Galactic Self-Reproducing Probes? (Plus tweet-ready miscellany!)

HideBigBrotherCropFirst a note: my op-editorial, If You Can’t Hide From Big Brother, Adapt was syndicated around the world in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune and a longer version, Snooping vs. Privacy: Lessons for an Age of Transparency in the Christian Science Monitor, among other venues, offering a little wisdom about the value of calm pragmatism in the defense of liberty and safety in the Information Age.

Oh, and regarding a matter that’s “completely different”: In The Immortality Debate“Decision theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky, biologist PZ Myers, author David Brin and moderator Eneasz Brodski discuss the potential pitfalls and implications of human immortality – both biological and socio-political. Disagreement on the desirability of indefinite lifespans leads to a fascinating conversation.”  

== Are alien probes already in our solar system? ==

It’s Easier for Aliens to Visit than previously thought: George Dvorsky lately reported – on the ever-brash io9 site – about recent calculations suggesting that “Von Neumann” self-replicating probes, (which I’ve put into my fiction since 1983) might be able to “fill the galaxy” — leaving one copy at every star in the Milky Way — within just 10 million years after the first such probe was launched into space.

That is a mere eyeblink, in comparison to the Milky Way’s 10-to-12 billion year age, or its 220 million year rotation rate (at our distance from galactic center.) This new calculation is based on a number of assumptions.  First that Einstein rules. Sorry, no warp drive or even traveling faster than 10% of the speed of light.  In other words, it’s a robotic mission.  (Though, as I show in Existence, that doesn’t mean it can’t be ‘human.”)

Second, while the traditional Von Neumann probe would decelerate into the next star system, then use asteroidal resources to make and launch its copies, the recent paper by Nicholson and Forgan, offers a unique version, based on a speculative notion: that probes might gather enough raw material (and energy) to copy themselves while hurtling across the cold, black near-emptiness between stars. By building its daughters out of interstellar atoms — not having to stop and mine asteroids — a mother probe might drop one into a system that it passes and toss others at varied angles past the new sun, using a slingshot effect to hurl them in varied directions with great efficiency.

I’m rather skeptical of the core assumption — building robot copies extirely from collected interstellar atoms… but I’m willing to ponder it, maybe in a future story!

OpenLetterAlienLurkersIn fact, I have been working at this general topic — both as a scientist and as a science fiction author — ever since I attended the Los Alamos conference on Interstellar Migration around 1983, when Jones and Finney first analyzed the rate at which such “Von Neumann probes” might be able to set a daughter in place around every star in the galaxy.  By the way, they calculated a figure even lower than Nicholson and Forgan.

Of course, the question of why we haven’t yet encountered such probes in our solar system is provocative.  It makes the already puzzling problem of the “Fermi Paradox” or Great Silence even more daunting. Folks can read a dozen reasons why such probes – lurking in our solar system – might choose not to respond, even to earnest entreaties that have been made already, by radio and internet. Or else, read more about SETI.

I chose to make this quandary, in fact, the core element of Existence.

That is less a “plug” than simply a followup and offer to those of you who wish to follow up this teaser with scads and skeins of threads leading in new directions. There are many quirky aspects to this one idea, and the number of possible variations can be mind boggling. Even (especially) to the voraciously curious!

== Amazing Miscellany ==

It can be difficult to know what’s real and what’s fake when it comes to digital art these days. But don’t torture yourself worrying about it now: Here are some of the most photorealistic 3D renderings on the web.

Bites from a voracious tick known as the Lone Star are leaving some suddenly allergic to red meat.  Unlike most food allergies, the symptoms typically set in three to six hours after an affected person eats beef, pork or lamb—often in the middle of the night. The bite that seems to precipitate it may occur weeks or months before, often making it difficult for people to make the link. Geez one could come up with a dozen sci fi scenarios behind this one. Hm. Villainous PETA conspirators… honey, call agent!

Daily closing of India and Pakistan Border crossing — a terrific show. Almost a Monty Python comedy skit, but actually kind of encouraging as it is choreographed and sure beats use of nuclear weapons!

== TWEETable Highlights! ==

Bowing to the inevitable, I have decided to do my latest dump of amazing miscelklany in handy, tweetable bits, for your convenience! That means both linking and displaying the web URLs.  We’ll see if folks like this.

How the Tesla Model S is made — Behind the scenes: a wonderful video.

adriftRivers and tides of fog and clouds and air, flowing around the bridges of San Francisco.  A gorgeous video homage – Adrift by Simon Christen.

xkcd offers perspective on the changing pace of modern life. Still… Twitter lobotomizes.

Forty websites that will make you cleverer right now!

AmericaWaterwaysGorgeous view of America’s waterways…Zoomable map highlights extensive #USGS data 

New life for hobbled planet-hunter #Kepler? Microlensing could allow continued search for #exoplanets 

Quirky Quark Quartet…First particle containing four quarks is confirmed 

We need a Fixer not just a #Maker Movement

The difference between Geeks & Nerds — based on Twitter Research:

This Robotics Dad makes me feel wholly inadequate as a father!

Chinese anti-pervert stockings. Girls wear these hairy panty hose to deter men with inappropriate intentions.

Flash Mob – re-enacts Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

Ten epochal inventors who did not get rich.

Existential Star Wars: If Sartre had co-written StarWars!

Here’s what Elon Musk’s new project may look like:

Ten of the scariest aircraft landings caught on video.

Like Synthpop electronic music?  Try “Drunken Saucer Attack” and others by Talin.

The great Pitch Drop experiment.  Since 1927, only eight droplets of the decade-slow goo have plummeted from funnel to cup.  Finally, caught in the act!

All right, this is fascinating. Why are testicles kept in a vulnerable dangling sac? It’s not why you think.

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