Monday, May 03, 2021

All the Uplift Books are back in print and improved! New SF films! And erudition about SF.

Skim down if you want the erudite links by others about science fiction as deep thought. But first... 

This month I'll be announcing a whole slew of literary wonders for your spring reading! I've already mentioned (and will again!) my two series of cool/short novels for Young Adults, the High Horizon Series and David Brin's Out of Time, both of them with among the coolest premises you ever saw in SF, let alone for vigorous minded young readers. (And those with still-young imaginations!)

Also recently I touted my latest nonfiction work: VIVID TOMORROWS: Science Fiction and Hollywood! A mix of classic reveiws and rants about your favorite and most-hated flicks... but also careful ponderings of how the medium - for all its faults - is responsible for much of the vigor and progress of our times! Especially science fiction films, which have arguably helped save us all through self-preventing prophecies. A cornucopia of concepts.

Now here comes the re-release of all my Uplift titles - re-edited, with new, bold covers and new introductions, from Open Road Media. These include the original trilogy: Sundiver, Startide Rising, and The Uplift War...

...a saga that then continues in the second trilogy, starting with Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore, and Heaven's Reach, starting with a planet of refugees but then carried (along with a crew of dolphins and their many-raced friends) across five galaxies in convulsion! Available in both paperback and ebook versions. Enjoy!

And yes, these trade paperbacks are high quality and collectable. And your best bargain in terms of pennies per hour of pleasure... or per mind-blowing idea!

Want something even better and even more collectable?  How about my top short fiction (my best work, I'd say) gathered together at last in The Best of David Brin? And that's only half of the cool items I'm releasing, that will (I hope) help to make 2021 another kind of 'best of' for you!

And would you like the full NEWSLETTER I am about to send out?After 6 of the busiest months of my professional life, with TWELVE projects all hitting at the same time(!) I'm about to send out my annual full NEWSLETTER. I promise, I only do these once or twice a year! And this time there will be so much news!

A beautiful re-issue of seven Uplift Novels with gorgeous covers, errors corrected and new introductions! My nonfiction tome arguing that sci fi films have saved the world, many times! ... a sci fi comedy, a stage play, and TWO series of fun novels for teens and those who are young at heart! And more...
Sign up and I promise there'll be at least one item of interest to you. Here's the link. And did I say I'll send these rarely? They're too much work! 


 == So will we see a movie, already? ==

Robotic, animatronic dolphins?  Uncanny realism! Truly amazing, just $3 million each, in prototype! Less, soon. And did I say uncannily realistic? And what does this do to the tradeoffs to doing a Startide Rising movie?

Well, there's always talk. Only now the talk is almost sounding... well... plausible.

== Speaking of Sf flicks... and erudition about SF! ==

We watched and enjoyed the scientifically meticulous "Stowaway" on Netflix... a carefully re-adjusted and updated version of Tom Godwin's classic "The Cold Equations," with some surprises.

And the Hillary Swank one-season series "Away," which coulda done with a somewhat lower ratio of tearful, soapy stuff to science and sci fi.  But we enjoyed it and wish it had continued.

Here's a preview of another apparently meticulous or at least well-verbiaged film about a first interstellar colony.  Overwrought premise, of course. Even if the Earth's atmosphere were soaked in sulfuric acid, vastly more folks could live under the sea than on the planet one star away that this flick will portray. Still... looks to be fun.

I mentioned that my new nonfiction book has more original concepts and peeks behinf the curtain than you could shake a thunb (up or down) at! Still there are interesting deep-scholarship dives into written SF worth perusing.  For example: an important essay by Christopher Hitchens on “Why Orwell Matters” dives into the lessons about despotism and its tools that you’ll find in all three of the great author’s mightiest works, so powerful that I call them among the greatest “self-preventing prophecies.” 

Professor Tom Lombardo is podcasting a very informative and erudite series of lectures (and part one is now a book) on the roots and evolution of science fiction, from ancient myths to Mary Shelley and Verne, to Stapledon and so on, with lots of names and links I never heard of. The first 3 lectures are free and the rest cheap at $15.

Ezra Klein offers a cool interview with my colleague, the epic short story writer (e.g. “The Arrival”) Ted Chiang.

And here's fun and cogent and wise interview with rising sci fi star Eliot Peper about the essential purpose and function of sci fic.

AGain, it's trivial to sign up fot my just-once or-twice-per-year NEWSLETTER

Be seeing you around...


duncan cairncross said...

Continuing from the conversation in the last posting

The west is going "Right Wing" - IMHO this is a short term problem and is one of the effects of leaded petrol

Lead causes brain damage in children - a loss of empathy - which never heals We boomers and half of the next generation are brain damaged - in our peak crime years we doubled the homicide rate - now in our "peak voting years" we give you BREXIT, Trump and a slide to the right - but the non brain damaged generations are approaching the ages where they will get of their butts and vote so it will be a short term problem

What would have happened if the war had ended with Germany occupying most of Europe?

Back in Roman days that would have given the new "Empire" a large population to provide fighting men

IMHO that time is long gone - instead those conquered countries would have provided a drain the whole wealth of Germany would have drained away just keeping them in order

The USSR did manage to make something of a profit from its conquered countries but mainly because for most it was a "liberator"
And even that "profit" is debatable

Today conquering a country and hoping to make any type of "profit" is wishful thinking
Individuals (Cheney) and companies may make a profit but the "Conquering Country" will LOSE

Tony Fisk said...

Creideiki rules!
Not sure if I'm already subscribed or not (as you say, infrequent mailings). Am now.*

* What do you have against robots? Do you not serve their kind on May 4?

toduro said...

