Let's start with a fascinating rumination on future Infrastructure… major projects -- such as Tube Transportation networks and atmospheric water harvesters -- that might consume (and be well-worth) hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, and returning far, far more in benefits. Take a look at this article 2050 and the Future of Infrastructure by futurist Thomas Frey...though he left out half a dozen that I mention in EARTH, alone!
An article - The Trouble with High-Speed Trains - covers the challenges facing high-velocity maglevs -- as well as Elon Musk's Hyperloop.
Looking ahead: Five “next” technologies. For example: DARPA researchers have fabricated a prototype with three gyroscopes, three accelerometers and a highly accurate master clock on a chip that fits easily on the face of a penny.
Now, a new catalytic system for converting carbon dioxide (CO2) to methanol — a key commodity used to create a wide range of industrial chemicals and fuels. You still need a source of hydrogen, so energy must be put in, upstream, by splitting water… another area of developing research. Along those same lines, researchers at Brown University use copper foam to turn CO2 into useful chemicals -- including chemicals currently made from fossil fuels.
A new transparent sheet can harvest solar energy -- mounted on windows -- without blocking the view.
Researchers at NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology, and Pennsylvania State University have developed a 3D printing process that transitions from one metal or alloy to another in a single object.
Now here is a cool innovation… literally! A doorless refrigerator that saves energy and reduces food spoilage.
== Ah… more singularity stuff ==
An excellent background article on Programmable Matter, this piece nevertheless commits the typical flaw of ignoring the role that excellent hard science fiction has played in enhancing, exploring and drawing attention to a potentially groundbreaking field.
In this case, I highly recommend the works of my colleague Wil McCarthy, such as Hacking Matter: Levitating Chairs, Quantum Mirages and the Infinite Weightlessness of Programmable Atoms.
Google Glass hack allows brain wave control. An EEG headset can be used to measure when certain parts of the brain show a greater level of activity. Within Google Glass's "screen" - a small window that appears in the corner of the wearer's right eye - a white horizontal line is shown. As a user concentrates, the white line rises up the screen. Once it reaches the top, a picture is taken using Glass's inbuilt camera. So much for the claim that people will always be warned by: "OK Glass, take a picture" - or by seeing the user tapping and swiping on the side of the device. But seriously, you expected that to last? This is the future.
Can we create Dyson spheres?
A tech forecast of mine from 20 years ago is coming true today at MIT… a needle table that responds to the user’s motions and emulates him/her in moving objects around. We aren’t yet at the exercise floor I portrayed in my short story, “NatuLife.” But clearly it is coming.
Smart roofs to help NYC Cops fight crime, via ShotSpotter sensors. Now keep the cops professional by watching them.
Microsoft Research introduced “Project Adam” AI machine-learning object recognition software at its 2014 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit. The goal of Project Adam is to enable software to visually recognize any object .
A California startup is developing flexible, rechargeable batteries that can be printed cheaply on commonly used industrial screen printers.
== Programming and SciFi ==
Regarding a longstanding complaint over a lack of reliable-easy access to entry-level (and universal) programming languages… from my famous “Why Can't Johnny Code?” essay… the makers of Scratch have now come up with Scratch Jr, aiming it squarely at kids in the 5-7 year old range. Interesting.
And finally… here are Ten Sci Fi Novels that will make you more passionate about science! Glad to be included -- with my novel, The Practice Effect.
Pessimists are fools.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)
First some personal science news. I will be speaking about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) twice, early in 2015. (1) at the conference of the AAPT - the American Association of Physics Teachers, January 4-6, 2015, in San Diego...
... then (2) I'll be the "con" arguer in a debate over "messaging to aliens" at the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Annual Meeting - the greatest scientific conclave on the planet, from 12-16 February 2015, in San Jose, CA.
And now... cool stuff!
== Are we a target? ==
... or rather... really hot stuff! Did you hear that a solar storm spewed forth a major spray of energetic, charged particles that passed very close to the Earth, a while back? Read up on the 1859 Carrington Event that fried telegraph systems -- if it struck today, our electronics-dependent civilization could suffer real damage. Contemplate that... then consider this. There may have been a truly monumental coronal mass ejection around the year 775 that hit the Earth with a strength that was about 20 times the 1859 Carrington Event.
And yes, the solution is to get out there! Members of Congress introduced a bill to protect property rights for commercial exploitation of asteroids. The bipartisan legislation, introduced by Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), is called the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act. Alas, during our current civil war, there is no chance of an actual political process in the USA. But when this phase ends, as it must, the bill will be ready for action by a restored, scientific and forward-looking nation.
