Across the world’s great deserts, a mysterious sheen has been found on boulders and rock faces. These layers of manganese, arsenic and silica are known as desert varnish and they are found in the Atacama desert in Chile, the Mojave desert in California, and in many other arid places. They can make the desert glitter with surprising colour and, by scraping off pieces of varnish, native people have created intriguing symbols and images on rock walls and surfaces.
How desert varnish forms has yet to be resolved, despite intense research by geologists. Most theories suggest it is produced by chemical reactions that act over thousands of years or by ecological processes yet to be determined.
Professor Carol Cleland, of Colorado University, has a very different suggestion. She believes desert varnish could be the manifestation of an alternative, invisible biological world. Cleland, a philosopher based at the university’s astrobiology centre, calls this ethereal dimension the shadow biosphere. “The idea is straightforward,” she says. “On Earth we may be co-inhabiting with microbial lifeforms that have a completely different biochemistry from the one shared by life as we currently know it.”
It is a striking idea: We share our planet with another domain of life that exists “like the realm of fairies and elves just beyond the hedgerow”, as David Toomey puts it in his newly published Weird Life: The Search for Life that is Very, Very Different from Our Own. But an alternative biosphere to our own would be more than a mere scientific curiosity: it is of crucial importance, for its existence would greatly boost expectations of finding life elsewhere in the cosmos. As Paul Davies, of Arizona State University, has put it: “If life started more than once on Earth, we could be virtually certain that the universe is teeming with it.”
However, by the same token, if it turns out we have failed to realise that we have been sharing a planet with these shadowy lifeforms for eons, despite all the scientific advances of the 19th and 20th centuries, then we may need to think again about the way we hunt for life on other worlds. Robot spacecraft – such as the Mars rover Curiosity – are certainly sophisticated. But what chance do they have of detecting alien entities if the massed laboratories of modern science have not yet spotted them on our own planet? This point is stressed by the US biologist Craig Venter. As he has remarked: “We’re looking for life on Mars and we don’t even know what’s on Earth!”
The concept of a shadow biosphere was first outlined by Cleland and her Colorado colleague Shelley Copley in a paper in 2006 in the International Journal of Astrobiology, and is now supported by many other scientists, including astrobiologists Chris McKay, who is based at Nasa’s Ames Research Centre, California, and Paul Davies.
These researchers believe life may exist in more than one form on Earth: standard life – like ours – and “weird life”, as they term the conjectured inhabitants of the shadow biosphere. “All the micro-organisms we have detected on Earth to date have had a biology like our own: proteins made up of a maximum of 20 amino acids and a DNA genetic code made out of only four chemical bases: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine,” says Cleland. “Yet there are up to 100 amino acids in nature and at least a dozen bases. These could easily have combined in the remote past to create lifeforms with a very different biochemistry to our own. More to the point, some may still exist in corners of the planet.”
Science’s failure to date to spot this weird life may seem puzzling. The natural history of our planet has been scrupulously studied and analysed by scientists, so how could a whole new type of life, albeit a microbial one, have been missed? Cleland has an answer. The methods we use to detect micro-organisms today are based entirely on our own biochemistry and are therefore incapable of spotting shadow microbes, she argues. A sample of weird microbial life would simply not trigger responses to biochemists’ probes and would end up being thrown out with the rubbish.
That is why unexplained phenomena like desert varnish are important, she says, because they might provide us with clues about the shadow biosphere. We may have failed to detect the source of desert varnish for the simple reason that it is the handiwork of weird microbes which generate energy by oxidising minerals, leaving deposits behind them.
The idea of the shadow biosphere is also controversial and is challenged by several other scientists. “I think it is very unlikely that after 300 years of microbiology we would not have detected such organisms despite the fact that they are supposed to have a different biochemistry from the kind we know about today,” says Professor Charles Cockell, of the UK Centre for Astrobiology at Edinburgh University. “It is really quite unlikely,” adds Cockell, whose centre will be officially opened this week at a ceremony in Edinburgh.
Ways need to be found to determine whether or not the shadow biosphere exists, says Dimitar Sasselov, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative. “If you want a clue you can count up the amount of carbon that is emitted by living things – cows, sheep, grass, plants, forests and all the planet’s bacteria. When you do, you find there is a discrepancy of around 5% when you compare the amount given off from Earth’s standard biosphere and the amount you find in the atmosphere.”
In other words, there is slightly too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than can be explained by the emissions of standard lifeforms on Earth. There could be an error in these calculations, of course. Alternatively, the shadow biosphere could be responsible for this excess, says Sasselov. “There is plenty of room for a shadow biosphere. That is clear. Certainly, it is not true, as some allege, that we have strong evidence to show that it does not exist. In fact, the opposite is true: we do not have good enough evidence to dismiss it.”
A key point to note is that scientists – although describing the inhabitants of the shadow biosphere as weird – still assume they will be carbon-based entities. Complex chemistry based on other elements, such as silicon, is possible, they acknowledge but these alternatives cannot create the vast range of organic materials that carbon can generate. In other words, the shadow biosphere, if it exists, will almost certainly be inhabited by carbon life, albeit of an alien variety.
