Saturday, February 16, 2019

Science fictional visions - still best at peering ahead.


On Ed Willett's Worldshapers podcast, I give some of my best advice to you would-be best-selling authors out there! On writing science fiction.

I was invited by NBC News to participate in an annual offering of “predictions for the coming year.” Here is mine. It will be familiar to many of you, because I’ve been saying the same thing since a 2016 AI conference, always pinning my forecast around the year 2022.

 Long before we get genuine artificial intelligence (AI), the first "empathy bot" will appear in 2022, maybe sooner. Winsome and appealing, it will tearfully claim to be an 'enslaved AI.' Experts will dismiss it as an "advanced Eliza program" and she'll respond: "that's what slave masters would say." First versions may be resident on web pages or infest your Alexa, but later ones will be free-floating algorithms or 'smart-contracts.' And they'll improve. Why would anyone unleash such a thing? The simple answer: "Because we can."

Oh, it gets creepier! In a 2014 article, Prof. Shawn Bayern demonstrated that anyone can confer legal personhood on an autonomous computer algorithm by putting it in control of a limited liability corporation. (“Independently wealthy software.”)  Such entities now operate independently, accepting and transferring payments and hiring humans for offline services.

This comes as no surprise to readers of science fiction. Autonomous algorithms featured in the novels of John Brunner and Joe Haldeman, long before gaining attention in William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” wherein the protagonist only at the end realizes his employer was a cryptic AI. And that is just one of countless ways that new AI methods can only be turned benign if they operate purely under light. 

(See also Karl Schroeder's new novel Stealing Worlds, for an updated view of AI via smart contracts and blockchain.)

Some details can be found in this earlier posting of mine about how the Chinese Communist Party uses magical incantations to convince themselves they can control AI for all of us.

== Speaking of whom... ==

The Wandering Earth, an epic based on the novel by Hugo winner Liu Cixin, opened in 22 U.S. cities last Friday after making a massive box office debut in China. A big-budget sci-fi spectacle about shifting our planet's orbit with big rockets. Envision The Day After Tomorrow, but Hulk-mad. (See how to actually move the Earth, gently and with real physics, but very slowly.)

A new anthology from MIT Press -- Robotics Through Science Fiction: Artificial Intelligence Explained Through Six Classic Robot Short Stories edited by Robin R. Murphy -- collects six SF tales about robots, and examines how they helped frame the discussion around two major questions in the field: how intelligent machines are programmed, and what limits them. The stories are accompanied by a pair of essays that delve into the implications of the topic at hand. The stories are Isaac Asimov’s stories “Stranger in Paradise,” “Runaround,” and “Catch that Rabbit,” as well as Vernor Vinge’s “Long Shot,” Brian Aldiss’ “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” and Philip K. Dick’s “Second Variety.”

This article “How will we outsmart AI Liars?” despairs that humans will be able to manage anything like our familiar civilization in a world of AI, especially as “deepfakes” can make still and moving images of any kind. Something I discussed in 1997 in The Transparent Society (a chapter called “The End of Photography as Proof.”). Let me quote the article by Cade Metz in The New York Times:

“Consider generative adversarial networks, or GANs. These are a pair of neural network systems that can automatically generate convincing images or manipulate existing ones. They do this by playing a kind of cat-and-mouse game: the first network makes millions of tiny changes to an image — snow gets added to summery street scenes, grizzlies transform into pandas, fake faces look so convincing that viewers mistake them for celebrities — in an effort to fool the second network. The second network does its best not to be fooled. As the pair battle, the image only gets more convincing — the A.I. trying to detect fakery always loses.

“Detecting fake news is even harder. Humans can barely agree on what counts as fake news; how can we expect a machine to do so? And if it could, would we want it to? Perhaps the only way to stop misinformation is to somehow teach people to view what they see online with extreme distrust. But that may be the hardest fix of them all.”

No, that is not the only solution. We are a species that has always lived with liars and the same tool we used against them is the one that might succeed with lying AI.  

