Archive for April, 2019

You can’t spend a whole week talking about space and not mention Sci-fi.  The two go hand in hand as generations of NASA scientists grow up watching Star Wars, Star Trek and a host of other fare that gets them excited about going where no man has gone before and exploring galaxies that are far, far away.  Discovering non-mainstream Sci-Fi that appeals to you, that appeals to a particular niche interest that you may have, isn’t always easy though.  Thankfully, there’s a new book recommendation engine that can help with that: the Science Fiction Concept Corpus.

As Wired explains, “AI Researcher Bethanie Maples has been reading science fiction since she was given a copy of Dune at 10 years old. Still, two decades and nearly 1,000 books later, the self-described sci-fi fanatic struggles to find books that delve into her most niche interests, like the link between AI and transhumanism. So last year, while working at Stanford’s Human Computer Interaction lab, she teamed up with data scientists Eric Berlow and Srini Kadamati to create a book recommendation tool based on more than 100 salient sci-fi themes, from hyperspace to magical feminism.”

Compiled from plot descriptions, book reviews, and user generated meta data tags the Corpus is capable of scanning a collection of over 2,600 hundred books written since 1900 to make relevant recommendations. But I can do you one better with a recommendation of my own: check out James Corey’s Hugo award winning Expanse series of novels and then check out the show, one of the greatest of all-time, on Amazon Prime!

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Is the Science Fiction Concept Corpus the Greatest Idea Ever?

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In Avengers: Infinity War Dr. Strange claims to have seen 14,000,605 possible futures with their only being one future in which our heroes prevail.  It’s this information that Strange presumably uses to his advantage to set events in motion that will result in the Avengers emerging victorious in End Game. But what if instead of only seeing 14,000,605 possible futures he could have seen millions more?  What if he could have literally seen every possible future? Would that extra information give him even more of an advantage against Thanos?

This isn’t merely an interesting thought experiment.  It’s now reality thanks to the creation of a new quantum device allegedly capable of seeing every possible future.  Well, that’s the hope at least.

According to Futurism, “For now, [with] the quantum computer built by Griffith University and Nanyang Technological University scientists can hold two superpositions of 16 different possibilities, according to the research. It also uses less memory than a classical computer would, suggesting it could outperform classical systems at certain tasks.”

Since quantum computing is such a nascent technology it’s really difficult to imagine exactly how things will play out.  Especially since we don’t have a time stone at our disposal.  But if the early indications and researcher’s enthusiasm are to be believed then we could be on the verge of something very special happening.

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Is seeing every possible future the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I just put the finishing touches on a book about the history of innovation that clocks in at a whopping 432 pages!  That’s a lot but it pales in comparison to the 30 million page book that an Israeli startup is sending to the moon!  Known as the Lunar Library the book will serve as humanity’s knowledge backup just in case anything happens to the inhabitants of Earth.

As Futurism puts it, “Right now, a backup copy of humanity’s collective knowledge is on its way to the surface of the Moon.

The lander was built by the Israeli startup SpaceIL. It’s carrying a high-tech disc containing 25,000 books, a full copy of Wikipedia, and information on understanding Earthly languages — the equivalent, all told, of a 30 million-page tome.”

Amazingly, this isn’t the only such archive in the works.

According to CNET, “The AMF [Arch Mission Foundation] also placed a small test archive on Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster that was launched in the direction of Mars aboard the first Falcon Heavy demonstration mission last year. That archive consisted of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy encoded in a disc made of quartz silica glass made to last millions of years as the Roadster orbits the sun. The AMF has also placed a solid-state copy of Wikipedia on board a cube sat from SpaceChain in low-Earth orbit.”

Eventually, the goal is to spread out this information in even more places throughout the solar system and across the cosmos ensuring that humanity will always be covered no matter where we go or what winds up happening to us.

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Is a Lunar Library the Greatest Idea Ever?


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A few years ago I wrote about a life form detector that I hoped would save me from getting attacked by snakes, scorpions, bears, and all of the other wildlife that I might encounter while hiking.  Sadly, such a life form detector doesn’t exist.  At least not in the form that I’m imagining.  But that may be about to change thanks to a new invention.  One that could one day help us phone home to E.T.

As Futurism puts, “A new scientific instrument with the extraordinary name ‘TreePolspectropolarimeter’ can be used to detect the presence of lifeforms from several kilometers away.

And while right now the device is best used for spotting faraway plants, a high-powered version of the tool could someday serve as the most reliable means of searching for extraterrestrial life…”

That’s right.  We could one day have a device at our disposal that would let us detect life forms wherever they may be residing.  Even if that is on another planet!

Currently astronomers have to use guesswork to infer that a planet could be hospitable to lifeforms.  For instance, if a rocky planet with a stable atmosphere resides in the Goldilocks Zone around its sun (not too close and not too far) then there’s a chance that life, at least life as we know it, could reside there.  But life may be more resilient than that.  It may reside on a planet’s moons or on an asteroid and it may not even be a carbon based life from at all.  Having tools to help us locate life, wherever it may be, it whatever form it may come in, and to do so from a great distance away would be a tremendous breakthrough.  One that could help us to rewrite the history books and answer the question of whether we’re alone in the Universe, once and for all.