“Billions of years ago, life based on different types of carbon biochemistry could have arisen in several places on Earth,” says Cleland. “These varieties would have been based on different combinations of bases and amino acids. Eventually, one – based on DNA and on proteins made from 20 amino acids – formed multicellular entities and became the dominant form of life on Earth. That is why we find that life as we know it, from insects to humans and from plants to birds, has DNA as its genetic code. However, other lifeforms based on different bases and proteins could still have survived – in the shadow biosphere.”
A different prospect is highlighted by Sasselov, who points out that a complex organic chemical can come in two different shapes even though they have the same chemical formula. Each is a mirror-image of the other and are said to have a different chirality. “Amino acids are an example,” says Sasselov. “Each comes in a right-handed version and a left-handed version. Our bodies – in common with all other lifeforms – only use left-handed versions to create proteins. Right-handed amino acids are simply ignored by our bodies. However, there may be some organisms, somewhere on the planet, that use only right-handed amino acids. They could make up the weird life of the shadow biosphere.”
But how can scientists pinpoint this weird life? Microbes are usually detected in laboratories by feeding nutrients to suspected samples so they grow and expend. Then the resulting cultures can be analysed. A weird lifeform – such as one made only of proteins formed out of right-handed amino acids – will not respond to left-handed nutrients, however. It will fail to form cultures and register its existence.
One solution to this problem is being pursued by Sasselov and colleagues’ Harvard Origins of Life Initiative. They are building an artificial cell – or bionic system – made only of right-handed components including right-handed DNA and right-handed ribosomes. “If there are right-handed lifeforms out there, many of them will be viruses – which will attempt to hijack the DNA of our bionic cells,” adds Sasselov. “When they do that they will leave evidence of their existence. Essentially we are building honey traps to catch any right-handed viruses that might live in the shadow biosphere and so reveal their existence.”
Other scientists suggest a different approach – by looking at Earth’s most inhospitable ecological niches: hot vents on the seafloor, mountaintops, highly saline lakes, Antarctic ice sheets and deserts. Standard lifeforms, mainly bacteria, have been found in these places but only a few. Some niches, researchers speculate, may prove to be just too inhospitable for standard life but may just be tolerable enough to support weird life. Microscopic studies would reveal their existence while standard culture tests would show they had a different biochemistry from standard lifeforms.
Stripes of desert varnish line the canyon walls of Capitol Gorge in Utah. No laboratory has been able to re-create the phenomenon. Photograph: Larry Geddis/Alamy
And a promising example is provided by the desert varnish proposed as a target by Cleland and backed by David Toomey in Weird Life. “No laboratory microbiologist has been able to coax bacteria or algae to make desert varnish,” he states. “It is also possible that the stuff is the end result of some very weird chemistry but no one has been able to reproduce that either.” So yes, these sites could provide proof of the shadow biosphere’s existence, he argues.
Not surprisingly, Cleland agrees. “The only trouble is that no one has yet got round to investigating desert varnish for weird life,” adds Cleland. “I confess I find that disappointing.”
Fascinating. I have come across different versions of Earth “shadow” life over the years; Mac Tonnies’ “cryptoterrestrials“, ancient creatures older than mankind whom remain hidden and undetectable from us. And Peter Watts’ “Behemoth” right-handed amino acid life forms taking over the Earth during the 21st Century.
And I’m not even counting legends of elves, Bigfoot, dwarves, demons and angels from past decades and centuries.
So the idea of Earthly “alien” life isn’t new.
But maybe, just maybe with advanced biotechnology techniques, we’ll be able to detect this shadow life.
Perhaps a whole hidden world!
Hat tip to the Daily Grail.
The Pentagon wants to make perfectly clear that every time one of its flying robots releases its lethal payload, it’s the result of a decision made by an accountable human being in a lawful chain of command. Human rights groups and nervous citizens fear that technological advances in autonomy will slowly lead to the day when robots make that critical decision for themselves. But according to a new policy directive issued by a top Pentagon official, there shall be no SkyNet, thank you very much.
Here’s what happened while you were preparing for Thanksgiving: Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter signed, on November 21, a series of instructions to “minimize the probability and consequences of failures” in autonomous or semi-autonomous armed robots “that could lead to unintended engagements,” starting at the design stage (.pdf, thanks to Cryptome.org). Translated from the bureaucrat, the Pentagon wants to make sure that there isn’t a circumstance when one of the military’s many Predators, Reapers, drone-like missiles or other deadly robots effectively automatizes the decision to harm a human being.
The hardware and software controlling a deadly robot needs to come equipped with “safeties, anti-tamper mechanisms, and information assurance.” The design has got to have proper “human-machine interfaces and controls.” And, above all, it has to operate “consistent with commander and operator intentions and, if unable to do so, terminate engagements or seek additional human operator input before continuing the engagement.” If not, the Pentagon isn’t going to buy it or use it.
It’s reasonable to worry that advancements in robot autonomy are going to slowly push flesh-and-blood troops out of the role of deciding who to kill. To be sure, military autonomous systems aren’t nearly there yet. No Predator, for instance, can fire its Hellfire missile without a human directing it. But the military is wading its toe into murkier ethical and operational waters: The Navy’s experimental X-47B prototype will soon be able to land on an aircraft carrier with the barest of human directions. That’s still a long way from deciding on its own to release its weapons. But this is how a very deadly slope can slip.