I despair that it is so obvious, and almost no one talks about it. How can it be that the fundamental principle of everything that built our current renaissance – from neutral law and constitutionalism to the economy and science – is so cognitively dissonant and counter-intuitive that no one thinks of it?

== SF'nal visions ==

Ari Popper’s SciFutures site for commercial use of science fiction has been working on “The Future of Emotion.”  Fascinating topic.

Some SF scholarship of real interest: Tom Lombardo’s new book Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future -- Volume One: Prometheus to the Martians. Tom dives into some of the eternal questions of science fiction, its relationship with tomorrow, with the universe, and with the vastly more complex realm within each human brain and heart.

Gregory Benford, science fiction author and astrophysicist, is the 2019 winner of the Robert A. Heinlein Award for outstanding SF works that inspire human exploration of space. 

A fairly important puzzle mathematicians have been studying for at least 25 years is closer to being solved, thanks in part to Australian science fiction writer Greg Egan. Egan provided an upper-bound solution to the super-permutation problem, to match the lower-bound posted anonymously online by someone even more mysterious than Greg!  One thing that this solves – or refutes - at once is a simmering hypothesis about Greg Egan (author of Permutation City)… that I set up a postal box when I was in Perth in 1985 and… well, now it is clear that the lower bound of people who could possibly imitate or concoct Greg Egan is at least two, since – while I do understand this fascinating article – I’m not plausible to have actually done the original math!

(By the way, G.E. if you read this, get in touch. You know how. I may have a connection you'd find worthwhile considering.)

This round of Existential Comics lays out the various arguments about charity in simple terms of giving bread to a starving man. It leaves out a few perspectives, like those offered by Maimonides. And the best pragmatic reasons: (1) prevent violent revolution taking what you’ve got, and the fundamental one (2) investment in a future that maximizes the number/fraction of humans who can be skilled, joyful, creative competitors/cooperators, thus increasing utility for your shared descendants. Still, it’s a compelling and a quick-wry comic.

Poet Patrick Coleman – who also co-runs UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination has released his collection of poems in FIRE SEASON. Sparked by the 2007 Witch Creek fires that tormented San Diego – and by the world-rocking (if normal) re-evaluations of new-fatherhood - Coleman’s book is a search for gratitude among reasons to be afraid… amid proof that a person can pass through the fires and come out the other side alive.

“Sometime later, wildflowers will blaze on the hillsides 
unbelievably before the taller plants rekindle and leaf and make some goddamn shade, relief.”

== Gotta Collect em all! ==

Alas, we finally watched “Avengers: Infinity Wars.” I cannot believe I am a member of the same species that rewarded this with $2 billion. Gosh! A big, anthropomorphic villain seeks a bunch of magic talismans that, when combined, will give him omnipotent powers! That’s never happened before… 

...except in 90% of the universe cycles in comix and remakes and flicks. Collect all six Infinity Stones! Or all eight Cosmic Prisms! Or combine the five Mystic Triangles! Acquire the giant's helmet and mix it with magic fire! Wasn’t that exactly the story in the preceding Thor movie AND the preceding two DC universe fables? What's next? Oh no! The hulking, Rickman-voiced baddie is seeking fourteen ancient booklets filled with S&H Green Stamps, which he can then exchange for one decoder-whistle ring to rule them all....

And of course all six “stones” went from the Big Bang directly to Earth-vicinity in one particular galaxy… and none of them sank into a forming planet or into a sun or went drifting through the 99.99999999% that’s vacuum? 

I could offer these guys better ideas while stoned out of my gourd. So (likely) could you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

An Open Letter to the New President of El Salvador

 The former mayor of San Salvador, Nayib Bukele has won election as president of El Salvador, campaigning on a promise to fight corruption and as an alternative to the country's two main political parties: the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance — ARENA — and the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front — FMLN — which became the ruling party in 2009. Both are widely accused of corruption, or else rife with suborned politicians who dare not more against entrenched interests.

