Saturday, May 11, 2013

Grand challenges, X-prizes and Mars volunteers: stimulating bold wonders

Grand challenges!  It's an approach to stimulating research and technology that has been around for a while, stretching back to the British "longitude prize" of the 1700s.  Aviation medals and awards spurred rapid advances during the 1920s and 1930s and sparked breakthroughs in human-powered flight in the 1980s and 1990s.  One contest helped lead to creation of the "spaceship" sub-orbital craft that Richard Branson and Burt Rutan will soon use to offer spectacular jaunts for rich folks. (Something I portray evolving into an extreme sport, in Existence.)


One major advantage of the prize approach is that the funder does not have to pay anything till the mission is accomplished. The allure of a possible prize… plus potential renown, of course… is often enough to make private groups, companies, teams or individuals willing to take passionate risks, investing their own time and money -- a style of bold endeavor that did very well by our ancestors, during the Age of Exploration and the later barnstorming era of air flight development.  Many fail, some spectacularly… a few succeed. And we all move forward.

In 2010 the US Government began an effort to crowdsource ideas for new challenges at Challenge.gov which shows the range of new contests or prizes or incentives now being used to lure creative efforts, some of them way-cool... and others kind of trivial. They range from NASA launch systems to crowd-sourcing open payments systems to ideas for commemorative coins. A more extensive web article (and another) takes you through many of the pros and cons and aspects you never thought of. If (for example) you are facing comfortable retirement, there would be worse ways to spend your time.

So let's crowd-source this. Do any of you have ideas for endeavors or goals that would be perfect for an X Prize? It should require modest to intermediate cost, with substantial potential rewards… but with risky odds of success that are not quite good enough to draw in the normal market forces of rational investment. And cool!  It should be cool enough to attract some millionaire/billionaire -- and/or NASA or the White House (I know a guy) -- to propose it as a Grand Challenge.  Or else, speak up with challenges that you've seen and found impressive.

== Mars One: why did I volunteer? ==

I  believe that a one way Mars mission is a viable-enough idea for some people to consider it, even knowing, as I do, that "one-way" has several possible connotations.

MarsOneOn the surface, the claim is that eliminating the huge cost of the return flight will allow instead the establishment of full, self-regenerating and sustainable life-support systems on the Martian surface, allowing the new "colonists" to live out a normal span in some comfort. You'll strive hard upon arriving, unfold and deploy solar powered units that can produce food and other necessities, and voila, become the first human citizen of the Red Planet.  "One way" then means you're happy to spend the rest of a reasonable lifespan exploring, maintaining the colony, and then greeting the next wave. There is a basic reality to this, knowing that all that time at low gravity has probably left you unfit for life on high-g Earth, in any event.

But, of course, this mission would have very low margins for error or the unexpected. Even if the sustainability modules work perfectly, the odds are still strong that "one-way" will also mean "short duration." In which case your hard work won't be wasted. It will have set the stage for followup missions which will use your base, build on and improve it... after they bury you. And future generations will erect a monument on that spot.

You'll want very qualified people, who can have a decent stab at setting up the life support technologies and perhaps (despite long odds) surviving to greet the second wave. But the first wave volunteers must be realistic about those odds, and willing to go, anyway.

And many call that very idea insane. I admit that may be somewhat true… so? People who cannot imagine any reasonable person making that choice simply aren't envisioning the wide range of human diversity. Nor do they comprehend the vast drama of the human past, during which history often pivoted around risk-takers.

See more on the risks and hazards of a long duration space mission, including radiation, low-g atrophy, isolation, vacuum, and the difficulties of maintaining truuly sustainable food/water/recycling and life support. This won't be easy. Never has been. 

Consider what I told my family. By the very earliest date that Mars One might launch, I expect to be a spry 75 year old, whose kids are already successfully launched, and who might yet spend a few years doing something truly remarkable.  I think you'll find tens of thousands of people who - under those circumstances - will at least ponder it seriously.

inspiration_mars_headerThough I still cannot guarantee I would decide to actually go.  I'd need to see competence.  Lots of it.  

Oh, neither one is likely to fly any time soon. We will go, however, sooner or later.

And this conversation is well worth having.

