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Hence, there is intense interest in alternatives to silicon transistors, such as molecular computers, optical computers, DNA computers, protein computers, carbon nano computers, quantum dot computers, and quantum computers. The most ambitious are quantum computers, which compute on individual atoms.
In some sense, they are the ultimate computer. In fact, quantum computers in principle can crack difficult codes that may take a standard digital computer centuries to solve. Quantum computers, however, are notoriously difficult to build, because individual atoms have to vibrate in perfect unison (i.e. they have to be coherent). The slightest vibration, interference, impurity, etc. can destroy this delicate coherence and ruin the calculation. Because of the decoherence problem, so far the world's record for a quantum computer calculation is just 3 x 5 = 15.
But progress is being made every day in quantum computers. Researchers at an IBM research facility (Almaden Research Center) in Zurich, Switzerland have had a busy week thus far. Researchers there made two discoveries they say represent a major leap in the development of femtotechnology. If you haven't heard of the field of study known as femtotechnology; It's generally a term that is used by some futurists to refer to structuring of matter on a femtometer scale (dealing with elements that are less than 1/1000th of a nanometer in scale). Their first announcement stated that the researchers had successfully measured how long a single atom can store information. Just three days later, the researchers announced that they had successfully snapped a picture of a single atom by trapping a single atom inside a tractor beam.
(Technical Note: Using a modified version of a Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM), a technology that was originally devised in 1981; scientists have confirmed that it's now possible to observe things on a scale never before seen. Using a brand new technique called the "pump-probe" has allowed them to detect how the orientation of an atom's magnetic movement evolves in time. One of the researchers; Sebastian Loth states "When objects shrink down to the nanoscale, physical effects tend to speed up, To explore the fast processes in individual nanostructures, scientists need a tool that can keep up in speed." We can now see things in real-time and on the atomic scale.
Answer: Yes. In fact, I personally believe that alien civilizations will be benign, if only because they have had thousands of years in which to work out their differences. We have another program that addresses the possibility that they are friendly. But since we don't know their intentions, the point of this program was to address the possibility that they might be hostile.
Question Two: Why would they want to invade the earth? To take our resources?
Answer: I personally believe that a friendly alien civilization will choose uninhabited planets in the search for resources. Any civilization advanced enough to reach the Earth would also be advanced enough to mine dead, uninhabited planets. Hence, more than likely they will leave us alone.
Question Three: Why haven't the aliens announced their presence? If they are friendly, then why don't they land on the White House lawn?
Answer: Probably because we are not that significant to them. We are arrogant enough to believe that the aliens will actually want to make contact with us and give us their technology. Maybe we are not on their radar screen, being so primitive. We might have nothing of interest to offer them.
Question Four: What might their intentions be? If you are deer in the forest, whom do you fear the most: the hunter (with his gun) or the developer?
Answer: The hunter may pose the greatest immediate danger, but actually it is the developer who is the most dangerous from the deer's point of view. The developer may be kind and benevolent, but the deer might simply get in his way, so the deer must go. Similarly, one danger we may face is a super advanced civilization that is friendly, but views humanity as being in the way. So let's hope that we do not get in the way of a type III civilization.
Question Five: When might we make contact?
Answer: Perhaps sometime in this century. We now have satellites (the Kepler and Corot) specifically designed to find earth-like twins in space. And the SETI project has gotten a huge grant from billionare Paul Allen to expand its radio telescopes at Hat Creek outside San Francisco. So perhaps in this century we might actually receive messages from an alien civilization. But it's anyone's guess.
Gliese 581g will soon to be joined, perhaps later this year or next year, to scores of other Earth-like planets that will likely be found by the Kepler and Corot satellites currently in space. By analyzing the slight dip in sunlight as a planet moves across the face of its mother star, satellites may give us the best opportunity to find hundreds of earth-like twins in space. Refer to my previous blog post "U.N. to Establish Protocols for When We Make Contact With Aliens" to see photographs of the Kepler and Corot satellites.
Soon, we will have an existential shock looking at the night sky. We will wonder if anyone is looking back at us. We will look at the familiar constellations and realize that some of these stars have Earth-like twins, perhaps even liquid oceans and maybe even life. Most likely, an Earth-like planet, if it has life at all, will have microbial life. Yet that leaves open the small possibility that the planet may harbor intelligent life. If so, what might we find?
You will control computers and appliances via tiny sen sors that pick up your brain scans. You will be able to rearrange the shape of objects.
Sensors in your clothing, bathroom, and appliances will monitor your vitals, and nanobots will scan your DNA and cells for signs of danger, allowing life expectancy to increase dramatically.
Radically new spaceships, using laser propulsion, may replace the expensive chemical rockets of today. You may be able to take an elevator hundreds of miles into space by simply pushing the “up” button.
