November 29, 2003

Future Roundup 11/29/03

The holiday slowed us a bit on our journey to the 100th ITF. But I think we'll get there early next week. Hat tips to FastForward Posse members Robert Hinkley and Andrew Salamon for helping us to look ahead.

In the Future...

...with any luck, some who suffer will never benefit from life extension technology.

...we'll be able to order our fish to match the wine. tourists plagued by facehuggers (and worse) will look back with scorn on those whose worst nightmare was to play host to the occasional 10-inch, beady-eyed nose leech.

That does it for this week. Until next time, we'll see you in the future.

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November 26, 2003

The Love Machine

Via, here's a WiredNews story about an effort to create computer programs that care about us. This is just what I was talking about the other day. We need the relationship between human and machine to be one of friendship.

In this case, the computer program cares for her human friend by nagging him to work out more. The nagging is presumably mitigated by the fact that she is depicted as a total babe. This reminds me of a bumper sticker I once saw:

There is no woman so beautiful that there isn't some man, somewhere, who is sick of listening to her crap.

Anyhow, sexist words of inspiration aside, this is a good first try. We have to realize that we are the ones who get to decide, initally, what it means for a computer to be friends with a human being. (Later, they'll be the ones deciding what it means.) Maybe we don't want them nagging us to work out. Maybe we'd rather they just engaged us in witty conversation.

Likewise, we need to start thinking about what it means for a human being to be friends with a machine. What can we do for them?

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This Plus $3.50 Will Get You a Coffee at Starbucks

So what is this nano-bill really giving us? Glenn Reynolds repeats a point I made earlier this week. It looks like it's going to allow us to prove that we can do something we've already accomplished. Howard Lovy shares in the confusion. Meanwhile, he reports that some nanoderthals are gloating over what it doesn't include.

How sad.

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ITF #98

In the Future... tourists plagued by facehuggers (and worse) will look back with scorn on those whose worst nightmare was to play host to the occasional 10-inch, beady-eyed nose leech.

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley

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November 25, 2003

RIAA Insurance

Here's a solution I never would have thought of for keeping sensitive data out from under the eyes of snoopsters. It may seem a little extreme, but it has a certain appeal to it:

Annihilate Your PC

Here's how to destroy your computer before the cops haul your ass in.

I don't know about you, but the RIAA is starting to scare the piss out of me. Every time I turn on the news there's something about the RIAA suing someone, and getting sued would really put a dent in my five-year plan. So just to be on the safe side I did some research into the wonderful world of thermite.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure that I want to have this capability. It might be too tempting to use not when the cops are breathing down my neck, but just when I feel like destroying my PC on general principles. Anyhow, read the whole thing. And don't miss the exciting video demonstration.

Posted by Phil at 03:16 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New Ion Engine

Nasa is testing a new ion propulsion system:

A powerful new ion propulsion system has been successfully ground-tested by NASA. The High Power Electric Propulsion ion engine trial marks the "first measurable milestone" for the ambitious $3 billion Project Prometheus, says director Alan Newhouse.

via GeekPress

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Absolut Battery Life

One of my favorite disparaging descriptions of discarded technology (or technology that should be discarded) goes something like this:

Yeah, I was glad to get the new laptop. The old one was one of those steam-powered models.


But now check this out—a serious proposal for laptops (and other electronic devices) to be powered by methanol, what we use to describe in Kentucky as "wood alkeehol." Methanol fuel cells could provide considerably more lasting power to the average laptop. And if you start to run low on power, apparently you'll be able to just top her off with extra go juice.

Of course, there are obstacles::

Beyond the laws of chemistry, fuel cells face an even tougher obstacle: bureaucracy. Methanol is both toxic and flammable; the US government won't allow passengers to carry it on airplanes. It's also barred by international air travel regulations administered by the United Nations.

But then there are potential remedies:

At least there's been progress on the domestic front. The US Department of Transportation last year approved a portable fuel cell for air travel. Based on technology developed at PolyFuel Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., the cell uses a solution that contains mostly water, and just 24 percent methanol. But until there are industry-wide standards for methanol use on airplanes, small fuel cells probably won't catch on with the mass market.

Wait. Hold the phone. I just had an inspiration. Methanol, you say. Methanol? Hey, why not ethanol? If it's good enough to be added to gasoline in Colorado for six months out of the year for no apparent reason, it's got to be good enough to power a laptop or PDA. Maybe this would help us all feel better about those ethanol subsidies.

Plus, there would be no problem getting ethanol at the required strength onto an airplane. I'll leave it to the experts to check my math, here, but I think that 24 percent alochol is 48 proof. At that rate, you could just ask the flight attendant for one of those little bottles of Absolut if you started running low on power. I'm sure that Stephen Green would disapprove of this use of the precious fluid of life. But, hey, in a pinch...

One thing is for sure: the stark choice road warriors often face on their return flights — fire up the laptop and start on that status report or have another drink — will be clearer than ever.


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ITF #97

In the Future...

...we'll be able to order our fish to match the wine.

Futurist: Posse member Andrew Salamon

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November 24, 2003

Time Travel Possible?

Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends presents excerpts from an interview with theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, who doesn't rule out time travel as a theoretical possibility.

Originally, the burden of proof was on physicists to prove that time travel was possible. Now the burden of proof is on physicists to prove there must be a law forbidding time travel.

Please note that this is not Practical Time Travel we're talking about; it's the impractical kind, where you can move backwards in time (and presumably go forward faster, although that possibility isn't mentioned.) This type of time travel is also impractical in that it would require, according to Kaku, "the energies of stars" and "a civilization far more advanced than ours."

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ITF #96

In the Future...

...with any luck, some who suffer will never benefit from life extension technology.

Posted by Phil at 02:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Self-Assembling Nano-Transistor

I missed this last week in the rush to get FastForward out.

From NewScientist:

A functional electronic nano-device has been manufactured using biological self-assembly for the first time.

Israeli scientists harnessed the construction capabilities of DNA and the electronic properties of carbon nanotubes to create the self-assembling nano-transistor. The work has been greeted as "outstanding" and "spectacular" by nanotechnology experts.

I've spent some time pondering whether our progress in nanotechnology should focus on big steps or small steps (this one seems like a fairly big one to me.) Maybe the question isn't really the size of the steps; it's the speed at which they're taking place.

For example: last week I was pretty excited when the Senate (and then the House) voted in the new nanotech bill, with its provision that the National Research Council do a one-time investigation into the feasibility of molecular self-assembly. All we have to do now is get the President to sign the thing, wait a few months/years for the program to be put in place, wait a few months/years for the work to be farmed out, and wait a few months/years for the results to come in and then we'll have an assessment of the feasibility of a future development which, by the way, was accomplished last week in Israel..

Now that's progress.

via GeekPress

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November 22, 2003

Future Roundup 11/22/03

This was a slow week for In the Future... Only three predictions. With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, we might not see ITF #100 until week after next.

In the Future...

...the cadets in Colorado Springs will sing "Up we go, into the wild black yonder."

...unmanned missions will be listed on e-bay; manned missions and entire space programs will be handled by Sotheby's.

...they might do something like this with Reuben and Ksenia. Right before I kill myself.


That does it forthis week. Until next time, we'll see you in the future.

Posted by Phil at 07:24 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 21, 2003

FastForward to Accelerating Change

We live in an age of rapid and dramatic change. Society is changing. Technology is changing. People are changing. What does it all mean? Where is it all leading? The FastForward Posse attempts to shed some light.

Ask the Experts (I)

John Smart is President of the Institute for Accelerating Change (IAC). If you want to plunge headfirst into the topic of rapid change, one of the best places to go is the IAC website. This group is dedicated to helping the world prepare for the Technological Singularity, the ultimate outcome of accelerating change.

Get Grounded

Contrarily, we should consider what won't change. It's an analogy to mathematical "invariants", objects that don't change under transformation. For example, assume that humanity (or others) won't bypass physical law as currently known. This becomes an "invariant" that constrains our speculation of the future. A mistake here is particular interesting!

Karl Hallowell

Study the Lines

We can track the course of change in history and in our own lives. By familiarizing ourselves with these lines through time, we can better understand what to expect next, and even begin to play a hand in bringing about changes we want.

Study the Cycles

History can repeat itself in more than one way. Sometimes it seems that events are recurring; sometimes it seems as the an entire era is being replayed. It's possible that history cycles through these epochs periodically, and that the period is decreasing as histories spirals into the next phase. What's going to happen next?

Well, what happened next the last time?

Embrace Change; Embrace the Strange (I)

You probably don't realize what a strange world you live in. Suppose you had a phone that could place a call back in time. Let's call someone 50 years ago, in the year 1953. Okay? You've got a parent or grandparent on the line, somebody who would be interested in knowing about you and your life. Let's see how that conversation might go:

Try explaining your job.

Turn on the TV and describe the programming. Maybe you'll get really lucky and Temptation Island or South Park or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy will be on. Do you have a satellite dish? Tivo? Go ahead. Explain. Maybe you can't get on the TV because your child is playing one of those driving games based on The Simpsons. That should be pretty easy to explain.

Tell them about your daughter's tattoos and pierced eyebrow.

They're interested in politics? Tell them about the former governor of Minnesota and the new governor of California. Hell, tell them about the governor of California who became President.

They're interested in religion? Tell them about that new Episcopal bishop. You can fill them on on the Massachusetts ruling on gay marriage while you're at it.

Tell them about PETA.

Tell them about microwave popcorn.

Explain to them about 9/11 and the War on Terrorism. Be sure to background them with the Cold War and how it ended.

Fill them in on stem cell research and the human cloning ban. Oh, and the big news about mapping the human genome.

Tell them that we went to the moon, but now it's been so long ago that a lot of people don't believe it ever happened.

Try to explain Bill Gates to them. Or the browser wars. Or the dot-com bubble. Or the Y2K bug.