== Science Potpourri == 

A TV network has posted an edited snippet I gave them. Getting a bit lyrical and big-picture, I describe how we are in a race to cross a dangerous zone…into the future.

The world's smallest flying robot has fly-like agility - stunning size and flexibility breakthrough in use of piezo-electric materials.  So far, it draws its power and computation down hairlike cable.  But we will live in the world described in The Transparent Society  (1997) - one in which "insects" will fly into any building capable of spying.  What is to be done?If we're going to be watched, then let's watch the watchers.  We may not be able to stop elites from looking at us.  But at least, that way, we can have a say in what they do TO us.

NASA is raising awareness for its upcoming launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft with its Going to Mars Project. The MAVEN spacecraft is scheduled for launch this November, to study the Red Planet's upper atmosphere; and mission managers have invited the public to submit literary messages.  Haiku to Mars! 

google-timelapse-100036806-galleryNASA's Landsat imagery goes back to the 1970s. A partnership with Google has merged this  time-lapse data into Earth Engine, a cloud-based system that makes all of these images available and comparable. A spectacular tool now available to private groups and individuals, or anyone wanting a direct view of changes over time that we have wrought upon our planet.

Read a very thoughtful essay by the Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, about our human destiny in space, colonizing the solar system and exploring the stars.

asterankAsterank has collected, computed, or inferred important data such as asteroid mass and composition from multiple scientific sources. With this information, they can estimate the costs and rewards of mining asteroids. Vivid and colorful (try the 3D version), it offers details on orbits and basic physical parameters are mostly sourced from JPL data.

Check out StarHopper, an intuitive app, similar to PlanetHopper that allows you to visually explore our universe. Soar through the star-filled void towards stars, asteroids, planets and all that our galaxy has to offer.

What does SETI stand for? What is its mission? A video I made for AskimoTV.

A quantum internet capable of sending perfectly secure messages has been running at Los Alamos National Labs for the last two and a half years.  The attraction? Any attempt to eavesdrop on a quantum message cannot fail to leave telltale signs of snooping.  Quantum-secure encryption has been around a while but only point-to-point.  A distributed system is more difficult.

In a major medical breakthrough, researchers have developed particles that can be injected into a bloodstream to keep it oxygenated even when the lungs are not functioning at all and there is no access to a heart-lung machine. The micro-particles used are composed of oxygen gas pocketed in a layer of lipids, around two to four micrometers in length and carry about three to four times the oxygen content of our own red blood cells. Beyond medical uses, imagine spies or seal who can "stay underwater for over 20 minutes? If a boat was to begin to sink, you could shoot yourself as the boat is going down to ensure you aren’t drowned in the under current of the sinking vessel."

What do the "H" and "N" labels mean, in the designation of a flu virus? They stand for various versions of the coating molecules that the virus uses to latch onto and invade cells.  There are 144 possible combinations of coats, and this article explains that well.  What it doesn't make clear is that there are other surface molecules that our bodies must also recognize, in order for immunity (or vaccination) to work.  Moreover, that says nothing about the core genetics of the virus, allowing it to hijack a cell once it is inside. This constitutes a whole other range of genealogies and one version of H1N1 may have a very different background than another.  Here's to the professionals, at the front lines of this fight.

==Science and the Enlightenment==

IgnoranceThis nostrum is circulating, of unknown provenance but based upon an earlier snark by H. L. Mencken

      Philosophy is like looking for a black cat in a dark room.

     Metaphysics is like looking in a dark room  for a black cat that isn't there.

     Theology is looking in a dark room for a black cat that isn't there -- and proclaiming, "I found it!"

     Science is like looking for a black cat in a dark room...with a flashlight. 

Is that why so many hate science? Is the amorphous movement called "the Enlightenment" in its final days?  Assailed by forces of far left and right, by impulsiveness and and romanticism and egotism and also by portions of religion, by all of those who demand that their subjective obsessions take primacy over objective reality? Here is an interesting article, The Trouble with the Enlightenment about the philosophical history - and future prospects - of "enlightenment" terminology and the ambitiously modernist project that it represents.