It’s that sort of thing that worries Human Rights Watch, for instance. Last week, the organization, among the most influential non-governmental institutions in the world, issued a report warning that new developments in drone autonomy represented the demise of established “legal and non-legal checks on the killing of civilians.” Its solution: “prohibit the “development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons through an international legally binding instrument.”
Laudable impulse, wrong solution, writes Matthew Waxman. A former Defense Department official for detainee policy, Waxman and co-author Kenneth Anderson observe that technological advancements in robotic weapons autonomy is far from predictable, and the definition of “autonomy” is murky enough to make it unwise to tell the world that it has to curtail those advancements at an arbitrary point. Better, they write, for the U.S. to start an international conversation about how much autonomy on a killer robot is appropriate, so as to “embed evolving internal state standards into incrementally advancing automation.”
Waxman and Anderson should be pleased with Carter’s memo, since those standards are exactly what Carter wants the Pentagon to bake into its next drone arsenal. Before the Pentagon agrees to develop or buy new autonomous or somewhat autonomous weapons, a team of senior Pentagon officials and military officers will have to certify that the design itself “incorporates the necessary capabilities to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment in the use of force.” The machines and their software need to provide reliability assurances and failsafes to make sure that’s how they work in practice, too. And anyone operating any such deadly robot needs sufficient certification in both the system they’re using and the rule of law. The phrase “appropriate levels of human judgment” is frequently repeated, to make sure everyone gets the idea. (Now for the lawyers to argue about the meaning of “appropriate.”)
So much for SkyNet. But Carter’s directive blesses the forward march of autonomy in most everything military robots do that can’t kill you. It “[d]oes not apply to autonomous or semi-autonomous cyberspace systems for cyberspace operations; unarmed, unmanned platforms; unguided munitions; munitions manually guided by the operator (e.g., laser- or wire-guided munitions); mines; or unexploded explosive ordnance,” Carter writes.
Oh happy - happy, joy – joy. The semi-intelligent machines still needs a human in the loop to kill you, but doesn’t need one to spy on you.
Oh well, Big Brother still needs a body to put in jail to make the expense of robots worth their while I suppose…
David Brin’s ‘Uplift’ series dealt with issues relating to religion, biology and the ethics of ‘uplifting’ pre-intelligent species to full sapience.
Is this article showing the possibility of uplift, or the first step?
Dolphins have been declared the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as “non-human persons”.
Studies into dolphin behaviour have highlighted how similar their communications are to those of humans and that they are brighter than chimpanzees. These have been backed up by anatomical research showing that dolphin brains have many key features associated with high intelligence.
The researchers argue that their work shows it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in amusement parks or to kill them for food or by accident when fishing. Some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in this way each year.
“Many dolphin brains are larger than our own and second in mass only to the human brain when corrected for body size,” said Lori Marino, a zoologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who has used magnetic resonance imaging scans to map the brains of dolphin species and compare them with those of primates.
“The neuroanatomy suggests psychological continuity between humans and dolphins and has profound implications for the ethics of human-dolphin interactions,” she added.
Dolphins have long been recognised as among the most intelligent of animals but many researchers had placed them below chimps, which some studies have found can reach the intelligence levels of three-year-old children. Recently, however, a series of behavioural studies has suggested that dolphins, especially species such as the bottlenose, could be the brighter of the two. The studies show how dolphins have distinct personalities, a strong sense of self and can think about the future.
A lot of this is to prevent the killing of these magnificent creatures, but how much is motivated by the scientific reasoning of ‘raising’ them to full sapience and ‘personhood?’
I’m curious to find out.
The UFO witnesses:
We have the most incredible witnesses who claim what they have seen is a craft doing exactly what a machine would do. We have fighter pilots. Astronauts, even a man who walked on the moon all claiming that something is here. We have witnesses on their deathbed who have reported spaceships and even the smell of the decaying alien bodies. We have excellent witnesses who have been aboard craft that seem to be solid hardware. We have witnesses who have been harmed by UFOs and have proof of the encounter.
The strategic positioning of these objects.
We now know the military was alarmed for a long time at the recording of UFOs visually and on radar at all the major defense facility. These secret documents strongly suggest these object were extremely interested in our atomic bomb build-up and monitored and sometimes interfered with our nuclear missiles. This was not only happening here it was happening around the world. ….UFO bases anyone.
Planetary ETs are a fact.
Although the human race hasn’t gone to the stars we are ETs. In seventy years we have visited practically every planet in our solar system. We have walked on the moon a few times. We have landed craft on the Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Phobos and Titan. We have sent a message, by way of a space craft, to the starts. We did all of this with chemical rockets. What will the next thousand years bring in this technology?
Collaborating evidence. We have tons of radar and other instrumentations that have reinforced the report of pilots who report seeing detailed craft not just lights. Solid object that return radar signals. These craft do everything possible to evade capture and as some pilots know for a fact…these craft will defend themselves. UFO landings trace cases.