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Answer: In general, nuclear weapons will shatter comets and meteors and hence possibly aggravate the problem. But there ways in which a nuclear weapon might be of some use. By detonating it near a meteor or comet, one may be able to use the shock wave to gently deflect it so that it does not hit the earth. However, we don't know the consistency of these objects and how they are held together. Some scientists believe that large comets or meteors might actually be a loose collection of debris held together by gravity, and hence even a small nuclear weapon would be enough to disperse it rather than deflect it. Also, instead of deflecting it, a nuclear weapon might shatter it by accident. Halley's comet, for example, is about 20 miles across and is shaped like a peanut. If the nuclear weapon were to shake the comet, it might shatter into two pieces, causing more problems. So using nuclear weapons is useful only if we know the consistency of the meteor or comet.
Question Two: The program advocated putting sensors in the asteroid belt to warn us of comets or meteors. But comets from the Oort cloud can come from any direction, so won't the sensors be useless?
Answer: you are right that long-period comets from the Oort cloud can come from any direction, since the Oort cloud is a spherical ball of debris left over from the formation of the solar system. Short-period comets, on the other hand, lie in the plane of the solar system and hence can be detected by sensors in the asteroid belt. The point made in the program is that you put sensors where you can. Since the asteroid is already there, we can use them as ready-made stations for sensors, which would be cheaper and more efficient then scattering them around the solar system. So in principle, sensors for an early warning system can be placed anywhere, but it makes more sense, economically, to place them in the asteroid belt where lots of platforms ready to use. This is especially true if these sensors also have heavy-duty laser cannons. Since space is largely empty, sensors placed in the asteroid belt would also be useful to detect comets from the Oort cloud which are coming at us from different angles.
Question Three: What's the chance that a comet or meteor can hit us anytime soon?
Answer: Just last week, two asteroids (about 50 feet across) passed by the earth, coming very close to our satellites, and we had almost no warning until they were very close to us.
In general, a city-buster, like the one that hit Siberia, hits the earth every century or so. (They are about the size of a large apartment building). A country-buster hits the earth once every few thousand years. And a planet-buster, which can destroy all life on earth, hits about every 50 million years. (They are more than 5 miles across). So it is impossible to tell when we might be due for another meteor or comet strike, but it is a good idea to have a permanent sent of sensors in orbit to detect these objects in real time (such a system does not yet exist, so we could in principle be caught off guard at any time.) My point is although huge comet or meteor strikes are uncommon, we should take out an insurance policy and at least detect their presence before they hit.
Commercial space tourism is no longer such a distant dream. Over the next decade or so, we are going to start seeing the development of quite a few interesting relationships and partnerships all over the world where entrepreneurs offer to take visitors into orbit.
This week, Boeing announced that it has teamed up with Virginia-based Space Adventures, Inc. to start marketing the sale of passenger seats for future flights into space with a new capsule that will deliver participants to the International Space Station. The CST (Crew SpaceTransportation)-100 spacecraft looks like a cone (below) and is about 15 feet wide with the ability to carry up to seven individuals aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft on top of an expendable rocket. When the ride is over, the capsule simply falls back to the Earth with the helpof a few parachutes. Test flights are currently scheduled to begin in 2015.
Space Adventures has been in the spaceflight business for over 10 years, and is the first company to have sent private citizens to space. To date, they have successfully contracted and flown seven spaceflight participants on eight missions to the International Space Station. They offer several packages including $4,950 zero gravity flights, which offer the experience of weightlessness in a specially modified Boeing 727 which they have named -- G-Force One.
(If you remember, this is where famed Cosmologist Stephen Hawking experienced his first Zero-G experience).
Space Adventures also offers Orbital Space flights where you can spend up to 12 days in space, travel at around 17,500 mph and circle the Earth every 90 minutes. These suborbital spaceflights start at around $102,000 to reserve a seat and will give you breathtaking views of our planet by seeing it from a distance of 62 miles above. Now, they are inviting you to join them for the most significant private expedition of our time—a private mission to the circumnavigate the moon; bringing you within just 100 km of the moon's surface. Watch the Space Adventures Video Presentation for their Lunar Mission Program
According to a September 15th press release, the agreement states that Boeing is continuing to advance its design for the CST-100 spacecraft under NASA's Commercial Crew Development Space Act Agreement. In mid-July, Boeing released several artist's renderings of it's CST(Crew Space Transportation)-100 spacecraft which will deliver it's passengers to both the ISS and the Bigelow Aerospace Orbital Space Complex (image below). The CST-100 is a bit larger than Apollo but smaller than Orion, with the ability to be able to launch on several different rockets including the Atlas, Delta and Falcon. The price hasn't quite been set for a seat on the CST-100 and the co-founder of Space Adventures, Eric Anderson, stated that the company isn't quite ready to talk about the price yet. They did however state that the pricing matrix would be competitive to the current Russian launches on the Soyuz spacecraft which is currently used by Space Adventures. To give you an idea, the Canadian billionaire, Guy Laliberte ponied up about $40 million for his last trip to the International Space Station. Find out a bit more about all of the extended training that he had to go through in order to qualify for his trip by clicking here. Mr. Laliberte had to undergo almost 200 days of intense training to prepare for this spaceflight to the Space Station -- Find out a bit more about the training by reading extracts from Guy's blog. If you navigate around the Space Adventures website, you can find lots of interesting videos, demonstrations and even video blogs and recordings from past passengers.
