Category Archives: Science

The Back-Packers Guide to the Apocalypse (Part 2)

As we discovered in Part 1, the threat of the Apocalypse is not bearing down upon us at this very minute as the charlatans and commercial thumpers would have us believe. We are actually in pretty good shape as far as those things go. I stated in my earlier post the only realistic potential apocalypse scenarios are an asteroid/meteorite impact,  a super volcano or a pandemic/epidemic. The first two are really rare and we would most likely have time to prepare and adjust for the events. The pandemic/epidemic is the one to keep your eye on. When that comes it will be swift and severe, and because we are a globally traveling society, it will spread very quickly. But remember, if you are not exposed to the threat, it will not harm you.

In any survival situation, you can use Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a rudimentary guide. Maslow used a pyramid to illustrate this concept with Physiological Needs as the largest and most relevant, encompassing the base. Next up the scale was Safety Needs followed by Love/Belonging Needs. There are two more needs at the top of the pyramid, Esteem and Self-actualization, but they are more along the lines of “feel-good-about-yourself” than actual immediate survival. Basically, you must satisfy your Physiological Needs (breathable air, food, water) before you can move up to your Safety Needs (shelter and defense). Both of these needs must  be satisfied before you can satisfy Love/Belonging (a mate and a community). It makes a lot of sense in that if you’re starving to death you’re first priority is sustenance of the body instead of finding a shelter, and then a mate or community to join. When you secure food and water, your focus then turns to adequate shelter. When both of these needs are met, you’ll look for companionship, and so forth and so on up the pyramid. Maslow’s Hierarchy kind of puts the situation in an initial primal perspective for your apocalypse survival.

Now most of the commercial entities who talk about dooms day survival are adamant about hoarding gold, silver and currency. Most likely because they are selling that product. That’s all fine and wonderful if you want to swap your gold bars and all your cash for a can of tomato soup to feed your family when you’re desperate. If economies crumble and we are reduced to a barter society, people will want to trade for the essentials of life not the luxuries. Gold, silver and currency is fine for a really short term event where society is relatively intact; but for a long term disaster where the economy has shattered, it will be a burden instead of a viable tool to secure any kind of supplies. And fully expect to get shafted in any trade using gold, silver or currency for an essential. If you’re in a daily struggle to secure food and water, then fish hooks or ammunition or vegetable seeds will be vastly more valuable to you as a trade item than a $100 bill or bag of silver coins. If I have something you need, I will trade you for something I need. This is where you must get out of the current worldwide economical mindset and get barter primal like the stone age. That’s the situation that will exist.

Next big issue is to shelter in place. You might have to forage for food and water, but at your home you have most of the weapons, tools, clothing and other essentials you will need for a decent attempt at daily survival. You can set up a perimeter and defend it, if needed. You may not have power or running water but it will be a satisfactory shelter regardless. Don’t cram your family, and whatever else you can, into the car and take off down the highway seeking a new horizon unless it is unavoidably necessary to escape a deadly situation. There will be total chaos and anarchy on the roads and highways, with desperate people doing despicable things. When a man is watching his wife and kids beginning to starve, he WILL rationalize the behavior and do whatever he needs to feed them. Harming or killing you and yours will not affect him in the least. It will be sad but true. That is the nature of humans. So if at all possible, be inconspicuous make your stand at home.

Now, what you store up against the apocalyptic event for survival is basically up to you; whatever your personal needs will be and the environment you will live in until the crisis has ended. The basics for everyone will be food, water, special medicines needed, shelter and weapons for defense. Maslow’s Hierarchy again. It’s not brain surgery so put a little thought into it and start putting smart things away if you deem necessary. Depending on the event, you may need to learn some canning/preserving skills or first aid or farming skills; or at least buy some books to have on hand outlining those skills if you need them.

The key to the whole issue is to be aware of the threats and know what options are available if they occur. To be perfectly frank, a dooms day event will most likely never occur in your lifetime so don’t be foolish and sta

rt spending frivolously for naught. There is a lot of commercial companies that thrive on the foolish who they can terrify into buying their products. Don’t get caught up in that circus. Be mindful of the news media stories, know where you can procure threat appropriate items and have a general plan. You will endure.