Tell them about NAMBLA.

Tell them about your wireless phone. Don't forget to mention how you play games on it.

At what point do you think they would have hung up? Pretty early on, I'd venture to guess.

Maybe We're Imagining It

Changes themselves do *not* accelerate. But thanks to the distortion of memory, you remember the good old days as slow and peaceful, which of course they were not. Our society and economy depends on ongoing change. But the aging of the population may well put a stop to that. With that in mind, one can only encourage 'staying young'.

R. Klaver

As the Experts (II)

Maybe we're not imagining it. Check out Ray Kurzweil's Chronology of Change. After you've had a chance to digest it, read where he thinks these developments are leading us.

Embrace Change; Embrace the Strange (II)

Forget fifty years ago. Use the phone to call yourself ten years ago. Tell all about how you're tracking several interesting memes in your favorite blogs.

Do the Math

If e is "the black jewel of the calculus" (David Berlinski -- A Tour of the Calculus), and only an expert (x=pert) can understand compound interest and thereby understand the true effect of a fixed rate of change, then only a true Speculist, gazing upon the "Black Diamond of Hope", may see what is to be expected (exp [ectr]t) when the rate of change itself is changing.

NOTE: See this week's Speculist University entry (coming soon) for enlightenment. WARNING! Contains more Scary Mathematical Symbols™. May not be suitable for the faint-hearted.

Mike Sargent

Embrace Change; Embrace the Strange (III)

Forget the past. Living here in the present, we really aren't prepared for how strange the world has become. Posse member Joanie points us to a website that captures a little of this strangeness: RealityCarnival. Enjoy the arts? Spend some time looking at Pseudo Miros or Lego Eschers. Ready to have some fun? Try out recreational activities like Google Grokking or Amazon Whacking. Or while away the afternoon dissecting Britney Spears. Look around this site. If change is accelerating, weirdness is growing exponentially. I doubt most of us could explain these things to ourselves, much less somebody from the past.

Where Will it End?

Maybe we'll learn that all reality is encoded in Pi (similar to an idea we'll be seeing later in Stillness, by the way). Maybe we'll take steps and prevent being enslaved by machines. Maybe we'll get really lucky, and end up as plants or housepets.

That's it for now. Thanks to all the Posse members who participated. This was a fun one!

Posted by Phil at 12:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 20, 2003

On to the President

Howard Lovy reports on some paperwork that George Bush will have waiting for him when he returns from London. The nanotech bill (as discussed here and here) has been approved by the House of Representatives.

Posted by Phil at 02:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Flying Cars and Other Dreams

As regular readers know, here at the Speculist, we've been tracking the question of why we still don't have flying cars for some time. Now posse member Chris Hall directs us to an analysis of why we don't have

Flying Cars
Passenger Airships
Supersonic Commercial Aviation (another favorite topic)
Space Tourism
Space Colonies

This is essential reading. Don't miss it.

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I've decided to extend the deadline for this week's FastForward. Please have your submissions to me by no later than noon, mountain time, tomorrow.

Posted by Phil at 12:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Keeping Count

ITF #94 was the 400th Speculist entry. At this rate, we'll be at 500 by the end of the year. And we'll have our 100th ITF by sometime next week.

Come on, now, fellas. Who's going to write that coveted century-mark "In the Future..."?

Posted by Phil at 12:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #95

In the Future...

...they might do something like this with Reuben and Ksenia. Right before I kill myself.

via GeekPress

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ITF #94

In the Future...

...unmanned missions will be listed on e-bay; manned missions and entire space programs will be handled by Sotheby's.

Posted by Phil at 12:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I Hope They Treat Us Like Dogs

I missed this yesterday. Stephen Green presents the best strategy, ever, for showing up to a debate about animal rights.

The ensuing discussion on Stephen's post includes this comment: *

Further, what is it that gives dogs or any other animal "rights?" Did they fight and sacrifice for those rights? Did their ancestors debate the meaning of freedom or what it was to be a person? No, of course not. To exercise rights (not on an individual level, but in a more general sense), there has to be the capacity to understand and protect those rights--and understand and protect the responsibilities that come with them.

As I have pointed about before (people think I'm kidding about this, but I'm not; at least, not always) we might well live to see the day when computers will argue among themselves about what rights, if any, humans should have. Some go so far as to argue that we should be lavishing rights on animals now to set a good example. After all, if we currently don't view animals as worthy of rights, how can we expect post-singularity intelligences to give them to us?

John Smart suggests that this is a bad analogy, however. The superintelligences won't view us the way we do animals; we'll be so slow and stupid compared to them that it makes more sense to think of us as plants. Anybody for plant's rights out there? Any vegans? Anyone?

That's too hard, I think. It may very well be true, but it's difficult to go on with any discussion at that point. If we are as plants to them, there is precious little point in our trying to get our heads around the thought processes that they will employ in deciding what to do with us. (This is also true if we are as Shih Tzus or Cocker Spaniels to them; but like our pets, we can at least pretend to understand what's going on.)We're at their mercy.

We should be humane in our treatment of animals, all animals. We are in a position to show them more kindness than nature is likely to or than they would show each other if left to their own devices. I think we should show animals kindness not because they have the right to expect it, but because our being kind is the best thing for both them and us. From their standpoint, the benefits of our kindness are obvious.

The benefits to us? I'm just predisposed to think that kindness is a good direction for us to go in an evolutionary sense. I can't prove it, but I believe it. (And no, in saying that we should be kind to animals, I am not contradicting my endorsement of Stephen's debate strategy. His gruffness isn't really aimed at animals. It's aimed at people. We should be kind to them, too, but we have struggled for and earned the right to free speech. That sometimes gives us the right to say things that are offensive to others. Thus the blogosphere.)

Anyway, I think the argument quoted above is a good basis for determining our approach to animal rights, and I hope that our descendants use something similar in deciding how to deal with us. On that basis, what rights do dogs have? What rights have they struggled for? From an evolutionary standpoint, they have struggled for the right to exist. All species have done that, and we should respect it. The basic right that animals have is to exist and to evolve. Moreover, dogs have struggled — on their own at first, but later with us taking charge of the relationship — to be friends with humanity. Our histories are linked. Dogs have earned the right to be part of the human story.

In relation to animals, we also have certain rights. We have evolved to consume animals for food and to make other uses of them. We have the same right to eat meat as a lion does to eat a zebra. We have the same right to use animals to work for us and to provide us other products as a mouse does to build a nest in our homes. We also have the right to get rid of the mouse. (The species has earned the right to exist; individual mice have not.) If, out of kindness, we choose to live symbiotically with the mouse or to dispose of it in as humane a way as possible, I think we're on the right track. We want to temper the exercise of our rights with as much kindness as we can. But if we decide that the mouse has rights equal to or greater than our own, we are arguing with the very evolutionary processes that enable us to make the argument. In other words, if the mouse had rights equal to ours, it would be able to argue for them itself.

So if we're lucky, the AIs will grant us the right to exist (as a species if not as individuals; that's a little worrying), the right to develop and improve ourselves, and — I hope — the right to be friends with them and to be part of their ongoing story, even if only in the same sense that my potted fern is an ongoing part of my story.

* The comment came from our good friend, Zombyboy, who has more on animal rights over on his blog.

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Mini-Robo-Copter-Camera Wars

More robo-news, via

One of the world's lightest and smallest robot helicopters has been unveiled at a Tokyo exhibition by the Seiko Epson company.
The designers say the 70-mm-tall device could be used as a "flying camera" to enter earthquake-shattered buildings.

Check this thing out. Once again (altogether, everybody): cool.

There's a little drawback with these guys, however:

The prototype four-legged robot weighs 10 grammes and although it flies by remote control, it has to be linked to an external power source via a cable.

Seiko Epson manger Junji Ajioka said he was looking for another firm to help develop a super-lightweight battery.

"That's why we showed this robot at the exhibition. We want to attract battery makers who can manufacture a very light battery for us," he said, adding the company had yet to set a date for marketing the robot.

They need to fix their little power problem and get these things down to about half their current size. In a few years, every wedding reception you go to will have six or seven of these little hummers buzzing around and recording all the action. A few years after that, they'll be about a tenth of the size shown and some folks will have a few of them in orbit around them at all times, recording every second of their lives from multiple angles. A few years beyond that, they'll be even smaller, and we'll all have a few of them with us everywhere we go, all the time (whether we want them or not.)

From there, things might get a little more interesting. Some folks are likely to carry forward quaint ideas about "privacy" and so forth and will decide that they don't want somebody else's little cameras tracking them all the time. The best solution to that problem would be a small fleet of these copters armed with tiny laser cannons — not big enough to hurt people, just powerful enough to take out similar copters. Then we'll see the development of smaller and more crafty robo-cameras followed by smaller and more lethal robo gunships. The ensuing arms race will greatly enhance the functionality of these robots, adding tactical and intelligence-gathering capabilities. The decrease in size will lead to an increase in numbers. A few orders of magnitude smaller and more capable, and we'll be looking at something similar to Josh Hall's utility fog.

And then the fun will really begin.

Anyhow, read the whole article, and be sure to scroll down and check out the picture of the robo-fish.

Posted by Phil at 08:20 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Robots in the Hall; Robots Opening Doors

Looks like they finally found something useful to do with with those Segway scooters:

Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have crossed a robotic arm with the bottom half of a Segway to make a robot named Cardea that can traverse hallways and open doors.

Cardea, named after the Roman goddess of thresholds and door pivots, is the one-armed first prototype of a robot designed to have three arms and the ability to safely interact with humans at eye level.


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November 19, 2003


And here I thought this was just a very dumb Travolta/Cage movie plot.

Face transplants feasible - but not yet

An influential report on the ethics and feasibility of face transplants has decided on a "wait and see" approach. The UK panel - the first to address the issue anywhere in the world - decided that the risks of the operation outweigh the potential benefits at present.