"For All Mankind" flew into my radar screen a few days ago.

Would welcome opinion(s) from the community here on how good/bad it is.

According to IDMB:

"In an alternative version of 1969, the Soviet Union beats the United States to the Moon, and the space race continues on for decades with still grander challenges and goals."

 Ashley said...

Cool for cats, as the kids say, or not. I don't know. I just imagine things.

Anyway, another film I caught the other night on Netflix that was positive SF for a better future'ish was Time Trap. Better than TeneT, which while visually stunning and very clever, too clever for its own good, failed abysmally on could I care about the character front.

And congrats on the bew covers, re-release and edits.

Der Oger said...

Duncan Cairnross:
The west is going "Right Wing" - IMHO this is a short term problem and is one of the effects of leaded petrol

I respectfully disagree. While I don't rule out that lead may be a contributing factor, it is a multitude of aspects and dynamics that influence the issue.

I am fond of quoting "14 Points of Fascism" both by Lawrence Britt and Umberto Eco, both as a tool of determining whether a system is or becomes fascist/authoritarian, and a way to determine possible remedies and starting points to avoid that fate.

Robert said...

From last posting: you do have to oppose their attempts at undermining America and not worry about whether you hurt their feelings in the process

Not an American, so there's little I can do. All my efforts are going into stopping the craziness that's leaking across the border…

Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk:

What do you have against robots? Do you not serve their kind on May 4?

Shouldn't that be "May the fourth"? :)

Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk:

Not sure if I'm already subscribed or not

Well, if you were already subscribed under the same e-mail, it would have told you that. At least it did for me.

Larry Hart said...

scidata under the previous post:

Don't be too hard on yourselves. The AAAS, Planetary Society, BOINC, and many other American bodies are working very hard on that exact goal. And I lived and taught in Chicagoland long enough to see your good side.

I don't doubt that America has its good side. I love my country. But even though the decent people outnumber the deplorables, the Constitutional design of our government gives the deplorables an outsized influence over policy, and essentially a veto over anything they'd care to exercise it over. 41 Senators out of 100 aren't enough to pass legislation, but they are enough to obstruct any legislation, and obstruction is all that the deplorables are interested in.

We have our share of reprobates up here too. I've even heard the theory that Trump was originally inspired by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Don't ask.

The story about Rob Ford did get some press down here at the time. I don't remember all of the details, but I do remember it was kind of gross and hilarious at the same time. And yes, the Trumpiness was evident, in his case as well as Britain's Boris Johnson. Your countryman Dave Sim would be seeing echoes and reflections all over the place.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

..a saga that then continues in the second trilogy, starting with Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore, and Heaven's Reach, starting with a planet of refugees but then carried (*** see below ***) across five galaxies in convulsion! Available in both paperback and ebook versions. Enjoy!

It's your judgement and all how you want to promote your own work, but I'm glad I didn't have the bolded parenthetical spoiled for me when I read Brightness Reef for the first time. The fact that it's a surprise toward the end,--and even so, only hinted at until the next book--is part of the charm.

Duncan Ocel said...

@Larry Hart "I love my country"

Is love really a verb that can be applied to countries/nations/states? Of the greek variants, ( "philia" seems the most likely to possibly apply, but that's only if a country can be reimagined as personally as an immediate community.

Larry Hart said...

Duncan Ocel:

Is love really a verb that can be applied to countries/nations/states?

I love the idea of what America is supposed to be, as exemplified in Yankee Doodle Dandy, Casablanca, and "Captain America" comic books of the 1970s.

Admittedly, the real thing has lost some of her charms, having acquired a taste for the jackboot. But then I've never been good at letting love go. I keep hoping she'll come to her senses.

Tony Fisk said...

@Larry Hart

What do you have against robots? Do you not serve their kind on May 4?

Shouldn't that be "May the fourth"? :)

Well, yes, if the rest of the sentence isn't hint enough for you.

Given that FB is about to give the thumbs verdict on the former resident, I can only hope May 5 doesn't have a real reason to be known as 'Revenge of the Fifth'!

David Brin said...

Right after May the Fourth comes Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates a dramatic victory over a different 'evil empire' - a victory achieved by normal heroes and not by Lucasian demigods. So does that make today "Revenge of the Fifth"?

Does Tequilla even come in fifths?

Larry Hart said...

As a summer person, I can't wait for the Return of the July.

Jon S. said...

Tequila means that the following day is Revenge of the Sixth.

Larry Hart said...

A while back, there was a link posted here to a tongue-in-cheek article asserting that our written history of WWII was obviously fictional because too many of the names involved were obviously symbolic.

To that list of impossible-to-believe synchronistic names, I would add the "Bell" telephone system and "Pasture-ized" milk.

Someone is writing this stuff.

DP said...

Apparently if mankind ever encounters Alien intelligences it will be because we have created them by uplifting:

60 Million Stars and Not One Alien Detected

>Looking for aliens along a line of sight that extends from Earth to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way comes with advantages and disadvantages.

>The advantage is that the density of stars increases with distance to the galactic center. Accordingly, this line of sight “offers the largest number of potentially habitable systems of any direction in the sky,” according to the study. What’s more, the relatively close proximity of these stars to each other could “accelerate development of interstellar communication and travel,” which could contribute to the rise of “advanced space-faring societies,” as the SETI scientists write in their paper.

