Nasa Seven Seconds of Terror


I’m exhausted today, it’s been a really long intense week. So while I relax I’m thinking in a different direction: GPS.

I’ve been reading an awesome book called Pinpoint by Greg Milner and it has had me thinking in so many directions. It’s hook says its about How GPS is changing Technology, Culture and our minds. I suspect most reviewers touch on it pretty lightly because some of it is pretty geeky, although it is very readable. What is really scary is how much we rely on GPS for everything we do, which explains why there are so many projects to come up with land-based solutions for PNT.

Because it is Saturday and I am trying very hard to not think about work, I have gone off on a different tangent, which is space exploration. On Earth we now have the capability of measuring the centre of our potato shaped planet to about a centimeter, which makes navigation pretty accurate in 3 dimensions, although this doesn’t mean driverless cars can navigate to that degree, because whilst the car knows exactly where it is, it still requires phenomenal datum to know where the road is, but I’m getting back into work mode.

So when they get into space exploration, as Tomas Martin-Mur, a NASA engineer said, “The symbol I like to use is that we navigate the spacecraft by looking in the rear view mirror.”

I thought to myself that it is therefore obvious having disastrously lost spacecraft going to Mars, that the logical solution would be to invest in putting satellites around Mars and then as they travel further into our solar system, doing the same with other planets. First they can then avoid the seven seconds of terror

and then they can navigate usng the timing signals of Earth and Mars based satellites and then when the have a third planet set up, they will really start to be in a position to navigate accurately.

Why? For a start it means they can land accurately because they know where they are or will be despite the limitations of time and space. Secondly there are potentially all sorts of materials for harvest, potential for scientific research into how we came to be here and lots of commercial benefits.

I think Elon Musk is playing the big game and not just about getting to Mars, but given reduced budgets in the Space Race, he s potentially putting himself in the drivers seat, both for Mars exploration and establishing bases or even hotels there, but also as a forerunner to space exploration.

Isn’t it ironic that the man behind Tesla (the driverless car I’m not talking about because it’s a bit too close to work) is able to fund research that ‘The Greatest Country on Earth’ can’t? Of course as soon as they are successful, the revenue potential for his company SpaceX is astronomical if you will pardon the pun.

Of course on the other side of the world Richard Branson has figured out the same thing. Whilst Virgin Galactic is promoting paid space flight trips and I have friends eagerly awaiting their turn on flights they have already paid for, Branson is also talking Satellites. After all its not good for business to lose a commercial spacecraft full of some of the wealthiest and most influential people on the planet.

As Branson says “This is rocket science.” The video also says that the 700 people signed up is more than have been in space more than have been in space in the history of space travel. It also points out the profound impact that each traveler on the ‘return trip’ will bring back to their communities around the world.

So, its been a fun distraction. It is amazing to me that a few individuals with very BHAGS (Big Hairy Aggressive Goals) are changing the world where Governments appear not to want to look that far into the future, whilst they know they need and want the outcomes. I guess that is the difference between people who are in it until the next election vs people who are committed to the outcome no matter what. When Branson was asked if he came near to giving up after the crash of his first spaceship, he said he never came near to giving up.

I am inspired by people who keep their eye on the prize. It gives me hope that sticking with my minuscule in comparison goals, such as encouraging citizens to use real time travel information to make smarter decisions on their journey plans to minimize the impact on their own journeys and in doing so, ensure that growing cities can prosper even though they are land poor and can’t keep up with the travel needs of their citizens.

We each have a place in society, whether it is the taxi driver, the person clearing tables in a food hall, or an entrepreneur who sticks with his guns despite everyone who says “You can’t do that.” I just wish I could live a hundred years and see where humanity goes. Will we be egocentric or ecocentric?

Are you still with me? What do you think?

 

Singularity and ESI’s


I always thought of singularity as being when supercomputers end up being able to match human intelligence. One of the early science fiction films that influenced me in my youth was 2001 A Space Odyssey. I loved all of Arthur C Clarke’s books,but HAL 9000 was my first introduction to the concept of a computer that thinks, reasons and has emotions. I’ve often thought  that if a computer reached that level, it would consider humans to be animals to be eradicated as quickly as possible. The way we humans behave is often totally irrational and inappropriate, we are actively destroying our planet and instead of working together to fix it.