So, although the pricing will most likely be far to much for an average individual to reserve a seat, it's like anything else—pricing eventually goes down as more players enter into the game. Perhaps in a couple decades, pricing might be a bit more reasonable, and we'll all be headed into orbit.
A. A Type I civilization is truly planetary, using up all the energy from their sun which lands on their planet. They might, for example, be able to control all forms of planetary energy, such as controlling the weather and the power of hurricanes and volcanoes.
B. A Type II civilization has mastered stellar power, using up all the energy released from their mother star. They use up 10 billion times more energy than a Type I civilization. A typical example might be the Federation of Planets in Star Trek, which has harnessed the energy from only a tiny sliver of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
C. A Type III civilization is galactic, harnessing 10 billions more energy than a Type II civilization. They roam freely across the galactic space lanes. A typical example might be the Borg on Star Trek, or the Empire of the Star Wars series, or the Empire of Asimov’s Foundation Series.
By comparison, what are we? Do we control the weather, play with stars, or harness the power of an entire galaxy? We are, sadly, a Type 0 civilization. We don’t even appear on the radar screen. We get our energy from dead plants, oil and coal.
But we can calculate how long it will take to slowly work our way up this energy scale. Assume that the world’s energy consumption grows at roughly 3% per year. At this rate, we are about 100 years from attaining Type I status, about several thousand years from attaining Type II status, and perhaps 100,000 years or so from attaining Type III status.
For example, I see evidence of this in every newspaper I read. To me, every headline points to the birth pangs of the emerging Type I planetary civilization:
The language of this future Type I planetary civilization will be English, which is already the language of the elites around the world.
The EU, NAFTA, and global trade blocks represent the seeds of a Type I economy.
The internet is the beginning of a Type I telephone system.
Rock music, youth culture, high fashion, the movies, etc. all represent the beginning of a Type I culture.
But some people instinctively hate this emerging Type I civilization, because it will be multi-cultural, progressive, and scientific. These are the terrorists.
How stable are these civilizations? By the time a civilization reaches Type II status, they are immortal. Nothing known to science can destroy these civilizations. Ice ages can be controlled, meteor or comets can be deflected, and they can even survive the death of their mother star by moving their planet or re-igniting their star.
But of all these transitions, the most dangerous of all is the transition between Type 0 and Type I. We still have all the savagery, sectarianism, racism, fundamentalist, etc. that typified our rise from the swamp. So it is not clear at all whether we will rise to a Type I civilization. I think it’s a race against time. On one hand, we have the march towards a planetary civilization, perhaps the greatest transition in human history. On the other hand, we have urgent problems like nuclear proliferation, global warming, designer germ warfare, pollution, over population, etc. that threatened the very survival of the planet.
It’s not clear which trend will win. But there is a lesson here. By rights, our galaxy should be teeming with intelligent life forms, yet we see no evidence of any so far, perhaps because they never successfully made the transition to Type I. One day, perhaps if ever visit these planets, we might find dead civilizations with an atmosphere too hot to bear life, or an atmosphere too radioactive for life.
But one thing is certain. The generation now alive is the most important generation that has ever walked the earth. This is because we will decide whether we will truly become a Type I civilization, or will descend into chaos and disorder. There have been about 5,000 generations of humans since we emerged from Africa about 100,000 years ago, and the most important generation is the one now alive, since we hold the destiny of civilization in our hands.
There are several problems facing such an attempt, however. If the SETI Project can eaves drop on messages from extra-terrestrial civilizations, then it will take many decades to centuries for us to return the message, because the aliens could be many light years away. So it would be a one-way conversation. Even a simple conversation would be impossible. All we can do is listen to their communications.
Second, most earth-like planets we find in space, even if they have oceans and life forms, will probably only have microbial life on them. So simply finding such planets is not enough. Advanced civilizations in space are probably very rare. Third, we should wait until we find out if the aliens are hostile or not. We should monitor them for years before actively trying to reach out to them.
The only way that a two-way dialog can take place with such aliens is if they actually visit us, e.g. land on the White House lawn. Then we can make direct contact with them. (But the problem here is that, if they can travel such vast distances to reach us from distant stars, then they have probably already done so, and have been observing usfor years. So, even if we find evidence of earth-like planets, it does not guarantee that our protocols will mean anything.)
So, personally, I think it is prudent to draft such protocols. However, there is no guarantee that we will ever have to use them.
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