>The disadvantage is that things get a bit hairy beyond a certain point. Like the solar system, the Milky Way has its own habitable zone, beyond which life cannot emerge. Indeed, the inner region of our galaxy (i.e. the region outside the galactic habitable zone) is a high-radiation environment filled with gamma rays, exploding supernovae, and clouds of gas that reach millions of degrees. The hulking supermassive black hole at the galactic core presents another hazard entirely.

Ok, let's crunch the numbers. 60 million is about 1/2000th of the number of stars in the Milky Way. So roughly speaking, if their were 2,000 alien civilizations in the galaxy we might have seen one with this past survey.

According to the latest update of the Drake equation, we may need to do a lot more looking:

>In effect, this means their revised equation takes into account the idea that a planet must exist for around 5 billion years in the habitable zone around a star before it can develop intelligent life with the capability to communicate across the universe. The duo placed three different sets of limits on these "suitable planets" harboring life with weak, moderate and strong categories with different time frames for life to arise.

>When plugging the strongest limits and numbers into their complex new equation, which they dubbed the CETI Equation, the data reveals there could be a minimum of eight CETI civilizations within the Milky Way. Such an estimate is relatively close to the figure of 10 that famed astronomer Carl Sagan came up with when discussing the Drake Equation on the '80s science show Cosmos.

>There is a catch: Those worlds are at least 7,000 light-years away -- making it almost impossible for us to contact them. The team estimated we would need to be actively searching for signals from space for around 6,300 years before we might receive messages from another civilization.

>On the other hand, using weaker limits, Westby and Conselice suggest there could be as many as 2,900 worlds where life has found a way that means we may be able to detect them sooner.

So we may not be absolutely alone in the galaxy, but given how vast the galaxy is if there are only a dozen or so alien civs out there then for all intents and purposes we are alone.

DP said...

Dr. Brin, your brought to our attention the looming phosphorus crisis.

It turns out, in regards to alien life and civs, that the crisis might be literally universal and Earth has life only because it has a local cache of phosphorus.

What is really depressing is a galactic shortage of phosphorus severely limits the amount of life, human or otherwise, can expand through the galaxy.

scidata said...

Time to start re-using Starships. Absolutely amazing. What a week for SpaceX.

DP said...

A galactic phosphorus shortage changes some classic SF.

The Twilight Zone's "To Serve Man" isn't a cookbook, it's a method of extracting phosphorus from our urine.

The "Independence Day" aliens with their giant ships have come for our phosphorus.

Mars doesn't need women, it needs phosphorus.

"He who controls the phosphorus, controls the universe!" - with Earth becoming the Arrakis of a galactic empire.

In the Star trek universe, phosphorus is more valuable than di-lithium crystals.

David Brin said...

Yeah the Phosphorus thing is a perfect example that we reaslly need to start planning ahead!

duncan cairncross said...

Phosphorous is the 11th most common element in the earths crust
So its not at all that "rare"
Phosphorous is about 17th most common in the universe - so again not "rare"

The issue may be that the available Phosphorous is locked up in compounds that take significant energy to split

But that means the "shortage" is the energy - not the Phosphorous

Its not like oil - it does not "get used up"

Larry Hart said...

@Daniel Duffy re: phosphorus in sci-fi,

I would add that the alien "visitors" in V would have been after our phosphorous in addition to our water.

Humorously, Mr. Potter tells George Bailey that he's "worth more dead than alive" in terms of his body's phosphorous content.

David Brin said...

Duncan did you watch the Isaac Arthur video? Because there are reasons.

scidata said...

Stars make phosphorus and lots of other goodies. So all the Fermi paradox arguments go away once a civ masters fusion. I'm not clear why Isaac Arthur went so far down the space faring baby limit road. Also, fusion is kind of what stars do. There are a lot stars. Spectacular uniqueness is suspiciously anthropocentric -- almost romanticist.

Put me down as unconvinced.

I certainly did like what he said at the beginning - that the correct answer to the great silence is.... we don't know enough yet. Socrates FTW.

David Brin said...

Sorry Scidata, but I must blow a "talking out of your hat" whistle. There are many kinds of fusion and there are many, many elements that cannot be made to any appreciable degree by the slow carbon or P-P cycles in the bellies of stars. Yes, during the final years, days, seconds of a very large star's life, when it about to go Type II supernova, it whill cook up a lot of iron, which is endothermic leading to collapse and then explosion and some of that Iron gets turned into heavier things. But that r... or "rapid" ... process just doesn't supply enough density of neutrons long enough to make most of the stuff lower down the periodic table. For that you need humungous numbers of neutrons... when two neutron stars collide!

Yeah, P is lighter than Fe and is made partially inside stars. but Isaac Arthur does describe a series of processes that are gonna winnow down availability in a planet's outer crust of the readily soluble oxides, in ore like concentrations.

scidata said...

Dr. Brin, do you anticipate a day when a 10km long hunk of platinum is discovered in this or a nother system? I do. Gold is where you find it.

Arthur's arguments are totally consistent with 21st century brains applying 21st century knowledge. Perfectly fine. Quite brilliant even. I'm just saying that there are more things in heaven and Earth, and in 13 billion years. You and I have been around this track before, so I'll leave my Columbus illustration be and use another.

A mesolithic trekker walks for days without detecting any lasting curvature, up, down, or sideways. He returns and asks his round-world headed friend, "Where's the evidence?" His friend replies, "We don't know enough yet." They don't come to blows, they just keep trekking and theorizing, together they feed the tribe, the children grow up. Many millennia later, their distant descendants finally know enough, recognize the evidence (that's been there all along), find the answer, and move on to the next question.

A similar story plays out in a different tribe. However, they do come to blows. They died being silly asses that day (that line was a keeper). Their story ends in the mesolithic.

