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[VIDEO] Falcon Heavy Blasts Off, Boosters Land at Cape Canaveral

Rumbling into a mostly sunny sky, SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy rocket — the world’s most powerful present-day launcher — soared into orbit Tuesday, and its two strap-on boosters came back to Cape Canaveral for an electrifying double-landing punctuated by quadruple sonic booms.

The dramatic test flight took off at 3:45 p.m. EST (2045 GMT) Tuesday from launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the same facility used by the Apollo 11 lunar landing crew and numerous space shuttle missions.

Standing nearly 230 feet (70 meters) tall, the Falcon Heavy’s 27 main engines put out nearly 5 million pounds of thrust, one-and-a-half times more than any other rocket flying today, and around two-thirds the power output of the space shuttle at liftoff. Read the rest of this entry »

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Having it Both Ways: Google Cozies to Trump but Calls for His Impeachment 

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After investing millions ingraining itself within the Obama White House, Google is suddenly on the outside looking in with the Trump administration — and it clearly has Google rattled — protesting Mr. Trump in private, and then publicly trying to cozy up with him the next.

Google, or rather its parent company Alphabet, got used to dominating Washington under President Barack Obama’s rule. Perhaps, that’s why they’d like to see President Donald Trump 2_2_2017_b1-riddell8201_s878x1257impeached.

“Some of us may need to adopt Pence 2017 bumper stickers,” Google’s cofounder Sergey Brin joked at a company sponsored anti-Trump protest — the biggest demonstration from a Silicon Valley corporation this week — in response to Mr. Trump’s controversial immigration executive order.

More than 2,000 Google employees attended the protest on Monday, with it becoming a trending topic on Twitter with the hashtag #GooglersUnite. The rally came 24 hours after Google donated $2 million to the ACLU and Immigrant Legal Resource Center, to help fight Mr. Trump’s executive order, which was matched by $2 million in donations from Google employees.

The week prior, Google lawyers flooded the California office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, demanding she oppose Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as attorney general.

After investing millions ingraining itself within the Obama White House, Google is suddenly on the outside looking in with the Trump administration — and it clearly has Google rattled — protesting Mr. Trump in private, and then publicly trying to cozy up with him the next. Read the rest of this entry »


Humans May Have One Thing that Advanced Aliens Don’t: Consciousness

cosmos-martin-gee

It May Not Feel Like Anything To Be an Alien

Susan Schneider writes: Humans are probably not the greatest intelligences in the universe. Earth is a relatively young planet and the oldest civilizations could be billions of years older than us. But even on Earth, Homo sapiens may not be the most intelligent species for that much longer.

“Why would nonconscious machines have the same value we place on biological intelligence?”

The world Go, chess, and Jeopardy champions are now all AIs. AI is projected to outmode many human professions within the next few decades. And given the rapid pace of its development, AI may soon advance to artificial general intelligence—intelligence that, like human intelligence, can combine insights from different topic areas and display flexibility and common sense. From there it is a short leap to superintelligent AI, which is smarter than humans in every respect, even those that now seem firmly in the human domain, such as scientific reasoning and social skills. Each of us alive today may be one of the last rungs on the evolutionary ladder that leads from the first living cell to synthetic intelligence.

What we are only beginning to realize is that these two forms of superhuman intelligence—alien and artificial—may not be so distinct. The technological developments we are witnessing today may have all happened before, elsewhere in the universe. The transition from biological to synthetic intelligence may be a general pattern, instantiated over and over, throughout the cosmos. The universe’s greatest intelligences may be postbiological, having grown out of civilizations that were once biological. (This is a view I share with Paul Davies, Steven Dick, Martin Rees, and Seth Shostak, among others.) To judge from the human experience—the only example we have—the transition from biological to postbiological may take only a few hundred years.

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

I prefer the term “postbiological” to “artificial” because the contrast between biological and synthetic is not very sharp. Consider a biological mind that achieves superintelligence through purely biological enhancements, such as nanotechnologically enhanced neural minicolumns. This creature would be postbiological, although perhaps many wouldn’t call it an “AI.” Or consider a computronium that is built out of purely biological materials, like the Cylon Raider in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series.

The key point is that there is no reason to expect humans to be the highest form of intelligence there is. Our brains evolved for specific environments and are greatly constrained by chemistry and historical contingencies. But technology has opened up a vast design space, offering new materials and modes of operation, as well as new ways to explore that space at a rate much faster than traditional biological evolution. And I think we already see reasons why synthetic intelligence will outperform us.

Silicon microchips already seem to be a better medium for information processing than groups of neurons. Neurons reach a peak speed of about 200 hertz, compared to gigahertz for the transistors in current microprocessors. Although the human brain is still far more intelligent than a computer, machines have almost unlimited room for improvement. It may not be long before they can be engineered to match or even exceed the intelligence of the human brain through reverse-engineering the brain and improving upon its algorithms, or through some combination of reverse engineering and judicious algorithms that aren’t based on the workings of the human brain.

female-robot-newsreader

In addition, an AI can be downloaded to multiple locations at once, is easily backed up and modified, and can survive under conditions that biological life has trouble with, including interstellar travel. Our measly brains are limited by cranial volume and metabolism; superintelligent AI, in stark contrast, could extend its reach across the Internet and even set up a Galaxy-wide computronium, utilizing all the matter within our galaxy to maximize computations. There is simply no contest. Superintelligent AI would be far more durable than us.

[Read the full story here, at Cosmos on Nautilus]

Suppose I am right. Suppose that intelligent life out there is postbiological. What should we make of this? Here, current debates over AI on Earth are telling. Two of the main points of contention—the so-called control problem and the nature of subjective experience—affect our understanding of what other alien civilizations may be like, and what they may do to us when we finally meet.

Illustration by Norwegian cartoonist and illustrator, Kristian Hammerstad, from “Rise of the Robots,” a New York Times Sunday Book Review article, May 11, 2015.

Illustration by Kristian Hammerstad

Ray Kurzweil takes an optimistic view of the postbiological phase of evolution, suggesting that humanity will merge with machines, reaching a magnificent technotopia. But Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and others have expressed the concern that humans could lose control of superintelligent AI, as it can rewrite its own programming and outthink any control measures that we build in. This has been called the “control problem”—the problem of how we can control an AI that is both inscrutable and vastly intellectually superior to us. Read the rest of this entry »


Japan Throws Down the Gauntlet With Plan for World’s Fastest Supercomputer

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Officials in Japan have announced a plan to build the world’s fastest supercomputer in a bid to reaffirm the country’s place as a leader in technological advancement.

If all goes according to plan, the processing monster will cost 19.5 billion yen ($173 million) and will be cable of 130 quadrillion calculations per second, Reuters reports.

speedcollar

It is a rare thing to be able to use the word “quadrillion” in a manner that isn’t an exaggeration. Phrased another way, the planned supercomputer clocks in at 130 petaflops, which would decidedly surpass the current fastest in the world—China’s Sunway Taihulight which maxes out at 93 petaflops.

Satoshi Sekiguchi, a director general at Japan’s ‎National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, had an intriguingly humble way of saying that it will blow the competition out of the water: “As far as we know, there is nothing out there that is as fast.” Which leaves the imagination to wonder about secret hidden supercomputers plowing through data in hollowed-out mountains.

speed-racer

The move comes at a time when Japan hopes to return to its glory days as top dog in technology. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recently pushed for his government to work more closely with private industry to assure that Japan leads the way in robotics, batteries, artificial intelligence and other key areas of growth. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] JetPacks Are Finally Real

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It can reach an altitude of over 6,500 feet and travel at over 65 miles per hour.