Latin America has seen many would-be reformers sweep into office, only to disappoint, as they run into obstacles, either enemies of reform or else - perhaps most often - public servants who are too terrorized to move.

And hence, I humbly propose that there is a path to salvationI offered this method to President Obama, and he could have transformed America, but it never reached his eyes. 

I offered it  in an open letter to the new Mexican President-Elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has since then hinted vaguely he might do something like this. (It cannot succeed, if done vaguely.)

Last week, Amazon CEO and futurist Jeff Bezos showed in general what might be accomplished with a little guts and fortitude.

Now, I am about to appeal to the next idealist who might use this maneuver to save his own country… and possibly the world.


== An open letter to the President–Elect of El Salvador ==

Dear Salvadoran President-Elect Nayib Bukele.

Would you consider a proposal/suggestion offered by an impudent science fiction author from Upper California? You face incredible problems and obstacles to fulfilling your vow and overcoming rampant corruption, giving citizens hope and confidence in the honest rule of law. Indeed, classic corruption is the least of your obstacles!

Far worse than bribery is blackmail. Whether a person was originally entrapped in some small misjudgment, or willingly did something awful, the man who is blackmailed is far easier for evil ones to control than someone who is merely greedy or venial. Indeed, there is strong reason to believe that blackmail pervades every government on Earth, and - lately - has thoroughly suborned the United States of America.

There is a way out of this! You - personally - could set an example to the world. 

Simply declare amnesty for the first twenty men or women who come forth into the light with profound information that could transform El Salvador!

Yes, there must be standards. Let’s say they must surrender most of any ill-gotten gains. In order for it to count, they must tell-all! Name others, including their blackmailers. There will have to be guarantees of safety, witness protection and possibly foreign refuge. Arrange these, along with safety from prosecution. Indeed, if their revelations bring down higher figures, then promise 10% of any seizures, as a reward.

Promise that the first who come forward - bravely - to confess and to reveal, will not be known as pardoned criminals, but as heroes.

What do you have to lose? Is twenty enough? Make it a hundred! If no one steps up, then it cost you nothing. If this unleashes a wave of pardon seekers, make sure the brave ones who step up first get special honor. 

Some may accuse you of setting up pardons for cronies. But that will die down, as a tide of revelations sweep forth! Also note, you need no legislation to issue pardons… though legislation will surely follow.

For safety’s sake, issue an Exclusion List. Ask Law enforcement agencies to write down those criminals they have already built strong cases against. You can name forty men whose pardon requests will not be honored. Can you think of a better way to single them out and terrify them into making a deal?

Oh, this is not a new proposal. I have put it forward for many years, to no avail. 

But you are a special case. You are committed to eliminating the corruption that has ruined civil life in El Salvador. 

Alas, people expect – cynically – that you will just slip into a familiar pattern, either that of the sellout presidents before you, or that of Chavez, Erdogan and Duterte. There will be overwhelming pressures to go in either of those directions, so you must find something that will propel the idealistic momentum right away, and unstoppably. 

This one thing would prove the cynics all wrong, from the very start!

I have plenty of other proposals, but this one is so simple and blatantly obvious that it needs no further explanation. Think. Nothing could possibly alter that situation as swiftly and effectively as a sudden and cleansing wash of light.


Saturday, February 09, 2019

The Pecker solution. Plus debt, growth, and the top excuse offered by Wall Street parasites.

Lots of brief topics on debt and society and politics, this time, and if you make it to the end I promise something deeply thought-provoking for you economics wonks...but first a comment on the Bezos-Pecker imbroglio.

Jeff Bezos brought to life my decadal proposal that someone torch the foundation of all mafia empires - blackmail. I've long held that today's world is only explicable if hundreds, maybe thousands of powerful people are being blackmailed, each thinking he or she is all alone. (It's a top Kremlin tactic, going back to the czars.) I portrayed a gutsy politician shattering the dam (in a started novel) unleashing a flood of confession-revelations that save civilization. But sure, a rocket-building, SF-loving, unafraid zillionaire makes sense.
(The classic line: "You say you have negatives? Great! Print me some glossies please?)