I'm not arguing that either you or Arthur are wrong. I'm arguing that universality*, statistical mechanics, and extrapolation are axioms only for 21st century brains, just as a flat Earth was axiomatic to mesolithic ones. Not necessarily wrong, stupid, or illogical, just assumed. Axioms are for mathematicians.

*Wow, have I ever been roasted by physicists for saying this one out loud. I know how to enrage a professional rationalist :)

Acacia H. said...

Actually, the Fermi Paradox can be explained away with two things.

First, the development of mitochondria-like organelles within unicellular life.

Two, the development of multicellular life.

Without mitochondria, we'd most likely never have evolved into the complex lifeforms we have on this world. If there WAS multicellular life, then you'd only have fairly simple lifeforms or lifeforms that are fairly low-energy.

And mitochondria are essentially organisms that were eaten by other organisms but were able to resist being digested long enough for their usefulness to be discovered and that other organism somehow shutting down its "digest" mechanism for the mitochondrial precursor.

And while Monocercomonoides did evolve out of having mitochondria, it lives in a special environment (the gut of chinchillas) that is low-oxygen and high in nutrients. Essentially, it lives in an environment that operates thanks to mitochondria.

And we didn't have the endosymbiosis that led to mitochondria until 1.45 billion years ago. It took 800 million years after mitochondria before multicellular life arose. And it took another hundred million years before land-based plants evolved (though land-based lichen emerged about 15 million years after mitochondria emerged).

So if you want to explain away the Fermi Paradox... consider the evolution of mitochondria and how difficult that feat may be to replicate in the universe. We may very well be the first world to evolve mitochondria.


David Brin said...

Scidata, in fact Isabella's court scientists were right and Columbus dead wrong about the Earth's size. What I've never seen is any documenting or what those courtiers should have admitted. That there might... maybe... be a lot of land in that giant sea between Spain and Asia. They might have said that! But what ruled was jealousy of Portugal's monopoly of the Africa route.

In fact I agree. I tear out hair when folks yowl "I know THE answer!!!" But that doesn't stop me from cataloguing all of those that aren't physically impossible and ranking them in order of plausibility.

And yes, Acacia, the Mitochondria leap was big, as was the nucleated cell and possibly quantum-using organelles embedded in synaptic neurons. I rank all that in one slot in the top ten. But not at the very top. Because life does tend to find a way.

But there are scores of species crowded under the same glass ceiling now, just below dolphins & chimps, and no one eve smashed thru like we did. That's my #1. And #2 is that most of those who do smash through do it too slowly or else get caught forever by feudalism.

duncan cairncross said...

I'm listening to that video
I HATE video presentations!! - 60 words per minute when I read at 1200 wpm

The arguments about Phosphorus were in two parts
Origin of life and early life
Civilisation's requirements

The second one - Phosphorus as a super valuable element is bollocks - it is not destroyed and can be reclaimed from the crust - making it the 11th most common element - more common that the other 80+ elements

The first one is more possible - but even then 11th most common is HUGELY more common than most of the OTHER 50 elements that are essential for life

I'm still listening to him - and he is still talking Bollocks

LIFE started very very soon after the earth cooled - we get fossils of simple life as soon as the earth is cool enough
So with an example of ONE - we have life appearing almost instantly

One we have "life" then evolution kicks in - and I agree with Acacia - the later steps that took billions of years to occur with a whole planet of life evolving away are the difficult ones

Isaac is still chuntering on about the first step being "difficult" and needing Phosphorus when our actual data (OK one example) is that like must be an easy step - it happened FAST

Once you change the assumption from "life" is difficult to life appeared FAST then his whole argument becomes bollocks

Now he is chuntering about some planet where phosphorus is rare
Phosphorus is thousands of times more common that such super rare elements like Uranium
Phosphorus is 100 times as common as Lithium
Phosphorus is nearly 0.1% of the earths crust
That means that a small "rock" like Deimos - 1.4 x 10^15 kg
probably has over a billion Tons of phosphorus

Phosphorus is like Lithium - if it is cheap then very little will be available to buy

If it becomes scarce then the price will rise and it will be extracted in huge amounts

If Lithium was twice as expensive then it would be economic to extract it from seawater - which puts a ceiling on the price
I bet something is similar with phosphorous

duncan cairncross said...

The intelligence "Glass ceiling"

That book that Dr Brin recommended - the Throwing Madonna was a bit out of date but superb

Death at a distance - the well thrown half brick - was almost certainly the "killer app" that enabled us to "afford" our huge and hungry brains

But the part I had not realized was that throwing requires much faster "calculating" than running and that the faster and longer the throw the faster the calculations need to be done
Organic brains go "faster" by paralleling - so there was a direct pressure to grow a larger brain to throw that half brick harder and further

That makes complete sense in revolutionary terms - the
"it grew bigger for X and then became useful for Y"
Is the story of evolution!

We grew a large brain - to throw rocks - and then used it for other things

Dolphins have grown the large brain for sonar - but in water they have not got the "other things"

I used to think that Chimps would be easier to "uplift" - maybe Dolphins would be easier?

DP said...

"Fusion is the energy of the future - and always will be"

To find out why this joke is true, grab a cup of coffee and watch this video.

We'd be better off pursuing thorium fission.

Because renewables are not going to save us.

We should be building nukes, lots and lots of nukes.

And maybe deep geothermal using new drilling technology from the fracking industry.

Duncan Ocel said...

