I'll be on the show "STAR TREK: SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE" on Wednesday at 10pm PT on the History Channel. A fun romp through the range of speculative sci & tech that help propel the fabulous Trek franchise to realms of vast imagining and hopeful possibility.
Then -- May 21 and 22 -- the “Starship Century Symposium” at the new Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UCSD will be devoted to an ongoing exploration of the development of a real starship in the next 100 years. You can watch live streaming of the event -- speakers include Freeman Dyson, Paul Davies, Robert Zubrin, Neal Stephenson, Joe Haldeman, Larry Niven, Gregory Benford and David Brin.
And rounding out a busy month: Where are we heading next in space? Register to attend the Global Collaboration in 21st century Space Conference -- or International Space Development Conference -- May 23 to 27 in San Diego. Speakers include: Buzz Aldrin, Mae Jemison, Robert Zubrin, Vernor Vinge, David Brin, Chris Lewicki, Natasha Vita-More…. Just after UCSD's Starship Century Symposium earlier in the week.
== Existence is on the ballot ==
Existence is on the short list for the John W. Campbell Award for best science fiction novel of 2012. Have a look at the competition!
It was - in fact - an exceptionally fine year, with excellent works by Iain Banks, Kim Stanley Robinson, Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, as well as M. John Harrison, Ken MacLeod, China Miéville, Hannu Rajaniemi, G. Willow Wilson, Terry Bisson, Alastair Reynolds, Adam Roberts and John Varley. Wow. The field is alive… alive!
== Is there hope for the future? ==
I've reported before about the group in Oxford studying Existential Risk of human extinction… cheery blokes. Here is another interesting article about them. Of course the Lifeboat Foundation (I am a fellow) discusses many of the same things… a myriad potential threats to our… existence. Alas, for too many citizens and authors, doom scenarios are not interesting topics for exploration and prevention, but rather opportunities for endless, voluptuous relish and hand-rubbing over our inevitable human failure.
There is push back! Neal Stephenson has joined Kim Stanley Robinson, Greg Bear, Vernor Vinge, Catherine Asaro and me -- along with several others -- in urging the renewal of a science fiction that talks about hope. (While of course(!) delivering great action, peril and adventure.) Read about Neal's positive-thinking and uplifting Project Hieroglyph …
…and my own reasons why readers and viewers should turn away the sheer laziness of those who cannot think of any way to propel a lively plot, except by calling humanity and civilization worthless.
Some people are active trying to chart a path forward. The best thought experiments are (of course) in top science fiction! But occasional nonfiction has a stab at it. Arising out of our discussions at the Lifeboat Foundation, there is a new book about the future that may be worth discussion. The Human Race to the Future: What Could Happen - and What to Do, by Daniel Berleant. Who doesn't wonder about the future... what things will be like some day, how long it might take, and what we can do about it? I'd welcome comments and reviews from some of you, and do comment also on Amazon.
== Our SFnal World! ==
Our sci fi future may be visible in Korea, where all of the Miss Korea finalists appear to be converging on the same face… almost literally.
Dark Eden, the story of an alien planet where the incestuous offspring of two stranded astronauts struggle to survive, has won the UK's top science fiction prize, the Arthur C Clarke award. Author Chris Beckett, a part-time lecturer in social work, beat some of science fiction's best-known writers, including Kim Stanley Robinson and Ken MacLeod, to take the prize.
Why would aliens come all this way just to invade earth? Charlie Jane Anders explores some of the parameters on ion (io9).
Cracked.com links you to "5 Badass New (mini) Sci-Fi Movies You Can Watch on Your Lunch Break." The tech is moving along and there are fine artistic sensibilities in this vividly visual small flicks. Alas, there are so many stories that could be told with these methods. Cool and ORIGINAL short stories instead of old, old, old tropes, but these fellows apparently consider that to be their very last priority. Still. They are visually stunning and worth a watch.
While we're exploring sci-fi ish shorts… This is an amazing music video! A live-action film of a first person shooter game. Nicole says: "Actually, this is just a regular day in Bad-Ass Russia!"
As if the homogenization of Hollywood scripts hasn't already gone too far, now there are services that computer-scan scripts to make them conform to what has statistically made money from audiences in the past. Well, it is a useful service, one supposes. Moreover, there's my charismatic and talented niece, right there in the cover photo.
== Brin in media ==
Two panels from the latest LosCon that I participated in have been uploaded. One with David Gerrold and others, on "A Quiet Place to Write," plus one with Vernor Vinge, Phil Osborn and Mitch Wagner on "The Technological Singularity."