Personal common sense has saved more lives than all the collective doctors, clerics and academics who ever lived.


The Back-Packers Guide to the Apocalypse (Part 1)

Apocalypse! The very word sends shudders up some peoples spines making them manic and paranoid; running around like Chicken Little personified screaming the sky is falling and getting ready to hide under the proverbial bed. Well, in the parable an acorn simply fell on his head. But then most recently, the end of the world scenario has been utmost on some Chicken Little minds, especially when prophetic events like the ending of the Mayan calendar, or the incredibly cryptic prophecies of loonies like Nostradamus are touted and seemingly validated by media eccentrics who believe such nonsense, and want you to believe it as well to sell their books or get you to buy elaborate doomsday supplies.  Our old friend money has popped his head up again. But let’s now be realistic and look at the issue from the perspective of someone with no commercial agenda and a little common sense.

First, what does Apocalypse actually mean. The English word comes from the Greek word apokálypsis, meaning “uncovering”; being translated literally as “a disclosure of knowledge”.  What? That doesn’t mean the end of the world? Where does the doom of the world come from? Well, it takes on that meaning inadvertently from the Book of Revelation in the Bible, in the context of meaning the return of Jesus Christ, the destruction of Satan and his forces and the beginning HIS one thousand year reign of Peace. See the English Bible was translated from the Greek translation. So then it becomes a religious disclosure of knowledge proclaiming the end of the former world as we know it. Not a bad thing if you’re a Christian. A very bad thing if you’re not. Research the Book of Revelation for more information on it. This event is a matter of Faith and when/if it happens a whole new set of rules apply.

So now let us look at the physical ways this planet can actually be scientifically injured thereby posing a realistic threat to mankind. Note I didn’t say destruction of the planet. There is no probable, practical mechanism or significant threat that can seriously destroy the planet itself at this time. But the surface can be rendered uninhabitable, or the life forms can be eradicated. And also distinguish between “probable” and “possible”. Almost anything can be possible, just not always probable. These are two completely different concepts when you deal with events. It is technically possible that a coconut wielding maniac hippie shark with an eye patch will jump up behind you in the rain on the toilet and beat you senseless while singing Ave Maria…but not realistically probable.

The most noteworthy ways of our collective destruction are:

Geomagnetic Reversal: This is a change in a planet’s magnetic field such that the positions of magnetic north and magnetic south are interchanged completely, or to varying degrees. On average this happens every 450,000 years or so, and most reversals are estimated to take between 1,000 and 10,000 years. The latest one occurred about 780,000 years ago.  A brief complete reversal, occurred only 41,000 years ago during the last ice age. Did the world end. No. Were there mass extinctions? Possibly. No one really knows for sure but the evidence indicates that this is not an event that will crumble the planet and eradicate all life. It may be a spooky thing to happen but we would continue to survive. This is a possible but not likely event so don’t buy a new compass. Possible but not probable as a civilization eradicator!

Gamma Ray Burst: This is a flash of Gamma Rays associated with extremely energetic explosions that have been observed in distant galaxies. Bursts can last from ten milliseconds to several hours and are believed to consist of a narrow beam of intense radiation released during a supernova or hypernova as a rapidly rotating, high-mass star collapses blah, blah, bah. The sources of most Gamma Ray Bursts are billions of light years away from Earth and are extremely rare. In fact, all observed Gamma Ray Bursts have originated from outside our galaxy. It is only a theory that IF a Gamma ray burst in the Milky Way, and IF it was pointing directly towards the Earth, it MIGHT cause a  mass extinction event. That’s a lot of ifs and maybes to take a Gamma Ray Burst seriously especially since they are not even in our own galaxy. Possible but not even probable! I’ll throw the bullshit flag on this one as no threat whatsoever.

Black Hole: This is a theoretical region of spacetime exhibiting such strong gravitational effects that nothing, including particles and  light,  can escape from inside it. It would literally shred our planet to pieces and absorb it into the void. The nearest black hole to Earth is believed to be at the center of our galaxy. So it’s not nearby, and there is not a traveling hobo black hole that has been identified coming through our neighborhood, so this phenomenon is virtually non-threatening at all. Possible but not probable! Another bullshit flag.