I know there have been many blog posts about this in the past, but has OGH written about the possibility of a feudal society to develop a space program? It seems to me that some empires wrangled the production from large swaths of continents; in an industrialized feudalism there could be the makings of a space program. Then it only remains to be seen whether industrial feudalism is possible/stable over generations or whether it inevitably devolves into revolution or other epocalypse.

Feudalism usually means strong wealth disparity and dispossessed serf and peasant classes putting their labor into products for the military, clergy, and noble classes. This lines up with many of the realities of the early industrial era. But through a combination of labor organization and increased per-capita production the workers gained enough free time to be dangerous. This resulted in the French and American revolutions. Perhaps these could have been avoided by sufficiently more bread and circuses; perhaps the revolutions could have been harnessed by yet more lords to maintain a feudal system. I'll keep thinking about this.

Larry Hart said...


I certainly did like what he said at the beginning - that the correct answer to the great silence is.... we don't know enough yet.

I have to agree. If there is intelligent life--that is, self-aware consciousness--elsewhere in the universe, I have to believe it is something so outside of our expectations that we would have trouble recognizing it. We seem to expect that intelligence correlates with broadcasting radio signals, constructing canals on a planet's surface, and yes with use of ATP as a building block. Couldn't extraterrestrial intelligence turn out to be more like Dr Brin's hydrogen-based creatures in the Uplift universe--so alien to carbon/oxygen life as to essentially inhabit the universe in parallel to us without interacting socially?

Jon S. said...

After the past year, I begin to wonder how many alien civilizations were destroyed because significant numbers of them refused to listen to their physicians and other experts when some devastating plague cropped up...

Alfred Differ said...

There IS reason to believe phosphorus will be a limiting element for space-faring civilizations. It's not that it is terribly rare, though. It's that there aren't a lot of processes that concentrate it.

On Earth, it is a lithophile. It is found near the surface, but isn't out-gassed by volcanoes. That means the cycle that lifts if from the ocean floors and points deeper involves plate drift, rock folding, and magma. Unlike oxides of carbon and sulfur, phosphates take a while to cycle back to the surface where life can get at them.

On early Earth when free oxygen was rare, hydrides of phosphorus would have been more common. The simplest of these is phosphine and it is definitely among the volatiles. That means early Earth would have lost a lot of phosphorus as it boiled away and was blown back out into the early solar nebula.

As for fusion processes creating it, remember that its atomic number is odd. You don't make it by crashing helium nuclei into each other very often. We know most of it is created in deaths of very large stars, and that mostly means helium nuclei and other even-numbered atoms fusing.

Among the asteroids, we may be looking at a weak presence. Some bodies managed to differentiate out there, but phosphine IS a volatile. It boils at a really low temperature. Phosphates might be all that's left out there, but free oxygen would have been consumed quickly by much more common elements leaving little for rare phosphorus.

We shall see, of course. The universe is stranger than we can imagine. In this case, though, I think it wise to go with a starting assumption that we should treasure the stuff… even here on Earth.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Scidata, in fact Isabella's court scientists were right and Columbus dead wrong about the Earth's size.

It must be 30 years ago now that I read a Columbus Day article which opened my eyes up to the fact that the educated class of 1492 knew very well that the world was round, but they also knew that there was about 10,000 miles to Asia in the westerly direction. Columbus's obsession was the belief that India was only 2000 miles away, and he "just happened" to run into a brand new continent at the exact distance he thought Asia would be.

Many years later, I learned that Columbus had been in contact with Scandinavian sailors, and therefore was probably aware of the voyage of Leif Erikson to Vinland. It makes sense to me that he believed Leif Erikson had sailed to Asia, thus establishing the westward distance to the continent. That is much more plausible to me than the idea that Columbus just happened to mistakenly believe that one continent was where a completely-unknown continent just happened to be.

Der Oger said...

I used to think that Chimps would be easier to "uplift" - maybe Dolphins would be easier?

Of any aquatic species, i'd probably put my money on uplifting octopi. Also, some kinds of birds are always overlooked here (ravens, parrots and so on).

Yet, the more I learn about dolphins and other whale species and the amount of their social behaviour we don't know, including their language, the less I am convinced about this "glass ceiling".

Just ponder this: What if all of whalekind have already the equivalent of an early stone age society? They might be unable to oppose us technologically or incapable of understanding what we have done and still do to them - but, what if it isn't am intellectual barrier, but a religious/philosophical one? "Do not attack the beings from the air-world?"

Der Oger said...

Daniel, I happened to live in a community with a major nuclear reactor in it. By chance, I once talked with a colleague who was actually head of the local voluntary fire department (which would have been the first responder). I asked him what would happen if something went wrong and the cooling would fail. He said we would be done. No emergency plans, no training in advance, just blind trust in that something like Harrisburg or Tschernobyl would not happen again or here.

Thorium Reactors pose another problem. AFAIK, the concept is to build a great many of them, which in turn would mean a higher vulnerability to terroristic acts. Also, non-nuclear states can use them to produce at least dirty bomb material. Just imagine what the Islamic State could have done with it.

Finally, while the initial construction and operational costs might be higher, I assume them to drop and technology to improve as it has always been the case. Hey, we are often discussing asteroid mining here, and that they aren't even as far as ITER!

Renewables have improved slow, but steadily in the past years. And there is another point that is seldom discussed: Energy Efficiency can also be improved.

Related to this topic, a few weeks ago I learned about the massive Namibian oil field detected. I wondered if the Paris Accord nations should talk to the Namibian government to not touch it, and paying them for not allowing exploitation for environmental reasons. I don't expect that to happen, and I ask myself if they fall for the ressource curse again (the first time due to diamonds).