So I was somewhat surprised to read of research by organisations such as DARPA working on the concept of singularity as being a combination of genetics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. I don’t know why I was surprised. First, the concept of Ubermensch probably goes way back before Nietzsche, perhaps even to da Vinci. Some people consider Nietzsche to be the inspiration for Hitler’s concept of the Aryan master-race.

Over the years we have seen many films such as The Terminator, TV shows like The Six Million Dollar Man and it is only logical that for many reasons, the military, NASA and others need to be able to modify humans to be more powerful. The military can use people who have super vision, night vision, extreme strength and resilience and of course if we are going to send people into space for long periods of time, wouldn’t it be easier if they were able to withstand low or no gravity for long periods of time, perhaps very high gravity, be able to thrive on different diets, different atmosphere etc. Just adding a little justification here.

One of the first areas that the concept of enhanced human beings is a result of the medical world finding ways to aide humans who have had injuries or other conditions, for example having lost an arm or a hand. It is now only mildly surprising to see people with a stump, manipulating a prosthetic hand and managing complex tasks.

The BeBionic Hand in the video above is due for release in June of this year and will make a huge difference to many people. Of course the military and those who can afford it, can add this type of enhancement technology to the able bodied. Imagine having an exoskeleton that would allow you to lift a 200 pound weight 500 times in a row. With millions of dollars of funding from DARPA, Sarcos, a recently purchased subsidiary of Raytheon has built the XOS Exoskeleton which can do that, it’s real technology, not something out of a Marvel comic or a SciFi movie. It’s very real.

They call this a Combat Robot, but imagine the other uses. For example imagine the uses of a suit like this for civil defence emergencies, after an earthquake, or rescuing people from a major motor accident. I’ve said it many times before: Science Fiction is becoming fact at a pace that is mind boggling.

I’ll finish for now with eyesight. Imagine being able to see and focus way beyond what humans can normally do. Did you know that Tiger Woods used to have -11 eyesight, which is about as short sighted as you can get. According to TLC Eye Centres, he wouldn’t have been able to see the ball without glasses until he had Lasik treatment. They say that he now has eyesight significantly better than the average person and that this contributed to his golfing success. According to a story on the Slate website, many athletes are being targeted by marketing offering them an advantage by enhancing their eyesight when there is nothing wrong with it. Last year I wrote about Tanya Vlach who was trying to get someone to provide her with a bionic eye. Checking out her blog, she hasn’t achieved her goal yet, but I suspect she will.

If you’d like to know more about enhanced humans and DARPA, I’ll leave the last word to Wired Magazine who have an excellent article (already 3 years old) about some of the amazing developments that have probably already been dramatically improved on and we haven’t even started on nanotechnology.

Haptic Virtual Reality Suits


Lots of people escape the world through the internet, some with games, perhaps web environments like Second Life, but what’s happened to Virtual Reality that promised so much so many years ago. From what I understand the only thing really holding things back is the cost.

One thing that I would love to see is Sport VR. Imagine if you could don a suit and be your favorite All Black or soccer star. You could see what they see and feel (desensitised off course) the tackles and the thrill of the game.

There are already a range of body suits such as the Inlabs Motion Capture Suit that can be used to capture body motion data for a variety of purposes. These can be used for sports medicine, training and biomechanical research. Forms of this technology have been used to help develop movie models for animation, allowing models to look like they are real by taking motion information from people.

VR is used by the military to train pilots and the US Navy has VR parachute trainers so that they can experience everything, the visuals, the thump when the chute opens and the harness touch points grip your body.

In the future VR will support remote medicine using robots to perform surgery. In some cases the surgeon will be there, in other cases it might be through telemedicine where experts can influence or control surgery remotely from anywhere in the world with reliable broadband connections. Micro surgery is already taking place today which is far less invasive and allows recovery to be much quicker than normal.

VR would make a lot of sense in remote and dangerous locations, for example space exploration. There are major issues with space travel where the distances, event to other planets in our solar system represents years in each direction. Wouldn’t it be great if we had the dexterity (or better) of a human without having to actually send a human to Mars.