[VIDEO] Sorry, Elon Musk! Driverless Cars Will Take Longer Than You Think

Family In Self-Driving Car

 


Rocket Men: Why Tech’s Biggest Billionaires Want their Place in Space

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Forget gilded mansions and super yachts. Among the tech elite, space exploration is now the ultimate status symbol.

On board was a $200m, 12,000lb communications satellite – part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org project to deliver broadband access to sub-Saharan Africa.

Zuckerberg wrote, with a note of bitterness, on his Facebook page that he was “deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite”. SpaceX founder Elon Musk told CNN it was the “most difficult and complex failure” the 14-year-old company had ever experienced.

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It was also the second dramatic explosion in nine months for SpaceX, following a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” of a booster rocket as it attempted to land after a successful mission to the International Space Station.

Later that day, Nasa’s official Twitter account responded: “Today’s @SpaceX incident – while not a Nasa launch – reminds us that spaceflight is challenging.”

Yet despite those challenges, a small band of billionaire technocrats have spent the past few years investing hundreds of millions of dollars into space ventures. Forget gilded mansions and super yachts; among the tech elite, space exploration is the ultimate status symbol.

drudg-moon

Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, is arguably the most visible billionaire in the new space race. The apparent inspiration for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark character in Iron Man, Musk has become a god-like figure for engineers, making his fortune at PayPal and then as CEO of luxury electric car firm Tesla and clean energy company Solar City. Yet it is his galactic ambitions, insiders say, that really motivate him. “His passion is settling Mars,” says one.

[Read the full story here, at The Guardian]

SpaceX has completed 32 successful launches since 2006, delivered cargo to the International Space Station and secured more than $10bn in contracts with Nasa and other clients. Musk has much grander ambitions, though, saying he plans to create a “plan B” for humanity in case Earth ultimately fails. He once famously joked that he hoped to die on Mars – just not on impact. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Elon Musk: Internet on Mars & Artificial Intelligence

Source: Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016) Narrated by Werner Herzog

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One of Obama’s Successes was Bringing Capitalism into Outer Space. Trump Should Follow his Lead

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Space Age comeback?

Glenn Reynolds writes: Space entrepreneur Peter Bigelow, who’s working on hotels in space, wants the Trump Administration to sharply increase NASA spending. But although I’m all in favor of making America’s space program great again, I’m not so sure that pumping money into NASA is the way to do it. For that matter, I’m not even sure that the term “space program” makes much sense in the 21st century.

Image: vintagefuture.tumblr.com

Rather than a space program, what we really have is a package of space policies. Unlike the Apollo era, when the nation was fixed on a single major goal of landing men on the Moon before 1970, we now want a bunch of different things, all of them important, but no single one of them is our sole focus. And, honestly, much of what’s going on at NASA isn’t even close to overridingly important.

[Read the full story here, at USAToday]

The good news is that, as I’ve noted before, space — at least the burgeoning commercial space industry — has been one of the Obama Administration’s notable policy successes.  Where not long ago the United States was looking at an aging fleet of increasingly dangerous space shuttles, we now have a flourishing collection of private companies providing transportation into earth orbit, from SpaceX, to Blue Origin, to Virgin Galactic, to a number of smaller companies. (Full disclosure: I own a small amount of friends-and-family stock in one of those smaller companies, XCOR Aerospace). Moon Express even plans to land a robot on the Moon.

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As a recent piece in The Washington Post noted, whatever his policies on Earth, Obama has brought capitalism to outer space. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] High-Speed SpaceX Footage from Launches of Falcon 9 Rockets  

New camera views of past launches and reentries.Missions in order of appearance: May JCSAT-14; July CRS-9 launch, stage separation, engine plume interaction, and re-entry burn; December 2015 ORBCOMM landing burn; July CRS-9 landing burn.

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SpaceX Lands Fourth Booster after Successful Falcon 9 Launch

 reports: SpaceX enjoyed a trio of successes on Friday when it launched its Falcon 9 rocket, landed the first stage and deployed a communications satellite.Falcon 9 blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:39 p.m. Eastern time with the Thaicom 8Wochit

SpaceX on Friday landed its third consecutive rocket on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, during a mission that successfully launched a commercial communications satellite to orbit.

“Falcon 9 has landed,” a member of SpaceX’s launch team confirmed about 10 minutes after a 230-foot Falcon 9 rocket’s 5:39 p.m. blastoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

About 20 minutes later, the rocket’s upper stage deployed the Thaicom 8 satellite in orbit as planned.

“All looks good,” reported SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral

Photos: SpaceX launch from Cape Canaveral with Thaicom 8

Later, Musk said the rocket stage had landed at close to the top speed it was designed to handle, possibly undermining its stability on the ship floating more than 400 miles offshore.

“Prob ok, but some risk of tipping,” he said on Twitter.

[Read the full story here, at floridatoday.com]

If it staid upright, crews planned to board the unpiloted “drone ship” to weld shoes over the rocket’s four landing legs and sail it back to Port Canaveral within a few days.

Musk’s comment was a reminder that despite a remarkable run of three straight booster landings and four in the company’s last six missions, the landings remain experimental.

SpaceX’s long-term goal is to cut launch costs by reusing rockets. Musk wants to achieve aircraft-like operations, with teams needing only to hose down down and refuel rockets between flights.

But the rockets landed Friday and three weeks ago have sustained more damage, possibly too much to allow them to fly again.
Read the rest of this entry »


SpaceX Continues Ambitious Launch Schedule with Next Mission, Fifth One This Year

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Emily Calandrelli reports: Less than a month after their last successful mission, SpaceX is back at it again. Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 5:40pm EST tomorrow with telecommunications satellite Thaicom 8 on board.

What’s truly notable is that tomorrow’s launch will be the fifth one for SpaceX this year, demonstrating an increased launch frequency compared to last year.

In 2015, SpaceX conducted a total of six successful Falcon 9 launches, putting their launch frequency at about one launch every other month. So far this year, they’ve doubled that frequency with nearly one launch per month.

[Read the full story here, at TechCrunch]

In March, President of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell, stated that the company actually plans to launch a total of 18 times in 2016, which would triple the number of successful launches compared to 2015. She also said that they plan to increase that launch rate even further the following year with 24 hopeful launches in 2017.

The expected increase would be remarkable considering there were only 82 recorded successful orbital launches in the entire world last year. This number was down from 2014, which saw 90 successful orbital launches – the highest number of annual launches in two decades.

With more Falcon 9 launches comes more rocket recovery attempts, and tomorrow’s mission will be no exception.

After the launch, SpaceX will make another attempted recovery of the first stage of their rocket on a drone ship out at sea.

SpaceX's Of Course I Still Love You drone ship / Image Courtesy of SpaceX

SpaceX’s Of Course I Still Love You drone ship / Image Courtesy of SpaceX

A land-based recovery was ruled out for this mission because Thaicom 8 needs to be inserted into geostationary orbit (GEO: an altitude of above 22,000 miles), which means the mission will require higher speeds and more fuel and wouldn’t be able to navigate back to land.

