space, ranging from mining asteroids, to setting up solar energy stations in orbit, to exploring for life in the roofed water worlds of our solar system.
David presents "A SciFi Author's take on space technology innovations in the near and distant future" at Vint Cerf's Space Technology Innovations Conference at Google Headquarters. How likely is it that we can renew enthusiasm for expanding civilization into space?
It's time we looked outward... toward the vast, vast majority of all there is. And after decades of doldrums, it seems we truly are regaining some momentum in space exploration. We are a people who are doing wondrous things, exploring our solar system with pennies out of each citizen's pocket... without abandoning progress down here on Earth. Let's listen to the problem-solvers who will go ahead and save the world — and go on to the stars — despite the negative glooom-sayers.
How might human beings live and work in space by the turn of the century? Some enthusiastic studies have suggested that colonies in orbit or on the Moon could mean the beginning of a new era of prosperity, once the resources of space are exploited by advanced industries. The problem with these wonderful plans seems to be getting started. Today's politician isn't eager to invest in space development programs that will only begin paying for themselves — maybe — after two decades or more. But what if someone were to offer a way to repurpose what's already shipped into space?
In one of the boldest and most popular essays about our destiny, "Singularities and Nightmares: Extremes of Optimism and Pessimism About the Human Future," David Brin explores a startling range of possible changes available to us — changes that could occur within the next twenty or so years, roughly a single human generation. It's an opportunity for humanity and the Earth to avoid dangers and inspire hopeful futures — if that's what we choose. Weigh the range of possibilities for yourself. This article is also available on the Lifeboat Foundation website.
What will happen as we enter the era of human augmentation, artificial intelligence and government-by-algorithm? Those fretfully debating artificial intelligence might best start by appraising the half dozen general pathways under exploration in laboratories around the world. While they overlap, they offer distinct implications for what characteristics emerging, synthetic minds might display, including (for example) whether it will be easy or hard to instill human-style ethical values.
Brin's article, "Neoteny and Two-Way Sexual Selection in Human Evolution," (J. Social and Evolutionary Systems 18(3) 1996), speculates why we turned out so strange compared to other species. Other scientific papers that appeared in peer-reviewed scientific journals, on topics ranging from astrophysics to anthropology to psychology, philanthropy and dispute resolution, can be found on David Brin's bio page.
Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in David Brin's PhD research (UCSD 1981) — a spinning icy mass insulated by carbonaceous dust, with sun-heated, geyser-jets spewing particles into space. That work inspired Brin's novel with Gregory Benford, Heart of the Comet, just before the 1986 Giotto mission confirmed the model. See the Astrophysical Journal paper "Three Models of Dust Layers on Cometary Nuclei" or an abstract of David Brin's PhD dissertation: "Evolution of Cometary Nuclei as Influenced by a Dust Component."
How reading makes you smart: The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that runs on the minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.
Also: How your cat makes you crazy.
The schism over global climate change (GCC) has become an intellectual chasm, across which everyone perceives the other side as Koolaid-drinkers. Right now all the anecdotes and politics-drenched "questions" flying now aren't shedding light. They are, in fact, quite beside the point. That is because science itself is the main issue: its relevance and utility as a decision-making tool.
In "Do We Really Want Immortality?," Brin predicts what would happen if, through a mix of compassion, creativity and good luck, we complete the difficult transition and manage to spread a life span of eighty- or ninety-years to everyone across the globe. Will future generations take a full life span as much for granted as modern Americans do? And will we be able to extend it even further? How long can humans live?
In this video Brin asks: Shall we lift our planet? As the sun grows gradually hotter across the next 100 million years (unrelated to our current climate change problems), Earth will grow uninhabitable. Brin shows why current concepts for how to shift our world to a cooler orbit are "just plain crazy." But there is another way! One that may be just crazy-clever enough that it just might work — if we take a really long view of our responsibility to take care of our nursery world. (If you'd like to read more about it, see this blog post.)