Biotech disaster: Biological technology is another way of saying genetically modified. If you buy non-organic groceries at the supermarket, you are most likely buying meat and vegetables that have been genetically modified to look better, taste better, last longer; and be insect and weather resistant. We have even seen cloning of sheep in our lifetime. Genetic modification and the biological science’s are researching more ways of enhancing and changing genetic structure’s of organisms at an alarming rate. But when you tamper with Nature’s genetic engineering, you are asking for trouble. This is an area where the technology can get away from the architects very easily if they are not fanatically diligent. When I begin seeing cattle with claws and fangs, as well as a nasty carnivorous appetites, I’ll worry about this one. We could technically engineer our own destruction, but on a planetary scale it’s not realistically feasible. This one is possible and probable if due care and responsibility is ignored! In extraordinary circumstances, this event might cause problems for, or irritate the human race, but not destroy the physical planet.

Climate Change: We may be seeing this event unfolding at this very  minute. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been pumping carbon dioxide and other pollutants into our air and water supply to the point the planet is beginning to change. This is a serious threat to our current way of existence but not to our species survival. At the very worse, we may have to adjust to an ice age existence but realistically we would continue to survive as a specie although populations would plummet like ice cubes in a tumbler. The planet itself would endure fine albeit in a different state. Possible and most likely probable if changes are not initiated immediately to correct the pending imbalances!

Super Volcano: This one is one of the more serious threat’s today. Super volcanoes do exist worldwide and there is historical evidence of their periodic eruptions. Most of our planet is molten rock and we live on our planet’s shallow and fragile crust which is governed by plate tectonics.  Where the plates meet, there will be always be seismic activity. There are volcano’s all along these plates but the few super volcanoes are extraordinarily dangerous to our species. Sadly, they are inevitable. Scientists are monitoring them constantly and are getting consistently better at predicting eruptions. Therefore, we can at least get away from the blast range of an eruption and evacuate ahead of a pyroclastic flow if warned in time. But it’s the ejection of billions of tons of matter into the atmosphere that’s the issue. A super volcano could throw enough ejecta into the air to cover the Earth with a blanket of dust, block out the Sun’s rays and thrust us into a volcanic winter for an indeterminate period of time. This is the true end time scenario as used in movies for drama. Crops and all vegetation would eventually fail, animals would die, starvation would soon begin on a massive scale, water supplies would be non-potable, world and communal societies would devolve into chaos, economies would crumble, and we would be thrust into a literal dark age existence again bartering for our needs, or taking them by force of arms. We would have to survive on stored rations until the overcast dissipated and the land could support plants again. Mankind would most likely survive as a species, but in the interim, it would be the most harsh, cruel and base existence for the few survivors. Civilization, as we know it today, would never exist again. They are rare but this one is very possible and eventually probable at some point.

Asteroid/Meteorite Strike: Scientists tell us this is another of those events which is a matter of WHEN not IF it’s going to happen. The most recent serious threat was probably the Tunguska Event in 1908. Our planet and Moon are pockmarked reminders that asteroid and meteor strikes have rained down on this planet throughout it’s existence. The destructive power of this event depends on the size and the speed of the object that collides with the Earth. But an asteroid roughly 5 miles in diameter travelling at a hypersonic speed will destroy all living things on the planet…that’s the feared Planet Killer. No need to hoard food or water, no need to crawl in a hole, no chance of survival unless you leave the planet. But even then there’s no place to go. Scientists and world governments know of this threat and are making minute strides to address it when it does occur; but any realistic plan to deal with it is still on the drawing boards at this stage. At least the scientific observers have identified several larger near Earth objects and are tracking them, so we can have advanced warning (if the officials decide to tell us). The smaller ones are to numerous to track. Now, some of these smaller impacts we can survive, once again, depending on the size. We could have something like the volcanic winter mentioned earlier except this is called an impact winter. Same results, just a different name for the cause. This threat is very possible and eventually probable at some point.

