Life: Extension, Existence and Extrapolation

Top news… if it proves out… The amplituhedron, a  jewel-like geometric object at the heart of quantum physics: As a physicist, I find this one of the most exciting advances (again, if true) in quite a while. Einstein said something like “follow the elegance” and if this is true, then it is elegance. It is also lovely in its weirdness.

== Health, Lifespan & Such ==


Why are American Health Care Costs So High? A bizarrely sensible and entertaining perspective from author John Green.  And amazingly, it is not political!  Well, it does demand reason and common sense and a willingness to step away from pre-conceptions… so nowadays just doing that is a political act.  But do watch it.

A study shows for the first time that lifestyle changes — in diet, exercise, stress management and social support — may result in longer telomeres, the parts of chromosomes that affect aging.

Oh, but a century won’t suffice, no?  A kickstarter campaign seeks funding for The Last Generation to Die, a provocative short science fiction film about the near future when we must wrestle with the arrival of age reversal or rejuvenation.  The tradeoffs and emotional quandaries. And for my own take on the tradeoffs, take a look at my essay: Do We Really Want Immortality?

While we’re on the subject, see Larry Page’s most recent effort to use his wealth (with some help from friends) to fund Calico, a win-win initiative to fight aging and disease, and help us all to live longer.

GrouchyFutureAh, but more and more we are splitting between those who are (sometimes recklessly) gung-ho about the future and those who are (often dyspeptically) grouchy about it.  This one is sure to spark screaming matches: Adderall for All: A Defense of Pediatric Neuroenhancement.

== It’s about Life! ==

A stunning example of terrifying yet inspiring animal altruism. A giant leopard seal tries to teach a diver how to survive.

Actually, now that I think about it… the story is almost identical to a scene in Existence!

Aw heck, recall the G’Keks in Brightness Reef? In the spirit of last week’s discovery of an insect that uses gears, watch this short video about the incredible tongue of a hummingbird, an astonishing organ that works in a way never before known. Another bio-engineering marvel! But the greatest feats may be yet to come…

FreemanDysonSimply flat out mind-boggling cool:  Freeman Dyson on Warm-blooded Planets in the Outer Solar System .  I attended this talk by my brilliant friend, whose stunning ideas about “greenhouse organisms” that could sustainably colonize and “green” icy moons in space, is utterly fascinating.  This was at the recent Starship Century conference at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.

== And artificial (gulp!) life! ==

I’ve been warning you folks about the billions that Goldman-Sachs and others are pouring into High Frequency Trading — that this investment will not only warp and distort financial markets in hugely unfair ways, but that also might threaten us with the very worst kinds of emergent artificial intelligence (AI). In a new paper, Abrupt Rise of New Machine Ecology beyond Human Response Time, researchers have studied these ultra-rapid computational processes and determined that: “far from simply generating faster versions of existing behaviour, we show that this speed-up can generate a new behavioural regime as humans lose the ability to intervene in real time.”

They add that “transition to a new all-machine phase (is) characterized by large numbers of sub-second extreme events.”  They even use some terminology similar to mine, concluding that these results are: “consistent with an emerging ecology of competitive machines featuring ‘crowds’ of predatory algorithms.”

== Space Updates! ==

The next year or two should be big for planetary science.  A possible (unlikely) “comet of the century“… plus another comet skating past Mars. The Dawn mission will reach Ceres in 2015. The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft will be escorting the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko around the sun that year, while NASA’s New Horizons mission will be reaching Pluto and its moon Charon.

Getting a little closer to home… So cool. You get to see what no ancestor saw before 1960: a full rotation of the moon.

Even closer. Congratulations to Orbital Sciences for launching a supply capsule to the space station in September. Competition with SpaceX is a good thing.  Though the two endeavors are not exactly comparable. For example, while Elon’s SpaceX has developed its own new rocket and thousand innovations entirely in-house, Orbital Sciences is struggling to find a reliable engine for its rocket: “The NK-33 engine that powered Antares’ first flight was built decades ago by Russia’s Kuznetsov Design Bureau and is no longer in production. Further, Orbital is uncertain about the quality of Aerojet’s remaining stockpile of 23 NK-33s.” Well, they are at least proving there’s a niche for clever recycling!

Aerobraking? That’s for sissies! How about … litho-braking!  In a recent test, ESA researchers sent a prototype careening into 10 tons of ice at a deceleration of 24,000 times the force of gravity.  The main shell of the payload survived the deceleration “scuffed.”  Next up: tests containing electronics.  Possible an ideal penetrator to study the oceans of Europa?   Oh, so many questions, first!

Extraction… will the recent interest in asteroids stay stoked?  Scientists have searched through the current database of around 9000 near-Earth objects looking for those that could be maneuvered into an accessible orbit by changing their velocity by less than 500 meters per second.  Researchers conclude that 12 asteroids meet this criteria.  They call this new class of asteroid “Easily Retreivable Objects” or EROs.  I have been backing this kind of idea ever since reading John Lewis’s pioneering and visionary MINING THE SKY: Untold Riches from Asteroids, Comets and Planets, way back in the 1980s.

NEOShieldPreventing extinction-level events: The European-backed NEOShield Project aims to develop defenses against killer Near Earth Object (NEO) asteroids.  Their plans include orbital reconnaissance, as well as the hypothetical launch of kinetic impact spacecraft that would deflect problematic asteroids from their earth-bound trajectory. Watch the animated simulation video.

==Next Steps in Exploration==

China announced Wednesday that it plans to put a rover on the Moon by the end of the year. The Chang’e-3 Lunar probe will include a six-wheeled lunar rover, which will work on the surface for about three months. China’s goal: landing humans on the Moon. Though there is competition. Private space company Golden Spike plans to land a person on the Moon by the year 2020.  And while China is aiming for the Moon, another great Asian power, India, is aiming to put a probe in orbit around Mars this Fall.

And finally…

Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you…and start your life moving in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you ear to what you do with your time tonight…turns you into who you are tomorrow and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you’d be…but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in.

Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.

– Astronaut Chris Hadfield

(See this quote illustrated on Zen Pencils)

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