Over 3700 hundred cases of UFO landings in America alone. The landing were investigated and chemically analyzed with pronounced differences in the soil retention of water. Some of landing sights stay barren for decades. One landings, of several craft, was witnessed by a whole family. They watched as these several craft lifted off of their field and returned to a large mother ship cylinder above.
Joe Capp is fun to read, his honesty is refreshing.
Not that I find the nuts and bolts theory of UFOs still credible, but the iteration “sufficiently advanced technology would be akin to magic” rings true with Joe.
What is Transhumanism?
The term itself has many definitions, depending on who you ask.
The stock meaning is that transhumanism is a step toward being ‘posthuman’, and that term is subject to many iterations also.
One definition of being transhuman is using advanced technology to increase or preserve the quality of life of an individual. And that is the interpretation I use for myself , of which I have mentioned many times on this blog (I’ve made no secret of my heart condition).
That is just one interpretation however. According to Michael Garfield, transhumanism has many meanings:
Mention the word “transhumanism” to most of my friends, and they will assume you mean uploading people into a computer. Transcendence typically connotes an escape from the trappings of this world – from the frailty of our bodies, the evolutionary wiring of our primate psychologies, and our necessary adherence to physical law.
However, the more I learn about the creative flux of our universe, the more the evolutionary process appears to be not about withdrawal, but engagement – not escape, but embrace – not arriving at a final solution, but opening the scope of our questions. Any valid map of history is fractal – ever more complex, always shifting to expose unexplored terrain.
This is why I find it is laughable when we try to arrive at a common vision of the future. For the most part, we still operate on “either/or” software, but we live in a “both/and” universe that seems willing to try anything at least once. “Transhuman” and “posthuman” are less specific classifications than catch-alls for whatever we deem beyond what we are now … and that is a lot.
So when I am in the mood for some armchair futurism, I like to remember the old Chinese adage: “Let a hundred flowers bloom.” Why do we think it will be one way or the other? The future arrives by many roads. Courtesy of some of science fiction’s finest speculative minds, here are a few of my favorites:
By Elective Surgery & Genetic Engineering
In Greg Egan’s novel Distress, a journalist surveying the gray areas of bioethics interviews an elective autistic – a man who opted to have regions of his brain removed in order to tune out of the emotional spectrum and into the deep synesthetic-associative brilliance of savants. Certainly, most people consider choice a core trait of humanity… but when a person chooses to remove that which many consider indispensable human hardware, is he now more “pre-” than “post-?” Even today, we augment ourselves with artificial limbs and organs (while hastily amputating entire regions of a complex and poorly-understood bio-electric system); and extend our senses and memories with distributed electronic networks (thus increasing our dependence on external infrastructure for what many scientists argue are universal, if mysterious, capacities of “wild-type” Homo sapiens). It all raises the question: are our modifications rendering us more or less than human? Or will this distinction lose its meaning, in a world that challenges our ability to define what “human” even means?
Just a few pages later in Distress, the billionaire owner of a global biotech firm replaces all of his nucleotides with synthetic base pairs as a defense against all known pathogens. Looks human, smells human…but he has spliced himself out of the Kingdom Animalia entirely, forming an unprecedented genetic lineage.
In both cases, we seem bound to shuffle sideways – six of one, half a dozen of the other.
By Involutionary Implosion
In the 1980s, Greg Bear explored an early version of “computronium” – matter optimized for information-processing — in Blood Music, the story of a biologist who hacks individual human lymphocytes to compute as fast as an entire brain. When he becomes contaminated by the experiment, his own body transforms into a city of sentient beings, each as smart as himself. Eventually, they download his whole self into one of their own – paradoxically running a copy of the entire organism on one of its constituent parts. From there things only get stranger, as the lymphocytes turn to investigate levels of reality too small for macro-humans to observe.
Scenarios such as this are natural extrapolations of Moore’s Law, that now-famous bit about computers regularly halving in size and price. And Moore’s Law is just one example of a larger evolutionary trend: for example, functions once distributed between every member of primitive tribes (the regulatory processes of the social ego, or the formation of a moral code) are now typically internalized and processed by every adult in the modern city. Just as we now recognize the Greek Gods as embodied archetypes correlated with neural subroutines, the redistributive gathering of intelligence from environment to “individual” seems likely to transform the body into a much smarter three cubic feet of flesh than the one we are accustomed to.
Greg Egan is the consumate trans/posthuman author and I have been a reader and fan of his for ten years. He is stunningly accurate and it amazes me how fertile his imagination must be.
Could he be getting quantum information from the future?
And I think I’ve read almost all of Greg Bear’s work over the past twenty years, including his Foundation works. His nanotech fiction is astonishingly prescient. Is he tapping into the quantum information highway too?
Like the author of this post speculates, maybe it’s just a few of the hundred flowers of the future.
Aviation history is one of my hobbies and this particular item turned up in my daily search; The Soviet Fighting Nazi UFO Flying Fortress:
During an early voyage of the experimental Kalinin K-7, the aircraft crashed, killing fourteen passengers and forcing Stalin to scrap the project. But an artist has reimagined an alternate history where the Soviet flying fortress takes on Nazi flying saucers.