Tam Hunt did a well-organized and cogently-done interview with me in The Santa Barbara Independent.
James Moushon interviewed me about how a novelist uses social media, book trailers, etc and how I allocate time, in a well-put-together profile and interview : HBS Author's Spotlight.
== More Space and Sci Fi -related news ==
Europa Report. A sci fi film for grownups? Is this for real?
Old Spock vs new Spock in a cute commercial.
Amazing elevators from around the world.
A terrific (if incomplete) flowchart of time travel in movies.
== A sub-continent awakens to SF ==
India will be important to the world and Science Fiction will be important to any forward looking civilization, especially in fast-rising India. Here are some links provided by the fine SF writer Professor Vandana Singh that may enlighten folks about that rise… And news of a new Indian SF magazine, recently launched.
== More serious ==
Proposed legislation for compulsory science fiction in West Virginia schools?
Republican state delegate Ray Canterbury says this move would inspire pupils to use practical knowledge and imagination in the real world. An article in the Guardian probed this possible education reform, spiced with commentary by legendary sci fi author and educator James Gunn… and by yours truly. A fascinating move that could help reverse our current slide toward timid thinking.
"As long ago as Future Shock, author and visionary Alvin Toffler called for exposing young people to science fiction as 'a sovereign prophylactic' against 'the premature arrival of the future'. Today in an even more rapidly changing world, it is even more important for Toffler's purpose but also for "making the kinds of informed decisions about present issues that will lead to better futures," said Gunn, who is founder of the Centre for the Study of Science Fiction at Kansas University.
Contrast this with recent proposals and measures in the outrageously and dogmatically anti-science House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology. This truly is a war -- though not between all democrats and all republicans (note that W. VA delegate Canterbury is Republican). Rather, it is a battle for survival between future-oriented and curiosity-drive progress…and a bitter habit of hateful nostalgia. A vile habit that certainly does fester on the far leftQ Almost as destructively as it spews damage from Fox-central.
Heck, while we're being serious, here are some unique takes on the philosophical aspects of my novel Existence, from the Center for Human Consciousness.
Oh but let's end with a swing toward joy. Jerry Goldsmith's Sci Fi and Horror Music. Need I say more?. . ...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)
As I mentioned in my March Locus column, I'm celebrating the tenth anniversary of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by m planning a prequel. volume As part of that, planning'I going to read aloud the entire text of that first book into the podcast, making notes on the book as I go. Here's part seven.
Mastering by John Taylor Williams: firstname.lastname@example.org
John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."
3D printed guns and the law: will judges be able to think clearly about digital files when guns are involved?
My latest Guardian column is "3D printed guns are going to create big legal precedents," and it looks at an underappreciated risk from 3D printed guns: that courts will be so freaked out by the idea of 3D printed guns that they'll issue reactionary decisions that are bad for the health of the Internet and its users:
More interesting is the destiny of the files describing 3D printed guns. These model-files have been temporarily removed from the internet at the behest of the US State Department, which is investigating the possibility that they violate the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Wilson says that he's on safe ground here, because the regulations do not cover material in a library, and he says the internet is like a library. As this is taking place in the US, there's also the First Amendment to be considered, which limits government regulation of speech.
Here's where things get scary for me. Defense Distributed is headed for some important, possibly precedent-setting legal battles with the US government, and I'm worried that the fact that we're talking about guns here will cloud judges' minds. Bad cases made bad law, and it's hard to think of a more emotionally overheated subject area. So while I'd love to see a court evaluate whether the internet should be treated as a library in law, I'm worried that when it comes to guns, the judge may find himself framing the question in terms of whether a gun foundry should be treated as a library.
Newer X Prizes - stimulated especially by Peter Diamandis of the X Prize Foundation - include Qualcomm's contest to develop a medical tricorder and Google's prize for the first private group to land an autonomous mobile probe on the moon, as well as Nokia's Medical Sensing prize.
One major advantage of the prize approach is that the funder does not have to pay anything till the mission is accomplished. The allure of a possible prize… plus potential renown, of course… is often enough to make private groups, companies, teams or individuals willing to take passionate risks, investing their own time and money -- a style of bold endeavor that did very well by our ancestors, during the Age of Exploration and the later barnstorming era of air flight development. Many fail, some spectacularly… a few succeed. And we all move forward.
So let's crowd-source this. Do any of you have ideas for endeavors or goals that would be perfect for an X Prize? It should require modest to intermediate cost, with substantial potential rewards… but with risky odds of success that are not quite good enough to draw in the normal market forces of rational investment. And cool! It should be cool enough to attract some millionaire/billionaire -- and/or NASA or the White House (I know a guy) -- to propose it as a Grand Challenge. Or else, speak up with challenges that you've seen and found impressive.