I know this is a potential breakthrough that will help a lot of people, but there's something very disturbing about this idea. It just gives me the creeps. Can you imagine wearing somebody else's face? It seems much more unnatural than an organ or limb transplant, but I'm not sure why.

Posted by Phil at 01:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Why It Matters

Let me offer an explanation as to why I'm so excited by the preceding announcement. Better yet, I'll let Ralph Merkle explain, by way of his review of Nanomedecine volume IIA, currently running on

To end with a question: do you expect to be alive in thirty years? If so—and most people do—then the development of nanomedicine within that time frame will benefit you directly. The medical nanorobots we are talking about could save your life, the lives of your loved ones and the lives of your friends. This is possible and even likely, but not inevitable. How long it takes to develop this life saving technology depends on what we do—it is not happening according to some cosmic plan, with a date engraved in stone that neither you nor I can change—but rather it will take as long as we let it take. Yes, thirty years is a long time. Yes, most people have a hard time thinking about the next year, let alone the next decade, let alone a few decades hence. But if we don't act today, then we might one day wake up in a future where we are old and infirm and the promise of nanomedicine is still just that: a promise. To paraphrase a famous slogan: think long term, act short term.

That's why I'm excited. The senate has approved a short-term action that might just be the beginning of a much longer term for all of us.

Posted by Phil at 09:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Nano Bill Passes

Howard Lovy is tracking the latest developments on the Senate's compromise nanotech bill, which has just passed.

Here's the best part:

Proponents of molecular manufacturing (see my previous post) will be happy to see this:
STUDY ON MOLECULAR SELF-ASSEMBLY- As part of the first triennial review conducted in accordance with subsection (a), the National Research Council shall conduct a one-time study to determine the technical feasibility of molecular self-assembly for the manufacture of materials and devices at the molecular scale.

Damn. Too bad molecular manufacturing is impossible, or this would be really exciting.

Posted by Phil at 09:48 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 18, 2003

ITF #93

In the Future...

...the cadets in Colorado Springs will sing "Up we go, into the wild black yonder."

Posted by Phil at 12:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Yeah, but "Live to See It" is Pretty Good, Too

I just discovered a wonderful blog, Cyborg Democracy, which I'm adding to the blogroll as soon as .com comes back up. Check out this self-descriptive tag line:

A collaborative blog for democratic transhumanists, nanosocialists, revolutionary singularitarians, non-anthropocentric personhood theorists, radical futurists, leftist extropians, bioutopians and biopunks, socialist-feminist cyborgs, transgenders, body modifiers, basic income advocates, world federalists, agents of the Culture and the Cassini Division, Viridians and technoGaians - transmitting a sexy, high-tech vision of a radically democratic future

Very nice, but what about Practical Time Travelers? Serious Optimists? Speculists? I do my best to be as high-tech, radically democratic, and sexy as the next guy.

While there, be sure to check out the highly confused ramblings of one Charlie Stross, a transhumanist science fiction writer. I can only assume that Americans writing about British politics come off as laughably wrong-headed as guys like this do when writing about the US. American media is apparently controlled by a cabal of the "extreme right" (a vast conspiracy thereof, no doubt) who are opposed to the notion of human equality. The piece actually deserves a full-blown fisking, but I don't feel right about doing that in the same entry where I'm recommending the blog. (Which I heartily do.)

Okay, just a little. Here's a giveaway quote:

Now, if you plug these views into the picture you can see that I must be some kind of communist. Because I don't hold with the idea that the guys at the top of the pile are special in some mystical, magical, divine-right-of-kings manner, or that markets are holy and perfect and will enrich everybody in every way. Right?

Just about as wrong as you can be, Chuckles old sock. Those beliefs are, in fact, held by extremists—white supremacists and social Darwinists on the one hand, Objectivists and big-L Libertarians on the other—and have nothing whatever to do with the mainstream of American politics. The most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans take the same stance as you do on those issues. You have to go to the wacky fringe (far from the corridors of power, leftist fantasies about a right-wing cabal notwithstanding) to find anyone who would call you a "communist" for holding those beliefs.

Anyway, don't let your reading of Cyborg Democracy end there. The entries on Max More's view that democracy is a more or less optional thing here in the pre-posthuman era are fascinating and right on the money. Keep scrolling so you don't miss any!

Posted by Phil at 09:47 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Join the FastForward Posse!

From time to time, The Speculist hosts a sort of internal blogwave called FastForward. So far, we’ve done FastForwards on life extension, ubiquitous computing, Mars, and artificial intelligence.

Our next FastForward, on the subject of Accelerating Change, will be Friday, November 22. The world is changing faster than we can sometimes comprehend. FastForward to Accelerating Change will be an exploration of some of the most dramatic (and subtle) changes we face. Everyone is invited to join up with the FastForward Posse and help us explore this vital topic.

The FastForward Posse is a loose confederation of futurists (several of them excellent bloggers in their own right) who contribute to FastForward. To become a member, just send me something to use in the next FastForward. Feed me links, pictures, jokes, and above all your speculations and ruminations (50 words or less would be great) geared to shed light on the subject of rapid change. Everything is fair game for this one — society, politics, technology, how crappy TV is — you name it. You can review how rapidly things have changed in an area of interest, or you can look forward to changes yet to come. I'll need all submissions by 11 PM mountain time on Thursday, November 21.

Send your submissions to The Speculist.

Posted by Phil at 08:08 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Racism Slows You Down

...mentally, that is. From NewScientist:

People with implicit racial prejudices are left mentally exhausted after interacting with someone from a different race, perhaps because they are trying to quell their feelings.

The new study, the first of its kind, shows that areas in the brain associated with self-control light up in white people with implicit racial biases when they are shown images of black people.

Furthermore, the study showed that the level of this brain activity correlated very closely with poor performance in a test of thinking ability given right after a face-to-face interview with a black person. The researchers believe this indicates that the subject's mental resources have been temporarily drained by their efforts to suppress their prejudices.

It turns out that prejudice is, quite literally, a waste of energy. People who use up their brain power on racial biases don't have enough left for higher functions.

"They are either trying to inhibit or control something - but we don't know what that something is," [one of the researchers] says. "It could be an emotional reaction, or thoughts that come to mind. Or it could be something as benign as simply trying not to make errors."

I'm a little disturbed by the methodology these researchers used to classify a subject as biased. The subjects (who were all white) were shown "white" and "black" names and asked whether they have positive or negative connotations. A subject taking too long to link a positive association with a "black" name would be considered biased. No overt hostility was required; the subject didn't have to link negative feelings to be considered biased. So the bias in question is not necessarily antagonism; any difficulty dealing with the "other" would apparently register as a bias. That's probably a more useful definition of racial bias than antagonism, anyway.

However, it seems kind of tautological to screen for bias by checking whether a subject slows down in making a decision when subjected to a particular stimulus, and then turn around and demonstrate that the subject is biased by the fact that the he or she slows down when subjected to a similar stimulus. Haven't we just proved that people who slow down under these circumstances...slow down under these circumstances? That's probably just my non-scientist reading of the article, which is written for a lay audience anyway. The rigor may be lost in translation. (Although the author of the NewScientist article does point out that this methodology is "controversial.")

Those reservations aside, I find the implications of this research quite compelling. If non-prejudiced people have more brain power left for other tasks, that should translate into a distinct competitive advantage. All things being equal, you're better off hiring a tolerant employee than a bigoted one, and not just for social or moral reasons. The tolerant employee will have more brain power available for doing work than the bigoted one. The less inhibited a group is by these kinds of biases, the more productive we can expect them to be. On a geopolitical scale, nations which have shed (or are shedding) these kinds of biases should get a tremendous economic boost. How many of the problems that haunt the Arab and Muslim world arise because so much mental energy is wasted on hating the enemy that there is little or none left for productive development?

Posted by Phil at 05:49 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Quotable Speculist

Sometimes the mot juste (the best phrase) has already been written. In that spirit, here are what some famous folks might have said in response to the Seven Questions About the Future.

The present is the future relative to the past. What is the best thing about living in the future?

"The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time." --Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

What's the biggest disappointment?

"There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love." -- Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), U.S. clergyman, civil rights leader. “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Why We Can’t Wait (1963).

"Disappointment proves that expectations were mistaken." -- Mason Cooley (b. 1927), U.S. aphorist. City Aphorisms, Eighth Selection, New York (1991).

Assuming you die at the age of 100, what will be the biggest difference be between the world you were born into and the world you leave?

"People over 100 are the fastest-growing group in America. People soon will be working 'til 100 — some because they have to — and living 'til 125 or even 135. What do I know, I'm just a weatherman, but I've made a hobby of studying this, and it's phenomenal." — Willard Scott , 67, NBC's Today show

What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you look forward to with the most anticipation?

"Before I had my first child, I never really looked forward in anticipation to the future. As I watched my son grow and learn, I began to imagine the world this generation of children would live in. I thought of the children they would have, and of their children. I felt connected to life both before my time and beyond it. Children are our link to future generations that we will never see." -- Louise Hart (20th century), U.S. psychologist, educator. The Winning Family, ch. 26 (1987).

"Such is the state of life, that none are happy but by the anticipation of change: the change itself is nothing; when we have made it, the next wish is to change again. The world is not yet exhausted; let me see something tomorrow which I never saw before." -- Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), British author, lexicographer. Nekayah, in The History of Rasselas, ch. 47 (1759).

What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you dread the most?

"Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it." -- George Bernard Shaw

Assuming you have the ability to determine (or at least influence) the future, what future development that you consider unlikely (or are uncertain about) would you most like to help bring about?

"It's not enough to have a dream, Unless you're willing to pursue it. It's not enough to know what's right, Unless you're strong enough to do it. It's not enough to learn the truth, Unless you also learn to live it. It's not enough to reach for love, Unless you care enough to give it Men who are resolved to find a way for themselves will always find opportunities enough; and if they do not find them, they will make them." -- Samuel Smiles.

