Finally, the steampunk revolution produces something useful!
On June 18, 2013, Asteroid 2013 MZ5 was originally detected, and by June 24, it was officially identified as the 10,000th Near Earth Object (NEO – asteroids and comets whose orbits approach or cross Earth’s orbit) to be discovered. Asteroid 2013 MZ5 is approximately 1,000 feet (300 meters) across. Its orbit is well understood, and it will not approach close enough to Earth to be considered potentially hazardous. Although 10,000 NEOs may seem to be a huge number, less than 1% of NEOs believed to be 100 feet or larger (large enough to “cause significant devastation” according to NASA) have been detected. How significant would the devastation be from a 100 foot Near Earth Asteroid (NEA)? Imagine a 100 foot NEA striking a city with a population of millions, and leaving a crater where that entire city used to be. That certainly qualifies as significant devastation.
The February 15 NEA airburst over Chelyabinsk, Russia (which injured approximately 1,000 people), brought worldwide media attention to that NEA, if only for that weekend. Since then, NASA has increased its efforts to request from the U.S. Congress the additional funding needed to identify and categorize NEOs. (Since there are believed to be considerably more NEAs than near Earth comets, the term NEA tends to be more commonplace.) Time will tell if that additional funding is approved.
“That’s some Mortal Combat finishing move shit right there.” Why did I post this? Because it’s funny and it looks like an alien I guess. Enjoy.
The Jamesburg Earth Station, a communications dish just outside Carmel, California, is currently pointing into space. Unlike most such dishes, it isn’t passive:
Instead of listening for ET, like SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), or waiting for ET, like the wonderfully humorous WETI (Wait For Extraterrestrial Intelligence – success to-date is 100%, they note) the METI movement is proactively messaging the universe.
David Brin isn’t so sure this is a good idea:
Let there be no mistake. METI is a very different thing than passively sifting for signals from the outer space. Carl Sagan, one of the greatest SETI supporters and a deep believer in the notion of altruistic alien civilizations, called such a move deeply unwise and immature. (Even Frank Drake, who famously sent the “Arecibo Message” toward the Andromeda Galaxy in 1974, considered “Active Seti to be, at best, a stunt and generally a waste of time.) Sagan — along with early SETI pioneer Philip Morrison — recommended that the newest children in a strange and uncertain cosmos should listen quietly for a long time, patiently learning about the universe and comparing notes, before shouting into an unknown jungle that we do not understand.
The body of science fiction works seems to support Mr. Brin’s view. A blank search of the WWEnd database’s “alien invasion” subgenre tag (through Booktrackr) netted 69 books. Here’s just a few:
Project Loon sounds like the premise of a science fiction novel, but it’s already being tested:
Google ran its first public test last weekend, in New Zealand, sending 30 balloons into the sky and offering 60 lucky volunteers 15 minutes of balloon-based Internet access. Smaller, private tests were conducted in California and possibly elsewhere.
The company says that “over time” it intends to set up similar pilots in countries with the same latitude as New Zealand (40th parallel south). It hasn’t provided any timeline for these pilots.
And to think, until now, I only envied those Google Fiber towns…
Once again, the social value of science fiction has proven helpful in the real world:
A few weeks ago, the United Nations affirmed Isaac Asimov‘s First Law of Robotics: “A robot may not injure a human being.” Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, said as much in a May 29 speech to the Human Rights Council in Geneva calling for a moratorium on the development of lethal robots. His argument followed two thoughtful paths, expressing concern that they cannot be as discriminating in their judgments as humans and that their very existence might make war too easy to contemplate. As he summed up the grim prospect of robot soldiers, “War without reflection is mechanical slaughter.”
The aptly named Campaign to Stop Killer Robots has endorsed the Heyns report’s recommendations, namely:
- Put in place a national moratorium on lethal autonomous robotics. (Paragraph 118)
- Declare a commitment to abide by International Humanitarian Law and international human rights law in all activities surrounding robotic weapons and put in place and implement rigorous processes to ensure compliance at all stages of development. This should be done both unilaterally and through multilateral fora. (Paragraph 119)
- Commit to being as transparent as possible about internal weapons review processes, including metrics used to test robotic systems. States should at a minimum provide the international community with transparency regarding the processes they follow (if not the substantive outcomes) and commit to making the reviews as robust as possible. (Paragraph 120)
- Participate in international debate on lethal autonomous robotics and be prepared to exchange best practices with other States, and collaborate with the High Level Panel on lethal autonomous robotics. (Paragraph 121)
All of this comes on the heels of a Department of Defense directive to pause the development of “autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems that could lead to unintended engagements.” The pause, of course, can be unpaused any time the DoD wants. No word on whether any such robots, commonly known as LARS (Lethal Autonomous Robots), will ever be programmed with Asimovian directives.
I wouldn’t hold my breath.
If you’d like glimpse of what happens next, check out Asimov’s vision. Maybe he’ll prove prescient:
From our science-fact department: Here’s yet another example of increasingly human-like abilities that our robots are acquiring. Even Asimov would be impressed. This one is designed to test out hazmat suits and the like, so it doesn’t really need to stand on its own. Somehow that makes me feel safer…
If this puts you in the mood to read a robot tale, check out the whole sub-genre here.
Some of our more popular posts included videos of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield explaining how water behaves when being wrung out from a washcloth in space, or demonstrating how to drink coffee in a microgravity environment. This, by far, surpasses even those kick-ass productions. Mr. Hadfield, you are our hero.
IBM has created the world’s smallest movie by manipulating individual atoms into a stop-motion story called A Boy and His Atom – which can only been seen under 100 million times magnification. Yeah, let that sink in for a minute. The film was made to highlight their research in the field of atomic-scale memory. That’s right, they’re going to store data on those atoms. That is the stuff of science fiction, my friends.
Apparently William Gibson had it right when he said “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”