Alas, the author neglects one of the crucial aspects: that the continental branch of enlightenment philosophers got drawn into styles of Reason that began replicating the mistakes of Plato. Only the pragmatic/empirical/ progressive offshoot - across the water - developed new tools to overcome our human propensity for delusion and self-persuasion.  Tools that are - in themselves - the targets of attack by those who want the Enlightenment to end.  Worth a look.

== And then More science ==

Energy efficiency is often a hard sell in the US. Energy efficient devices can require a bit more money up front, which is then paid back gradually often over the course of several years. But a new study in the latest edition of PNAS suggests that the problem isn't only a matter of economics—instead, like so much else, energy efficiency has become politicized. Because they so strongly object to the thought of climate change, many conservatives won't spend more for energy-efficient light bulbs if their packaging contains a message about cutting carbon emissions.  "Conservatism" has so drifted from its roots in "waste-not" attitudes of the Puritans or the money-saving notions of Barry Goldwater, that (the study shows) the very words "efficiency" and energy independence and even saving money on energy rouse active hostility in those on today's American right. Alas.

And while I'm offending 1/4 of my readers... why are so many climate change deniers also into conspiracy theories  and laissez faire (not AdamSmithian) economics?

== Final Notes ==

Security expert Bruce Schneier appears to be coming around to recognizing what matters most. Transparency and Accountability Don't Hurt Security—They're Crucial to It.

I am glad to see Bruce zeroing in on the key terms "transparency" and "accountability."  These are the core goals that coalesce in "sousveillance" or looking back at authority from below.  We just won a major victory, when both the courts and Obama Administration ruled that citizens have a powerful right to record our encounters with police in public places.

I'm glad Bruce has come to see that assertive application of reciprocal accountability needs to be our main focus.

A bipartisan bill would create a new scientific figurehead: the Science Laureate of the United States. It sounds nice, innocuous, harmless. But let's not fool ourselves into imagining this portends a shift away from the War on Science... and against all of the "smartypants" castes, from teachers and scientists to medical doctors, economists, journalists, professors, civil servants, law professionals. Don't count Rupert Murdoch out, yet. He seems awfully determined. (And there is a smaller but just as vehemently anti-science crowd among nostalgia junkies of the far left, as well.)

Face it, folks. This is not about that stupid, lobotomizing "left versus right" metaphor. It is folks who are rational and contingently reasonable versus outright crazy. It is future versus past.


David Brin

52 comments:

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Grinspoon said...

What about a prize for whoever can create the first general circulation climate model that works for Earth, Venus, Mars and Titan (and presumably for exoplanets). There is no such model, and Earth climate models crash when you try to run them for other planets, which ought to be more disturbing for Earth climate modelers than it seems to be. But a generalized GCM will pay dividends for better predictions of Earth as well as producing huge insights into the range of planetary climate and the ways that Earth fits in. Unfortunately nobody is funding this development right now. It falls exactly in the cracks between NASA's Earth Science and Planetary Science divisions. I have fantasized about alternative funding methods. Maybe this isn't sexy enough for a prize but it would be a fantastic advance.

Tony Fisk said...

For an X-prize, I would like to see the ideas of Francesco Di Lana brought to fruition.

A balloon maintained at 0.1atm has the same lift as one filled with hydrogen (rough measure: 1kg for each cubic metre). It's not as likely to catch fire, and is much easier to come by than helium.

Today's materials should be more than capable of tolerating 100kPa of stress. Heck! I recall Clarke proposing to lift the Titanic using glass bubbles for bouyancy! Same principle with *much* greater pressures involved!

Ian said...

I prefer bounties to prizes.

An example: offer to pay the manufacturer(s) of the first one million electric cars capable of trsveling 500 KM withotu recharging at a maximum speed of 110 Kmh while carrying four adults and 100 kiloes of cargo and sold to the public for US$20,000 or less.

Or pay $1,000 per kiloawatt hour of grid-conected energy storage subject to satisfactory availability and reliability.

It's interesting that you mention crowd-sourcing, maybe we should look at democratizing the actual prize-giving, using a kickstarter style model to aggregate pledges.

gabenyc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gabenyc said...

I have two ideas.
1. How about a way to mine the sea floor.
2. Also, effective gear for oil spill

Ian said...

I'm probably just really obtuse but do the invisbility cloaks for EM and audio waves offer a new way to build Faraday cages and soundproofing?

http://phys.org/news/2013-05-do-it-yourself-invisibility-d.html

Ian said...