CP said...

I suspect that the major events in evolutionary history are constrained more by external factors than by inherent difficulty. Evolution isn't progressive--there's no predetermined goal or direction. But, it is cumulative and benefits from the "law of large numbers" in both space and time. So, pretty much everything is "tried," then winnowed and refined through multiple iterations of variation and replacement.

The author of the mitochondria article from a few posts ago seems to think that all modern eukaryotic cells descended from a single event in which an archaea ate a bacterial cell and failed to digest it creating a fully functional eukaryotic cell in one step. That isn't how evolution usually works. Rather, many species of archaea and bacteria probably had the potential to form mutualistic relationships, particularly in the context of multi-species bio-films in which various species co-evolved to utilize each other's waste products. And, many such relationships probably evolved pretty soon after the atmosphere's oxygen level rose to the point where something approximating the modern version was metabolically advantageous. Then, selection over numerous cycles of replacement winnowed out the less efficient ones. Similar arguments can be made for the later symbiosis with cyanophytes and the possible earlier fusion of a giant virus with an archaea to generate the nucleus. Of course, there was probably also a random element with many possible alternative pathways. I used to think that the evolution of sexual reproduction was unlikely but I've changed my mind on that one. Occasional failure to replicate DNA after division combined with an occasional tendency for cells to fuse should do it (with selective refinement). And, multicellularity has evolved several times. So, none of these events is likely to be a "once per universe"/"god must have done it" rarity.

Phosphorus might be a limiting factor for earlier generations of stars/planets but I suspect our solar system isn't exceptional for its generation...

I don't know what might have constrained the development of intelligence over the last couple hundred million years... But, on general principles, I'm reluctant to view man as exceptional. The whole thrust of modern science has been to move man out of the center of things...

Acacia H. said...

You discount the importance of the mitochondria, Dr. Brin. That isn't in the top ten. It's the VERY top. Right below it is development of multicellular life. Mitochondria are so important that even vent-dwelling bacteria have them, and there's plenty of energy around volcanic vents. In fact, multicellular life didn't evolve without mitochondria. And you can't have intelligent life without multicellular life.

"Life will find a way" handwaves a lot. It's like saying "the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park would always escape" when in fact it took both a hurricane and a saboteur to disrupt protections meant to keep those new dinosaurs locked up. Hell, the issue with the dinosaurs breeding would have been found out before the dinosaurs escaped.


On a tangential note, I've started playing the game Mass Effect: Andromeda, and in it they had a fascinating concept - symbiosis between AI and humans. Essentially, the AI would "see" through human senses and would in turn be able to assist the human in task performance and the like.

This sort of situation would help lessen the threat of an AI destroying all life because it observes the world through organic eyes. More, it allows for a truer sense of the Singularity, in that AI won't dominate and bring about a new civilization where the AI is supreme, but instead be a partnership where humanity understands what is going on and is enhanced with the AI.

You've commented in Existence on raising AI as our children. This is more along the lines of marriage in that the AI would comprehend humanity because it is a part of humanity, and humanity would comprehend AI because we communicate with it and are its eyes. The only real problem is the potential of it becoming a matter of wealth as to if you get an AI partner or not.


scidata said...

duncan cairncross: 60 words per minute when I read at 1200 wpm

You can adjust the playback speed on YouTube by clicking the gear control at the bottom of the window. Sadly, it doesn't work during commercials :)

duncan cairncross said...

"The simplest of these is phosphine and it is definitely among the volatiles. That means early Earth would have lost a lot of phosphorus as it boiled away and was blown back out into the early solar nebula."

I query the mechanism for that to happen - a "volatile" means that it could exist in gas form but the early earth would still have had todays escape velocity

The whole idea that a lot of lighter elements escaped from the early earth because it was hot is due to an incorrect extrapolation from everyday life

"Volatiles" will escape from a boiling pot on earth - but not from a red hot earth - the escape velocity is just too high

Remember the upper atmosphere TODAY has a "temperature" of over 1500C and that is only just high enough for the very occasional hydrogen molecule to escape

The process of forming the earth from smaller lumps can lose "volatiles" but once we get up to planetary size and the escape velocity gets high enough that process will stop

Mars is small enough to lose Hydrogen - but even then the rate is very low and the loss only builds up over billions of years

David Brin said...

Lot of activity going on here and I was very busy with home repairs, sorry. Some of you are arguing pretty heatedly about abstract stuff!

Acacia an AI-human symbiosis is WANTING… something that no AI does well and even the most deficient conscious human does superbly!

I am more concerned about Phosphorus depletion during takeoff of technic civilization. Humans may have been very quick, just 10,000 years into agriculture before spaceflight and only 150 since we mined limited phosphate deposits. If our pace getting to science had been half as quick or a quarter, agricultural productivity could have plummeted before we made a prodigiously problem solving civ.

Re’ Throwing as a major niche for humans. The great thing about that theory is it doesn’t have to be a huge leap! If australopithecines were just twice as good throwers as chimps, they could mob lions who had eaten their fill from a kill and drive them away with stones from guarding the kill, then used the same method on Jackals and vultures. And the vultures would circle and lead the tribe to the kill. A truly fine niche available to no one else! And it would reward rapid growth in throwing skill.

DP said...

Seriously, if throwing is the root of all human weapons, and technology, and our success as a species we need to redo the opening scene in Kubrick's "2001":

Instead of a mysterious alien monolith making our proto-human ancestors use bone weapons and rocks, we simply show them throwing poop at each other.