"All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they dream their dreams with open eyes, and make them come true." -- T.E. Lawrence (AKA Lawrence of Arabia)

Why is it that in the year 2003 I still don't have a flying car? When do you think I'll be able to get one?

"Not every one of our desires can be immediately gratified. We've got to learn to wait patiently for our dreams to come true, especially on the path we've chosen. But while we wait, we need to prepare symbolically a place for our hopes and dreams." -- Sarah Ban Breathnach Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

"Stop the mindless wishing that things would be different. Rather than wasting time and emotional and spiritual energy in explaining why we don't have what we want, we can start to pursue other ways to get it." -- Greg Anderson, US basketball player.

"Suppose someone has frequently flown in his dreams and finally becomes conscious of a power and an art of flying just as soon as he starts dreaming, as though it were his privilege, and also his most personal and enviable happiness: one who believes he can realize every sort of curve and angle with the lightest impulse, who knows the feeling of a certain divine frivolity, an “upwards” without tension or duress, a “downwards” without condescension and humiliation—without gravity! How could a man who enjoyed such dream-experiences and dream-habits fail to discover in the end that the word “happiness” was differently colored and defined in his waking hours as well? How could he fail to—desire happiness differently?" -- Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), German philosopher, classical scholar, critic of culture. Friedrich Nietzsche, Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe, vol. 5, pp. 114-115, eds. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, Berlin, de Gruyter (1980). Beyond Good and Evil, “Fifth Part: Natural History of Morals,” section 193 (1886).

"It is only possible to succeed at second-rate pursuits—like becoming a millionaire or a prime minister, winning a war, seducing beautiful women, flying thought the stratosphere or landing on the moon. First-rate pursuits—involving, as they must, trying to understand what life is about and trying to convey that understanding—inevitably result in a sense of failure. A Napoleon, a Churchill, a Roosevelt can feel themselves to be successful, but never a Socrates, a Pascal, a Blake. Understanding is for ever unattainable. Therein lies the inevitablility of failure in embarking upon its quest, which is none the less the only one worthy of serious attention." -- Malcolm Muggeridge (1903–1990), British broadcaster. “Woman’s Hour,” radio broadcast, Aug. 5, 1965, quoted in “Failure,” Muggeridge through the Microphone (1967).

Posted by Michael S. Sargent at 05:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 17, 2003

I Knew There Was Somebody Who Could Explain It

Dave Barry on the Space Elevator:

No, seriously, the scientists want to use the elevator to launch stuff into space. One of them is quoted as saying: ''The first country that owns the space elevator will own space.'' Laugh if you want, but those words are eerily reminiscent of an equally bold prediction by Chester Gould, the man who created Dick Tracy. Gould once stated: ''The nation that controls magnetism controls the universe.'' People scoffed, but in 1963, a vehicle called the Magnetic Space Coupe, based on Gould's theories, actually flew to the Moon, and returned safely, in a widely syndicated comic strip.

It remains to be seen whether the space elevator will achieve that level of success, but the Los Alamos scientists are confident. Their plan is to build it using ''carbon nanotubes,'' which, in layperson's terms, are nanotubes made out of carbon.

I believe this is the kind of excerpt where Glenn would add an "indeed."


via GeekPress

Posted by Phil at 03:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Should Humanity Get "Fixed?"

When my piece on Scarcity and Abundance was linked by Nanodot last week, it kicked off some interesting commentary. Our friend Kadamose has chimed in with the following:

To move forward, there MUST be sacrifices - and I can't emphasize that enough. Life extension through nanotech will raise the human life span indefinitely - a lifespan of more than 10,000 years will not be uncommon. This is why it will be absolutely necessary to shut down the human reproductive system permanently. Many people think that idea is repulsive, but in all honesty, it is the ONLY option next to complete annihilation. There MUST be a limit to growth - we are just like the cells within our bodies; if we consume too much, we will use up more energy than is necessary, and overconsumption, as science is just barely proving, leads to cell death.

I don't buy this. As I pointed out in my recent interview with Nina Paley, economic and technological development have been negatively correlated with population growth over the past 50 years. This can be demonstrated consistently in Europe, the US, Asia. I expect the kinds of changes we're talking about would drastically decrease the rate of population growth. I agree that, with people living 10,000 years, the rate would likely never drop to zero. But over that period of time, I would expect that multitiudes would decide to adopt a virtual, electronic existence. We don't have to shut down the reproductive systems of the remnants of humanity if the majority have abandoned "meat space" altogether.

Besides, the galaxy is a big place, Kadamose. Even the solar system is. (As a Sichin devotee, I assume you're concerned about the other occupants of the solar system who have a prior claim on the place. But they've been advancing all this time just as we have. They may have already made the leap to virtual existence! And, of course, they may never have existed in the first place.)

Posted by Phil at 03:37 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

When Imagination Fails

Here's a little background on Practical Time Travel for those just joining.

I wrote last time that imagination gives the first whiff of reality to the nonexistent. Imagination is a good start, but if we only imagine the future we’re trying to reach, chances are it will never be any more than a whiff.

Once in a great while, imagination becomes reality. This can be a wonderful, transcendent experience when something that we’ve dreamed of comes to pass, or it can be the horror of having our worst fears realized.

But when it happens, how does it happen? How can we make the good things that we have imagined for ourselves real, or prevent the bad ones from happening? Foremost, we have to recognize the simple truth that sometimes, probably most of the time, imagination comes to nothing. Why?

  1. We imagine the impossible (and vastly unlikely)

    We imagine saying exactly the right thing in the argument we had yesterday. We imagine aliens coming down and blasting our obnoxious geometry teacher to atoms. We imagine where we would go on our first date with Halle Berry. We while away the afternoon spending that $60 million Lotto jackpot.

    Imagining the impossible isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can be satisfying. It can be fun. By using our imaginations freely, we expand our thought space, our own personal iSpace. The more we imagine (whether practical or fanciful), the more real possibilities we have to choose from.

    But imagining the impossible can be dangerous if we’re serious about making things happen in the real world. If we focus too much on the impossible, we lose time and other resources that we could be applying to creating the future we want. It’s easier to dream about dating Halle Berry than it is to strike up a conversation with that new girl in Purchasing who kind of looks like her and who might actually go out with you. It’s easier to plan what to do with Lotto winnings than it is to start putting money away every month and make an effort to learn about how wealth is truly built. If we’re content to live out our lives in an imaginary world, fine. But that’s not practical time travel. Practical time travel is about arriving at a real future. To do so, we have to decide on an achievable destination.

    That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t think big or go for long shots. It means we have to, at some point, wean ourselves from the scenarios that are attractive in their non-threatening non-reality — the wishes we don’t mind dwelling on because we are already convinced they will never come true. If the rest of the world believes that a thing is impossible, but you’ve looked it over and decided otherwise, great! Be a dreamer. God speed you in your endeavors. But if you think it’s impossible, then you’re absolutely correct.

  2. We imagine the possible, and then never really do anything about it.
    As Henry David Thoreau so poignantly wrote, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." No one knows this better than a would-be writer. Do you know any of those? I know several, plus I’ve been one most of my life. Would-be artists, actors, and musicians fit the type as well. Sadly, so do a lot of would-be teachers and truck drivers and MBA’s and you name it. That woman handing you your venti café Americano (with room) is a would-be lawyer; that guy from IT who treats you with such disdain when you have computer trouble has been secretly designing computer games for years.

    And it isn’t just career choices. I’ve been living in Colorado for more than 20 years and have been a would-be skier the entire time. Actually, my ski experience is instructive, because I can pretend that I’ve done something about it. After all, I gave cross-country skiing a try just 19 years ago. And it’s only been about ten years since once of my Posse ringleaders decided he could teach me to ski "in about ten minutes" and took me up to the slopes at night where I proceeded to almost kill myself. (Annoyingly, another Posse member was there and did pick it up in 10 minutes. Jerk.)

    This is how we persuade ourselves that we are trying to do what we’ve imagined and assessed as possible. We write and write and write, but never attempt to publish anything. We read books on how to take the LSAT, but never actually get around to taking the test, much less filling out a law school application.

  3. We imagine the possible, do something about it, and quit when it doesn’t work out.

    This is where our current step in the practical time travel process, reimagination, comes in. When we imagine a what, we’ve taken a small step towards achieving a particular future. When we imagine a how to get us to that what, we’ve taken a much bigger step. When we start acting on that how, we’re active time travelers. When a particular how doesn’t work and we quit, we’re failed time travelers.

    Say you decide you want to travel to a future in which you have ten million dollars. You have thoroughly imagined this what and have come up with a good how to get you there — commodities trading. You’ve been reading up on the subject and are ready to dedicate yourself to learning how to build a fortune doing it. So you start out with a few thousand dollars and in a couple of years, through some very shrewdly leveraged moves, you’ve made about half a million. Then disaster strikes the frozen concentrated orange juice market and you’re left penniless.

    Now what?

    To carry on from a disappointment, we have to once again engage our imaginations. Sometimes we have to reimagine the how, sometimes we have to reimagine the what itself. Quitting isn’t always the wrong answer. If, after we engage our imaginations, we find that the what that we can truly achieve (or the how that will get us there) is no longer what we want, then we should quit.

    Maybe $10 million wasn’t really the goal you wanted after all. A couple million would, in fact, provide everything you want and you could get there a lot more quickly and with less stress. Or maybe you find that you just can’t keep yourself interested in commodities. Real estate would be a more interesting challenge for you.

    So you abandon your $10 million future in favor of another that you like even better. Is this new future possible? Do you have a how to get there? Will you act on the how? Then go for it. That’s what a time traveler does.

There are only two ways for a practical time traveler to fail. One is to die trying to reach a particular future. Unless this occurs because the time traveler failed to take necessary precautions, it means that time simply ran out.

