Saturday, August 23, 2014

Terraforming robots

Abiogenesis (Short Film) from Richard Mans on Vimeo.

I need to step up my game when looking for science fiction shorts on the internet. This is twice in the past two weeks that I09 beat me to one.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Three technologies in the military sphere

Three technologies have been making headlines in defense circles, all of which hold the possibility of significantly impacting how we fight wars.


First up, old-school kinetics. Weapons that shoot faster, farther, and hit harder. Or in this case, vastly harder, at much longer ranges, and with speeds that put these systems in a category of their own. 

Hypersonic is a blanket term covering a number of weapons ranging from magnetic accelerators to air-breathing and rocket powered missiles. What these have in common is exceeding Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound) for nearly the entire duration of munition flight time. Much or all of the associated damage from these systems comes from the sheer kinetic energy imparted into the targets.

Enough energy in some cases to set fire to metal.

The US Navy will be conducting at sea trials in the near future.

In science fiction, rail guns have been largely depicted as slightly longer-ranged cannons. Hypersonic missiles and the effects of their speed on shaping battle spaces have been largely absent.

One of the most likely near-term real world applications of accelerator technology is as defensive weapons to shoot down incoming missiles and indirect fire projectiles such as, artillery shells. Where present day point defense weapon systems are essentially point blank in range, defense accelerators on naval vessels hold a very real potential to extend the envelope for accurate defensive fires to the horizon. An inbound missile or shell tracked by a radar or even sufficiently advanced optical network can come under sustained fire the moment it clears the curve of the Earth.

Currently, sustained shoot down attempts only take place during the terminal seconds of a weapon's flight.

Additionally, a rail gun round can reach the horizon traveling near the velocity it departed the weapon muzzle at. This, where standard chemical projectiles move with significantly decreased velocity at much shorter ranges. That drop in speed necessitate an arced flight path to get as much range as possible. Such an arc exposes conventional rounds to all sorts possible of disturbances. Rail gun projectiles by contrast have a nearly flat flight path, which increases accuracy through both reduced deviations and simplified targeting.

Likewise, rail guns could make air-defense artillery a significantly more lethal threat to manned and unmanned aircraft with the ability to accurately and nearly instantly engage high flying targets. For the first time since smart bombs allowed bombers and fighters to nail targets from above 3,000 meters, air-defense cannons may once again become a significant factor in shaping the battle space.

On the offense side of the equation, naval rail gun artillery is poised to extend the range of wet bombardment platforms farther inland when used for indirect fires. With significantly a higher rate of fire than conventional artillery, a rail gun-equipped cruiser could lay down the kind of firepower associated with battleships on inland targets well outside the historical reach of naval warfare units.

Meanwhile, accelerators and hypersonic missiles mounted on ground vehicle could end up blurring or erasing the distinction between anti-armor and anti-aircraft weapons.

Next up: Hypersonic missiles and supper capacitors. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mid year science / science ficiton shorts

The cutest science fiction short film of the year so far.

Orbitas | by PrimerFrame from PrimerFrame on Vimeo.

Also, a rather beautiful motion capture study of Olympians. Highly abstracted.

Citius, Altius, Fortius from Felix Deimann on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Music states

For those interested, what I'm listening to this summer. Or at least the bands whose labels have OFFICIAL YouTube pages with sharing and embedding enabled.

I shouldn't like Metric's Synthetica. It doesn't fit within my normal spectrum of taste states. Also, not a big fan of synth-inflected pop, but...

But it's brilliantly constructed with amazing lyrics and energy appropriate to summer.

Pairs-based Lebanese singer and songwriter Yasmine Hamdan. I've been a listener since seeing her in Only Lovers Left Alive. Particularly for sounds slow and intense.

Jolie Holland's "Dark Days" from this year's Wine Dark Sea. Yes, it is in fact darkly dark. But also fun, riding as it does on Holland's throaty vocals, building power, and warm, complex sound. So there.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Audio hallucinations and loving machines

Two articles got me thinking about human nature and its future this week.

Stanford researcher: Hallucinatory 'voices' shaped by local culture:

'via Blog this'

One is a Stanford News piece covering a recent study's findings about the influence of culture on the expression of schizophrenia. Namely an anthropologist's take on how the hallucinatory voices are perceived by schizophrenics in differing societal contexts. Professor Tanya Luhrmann's interpretation of her data is that in individualist cultures the voices are more likely to be experienced as hostile or as deficits. Those with the illness in more collectivist societies have a better chance of interpreting the voices as friendly and as aspect of the world.

First, the normal disclaimer. As a rule of thumb, it's best to wait for three studies done by three teams at separate facilities to come to similar conclusions before declaring any set of findings "fact". Second, the sample populations in this study appear to have been very small. Also, the discussed definition for what constitutes individualist and collectivists societies is...broad. Calling western societies individualist is throwing a wide blanket over a group of culture strung out rather than clustered on that spectrum.

To me, this study looks like an interesting start point. An inroad on the contextual presentations of schizophrenia that's deserving of a lot more follow up.