After a lifetime studying societies spanning 6000 years and five continents, Arnold Toynbee wrote that the one common thread determining success or failure appeared to be whether both leaders and the people chose stodgy obstinacy or agile flexibility whenever challenges loomed. And especially whether they gave support, invested resources, and enthusiastically backed-up their creative minorities. And hence, this time we'll peruse a potpourri of science marvels showing that agility and scientific creativity have not become endangered species.
If at first you don't succeed — give up? Well, not necessarily. Despite the bludgeon-like initial attempts at ocean fertilization, that have created crude plankton blooms by dumping iron powder into currents, dire problems still threaten. Care must be taken to make sure that (as when arid land is irrigated) the new zones of fecundity are "well-drained" (like the Grand Banks and Chile), while tackling the challenges of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, where "fecundity" can translate into a poisoned morass of algae and jellyfish.
George Orwell’s 1984 is often cited as a warning against science and technology... a terrible misinterpretation! While Oceania’s tyrants gladly use certain technological tools to reinforce their grip on power, their order stifles every human ingredient needed for science and free enquiry, creating a society that eats its seed corn and beats plowshares into useless statues.
Nothing could better indicate the turn in our national fortunes than to see science no longer dismissed as a realm of pointy-headed boffins, but viewed as part and parcel of our nation's future. If we want a resilent government and responsive politicians, perhaps it's time we restore independent science advisory agencies.
Sensible people, viewing the historical panorama of obstinacy portrayed by Jared Diamond in Collapse, might tighten their belts and pay whatever it takes to bridge the next two-score crucial years, investing in a dozen Apollo Programs aimed at developing efficient, sustainable technologies... along with vigorous conservation and stopgap measures to help us get there without deprivation or shivering in the dark.
Will bitter ideological rifts dominate the 21st Century, as they did the 20th? Or might we shrug off some of the obsolete intellectual baggage we've inherited from past thinkers who (in fact) knew much less than we do now? David Brin's questionnaire regarding ideology and human destiny pokes at the deeper assumptions that underlie the many assumptions we take for granted.
Fortunately, the politicians seem perfectly ready to welcome private space ventures, and we may — at last — be ready to embark on the equivalent of the the great age of barnstorming aircraft development that our grandparents saw in the 1920s, when risk — and even some loss — was considered part and parcel of courage and exploration. When the new frontier was legitimate territory for tinkerers (albeit, today they would be billionaire tinkerers).
The notion of gun-propelled launchers goes back to Jules Verne, and have been envisioned in numerous Sci Fi tales, including Earthlight, by Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Heart of the Comet by Benford & Brin. Now, two researchers propose that a space-capable mass driver may be feasible. James Powell and George Maise take a highly optimistic view, claiming that a system capable of launching a payload into orbit for less than $40/kg could be built using existing technology — if it were to gather substantial international R&D support.
Were the Apollo landings flukes, or fantasies, or evidence that an earlier generation was better, or more daring, than us, as cynics would like us to believe? What's more accurate is to realize that Apollo was way, way premature. Given the technology of the 1960s — your phone has more computational power than all of NASA had, back then — it's amazing they didn't blow themselves up every time. The program was a perfect example of human determination and ingenuity overcoming all obstacles of technology or common sense. But here's the thing about sudden tech spurts and long, frustrating plateaus: We may be deluded by the spurts, but we can also get too accustomed to plateaus! In fact, as models of reality plateaus are just as unrealistic.
By basing their claim on the virtues of fair play and completeness, Intelligent Design (ID) promoters employed a clever short-term tactic, but have incurred a long-term strategic liability: They assume that ID is the only alternative to Darwinian evolution. It's not. Brin's SKEPTIC magazine essay, "The Other Intelligent Design Theories" (re-published on his blog Contrary Brin) describes the numerous other alternatives to Darwinian evolution that creationists don’t want you to know about.