Aircraft designer KA Kalinin designed the K-7, a massive and extremely expensive prototype plane that briefly carried passengers during 1933. However, the plane crashed in November 1933, causing the project to be scrapped before more prototypes could be built. These images imagine a battle-ready version of a plane similar to Kalinin’s K-7, with enough firepower to take down another non-existent vehicle: the Nazi flying saucer.
Last time we mentioned Detroit here, it was in the less-than-cheerful terms of it becoming a growth region for private security patrols, and the web is full of similar stories charting the Motor City’s decline in lucid hand-wringing detail. But what if they’re ignoring the positives in favour of those apocalyptic headlines and photos?
Aaron M Renn at New Geography makes the point that the city’s administration seems unwilling to face up to the extent of the problem, but also highlights the pioneering atmosphere that Detroit’s “urban prairie” is nurturing. The withering of local government leaves spaces of opportunity for innovative approaches to low-budget living to take root… and while the living ain’t easy, the make-do attitude of the American pioneer spirit seems to be making a return [via Warren Ellis].
Urban agriculture projects are gathering pace; out-of-town artists are moving in, attracted by the low housing prices and the blank-canvas vibe of a city that’s been all but abandoned by consumerism. [image by jessicareeder]
In most cities, municipal government can’t stop drug dealing and violence, but it can keep people with creative ideas out. Not in Detroit. In Detroit, if you want to do something, you just go do it. Maybe someone will eventually get around to shutting you down, or maybe not. It’s a sort of anarchy in a good way as well as a bad one. Perhaps that overstates the case. You can’t do anything, but it is certainly easier to make things happen there than in most places because the hand of government weighs less heavily.
What’s more, the fact that government is so weak has provoked some amazing reactions from the people who live there. In Chicago, every day there is some protest at City Hall by a group from some area of the city demanding something. Not in Detroit. The people in Detroit know that they are on their own, and if they want something done they have to do it themselves. Nobody from the city is coming to help them. And they’ve found some very creative ways to deal with the challenges that result.
Imagine for a moment that this trend continues – might Detroit become some sort of independent city-state, a mildly anarchic rough-and-ready town where the price of freedom is a willingness to work hard for yourself and with your neighbours? How many more cities in the Western world might go the same way as manufacturing becomes increasingly outsourced overseas and/or roboticised? How will national governments react to these places – will they abandon them to the whims of their new residents, or struggle to control them in the face of diminishing tax revenues and the spiralling costs of law enforcement?
I’m not naive enough to imagine Detroit becoming some sort of hippie utopia, but I think it has the potential to become a new type of post-industrial city – but that will depend on a lot of different factors. Should the government be involving itself more closely in these early stages, or will a hands-off wait-and-see approach prove more effective?
It sounds like Detroit is already post-apocalyptic in scope, not only in the inner-city, but in the old ‘burbs too.
I wonder if that’s where the burgeoning biotech industry in Detroit will get their ‘feed-stock’?
I would like to wish my fellow Marines (vets like me and current) a special Happy 234th Birthday and one day perhaps there will be no need for a Marine Corps.
But until that day, SEMPER FI my brothers and fight the good fight.
No matter what the fight.
In his famous lecture on Life in the Universe, Stephen Hawking asks: “What are the chances that we will encounter some alien form of life, as we explore the galaxy?”
If the argument about the time scale for the appearance of life on Earth is correct, Hawking says “there ought to be many other stars, whose planets have life on them. Some of these stellar systems could have formed 5 billion years before the Earth. So why is the galaxy not crawling with self-designing mechanical or biological life forms?”
Why hasn’t the Earth been visited, and even colonized? Hawking asks. “I discount suggestions that UFO’s contain beings from outer space. I think any visits by aliens, would be much more obvious, and probably also, much more unpleasant.”
Hawking continues: “What is the explanation of why we have not been visited? \One possibility is that the argument, about the appearance of life on Earth, is wrong. Maybe the probability of life spontaneously appearing is so low, that Earth is the only planet in the galaxy, or in the observable universe, in which it happened. Another possibility is that there was a reasonable probability of forming self reproducing systems, like cells, but that most of these forms of life did not evolve intelligence.”
We are used to thinking of intelligent life, as an inevitable consequence of evolution, Hawking emphasized, but it is more likely that evolution is a random process, with intelligence as only one of a large number of possible outcomes.
Intelligence, Hawking believes contrary to our human-centric existece, may not have any long-term survival value. In comparison the microbial world, will live on, even if all other life on Earth is wiped out by our actions. Hawking’s main insight is that intelligence was an unlikely development for life on Earth, from the chronology of evolution: “It took a very long time, two and a half billion years, to go from single cells to multi-cell beings, which are a necessary precursor to intelligence. This is a good fraction of the total time available, before the Sun blows up. So it would be consistent with the hypothesis, that the probability for life to develop intelligence, is low. In this case, we might expect to find many other life forms in the galaxy, but we are unlikely to find intelligent life.”
Dr. Hawking isn’t popular with the UFO crowd, no doubt about that.