Artificial Intelligence/Nano Technology: This event is more theoretical than practical at this point in our technological development. Until we reach “technological singularity” and our thinking machines and computers become smarter than our programming and failsafe measures, we have no serious threat from AI to destroy our human civilization. Also Nano-technology is predicted for the future but the technology is just not upon us yet. Supposedly these microscopic robots can turn rogue and reduce all matter on the planet’s surface to gray goo. Sounds more science fiction than science. This is another instance to throw the bullshit flag and not worry about something that doesn’t exist, except in the mind of a pot smoking Hollywood screenplay writer. Like a ghost in the machinery, when I see it I’ll believe it possible and take the threat more seriously. No matter the outcome, the planet will survive without any problem. It’s the indentured servant of humanity vs. the master machine scenario that’s the issue. Possible and maybe probable…just not anytime soon.

Pandemic/Biological Warfare: This one is another of the more seriously probable events. Nature has a way of culling an animal population to get it to appropriate, balanced numbers that can survive and flourish in it’s environment. When the population get’s too large she’ll starve it back to the proper balance or introduce disease. Epidemics and Pandemics are nothing new to our history and is Nature’s way of culling our human herd. Almost everybody has heard of the bubonic plagues of medieval Europe, killing almost 25% of the population. Basically one in every four people died of the disease. And it’s still around. Even recently, in 1918, the Spanish Influenza killed 100 million people worldwide. And I am sure there are others throughout history. In our times, we have had the luxury of antibiotics to stave off infections and other nasty’s, keeping us out of the grip of pandemics. But Nature has ways of counteracting our cleverness. Scientist’s are now seeing a rise in antibiotic resistant strains of viruses and bacteria which could leave our medicines and treatments useless to combat the threat. Also Nature has a way of causing viruses and bacteria to mutate allowing them to change their way of attacking us, as well as being shielded from the medicines. So this event is very possible and eventually probable at some point in our future. Is it a planet destroyer? No. Planet will be just fine. Is it a mankind destroyer? Possibly. But not an extinction event for the species. And there is no such thing, or ever will be such a thing as a Zombie Apocalypse. That’s just being stupid. There has never been a virus or bacteria that has caused humans to crave eating brains of another human. Pot smoking Hollywood screenwriters trying to make a buck again. To me personally, the possibility of a pandemic or epidemic is the most serious threat of them all because we have seen it too may times before, and Nature is diligently working against us to whittle our numbers down.

Nuclear Holocaust: This threat has been around since World War II. Yes, there are enough warheads to throw the planet into a nuclear winter, like a volcanic or impact winter, but it would take them all exploding during a single series of events to do it. Only two countries have the vast majority of the world’s stockpiles. And the possibility of that happening has been dwindling since the Cold War. Could it happen? Sure. Why hasn’t it happened in the last 70 years then? Because leaders and politicians know humanity will not stand for it. Their perceived use has become so caustic, that any leader that uses just one will surpass Hitler as the most despised and reviled man in history. And the country he represents will be ostracized from the human community. Even if a terrorist cell used one, it would cause only localized destruction not a worldwide event. They have become weapons of bluff and bluster with little chance of realistic use any more.  If that were not so, they would have been used somewhere already by someone. And remember, for a world destructive event, it will take nearly all of the warheads being utilized to catapult us into a nuclear winter. The U.S. and Russia would pound each other with conventional weapons before they would revert to nuclear weapons. And the winning power would never push the loser to the point of all out launch. Mutually assured destruction theory. This event is possible of course but I personally don’t think it’s really probable anymore.

Alien Invasion: I’m not even going to give this any credence or thought. When intelligent, combative, war-mongering, resource stealing life forms from another planet’s civilization appear, we’ll give this consideration. We haven’t even found microbes on other planetary bodies so don’t bother looking for destructive battle fleets from other worlds. Oh, by the way, if you see a UFO flying around I’ll bet you the farm it has a government contract funding it.

Massive Solar Flare: This is another possible but not probable event. A solar flare of a magnitude large enough to strip the Earth of it’s atmosphere is so rare as to be not worth the calculation.

So there you have the choices. Most of them are not even probable events. However, pandemics, super volcanoes and asteroid/meteor strikes are viable possibilities and we should take those threats very, very seriously. Are they common? No, just the opposite. Super volcanoes and asteroid impacts are rare events but when they can happen, the results can be catastrophic. Pandemics and epidemics on the other hand are not as rare and we need to prepare for the next one very sensibly. So the next time you hear one of the modern commercial prophets of doom saying the end could be near at any minute and you need to buy their survival products right now or soon you’ll be eating your grand babies, naked and in the dark; you can least look down your nose at them in righteous condemnation and say with confidence: “You’re an idiot!”