The one trait shared by anti-modernists of both left and right appears to be a disdain for our ability to learn and do bold new things. In reviewing Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science, Brin explores how politically-based interpretations explain much of this collapse of confidence. Alas, politics — despite centuries of hard refinement — is still far more ego-driven art than craft.
Whatever your level of involvement, you can have the satisfaction of participating in humanity's greatest endeavor. In an era when political factions and media empires are waging relentless "war on science" this trend toward active participation — supporting a climate or other pro-science campaign, volunteering for a school's STEM program, or providing some financial support for orgs and start-ups — is the surest way to support an active, vigorous, future-hungry and scientific civilization.
Increasingly, scientific consensus is failing to influence public policy. Facts, statistics and data appear insufficient to change highly politicized minds... and science has started scrutinizing why. Alas, this topic inevitably devolves down to our screwy American politics. And while every political wing has its anti-science flakes, growing mountains of evidence suggest that one wing has gone especially frenzied in an anti-scientific snit. Or else — as that wing contends — science itself has become corrupted, top to bottom, rendering "evidence" suspect or moot.
How seriously are some of our leaders in politics and industry starting to take our future in space? When will we begin "bootstrapping" our space technologies toward the goal of a Solar System Civilization? The idea is no longer science fiction alone. "Right now, the mass we use in space all comes from the Earth. We need to break that paradigm so that the mass we use in space comes from space," said one NASA official.
I share with millions a head-scratching perplexity: Why don’t more of today’s youth care about outer space? Puzzling over this quandary, I was reminded of something Norman Mailer said, when he wrote A Fire On the Moon. He began researching the book amid feelings of smug, intellectual hostility toward the crewcut engineers and fliers he encountered... only to have his attitude shift when he realized, in a startled epiphany, that "They were achieving not one, but two bona fide miracles."
Brin's scientific appraisal of the subject of parapsychology, is reprinted here. Originally written for the Public Television show Closer to Truth, "Seeking a New Fulcrum: Parapsychology and the Need to Believe in a New Transcendence" offers some perspectives you may not have seen. Perhaps parapsychology is something other than its enthusiasts imagine — not a trail leading back to ancient wisdom, but a predictor of humanity's future course.
The immensity of the universe is almost beyond our comprehension... still, we try! Here is a list of just a few interactive sites that let you zoom or scroll through the vastness of the cosmos. Scale in from galaxies to planets to buildings to atoms and quarks — or explore the realm of Time, from the Big Bang through the evolution of life on Earth and the history of humanity.
Physics, mathematics, philosophy, biology, chemistry, or physics — the eternal loop. Physics might be considered the most fundamental of all sciences, for all other sciences derive from basic principles of forces, motion, electromagnetism and thermodynamics. And yet, physical laws are mathematical models of the world; however, mathematics itself is abstract, deriving from theoretical constructs of philosophy. But, philosophy arises out of theories of mind, or psychology. The mind itself depends upon the biology of the brain... which is nothing but chemical reactions of molecules, such as neurotransmitters and proteins. And of course, chemistry depends upon the behavior of atoms and forces, which is constrained by physics.
Can entertainment actually, accurately, be prophetic? Or does life inevitably imitate art? Both. Filmmakers start with a kernel of truth, perhaps even consult with leading scientists and technologists, then take it to cinematic scale. They tell stories. The audience makes an emotional connection. And, inspired, they work to fulfill the prophecy.
If science fiction ruled the world, time travel and teleportation would be commonplace, and humanlike intelligent machines and cyborgs would be walking amongst us. But just how likely are these and other far-out ideas? A look at faster-than-lightspeed travel, invisibility cloaks, tractor beams... and the robopocalypse.
Every decade since the 1940s, some scientific breakthrough (or several) enabled the U.S. to stay rich and vibrant enough to then spend it all in the Great Buying Spree that propelled world prosperity and created a world-majority Middle Class. That is, every decade except the first decade of the 21st Century, amid the calamitous War on Science. All we have to do is rediscover within ourselves the kind of people who want to step outside, look up, and dream of a better future.