Virtual Reality is a natural progression of technology that we have already become used to. Look at the number of phones inlcuding iPhone and Windows Mobile devices from brands such as HTC which have gyroscopes that recognise which way the device is facing and automatically change the screen format accordingly. Wii fitness has become incredibly popular, combining a video game with exercise has rapidly propelled Nintendo back into leadership in the TV games world.

Worlds like Second Life, using VR could mean that the avatars become totally lifelike and the whole gaming world is in for a shakeup. Imagine all the action games where you are actually running and shooting, driving and crashing cars and feeling all the bumps and hits.

Of course the more fun this becomes the greater the risks that people will prefer VR to real life. In Japan there have been problems for a number of years where children prefer to stay in the rooms every day just living on their computers and don’t want to go into the real world. They are known as hikikimori. People like that are now appearing around the world, where virtual reality is preferable to real life.

Of course there are those who are elderly or severely disabled where VR could give them some semblance of normal experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t. Imagine being restricted to your bed or a wheelchair, but being able to experience the sensations of walking or running, or even sex.

I won’t delve too far into this, but the ultimate in safe sex could be VR sex. People who are severely disabled, or who find it difficult to find partners could have their experience without risk. It appears that they haven’t yet been manufactured in a form that is safe, but it is coming. Michael Anissimov has some good ideas and I will leave the last word to him from his accelerating future blog.

 

In Vitro Grown Meat – Feeding the Future


The other day I was thinking about the proposed manned Mars trip and trying to get my head around how to feed a number of astronauts for a 1,000 day trip in a small space craft. The thought was started while reading an article about Cosmic Rays, which are a potential threat to astronauts, but that is entirely another discussion.

Our planet today has a number of problems in being able to feed a growing population, which combined with major droughts in some parts of the world and heavy rains in others, exacerbated or caused by global warming, we are already in a situation of food crisis. If you are reading this blog, you probably don’t personally have a problem, but the problem is nevertheless there.

The first problem, which is the most difficult, is poverty. According to the World Hunger Education Service, almost 1 billion people have incomes of no more than US$1 per day. That doesn’t buy a whole lot of food.

Given the climate conditions, growth of population, finding the ground to plant sufficient crops that are not labour and water intensive is difficult and another issue is lack of certain key needs such as proteins.

One option for this going forward could be to grow food in vats. All kinds of food could be grown in vats and they have been doing this in Science Fiction books for close to 100 years. Now vegetable matter, fungus and yeast are relatvely easy, meat is a different story.

As I continued on my thread, I was thinking about chicken being one of the most popular if not the most popular meat being eaten today. The way they bread chickens in poultry farms for meat or eggs is commonly regarded as cruelty although the farmers will argue that they have little choice.

Tissue engineering is a science that has been around for quite a while. In fact if you have a child today, you already have the option of harvesting the stem cells from your baby’s umbilical cord. Cordbank in New Zealand offers cryogenic storage of your baby’s umbilicus, so that if your child ever got cancer and needed fresh stem cells, they are there and ready. The Stem Cells have your child’s exact DNA, so there are no risks of rejection if they are needed and at this stage they have no age damage. Stem cells have the inherent ability to become pretty much any human organ.

Tissue engineering has the potential to not only save lives, but also to prolong it. In future it could be used to help people recover from brain injuries and perhaps condiions such as Parkinsons Disease. It can help with regenerating heart tissue and much much more.

It can also be used to generate food. Distasteful as it may sound, I’m sure in the future if you were offered fish chunks that were made in a lab in a double blind test with real fish of the same sort, you would struggle to tell whch one was real. This isn’t Sci-Fi, it has already been achieved. One of the motives for this research was the type of space travel I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.

If you could eat nice white chicken meat that was tender and had the same texture you expected, but no chickens were mistreated or battery grown in cramped conditions, i.e. no sentience and no pain. Why wouldn’t you? If you could provide healthy food to millions of people in environments where they otherwise couldn’t get it and would suffer from malnutrition and eventually die a horrible death, why not?

I’m not sure what, if any research in tissue engineering is happening in NZ, but we have the credentials to do it and government support for biotechnology. In the medical world there is plenty happening such as the orthopaedic research at Otago University. If I’m lucky, I could live longer because of this research. I would love to see 120 or 130 years on this planet, and not vegetating in a rest home, wouldn’t you?