Have you heard stories about this supposed reactionless drive, “unveiled” at a NASA conference in Ohio? I've put in a query to Geoff Landis - NASA scientist and renowned SciFi author, who promised to watch developments and give us the straight dope... or poop. To be clear, there are some places where we already can do a version of this -- turn solar energy directly into motion, without using reaction mass or rocketry -- e.g. by applying electrodynamic tethers to leverage against the Earth's magnetic field...
…but only where there is an electron rich zone like the Van Allen belts to close the circuit loop. Interestingly, electomagnetic tethers work in exactly the realm you must climb through before deploying a solar sail. (See this process illustrated in both my short story “Tank Farm Dyamo” and in the first chapter of EXISTENCE, which I read aloud for you, here.)
Meanwhile. NASA released high-quality footage of their experiment in near-space in June, deploying the agency’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) and experimental parachute systems that will be helpful in maneuvers and landings near planets, like Mars. Way cool footage!
Oh but we really need to get out there! Dig this — “Within a two-week period in August 2013, astronomers observed three massive volcanic eruptions on Jupiter’s moon Io. The grand finale was an eruption they say was one of the brightest volcanic eruptions ever observed in our solar system. These astronomers are speculating that these eruptions on Io – which can send material hundreds of miles above the little moon’s surface – might be much more common than they previously thought."
We should have a satellite observatory in-residence above Jupiter, permanently.
Meanwhile, researchers have found a microbial menagerie that thrives in tiny water worlds floating in oily tar pits ... perhaps a model for life on Titan?
== And yet more from space! ==
Cosmic grains returned by the Stardust mission predate the solar system -- may be our first samples of interstellar dust. This is amazing. And crowd-sourced amateur science played a role!
Are many asteroids “rubble piles” held together by molecular forces, in addition to very weak gravity? It seems that is the case for near Earth crosser 1950 DA… and the implications — for resource-mining as well as countering potentially dangerous ones — are very complicated. It is a good thing we are forging forward to find out. Alas, the Space.com reporter might need to get straight the meanings of “centripetal” vs “centrifugal.”
Under ideal conditions, the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) should be able to detect two kinds of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmospheres of alien worlds, if atmospheric levels were 10 times those on Earth. In other words, if aliens are self-destructive fools, we might catch them during the brief window of time. But only if it is orbiting a very dim star.
Is the Universe a Bubble? If two pocket “universes” make physical contact, there are several possibilities. M-brane theorists think the collision would release so much energy that the resulting bang would wipe out any galaxy-style realms that existed before. On the other hand, researchers at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, think the interaction could be mild and show up in the maps we are now making of the microwave background. “We start with a multiverse that has two bubbles in it, we collide the bubbles on a computer to figure out what happens, and then we stick a virtual observer in various places and ask what that observer would see from there.”
Want more about the multiverse? See Exploring the Multiverse -- a talk given by astrophysicists Brian Keating (UCSD) and Andrew Friedman (MIT)... and me.... We covered the ELEVEN different ways (that we have thought-of, so far) that this cosmos we observe may be just one of many! The event took place at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UCSD on July 29.
Here's a photo from our panel discussion: Brian Keating on the left, Andrew Friedman in the middle, me on the right:
== Space is also for dreams ==
Finally... do you miss the "final frontier"? The notion of a hopeful future of unbounded possibilities? Do you like well done sci fi and drama and neat effects... in a terrific Kickstarter-level production? Have a look at the 20 minute "Prelude to Axanar" at:
http://startrekaxanar.com/ All of it aimed at a high quality, semi-pro indie Star Trek film.
You have to hand it to Paramount Pictures. They figured out that you don't have to be jerks about policing a copyrighted franchise. Start Trek has always had a close and friendly relationship with its fans and Paramount has kept a very loose and tolerant attitude toward "unofficial" productions, many of which have been well-written and entertaining... and which ultimately kept Paramount's valued core healthy. A true win-win.
But Axanar looks likely to be something special. This is Star Trek at its best. The danger and tension and action... mixed with joy and optimism that you get nowhere else, these days. This is worth your support.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)
We're getting together to talk about Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future , a project that Stephenson kicked off -- I've got a story in it called "The Man Who Sold the Moon."
The project's mission is to promote "Asimovian robots, Heinleinian rocket ships, Gibsonian cyberspace… plausible, thought-out pictures of alternate realities in which... compelling innovation has taken place." Tickets are $5.