A Realistic Flying Car Comes

Bravo! It’s finally–almost–a reality. The first realistic concept for a flying car has been released and you will see it before the close of the next decade. For the last fiftyish years I have waited for this dream to come true. As a late baby-boomer child growing up in the 1960’s, with science fiction trumpeting all the extraordinary innovations we would have in the 21st Century, the flying car was always the coolest and most wondrous of them all. I also daydreamed of our domed underwater cities, and huge space stations orbiting the planet, and our colonization of the Moon, and eradication of all diseases, and extermination of all wars, and terraforming of Mars, and exploration of the solar system with our vast fleet of starships, and armies of benign robots performing all our mundane tasks. Apparently mid-20th century science fiction writers were a bit ambitious in their prophecies, but at least one is at hand and soon may be available for abuse. The phenomenal flying car.

A U.S. based company called Terrafugia claims it’s new concept vehicle, the TF-X, will be a real prototype by 2018 and available to the world by 2024. For all you techno-geekers, it will have fold-out wings with twin electric motors attached to each end. The vehicle will have a sweet cruising speed of 200 mph along with a 500-mile flight range. These motors will allow the TF-X to move from a vertical to a horizontal position, and is powered by a 300 hp engine. The planned four-person TF-X will be semi-autonomous and  computer-controlled so that passengers can simply type in a destination before taking off. The TF-X vehicles will be capable of automatically avoiding other air traffic, bad weather, and restricted and tower-controlled airspace. It will be able to recharge its batteries either from its engine or by plugging in to electric car charging stations. Just makes your under-drawers explode with delight!

Of course, there are some caveats to ownership of your own TF-X. Firstly, it is expected to have a price tag around $261,000.  Roughly the same price as one of Elon Musk’s trendy electric Tesla POS’s. So us poor folks will have to scrimp and save our beer money and do without some serious groceries. Secondly, you will have to have a pilots license in addition to a drivers license, as well as 20 hours of flying time to boot. But at least you can drive it home, and around your cronies, until you pass the pilot’s course. Thirdly, the insurance will be brutal to own one, if you can get insurance at all. But hey, it’s a flying car! You can now be at Granny’s house in a fraction of the time it takes now. And will she be thrilled as you drag her kicking and screaming out for a ride in the future.

And flying cars will bring up a whole new crop of issues about the use of the heavily controlled airspace. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) governmental Nazis will be having fits over the general public suddenly having access to buzzing through the skies. Amazon is seeing that firsthand with their drone delivery program right now, and you aren’t seeing them flying up to your doorstep. And, as always, you have the human factor. Suddenly, thousands of flying vehicles will be in the possible control of bold geriatrics, or possible drunks, or living troglodytes, or 40 year old adolescents who’s most muttered suicidal statement is “Hey guys, watch this!”  What about pampered little inexperienced Jimmy who just turned 16 and rich Daddy bought him his first car. And let’s be totally honest, maintenance on this puppy is something you can’t ignore, and will take a NASA trained engineer to work on it. No shade tree mechanic work here. If you have a fender-bender with these beauties, it will be most distinctly and permanently fatal, most likely. And then there’s the collateral damage. You’re innocently sitting on your couch eating a bean burrito lathered in guacamole, watching the latest episode of your favorite cartoon Keeping Up With the Kardashians, when a flying car drops through your roof and destroys your only toilet.

Well, we are at least on the verge of watching flying cars zooming around the skies, but there are a lot of other issues that need addressing first. Those things were supposed to be handled by now, when I was dreaming as a child. Apparently not.  But it’s a flying car and I am still excited to see the first one zoom by, several miles away from my family and home and commode.

So once again, technology is arriving before the responsibility to control it. Reminds me of the line in Macbeth: “Something wicked this way comes.”



Space Tourist Anyone?