That said, I've always wondered if it was easier to be schizophrenic, or at least more accepted, when the voices were often seen as aural manifestations of angels, demons, or saints. I've also suspected that it'd be even easier to deal with the audio hallucinations in animist cultures where the dominant paradigms frequently imbue everything with the potential for voice and consciousness.

It's also amazing how period and technology specific the voices can be. While living in Scandinavia ten years ago, I spent quite a bit of time hanging around doctors in general and psychiatrists specifically. One of their more interesting observations was the hallucinatory universality of spy satellites, in particular CIA spy satellites, used to steal or read thoughts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Rather than individualist versus collective, I wonder if it's paradigm that's the stronger influence. An individual's broad worldview in the sense of technology base, religion type, general acceptance of the existence of clinical disorders of the mind, and more in that vein.

Assuming that the differences hold up with larger sample populations.

I also wonder if people might choose to cultivate useful forms of schizophrenia in the future, with implants and gene augmentation. To give literal voices to the various analytic functions of the brain.

How? One of the more intriguing hypotheses I've come across about the disease is that an individual's inner narrative voice is a composite of several analytical and simulation functions. Schizophrenia, in this model, is in part a timing error in which the inputs that make up the singular voice of the mind fall out of sync with one another. A lack of cohesion that we might eventually take deliberate advantage of to construct a new style of processing our world awareness with parallel internal narratives.

That said, it's been several years since I've encountered the voice timing hypothesis in a medical journal. I have no idea how or if it's held up in light of recent discoveries about networks in the brain, and our ongoing refinement of neuroanatomical functions.

Failing the Third Machine Age: When Robots Come for Grandma — The Message — Medium:

'via Blog this'

Robots as emotional caregivers and sources of solace?

That's actually something I've given a fair amount of thought to. Though for reasons other than those articulated by assistant University of North Carolina professor Zeynep Tufekci.

Where Tufekci is understandably concerned about the destruction of much needed medical and caregiver jobs and all the violent turmoil associated with past technological revolutions, I'm more worried on this issue that humans will quit or greatly reduce their socializing with one another.

Especially if the robots or software agents are kinder than people. Nicer and either capable of genuine emotion or a facsimile convincing enough for people to buy into.

Why? Because I've seen it happen with monkeys. Not monkeys and robots, but monkeys and humans.

Usually with juvenile and young adult rhesus macaques who became accustomed to socializing with people. Hanging out with the lab techs was all about the constant grooming opportunities, treats, and all those encouraging friendly noises (words) that humans tend to vocalize around monkeys they like. Life in the troop, on the other hand, was endless macaque infighting and politics. The sharp edged conflicts over status, jockeying for position, and slapping down or humiliating those underneath to keep them in their place in the rhesus hierarchy.

That's not to say life in all troops was brutish. Leadership styles of the elites and combativeness within each culture varied. Still, it never looked fun at the bottom, and in some groups not even tolerable in the middle or at the top.

Monkeys acclimatized to human-levels of friendly interactions and lack of common social violence tended to do poorly when introduced back into a communal housing unit.

Not that human society is anything close to perfect. There are those who would almost certainly be healthier and more emotionally stable with loving machines rather than their squabbling fellow human primates. Still, I'd rather see technology help make us better social animals rather than seclude us from one another. The future of human augmentation, in my eyes, is as much about improved emotions as enhanced reasoning or augmented talents.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Beautiful Space Photos: Summer edition

Some of these were featured by NASA on Twitter earlier this year to celebrate the Academy Award nominations garnered by Gravity. Which, even with its shortcomings and lack of orbital mechanics realism, was an amazing film. Also, the first movie that truly benefited from being presented in 3D. Or at least it did for me. The technology gave the cinematography an edge and..well...depth that very much contributed to the sense of transport and wonder.

Also: Apollo photos to celebrate the 45th anniversary of humanity's first landing on another world.

Public domain, courtesy of NASA unless otherwise noted. 

For some lovely and colorful copyrighted images, check out the astrophotography website of Hungarian astronomer, Ivan Eder. Eder has produced some amazing shots of our solar system's various celestial bodies, as well as photos of the deep sky including nebula and galaxies. Very much worth your time.

Friday, July 18, 2014

My kind of headspace

I love games with 3D environments. Some of this is from having read Ender's Game as a child, and the sheer awesomeness of the main character's solution to how one orients oneself when there is no up and down. How does a person move and coordinate with others in a place where there aren't any of the directions that life has accustomed us to?

The answer, of course, is to create your own frame of reference. One that maps the old sense of direction onto a new environment in a way that opens up new possibilities.

I also love such games because they push us players to transcend the 2D environment that shaped us. Sure they're uncomfortable at first, but any sort of transcendence, even a little one barely worthy of the name, requires doing strange and sometimes disorienting things. It's a part of pushing past the narrow points of view we all start out with in life. Views like the limited framework terrestrial evolution has gifted us with, if we want to move onward and outward into the universe at large.