== Toxins, Viruses and Parasites ==
By some estimates, your body houses ten times more bacteria than cells with your DNA. But that is only the start of our humiliation! DNA surveys now suggest that humans have thousands of viral species in and on us. Most of them likely coexist within our gut in peace and harmony. This notion - of relatively harmless viruses that therefore have escaped notice by science - has been around a while. It features prominently in my short story “The Giving Plague.”
The importance of the micro-biome - the vast array of symbiotic bacteria living in human bodies, especially the gut, was portrayed vividly in a 1930s novel by Aldous Huxley -- After Many a Summer Dies the Swan. But only now are we truly dialing into the importance of what Huxley then called “intestinal flora.” Now read how scientists are at last uncovering hints of huge communities of viruses that lurk below our notice, possibly affecting our health. We have a lot to learn.
Seems that that engineered probiotic bacteria (“friendly” bacteria like those in yogurt) in the gut produce a therapeutic compound that inhibits weight gain, insulin resistance, and other adverse effects of a high-fat diet in mice. “Of course it’s hard to speculate from mouse to human.” In fact, we are finding ever more longevity-related mouse results that have no bearing on humans! Still…
(BTW Huxley's novel is very good, if perhaps placid-paced by modern tastes. And it turns out on the last page to have been science fiction, all along! In any event, it should be required reading for singularity-immortality guys and gals.)
Our Microbiome may be looking out for itself. Both Greg Bear and I have been talking about this for a long time… Greg in great detail in transfixing novels. Is your micro-biome affecting your behavior… for its own self-interest? We know that the paramecium Toxoplasma may be altering the personalities of perhaps half a billion people.
In our guts, bacteria make some of the same chemicals that our neurons use to communicate with one another, such as dopamine and serotonin. And the microbes can deliver these neurological molecules to the dense web of nerve endings that line the gastrointestinal tract. A number of recent studies have shown that gut bacteria can use these signals to alter the biochemistry of the brain. Compared with ordinary mice, those raised free of germs behave differently in a number of ways. They are more anxious, for example, and have impaired memory.
Funny how we're on a role about symbiosis between micro-organisms and macro-fauna today. It's all interconnected. As Greg Bear shows in Vitals, Kim Stanley Robinson showed in the Mars series, and I discussed in Earth (especially) and in Brightness Reef.
You can have your personal microbiota tested at companies such as uBiome.
== More biology! ==
See a chart tracking the Ebola virus's disturbing and deadly spread through Africa.
Speaking of strange interactions between the micro and macro... Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) is a single-celled parasite that has infested many modern human societies that keep cats, and as many as 60 million americans. Its subtle effects may include warping personality! (And sometimes physical illness.) Now some researchers claim that TG may be a good model for stimulating the immune system against cancer. Okay. But don’t go rushing to sniff your cat’s litter box. As I said, TG may be doing humanity vast harm by affecting our personalities, exacerbating our rising inability to negotiate and solve problems. In any event, we see no correlation between TG sufferers and reduced cancer levels. Still, maybe there’s a usable connection. Let's hope this pans out. Go science.
More on microbes, pathogens and parasites: Eight diseases to watch out for at the beach.
And while we're on the subject... Creepy slideshow: World's worst parasitic worms.
And in Wired: How Life made the leap from single-celled to multi-celled organisms.
Then there's... Shocking” news about electric eels and other voltage producing fish: "They're using the same genetic tools to build their electric organs in each lineage independently.”
Tiny Flying Robots Are Being Built To Pollinate Crops Instead Of Real Bees. And sure, there’s a chilling aspect — which the Greenpeace site very cleverly conveys with this creepy satire, reminding us that cautionary criticism is the only way to expose possible errors….
Still, those who deride any and all forms of technological remediation as inherently bad, e.g. that it might reduce the imperative to save real bees, have got something wrong with their perception of human nature. It is possible to move forward in many directions, at once, toward the goal of saving the world -- as it was both consciousness raising and high technology that enabled us to save the whales.
And yes, while top priority goes to reducing our impact-damage and preserving the natural ways. (I am taking part. Having provided bee swarms with makeshift shelters in the past, up on a nearby hill… I’ve now set up a real hive box… why not?) Still, our worst problem is single-minded monomaniac prescribers, who declare that there is only one, zero-sum, answer to anything. We need to move on all fronts, at once.
You will spend some time exploring this interesting — and disturbing — graphic: A Disappearing Planet, charting genuses and species bordering on extinction. Amphibians are in real trouble. Heck we all are. Though there's still hope.
Can we stop a killer fungus killing off amphibians?
Do offshore wind farms create fecund artificial reefs? Seals who cluster and forage seem to think so.
Remain agile. Let's learn to be good planetary managers.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)