As the leader of the proto-human tribe hurls his poop in the air in triumph, we cut to an orbiting satellite ...

Now that's great cinema!

(Don't believe me? Just hang out at the monkey cage at your local zoo.)

Larry Hart said...

Der Oger:

Of any aquatic species, i'd probably put my money on uplifting octopi. Also, some kinds of birds are always overlooked here (ravens, parrots and so on).

While not an uplift per se, a parrot and an octopus do play a role in our host's novel Existence.

duncan cairncross said...

Monkeys throw - but their aim is non existent

Throwing rocks hard AT things is a purely human trait

Alfred Differ said...

duncan cairncross,

Two things.

1. The early Earth wasn't the size of Earth to start. Of course the early Sun wasn't as hot either. The point is that phosphine boils at a low temperature. ~185.5K. Compare to methane at 111.6K.

It's pretty well accepted that many volatiles in the portion of the solar nebula where Earth formed were depleted by early solar heat and turbulence.

2. The Earth got smashed (likely) in the event that formed the Moon. Very hot. Magma atmosphere for a while. Advocates for these theories have a lot of explaining to do for why any volatiles are left at all. Poor Luna is VERY depleted.

Current Earth loses hydrogen, helium, and some water at the top of the atmosphere. Not much and not fast, but we do. [Water loss is really hydrogen loss after dissociation.]

The process of forming the earth from smaller lumps can lose "volatiles" but once we get up to planetary size and the escape velocity gets high enough that process will stop

Um. No.
Sol is a beast.
Terra has a great defense, but not for everything.


Fortunately, phosphates float high, resulting in much of what remains taking up residence in our lithosphere.

Unfortunately, phosphates don't show up in volcanic gases much. It's a long, slow cycle dredging them off the ocean floor. Sea critters might have better access around deep current upwellings, but that's not much help to humans.

If we are not careful, we are going to have to figure out how to dredge our own continental shelves to get the stuff back. No small task since it won't be concentrated like guano mines.

Alfred Differ said...


The only real problem is the potential of it becoming a matter of wealth as to if you get an AI partner or not.

You already have one. Look at your computer and extrapolate.

In chess competitions, the term for these 'marriages' is 'Centaur'. Two human players each assisted by computers make for a game between centaurs.

In modern games, the best players are centaurs. Hands down. By far. In fact, the best centaurs are actually a couple of humans assisted by two or three computers running different 'algorithms' all relying on prior game databases. So, it is best not to assume these future marriages will be one-to-one. We already have cases where group marriages deliver serious competitive advantages.

Another distinction to recognize is that general intelligence appears to be very hard to imitate without imitating the one known example. Since we are still learning how this one example (us) actually manages it, the general problem is hard.

That makes it VERY likely that early centaurs won't involve AI's at all. They will involve IA's. Intelligence Augmentations. Such things are much easier problems for us to solve because they can be modeled as collections of tools doing things that humans understand (tree searches, etc), but get terribly bored trying to do them beyond a few small cases.

It's not that IA's are likely to arrive first, though. They already have even if we haven't wired up brain implants yet.

IA's are actually quite old, but we've only externalized them in the last few thousand years. Writing is one of them. Try being competitive in the modern world without learning to read. It's tough to do.

DP said...

I know this is a step back, but I mentioned mining out mercury to create a Dyson Swarm of solar power satellites in the last thread.

The numbers are actually interesting.

Given Mercury's total mass, that is 70% metals and 30% silicates (almost like the core of a larger planet), and assuming that only 50% of the metals (35% of the total mass) is recoverable through mining operations (done by robots digging tunnels through the planet lie a giant anti-hill):

3.30E+23 kg total
2.31E+23 70% kg metals
1.16E+23 50% kg recoverable

Further assume that each SPS is a simple, easy to construct, rugged solar collector, essentially a giant mirror concentrating sunlight on a power generator instead of fancy-pants photo-voltaic cells (which wear out in a few decades anyways), and conservatively assuming that the a mid range material density is equivalent to steel (though many metals will be used in construction) , and for the sake of long term rugged durability the mirrors are 1 cm thick - they can cover a sphere with a surface area 237 time greater than the surface of the sun:

8.00E+03 kg / m^3 density of steel
1.44E+19 m^3 total volume of metal
1.44E+21 m^2 mirror surface area at 1 cm thick

6.09E+12 km^2 surface area of the Sun
6.09E+18 m^2 surface area of the Sun
237x the area of the sun

Assuming I didn't do a bone headed math mistake, that is amazing.

Put the SPS swarms in orbit at the same distance from the Sun as Mercury and their mirror area can cover 3.4% of the orbital sphere

5.79E+07 km radius orbit
4.21E+16 km^2 area of sphere
4.21E+22 m^2 area of sphere

The Sun generates 3.8E+26 j/sec. Assuming that we can capture 3.4% of that and the entire energy producing process is only 50% efficient:

3.80E+26 J / sec
1.20E+34 J / year
2.05E+32 J / year recoverable

Currently, Humanity uses 4,00E+20 j/year of energy. A Dyson swarm as described can increase that by a factor of 500 BILLION:

4.00E+20 J / year current Human energy use
513,700,653,207 x

Then again, blocking out about 3% of the sunlight reaching earth could trigger another ice age.

It's going to need one heck of an environmental impact statement.

Tony Fisk said...

Actually, my Dad had experience with baboons whilst stationed in Ethiopia after the war. He soon found it wasn't a good idea to scare them off with stones. I recall him ruefully remarking that they weren't bad shots! It's not their aim that's so deficient, but their low power action.

Der Oger said...