Missions like these are precisely why SpaceX has worked to perfect their sea-based landings. Read the rest of this entry »


Kennedy Space Center Displays Suit Worn By Buzz Aldrin While Lobbying For NASA Funding

CHANTILLY, VA - DECEMBER 5: A member of the media walks by space paraphernalia in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Smithsonian's new addition to the National Air and Space Museum December 5, 2003 in Chantilly, Virgina. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center sits nearly 30 miles west of Washington DC in Virginia and is home to such flying objects as the Space Shuttle Enterprise, Enola Gay B-29 Bomber, the Concord, SR-71 Spy Plane, and others. The center is scheduled to open December 15, 2003. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL—Expressing their excitement to share the historic item with visitors, Kennedy Space Center officials confirmed Thursday that the suit worn by Buzz Aldrin on February 24, 2015 when he lobbied the Senate to increase NASA funding was now on display for public viewing. “We are honored to add to our collection the actual jacket and trousers Dr. Aldrin wore that fateful day when he stepped out into room 253 of the Russell Senate Office Building and uttered the immortal words ‘I wish to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak with you about the future of American human spaceflight,’” the facility’s associate director, Kelvin Manning, said of the charcoal single-breasted suit, which was displayed together with the crisp button-down shirt, mission patch–patterned tie, and various lapel pins the former astronaut donned as he made the case for expanding the U.S. space program through strategic investments…(more)

Source


Meet the Company Offering a Chance at Immortality for $200,000

Frozen Brain

More and more people are signing up to be frozen for a chance at life after death. So the question is, would you?

 writes: In the desert climate of Scottsdale, Arizona, rest 147 brains and bodies, all frozen in liquid nitrogen with the goal of being revived one day.

It’s not science fiction — to some it might not even be science — yet thousands of people around the world have put their trust, lives and fortunes into the promise of cryonics, the practice of preserving a body with antifreeze shortly after death in hopes future medicine might be able to bring the deceased back.

Mad-Science

“If you think back half a century or so, if somebody stopped breathing and their heart stopped beating we would’ve checked them and said they’re dead,” said Max More, CEO of the Scottsdale-based Alcor. “Our view is that when we call someone dead it’s a bit of an arbitrary line. In fact they are in need of a rescue.”

That “rescue” begins the moment a doctor declares a patient dead. Alcor’s team then prepares an ice bath and begins administering 16 medications and variations of antifreeze until the patient’s temperature drops to near freezing.

Alcor CEO Max More poses in front of the dewars that house his 147 cryopreserved patients.

Alcor CEO Max More poses in front of the dewars that house his 147 cryopreserved patients. Qin Chen | CNBC

“The critical thing is how fast we get to someone and how quickly we start the cooling process,” More said. In order to ensure that can happen, Alcor stations equipped teams in the U.K., Canada and Germany and offers members a $10,000 incentive to legally die in Scottsdale, where the record for getting a patient cooled down and prepped for an operation is 35 minutes.

Next, a contracted surgeon removes a patient’s head if the member selected Alcor’s “Neuro” option, as it’s euphemistically called, in hopes that a new body can be grown with a member’s DNA once it comes time to be thawed out. It’s also the much cheaper route. At a price tag of $80,000, it’s less than half the cost of preserving your whole body. “That requires a minimum of $200,000, which isn’t as much as it sounds, because most people pay with life insurance,” More said.

Alcor-3

In fact, such a business model is pretty consistent in the nonprofit cryonics community. Michigan-based Cryonics Institute offers a similar payment structure, albeit at the more affordable cost of just $28,000 for whole-body preservation. Which begs the question: Why the price discrepancy?

“We’ve been very conservative in the way we plan the financing,” More said. “Of that $200,000, about $115,000 of it goes into the patient care trust fund,” which is meant to cover eventual costs and is controlled by a board of trustees (a certain number of which is required to have loved ones currently in cryopreservation). More says the trust currently boasts a total of over $10 million, which is supported by Alcor’s most recent nonprofit 990 filings.

Who is doing this?

When More came to the U.S. in 1986 from Britain to train at Alcor, it was run by volunteers and he signed up as Alcor’s 67th member. Since then, the company has hired a full-time staff of eight employees, boosted its membership to more than 1,000, and is looking into doubling the size of its patient care bay.

Read the rest of this entry »


When Is the Singularity?

NYT-singularity

 This is New York Times’ idea of a ‘misconception’. 

Most artificial intelligence researchers still discount the idea of an “intelligence explosion” that will outstrip human capabilities.

John Markoff writes: In March when Alphago, the Go-playing software program designed by Google’s DeepMind subsidiary defeated Lee Se-dol, the human Go ROBOTS_B_400champion, some in Silicon Valley proclaimed the event as a precursor of the imminent arrival of genuine thinking machines.

The achievement was rooted in recent advances in pattern recognition technologies that have also yielded impressive results in speech recognition, computer vision and machine learning. The progress in artificial intelligence has become a flash point for converging fears that we feel about the smart machines that are increasingly surrounding us.

However, most artificial intelligence researchers still discount the idea of an “intelligence explosion.”

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

The idea was formally described as the “Singularity” in 1993 by Vernor Vinge, a computer scientist and science fiction writer, who posited that accelerating technological change would inevitably lead to machine intelligence that would match and then surpass human intelligence. In his original essay, Dr. Vinge suggested that the point in time at which machines attained superhuman intelligence would happen sometime between 2005 and 2030.

Ray Kurzweil, an artificial intelligence researcher, extended the idea in his 2006 book “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology,” where he argues that machines will outstrip human capabilities in 2045. The idea was popularized in movies such as “Transcendence” and “Her.”

Illustration by Norwegian cartoonist and illustrator, Kristian Hammerstad, from “Rise of the Robots,” a New York Times Sunday Book Review article, May 11, 2015.

Recently several well-known technologists and scientists, including Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates, have issued warnings about runaway technological progress leading to superintelligent machines that might not be favorably disposed to humanity. Read the rest of this entry »


Space: The Visionaries Take Over

Charles Krauthammerkrauthammer-sm writes: Fractured and divided as we are, on one thing we can agree: 2015 was a miserable year. The only cheer was provided by Lincoln Chafee and the Pluto flyby (two separate phenomena), as well as one seminal aeronautical breakthrough.

On Dec. 21, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, after launching 11 satellites into orbit, returned its 15-story booster rocketupright and intact, to a landing pad at Cape Canaveral. That’s a $60 million mountain of machinery — recovered. (The traditional booster rocket either burns up or disappears into some ocean.)

The reusable rocket has arrived. Arguably, it arrived a month earlier when Blue Origin, a privately owned outfit created by Jeffrey P. Bezos (Amazon chief executive and owner of this newspaper) launched and landed its own booster rocket, albeit for a suborbital flight. But whether you attribute priority to Musk or Bezos, the two events together mark the inauguration of a new era in spaceflight.

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Musk predicts that the reusable rocket will reduce the cost of accessing space a hundredfold. This depends, of course, on whether the wear and tear and stresses of the launch make the refurbishing prohibitively expensive. Assuming it’s not, and assuming Musk is even 10 percent right, reusability revolutionizes the economics of spaceflight.

