Martin Rees: The Post-Human Era is Dawning


Artificial minds will not be confined to the planet on which we have evolved

Martin Rees writes: So vast are the expanses of space and time that fall within an astronomer’s gaze that people in my profession are mindful not only of our moment in history, but also of our place in the wider cosmos. We wonder whether there is intelligent life elsewhere; some of us even search for it. People will not be the culmination of evolution. We are near the dawn of a post-human future that could be just as prolonged as the billions of years of Darwinian selection that preceded humanity’s emergence.

AI robot Ava in the film Ex Machina. Photograph: Allstar/FILM4/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

AI robot Ava in the film Ex Machina. Photograph: Allstar/FILM4/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

“Our era of organic intelligence is a triumph of complexity over entropy, but a transient one, which will be followed by a vastly longer period of inorganic intelligences less constrained by their environment.”

The far future will bear traces of humanity, just as our own age retains influences of ancient civilisations. Humans and all they have thought might be a transient precursor to the deeper cogitations of another culture — one dominated by machines, extending deep into the future and spreading far beyond earth.


“Or they may be out there already, orbiting distant stars. Either way, it will be the actions of autonomous machines that will most drastically change the world, and perhaps what lies beyond.”

Not everyone considers this an uplifting scenario. There are those who fear that artificial intelligence will supplant us, taking our jobs and living beyond the writ of human laws. Others regard such scenarios as too futuristic to be worth fretting over. But the disagreements are about the rate of travel, not the direction. Few doubt that machines will one day surpass more of our distinctively human capabilities. It may take centuries but, compared to the aeons of evolution that led to humanity’s emergence, even that is a mere bat of the eye. This is not a fatalistic projection. It is cause for optimism. The civilisation that supplants us could accomplish unimaginable advances — feats, perhaps, that we cannot even understand.

[Read the full text here, at]

Human brains, which have changed little since our ancestors roamed the African savannah, have allowed us to penetrate the secrets of the quantum and the cosmos. But there is no reason to think that our comprehension is matched to an understanding of all the important features of reality. Some day we may hit the buffers. There are chemical and metabolic limits to the size and power of “wet” organic brains. Read the rest of this entry »

Tonight: Northern Lights

[VIDEO] Hubble: Star Explosion Slo-Mo

200,000 Apply For One-Way Trip to Mars

Have you ever wanted to travel to Mars? What if it meant living there for the rest of your life? That’s the opportunity Mars One is offering to volunteers who will help establish human settlement on the Red Planet. The downside is that the technology for a return trip hasn’t been developed yet. That doesn’t seem to be deterring the masses of applicants– Mars One says that more than 200,000 people have applied. In order to narrow down the applicants and help fund the project, the company is considering sponsoring a reality show where viewers will help select the Mars pioneers.

We choose to put a webcam on the Moon in this decade and do the other things

Earth From Moon

Above: Photo Illustration by Hana Gartstein, via NASA, of Earth during a lunar eclipse as seen from the Moon.

I’ve been saying it since at least 2005, when I wrote on my blog:

More than once, the thought has occurred to me: “Man, it would be cool if there was a webcam on the Moon.” I mean, seriously, put an iSight up there, and rig it with some sort of long-distance Internet connection, and it could broadcast a live picture of the Earth, as seen from the lunar surface, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. How cool would that be?

I tweeted about it in 2010:

Two artist’s conceptions of a total lunar eclipse as seen from the Moon: WE NEED A LUNAR WEBCAM!!

— Brendan Loy (@brendanloy)
December 21, 2010

And again last August:

This @marscuriosity thing is great, but when are we going to put a webcam on the Moon? @nasa#PutAWebcamOnTheMoon

— Brendan Loy (@brendanloy)
August 6, 2012

And last month:

This is crap.… We should choose to put a webcam on the Moon in this decade & do the other things. #PutAWebcamOnTheMoon

— Brendan Loy (@brendanloy)
April 8, 2013

Well, guess what? IT’S ACTUALLY HAPPENING!!!

A telescope that is set to launch to the moon in 2015 will allow the public to go on the Internet and view the Earth from the lunar surface.

The privately funded telescope, known as the International Lunar Observatory precursor (ILO-X), was designed and built by Silicon Valley-based Moon Express Inc. …

“We want to win the Google Lunar X prize so that is somewhat driving our schedule,” Richards said, adding his customers want Moon Express to land on the moon before the end of 2015.

“So I would say sometime in mid-to-late 2015 is when we’d be looking at.”

Let me be the first to say: OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!


[Moon Express CEO Bob Richards] said the shoebox-sized telescope will allow people to see images they’ve never seen before because they will be taken from the lunar surface.

“Depending on where you are on the Earth you may be seeing the moon up in the sky, taking a picture of you, which would be kind of a heady thing to think of,” he added.

Richards pointed out that people on Earth will even be able to manoeuvre the telescope by remote control, giving them out-of-this-world access to galaxies, stars and planets.

“The other thing that you’ll be able to do is turn the telescope down to the lunar landscape and take pictures of the landscape that’s around the (Moon Express) lander.”

Yes, well, that’s all well and good, but as Nathan Wurtzel tweeted in response to one of my prior #PutAWebcamOnTheMoon tweets: “And we’ll check back on the mooncam…still nothing happened. This marks the 8278th day nothing has happened.” Heh. As Nathan suggests, the view of the lunar surface isn’t going to be the most, uh, dynamic aspect of this. The view of Earth is where the real appeal lies.

More specifically, the view of Earth during lunar eclipses is the holy grail. Because, of course, what we call a “lunar eclipse” is, from the Moon’s perspective, a solar eclipse — with the earth’s atmosphere refracting the Sun’s light and forming a “ring of fire” around our planet.

It must be an incredible sight. But it’s one that nobody has ever seen in the history of mankind.

NASA made Hana Gartstein’s artist’s conception of a lunar eclipse from the lunar perspective its “Astronomy Picture of the Day” in 2007 — that’s the image at the top of this post — and NASA also published, in 2003, a fictional account of a lunar colonist watching an eclipse live from the Moon in 2105:

For the next hour he patiently waited, watching the sun’s disk glide behind something big and dark: Earth. From the moon, Earth looked three and a half times wider than the sun. Sometimes Earth was amazingly bright, blue and cloudy-white. Today, though, the planet’s night side was facing moonward.

imageFinally, the sun vanished. This is what he had been waiting for…. Lit from behind, Earth’s atmosphere began to glow around the edges, ringing the dark planet with all the colors of a sunset. And from there sprung the Sun’s corona: pale white, sticking out like Jack’s sister’s hair when she rubbed her stockinged feet on the carpet back in the lunar habitat.

Jack cleared his visor to enjoy the view.

The ground around him wasn’t bright any more. It was dim and deep red—aglow with sunlight filtered through the edge of Earth’s atmosphere. All at once every sunset on Earth was shining down on Jack.

I want to see that on a webcam, dammit. And, if the Moon Express project succeeds, we will — soon. They’re targeting “mid-to-late 2015.” Well, there will be a total lunar eclipse on April 4, 2015, and another on September 28, 2015.

After that, no more total lunar eclipses until January 31, 2018. (Here’s the full list of 21st-century lunar eclipses, total and partial and penumbral.)

So, Mr. Richards, there’s your deadline. Get this webcam on the Moon by September 28, 2015. And do the other things.

via The Living Room Tumblr