As US unemployment falls and welfare spending falls with it, the US government could be in surplus as early as 2015.

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CCsQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nationalreview.com%2Fagenda%2F347744%2F2015-budget-surplus-scenario&ei=hIePUZeEKfCWiQfyyYCYDQ&usg=AFQjCNGAFqBs3SG2sNMqs4y6NnNEX8BNsA&sig2=6DIzbsU-XVFh_28IM7PwjA&bvm=bv.46340616,d.aGc

US exports are at a record high, US employment is rising.

As I've been pointing out to people her for several years, the US recent economic problems have been mostly cyclical not structural.

but that doesn't really lend itself to grand narratives about how we're all doomed unless we follow the Hero's Master Plan.

(That's not a jab at you, David, there's lots of people who think they have The answer.)

Sean Bullock said...

I think we need another robotics challenge. Since the Darpa Robotics Challenge is open source, that tech can be used in a Home Chores/Assisted Living Challenge, where robots will be required to clean up a dirty kitchen, clean a sink and toilet, dust furniture, pick up dirty clothes and put them in a washer/dryer, vacuum, change sheets on a bed, etc.
The Challenge will also require the bot be built for less than $10,000.

Sean Bullock said...

Brain/computer interface with instant recall.

Paul451 said...

"Grand Challenge" - yes. "X-Prize" - no.

There were a bunch of wannabe challengers, with a bunch of different concepts, for the original Ansari X-Prize; but once Scaled Composite won the prize, all interest fizzled. And in the decade since then no one has repeated the 100km flight, not even with the winning craft. Likewise with the Google Lunar X-Prize, there are a bunch of challengers and a diverse bunch of plans. But once the first team wins the GLXP, any interest (and hence sponsors) in the others will instantly evaporate. Even the winner will struggle to get support for anything else.

By contrast, DARPA had a series of autonomous robot vehicle "Grand Challenges". Initially a straight run on an empty road, with gps marks every 100m, and on the first year no team even finished. Hell no one came close. But on the second year most teams finished the course easily. Subsequently DARPA ramped up the difficulty, before switching to simulated urban environments with traffic and road rules. And now autonomous vehicle technology is so mature, some states are already starting to change their laws to adapt to driveless cars.

Incremental development works much better than single prizes for creating new technology. Single prizes are good for seeing who is the best of the current bunch, but that, IMO, doesn't suit the goal of most of the currently proposed prizes.

Hence some years ago I suggested to NASA to make the original X-Prize an annual or biennial NASA event with a $10m prize. Three manned flights within 14 days, with strict reusability rules. Highest flight-average during the contest wins that year's $10m. Once the vehicles are getting above 200km, the prize might switch to longest flight above 100km. Once a team reaches orbit, you might switch to higher payloads, or faster turn-around (more flights in a short time.)

The idea is to provide continued interest, allowing multiple competing teams to incrementally improve their technology.

Surely worth $5-10m/yr of NASA's budget?

[Turing: "shall aDavid"]

Paul451 said...

I also suggested a few other contests for NASA:

A deep space sample return challenge. A series of incrementally harder prizes for returning a sample of cryogenically-preserved chemically-pure volatiles from non-terrestrial sources to the ISS for analysis. Starting with surface samples, then core samples, then deep core samples. Finishing with an ongoing commercial contract to supply a minimum tonnage of potable water from non-terrestrial sources to the ISS each year. (An alternative path would be to provide for orbital refuelling from non-terrestrial sources.)

A quadrennial manned solar sail race around the moon and back. I think this one was the year Clarke died, so I suggested calling it The Arthur C Clarke Memorial Solar Sail Race. (qv. Wind From The Sun.) Since the technology didn't exist, I suggested jackpotting the unclaimed prize until someone claimed it. Subsequently, there would be an official "starting time" before which ships couldn't pass the starting line (say 400nmi), to ensure an actual race.

The last proposal, before putting away childish ambition entirely, was more practical. An annual contest to develop Smart Materials for ultimately a full 1 atm skinsuit-type spacesuit. An electrically contracted and expanded material that can detect pressure and respond intelligently. Start with a simple tube that can maintain constant internal pressure when bent. Working up to a glove, eventually full 1 atm skinsuits.