[Read the full story here, at The Washington Post]

Which both democratizes and commercializes it. Which means space travel has now slipped the surly bonds of government — presidents, Congress, NASA bureaucracies. Its future will now be driven far more by a competitive marketplace with its multiplicity of independent actors, including deeply motivated, financially savvy and visionary entrepreneurs. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Elon Musk’s SpaceX Returns to Flight and Pulls Off Dramatic, Historic Landing

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SpaceX Falcon rocket blasts off, booster lands safely

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Christian Davenport reports: Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket at its landing pad here Monday evening in its first flight since its rocket exploded six months ago.

The historic landing, the first time a rocket launched a payload into orbit and then returned safely to Earth, was cheered as a sign that SpaceX, the darling of the commercial space industry, has its momentum back.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida before the reusable main-stage booster turned around, soaed back to Cape Canaveral and landed safely near its launch pad. (Reuters)

“The Falcon has landed,” a SpaceX commentator said on the live webcast, as workers at its headquarters went wild, chanting “USA! USA!”

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Unveils Company's New Manned Spacecraft, The Dragon V2

Monday’s flight, initially delayed because of technical concerns, was the second time in a month that a billionaire-backed venture launched a rocket to space and recovered it. And it represents yet another significant step forward in the quest to open up the cosmos to the masses.

[Read the full story here, at The Washington Post]

In a call with reporters, Musk said that it appeared the stage landed “dead center on the landing pad. … We could not have asked for a better mission.” He called it a “revolutionary moment.”

Typically, rocket boosters are used once, burning up or crashing into the ocean after liftoff. But Musk, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and Tesla, and Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com who has his own space company, have been working on creating reusable rockets that land vertically by using their engine thrust. If they are able to recover rockets and fly them again and again, it would dramatically lower the cost of space flight.

Musk-photo-patrick-fallon-wsj

Reusing the first stage, which houses the engine and is the most expensive part of the rocket, was thought impossible by many just a few years ago. But last month Bezos’s Blue Origin flew a rocket to the edge of space, and landed it in a remote swath of West Texas. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

On Monday, SpaceX’s first flight since its Falcon 9 rocket blew up in June, Musk topped his fellow tech billionaire and space rival, by landing a larger, more powerful rocket designed to send payloads to orbit, and not just past the boundary of what’s considered space. It was a much more complicated feat that was celebrated as another leap forward for Musk and his merry band of rocketeers.

spacex-falcon9-rocket

SpaceX’s unmanned — and recently upgraded — Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral at 8:29 p.m. on a mission to deliver 11 commercial satellites into space for Orbcomm, a communications company. A few minutes later, the second stage separated and headed further on while the towering booster performed an aerial U-turn and headed back to Earth, hurtling back through gusty winds and using its engine thrust to slow down. Read the rest of this entry »


NOAA Weather Satellite Breaks Up in Orbit

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LONDON — Jeff Foust reports: A U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite retired in 2014 has suffered an apparent breakup, the second time in less than a year that a polar-orbiting weather satellite has generated orbital debris.

“The breakup, if confirmed, would be the second time in less than a year for a satellite in polar orbit. In February, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 satellite exploded in orbit, creating several dozen pieces of debris.”

The Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) announced Nov. 25 that it had identified a possible breakup of the NOAA 16 satellite. The center, which tracks objects in orbit and warns of potential collisions, said it first detected the breakup at 3:41 a.m. Eastern time and was tracking an unspecified number of “associated objects” in the orbit of NOAA 16.

bad-weather-commerce

JSpOC said later Nov. 25 that the debris from NOAA 16 posed no current threat to other satellites in orbit. It added that it did not believe the debris resulted from a collision with another object, suggesting that NOAA 16 broke up on its own.

[The Biggest Spacecraft to Fall from Space]

NOAA 16 launched in September 2000 with a planned lifetime of three to five years. The spacecraft continued to operate in a backup role until June 2014, when NOAA retired the spacecraft after an unspecified “critical anomaly.”

“A sudden temperature spike in that spacecraft led spacecraft engineers to conclude a battery in the spacecraft ruptured because of a design flaw. Seven other DMSP spacecraft have a similar design flaw.”

The breakup, if confirmed, would be the second time in less than a year for a satellite in polar orbit. In February, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 satellite exploded in orbit, creating several dozen pieces of debris. A sudden temperature spike in that spacecraft led spacecraft engineers to conclude a battery in the spacecraft ruptured because of a design flaw. Seven other DMSP spacecraft have a similar design flaw. Read the rest of this entry »


Tony Stark, Global Taxation Advocate: Elon Musk Just Demanded a Carbon Tax in Paris

tony-stark

Matthew DeBord reports: Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave a speech in Paris on Wednesday at the Sorbonne, and he called in no uncertain terms for a carbon tax.

“Musk isn’t a newcomer to the idea of a carbon tax. He’s been calling for one for years. But the evolution of his businesses and the advent of Tesla Energy, his power-storage undertaking, appear to have sharpened his pitch.”

“We have to fix the unpriced externality,” he told the audience, shifting into the wonky quasi-academic mode that he actually appears to enjoy indulging in, when he isn’t running two companies and serving as the Chairman of a third, Solar City.

[Also see – Elon Musk says the refugee crisis is ‘just a glimpse of what’s to come if we ignore climate change‘]

[Musk has never just been about building cars, or going to Mars, or applying solar power more widely]

His entire speech hinged on this simple observation: that the addition of carbon to the atmosphere is effectively a worldwide subsidy that’s contributing to global warming and preventing humanity from freeing itself from the fossil fuel era.

Musk in Paris Slide

[Read the full story here, at Business Insider]

Musk called this a “hidden carbon subsidy of $5.3 trillion per year,” citing the IMF. In response to questions after his speech, he said that a good outcome of the current UN Climate Summit (COP21) taking place in France would be that governments “put their foot down” and use a revenue neutral, gradually applied carbon tax to accelerate the shift from an economy driven by fossil fuels to one driven by sustainable energy.

Musk in Paris

ScreenshotThe “untaxed negative externality” is the right to put carbon into the atmosphere for free.

Musk is convinced that the current fossil fuel era will end — it’s just a question of when. In his analysis, the transition will occur simply because we’ll run out of carbon-based stuff that we can dig out of the ground and burn. But the existing carbon subsidy, in his estimation, is slowing down progress. Read the rest of this entry »


Who Cares if Jack Ma Buys a Tiny, Dwindling Newspaper in Hong Kong? 

With the South China Morning Post, Jack Ma’s personal politics will move into a global spotlight, for anyone to see and read in English.

Josh Horowitz writes: After lengthy negotiations, Alibaba founder Jack Ma may be close to an investmentin the publisher of the South China Morning Post, according to reports in Bloomberg, the New York Times, and Caixin.

Neither party has commented publicly about a deal, and it is unclear whether Ma would buy all or some of the SCMP Group. He already has a media empire that rivals Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and has invested in two US-based social media apps—Tango and Snapchat. But the maybe-pending SCMP bid has already attracted nearly as much attention as any of those done deals.

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That’s because with the SCMP, Ma’s personal politics will move into a global spotlight, for anyone to see and read in English.

The SCMP was once the English-language paper of record for reporting on China. Founded in 1903 as the “printing house for the Chinese revolution,” it covered far more than just Hong Kong. Throughout the fifties and sixties, it was often the first source for information about the famines and political clashes of the Mao era. After the country opened up, its multi-national staff would regularly break stories about political scandals and human rights abuses on the mainland, even after Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997.

