Friday, April 20, 2012

The new Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination...plus innovative space concepts

"The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible." --Arthur C. Clarke

In some cool, exciting news, I can now formally announce the fruition of a project that I’ve been helping put together for some time, led by my colleague, UCSD professor Sheldon Brown.

The University of California, San Diego and the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation have agreed to establish the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination (ACCCHI) at UCSD. The agreement was signed in conjunction with the Clarke Foundation’s annual international Clarke Awards held on April 12 in Washington, D.C.

What intrigued me most about Arthur's work was his ongoing fascination with human destiny. See my personal tribute to Arthur C. Clarke.

The Clarke Center will foster collaborations among institutions and individuals across a wide range of communities and continents in fields such as technology, education, engineering, health, science, industry, environment, entertainment and the arts.


Its mission will be to develop, catalyze and be a global resource for innovative research, education and leading edge initiatives, drawing upon the under-utilized resources of human imagination..."to explore its sources; to weigh its consequences in human development, including in the advancement of science, literature, and the arts; to examine and predict how creativity intersects with historical moments; and to discover and encourage individuals of all nations and ages, gifted with exceptional insight," according to the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation.

In addition to being celebrated for his multidisciplinary legacy in science and engineering, Arthur C. Clarke is considered one of the most inspiring and engaging science fiction writers of all time for such classics as Childhood’s End, Rendezvous with Rama and 2001: A Space Odyssey. His visionary books and papers have fueled the imagination and avocations of young and old for more than six decades.

“The Clarke Center will be a focal point for active collaboration on current and future research and an intersection of disciplines for the purpose of identifying and advancing creative and innovative solutions for the challenges of contemporary and future societies,” said UCSD Vice Chancellor Sandra Brown.

NewModernismUCSD is also known as the university campus that has engendered more scientifically-oriented science fiction authors, among its graduates, than any other in the world. Former chancellor Dynes once ventured "it must be something in the water..."

The New Modernism: Blending Science, Engineering, Art and Human Imagination: Here's the text of the speech I gave at the opening of UCSD's new Structural and Materials Engineering Building, where the Clarke Center will find its new home -- a place where collaboration, innovation, and flow between cultures is not only allowed...but encouraged.

The Clarke Center will address questions such as...

--Where does the fantastic gift of imagination come from?
--How can it be taught and nurtured?
--Can we simultaneously unleash imagination with greater freedom, yet better harness it to individual and human needs?
--How can we develop the art of prediction to become a useful art or science?

Learn more about the Arthur C. Clarke Center for HumanImagination at http://imagination.ucsd.edu

== NASA's NIAC explores new concepts ==

And while we're on the subject of scientifically grounded imagination and innovation...

...I thought you'd all like this article about the NASA Innovative and Advance Concepts Program Spring Symposium I attended recently in Pasadena -- featuring some of the stunning ideas receiving small stimulation grants from NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NAIC) program. Oh there are still great ideas.  Now to restore the confidence and ambition of a scientific civilization: Is NASA Boring? Not A Chance! 

As a member of the NIAC advisory board, I help appraise these cutting edge new ideas.  Here are just a few that I can share with you.

JPL Explores Sending CubeSats to Phobos

Printing entire buildings, even in space: The Case for Contour Crafting

Electrostatic Active Space Radiation Shielding For Deep Space Missions

Radiation Shielding Materials Containing Hydrogen Boron and Nitrogen

Using Lasers as Tractor Beams 

Heat Shields Made From Dirt? Ice Powered Machines? 

==More Science Fiction==

With the recent public release of the 1940 census data online, popular interest surged. But what questions will be asked on the year 2080 census forms?  Like what is your current sex? Fun article.

For even more far-out ideas? See the brand new Publisher’s Weekly preview recommendation (pick-of-the-week for the entire U.S. publishing industry) for Existence.

And... riffing off of that theme... searching of other places to live and work in the cosmos... we just watched the film Another Earth on DVD.  I knew it was 95% a tear-jerker or “chick-flick” and only 5% about the sudden appearance of a duplicate to our planet, visible from here and rapidly approaching.  The science-fictional elements were there - and somewhat contorted - in service to the inter-personal, angst-driven drama of a girl whose great prospects are dashed by a moment’s foolishness -- and she must deal with guilt and redemption as the giant blue framing device gets ever closer to her world.

Having said all that, we found it intelligent, moving, tense, rewarding... and not at all offensive as sci fi.  Oh, do crank down your sf’nal dials!  Some things are preposterous... while others are cleverly explained or played out.  Worthwhile, including the cool ending.

18 comments:

rewinn said...

The climactic scene of "Childhood's End" ... of Earth's Children tuned into a spectrum of reality incomprehensible to their elders ... seems very close to describing the natural outcome of earbuds, eyebuds and the internet ;-)

Unknown said...

"Another Earth" - including the cool ending.