Needless to say, each proposal was as successfully received as the last.

Paul451 said...

Re: Black cat in a dark room.

Science also keeps building brighter lights.

David Brin said...

I added a fourth paragraph to the main posting that some of you may not have seen (above) leading you to the Challenge.gov web site where many challenge programs are now listed. Wish I had seen it earlier. But these blogs wind up being examples of crowd-incremental improvement!

Mark Solomon said...

Seriously, at the very least, won't it be lonely on Mars?

David Brin said...

With all the schizo characters inside my head? You kidding?

Paul451 said...

I'm at risk of spamming the thread, but...

California state senator (Leland Yee (D-SF)) wants to legislate against 3d printers, proposing background checks, serial numbers and registration. All because roughly 1 part in 100,000,000 of the US civilian arsenal was crudely made on a 3d plastic printer.

"Terrorists can make these guns and do some horrible things to an individual and then walk away scott-free".

http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2013/05/08/sen-leland-yee-proposes-regulations-on-3-d-printers-after-gun-test/

Perhaps someone who lives in California and cares about Maker culture could ring the senator's office. (Politely, he was subject of a death threat (serious enough to lead to an arrest) which may be why he's being so paranoid about imaginary threats.)

Senator.Yee@senate.ca.gov

Capitol Office
State Capitol, Room 4074
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 651-4008

San Francisco Office
455 Golden Gate Avenue,
Suite 14200
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 557-7857

San Mateo Office
400 South El Camino Real,
Suite 630
San Mateo, CA 94402
Phone: (650) 340-8840

locumranch said...

The 'One Way Mars Mission' is a great idea, an extremely viable and workable one at that, but not in the 'enlightened' manner that David postulates. He would doom this venture to failure by sending only the superbly educated, well-civilized and very qualified even though, historically-speaking, these hierarchical parasites make poor laborers, colonists, explorers and conquerors.

Instead, we should do as the British & Europeans did when they colonized Australia and the Americas. We should send our most uncivilized ne'er do wells (outcasts, fanatics, criminals, etc) to colonize new lands because these so-called 'ne'er do wells', the discards of the supremely civilized, are often as intelligent and more ambitious than many of our most conventionally successful citizens.

In the manner of Dickson's 'Outposter', we could select these ne'er do wells by socially-motivated lottery with little concern about the emotional or intellectual well-being of the selectees. We could then ship them off in interplanetary bulk (steerage), justifying their sufferings as either "social rehabilitation" or "noble sacrifices for the good of humanity", all while educating them (aka "improving their chance of survival") en route with informational videos or some such rot.

Of course, the survivors of such a colonization effort would then distrust such "Enlightened" Authority and place a high premium on individualism, autonomy and personal freedom -- much as the surviving US and Australian citizens do -- because they would either hate, distrust or envy the authoritarian nature of the civilization that condemned them to such hardship and penury.

Which brigs us to my final point: The Enlightenment & its ideals died the moment that it transformed itself into a politically unquestionable and socially calcified institution whose ideas are grounded in unassailable traditions and faith Like the so-called "War on Christmas", the so-called "War on Science" is a crock of verbal nonsense:

Science remains as well accepted and vibrant as it has always been, perhaps even more so. Instead, freedom loving citizenry everywhere have declared war on the Cult of Enlightened Science which has become an increasingly moral, moribund and repressive autocracy worthy of our distrust and disdain.

True Science is none of these things. Science is asocial, amoral and apolitical. It concerns itself only with truth and possibility. It does not concern itself with the social, moral and political "shoulda coulda wouldas" which are the purview of the autocratic moralist and/or the Enlightened Science Cultist.

Best.

David Brin said...

Paul451, thanks for sharing that perfect example of how anti-future craziness can affect the left, as well as the right. God help us if the prevalence and pervasiveness of such loony thinking among democrats starts to approach its ubiquity on the GOP. We will be truly doomed.

Locum always amuses me. His grand declarations often contain a germ of truth, then he goes actinic and makes towering statements that are demonstrably and diametrically false. We have settled before that he knows nothing of science, yet he can offer us titanic Truths about it.