[Read the full story here, at Quartz]

Its reporting was rewarded financially. In 1997 it earned HK$805 million (over $200 million) in net profits, about $420 in profit per-reader. Read the rest of this entry »


Bond-Loving Billionaires and their Toys

Robert Frank Any average millionaire can buy the Omega Seamaster 300 worn by Daniel Craig in the new James Bond movie, “Spectre.”

“Take Elon Musk. When he was a kid, the billionaire Tesla chief watched “The Spy Who Loved Me,” the 1977 flick starring Roger Moore as James Bond. Musk has said he was amazed by the Lotus Espirit sports car that turned into a submarine.”

But only a multimillionaire or billionaire can afford the original Aston Martin DB5 used in “Goldfinger,” valued at a minimum $5 million.

Memorabilia and super toys based on the Bond franchise have become increasingly popular with today’s rich, many of whom grew up watching the movies.

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“So when one of the cars used in the film came up for auction in 2013, he bought it for just under $1 million. When Musk discovered that it didn’t actually function as a car, he said he would install a Tesla powertrain to make it work as a true submarine car.”

While many of the spy’s accessories — from his martinis and suits to his watches and sunglasses — are affordable, billionaires have the money to fund much bigger Bond fantasies.

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Take Elon Musk. When he was a kid, the billionaire Tesla chief watched “The Spy Who Loved Me,” the 1977 flick starring Roger Moore as James Bond. Musk has said he was amazed by the Lotus Espirit sports car that turned into a submarine.

So when one of the cars used in the film came up for auction in 2013, he bought it for just under $1 million. When Musk discovered that it didn’t actually function as a car, he said he would install a Tesla powertrain to make it work as a true submarine car.

The 220-foot, $50 million "Spectre" yacht.

Source: Benetti Yachts The 220-foot, $50 million “Spectre” yacht.

But it’s the Dezer family, who own and develop real estate in Florida and other states, who have what is believed to be the largest collection of Bond cars in the world.
Read the rest of this entry »


‘Future Teardown’ of an Apple Car Shows Us Who Could be Making the Various Elements 

Ben Lovejoy reports: While we can’t say for sure that an Apple Car will ever go on sale, it’s a certainty by this point that the company is devoting substantial development resources to the project. Tim Cook said recently that there would be “massive change” in the car industry, and that “autonomous driving becomes much more important.”

But as a recent opinion piece on sister site Electrek argued, and Elon Musk warned, actually manufacturing a car is massively more complex than making consumer electronics devices. Apple will therefore be looking for partners to pull together different elements of the car. Re/code has put together an interesting look at the most likely candidates …

None of the companies would comment on any conversations they have with the Cupertino giant about their own cars. None of them flat-out denied those conversations, either. Google, Tesla and Apple all declined to comment.

The list below is not exhaustive. Yet after conversations with nearly a dozen manufacturers, industry experts and tech companies involved in the world of self-driving cars, Re/code assembled a portrait of the leading, innovative companies and critical dynamics in the autonomous industry.

The exterior of the car could, it suggests, be made by five companies: Roush, Delphi, Edison2, Atieva and Renovo Motors. The first of those, Roush, is a Michigan-based “boutique automotive supplier” which already has one key claim to credibility in the field: it assembled the exterior for Google’s prototype self-driving cars.

[Read the full story here, at 9to5Mac]

Renovo recently teamed-up with engineers from Stanford University to create a self-driving electric DeLorean capable of donuts and drifting. While it was of course a PR stunt, you need some impressive tech to pull it off. Read the rest of this entry »


SpaceX Has Nearly A Full Uber Funding In Contracts 

 writes: Sending things to space isn’t cheap, which is exactly why Elon Musk got into the business with SpaceX. In a press release today about some newly signed contracts for use of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, the company updated just how much money it has booked.

Seven Billion Dollars under contract for the 60 missions on manifest. To put all of this into perspective, Uber has raised $8.2 Billion to date.

Financially, the milestone is notable. SpaceX raised a fresh $1 billion in January of this year, after denying that it had reached a valuation of of $10 billion last Summer.

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Space exploration is a capital intensive business. To date, SpaceX has raised $1.2 billion. Given the massive discrepancy between the startup’s past raise total, and its recent raise quantity, it seems quite reasonable to presume that the firm isn’t cash poor looking ahead in the short, or moderate term. Read the rest of this entry »


AI: Will the Machines Ever Rise Up?

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From Ex Machina to Terminator Genisys, ‘synths’ and robots have invaded our popular culture. But how real is the reel depiction of artificial intelligence?

 writes: The harried parents in one family in the Channel 4 drama Humans are divided about having a robot called Anita.

The father is delighted with the extra help; the mother unnerved and threatened. The teenage daughter, bright and hardworking, gives up at school after wondering why she would spend seven years to become a doctor, when a “Synth” could upload the skills in as many seconds. The teenage son, of course, is preoccupied with the sexual possibilities.

The thriller has become the biggest home-made drama on Channel 4 for more than two decades, according to viewing figures published this week, and is the latest to explore what has been described as perhaps the greatest existential threat the human race has ever faced, artificial intelligence: the idea that computers will start thinking for themselves and not much like what they see when they cast their eyes on their creators.

The humanoid robots in Humans are not portrayed as good or evil but are dropped into suburbia, where the crises they cause are domestic: disrupting relationships, employment aspirations, and feelings of freedom.

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

It is a theme that has increasingly attracted screenwriters. In the 2013 film, Her, Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with his computer’s intelligent operating system. In Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s directorial debut, a young coder must administer the Turing test to an AI robot called Ava with deadly results. There is also the release of Terminator Genisys the fifth instalment of the series, in which humans are forever trying to prevent a future world destroyed by the machines.

[Read the full story here, at The Guardian]

“We didn’t want to make a judgement on this world, but offer up the pros and cons in a world where synths exist and let our audience decide: is it good or bad?” Jonathan Brackley, one of the writers of Humans, told the Guardian. Co-writer, Sam Vincent, who worked with Brackley on Spooks, adds: “At the heart of the show is the question, does something have to be human for someone to have human feelings about it? The answer to us is no.”

The fictional Persona Synthetics shop selling ‘synths’. Channel 4 drama, Humans, creates a future where families buy human-like robots - synths, that help them with a variety of tasks from household chores to doing homework. Photograph: Persona Synthetics/Channel 4

The fictional Persona Synthetics shop selling ‘synths’. Channel 4 drama, Humans, creates a future where families buy human-like robots – synths, that help them with a variety of tasks from household chores to doing homework. Photograph: Persona Synthetics/Channel 4

The series plays out the consequences of human-like artificial intelligence in the humdrum reality of modern life, but Vincent and Brackley see parallels with our increasing attachment to electronic devices. “Technology used to be just for work. But we use it more than ever now to conduct every aspect of our lives. We are more intimate with it, and it understands us more, even as we understand it less,” says Vincent.

“There’s this very speculative human-like AI side to the series, and a completely real side of what our technology is doing to our emotional lives, our relationships, and society at large,” he adds.

Apocalyptic pronouncements from scientists and entrepreneurs have driven the surge in interest. It was the inventor Elon Musk who last year said artificial intelligence might be the greatest existential threat that humans faced. Stephen Hawking joined in the chorus, warning that the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. The same year, the Oxford scientist Nick Bostrom, published the thoughtful book Superintelligence, in which he made similarly gloomy predictions.