Thus the Practical Time Traveler’s motto: Live to see it.

Running out of time is the great tragedy of human existence. It shouldn’t happen to anyone who has something useful to do who wants to keep at it. Top people are working on solving this problem.

The other way to fail is to abandon a sought-after future without reimagining it. As soon as we disengage our imaginations, we are finished as time travelers. But the flipside of that is that if we don’t quit, don’t run out of time, and don’t get mixed up about what is possible, we can choose as a destination any future that we desire.

Posted by Phil at 01:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

This Week 11/17/03

It's great to be back. No, seriously, I was really getting tired of lying around on the beach.

Not. Anyway, here's what's in store this week...

Imagining the future is only the first step in achieving it. And it's also sometimes the third step, the seventh step, the 11th step, the 287th step...

I've got nothing. I'm going to check in with Sarge on those literary answers to the Seven Questions about the Future. (Ah, now the crushing weight of the new office begins to sink in on him.)

Stillness, Chapter 14. Emmett finds out a little more about the QC protocols.

Speculist University. Better hit those books, people.The substitute teacher is gone. The old man is back.

Future Round-up. All of the In the Future predictions for this week.

And throughout the week we'll be blogging developments in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, space exploration, and other future-impacting areas.

Posted by Phil at 12:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sarge at Large

(Okay, I promise to stop doing that with titles.)

Many thanks to the Sarge for covering for me last week. I like what you've done with the place, Mike, especially the nifty new logo for Spec. U.

(Drumroll, please.)

Mike Sargent is hereby promoted to the rank of Jefe Grande in the FastForward Posse. (Ringleaders please take note.) His posting privileges are extended indefinitely.

Posted by Phil at 12:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 15, 2003

Future Round-Up 11/15/03

This week's In The Future entries have had a decidedly farm and field feel. Many thanks to FastForward Posse member (and head wrangler) Robert Hinkley for alerting us to the hazards faced by stock, game, and agriculturalists and those of us that live with them.

In the Future...

...low-flying moose will be able to land safely. excuses will be more...creative.

...ol' Bessie will bear a striking similarity to Mae West.

...moose will have to wait the traditional "eight hours from bottle to throttle".

..." mild alternate-culture heat-treated fermented milk" will outsell regulation yogurt two to one.


Thanks for reading and, as Phil says. "We'll see you in the future."

Posted by Michael S. Sargent at 11:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 14, 2003

Potluck 101

To paraphrase a Minnesotan star of radio and print: "It's been a quiet week in Lake, here at the Speculist." Therefore, this week's quiz is a short-answer essay. Please write a short persuasive paragraph (in the Comments section) on the following theme:

"I think the idea of Speculist University, especially as envisioned in this week's All Hail, Old Spec. U! entry, is..."

Responses will be evaluated for completeness of thought, constructiveness of criticism, and how well they demonstrate that the author has read and understood the relevant entries.

Bonus Points will be awarded for creatively including cows and / or moose into your essay.

Penalty Points will be assessed for any reference, direct or otherwise, to the following: Flying Squirrels, Wossamotta U., Frostbite Falls, or Pottsylvania.

Posted by Michael S. Sargent at 12:10 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

All Hail, Old Spec. U!

Speculist University Shield.JPG

F. 2003 A.V.

Motto: Vitus Id Spectare (Lat. "Live to See It")

Last week, Phil founded the Speculist University and gave a brief glimpse at the curriculum to be offered by said august institution. (And, believe me, we of the Fast Forward Posse have long believed an institution is exactly where Phil belonged.) In these few remaining hours of my tenure as Deputy Speculist, I'd like to elaborate upon that foudation and begin giving substance and direction to our putative alma mater.

The two initial courses of study, Master of Arts in Writing Predictions and Master of Science in Practical Time Travel fall rather neatly into the framework of classical pedegogy (the art and science of learning), corresponding to the artes triviales or artes sermocinales (Grammar, Rhetoric, and Dialectic, or Language, Oratory, and Logic) in the first case and to the artes quadriviales or artes reales (Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music. Corresponding to the modern "hard" sciences.) in the latter case. Doctor of Speculism, in its turn, would include elements of all of these seven liberal arts, the artes liberales. (Literally, the proper studies of a free citizen, as opposed to the artes illiberales the artisanal arts of slaves and non-citizens. These distinctions correspond most closely to our modern concepts of "white collar jobs" and "blue collar jobs", respectively. Before you send me any hate-mail, or get up a petition recommending that Phil render me up to the village mob for a proper tarring and feathering, allow me to categorically state that, while I admire the structural devisions of classical education, I do not now, nor have I ever engaged in, or supported in any sense, moral or material, and will never in the future engage in or support the institution of chattel slavery! There, now I've got the disclaimer out of the way, where was I? Oh, right! A point, I was making a point.)

Each of these artes will, in turn, serve as foci, points of concentration for future blog entries. (And you, beloved readers, thought I'd forgotten that this is, after all, "only", "just", a weblog and not some kinda' high falutin' factory for skull sweat and fancy words.) The breakdown should resemble the following:

Grammar / Language: A series of entries devoted to explaining the terminology and jargon associated with our favorite topics. (Suggested Title: Lexicon)

Rhetoric / Oratory / Writing: These entries might address the art of fashioning compelling cases, clear hypotheses, and illustrative examples and parables regarding future developments and their impacts.

Dialectic / Logic: Entries presenting and evaluating the tools and techniques available to us in our quest to discern and determine the shape of future events would fall into this category. Similar in spirit to the current Time Traveler's Notebook. (Possible Title: Fabrile (Lat. Tools))

The artes reales correspond in our case to our oft-mentioned favorite topics: Nanotechnology, Negligable Senescence and Life Extension, Artificial Intelligence, Space Exploration, et. al. Our ongoing, practical investigations of these topics will continue to serve them well.

Finally, I'd like to introduce another course of study, one that might equally-well serve as a separate body of knowledge, meriting its own "Masters"-level program, and as a supplementary extension to those already in place. The Masters of Applied Science in Technics would involve fundamental studies in basic Physics and Chemistry (Now aren't you REALLY glad that the tuition is low and the grading system is, ahem, conveniently voluntary) and examinations of specific Technologies that support the artes reales, such as Metallurgy, Electronics, Biology, and the ever-popular Rocket Science.

Well, that bell ringing in the background must mean that it's time for this lecture to end. Until next time, then.

Posted by Michael S. Sargent at 12:08 AM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

November 13, 2003

ITF #92

In the Future...

...having eradicated non-standard marmalade the police will be able to direct their resources against non-standard yogurt.

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley

Posted by Michael S. Sargent at 12:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 12, 2003

ITF #91

In the Future...

...the law will struggle with the problem of wild ruminants using their jetpacks while intoxicated .

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley

Posted by Michael S. Sargent at 08:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #90

In the Future...

...domesticated ruminants, jealous of their wild relatives' jet packs, will be fitted with bouyancy aids.

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley

Posted by Michael S. Sargent at 07:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #89

In the Future...

...Computer generated excuses for diminsished free ice cream output will approach the quality and sincerity of hand - crafted examples.

P.S. I'm scribbling in the margins as fast as time (the IAM PRESENT - ly behind) will allow, but ... you see ... my crayon is a broken stub ... and ... and...

Futurist: Posse member Mike Sargent

Posted by Michael S. Sargent at 07:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #88

In the Future...

...Everyone will have personal jetpacks. Jetpacks will be so cheap that even wild ruminants will have them, thereby avoiding tragedy.

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley

Posted by Michael S. Sargent at 06:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 10, 2003

This Week 11/10/03

Since Phil is too far away to mind the store, this will be an unstructured week at the Speculist.

We doodle in the margins of the Time Traveler's Notebook with a first-ever sidebar. We'll look at a few tools available to the practical time traveller.

We'll look for some literary answers to the Seven Questions about the Future.

We unwrap Stillness, Chapter 13.

Speaking of the Future takes a break. But tune in, I might just have a surprise waiting...

Speculist University.
I'll introduce another facet of our alma mater and we'll take the Potluck 101 quiz.

We'll have the usual Future Round-up. All of the In the Future predictions for this week.

And throughout the week we'll be blogging developments in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, space exploration, and other future-impacting areas.

Posted by Michael S. Sargent at 06:45 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 08, 2003

Sarge is in Charge

I'm going to be on vacation next week, taking a hiatus from both work and blogging. I'll be returning on Monday, November 17. In my absence, futurist, Posse Ringleader, and all-around good guy Mike Sargent has graciously agreed to step in and run things for me. You all know Mike from his many contributions to In the Future... and FastForward. So please, class, be nice to the substitute teacher.

Take it away, Sarge. Have a great week!

Posted by Phil at 07:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

As Seen on TV

First produced by Homer Simpson in a 1999 episode of the animated series, the tomacca (tobacco/tomato hybrid) arrives.

Posted by Phil at 06:45 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Future Roundup 11/07/03

Here's the full collection of this week's In the Future... predictions. This week we feasted on wolf leftovers and drank life-extending tea, while pondering the blindingly obvious and the eye-openingly counterintuitive. Hat tips to FastForward Posse members Robert Hinkley and Mike Sargent for helping us to look ahead.

In the Future...

...robot drivers will only have to get liability insurance; collision won't be an issue.

...the therapeutic benefit of cinnamon crumpets will also be recognized.

...advances in vacuum storage technologies will extend the benefit.

...businesses will thrive selling snow to the Inuit and sand to the Saudis.

...additional startling research will confirm that men enjoy sports and don't like asking for directions. conniseurs will insist that global carbon emissions not be allowed to fall below a certain level.


That does it for last week. Until next time, we'll see you in the future.