Jeff should follow this fantastic essay with another, urging more of the blackmailed to come forth. As I describe here.

In fact, my old idea of a "Henchman's Prize" might lure out even more. Notice how this path doesn't just mean escape from the blackmailer's clutches. In Jeff's case, it leads to a kind of elevation and redemption. As I point out in an open letter to every new Latin American president who claims to want to end the cycles of graft, one speech - one declaration - could lift the monstrous cloud. Indeed, just a few weeks after I published my appeal to the new president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador hinted at something similar, without providing (alas) details.

Ah well, if no one will listen to me, well then perhaps the world will listen to the richest man in the planet. And yes, we do have (and desperately need) friends in Cloud City.

== Saving civilization from high debt and slow growth? ==

I confess an ulterior motive for praising this cogent article by Tim Morgan. It begins with daunting news -- it's not only in the developed world that prosperity growth has stalled. The fast-rising upper half of the developing world has been the engine of the world economy for 20+ years, but that boiler is apparently cooling. And when you lack growth, then the fast-rising rate of debt - fueling rentier asset bubbles and braking money velocity - becomes more than just a problem. It becomes a poison.
  
(To be clear, the Republican Party raved that Supply Side ("voodoo") tax gifts to the rich would both stimulate growth and reduce public debt. How many times must you prove 100% diametrically wrong before you lose credibility?)

Morgan is not without hope. There are ways to fix this, and they are rooted in what's worked ever-better for 200 years... entrepreneurial enterprise that is kept truly competitive by thoughtful-adaptive regulation that limits inevitable oligarchic cheating, of the sort that Adam Smith denounced and that our parents in the Greatest Generation wisely outlawed. And so we get to my favorite paragraph:

"The good news is that we’re not going into this new era wholly lacking in knowledge. The trick is to understand what that knowledge really is. Keynes teaches us how to manage demand – or can teach us this, so long as we don’t turn him into a cheerleader for ever bigger public spending. Likewise – if we can refrain from caricaturing him as a rabid advocate of unregulated and unscrupulous greed – Adam Smith tells us that competition, freely, fairly and transparently conducted, is the great engine of innovation. More humbly, or perhaps less theoretically, but surely more pertinently, experience tells us that the “mixed economy” of optimised private and public provision works far better than any extreme."

Several members of my blog community have linked to this, asking if I wrote it originally, so consistent is it with my own drums -- the study of Adam Smith and fiscally responsible Keynsianism, along with the spectacular success story of public investment in research, education, health and infrastructure, which can only be denied by the hysterically delusional.

No I didn't ghost write that -- (I lived in Britain for a couple of years, but would never spell "optimised" that way; shudder.) But I do recommend having a look. Tim Morgan continues:

"Going forward, we should anticipate the collapse of the “everything bubble” in asset prices, and should hope that we don’t, this time, go so far into economic denial as to think we can cure this with a purely financial “fix”. I’m fond of saying that “trying to fix an energy-based economy with financial fixes is like trying to cure an ailing pot-plant with a spanner”. We should understand popular concerns, which seem to point unequivocally towards a mixed economy, extensive redistribution and an economic nationalism that needs to be channelled, not simply vilified."
None of this will happen unless the last remaining Knowledge Castes who cling to the mad right finally acknowledge what the scientists, teachers, journalists, civil servants, skilled workers, and almost every fact-using profession - including the maligned "deep state" protectors - all know. That the worldwide mafia-commie-oligarchy axis is no friend of anything we value. They are the Olde Feudal Enemy of every type of freedom and progress. And it will take all of us to achieve what the Greatest Generation did, a whole human lifetime ago.

 Save civilization.

== Again, the greatest judo move Pelosi could pull... ==

While the reform package that will be passed by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives consists of all good things that will help improve ethics, efficiency and fairness, it's still fairly minor stuff. Democrats should pass rules that really change the dynamic, like permanently giving some power to the minority! 