It appears that a small cabal of the "good" Billionaires — those who got rich through innovation and who feel loyal to the future — are about to to fund a new effort worth some excitement and attention. It aims at transforming not just our Earth, but the whole solar system. And, along the way, this endeavor may help bootstrap us back into our natural condition... a species, nation and civilization that believes (again) in can-do ambition. Can that be achieved — while increasing prosperity for all by adding trillions of dollars to the global GDP?
Dour folk have long held that civilized life must have negative effects upon the gene pool, leading some, a century ago, to push eugenics legislation. But there are other glimmers from the past that merit mention. For example, Karl Marx actually praised the cleverness and acumen of the bourgeois capitalist class, deeming them absolutely necessary for economic development. Their competitive creativity (and theft of labor-value from proletarians) would drive capital formation. Another maven was Arnold Toynbee. His survey of the past led him to conclude that civilizations rise when they support and eagerly learn from their "creative minority" — those who innovate useful solutions to rising problems — and fail when they don't.
This interview, from Living Planet Magazine, on the role of science fiction in exploring environmental issues and solutions.
This podcast/video interview, on mendelspod.com, discusses the role science performs in guiding us away from our "great delusions."
Arizona State University's Center for Science and Imagination, recorded Brin's answers to "five burning questions" about the future, resilience and imagination.
An interview with OMNI Reboot asks about topics ranging from AI and apocalypse to the value and basis and future of science fiction.
During LosCon 39, Adam Ford recorded an interview with Brin for his "Utopia in Exile" program. Discussion ranged from science and the future to favorite mind-stretching exercises.
This Discover on NPR podcast interviewed Brin, author William Gibson, and Professor AnneSimon about the science of Science Fiction.
A cool, fun interview: Brin answers questions about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and why it is possible that these new, genius offspring of humanity may decide not to treat us badly.
David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!). Learn More
Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form. Learn More
Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore. Learn More
Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages. Learn More
David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research. Learn More
Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy. Learn More
Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 200 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings.Learn More
Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was cited as one of the top 10 writers the AI elite follow. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others. Learn More
All the Ways in the World to Reach David Brin
"Your provocative future scenarios, your explanation of developmental trends in technology and your balanced, nuanced delivery got folks energized like no speaker we've had before. I think the truest mark of a great speaker is their popularity in the hallways afterward, and on that score you again exceeded all expectations. It was great to see how many groups self-organized to discuss the issues you raised for the remainder of the weekend."
"More than any writer I know, David Brin can take scary, important problems and turn them sideways, revealing wonderful opportunities. This talent shows strongly in Kiln People, a novel which is deep and insightful and often hilarious, all at the same time."
"Brin is a physicist of note who has been a NASA consultant, and he knows how to turn the abstractions of particle physics into high adventure.... He excels at the essential craft of the page-turner, which is to devise an elegantly knotted plot that yields a richly variegated succession of high-impact adventures undergone by an array of believably heroic characters."
— Thomas M. Disch, EW.com
"Terrific feedback from everybody involved, David. Our people found it stimulating to converse with someone who has perspicaciously synthesized so many surprising patterns in human behavior and technology (enthusiastically) and who offers positive, pragmatic suggestions for our company evolution. One team member left 'with all kinds of ideas and motivation for being creative and innovative, both at work and outside.'"
For all its beauty, honesty, and effectiveness at improving the human condition, science demands a terrible price — that we accept what experiments tell us about the universe, whether we like it or not. It's about consensus and teamwork and respectful critical argument, working with, and through, natural law. It requires that we utter, frequently, those hateful words — "I might be wrong."
On the other hand, magic is what happens when we convince ourselves something is, even when it isn't. Subjective Truth, winning over mere objective fact. The will, triumphing over all else. No wonder, even after the cornucopia of wealth and knowledge engendered by science, magic remains more popular, more embedded in the human heart.