Larry Hart:
While not an uplift per se, a parrot and an octopus do play a role in our host's novel Existence.>

Thank you! Still on my To-Do list.

My previous comment was perhaps eaten by the limbo, so...

Acacia an AI-human symbiosis is WANTING… something that no AI does well and even the most deficient conscious human does superbly!

"Good morning, Citizen! Your current social credit score is -2738. Please report to the nearest reeducation center!"

As always, I see opportunities and perils associated with this idea. One benefit would be that a "rogue" AI in a frail mortal coil could be controlled more easily ... as well as the host. It really depends on who develops the symbiosis ability, and why. In addition, we could develop a society like that of the Trills in Star Trek, where the symbiont carries all those memories of past host's lifes.

Maybe there is a good story in it. In a seemingly utopian future, a misfit is assisted by it's AI because the symbiont mind concludes that doing so would be a Zero Law imperative.
Or a detective story, where the AI/Human discovers memories of a previous owner leading to a conspiracy or murder case.

Larry Hart said...

Daniel Duffy:

"He who controls the phosphorus, controls the universe!" - with Earth becoming the Arrakis of a galactic empire.

One more, from the same book...

The body belongs to the individual, but his phosphorous belongs to the tribe.

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, you said that "Acacia an AI-human symbiosis is WANTING… something that no AI does well and even the most deficient conscious human does superbly!"

Well, please, expand on this. Where is it wanting? And how does human consciousness excel in this? Because current AI excels in pattern recognition, but sometimes sees patterns where there aren't any while humans can see where these patterns are flawed. But likewise, sometimes AI can see things that humans fail to notice. Working together, can't current AI systems and humans work in pattern recognition and error correction to function more effectively?

There are already multiple areas where AI can more effectively do a job than humans can. One area is law. Humans can never truly memorize all the laws of the land, while an AI that has all of the data of all the laws crafted can find rulings, laws, and the like. In fact, the use of an AI in this situation can be used to find conflicting laws, alert lawmakers of these conflicts, and allow new laws to be crafted that undo unnecessary laws and make things easier for the layperson to function in a lawful manner (ie, currently people break laws all the time without ever knowing it because of the tangled web of legality currently in place).

For that matter, the use of AI can help eliminate some of the vagaries of law enforcement which has led to the Supreme Court ruling that cops can arrest someone for a crime that legally does not exist if the officer believes the action is against the law (which essentially turns law enforcement into the ultimate authoritarian organization able to achieve dictatorial control over society so long as the police officer claims "I thought this action was illegal" and resulting in people being imprisoned for crimes that only exist in the imaginations of the police). If the AI states "this is not against the law" then the police can no longer use that loophole to arrest anyone they want.

These are a couple simple areas where AI is in fact far superior to human consciousness because no matter how knowledgeable someone is, they never can recall as quickly and concisely as an AI with proper data.

But let's go one step further. You have in the past commented on raising AI as a child. This line of thought is more akin to the science fiction view of AI, or what I tend to call "Artificial Sentience" (AS) where AI has actually started thinking rather than just pattern recognition and machine learning systems. So an AS is the system you view as needing to be raised as a child would so it would be an evolution of human awareness (even as it's not human genetically).

How is merging Artificial Sentience and human awareness in a machine-human interface system to work cooperatively, using human observation and the AS high-speed information processing and pattern recognition systems and its own sentience not useful in that situation?

Let's look at this from a medical perspective. A physician-AS interface would allow for a physician to run tests on a person. The AS can point out how the symptoms and evidence hints at one of a half dozen possible conditions. The physician can examine those and determine if these suggestions are valid or invalid. Further, as the physician works, the AS learns further and refines its ability. Both physician and AS are able to flourish and grow under this symbiotic relationship.

Or is your use of the term "WANTING" in reference to something else? Please, do specify.


David Brin said...

Alfred intelligence augmentations are depicted - in spades - in my story “stones of Significance,” in my new BEST-OF collection. The prefrontals were a late add-on. Why not others?

Acacia, even the least proficient human mind -if conscious- WANTS something. No computer does, though Wall Stree is making hungry hungry trading programs.

In the rest, you describe the top reason there is a world oligarcic putsch to end the Enlightenment notion that ALL are accountable to a rule of law.

DD even at 3.4% blockage of sunlight, such an initial dyson swarm would likely be detectable even by the likes of us. We’re not seeing any, yet.

Larry Hart said...

Acacia H:

Dr. Brin, you said that "Acacia an AI-human symbiosis is WANTING… something that no AI does well and even the most deficient conscious human does superbly!"

Well, please, expand on this. Where is it wanting? And how does human consciousness excel in this?

No doubt, Dr Brin will answer for his own self, but the topic does get to something I've wondered about myself. Machines lack "motivation" in the human sense of the word. A car moves forward when you step on the gas, but only because that's what it has been engineered to do. If something prevents it from moving--a high curb or a solid wall or four flat tires--the car can't do what it's "trying" to do, but it does not get frustrated or try to figure out a different way to move forward. It just does what the laws of physics cause it to do in any given situation. You can blow a car's engine out with a bazooka in order to stop it, but you can't point the bazooka and threaten the car that it better do what you demand or you will kill it.

I gather that what Dr Brin is suggesting is that to become something approximating human, AIs would have to have human motivations. It's not enough that they can plot a course from A to B--they would have to have a reason to get to B in the first place. To me, that means something akin to human emotions. Reason can get you from point A to point B, but only emotion drives you require a course of action in the first place. Lt Commander Data would need Lore's emotion chip, as it were.

David Brin said...