I thought the ending was very poor. We are left hanging with the sudden ending and no resolution.

DemetriosX said...

UCSD is also known as the university campus that has engendered more scientifically-oriented science fiction authors, among its graduates, than any other in the world.

I can only think of 3: you, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Greg Benford. Are there others, or is it just a low bar?

Ian Gould said...

A quick primer on Chinese politics I wrote on a different site.

Hopefully, people here will fidn it ofuse:

Since the 1980's, China has had a system where every 10 years the main leaders are all replaced and where most decsions are made by the 9 men who make up the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

There are two main factions inside the government: they're known as the Princelings and the CYL faction. The Princelings are the children or stepchildren of senior party leaders. CYL stands fro "Communist youth League" and is made up of people who rose to the top on their own merits.

Both factions claim they support greater democracy, a free press and the rule of law. The difference is the CYL faction believe in very, very slow reform while the Princelings believe in even-slower-still reform. Both groups accept that they need to crack down on corruption and abuse of power at the local and provincial level but seem to be unable to actually do so.

Back in 2002/3, Jiang Zemin a Princeling and one of the people responsbile for the Tiananmen Massacre handed power to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao who were both from the CYL faction and at the time many people thought political reofrm was finally at hand. It didn't happen, largely because a lot of real power in China resides with officially retired "senior leaders" like Jiang who can effectively veto decisions of the nominal leaders.

In 2013, the next change-over is supposed to happen.

The new Premier and head of the Central Military Commission will be Xi Jinping. Technically, you could say Xi is a Princeling since he's the son of a leading politician from the 1960's but his sympathies appear to be with the CYL faction. Xi was "sent down" during the Cultural Revolution when his father was purged meaning he spent his teens and early 20's doing manual labor on a collective farm.


(Sidenote: He's also part of the Class of '75. From 1965 to 1974 China's univerisities were all closed. In 1975, everyone who had reached high school leaving age was allowed to sit the university entrance exams. fewer than 1% were accepted. The class of '75 and very, very, smart and they're also very, very tough because they spent the better part of a decade working 16 hour days on a couple of bowls of rice. They're also tyically very skeptical of ideology becasue they had it crammed down their throats for that decade.)

The Standing Committee generally decides most issues by consensus - they talk until everyone is prepared to support a common position.

Xi was expected to inherit a Standing Committee divided between Princelings and CYL members. Bo Xilai was seen as a leading light of the Princelings and was probably the most popular politician in China. The elder leaders and the Princelings were prepared to accept a CYL-dominated Standing Committee because Bo would be there to protect their interests and stop any reforms from moving too fast or going too far by invoking the need for consensus.

Bo's fall means the CYL will probably be more dominant in the Standing Committee.

This doesn't mean we're going to see radical political change but we might just see the start of political reform. Like, for example, free and open elections for Local People's Congresses. (The LCP's elect the Provincial People's Congresses who elect the National People's Congress so that's more signifcant than it might sound. In the last elections some genuinely independent candidates - a few dozen nationally out of thousands - actually managed to get elected.)

Tony Fisk said...

I suppose it's fitting that a movie with a mirror Earth should also have a mirror movie: Melancholia
(neither appeal to me but I thought it worth commenting that similar pieces were released at the same time)

Unknown said...

@Tony Fisk

I saw Melancholia too. I am definitely in the camp that thinks Lars Trier was being very self indulgent. The movie went like molasses and left we wanting the earth to explode so it would end...

Jumper said...

It's good to focus on the elephant in the living room - radiation hazard for humans in space. And innovative thinking is needed, I'd say.

What's the ratio of shielding mass - say boron - to human mass, required to retain, in space, average Earth human radiation exposures? (Yes, I know that's vague, so let's say radiation at a LaGrange point.)

'Course, if you get to Phobos, or Cruithne, your shield is there for you. It's getting there that's the problem.

The proposals from the links didn't look promising to me.

David Brin said...

DemetriosX - UCSD also has Vernor Vinge and Greg Bear and Nancy Holder and Raymond Feist... though the latter doesn't do hard SF.

Ian thanks for the Chinese politics review. One thing you left out is that most Chinese hierarchs got engineering degrees. This is one reason why they have not yet hit "The Wall" of incompetence at GAR or Guided Allocation of Resources. Though of course, they will, witness the giant China Real Estate Bubble.

Back to your topic. The thing that many had expected was that the Chinese oligarchy would attempt to curb corruption where it hurts the most and matters most... down at the local level ... by instituting democratic reciprocal accountability down at that level. Freeing bloggers and the press to record and denounce local thieves.

Another case of selectively adopting certain western processes when it seems convenient but fitting them into a system that is overall hierarchical, controlled, mercantilist and a classic pyramid-shaped social order.

This process appeared to begin -- then was stopped. Because (1) local rambunctious accountability quickly sets the tone for it at higher levels. (2) They realized that most corruption is local... but it FEEDS UPWARDS in a steady flow of fiefdom baksheesh and that flow feeds the top.