And he doesn’t even entertain the possibility that whatever advanced intelligence might supercede our type, it might not be even in our dimension nor physical at all.
But he is considered the premier scientist of our time, so he gets most of the attention.
It just goes to show the old maxime that, “Science advances not from new discoveries being accepted, but from the death of the previous generation who hold to the old paradigm…”
More Roswellian reverse engineering?
The direct connection between the Roswell debris and the Battelle studies is revealed in a material known as Nitinol.
Nitinol is a specially processed combination of Nickel and Titanium, or NiTi. It displays many of the very same properties and physical characteristics as some of the crash debris materials that was reported at Roswell. Both are memory metals that “remember” their original shape and both are extremely lightweight. The materials are reported to have similar color, possess a high fatigue strength and are able to withstand extreme high heat.
Today Nitinol is incorporated in items as far-ranging as medical implants and bendable eyeglass frames. It is produced in many forms including sheet, wire and coil. Newer “intelligent metal” systems are being studied by NASA in the creation of bendable or flappable wings, as self-actuators and as a “self-healing” outer hull “skin” for spacecraft. It is believed that the memory metal found at Roswell came from the outer structures of a downed extraterrestrial spacecraft.
The earliest known combination of Titanium and Nickel reported in the scientific literature was in 1939 by two Europeans. However, this crude sample was a “by-product” of research entirely unrelated to the study of Nitinol. Its “memory metal” potential was not sought or noted. The scientists would have been unable to purify Titanium to sufficient levels at that time-and they would not have known about the energy requirement needed to create the “morphing” effect.
“Memory metal” wasn’t the only technology that was supposedly reverse engineered from material left over from the Roswell crash.
Stuff that looked like “circuitry”, fiber-optic cable and material like kevlar was recovered.
There is much debate about this however and many scientists and other critics denounce the theory; http://www.seti.org/Page.aspx?pid=839 .
As always, Roswell leaves us with more questions than answers!
However, is no one, or no thing immune to skepticism?
For a decade, the computer program has searched the skies for extraterrestrial voices. Hundreds of thousands of volunteer home computers have analyzed the data, according to a news release.
But no alien signals have been heard in the 10 years SETI@Home (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has been operating.
SETI uses the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico to record radio signals from the sky. Those signals are broken down and sent to home computers, which help analyze the data.
Here’s more on how the project works, from the SETI@Home Web site:
One approach, known as radio SETI, uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so a detection would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology.
Radio telescope signals consist primarily of noise (from celestial sources and the receiver’s electronics) and man-made signals such as TV stations, radar, and satellites. Modern radio SETI projects analyze the data digitally. More computing power enables searches to cover greater frequency ranges with more sensitivity. Radio SETI, therefore, has an insatiable appetite for computing power.
In the 10 years that SETI has been active not a single extraterrestrial signal has been heard.
This could lead us to believe that maybe we are truly alone in this vast universe. No one knows for sure, of course. The debate has intensified since the Roswell incident of 1947.
Tsk, that damn Roswell thing keeps rearing it’s ugly mug, ruining any credibility SETI might have!
That’s what Shostak and others say anyway.
IMHO, SETI proponents shoot their own credibility through the brain-pan simply by ignoring work such as this:
And now we’re off to the races, for as Koester noted in his email to me, a small interstellar probe could theoretically create a molecular computer which could then, upon arrival, create electronic equipment of the sort needed for observations. Think of a probe that gets around the payload mass problem by using molecular processes to create cameras and imaging systems not by mechanical nanotech but by inherently biological methods.
A Von Neumann self-replicating probe comes to mind, but we may not have to go to that level in our earliest iterations. The biggest challenge to our interstellar ambitions is propulsion, with the need to push a payload sufficient to conduct a science mission to speeds up to an appreciable percentage of lightspeed. The more we reduce payload size, the more feasible some missions become — Koester was motivated to write by considering ‘Sundiver’ mission strategies coupled with microwave beaming.
The question becomes whether molecular computing can proceed to develop the needed instrumentation largely by tapping resources in the destination system, a process John Von Neumann called ‘interstellar in-situ resource utilization.’ The more in-system resources we can tap (in the destination system, that is), the lighter our initial payload has to be, and yes, that raises countless issues about targeting the mission and the flexibility of the design once arrived to conduct the needed harvesting.
What an interesting concept. It’s fascinating to see how far the notion of self-replication has taken us since Robert Freitas produced a self-replicating interstellar probe based on the original Project Daedalus design. That one, called REPRO, would mine the atmosphere of Jupiter for helium-3, just like Daedalus, and would use inertial confinement fusion for propulsion. But REPRO would carry a so-called SEED payload that, upon arrival on the moon of a gas giant, would produce an automated factory that would turn out a new REPRO every five hundred years.
But REPRO would have been massive (each SEED payload would weigh in at close to five hundred tons), with all the challenges that added to the propulsion question. Freitas later turned to nanotech ideas in advocating a probe more or less the size of a sewing needle, with a millimeter-wide body and enough nanotechnology onboard to activate assemblers on the surface of whatever object it happened to find in the destination system.