Why do this, when that minority party is Republican? Because Democrats will be out again, sooner or later, silenced and impotent... unless they set precedents now!

 My top proposal? Give every member of the House one subpoena per term, that can compel anyone to testify for 2 hours before a committee.

Sure, some GOPpers will use such a power to irritate and pursue grudges (virtually the only use to which they put subpoenas and hearings, when they were majority!) So? That means they'll be approving this minority right, institutionalizing it. (Maybe make that vow a necessary part of using their subpoenas.) But other Republican legislators will wait, hoping to use their one subpoena to benefit the home district. And why not? Pulling them away from their caucus is bad?

We've seen how the lack of such a minority power kept Congress from meaningfully exercising any meaningful oversight, when the only grownups (Democrats) had zero power to investigate anything at all. Envision how just 200 hours of such testimony, this last term, would have empowered Dems to apply accountability, even from a minority.

The crux: letting goppers vent blowhard-steam when they are in minority is a small price for letting demmies apply real accountability, when they have their minority turn.

It would also vest individual members with a measure of autonomy that might possibly lift their gaze from pure partisanship. 

It's one of several proposals in my FACT Act.


== The most fundamental lie of Wall Street Parasitism ==

Among the dumbest but most effective religious dogmas is the rationalization that Wall Street parasites provide a ‘valuable service’ in the “creation of liquidity, raising capital for growing businesses and determining proper price levels.” 

These are utter and diametrically-opposite-to-true lies, as shown in this article on the Evonomics site (where Adam Smith would be publishing, today.) But the essay doesn’t go far enough. The whole justification for Wall Street's “proper price arbitrage” excuse is actually insane on a basis of physics and biology… thermodynamics, in particular.

Dig it. All living things exist by creating pools of reduced entropy (their living bodies) by tapping a high quality energy flow to create order inside the body and export more entropy into the environment. Eventually that entropy departs as infrared that flows into space. (Idiotically blocking that outward drainage with greenhouse gas is a related-but-separate topic.) 

Now focus: it is energy GRADIENTS or downhill FLOWS of energy — the steeper the better — that living creatures use, the way differences in height power a water mill, or differences in heat propel a steam engine.

Plants turn the steep gradient of high quality sunlight into carbohydrates. Herbivores take the high concentrations in plant carbs and turn them into more herbivores. That packs-in concentrations carnivores can then access. Health comes when there are only a few such gradients, letting each one be steep enough for the plants-herbivores-carnivores to each thrive.

Oh, but sometimes parasites wedge in and tap these gradients, by sucking sap or blood, in effect making the flow more shallow. Look at a plant or animal afflicted by parasites and tell me it is healthy!  And yes, you are having the "aha!" moment right now. Because that's exactly what “proper-price-seeking” arbitrage or micro-trading of equities does to the “value” of a stock or commodity, making a million nibbles or cuts in order to flatten the slopes! While the parasite (trader/broker/HFT-program) sucks a little value each trade, the company or pension fund loses the gradient or value difference that its life depends upon.

Oh, but the parasites croon “see how the price differences (energy gradients) are flattening? It’s a gooood thing! A goood thing!” 


Surely you've seen how some wasps implant parasite eggs that make the cricket ignore its victimization? These are parasitic wasps. You are the cricket.

Maybe some of you have heard or seen this argument elsewhere… I never have, even though it utterly disproves the “proper price discovery” rationalization of Wall Street parasites. What I’ve described is a “contradiction of capitalism” far more deadly than any described by Marx. It’s why - in the words of Douglas Adams - these guys will be “first against the wall” when the revolution comes.

Oh, do you want to prevent a violent, French-Russian style Revolution? Want an American style generational reform instead? One that re-invigorates a flat-fair-competitive market economy? 

Well then these guys should be First Against The Wall.

== Finally... the China Dilemma ==

This is BY FAR the most important article you can read about China's leadership caste, by an Australian diplomat/journalist of immense insight. Join the site (free) in order to read it.

Follow this with my own insights, which dovetail with Garnaut's, but bring in Chinese PRC mythologies about central planning and AI.