Concerns about the consequences of creating an intelligence that matches, or far exceeds, our own are not entirely new. Read the rest of this entry »


SpaceX and the Russian Rocket Mess

Delta1V

Boeing and Lockheed aren’t the enemy, but accelerating a competitive launch business is worth some risks

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. writes: The first thing to notice is how rapidly Elon Musk’s SpaceX is altering the market for government-sponsored rocket launches.

“Should Congress, however bad the precedent, climb down from sanctions enacted last December curtailing the Pentagon’s reliance on a Russian-made engine to put U.S. military satellites in orbit?”

Witness how frequently the words “to compete with SpaceX” appear in industry statements and press coverage. To compete with SpaceX, say multiple reports, the United Launch Alliance, the Pentagon’s traditional supplier, is developing a new Vulcan rocket powered by a reusable engine designed by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin.

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Because of SpaceX, says Aviation Week magazine, Japan’s government has instructed Mitsubishi to cut in half the cost of the Japanese workhorse rocket, and China is planning a new family of kerosene-fueled Long March rockets. “Stimulated by SpaceX’s work on reusable rockets,” reports SpaceNews.com, Airbus is developing a reusable first stage for Europe’s venerable Ariane rocket.

“Yes, say the Pentagon, the national intelligence leadership and the White House, because avoiding disruption to crucial military launches is more important than any symbolic weakening of sanctions against Russia.”

All this comes amid one of those Washington battles ferocious in inverse relation to the certainties involved. Should Congress, however bad the precedent, climb down from sanctions enacted last December curtailing the Pentagon’s reliance on a Russian-made engine to put U.S. military satellites in orbit?

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

Yes, say the Pentagon, the national intelligence leadership and the White House, because avoiding disruption to crucial military launches is more important than any symbolic weakening of sanctions against Russia. Read the rest of this entry »


Holman W. Jenkins Jr: The Savior Elon Musk

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Tesla’s impresario is right about one thing: Humanity’s preservation is a legitimate government interest

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. writes: There is often a large difference between what people imagine they are doing and what they are actually doing. Especially in politics, any relationship between the effect of policy, the goal of policy and the stated goal is often incidental to the point of randomness.

“He’s not the first to suggest that dramatically reducing the cost of earth orbit is a key to future space endeavors. He isn’t the only dot-com millionaire to turn his attention to space.”

Adding to the complexity, the doers themselves are often confused about the relationship between rhetoric and reality.

Which naturally brings us to a new biography of Elon Musk, whose entrepreneurial energy is a marvel; the world would be better off if there were more like him, even if a “nonstop horrible” childhood was a precursor to his adult achievements. That said, the “change the world” stuff, let alone the “save humanity” stuff, that fills Ashlee Vance’s admired “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future is a tad overdone.

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“If he succeeds, though, in delivering his cheap, reusable heavy-lift vehicle, vast new possibilities will open up. Fifty years from now if there are hotels and factories in orbit, they may well be SpaceX hotels and factories.”

Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House roof. GM rolled out its EV1 electric car in 1996. Mr. Musk has been selling back to affluent, middle-aged baby boomers their own youthful ideals in the shape of roof panels and plug-in cars.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

These items sell not because the moment is ripe to transition the world economy to solar but as vanity trinkets for the rich that even the rich wouldn’t buy without a large helping of taxpayer money.

Artist's concept of the new SpaceX Dragon, which may one day fly from Brownsville, Texas (Image: SpaceX)

Artist’s concept of the new SpaceX Dragon, which may one day fly from Brownsville, Texas (Image: SpaceX)

“If a human outpost materializes on Mars, it may well be a SpaceX outpost.”

Yes, Mr. Musk deserves credit for organizing his enterprises and getting them off the muskground. The bureaucratic obstacles to starting a car business are especially daunting. And his Tesla Model S is a lovely object and wonderful machine.

[Order Ashlee Vance’s book “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” from Amazon.com]

Nowhere in Mr. Vance’s book, though, does the figure $7,500 appear—the direct taxpayer rebate to each U.S. buyer of Mr. Musk’s car. You wouldn’t know that 10% of all Model S cars have been sold in Norway—though Tesla’s own 10-K lists the possible loss of generous Norwegian tax benefits as a substantial risk to the company. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] New POV Video from SpaceX Takes You for a Ride on Crew Dragon’s First Flight

“It was a great, great outcome,” Musk said after the test. “Had there been people on board, they would have been in great shape.”

The two-minute video shows the Dragon capsule blasting off from its Florida launchpad, separating from its trunk and reaching a maximum velocity of 345 mph, according to SpaceX. The Crew Dragon flew about 5,000 feet into the air before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean under its parachutes….(read more)

Mashable.com


Does Artificial Intelligence Pose a Threat?

AI-WSJ

A panel of experts discusses the prospect of machines capable of autonomous reasoning

Ted Greenwald writes: After decades as a sci-fi staple, artificial intelligence has leapt into the mainstream. Between Apple ’s Siri and Amazon ’s Alexa, IBM ’s Watson and Google Brain, machines that understand the world and respond productively suddenly seem imminent.

The combination of immense Internet-connected networks and machine-learning algorithms has yielded dramatic advances in machines’ ability to understand spoken and visual communications, capabilities that fall under the heading “narrow” artificial intelligence. Can machines capable of autonomous reasoning—so-called general AI—be far behind? And at that point, what’s to keep them from improving themselves until they have no need for humanity?

Meka's M1 robot is one of the systems that has been acquired by Google

The prospect has unleashed a wave of anxiety. “I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” astrophysicist Stephen Hawking told the BBC. Tesla founder Elon Musk called AI “our biggest existential threat.” Former Microsoft Chief Executive Bill Gates has voiced his agreement.

How realistic are such concerns? And how urgent? We assembled a panel of experts from industry, research and policy-making to consider the dangers—if any—that lie ahead. Read the rest of this entry »


Tesla Hires Head Apple Recruiter After Losing Own Recruiter to Apple Car Team

Musk with the Tesla Model S in Fremont on Oct. 1, 2011.

 writes: Tesla has taken its recruiting of Apple employees to the next level: the electric car and energy company has hired away Apple’s Senior Director of Corporate Recruiting, Cindy Nicola, to become Tesla’s new Vice President of Global Recruiting. Nicola has already noted her new role and start month of May on her LinkedIn profile.

Notably, Apple actually hired away Tesla’s Lead Recruiter in 2014 for its own electric car project, as we noted in our extensive profile of Apple’s automotive related hires. Interestingly, that former Tesla recruiter Lauren Ciminera has already left Apple to work on a new “confidential” project, according to her own LinkedIn page and confirmation from a source… Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] SpaceX Launches: 4K Footage

Enjoy SpaceX launch footage in Ultra HD 4K. All footage used in this video was shot in 4K. If your connection is slow, toggle to 1080 HD for smoother playback.


Blossom: The $5,950 Coffee Machine That Apple, Tesla and NASA Built

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The same high-end appliance Starbucks uses to fine-tune brews

Silicon Valley types know how to optimize their lives.

 reports: They monitor workouts with high-tech armbands and step-counters and control their homes’ temperatures from the comfort of their iPhones. The hard-core have even removed the guesswork from their diets, ingesting nutrients in the form of a few fine-tuned daily protein shakes and vitamins from IV drips. Don’t you just hate them?

sidamo

So it is not surprising that the tech world’s top brass put their heads together to create the perfect coffee machine, the Blossom Brewer. Made specifically for cafes and restaurants, of course, the tech elite have snaffled them up for their homes.