Need a quick vacation that last’s for a few minutes and cost’s between a measly $75,000 to $250,000. Well, being a short-time space tourist may be the right path for you. There are several companies that will soon be competing for your business; taking you to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, and then hopefully bring you gently back to terra firma. But there’s always that nagging little thought of being totally dependent on under-developed technology, questionable machinery and human error looming over the entire commercial enterprise. And we all know that’s a perfect, favorable situation for a flight to the fringes of space. Personally, I’ll leave this trip to those who have nothing left to live for.

But there is always the suicidally adventurous who will jump at any opportunity to put themselves in harm’s way for the thrills, I guess. So let’s just look at what’s available for the next recognized D2S2 (Don’t Do Stupid Shit) recipients:

Virgin Galactic: This is one of the big players of the new frontier, established by billionaire Sir Richard Branson. The company will soon unveil it’s new SpaceShipTwo. Just a note: SpaceShipOne won the 10 million dollar Ansari X prize in 2004, but it later crashed in a test flight killing one of the pilots due to human error. Yep…sure did. This little beauty is designed to be flown by two pilots and carry up to six passengers on a trajectory to reach suborbit at an altitude just of 62 miles (which is the accepted boundary line between aeronautics and astronautics). It will initially piggy-back off the ground on another aircraft, then at 50,000 feet engage it’s rocket propulsion system to reach suborbit. When you get there, the cabin is supposedly roomy enough for passengers to float during a few minutes of weightlessness before beginning an unpowered glide to a runway landing. This is the $250,000 ticket holders adventure into oblivion. And I can see all kinds of working parts and scenarios that must work perfectly for this trip to work out in the passenger’s best interest, for that few minutes of weightlessness. At least, the trip has been tried a couple of times with SpaceShipOne…a good trip, a bad trip.

Blue Origin: This little wonder comes from another billionaire, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.  His project will use a vertical-takeoff rocket topped by a re-usable capsule for a suborbital “hop”. It is designed along the same concept as Mercury 7, which took Alan Shepard into space in 1961. It also will carry six passengers aloft, but will reach suborbit then fall back to Earth using a parachute. Once again you get the perk of a few minutes of weightlessness before your flight degrades and you have one helluva plummet back toward Earth; for a supposedly gentle landing wherever the parachute and prevailing winds decides to send you. Oh, a caveat: there will be no pilot on this winner. You will be totally at the mercy of technology and re-used machinery. Blue Origin has been tried twice, both being successful but unmanned.

XCOR Aerospace (Space Expeditions): This venture doesn’t have a billionaire backing it. You will be guided to space on a concept owned by greedy stockholders and a money-grubbing CEO who’s bottom-line interest will be profit, not safety. This sweet ride will also use the same concept as Virgin Atlantic’s SpaceShipTwo, except it will take off from the ground via a runway on it’s own. No piggy-backing for this rocket-plane called the Lynx. It will convey a single pilot and a single passenger to suborbit, and has the capability to go beyond, which can get you into actual orbit. Then you will possibly be screwed and have to go around the Earth until you get back to your home runway, as long as the oxygen lasts. This ticket will be a steal at only $150,000, which was a recent rise of 50%  enacted by the Board.  It has not been tested yet, successfully or otherwise. We can call this a commercial pipedream at present.

World View: This company envisions taking passengers to lower altitudes reaching “near-space”, at around 100,000 feet, in a capsule suspended below a para-wing and a helium balloon. Now at almost 19 miles high, it would still give a wonderful view of the Earth but you get the avoidance of all the stresses of G forces endured by the other methods during a rocket flighted trip. You would simply float up to the preferred height, hang around for up to 2 hours, then the pilots start venting the helium and you float down until they jettison the balloon; then the parawing takes over and you land,  again, wherever the prevailing winds put you down. Plus it has a toilet on board so you can drink near-beer, and then can pee almost in space.  And if your prone to airsickness, you can almost vomit for your friends and strangers. Take a camera for sure!

Space X: Then there’s the last billionaire to play in space, Elon Musk. He is concentrating more on the lucrative ferrying-crap-into-space-for-NASA avenue at this point, but if there’s a spacebuck to be made, he’ll soon be pumping money and hope into it. But based on his Earthbound ventures and recent rocket fiascos, I would just as soon take one of his over-priced electric Tesla cars on a 500 mile trip through the Sahara desert. An  expedition of certain doom.