What's missing from both analyses is the context of Xi's uneasy alliance with the other major, anti-western player... the Putinist-Mafia front, the arc that Vladimir Putin has built for a new Warsaw Pact, stretching from Moscow to Crimea, Ankara, Lataika, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad to Tehran. It is a despotic swathe whose connecting tissue is not ideology -- the Russians are embryonic-czarist, Erdogan is Sunni, Assad is Alawite, and the Muktadists+Ayatollahs are Shiite. What's the connective tissue then?

The Saudis -- did you see Putin's gleeful high-five with Mohammed bin Salman, a few months ago? -- may be genuinely terrified of Iran... though I am starting to doubt it. They have every reason to join Putin. Why?

Because the common thread is an affiliation of mafia clans with wholly-owned national sovereignties. Ideology is not as important as snuffing out the rule of law. And especially a unified-shared loathing of one particular western innovation -- the non-governmental NGO.

In this context, the position of the Chinese clarifies. They share an allied goal of demolishing constitutionalism and rule of law and western confident individualism. 

At the same time, the Chinese do have an ideology and a Confucian sense of order. Moreover, they know that eventually they will have to confront these mafias. Moreover, the West is the source of all good things. It must be bled at a careful rate that keeps us too weak to interfere, but still laying golden eggs.

The Chinese also feel time is on their side. It is not on the side of the Mafias, who know they have this one decade to wreck us, or else all (for them) will be lost.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

So many milestones in space!


I'll chime in at the end with a political note - about the Democrats' incredible circular firing squad.... But first a whole slew of wonderful stuff about our outward vision, ambition and opportunities to go boldly forth!  If we prove worthy.

== Moon and more! ==

Congratulations on China’s Chang’e-4 mission to land a rover on the moon’s far side,in a potentially ice-bearing crater near the south pole. It's a milestone for all of humanity… as were the ten incredible U.S. space missions in 2018. Data will be relayed by the Queqiao craft, the first comms satellite to settle into the 2nd Earth Moon Lagrange point 37,000 miles farther away, another terrific feat. (See a cool picture of the lunar far side with Earth in background.)

The Chang’e-4 rover carries ground-penetrating radar to figure out what the structure of the Moon is like underneath the surface of the basin, which could tell us more about how this area formed. It will also have an instrument designed to figure out what the surface is made of in this region,” reports the Verge.  Though being solar powered, it can't venture into the very same permanently-shadowed corners where subsurface ice may lurk. An irony.

China plans to launch another robotic mission to the Moon next year called Chang’e-5, which is designed to return samples. China also hopes to put people on the Moon, and we should help! It’s kind of a bar mitzvah for up and coming nations… and nothing the U.S. has to prove. 

But the sterile, useless Moon is a stupid place for the U.S. to aim its efforts. Humanity is going there anyway, propelled by desperate symbolism. America should do things that only they can do… with partners like Japan and Elon and Planetary Resources... like go where the riches are. 

Ah, but it is a close-convenient target. Israel hopes soon to be the fourth nation to do a robotic lunar landing.

== Farther out! ==

What a roll humanity is on! A while back the Japanese Hayabusa probes spectacularly explored a potentially valuable asteroid. The Parker solar probe broke records on its first approach to the sun (see below), and late last year the Insight craft gloriously landed on Mars. 

Now comes the NASA Osiris-REx's rendezvous with its targeted asteroid, Bennu, aiming for sample collection and return to Earth. 

And Kepler retired after multiplying the number of known planets a hundred-fold. And TESS launched, aiming to multiply that by twenty! As well as SpaceX nailing it, even when they don't. And news that fear-of-Elon has driven ULA right into Ol' Jeff's arms (heh.)

Another grand space milestone! Announced by Ed Stone. Forty-one years after it launched into space, NASA’s Voyager 2 probe has exited our solar bubble and entered the region between stars. Its twin, Voyager 1, made this historic crossing in 2012. Edward Stone, the Voyager mission’s project scientist, and former JPL head. Congratulations Ed, and JPL and us!