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Is an interstellar life form detector the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Despite everything that’s going on and the very real fear that our planet is becoming increasingly uninhabitable I would still want to live forever if I could.  And as crazy as it sounds this concept is no longer merely relegated to the realm of science fiction.  Instead it’s becoming a very real possibility thanks to the development of a new quantum material that could one day let us download our brains.

According to Futurism, “The new quantum material, described in research published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications, is a ‘nickelate lattice’ that the scientists say could directly translate the brain’s electrochemical signals into electrical activity that could be interpreted by a computer.”

Such technology, once fully developed, could then be used to detect neurological diseases or even retrieve memories.  Obviously we’re still years away from turning this theoretical concept into a viable product but the latest research does go to show that we’re making significant progress on achieving something that would have been unimaginable only a few short years ago.

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Is downloading your brain the Greatest Idea Ever?

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As we continue to worry about Climate Change, fret about the fate of our favorite characters on Game of Thrones, and shake our heads at the last thing that President Trump tweeted, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that one of humanity’s greatest achievements recently occurred: taking a picture of a black hole for the very first time.  An astronomical accomplishment.

As Science News puts it, “black holes are notoriously hard to see. Their gravity is so extreme that nothing, not even light, can escape across the boundary at a black hole’s edge, known as the event horizon. But some black holes, especially supermassive ones dwelling in galaxies’ centers, stand out by voraciously accreting bright disks of gas and other material. The EHT image reveals the shadow of M87’s black hole on its accretion disk. Appearing as a fuzzy, asymmetrical ring, it unveils for the first time a dark abyss of one of the universe’s most mysterious objects.”

And yet some people were complaining that the image was too blurry! What?! We’re talking about an image of a black hole! One of the most infinitesimal objects in the known universe.  And one that’s more than 50 million light years away to boot!  A feat that we only pulled off by literally turning the entire planet into a giant telescope! To be able to see anything at all is a miracle unto itself.  And yet people complain about the image quality!  Sheesh!

We shouldn’t allow the haters to dampen our enthusiasm for this accomplishment though.  For this is one of the greatest scientific achievements of all-time and just the latest in a long line of recent physics related breakthroughs from the discovery of the Higgs Boson to the detection of gravitational waves.  At our current rate it’s likely only a matter of time before we’ve figured out what Dark Matter is and shined a “light” on all the other mysteries of the Universe.  Making this an extremely exciting time to be alive.  Even if we don’t realize it with everything else that’s going on around us.

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For the first time ever a black hole was imaged.

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China is planning on creating both an Artificial Sun and an Artificial Moon in order to generate limitless clean energy and brighten up the nighttime sky.  Surprisingly, the Artificial Sun project may actually be the more realistic of the two projects despite the fact that it involves achieving the elusive goal of generating fusion power.  A long sought after milestone that may finally be within reach thanks to new breakthroughs.

As Futurism reports, “In November, Chinese researchers announced that the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor — an “artificial sun” designed to mimic the nuclear fusion process the real Sun uses to generate energy — had hit a milestone by achieving an electron temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius.

Now, officials are saying they believe they’ll wrap up construction on a new artificial sun this year, and they claim this device will be able to hit a milestone in ion temperature — putting us one step closer to harnessing the power of nuclear fusion.”

But that’s not all.  The Chinese also want to take things one step further and create an Artificial Moon as well.  One powerful enough to light up the night sky.

According to Time, “Scientists are hoping to hang the man-made moon above the city of Chengdu, the capital of China’s southwestern Sichuan province, according to a report in Chinese state media. The imitation celestial body — essentially an illuminated satellite — will bear a reflective coating to cast sunlight back to Earth, where it will supplement streetlights at night.

Scientists estimated that it could be eight times more luminous than the actual, original moon. It will also orbit much closer to Earth; about 500 km (310 miles) away, compared to the moon’s 380,000 km (236,000 miles).”

While I think this idea has merit I also fear that it may create light pollution, hamper astronomy efforts, and further clutter low earth Orbit.  However, China’s other moon related ambitions won’t have such negative side effects.  Quite the contrary.

According to Futurism, “A Chinese rover is currently exploring the far side of the Moon, and an official announced on Monday that the country’s space program plans to launch three more lunar missions  with the goal of laying the groundwork for an international Moon base.”

In fact, China may be specifically looking into whether or not lunar soil would be a suitable material for 3-D printing habitable structures.  The Chinese have also been attempting to germinate seeds away from Earth for the first time, succeeding initially before suffering a recent setback.  But as their overarching space ambition has demonstrated, they aren’t likely to be deterred by some initial failure. Which should make the rest of the world a little bit hopeful and a little bit scared as well.  For a highly motivated China with interstellar ambitions is likely going to be a force to be reckoned with as their Artificial Sun and Moon projects go to show.  Which begs the question: what’s next?!

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Is an Artificial Moon the Greatest Idea Ever?

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