Science poses challenges as we begin the fateful “fourteenth year”

== Science Gets Bigger ==

It used to be that most scientists pursued research on their own professorial salary.  Then came the glory days of Edison and Bell Labs, funding themselves out of near-term investments by eager moguls with an eye on the 5-year return horizon.  Alas, although there are certainly examples of both, nowadays, they are no longer probing the cutting edge. Commercial product development is fine, but it creates no seed corn.

The lesson? Science is getting harder!  We’ve plucked a lot of the low hanging fruit. “Return on Investment” that’s well beyond 5 years is not the sort of thing any corporation will invest in. So, we decide to do these great things together.  Yes I said that hated word – “we.” And while there are innovative new ways for “we” to engage in such collaborative endeavors (e.g. KickstarterPetriDish, and Microryza and RocketHub ), you and I both know how it still must be done, if you want major efforts to assault major zones of the unknown.  How “we” can – by general, majority consensus – choose to pay into a fund that hires great teams to push back the shadows for us!  And yes, it is called “taxes.”

curiosity-rover

Seriously. I defy you to find more spectacular efficiency and exceeded expectations than exists in a wide swathe of government-funded scientific research which, with a tiny sliver of the overall budget, laid the groundwork for vast industries by inventing jet planes, helicopters, GEO rockets, satellites, telecom, pharmaceuticals, genomics, and um… the Internet?

But let’s make it simpler by focusing on NASA. And sure, I have been in the field long enough to point to some horrific examples of waste and bloat.

On the other hand, can YOU land a spectacular roving science lab on Marsdangling at the end of a winch, hanging from a rocket, suspended from a parachute, that detached from an aerobraking shell that threaded the eye of a needle, like firing a bullet into a specific window in Manhattan… from Los Angeles? I’d pay ten times the share of my taxes that NASA gets, just to watch that happen again.

And you actually listen to dopes who say “government can never do anything well”? WHY would you ever listen to such fools about anything, ever again?

IAAMOAC-CIVILIZATIONLet me tell you what I did when Curiosity landed... stumbling in a daze of sheer, unadulterated joy, I staggered to the nearest window — exactly as Peter Finch demanded that a nation do in that movie NETWORK screaming its passion to the sky — only with one… small… difference… as I shouted to my neighbors and to the stars:

“I AM A MEMBER OF A CIVILIZATION THAT DOES SHIT LIKE THIS!”

That’s what I shouted!

What?

You mean you didn’t do that?

Really?

 ==Transcendence to Godlike Powers==

transcendenceSci Fi News alert: Transcendence is a coming film about – well – a singularity propelled by AI. My hope and expectation, based on certain linguistic turns of phrase, suggest to me hope that it won’t be another cliche. Here are some teasers. The official trailer can be found at  www.transcendencemovie.com.

Will Google Glass make us goo-godlike?  One researcher sees a combination of computational imaging and new-form-factor, camera-equipped devices will allow for a set of what he described as “superhero vision” capabilities.  Of course I portrayed this long ago in EARTH and more recently in EXISTENCE.  But now these notions are hitting mainstream.

Okay, the biggest recent step toward Augmented Reality (AR) is this: The Structure Sensor plugs in to any iPad and makes a detailed 3D image of your surroundings. It can map an entrance foyer or a motorcycle’s cylinder head with full measurements for every edge, to 1% error. Uses abound, but something like this is essential for AR.  The Kickstarter is massively overfunded.

Something-big-comingSpeaking of godlike powers, when the brilliant algorithm-genius Stephen Wolfram claims that “something very big is coming,” we had all better pay attention. In the context of Wolfram|Alpha, Mathematica, CDF and many other breakthroughs — “…something amazing has happened. We’ve figured out how to take all these threads, and all the technology we’ve built, to create something at a whole different level. The power of what is emerging continues to surprise me. But already I think it’s clear that it’s going to be profoundly important in the technological world, and beyond.”

Wow!  Only let me add this. In our rapid forward leap into the cybernetic age, there has been one iron rule. Developing new and rapidly improving HARDWARE has been relatively easy. Software, on the other hand has lagged terribly. (I believe something like this helps to explain the quirky-jerky way that human evolution developed, over the last half million years; indeed, it may help to explain why human beings so vastly and rapidly overshot the level of tech-sapience we needed, in order to become masters of the planet.  It might even shed light on the Fermi Paradox and why we seem so alone in the cosmos.)

In this mix of fast and slow, the Wolfram teams have played a unique role, breaking through glass ceilings of software capability, time and again. I am eager to learn more.

Looking ahead to other big advances…On MindMeld, authors including Geoffrey Landis, Gregory Benford, Julie Czernada and Ken Liu discuss Science Fictional Technologies that are just around the corner…

Meanwhile, Motorola Mobility (Google) has filed a patent for a “throat tattoo” that would allow users to subvocalize input and commands without audible sounds… now why didn’t I patent when I laid it all out in EARTH?  And oops… did I just invalidate Motorola’s application?

==  More Science! ==

Introducing the DARPA Robotics Challenge winners: THOR (Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot), CHIMP: CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform, and NASA’s Humanoid Valkyrie are among the walking, climbing and driving robots of the next generation… 

Do some asteroids contain heavy lumps of  quark matter? One possible kind of “dark matter” might have settled into the sun and planets, sinking to their cores.  But one proto planet was shattered into asteroids! So lumps of that old core might still be out there, behaving oddly… and helping to explain the recent surge of interest in asteroids…?

Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims: This list will help non-scientists to interrogate advisers and to grasp the limitations of evidence, or so says Nature.

Dark-matter-experiment

The Large Underground Xenon experiment looks directly for the invisible particles thought to make up dark matter.  It’s truly hard, since it’s been calculated a dark matter particle might pass through a block of lead.

200 light years long with only a 50:50 chance of interacting with the normal atoms (except via gravity.)  This is a nice piece of science journalism… though I’d have liked a paragraph about how they subtract the inevitable flashes from Neutrino hits.

Cracked gives us us a glimpse of five ways that language skews your perceptions.  Worthwhile.

Scientists have now discovered sizable freshwater reserves underneath the seabed on the continental shelves around the world. It is estimated that a staggering 500,000 cubic kilometers of low-salinity water exists off the coast of North America, Australia, China and South Africa, potentially yielding vast water supplies that could delay – what researchers believe to be – a “… looming global water crisis.”

A cool photo essay on “Earth Ship” style homes.  A valuable lesson on a positive trend… though in fact it takes specialized tools and knowledge to do a few of these things… like ramming old tires packed with dirt. Still, well worth a look and pondering.

In a breakout study that should have been made decades ago, researchers have compared fertility to aging to death rates in widely diverse orders of life, from plants to hydras to reptiles and mammals. The “normal” patterns we are used to seem not to be so prevalent,  after all, putting a crimp in most theories for why we age.

Oh…. what did I mean by “fateful 14th year”?  Wait and see….

1 Comment

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One response to “Science poses challenges as we begin the fateful “fourteenth year”

  1. When I found out that Gaia successfully launched and got into L2 orbit the other day…that would have been a joyous thing to go out onto the street and shout to all the neighbours.

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