Human Behavior

The End for ‘Brittany’s Bill’? Legislators Balk at Doctor-Assisted Suicide for the Terminally Ill

Brittany Maynard’s battle with virulent brain cancer was compelling and heartbreaking, but today it wasn’t enough to sway key California lawmakers. Her decision to end her life last year at age 29 galvanized a campaign to make it legal for doctors to prescribe lethal drugs for terminally ill patients, but this morning the sponsors of the End of Life Option Act shelved the bill until next year, acknowledging that for now, they lacked the votes to secure passage in the Assembly Health Committee.

Speech Saver: Anticipating Upheavals, Project Aims to Preserve the World’s Languages

You’ve probably experienced that unique combination of loss and rage when your computer’s hard drive suddenly crashes, erasing years of work files, financial records, and precious photos in an instant. What if that happened, asks linguist Laura Welcher, of the nonprofit Long Now Foundation, on a civilizational scale?

“Over the span of millennia, you have to expect there to be upheavals in society, times when knowledge is lost,” she says. (Think the Library of Alexandria.) How do we safeguard human knowledge from these future upheavals?

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

Parts Department: The You that Survives into the Next Century May be Mostly 3D Printed

The future will be an exciting time to be alive, if for no other reason than it will be so much easier to survive.

We’ll have a bewildering variety of replacement parts for our organs and limbs. Stubborn diseases will be tamed by exotic treatments. New technologies will enable not just better living, but new ways of living. And the human body will reveal all of its secrets in response to our probings in… (dramatic pause) … the year 2000.

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

No One Gets Hurt: Why the Future of Crime May Be Less Violent and More Insidious

Among the various anxieties that currently plague affluent modern society, cybercrime surely ranks near the top. It makes sense; as data comes to define our lives to a greater and greater degree, the specter of some unseen hacker pilfering our information with impunity or emptying our bank account with the click of a mouse is justified cause for concern. But perhaps we should consider the alternative.

By way of illustration, consider two robberies of fairly recent memory—one old-school, the other new.

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

When Cancer Strikes Twice: “Being a Dancer Has Saved My Life in So Many Ways”

Brianna Mercado is tired of telling the same old story.

“It’s a cookie-cutter cancer story and I’m so much more than that,” she told a crowd last year at a TEDx talk.

Today, the 24-year-old UC Berkeley graduate and inspirational speaker has been asked to tell the story so many times that it’s become rote. But how can you truly express the fears and pain of knocking on death’s door not once, but twice? How do you verbalize it in a way that can make people understand the trauma and the terror?

The Good, The Bad and The Robot: Experts Are Trying to Make Machines Be “Moral”

Good vs. bad. Right vs. wrong. Human beings begin to learn the difference before we learn to speak—and thankfully so. We owe much of our success as a species to our capacity for moral reasoning. It’s the glue that holds human social groups together, the key to our fraught but effective ability to cooperate. We are (most believe) the lone moral agents on planet Earth—but this may not last. The day may come soon when we are forced to share this status with a new kind of being, one whose intelligence is of our own design.

Anthropocene Now: Has the Human Race Created a New Geological Epoch?

There’s no question that humans have drastically altered the environment. But just how drastically? As a member of the Anthropocene Working Group, UC Berkeley paleontologist Anthony D. Barnosky works with an international team of geologists, archaeologists, biologists, and historians to determine whether humans have changed Earth’s geology and atmosphere enough to merit the establishment of a new geological epoch, and if so, when that should begin.

From the Spring 2015 Dropouts and Drop-ins issue of California.

Survival Secrets: What Is It About Women That Makes Them More Resilient Than Men?

Two women face each other at a small table at the back of a café in Berkeley. A hot autumn sun pulses through the glass. One of the women, sturdy in a chambray shirt and large glasses, shakes her head with a false smile: “Then I just lost it.”

Her friend, a slightly older 60-something in running shoes, her lean left knee tucked below her chin, nods in understanding.

Online Hams, With a Side of Wry: How Product Reviews Became Performance Art

When news broke last December that a sick Disneyland visitor sparked an outbreak of measles, opponents of the anti-vaccination movement took to Twitter and Facebook in outrage. But as the disease laid low more than a hundred people in seven states, some turned instead to Amazon.

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