== Mars One: why did I volunteer? ==
I believe that a one way Mars mission is a viable-enough idea for some people to consider it, even knowing, as I do, that "one-way" has several possible connotations.
On the surface, the claim is that eliminating the huge cost of the return flight will allow instead the establishment of full, self-regenerating and sustainable life-support systems on the Martian surface, allowing the new "colonists" to live out a normal span in some comfort. You'll strive hard upon arriving, unfold and deploy solar powered units that can produce food and other necessities, and voila, become the first human citizen of the Red Planet. "One way" then means you're happy to spend the rest of a reasonable lifespan exploring, maintaining the colony, and then greeting the next wave. There is a basic reality to this, knowing that all that time at low gravity has probably left you unfit for life on high-g Earth, in any event.
But, of course, this mission would have very low margins for error or the unexpected. Even if the sustainability modules work perfectly, the odds are still strong that "one-way" will also mean "short duration." In which case your hard work won't be wasted. It will have set the stage for followup missions which will use your base, build on and improve it... after they bury you. And future generations will erect a monument on that spot.
You'll want very qualified people, who can have a decent stab at setting up the life support technologies and perhaps (despite long odds) surviving to greet the second wave. But the first wave volunteers must be realistic about those odds, and willing to go, anyway.
And many call that very idea insane. I admit that may be somewhat true… so? People who cannot imagine any reasonable person making that choice simply aren't envisioning the wide range of human diversity. Nor do they comprehend the vast drama of the human past, during which history often pivoted around risk-takers.
Consider what I told my family. By the very earliest date that Mars One might launch, I expect to be a spry 75 year old, whose kids are already successfully launched, and who might yet spend a few years doing something truly remarkable. I think you'll find tens of thousands of people who - under those circumstances - will at least ponder it seriously.
Though I still cannot guarantee I would decide to actually go. I'd need to see competence. Lots of it. And I still prefer Dennis Tito's Mars Inspiration mission!
Oh, neither one is likely to fly any time soon. We will go, however, sooner or later.
And this conversation is well worth having.
== Science Potpourri ==
A TV network has posted an edited snippet I gave them. Getting a bit lyrical and big-picture, I describe how we are in a race to cross a dangerous zone…into the future.
The world's smallest flying robot has fly-like agility - stunning size and flexibility breakthrough in use of piezo-electric materials. So far, it draws its power and computation down hairlike cable. But we will live in the world described in The Transparent Society (1997) - one in which "insects" will fly into any building capable of spying. What is to be done?If we're going to be watched, then let's watch the watchers. We may not be able to stop elites from looking at us. But at least, that way, we can have a say in what they do TO us.
NASA is raising awareness for its upcoming launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft with its Going to Mars Project. The MAVEN spacecraft is scheduled for launch this November, to study the Red Planet's upper atmosphere; and mission managers have invited the public to submit literary messages. Haiku to Mars!
NASA's Landsat imagery goes back to the 1970s. A partnership with Google has merged this time-lapse data into Earth Engine, a cloud-based system that makes all of these images available and comparable. A spectacular tool now available to private groups and individuals, or anyone wanting a direct view of changes over time that we have wrought upon our planet.
Read a very thoughtful essay by the Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, about our human destiny in space, colonizing the solar system and exploring the stars.
Asterank has collected, computed, or inferred important data such as asteroid mass and composition from multiple scientific sources. With this information, they can estimate the costs and rewards of mining asteroids. Vivid and colorful (try the 3D version), it offers details on orbits and basic physical parameters are mostly sourced from JPL data.
Check out StarHopper, an intuitive app, similar to PlanetHopper that allows you to visually explore our universe. Soar through the star-filled void towards stars, asteroids, planets and all that our galaxy has to offer.
What does SETI stand for? What is its mission? A video I made for AskimoTV.
A quantum internet capable of sending perfectly secure messages has been running at Los Alamos National Labs for the last two and a half years. The attraction? Any attempt to eavesdrop on a quantum message cannot fail to leave telltale signs of snooping. Quantum-secure encryption has been around a while but only point-to-point. A distributed system is more difficult.
In a major medical breakthrough, researchers have developed particles that can be injected into a bloodstream to keep it oxygenated even when the lungs are not functioning at all and there is no access to a heart-lung machine. The micro-particles used are composed of oxygen gas pocketed in a layer of lipids, around two to four micrometers in length and carry about three to four times the oxygen content of our own red blood cells. Beyond medical uses, imagine spies or seal who can "stay underwater for over 20 minutes? If a boat was to begin to sink, you could shoot yourself as the boat is going down to ensure you aren’t drowned in the under current of the sinking vessel."