The one-cup machine was developed by a group of engineers with experience at Apple, Tesla Motors, BMW and NASA. Yes, NASA.  Read the rest of this entry »


Protesters Stage Anti-Robot Rally at SXSW

“I say robot, you say no-bot!”

Jon Swartz reports: The chant reverberated through the air near the entrance to the SXSW tech and entertainment festival here.

About two dozen protesters, led by a computer engineer, echoed that sentiment in their movement against artificial intelligence.

“Machines have already taken over. If you drive a car, much of what it does is technology-driven.”

— Ben Medlock, co-founder of mobile-communications company SwiftKey

“This is is about morality in computing,” said Adam Mason, 23, who organized the protest.

Signs at the scene reflected the mood. “Stop the Robots.” “Humans are the future.”

The mini-rally drew a crowd of gawkers, drawn by the sight of a rare protest here.

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The dangers of more developed artificial intelligence, which is still in its early stages, has created some debate in the scientific community. Tesla founder Elon Musk donated $10 million to the Future of Life Institute because of his fears.

Stephen Hawking and others have added to the proverbial wave of AI paranoia with dire predictions of its risk to humanity.

“I am amazed at the movement. I has changed life in ways as dramatic as the Industrial Revolution.”

— Stephen Wolfram, a British computer scientist, entrepreneur and former physicist known for his contributions to theoretical physics

The topic is an undercurrent in Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, a documentary about the fabled Apple co-founder. The paradoxical dynamic between people and tech products is a “double-edged sword,” said its Academy Award-winning director, Alex Gibney. “There are so many benefits — and yet we can descend into our smartphone.”

As non-plussed witnesses wandered by, another chant went up. “A-I, say goodbye.”

Several of the students were from the University of Texas, which is known for a strong engineering program. But they are deeply concerned about the implications of a society where technology runs too deep. Read the rest of this entry »


NASA’s Big Day: Watch a Mega-Rocket Booster Test, Astronaut Landing Live Today

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Undocking coverage lasts from 6:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. EDT, while landing coverage is scheduled to run from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. EDT

Mike Wall reports: NASA will test-fire the booster of its Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket today at 11:30 a.m. EDT (1530 GMT), and three astronauts will return to Earth from the International Space Station in the evening. You can watch the space action live on Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV.

“What’s impressive about this test is, when ignited, the booster will be operating at about 3.6 million pounds of thrust, or 22 million horsepower. This test firing is critical to enable validation of our design.”

— Alex Priskos, manager of the SLS Boosters Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama

The SLS rocket booster test takes place at the facilities of aerospace firm Orbital ATK in Promontory, Utah, with webcast coverage beginning at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT). There will be no spaceflight involved: Engineers will fire the 177-foot-long (54 meters) booster for two minutes on the ground, in a horizontal configuration.

[NASA’s Space Launch System in Pictures]

“What’s impressive about this test is, when ignited, the booster will be operating at about 3.6 million pounds of thrust, or 22 million horsepower,” Alex Priskos, manager of the SLS Boosters Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said in a statement. “This test firing is critical to enable validation of our design.”

Another booster test is planned for early 2016, NASA officials said.

The SLS will incorporate two of the five-segment boosters, as well as four RS-25 engines, on its first two flights, which will be capable of lofting 70 metric tons of payload to low-Earth orbit (LEO). NASA intends to scale the rocket up to deliver 130 metric tons to LEO, to enable manned missions to faraway destinations such as Mars. The first SLS flight is currently scheduled for 2018.

This evening, NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova will wrap up their nearly six-month-long mission aboard the International Space Station and come back down to Earth. Read the rest of this entry »


Our Fear of Artificial Intelligence

Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty

Are We Smart Enough to Control Artificial Intelligence? 

A true AI might ruin the world—but that assumes it’s possible at all

Paul Ford writes: Years ago I had coffee with a friend who ran a startup. He had just turned 40. His father was ill, his back was sore, and he found himself overwhelmed by life. “Don’t laugh at me,” he said, “but I was counting on the singularity.”

“The question ‘Can a machine think?’ has shadowed computer science from its beginnings.”

My friend worked in technology; he’d seen the changes that faster microprocessors and networks had wrought. It wasn’t that much of a step for him to believe that before he was beset by middle age, the intelligence of machines would exceed that of humans—a moment that futurists call the singularity. A benevolent superintelligence might analyze the human genetic code at great speed and unlock the secret to eternal youth. At the very least, it might know how to fix your back.

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But what if it wasn’t so benevolent? Nick Bostrom, a philosopher who directs the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, describes the following scenario in his book Superintelligence, which has prompted a great deal of debate about the future of artificial intelligence. Imagine a machine that we might call a “paper-clip maximizer”—that is, a machine programmed to make as many paper clips as possible. Now imagine that this machine somehow became incredibly intelligent. Given its goals, it might then decide to create new, more efficient paper-clip-manufacturing machines—until, King Midas style, it had converted essentially everything to paper clips.

Agility: rapid advances in technology, including machine vision, tactile sensors and autonomous navigation, make today’s robots, such as this model from DLR, increasingly useful

Agility: rapid advances in technology, including machine vision, tactile sensors and autonomous navigation, make today’s robots, such as this model from DLR, increasingly useful

No worries, you might say: you could just program it to make exactly a million paper clips and halt. But what if it makes the paper clips and then decides to check its work? Has it counted correctly? It needs to become smarter to be sure. The superintelligent machine manufactures some as-yet-uninvented raw-computing material (call it “computronium”) and uses that to check each doubt. But each new doubt yields further digital doubts, and so on, until the entire earth is converted to computronium. Except for the million paper clips.

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
BY NICK BOSTROM
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2014

Bostrom does not believe that the paper-clip maximizer will come to be, exactly; it’s a thought experiment, one designed to show how even careful system design can fail to restrain extreme machine intelligence. But he does believe that superintelligence could emerge, and while it could be great, he thinks it could also decide it doesn’t need humans around. Or do any number of other things that destroy the world. The title of chapter 8 is: “Is the default outcome doom?”

“Alan Turing proposed in 1950 that a machine could be taught like a child; John McCarthy, inventor of the programming language LISP, coined the term ‘artificial intelligence’ in 1955.”

If this sounds absurd to you, you’re not alone. Critics such as the robotics pioneer Rodney Brooks say that people who fear a runaway AI misunderstand what computers are doing when we say they’re thinking or getting smart. From this perspective, the putative superintelligence Bostrom describes is far in the future and perhaps impossible.

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Yet a lot of smart, thoughtful people agree with Bostrom and are worried now. Why?

The question “Can a machine think?” has shadowed computer science from its beginnings. Alan Turing proposed in 1950 that a machine could be taught like a child; John McCarthy, inventor of the programming language LISP, coined the term “artificial intelligence” in 1955. As AI researchers in the 1960s and 1970s began to use computers to recognize images, translate between languages, and understand instructions in normal language and not just code, the idea that computers would eventually develop the ability to speak and think—and thus to do evil—bubbled into mainstream culture. Even beyond the oft-referenced HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1970 movie Colossus: The Forbin Project featured a large blinking mainframe computer that brings the world to the brink of nuclear destruction; a similar theme was explored 13 years later in War Games. The androids of 1973’s Westworld went crazy and started killing.

