October 18, 2012 @ 10:00 pm
Using this report from the National Academy of Science as inspiration, NOVA does a good job showing the weaknesses of some techniques. Of course, being NOVA, it spends a lot of time shaking its pom-pons for even newer techniques that will fix those problems. Autopsies of virtual bodies stored long after the real ones have decomposed, virtual crime scene archives (scanned with lasers), ever better pattern matching algorithms. As someone interested in game theory and science fiction, though, I can't get past the GATTACA problem. Any technology can be abused. Any rules can be subverted. For instance, as in the movie, genetic evidence is very easy to plant at a crime scene. Suppose you do have a virtual autopsy or a virtual crime scene. How long before someone hacks your digital archive and changes the files? It's the Red Queen's Dilemma all over again.
Well, maybe. On the other hand, violent crime has been going down, mostly, for the last few years, or the last couple of decades, or for centuries, depending on who you talk to. Ironic, considering how our weapons keep getting better and better (rhyolite spear point to rhyolite arrowhead to steel sword to gun). This decrease in violence has lots of supposed causes, from religion to abortion to economics to Hobbes's Leviathan to Steven Pinker's idea of a moral arms race. A particularly controversial idea, by an economist named Gregory Clark, who I mentioned yesterday, is that genetic and cultural evolution is at play, that poverty and violence have declined because the poor and the violent have lower biological fitness, and they've been dying off. Clark is not a biologist, and lots of people seem to hate his idea. None of them appear to be biologists, either.
Is humanity still evolving genetically? That seems like a basic question that we should know the answer to by now. I just interviewed Luke Harmon, a BEACONite who studies exactly those kinds of questions. It was a long interview, and it will likely be a few weeks before it's up, but here's his web page to whet the appetite. Several of his papers are available for free.