The enlightenment's greatest product. The indignant T Cell. 99% of the time (and in this case) loudly off-target. Yet we create them in vast, vast, vast numbers. Because… sometimes… the errors they denounce are real.

It is for that reason I read his words. He may be right someday.

===

("True Science"... ah.... irony.)

Jumper said...

The expression "war on science" is obviously hyperbole. I would not say that the trends that people who use that term wish to point out, are unworthy of note.

I recently read Robert Hughes's excellent account of the settling of Australia, The Fatal Shore, which I recommend. The brutality is shocking and provides some difficult but likely useful perspective.

Ian said...

Paul, when people start printing designs for machine guns, mortars and MANPADs will you be equally sanguine?

How about rectionware kits for making Sarin or high explosives from households chemicals?

Surely it's better to discuss these issues now than in the panic after the spiritual descendants of the Tsarnaev brothers print off a bunch of Qassam rockets to attack the White House.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Ian
"when people start printing designs for machine guns, mortars and MANPADs will you be equally sanguine?"

If you want to make such things most hobbyist's sheds already have the tools to make them out of steel (so they work) or plastic if you wish

being able to print components is useful when exploring new ideas - but for good old man killing technology you can't beat a lathe
($1000 new!)

David Brin said...

Does anyone after reading this story have an inkling what they mean by "A surveillance video in the boy's home"? Whaaaaaa? There is more to this than the (already bizarre) story tells.

http://shine.yahoo.com/parenting/mom-searches-gunshot-wound-delays-bringing-son-hospital-170200132.html

David Brin said...

Advice re buying a new elliptical trainer machine with a small footprint?

locumranch said...

As "We have settled before that (I) know nothing of science", I will defer to David when he talks about scientific certainties like morality, Mind-Body dichotomies, reciprocal accountability and total freedom singularities. Perhaps he could tell us more about the similarly scientific basis for engrams, e-meters, auditing and galactic confederacy?

But, seriously, elliptical trainer style workouts can't compare to the total body (cardio) workout provided by the Concept2 indoor rower. It has a small footprint, separates into 2 pieces for easy storage and is fairly portable.

It's also Thetan approved. ;)

Best.

David Brin said...

As usual, I wonder what augmented reality layers locum uses. Nonsequiturs abound.

Still I like rowing machines...

... but the object is to read my morning paper while exercising.

Robert said...

To be honest, there's something about locumranch's writing patterns that seriously reminds me of another person I know on a forum, who goes by the moniker "ifyoucannotgoaboveme." Much like locu, iffy goes on and on about a topic without ever truly saying anything because he tries to say everything.

If it is iffy, I apologize. He might have followed me here. ^^;;

Rob H.

Randy Winn said...

If the fanatic Cody Wilson has his way, anyone will be able print a plastic gun, which unlike a metal lathe, means that metal detectors become useless as a security feature. What then will be required to prevent a repetition of 9/11-style hijackings?

If you end up getting strip-searched at an airport, be sure to thank Mr. Wilson! Remember, his right to print a weapon is greater than your right to fly in safety!

Randy Winn said...

For an X-Prize idea, taking full advantage of my ignorance of actual physics and stuff, I propose implementing a form of Schlock Mercenary's "Very Dangerous Array" - only without the blowing-up-stuff part - simply a system that combines images of the night sky from a very large number of already existing cameras (e.g. security cameras plus anything amateurs want to toss into the mix) to construct a viewing surface as big as a planet. Our planet. Each individual camera produces awful pictures but a couple million cameras might do something useful for astronomy AND for cloud-watching.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Randy

Why can't I make a "plastic gun" in a "metal lathe"??

The main component of a gun is the barrel and the bit that holds the cartridge - which are cylindrical co-axial components - just what a lathe is good at and just what a 3D printer isn't good at

I would go even further - you don't even need a lathe just some hand-tools - drills/files


David Brin said...

What I do know is that locum is not the horrid troll who kept coming back every six months for some years. I was able to suss him with a linguisitic protocol. These things are getting easy.

But no, locum may have weird logic and view things thru AR glasses... but he seems an okay enough fellow.

David Brin said...

If taken with a thick skin! ;-)

Alex Tolley said...