== Tony I tried to rent Melancholia but Blockbuster cannot tell the difference between three awful films with the same name, slipping disks in each others' envelopes randomly!

Jumper said...

Is central planning doomed to such inefficiencies as in the past? With computerization, the ball game may have changed. When I was younger, there was no question a plethora of innovators was the more efficient method of improvements.

Of course emergence was always going to give us dilemmas such as the prominence of VHS over Betamax, the superior technology.

Nowadays? I'm rethinking it. And "central planning" encompasses industry standards, not just government alone, and indeed, can occur without government at all. The MP4 is an example. Of course government contributes support to such organizations in reality.

Ian Gould said...

"One thing you left out is that most Chinese hierarchs got engineering degrees. This is one reason why they have not yet hit "The Wall" of incompetence at GAR or Guided Allocation of Resources. Though of course, they will, witness the giant China Real Estate Bubble."

Yes and as engineers the Chinese rulers are predisposed to technical fixes and to basnging bits of metal (or people) together.

Western governments are dominated by lawyers, who are predisposed to solving problems by debatign until one side gives in.

"The thing that many had expected was that the Chinese oligarchy would attempt to curb corruption where it hurts the most and matters most... down at the local level ... by instituting democratic reciprocal accountability down at that level. Freeing bloggers and the press to record and denounce local thieves.

Another case of selectively adopting certain western processes when it seems convenient but fitting them into a system that is overall hierarchical, controlled, mercantilist and a classic pyramid-shaped social order.

This process appeared to begin -- then was stopped. Because (1) local rambunctious accountability quickly sets the tone for it at higher levels. (2) They realized that most corruption is local... but it FEEDS UPWARDS in a steady flow of fiefdom baksheesh and that flow feeds the top."

Well the other point there is that while China is a dictatorship at the national level and the central government has little difficulty in orderign privte citizesn aroudn they have extremely limited control over the subordinate levels of government.

If you get hold of a book caleld "Can the Boat Sink the Water?". I don't have my copy readily to hand so I can't check the names of the authors.

It's a history of local protests and public disturbances in modern China.

One pattern that comes up over and over again is that a local Party branch or government agency will seek to impose an illegal tax or xonfiscate people's land. The peopel appeal to the provincial or national government, win in court but are then unable to get the judgment enforced.

One of the key problems seems to be not kick-backs to upper levels of government or the party but Guanxi ("connections") where officials are unwilling to act agaisnt fellow officials with whom they have a personal relationship or to whom they feel obligated.

The provincial level official who keeps putting the judicial order to compensate people on the bottom of his workpile isn;t being paid off by the lcoal offcial who forced people to sell their land at below market prices.

But they were probably in the CYL together, their wives or sons might be busienss partners. The provincial guy might need the local guy's brothers support when he nominates for the NPC.

Bihar-style openness with those judgments all a matter of public record (along with the fact they haven't been paid) would make a huge diffwerence in China.

Ian Gould said...

Jumper, back in the 60's and 70's the Soviets invested heavily in information technology precisely becasue they thoguht it would let them overcoem the inefficiencies of central planning.

It didn't work.

Of course, technology has moved on a great deal since then.

Paul451 said...

Oh, Rob H, commented on your comment in the last thread.

Paul451 said...

(Second attempt to post.)

Valve is introducing a new scale payment system for their next game: If you were fun to play against in their last game, you play for free. If you are new, you pay full price and get the full game. If you were a dick in the last game, you pay full price to play just the game, with an extra $100 if you want to chat. (Note: This is probably just Gabe Newell thinking out loud, and won't be implemented.)

http://www.develop-online.net/news/40568/Valve-DOTA-2-will-be-a-new-kind-of-free-to-play

I find it amusing enough not to point out obvious loopholes.

Jumper said...

Ian, I remember when it was predicted the fax machine would soon bring down the Soviet Union. Soon after, it broke up. No one gives the fax machine credit anymore, although I don't know why.

And of course to use a computer to plan anything successfully would require giving up Marx, Lenin, and Engels as bad modeling anyway.

David Brin said...

Just watched DVD of TOWER HEIST with STiller-Murphy...

... and enjoyed it much more than expected. It was a fine action-dramady and I laughed out loud at least five or six times.

sociotard said...

Recall the quote from the most recent Batman film, "Some men just want to watch the world burn"?

A riff on it that makes it much better:
http://i.imgur.com/eXcHm.jpg

David Brin said...

The third TEDx Del Mar event on Envisioning
Transhumanity will be held this coming April 29th at the Price Theater at U.C.S.D. north of San DIego.

I'll be one of the speakers.

The tickets have just been made available for purchase at the U.C.S.D. box office. A limited amount of free tickets will be made available to students and faculty. More information can be found on the TEDxDelMar.com website.

David Brin said...

onward