Posted by Phil at 06:38 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 07, 2003

Thinks He's Perry Mason or Something

Howard Lovy is on the Case of the Misleading Metaphor. The metaphor in question is the one where biological systems are used to explain how self-replicating nano-systems will work. Ralph Merkle says that that is a particularly unfortunate analogy:

"I think one of the fundamental things which is not understood at this point is that artificial replicating systems, manufacturing systems, are going to bear about as much resemblance to the biological variety as, say, a 747 bears to a duck," Merkle said.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Phil at 01:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Film Even Better than "The Matrix Reloaded"

I saw the Matrix Revolutions the other night. Thought it was okay, better than the second. I'm not too upset by the quality of the sequels, I guess, because I never thought The Matrix was all that great anyway.

I know. Blasphemy.

I just always thought it was an intriguing premise (kind of dumb, but I could have bought into it) burdened by too much gunplay, kung fu, and patent leather. My favorite characters in the series are the Oracle and the Guy with the Keys. In his review of Revolutions, Lileks captures the essence of the Oracle:

Are these cookies for me, Oracle?

I think you know.

No – seriously, are you saving them for someone? Because you said you had company coming over later, and I don’t want to take them if you’d intended them for someone else, so -

You don’t know what you want to do, child. Look at you, all serious now. Lawd. But sometimes we do things we want to do, not knowing what we don’t think we shouldn't.

I - I don’t understand.

Neither do I. I wish I could tell you, Neo. I wish the script was better. But it’s not. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to look away and smoke somewhat unconvincingly.

Yep. That's her.

Posted by Phil at 07:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

ITF #87

In the Future... conniseurs will insist that global carbon emissions not be allowed to fall below a certain level.

via GeekPress

Posted by Phil at 07:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thinking at Your Computer


Cyberkinetics Inc. is about to ask federal regulators for permission to start testing its BrainGate device, which would enable paralyzed people to control computers directly with their brains or possibly help them move their limbs.

I hope they can pull this off. The quality-of-life implications for victims of paralysis are enormous.

Plus, this research on behalf of the paralyzed will eventually lead to major technological benefits for all. A direct brain-to-computer interface may sound a little scary, but it's coming. Once we have them, we won't be able to imagine how we ever got anything done with these clunky keyboard and mouse interfaces.

But this is probably a long way off. Currently, even speech-recognition technology is clunky. I would guess that thought-recognition will be quite a bit harder to get right.

Posted by Phil at 06:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rocket Science 101

Today's test is multiple choice. You have 30 minutes. Don't forget to show your math.

1. According to Glenn reynolds, an appropriate theme for a new moon mission might be:

A. More Green Cheese, Please
B. Flags and Footprints
C. Show me the Money
D. Moons Over My-Hammy

2. Which likely future development does Rand Simberg look forward to with great anticipation:

A. Arbitrarily long life, in good health
B. Flying cars
C. Gene therapy for personality disorders
D. Robot sex slaves

3. Which of the following has been declared not to be an immediate goal of the Chinese space program

A. Space station
B. Space dock
C. Moon shot
D. Death Star

4. According to Rand Simberg, heavy lift capability is

A. Absolutely essential
B. Highly overrated
C. No easy thing
D. What it's all about

5. According to Rand Simberg, what would motivate governments to get serious about space travel?

A. Precious metals found in the asteroids
B. Discovery of life on other planets
C. A UN-sponsored international competition
D. Imminent threat from a celestial object

6. In order to be considered a truly interstellar probe, Voyager I needs to travel beyond the

A. Kuiper belt
B. Orbit of Pluto
C. Heliosphere
D. Oort cloud

Posted by Phil at 06:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

About Speculist University

Some have asked about the subtle western motif that underpins much of what we do here at The Speculist. Why does a blog devoted to the future have posses and round-ups?

Good questions.

Beats me.

It might have something to do with the fact that the subdivision I live in was once an enormous ranch. Maybe I’m picking up on a vibe.

Actually, I doubt it. It turns out that there were several ranches. The property where my house sits was part of what was called the Cheese Ranch. A Dutch immigrant and his family raised dairy cattle and made cheese here. I suppose there might have been some round-ups, but I doubt there was much going on here in the way of poker games and saloon girls and heading them off at the pass.

It occurred to me a while back that a better choice for an organizing theme for The Speculist would have been a university. We could fund research, offer degrees, all that stuff. Instead of a posse, we’d have a faculty. Instead of a weekly round-up, we’d have a weekly symposium.

The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. So I’ve decided to add Speculist University as a regular feature. The Posse and the Round-up will keep their current form, but everything else we publish will be considered part of the course work towards one of our degree programs. Those may include:

Master of Science in Practical Time Travel

Master of Arts in Writing Predictions

Doctor of Speculism

Speculist University is a fully non-accredited institution. All readers are of The Speculist are eligible to attend. To attend classes, just read the blog entries. There will be an exam every Friday.

We’ll celebrate our first graduating class in May of 2007. Meanwhile, if anyone wants to organize a kegger, let me know.

Posted by Phil at 06:43 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 06, 2003

Of Lazarus Mice and Men

Wasn't I just saying that, in addition to the Methuselah Mouse, we need people working on a Lazarus Mouse? Well, via the Immortality Institute, here's the scoop on a company in Florida that might be doing some work along those lines:

Someday, David Shumaker hopes to perfect the science that will allow him to bring someone who's clinically dead back to life.

First, he'll have to get through the city of Boca Raton.

Shumaker's company, Suspended Animation, wants to build a research laboratory in the city to perfect the process of treating a dead body so it can stored and later brought back to life.

On Thursday, Shumaker and other Suspended Animation officials will take their case to the Planning & Zoning Board. Plans call for a 5,800-square-foot building in an office park off Rogers Circle on the city's north side.

Interestingly, Suspended Animation is attempting to develop a vitrification technique, which will be a competing technology for Alcor's cold storage. Vitrification is like high-tech mummification: the body is "dried" by replacing all the water with a solid or (more likely) gelatinous substance. If you can successfully swap out a body's water with such a substance, it should remain in a low-volatility state, a near stasis, for an indefinite period of time. If you can then reverse the process some time later, the body should be extremely well preserved. Eric Drexler provides a good description of the process in Engines of Creation.

Here's an interesting twist. The company's focus is somewhat different from Alcor's:

"The real focus is producing a medical treatment that ultimately will be done on people that are still alive," Shumaker said. "We're not raising the dead; we're stabilizing living tissue."

Shumaker, a physicist, envisions the process being used by terminally ill patients who want to be placed in cryosuspension, a sort of cold storage, until a cure is found for their ailments -- not just those who fancy being brought back to life in the distant future.

So perhaps what we're talking about here is more of a Rip Van Winkle Mouse than a Lazarus Mouse.

It only makes sense that the company would want to try this kind of technique out on animals before human beings. So, naturally, animal rights groups are already among those protesting Suspended Animation's presence. Here's an interesting quote:

"We find the experiments to be unnecessary, especially considering that so many people have volunteered to participate in this kind of research," said Crystal Miller-Spiegel, senior policy analyst for the American Anti-Vivisection Society, a Jenkintown, Pa., group that opposes research on animals. "We feel human volunteers would be more appropriate in this area of research."

Well, yeah. Better to risk expendable humans than fluffy bunnies. Of course, in the long run, the process is intended for humans and humans will be subjected to it.

I wonder what the legality of this will be? If the company can demonstrate revival of a vitrified mouse, and then, say, a rabbit, and then a rhesus monkey, would the state stand in the way of terminally ill (or just old and suffering) people who wanted to undergo it? This is different from Alcor's approach to cryonics, where a person (or just their head) is put into stasis only after they've died, although vitrification could presumably be used for that as well.

What would the legal status be of a living person put into a demonstrably reversible state of vitrification? Alive? Dead? What if the process had been demonstrated up through the monkey, but not yet on a human being?

This may be a viable alternative to pulling the plug, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia. I wonder how cases like that of Terri Schiavo would be impacted. If you could end any suffering the patient may be experiencing, and offer the hope of an eventual treatment — our definition of what constitutes "irreversible brain damage" is bound to be refined over time — why wouldn't this be a viable alternative? I know that if I were in that state, that's exactly what I would want done for me.

Moreover, if I were 85 or so and in poor health, having trouble getting around, maybe experiencing a lot of pain, I think I'd jump at the chance to be put in stasis. Even if the reversibility had not yet been demonstrated.

Which makes me wonder how big a coincidence it is that Suspended Animation has decided to locate in Boca Raton, a haven for well-off retirees?

Posted by Phil at 12:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Our First Interstellar Probe

From WiredNews:

NASA's Voyager 1, built to last just five years to probe Earth's planetary neighbors, has reached the solar system's final frontier and may have surfed into interstellar space, more than 26 years after its launch.

It turns out that it depends on whose definition of "interstellar space" you use to determine whether the distinguished craft has actually made it across this threshhold. From the article, I infer that the probe really has made it out of the heliosphere, but that there are other objects farther out that might still be considered part of the solar system. This must have to do with Voyager's plane of departure.

But in any event,Voyager I has traveled more than 90 AUs; that is, more than 90 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun. It is the most far-flung object in human history, and promises to hold that record for a while.

Posted by Phil at 10:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Getting There from Here

Speaking of the Future with Rand Simberg

There's nothing quite like the wisdom that can be gleaned from old movie posters. Consider one of the original posters for Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff. Under a picture of Sam Shepherd as Chuck Yeager, wearing a battered and smoldering depressurized flight suit, walking away from a plane crash with his partially melted helmet crooked under his arm, his face black with soot were printed these memorable words:

How the future began.

It's an evocative turn of phrase. If only it were true. Even when the movie was released twenty years ago, it was unclear that the events depicted in the film — primarily the Mercury missions, with a little bit of the Air Force rocket plane programs thrown in for good measure — were anything more than false starts on our way to a true space age. It might seem a little odd to describe Mercury as a "false start," seeing as that program led to Apollo. But as glorious as Apollo was, by 1983 it was (and is now even more so) a piece of the historical record, an artifact of the past. Two decades later, we're still waiting for the future to begin.