So, let’s take us the little trip down Reality Lane again. Here’s the clue: If NASA, who has the smartest and best rocket scientists on the planet…EVER; who are safety conscious to the extreme; are financially backed by the biggest economy in history; if they haven’t done it, it’s either not worth doing or it can’t be done! So why should we put our trust, health and safety in a company who’s bottom line is their quarterly profit margin, for a trip that relies on perfection? Question for future sociological anthropologists, I guess.

I’ll just stay on the ground where the undertakers won’t have to pick me up with a spatula to slide me in the crack of my coffin.


Robots Running Amok?

I was reading a report today about the possibility of our spiraling into a dangerous future if we let our technology get away from us. The headline on a Daily Mail article read “Rogue ‘Terminator’ robots which can kill without human orders could become reality in just a few years.” Well, that’s a bit much! All of us know that our technological advances are increasing at a steady rate but the scientist’s anticipated predictions always seem to fall short of their unrealistic warnings. One day, very soon, there could be the possibility that clunky, clattering machines will replace humans doing mundane tasks but I think these scientists think too much of themselves at present, and their ability to create future Frankenstein monsters.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1960″s, the scientific portrayals of what the world would be like in 2016 is nowhere near our expectations. If it was, we would have flying cars whisking us to our pushbutton jobs everyday in our domed cities. All the diseases would have been eradicated and the Lunar Colonies would be entertaining our vacations. We would be almost finished terraforming Mars and our starships would be probing the outer planets, and beyond. Benign robots would be cleaning our houses, taking care of our children and cooking our food. Great space stations orbiting the Earth would be controlling our weather, hunger and starvation would have been eliminated, and the specter of war forgotten to history. Well, we are not even close to those forecasts. In fact, we are in as barbarous a position now as we have been in any point in antiquity, except we are slightly more technologically advanced. But they say we must not sheath our spear to give machines their lance.

Realistically, to get us to the juncture of needing to fret about killer robots terrorizing us all, technology must first reach “technological singularity”. The is the hypothetical point when computing machines with artificial intelligence, will be capable of  recursive self-improvement or progressively redesigning itself; or of autonomously building ever smarter and more powerful machines than itself to the point of a an intelligence that surpasses human control or understanding. Now, because the capabilities of such a superintelligence may be impossible for a human to comprehend, this technological singularity could lead to the point where events may become unpredictable or even unfathomable to human intelligence. In a nutshell, the machines would become smarter than us and able to replicate themselves beyond our ability to understand or control them. We’re not there yet. We may be close to the target but that reality only counts with grenades and atom bombs.

So let’s take us that little trip down Reality Lane again. Any machine is easily controllable. If you can turn it on, you can turn it off. If it runs on power, curtail the power source. If it has a battery, give the battery a short lifespan, and then don’t change it or recharge it if needed. Don’t give a machine the ability to repower itself and it’s totally dependent again. It can grow intellectually all it wants, but without power it’s a just a formerly mechanized clothes hanger. And based on the commercial manufacturers abilities at present, to get something mechanical to work at all, and keep it running correctly, is a challenge. That’s why mechanical luxuries have warranties, and some even seem to have built in “working live spans” of so many years before they begin to degrade to the point they can’t be salvaged anymore. Bought an automobile or a laptop lately? And let’s talk about programming. If you program the proper protocols into the system then the machine cannot reprogram itself  into higher levels of consciousness, much less giving itself independent thought processes. C’mon geniuses of technology. Think blue collar instead of white collar!

I know a lot of these scientist’s like to justify their lofty positions as a consultant here or a professor there with a laureate pending, but they don’t have to create an unfounded fear where none may exist. I am sure government funding and grants have something to do with it. I do not foresee rogue terminator robots thinking independently and chasing poor ignorant folks around with weapons that must be continually reloaded from an ammunition resource from somewhere. I guess the machines will start their own manufacturing infrastructure for that as well. And unless humanity starts living in a hole blindly oblivious to the world around them, I’ll bet we’ll see that threat coming. Deprive them of power and they die. Deprive them of the proper programming, and they can’t improvise. Deprive them of maintenance and they break down and rust away. Who is really, and will always be in control? The little blue collar guy with the toolbox who controls the power source.

Science guys, think with some common sense instead of textbook sense, and all will be well.