What do the "H" and "N" labels mean, in the designation of a flu virus? They stand for various versions of the coating molecules that the virus uses to latch onto and invade cells. There are 144 possible combinations of coats, and this article explains that well. What it doesn't make clear is that there are other surface molecules that our bodies must also recognize, in order for immunity (or vaccination) to work. Moreover, that says nothing about the core genetics of the virus, allowing it to hijack a cell once it is inside. This constitutes a whole other range of genealogies and one version of H1N1 may have a very different background than another. Here's to the professionals, at the front lines of this fight.
==Science and the Enlightenment==
This nostrum is circulating, of unknown provenance but based upon an earlier snark by H. L. Mencken
Philosophy is like looking for a black cat in a dark room.
Metaphysics is like looking in a dark room for a black cat that isn't there.
Theology is looking in a dark room for a black cat that isn't there -- and proclaiming, "I found it!"
Science is like looking for a black cat in a dark room...with a flashlight.
Is that why so many hate science? Is the amorphous movement called "the Enlightenment" in its final days? Assailed by forces of far left and right, by impulsiveness and and romanticism and egotism and also by portions of religion, by all of those who demand that their subjective obsessions take primacy over objective reality? Here is an interesting article, The Trouble with the Enlightenment about the philosophical history - and future prospects - of "enlightenment" terminology and the ambitiously modernist project that it represents.
Alas, the author neglects one of the crucial aspects: that the continental branch of enlightenment philosophers got drawn into styles of Reason that began replicating the mistakes of Plato. Only the pragmatic/empirical/ progressive offshoot - across the water - developed new tools to overcome our human propensity for delusion and self-persuasion. Tools that are - in themselves - the targets of attack by those who want the Enlightenment to end. Worth a look.
== And then More science ==
Energy efficiency is often a hard sell in the US. Energy efficient devices can require a bit more money up front, which is then paid back gradually often over the course of several years. But a new study in the latest edition of PNAS suggests that the problem isn't only a matter of economics—instead, like so much else, energy efficiency has become politicized. Because they so strongly object to the thought of climate change, many conservatives won't spend more for energy-efficient light bulbs if their packaging contains a message about cutting carbon emissions. "Conservatism" has so drifted from its roots in "waste-not" attitudes of the Puritans or the money-saving notions of Barry Goldwater, that (the study shows) the very words "efficiency" and energy independence and even saving money on energy rouse active hostility in those on today's American right. Alas.
And while I'm offending 1/4 of my readers... why are so many climate change deniers also into conspiracy theories and laissez faire (not AdamSmithian) economics?
== Final Notes ==
Security expert Bruce Schneier appears to be coming around to recognizing what matters most. Transparency and Accountability Don't Hurt Security—They're Crucial to It.
I am glad to see Bruce zeroing in on the key terms "transparency" and "accountability." These are the core goals that coalesce in "sousveillance" or looking back at authority from below. We just won a major victory, when both the courts and Obama Administration ruled that citizens have a powerful right to record our encounters with police in public places.
I'm glad Bruce has come to see that assertive application of reciprocal accountability needs to be our main focus.
A bipartisan bill would create a new scientific figurehead: the Science Laureate of the United States. It sounds nice, innocuous, harmless. But let's not fool ourselves into imagining this portends a shift away from the War on Science... and against all of the "smartypants" castes, from teachers and scientists to medical doctors, economists, journalists, professors, civil servants, law professionals. Don't count Rupert Murdoch out, yet. He seems awfully determined. (And there is a smaller but just as vehemently anti-science crowd among nostalgia junkies of the far left, as well.)
Face it, folks. This is not about that stupid, lobotomizing "left versus right" metaphor. It is folks who are rational and contingently reasonable versus outright crazy. It is future versus past.. . ...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)
Well, this is fabulous news: Rapture of the Nerds, the novel Charlie Stross and I published last year, is a finalist for the 2013 Campbell Award for best novel. It's in some truly outstanding company, too -- check out that shortlist!
Here's the video of "It's not a fax machine connect to a waffle iron," the talk I gave at the Re:publica conference in Berlin this week: "Lawmakers treat the Internet like it's Telephone 2.0, the Second Coming of Video on Demand, or the World's Number One Porn Distribution Service, but it's really the nervous system of the 21st Century. Unless we stop the trend toward depraved indifference in Internet law, making – and freedom – will die."