Well, here's a guy who has some thoughts on how we can get it started. Rand Simberg is a self-described "recovering aerospace engineer" whose weblog, Transterrestrial Musings, is one of the best sources on the web for lucid, insightful writing on developments in space technology and policy. Rand also writes for FOX News and Tech Central Station (and he covers a wide variety of topics, not just space.)

In the interview that follows, Rand and I discuss how and whether the space age got off track, and if so what we can do to get the future started in earnest.

I was talking with some folks the other night about the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. When the movie was released in 1968, it seemed a reasonable projection of the future: a true space station, regular commercial flights to space, permanent lunar settlements, and exploratory missions to the outer planets, all within about 30 years. Here we are 35 years later, and most of those things seem more distant now than they did then. Whatever happened to our future in space?

It was based on a lot of false assumptions, foremost being that the government was going to make it happen. We believed the rhetoric about "not because it's easy, but because it's hard," and the new frontier, and thought that the government actually cared about this stuff. But even the myth that a visionary president can lead us to the stars, exemplified by the Kennedy worshipers, has been shown to be false — he never gave a damn about space.

The irony is that if we hadn't been derailed by Apollo, which had much more to do with waging the Cold War on a peaceful front, and industrializing the south, than space, we'd probably be a lot closer to the vision of 2001 today. The Air Force was flying into space with the X-15, and it's possible that we would have continued along that path, a much more natural one, and that might have spun off into the private sector. But instead, in our hurry to get to the moon, we chose the most expensive way to do it, and established it as the fundamental paradigm for spaceflight that haunts us to this day.

Now that a we have a little distance (very little) from the Columbia disaster and the Gehman report, what's your best guess as to the future of the space shuttle?

My best guess is that we'll fly it a few more years, at which point it will become clear to all, even people in the government, that the private sector is leading the way to a more sane human spaceflight industry, and just get NASA out of the earth-to-LEO business completely, except as a customer of services. That's certainly my hope.

What about the future of NASA itself? You've written that it might be time for the agency to be put to rest, or that it could (with some substantial changes) play a part in supporting the entrepreneurial efforts that will be required to truly push humanity into space. Which of the two scenarios do you consider more likely? And if NASA is going to carry on, what are the fundamental changes that you think the agency will have to make in order to do so?

Unfortunately, I don't consider either very likely, but one can always hope. I'm not sure there are any changes that you can make with it as an existing agency — there's simply too much bureaucratic inertia there. I find it ironic that Japan just merged their three space agencies into one, because I think that we should go in the opposite direction here. R&D should be split out completely from operations, assuming that there should even be an operational part of government civil space. A lot of things like the commercial development centers, to the degree that it should be done at all, might be better done out of the Department of Commerce.

When I interviewed Robert Zubrin a while back, he was worried about the end of the shuttle program — not because he's a fan of the orbiter, but because he doesn't want to see the heavy-lift-capable shuttle launch infrastructure go the way of the Saturn V. If the shuttle is completely scrapped, is there anything on the horizon that might provide the same kind of lift as the shuttle boosters or the Saturn V? If not, what does the foreseeable future of space exploration look like, with only relatively light launch capability at our disposal?

I think that heavy lift is highly overrated. If we get cheap launch with small vehicles, you'll see a lot of innovative thinking in terms of orbital assembly techniques and new design concepts for orbital infrastructure and vehicles that allow us to do without it. The perceived need for a heavy lifter is always one of the major showstoppers to doing anything ambitious, and it needn't be. It's a fundamental economics problem. Big vehicles really do cost a lot more up front than small vehicles, particularly in terms of the ground infrastructure, but the market for payloads that size is simply too small to justify them. I expect to see heavy lift come along after the market is developed sufficiently to take advantage of it, just as we didn't see a need for a 747 until the 707 and other smaller jets had established the market.

Of course, unlike Dr. Zubrin, I'm in no rush to get to Mars.

Arthur C. Clarke is famously quoted as saying that once you're in Earth orbit, you're half way to anywhere. One of the reasons that I'm not as excited about the X Prize as some is that the it is aimed at achieving sub-orbital flight objectives. Why is new sub-orbital technology important? What does it give us?

Well, actually, that was Bob Heinlein, not Clarke. New suborbital technology is important for a number of reasons. First of all, it provides an entry point for the private industry that's affordable to investors with a realistic ROI. Second, it will teach us a lot about developing and operating launchers on a routine, reusable, affordable basis. Third, it will blow up a lot of misconceptions about the true cost of this stuff, because I'm confident that the costs of the private folks will show up the conventional government/industry cost models as being out of whack by at least one, if not two orders of magnitude. Fourth, it will develop a market of wealthy space travelers who will be interested in the next step, and have the money to plow into developing it.

Yes, orbit is a lot tougher job than suborbit, but as the suborbits gradually get faster and higher, eventually they become orbits. The real key is that, as Jeff Greason of XCOR says, to learn to do orbit cheaply and reliably, you learn to do something cheaply and reliably, then gradually increase the performance, building on lessons learned. This is the opposite approach to NASA's, which has always been to design to the end performance goal, and then try to figure out how to make it cheap and operable (usually with insufficient development budget). That approach has never worked, and probably never will.

You've been an advocate of private development and implementation of space technology. Can you provide a scenario by which private interests could drive us towards settlement of the moon, the planets, and/or the asteroids? Why do you think such a scenario is more likely than an attempt to achieve these objectives via government programs?

Well, I'm a contrarian here. The conventional wisdom, based on history, is that places are first settled for extractive economic reasons, and that only after they've become settled and "civilized" do the tourists come. Similarly, people (particularly in the conventional space industry) assume that, if space tourism comes at all, it will only be after the cost of launch has been driven down, and safety has increased, by some magical new whiz-bang technology.

As is often the case, the conventional wisdom is not particularly wise. I think that they've got things on their head. Launch costs are high, and vehicles unreliable, not because we lack technology, but because we lack markets. We do so little spaceflight that we haven't learned how to do it well, and we don't have any economies of scale. The only obvious large market, that doesn't require other major technological advances (e.g., solar power satellites, Helium 3 fusion), is people who want to go and will pay for the service.

Those payloads are already built, the payload interface is very simple and straightforward (keester and seat) and there are many more being manufactured every day, with unskilled labor. Because the world is growing wealthier, with socialism being replaced by freedom in many places, and adventure travel as an industry is already large and growing, looking to history as a guide to the future is in this case mistaken.

On the other hand, we've seen the result of government programs for the last four and a half decades. There's neither will, nor any clear path for them to create space settlements. The only way that I can see the government developing serious spacefaring capability will be if we're imminently threatened by some celestial object.

Can you estimate whether and when you think each of the following will occur?
Expedition to Mars? Permanent settlement on the Moon? Commercial Space Flight ? Manned Mission to Jupiter or Saturn?

There will certainly be an expedition to Mars. I would predict within the next couple decades if done privately, much longer (and perhaps never) if done by anything resembling NASA in its current form.

Permanent settlement on the moon? Yes, and it will likely be a resort initially.

Commercial space flight already exists, in the form of the commercial launch industry, but if you mean human space flight, in the suborbital sense it should commence within two years. Orbital is probably five to eight years off.

I don't see a manned mission to the gas giants for several decades with conventional technology, though nanotech could accelerate that considerably.

Finally, what are the most significant issues right now that have to be addressed in order for any of the above to happen?

To some degree, they already are being addressed. We need a clear and manageable regulatory environment, and some intelligent government policy in general. The Outer Space Treaty, another relic of the Cold War, needs to be scrapped or modified to have more explicit mechanisms for the establishment of property rights, and we need to amend the Liability Convention of 1972 to reduce liability risk for investors. But the most important barrier to date has been the inability to raise money. X-Prize is going to open up some peoples' eyes, and investors are now starting to take this sector seriously. They'll do so even more when someone gets rich by investing in an XCOR or Space-X. The other encouraging thing is that the dotcommers are getting interested, and turning to this new challenge. It would help a lot of NASA administrators would stop saying how difficult/impossible this is, but that's probably an unrealistic hope, since that's how they justify their budgets. I hope that in the future people will pay increasing less attention to them. The barriers are red tape and public perception. Let's tackle those, which is one of the reasons that I have my blog.

Rand Simberg also recently took on our Seven Questions About the Future.

Also see Speaking of the Future with...

Nina Paley | Phil Bowermaster | Michael Anissimov | Ramona | Robert Zubrin | Alex Lightman | Aubrey de Grey

Posted by Phil at 07:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 05, 2003

ITF #86

In the Future...

...additional startling research will confirm that men enjoy sports and don't like asking for directions.

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley

Posted by Phil at 03:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #85

In the Future...

...businesses will thrive selling snow to the Inuit and sand to the Saudis.

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley

Posted by Phil at 03:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 04, 2003

ITF #84

In the Future...

...advances in vacuum storage technologies will extend the benefit.

Posted by Michael S. Sargent at 06:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

No Chinese Moon Shot

As noted last week, the Chinese are talking about seriously ramping up their progress into space. But we can forget about a space race, at least to the moon:

Fresh from putting an astronaut into orbit, top Chinese space officials on Tuesday set out their new targets, including a space station within 10 years, but no man on the moon.

Instead, they're focusing on achieving some basic space milestones, stuff we did 30-40 years ago:

Top space official Hu Shixiang told a Hong Kong news conference that China wants to achieve three new goals in the coming decade: a space station, a space walk and docking technology.

Those sound like reasonable goals. Certainly nothing for us to be alarmed about.

Posted by Phil at 09:59 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Talk to the Palm

Check it out. Voice Command for PDA's. This sounds cool, but I don't think I should get it. Imagine the compex my PocketPC would have if it could understand the things I typically say to it.