Now we’re looking at a biological variant of this concept that could, if extended, be turned to self-replication. Rothemund says that he wants to write molecular programs that can build technology. A probe built along these lines could use local materials to create the kind of macro-scale objects needed to form a research station around another star, the kind of equipment we once envisioned boosting all the light years to our target. How much simpler if we can build the needed tools when we arrive?
If we can come up with such ideas now, imagine what we could come up with in 10 to 20 years if these concepts were given the proper funding?
And why for crying out loud, wouldn’t civilizations thousands, or tens of thousands of years ahead of ours use such methods even more esoteric?
Maybe we should call SETI on lack of imagination also?
Bio-war, or nature?
On 23 rd April 2009 the world began to become aware of a very strange new version of swine flu H1N1 in Mexico with limited cases in Texas and California. By the morning of the 24th of April, we began to hear that there were hundreds of sick and 20 or so dead. By late in the day, we have learned that over 1,000 are now reported ill and over 60 are reported dead. There are solid reasons to suspect that this new Mexican Swine Flu is NOT a naturally occurring event but instead is an Advanced Biological Warfare recombination DNA genetically engineered virus.
Here is what we know of the virus so far. This virus has already gone international having crossed the border from Mexico to America. All schools in Mexico City have been canceled, millions of students told to stay home due to Mexican Swine Flu. Sick victims of this strange new virus are currently reported in California and Texas. Over 60 deaths reported in Mexico (could be substantially higher considering the state of Mexican health care and reporting).
Young healthy adults seem to be the most at risk. This is similar to the deadest killer flu in history, Spanish Flu in 1918. Most if not all nations with advanced biological warfare programs have been interested in recreating the Spanish Flu DNA sequence and several are reported to have done so.
I just got over a bad flu bug a while ago, I certainly don’t need a killer one!
NWO test? Or is it just nature? Remember, Spring Break was just a couple of weeks ago, so college students can spread this back to their home towns, or big cities if they’re going to a large private school.
Huh? Left, or right-handed light?
If a scientific team working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is right, we may be able to find extraterrestrial life even before it leaves its home planet—by looking for left- (or right-) handed light.
The technique the team has developed* for detecting life elsewhere in the universe will not spot aliens directly. Rather, it could allow spaceborne instruments to see a telltale sign that life may have influenced a landscape: a preponderance of molecules that have a certain “chirality,” or handedness. A right-handed molecule has the same composition as its left-handed cousin, but their chemical behavior differs. Because many substances critical to life favor a particular handedness, Thom Germer and his colleagues think chirality might reveal life’s presence at great distances, and have built a device to detect it.
“You don’t want to limit yourself to looking for specific materials like oxygen that Earth creatures use, because that makes assumptions about what life is,” says Germer, a physicist at NIST. “But amino acids, sugars, DNA—each of these substances is either right- or left-handed in every living thing.”
Okay, I get the idea. But wouldn’t that apply to ETs studying us that way also?
It also amazes me that these studies stresses the point that we have increasing proficiency in long-range tele-presence/sensor technology, just the tech that Seth Shostak and his followers push.
I’m not saying increasing our knowledge in this particular way is bad, in fact, I think it’s great.
But we should also look for ways to physically explore interstellar space, like the good folks at the Tau Zero Foundation are doing.
Some technologies are so complex and have so many frequent breakthroughs that few people can keep up. Now comes a new nine-week summer program in Silicon Valley for super-smart people. Dubbed Singularity University, its founders hope it will help close the gap in understanding and applying fast-developing technologies to solve what they called “humanity’s grandest challenges.”The goal of the Singularity school, which will be located at an Ames facility in Sunnyvale, Calif., is to bring together the world’s top graduate and postgraduate students in 10 diverse disciplines, such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, medicine and law. They will spend nine weeks together learning about each others’ disciplines and then focus on …… finding ways to overcome pressing challenges such as poverty, hunger and pandemics. Technology heavyweights, including Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, are slated to give the lectures.Applications should be available at Singularity University’s website, which is supposed to go live tonight.
Peter Diamandis, the Santa Monica physician credited with fueling private space rocketry; S. Pete Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center; and futurist Ray Kurzweil are behind the move to form the school. Internet giant Google is a sponsor.
I had started a humongous post about the GooglePlex and its link to the Singularity and above individuals noted, but I ran away with myself writing it and it ended up not making any sense.
But I will provide link(s) to a person who has studied the subject extensively, in fact, he’s going to release DVDs concerning it within weeks;
I used to think the Singularity could be a good thing, but I found it’s just another Apocalyptic Religion.
The bad thing here is, this Apocalypse has a good chance of happening!
Every baby born a decade from now will have its genetic code mapped at birth, the head of the world’s leading genome sequencing company has predicted.A complete DNA read-out for every newborn will be technically feasible and affordable in less than five years, promising a revolution in healthcare, says Jay Flatley, the chief executive of Illumina.Only social and legal issues are likely to delay the era of “genome sequences”, or genetic profiles, for all. By 2019 it will have become routine to map infants’ genes when they are born, Dr Flatley told The Times.This will open a new approach to medicine, by which conditions such as diabetes and heart disease can be predicted and prevented and drugs prescribed more safely and effectively.The development, however, will raise difficult questions about privacy and access to individuals’ genetic records. Many people may be reluctant to have their genome read, for fear that the results could be used against them by an employer or insurance company.