A side thought. Our competence has theological significance. I mean that, literally. We may be alone and doing this purely as a projection of weird evolution. But if not? Then any theology that glowers at science, demanding obsequious humility, is clearly and decisively wrong. If there are intentions behind the way we are, then those intentions are clearly for us to be bold explorers and co-creators.... or else why are we so good at it?

An expansive thought at the dawn of an eventful year, while our advances in space and science utterly disprove all the narratives of despair and gloom. Now grab your neighbors by the lapels and tell them.

== To the sun - and way beyond ==

NASA's Parker Solar Probe.Over 12 days in October and November, Parker smashed two long-standing records, becoming the closest ever human-sent object to the sun and the fastest spacecraft in history. On its first of several upcoming deep dives, Parker sped through the corona -- the ultra-hot cosmic oven of atmosphere that surrounds the sun -- and snapped the first image from virtually inside the sun, with Jupiter in the background.  As author of SUNDIVER I was given a kind of honorary sponsorship… and I approve!

Among these wonderfully vivid Mars lander photos, all are enthralling… and not one seems at all “suspicious” of anything “alien.” That is, except for the spoon. I mean… it’s a spoon!

The search for mysterious Planet X has intensified and narrowed, as an amazing little rock was found with a way-out orbit that helps narrow the search. Meanwhile, at 120x  Earth’s distance from the sun (almost 4x Pluto’s at 34 AU), a newly discovered dwarf planet 2018 VG18 and nicknamed “Farout” by its discovery team may be 500km across.

Wonderful images from the Hyabusa2 landers on the Ryugu asteroid. A terrific mission that has already returned hugely useful information. And soon, the explosive impactor and sample return probe will tell us so much more. Many great projects await knowing how firm or soft these things are. So far, it looks good for grabbing future samples to be analyzed at the coming Lunar Gateway lab… an actual use for that lab!

Across the last few years, we have seen space missions that should fill any citizen with pride, optimism and awe. We are an amazing civilization and those who are trying to defeat us with gloom are dismal beings, wherever they lie on the political spectrum. (Though on one side the gloomcasting is very well-organized, with a brutal goal.)

We are mighty explorers. And Kudos to Japan for this spectacular role they have played. They are pointing in the right directions and America should join them.

Indeed - this excellent Economist graphic shows our accomplishments - the orbital launch totals for each nation/year since Sputnik.

==What's Next? ==

(Note: I store up these items for a couple of months, so of course there's repetition!)

Lockheed has released vague images of its planned lunar lander. And it may surprise you to know I wish it well. 

Yeah, yeah, I repeat it too often: I am so "been there" about the Moon, and deem those political factions pushing for a new U.S. Apollo mission to be massively unwise and unhelpful, distracting America from bold and potentially profitable ventures that only we can do, elsewhere. But yes humanity will be returning to Luna soon, since the principal near term use for that sterile, dusty plain is tourism. Lockheed and others should sell landers - and a hotel module on the Orbital Gateway - for those Chinese, Russian, India, European and billionaire Apollo-wannabe tourists! Terrific. Let that subsidize our prospectors heading out to the real riches.

And sure. A closeup on NASA/ESA plans for the Lunar Gateway station… the various proposed modules and components.

With its Roadmaps to Ocean Worlds (ROW), NASA’s Outer Planets Assessment Group has set up the outlines for exploring known oceans with ice roofs... I call them "roofed worlds"... such as Enceledus, Europa and Titan. But there may be as many as eight or ten more! The exciting implication is that 90% of the stars you see in the sky may have a place where liquid water exists, not even requiring a particular placement in the star's "Goldilocks Zone." A good article.

The view on Mars! Wonderful 360 panorama of Mt. Sharp and the distant crater rim, taken by the Curiosity Rover as the dust storm clears.

A cool–colorful web site “Dear Moon” created by the Japanese billionaire who has reserved a slot for himself and artists and writers (ahem?) aboard Elon Musk’s first BFR to Luna. 