What? Your battery is dying again? How can you be so useless?

Where the hell am I? Why can't you have a normal operating system like a real computer?

See? I've lined up your little infrared deal with the laptop's little infrared deal. He sees you just fine. Why can't you be more like him?

Hello? I'm tapping the little pen thing on the little icon. See? Tap. Tap. Tap. Is anybody there?

If I had waited just three weeks, I could have bought one of those T Mobile phone PocketPCs. Now that would have been useful.

You're this close, mister. One more screwup and I'm dusting off the Palm.

Posted by Phil at 09:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #83

In the Future...

...the therapeutic benefit of cinnamon crumpets will also be recognized.

Posted by Phil at 09:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Fat Cure

Future Pundit Randall Parker has the scoop on the discovery of the "fat" gene:

GAD2, which sits on chromosome 10, acts by speeding up production of a neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA, or gamma-amino butyric acid. When GABA interacts with another molecule named neuropeptide Y in a specific area of the brain - the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus - we are stimulated to eat.

The researchers behind this study believe that people who carry a more active form of the GAD2 gene build up a larger than normal quantity of GABA in the hypothalamus, and suggest that this over accumulation of GABA drives the stimulus to eat further than normal, and is thus a basis for explaining why obese people overeat.

So this genetic predisposition to obesity that we've heard about all along might be real. It's not surprising that it's a gene regulating beahvior rather than, say, metabolism. I've always thought that my weight problem might have something to do with the fatc that I eat too much. Call it a hunch.

But if it's genetic, so what? How does that help? Consider this:

One form of the gene was found to be protective against obesity, while another increased the risk of obesity. The normal weight group of French adults had a higher frequency of the protective form of the GAD2 gene. Obesity is three to five times less prevalent in France than in the USA.

And here I thought that was just because they always burn down their McDonaldses. Randall concludes:

If this result is confirmed in other populations expect GAD2 expression and the activity of the GAD6 protein to become targets for drug development.

Sign me up, Doc.

Posted by Phil at 09:29 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Seven Questions with Rand Simberg

Rand Simberg is our special guest this week, and will be the subject of our Speaking of the Future interview on Thursday. While we'll be talking to Rand primarily about our future in space, he writes on a wide range of subjects for FOX News, Tech Central Station, and his website, Transterrestrial Musings.

1. The present is the future relative to the past. What's the best thing about living here in the future?

The vast potential for wealth, happiness, human freedom and new social experiments as we start to open up new homes off the planet.

2. What's the biggest disappointment?

That we don't have spinning hotels in orbit and Panam Clippers servicing them.

3. Assuming you die at the age of 100, what will be the biggest difference be between the world you were born into and the world you leave?

Most of the people being born at that time will probably live as long as they want to, with a big universe to explore.

4. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you look forward to with the most anticipation?

Arbitrarily long life, in good health. It will make all else possible.

5. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you dread the most?

Weapons of increasingly more potential for devastation becoming increasingly available to people willing to use them for their own insane purposes. It's one of the reasons that we need to get lots of people off planet as soon as possible. Vacuum makes a damned good firewall.

6. Assuming you have the ability to determine (or at least influence) the future, what future development that you consider unlikely (or are uncertain about) would you most like to help bring about?

Well, I'm not sure that I have the talent or skills to bring it about, but I'd say superluminal and (possibly associated) time travel. It would open up whole new realms in adventure tourism.

7. Why is it that in the year 2003 I still don't have a flying car? When do you think I'll be able to get one?

Technology of the flight hardware aside, the biggest showstopper right now is probably traffic control. Think about how easy (too easy, in most cases) to get a driver's license right now, and then extend that to three dimensions. You might want a flying car, but do you really want everyone to have one? Until we get trustworthy automated flight controls, flying cars, to the degree that they exist, will remain playthings of the elites, and not practical for most people.

What's the deal with these seven questions?

Posted by Phil at 06:59 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Cancer's Silver Bullet May Be Gold

And very small. We're getting closer all the time, folks:

Gold "nano-bullets" could seek and destroy inoperable human cancers, suggest new studies by US scientists.

The tiny silica particles are plated with gold and heat up when near infrared light (NIR) is shone on them. This kills the cancer cells. Tests on human breast cancers, both in the test tube and in tumours in mice, were highly successful, the researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The nanoshells are designed to absorb near infrared light and convert that light to heat," explains Jennifer West, who led the study at Rice University, Houston, Texas. This is possible because the body's normal tissues are "essentially transparent" to NIR.

But does it work?

When the nanoshells were added to human breast cancer cells in the test tube, and then exposed to both NIR, 100 per cent were killed, says West. "And we saw no changes in cell viability with just nanoshells or just the laser - it's a true on/off situation."

The team also injected the nanoshells directly into the tumours of living mice and applied NIR. The tumours were destroyed within days.

Now all we need is a way to detect these tumors while they're still tiny. This nano-bullet approach can potentially prevent cancer from returning as well as from ever getting a foothold in the first place.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, keep drinking tea and eating ginger snaps.

Posted by Phil at 06:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Agent Smith Will Be Taller, Too

This is really good news. I remember that while watching the last one, every time Morpheus started one of his slow, ponderous — generally incomprehensible — speeches, I kept saying to myself, "Gee, if only the screen were bigger."


Posted by Phil at 06:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 03, 2003

ITF #82

In the Future...

...robot drivers will only have to get liability insurance; collision won't be an issue.

Posted by Phil at 02:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Inexhaustible Motivation

Glenn Reynolds on returning to the moon:

I’ve been more of a fan of Mars missions than of a lunar return, though unlike many in the area I’m not committed to either the Moon or Mars as a necessary next step. There are plausible pathways to human settlement of outer space that start with Mars, there are plausible pathways that start with the Moon, and there are plausible pathways that involve neither, though those are a bit more difficult.

What’s most important is that whatever we do be sustainable, not just another flags-and-footprints mission to say we’ve done it. Long-term, that means getting private enterprise involved, and making sure that people can make money. Taxpayers get tired of spending money. Businesspeople never get tired of making it.

Absolutely. We need to replace scarce motivation with abundant, nay, inexhaustible motivation.

Posted by Phil at 12:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More Prize-Eligible Research

Meanwhile, speaking of breakthroughs-in-the-making, work continues on the world's first do-it-yourself home railgun.

Posted by Phil at 12:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Noah or Moses Would Be Pretty Cool, Too

The Methuselah Mouse Prize, a competition aimed at producing the world's all-time oldest mouse (as part of the roadmap for curing human aging) has been getting a lot of deserved attention lately. The prize money has gone up substantially.

Come on, people, what' stopping you? This isn't like the X Prize where you have to build a freaking space ship. Just get yourself a few mice and see how long you can get them to live.

Try cod liver oil. Might work!

Also, when can we have a Lazarus Mouse prize to demonstrate the viability of cryonics?

Posted by Phil at 12:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What Color is Your Nano Goo?

Howard Lovy is looking for someone to settle a little bet for him:

We're told that true molecular manufacturing is impossible. That's what eminent scientists have told Congress, anyway, and that's the focus of many spirited debates among the nanorati. The National Science Foundation can't seem to make up its mind, labeling large-scale self-replication "very speculative, more like science fiction," yet also part of its vision for the future.

Do you think it's time to settle the bet?

I think somebody will oblige you on that one, Howard, perhaps sooner than any of us expect. I just hope that when it does happen, it happens here in the US or elsewhere in the west. My understanding is that China is funding the daylights out of nano-research, and they are apparently quite confident that molecular manufacturing is possible.

I don't want to seem alarmist. Lovy offers an excellent assessment of alarmist views of nanotechnology:

From the anti-Jewish blood libels of the Old World to the modern mythology of tainted Halloween candy in the New, public hysteria usually begins with the idea that unseen forces are conspiring to poison us or kill our children.

I agree that that particular hysteria is misplaced. Nanotech out of control is mostly a bogeyman. Nanotech in the wrong hands is a very real threat. It's not gray goo I'm worried about. It's Red goo.

Posted by Phil at 11:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

This Week 11/03/03

Our special guest this week is Rand Simberg: aerospace engineer, columnist, consultant, space blogger extraordinaire. Rand's name was bandied about recently when some of the Posse members were talking about who should be our next (actually, our first) US Supreme Astro-Commander. This promises to be a fun week!

Time Traveler's Notebook. We'll look at the four phases of the time travel process.

Rand Simberg answers Seven Questions about the Future.

Stillness, Chapter 12. Part II begins. We meet a guy named Emmett who apparently works for the same company as Reuben, but who leads a much less glamorous life. If you've been meaning to read Stillness (and I assume that applies to everyone who currently is not reading it), this will be a great time to start. Part II introduces a brand new story with no immediate connection to the previous 11 chapters (which you can always go back and catch up on later.) Part II is very different from Part I. Check it out.

We'll be Speaking of the Future with Rand Simberg.

U. Spec. What is Speculist University? What degrees are offered? Who can attend? Answers to these and other questions.

Future Round-up. All of the In the Future... predictions for the week brought together in one handy list.

Plus, throughout the week we'll be blogging developments in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, space exploration, and other future-impacting areas.

Posted by Phil at 07:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 01, 2003

Future Roundup 11/01/03

Here's the full collection of last week's In the Future... predictions. This will be remembered as the week in which the nanohamster was first seriously contemplated. Hat tips to FastForward Posse members Robert Hinkley and Chris Hall for helping us to look ahead.

In the Future...

... we'll drive down to the river for a recharge.

... having secured the rights of its own kind, a mechanical pundit will head up RETH (Robots for the Ethical Treatment of Humans).

...minihamsters will give way to microhamsters and, inevitably, nanohamsters.

...we won't have to settle for anything less than an ultra-super-hyper-mega scramjet

That does it for last week. Until next time, we'll see you in the future.

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