“Extreme AI predictions are ‘comparable to seeing more efficient internal combustion engines… and jumping to the conclusion that the warp drives are just around the corner,’ Rodney Brooks writes.”

When AI research fell far short of its lofty goals, funding dried up to a trickle, beginning long “AI winters.” Even so, the torch of the intelligent machine was carried forth in the 1980s and ’90s by sci-fi authors like Vernor Vinge, who popularized the concept of the singularity; researchers like the roboticist Hans Moravec, an expert in computer vision; and the engineer/entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil, author of the 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines. Whereas Turing had posited a humanlike intelligence, Vinge, Moravec, and Kurzweil were thinking bigger: when a computer became capable of independently devising ways to achieve goals, it would very likely be capable of introspection—and thus able to modify its software and make itself more intelligent. In short order, such a computer would be able to design its own hardware.

As Kurzweil described it, this would begin a beautiful new era. Read the rest of this entry »


David W. Buchanan: No, the Robots Are Not Going to Rise Up and Kill You

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David W. Buchanan is a researcher at IBM, where he is a member of the team that made the Watson “Jeopardy!” system.

David W. Buchanan writes: We have seen astonishing progress in artificial intelligence, and technology companies are pouring money into AI research. In 2011, the IBM system Watson competed on “Jeopardy!,” beating the best human playersSiri and Cortana have taken charge of our smartphones. As I write this, a vacuum called Roomba is cleaning my house on its own, using what the box calls “robot intelligence.” It is easy to feel like the world is on the verge of being taken over by computers, and the news media have indulged such fears with frequent coverage of the supposed dangers of AI.

But as a researcher who works on modern, industrial AI, let me offer a personal perspective to explain why I’m not afraid.

Thunder-Robots

Science fiction is partly responsible for these fears. A common trope works as follows: Step 1: Humans create AI to perform some unpleasant or difficult task. Step 2: The AI becomes conscious. Step 3: The AI decides to kill us all. As science fiction, such stories can be great fun. As science fact, the narrative is suspect, especially around Step 2, which assumes that by synthesizing intelligence, we will somehow automatically, or accidentally, create consciousness. I call this the consciousness fallacy. It seems plausible at first, but the evidence doesn’t support it. And if it is false, it means we should look at AI very differently.

Intelligence is the ability to analyze the world and reason about it in a way that enables more effective action. Our scientific understanding of intelligence is relatively advanced. There is still an enormous amount of work to do before we can create comprehensive, human-caliber intelligence. But our understanding is viable in the sense that there are real businesses that make money by creating AI.

Coming online: some 95,000 new professional service robots, worth some $17.1bn, are set to be installed for professional use between 2013 and 2015

Coming online: some 95,000 new professional service robots, worth some $17.1bn, are set to be installed for professional use between 2013 and 2015

Consciousness is a much different story, perhaps because there is less money in it. Consciousness is also a harder problem: While most of us would agree that we know consciousness when we see it, scientists can’t really agree on a rigorous definition, let alone a research program that would uncover its basic mechanisms. Read the rest of this entry »


Falcon 9 Passes Readiness Review


[VIDEO] Tesla P85D Test Drive


Elon Musk and SpaceX Plan a Space Internet

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 reports: Because he doesn’t have enough going on, Elon Musk—he of Tesla Motors, SpaceXSolarCity, and the Hyperloop—is launching another project. Musk wants to build a second Internet in space and one day use it to connect people on Mars to the Web.

Musk is tonight hosting a SpaceX event in Seattle, where the company is opening a new office. The talk will mostly be about SpaceX’s plans for hiring aerospace and software engineers in the Pacific Northwest to boost the company’s rocket-building efforts. But he’ll also use the talk to announce his newest idea, which would launch a vast network of communication satellites to orbit earth. The network would do two things: speed up the general flow of data on the Internet and deliver high-speed, low-cost Internet services to the three billion-plus people who still have poor access to the Web. “Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date,” Musk told Bloomberg Businessweek ahead of the announcement.

“In Musk’s vision, Internet data packets going from, say, Los Angeles to Johannesburg would no longer have to go through dozens of routers and terrestrial networks. Instead, the packets would go to space, bouncing from satellite to satellite until they reach the one nearest their destination, then return to an antenna on earth.”

The Space Internet venture, to which Musk hasn’t yet given a name, would be hugely ambitious. Hundreds of satellites would orbit about 750 miles above earth, much closer than traditional communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit at altitudes of up to 22,000 miles. The lower satellites would make for a speedier Internet service, with less distance for electromagnetic signals to travel. The lag in current satellite systems makes applications such as Skype, online gaming, and other cloud-based services tough to use. Musk’s service would, in theory, rival fiber optic cables on land while also making the Internet available to remote and poor regions that don’t have access. Read the rest of this entry »


SpaceX Launches Rocket, Attempt to Land Booster Falls Short: ‘Close, but No Cigar’

 reports: Elon Musk’s SpaceX sent a cargo capsule loaded with International Space Station supplies into orbit Saturday morning, but the company’s unprecedented attempt to set down the craft’s first-stage rocket on an ocean barge was rocky and damaged the booster.

“Rocket made it to the drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho.”

— Elon Musk

The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral at 1:47 a.m. Pacific time.

Within minutes, the cargo-filled capsule separated from the first-stage booster rocket and continued on its way to orbit and rendezvous with the space station.

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That was when SpaceX attempted what had never been done: flying the 13-story booster back to Earth and landing it upright on an ocean barge.

The booster made it to the barge, but Musk tweeted that some of the vessel’s equipment was damaged by the impact. “Ship itself is fine,” he wrote. “Some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced.”

“Didn’t get good landing/impact video,” he tweeted. “Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and … actual pieces.”

Hawthorne-based SpaceX hopes to one day be able to reuse the first stage, which includes the expensive and powerful engines needed to blast the capsule to orbit. The planned landing and recovery of the first stage is part of Musk’s goal to eventually be able to refly the same spacecraft many times, greatly lowering the cost of space flight. Read the rest of this entry »


SpaceX Will Try to Land Falcon 9 Rocket on Floating Platform Next Week

spacex-falcon9-rocket

Space.com Senior Writer Mike Wall, reports: SpaceX will apparently attempt something truly epic during next week’s cargo launch to the International Space Station.

During the Dec. 16 launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which will send SpaceX’s robotic Dragon capsule toward the orbiting lab, the California-based company will try to bring the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket back to Earth for a controlled landing on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean.

“There are a lot of launches that will occur over the next year. I think it’s quite likely that [on] one of those flights, we’ll be able to land and refly, so I think we’re quite close.”

— Elon Musk

The bold maneuver marks a big step forward in SpaceX’s development of reusable-rocket technology, which the company’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, says could eventually cut the cost of spaceflight by a factor of 100 and perhaps make Mars colonization economically feasible. [SpaceX’s Quest For Rocketry’s Holy Grail: Exclusive Video]

A photo of the "autonomous spaceport drone ship" on which SpaceX will attempt  Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX

A photo of the “autonomous spaceport drone ship” on which SpaceX will attempt
Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX

Musk shared photos of the Falcon 9 and landing platform via Twitter late last month, ratcheting up interest in the cargo mission, the fifth of 12 unmanned resupply flights SpaceX will make to the space station for NASA under a $1.6 billion contract. Read the rest of this entry »