Didn't the plastic gun have a metal firing pin to make it detectable and legal? Didn't it also fire metal cartridges which are also detectable?

The idea that anything that could be turned to harmful use should be monitored or banned would ultimately encompass everything we use.

The nanny state should be kept firmly at arms length.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 - I like the ACC Solar sail race challenge. I would modify it to be "propellantless propulsion" to allow other ideas to compete as well.

It also seems natural to extend the challenge to keeping improving the performance and capabilities of such technologies.

Alex Tolley said...

My Grand Challenge idea is a power source that delivers the same power to weight ratio as mitochondria, with the same scalability, using organic fuels, like glucose.

We should be able to power those artificial insects, not to mention a vast range of devices, like mobile robots, free of tethers or limited by battery performance.

Alfred Differ said...

True Science. Wow. You know you are talking to a philosophy fan when they try to define your own terms for you.

My own view is that Science is a gift market (mostly) and has everything to do with morals, politics and all the other messy human stuff.

re exercise while reading... I decided not to when I realized they can't really put a nose in a cast. It may be a very boring activity, but splitting my attention away from it lead to high chances for injury. Music works to distract me well enough most of the time.

Ian said...

"Didn't the plastic gun have a metal firing pin to make it detectable and legal? Didn't it also fire metal cartridges which are also detectable?

The idea that anything that could be turned to harmful use should be monitored or banned would ultimately encompass everything we use.

The nanny state should be kept firmly at arms length."

Yes, we must stop the nanny state from allowing people to manufacture artillery and surface to air missiles at home.
After all, what could posisbly go wrong?

Next we'll be stopping high school students from having home meth labs.

Alex Tolley said...

"Next we'll be stopping high school students from having home meth labs."

Which is exactly the thinking that has dumbed down home chemistry sets, made doing home chemistry by chemists very difficult, and, dare I say, led to the recent overzealous prosecution of a schoolkid for a chemistry experiment that fizzed a little.

The DIY Bio movement is plagued by the same "OMG, what if they produce some deadly [$X]...must shut this down"

And so you become part of the anti-science movement, choking off curious minds before they can even start.

Paul451 said...

Ian,
"Paul, when people start printing designs for machine guns, mortars and MANPADs will you be equally sanguine?"

ZOMG oh noes the terrists will print rockets... wait... If you have the ability to produce the explosives and solid-rocket-propellant, being able to print a plastic tube doesn't strike me as the dangerous part of that equation.

"Surely it's better to discuss these issues now than in the panic"

That was the panic. "What happens when people start printing designs for machine guns, mortars and MANPADs" is not a discussion, it's panic. You (and Senator Yee)are panicking.

Randy,
"What then will be required to prevent a repetition of 9/11-style hijackings?"

9/11 was done with box-cutters and mace, not guns, the real weapon was the give-them-what-they-want mentality in airlines that developed during the '70s hijackings. That mentality ceased to exist before the day had ended. Passengers will never surrender again. But it led to panic, to the point where they were confiscating knitting needles and nail-clippers.

And 2-3 people opened fire on a parade, shooting 11 bystanders including children. 3d printers didn't cause that. Nor did lathes.

Paul451 said...

Ian,
"Next we'll be stopping high school students from having home meth labs."

Have you seen the damage the panic over drugs has done to the US? The virtual elimination of their 4th and 5th Amendments, the vast corruption of the police, the millions of Americans abandoned to a vile industrial prison system which now lobbies for new laws to feed itself, the trillions wasted on an endless war on themselves, entire countries destabilised in South America and elsewhere.

(As many have noted, the mistake the neighbours of the Cleveland abductors made was honestly (and repeatedly) reporting girls in a basement calling for help. They should have reported seeing a hydroponics installation. Police respond strongly to drug reports because the department's budget gets a share of asset seizures, and they don't even need a conviction to seize assets.)

Randy Winn said...

@Duncan Cairncross said...
"...you don't even need a lathe just some hand tools".
@Alex Tolley said....
"Didn't the plastic gun have a metal firing pin...."
@Paul451 wrote...
"...9/11 was done with box-cutters and mace...."


Gentlemen, you are producing syntactically-correct English sentence that do not address the problem. If you are just messing around for the sake of amusement, then go ahead. I love a good bar argument as much as anyone else.