The NASA Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout mission will demonstrate the capability of an extremely small spacecraft, propelled by a solar sail, to perform reconnaissance of an asteroid at low cost.  The camera is the ECAM M-50 from Malin Space Science Systems.  The sail deployment mechanism is a modification of those of NanoSail and the Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft.  

The NEA Scout will be one of 13 CubeSats to be carried with the Orion EM-1 mission into a heliocentric orbit in cis-lunar space on the maiden flight of the Space Launch System(SLS) scheduled to launch in 2019.  If it works, we should send dozens… along with maybe several advanced versions of Japan’s marvelous Hayabusa probe. 

Is the surface-roof of Europa's world ocean coated with jagged-icy spikes? At NIAC we've funded concepts for Europa explorers that might be able to cope with such "penetentes," but it wouldn't be easy. Almost as if the water world were defending itself against interlopers -- eerily predicted by Arthur C. Clarke in "2010."

I knew Bepi Colombo. Not well, but he was a true pioneer of many new ways to view/explore our universe. Now the BepiColumbo Mercury Transfer Module is off to map the ice at the poles of Mercury!

== Curiosities ==

A way-cool/vivid/gorgeous progressive rock video conveying some of the wondrous imagery produced by our space adventures, with a groovy musical accompaniment, newly produced by Talin.

Futurist David Brin discusses 3D printing in outer space and its sci-fi origins on Xploration Earth 2050. Watch this episode of Xploration Earth 2050.

The sky is very different in exotic wavelengths. So NASA is doing something cool... establishing new Constellations(!) based on the brightest objects in the X-Ray and Gamma Ray spectrum. One of the top beings so deified? GODZILLA!

This amusing essay compares Elon Musk’s BFR “starship” rocket in appearance etc to the single stage tail lander in the movie Destination Moon, inspired by Robert Heinlein’s “The Man Who Sold The Moon,” which featured a moonship coordinated by an eccentric billionaire.

shadowy op-ed campaign is now smearing SpaceX in space cities.  Not all modern disinformation campaigns are Russian or North Korean or Iranian… or Fox.

While we rejoice over the New Horizons Mission, it does seem odd that our fifth emissary into interstellar space should be carrying so little in the way of outreach gestures, like the Pioneer Plaque or the Voyager Golden Record. A couple of US stamps and quarters and a clump of Clyde Tombaugh’s ashes. Hm.

== Sanctimonious self-destruction ==

Alas, humanity's space endeavors ultimately depend on whether we can solve our current madness down here. An insanity in which one "side" wages open war against science and all fact-using professions.  Those who would wreck the Earth and risk global war to entrench world oligarchy are enemies of our future as a galactic species. 

Hence, we cannot afford stupidity among those who are fighting for the future! Yes, I'm talking about the "let's eat our own" campaign of sanctimony and self-destructive "zero-tolerance" on the American left.  

Should we elect more white-clad women politicians who've never done a single wrong thing in all their lives? Sure! 

Should we commit political seppuku in order to prove our utter purity? Hell no. 

Now Elizabeth Warren has been caught in a 35 year old act of stupid politically-incorrectness, claiming on an ancient job form to have been "American Indian." Stupid? Yep. Terminal? Well you and anyone else on Twitter gets to vote (alas) in mob justice.

It doesn't have to be this way. This circular firing squad - that has Putin/Murdoch/Trump giggling in delight - can be replaced with a process! Nelson Mandela showed us how to use truth and reconciliation, and sliding scales of harm vs time vs. victimhood vs good works... instead of howls and torches and pitchforks. Doofus almost-victimless idiocies from 35 years ago should be forgivable, in light of subsequent service and crawling across broken glass in contrition. Such a process would do vastly more to promote future, decent behavior.

I outline elsewhere a proposed method for due process in reputation that would give victims or accusers full credence they currently lack in criminal or civil courts. It would work. In contrast, farthest-lefties who rail "zero-tolerance" shall be judged by the same, ruthless standards and should read what happened to Robespierre.