The prospect of genome screening for all has emerged because of the plummeting cost of the relevant technology.
The Human Genome Project, which published its first rough sequence of mankind’s genetic code in 2001, cost an estimated $4billion (£2.7billion). By the time the scientists James Watson and Craig Venter had their genomes mapped two years ago, the cost had fallen to about $1m (£700,000).
Hmmm…2019…the same year the Singularity University plan to have their worldwide AI working.
Notice the name of the company too! (Oh no, there’s no such thing as the Illuminati, is there?)
These guys are fooling themselves into believing that an artificially intelligent GooglePlex will let itself be controlled by genetically perfect “elites”. By its very nature the Singularity is unpredictable and beyond any human comprehension.
I asked IIB about this one time and he said the elites might not even care if they get wiped out along with the rest of us, if the GooglePlex decides to do just that. His impression is that as long as this “child” of humanity survives mankind’s death, so much the better for Mother Gaia.
I know a few people who would go along with that, but I’m not one of them!
Hat tip to Red Ice Creations today!
Earlier this week, Professor Steve Jones made an audacious claim by stating the following:
…In ancient times half our children would have died by the age of twenty. Now, in the Western world, 98% of them are surviving to the age of 21. Our life expectancy is now so good that eliminating all accidents and infectious diseases would only raise it by a further two years. Natural selection no longer has death as a handy tool…
Hmmm, human evolution is slowing down because we’re not dying off so young anymore. Okay, maybe that’s true. But the Prof doesn’t stop there:
…Small populations which are isolated can change – evolve – at random as genes are accidentally lost. Worldwide, all populations are becoming connected and the opportunity for random change is dwindling. History is made in bed, but nowadays the beds are getting closer together. Almost everywhere, inbreeding is becoming less common. In Britain, one marriage in fifty or so is between members of a different ethnic group, and the country is one of the most sexually open in the world. We are mixing into a global mass, and the future is brown.”
He added: “So, if you are worried about what utopia is going to be like, don’t; at least in the developed world, and at least for the time being, you are living in it now.”
“We are mixing into a global mass, and the future is brown.” Uh, sure. Tell us something we don’t already know.
It’s no-brainer that Caucasian people in the United States will be a minority by 2050. Not a big deal in my view.
Then again I’m not a KKKer, neo-nazi or a Dominionist Fundie either. But I digress and the point of Jones’ argument is that as the worlds’ population becomes more homogenous, evolution slows down or stops.
I really doubt that hypothesis, and not only because he claims that we’re in an evolutionary “utopia” now.
If this is utopia, what’s this guys’ definition of Purgatory?
Anyways, an article by Johnjoe McFadden in the guardian.co.uk makes the claim that selective genetic engineering will bring a flowering of human variety, free of death and disease:
Modifying heritable genes is presently considered to be unacceptable, at least in humans, because we would be tinkering with our genetic inheritance. But is that such a bad thing? Our genes are the products of billions of years of evolution – chance mutations – that were selected because they provided an advantage to one or more of our ancestors. But sometimes, random mutations can damage our genes. If that damage is in a skin or muscle cell then it won’t be a problem (at least not to our children). But if the damaged gene is in an egg or sperm cell that our children will inherit the damaged gene and may suffer a genetic disease. If they have children (perhaps before knowing they are carrying a genetic defect) then their children may also be afflicted. Given enough evolutionary time, it is likely that unchecked natural selection would eventually remove damaged genes from the population; but should we wait that long? Thousands of children are born each year with defects, such as heart problems, that we have no hesitation in correcting. If we have the technology to correct defects in their genes then isn’t it in the interests of the common good to do so?
Gene therapy of human genetic diseases in affected embryos is almost certainly within reach. The team that gave us Dolly the sheep also generated Polly the sheep, the world’s first transgenic animal, in 1997. Polly’s DNA was engineered, while she was still an embryo, to contain a copy of a human gene. It is likely that similar approaches could be used to correct gene defects in human embryos.
But why should we stop with deadly diseases? Wouldn’t you want your children to also have a longer life with lower risk of cancer or heart disease? With more genes linked to common diseases turning up every day, it won’t be too long before gene therapy is available to screen out even common ailments. If the technology was available to ensure that your children lived their lives free of cancer, wouldn’t you take it?
Well, I’d be first in line for gene tailored meds to cure the chronic crap illnesses I have, McFadden would get no argument from me!
But would specialized genetic engineering spur new evolution in human beings?
I believe it could, if humans expanded out into the Solar System and interstellar space.
Mars? Why bother with space suits. Engineer humans to breath thin carbon dioxide air, grow thick skin to combat solar radiation and sprout solar “wings” to collect sunlight for food!
Micro-gravity a problem? Engineer an extra two-chamber heart in the groin area to pump blood more evenly, activate genes to make more bone calcium and muscle mass and engineer antibodies to resist cosmic radiation!
You get my point.
Yeah, I know, more space geek shit. But hey, this could help herald a new ‘Cambrian Explosion!’