Now, in the real world, we have real problems to solve and bugger the ideology. Hijackers used to use guns until metal detectors made them ineffective; the fanatic Cody Wilson is in practical terms dedicated to making it possible for anyone with a grudge to shoot up a plane full of passengers, and whether he (...it's usually a man...) succeeds in commandeering the cockpit and crashing it into a building, or "merely" does enough damage to disrupt the belly fuel tank's integrity over a major American city, is a source of concern for grown-ups.

Paul451 said...

And you, Randy, even though you don't recognise it, are using the language of panic.

The same hysterical language that is used to scare people into supporting very stupid things. Whether it's "the smoking gun may be a mushroom cloud", or "highschool kids running meth labs", or "single-shot, smooth-bore plastic guns will allow another 9/11", this kind of oh-my-god overreaction has generally done a lot more damage than the thing being panicked over.

People running around shouting "the sky is falling" while demanding to be treated as "grown-ups".

Jumper said...

They used to call homemade guns "zip guns" and it's a tube, a rubber band, and a piece of metal to hit the firing pin. I don't see any way to stop people from making that "gun." Much like a bazooka, without ammo it's not imposing.

You can get monolithic Kevlar and machine it already, likely cheaper than buying a 3D printer...

Doris said...

Remember all the complaints about not having flying cars?

It has already happened.

Flying car accident:

http://now.msn.com/flying-car-crashes-near-elementary-school-in-canada

David Brin said...

Bill Taylor suggested this reprise:

Science Fiction is looking where it looks like it is a dark room and it looks like it is a black cat, and you think you are holding a flashlight--but first impressions can be wrong.

Horror is when the black cat looks for you.

TheMadLibrarian said...

O, Canada! How can you produce someone as good of a spokesperson for science as Chris Hadfield:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KaOC9danxNo
and still come up with a clinker like this, from the head of your National Research Council, no less:
http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy.html

TheMadLibrarian
gpopena: Let's just take a look at how that GPO was calculated, shall we?

sociotard said...

Dr. Brin, perhaps it is time to invite that old troll back? Then we might get him and locumranch to spar. Our system of government works by making elites work against each other. We could do the same for our trolls.

Alfred Differ said...

Someone up north is taking a page from Lamar Smith's vision it appears.

Hadfield is one of the more impressive people to work on the ISS. Some have been real yawners when they talk to the public. Not Hadfield.

Robert said...

And now another moment of science.

Everything you think you know about wolf packs and wolf behaviors could be mistaken... because the earlier science was flawed. It seems "alpha wolves" are not dominant wolves who fought their way to the top. Nope. They're the mom and dad wolves and their juvenile offspring are running with them, learning to hunt and the like, until finally they disperse to form their own packs.

Early studies of wolf behavior relied on wolves raised in captivity rather than those raised by other wolves in the wild. Early studies of wolves in the wild relied on those early captivity studies... and thus flawed the research. Eventually researchers got it right, however.

Why do I bring this up? Maybe it's to disprove certain parties who feel scientists refuse to give up pre-existing belief-structures because it's contrary to "what we know." No, it seems scientists CAN change their minds when sufficient evidence comes out to show that the previous beliefs were mistaken. Too bad certain other parties can't learn from scientific mindsets. ;)

Rob H.

Randy Winn said...

@Paul451 said...
"...you are using the language of panic..."

Nope. Not a bit. I raised substantive practical points and you responded with nothing but a firm refusal to consider the precise scenario why Reagan signed a bill outlawing plastic guns.

Ronnie baby did many very bad things in his time, but yours is the first I've heard anyone accuse him of panicking.

@Jumper ...
Your points about zip guns and machining Kevlar prompts one to ask why the list of people hijacking a jet with a zip gun is very, very short, and why anyone bothers with 3-D printing or even with machine tools, when thousands of years ago we had the Antikythera Mechanism?

An ideology that refuses to consider the consequences of technology would form a good basis for SF, but whether comedy or tragedy remains to be seen.

David Brin said...

locum is not a troll. He is an irritating teenager (by behavior) who is very articulate, passionate, righteous and self-righteous... and sometimes bizarre in his logic. But no troll. And he is welcome here.


now onward.

Amber said...

This is cool!